Monday, March 19, 2018

Undiplomatic Incident

I still can't get used to seeing my old home town splashed across the media on a daily basis.  Even weirder is to constantly see it at the centre of a major diplomatic incident triggered by a chemical attack on a retired Russian spy.  The repercussions of the Salisbury incident seem to be spiraling out of control as the UK and Russia engage in tit for tat diplomatic expulsions and insults are exchanged.  It doesn't help that the UK authorities only seem to have belatedly launch any kind of investigation into the actual events of the incident in order to establish the facts.  Ordinarily you would do that before you start flinging accusations around and threatening punitive measures.  But hey, what do facts matter when we have a Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary who both seem to believe that diplomacy should be conducted at the level of the school playground, shouting 'Yah, boo, sucks' at the Russians before thumbing their noses at the Kremlin.  I bet the newly re-elected Putin (in a surprise victory) is quaking in his boots.  All it's done, in reality, is annoy him enough to deploy his weather machine against us, bringing snow and chaos back to our shores.

Mind you, whilst pleased that some kind of investigation into the incident seems finally to have started, I've been left confused by the police appeal for more information on the movements of the victim's car.  I mean, surely it would have been wherever he was, or in close vicinity?  Unless they are trying tell us that it was able to drive itself around, like KITT from Knight Rider.  And if it was like KITT, surely it would have been able to warn him about an imminent attack:  'Sergei, I detect a nerve agent, novochek, according to my sensors, in the vicinity - evacuate the area immediately.'  I was hoping that last week's revelation that yet another retired Russian spy living in the UK had not, as at first thought, died of natural causes but instead had been strangled to death (an easy mistake to make), might draw the attention away from Salisbury.  Sadly, it just hasn't caught the public imagination in the way that a city centre nerve agent poisoning seemingly has.  Perhaps if it had been revealed that he had been strangled with a cord that his assassin pulled out of a watch - as in From Russia, With Love - or maybe strangled between the thighs of a female Russian agent called something like Vulva Fellatio, it would have grabbed the public's attention more. 

I'm still tending to the idea that it wasn't the Russians at all behind the attack.  The local Chamber of Commerce is still my prime suspect.  Although their plan to attract more tourists with the publicity generated by a false flag chemical attack seems to have badly backfired, as, apart from reporters and soldiers in NBC suits, the city's streets have been largely deserted since the incident.  Obviously, we can't discount SPECTRE - let's not forget those reports of a bald man stroking a long haired white cat outside the Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury - which has form for trying to create tension between Russia and the west in the hope of triggering a nuclear exchange which will leave their Chinese clients masters of the smouldering radioactive cinder left in the wake of such an outcome.  Ordinarily, of course, the next stage would involve SPECTRE launching that rocket from its Japanese volcano base to hijack US and Russian satellites in an  attempt to ramp up the tension.  Unfortunately though, said volcano recently erupted.  I say erupted, but I think we all know that was simply the result of a pre-emptive strike by MI6, whose top agent infiltrated the facility and forced Blofeld to pull the self destruct lever.  Even now, SPECTRE are probably negotiating with Karl Stromberg to loan them his super tanker which can swallow nuclear submarines whole...

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Beta Blocking the Nerves

About an hour ago I finally got home after what, not so long ago, would have been a nightmarish drive back from seeing my mother, through a blizzard.  Now, you might well ask why I was so reckless to have driven down there in the first place, bearing in mind the prevailing weather conditions.  Well, the fact is that  I had considered taking the  train after yesterday's heavy snowfalls but, when I got up today, I found that he roads in and around Crapchester had been cleared and gritted.  Moreover, the council had also cleared the car park where my car lives, meaning that (once I'd dug it out from under a layer of snow) I could get it out of the car park and, more importantly, get it back in again.  (There is a slight ramp at the entrance/exit of the car park which, if covered in sufficient snow or ice, is impossible to scale when turning in from the main road).  So, I decided to take the car (especially as, at that point, no further snowfall was forecast).  It was a good journey down there: cleared roads and little traffic.  Coming back this evening was a different story altogether.

