My Dog Died

20130305_100328

 

TEAR RATING:

20130306_115001

 

THE END

Advertisements

Suicide Forest in Japan (VICE Documentary)

I had long been of the impression that VICE was a somewhat hateful organisation. These preconceptions were largely acquired through watching Nathan Barley, rather than actually following the content of the magazine or website all that closely.

What I have seen of their coverage to do with Western music scenes/subcultures is still annoying. Sending some guy to an Emo club night, or a Skrillex gig, to snidely interview the most vocal idiots; the implication being that the interviewer is some kind of arbiter of proper music/clothing taste.

I was walking through Amsterdam the other week and there was a drunk girl in a bus shelter, wearing a tight shiny dress looking tired and delirious. She was flanked by a ‘guerrilla’ camera crew of 3 men who were shining a light in her face and asking her questions at 3 in the morning. They know exactly what kind of response they are going to get from that girl. In these scenarios, it is always the team doing the interviewing that comes out of it looking the worst. If you have gone to the effort of organising a camera crew at 3am, just to look down on people, then you are clearly a twat of the finest vintage. Not entirely sure how this practice became popularised, but they still do it on Vice.com sometimes so I’m laying the blame at their door, for now.

However, if they were to be tried in court, I would offer lenient sentencing for some of the journalism and documentary filmmaking they are doing outside of their remit of providing snide content. They are interested in weirder things than most other media organisations and they have a genuinely worldwide agenda; this means that they frequently popularise and uncover things that otherwise get very little mainstream coverage elsewhere (for example this article about a country that technically doesn’t exist).

Exhibit A for the defense would be this documentary about the Aokigahara Forest in Japan (AKA Jukai, AKA Sea of Trees, AKA Suicide Forest).

The forest became a suicide blackspot after the publication of a hit novel in 1960 called Kuroi Jukai, in which a young lover commits suicide in the forest.

Since then people started taking their own lives in the Jukai at a rate of around 50 to 100 deaths a year. The forest is 35 square kilometers in size, and surrounds Mt.Fuji. The authorities sweep for bodies only on an annual basis as it is too dense to patrol on a regular basis.

What prevents the documentary from simply being morbid and depressing is the character it follows round. Azusa Hayano is a Geologist who works in the forest. Due to the unique nature of the place where he works he has to be continuously aware that he could happen across someone who has taken their own life. He wanders round the forest with the immense dignity that people achieve when they have had some gigantic psychological burden placed on them, but somehow wear it lightly.

Unlike some other Vice pieces, the filmmakers personality is completely absent, letting you get immersed in the beautiful (but eerie) environment and what Hayano has to say.

Throughout the forest there are leftovers from numerous suicide attempts, including tents, abandoned cars, suicide notes and nooses. It is hard to tell whether or not these instances had all been ‘successful’, but they make you wonder who left them and what their mindset was.

Hayano points out the signposts that have been placed all around the forest in various locations to dissuade people from taking their life: “Your life is a precious gift from your parents. Please think about your parents, siblings and children.”

The saddest point in the documentary comes when Hayano discovers a young man in a yellow tent and goes over to speak with him. After seeing all the melancholy leftovers leading up to the meeting, it is actually a shock to find someone whose fate is in the balance, rather than settled long ago.

It is interesting how socially awkward and embarrassing it is. They both know why he is there; the young man sounds audibly flustered (for obvious reasons, you don’t see him). You can see how people can pent themselves up in their own minds about the insurmountable nature of their own problems, becoming utterly convinced about what they are going to do; then someone comes along to speak to you and the illogical nature of what you are planning becomes transparently clear: you’re not Hamlet, just a socially awkward boy sat in a yellow tent. Hayano doesn’t chastise him; he merely tells him that “the path is back that way.”

Hayano and the camera crew happen across a skeleton in the forest, still wearing walking boots and trousers. Hayano estimates that it has laid there undiscovered for 1 or 2 years.

