David Cameron is apparently planning to 'let rip' in the last week of the general election campaign. Which sounds as if he's going to fart. Loudly. Which would certainly be more interesting than anything else that he's said or done during his lacklustre campaign. Even the political pundits are grasping at straws in a desperate attempt to make the election seem exciting. Today I heard the BBC's James 'I'm not a Tory really' Lansdale on the radio, trying to convince us that those apparently static polls could be misleading - yet another poll indicates that up to forty per cent of voters are still undecided, which could tip the balance in favour of either of the main parties (but preferably the Tories, you couldn't help but feel he wanted to add). Except that the majority of those undecideds will probably end up not voting at all, if past precedence is anything to go by. Quite how anyone can still be undecided as how to cast their vote by now is beyond me. OK, I know that the official opposition isn't exactly inspiring, but at least they aren't the Tory bastards who have been destroying our public services for the past five years.
Still, perhaps Cameron's fart will help them decide. Maybe he'll turn out to be a latter day Le Petomane, able to perform anal impressions. The Tories' pre-election rally could climax with him dropping his trousers and treating the assembled hordes to methane powered impersonations of Miliband, Clegg and Farage, before finishing up by farting out 'God Save the Queen'. Of course, it would be far more entertaining if, during his finale, he was to 'follow through' and shower his audience of true blue believers with shit. But maybe when Cameron says that he is going to 'let rip', he means that he is planning to deploy his fart as a weapon. On election night, if a constituency count isn't going well for the Tories, perhaps he's going to sneak into the count, lift up one leg and let rip a fart so humungous it blows away all the ballot papers, forcing a re-run of the election. Then again, maybe he's just going to sneak into the other leaders' press conferences next week and fart so noxiously that they're rendered incapable. Sadly though, I doubt very much that he'll do anything that exciting. Besides, toffs like him don't fart, do they? That's just for common people. Rich bastards like Cameron have someone to do it for them.
A forgotten film from a forgotten director. Peter Collinson was a British director who, for a brief period in the late sixties and early seventies, feted as the 'next big thing'. However, he had the misfortune to come to prominence just as the British film industry went into terminal decline and his career rather petered out, until his untimely death from cancer in 1980 at the age of 44. His best known film undoubtedly remains 1969's Italian Job, the success of which seemed to have established him as the pre-eminent new British director of action films. You Can't Win 'Em All, his next film, looks as if it should have cemented his reputation: two major Hollywood stars, exotic Turkish locations, big budget and all action plot. For some reason, though, it is now pretty much forgotten, even by fans of stars Tony Curtis and Charles Bronson - it's never shown on TV and unavailable on DVD, (there was a VHS release many, many years ago). A film I'd been chasing for years - some of the plot synopses I'd read for it were intriguing - I'd begun to suspect that it must be some kind of disastrous dud.
Having finally managed to track You Can't Win 'Em All down, I can honestly say that it certainly isn't a dud. Like The Italian Job, it is a slickly made film with excellently staged set pieces, including a spectacular battle sequence, (involving some of the replica WWI biplanes from The Blue Max and numerous other war movies of the era), a train sequence and even a maritime battle. As in the earlier film, Collinson makes good use of his locations and elicits entertaining performances from his leads: Curtis is his usual charismatic self, whilst Bronson gives - by his standards, at least - a light hearted performance, (he might even smile, but it's hard to tell). The plot, as is standard in such 'buddy' action pictures, involves Curtis and Bronson as duelling rival mercenaries in 1922 Turkey, during the war between Ataturk's Turkish Nationalists - who were attempting to establish the modern Turkish republic - and the remnants of the Ottoman Empire and its Greek allies (the Greeks had invaded Anatolia to protect the large indigenous Greek population there from the Turkish nationalists). Cross and double cross ensue as the two team up to carry out a mission for a local Ottoman governor, whilst still pursuing their own individual interests.
