Rage, rage against the re-standardisation of the format

Back in the mid 90s when I worked as a bookseller in Aberdeen we once took delivery of a new volume (the last I guess) of Dirk Bogarde’s autobiography. On the jacket photograph Dirk was captured looking relaxed – serene, you would have to say – in loose linen clothing alone in a vast room that looked as though it might be in a Moorish palace or something. There was some indefinable quality of the photo that had me and a fellow bookseller staring at it for a moment or two. A man, perfectly at ease, in an immense, tranquil, empty space.

“Wow,” said my colleague eventually in a tone of total wonder. “Where’s all his stuff?”

I live in a world of stuff. Books, DVDs, CDs, toys of little men off the telly, gadgets, games. It’s great. I love it. From time to time in the past I have cast off large amounts of it for reasons of space or money or carelessness, and it has always been a mistake and I have always come to regret it.

Stuff is not the way of the world now though.

I mean there has always been a large part of the population that doesn’t need to archive obsessively – normal people, they are called. They finish a book and they are quite happy to pass it on to someone else, rather than carefully shelve it (or more likely put it into a pile on the floor) with other books that are a bit like it. If they put their CDs back in the cases at all they won’t necessarily be the right cases. They watch a movie once, and that’s it. They’ll never consider seeing it again.

Cool. Fine. Six horses for half a dozen courses. Live and let live as Paul McCartney once so nearly sang. Barking up the wrong gum tree. Without a paddle.

But even among the collectors and non-casual consumers of literature, music and movies these days, stuff itself is becoming a bit passé.

The tipping point seems to have been reached where people are now happy to accept that information is just information. They don’t need a shiny disc or a papery cuboid of matter to “own” something. They are happy with a bunch of ones and zeroes on a hard drive. They are downloaders.

This was really hammered home for me when I was down in Leeds last week. I made my usual trip to the palatial HMV down there and, on entering, thought I’d gone into the wrong building.

Where previously there had been miles and miles of racking containing CDs was now a T-shirt boutique with a sideline in key rings, mugs, coasters and video game hardware.

The CDs had been almost entirely eliminated from the store and shifted upstairs and to the back of the shop in a retail move that will be familiar to anyone who gambled their entertainment future on eight track, audiocassette, Betamax, VHS, DAT or MiniDiscs. It’s the last stop before the goods are finally hauled off and broken down for metaphorical dog food.

I’ve known this day was coming. Anyone I know who’s younger than thirty finds the contents of my flat hilarious. Why would you clutter your living space with all that obstacling nonsense when you could just download it or stream it when you want?

And they are right! It’s a point of view I have some considerable identification with. I now “own” albums which I don’t have as physical objects, although with iTunes’ insanely anal digital rights management system philologists might like to quibble about my use of the word “own” there.

I have a Sony eReader and an eBooks app and comic reader on my iPhone.

I’m not against this. I think the technology is marvellous and lovely and totally seductive. I accept that information is information. Download it onto an iPad or print it on sugar paper with bisected potatoes. It’s the same information.

What makes me sad is the sense it evokes in me of my own mortality. There’s a new way of doing things that’s better, but I’m clinging to the old way. Life is like a constantly eroding sandbank where you get nearer and nearer the end just by standing still, and I feel in recent years that a big lump just dropped off the front.

In the post today I got the Complete New Avengers on DVD.

Nobody would argue that that’s the pinnacle of 20th Century artistic achievement, but it made me very happy when it arrived. I might have cuddled the box a bit.


Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai.

What a silly goose I can be. For most of my life I have just assumed that I wouldn’t like Jim Jarmusch movies. This was based on nothing other than a misapprehension that he was a bit arty and up himself. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

I have had Ghost Dog sitting on my pile of unwatched gubbins for some months now. I bought it in a frenzy of snapping up Film 4 DVDs when they went down to five quid each. Having watched it today I feel like an idiot for not having got to it sooner. It’s spiffing.

It is a bit of an auteur experience in that Jarmusch wrote and directed it and clearly had an exact vision of what it was he was doing, but that’s not a bad thing here. Some auteur films are untrammelled idiocy which could have used the mitigating touch of a co-creator, but not Ghost Dog. This is a finely balanced mix of a bunch of indie movie mechanics, but also a narrative through line that most current Hollywood writers would kill for.

So the vision is Jarmusch’s but the film would be nothing without the immense Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog the solitary contemporary samurai. At the film’s outset he is a solid, stoical presence: still, dutiful, silent and looming like a menhir. He provides a motionless axis around which everything else crazily revolves.

As the story progresses and he is spurred into his samurai duty as he sees it – full on apparently, no skulking round in the dark for your samurai – he becomes irresistibly telic, a gallant, code-bound version of an action movie hero.

There are, as befits an arthouse effort, spiralling digressions into friendship, age, communication and mortality, but it’s all done with wit, focus and considerable panache.

I’m embarrassed about my former Jim Jarmusch prejudices but they’re gone now. I’m on team Jarmusch. What’s next?


Doctor Who news:

There is some talk that Karen Gillan slowed up the queue in the Post Office here in Inverness by posting what appeared to be a “large parcel”, though this needs more corroboration before I’ll believe it.

Karen Gillan showing some decorum earlier today.

And finally: the great big 36 Hour A Day Tesco at the Inverness retail park has stocked up with Doctor Who figures again. I am reported to be very pleased indeed with my Ice Warrior.