Friday, May 31, 2013

Black to the Seventies

It's Friday and I can't think of anything to post.  I'm sure I had something lined up for today.  In fact I know I did.  But can I remember what it was?  Obviously not, or I'd be posting it.  Clearly, today's outbreak of sunshine and my subsequent day trip to 'the country' in order to enjoy it has befuddled my memory.  Either that, or I'm still in shock from the realisation earlier this week that my childhood now lies forty years in the past.  Actually, that whole business set me off on a lengthy wallow in seventies nostalgia, courtesy of You Tube.  I enjoyed every variation on the Man About the House opening titles I could find, not to mention those for George and Mildred, not to mention a couple of classic episodes of Doctor in the House (from 1969), plus a selection of seventies TV adverts.  I even found some footage of Hughie Green sliming his way through Opportunity Knocks, (and I mean that most sincerely).  However, the wheels all came off when I made the mistake of trying to watch an episode of Love Thy Neighbour.

Perhaps it isn't as bad as I recall, I thought.  But five minutes in, I was finding it hugely offensive.  I know that people, (by which I mean racists), always try to defend 'race' comedies like this on the grounds that 'it was the seventies, attitudes were different', but even by the unenlightened standards of 1972,  Love Thy Neighbour is deeply, deeply offensive.  The fact that the main black character gets to call the white racist protagonist 'snowflake', 'honky' and 'paleface' in no way mitigates the latter character's constant use of the term 'nig nog' to describe, not just black people, but anybody non-white.  There is no equivalence between the terms.  The stream of racial epithets spewing from Jack Smethurst's mouth - all of which the studio audience laugh at uproariously - is as depressing as it is offensive.  As for the other defence of the programme made by apologists - that the black character usually ends up on top, with his bigoted neighbour generally getting his comeuppance - is also a non-starter.  Despite 'getting his comeuppance' in most episodes, the white character, 'Bill', is nonetheless portrayed as some kind of 'loveable rogue' everyman character, who the audience is clearly being invited to identify with.  The writer Bill Bryson once characterised the series as My Neighbour's a Darkie - I think he nailed it.

Well, there you have it - looks like I've managed to post something after all.

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Being a Sanctimonious Git and Loving It

Don't you just love it when you get the opportunity to act like a sanctimonious bastard?  I know that I do and I got such an opportunity the other day.  So I grasped it with both hands.  To put it all in context, I've discussed here before my dislike of the fact that people here in the UK feel compelled to make comments to complete strangers on matters which don't concern them.  It was one such incident which prompted my outburst of sanctimoniousness.  To cut a long story short, I'm not an obsessive car washer.  Cars are simply machines.  Inanimate objects, the functioning of which is not affected by their state of cleanliness.  Moreover, as I don't have a driveway or garage, I rent a space from the council in a nearby car park.  Said space is beneath a tree which, every spring, sheds its blossom all over my car.  Birds also sit in said tree and shit all over my car during this period.  Consequently, my car is often of less than pristine cleanliness.  Something which doesn't bother me.

But it does, it seems, bother other people.  Particularly people I don't know, who frequently feel compelled to make comments.  Even worse are the ones who just glance at the car, shake their heads and 'tut, tut' under their breaths.  I had a set to with such an idiot in a supermarket car park once.  I'd been enduring stupid comments from strangers all week and his snide attitude was the final straw.  So I asked him in a loud voice: "Excuse me, is it your car?  No?  Then what business is it of yours?  That's right, none!  So fuck off and mind your own business."  He fucked off without further comment, stupid facial expressions or non-verbal noises.  It was this altercation in mind that I approached the latest such incidence, when a visitor to one of my mother's neighbours felt it necessary to make a stupid and unsolicited comment about my car as it stood on my mother's driveway the other Sunday.  He clearly thought he was being both funny and original with his utterly unwelcome and superfluous comments. 

Bearing in mind I wasn't on my home turf and in deference to the sensibilities of both my mother and her neighbour, I decided to try a more moderate approach this time.  So, after fixing him with my best Mr Spock (Leonard Nimoy version, obviously, not Zachary Quinto) inspired quizzical stare, which simultaneously says 'I don't understand a word you are saying' and 'you are clearly a moron', I played the sanctimony card.  "People in the developing world are dying because they have insufficient supplies of clean water, yet in this country, people squander it on inanimate objects."  God, it felt so bloody good to be such a sanctimonious git.  Especially as the target was clearly one of those boring bastards who have nothing better to do with time other than clean their bloody cars every time they get a bit dirty.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Blast From the Past

I really shouldn't watch daytime TV - I suffered a massive shock whilst watching it today, I was lucky not to suffer a coronary.  I suppose I need to backtrack a bit here and explain why I was watching daytime TV on a weekday.   The long and the short of it is that I'm off work this week.  In part because I've got outstanding leave days I have to use before the start of June, otherwise I'll lose them, and the exterior paintwork of my house badly needs retouching after that never-ending Winter we've just exited.  I say 'retouched', the reality is that it needs to be stripped back to the woodwork and completely repainted.  I also had to finally do something about the jungle my back garden has become.  Anyway, needless to say that as soon as I plan on doing any outdoor work, the weather changes and it pours with rain.  Whilst I made a start on the garden yesterday while it was still sunny, today I was eventually forced back inside, soaking wet and with an aching back.  Where, naturally, I started flicking through the channels, (and this is where the story really starts).

Eventually, I alighted upon ITV3 just in time for the start of the repeat of an episode of Man About the House, a favourite sitcom from my childhood.  Not just any episode, but the very first.  You can't imagine the nostalgia and warm memories watching that familiar opening sequence, (with its highly sexist focus on Sally Thomsett's arse), and hearing that theme music, (actually a piece of library music rather than being specially commissioned - a common practice foe seventies sitcoms), stirred in me.  I loved this series when I was a kid.  It undoubtedly helped that it starred Richard O'Sullivan, fresh from playing the second lead to first Barry Evans, then Robin Nedwell, in the Doctor series, now finally given his own leading role.  I'd almost forgotten how engaging he was as Robin Tripp, and just how attractive Paula Wilcox and Sally Thomsett were.  Then, of course, there were the Ropers, their landlords, played by Yootha Joyce and Brian Murphy, whose appearances were usually the highlight of any episode. 