When quizzed about why he thinks people are driven to suicide Hayano chalks it up to the retrenching nature of human intimacy in the modern era. People are online all the time, alone, getting only a mirage of a social life. People need to speak to each other in the flesh and have eye contact to feel part of society (main flaw with his explanation is that the suicides in the forest have been happening since the sixties, also the act of suicide probably spans the whole of human history; there is no blood on Zuckerberg’s hands… yet).

Finale of the video sees Hayano discovering a tree with bouquets of flowers and chocolate boxes rested against it. Hayano’s closing remarks are that: “You think you die alone? no–one is alone in this world.” When you think that someone came to that area of the forest alone and killed themselves; then the relatives/friends mirrored the journey together, to lay these gifts at that exact spot in the middle of a gigantic forest, it is hard not to agree with Hayano.

TEAR RATING:

 

Adventure Time – s03 e01: Holly Jolly Secrets

There is too much good stuff on television at the moment. Well, when I say television, I really mean streams and torrent sites. There is a lot of shit as well, but it’s easier than ever to just filter it out completely and live in a carefully curated fantasy land where there is no filler, everything is brilliant and Keith Lemon is something you only hear of in passing, like Voldemort.

Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Girls and Louie* are all doing things that television has never done before, bringing filmic production values and close-to-novelistic depth, whilst enabling a much more communal experience than you would get from reading a book (I finished War & Peace two years ago and have discussed it with basically no-one (other than advising people not to read it), after watching an episode of Breaking Bad there is no shortage of people to exchange (mostly justified) hyperbole with).

Despite living in something of a golden age for live-action drama and comedy, I have recently come to the conclusion that the best show currently on television is probably Adventure Time, a simplistically drawn children’s show about a boy who goes on adventures with his magic, stretchy dog.

(2008 Pilot Episode)

 

To the casual adult onlooker, tidying up the mess of their children as they gormlessly stare at a repeat on Cartoon Network for the 14th time, Adventure Time’s bright and colourful hyperactivity and propensity for characters shouting about maths might initially appear obnoxious. What they would learn if they stopped tidying up for once, and did something useful like paying attention to cartoons, is that Adventure Time is deceptively deep.

Unlike the aforementioned A-list of HBO/AMC adult fare, which use subtle, portentous build-up to make larger points. Adventure Time uses relentless imagination and maximalism to make subtle points about characters’ psychology, romantic/familial relationships and storytelling.

The universe of the show is a weird amalgamation of fantasy/historical epics, Nintendo games, table-top RPG’s, Monty Python’s The Holy Grail and a hint of The Perry Bible Fellowship. The show is partially a parody; completely taking apart the ubiquitous ‘chosen one’ epic quest structure, that is basically the only story that video games and films can be arsed to tell any more. There seems to be an endless amount of completely arbitrary quests that Finn & Jake go on that rarely have any lasting consequence (aside from some Macguffin added into the background of Finn & Jake’s treehouse in subsequent episodes).

Like the best parodies, it is enjoyable even if you aren’t that familiar with what it’s playing upon. There are basically no overt pop cultural references. Some people describe the show as ‘random’, which I increasingly see as a pejorative term, usually meaning that someone has just referenced something obscure from the 80’s (or cheese or spoons or something equally rote). Adventure Time is actually the opposite of random, it is too well designed. The artists behind the show come up with dozens of previously inconceivable characters every episode, use them sparingly and then they are scarcely seen again.

It is also, easily, the funniest show on TV. The lack of limitations and the potential to do almost anything means they frequently go the other way. The show constantly sets up a trope, that you think is going to go one way, only for it to quickly undercut your expectations. This counterintuitive spirit that makes the show so enjoyable is summed up by this end of episode exchange that takes the piss out of stories with tacked-on morals:

Jake: “I’m sorry about what happened, let’s never be stupid again.”

Finn: “Wait; let’s always be stupid, forever!”

Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay to Adventure Time is that it instantly makes me happy when I see a picture of Finn & Jake, I feel such goodwill towards them. They are a great bunch of lads!

I shall address that matter. The ingenious and subtle way that the back story for the Adventure Time universe is handled, and the shock that you get from slowly realising the nature of the history of the land of Ooo is one of the great pleasures of AT; one I’m careful of spoiling.

