A number of readers have asked about the production of Sumo, so at the risk of boring the non-DTP fans, here is how it is done. I scan (using a Scanman and the surprisingly good Corel 'freebie' OCR package) or type everything in using WordPerfect 5.1 or occasionally WordPerfect for Windows. The whole lot is then combined, spellchecked, laid out and paginated in WPWin making use of the useful style tags. Fonts are Adobe Garamond for body text, Gill Sans for lists & tables and Copperplate for most of the titles love those S's. And that's it. No Quark, no Pagemaker, no pictures, just good old WordPerfect. The cover, however, is done in Corel Draw for reasons that now escape me. Printout is to a Laserjet 4. I take a back up and proof at the copyshop and then it's off to the nice people at Metloc Printers in Station Road, Loughton, Essex returning a week later in four big boxes ready for envelopes, labels and subscription reminder slips which all now runs off an Access database. Production and distribution of issues 12 and 13 took around 60 hours, at a conservative guess, but I think you're worth it.
I haven't watched much in the way of sport, but did manage to get solidly re-attached to rugby after the two recent All Blacks games against England and the Barbarians. Superb entertainment. The only other comment I have is to express surprise and contempt for Nigel Mansell's reproach following the saloon car shunt with Tiff Needell. Never my favourite man (terminally boring, retiring then not, the money is irrelevant but I'll take another three mill), he is now beyond redemption.
Having got away to Canada, Yellowstone Park and Washington State for my first holiday in a year, I had the luxury of switching off and getting back to some decent books as well as some holiday reading in the shape of one Mr Grisham of whom you may have heard. Just to see what all the fuss was about, I read The Firm which isn't half bad. A real page turner of a thriller, it has some clever ideas, plenty of action, passable writing and enough twists to keep you hooked right up until the rather trite ending. There is one technical gaffe on money transfer that perhaps only someone with my job (and impeccable nit picking credentials) would spot, but overall it's certainly readable. Not very credible, but readable. The film, by the way, changes whole chunks of the plot and frankly doesn't stand up too well. If I were Grisham I'd be disappointed and as we cliché masters say, the book is far better. After The Firm I moved on to The Pelican Brief which is okay but nothing like as good. Imagine a diluted Watergate scenario mixed with some Tom Clancy style assassination and you have the general idea. A Time to Kill, his first book, is the weakest of the three and The Client is still in hardback. That's the current biggest selling author ticked off the list then!
I don't have much to say about Jonathan Carroll's latest, After Silence. Expecting the usual mix of weird characters and magical realism (if it is still permitted to say this), what transpired was an interesting, readable mainstream novella with a bit of weirdness in the middle and a daft ending. He's losing it, though many would say he never had it.
I really don't have a lot of time for Stephen Fry. His fame seems to be based entirely on that plummy voice (is it natural or cultivated, I wonder?), being Cambridge and appearing unbearably clever and witty, rather than any great inborn talent as with, say, Paul Merton. I speak here as someone who finds little appeal in old (or indeed young) buffers claiming to be raconteurs or professional wits. I mean, raconteur that ain't no kind of a job for a man. Peter Ustinov, for instance, strikes me as a singular waste of space yet people regularly fall about when he starts droning on. Weird. As often happens though, I have had to change my mind at least a little. I read Fry's The Liar while on holiday and have to say it a cracking book. Cleverly constructed, funny yet oddly serious and full of those great little passages and ideas that make a good book an outstanding one. It also features extensive use of adjective lists born of Blackadder out of Roget, but all carried off with aplomb. It was all enough to change my opinion of the man. Recommended. On my return, I quickly tracked down Paperweight which I thought was his second novel but which turns out to be a compilation of Fry's newspaper columns and essays. Consistently well written, these vary from the glaringly obvious to insightful and hilariously funny. One particular piece on consumer protection programmes and Which? had me laughing out loud. And what do you know, our Mr Fry is a keen boardgamer. I think he only plays at Christmas, but it's a start. He can now join the Celebrities You Thought Were Naff But Who Really Do Play Boardgames club. The other member is one Russell Grant who has a substantial collection of sports games, notably soccer replay. Well there you go, luvs.
I finally got round to reading the supposedly controversial Hergé biography which is a corker. I have no idea where the contention arose as Harry Thompson has done an unbiased and impressive job chronologically working through Hergé's life and books, throwing in a whole raftload of interesting facts and anecdotes along the way. I didn't know for instance that the infamous cartoons, 'Herrrrrrjaaaaaaaays Adventures of Tintin', were nothing to do with the man himself I did often wonder and the piss poor Lake of Sharks is not his work either. Neither did I know that the Hergé Foundation is now headed up by the Englishman who opened the Covent Garden Tintin shop. And so on. Much of the artwork and storylines are put in historical perspective and we see how Hergé's technique developed and how he eventually got tired of his creation. Fortunately, no major skeletons are brought out of the cupboard to put you off the author (as with Woody Allen) or to spoil the plots and books through revealing the 'hidden' agendas (as with C S Lewis). In fact, according to Thompson, there are hardly any subplots aside from the pretty obvious anti-Nazi sentiment of King Ottokar's Sceptre and the evidently depressed Tintin in Tibet. An absolutely essential read for the fan. Sticking with Tintin, there is a novel out called Tintin in the New World (Marion Boyars, £14.95) by Frederic Tuten who was granted, by Hergé himself, the exclusive right to portray Tintin as a grown up. I haven't yet read it, but will report back. Forgive me, for I have waffled.
With VAT on books looming and paying heed to my my ongoing efforts to curb purchases, it is doubly galling to find a range of books like that of Dorling Kindersley. Having seen the extent of the Eyewitness subjects alone, I am now aware that they have been around for a while, but I don't make a habit of frequenting the children's section (where even the adult titles seem to live) so have sadly missed them. The books themselves are superbly done, full of great photography and useful information. It would be nice to find all reference books with this much information and standard of delivery check out the bridge, art history and writing books for a breadth of detail not even hinted at in many 'standard works' I've read. If only these books were available when I was a kid. As you will have gathered, I am tempted to buy a fair few and have already cracked on the excellent man of war cross-section book by Stephen Biesty. Cor!!!
Added to the impending flood of Dorling Kindersley books (I have just discovered they have a Covent Garden shop.... hide the wallet, Mike), I have got through a number of (pre-Christmas?) releases. There is a new Alex, which was pretty good but is tailing off into formula humour, a new Farside compilation, The Chickens are Restless (with some corkers) and Gallery 4 which I found generally good though less pleasingly obscure than usual and yet another Calvin & Hobbes collection that I am saving for the holidays. I also bought a stunning, and rather expensive, French encyclopædia with pictures of nearly every car to have raced at Le Mans (the guilt of this purchase lives with me still, but expect a game related outcome), my missing volumes of Fortescue's History of the British Army, both volumes of the Autocourse History of the Grand Prix Car, the superb Chequered Flag motor racing history by Ivan Rendall and finally, a much awaited book here, Hamilton-William's Waterloo: New Perspectives which will form the centrepiece of my Christmas reading along with the new William Boyd and Keegan's History of Warfare.
TV has been distinctly uninspiring which is one of the reasons why I have recently subscribed to Sky's Movie Channels. I find Vic Reeves doesn't really work on the BBC (or perhaps he just isn't funny any more) which is sad. Rather like Alexei Sayle, it is hard to reconcile the humour with Aunty's image. Deep Space Nine started well but rapidly dwindled, Lovejoy is just a joke now (though the gorgeous Caroline Langrishe is a major plus) and the rest are repeats. I failed to get into Picket Fences, Homicide or Civil Wars but I traditionally join these series late on, so no harm done there. Offering more than a glimmer are News for You (naturally), Between the Lines (excellent stuff) and If You See Go. Seinfeld has started patchily, and is popular round these parts because it is like having Alan Moon call in once a week, but having seen some of the later programmes is well worth sticking with. And finally, of course, there is Captain Scarlet. Has there ever been a better plane design than the Angel Interceptor? I think not. Add in the SPV, command vehicle and all the great planes and you have a hardware feast. And did you see the episode with the VGR looked like a cruise missile to me, which only backs up Anderson's incredible technology foresight. It can only be a matter of time before we get re-runs of the excellent UFO now. And I suppose I shall succumb to Wild Palms, if only for an episode or two to see the graphics. PS Oh dear...
The Movie Channels are pretty good value. I reckon to have watched about a dozen new films a month since I took out the contract, which works out at less than £1.50 a pop. And this ignores all the bonus channels such as MTV, Sky One, the oldies such as Gold and Bravo, Discovery and so on. I felt I had my first month's moneysworth having seen all the Clouseau films again, Barton Fink, Awakenings, JFK, Jacob's Ladder (an outstanding film), Goodfellas, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, City Slickers, The Fisher King and Thelma & Louise. Next month features Hook, Basic Instinct, Grand Canyon, The Commitments, Cape Fear, Terminator II, Wayne's World, Scenes from a Mall and several others that I missed on the big screen. As with Eurosport, if you are extremely selective (ie watch about 5% of the output) and use the video to allow time shift for late night viewing, it really is a bonus to have decent movies on tap. Let's hope the BBC show a few decent French films this Christmas to balance it out.