Of course, it did start snowing again and this time it seemed that there was little or no attempts being made to keep the roads clear.  It was only when I got onto the dual carriageway of the A303 that the road surface started to clear properly.  But when I came off, down the Crapchester exit, things got much worse as it became obvious that no attempt to keep the road surfaces clear since the morning.  Obviously, though, I got home safely.  But to return to the original point of this post, not so very long ago such a perilous journey would have left me tense and nervous.  But this time, thanks largely to the beta blockers I'm now taking for my blood pressure, I remained preternaturally calm, I didn't feel any nerves while driving and wasn't tense or tired when I was finally able to park the car up in its space.  As I've mentioned before, the beta blocker slows the heart rate in order to lower blood pressure and to do this, it reduces the amount of adrenaline you body produces.  Which, in turn, means that you suddenly don't find yourself suffering 'nerves' when stressed.  It doesn't make you fearless, but I certainly find the effect calming. Of Course, it also suppresses the 'fight or flight' reflex to a large degree, so it is a double edged sword: the reflex is there for a purpose - self preservation.  Still, I won't deny that, tonight, I was grateful for the beta blockers steadying my nerves.


Friday, March 16, 2018

Under the Table You Must Go (1969)

From the same stable as Naked London and London in the Raw, this short film (it runs around fifty minutes and was presumably originally released as a supporting feature), is less sensational, but certainly no less interesting as a time capsule of 'Swinging London'.  Directed by Arnold Miller and photographed by Stanley Long, both stalwarts of British exploitation cinema, Under the Table You Must Go is a Mondo-style tour of various London pubs and clubs, emphasising the rich variety of drinking establishments and hostelries which still existed n the British capital in 1969.  A rather haphazard tour which makes little sense either thematically nor geographically.  The various segments are presented by a bewildering selection of celebrities, (including the film's two narrators, Murray Kash and Gordon Davis, both of whom also appear on screen individually presenting segments), and also feature several famous aces of the era.  One minute celebrated jazz musician and writer Benny Green is asking young drinkers in 'The Boathouse' what they think of live jazz being played there, the next Reg Gutteridge is visiting a series of sports-themed pubs and interviewing various retire sportsmen, before we can draw breath, Richard 'Stinker' Murdoch is visiting the 'Escape' club and talking to various former PoWs about their wartime experiences and escape attempts.

And so it goes on: Tommy Trinder performs in a music hall themed pub, Pete Murray visits the Playboy Club, then Radio One DJ Stuart Henry gets down and groovy at 'The Bird's Nest', a pub with a disco feel, Fred Emney samples the cuisine at an Italian restaurant-cum-pub and, for no reason at all, Jon Pertwee puts on a Prussian helmet and Teutonic accent to sing songs in German beer keiller themed pub.  Even a bizarrely bearded Jonathan King, long before he did bird for having relations with underage boys, turns up in a pop pub.  But, although haphazard, it is all quite charming and hugely entertaining.  What's most fascinating, though, is the fact that, despite this being 1969, there's little evidence of the 'swinging', counter culture London which supposedly dominated the UK's popular culture at the time.  Indeed, other than the Stuart Henry, Jonathan King and, to a lesser extent, the Pete Murray Playboy sequences, most of what is on display here is pretty traditional working class leisure activities.  It is a quaint world where people put on a collar and tie to visit the pub, which was still the social heart of local communities.  Conversation, sing-a-longs and live entertainment from professional pub performers was the order of the day.  The closest thing to a 'gastro pub' (that unholy bight upon the very concept of the British public house) is that bar incorporating a Trattoria and 'themeing' a pub meant filling it with sports memorabilia, having live jazz or pop acts and/or a DJ, rather than some plastic mock 'Oirish' bar. 