So why has the film been largely forgotten? In part it could be down to the rather meandering way the story unfolds, it exists only to link together a series of action set pieces - that said, such a formula has served the James Bond series well over the decades. More likely is the - to English speaking audiences, at least - unfamiliar historical setting. Most people outside of the region are probably blissfully unaware that there ever was a civil war in Turkey, or that it, in its current form, the country didn't exist before the 1920s. However, the setting makes a refreshing change from the Mexican revolution background used by most similar action movies of the era. It's also probable that the market for this kind of action epic was beginning to dry up by 1970, certainly as the seventies wore on, such films became far less common. Certainly, distributors Columbia seemed to have little faith in the film's box-office potential, releasing it in the UK as the bottom half of a double bill with the Gregory Peck movie I Walk the Line. Incredibly, despite being shot on location with what appears to be the co-operation of the local authorities, You Can't Win 'Em All wasn't even released in Turkey, potentially its biggest market. Apparently the fictionalisation of various historical events led to the Turkish authorities banning the film.
All of which is a pity - You Can't Win 'Em All deserves to be better remembered, if nothing else as an entertaining all action star vehicle of the kind they don't make any more. It's easily as good a film as The Italian Job, but unlike that film it doesn't encapsulate an era - swinging London of the sixties, albeit in parody form - for future generations of TV viewers. I'm guessing that it didn't set the box office on fire in 1970, as Collinson's next couple of movies were much more modestly budgeted psychological thrillers - 1971's effective blind-woman-in-peril entry Fright and Hammer's 1972 production Straight On till Morning - after which he worked on various international co-productions (some of which were very erratically distributed), until his death. Perhaps the highest profile of theses later movies was the 1974 remake of And Then There None Collinson directed with an all star cast for the notorious Harry Allan Towers. Despite the patchy nature of his later filmography, Collinson, like You Can't Win 'Em All, deserves to better remembered as a commercial director with a talent for suspense and action.
(Having bemoaned the fact that this film has all but vanished from view, I've just found out that it's just resurfaced as part of the Movie Mix channel's regular rotation).
I suppose that I must finally be warming up to this lacklustre general election campaign, judging by the amount I seem to be writing about it. That said, what fascinates me most is the disturbing level of ignorance regarding UK constitutional matters displayed by some of the participants. Worst offender in the past few days has been Nick 'Calamity' Clegg, who reiterated his completely wrong-headed notion of five years ago, in which he maintained that any government formed from a coalition which didn't include the single largest party in the Commons would lack 'legitimacy'. This, you might recall, was his justification for forming a coalition with the Tories in 2010, which spawned this disgraceful excuse for a government we've subsequently been forced to endure. Obviously, to anyone other than a political illiterate like Clegg, this concept of 'legitimacy' is entirely false. What gives any government legitimacy is simply the ability to command the confidence of Parliament - in other words to be able to survive a vote of 'no confidence' in the House of Commons.
It really is that simple. It doesn't matter whether that government represents a coalition made up of any number of smaller parties, but excluding the largest, or whether it is a minority government formed by the second largest party with some kind of arrangement with other smaller parties to support on key legislation and confidence votes. Indeed, it could be a minority government with no formal arrangements of any kind with other parties but which, instead, survives from day-to-day and vote-to vote by making ad hoc agreements with other parties as required. Indeed, a government formed by a coalition of every party except the largest would arguably have more legitimacy than one formed of a coalition of the largest party and a smaller party, as it surely it would represent the interests of more of the electorate. But Clegg isn't the only one with strange ideas about legitimacy - we've had a lot of Tories, most recently Teresa May - trying to tell us that a hypothetical coalition government formed by a Labour-SNP alliance would somehow lack 'legitimacy'. Why? Just because the SNP is regionally-based party dedicated to ending the Union doesn't invalidate the right of its MPs to sit in parliament or participate in governing the UK. After all, despite the fact that it is opposed to the Union, the SNP's MPs still represent voters in Scotland which, the last time I looked, was still part of the UK. But, like I said, none of this seems to be graseped by the political illiterates in our midst.
After that daring raid by the RAF to destroy a pick-up truck in Iraq, (which, of course, struck a crippling blow against ISIS - it put their insurance premiums through the roof), our next military action in the Middle East, it seems, could be destroying boats in Libya. At least that shouldn't tax our depleted military forces too much - a guy with an axe putting holes in the bottoms of rowing boats should be well within the modern Royal Navy's capabilities. Which is just as well, as apparently the solution to the problem of hundreds of refugees trying to escape across the Mediterranean to Europe from Libya, is to destroy the boats that the people traffickers making money from these tragedies use. Which begs several questions, most significantly - how do you know which boats they are going to use? And even you can identify them and destroy them, won't they just commandeer, hire or steal other people's boats? The only way this could work would be if you were to destroy every boat in North Africa. