Friday, February 12, 2016

Peur Sur La Ville (1975)


A highly entertaining policier, clearly inspired by Dirty Harry, Peur Sur La Ville is, as far as I can tell, the movie which set Jean Paul Belmondo off on his mid-career diversion into playing tough rogue cops and secret agents. Like Dirty Harry, the film sees Belmondo's unorthodox Paris homicide detective on the trail of a serial killer.  The killer, who calls himself Minos and leaves a fragment of a photograph of himself at the scenes of his crimes, is busy targeting women he considers to have behaved immorally in some way.  As in the US film, there are various sub-plots and diversions only peripherally related to the main plot.  The most significant of these is Belmondo's continued pursuit of a fugitive cop-killing bank robber he'd previously tangled with - this culminates in an extended chase sequence on the Paris Metro.  Unfortunately, in order to pursue the robber onto the Metro, Belmondo has to break off his pursuit of Minos, who escapes to kill again, resulting in the detective facing allegations that he put settling a personal vendetta ahead of catching a serial killer.

Central to the film's plot is the fact that Belmondo's character isn't actually a homicide cop at all - he's been temporarily transferred there from the robbery squad after the earlier encounter with the bank robber.  Consequently, his approach to the Minos investigation is far less intellectual than that of his colleagues, as he tries to apply the more physical approach he employed on the robbery detail.  The focus of the latter part of the film is his attempts to apply a more methodical approach to identify the killer, before he wraps up the case in true Belmondo fashion with an action orientated climax which sees the detective being lowered from a helicopter to crash through a plate glass window and engage in a furious fist fight with Minos.

 Belmondo is as charismatic as ever in a movie which combines suspense with some superbly orchestrated action sequences - most of which feature the star performing his own stunts.  Indeed, the middle section of the film sees Belmondo switching from one extended and exhausting chase sequence to another, firstly chasing Minos across Paris' rooftops, before breaking off the pursuit to instead chase his bank robbing nemesis through the Metro.  Obviously, credibility isn't Peur Sur La Ville's strong point, but in the hands of director Henri Verneuil, (a frequent collaborator with Belmondo), it is an extremely well made and exciting cop movie, which can easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its US equivalents.  The film's well worth a look, with the Paris locations and French police background making a refreshing change the big city US locations usually featured in this sort of film.  Moreover, unlike his US equivalents, who are generally portrayed as pursuing some political agenda to achieve 'real' justice in the face of the 'liberal' law enforcement establishment, Belmondo's cop is an essentially amoral force, simply trying to achieve results by any means necessary.

Released in several different English language editionsunder various titles, the original French cut of Peur Sur La Ville is currently available on DVD, complete with an English language soundtrack.  The English dubbing is of a reasonable standard, although Belmondo has a different dubbing artist than on most of his later films, which took a little while for me to get used to.  That said, at least his English language 'voice' here sounds reasonably appropriate to the actor and the character he is playing, unlike many others I've encountered on the English language versions of foreign films. 

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ten Years Ago Today (or Thereabouts)

You know what?  I've been doing this for ten years.  That's right, ten years of Sleaze Diary.  I only realised this the other day, when I noticed that the oldest archive entry is for February 2006.  To be fair, as I recall the posts for that month were effectively test posts before the blog went live - I don't think that I made it public until March 2006.  Nevertheless, it's a long time to be doing this and I sometimes wonder why I do keep on going.  I started this blog back in the days when The Sleaze was still a static site and adding a new story or article took almost as long as writing the item.  I decided that I needed a more immediate form of publishing to supplement the main site, somewhere I could react immediately to events in the real world and record my thoughts and ideas in real time.  Indeed, Sleaze Diary still has the description 'Editorial Blog of The Sleaze', even though it has drifted away from that original format over the years.  In recent years it has become a vehicle for my various pop culture obsessions, not to mention my first steps in podcasting (before I joined the Overnightscape Underground, which is where my new audio stuff now appears).  It's also been a place where I've worked through my various emotional traumas of the past decade.