The media might like, in retrospect, to portray late sixties Britain as being full of promiscuous hippies having sex and shooting up drugs everywhere, but films like this emphasise the fact that, in reality, the so called permissive society wasn't that widespread.  In truth, as in any era, the past,in the form of traditional pubs and entertainment, persisted and continued to serve the majority of the population.  The process of social change was relatively slow, rather than the revolution the media likes to portray.  The popular view of the past is always highly selective, focusing on the most sensational and attractive aspects.  That's the value of films like Under the Table You Must Go, which provide contemporary snapshots of popular culture. If the film lacks the determined sensationalism and obvious staging of some scenes for shock value, it does employ a suitably bizarre narrative device to link its apparently random segments together: talking cars.  Yes, that's right, the film is narrated by a pair of cars, a Triumph Stag and a Bentley, which, initially parked in central London, are bored waiting for their owners to return, so decide to compete to see if they can get around London, via the various pubs and clubs frequented by their absent drivers, and back to their parking places before their owners return.

Incredibly obscure, I was able to view Under the Table You Must Go as part of a BFI DVD collection, Roll Out the Barrel, which brings together a number of short films chronicling the British pun and its associated culture from the 1940s to the 1980s.  It's an excellent compilation and well worth investing in if you have any interest in this aspect of British culture.  Under the Table You Must Go is just one of many highlights contained on the two DVDs, with others including a charming Guinness promotional film drama from the sixties and a fascinating German documentary about a British Working Men's club.  Great stuff!

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Up and Running Again

OK, having been feeling down a couple of days ago, I decided to take my own advice and give myself a kick up the arse by actually doing something.  That something turned out to be repairing a model railway locomotive that has been sitting, static, on a shelf for years.  I say 'repaired', but the fact is that it has never actually run on any layout I've owned.  I assembled it from parts I bought online, with the chassis being the last item.  When I received it, I found that the cylinder block was broken.  (According to the vendor, this 'must' have happened in transit).  But a quick test confirmed it was a runner and I thought that it should be an easy repair.  So, I put it to one side, where it remained, along with several other unfinished projects, for years.

Fast forward to the present, when I finally decided to get it running.  Which turned out to be trickier than I had anticipated.  The cylinder block wasn't easily repairable, as I'd thought. Whilst I managed to glue it back together, it seemed clear to me that it just wouldn't be strong enough to withstand normal running of the locomotive.  So, I decided to replace it.  Fortuitously, around the same time I'd obtained this chassis, I'd also obtained a similar one which I knew had problems - the wrong valve gear fitted and a snapped off screw - and had the idea of eventually repairing for another project.  The wrong valve gear it carried was actually correct for the original chassis - so the cylinder block was swapped over.  I now had a running chassis which, when united with a body and tender, gave me a functional Hornby rebuilt Merchant Navy.  Or so I thought.  It ran, it even happily hauled five coaches around the layout, but it kept derailing.  After close observation of it in motion, I realised that the bogie wheels weren't moving, they were locked solid.  Thinking lubrication was all that was required, I took a closer look and found that the bogie itself was broken, (no doubt that also happened 'in transit', although it looks to me as if someone dropped the chassis before dispatch, but the original vendor is long since out of business, so there's little I can do about it), and literally fell apart as I removed it.  So, it was back to that other chassis which, luckily, had an intact bogie in pristine condition.

With the replacement bogie in place, the Merchant Navy was suddenly a great runner - even over my poorly laid trackwork.  But, as you can doubtless tell from the photo, it still needs work - the glaring difference in colour between loco and tender being the most obvious thing that needs rectifying.  The tender needs to be repainted into the same green livery as the engine.  (Technically, it isn't correct for the loco as named and numbered, 'Bibby Line' was usually coupled to a higher capacity tender of similar design.  So, a change of name and number might be in order as well: I believe that the combination of tender and loco would be correct for 35017 'Belgian Marine' for the period I (roughly) model, the early to mid sixties).  There is also some damage to the loco body moulding side, most notably that some of the pipework from under the cab is missing, I knew about that before I bought it).  Nevertheless, I do have another locomotive up and running.  The Merchant Navy makes an interesting contrast with my other locomotives, most of which date back twenty or thirty years (at least) and feature old-style Triang/Hornby and Hornby Dublo mechanisms.  While these are incredibly reliable, the Merchant Navy's newer (the design goes back less than twenty years), Chinese manufactured, mechanism is far smoother running, more responsive and much quieter.  While the older locos need to be driven 'full throttle' a lot of the time, the Merchant Navy happily produces the same sorts of performances with the controller barely on half speed.