Man About the House was also notable for being that rarity, a sitcom which had a proper beginning and end.  Rather than being dumped into the middle of the existing situation, as many sitcoms did (and still do), it started with Robin Tripp becoming the new housemate of Chrissy and Jo and, after six series, ended with Chrissy marrying not Robin, but his brother Norman.  An ending which, I have to confess, has resonated through my life ever since.  As I recall, when Robin finally realises that Chrissy really is going to marry his brother and that he himself really does harbour genuine feelings toward her, he remembers how, when he and his brother were children, they'd had a pet dog which he'd loved, but always bitten him, yet it would do anything for his brother.  I know I'm not explaining it very well, but trust me, it was very poignant, as were the closing minutes of the final episode, as he realises that all those unresolved feelings for Chrissy will now never come to anything,  Anyway, the point is that I've been reminded of those scenes several times several times in my life.  Not that I've ever had anyone I have feelings for marry one of my brothers, you understand.  But, too often, I've found myself in the situation of realising that I've left it too late to express my real feelings to someone I've cared for.

But this isn't about my frustrated romantic life, it is about how watching an old sitcom gave me a shock.  Obviously, the shock wasn't being reminded of all those instances of unrequited love, rather it came at the end of the episode when I saw the year of production: 1973.  That's right - 1973!  Forty bloody years ago!  How can it possibly be forty years since I first saw that episode?  OK, I know it was clearly set in the 1970s, (the sideburns alone made that obvious), Richard O'Sullivan even makes a reference to the 'swinging seventies' in the episode, but it just doesn't seem possible that the seventies were that long ago.  I mean, when I was a kid back in the seventies, 'forty years ago' was the 1930s - that strange black and white era before World War Two, when people had outside toilets and lived in slums.  It's a sobering thought that kids today probably think about the seventies - my childhood - the same way!  To them, it must seem like another country, a different world, just as the thirties do to my generation.  Scary stuff!  Like I said, it gave me such a shock!  I wonder if there's another episode on tomorrow?

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Send 'Em Back!

Send the buggers back!  That's what I say!  It is the only way to stop more horrendous unprovoked attacks like the one the other day.   Where will it end, I ask you?  Some poor pensioner mauled to death in his back garden by an out-of-control dog.  You notice the police aren't revealing what type the dog concerned was - they obviously fear a backlash against the breed.  I'm betting it was a bloody foreign breed - German Shepherd, maybe, or, even worse, a bloody Afghan!  They need to check whether the old boy savaged to death was an ex-soldier.  If he was over eighty, I'd put my money on a German Shepherd - the war, you know.  They've never bloody forgiven us for winning.  Anyway, they should round up all the other German Shepherds and send them back to bloody Germany, where they belong.  They're their dogs, let them deal with the vicious bastards.  Of course, if the victim had been younger, I'd have suspected an Afghan hound - you just can't trust those hairy bastards!  God knows what weaponry they've got lurking under all that fur - probably several pounds of semtex for a suicide bombing mission, I'll wager.  If it had been an Afghan, we'd have to be asking if it had been radicalised at Muslim-run kennel prior to the attack.

Of course, there's always a chance that it wasn't a dog at all.  Can it really be a coincidence that only a few days before, in the next county, a tiger had fatally mauled a keeper at a zoo?  Could it be that the attack was actually staged by the tiger to get hold of the keys to the enclosures and now it letting itself out and wandering around the North West savaging people?  OK, I know there's a question as to motive - unless the pensioner had once been a big game hunter who had massacred the big cat's family back in Bengal, or wherever it came from, back in the day - but that's a minor point.  Actually, it could be some kind of vendetta against dogs - the victim was purely incidental.  The tiger disguised itself as a dog, then savaged some random target to death, leaving some neighbourhood dog to take the blame.  Pure genius!  However, I suspect the police are onto his nefarious schemes - they seem to be taking a lot of interest in the mauling of the zoo keeper, with a full investigation being launched.  Even now, they've probably got that tiger in an interrogation room, shining a light in face and slapping him around.  Serves the murderous bastard right.  They should send the bugger back! 

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Taxing Times

So, Ed Miliband actually had the audacity to tell Google to start paying UK taxes at an event organised by Google.  Maybe there's hope for him yet.  It's certainly more impressive than Cameron's cosying up to the likes Google whilst mouthing platitudes about curbing corporate tax avoidance.  But it always seems to be one step forward and two steps back with Ed.  Despite his apparent enthusiasm for taking on tax-dodging corporate behemoths, he still seems remarkably reluctant to use either of the S-words: socialism and social democracy, (OK, the second one is two words).  He still likes to bang on about 'one nation' and, worse, that the only choice is between 'irresponsible capitalism' and 'responsible capitalism'.  Obviously, I would beg to differ on several counts.  most fundamentally, I'd like to ask him which of these versions of capitalism it was that created the welfare state that Labour used to be so proud of and were prepared to defend?

The fact is that capitalism is inherently irresponsible, ultimately concerned only with maximising private profits and allowing the accumulation of wealth by a minority, if allowed to exist unfettered.  It is the job of governments to regulate capitalism in order to curb the excesses which led to the banking crash.  Indeed, this is the very minimum that governments should do - but failed to do under both Labour and Conservative administrations from Thatcher onwards - they should also be guaranteeing public access to those services, such as education, health and justice, that the markets cannot adequately provide on a universal basis. Unfortunately, we don't hear Ed or the rest of Labour's leadership offering this up as an alternative the current government's private sector free-for-all.  In fact, we don't hear much of any alternative economic policy from them either.  It's all very well rhetorically bashing Google, but it is all meaningless if you aren't prepared to offer us anything other than the same old capitalist system which has brought the global economy to its knees.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Aggressive Homosexuality and the Lesbian Queen

It never ceases to amaze me, the things that right-wingers become obsessed with, that is.  Right now it's homosexuality, most specifically gay marriage, which has got them going, resulting in some extraordinary rhetoric.  For starters, we've got Tory MP Gerald Howarth warning against 'aggressive homosexuals', gangs of whom are doubtless (in his mind) roaming the country forcing otherwise straight men into homosexuality against their will.  Actually, this is an abiding fantasy of the right: that people's sexual orientation can simply be 'turned', usually under coercion, but also through opportunity.  Back in the sixties, for instance, they were always worrying that if homosexuality was legalised then hordes of heterosexual men would suddenly turn gay.  Just because they could.  Now, if I was a Freudian, or something, I could claim that this is all evidence of the fact that right wingers are clearly very insecure about their own sexuality, fearing that they could be taken by one of those aggressive homosexuals at any time and, worst of all, enjoy it.

But getting back to the original point, the best right wing gay obsessive of late has been dear old Lord Tebbit, a swivel-eyed loon of the old school.  Apparently he's been musing on where all this gay marriage malarkey might end, speculating what having a lesbian Queen might mean for the succession.   After all, as he reasons, if we had a lesbian Queen, who then met another (presumably Royal) lesbian, fell in love and got married, how would the line be continued, who would be her true heir?  After all, if they had a child, it would either have to adopted or, worse, the result of artificial insemination of one, or both, of them, with sperm possibly donated by some awful commoner.  Inevitably, the true Royal line would be, at best, sullied, at worse, completely derailed.  Good points, I think you'll agree.  Although I feel Lord Tebbit has failed to address the main issue - what would the Queen's consort be called?  I mean, they couldn't have the title 'Queen' as well.  That would just be confusing, wouldn't it?

It's good to know that, even in his dotage, Lord Tebbit is devoting his time to serious examinations of constitutional issues which exist only in his own head.  I can't help but notice that his fantasy involved only a lesbian Queen and not the question of what might happen to the succession if a gay King married another gay man.  Presumably such events were just too traumatic for him to imagine.  Nevertheless, I think we should thank him for his contribution to the debate he has fantasised and ask exactly what kind of medication he's on, as I'd like some too!

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Game of Two Halves, etc, etc...

Well, the Premier League season is finally over an I, for one, will be glad of the (brief) rest from over-excited sports journalists over the Summer.  What is it about the media's coverage of sports generally and football especially, that makes them feel obliged to hype up every fixture as if it was of earth-shattering importance?  They always have to have something to go wildly over the top about.  Take last Sunday, with the race for the Premier league title long since sown up by Manchester United and all the relegation issues resolved, they had to turn to the battle for fourth place and the last Champions' League berth to ramp up as some kind of epoch-defining event.  The fact that it was between North London rivals Spurs and Arsenal just made it even easier for the media to artificially build up the hype.  The trouble was that it wasn't that exciting - all Arsenal had to do was win their final match, which was against Newcastle, who, being safe from relegation, were never going to put up much of a fight.  So Spurs victory against Sunderland was ultimately meaningless and left them in fifth place, just missing out on Champions' League football next season.

However, if  you were to believe the media, such a result was tantamount to having been relegated!  They'd pumped themselves up so much on their own propaganda that being the fifth best team in the country and qualifying for the Europa League was considered a humiliating failure.  So much so that we'll be unable to hold onto our best players and we'll be lucky to avoid actual relegation next season.  Of course, the news that Gareth Bale is likely to sign a new contract with improved terms has rather stymied the 'Summer of Transfer Speculation' the press were clearly planning to weave around him, rather as they had done with Luka Modric last year.  But don't worry, I'm sure they'll find plenty of other stuff to get over excited about - already every other player in Europe is being linked with Spurs as the media hastily re-write the narrative to one of how we're going to spend billions rebuilding our team for a push on the Premier League title next season.  When Spurs don't do this it will be back to the narrative of how we couldn't attract the big name targets because of our failure to qualify for the Champions' League and how we're going to be also rans again....

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Bald Headed Vigilantes

Jason Statham is a rogue cop!  Paddy Considine is a gay cop!  Which means only one thing - mismatched crime fighting duo!  Aiden Gillan is a psycho!  David Morrisey is a journo!  All of which can only mean one thing - I've been watching low-budget British crime films again.  To be specific, I sat through Blitz the other day, which isn't so much a film as a series of pop videos featuring Jason Statham doing something violent against a backdrop of buildings with lots of glass, frenetically and loosely edited together.  As Statham plays one Detective Sergeant Brant, South East London's leading rogue cop, (in an entire station of rogue cops, it seems), this one qualifies, like Harry Brown, as a vigilante movie.  It's clear that the film Blitz most wants to emulate - with its rule-breaking anti-hero and a cop-killer on the loose - is Dirty Harry.  However, with its disjointed narrative, ludicrously over the top violence and flashy direction, it comes over more as a UK equivalent of those 1980s French policiers with John-Paul Belmondo, or those Italian cop movies of the same period which featured a series of affordable down-on-their-luck minor American stars.  (Although a sequence where a police informant is drowned in a toilet seems to be channelling Charles Hawtrey's demise in Carry on Screaming).

Indeed, all the sub-plots, (the chief of which, involving one of Brant's female colleagues and her drug problems, is pretty much irrelevant to the main plot), and the plethora of characters who keep turning up with half-formed back stories, gives the impression that the viewer has stumbled into an episode of an ongoing series.  (A hitherto unexpected X-rated episode of The Bill, perhaps). Not surprisingly, Blitz is the middle of a series - a series of Ken Bruen novels featuring the Brant character and his boss, Chief Inspector Roberts, (who, disconcertingly, falls victim to the cop killer after a couple of brief appearances in the form of Mark Rylance, something which, I'm told, doesn't happen in the book).   The source novel for Blitz comes slap bang in the middle of the series and, for some reason, the screen adaptation chooses to leave in many of the continuing series plot lines, rather than refashioning it as a properly standalone entity. 

Consequently, the finished film isn't always easy to follow, despite having a relatively simple plot: low-life with grudge against police turns cop-killer.  However, even the killer's motivation isn't that clear cut - is his grudge against the police generally or Brant specifically?  If it is the latter, why doesn't he target him directly, from the outset?  An intriguing aspect of the plot which is never properly explored is Brant's culpability in the killings - by implication, the killer's rampage is the result of a brutal assault on him by Brant some time earlier.  But Blitz isn't a film about the psychological complexities of its characters.  Instead it's a slick and glossy looking Jason Statham vehicle and, as such, its central character is, effectively, simply 'The Jason Statham Character' he plays in most of his films.  You know, the bald headed, stubble faced action man, apparently indestructible, utterly inscrutable and of few words - all of which are delivered in a raspy growl.  Don't get me wrong - I like Jason Statham. He's a better actor and more convincing hard man than either Jean Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal and I admire the way he's succeeded in building himself into a one man low budget movie genre: The Jason Statham Film.  All of which makes Blitz all the more frustrating to watch - with a little more care it could have been a far better vehicle for Statham's talents, the start of a franchise even.  Conceivably, it could have kick-started a whole new genre of UK cop movies akin to the French and Italian products.  But it wasn't to be.

(An interesting side note is that the Metropolitan Police clearly declined to co-operate with the production, (not really surprising in view of the subject matter).  Consequently, throughout the film the force is referred to as 'London Police' and the cop cars, instead of being silver or white, are dark blue and sport no insignia beyond the word 'Police'.  All of which gives the movie an agreeably surreal, almost comic book, feel). 


Friday, May 17, 2013

Easy Riders

There are some politicians who are often given an unfairly easy ride by the media, getting away with being portrayed as genial eccentrics or 'outsiders', despite the fact that they actually espouse extreme policies.  The media likes to present them as jovial jokesters we all like to laugh at - a bit off message but essentially harmless.  In doing so, they conveniently ignore what these 'characters' are actually proposing.  This isn't just confined to well known national politicians.  In the aftermath of UKIP's over-hyped 'success' in the recent local elections, for instance, I saw a supposedly light-hearted item on the ever awful One Show, focusing on a woman who had stood as a UKIP candidate against her Tory son-in-law for a council seat.  She admitted that she had stood previously, for other parties, most recently the English Defence League (EDL).  Now, the interviewer let this go unchallenged, failing to point out that the EDL are essentially neo-Nazis and failing to ask whether she still agreed with their policies or whether she'd joined UKIP because she thought the EDL were too moderate. 

However, it is generally national politicians who are given this ride, most notably Boris Johnson and UKIP's Nigel Farage.  Because they are treated by the media as 'cheeky chappies', cuddly anti-politicians, even, they are able to evade the kind of rigourous questioning that the likes of Miliband, Cameron and Clegg, for instance, are subjected to on a regular basis.  Consequently, we are never able to see how they respond to pressure when faced with difficult questions.  Nevertheless, very occasionally they do come spectacularly and very publically unstuck.  Boris Johnson's interview with Eddie Mair, culminating in Mair accusing a bewildered-looking Boris of being 'a nasty piece of work', springs to mind.  This week, of course, it was Farage's turn to become unstuck in Scotland, finding himself besieged in an Edinburgh pub by a mob of Scots nationalists, eventually emerging to accuse them of racism (they were allegedly anti-English), and hanging up on a BBC radio interviewer.  All-in-all, not quite the media image of genial gentleman eccentric he likes to perpetuate.

I have to say, I can't really see what Farage is getting so upset about - English comedians have traditionally been given a hard time in Scotland.  Back in the fifties extravagantly moustachioed comic Jimmy Edwards allegedly set foot on stage in Glasgow to be greeted with the heckle, 'Fuck off back to England, you Sassenach bastard!'  So he did, leaving the theatre immediately and catching the first train South. Or so the story goes.  Anyway, Farage should  surely have welcomed the fact that it was a pub he was trapped in - he likes to be photographed drinking pints of beer in traditional pub surroundings.  Indeed, the media likes to describe him as the sort of bloke you might meet in the average lounge bar.  In fact, he's exactly the sort of bloke who drives me out of the lounge bar with his ignorant and loud 'opinions' and encourages me to stay at home instead, with a load of that cheap booze from Tesco, watching a DVD in peace.  No wonder our bloody pubs are dying! 

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Profitable Parasites

So the Commons Public Accounts Committee has decided that Google is 'doing evil' with regard to its evasion of UK taxes, despite the level of profits it makes from UK customers.  Well, no shit Sherlock.  Google and a whole load of other multinationals who seem to want to trade here and take our money, but not give anything back.  But, of course, Google et al will tell you that they are not actually doing anything illegal in exploiting legal loopholes which allow them to claim that, for instance, their UK arm is actually based in Dublin and therefore not subject to UK taxes.  (Are they aware that Dublin is the capital of Ireland, which ceased to be part of the UK in the 1920s - hence the tax situation - so that we in the UK find it very confusing that Google UK is apparently based there?)  But there's a subtle difference in 'not doing anything illegal' and actually behaving within the conventions of the law.  It wouldn't be so bad if these companies were using the huge tax-free profits they make to pay their workers great wages and provide them with excellent benefits and working conditions.  However, if even half the things I've heard about Amazon's UK distribution centre are true then this most certainly isn't the case. 

Amazon have, allegedly, been highly resistant to the unionisation of its staff.  Not surprising in view of the fact that they are reportedly treated like criminals, subject to searches before leaving the building just in case they might have stolen any of the merchandise.  Which obviously they are going to do because they're horrible low-paid working class people on casual contracts - clearly borderline criminals.  For a long time the likes of Google and amazon were able to deflect virtually all criticisms levelled at them thanks to their carefully crafted public images - customer-friendly outsiders helping out us little guys against the established corporate giants.  The trouble is that, as the whole tax issue has highlighted, they are now the established corporate giants, ruthlessly exploiting their dominance of their markets to smother competition and maximise profits.  Mind you, there are still idiots out there who defend them, who refuse to accept that they aren't really helping the customer any more, just themselves. 

However, for many, the mask is slipping and there are increasing calls for something to be done to curb these companies' more anti-social activities.  National governments, of course, have the power to do something with regard to the tax and working conditions.  The problem is that the UK's poor excuse for a government is unlikely to do anything other than talk about the need for action.  They find themselves caught between public demands for regulation and the fact that these multinationals are practising exactly the kind of capitalism they've been encouraging.  That, after all, is their economic 'big idea' - to transform the UK into some kind of giant sweat shop, so as to better compete with the likes of Bangladesh.  To do this, obviously, they need to get rid of all those silly constraints like health and safety, human rights and trade unions and corporate taxes which put off inward 'investment' by the likes of Google and Amazon.  Sure, they create jobs, shitty jobs, but jobs nonetheless, but they certainly don't create wealth - not for their host countries that is, they make sure it is all siphoned away rather than invested locally.  Profitable parasites - the modern capitalism!

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Eurovision Sceptic

The Eurovision Song Contests looms once again and, once again, the UK's strategy is to play the nostalgia card.  After the stunning success of last year's UK entry, ninety-seven year old Engelbert Humperdinck (he came, as I recall, second from last), this time we've decided to go for a more contemporary artist to represent us in Sweden this weekend.  Contemporary, that is, if you still think that eighties music is cutting edge.  I've no doubt that if we'd had Bonnie Tyler representing us back in the eighties, when she was in her prime, she would have done us proud, but by deploying her now, we're clearly signalling that we've given up on ever winning again.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, if we really must enter some nostalgia act, for God's sake let it be The Hoff.  At least with David Hasselhoff we'd be sure of getting the German vote.

However, as my brother recently pointed out to me, we could have avoided all of recent problems with the Eurovision Song Contest if only we'd selected Tom Jones as our entry back in the seventies.  He's undoubtedly right - if Tom had performed in, say 1974, clad only in his speedos and captain's hat, gold medallion swinging through his chest hair and surrounded by bikini clad young women, not only would he have won, but they would have ended the contest for good then.  They would have known that there is no way you could top Tom in his prime.  The contest could simply never have got better.  But sadly, it never happened and we're still subjected to our annual humiliation at the hands of the rest of Europe.  Frankly, I'm surprised that backbench right wing Tory MPs aren't tabling an amendment to the Queen's speech demanding a referendum on withdrawing from the Eurovision Song Contest.   Maybe that could be a new policy for UKIP?  It would be bound to be a vote winner.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Where Will it All End?

Where is it all going to end?  These arrests of seventies and eighties TV celebrities on suspicion of various serious sex crimes, I mean.  Jimmy Savile was no surprise - most of us had suspected there was something well dodgy about him long before his death and subsequent exposure as an industrial-scale sexual abuser.  As for the arrest (yet again) of Gary Glitter - well, he's a convicted paedophile, for God's sake!  Pulling him in again in the wake of the Savile revelations hardly constituted brilliant detective work on the part of the Police.  Then there's Jim Davidson.  Well, whether it turns out that he's a sex offender or not, he's pretty unpleasant.  As for Dave Lee Travis, well, seventies Radio One DJs?  Didn't we all suspect that they were a bunch of misogynistic pervs, forever leering at the girls in the office, groping their breasts and pinching their bottoms?  Not that I'm saying that DLT is guilty of any of those things, but, to be honest, we wouldn't really surprised if it turned out that he was.  Then there's half the male cast of Coronation Street - I've always preferred EastEnders and now I've been vindicated.  They only have convicted murderers in their cast.  (Incidentally, where are all the tight-wing MPs and newspapers calling for ITV to be closed down in view of the these arrests?  They were quick enough to accuse the BBC of institutionalised sex offending when the Savile scandal struck, after all).

But some of the other names which have emerged have been far more troubling: Jimmy Tarbuck, for instance.  I ask you, Jimmy Tarbuck!  Even worse was Rolf Harris. For God's sake, accusing him is crossing a line!  Is nothing from my childhood sacred any more?   How many more celebrities in their seventies and eighties are going to get their collars felt?  Should anybody who ever appeared on the Morecombe and Wise show be feeling worried?  I just thank God that Robert Robinson, Frank Muir and Patrick Campbell are all dead, other wise we could be expecting to see them accused of behind the scenes sex romps with minors whilst recording Call My Bluff in the early seventies.  No doubt there would be lurid details of how their victims had to guess whether they were bluffing about the definition of various terms of sexual perversion - if they guessed incorrectly, they'd have the depravity performed on them.  With all the obvious suspects already accused, in order to keep the shock value alive, the media circus surrounding this affair will have to start fingering,(so to speak), the less obvious candidates.  Only the other day we were speculating at work who these might be.  I suggested former Grandstand, Match of the Day and Count Down host Des Lynam, the 'silver stallion' so beloved of ladies of a certain age. He seemed just the type to be outed by the tabloids as some kind of rampant sex maniac.  And what should happen the other day?  That's right, he was outed as...a UKIP supporter.  Indeed, he even admitted having voted for UKIP in the recent local elections.  To be honest, I'd rather that it had turned out that he was a nonce.  I'd find that easier to take than the idea that he openly supports a bunch of extreme right wing crackpots...

