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Favourite Films on Friday: #41, Spirited Away

As a rule, my favourite films and my sister’s favourite films completely fail to align. She is a relatively normal 17 year old girl who doesn’t share my pretensions. Suffice to say, were this website, few of my choices would make the list. There are two exceptions. Pixar films, and Spirited Away. As far as I can tell, the young Miss Spencer has some insatiable appetite for animated films. This means she ends up going to see sub-Dreamworks rubbish like Gnomeo & Juliet. But it’s also introduced her to things I suspect she’d otherwise consider too weird. …Spirited Away is, rather undeniably, a weird film. It relentlessly throws images and ideas at you, one after another. Here’s a trio of bouncing heads. A train skimming across the surface of the sea. What if someone could turn into a bird by pulling their coat round them so they look like they have wings? The film is a streamlined Alice in Wonderland, pure inventive design and unexpected discoveries. The story just exists to serve these up to you. I’m not sure I could tell you Spirited Away‘s plot, at least not in any way that made sense and sounded at all appealing. I’m not sure I’ve even seen the entire film. None of that stuff really matters. Were it not an animated film, I’m not sure this would be allowed to stand. But somehow we have been trained as a society to accept something a little different in the safe confines of animation. Maybe it’s a recent development, and Pixar are responsible. But then it isn’t difficult to think back to Fantasia, or even early Bugs Bunny cartoons. Fourth-wall breaking and surrealist touches are just accepted parts of cartoons. And so, Spirited Away, in spite of its many oddities, is the great anime crossover hit. It introduced an entire sustainable Western audience to Studio Ghibli, and can be found clutched close to people’s chest in a lot of similar lists. It gets away with just being a looker. Which it undeniably is. The characters are sharply animated, but the painted backgrounds are something else entirely. As a whole Spirited Away is by turns stunningly beautiful and deliberately ugly. Sometimes cute, sometimes scary. But not a single frame is anything less than visually arresting. The term ‘videogame’ is often thrown around as a criticism of films with little plot which focus on quick, cheap thrills and visual spectacle. Spirited Away is the most videogame piece of cinema I can think of, and the medium could learn a lot from its example. Mario Galaxy approaches the same level of inventive spectacle. But imagine a GTA-style open-world game with crannies as unexpectedly, surrealistically gorgeous as these. …All of which is important and me being clever. But none of it is the reason Spirited Away made it onto this list. It’s here because of the memories attached to it – sleepy Christmas day-viewing with the family – and the connection it represents between me and my only, otherwise very different sibling. It’s hardly all we have in common: we share a certain amount of music taste, and we religiously see every Pixar film together, about which she generally has whip-smart comments (my Toy Story 3 review was basically ripped off from her reaction coming out of the cinema), and she drinks in the fish-like manner which are her inheritance. But everybody likes Pixar, and Robyn, and vodka. Meanwhile Spirited Away, widely loved as it is, retains a feeling of being personal, private, secret even. It is the single strongest link between and, the website that exists only in the alternative universe which it feel like it was created in. And for that, I treasure it.

30 Days of Music: #020

day 20 – a song that you listen to when you’re angry And the bottom has, inevitably, started to fall out of British summer, making today an even more perfect Kenickie day than yesterday… Los Campesinos! – We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed It should be pointed out that I don’t really listen to music as an anger-reliever or -enhancer. This is largely because I’m not very good at getting angry, certainly not for an extended period of time. Put it down to a testosterone deficiency or whatever. However, the stuff I do like that would usually be considered ‘angry’ (Rage Against Machine, Gallows, most good hip-hop) is used for having a good time with. I nearly slipped Orchestra of Wolves into yesterday’s position for making this point. Even WABWAD doesn’t make me angry, per se, but I can’t help, no doubt to the bemusements of other pedestrians, but shout along: “I cannot emphasise enough that my bodyIs a badly designed, poorly put together vesselHarbouring these diminishing, so called vital organs HOPE MY HEART GOES FIRSTI HOPE MY HEART GOES FIRST” This loses some of its power written down (like almost all LC! lyrics, for reasons we’ll get into/have gotten into another time) but those capitals are well earned. These sorts of carve-them-into-your-arm bits are dotted across the song (“We kid ourselves there’s future in the hugging/But there is no hugging future”*) and it’s easy to see how, if I ever actually learn to get angry, they might come in useful. *Why does almost every choice I make try its hardest to contravene the site’s (arbitrary, but fun) family-friendly rules? Naughty, naughty. As my mom once bemoaned… those rockstars, they like the f-word, don’t they?