I’m going to talk about the tragic aspects of the show, which are addressed most overtly in the Christmas special ‘Holly Jolly Secrets’. If you would rather remain pure, disembark from the tear blog this instant.

HOLLY JOLLY SECRETS

It took me a while to cotton on to the fact that Adventure Time is taking place on earth, in our universe, millions of years in the future after the (human) apocalypse. The point where I suddenly realised what was going on was the final episode of season 2 with the uncovering of the Lich’s lair. I was struck by the fact the entrance looked remarkably like a New York subway entrance, once down there Finn sees ruined trains and fights with the skeletal remains of commuters. It was then that I found out about ‘The Mushroom Wars’ and the extent of the hidden allusions within most episodes, such as detritus from contemporary times like bombed out police cars and empty houses underneath the water.

Once you are aware of the back story, the significance of the first shot of every episode becomes clearer. In the credit sequence the first image is a load of bombed out wreckage, nuclear bomb casings and bones. The camera then pans away so quickly you don’t think to dwell on it because soon you’re looking at the bright colourful land of Ooo with all the penguins and Marceline and the catchy theme song.

This aspect of the show is so obvious when you finally notice it, but you can easily watch all the episodes and not pick up on it. I doubt many children who watch the show will be fully aware of the nature of AT’s universe. What is exciting is that a lot of kids will grow up seeing the show one way; then as they get older they will begin to understand the dark history that underpins it, renewing their appreciation.

Creator Pendleton Ward has said that they will never address ‘The Mushroom Wars’ directly in the show. The history of the Land of Ooo is going to be slowly drip-fed for the show’s duration but never dealt with definitively. Which I am very pleased about, because that is the perfect way to do it.

Holly Jolly Secrets concerns Finn & Jake discovery of a stash of (their impotent arch-enemy) the Ice King’s VHS tapes, on which he records his video diaries, his weird monologues and dreams.

In the pilot episode, The Ice King is designed to be an incredibly generic villain who Finn & Jake face off against. Over the course of the series he develops into, probably, the most psychologically complex character ever to have appeared on a children’s tv show. Voiced by Tom Kenny (who also voices SpongeBob), The Ice King inappropriately kidnaps all the different Princesses (of which there are a seemingly endless variety) in a permanently doomed effort to get one to marry him. He has a constantly shifting mental state, and oscillates between sometimes seeing Finn & Jake as his best friends and frequently as his enemies. The fact that he is clearly mentally ill is touched upon, one episode shows a glimpse of what the Ice King sees with his “Wizard Eyes,” his vision clouded with a vast array of bizarre creatures and imagery.

I think it is interesting to see Finn, Jake and the Ice King on a continuum of the inevitable evolution of manhood. Finn represents the innocence, self-belief and naivety of childhood; Jake represents adulthood as he is more worldly than Finn and supports him with his extensive abilities; The Ice King represents the senile irrelevance of old age.

One of the videos in the Ice King’s collection reveals the sequence of events that led to him becoming the deranged villain he is. It is poignant to a degree I never could have anticipated from the show when I first discovered it.

 

The references to Scandinavia and the plane flying past the window in the background show that The Ice King used to be a part of the world pre-apocalypse; and that his obsession with marrying a princess is just a psychological remnant of his love for his (presumably long dead) ‘princess Betty’ before he was driven insane by his cursed crown. What is so amazing about this scene and it’s ramifications for the show, is that it makes rewatching so many previous episodes with the Ice King more terrifying and sad. He used to be a normal person, but his mind has unraveled. He continues to live on, relentlessly making a fool of himself, with no remaining trace of who he was originally. Not many children’s shows have a character that is a metaphor for dementia.

What is exciting is that Adventure Time surely still has years left to run (pending on how deep the boy who does Finn’s voice becomes). I am looking forward to seeing how they explore the rest of the characters and the history of the land they have set up. The best thing about Adventure Time is that despite all the dark elements, and the sad things you know about the land and its characters; the show seems to have an almost inexhaustive supply of invention and humour. It’s hard to dwell on the sadness of the show too much when just looking at a picture of Finn and Jake makes me very happy.

TEAR RATING:

*Annoyingly USA/New York focused list. I think the only UK show I’ve loved this year was Grandma’s House series 2, The Thick Of It is warming up nicely though.

Olivier Messiaen – Oraison

The big feature of Spotify that I can’t work out whether I love or despise is the Orwellian ticker telling you what all your friends have been listening to:

‘X listened to Tellin’ Stories by The Charlatans’

‘X listened to Exo-Politics by Muse’

‘X listened to Baby By Me by 50 Cent’

‘X listened to The Moose Song by Aaron Vande Wege’

‘X listened to Baby Come Home by The Scissor Sisters’

‘X listened to MIA by Emmy The Great’

‘X listened to Whistle by Can You Blow My’

‘X listened to Gorecki by Lamb’

‘X listened to If This Is It – 2006 Digital Remaster by Huey Lewis and the News’

‘X listened to Ex-Ravers by Zach Hill’

‘X listened to The House That Heaven Built by Japandroids’

‘X listened to It Wasn’t Me by Shaggy’

A diverse selection of songs, the majority of which I do not know; compiled mainly from people I haven’t seen in years, but am still inextricably connected to through facebook. Facebook induces a weird schizophrenia where I feel like I know so many people, and what they are interested in, very well; but I can’t have talked to many of them for more than a few minutes in real life. It’s like having surplus of imaginary friends on tap…

I would be interested in listening to some of the song selections to work out what they are like (particularly The Moose Song by Aaron Vande Wege) but the difficulty is: that if I do listen, then that person might notice that I’m listening to what they have been listening to. In which case, I either look like a musical parasite, or worse, that person becomes conscious they are broadcasting, affecting what they decide to listen to. Rather than discovering new things through people’s playlists, the opposite happens, this weird tension develops that means I find myself actively shying away from listening to what other people are listening to.

It is just too awkward when you that see someone is listening to the same song/album as you at the same time; producing a similar sensation to when someone catches you staring at them in the street. I also fret as to whether my song choices are dictated by what I want people to know I listen to, rather than what I actually want to listen to at any given moment.

I might have to disable the function entirely as it inflames my most twattish, paranoid instincts that I’d rather remain unconscious of.

One feature of Spotify that I have been getting into that is less psychologically daunting, is Artist Radio. You pick an artist/album that you are fond of and Spotify fishes out a randomized playlist of songs by associated artists, leading you into listening to things that you likely would never have encountered on your own. This has been particularly useful for attempting to get into modern classical/instrumental music (about which I am entirely ignorant). This was not driven by a desire to be more highbrow, but chiefly because I cannot concentrate on work at all if music has lyrics.

Artist Radio endeared itself to me instantly as the very first song it picked out was Oraison by Olivier Messiaen.

I found the song completely transfixing and densely sad. It is difficult to guess when it was written on first listen, it seems like it could be from last year or a century ago. It is played on an instrument that sounds like it is from the future. A future that is going to be sad in ways we can’t yet fathom.

Subsequent investigation revealed that it was one of the first pieces of electronic music.

It was produced by Messiaen for an instrument called the Ondes Martenot and premiered at the 1937 Paris World Fair. A precursor to the theremin (the Ondes Martenot was also used copiously on Jonny Greenwood’s soundtrack to There Will Be Blood; a score that, I have previously established, gives my tear glands a stiffy).

Like the theremin, the Ondes Martenot was later used to create the incidental music for a variety of trashy sci-fi shows/films of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. It adds to the sadness of the thing that the first piece of music written for this instrument is so moving and dignified, before it quickly becomes taken advantage of to create a campy, trashy effect.

The piece was subsequently re-worked using more traditional instrumentation for a longer suite called Quartet for the End of Time. During WW2 Messiaen was taken to a P.O.W. camp. It was there that he composed the Quartet after receiving a pencil and some paper from a sympathetic guard. The story of the piece’s first performance (from Wikipedia) is absolutely sensational and is surely ripe for a schmaltzy director to adapt it:

“The completed quartet was premiered in Stalag VIII-A in Görlitz, Germany outdoors in the rain on January 15, 1941, with old, broken instruments before an audience of about four hundred fellow prisoners of war and prison guards. Messiaen later recalled: “Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension.”