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Forgotten Films: The Offence

Possibly the most relentlessly depressing film I've ever seen.  And that's a recommendation.  The Offence was Sean Connery's first film after his second, very brief, stint as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever.  Indeed, the film was part of the deal Connery had made with United Artists to play 007 one last time, (1983's unofficial Bond outing Never Say Never Again notwithstanding), which included not just a million dollar fee, but also the stipulation that the studio would back two pictures of Connery's own choosing.  The Offence was the first of these.  And also the last.  Despite the presence of Connery, a great supporting cast of British character actors including Ian Bannen, Vivien Merchant and Trevor Howard, and top US director Sidney Lumet, (who had previously directed Connery in The Hill and The Anderson Tapes), the film was a box office disaster, resulting in United Artists pulling out of the deal.  In retrospect, it isn't difficult to see why the film flopped: in 1972 audiences simply didn't want to see Connery as a middle-aged police detective with a receding hairline, investigating a series of sexual assaults on school girls and so brutalised by his work that he finally snaps and beats a suspect to death in the course of an interrogation.  Grim stuff by today's standards, let alone in 1972.  The fact is that cinema goers back then wanted to see Connery as James Bond in a piece of glossy escapism.

Seen now, the film represents not just a gripping character study of a man at the end of his tether, but also a fascinating snapshot of an era.   Filmed in Bracknell, the quintessential British post war 'New Town', Lumet brings an outsider's eye to the town's tower blocks, housing estates, featureless roads and shopping centre (all glass and walkways), transforming it into a bleak urban wilderness.  Everything seems half-completed, a work-in-progress in brick and concrete.  The police station, where much of the action takes place, is particularly well realised, apparently composed of endless brick corridors and windowless rooms full of stacked up chairs and disused office equipment.  The actual working spaces used by the policemen are featureless, cramped and neon lit.  The few rooms with windows look, not outward to the community the station supposedly serves, but rather into a central well, filled with building equipment.  Not surprisingly, such a hostile environment, both inside and outside, serves to dehumanise and brutalise the film's main characters.

Central to the film is Connery's portrayal of veteran CID man Detective Sergeant Johnson, a tough and uncompromising cop with a reputation for always getting results, particularly when it comes to extracting confessions from suspects in the interrogation room.  This time, however, e finds the tables turned by Ian Bannen's Kenneth Baxter, who has been arrested on suspicion of committing the latest attack.  With no real evidence against him and no witness identification, Baxter is on the verge of being released when Johnson engages in an unauthorised, off-the-record, interrogation, eventually resorting to violence when verbal assaults fail.  Rather than breaking Baxter, the interrogation results in the suspect forcing Johnson to call into question his own motivation for investigating sex crimes.  Forced to confront the possibility that the reason he has been so successful in getting into the minds of suspects in such cases might be because he himself harbours some of the same sexual proclivities, Johnson finally breaks and administers a fatal beating to Baxter.  A powerful performance from Connery, Johnson's character is fleshed out through two sequences following the incident.  Driving home after being suspended, he flashes back over a montage of the incredibly depressing cases, including rape, murder, child abuse and suicide, that he has investigated during his twenty years on the force.  A deeply disturbing sequence, made all the more so by Harrison Birtwhistle's electronic soundscape/score which accompanies it, (and helps give the entire film its pervading sense of  coldness and alienation). 

This is followed by a scene at his typically generic flat, centred around a series of bitter exchanges with his wife (Vivien Merchant), which reveal the emptiness and abject failure of his personal life, sacrificed for the career which he has just destroyed. This is mercifully interrupted by the arrival of his colleagues with the news that Baxter has died and that he must return to the station.  A final blow to Johnson's self-image is administered during an interview with Trevor Howard's ultimately indifferent Detective Superintendent, who calls into question the 'success' of his career, questioning why, if Johnson is so good a police officer, he hasn't risen above the rank of sergeant in twenty years service.   An incredibly bleak and disturbing film, with no neat resolutions or happy endings, The Offence stands as an unjustly neglected piece of  1970s British cinema, portraying aspects of the UK - new towns, police brutality, sex crimes - rarely touched in mainstream films of the period.  Or after, indeed - let's not forget that after the British film industry's collapse in the later seventies, UK film increasingly became synonymous with those English Heritage costume dramas portraying a nice safe Britain of yesteryear where everybody knew their place.  I much prefer Bracknell in the 1970s.


Thursday, May 09, 2013

Forgotten Films: Venus in Furs (1970)

OK,  know I've already covered a film with the title Venus in Furs as part of the Italian exploitation movie strand here at Sleaze Diary.  Confusingly, this Venus in Furs, although an Italian co-production, is a different beast altogether.  This is a Jesus Franco film, one of many he directed for legendary international fugitive/film producer Harry Alan Towers during the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Released in the wake of the 1969 Italian Venus in Furs, this one is somewhat sailing under a false flag.  Indeed, beyond giving the main characters the same names as those in the source novel, this version has little to do with Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's seminal work.   Rather, it is a surreal and dream-like erotic ghost story, which globe-trots around some international locations at a languorous pace, before rolling to an entirely nonsensical conclusion.  Indeed, the use of two locations (Turkey and Brazil), suggests that the film might have been made as a side project, during the shooting of other Franco/Towers collaborations, (it is notable that Blood of Fu Manchu was filmed in Brazil, whilst Castle of Fu Manchu uses Turkish locations),  which wasn't an uncommon occurrence if principal photography on a film wrapped early - both cast and crew on Towers' productions would remain under contract for the duration of the original shooting schedule.

Whatever the film's origins and dramatic shortcomings, it stands as probably Jesus Franco's best film.  Whilst cynics would suggest that this wouldn't be difficult, considering the variable quality of the prolific Spaniard's output, the reality is that Venus in Furs offered Franco a vehicle which perfectly suited his fragmented, Jazz-music inspired directorial style.  Never strong on narrative, Franco is here well-served by a scenario which doesn't require the unfolding events to make any logical sense - that's the whole point of the film.  The plot, such as it is, unfolds as a series of vignettes, starting with James 'Time Tunnel' Darren's jazz trumpeter witnessing Maria Rohm's Wanda being abused by a trio of wealthy perverts (including kinky Klaus Kinski) in Turkey, before finding her body washed up on a beach.   He flees to Brazil where he meets Wanda, apparently alive and well, who then proceeds to take kinky revenge upon two of her killers who are also in Rio.  Is she a ghost?  Darren doesn't know and is so obsessed with her, he doesn't really care.  From there, it's back to Turkey for Wanda's encounter with Kinski, before Darren returns to that beach - after finding Wanda's grave -  for an entirely baffling finale.  To be fair, the final scene does make sense if you accept that all the preceding events were a death bed fantasy. 

