Friday, April 24, 2015

Destroy All Boats

After that daring raid by the RAF to destroy a pick-up truck in Iraq, (which, of course, struck a crippling blow against ISIS - it put their insurance premiums through the roof), our next military action in the Middle East, it seems, could be destroying boats in Libya.  At least that shouldn't tax our depleted military forces too much - a guy with an axe putting holes in the bottoms of rowing boats should be well within the modern Royal Navy's capabilities.  Which is just as well, as apparently the solution to the problem of hundreds of refugees trying to escape across the Mediterranean to Europe from Libya, is to destroy the boats that the people traffickers making money from these tragedies use.   Which begs several questions, most significantly - how do you know which boats they are going to use?  And even you can identify them and destroy them, won't they just commandeer, hire or steal other people's boats?  The only way this could work would be if you were to destroy every boat in North Africa.  Which would simply result in large numbers of perfectly innocent fishermen, traders, ferrymen and the like losing their livelihoods.

This 'solution' to the problem is about as well thought out as the last one - to withdraw the extensive European search and rescue operation in the hope that the fear of drowning would deter people from making the dangerous passage.  Which is rather like trying to cure cancer by making the NHS shut down its oncology departments: 'Ha! They won't dare get cancer now that they know it won't be treated!'  Both of these 'solutions' show a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem - it's a question of economics.  As long as there is a demand for their services, the people traffickers will find ways of operating.  Destroy their boats and they'll simply find more - and charge the refugees they are exploiting even more for their dubious services.  If they can't get boats, they'll sell the poor bastards rafts made from oil drums lashed together with timber and rope.  Failing that, they'll probably sell them polystyrene floats.  The question that European governments need to be asking is why so many people are willing to pay for passage under such hazardous conditions, risking their lives to reach Europe?  Obviously, the answer is because they are desperate to escape an even worse situation - war, famine, extreme poverty, persecution.  Addressing the motivations of the migrants and looking to find long-term solutions to the problems driving them from their homes might be a better strategy for the world's governments.  But hey, what do I know?  Sending in the marines to wreck some rowing boats is obviously a better tactic.  

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Taken for Idiots

It's OK fellow public service workers - we won't have to face any more pay freezes (actually a pay cut in real terms) after the next election.  At least, that's what Nick Clegg has promised us - if he manages to sneak into power either by either enabling another right-wing Tory government or by pleading with Labour to let them form a coalition.  In view of everything that has happened to the public sector over the past five years that he has been in government - the spending cuts, the continuous running down of manpower levels, the assault on public service provision and the relentless abuse directed at public servants - we can only assume that Clegg thinks that those of us left in public service are complete and utter idiots.  It's amazing how some politicians suddenly start expressing their love for us when they think they might need our votes.  If the past five years has taught us anything, it is that Clegg can't be trusted - he's prepared to renege on just about any Lib Dem manifesto pledge if it gets him a fancy, yet meaningless, job title and an illusion of being in government.

Still, Nick hasn't been the only party leader coming out with bizarre utterances this week.  We've also had UKIP's Nigel Farage reassuring us that he isn't a racist - he prefers Indians to Poles when it comes to immigration.  I'm glad that he's cleared that up - some brown people aren't as bad as some white foreigners.   Apparently it's all down to those glorious days of Empire when people in the Indian sub-continent were 'our' Asians.  Damn it, at least they speak English, unlike those bloody Poles, eh?  Personally, I think his newly revealed affinity for the Indians goes far beyond the Imperial connection.  let's not forget that the Indians are one of the Aryan races (just like the Germans and Nigel's wife just happens to be German), whereas the Poles are Slavic.  Not that I'm implying anything here, obviously, but Farage did also say this week that some things had to be said in terms which might offend in order to get the message across.  So, in that spirit:  Nigel, you are an obnoxious, small minded bigot and a hypocrite to boot.  Fuck Off.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tuesday Ramblings

It's been one of those days where I haven't been able to settle to doing any one thing.  A situation reflected in this post: there are myriad things I'd like to cover, but I just can't decide which is most important, or topical.  So, instead I'll just look briefly at a couple of things which have caught my attention today.  Firstly: the poor state of technology reporting these days.  You might have seen media stories today about how Google is supposedly updating its search algorithm to favour 'mobile friendly' sites and how this will result in lots of sites losing all their traffic because they aren't 'mobile friendly'.  I've read such reports both on the BBC news site and in The Guardian today, both taking this 'mobilegeddon' line and written by supposed 'tech experts'.  The only problem is that such reports are wholly inaccurate.  The change only affects Google searches made on mobile devices, which use Google's mobile index.  Desktop searches will be unaffected.  Moreover, 'mobile friendly' is simply one of numerous factors used to rank sites in mobile search results.  You can get all of this from Google's own press releases on the subject.  Which makes me wonder why the media reporting is so inaccurate - it isn't as if the so-called 'tech experts' in the media actually have to do much research on the subject.  To be sure, I don't believe everything Google says publicly and I certainly don't trust them, but in this case, it seems pretty logical that this change will affect only mobile search results.  (I have to say, on the evidence so far, this update appears to have changed absolutely nothing in traffic terms).

The second half of this post has nothing to do with tech: today I read that Robert Rietty (sometimes 'Rietti') had died at the age of 92.  You might not recognise his name but, unless you have never watched TV or gone to the cinema, you will have heard his voice.  Rietty was undoubtedly the greatest voice artist - certainly the most prolific - of the past fifty years or so, frequently re-voicing actors for English language versions of films. or providing non-English speaking actors in English-language films with a voice.  Sometimes he dubbed actors simply because directors, producers or distributors didn't like the actor's real voice.  Sometimes he'd redub actors when there were problems with their recorded soundtrack - if it was inaudible or damaged, for instance.  He was a frequent voice in James Bond movies (he dubbed Italian actor Adolfo Celi in Thunderball, for instance).  Sometimes he'd dub more than one actor in a single film.  Only a couple of weeks ago I was watching the 1974 version of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, where he provided the voices for Celi (again), Gert Frobe, Charles Aznavour and Alberto de Mendoza, effectively talking to himself in several scenes.  Perhaps even more bizarrely, I recall him dubbing Roger Lloyd Pack (Trigger from Only Fools and Horses) playing a hitman in an episode of The Professionals. Presumably, Lloyd Pack's real voice wasn't considered suitable for a sinister international hired killer.  Rietty also, on occasion, dubbed well known actors, successfully mimicking their voices.  Orson Welles in the 1972 version of Treasure Island, for instance, allegedly had all of his dialogue redubbed by Rietty, whilst he provided Jack Hawkins (who had lost his voice following treatment for throat cancer) with a voice in 1970's Waterloo, (Charles Grey dubbed Hawkins' voice in several other films from the era).  More often than not, Rietty's work went uncredited, making him an unsung hero of cinema.  He might not have been a superstar, but many movies would certainly have sounded very different without him. 


Monday, April 20, 2015

Infamy is The Spur

So, what do you do if you want to be famous, a celebrity of sorts, with all the (mainly monetary) benefits it brings, but you have no actual talent for anything?  Not even sufficient talent to make any headway on the X-Factor, Britain's Got Talent or The Voice?  Obviously, you have to find some way of playing to the only strengths you have, even if they wouldn't usually constitute a 'talent'.  If that strength is not caring what anybody thinks of you, thereby enabling you to say anything, regardless of how offensive it might be to the vast majority of people, regardless of whether it is even a well thought out position, then you sign up to Twitter and start saying offensive and 'controversial' things to high profile celebrities, knowing that these will be picked up by the media, resulting in appearances on daytime TV shows and lots of column inches devoted to you in the press.  With luck, this will then translate itself into a newspaper column of your own, maybe a radio slot on some right wing talk station and perhaps, if you are really lucky, a TV show on one of the digital channels.

Roughly following this path certainly seems to have worked for this Katie Hopkins person.  Sorry, if I sound like one of those mythical out-of-touch High Court judges who never know who any pop culture figures are, but I'm afraid that, until recently, she'd flown under my radar.  Whilst vaguely aware of her as some kind internet troll, I eventually had to have exactly who she was and why anyone cared what she said, explained to me. Actually, whilst I now know that she is a failed contestant on The Apprentice (something I never watch), I'm still at a loss as to why anyone seems to care what she says.  However, she seems to have stirred up a lot of hatred with her idiotic description, in her tabloid column, of African refugees as cockroaches.  Yes, it is offensive.  But surely what is more offensive is that this and her other, similar, utterances aren't really the result of any strongly held (but criminally misguided) belief system, but rather have been carefully calculated to generate as much publicity for Hopkins as possible.  Real bigots and racists are at least spitting their bile from a clear ideological position - we might not agree with their beliefs, but we can at least understand their motivation.  Often their misguided views are a result of a misreading of the poor economic and political situations they find themselves in - blaming the most visible, but usually least culpable - targets for their predicament.  Once again, we can at least understand their bigotry.  But in Hopkins' case, her outpourings have no ideological or socio-economic underpinning, they are designed purely to create and enhance her 'brand', which she can then market for her own financial gain.  Bigotry for cash - now that's offensive.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Scream and Scream Again

A classic 'What the fuck?' movie, 1970's Scream and Scream Again has achieved something of a cult status, in no little part due to the fact that it is rarely shown on TV in the UK and for years was unavailable on DVD.  The fact that it features all three top horror icons of the sixties and early seventies - Price, Cushing and Lee - a swinging London setting and an incredible opening chase sequence means that you'd be forgiven for thinking that it is some kind of horror classic.  But somehow it falls short of achieving such status.  Perhaps the main reason for this is Christopher Wicking's fragmented script, which jumps between several apparently unconnected plot lines and which ultimately explains little, leaving the viewer asking 'What the fuck?'  Interestingly, bearing in mind how much it disorientates the viewer in a narrative sense, the film was based on a novel by the pseudonymous and prolific Peter Saxon originally called The Disorientated Man

Whilst not providing the audience with any entirely satisfactory explanations, Wicking's script does allow director Gordon Hessler to create a kaleidoscopic ambience for the film, with the screen action constantly shifting and the plot elements likewise constantly combining and recombining into new patterns.  Indeed, the film is great to look at with some fantastic tracking shots as characters are followed through a scene.  Moreover, despite the fact that, despite sharing top-billing with Vincent Price, Cushing and Lee provide little more than extended cameos, some of the supporting cast give excellent performances.  Perhaps most notable are Michael Gothard as 'Keith', the mysterious sex murderer chased by the police in the film's opening sequence, and Alfred Marks as the investigating detective, Superintendent Bellaver - the film loses a lot of its focus and impetus following his demise part way through the story.  So, whilst not a classic, Scream and Scream Again is a highly entertaining piece of pulp, undermined by its lack of a clear resolution.  It's never entirely clear exactly why Price's shady surgeon is creating 'composite' beings from human spare parts - years after seeing the film the first time I tracked down a copy of the source novel on eBay to see if that would answer the question.  It did - the bodies are being constructed as receptacles for alien conciousnesses to allow them to exist on Earth.  Their energies would destroy normal human bodies.  Whilst furnishing this explanation, the book was otherwise a fairly standard pulp story of its era (the mid sixties), with none of the verve of Wicking's flawed script. 

Probably Hessler's best film, Scream and Scream Again actually did well at the box office when originally released.   Milton Subotsky, executive producer at Amicus who co-produced the film with AIP, could never understand this success - he apparently hated Wicking's script and tried to have it thrown out in favour of his own version, which was reportedly a straight adaptation of the novel.  However, as AIP was holding the purse strings, he was overruled.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Divisive Discussions

So, I finally came up with a new story for The Sleaze: I'm Blacking Britain!  It concerns activists blacking up right wing politicians to raise awareness of racial prejudice.  By a strange coincidence, there was a story in the papers today about former footballer Sol Campbell 'whiting up', apparently in order to challenge perceptions of race.  Didn't he do something similar before, when, as a Spurs player he wore that Arsenal shirt for several seasons?  Oh no, that wasn't to challenge people's perceptions about tribalism in football, but rather about money and glory hunting.  I'm not sure what I find most offensive about Campbell: the fact that he left Spurs and signed for Arsenal, or the fact that he's now campaigning for the Tories.  Actually, I think it's the fact that he's a Tory - it shows that he's completely lost sight of his origins - which shouldn't surprise us with regard to someone who can move from Spurs to the Arse and apparently not understand why his former fans at Spurs hate him. 

Ah, football and politics - two things guaranteed to result in conflict.  Perhaps only religion can do more to divide people.  Which is why all three are topics probably best avoided in polite company.  Luckily, we're not in polite company here, so we can discuss these things to our hearts' content.  I say 'discuss', but in reality this is just me ranting.  But it is interesting just how polarising these things can be - for all my talk of the need to tolerate other people's beliefs, even when they clash with our own, every time someone tells me they vote Tory I think 'what a tosser'.  (I'm sure they think the same about me).  It's even worse if I see one of those 'I'm Voting UKIP' signs in someone's window - I just have this urge to throw a brick through it.  I have similar reactions to religious types who try to force their beliefs down my throat: 'sanctimonious gits', I think.  As for Arsenal supporters, well, that goes without saying: 'arseholes'.  (To be fair, these days I find myself hating those smug nouveau rich gits at Chelsea more).  Of course, being tolerant, I don't say any of these things out loud, I just think them.  But perhaps that's the problem with us tolerant types: we don't vocalise our feelings enough, for fear of offending, which just allows the offensive arseholes to shout their bile at will.   

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Politically Induced Weariness

Jesus, this general election campaign is stultifyingly dull.  Maybe it's the lack of any real personalities on the part of the politicians contesting it, or maybe its the complete lack of any surprising or inspiring policies, as the main parties all try to play safe.  How I yearn for the good old days of the sixties and seventies when we had entertaining politicians, like former Labour foreign secretary George Brown - the man for whom the euphemism 'tired and emotional' was coined.  Frequently drunk and angry, always offending someone, from cabinet colleagues to foreign dignitaries to Hollywood stars (he once nearly came to blows with Eli Wallach), he seemed to 'resign' at least once a week and, throughout the sixties, provided the electorate with endless entertainment.  Sadly, this election is offering us no such colourful behaviour.  Even the much vaunted 'entertaining' buffoon Nigel Farage has, so far, stuck to a carefully stage-managed campaign, minimising any chance of actually meeting anyone who might take issue with him and his crackpot fantasies.

So soporific has the campaign been so far, that it has offered me o inspiration whatsoever in terms of stories for The Sleaze.  Indeed, I haven't a clue what I'm going to post there this week, if anything.  Not that I haven't been busy elsewhere: I've recorded and edited together a new podcast, with a completely different format to 'The Sleazecast'.  It might prove to be the pilot for a new series of podcasts and I might eventually post it here.  For the time being, you can hear it as part of the latest 'Overnightscape Central' podcast over at the Overnightscape Central, as part of a compilation of shows by various contributors.  'Schlock Treatment' - for that is what it is called at the moment, it could change if I do more - draws on material already published here and focuses on my enduring interest in low-rent cinema.  I must admit that it went together a lot more easily and far quicker than the average episode of 'The Sleazecast', which, by the last couple had become just too complex and time consuming to easily produce - a half hour episode was taking more than a month to assemble.  By contrast, 'Schlock Treatment' was produced in a couple of hours.  Who knows, it could be the face of the future.  Even if it isn't, it was lot more interesting putting it together than following the election campaign.   

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Racist With the Devil

Just lately it has seemed that every time I watch a news programme I'm confronted by yet another story about US police officers misbehaving.  Well, misbehaving is probably an understatement.  Usually they are shooting people dead for minor violations (who knew that having faulty brake lights was a capital offence in South Carolina, for instance).  Well, to be accurate, it always seems to be white officers gunning down black men.  And if it isn't just happening in small towns in Carolina or Missouri - Sheriff's Deputies in California are also handing out beatings to unfortunate victims.  I guess it's all part of a dishonourable tradition that includes the LAPD and its officers' beating of Rodney King - this set a benchmark for police brutality, sparking riots in LA.  (If James Ellroy's novels are even fractionally accurate, the tradition goes way, way back, to well before World War Two).  Not that I'm saying that this is an exclusively American phenomena - it sometimes seems as if our own Metropolitan Police in London are murdering people on a daily basis.  And getting away with it.  Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of all this is that we only know about these cases because somebody happened to film them - it makes you wonder how many times this level of police brutality occurs when there are no witnesses present.

But to cut to the chase, the fact that the most recent of these shootings has taken place in South Carolina set me to thinking - could this inspire a new plot line in the 'reality' TV schlock-fest that is Lizard Lick Towing?  I mean, the series takes place in North Carolina and you can't tell me that it isn't going to be much different there than it is in South Carolina: full of rural racism and bigoted corrupt local cops, (of the type often found in Burt Reynolds' films of the seventies).  After all, it's high time that those Good 'Ol Boys from Lizard Lick varied their act a bit - there are only so many hill billies and redneck dirt farmers they can tangle with when they repo their vans and tractors.  So, what if they were trying to repo some van and followed it out to the middle of nowhere one night, only to find, whilst observing from a safe distance, that they've stumbled on a Ku Klux Klan meeting and that there are two kidnapped black guts in the back of the van about to be lynched?  Or maybe, as well as being in the Klan, these guys are also Satanists and are going to sacrifice the black dudes from the van to their great white supremacist devil master?  That would make them even more evil.  Anyway, the chief Klan/Satanist guy's hood could slip and our heroes recognise him as the local Sheriff! Then they realise that the other Klan guys are all the local Sheriff's deputies!  Then they get spotted and have to run for their lives (stopping only to hook that van up to their tow truck - they won't get paid if they don't complete the repo, after all).  The next few episodes could show them being chased relentlessly across the state by a horde of corrupt, Satan-worshipping racist cops, trying desperately to hide out for long enough to find someone in Federal law enforcement who believes them.  Heck schlock and social commentary - this could be the future of 'reality' TV.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Modern Schlock

The other day, on a podcast segment I did for PQ Ribber over at the Overnightscape Underground, I was bemoaning that they don't make proper schlock movies like they used to.  Sure, they make plenty of imitation schlock movies - you know what I mean, those movies which are self-consciously badly made, or have fake scratches overlaid on them post production to try and make them look like a fifth generation print of a B-Movie.  There also a lot of genuinely bad movies still being produced, (just about anything made for the SyFy Channel fall into this category), but bad doesn't necessarily equate to schlock.  A true schlock movie has a some undefinable quality which lifts it beyond simply being bad or cheaply made.  For me, its that sense of delirium that the best of them have - that feeling that you are trapped in someone else's fever dream.  But, on further reflection, it occurred to me that modern schlock has just taken a different form, more in keeping with modern media.  After all, they don't make proper B-movies in the classic sense anymore.  Just direct to DVD or cable cheapies made with levels of skill and imagination even lower than their budgets.