A powerful tale showing the strength of an individual able to create something beautiful and timeless whilst trapped somewhere that was summoned into being through mankind’s most destructive, hateful instincts. To quote RiRi, he “found love in a hopeless place.”

Good job they didn’t have smartphones back then. Our generation is a petty shower of shits who are only capable of watching gigs through screens. Recording it only to boast to others; then never watching the video again.

This entire generation is entirely self-obsessed; social-networking has made every action and cultural choice into a sculpted aspect of the image we want to present to others.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend the next couple of hours looking at the Spotify ticker to see if anyone listens to Oraison. That way I will get vindication of what a powerfully influential individual with great taste I am. I hope one of my imaginary friends ‘likes’ this post.

TEAR RATING:

Dog Death Double Bill – Marley & Me (2008)/Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009)

I am a dog owner. One of the scenarios that I can ultimately envision making me cry is my dog (Holly) dying (Tear Blog post forthcoming when she pops her dog-clogs: ETA 2015). To try and approximate this I decided I would watch two recent films, depicting true stories, about dogs dying to see if I can choke myself up, in psychological anticipation of the main event.

People always say: “Oh, there will never be another dog like X,” but then you see another dog, of the same breed, at the park and it seems to essentially possess exactly the same mannerisms and characteristics of your dog. Dogs are all much of a muchness really, too one-note, trying to pass bipolarity off as loyalty. Cats will always be the superior pet, because at least they have the dignity to continually acknowledge that we are each alone in the Universe. Dogs delusionally pretend this isn’t the case for their whole lives, before slinking off to die on their own under a porch at the last minute; undermining their species-wide commitment to loyalty and companionship when it matters most.

Anyway: Marley & Me. It’s the swinging 90’s, Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson play a couple of journalists. Aniston’s character is purportedly a Middle East specialist and is one of the foremost US experts on Gaddaffi (though having established this early on, she does not venture forth any comment about the Middle East for the rest of the film’s duration). They have recently got married and Aniston keeps dropping hints that she wants to force a new human life out from between her sun-kissed vaginal flaps.

Wilson’s ‘playa’ best friend advises him to get a dog to appease Aniston’s biological clock for a few years. The dog is attributed its name by Wilson on the drive back home, as a Bob Marley song is playing on the radio. He asks the dog if he would be interested in being named Bob or Robert, the dog is very responsive to the name Marley. So it is settled.

The film ostensibly takes place in the 90’s, but since this is bland teal and orange filmmaking 101 the fashions and décor all conform to present day furniture catalogue standards. The only concession to its ‘historical’ setting is the inclusion of Wilson’s archaic looking PC. I lived through the nineties, and people did not have that level of restrained taste about clothing and décor:

The main problem with Marley & Me is that Marley is a twat. He scarcely does anything affectionate for the whole film. Repeatedly, Wilson and Aniston go out somewhere, they come back and Marley has nihilistically destroyed the house yet again (you don’t actually see him do it most times; they just come back to the dog sat chilling out, panting amongst the debris like he’s king dick). Marley only begins to behave like a reasonable creature when it’s discovered that he’s not long for this world. Well Marley, death bed repentances are all well and good, but you reap what you sow in this life.

A very chilling scene in the film involves a montage of Marley harassing the house-sitter whilst Jen and Owen are away in Ireland. As the couple fuck each other beneath pictures of Jesus, Mary and a statue of the pope…

This is intercut with Marley sexually harassing the girl that is meant to be caring for him…

It then dawned on me that the dog had not wanted to be named after that Marley…

The strangest thing of all about Marley & Me is that it is based on a book which was a true account of a couple’s life together. The real life couple are significantly less photogenic than their onscreen proxies…

Even the real life Marley was less handsome than his onscreen counterpart:

There must be something really uncanny about seeing your life rendered back to you in the form of a homogenized piece of cinema designed primarily to be retailed next to supermarket checkouts. I wonder if the real Jenny Grogan thought: “My, Jennifer Aniston really captured what I went through with my miscarriage and subsequent conception of my firstborn.”

