Monday, March 31, 2014

Dirty Magnum

Another month, another movie.  For March we've got something a little bit different: an attempt to recreate the opening titles of  Magnum Force in my front room.  Happily, this one turned out better than I expected.  The indoor shooting resulted in low light levels and grainy footage - I had to keep the blinds down as I couldn't risk passers-by seeing a man holding what looked like a revolver and calling the police - but despite the low resolution, it still looks OK.   The music might not be by Lalo Schifrin (as in the original), but Kevin McLeod's royalty free theme (available from conveys the right tone of seventies cop show urgency. The credits are, of course, entirely fictional (apart from the music credit, obviously), with the style of the director's credit intended to echo the way Don Siegel signed his late films.

The stuff after the titles is simply some unused footage I shot driving around the streets of Crapchester, it is there for the sole purpose of giving the main part something to be the titles to.
The gunshot sound effect is actually a .50 Barrett rifle, rather than a .44 Magnum - it sounded more impressive - whilst the cocking sound is a slowed down and amplified sample of a Ruger .357 Magnum being cocked. The Model 29 Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum in the film is, I hasten to add, a plastic model.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

The Scent of Victory

A week from Hell draws to a close with me bloodied, but unbowed after battles both at work and out of it.  Indeed, I even have the scent of victory in my nostrils.  Not only did I finally get the council to empty my recycling bin, but we haven't had a power outage in at least three weeks since my last, somewhat heated, conversation with the suppliers.  But, most amazingly, it seems those shysters who were trying to claim digital rights over a piece of open source music I used on a home movie I posted on You Tube have backed off.  When I checked the other day the 'Disputed third party content' notice had vanished. Which I assume means that 'The Orchard' have abandoned their entirely spurious claim.  I notice that there's no apology for falsely accusing me of infringing someone else's copyright or, indeed, any explanation as to why they thought the music I used bore any resemblance to that of the various artists they claimed I was ripping off.

Not that I'm surprised by this lack of contrition on the part of 'The Orchard', or even Google who, as owners of You Tube are facilitating these chancers in their attempts to commit fraud.  They're big, I'm just a little guy. I may have won this round, but they just don't care, they've already moved on to their next 'victim'.  Ultimately, the likes of you and I are just dirt to them.  Despite having scored a 'victory', I feel little sense of triumph.  The fact is that the situation should never have occurred in the first place.  Google have drifted a long way from their 'Don't Be Evil' mantra.  They really need to police their own backyard more closely, rather than allowing it to become a playground for sharks like 'The Orchard' and their ilk.  But enough of this 'revelling' in my minor victory over the forces of rapacious capitalism.  Like I said, it's been a week from Hell, but finally it is over and its time to unwind.


Thursday, March 27, 2014


From the director who brought you Godzilla, a tale of mushroom men.  A delirious addition to the pantheon of perambulating plant movies, (OK, I know that strictly speaking mushrooms are fungi, but that's close enough), this one eschews the problem of how those slow-moving walking plants ever catch their prey by having the threat come from within the victim.  That's right, within.  The mushroom people don't catch their victims, as such, instead they are their victims, in that the shipwreck survivors who foolishly eat the mushrooms on the island they find themselves marooned on, are then transformed into mushroom people.   Perhaps the most bizarre of all Japanese movie monsters from the fifties and sixties, Matango - Fungus of Terror (1963) - to give the film its UK title - sits alongside director Ishiro Honda's 1960 movie The Human Vapor as Japanese monster movies which make the monstrous threat internal, rather than the external threats posed by the likes of Godzilla and Rodan.

However, in common with the Godzilla films, the spectre of Hiroshima lurks in the background, with the mutant mushrooms apparently the result of radiation from nuclear tests.   A bizarre and wildly imaginative tale, Matango became something of a cult classic during the late sixties when AIP released it direct to American TV under the title Attack of the Mushroom People.  Despite the schlocky re-titling, Matango isn't simply another campy monster movie, instead dealing with far darker themes about human nature and the breakdown of social norms and behaviour when groups of people are isolated from wider society.  That said, it should also make you think twice next time you are tempted to try those 'magic mushrooms'...


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The World is Never Enough

Whilst watching The Spy Who Loved Me again the other day, (don't ask why I was watching it again, it was just on TV and I couldn't be arsed to get off the sofa or change channels), it occurred to me that James Bond seemed to spend most of the seventies fighting international capitalism.  Which is quite a contrast to the books, which, early on, had a clear cold war focus with Bond opposing communism wherever he found it and the Soviets as the clear villains.  Later, the focus changed to having international criminal network SPECTRE and its leader Blofeld as the main villains.  The  sixties films picked up on this and featured SPECTRE as the main villains, (with the notable exception of Goldfinger, where the eponymous villain was being bankrolled by Red China).  But by the seventies, after brief flirtations with Blaxploitation and Kung Fu, Roger Moore found himself constantly having to foil the demented plans of wealthy capitalists, who had accumulated so much wealth by dubious means that they could construct under water cities and space stations with which to threaten the globe.  Unlike SPECTRE, these billionaires weren't interested in holding the world's governments to ransom, but rather destroying civilisation as we know it and rebuilding it in their own image.  For them, the world was never enough.