But what of that other chassis?  Well, I still have hopes of eventually repairing it, although the correct valve gear is now difficult to obtain.  It might well be that eventually I'll come across another chassis with parts missing and combine the two to create a running chassis.  Which would then enable me to complete another long term project, as I have a spare body and tender awaiting a chassis.  The restoration of the Merchant Navy inspired me to get some other locomotives out of storage and up and running today - in the end I had a very enjoyable operating session.  I even managed to get my old tender drive Hornby 9F freight loco running.  Something it wasn't doing before it went into storage.  Amazingly, it happily negotiated all of my dodgy trackwork and curves without any of its ten driving wheels derailing. 


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Making the Effort

You'd think that I'd be ecstatically happy, still being signed off from work sick and, consequently, having lots of time on my hands.  Surprisingly, though, I find myself feeling somewhat down.  In part, this is undoubtedly due to the side effects to the drugs I'm taking that I'm still suffering.  In particular, those stomach upsets which, whilst gradually diminishing in strength, seem to recur on a weekly basis.  Their effects can still be debilitating, resulting in at least one sleepless night a week and temporary losses of appetite and general discomfort.  On top of that, I now have to contend with the fatigue caused by the beta blockers I've started taking: by slowing the heart rate, they also prevent it from responding normally to exercise or exertion, leaving me feeling that I'm running out of steam too easily.  All of which leaves me feeling tired and spending too much time in bed - to the extent that I end up feeling disgusted with myself for not using my time more productively.

But, as I've noted before, being off work sick is like being in limbo: I never know how long my absence is going to last, making it difficult to plan ahead.  I'm reluctant to try and schedule any activities more than a few days in advance, in case I'm suddenly not free to pursue them any more.  Subsequently, my whole life feels like it lacks purpose right now, with nothing concrete to look forward to.  Sure, my ultimate aim is to get well and recover my health, but most of that process is, in practical terms, being taken care of by the medications I've been prescribed.  Unfortunately, in order to allow them to act effectively, I'm having to do things like drastically cut back my alcohol intake (which was pretty low to start with), cut down my sugar intake, which means giving up all sorts of things I enjoy.  Along with the stomach upsets, this has left me feeling that eating and drinking are no longer things I can derive any pleasure from.

And what do I have to look forward to when my condition improves?  Returning to a job I despise and don't want to do?  Is it any wonder that I'm feeling unmotivated!  At least the job situation can be resolved in a relatively straightforward way by resigning once I'm no longer signed off.  That said, I really need to properly explore other potential options before I burn my bridges completely.  Except that my current lethargy and listlessness has so far undermined any efforts in that direction.  I really need to start doing things again.  I tried last week but, with the tiredness caused by the beta blockers kicking in, I just ran out of steam as the weekend progressed.  Still, I did make some progress today: I actually bought the glue I need to try and repair and return to service another model railway locomotive.  All I need to do now is actually carry out the repair.  But that's the trouble - right now everything seems to require so much bloody effort.


Monday, March 12, 2018

Inside the Danger Zone

Well, I've survived a trip to the NBC hazard zone formerly known as Salisbury.  I was more than slightly disappointed not to have found myself being stopped by gas-mask wearing soldiers at armed checkpoints on my way in or out nut, to be fair, I was visiting my mother who lives on the opposite side of the city to where the recent nerve agent incident  took place.  Not that I didn't see any evidence of the increased police presence: I did have to pass the cemetery where the stricken spy's wife and son are buried - half of the town's police force seemed to be deployed outside.  Actually, word has it that, having excavated those two graves and finding that they contain bodies, Wiltshire Constabulary decided to investigate some of the other graves there, discovering they also contain bodies.  Working on the hypothesis that the cemetery might contain hundreds of bodies, they have launched an investigation into the possible serial killer who has been dumping their victims there.  

