Monday, 10 November 2014

Monthly Animation Waffle:- Over the Garden Wall

Seeing as I blogged last month about my love of 'Bojack Horseman', the animated show that showed the dark and lonely side of fame whilst simultaneously making seal-based puns, I'd like to continue in a similar vein this month. I'd like to opine a while, if you'd indulge me (well if you're reading this, you're already technically allowing me to do so) on a very, very different but equally wonderful series I discovered  during my standard bouts of procrastination.
'Over the Garden Wall' is a Cartoon Network ten-part miniseries (the first that Cartoon Network have done) that aired over the course of a week (in fact starting a week ago today), each part lasting ten minutes. The miracles of the internet being what they are, I was able to watch it around the same time as well.
To avoid spoiling anything too much, I'll give you the abridged version of the plot. It centres around two brothers, Wirt (Elijah Wood) a cynical (but not unkind), shy teenager, and his younger kid brother Greg (Collin Dean) a wide-eyed innocent who delights in the fun and adventure to be had wherever they may be. Somehow, they are lost in a mysterious, possibly supernatural forest called 'The Unknown.' The episodes deal with the strange people and creatures they encounter as they try to find their way home. Accompanying them on these adventures is a world-weary and impatient blue-bird called Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey) who acts as a pseudo-guide and may know more about the whole situation than she's letting on.

This sounds pretty much like a fairy-tale right? You'd be correct in your judgement, from the aesthetics, to the way nearly all the parts can stand alone as a self-contained morality tale, even to the way each episode begins with a engraved frontispiece with the episode title on, like chapters. It all serves to convey a literary motif, as though this is all  like a fantastical book of 19th century children's fiction you often see in second hand book shops. One of those that comes complete with deep, lusciously detailed colour illustrations. The traditionally child-like and fantastical elements of the supernatural, anthropmorphised animals, and  spooky beings beyond the comprehension of our two main characters gel surprisingly well with the more adult themes approached within the episodes. Depression, loneliness, love, regret and betrayal all make their appearances within the span of this short series, dealt with in a way that doesn't feel awkwardly shoehorned in, or mawkish. In fact, the series as a whole reminds me more of a fairy tale for the older ones like Wirt. A fairy-tale for those dealing with that strange, awkward, un-knowable stage in life and those who may have seemingly left that child-like part of themselves behind as they search for a new identity.

The animation itself is simply stunning, reminding me at some times of the rich and vibrant colours of a Studio Ghibli production (this I feel, also came out in some aspects of the character design). The backgrounds you can just delve into and absorb their atmosphere like a rich perfume.  It also seems to have drawn influence from such varied sources as the Max Fleischer cartoons of the early 30's (keep your eyes out for a Betty-Boop-esque barmaid in one episode) and European folk art. Coupled with this is the sterling voice work of the main cast (Elijah Wood is especially wonderful at conveying the awkward, sometimes contrarian Wirt) alongside some great guest voice actors, such as John Cleese as a billionaire who may or may not be on the verge of madness, and Christopher Lloyd as a strange and sinister woodsman. Music also takes centre stage as well, with both the ambient soundtrack and specific musical moments (these are too good to spoil here) rooted firmly in the early 20th century American folk tradition. Some of the songs I could easily imagine Woody Guthrie singing in an alternate universe. Major props go to the The Petrojvic Blasting Company for composing the score.

So overall, Over the Garden Wall has all these high quality aspects coming together to produce a beautiful piece of work, which hopefully Cartoon Network will repeat annually, instead of just shoving into a metaphorical cupboard.  I have read some people online clamouring for more of this, a sequel, a series of these adventures, and I think they're missing the point. All fairy-tales, including this one, have a definitive ending, a 'happily-ever-after.'  To have something that exists in this day and age as an entire whole, with a beginning, a middle and an end and sans an undignified afterlife where network executives try to elongate and press as much money as possible out of it, is a very rare thing indeed. Besides, it would be most unfitting to the whimsy and imagination of the world conjured up by this series if they tried to recreate this microcosm again. I mean, can you really disappear down a rabbit-hole more than once?

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Pencils down.

"As well as this, China's growing naval power throughout the coming century may help to cement various territorial claims on islands..."
Shit, shit, shit. I'm out of space. I'm only fifty minutes into this exam and already I've spunked away all of my space for writing, what am I going to do now? I look around the sports hall, the lines of desks stretching out for eternity around me in all directions. Just don't panic, it's not the end of the world. It's not like this exam is the difference between getting a degree and not. Except maybe it is. All those nights of playing gin-based drinking games set to Question Time and coming in late for lectures have caught up with me. Even the ones I did come in for, the focus was more on the cute librarian type sitting in the front row. Never even approached him, alas. Regardless, I actually have to do well in this exam. No more endless dicking around for me, no sir. Well. I may have a drink or two when I'm back at the house. To celebrate. Or more likely, commiserate. It's nearly the last day of term and I'm in an exam for a subject I don't know or care about.