All of which seems incredibly prescient, as we now find ourselves living in a world where 99% of the wealth is held by 1% of the population, who seem determined to use their economic power to reshape the world into a 'capitalistic' free-market where the sovereignty of democratically elected governments men nothing and human rights are dismissed.  Interestingly, despite the real world being manipulated by these real life Bond villains, the most recent film featured a rogue ex-agent and as the main villain.  (To be fair,the previous two films did feature a shadowy organisation of wealthy capitalists variously manipulating the global financial markets and water supplies in Bolivia as part of a regime change plot which would result in a government more favourable to international capital.  But they were made before the financial crash, which revealed their plots weren't mere fantasy, so obviously, 'they' ensured the series moved away from such themes for the next instalment).   Getting back to The Spy Who Loved Me, it takes the combined forces of the US, UK and USSR to defeat the plans of crazy billionaire Stromberg and thwart his plans to drive mankind underwater, the better to exploit them for profit.  I can't help but feel that there's a lesson there...


Monday, March 24, 2014

Frustrated of Crapchester

I was beginning to think that I had nothing to write about today - I got so much out of my system last week with that rant that I've been preternaturally calm ever since - but then I had another of those frustrating days, today.  You know what I mean, the sort of day which leaves you asking yourself why everything has to be so bloody difficult.  The source of my frustration lay in my attempt to renew a parking permit, something that should be straightforward and, indeed, usually is - the council sends me a letter telling me it needs to renewed, I phone them up and pay, they send me a new permit.  Simple, yes?  No.  Despite the letter clearly stating that (as usual) the only information I'd need to give them was my car registration, I get asked for a permit PIN number (which I don't have, have never had and have never heard of or been asked for before), failing that, I'm asked for my council tax registration number (which, again, I don't have to hand as I've never been asked for it before just to renew a parking permit), I persisted in pointing out that not only did the renewal letter ask only for the car registration (which I was told was insufficient to renew the permit), but that I had never been asked for such information before. 

So I was 'helpfully' put through to the council tax department to get my registration number, where I was put on hold (to a terrible cover version of 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' - it really should be banned) for an eternity, before being given the number and put back through to the parking department.  Where I had to start all over again with a different operator.  This time I managed to convince them that I wasn't trying to renew a business permit (they were trying to charge me two hundred quid for this) but a resident's permit ( a mere twenty two pounds a quarter) and that they only needed my car registration.  Even this was only achieved after the new operator went off for a lengthy consultation with someone else about the issue.  Finally, they graciously agreed to accept my money.  The end result of all of this was that something that would ordinarily have taken five minutes instead took up over half an hour of my time.  This sort of thing is incredibly frustrating - if the council wants more information than just a car registration, then they bloody well need to say so in the renewal letter!  That said, I still don't know what the Hell my council tax registration number has to do with renewing the parking permit I've held for over twenty years.  On the basis of this fiasco, I'm dreading calling my ISP to get my MAC so that I can change broadband provider - what will they ask for, my inside leg measurement?


Friday, March 21, 2014

Public Eye

So, I finally remembered what I was going to post about today, but then decided it wasn't really a Friday sort of thing to post about.  Basically, over the past few weeks I've been watching the 1969 series of Public Eye, which I was given on DVD as a birthday present.  If you don't know, Public Eye was a long-running private eye series made by ABC-TV, then Thames TV, from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies, which aimed to give a more realistic portrayal of the life and work of an enquiry agent in the UK.  It was incredibly popular, yet today is almost forgotten.  Anyway, this was the first time I've seen any of the series since I was a kid in the seventies, (my father always watched it), and it was quite an experience.  I'd forgotten just how good it was.  The 1969 series was interesting because it was a private eye series in which, for most of the seven episodes, the main character wasn't actually working as a private eye.  At the end of the previous series the main character, Frank Marker, had gone to prison for receiving stolen goods after being set up by a dodgy solicitor.  This series follows his attempts to 'reintegrate' with society following his release on parole after serving a year of his sentence.  Over these seven episodes Marker finds himself trying to deal with the stigma of being an offender, the demands of the probation service and just trying to stay out of trouble against the backdrop of a slightly seedy out-of-season Brighton, all in glorious black and white (except the last episode, which was recorded in colour as a test prior to the ITV network's move to colour transmission in 1970). 