Look, I know that you probably think that I'm being unnecessarily harsh on Wiltshire police - but, when I lived in Salisbury, I once had one of their CID's finest as a neighbour.  It wasn't a reassuring experience.  Local legend has it that this particular Detective Sergeant once crashed his car while returning from a drinking spree in a nearby village, while accompanied by the landlord of a local pub whose leg was in plaster.  After the car left the road and crashed into a tree, the Sergeant allegedly shouted to his passenger (both of whom were, miraculously, unhurt), 'Quick, let's get out of here before the filth arrive!'  After running - hobbling in the case of the landlord - away from the scene, the sergeant allegedly reported the car as stolen to his colleagues.   Not that anyone believed him, but he still got away with it.  Thankfully, he's long since retired (last heard of running a bar in Spain) so the force at least has a fighting chance of actually solving this one.

The TV coverage of my former home town is still fascinating me - it is amazing how different familiar places can look when you seem on the telly.  I particularly impressed by the angle from which they filmed The Mill pub: it made it look both classy and rural.  Believe me, it is neither of those things.  It's a been a boon for the BBC's local news programme, South Today - this a story with international significance which will run for months and it is on their doorstep, meaning that they don't have to waste time every day trying to find stories of unemptied dustbins in Eastleigh or a dog fouling the pavement in Waterlooville to fill out their main half hour evening bulletin.  Mind you, I think that they are still confused by the fact that major local news stories sometimes happen somewhere other than Reading, Southampton or Portsmouth, coverage of which three cities seems to take up most of their output.  I was confused today by their reporter who claimed to be outside Salisbury police station.  There is no such place.  In their infinite wisdom, the Tory council decided that  a city of 44,000 people didn't need a police station and closed it, transferring the custody facilities to Melksham.  Because, hey, nothing ever happens in Salisbury, does it?  What is effectively just an office in the local council buildings now constitutes Salisbury's police presence.  Ironically, the nerve attack victim's house is actually a former police house situated near the former cop shop...

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Friday, March 09, 2018

Provincial Terror

It is a very odd feeling to see events with international repercussions unfold in somewhere you know well.  For the past week I've watched my home town become the centre of a major international incident as what was originally reported by the local paper as two addicts suffering from an overdose being whisked to hospital, develop into an apparent assassination attempt on a retired Soviet double agent, using nerve agents.  Having been born and grown up in Salisbury, it all seemed incredibly surreal to see footage of people clad in NBC suits hosing down park benches in the Maltings shopping centre.  Salisbury has always been a quiet provincial market town famous for its cathederal spire and proximity to Stonehenge.  It wasn't a bad place to grow up, but nothing ever happens there.  The closest thing to a terror incident to occur was that time a 'device; was found on that horrible piece of modern sculpture in the Cathederal Close, following an anonymous phone threat to blow it up, back in the seventies.  The 'bomb' turned out to be an old custard tin with wires sticking out of it, containing some women's underwear.  Oh, and there was that time someone stuck a potato up the exhaust pipe of a police car in an attempt to disable it in a blow against 'the man'.  (The end result was lots of revving when the cop car was started, followed by a huge bang and the car flying in one direction, the potato in the other).