Since the characters don’t appear to age (other than the ‘playa’ best friend who gets a distinguished grey sheen to his hair in his final scene) the main marker of time passing is the dog. Different dogs are called in to represent Marley throughout his lifespan. So when he finally reaches death’s door it is actually jarring because the dog is noticeably different to previous iterations of Marley.

So as the family all weep for the loss of their beloved Marley, just off camera the 18 other dogs who played him frolic, carefree and alive.

Hachi: A Dog’s Tale is a relative curiosity which will probably become more well-known once it has reached its true spiritual home: Sunday night TV.

Don’t let the Japanese sounding title worry you, this is an American film starring Richard Gere with scarcely a subtitle in sight. It is a remake of a very old Japanese film and an even older Japanese true story concerning a man whose dog would meet him each day at the train station, the master dies, but the dog continued to wait, hopelessly anticipating his return for years on end.

This film sees that story, transplanted to modern day Everytown, USA. Again, there is a subtle disconnect between the appearance of the real life subject and the onscreen proxy…

…though admittedly less so than in Marley & Me, Hidesaburō Ueno was surprisingly hot.

Gere plays a music lecturer who, on his daily commute, discovers a dog that has apparently been abandoned (perfunctory explanation: it was imported and fell out of a crate).

Various unconvincing circumstances conspire to artificially create drama in the first half. The pound claims that they won’t be able to find a home for this incredibly cute, rare breed of dog. Gere’s wife initially refuses to let the dog stay despite the visible joy it has brought to her husband. Gere carries the dog around in his man-bag for a few days as they try and find out who it belongs to…

Eventually the wife relents and Hachi joins the family.

Each day, the dog escapes from the back garden and runs to meet his master at the train station. One nicely lame aspect of the film is that there is an established community of people that know each other, in and around the train station that help out whenever Hachi gets into scrapes. Included in this cute little gang are Jason Alexander from Seinfeld (playing the curmudgeonly porter of the train station) and Erick Avari, the go-to actor for Middle-Eastern professors, playing against type as a Middle-Eastern hot dog salesman.

One fateful day however, Gere suffers a heart attack whilst he is giving an inspirational lecture about music to a rapt student body. The dog hears the sound of the train and goes to meet his master, as he does every day. For reasons that are beyond the imaginative capacity of a dog, Gere does not arrive. The dog continues to wait, but is picked up by Gere’s family and taken home. He repeatedly escapes so he can go back to the train station to wait. Eventually the family relent and let him do what he wants; the dog then waits for 9 unbroken years.

The finale of the film is actually quite moving, in an irresistibly obvious kind of way. As the dog finds its life fading away, whilst it is still waiting, Gere appears and they hug as they are reunited in the afterlife. Because the film did not have a very large budget this climactic scene occurs at the train station whilst it is snowing. No fancy CGI lights and depictions of a ghostly Gere appearing from beyond the grave. Just a montage of happy times as Gere, greets and hugs the dog one last time.

I actually quite like this film. There is something lovely about how cheap and cheerful it is, made for a fraction of the budget of Marley and Me (costing $16m to M & M’s $60m). It is readily apparent that Gere used his modest star power to get this film made because he liked the story and patently loves animals.

Total sincerity and unabashedly optimistic conceptions of the afterlife are an area of further exploration for The Tear Blog, because they are both good at prickling my dusty ducts.

The film ends with the son of Gere’s daughter talking to his class during show and tell about how Hachi is his hero, because of his loyalty and his faith. If I were in the class though, I’d put my hand up and interrupt the boy and alternatively argue that the dog’s behaviour, though inspiring, is not a healthy moral we can extrapolate to mankind.

Hachi had the opportunity to be that boy’s pet, but he chose to run back to the train station and wait for 9 solitary years for his deceased master. Hachi could have forged a new human relationship with someone his master cared for, but instead chose to monomaniacally obsess over the past, making him a cautionary tale as much as a hero.

For comparison with M & M, adult Hachi was played by three separate dogs and “countless puppies because they kept growing too quick,” according to the director. So instead of waiting the full nine years, the dogs probably broke it down into shifts.

