Dave Chappelle: Sticks and Stones – review (Netflix)

Being funny is a particular skill. There are different types of funny, and different people find different things amusing, but to pursue the profession of making people laugh takes a certain amount of bravery, especially in this day and age.

If you are older, over forty, forty-five years old, you know that comedy has changed a lot. The double entendre comedy of the seventies and into the eighties, with homosexual references, blonde jokes, racial stereotypes, and other utterances that would be considered inappropriate in this modern world of social media outrage and offended-ness, is difficult even to view on YouTube.

Being a stand-up comedian, or even a comedy writer, is fraught with career-ending danger. An offhand tweet can end a career, no matter how old it might be. The vociferous appetite for scandal across media has anyone in the public eye, checking themselves before making any sort of comment.

The subject of fame and how seemingly inappropriate words can bring the great and famous to heel is central to Dave Chappelle’s comedy special Sticks and Stones, that is currently streaming on Netflix. Filmed in front of an appreciative crowd in Atlanta, Chappelle runs through a gamut of uncomfortable subjects.

I did not watch the show as a fan of Chappelle. Truth be told, I have always found Chapelle’s humour a little hit and miss. most notable for his show back in the early noughties, The Dave Chappelle Show, Chappelle’s star was in the ascendency and then he stopped. Walking away from a very lucrative contract, he stepped away from comedy completely.

Though some of his sketches were funny, back then, I found some of them too juvenile to enjoy. Sticks and Stones is not juvenile. It is focused and wonderfully observed. Like the best comedians who take their material from observations of the world around them, Chappelle’s musings are based around empathy.

All the best comedians are empathetic, able to know what buttons to push to amuse the masses and to make it relatable. The real talent, especially these days, is to broach taboo subjects and speak about them without offending the audience.

A less skilled comedian would struggle, but Chappelle, a veteran of nearly thirty years, is a master of delivery, covering subjects such as race, sexuality, fame, and morality. He is not a comedian who tells jokes. He tends to relate stories or observational monologues.

He talks about Kevin Hart’s tribulations around the Oscars and old tweets, Jussie Smollett’s somewhat dubious race attack incident, school shootings, the LGBT’s appropriation of the alphabet, and growing up poor, and other musings.

Chappelle has a wonderful way of delivering his stories and monologues, speaking as though he is amongst close friends, inviting the audience to be complicit in his, occasionally close to the mark, jokes. His way of telling jokes, told confidently and unapologetically, is hard to be offended by.

That is not to say he does not say anything offensive. With the exception of body image, age-related observations, politics, and religion, Chappelle covers every subject that it is possible to offend a person with.

Having said that, one would have to be looking to be offended to find Chappelle’s Netflix show offensive. There is nothing in his delivery that is deliberately malicious or barbed, never trying to persuade the audience that a particular view is the correct one or something that should be adopted, he is just relating his stories in an amusing fashion.

At an hour-long, Sticks and Stones zips along, Chappelle expertly entertaining the audience and viewer over the runtime. The beauty with Chappelle is he owns his comedy, finding his own observations as amusing as we do, occasionally laughing at the absurdity of his jokes.

Unlike the seventies and eighties, as I mentioned before, today’s comedians have to be more aware of the words they speak in jest, whether in public or in a private conversation overheard, lest they are misconstrued and thought to have an opinion that some might find distasteful.

Chappelle’s show walks the line between inappropriate and funny, making a commentary on modern mores whilst giving a nod, with his laconic style and delivery, to older black comedic icons who came before him such as Red Fox, Richard Pryor, and Eddie MurphySticks and Stones is a sharply observed, laugh-out-loud, hour of comedy. Definitely worth a look.

My Top Ten Comedies

     Everybody likes to laugh. Whether it is with friends or alone, at something you have seen on social media, television or read, laughing is something that is enjoyed universally. There are few things in life that bring more unfettered joy, a total disconnect from any worries or stress, than a good hearty, unrestrained laugh. 