I don't even know what I'm meant to be writing anyway, my theory is if I put enough fancy, polysyllabic words in, the exam markers will be sure to think that this essay is a work of stunning genius rather than something cooked up in desperation by a perennial procrastinator with a love of thesauruses. My revision essentially consisted of hurriedly glancing through the course textbook (why do they always want you to buy the textbook? The only use mine came in was when I accidentally squashed that spider with it) five minutes before the exam. God I must have looked such an idiot. All  the calm and collected sorts with their angora scarves and turtle-neck sweaters sipping lattes outside the exam hall, discussing with their dreadful friends what their plans are for the summer, and then there's me. Wearing a pair of oversize jeans some guy left in my bedroom, a stained pullover that had until this morning been acting as a pillow, and madly flipping through an otherwise pristine textbook with arachnid entrails on the cover. I should have tried harder, I know I should have. But is it really my fault this course has been so unforgivably boring? Politics and International Relations? That's not a degree, that's a category on a quiz-show. Well yes, you did want to do English didn't you, but you didn't quite get the grades did you? Ha, thanks for reminding me brain, I did rather fuck up the ol' A-Levels didn't I? I could almost taste Mum's disappointment in me. "Well, there's always the back-up option darling, not that I thought we were going to need it...."
Snap out of it, this self-pity wankery is only just going to make things worse. What did that invigilator guy say at the start? Oh yeah! "Put your hand up if you require more paper." Simple as, couldn't be easier. I told you there was no need to worry. Except those invigilators are on the other side of the hall, suppose they don't see me? How could I get their attention? Maybe I should feign an asthma attack and collapse on the floor. No, too much. A coughing fit?

I glance at the clock dustily ticking away on the other side of the room. Shit. Already wasted five minutes worrying as it is. My heart's beating like a war drum, constantly getting faster and faster.
Swallow your embarrassment you damn fool, and raise your hand then! I raise my hand tentatively into the air, a dim distress beacon in the middle of an turbulent sea. Damn! that nice looking old man is busy with that gormless twat Simon from the study group on the other side of the room. He's probably forgotten how to breathe or something and he's getting the invigilator to remind him how. I don't want to have that other one deal with me, the lady, she hates me. I know I shouldn't have asked for a pencil from her at the start. I didn't mean to forget any form of writing implement, it was more the fault of the hangover now that you think about it.
I try and replay the scene mentally.
"This isn't normal you know, we're not meant to supply stationery to students, it's most unprofessional of you not to have brought something" she sneers at me, all the while looking at me as though I'd dropped my trousers and taken a shit in front of her, instead of ask for help.
"Well, yes but I honestly didn't mean to for-" I start.
The old biddy puckers her arse like mouth. "Hmmmm. I shall look in the supply cupboard. Wait here." She momentarily returns, clutching a blunt pencil in her claw like hand.
"Consider yourself lucky young lady, that was the last one. Now don't let me catch you coming unequipped to an exam again!" and she gives a terrible dry wheezing sound like a church organ being cleaned. It takes me a moment to recognise this as her approximation of laughter.

I shake myself awake. I've been daydreaming. I flick my eyes, paranoid, to the clock again. A minute has passed and they still haven't come to me! My arm's beginning to ache as the blood drains from it. Maybe I should be more obvious? I clear my throat. Nothing.
Maybe I should do it slightly louder this time? - I've just ended up getting the rugby-shirted meatsack in front of me to spin round in his seat and shoot me a filthy look. Great.
Oh god no, I've think I've finally drawn her attention, that old bat's coming this way! Just relax, act natural, you haven't done anything wrong, you just need more paper.
"Whats the matter? I thought I gave you a pencil earlier?"
"Oh, it's not that, I just need some more exam paper, I've ran out of room."
She takes the exam paper from the desk and inspects it with a pair of deep, muddy eyes that are too large for her face. She sniffs. "Give me a moment." She's off, her heels clacking away on the polished parquet floor. Thank god for that. See? There was absolutely nothing to worry about at all was there? Easy as pie, in and out, etcetera, etcetera.

Now, we're going to get our paper, we're going to ace this test, and we're going to go back to the house and try and not collapse into a amorphous blob of nervousness. At least not just yet. Simple enough brain? I thought so. Maybe I can finally let all of this tension and worry go now it's nearly all over.
A familiar clacking noise comes back into earshot now. I've managed to settle myself down, my heart is now beating to the tune of a slow, steady drumbeat. I casually inspect my impeccable fingernails (something I've always been proud of, that) and await the Miss Haversham of the exam hall to make her return.
"There you go." she intones, handing me a new sheaf of papers.
"Than-" I start, but she's already neatly turned on her heels and is clacking off down the aisle.
Triumphantly, I shift back up in my seat. I take a deep, calming breath and glance momentarily at the clock. Twenty minutes left. I know I can do this. Pencil poised, I launch back into the flow of things-
"As well as this China's growing naval power throughout the coming century may help to cement various territorial claims on islands in the Pacifi-"
The pencil lead snaps. Shit.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Why I Joined the Green Party

Whilst I await a bolt from the blue to illuminate me with the Dahlian devilry needed to think of an ending to my latest short story, I shall instead bore you  with a short blog about why I decided to join the Green Party. This is in order to better explain my political thought process, as well as a way to try and keep this blog going, which is currently on life support.
So, Oscar, given you've been a member of three political parties prior to this (see this post I wrote years ago on that subject) why do you think the Greens are the best option for you now?
Well quite simply, they are the only intelligent, principled option for anyone on the political left. The previous parties I joined in the past (the Labour Party for six months, and the SWP for a year or so) I joined out of a means of finding my political feet, of testing the waters of each segment of the left. Either that, or more likely my younger self was very fickle. After that spate of party memberships, I vowed never to join a political party again. I could never find one that fully supported my views. I wanted something that was left of Labour, but not delusional or dictatorial like the SWP. I also wanted something that had committed and well-thought out principles, something that I had always missed, regardless of the party.
So why not give Labour another chance instead you may say? I mean Milliband's in charge now, and he's made some changes for the better, right? Now as much as I do like Labour (and having been a member, to a degree, support it) it's incredibly obvious to anyone with even the vaguest inkling of political ideology that they are lot more right-wing than they were. Throughout the past two-and-a-half decades, Labour has slid from being the implicitly left-wing party of Atlee & Nye Bevan, to just a vaguely centrist morass, diluted with populist ideals to the point of not being recognisable as the party it once was. That's not to say the Labour Party doesn't have its fair share of principled and wonderful people, my political idol Tony Benn once said that the "Labour party has never been a socialist party, although there have always been socialists in it – a bit like Christians in the Church of England." Decent M.P's such as Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell keep the torch burning for the spirit of socialism within the Labour party, but I realise as much as them (and indeed the vast majority of the party members, which has proven to be more left-wing than the leadership as seen here) do try and tilt the party back towards having some form of back-bone, after years of Blairite damage, it just won't happen within the current political generation.
Far, far better I feel, to support a party whose inherent values and policies speak directly to a disenfranchised and unsupported political class who have been spurned by Labour's need to hawk for as much votes as possible (which has in turn diluted their political spirit) A party which is pro-environment, pro-nationalisation, and is anti-austerity and anti-big business. The Greens have this in spades, and to actually find a party who hold firm, decisive principles is a breath of fresh air. Whereas Labour nervously pipes up now and then to spurn some hateful Tory nonsense, but nevertheless still support these decisions, the Greens have consistently and stridently spoken out against cruel and unnecessary austerity measures. Where Labour has accepted and for the most part acquiesced to Tory party decisions such as the recent privatisation of the Royal Mail, or spending cuts, the Green Party has long been a strident thorn in the side of these policies.
As well as this (the clue is in the name obviously) The Green Party are the only party I could trust to enact environmentally sounds policies. Whilst other political parties tack on environmental issues as a mere after-thought to appease the loonies, the Green Party are the only ones to truly realise that the major issue this century won't be the global dominance of some rising super-power, or globalisation, but the environment. Time after time experts have said we are reaching the point of no return with rising sea-levels or CO2 emissions, that we are consuming more resources than we are replenishing, that growing health issues surrounding pollution and industrial emissions are blighting the lives of thousands. Only the Green Party seems to have thought to themselves, "Hmmm, this actually is going to effect the lives of everyone on the planet more than anything else, we should do something about this." Such forward thinking is sadly absent within most parties at the moment. We may pledge to cut emissions, or we may promise to introduce more renewable energy sources, but are there any well-known policies most people could name that the current or previous government championed in order to make this so?

So why haven't you heard any of this stuff about the Greens? Apologies for coming over all tinfoil-hat-wearing, but most media not only has an inherent positive bias towards the ruling political establishment, but also towards what will get views and attention. For instance, U.K.I.P peddle a heady blend of bigotry, exaggeration and sensationalism posing as truth.  These are all political extremes, and because extremes garners attention, much in the way a loud drunken man shitting himself in the High Street garners attention, the media are drawn to it, giving it even more attention and stoking the flames of publicity ever higher.
Because the Greens are sensible, not notorious for publicity gaffes or controversial statements and actually base their policies on fact, (Caroline Lucas's support for homoeopathy notwithstanding) the media passes them by for the loud, brash, political circus of Farage who will no doubt garner more views or hits. But in spite of being mainly ignored by the mainstream media, the Green Party continues to grow in membership size and political influence, experiencing what some commentators are calling 'The Green Surge' (which sounds more like a detergent to me.) With more and more people off-put by 'big tent' politics and a larger more inherent distrust in the political system and leaders, it could be argued that people are being more rapidly politicised than ever. This can be especially seen as protest groups on both the left and right grow in size and popularity. As the existing three party system squabbles amongst themselves and tries to snatch for as much votes as possible from their traditional power bases, only one party can truly lay claim to being the principled choice for anyone on the left. That's why I joined the Green Party.