Back in the days of the first Gulf War, one my brothers and I tried to simulate a Scud missile attack using fireworks in order to liven things up but, sadly, no mass panic ensued.  So, I was understandably perplexed to see this spy poisoning incident suddenly develop into a major crisis.  I mean, the closest thing to chemical warfare ever experienced in the city when I lived there was when someone sent some dog shit in a box through the post to headmaster of my school.  (They never did trace the typewriter the address label was typed on).  Indeed, having read the initial report on the Salisbury Journal website (as just featured on Channel Four's The Last Leg), I thought nothing of it until the next morning, when I wondered why Salisbury was trending on Twitter.  Naturally, I decided to follow the story on the Journal website, to get the local perspective and read all those comments by the local knee jerk reactionary whack jobs.  (To be fair, the ones on the Journal website aren't as rabidly moronic as those on the Crapchester equivalent).  Ultimately, the whole affair has left me suspecting that it has all been staged by the local Chamber of Commerce to make Salisbury seem a more interesting place and give it some international exposure.  It's no crazier than ramping up international tension by accusing the Russian government of orchestrating it all, despite having no evidence whatsoever.

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Thursday, March 08, 2018

Nine a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Well, I'm up to nine tablets, pills and capsules a day.  I've jut been prescribed a beta blocker, (Atenolol, yo be precise), for my blood pressure.  I must admit to having mixed feelings about the addition of this fourth pill in the battle against my blood pressure. While it will undoubtedly reduce my blood pressure quicker than the other medications, it comes with possible side effects I'd rather avoid.  Like the Metformin I take for the diabetes, it can cause severe stomach upsets.  With the effects of the former in this respect beginning to subside, I really don't want it flaring up again thanks to another medication.  Then again, Atenolol can also cause constipation - so maybe it and the Metformin will cancel each other out.  The beta blocker also means that I have to be even more careful about my alcohol consumption, which I've already cut significantly.  What with reducing my sugar intake as well, it is getting to the stage that I won't have any pleasures left - bearing in mind that beta blockers can (very rarely) cause erectile disfunction, I'll be having to take up crochet, or something, for pleasure. 

To be fair, though, the only side effect from any of the blood pressure medications I've suffered so far is the odd bout of light headedness when standing up too quickly.  The Metformin-related stomach upsets, however, continue.  After a couple of weeks of near normality, they have flared up again.  Nowhere near as bad as they were a few weeks ago, but, nonetheless, it has really been getting me down, disrupting my sleep patterns, leaving me feeling dehydrated and exhausted.  Yesterday, in particular, I felt so bad after a broken night's sleep and another doctor's appointment, i ended up going back to bed in the afternoon, to catch a couple of hours of much needed sleep.  The end result of all this disruption to my metabolism is that my body clock is all over the place and I just seem never to get anything done, as I'm out of synch with the rest of the world.  So, I've determined that, starting from tomorrow (which, I think, is a Friday, it is easy to lose touch of such things when you are away from the routines things like work impose upon us), I'm going to make an effort get my body clock back to normal and start imposing a new daily schedule on myself.  As I'm signed off work for more or less the rest of the month, I've got time to get into new routine.  So, I'm determined to actually do something constructive tomorrow - even if it is only finally getting around to cleaning the track on the model railway and resuming restoration work on that Wrenn locomotive I bought over a year ago.


Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Danger: Diabolik (1968)

The late sixties and early seventies saw a number of conic book based movies emerge from Italy.  While the best known of these, Roger Vadim's 1968 adaptation of Barbarella now hailed as a classic, most of the others were low budget, easily forgettable cash ins.  The exception is Mario Bava's Danger: Diabolik.  Unlike many other attempts to adapt 'Fumetti' type comics, Bava's film doesn't seek to fundamentally alter or soften its title character.  Diabolik, a Fantomas-style master criminal anti hero, is presented on screen in his full amoral, utterly ruthless comic book glory.  (In terms of the then contemporary version of the comic, at least.  As time went on, the creators of Diabolik gradually toned him down in the strip, making him less murderous and amoral).  It is interesting to note that many Italian comics (most of which were aimed at an adult readership), tended to focus on super villains of one kind or another, in contrast to their English-language equivalents which preferred to focus on super heroes.   The movie adaptation seizes upon the inevitable audience identification with someone who is essentially the 'bad guy' to effectively critique the whole 'cult of the hero' that superhero and spy movies tend to be built around.  Diabolik might have the trappings of a Bond villain, (an amazing Ken Adam inspired secret hideout, a beautiful hench woman and audacious plans to steal diamonds and gold reserves), but the way in which he operates is far more Bond-like: the gadgets, the fast cars, daring stunts including scaling buildings and penetrating supposedly impenetrable strongholds.  Even his disregard for the lives of opposing operatives, a degree of sadism when dealing with opponents and a penchant for dealing out personal vengeance in the guise of 'justice' are reminiscent of the Sean Connery incarnation of Bond, (which was contemporary with the film).

The movie version of Diabolik is, in essence, questioning the our devotion to our supposed screen heroes: in truth, is there any real difference between, say, Diabolik and Bond?  Sure, they might be on different sides of the law, but the methods they employ to achieve their ends is essentially the same, and the audience seems as happy to root for Diabolik as they are Bond.  By contrast to the flamboyant and charismatic Diabolik, the actual 'hero' of the film, Michel Piccoli's Inspector Ginko, is an overworked and under paid civil servant, forced to spend as much time fighting bureaucracy and his superiors as he does trying to outwit Diabolik.  Which, in truth, is the reality of real crime fighting heroes - but such a reality isn't attractive enough for audience identification.  Diabolik's faux heroic status is further reinforced by his conflict with local crime boss Valmont (a conflict engineered by Ginko) - who, although coming on as a Bond villain (he has a private plane with a trapdoor he uses to dispatch henchmen who displease him), he is ultimately revealed to be simply a cheap hoodlum.  Like real crime fighters, real villains simply aren't as attractive or flamboyant as Diabolik.    (Valmont is aptly played by Adolfo Celi, who had already played the villain both in a real Bond movie - Thunderball - and in the notorious Bond knock off OK Connery).

The ambivalent nature of Diabolik's status extends to his motivation.  Even within the film he seems to be all things to all men.  While his flamboyant activities, which culminates in the destruction of the country's tax records, make him a popular hero, the authorities see him as a threat to the fabric of capitalist society, denouncing him as a socialist and an anarchist.  Yet he doesn't seem to be a 'Robin Hood' figure: there is no evidence that he redistributes the wealth he steals to the poor.  Rather, he seems simply to steal it to accumulate it for himself, (presumably, he spends some of it on buying replacement E-Type Jaguars, he gets through so many) - making him the ultimate expression of capitalist consumerism, (not to mention a prototype for today's 'one percent' who have accumulated most of the world's wealth as their own private property).

Unlike most other super heroes or villains, Diabolik has no alter ego, we never learn his real name or his origin.  Even the police don't seem interested in identifying him when they think that they have killed him.  He is simply Diabolik.  An eternal enigma.  That's certainly the way John Philip Law plays the role.  Whether he's in his trademark black cat suit and mask, or masquerading as a press photographer, he remains unreadable - a sleekly efficient machine.  Never the world's greatest actor, the film trades on Law's striking good looks and physique, keeping his dialogue to a bare minimum, (a maniacal laugh being his main vocalisation), resulting in a hugely effective performance.  The likes of the aforementioned Michel Piccoli and Adolfo Celi provide excellent supporting performances, while the lovely Melissa Mell lifts Diabolik's partner in crime, Eva, way beyond being simply a hench woman or side kick.  It is clear from her performance that she and Diabolik are true soulmates, truly devoted to each other in their life of extravagant crime.  Terry-Thomas contributes a finely honed and restrained comic performance as the hapless Minister of the Interior, railing at the inability of his police force to apprehend Diabolik and fronting platitude laden but utterly meaningless press conferences.

Most of all, Danger: Diabolik looks superb.  Mario Bava's use of wide screen photography and bright colours creates a suitable comic book look and feel to the film.  That said, while no attempt at realism is made, Bava never makes the mistake of making things appear cartoonish.  The appearance is, instead, one of a slightly exaggerated version of everyday reality, with everything, colours, design, costumes and the like somewhat accentuated, but not to the point of parody.  While self-parody is deftly avoided by Bava, the film does happily parody much of the prevailing pop culture of its era, from Bond to the Batman TV series.  Not to mention every so often adding dollops of satire to the mix - after being dismissed, in disgrace, as Minister of the Interior, Terry-Thomas turns up later in the film, replacing the dismissed in disgrace Minister of Finance.  Clearly, the political merry-go-round in which being discredited never proves permanent is nothing new.