Contemporary schlock is instead to be found in the kind of 'reality' TV programmes of the kind I've watched too many of lately: those storage auction shows and programmes about US car repo firms.  They certainly have an air of surrealism about them, the way in which people suddenly become insanely aggressive with each other as they battle to buy the shitty contents of some storage locker, for instance.  Even more surreal is the number of times those lockers they've fought over and overpaid for turn out to have some amazingly valuable antique hidden in them, or and a vintage car lurking under a dustsheet.  What's truly schlocky about them is the fact that they are so obviously faked, yet everyone involved acts as if the carefully staged events we see infolding are real and spontaneous.  Take Container Wars, for example, that highly 'realistic' depiction of port authority auctions of unclaimed shipping containers.  From the off, this show is so obviously faked - someone must already have knowledge of the contents of these supposedly sealed containers.  After all, if they are of international origin then the Customs authorities will have to have checked them, otherwise they'd be opening them up to find the dead bodies of illegal immigrants piled up in them.  Either that, or some lucky bidder will make an amazing score when they find those blocks of cocaine secreted inside that container full of crappy furniture they've just bought.  ('That's amazing - I paid twenty thousand for the container, but this shit has a street value of over a million!  That's an incredible result!').  Yet everybody on it leaps around and shrieks as those containers are opened, as if it all really is a surprise.

Even better, those shows about the towing companies unfold like the cinema serials of old with their ongoing storylines, character arcs and sub-plots.  In a previous post I noted that, if this were still the seventies, Lizard Lick Towing would have been a Burt Reynolds movie, full of Good 'Ol Boys engaging in manly hijinks as they repossess cars.  In virtually every episode I've seen, the protagonists have to repo some van or tractor from a barn in the back of beyond and end up being attacked by a bunch of shotgun waving hill billies wearing dungarees and straw hats. Sometimes they disturb these hicks at night and they come rushing out of their cabins dressed in their long red one-piece underwear.  As in all good schlock, no stereotype is left unturned.  South Beach Tow is, if anything, even schlockier, making no bones about the fact that everything we see has been 're-staged' for the cameras, using actors to portray the supporting cast of irate car owners, rival repo agents and irate bystanders, (but everything depicted is based on 'real' incidents, of course).  Just like the auction shows, everybody seems to be insanely aggressive and every job descends into an assault or full blown brawl.  But, as with Lizard Lick Towing, the police are amazingly never called to these very public incidents and nobody ever seems to get arrested, (or if they do, they only ever seem get cautions, rather than custodial sentences).   Ah yes, schlock is alive and well, it seems, and living in a storage container.


Thursday, April 09, 2015

Peace and Quiet

As I get older, I find that it is the simpler things in life which give me the greatest pleasure.  Today, for instance, was a beautiful Spring day full of hazy sunshine.  I don't know what it is about hazy sunshine, but I find it intensely pleasurable, giving the day an atmosphere that a clear sky never can.  Being off work this week, (and still amazed that, for once, I'd managed to book off a week of unseasonably good weather), I decided to take a break from my various DIY efforts, (mainly trying to repair the damp damage to the kitchen and spare room wrought by the leaking hot water cylinder and the gutter blocked by the council's ivy, respectively), and spend today simply enjoying the glorious weather.  So, as I often do, I ended up at my favourite Iron Age hill fort, dodging the various Easter holiday groups of children, students and the like as I wandered around its reassuringly familiar environs.

It's days like today, when time seems to stand still and I spend what seem like peaceful hours sitting on a hill fort admiring the view over the South Downs, watching birds of prey hovering and listening to birdsong, that I realise that we would all benefit from a calmer pace of life.  When I'm not spending my time driving from one pointless work job to the next, as I seem to spend a large part of my working life doing, or enduring desultory hours in the office pursuing pointless paperwork and chasing arbitrary targets, I really do feel more at peace with myself.  We really do need to take more time out to just watch the world go by.  It isn't just restful, it's definitely better for you - my stress levels have dropped off markedly - and today were non-existent - in the week I've been off work.  All my regular aches and pains have likewise vanished.  Sadly, of course, it can't last and I'm back to the grindstone on Monday.  But that still gives me another three days of peace...