    With this in mind, I thought I would list my favourite comedies. In an effort to keep the list somewhat organised, I will only be listing ten, because ‘my ten favourite comedies’ is a clickable title. I will be sticking to true comedies, so there will be no rom-coms, as much as I enjoy them, action-comedies or any other genre-slash-comedy. 

   And, crucially, they all have to have contained a scene that made me laugh uncontrollably. I’m talking tears streaming down my face, was unable to hear the next scene funny. With these criteria in mind, here is my list of the funniest films, in no particular order, I have enjoyed over the years. 

   The first film I’m going to list is Eddie Murphy’s funniest and most quotable classic, 1988’s Coming to America. Murphy was already a big star by the time Coming to America came out, having made his name in the buddy classic alongside Nick Nolte in 1982’s 48 hours and starred in another comedy classic opposite Dan Akroyd in1983’s Trading Places. 

   But it was in Coming to America that Murphy really showed his comedy chops. Not only did he play the central character of Prince Akeem, he also took on other smaller roles in the film, as a barber, a Jewish man and soul singer. Along with Arsenio Hall, who also played multiple characters, Murphy is hilarious as the crown prince of a fictional African country who goes to America to find a bride. 

    Not only does the film contain multiple laugh-out-loud scenes, it also features a, at that time, unknown Samuel L Jackson in a small, expletive-filled scene. A classic comedy that even after many viewings is still funny. 

   My next film is a film that spawned many a copycat but was never bettered. Starring Leslie Neilsen, who would go on to make such films his stock-in-trade, Airplane (1980) is a brilliant spoof on the popular disaster movies of the seventies. Containing brilliant visual gags and a script full of comedy gems, the film works mostly because the entire cast plays it absolutely straight. 

    From the memorable ‘assume crash positions’ which sees the passengers strewn about the plane, to the slowly going maniacally crazy air traffic controller, played by Lloyd Bridges, who through the whole ordeal list the various vices he picked the wrong week to give up. Airplane is a classic of its type that has never been surpassed or equalled. 

    Next, on my list, I’m going back to the thirties, 1933 to be exact. That is when my favourite film of the comedy quartet that were known as the Marx Brothers came out. Duck Soup finds the four brothers in the fictional country of Freedonia. 

   Rufus T Firefly (Groucho) is the ruler and the country is in dire straits. He plans to marry a wealthy widow, MrsTeasdale (Margaret Dumont). But when he finds he has a rival in Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) from the neighbouring country, Sylvania, he decides to declare war. 

    Not only is Duck Soup a brilliant farce, it is also the source of the often copied mirror scene. When Firefly hears a noise in the night he goes around his home checking. He comes across a door-sized reflection of himself, Harpo as Pinky, dressed exactly the same. Suspicious, he tries to outwit the doppelgänger. If you have never seen Duck Soup, it is worth seeing for that scene alone. 

    Staying in the thirties, next on my list is Bringing Up Baby(1938). Cary Grant plays David Huxley, a palaeontologist who is trying to secure a million-dollar donation for his museum. He meets the flighty and quirky Susan Vance (Katherine Hepburn) and chaos ensues. 

     Susan takes a fancy to David and, as a way to keep him around, tricks him into helping her out with a gift bestowed on her aunt Elizabeth (May Robson), by Major Applegate (Charles Ruggles), a tamed tiger named Baby. Aunt Elizabeth is also the benefactor whom David is hoping to get the donation from. 

     Grant’s and Hepburn’s comedy timing is something to admire, considering both also did many dramatic roles. Directed by the legendary Howard Hawks, Bringing Up Baby is a film that is timeless in its ability to amuse. 

    A more recent film for my next pick is a film starring Melissa McCarthy. I have been a fan of hers since her turn as the happy chef Sookie in the brilliant dramedy series, Gilmore Girls. McCarthy has been in many, mostly good, comedies; Bridesmaids, The Heat, Identity Thief, Ghostbusters, Tammy, to name a few. 