But ten years of Sleaze Diary isn't the only anniversary being celebrated this month.  Apart from my birthday in a couple of weeks' time, this Monday it will be forty five years since we went decimal.  That's right,the UK's decimal currency will officially be middle aged.  Interestingly, although I was at school before decimalisation, I have no recollection of actually using the old monetary system - in anticipation of the change, at school we were taught nothing but the decimal system, even though it would be a couple of years before its introduction.  Consequently, I could never understand the nostalgia amongst my elders for the old system, as the decimal system seemed so simple and logical compared to the old one of twelve pennies to a shilling and twenty shillings to a pound.  Apart from the use of two different bases withing one currency (twelve and twenty) - three if you include guineas (twenty one shillings to a guinea: a base of seven) - it implied that the people who invented it had twelve fingers.  It was the same with the whole base twelve Imperial system of measurement, (although, interestingly, I still use feet and inches rather than metres and centimetres), which just seemed to smack of the arrogance of Empire: the fact that our ancestors had twelve fingers proved their superiority over all those ten fingered natives.  Not that I wasn't aware of the old system - I'd seen the old coins and goods in shops priced in pounds, shillings and pence.  Moreover, the old shilling and two shilling coins (which were identical in size to the original decimal five and ten pence pieces, respectively), lingered in circulation until at least the 1990s.  Even the old sixpence was legal tender until 1980, or so.  Anyway, it doesn't seem possible that it is forty five years since the new money came in, just like it seem possible that it is ten years since I started this blog.  Clearly, time really does fly when you are having fun.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Good Days and Bad Days

So, I have good days and bad days, but most are just mediocre.  If you've ever had the misfortune to have suffered from clinical depression, you'll recognise the pattern.  Long after the worst episodes are behind you, the low level depression lingers, taking the form of broken sleep patterns, lethargy, random feelings of despair and general listlessness.  Their severity waxes and wanes, often for no discernible reason.  As I've mentioned before, I try to maintain a 'steady state', avoiding emotional highs and lows - you learn never to get too excited by anything as that raises expectations which will likely not be fulfilled and, conversely, to try not to to get involved in anything which might drag your mood down.  Generally speaking, this works pretty well, although people who don't know you well (everyone I work with and most of the rest of the world) will inevitably assume that you are some kind of emotionless Vulcan, (which is fine by me, as Mr Spock was always one of my heroes).  Consequently, you also learn to hide behind a  mask, a front you put up for the outside world through which you simulate the expected emotional responses to various situations.

All of which sounds pretty grim - the fact is that most of the time such coping strategies operate only in the background.  I only retreat behind my defences when I feel I'm slipping into a stressful period.  Which is how I feel right now.  The low level depression symptoms are surfacing more frequently as are the bad days.  The fact is, though, that I know the source of my feelings of despair: work.  Increasingly, I feel, I'm being forced into impossible positions, with unreasonable demands being put on my time, my health and safety compromised and the very principles of the public service ethos I believe in, being undermined.  It's got to the stage where I no longer have any belief in the utility of what I do, nor any respect for the people in charge.  All of which is very stressful, not to mention dispiriting.  I know that until I move on from this job, the low level depression symptoms will keep coming back.  Sure, I know that in a couple of week's time I will have convinced myself that things aren't so bad and I'll feel better, but it will only be a matter of time before something happens that triggers the depressive cycle again.  So, the answer is obvious, isn't it?  Change jobs.  But that's easier said than done, with my age and the general economic situation against me.  Plus, I'm a terrible procrastinator, forever convincing myself that the relative security of a bad job is better than the uncertainty of unemployment or a hypothetical unknown future job.  However, I'm slowly but surely nudging myself toward an exit from my current employment.  I'm formulating plans.  Of course, formulating is one thing, actually implementing them is another.  But I'm edging closer.   

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Monday, February 08, 2016

Look Back in Discomfort

Films offer a fascinating window into the past.  Not just in terms of the fashions people were wearing, or the lifestyles of an earlier era or even the paraphernalia of the past, such as cars and kitchen utensils.  They also offer us an insight into changing public attitudes to a range of ideas, activities and opinions.  Often they portray their protagonists participating in activities which were then considered acceptable, but which would now make them a villain if they were shown doing the same thing in a contemporary film.  This was certainly the situation with regard to an old British adventure movie I was watching over the weekend.  Hell Below Zero (1954) was one of a pair of action films that Alan Ladd made in the UK for Warwick Films, (owned by Irving Allen and a pre-James Bond Albert R Broccoli), the other being the 1953 war movie The Red Beret.  As the title implies, most of the film's action takes place in Antarctica as Ladd's character attempts to get to the bottom of what really happened to the captain of the factory ship of a whaling fleet, who has apparently vanished and is presumed to have fallen overboard to his death.  Whilst most of the movie's action is pretty routine, it is this whaling background which seems startling to contemporary eyes.

For one thing, it is quite a jolt to be reminded that as late as the mid fifties, there were still fleets of whalers roaming the planet's oceans, decimating the whale population.  Equally jarring is the fact that the film presents these activities quite uncritically.  Indeed, at the time that it was made few, if any, people challenged the existence of the whaling industry - which was still huge - or the fact that so many everyday consumer products were produced using materials sourced from whales.  The scenes of whales being hunted and killed with explosive tipped harpoons, before being sliced up on the factory ship, which are presented in such a matter of fact fashion in Hell Below Zero now seem appalling.  Even worse, from the point of view of the contemporary viewer, is that that the whalers themselves are presented as predominantly sympathetic characters and Ladd himself, the film's undisputed hero of the piece, is seen happily harpooning whales.  All of which factors make Hell Below Zero a difficult watch for many modern viewers - even when one tries to put what's happening on the screen into a proper historical perspective, (as I always try to do with older movies), parts of the film make for uncomfortable viewing.  That said, whether we like it or not, within living memory there was a whole industry based around the hunting of whales - an industry upon which the livelihoods of thousands of people depended.  And those people weren't villains, no matter how much we might be tempted to characterise them as such, they were just trying to earn a living.  Times change, attitudes change, but film preserves to posterity a snap shot of those attitudes at any given time.

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Friday, February 05, 2016

Doom and Gloom in the Lounge Bar

I feel I need to clarify something from the previous post, when I was moaning about You Tube recommending breast feeding videos to me: I have nothing at all against women breast feeding in public places.  Obviously, breast feeding is the most natural thing in the world and it should be much easier for women to do it in public without being ogled by idiots or complained about by morons.  I just don't want to see videos about it - it isn't my 'thing'.  I'm well aware that there are men out there for whom watching women breast feed their babies is a sexual fetish, but I'm not amongst them.  I'm afraid that my fetishes are boringly conventional.  Right, now that's out of the way, onto today's business: people who drag the mood down in pubs.  No, I'm not talking about regular pub bores, (although one of the culprits I have in mind is probably the most boring man in the world), but the type of people who not only go to the pub to have depressing conversations with each other, but who also conduct such conversations so loudly that the entire pub can hear them, pulling the whole mood down.

This isn't a new phenomena.  I remember that, many years ago, when I first stated drinking in my local, there were these two people, a man and a woman, who used to turn up and have very dull and loud conversations, which would always culminate in the bloke, (they weren't married or in a relationship, as far as I could gather, but just friends), drifting off into a dirge about his failed relationships, his inadequacies and how he didn't deserve to be happy.  All of which inevitably put a downer on everyone's evening.   I don't know whatever happened to them - perhaps he topped himself, or finally found true happiness, who knows - but eventually they must have stopped coming in, although I can't say I noticed exactly when, I was just relieved not to have to put up with the cloud of depression they brought with them.  In recent months, however, there seems to have been a resurgence in these types of downers coming into my local. Why, I don't know - maybe other pubs have gotten fed up with them driving trade away and barred them.  Whatever the reasons, they seem to be flocking into the lounge bar of my local pub.

Worst offender is, undoubtedly, the aforementioned world's most boring man, who spends is time blocking the bar whilst attempting to have excruciatingly disjointed and dull conversations with the bar staff.  Even after he's had his last pint, he still loiters, bringing the mood down with his mumblings.  Everybody tries desperately to avoid making eye contact in case he takes that as an invitation to talk to them - you can feel the relief when he finally leaves.  Then there are these two who appear to be a reincarnation of the previous depressing couple.  This time they are, as far as I can discern, brother and sister and their every conversation degenerates into an argument about family.  A conversation conducted so loudly that that everyone can't help but hear them.  Finally, there are the ad hoc groups of boring and depressing bastards which now seem to form spontaneously on quite nights - like last night when I found myself subjected to the collective misery of a trio of these individuals who decided to swap depressing world views.  One of them, I've known for some years, but yesterday she revealed a side pf herself I'd never before encountered: bemoaning what a terrible person she was and how her life was totally shit.  She was joined by another pair that I didn't know, one of whom was one of those people for whom life has clearly been one trial after another, with the world conspiring against them to make their life a misery.  Jesus Christ!  All I'd wanted was a couple of quiet pints!  As their loud lamenting of the unfairness of life went on, I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that I spend a lot of my working days dealing with people who really are at the bottom getting dumped on by life - and they don't complain anything like as much as this lot!

But really, what is wrong with people?  These days, if they aren't depressing everyone else in the pub with their negative waves, they seem to want to start arguments with you under the pretext of having a 'conversation'.  Personally, I go to the pub for a bit of relaxing social drinking - a few conversations about football over a couple of pints, or a bit of a laugh with friends and acquaintances. And on a good night, that's what I get.  But these boring and depressing bastards are making that more and more difficult.  Lighten up and try going to a therapist instead of the pub.  

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Thursday, February 04, 2016

Boob Tube?

Just how does You Tube come up with those 'Recently Uploaded Recommended For You' videos you see listed when you log in?  Obviously, I know that they are produced by an algorithm, but my question is, what data are they feeding into it to produce these results?  I've always assumed that the recommendations are somehow based upon the videos you've most recently and most frequently viewed, taking into account your whole viewing history, to come up with something vaguely relevant to your interests.  So, you can imagine my surprise when, earlier this evening, I found amongst the recommendations from recently uploaded videos, 'Hot and Rainy Afternoon Breastfeeding Outside', 'How to Express Breast Milk by Hand' and something called 'Daddyhunt: The Serial'.  Quite where all this emphasis upon babies, let alone breast feeding, originates from, I cannot fathom.  A quick check on my viewing history confirmed that the most recent things I'd been looking at were various clips from Jean Paul Belmondo films and several old horror movie trailers.  Certainly nothing to do with breast feeding or babies.

The only thing I could see which was in any way related was the trailer from the seventies Antony Balch movie Secrets of Sex.  Oh, and I suppose that rewatching the trailer from seventies sex comedy Outer Touch did involve looking at some bared breasts, although no breast feeding was involved.  As an experiment, I tried watching the opening and closing titles of Big Wednesday, to see if this might affect the recommended recent videos.  It did.  The breast milk expressing video, (which, although I didn't watch it, struck me as simply being an excuse to watch a woman having her breasts groped), vanished in favour of a Dr Who video featuring Jon Pertwee.  Again, the logic escapes me.  Now, I know that this all seems very trivial, after all, haven't we all been subject to the vagaries of online algorithms?  Like that time you looked at some Jeremy Clarkson books on Amazon, only to find that they were now recommending you buy Mein Kampf?  (Yeah, I know, I stole that from Stewart Lee, but it still amuses me).  But these video recommendations are all part of a wider and very worrying trend. Not only is You Tube shoving breastfeeding and fatherhood in my face, but my email spam folder is constantly full of stuff offering to hook me up with MILFs and offering me discounts on disposable nappies.  Damn it, even ebay keeps sending me emails recommending I look at various baby products.  I wouldn't mind, but the last things I bought on ebay were a new set of blades for my electric razor and replacement mains charger for this laptop.  What have they got to do with babies?

So, just why does the web keep bombarding me with all this baby-related stuff?  I'm a happily single and childless man who has no affinity with babies and no desire to have children of my own.  Is it fate trying to tell me something?  Because if it is, I'm failing completely to understand what it is.  Just stop with the baby stuff, OK?

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Coup or Cobblers?

So, I was reading this article in The Guardian the other day about how the UK military might react if a Corbyn-led Labour government was elected and went through with abolishing the UK's so called independent nuclear deterrent.  There was all the usual speculation about military coups and the like, (believe me, there are a scary number of military types who have little regard for the democratic process they supposedly serve and protect, particularly when they think that their interests are under threat from elected governments), if the government concerned had only a narrow majority and therefore not a proper (in the military's eyes) mandate.  As in all such articles, there was also the usual arguments as to how the military top brass might try to justify such a coup: the main 'justification' being that their oath of allegience is to the Crown not the government.  (Although, as, constitutionally, the Crown delegates most of its powers to Parliament and therefore the elected government of the day, this is utter nonsense and offers no credible defence for subverting the 'will of the people' as expressed via parliamentary elections).

What always perplexes me about such speculations is that they all centre around the idea of a hypothetical future Labour government threatening the interests (ie budget) of the military, because the left always cuts defence spending, don't they?  Actually, the reality is very different.  This Tory government, for instance, has slashed defence spending by unprecedented levels.  Military manpower is at an all time low, the Royal Navy's 'fleet' is a joke - less than twenty major surface ships - and the RAF appears to consist of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.  Joking aside, the UK's military capabilities have been severely compromised by the Tories.  Indeed, some essential capabilities, such as long range maritime reconnassaince (essential to the protection of the Navy's Trident SSBNs), no longer exist and we instead have to rely upon the French and Canadians to track Russian submarines making incursions in UK territorial waters.  Compare all of that to the last Labour government, which commissioned all manner of major military projects from aircraft carriers to renewing the Nimrod fleet.  It's a pattern repeated over and over historically, with Tory governments frequently making far bigger cuts to military budgets than Labour administrations.  So, why isn't there talk of military coups to unseat Cameron in order to protect the nation's defences?  Could it be because all such talk of military coups bollocks?   Could it be that no matter how much some top brass might itch to seize power, they know that there would be no popular support for deposing an elected government?

Besides, with the military now a shadow of its former self thanks to the Tories, they just don't have the resources to mount a coup.  Maybe that's why Cameron and his cohorts have made these cuts: in order to protect themselves from a coup - they realised early on that they were so shit that there was every possibility that the electorate might just support a military coup to depose them.  On a brighter note, the Tory cuts also mean that the military as so weakened that they probably couldn't resist any kind of popular uprising against the government.  So, it looks like the revolution is back on! 

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Monday, February 01, 2016

Dropping Like Flies

They're dropping like flies, aren't they?  The year is barely a month old and the celebrity casualty list for 2016 is already mounting.  It's interesting, though, how some celebrity deaths 'crowd out' others: whilst the media was busy reeling with shock from the announcement of Sir Terry Wogan's death yesterday, for instance, no mention was made of the passing of superlative character actor Frank Finlay.  Whilst I know that the latter was no longer a household name hadn't been in the public eye for some years, it seems a pity that his death went largely unnoticed, bearing in mind his huge contribution to British popular culture both on film and TV.  Thanks to their frequent TV outings, there surely can be few viewers who haven't seen his portrayal of Porthos in Richard Lester's Three Musketeers, Four Musketeers and Return of the Musketeers, whilst his performances in Bouquet of Barbed Wire and Casanova made him a huge star on seventies TV.  Not only that, but he was Inspector Lestrade not once, but twice - both times, interestingly in movies pitting Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper: Study in Terror and Murder By Decree.  Oh, and he was in seminal big budget schlock movie Lifeforce, which should, if nothing else, ensure that he has some kind of lasting cult status.

None of which is to imply that the the accolades and eulogies heaped upon Terry Wogan over the past couple of days have been undeserved.  He was undoubtedly a huge part of many people's lives and his genial, yet often highly subversive and sometimes surreal, banter made a massive contribution to the UK's popular culture. Certainly, I grew up with Wogan during his first stint on the Radio Two breakfast show - it was on in the house as I got ready for school and on in the car on the way to school.  As he moved into TV, his presence was all-pervasive.  He became one of those public figures that, as a child, you assume will be part of your life forever.  They'd been celebrities since before you could remember and it seemed that they always would be.  It seemed impossible that the likes of Wogan, Cilla Black or The Beatles, for instance, would ever grow old.  It certainly didn't seem possible that they were just mortal like the rest of us.  Yet now both Wogan and Cilla have gone, along with half of The Beatles, finally putting paid to my childhood belief in them as some kind of challenge to the very notion of human mortality.  In the end, despite their fame and fortune, their lives proved to be as frail and transitory as those of everyone else.  Proof, if any were needed, that, as the poet James Shirley observed, death truly is a leveller of men. 