Obviously, central to all of this is Alfred Burke as Marker, who delivers a towering performance - never flashy or showy, but utterly convincing and compelling.  Marker is a loner, a single man in his forties who simply likes being on his own and being allowed to simply get on with his life.  Which is why the strictures placed upon him by the terms of his parole are a constant problem for him.  Other characters, particularly those representing the establishment, seem perpetually perturbed by the fact that he apparently has no family or friends, nor any desire to make friends with anyone.  As Marker notes himself, he has never gone out of his way to make friends and is perfectly content with this situation. He is 'self contained' and self reliant.  Watching Burke's performance reminded me of why I had liked the series as a kid - Even then, I had a high level of identification with his character.  I also have always been irritated and frustrated by people who seem to feel threatened by those of us who prefer our own company and don't like to be constantly hemmed in.  Burke's evocation of these aspects of Marker's character is superb.  In the last episode, for instance, he perfectly captures the almost irrational irritation loners feel when we suspect that people (in this case his landlady) are assuming that they know us well enough to make plans on our behalf. 

But ultimately Marker is a detective, whether he is actually working as one or not.  He just can't resist investigating - whether it is tracking down a missing wife on behalf of a fellow con, looking into the theft of a fellow worker's pay packet at the builder's firm he is working at whilst on probation, (a crime which he is suspected of committing and for which he loses his job, even when shown to be innocent), or trying to find out why a fellow lodger tried to commit suicide.  Eventually he is drawn back into the world of private enquiries, spending a couple of episodes working for another detective's agency, before, in the last episode, setting up on his own again.  All in all, this was a superb series.  Obviously, it is very much of its era, much slower paced than modern TV dramas and featuring that slightly jarring mix of videotaped studio scenes and filmed exteriors, but it remains a powerful character study, graced by great performances and scripts.  But there you go - I said it wasn't a Friday sort of post and I've gone and posted about it anyway.  It must be good!


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Rant for Today

One of the characters played by Rick Fulcher in the relatively obscure 2006 BBC series Snuff Box was a bowler-hatted, umbrella wielding city gent type who only ever uttered one word: "Fuck".  This past week or so, I've increasingly found myself wanting to follow his example.  Various events over the past few days have just gone to confirm that at 90% of the people I'm forced by life to deal with are complete arseholes.  I'm tired of their rudeness.  I'm tired of being talked over, at, through, everything except being talked to.  I'm tired of them not liking the answers I give them and getting huffy about it - if you don't like the answer, don't ask the question, I mean, you were the one who brought up the subject in the first place, not me!  I'm tired of always being the 'bad guy' in office interactions, no matter how many times I'm clearly in the right.  Actually, that's something that really irks me - the fact that, in any given environment, there is always someone who will always be regarded as a saint, regardless of how many times they foul up and other people have to sort out their mess, whilst there are some of us who will always be sinners.  It doesn't matter how many times you resolve difficult situations, no matter how well you've met your targets, somehow the 'saint' will get to take credit for it all.  Obviously, if you say anything against the 'saint', or refuse to help them evade their responsibilities whilst still appearing virtuous, you'll be the devil incarnate.  Fuck.

I'm also tired of people randomly accosting me in the pub to tell me their latest cracked conspiracy theory about what happened to Flight MH370.  Guess what?  I don't care!  (About their theories, obviously - the loss of the people on the flight is clearly a tragedy).  Mind you, worse was to come in this particular encounter.  As if it wasn't bad enough that said individual thought it was OK to regale me with their lunacy simply because they live a few doors down from me, they then did many of non-conversational things I railed about earlier.  Namely that, on the pretext of wanting to engage in conversation, they talked over, at and through me, ignoring any attempt I made at actually conversing.  So I just stopped trying and switched off whilst they prattled on and did their best to ruin my evening.  I woke up when they started telling me something that revealed them as a spectacular hypocrite.  Now, we're all hypocrites to one degree or another, (I frequently rage about the evils of Google yet still host this blog on the Blogger platform which they own, for instance), but generally it concerns pretty trivial things.  However, in this case, it was personal.  To explain why, we have to rewind a couple of years, when I was on strike and standing on a picket line.  This particular individual, who, you will recall, is one of my neighbours, walked past, but didn't have the nerve to say anything but, hours later, accosted me in the street, denouncing myself and my colleagues for damaging the economy and all the usual reactionary bollocks.  Anyway, in between conspiracy theories in the pub the other day, he proudly told me of how he had managed to get a sick note from his doctor, which he was going to use to pull a 'sickie' and go off on holiday!  So, going on strike to try and protect jobs and pay, (for which I lost a days pay) is bad, but defrauding your employer of sick pay to go on holiday is OK, it seems.  Fuck!


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Navy Vs The Night Monsters

A late night TV favourite when I was a kid and one of the truly great movie titles of all time, I first encountered Navy Vs The Night Monsters in one of those newspaper ads for Super 8 films which were available to buy in the 1970s.  Back in those pre VHS and DVD days, these were the only way you could get to see movies at home - unless they happened to come onto TV - provided you had an 8mm film projector.  Basically, these were cut down versions of feature films (often to less than half an hour), to present just the highlights of the film, and were usually silent.  Generally speaking they were either older movies or low-budget productions from the fifties and sixties, Godzilla movies, I recall, were often available in this format.   Anyway, to my pre-pubescent mind at least, these advs seemed to be treasure houses of bizarre and enticing titles, inspiring all sorts of imaginative speculation as to the content of the films. Of course, I never saw any of them as we didn't have a projector at home, nor did anyone else that I knew.  Nevertheless, the titles fascinated and Navy Vs The Night Monsters was one of the most intriguing.

Of course, such a title could only ever disappoint - no film could ever live up to such promise and Navy Vs The Night Monsters was no exception.  As TV screenings revealed, it was part of that sub-genre of science fiction movies concerning themselves with the antics of perambulating carnivourous plants.  A distant relative of the 1962 Day of The Triffids adaptation, with an even lower budget and less convincing monsters.  The film's 'stars' make clear its level: quintessential B-Movie lead  Anthony Eisley and Mamie Van Doren and her mammaries - you just know those plants are going to try for a grope.  Personally, I've never found walking trees and the like particularly frightening, especially when they look as rubbery as those on view in this movie.  For one thing, they are so slow moving I'm always left wondering how they ever catch their prey. Like all low budget films of its ilk, Night Monsters, makes extensive use of military stock footage and wobbly back lot sets and features the popular device of a group of disparate characters trapped on an island with the vicious vegetables, building up to a climax where the survivors seem doomed until a deus ex machina solution.  In this case an airstrike by the US Navy, whose stock footage jets (of a type that hadn't been in front line service for around ten years, giving a clue as to the vintage of the stock footage), napalm the evil plants.  All pretty much standard for a low budget monster movie.  That said, it's still a reasonably entertaining film if you catch it in the right mood.  Mind you, I'm sure that if I'd seen it as a twenty minute silent 8mm short when I was a kid I'd think it was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Plane Mysterious

We're surely at the point, were the disappearance of that Malaysian airliner a movie, where the baffled authorities are forced to bring in some unorthodox outsider, like a stage magician or Sherlock Holmes, for example, to solve the mystery.  Sadly, this is real life where mysterious events, more often than not, don't have neat explanations, not even very bizarre ones involving sleight of hand, evil criminal masterminds or giant rats of Sumatra.   The most perplexing part of the whole affair so far has been the apparent ineptitude of the Malaysian authorities: they spent the better part of a week searching the wrong are before revealing they had radar traces suggesting the plane could have veered West, back over the Malaysian peninsular, and now they seem intent upon 'proving' it was a hijack gone wrong and pinning blame for that on the flight crew.  The trouble is that the hijack theory, (like all the other theories advanced to explain the flight's disappearance), leaves many questions unanswered, most notably, why didn't any of the passengers use their mobiles to contact family or friends, as happened on United Flight 93 in 2001?  With their haste to make this theory stick, anyone would think that the Malaysian authorities had something to hide.

But it isn't my intention to perpetuate conspiracy theories or speculate as to the reasons for the disappearance of flight MH370.  The fact is that I have no more idea what happened to it than anyone else.  However, the whole unfortunate business put in mind of a story I read many, many years ago (or it could have been a movie I saw, it was so long ago I really can't remember), in which an airliner vanishes in flight, kidnapped by aliens.  The intent of these aliens is to use the passengers (who they assume to be a cross-section of earth society) to judge whether our species is safe to be allowed to continue developing.  Otherwise, they'll wipe us out before we can threaten the rest of the galaxy.  Which leaves me wondering - do the missing passengers and crew of flight MH370 hold the fate of humanity in their hands?  In which case, I hope they aren't anything like the average mob of heavily tattooed drunken misogynists and bigots you'd find aboard the average Malaga to Manchester flight.  In which case, may God help us all.  But then again, if we're into pop culture explanations perhaps, as I write this, the passengers have found themselves marooned on some mysterious island full of weirdos and monsters...

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Hurrah for Humorfeed!

So, there I was, preparing a post about how I was going to scale back my commitments to The Sleaze, maybe even put on a hiatus for a while - after all, a large proportion of its contemporaries amongst satire sites are currently inactive or defunct - when, out of the blue, I receive news that plans are afoot to revive the fortunes of Humorfeed.   Over the past few years I've announced the death of Humorfeed on several occasions, only to be proven wrong.  The site has limped along, with fewer and fewer contributors as fatigue, Google's decimation of organic traffic and ennui have taken their toll on the roster of satire sites, with, effectively, no one at the tiller.  However, the captain and officers are now back on deck and the site has a new sense of direction.  Hopefully, as well as eventually generating some non-organic traffic to the online satire world, it can also provide a much needed focus for the satire community.  In view of this, I'm left reconsidering my plans for The Sleaze.

