Monday, February 28, 2011

In Defence of February

Whilst I have no intention of making this a monthly feature, I do feel, for a second month running the need to defend the said period of time against unfair criticism. February is one of the most maligned months in the calender. As if it isn't bad enough that it has fewer days than any other month, it is frequently derided as being the 'dullest month' as, allegedly, nothing ever happens in February. Now, I know that I'm biased, as my birthday is in February, I really do think that such accusations are completely unfounded. Let's just look at the facts - these days February has become the awards season, with Brits, Grammys, BAFTAs and Oscars (to mention only a few) having their ceremonies during the course of the month. OK, I know that these things are really little more than attempts by the recording and film industries to boost sales during the traditionally quiet post-Christmas season, and that there's something faintly nauseating at the sight of all those over paid celebrities slapping themselves on the back, but it's more than March can boast.

But if you don't like awards, then there's the League Cup Final, the first major trophy of the English football season. Not to mention the Superbowl across the pond, and the Six Nations for rugby fans. Nothing ever happens in February, eh? I think not. The truth is that there are too many people out there who simply want to dismiss February because they find it inconvenient - it stands between them and Spring, and it's short length makes them think it isn't a 'real' month. Well, it is a real bloody month. Indeed, in the Roman calender it was actually the last month of the year, hence its odd length and the fact that, during leap years, it is the month that receives the extra day. Clearly, it makes sense to alter the length of the last month of the year rather than one that comes part way through the year. However, when the Gregorian calendar superseded the Julian calendar, one of the changes was that the calendar year was harmonised with the ceremonial year, with January becoming not just the point at which New Year was officially celebrated (as the Romans did), but also the first month of the year. Leaving February in its current strange position. So there you have it - February shouldn't be reviled. In fact, we should be celebrating as, according to the Romans, it's the end of the year!


Friday, February 25, 2011

A Bloody Shambles

It's hard to believe that this government could get any more shambolic, but it has. From a satirist's point of view it's the gift that keeps on giving. That said, I don't actually see many satirists or comics really taking advantage of the government's combination of incompetence, incoherence and sheer ideological lunacy. Then again, I can't say that I watch much of what passes for satire or comedy on TV these days. Mainly because it always seems to shy away from real satire or political critiques. At this point, You're probably expecting me to jump on the bandwagon and lay into Channel Four's Ten O'Clock Live. As I've never actually seen a complete episode, I feel that would be a little unfair. All I can say is that, based on the few bits I've seen, it does seem rather weak and predictable, and seems unlikely to do anything to enhance the careers of those involved.

Getting back to my original point - the coalition government's shambolic performance - the crisis in Libya really has highlighted its inadequacies and the shortcomings of its ministers. I was frankly appalled to see William 'Ten Pints a Night' Hague on the news trying to make excuses for failing to provide charter flights to get UK citizens out of Libya. Apparently some of the firms they tried to use refused to fly to Libya, presumably for reasons of safety and/or insurance. For God's sake man, I wanted to shout at the TV, you are Her Majesty's Government! You can bloody requisition aircraft if necessary, or guarantee compensation for damages incurred. Even better, of course, you should be able to provide your own aircraft for emergency evacuations such as this. Except, of course, that thanks to your spending cuts, the armed forces no longer have this capability. But worse was to come - today I read that Nick Clegg apparently admitted that he had forgotten that he was meant to be in charge whilst the prime Minister was away - so he went on a skiing holiday whilst the Middle East burned.

Where was Cameron, though? Actually, he was in the Middle East - trying to sell British arms to various dubious regimes. Now, if I subscribed those 'convenient conspiracies' which always seem to crop up to explain events in irrational terms, I might suspect that it was Cameron and his death-dealing friends who were orchestrating all of these Middle Eastern uprisings in order to drum up business. I mean, it all makes sense - all the remaining despots, seeing what's happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, are undoubtedly getting worried, and will be looking to beef up their internal security to suppress any unrest in their own countries. As for Tunisia and Egypt, well in the former, the 'new' regime seems to consist of a reshuffle of the old one, and will be keen to consolidate their position by military force. As for Egypt, well the military are now in charge, and no matter how many guns, tanks and war planes they already have, soldiers unfettered by political control will always buy more. So, whatever happens, the only people to profit will be the arms dealers.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust...

I can't let the passing of another of my childhood icons go without comment. I was greatly saddened to hear that Nicholas Courtney had died earlier this week. He'd been a huge part of my life back in the 1970s when he had played Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in Dr Who. As he UK commander of UNIT, the Brigadier was the last line of defence against various nefarious alien invasions. A highlight of every story would be the inevitable clash of philosophies between the entirely practical and down-to-earth military man and Jon Pertwee's flamboyant Doctor, in the face of some new and bizarre alien threat. The Brigadier remained completely unfazed, regardless of what he found himself facing, be it ancient demons, anti-matter blobs or Daleks. As a child, I was greatly impressed by the unflappable military officer and his very British approach to dealing with aliens. I'm sure that my admiration for the Brigadier influenced my decision to grow a moustache in my twenties - there's no doubt that I'd always thought his neatly clipped military moustache highly authoritative. I probably thought unconsciously that it would give me gravitas. It didn't.

But with the Brigadier gone and UNIT undoubtedly about to be disbanded as the result of this Tory-led government's spending cuts, who will defend us against the aliens now? I mean, we can't rely on the Doctor, as he seems to spend all his time gallivanting around the universe these days. Besides, we probably couldn't afford his consultancy fees. Mind you, Cameron will probably just sell us to any invading aliens, no doubt rationalising it as them making an investment in the UK - he'd probably even offer them a tax break. In exchange for a few high-tech trinkets, they'd be allowed to abduct and experiment on as many poor people as they liked. Apart from the possible threat to our alien defences it poses, the death of Nicholas Courtney has also brought home to me just how many of the iconic figures of my childhood are no longer with us: George Harrison, John Inman, Molly Sugden, the first three Doctors, all gone. Sadly, Bruce Forsythe is still with us and ruining Saturday nights on TV.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

On The Streets

Time for another one of my films. This time it's On The Streets, which consists of three minutes of grainy footage of a cruise around the mean streets of Crapchester, all to the accompaniment of a throbbing 70s-style electronic soundtrack...

The first part of the film is test footage I shot for another project which is currently on hold, (partly due to problems in getting the soundtrack I wanted to use on it), whilst the rest consists of unused footage from the shoot for On The Road. A couple of filters have been applied to make the film look grainier and scratched so as to give it that authentic 70s feel. I'm not sure when I'll be able to resume my film-making activities, as my cheap and crappy, (but surprisingly reliable), pocket camcorder is no longer able to take a tripod - the plastic thread on the camera has stripped after months of usage - allowing me only to take hand-held shots. (This is another reason the project I mentioned earlier is on hold). I'm currently in the process of looking at replacement cameras and, hopefully, it won't be too long before I'm back in business.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Post Birthday Ponderings

Just as well I didn't really hold my breath last night after my moan about the lack of birthday greetings I'd received from friends whose own birthdays I always remember, I'd have gone blue and suffocated waiting for a response. Actually, that isn't quite true - I did receive a text wishing me a happy birthday, but from someone I wasn't actually getting at in yesterday's post. Sure, she's pretty erratic in responding to any form of communication and rarely remembers such trivia as birthdays, but I'm used to that. I'm sorry if she thought I was tarring her with the same brush as other miscreants who are much closer to home. The fact is that I love her dearly and always will, even if she doesn't always remember birthdays and high holidays, and frequently frustrates me with her lack of communication. Anyway, with my birthday over for another year, the subject is closed and I promise not to make any more petulant comments about my supposed neglect by friends. As I'm becoming ever more misanthropic, I suppose I should really be pleased that people are finally leaving me to my own devices!

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Happy Birthday Yet Again, Doc Sleaze!

It's that time of year yet again. Another year older, but still no wiser. At least this year I'm feeling better than I did last year: then I was still recovering from a badly upset stomach the week before, and was in introspective mood, following yet more problems at work. This time I'm feeling perfectly healthy and, although work is still a living hell, I've got the entire week off, so I don't have to think about it. As ever, I'm not really doing much to actually celebrate my birthday. One of the problems of having a birthday in February is that the weather is usually still cold, damp and overcast, which just doesn't put anyone in the mood for celebrating. However, I did take the opportunity to spend most of the afternoon in the cinema, watching True Grit. Despite attending what was supposedly a cheap performance, it cost me an arm and a leg, and reminded me of why I rarely see films at the cinema these days. That said, I did enjoy the film, which provides an interesting contrast with the 1969 version with John Wayne - far less sentimental and far, well, grittier.

Anyway, all these birthday 'celebrations' mean that I didn't get around to writing a new story for The Sleaze, as I'd intended to - I thought about it over the weekend but, in the end, I couldn't be arsed. Hopefully, I'll get round to it later this week. Actually, I had a pretty frustrating weekend. Yesterday, I'd intended to watch my recently acquired DVD of The Blue Max. However, my new DVD player, (the one I had to buy in a hurry on New Year's Eve when the old one died), at first refused to play it, then proceeded to jump and freeze throughout it. When, in frustration, I retrieved it, I found that the surface had been scratched and scored by the player, (it had been unmarked when I put it in the player's tray). This isn't the first time this DVD player has given me problems. In the short period I've owned it, it has had problems with several DVDs which played perfectly both on its predecessor and my laptop. This is the first time it has damaged a disc, though. In desperation, I plugged my old DVD player back in and connected it to the TV. Incredibly, it worked and managed to play most of the disc, in spite of the damage inflicted by its successor, only one brief section toward the end defeated it. The old DVD player continues to work and has now been restored as my main player. Quite bizarre.

As I'm in a relatively good mood, I'm loathe to end this post on a pernickity note, but, there is something that has been bugging me for a long time now. Whilst I don't expect people to remember my birthday - I don't tend to advertise it in advance, after all - there are various people whose birthdays I do remember. Every year, at the very least, I text or speak to them to wish them a happy birthday. Does a single one of them reciprocate, even though some of them must know when my birthday is? No. Not one of them. So how about it? I know some of you read this blog. You don't have to send a card. A text or an e-mail will do. I'm not holding my breath, though.


Friday, February 18, 2011

A Drive in The Forest

For no particular reason, I've edited some footage I shot last August into a new film. It's pretty straightforward - the title tells it all. I'd originally intended to use this footage in a couple of other projects, but in the end it was left untouched. So, not wanting to waste it, I've edited the original five minutes or so of video to about half that length, and added a soundtrack. Anyway, here it is:

For what it's worth, this was all filmed on the same day as the stuff that eventually made up 'In The Forest'. A busy day.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

"This Revolution is Sponsored by Tesco..."

Well, my plans for a tank-buying trip this Summer are well advanced and, by the Autumn, I should be in a position to equip my own armoured division in preparation for the forthcoming revolution. unlike Egypt, this time it will be us protesters who put tanks on the street! More fool the government for scrapping theirs in defence cuts. Who's laughing now, eh? Importing these armoured vehicles shouldn't be too much of a problem, nor should setting up my own army. I'll just say that it's all part of the 'Big Society' - surely the community getting involved to provide the country with defences is no different to local people having to set up their own libraries to replace the ones closed by government spending cuts? The first step will be to establish this private revolutionary army as a charity, then it should be plain sailing. The government keeps on saying that it wants charities to step in and provide many of the services currently provided by the state.

There's no doubt that it would give me a certain satisfaction to see the government hoist by their own petard, so to speak, in this fashion. Just imagine, creating a revolutionary army to overthrow the government, and getting a tax break at the same time, thanks to the organisation's charitable status. Maybe I could even get sponsorship for my army? The 'Top Shop Revolutionary Guard', maybe? Or perhaps individual tanks could be sponsored, carrying adverts like Formula One cars? Once again, I have to emphasise, for the benefit of any intelligence agencies, policemen or morons reading this, that I'm not really going to buy tanks from the former Soviet Union, or start an armed insurrection against the UK government. You can't be too careful these days. You never know who might be reading, or how stupid they might be.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ocean's Fourteen: The Egyptian Job

Now, I know that Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney don't want to make another Ocean's Eleven movie, but really, recent events in Egypt really should make them think twice. Amidst reports that valuable antiquities had allegedly been stolen from museums during the rioting and unrest, I was left suspecting that the whole thing had been staged as a cover for a daring robbery. After all what better distraction could there be than a revolution? All the police and army are out on the streets, rather than guarding banks, art galleries and museums. You could make a getaway under the cover of being foreign tourists fleeing the country on a specially chartered flight. The fact that a dictator gets deposed in the process is an added bonus.

Then again, maybe Mubarak was behind it all - he deliberately stirred up opposition against his regime to facilitate his partners in crime. After all, wasn't it a bit convenient when all those pro-Mubarak supporters turned up in Tahrir Square and started attacking the protesters? Suddenly, the security forces had their work cut out separating the two sides, ensuring that they couldn't prevent any other crimes in process. Moreover, it ensured that the eyes of the world were on that square, rather than noticing any robberies taking place nearby. The final distraction was Mubarak's sudden resignation, no doubt helping to cover the robbers' getaway. I daresay the former President's cut of the job would provide him with a very handy retirement fund. Of course, if it was a caper movie, then the final reel would see George Clooney double-crossing Mubarak at his holiday home on the Red Sea, before making a daring escape on a paraglider, or something.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

An Electrifying Plot

After two horses collapsed and died in the paddock at Newbury racecourse on Saturday, rumours are rife that they were electrocuted by a faulty underground cable. Yeah. As if. A mysterious cable that's allegedly been there for years suddenly, out of the blue, strikes down two nags - not very likely. It's a cover-up. Trust me, what really happened was that those two horses were struck down by an invisible horse-killing ray. How else do you explain the fact that the stable boys with the horses weren't electrocuted as well? I mean, a charge powerful enough to fell a horse would easily fry a human being. No, the only credible explanation is a ray that only affects horses. But why, I hear you ask, would anyone be targeting race horses with such a sophisticated weapon? That's easy - it's all part of a plot to hold the racing world to ransom. Those two nags were killed as an example of what could happen if the race course owners, the trainers, jockey club and bookies don't pay up - mas equine carnage every time they try to hold a race meeting.

Now, I know that you are probably thinking that this seems like a pretty small-scale scheme for some super-villain or international secret criminal organisation to be involved in, but hey, there's a recession on. It just isn't as easy as it used to be to get financial backing for those old-school schemes like hijacking nuclear warheads and holding the world to ransom, contaminating the US' gold reserves with radioactivity or abducting space craft to provoke a war between the US and Russia. This is the new austerity era extortion campaign. Besides, if, as I strongly suspect, Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE are behind the horse slayings, they're probably working on the basis that, if they confine their schemes to the UK mainland, then their nemesis James Bond is unlikely to intervene. Domestic security threats are the province of the Security Service (MI5), and Bond works for the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), which operates only overseas. I've no doubt that Blofeld has seen Spooks on the BBC and knows that MI5 aren't much cop. He's probably working on the basis that the worst he'll have to face will be some Dick Francis-style ex-jockey turned private eye working for some consortium of wealthy race horse owners. Anyway, if they don't pay up. I'm sure we'll some more equine 'electrocutions' this coming weekend...

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Friday, February 11, 2011

The Triumph of People Power

At least, that's what it looks like in Egypt, with Mubarak finally succumbing to the pressure from the streets and stepping down as President. With luck, this will be a first step in a reasonably rapid transition to proper democracy for the country. All of which is dependent upon Egypt's interim military leadership not deciding to make the current arrangement permanent. However, the army's stance during the recent unrest and anti-Mubarak protests does seem to indicate that they're prepared to embrace change. Anyway, for the time being, let's all just rejoice that this situation has been resolved reasonably peacefully, and that an authoritarian dictator has been deposed, not through a military coup, as is usual, but through peaceful protest.

With Mubarak out of the way, perhaps we can now turn our attention to our own pathetic excuse of a government. If you don't like their plans to sell off our forests, if you can't stomach the spending cuts, if you think the Big Society is bollocks - stop bloody whingeing and get out on those streets and protest! Maybe if we all pitch up in Trafalgar Square and refuse to move, the Tory bastards will have the good grace to bugger off. Ah, but I know what you are saying - unlike the Egyptians, we have a proper democratic system and will have legitimate opportunities to vote the present government out. But do we? Don't forget that this shower of shit are busily trying to ensure themselves a five year term by making it virtually impossible for them to lose a no-confidence vote in the Commons, all of which adds up to less democracy and fewer opportunities for us to actually vote. And don't get me started on their attempts to fix the outcome of the next election through boundary changes and the like. But Hell, we're British and complacent, as long as the (Tory) press tells us everything is OK, we won't be marching on Downing Street any time soon.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011


James Bond had many imitators, both in film, and on the printed page. Charles Hood, the creation of James Mayo, was one of the first. First appearing in Hammerhead in 1964, (the year of Ian Fleming's death), Hood sauntered through a subsequent four or five novels, without ever really capturing the public imagination in the way Bond had. That said, on the basis of the first book - which I recently read after buying a copy from a charity shop - Hood is a superior example of the Bond knock-off. Which, perhaps, shouldn't be surprising as author James Mayo was actually the pseudonym of journalist Stephen Coulter, who had been a friend of Fleming's. The novel incorporates all the elements you'd expect in a Bond novel: the exotic locations, evil foreign villain, lots of descriptions of a luxury lifestyle most readers could never hope to enjoy, beautiful, yet ultimately submissive, women and bursts of savage violence. It most resembles a genuine Bond novel in the way in which its plot is pretty much perfunctory, (some nonsense about the villain replacing a top NATO official with a double so as to steal defence secrets), merely a peg to hang the travelogue on, and in the degree of sadism on show.