30 Days of Music: #029

day 29 – a song from your childhood This is one of the hard ones. Melancholy, really… The prevailing David Inkpen theory that having Meningitis ruins your memory rings true with me, as I don’t really have many specific childhood reminisces to fall back on. The story behind my choice is pretty sad, too. With no further ado, I give you the entirely fitting… Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons – December, 1963 I don’t really have the vocabulary to talk about this song – it could’ve easily fell into one of the “song people wouldn’t expect you to like” categories if I didn’t break it out at every house party. But that’s just as well, as I think it’s fair to assume you’ve heard it and you don’t need my analysis of why the fuzzy/floaty combo works so well, or why such a basically-told generic story makes for a compelling sing-a-long. As for why it reminds me of childhood: well, it’s older than me. I was thinking of picking some Britpop, but most of the stuff I heard on the radio then, and discovered for myself a few years later (it’s worth noting that until the start of my teens, I wasn’t really interested in music), but those are too overlaid with all the memories since, and all the surrogate memories of the 90s. It was on a CD my family inherited in the glove-compartment of a car we inherited. It reminds me of a sad time, but without making me sad. But, enough of that: Blank emotional expressionism isn’t my thing, I’m not good enough at it. Just listen to this song, preferably with as many people as possible in the room.

It’s Britney, Bitch II: vs. Lady Gaga

Right now, the Q music channel is running a Britney week. Song after song by Britney, the constant video stream only interrupted by adverts. All day.Last night, I had an argument with my mom (never a pop music aficionado) over the Britney miming scandal, and the relative merits of Take That’s current touring Circus over Britney’s. Britney exposure is at an all-time-high. It’s time for a rethink. In my last post about our Princess of Pop, now Queen, I talked about Britney’s various, occasionally incongruous, identities. Watching all her videos in sequence, I think this is much more consciously realised by Britney (or, perhaps, Team Britney) than I gave credit for. The video to Womaniser shows her splitting into various aspects of herself (or, to the right pretentious viewer, of Woman). This tradition stretches back as far as Toxic, at least. It’s there in One More Time: Britney playing both schoolgirl and teacher. The fragmentation is within videos, within songs, as much as in the greater body of her work. There’s a forthcoming video (for Kill The Lights) based on “fan fiction”- a pop star who inspires her own fiction.Britney is brunette, blonde, redhead; cartoon, real, fictive. Debating the New Princess of Pop (now Britney is officially, definitely Queen- no arguments), Lady Gaga was put forward as Britney’s successor (and also superior. This opinion is foolish). She’s certainly modelled herself as such. But my issue with Lady Gaga- and at the same time the reason I like Lady Gaga- is how self-aware she is. Creating image, iconography, a legend for herself to dance into.I like it, because she’s so wonderfully arch-Pop. The costumes, the overblown weirdness, that silly voice- I think it puts a lot of people off, I’ve heard a lot of moaning about her Teacup. But, to my desperately Pop-addicted mind, that silliness is everything I’m looking for.It seems too early for it all, though- the beauty of Britney was that this all came with the reinvention (by my reckoning between In The Zone and Blackout, for those counting at home), working on a ready-made pop empire. She was already hugely popular and reasonably iconic (I’m thinking the videos to …Baby One More Time and Oops! …I Did It Again in particular) and has simply crystallised since then. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga is doing the Fame/Paparazzi thing (with, I admit, enough sense of irony/metaphor to save it from vanity) on the back of two big singles. She’s not proven- not yet. However, by far the most important thing I have learnt from watching all those videos is that Britney has a very lovely stomach. I would like to live on it. If not, opening a restaurant on it where I could eat would be acceptable. And, on the other hand, my mom points out, Take That have a giant silver elephant. (Confession: at time of polishing/going to (Word)press, the dates suggested in the opening are actually a good three or four days untrue. Sorry to break the illusion kids, but this one took a few days to hammer out. Confession II: I’m sorry this post features the B-word 14 times. Typing “her” just seems disrespectful, and frankly it’s a damn fun word to say and type. Britney Britney Britney. Perhaps that figures into why I love her so much… It’s Britney, Bitch III?)