   It is in 2015’s Spy that McCarthy excels as the CIA office drone, Susan Cooper, who is forced to work in the field when the identities of all the field operatives are compromised. Playing opposite a surprisingly funny Jason Statham as the macho Rick Ford, McCarthy shows her full comedic repertoire here, from goofy and clumsy to potty-mouthed and caustic. Spy is a laugh fest. 

    Now to a comedy that should not work. A comedy that is a guilty pleasure even though it is not a secret. A comedy whose premise is so stupid it could only have soared or crashed and burned. I am talking about the gender/race swap craziness that is White Chicks. 

    White Chicks, starring two of the brothers, Marlon and Shawn, from the comic dynasty that is the Wayans’, sees the two black FBI agents go undercover as two white, blonde sorority girls to foil a kidnap plot. Told you it was ridiculous. As well as some brilliant gender gags and race-baiting humour, there is a standout performance from Terry Crews as Latrell Spencer, a big black man who embraces everything white. White Chicks is really a bad film that is somehow a good comedy. If watched with low expectations, it is an enjoyable romp. 

    From a bad gender swap comedy to a classic. Going back to 1959, I am picking the Billy Wilder film, Some Like It Hot. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play Joe and Jerry, a couple of musicians who find themselves on the run from the mob after witnessing a hit. 

    They dress as women, adopting the names Josephine and Daphne, and join an all-female band on a train to Florida. Joe/Josephine is attracted to Sugar (Marilyn Monroe) and so adopts another identity – Shell Oil jr – to try and woo her. Jerry/Daphne is trying to repel the attentions of a true millionaire, Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown). 

    The two men also have to avoid Spats Colombo (George Raft) who wants them dead. A sparkling comedic property that, even after all these years, still works on multiple levels.

     The youth of today do not know what they are missing when it comes to this next comedy gem. With an Oscar-winning turn by a then-unknown Marisa Tomei as Mona Lisa Vito, the long-suffering girlfriend of Vinny Gambini, a fantastically streetwise Joe Pesci, the film, My Cousin Vinny, is comedy gold. 

    When a road trip across America finds New Yorkers, Bill (Ralph Macchio) and Stan (Mitchell Whitfield) arrested for murder in rural Alabama, the only lawyer they can afford, because he’s free, is Bill’s cousin, Vinny. 

    My Cousin Vinny has so many great scenes, it is difficult to pick a favourite one. With the acting good across the board and the late Fred Gwynne, as Judge Chamberlain Haller, excelling. My Cousin Vinny is a must-watch film for any fan of comedy.

    Before he went a little existential, Jim Carrey was a comedy superstar. In 1994 he had a particularly good year, releasing three great comedies. First came Ace Venture: Pet Detective, Carrey’s manic energy perfect for the animal obsessed private investigator. That was followed by The Mask, which saw another high octane performance from Carrey. Finally, that year, came my penultimate pick for a place in my top ten, Dumb And Dumber. 

    Playing opposite an equally funny Jeff Daniels, who plays Harry, Carrey is Lloyd. Together the pair play best friends whose matching levels of stupidity see them get into situations and crises they are too inept to get out of. 

     The buffoonery of the two is something to behold, their lack of intelligence making an amoeba look like a genius. Written by the Farrelly brothers, Peter and Bobby, Dumb and Dumber is one of their standout works along with Shallow Hal and Something About Mary. Dumb And Dumber is idiotic humour at its best. 

   My final pick is from the mind of B movie action star Michael Jai White. White, a highly accomplished martial artist and passable actor, who has graced screens both large and small for the past couple of decades. 

   Appearing in frankly too many forgettable roles to mention, as well as some respectable fare such as a recurring role in the television series Arrow and Nolan’s The Dark Knight, White created a cult film in 2009 with a pastiche of seventies blaxploitation films. 

    Black Dynamite was clever and funny, nostalgic and knowing, an unexpected gem of a comedy, relishing in the many quirks and novelties of the blaxploitation era. With White playing the lead role of Black Dynamite, a mixture of Shaft (1971) and Jim Kelly’s Black Belt Jones (!974), he looks the part and is perfect for the all-action role he created for himself. 