Like Bond before him, Hood seems to spend an inordinate amount of time as the prisoner of the villain, and subjected to some horrendous and very painful tortures. Indeed, I've always suspected that Bond was actually a secret masochist, and only worked as a secret agent because of the opportunities it afforded him to be beaten up and abused. It's probably something to do with the public scholl system, if you ask me. Anyway, such scenes seem to be a vital ingredient in any Bond knock-off and, in this respect, Hammerhead doesn't disappoint. In fact, it's pretty amazing that Hood is able to stand, let alone chase villains across Paris before indulging in a brutal fist fight with the main bad guy, after all that he has to endure. Although, like the Bond novels, Hammerhead slightly pre-dates the 'Swinging' phase of the sixties, it certainly takes advantage of increasingly liberal attitudes, with far more female flesh on 'display', so to speak, than Fleming ever got away with. Which brings me to another aspect of this type of fiction which fascinates me: the way in which the heroes, who are essentially establishment figures, are happy to take advantage of the increasingly 'permissive society', with its laxer moral stance toward sex.

Anyway, like Bond, Hood made it to the big screen, with Hammerhead being filmed in 1968. I don't actually recall ever seeing this film, (although I know it used to turn up in ITV's all night schedules quite regularly in the late 1970s and early 1980s), and it isn't available on DVD, so I can't really offer any judgement on it's quality. However, you can see the opening six and a half minutes or so here:

Clearly, some changes from the source novel have been made - you'll search in vain for any scene like this one in the book, which has a completely different opening. Also, Hood has become American, (presumably in the name of a US distribution deal). Also, based on what I've read in online reviews, Hood infiltrates the villain's organisation by offering to sell him some rare pornography. In the book he's selling him some paintings, (Hood's cover is as an art dealer). Interestingly, the porn angle does have some basis in the novel, as one of villain's main sidekick's has a corset fetish, (we're back to the public schools again), and the book climaxes in a chase through an underwear fashion show, with lots of scantily clad female models. Sadly, I believe the film has a more conventional denouement.


Tuesday, February 08, 2011

David Cameron - Still Not a Nazi

Having got over yesterday's sulk, (it runs in the family - my four year old great niece can sulk even more spectacularly than me), it's back to business today. So, David Cameron. What a cock. No, really. I was left astounded by his recent speech in Munich, (speeches in Munich never bode well), in which he declared that 'multiculturalism has failed'. Now, every time I hear statements of this kind, I'm left wondering exactly what the speaker means by 'multiculturalism'. Because, invariably, it doesn't tally with my understanding of multiculturalism, which involves such things as respecting and tolerating each other's cultures. Indeed, when I was growing up, multiculturalism was considered to be a 'good thing' - we all embraced the idea that we could learn from the cultures of immigrants, even adopting some of the best aspects of their cultures and assimilating them into our own. W e were told that this was what had made Britain great - the melding of disparate cultures which had been going on since the Romans had arrived here.

I suspect that white, middle class, middle England Dave understands something different when he says 'multiculturalism'. He probably equates 'tolerating other cultures' with 'putting up with these bloody foreigners and their irritating ways'. I suspect that he and his ilk think that immigrants should conform to some notion 'Britishness' whilst out in public - their own cultures are something only to be practiced in private, where their observance can't offend the eyes of good English patriots. To be fair, Dave tried to qualify his comments by saying that it was 'state-sponsored multiculturalism' which hadn't worked. Unfortunately, this just makes his comments worse. By 'state multiculturalism', is he referring to the equality and anti-racism legislation enacted since the late 1960s? Does he think this a bad thing? As he seemed to be blaming multiculturalism for breeding Islamic extremists, by extension, does he think that the Race Relations Act has encouraged terrorism?

The he went and compounded it all with a call for a greater assertion of 'British values', which sounds suspiciously like state-imposed Britishness. After all, who defines 'Britishness'? Is there such a thing? Strictly speaking, 'British' is merely a national identity, created as a result of the Act of Union with Scotland, which resulted in there being only one nationality, in legal terms, in the UK - British. However, it doesn't define any overall cultural identity for the denizens of these islands - the individual regional and ethnic identities of the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish weren't subsumed into an overarching British culture. Consequently, being British isn't dependent upon culture or ethnicity: you can be British English, British Scots, British Black, British Sikh, even British Muslim, for instance.

But enough of the lecture and back to the point. Is this yet more evidence that Cameron is a Nazi? Is it just coincidental that within days of his Munich speech, Cameron's pals at the Institute of Directors were calling for workers rights to be curtailed - the right to strike withdrawn from some public sector workers, an end to collective wage bargaining in the education and health sectors and curbs on employees ability to sue employers for unfair dismissal. Taken with the ongoing dismantling of the NHS, mass library closures and the distinctly fascistic-sounding 'Big Society', it makes you think. But obviously, I exaggerate for satirical effect. That said, one phrase Cameron used still has me scratching my head: 'muscular liberalism'. What the Hell is that? Does he want Nick Clegg to get oiled up and strike various macho poses? Sounds like the kind of thing Brown Shirt leader Eric Rohm would have liked...

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Monday, February 07, 2011

Due to a Lack of Interest...

...I can't be bothered to make a proper posting toady. It only seems fair, as nobody can seem to be bothered to visit The Sleaze today. This really is becoming dispiriting. However, I feel that this is the only proper response - if people can't be bothered to read The Sleaze, (despite a new story being posted), why should I waste my time writing original material? The sad thing is that I actually had a post planned for today, but after looking at the daily stats, I've lost all enthusiasm for it. Mind you, my mood isn't being helped by the fact that one of my main stats services is lagging by 42 minutes, which rather undermines its usefulness as a real-time measure of web traffic. I wouldn't mind, but these lags are a regular occurrence, not that those running the service will admit it. No other stats service I've used has ever lagged like this. It really is a piece of shit - avoid it like the plague!

Getting back to the original point, there's little doubt that Google and its bloody algorithm changes lie at the root of the ongoing decline in traffic. They really do seem determined to drive smaller sites off of the web by denying them decent search rankings, regardless of the quality of their content or relevance. I wouldn't mind, but I've always played by Google's own rules when it comes to search optimisation, yet, over the past two or three years, they've decided to shit all over me. It's notable that currently Google has more pages of The Sleaze indexed than ever, but clearly it is either not including them in searches at all, or ranking them so poorly they don't appear on the first couple of result pages. Which begs the question, why, if you are a search engine, do you bother to index pages you won't serve up to users? Interestingly, last week Google were trying to get me to use adwords again, about the same time traffic started to dive again. Coincidence? Am I being paranoid? If I was to reactivate my adwords account, would I see an upswing in traffic? I guess I'll never know as I have no intention of using adwords again - it is utterly useless with regard to sites like The Sleaze.

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Friday, February 04, 2011

Dream Car?

I had a dream last night that, unusually, I vaguely remembered. I say vaguely, but I actually recall parts of it in some detail. The overall 'plot' is the vaguest part. Basically, I seemed to be driving through my old home town in an American car, (at least, it was left hand drive). At one point, I turned into the road where the infant and junior schools I attended were situated, but their entrance was coned off. Instead, I turned around and drove down the road where my late Grandmother once lived. However, when I drew up in front of her house, instead of my grandmother standing at the gate, it was the former landlady of my local pub, (actually, she still works behind the bar there some nights). From our conversation, it seemed that I was driving some kind of getaway vehicle, and I was there to swap cars, (which is odd, as there was no garage at my Grandmother's old house in which to hide a vehicle). Anyway, when I got out of the car, I was able to see that not only was it an American car, but that it was a magnificent silver 1979 Pontiac Firebird, (quite why I didn't know this from the interior - I'm quite familiar with the interiors of second generation GM F-bodies - I don't know), which I spent some time admiring. After that, the details of the dream fade, and I can't remember any further details.

So, what am I to make of this dream? Why a 1979 Firebird? Was the fact that it was silver significant? (Actually, this isn't the first time a Firebird has featured prominently in one of my dreams - many years ago, whilst snoozing on a freezing cold train, I dreamt that I was driving a 1984 Trans Am down a long dusty road desert road. Sadly, just as I was really putting my foot down, I was woken up by someone sitting down in the seat next to me). I've never owned a Firebird, although I did once have a 1978 Chevrolet Camaro, which is a very similar car, (it shares a body shell and much of its running gear with the Firebird). That said, I've always wanted to own a Firebird. Interestingly, whilst the Camaro was red, my current car (a Mondeo) is silver. Perhaps it all has to do with the ongoing problems I'm experiencing with my car - the Firebird in the dream represents my idealised perfect car, which will never let me down, (in truth, the Camaro that I did own suffered all manner of problems). But what was I 'getting away' from? Had I robbed a bank? Is my subconscious trying to tell me that I should change career and become an armed robber? Certainly, I could do with a career change, that's for sure. Some aspects of the dream remain unfathomable - why did I try to drive into my old school, and why was it coned off? And why was the former landlady of my local pub living in my Grandmother's old house? Proof positive, surely, that dreams just don't make sense and have no particular meaning.


Thursday, February 03, 2011

Up the Revolution!

Watching events in Egypt unfold this week, I've been left pondering exactly what it would take for people in this country to take to the streets en masse and protest in the face of tanks. The closest thing I can recall were the poll tax riots under Thatcher, when thousands of protesters faced mounted police in Central London. More recently, the closest thing to mass insurrection I can remember were the fuel protests, under Blair, when various road hauliers and the like took it upon themselves to blockade oil refineries in an attempt to bring the government to its knees and lower the price of fuel at the pumps. The fact that it cost me nearly sixty five quid to fill up my car the other day shows how successful they were. Interestingly, both of these incidents, it could be argued, were triggered by people's financial fears. It's notable that we've had no mass protests over the gradual erosion of civil liberties in this country. Nor have people taken to the streets protesting at the current government's subverting of the constitution for its own electoral benefit, via the introduction of fixed term parliaments and the redrawing of constituency boundaries. However, put up the price of petrol, or increase their local rates, and they're out on the streets like a flash.

Of course, more recently we've had the protests against university fees, but even these are ultimately financially driven. I know that there's an argument that they also address wider issues of access to higher education, just as the poll tax protests were, at least in part, about the imposition of an unfair tax, I still don't think that either can really be compared to recent events in either Egypt or Tunisia. These protests are clearly about more fundamental issues: freedom, the right to free and fair elections and basic civil rights. Here in the UK we're too complacent - we believe that, just because we get to cast a vote every five years and the press aren't directly controlled by the state, that we've already got all of those things. We're blinded to the gradual and stealthy erosion of our liberties - that sort of thing couldn't happen here, could it? Anyway, I live in hope that this country might yet wake up and take to the streets. When it does, we have to be prepared - if events in Egypt have taught me anything, it is that putting tanks on the streets is crucial. Now, thanks to Cameron's insane cost-cutting, the Army won't have any tanks soon. In fact, they'll be lucky to have any soldiers. Consequently, it seems obvious that any potential revolutionaries need to make out sure that they have tanks in order to gain a decisive advantage. So, that's my Summer holiday sorted - I'm going off on a tank-buying mission. I think Russia, or one of the other former Eastern Bloc countries, represent my best bet. Apparently they have huge 'tank parks', full of unused T-72 and T-62 tanks. Failing that, I thought that Israel might be a good bet - they're bound to have plenty of older tanks knocking about. The great thing about the Israelis, of course, is that they're always updating their equipment, so even their redundant stuff would be pretty advanced. That said, when your opponent is unlikely to have any armour of their own, half a dozen ex-Yugoslav army T-34s of World War Two vintage would probably do...

(NB, for the benefit of anyone from Special Branch or the security forces reading, I'm not really going to buy tanks for the purpose of overthrowing the UK government. It's just an amusing story told for satirical purposes. I know I shouldn't have to spell this out, but you never know who might be reading, and how stupid and literal minded they might be).

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Italian Job (Part Two)

Well, I've finally gotten around to watching those other two Italian exploitation films I had on DVD and, as promised, here's my take on them. First up, is Oasis of Fear, which, despite its title, has nothing to do with deserts. This one promises to be as sleazy as Strip Nude for Your Killer, as it kicks off with a pair of beautiful young early 1970s free love type people financing their trip around Europe by peddling hardcore porn. However, once the money, and their supplies of jazz mags, have all gone, they resort instead to selling nude pictures (taken in photo booths) of the girl. So far, so sleazy. Not to mention slightly psychedelic and swinging. However, the film then takes a left turn, as, having been arrested for indecency by the Italian police, the couple find themselves on the run, mistaken for bank robbers and robbed by motorcyclists. Seeking somewhere to lie low, they stumble upon an isolated villa (the 'oasis' of the title), where they find themselves confronted by the female occupant, who is always on the phone to her lawyer and perpetually waiting for her husband to come home. At first hostile, she suddenly changes tack and becomes friendly to the intruders, indulging some swinging sex and drug taking with them.

It is at this point that the film completely changes gear and turns into a Hitchcockian thriller, as it turns out the woman in the villa has, in cahoots with her lawyer who is also her lover, murdered her husband, and has seen an opportunity to frame the two young hipsters. Once they realise what is going on, a battle of wits between them and the woman ensues, as they try to make their escape, whilst framing her for the murder she actually has committed. And thereby hangs my problem with Oasis of Fear, after a start that promises some kind of outre sleaze-fest, it instead settles down into a relatively conventional thriller. Which isn't to say that it is a bad film, it's actually a perfectly entertaining ninety minutes or so. As with all Italian films, it's beautifully shot on sun-drenched locations, and it has a decent cast, headed by the great Ray Lovelock, star of such exploitation classics as The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue. Despite his name, (which is his own, not a stage name), Lovelock is actually Italian. Apparently, his father was a British soldier who settled in Italy after the war. His leading lady is the lovely Ornella Muti who, a few years later, would play a pervy Princess Aura in the 1980 Flash Gordon remake. It also features Greek actress and singer Irene Papas as the villainess. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is the way it casually dispels the myth that everywhere else in Europe was more sexually liberated than the UK in the 1970s: the couple buy their pornography in London and sell it all over the continent.

All of which brings us to Venus in Furs, not the 1969 Jesus Franco movie, but the Massimo Dallamano version made the same year. Unlike the Franco film, this version claims to be the 'true' adaptation of Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch's notorious classic, although it does update the action to 1969. Well, it does more or less follow the plot of the source novel but, in truth, this is a prime example of Euro-porn masquerading as art. From the outset, it is clear that the movie's aim is to present us with as much bare flesh, (some naked breasts get groped under the opening titles), and kinky sex, (a lot of bottoms get thrashed with riding crops, branches and the like), as possible. The fact that it is supposedly based on a literary classic which explores deviant sexuality, (Masoch gave his name to masochism), usefully gives it all a veneer of respectability. Whilst the film follows the basic plot of its source material - depraved rich bloke who can only get sexual satisfaction from the pain of rejection and betrayal marries a beautiful woman and encourages her to have affairs with other men, while he watches - it can't resist coarsening it for contemporary audiences. For instance, the turning point of the book comes when the wife, Wanda, finds a lover - a Byronic hero called Alexis - who she wants to submit to, throwing her relationship to her husband into crisis. In the film, the lover becomes a hugely mustachioed hairy biker called Bruno. There's nothing heroic about him - he's merely brutish, and dominates Wanda through his sexual prowess alone. Clearly, the director is attempting to retain audience sympathy for the husband, by making his usurper such a bastard.

Even the ending is designed to be as exploitative as possible, with the humiliated and rejected husband going off and finding a submissive prostitute who will beat him to his heart's content. Cue more bare-arsed thrashings. The moral, if there is one, seems to be that there's nothing wrong with a bit of physical abuse to spice up your sex life, but psycho-sexual humiliation, well, that's just kinky - the kind of filthy perversion which can only do you harm! Once again, it's beautifully photographed and lit. Indeed, the whole thing does manage to convey a real atmosphere of sheer perversity. As with all the other Italian exploitation movies I've seen lately, you end up feeling that there's no way such films could possibly be made in the UK. Not because of considerations like censorship, taste or morality, but simply because UK film makers wouldn't have been able to make them in any style other than 'dark, nasty and depressing. Films can't help but be influenced by the environment in which they are made - with all their sun-drenched locations, colourful milieus and stylish back drops, even exploitation films made in Italy can't help but come over as slick and glossy. Their treatment of the subject matter is also significantly different. British sex films, for instance, either focus on the sweaty mechanics of sexual activity, or snigger at it like smutty schoolboys. Venus in Furs, by contrast, presents sex as something almost mystical, rather than simply a physical act. Eroticism, rather than mere copulation, is clearly the focus. So, there you have it - my thoughts on Italian exploitation films. I've exhausted my stock of such pictures for now, but if I watch any more, I'll be sure to let you know all about them. Hopefully, I've piqued your interest, and you'll check some out for yourselves, (all the titles I've mentioned are available from HMV and Amazon). Go on - believe me, they're far more interesting the average crap you'll find in your local multiplex!