I'd never intended to take the site offline, but in the face of ever declining traffic thanks to Google's constant de-ranking from its search results of smaller and independent websites (including, last week, the absolutely worst traffic I've seen in over ten years), it has become clear that simply publishing good quality content on a regular basis isn't enough.  The fact is that my attempts to drum up traffic and create content were taking up increasing amounts of my time and I was beginning to resent this.  There are other projects I want to pursue - I'd like to have another crack at podcasting, for instance, not to mention possibly starting a new, non-satire, site - and I can't do that whilst The Sleaze is taking up so much of my time.  The only solution, it seemed, was to reduce the amount of new content I was producing for the site and effectively putting it on the back burner, allowing it to simply tick over whilst I devoted more time to other things. 

As part of this process, I planned to use The Sleaze as a test bed for some experiments in Wordpress theme customisation.  I also planned to start shifting the focus of the site, looking at new forms of content, including shorter, up to the minute, stories and possibly some video.  All of this will probably still happen, but with the revived Humorfeed  in need of contributions as it gets back on its feet, I've decided to modify my schedule.  Whereas I had originally planned to start 'mothballing' The Sleaze at the end of March, (it will be fourteen years old come April, after all, which, in web terms, makes it decrepit), it is now more likely to be the Autumn.  That said, I will be slowing the rate of output in story terms so as to free up some time for other projects.  Hurrah for Humorfeed!

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Union of Crows

The sudden death of RMT leader Bob Crow has highlighted some of the peculiar attitudes we have in the UK toward money and social class. As during his lifetime life, many commentators couldn't help but draw attention to his six figure salary, with the clear implication that he couldn't possibly have still claimed to be truly working class or a socialist if he received such a sum.  Because, obviously, once you reach a certain level of income, your entire lifestyle and opinion automatically change and you become a grasping middle class capitalist.  It is a sad reflection of the sort of society we currently live in, that many people seem to believe that social class and political convictions are defined entirely by money.  Social class isn't about income: it is a mind set, a world view, that itself is the consequence of the particular social and economic conditions you exist in - in part, of course, it is imposed upon us by the attitudes those existing in different conditions have toward us.  That's how the UK's class structure was traditionally reinforced: through a process of indoctrination whereby those in positions of privilege were told they were inherently superior, deserving of their wealth and born to rule, whilst those who were less privileged were constantly told that they should know their place, that weren't deserving of advancement and that their failure to achieve advancement proved their inferiority.

But I'm digressing from the original point.  The focus on Bob Crow's pay also seemed to imply that there was something wrong with a union leader being rewarded with a big pay packet.  The clear implication being that running a large union, with hundreds of thousands of members in a variety of workplaces, is less demanding than being chairman of a large corporation - most of whom earn considerably more than Crow did, (or any other union leader, for that matter).  Indeed, if, as the right seems to believe, it is legitimate for senior executives and chairmen to receive bonuses bigger than Crow's entire annual salary, on the basis of their performance, then they should have been questioning why a union leader whose members (those employed in the Tube, at least) pay has consistently increased during what the government claims is a recession, hadn't been rewarded with massive bonuses every year of his tenure.  The other factor the media kept homing in on was the fact that Bob Crow still lived in a council house, despite his pay levels.  An attitude which seems to imply that social housing should only be a last resort for the very poor.  It shouldn't and traditionally hasn't been.  It existed to provide affordable housing as an alternative to private renting or buying property.  Again, there is no law which says that once you reach a certain level of pay you have to take out a mortgage.  But there's another assumption here, that by continuing to live in a council house, Crow was living proof that working class people don't know what to do with money when they have it, thereby proving they don't deserve to have it and are clearly inferior to those born to money.       


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Looking Sexy

A major leap forward in technology or an affront to decency?  Opinion has been sharply divided as to the latest innovation from tech giants Google: the 'smart' contact lens.  "It's the next logical step after Google Glass," Google spokesperson Ezekiel Fring told the press at the new lenses' official launch last week.  "These lenses have all the great features of Google Glass, but with the advantage that they don't make you look like a twat whilst wearing them!"  In addition to being far more discreet than the somewhat cumbersome Google Glass, the so called 'smart' lenses are also, according to Google, far more powerful, with the ability not just to record what the wearer sees and project information directly into their eyes, but are also able to allow users to superimpose images over what they are seeing.  "Finally, people can dispense with the dull reality of their everyday surroundings and live in the kind of worlds they think they deserve," enthused Fring.  "It has many advantages - if you regularly have to cut through some appalling slum full of ugly poor people and lowlifes on your way to work, say, now you can transform it all into an enchanted forest, full of pixies and elves!  Obviously, the horrible reality is still there, but you don't have to experience it!"  Fring also believes that the new lenses could render the whole concept of home décor obsolete.  "Why bother decorating your house?" he asked the assembled press reporters.  "From now on you can just have bare walls and use our lenses to project any colour scheme and décor you like!  Best of all, it will eliminate arguments over what colour to paint your walls: every member of the household can project their own preferences on the house interior!"

