Hyena – Vivid, visceral Cinema

Buckets of claret. Weird, unsettling visuals – a waking nightmare that’s much scarier than horror, as these events are all too plausible. Bitches and Butchery might have made a good title, if Hyena’s Albanian crime overlords had been consulted. They’re not likely to attend a men’s anti-sexism group any time soon. Inevitable reaction to a pair of male cops on their territory; ‘are they lovers?’


The violence was too much for a reviewer on the usually reliable Roger Ebert site, who starts by wittering about ‘bobbies’ – only fifty years out of date. ‘…its sheer unpleasantness may be enough to satisfy some viewers..’ Yes. Me, for one. Stand aside, you big girl. And I don’t think it’s ‘unbalanced’, possibly ‘racist’, to portray drug and sex trafficking kingpins as monstrous, murderous brutes. Any Albanians not running international crime empires will despise these vile thugs.
There is of course a lot more than ‘sheer unpleasantness’ to this original, bravura work. First class direction and cinematography, the actors and locations are utterly convincing. Police and victims’ support groups were consulted which shows in the grimly realistic script. Peter Ferdinando as an undercover detective is magnificent, inner turmoil often conveyed without words.


Stephen Graham gives us yet another memorable, intriguing character.

Hyena has a unique visual signature. Time Out review nails it: ‘balletic slo-mo, neon colour washes and giddy tracking shots – all recalling the Hong Kong heyday of John Woo and Ringo Lam.’

Some said it’s not news that cops can be corrupt, but it’s often ignored in unrealistic forensics shows, or polite dross like Midsomer Murders. Not everyone’s seen Bad Lieutenant, indeed it’s six years since the remake. If even the eunuchs at the Guardian liked this, with reservations, it’s obviously worth investigating – if you have a strong stomach.

Avoid if rape or extreme violence is triggering. Bodies are dismembered, the living and the dead. It’s not a barrel of laughs and I’m struggling to find something uplifting for those of us fighting depression. Hang on, I’ve kicked carbs – a rare victory against the forces of darkness. And there’s something to be said for shock therapy. I like a jolt, whether it be strong coffee, raw chillis, or the bleakest, blackest Noir.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4lUnJnwFL0 trailer

One of the party-loving cops – Tony Pitts, brilliant acting throughout – tells an internal affairs guy he wants compensation for his employment-related depression. A pause then the interrogator erupts into incredulous laughter. Mental disorders may be over-diagnosed,perhaps over-medicated. Some compensation payments for public servants can look ridiculous. Yet undercover work is stressful enough to cause clinical depression even without battling ruthless killers. Maybe these cops could have done a little less booze, toot and MDMA? Is this just ‘Post-Nasal Depression’? – as Paul Whitehouse’s rock star says in the excellent Nurse. Well, those who risk their lives regularly often run on heavy fuel. We shouldn’t judge. My depression eased up since the three day parties finished. Not so high any more, but not so low. Getting used to the middle, the bullseye.

The ending – genuinely surprising – takes some getting used to. It’s the right one, though some will disagree for equally valid reasons. It has an echo of Get Carter director Michael Hodges’s I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, another feelbad Noir, which also stays with you. Vivid, visceral cinema. Looking forward to more from director Gerard Johnson and Peter Ferdinando.



AA versus Harm Reduction. Seneca’s Sickest Burns. Marcus Aurelius’s Art of War. Rage Against…Pretty Much Everything.

Welcome to the only wellness and sanity blog that drives its readers stark raving mad. And I am, of course, the person least qualified to write it. My Native American name would be ‘Skin Too Thin’. Eclectic, Bi-Polar, no anger management, I’m the only artist to have split with themselves due to ‘musical differences’.

I should be over instant flare ups and pointless bickering. But would the Stoics have been so damn philosophical if they’d had internet feedback? Never mind Seneca’s Epistles we’d have Seneca’s Sickest Burns, Marcus Aurelius’s Art of War. Zeno’s On Landing the First Punch, Cicero’s Kill ’em all, Let Zeus sort ’em out.

I was informed that I’d be ‘in trouble’ if AA responded to my last blog. What? Some sheep are going to bleat at me? And why can’t they respond? Because alcoholics can’t be trusted with anything. Great. So you can’t criticise 12 Step, despite its very high failure rate, or its reliance on belittling recruits and herding the flock with with oft-repeated slogans – a mind control system also used by Chinese Communism and religious fundamentalists.

This came from a dear friend still enthusiastic about Erhard Seminars Training, EST. Which involved what is now termed abuse: breaking and rebuilding newbies, who were called turkeys, and a lot worse, for the first weekend. You got the enlightenment in the second weekend – and it wasn’t cheap. This programme is maybe quicker than a Zen monastery and perfectly acceptable if you’re submissive: I’m not. (Except, occasionally, during some therapeutic intimate procedures when I was far too ‘toppy’ for most orthodox dominant facilitators, summed up by Spencer Woodcock’s Fetish Times cartoon: ‘I might be your slave but you’re not going to be boss me about.’)

Shouldn’t I be indulging my critic in Socratic dialogue? No, this is a Thousand Year Reich of Rational Tyranny – No God, No Higher Power and we might even be unkind to earthbound deities, such as Alain De Botton. (Why did I once rudely and stupidly address the people’s philosopher as ‘baldy’? When I’ve had a shaven head since 92 myself? After enjoying many of his books? Must be my legion of demons. Some of whom are more persistent than a milk-seeking moggy. Sorry Mr De Botton and, again, Mr Terence Blacker. It is part of a mental disorder but still shouldn’t have happenned.)

Higher Power not needed Harm )

Boring but necessary disclaimer, in case I get attacked by another 12 Stepper – you can get a great deal of help from various programmes but they’re only as good as the people in them. They differ widely from place to place.
I could never quite avoid enthusiastic evangelicals but at least I never experienced Hollywood 12 step which involves microphones, applause, people joining just to meet important film people, and, across America in general, people who are there unwillingly as a legal sanction.

I dabbled in AA and NA over three decades, getting an occasional boost but doing most of it alone. I was never convinced, not for long. I was still shocked when a Doctor told me AA doesn’t work for everyone. How can he say that? Isn’t it the way. the truth, the light?
It can be.
But I can’t be hypnotised and I don’t take orders. Which is no doubt reprehensible if you like the hair shirt, or were raised Catholic.

What worked best was my wife asking me to stop: she was pregnant with our first child. I managed eight and a half years continual sobriety – apart from two beers to redirect a troublesome acid trip and one beer during an especially aggravating Christmas with the in laws. Just ONE beer? someone asked, clearly used to the pressures of Stressmas – although they may not have experienced, as I did, a sister in law running from the Christmas preparations into the snow, screaming for a divorce. She reappeared eight hours later to find that her husband’s present was a self help book entitled (rough translation from the German).’Openness in Marriage – One speaks: the other listens’. The ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’ were a little strained. As we sat around the Christmas tree among discarded wrapping paper and the wreckage of that marriage my father in law held up a glass and said, entirely seriously, ‘So, despite it all, a totally successful Christmas’.

Was this ‘Fake it to make it’? one of the 12 Step slogans I was recently dismissing? Which can work. If you want them to. There is a lot of good in the 12 Step programme but the sheer volume of horror stories related on orange-papers.org tell another story. People need to know the antidote to bad experiences and alternative recovery options.

My current abstinence is enabled by vanity – flatter stomach, not looking eight thousand years old – and the need to avoid the Grim Reaper. There’s also a fanatical penny-pinching delight in what drink no longer costs. This works better – for me – than pious homilies and holding hands with people with whom you have nothing in common. And I’d rather drink green tea with lashings of fat-busting lemon while watching Ray Donovan. You can keep stewed builders tea and a glum browse of 1930s tracts about taking a moral reinventory and the importance of ‘keeping regular’.

And after many years with ketamine and MDMA, alcohol just feels like an expensive lobotomy. On the very rare occasions I succumb to drink the hilarity and relaxation window is soon gone, leaving just dumb aggression – which could have serious legal consequences now I’m running out of Police cautions. Even words on the internet can now get you a custodial sentence.

Link shows possibly inflammatory cartoon of AA member doing research (unconscious drunk on floor) contrasted with Harms Reduction member researching at computer, jotting down information.
Perhaps harsh – let’s not forget ‘Whatever works’. If you’re happy submitting to the group, God or a higher power then get on your knees as recommended by some 12 Steppers. I’ve done it. The handful of meetings I attended helped the eight and a half years abstinence. But the hair shirt doesn’t suit me. I’m standing on my own two feet.

Health and strength to the people for whom it works but if you don’t want to be guilt-tripped by uptight slogan-junkies other options are available.
Whatever works.
You could even mix the different approaches. Might make a good cocktail…

I Have Nothing to Say and I’m Not Even Saying It – Variations on a theme by John Cage with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Kerry Katona

‘I have nothing to say and I am saying it.’ John Cage

‘I have nothing to say and I can’t be arsed saying it.’ Mark Ramsden


I’ve always preferred tunes, grooves and interesting harmony – anything from Herbie Hancock through Debussy to the Beatles, (despite Paul McCartney’s recent tireless attempts to put you off him) but as a pretentious teenager I read John Cage. In contrast to his music you didn’t have to pretend to like John Cage’s writings – attractively presented morsels of music theorizing, poetry and Zen. He was funny, more often than not and the words looked good on the page – acrostics, plenty of soothing white space. He seemed a wild and crazy guy, winning four million Lira  on a TV quiz answering questions on mushrooms. Performing avant garde music on a mass market game show. What a card!

How different from the bum-numbing boredom of Stockhausen’s public persona. At music college I was fortunate to gig with Dr Graham Hearn, a brilliant jazz and classical pianist who was in a Stockhausen ensemble. He once remarked to the grand panjandrum that the sun had come out upon his appearance. Stockhausen replied, “the sun always comes out when I arrive”. Which was probably light-hearted but he did see himself as the primal force which enabled everything else. You’d better take yourself damn seriously if you want an Arts Festival to put on a piece for a string quartet in four different helicopters. I saw a video of this which consisted mostly of engine noise. Christ knows what the Council Tax payers of Birmingham would have thought but Stockhausen would only have been furious he never got to see his music, as he also intended, performed on four different planets. This is the pompous idiot who thought 9/11 was “the greatest work of art ever”. “What happened there spiritually, this jump out of security, out of the everyday, out of life, that happens sometimes poco a poco in art. Otherwise it is nothing.”

Was I really reading a book of Stockhausen and Jonathan Cott interviews while working with a cabaret band underneath Blackpool Tower? Wearing that white suit, big collared shirt  and buttonhole flower combo later used by Prince’s saxophonist? On a gig where – aaaaargh! – David Van Day was also performing in Guys and Dolls with Bruce Forsyth’s daughter? Where the compere opened each day’s proceedings with the seminal Marrow Song. ‘Oh What A beauty I’ve Never seen one as big as that before.’? Check it out, Bruv.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNTVKANb7p4

Back in the arena of the cerebral, I once heard three pieces of John Cage played simultaneously at an all day festival in Islington. We sat on schoolroom chairs in an open space while a lot of musicians faffed about doing random stuff – which he categorised as ‘aleatoric’, generated by chance, as in I Ching coins – whatevs, dude. Which might as well have been written on the music manuscript: whatevs, dude. I was happy enough at the time, in the chin-stroking years. Before a day out required 24 hours of MDMA, Ketamine, group fetish debauchery, preferably involving the transgendered and/or bisexual, and a soundtrack of hard house or ambient lounge. This eventually became ‘let’s just stay in with the Ketamine’. You can’t have enough near death experiences…

Before all that, when I was still a drunken hippy, it was enough that John Cage turned up at the Almeida, Islington with one of his cracked Zen smiles – there was also a five minute video of him beaming beatifically. Worth a four hour trip across London there and back? Well, if I may paraphrase the Marrow Song, I’d never heard ‘owt as mad as that before. Equally, as Hanif Kureishi said of punk, ‘it was great music but you wouldn’t want to listen to any of it’.

This was supposed to be about why I find it hard to blog, now I’ve nothing to say, playing the sympathy card of fortyfive years of mental illness and addiction. Since I was a teenager I have had some combination of severe depression, high anxiety, paranoia, manic this, dissociative that, and a supporting cast of various syndromes and disorders, just far too sensitive, really. One Skin Too Thin would be my Native American name. I recently got 18 out of 20 on the psychopath test though as I can empathise and I can feel remorse, the two things which mean you’re not a psychopath. Can’t help feeling psychopathy may be over diagnosed because some people make a living out of trying to cure it.  Not with much success.

I stopped taking anti-depressants as I’d rather be thinner and more sexual even if it means never being able to focus. The pills helped ADHD and muted the weeps but fuck that let’s see those abs! (Synchronicity alert! Five minutes after writing these very words Kerry Katona has just informed us that she no longer takes medication for her ‘bipolar’. Her ‘My Depression Diary’, was shown at the witching hour, appropriately enough some might say. Strike that, she’s warm and sincere. Her programme will help people. Just don’t put Liz Jones or the Loose Women witches on at midnight.

Did Kerry really just say, in closing, ‘It’s been a long, long journey’?
(a Brit TV cliche for years now).
Yes, and as I still have nothing to say that will just have to do.

I have nothing to say and I have to get Kerry Katona to say it.

Except this: 12 Step never really cured me. Apparently you have to want to get better. Although it has prolonged and improved the quality of my life, certainly for the few people around me. Right now poverty and vanity are keeping me clean and sober. If a little too verbose. Like many clean and sober people I’m oversharing. Sorry. And thank you.

(Tea and biscuits time. The Christian 12 steppers may now wish to get on everyone else’s tits with their preaching. More shares, then hold hands, hug. Unison: ‘Keep Coming Back. It works, it works, it works’.)…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Stuff I can’t be bothered to Google.

1 Did John Cage’s lawyers sue Mike Batt for having silence on one of his albums. (Someone did.)

2 Why don’t the current crop of conceptualist composers get anywhere? Has all that media space been taken by Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin? Because speculating on conceptual art will get you an ever quicker return than bombs or tobacco? Whereas avant-garde music is money straight down the drain.

PS Stimmung by Stockhausen is perfectly palatable. Vocal harmonics which sound rather lovely. He is still a massive bellend.