DID THE DOG DEATH DOUBLE BILL MAKE ME CRY?

Neither of the films made me cry, though the finale of Hachi did get me going a little bit because I am a sucker for lame sincerity.

Sadly, I don’t think anyone has made a tearjerking drama about cats. Cats would clearly resent being complicit in such mawkish manipulation. For cat owners seeking a hypothetical Cat Death Double Bill, might I suggest Re-Animator followed by Drag Me To Hell.

MARLEY & ME – TEAR RATING:

HACHI: A DOG’S TALE – TEAR RATING:

Nickelback – Lullaby (Music Video)

I am a big fan of music videos which try to tell meaningful tragic tales in less than 4 minutes, as they are always a guaranteed chuckle.

The apex of the genre is the video to ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’ by Ronan Keating, which sees him falling repeatedly into the path of a moving vehicle whilst singing in slow motion. His girlfriend writhes around in her sleep thinking about the incident; all the while looked over by Ronan’s ghost.

Because these kinds of stories necessarily have to be as simple as possible, they contain little-to-no-dialogue. The ‘sad things’ that happen have to be drawn as broadly as possible, so usually end up being about as subtle as The Beano.

I am quite fond of the band Nickelback, both in spite and because of the fact they are considered to be one of the worst bands ever. They can always be guaranteed to heave out a workmanlike log of a song every couple of years that will have displayed no attempt at development or differentiation whatsoever, but will nevertheless be very catchy. I find it hard to truly hate them, their unwavering commitment to musical drabness is perversely admirable, plus Chad Kroeger’s voice is quite fun to impersonate.

Nickelback alternate between two tones: ‘good time party’ and ‘serious’. Their songs sound basically the same no matter which style they are aiming for.

Lullaby is at the ‘serious’ end of the Nickelback polarity, this is clear early on from the piano intro and the fact that Chad is sat on a backwards facing chair, rather than at a party having a few brewskis with some hot babes.

The video concerns the sad tale of a married couple, who look about 20, having a baby  (I am assuming they are married, because the video opens with a shot of their hands holding, clearly displaying their wedding rings). As the girl is rushed to the hospital, she gives birth to a healthy young baby, but pays a terrible price! Despite being at the optimum age for fertility and child bearing, there are complications and the girl ends up dying (I assume, there is no dialogue, she may have just wandered off).

The boy is left to bring up the baby on his own. He doesn’t waste a moment before picking up an adoption pamphlet. If the video had suggested they were teens who maybe got into this situation by accident the decision would be more agonizing, his trepidation more justifiable.  Instead, this guy was married and had, presumably, consciously decided to have a baby with his wife. In that situation he almost certainly would have to have been a psychopath to give the kid away. How would he have explained that to his family and co-workers? “So sorry to hear about your wife dying John, is the baby doing well at least?” “Don’t know, gave it away, too much hassle.” “Anyone would have done the same thing in your position, John.”

In the end, after accidentally dropping his smartphone whilst changing the baby’s nappy, due to some divine intervention it flops onto a video of his wife (with an inexplicable VHS crackle), with the baby chilling out in her womb like an IED. He displays the video to his child with a creepy look on his face.

I’m fairly sure it would take more dedicated manipulation of the touchscreen to bring up the fortuitous video content that saves him from giving up the baby. The Lord moves in mysterious ways, ways that seem to keep pace with current technology.

Whilst this tragedy plays out, it is intercut with Nickelback boring on in a warehouse, slowly diffusing their audio fart, filling it to the rafters. According to Wikipedia, Kerrang! TV in the UK does not show the narrative version of the video due to its apparently distressing nature. All they show is an uncut warehouse performance video, which must be the longest 3 minutes and 45 seconds imaginable.

The most distressing thing about the video is that Chad Kroeger seems to be going for the Roland Rat look.

TEAR RATING:

Derek (pilot)

Life’s Too Short suggested that Gervais had forgotten how to make a coherent comedy programme.

It was an awkward mashing together of all his previous shows and, worse still, slandered the good name of Warwick Davis by unconvincingly painting him as an egomaniacal wanker, when in reality he is clearly very nice.