However, critics of the new technology have been quick to denounce it as intrusive, with some denouncing it as being little more than a means of enabling voyeurism and sexual depravity.  "At least with Google Glass you were aware that some sad techno-voyeur was invading your privacy by filming you without consent," Russell Twinnickson, of human rights advocates Liberty told the Sunday Bystander last weekend.  "But these lenses are a peeping Tom's dream - they don't even need binoculars now to peer into your windows and cop an eyeful of private nudity!  Really, these things could mean the end of privacy as we know it - from now on, every time you make love to someone, you'll always have the nagging suspicion that they could be wearing those bloody lenses and be filming, or worse, live streaming, the whole thing!  Porn from a first-person perspective - these lenses could open the floodgates to a whole new genre of smut!"  However, civil liberties groups' greatest ire has been reserved for what has already become the most downloaded app for the new lenses - the nude filter.  "It's amazing - I never have to look at another munter again!  It's like 'beer goggles' without the hangover," Sammy Jinks, an early adopter of the lenses, told yesterday's Daily Norks, describing the app, which projects an image of stunning beautiful women over every adult female he looks at.  "But even better, it allows me to see what, under ideal circumstances, what any bird I encounter might look like naked!  It's like having X-Ray specs!  Really, it's every blokes dream!" 


Monday, March 10, 2014

False Claims (Part Two)

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but this whole false copyright claim being made against a home video I uploaded to You Tube the other week is taking some bizarre turns.  As you might recall from last week's post on the subject, some outfit called The Orchard, who claim to manage digital rights for various artists and who are notorious for trying to claim rights to public domain music, are claiming that the public domain music, (composed, in reality, by Frank Nora), is actually a tune by one of their artists.  I outlined last week how my investigations had turned up that the alleged artist in question 'Micheal White' (their spelling), didn't seem to exist anywhere other than on their site, (the similarly named jazz musician Michael White isn't one of their artists),  where they had one unreleased album listed.  An album supposedly issued by a label with no web presence.  Yesterday, I decided to see if there was any progress in the dispute I've raised with YouTube, I was astounded to fund that The Orchard are now no longer claiming that I've used a track by the mysterious 'Micheal White'.  Oh no, they are now claiming that the artist concerned is the 'Jimmy Luke Band'!

To be clear, they haven't dropped the original false claim.  They've simply changed the name of the artist!  Needless to say, the 'Jimmy Luke Band' are as elusive as 'Micheal White' - I've found a country and western singer called Jimmy Luke, whose music sounds nothing like Frank Nora's track, which is the subject of this dispute.  As before, the 'Jimmy Luke Band' has a listing on The Orchard's site, this time with three albums - none of which are yet released!  Also, they are apparently to be released by a label with no web presence that I can find.  Sound familiar?  The audacity of these shysters is breath taking.  Having caught them out in their first fraudulent claim, (that's right guys, I'm accusing you of fraud), their response is to simply invent another fake artist to lay claim to what is indisputably an original piece of public domain music.  Worse still, is the fact that You Tub is allowing them to do this!  Surely they can't be allowed to alter the entire basis of their claim without notice or without dropping the original claim and starting afresh?  'Don't Be evil' You Tube's owners, Google, used to be fond of saying.  Clearly, times have changed, as these days they seem quite happy to facilitate evil on an industrial scale!

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Friday, March 07, 2014

All for Charity....

Quite frankly, the only good thing about Sport Relief  is that if it is filling up our airwaves with celebrities imploring you to give money, then at least you can rest assured that Comic Relief isn't on.  As you've doubtless gathered over the years, I don't have much time for these celebrity-led charity drives.  I find the sight of overpaid TV presenters and singers imploring me to give money some worthy cause or other because they've just performed some feat I neither asked nor wanted them to perform, incredibly irritating.  I'd be more impressed if I saw evidence of any of them donating some of the millions they are trying to avoid paying tax on, rather than just their 'valuable' time.  Indeed, that's the worst bit - the patronising idea that we should be grateful, not to mention impressed, by the fact that some talentless pillock has deigned to give up half an hour of their time to stand in a bucket of custard whilst haranguing us about the need to make charitable donations (which are tax-deductible, so I'm surprised more of the bastards don't make sizeable contributions).

Until this year, I'd always thought of Comic Relief being the worst of the two alternating events - all those 'comedic' egos vying for our attention and trying to show how 'serious' and 'compassionate' they can be.  However, all the fuss we had in the press over an emotive Davina McCall, (the very epitome of someone famous simply for being famous), completing some Sport Relief challenge or other, despite having to surmount 'difficulties', has made me revise this opinion.  You would have thought she was a) a saint and b) had just climbed Everest or found a cure for cancer, judging by the gushing media coverage.  How brave she'd been!  How much money she's raised for those poor, poor people in Africa!  I'm afraid I found the whole thing exasperating - the idea that we should be in awe of some z-lister because they've completed some 'challenge', (fully supported by hordes of flunkies and TV crews, reducing the real risks to nil), that nobody forced them to do.  If she found it all so bloody traumatic then I'd suggest that in future she just put her hand in her pocket and make a sizeable cash donation instead. It would save us all a lot of hassle.

I know, I know, here I am disparaging an event seeking to raise money for worthy causes simply because I find celebrities irritating, but I just can't help but feel these events have more to do with allowing them to massage their egos than anything else.  Like I said, if they really wanted to help and to set an example to the public, why not just make a sizeable monetary donation? 

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Thursday, March 06, 2014

No Demand TV

There are several aspects to the announcement that the BBC is proposing to effectively axe BBC3, making it an iPlayer only channel, that I find profoundly depressing.  Most depressing is the inherent ageism in the explanations given for switching it being an 'online' channel, namely that 'young people', the channel's main target demographic, are more likely to watch content online, the implication being that we 'old' people are all technologically incompetent.  'Don't worry dear, we'll still leave you your BBC4 on TV, so you won't have to be worried about that new-fangled internet', they seem to be saying.  That's right, if we're over thirty we're all decrepit and incapable of utilising any technology more complex than a teas made.  Equally depressing is that it is clearly all part of the campaign to force us all into abandoning established TV viewing in favour of the 'multi-platform' viewing model that techno evangelists have been pushing for years.  I've lost count of the number of times the demise of traditional TV channels has been predicted.  The trouble is that it just isn't happening.  Even amongst younger, supposedly more tech-savvy, viewers, TV is still predominantly watched the traditional way: via linear channels and schedules on a television set. 

Sure 'on demand' exists, both on digital platforms and online, but most of us prefer the convenience of tuning into a schedule and getting our entertainment in daily or weekly doses.  If nothing else, it tends to ensure a greater variety in viewing than simply watching an entire series in one go, 'on demand'.  Besides, channel surfing also means that I'm more likely to stumble across something unexpected, yet entertaining, that I'd otherwise miss.  This whole BBC3 business gives the impression that those at the top in TV, seeing that their oft-predicted 'on demand' utopia just isn't happening, have now decided to force the issue.  The fact is, though, that many of us just don't want to watch TV on their laptops.  I know I don't.  I've got a TV for that, for God's sake - the picture and sound quality are far superior, besides, I use my laptop for other stuff.  (Yes, I know that so called Smart TVs allow access to online channels and on demand content, but the fact is that the majority of TVs in the UK aren't Smart TVs).  Not that I don't ever watch TV on my laptop - I use iPlayer to catch up with stuff I've missed, but find it a bloody inconvenient way to view TV. 

But getting back to the issue at hand - the threatened closure of BBC3 - I know that I'm way outside of its target demographic, but the fact is that it has provided a home for a lot of programming that simply wouldn't get shown anywhere else these days.  I'm not just talking about the comedies either, it has been a good friend to science fiction and fantasy with stuff like Torchwood, Being Human, In The Flesh and The Fades.  I really don't see an online channel with a greatly reduced budget commissioning that sort of stuff.  Most of all, dropping BBC3 as a terrestrial channel would mean one less free-to-air channel carrying original material on the Freeview platform.  Which would leave those of us not prepared to give money to Murcoch or Branson (the Scylla and Charybdis of UK media) with an even poorer viewing experience.


Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Valley of the Dragons

Two of my favourite types of movies are lost world pictures and films cobbled together using bits from other films.  1961's Valley of the Dragons ticks both boxes.  Claiming to be based on a Jules Verne story, it concerns two duellists who find themselves whisked off of the earth by a comet and deposited on another planet inhabited by various prehistoric creatures and cavemen.  Except that this other planet seems to be composed largely of stock footage from 1940's One Million BC.   Although not often seen these days, (the1966 colour Hammer Films remake, One Million Years BC,, featuring Raquel Welch in a fur bikini is more popular with schedulers), One Million BC's footage of 'prehistoric' monsters has turned up in countless low budget exploitation movies which you probably have seen.  Unlike the remake, which used Ray Harryhausen's stop motion animated dinosaurs, the original, (like the 1960 Lost World remake), used photographically enlarged lizards and crocodiles to represent dinosaurs.  It also featured elephants in woolly coats and fake tusks pretending to be mammoths and armadillos photographically enlarged to portray glyptodons.   Whilst none of these are particularly convincing, the resulting footage is, somehow, still quite impressive.