As you will have noticed from my fragmentary synopsis, unlike the novel whose title it bears, this Venus in Furs isn't really a study in masochism, but rather sexual obsession.  Arguably, Darren's obsessive relationship with Wanda, regardless of whether she is a ghost and/or a murderer, could be characterised as 'masochistic'.  However, the reality is that the film was re-titled and the character names changed to cash in on the other Venus in Furs film. Indeed, in some territories it was released as either Paroxismus or Black Angel.  But if you look beyond the misleading title and the fact that it is directed by Jesus Franco, you'll find that it is an entertaining and intriguing ghost story, nicely photographed and with an excellent jazz-orientated score (provided in part by Manfred Mann). 


Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Geriatric Crime Fighting

Vigilante movies.  Love them or hate them, they seem to perennially popular as far as film makers go - and filmgoers, for that matter.  It's important to remember that they don't all look like the Death Wish films, with enraged suburbanites blowing away young people left, right and centre.  Any film in which the protagonist takes the law into their own hands is a vigilante move.  Many Westerns fall into this category, not to mention all those movies about 'rogue cops' and the like.  That said, a recent vigilante movie I watched turned out to be a throwback to the Death Wish days.  Indeed, it seemed to take its inspiration from those later films in the Death Wish series, the ones even Michael Winner wouldn't direct, where Charles Bronson was of pensionable age and you expected him to keel over with a heart attack at any moment as the excitement of gunning down punks got too much for him.  In Harry Brown, Michael Caine's eponymous geriatric vigilante actually does collapse from an emphysema attack whilst pursuing a juvenile delinquent following a gun fight.  Whilst undoubtedly well made, Harry Brown presented me, as a viewer, with a number of problems.  Not least, the fact that I used to work with someone called Harry Brown, who wasn't (as far as I know) a vigilante, but who did become infamous at work for being caught at the urinals having a pee whilst drinking a mug of coffee.  Presumably he was measuring his throughput.  Anyway, thanks to this coincidence, I kept fearing the worst every time we had a scene in the estate pub's toilets involving the filmic Harry Brown.  Thankfully, he didn't take his pint with him to the urinals.

But, getting to the point, the film also presented with all the problems of characterisation and narrative that inevitably trouble me whilst watching vigilante movies.  Central to these are that, in order to maintain audience empathy with the vigilante, all of the characters he (or she) kills have to be so irredeemably evil that they become grossly exaggerated stereotypes and, consequently, completely unbelievable as characters.  In Harry Brown, for instance, in order to justify an old codger gunning down teenaged drug dealers, the gang plaguing the estate he lives on are portrayed as a bunch of total scumbags with no apparent motivation for their behaviour beyond the fact that they are simply unpleasant thugs.  In reality, of course, there are all manner of reasons linked to social and economic deprivation, let alone family backgrounds and peer pressures which lead young people into crime.  But exploring such factors would have risked generating some audience sympathy for the ostensible villains of the piece and highlighting the fact that film's hero was actually a murderer.  The film is even confused as to Harry Brown's justification for his killing spree.  Whilst he is supposedly motivated by the murder of his pensioner mate, Len, the mobile phone footage he obtains from one of the gang, (after administering a bloody good pistol whipping), shows that Len had pretty much provoked the incident that led to his demise by going after the gang with a bayonet.  A good defence lawyer could probably have argued that they acted in self defence. 

But hey, the whole point of vigilante movies is that they aren't subtle - they appeal to our basest, most reactionary instincts.  The people on the receiving end always deserve it and are obviously guilty, even though the police can't make a case against them.  Still, who needs evidence when they are obviously guilty?  I mean, ugly, ill-educated and unpleasant poor people can never be innocent, can they?  Perhaps my expectations are too high.  Maybe Harry Brown was meant as a satirical statement on government social policy, with Michael Caine tiring of the government's approach to youth unemployment he endorsed during the last election campaign, and instead giving the little bastards what they deserve - hot lead.  The 'Big Society' in action with regard to law and order.  I eagerly await sequels - doubtless in Harry Brown 2 our wheezing hero will take on those bloody immigrants who come over here and take our council flats, hospital beds and child prostitution rings.  In the next one he could start blowing away those nonces the police protect, before, in the fourth instalment, taking on those bastard police, judges and politicians who protect the scumbags by refusing to jail them without 'evidence'.   


Monday, May 06, 2013

The Italian Job: Who Saw Her Die?

Who Saw Her Die? is a 1972 Giallo with two main claims to fame: the fact that it features a post-007 George Lazenby in the lead and its supposed resemblance to the more widely known Nicholas Roeg movie Don't Look Now, which was released a year later.  With relation to the first point, Lazenby, sporting long hair and a magnificent seventies moustache, actually gives a pretty good performance as Venetian sculptor Franco, who finds himself embroiled in an ever-escalating conspiracy in the wake of his young daughter's murder.  The death of his daughter, along with the out-of-season wintry Venice setting, is the main reason for the parallels often drawn between this film and Don't Look Now.  However, the truth is that, beyond these points, the similarities are superficial.  Certainly, both films have as their focus a father unable to adequately express their grief over a child's sudden death, instead channelling their energies into, respectively, an obsessive hunt for a child killer and the restoration of a dilapidated church.  But, having watched both films over consecutive nights, I can confirm that, in general, these are two very different films.  Most obviously, Who Saw Her Die? is a pretty straightforward Giallo, with a linear plot charting an amateur's investigation into a murder spiralling out of control and climaxing in a welter of revelations about various characters close to them, pointing to some historical trauma as the root cause of the current killings. 