    There are a few more films that could have made it to the list – The Odd Couple, Uptown Saturday Night, Blazing Saddles, The Lego Movie, The Hangover, to name a tiny few, that is without even delving into the silent era classics. 

   Comedy is such a personal thing that to proclaim my choices, which in truth are changeable, definitive would be foolhardy. For me, the ten films I have listed are all films that have given great joy on multiple viewings and even to think about scenes in many of the above would bring a smile to my face. Everybody loves to laugh. 


Hating On Reality

As an aspiring film and television writer, reality television is an abomination to me. Lazy television, accommodating talentless, fame hungry people and selling it as entertainment. Here in the United Kingdom the latest reality show – it might be in its second or third season, I’ve really no idea and refuse to research it. – is Love Island, a show where a collection of beautiful, single, young people are thrown together on an island and given various task to complete.
The show has garnered a lot of press for a lot of the antics, mostly of an overtly sexual nature, that have transpired. I do not consider myself a prude and an adult is entitled to do as they please, as long as their actions harm no other, but Love Island, a show that is deliberately salacious and is so abhorrent I cannot bring myself to watch even an episode, I have been watching snippets on YouTube and it is as awful as I feared.
Musclebound jocks and dolly birds with too much face paint show off and cavort on a specially created island. At the end of each episode, the watching public gets to vote off one of the participants. The group learn of this by one of them receiving a text and reading it out loud to the rest. The programme is just painful.
Suffering three minutes of this tripe is almost too much for me, with one of the least popular bawling their eyes out, because the other least popular character decided to leave. Utter shite. There are inane conversations and way too much makeup on just about everybody. Looking beautiful – depending on one’s perspective – seems to be the only requirement for getting into the shop window that this show is.
With the modern penchant for social media being seen as viable a career option, with popularity allowing celebrities to earn substantial amounts of money, there is a never ending supply of nubile, attractive women and hunky, gym-loving, vainglorious men prepared to embarrass and exhibit themselves for a voyeuristic and haughty public.
That reality television is so popular, especially in its present, obviously scripted, format is a mystery to me. There was a time when it was the contrast in the characters involved that was what made this type of show interesting and watchable. Now everyone in these shows looks the same. All of the participants fall into the eighteen to twenty-four demographic, all are slim and conventionally attractive or buffed up and pseudo-cool.
The public, however, laps up the show, happy to adopt it as a sort of guilty pleasure that makes them feel better about themselves, not being silly enough to allow themselves to be filmed for cheap entertainment. The feeling of superiority is reinforced by the type of people they tend to choose, who even for all their good looks and fine tans are obviously from working class backgrounds.
That this show is so popular says as much about the viewership as it does the participants, the class system and perceptions of the watchers that they are somehow better than those they are watching because, like spectators at an old Roman arena, they are being entertained. Of course, I see the irony in my rant, how by deriding Love Island, I too am viewing myself as above such fair. As I began, I have never been a fan of reality television. I want to be told stories. If I want to observe real life I can go sit on a bench in my local park. If I want to hear about other people’s mundane love life’s, I can get on a bus and hear any number of less than guarded conversations, people on mobile phones never aware of the fact they are out in public.
Unfortunately, reality television shows are not only initially cheap to make – the cost goes up once any of the participants gets really popular – but they also appeal to the ever important eighteen to twenty-four demographic, the mass consumers of media. As lazy and uninspiring as reality television is, it is not going away.

Watching The Wars

When I used to collect records, the vinyl kind, back in the eighties there was one artist whose music touched my heart to such an extent, that I would buy anything they produced. Anita Baker hit a musical and critical peak in the eighties, the release of her album Rapture, pushing her into the national consciousness. I bought her next album without even hearing a track, so enamoured with her sound I was at the time. Music was still mostly an aural experience then, not the social media driven industry it is now. Visual is king now.
I have written before about how I will and do watch anything that Joss Whedon is involved with. The creator of the glorious Buffy The Vampire Slayer television show and the criminally short-lived Firefly, I have rarely been disappointed with any of his output. Aaron Sorkin is another whose writing will get me to seek out a show, though not with the same acolyte like favour with which I approach a Whedon works.
After the dynamic Whiplash, I was eager to see Damien Chazelle’s follow up and La La Land did not disappoint so I look forward to his future works. Like most, I will either look for a subject matter of interest, recommendations from friends or, as a bit of a film fan, work by people who have impressed me before. It does not always work out well. I am quite the fan of David Fincher, director of Seven and most recently the excellent Gone Girl, but I could not get through Zodiac, especially as – spoiler alert – I realised there could be no resolution as, based on a true story, the serial killer had never been caught. An hour in I switched it off.
I also, like so many, love a Martin Scorsese film, but I have also been underwhelmed by some of his biggest hits and the slower paced, earnest efforts. There is a director working currently whose name on a film project guarantees my attention and that is Christopher Nolan. In tandem with his brother, Johnathan – who along with his wife, Lisa, created the unmissable Westworld television series – Christopher Nolan has brought not only some of the most watchable films to the big screen but also some of the most intelligent. Famed for the Dark Knight trilogy, he also made my favourite film of 2010 in the mind scrabbling Inception, the great, if mildly indulgent Interstellar and the staggeringly gripping The Prestige.
Nolan’s latest film, due for release in mid-July, is a film covering a dark period in British history. Set to be an epic retelling of the battle, Dunkirk will once again feature a stalwart of Nolan’s in Cillian Murphy, he of the haunting eyes. As is Nolan’s way, the scale looks grandiose, no doubting that the battle scenes will be full-on, visceral, heart-thumping depictions of the worse elements of war and battle. I am still not even slightly excited for this new film.
I have never been a fan of war films. I have yet to get through even the first hour of Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan held no interest whatsoever for me, I watched Black Hawk Down on a recommendation and can only remember a lot of helicopters! War films really are not my thing. I have seen a few old classics; The Bridge On The River Kwai, The Great Escape, Full Metal Jacket, M.A.S.H, to name a few, but even the Midas touch of Tarantino failed to elicit a liking for war films, with Inglorious Basterds my least favourite of his films and I include the risible Deathproof in that.
I probably will succumb to the Nolan pull and end up seeing Dunkirk as I love his cinematic verve. I probably should get around to watching Apocalypse Now as it is considered the benchmark in war films. Maybe, hopefully, I’ll enjoy it.

Know It’s Rubbish

With the proliferation of media channels available to an entertainment craven public, there is always a new show or film being made. A look at any of the media subscription services throws up a vast array of programmes and films, known and not so well known. Every genre is catered for, every conceivable taste covered, films that look like they cost one hundred thousand to make, to films that cost upwards of one hundred million and everything in between.
If like me, you take an interest in films, you no doubt have seen some of the many trailers that the array of YouTube film trailer channels shows. There is so much evidence of the old adage, ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’, with any major blockbuster you may have seen in the past decade, pastiched with minor adjustments at a fraction of the cost and quality.
With the advancement of technology, the cost of equipment needed to get going has dropped to a level where even a spendthrift film student can scrape together enough money to create their own little film studio. A camera shooting in 4K can be bought for under a thousand pounds, Final Cut editing software is under three hundred, Da Vinci Resolve colour software is free! There are also free editing suites – Da Vinci again – that are more than capable of editing to a professional standard.
The rest is time and good people. Once you have a script and if you can get some actors – easiest part, though not if you want really good actors –  a camera person if you’re not doing it yourself, a good sound person – way more important than people realise – interesting locations and be organised, you can get a film made. There are a lot of poor looking films, judging by the trailers, that are being made annually. Stilted acting, bad dialogue, horrible shot selection and over eager action sequences. When I say poor, I do not mean visually, except from an editing and shot selection point of view perhaps, but aesthetically a lot of the films look great. As mentioned before, ever more available technology makes getting a good image, with a competent camera person and good post, a bare minimum.
Obviously, there is a market for these films, especially horror, as thousands are made every year and that’s just in the English language. The mind boggles at the thought of how many films must be being made in the African and Asian markets. This does not even take into account the many made for television movies and special occasion, Valentines, Easter, Christmas films that are made.
When one looks at the market like this, it is almost embarrassing to ask how do you break into film. There really are so many films being made. Obviously, many of us would like to believe that we have the talent and wherewithal to hold our own at the very top end of the creative markets, headhunted by Disney for the never ending Star Wars franchise or tapped up by Marvel to script one of their array of interesting characters, maybe get really lucky and be given free rein by HBO to create a television serial. It has to and does happen to somebody, so why not aim high?
Still, if one wants to get noticed, as opposed to waiting and wishing for one’s extraordinary talent to be discovered, would it not be better to make a film of some sort? If you make a film, as many have, you get to choose, within reason, the production values. A schlocky horror, a road movie, a picturesque romance, whatever you want to aim for, as long as you are surrounded by like-minded people, you can make the kind of fare you want to see.
It is so easy to look at the output of some and think that you would never do anything so poor or haphazard. As much as none of us wants to produce rubbish or embarrassing works, one still learns more by doing than studying. Go make something.

Love Of The Panther

The excitement is already building eight whole months before the film is due for release. A who’s who of this generations black stars in their ascendancy make up the cast. Chadwick Boseman, known better on the other side of the pond for his biopic roles, playing James Brown in Get On Up and, to the soccer loving U. K. audience at least, the little known of U. S. legend that was the baseball player Jackie Robinson in Forty-Two. Michael B. Jordan, who I first saw in the great little film Chronicle, but is better known for the wonderful Creed and the infamous, much maligned, Fantastic Four.
The luminous Lupita Nyong’o, magnificent in 12 Years A Slave. Forrest Whitaker, of far too many roles to list here, though most recently seen hamming it up in Rogue One, also feature. Angela Bassett, another veteran of many roles who will always be remembered for her portrayal of Tina Turner in What’s Love Got To Do With It? Daniel Kaluuya of Get Out fame also makes an appearance, as does Phylicia Rashad, who will forever be Claire Huxtable to a generation.
The film is, of course, Marvel’s Black Panther, king of the fictional African land, Wakanda, home to the most precious (fictitious) metal, vibranium. Directed by Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station, Creed – Marvel has gone black from top to bottom. Initial looks at the King of Wakanda are promising, with the first teaser trailer – actually a bit long for a teaser but no complaints here – landing on Friday night stateside and pushing comic book internet geeks into instant overdrive.
Created by two white, comic maestros, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, back in the mid-sixties, the writers showed the infamous lack of world geographical knowledge always levelled at Americans and invented Wakanda. Admittedly. It was over half a century ago and the internet was probably not even a thought for a then, short trousers wearing, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man who would bring about the worldwide web.
With so little to cheer about on this side of the pond when it comes to blacks in the media – even in the expected fields of my youth, song and dance, the positions now dominated by white artist – Black Panther is a big event for black people. Too often black people have had to, in terms of globally recognised films, look to slavery or hip hop and street gang films. The likes of Tyler Perry, a one-man media mogul stateside, might argue that his success is global, as would Lee Daniels no doubt, but America needs to remember it is not the whole world, even if they do hold the World Series! Though Tyler’s name would be known by most U. K. blacks, I do not think Daniels name carries the same weight.
Not since….ever, has a black film represented what Black Panther does; a black film, with a black director and cast, showing a black world. Barring a Hollywood shafting of Nate Parker proportions (they let Casey Affleck’s…ahem ‘aberration’ slide) or the film is Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four terrible, Black Panther will be a worldwide hit. With the recently released, woman-centric, Wonder Woman tracking great numbers globally and garnering the best reviews of any of the DCEU films so far, it will be interesting to see how Black Panther does in the already successful Marvel universe.
For Ryan Coogler this is a big film. The thirty-one-year-old director has shown himself to be a talented auteur – loved Creed! – and I sincerely hope that he does not suffer the fate of the aforementioned Trank or my favourite writer/director Joss Whedon, both of whom alluded to an uncomfortable amount of studio interference.
There is still a long way to go before its release, but I for one, cannot wait for Black Panther to hit the screens.