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Low Strangeness

Sometimes people just don't see the true weirdness right in front of them.  Take, for instance, a story I read on the BBC website the other day about claims that pornography was played during a Cardiff funeral.  I must admit that, when I first saw the headline and read the story's synopsis, I thought that they meant that pornography was actually part of the ceremony, instead of music or one of those valedictory videos summarising the deceased's life.  leading me to suspect that the funeral might have been that of a porn actor.  All of which would have been pretty weird in itself.  However, upon reading the story, I realised that this wasn't the case.  As it turned out, the story concerned an incident at a Cardiff crematorium where some relatives of a man who had tragically died, with his son, in a car crash, were shocked to see what appeared to be an adult film of some kind playing on one of the screens behind the priest as he conducted the service.

All of which is still weird, not to mention pretty traumatic for the relatives concerned.  But what really struck me about the incident, as reported by the BBC, was that the priest leading the ceremony was none other than the Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe.  Yet the report made nothing of the fact that the one time presenter of Fortean TV, noted writer on the paranormal and pseudonymous author of countless pulp horror and science fiction novels, Lionel Fanthorpe, was presiding at a funeral where such an extraordinary event took place. Now that's pretty weird - that an expert on weirdness should be present at a weird occurrence.  In fact, it's exactly the sort of incident one might expect to see reported on in the pages of Fortean Times under the heading of 'synchronicity'.  But clearly, nobody at the BBC has ever read Fortean Times.  If nothing else, the story at least confirms that the Reverend Fanthorpe is still alive - he's been pretty quiet in the Fortean world for some time.  It seems only fitting that he should come to public attention again for being involved in an outbreak of what might be labelled 'low strangeness'.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hate Speak

That David Cameron, eh?  What a card!  The man who is happily making hate speak legitimate.  To him, refugees aren't human beings, they're a 'bunch of migrants', or a 'swarm of people'.  Oh, and let's not forget those Muslim women who are 'traditionally submissive'.  Like a submissive woman, do you Dave?  Oh no, that's right, pigs are more your thing.  Allegedly.  But really, this, along with Cameron's attempts to brand Jeremy Corbyn as some kind of unpatriotic terrorist appeaser, mark an alarming development in the nature of political discourse in the UK.  To be sure, robust exchanges and political slanging matches have always been part of political life in Britain, but Cameron's recent utterances (and those of his cohorts) represent a new low.  As I said at the outset, it is, in effect, hate speak, no different from the bile spouted by right wing extremists.  It is the language of fascism.

Not that I'm accusing Cameron of being a Nazi - I don't expect to see him pulling on the jack boots any time soon.  I don't think that these utterances actually represent Cameron's true views, they are simply another manifestation of his political opportunism: he senses that attitudes on things like immigration are moving rightward - fuelled by the likes of UKIP and the right-wing press - so he feels he has to seize the moment and move with them.  Rather than lead opinion, as any decent conviction politician would do, opportunist Dave simply goes with the flow, hoping that he can avoid losing part of his natural constituency to the extremists by showing that he can be just as extreme and offensive himself.   Of course, there's undoubtedly another factor in play here - Cameron and co are spouting this stuff because they can.  It's a way of asserting their mastery of the current political landscape.  The fact is that there is no one to stop them, no one to hold them to account: the majority of the media are their bosom buddies, whilst the BBC has been cowed into subservience when it comes to reporting the news and the political opposition ineffective.  Don't get me wrong, I respect Corbyn's attempts to establish a new kind of political discourse, which rises above Cameron's jibes and insults, by example.  But I'm afraid that the situation requires a somewhat more robust approach.   Because, whilst Cameron might not be a full-fledged Nazi, he and his friends, with their manipulation of constituency boundaries and attempts to starve other parties of funding, do seem set upon establishing what would effectively be a one-party state.  

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