Roeg's film, by contrast, is an elliptically told art movie, never really explaining anything, but constantly hinting at answers.  The serial killer plot is entirely incidental, providing a sinister background to the real story of Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie's relationship.  Ultimately, in contrast to Who Saw Her Die?, the film subverts audience expectation: the main protagonist doesn't turn out to be the hero who resolves the plot, rather he is revealed as simply another victim of an incidental story thread.  Consequently, Don't Look Now comes over as a far colder and distant film than the Giallo does, which, with its direct story-telling, has a greater sense of immediacy and engenders greater audience identification with the main characters.  Which isn't to say that Who Saw Her Die? is a superior film to Don't Look Now.  The latter film is undoubtedly far better made on a technical and artistic level, with a far stronger cast and performances - Lazenby's outstanding turn notwithstanding.    The fast is that they are simply different movies with different intentions.  To try and draw a parallel between them on the basis of them sharing a setting and some plot elements is misguided - their arrangement of these elements is quite different.

In its own right, Who Saw Her Die? is a very entertaining Giallo.  Although, in truth, there nothing especially novel in its plot or execution, it does make excellent use of its atmospheric locations and, in several sequences, generates a fair degree of tension.  The point-of-view shots from the killer's perspective, presented from behind a lace veil, (the killer disguises themselves as an old lady, dressed in black, complete with hat and veil concealing their face), registering the reactions of the child-victims to their approach: not so much fear as curiosity at the appearance of what should, to a child, be a reassuring figure.  Indeed, most of the film's air of unease comes from the fact that the victims are children, (it's interesting speculate whether such a film could be made today, in the current media-inspired hysteria over peadophiles, without being condemned as tasteless).  My main complaint about the film is that the denouement is communicated through a series of short, fast-cut sequences in which the explanations of motives and back-story for the killer don't seem entirely clear.  I think I know what was going on and who-killed-who and why, but I'm probably only going to be sure after a couple more viewings. 

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Friday, May 03, 2013

The Second Time Around...

I can't help but feel that we've been here before.  Whilst enduring all the political pundits and alleged experts on TV and in the papers pontificating about the significance of UKIP's relatively good showing in the local council elections, I was inevitably reminded of the furore and hype that surrounded the sudden and spectacular rise of the SDP in the eighties.  Like UKIP, the Social Democrats made headlines with their by-election results, pushing the votes of the established parties down.  Like UKIP today, the experts were busy speculating that the SDP had 'broken the mould' of British politics, that they had tapped into a deep dissatisfaction with conventional politics on the part of the electorate.  Also, just like UKIP now, they were all telling us how the SDP had brought into politics people who had never previously been involved or interested in politics.  But, of course, the SDP never managed to make that crucial breakthrough at a general election.  Their radicalism blunted by an ill-advised alliance with the Liberal Party, they lost their by-election gains and, weakened, were eventually forced to amalgamate with the Liberals to form today's Liberal Democrats.  Mind you, as the Lib Dems are currently in 'power', propping up our current extreme right-wing Tory government, I suppose you could say that, in the long term, the SDP were a success.

But maybe history won't repeat itself.  After all, there can be little comparison between UKIP and the SDP: one is effectively one-issue reactionary Little Englander bastion, a sort on BNP for the middle classes, whilst the other was a serious political party with a wide range of fully formed and thought out policies.  Moreover, whilst the SDP could boast of having some of the UK's leading left of centre politicians in its ranks, UKIP's ranks seem to be made up of the detritus of various other dubious right-wing pressure groups like the aforementioned BNP and the EDL.  Indeed, UKIP's council candidates here in Crapchester were a typically rum bunch of highly dubious local 'characters', many well known for running dodgy businesses.  Just the sort of people you'd want representing you at any level of government, eh?  In fact, I was just watching my local BBC news update and there was a story about a UKIP candidate who had been elected as a County Councillor, despite not having bothered to campaign or attend the count.  I don't know who is more despicable in this case - the candidate who has such contempt for the democratic process and electorate that he can't be bothered either to participate or speak to voters, or the idiots who are prepared to vote for someone who clearly despises them so much.  It's things like that which really depress me. 


Thursday, May 02, 2013

Ghosts of Sex Crimes Past

So, Coronation Street actor William Roach says that he's 'astounded' at the allegations which have seen him charged with the rape of a 15 year old girl in 1967.   Really?  When you've spent the past twelve months or so bragging about your sixty years of sexual conquests, boasting about all the female co-stars you've allegedly bedded and revelling in the fact that your fellow cast members supposedly nicknamed you 'Cock', ('Cock' Roach - geddit?) - out of jealousy, obviously - then you really shouldn't be surprised when somebody starts throwing accusations of sexual misconduct around.  If you have committed a sex crime - and 'Cock' is obviously innocent until proven otherwise - then this is just the sort of behaviour to provoke a hitherto silent victim into finally reporting you.  Alternatively, if you haven't done anything wrong, then this sort of ungentlemanly bragging is just the sort of thing to inspire false allegations.  Either way, 'Cock' really shouldn't be surprised to find himself the latest celebrity pensioner to fall foul of the fall out from the Jimmy Savile scandal.  He set himself up for it.

Interestingly, Roach and Savile have something in common.  Sir Jimmy was a prominent supporter of the late Tory Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher, even being invited to spend New Year with her at Chequers, whilst 'Cock' Roach is a prominent celebrity supporter of the Tory Party and probably met Maggie at some point, (I really can't be bothered to check whether he did or not).  Coincidence?  Or is there some sinister link?  Or am I just trying to stir the shit again?  I've no idea if Stuart Hall is a supporter of the Tory Party, or if he ever met Mrs T, but today he pleaded guilty to a number of indecent assaults on young women and girls, (one as young as nine).  Allegations he claimed to have been astounded by when the story first broke.  I wonder if he'll laugh uproariously when he's sentenced, like he used to do when some misfortune befell a contestant on It's a Knockout?  Will he play his joker, (or am I getting confused with another 1970s game show)?  Still, there's another TV programme they'll never be able to repeat or show excerpts from again, due to the misconduct of its presenter,  Even as we speak, the BBC are probably busy wiping every edition of It's a Knockout they have in the archives.

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