The Smouldering Boats

The performance coach and inspirational speaker Anthony Robbins, says that to move forward in life you have to burn your boats. The boats are, of course, metaphorical. We have not all reached Mister Robbins level of finance, we can’t all own a boat or boats. The metaphorical boats he was speaking of are the safety nets we might employ that prevents us moving forward.
The phrase is actually derived from history and a historical event. Caesar had come, a flotilla of ships in his wake, to conquer Britain. His forces were outnumbered by the British and he knew that if his command felt there was an opportunity for a retreat, they would take it. As his legions gathered on the cliffs, he had them look to where the ships were moored. All the boats were burning. There would be no retreating. With no other option than to go forward and fight, his forces advanced and defeated the British.
If you “burn your boats”, you have no option but to make a life on the island you have landed on. That is sort of where I find myself now, except I am not quite ready to fan the embers, hence the title. The thing is, my ‘boat’ has been smouldering for quite some time now. Years actually. The reasons not to let everything else go and focus on writing and filmmaking is simply fear.
I can come up with many other seemingly authentic excuses – because that is all they are – but the overriding one is fear. Fear of what though? There is fear of the obvious; failure and success. One does not want to fail, even if failure is inevitable on some level. Conversely, success is scary because it needs to be maintained, so is another route to eventual failure. Not that failure is fatal. The oft-quoted lesson of failure is that you learn more from failure than you do from success. Tell that to the practically failsafe J. J. Abrams.
There is also a strange guilt associated with wanting to ‘work’ in a creative industry, coming from a working class background, growing up around people who worked long hours for other people, so as they could pay bills. Even having felt the pressure of directing and making films, the pain of writing and rewriting, it does not feel like work or a chore. It feels like your cheating, as though you are trying to con a living.
There is the fear of disappointing people; family, friends, peers. If you don’t take a risk and stay uncomfortably miserable in your comfort zone, the only person you will definitely disappoint is yourself. Disappointing yourself is doable. You can lie to yourself, keep the reasons coming, the ‘I can’t just’ litany of excuses and stories you tell yourself. Truthfully, you know that those closest to you will support whatever it is that you want to do, especially if you are showing the necessary commitment.
What is difficult, is forging ahead with creative work when no one in your immediate circle – friends, family – has any interest in your thing. Everybody needs their circle. Even though writing is a pretty insular pursuit, having like-minded people around, those you can bounce ideas off and who understand the grind of the creative process. As much as any and every creative person, with writing or filmmaking, has a particular singular view or perspective on what their project or work should be. Still, nobody wants to be alone.
One has to get into the headspace, a selfish, singular headspace. That is where the bravery comes, the overcoming of fears, to forge forward, almost blithely believing that what you are doing is not only needed but will be appreciated and liked.

As long as the crutch of the job, other fiscal opportunities, sensible, credible excuses and the mythical peer pressure exist in the mind, the boats will always remain smouldering. It’s getting to the point where I must blow on the embers and push the boats out into the sea to be consumed and sink. It’s time to burn the boats.

Quiet Suppression – We’ll Take That

Back in the mid eighties I and many of my friends, in our mid to late teens, listened to the same music. This was around the time I started going to clubs and meeting people who would become life long friends. One of the commonalities among us was music.

Being black and having attended a predominantly black school, musical leanings were divided between two types; you were either a reggae person – most of the black people, children, I grew up around hailed from Jamaica, pretty much the birthplace of reggae – or you were a soul person. I was a soul person. Michael Jackson, on the brink of superstardom with Off The Wall, Luther Vandross in his fat phase, Stevie Wonder before the lazy, comedic impressions. I had a perm, I danced like I was about to fit and I loved music.