That said, there's a definite dark side to those scenes of volcanic eruptions, molten lava and dinosaurs fighting each other.  The reality is that many of the poor lizards used as dinosaurs actually did meet fiery deaths in the filming of those sequences: they didn't use stunt doubles.  Also, those 'dinosaurs' were made to fight by poking them with sticks and usually ended up doing each othermortal damage.  It was all pretty cruel. but par for the course in the 1940s as far as the treatment of animals on film went.  But One Million BC isn't the only film raided for props and footage by Valley of the Dragons.  I'm pretty sure the Morlock costumes from the George Pal's 1960 version of The Time Machine can be seen in the trailer.  The re-use of props and costumes in low-budget genre films of this era was quite common - I've lost track of the number of times I've seen the spacesuits from Destination Moon turn up in other movies, for instance.  Whilst it is a cheap way to make a 'new' movies, there is undoubtedly a great deal of skill involved in integrating the stock footage with new scenes and actors to create a reasonably coherent whole - I always enjoy trying to spot the joins and love the way the stock footage is re-edited and re-ordered to fit it to a new story line.  I really need to get out more....


Monday, March 03, 2014

False Claims

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed that February's 'Monthly Movie' switched over the weekend from being hosted on YouTube to instead being hosted on Vimeo.  I was left with no choice but to take this action in the face of the fraudulent copyright claims which are currently making it next to impossible to upload a video to You Tube with any kind of music track on it.  The music I used on last month's film was a piece composed and recorded by Frank Nora (of Overnightscape fame) and released by him into the public domain.  It is distributed, freely, by, amongst others, Kevin McLeod on his FreePD music site.  Both its composer and distributor are clear that it is free for anyone to use.  Yet, as soon as the film was posted on You Tube I had an outfit known as 'The Orchard' claiming that it was actually a piece of copyrighted music called 'Told' by one of their artists, named Micheal White, (note the spelling of the first name - it will become significant later in the story)!

Obviously, I'm disputing this claim and, in due course, I'll let Frank know that someone is apparently claiming credit for his music.  The aim of organisations like 'The Orchard', (which is notorious for making this type of spurious claim), is to exploit your video by being allowed to place ads on it in order to collect the 'royalties' due to their alleged artists.  You will also be prevented by You Tube from placing ads on your own video in order to monetise it.  Now, I don't bother trying to monetise my videos, (they are home movies and don't get enough hits to make it worthwhile), so the latter part of this sanction doesn't bother me.  However, I object in principle to having some third party making money from my work, particularly when this is the result of them falsifying a claim.  Ultimately, the only way to prevent this, if disputing their false claim doesn't work, (which it usually doesn't, as You Tube seems to be in cahoots with these parasites), is to delete the video from You Tube and instead post it on a video sharing site that doesn't seem to be in bed with these leeches.  Hence the move to Vimeo.

But getting back to The Orchard and their alleged artist, I decided to try and check this individual out and try to listen to the song they are claiming is identical to Frank's.  The problem was that, according to every search engine I tried, it seemed that there was no trace of 'Micheal White'.  There is a Michael White, a jazz musician with several albums to his credit - I listened to some of his sample tracks which are available for listening.  Guess what?  None of his music sounds remotely like the public domain track I used.  Also, this Michael White seems to have no connection with The Orchard.  however, when I checked out the directory of artists on their site I found 'Micheal White' (note the spelling again) listed there, with a single album.  An album which, according to their site, hasn't even been released yet.  Moreover, you can't listen to samples of any of the tracks, making comparisons with the disputed music impossible.  Most intriguingly, the record label they claim it is released on doesn't seem to exist. At least, it doesn't have any web presence which, in this day and age, is pretty much unthinkable.  So, what can we conclude from this?  That The Orchard is trying to claim royalties on public domain music by inventing artists and trying to assign ownership of said music to them, pocketing any money collected themselves?  Isn't that fraud?  If so, why are Google (You Tube's owners), one of the world's largest and wealthiest corporations, apparently colluding with shysters like Orchard to commit fraud?  (That's right, The Orchard, I'm calling you shysters!  What are you going to do about it, eh?)  

Anyway, the long and the short of all this is that, for the foreseeable future, I'll be using Vimeo to host my films.  Which is a bit of a bugger, because it takes even longer to upload there than it does at You Tube.  But at least it isn't blighted by these fraudulent claims.