It was, all things considered, an excellent summer for films and not a bad year either. I saw a dozen or more and enjoyed all but one the surprisingly duff Last Action Hero on which more later. Best of the bunch by a margin were Jurassic Park (what else) and In the Line Of Fire, the latter a surprisingly strong vehicle for Clint who seems to get better and better. This one had a solid story, humour, plenty of suspense and, mainly from Malkovich and Clint, the best acting I've seen since Bird. Go and see this now. Rising Sun wasn't at all bad, Sleepless in Seattle excellent, The Firm okay, So I Married an Axe Murderer is very funny in parts Mike Myers grows in my estimation with every passing day, and I have so far failed to see The Fugitive, Falling Down, Much Ado and Aladdin. I also hope some enterprising distributor brings over Ted Turner's Gettysburg which I saw some clips of in Canada it looks like a milestone war film to me.
Jurassic Park did, like all the reviews said it would, live up to the hype. Everyone talks about the dinosaur effects, and so shall I. They were staggeringly good and the more I think about how 'cheap' it was ($55m), the more I am impressed. Having followed computer generated effects from day one, I have to say ILM now nearly have it spot on, which truly boggles the mind for future projects. There are some hitches (the flocking bipeds in the meadow didn't work too well) but in the main, and especially for the distance shots, they were real enough, smooth enough and fast. The ghost of Harryhausen can be finally laid to rest. While much fuss has been made about the plot loopholes, this hardly bothered me at all and I still wonder what they were (all I have heard is something about the prehistoric flora). I was more concerned about the poor sound quality. Anyway, the film is one that you can completely submerge into and suspension of disbelief was no problem whatsoever. Added to the Spielberg magic that is well and truly back, the whole film is a visual spectacle. The plot and characters lose out to the dinosaurs big time, but Goldblum as the Chaotician (great name) stands out and has the best lines. The fat hacker is good too. There are also a lot of clever little observations, which you probably need to have been to Disneyworld to spot, which are very well done. It is also pretty scary (far too much for kids, surely?) and strong on building suspense, which I can best describe as toned down Aliens there are in fact many similarities here, particularly in the suggested violence. The main failing is that it is way too short. I would have liked to have seen a good twenty minutes more of those effects. Brilliant stuff and more than odd that it derived from the pen of the talentless instant expert, Michael Crichton.
If we ignore his early stuff and the occasional aberration, it is rather surprising to find Arnie starring in a turkey of Last Action Hero's magnitude. The odd thing about the film is not so much that it is poor, which it certainly is, but why it fails to make the grade. It has almost everything right, from big stars to plot line (Purple Rose of Cairo in reverse) and surely the biggest potential for a series of industry jokes since The Player. There are a few that almost make it, but if I said the biggest laugh in the movie is a dog trick, you will get the drift. It's flat, the stunts are good but you don't care and it completely fails to engage on any level. Action Hero is nothing more than an average script full of missed opportunities if I were Arnie, I'd be terminating my manager. My only nagging doubt, and it is a small one, is that the film may have appeared weaker than it was because we happened to see it with a very quiet audience, completely unlike any other opening night crowd I have experienced. Whether they killed the film or the film them is an interesting point, or am I being too generous?
I belatedly caught Reservoir Dogs which is an outstanding movie, and a powerful work to boot. The violence is truly horrible, but not inappropriate, and the torture scene rightly made me feel sick. It is as violent as the critics said but I would term it realistic rather than gratuitous not that this vindicates its use, but I did find the film a mature and engaging production. The structure is distinctive, the screenplay tight and on occasions very funny and the whole thing just works. Brilliant. Thinking about it, this film must rate as powerful a disincentive to become a policeman as, inversely, Top Gun was bait for fighter pilots. Inspired by this Tarantino outing, True Romance quickly followed. I don't think it is as good, and in many ways it draws from its predecessor, but it has a number of memorable scenes and performances that are well worth catching. It is, again, very amusing in parts but suffers from being a little disjointed and the pacing is iffy. Nevertheless, I await the next Tarantino production with interest.
As I have rarely been in to listen to music, I can safely say I have played very little and bought far less which is a Good Thing as I recently passed the 200 CD barrier rather too many to play in a lifetime I feel. I had a brief fling with the James Taylor Quartet which is okaaaay but really car music, if you know what I mean. I have been listening to my Seventies soul and disco CDs a fair bit, inspired by the otherwise hopeless Tales from the City, and REM, The Smiths, Was not Was and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have been getting a bashing too. My only purchases were a couple of The Blues part work (I didn't much like them), the new Jam Live album (strangely uninspiring) and, praise the lord, the Best of Nanci Griffith. This is a brilliant record (From a Distance being by far the best track) and while it probably means I have finally crossed that line I thought I would never cross, just into C&W territory, I am happy to receive further album information on this wonderful woman. And if there is anyone similar who I might like, I am open to offers, but not Dolly, Tammy or Kenny please. Yeeharrrr!
On to the Design File or back to the review of Elevation.
Sumo - Mike Siggins - Legal Notices and Other Information