Music was – and still is – a great leveller for a black person growing up. We may not of had much in social status, or many role models, there were no faces to relate to on a regular basis on television – Sir Trevor was a lone, regular, face – and in my part of the world, urban south London, there was no mass expectation of going to ‘uni’ or getting a job that became a progressive career.

This was pre-internet, MTV was in its infancy, phone boxes still existed and vinyl was still the dominant musical format. Music mattered to us. It gave us identity; reggae was and will always be associated with Jamaica, but soul music was black. it embraced all of us, regardless of island origin, we could come together under the umbrella soul of music.

As ever, a lot of black cultural references come from our Stateside cousins. Film, music, fashion, even role models, have ever had blacks enviously looking across the pond. Of course we do not envy their everyday fear of being shot or living in some shitty hovel. We never had to – or our parents – face segregation or sitting at the back of a bus. No, we had any of that to contend with. We were lucky in that regard. Though there is something.

I was listening to Kiss 100 this morning, a commercial radio station that is not dissimilar from any other countrywide, 18-25 demographic driven station. In 1990 I was, as were many of my clubbing friends, at the Kiss fm launch party. The reason we were at the launch party was because we had been supporters of the station and knew many of the deejays that would populate its roster. Kiss was one of the pirate radio station that had helped to promote black music, the music we clubbed to and embraced. We felt like, in some part, it was our station. Fast forward fifteen years and any notion of it being a ‘black’ music station has all but disappeared. It is largely indistinguishable from any other popular music station, pumping largely white produced dance music. So what happened and what does this have to do with anything? The answer to that question is twofold and a little controversial.

Anything that is seen as black and popular, whites have tried to take it away and make it their own. In the States, with such a vocal section of blacks and with their natural inclination as a people, Americans, to highlight an issue, such a thing is not easy to do. Also, such is the number of blacks in America, they can influence at a level that matters; financially. In the UK that is not the case. Anything that is thought as being ‘black’ is not generally viewed as sellable or desirable. Unless it is repackaged as white. This is not a new thing, in fifties and sixties America the excitement initially generated by Elvis Presley was the notion of a white man who could sing ‘black’. Here in the UK the likes of UB40 and Culture Club in the eighties made a fortune singing reggae and ‘black’ music respectively. Jamiroquai also made his fortune adopting a black sound, yet black artist in this country have always struggled to make an impact. As recently as last year, Sam Smith, a soul singing depressive, white kid, garnered award upon award in black music categories, his beautiful ‘soul’ sound embraced by the masses.

Growing up, an insult that would sting any would be clubber was ‘you dance like a white person’. They really could not dance. Not to soul and funk and boogie anyway. Waltzes? Absolutely, but not stuff with a beat.  But as the decades went on and increasing amounts of whites got into soul music, mixed with blacks, clubbed with blacks, they got the beat. Now every talent show features a funky, all white, dance troupe.

There is no field, profession or area where black people are embraced, as leading, within the UK. After over five hundred years of immigration, integration and population, how is that possible? A quiet suppression. The powers that be say: Thank you, I’ll take that!

Focus (not the Will Smith film)

  Blogs have taken a back seat of late as I try and turn my attention  forcibly to writing script form fiction. It is nearly a year since I made my last film and in the interim, all I have done is purchase film equipment, at an alarming rate and mooch around worrying about the lack of progress in my film career!
   Blogging has been my only real nod to writing, having procrastinated over various unfinished projects, scripts, without joy. It is not writer’s block in the conventional sense; I have many a project on the go, waiting for this character or that character to do something. It more writer’s inertia. That fear of writing utter nonsense, which in itself is foolish, as I know I am going to rewrite anything I write anyway. There is also the not knowing what the next project will be like. I want it to be an improvement on the last in every aspect – story and visuals – and enjoyed the last experience so much that I crave a repeat, though fear that is unlikely. Not that I am worried about it being awful either, just frustrated at the inertia and silliness of thinking it. What I need is focus, a metaphorical kick up the backside; to take control of my destiny.
   Time to get writing.