Like Barbarella, the film was produced by the prolific Dino de Laurentis and featured one of that film's stars and shared some sets and script writers with it.  Indeed, Danger: Diabolik was made during a hiatus in the filming of Barbarella, which allowed John Philip Law to appear both as Pygar the blind angel and the eponymous Diabolik, Barbarella, with its 'name' director and Jane Fonda in the title role, has always eclipsed Danger: Diabolik in both the public and critical consciousness.  Nevertheless, despite Bava never really having been a 'fashionable' director, his Danger: Diabolik is, to be frank, the better of the two films.  Barbarella all too often drifts into camp and frequently feels unfocused.  Danger: Diabolik is brighter, bolder, more stylish and far more entertaining. subtly deconstructing its own genre while still playing by most of its established rules.  It recently had a rare outing on UK terrestrial TV when shown by Film Four, so there's every chance that you should be able to catch it on a repeat showing within a few weeks.  Trust me, it's worth waiting for it to roll around the film Four schedules again.


Monday, March 05, 2018

Not From the Future

Is there no real news to report anymore?  You'd certainly think so from the number of 'headlines' I see on news aggregators for newspaper stories concerning so called 'time travellers', crashed UFOs, supposed ghosts caught on camera and the like.  I know that British tabloids have always had a fixation on the paranormal, but they used to be content to confine such 'stories' to the 'silly season' in late Summer.  Aside from scheduling, the other new thing about this rash of so called stories are their source.  Increasingly, it seems, the tabloids are mining the web for this material, rather than waiting for the nutters to come to them, as was traditionally the case.  It's certainly cheaper as they don't have to bung some lunatic a few quid for their fantasies and accompanying blurred and indistinct photos.  For a lot of the 'crashed UFO' stories they just refer to those supposed anomalies you can find on Google Maps which some fruitcake has highlighted on their crackpot website - which means that the newspaper can just reproduce the same snapshot from Google Earth.

The 'time travel' stories, by contrast, all seem to emanate from You Tube, which seems to have become home to a plethora of videos featuring sad bastards who claim to come from the year 2525, 6022, 2118 or Year Million.  Except, of course, that none of them do: they are from right here, right now.  Despite all their dire warnings of how we face disaster if we do or don't do this, that or the other, none of them seem to be able to produce any proof that they come from the future.  Surely it would be pretty straightforward for them to be able to predict a string of upcoming events, (sports scores, election outcomes, celebrity deaths, Oscars results, for instance), with such accuracy and quantity that couldn't be explained by mere chance?  Yet they don't.  If I were a time traveller going back in time and wanting to be taken seriously, I'd make out sure that I'd armed myself with plenty of such facts concerning the era I was going back to.  Obviously, these guys (for they all seem to be male), would claim that revealing such details could undermine the integrity of the space-time continuum and possibly change history.  To which I would reply that this isn't an episode of Doctor Who.  Correctly predicting some sports scores or the like isn't going to alter future history. 

These people are clearly not time travellers.  Rather, they are hoaxers, attention seekers, exhibitionists and plain old crackpots.  Perhaps some of them really do believe that they come from the future.  In which case they are delusional, mentally ill.  In any case, we really should not be encouraging them by printing their made up stories in newspapers.  In fact, You Tube shouldn't be allowing these videos stay up.  They seem to be keen to take stuff down for all sorts of reasons, ranging from politics to copyright infringement, yet are happy to allow the mentally ill to be exploited by the press.  So, really, stop encouraging these nutters - it isn't fair on them, it certainly isn't fair on readers to continually be served up their fantasies rather than real news.  Remember, they are not from the future - they are just fruit cakes.

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