Here’s a picture of him with his wife and kids:

The quick turnaround between the icy reception of Life’s Too Short to Derek being on our screens, suggests that Gervais wanted to prove that he could still do the kind of scripted TV comedy that his whole unlikely A-list celebrity is based upon.

Derek concerns a man who, in the repeatedly stated opinion of Gervais, is not supposed to be a disabled man, but is in fact, to all intents and purposes a disabled man. He works in a care home and has a friendship/unrequited love for a fellow worker there called Hannah.

I have a couple of disabled relatives and I will say that he did get the haircut right, my uncle also goes for the Downfall Hitler look.

I actually don’t think Gervais did a terrible job with the character, but I never got past the stage of thinking ‘that’s just Ricky Gervais pretending to be disabled’, he’s no Chris Lilley when it comes to character immersion. The other problem is that there is nothing about the character of Derek that is particularly endearing or amusing in any way.

There are so many scenes that just add up to nothing. The Youtube pastiche ‘Hamster on a Piano’ goes on far too long and is just cringe. The attempts at slapstick are just leaden: him falling in the pond, him sitting on his dessert… This is from the man who wrote the scene where Chris Finch threw a shoe over a pub to prove he should have won a quiz; is he happy that this is the level he’s pitching things at now? Man falls in pond. Whoops!

Another strange aspect of Derek is that it marks the official acting debut of Karl Pilkington. This does add interesting further questions as to how far he is a comedic construct (even though he is just playing himself with a wig). I actually like that potential aspect of Pilkington; that he could be taking method acting to whole new levels that make Joaquin Phoenix look lazy.

The biggest disappointment about Derek for me was that it couldn’t even get to the end of the first episode without including a crying scene. One of Gervais’ underrated qualities as an actor is that he is probably one of the best onscreen criers. The “please don’t make me redundant” scene at the end of series 2 of The Office is unbeatable. The tearful monologue in the Big Brother house at the end of Extras is also memorable. Compare The Office (and Extras) which went through two series of build-up before their moment of emotional catharsis.

Derek is weeping before the first episode is through, when his favourite old person dies (even though she’s won a scratch card!). Where does the show go from here? If it goes to a full series will Derek weep at the bedside of a different old person every week?

I think the issue was that Gervais felt he had to attempt to show (in the least subtle way possible) that he wasn’t taking the piss out of disabled people. In order to cheaply trick everyone, he ends the pilot with this grand emotional display, with piano music that tells you how to feel (very sad is the answer). Compare that to the absence of sound or music when Tim goes off mic to speak to Dawn at the end of series 2 of The Office, which was more powerful?

I feel sorry for Ricky Gervais in a way, despite his huge success and hand in creating The Office; he has seemingly lost his ability to be immediately given the benefit of the doubt about his shows due to his increasing disregard for quality control. It is quite an indignity to have been forced to make a pilot for this, rather than going straight to series, especially since it didn’t even look that expensive to make.

A bigger question is, why did Stephen Merchant decline to take part in this programme in any way? Did he know it would be a bit crap? Was he busy? Is he doing his own sitcom pilot where he plays a gypsy-that’s-not-actually-a-gypsy?

A definite influence on Derek is Louis CK’s sitcom Louie, which Gervais has an (annoying) recurring role on. The camera-work and tone of Derek seemed to be Gervais making a stab at the kind of bleak, often scarcely-a-comedy tone that programme achieves. Unlike Louie, which weekly gives you bleak, morally complex situations and allows you to draw your own conclusions; the babyish didactic tone of Derek doesn’t compare. With an endless stream of talking heads saying “Derek is kind, his heart is in the right place”, “Derek’s just a laugh, he’s funny isn’t he?” not really.

The whole programme just reminded me of browning bits of chopped fruit.

That said, Gervais seems to be going forward with writing a full series. I still hope the programme is potentially salvageable, I find it difficult to entirely give up on Ricky Gervais, despite everything that has gone on.

I watched this show in good faith; even though I’d been lukewarm on all his recent output and after becoming increasingly embarrassed by his public persona that includes things like this:

Even David Brent would have thought was a bit much.

TEAR RATING: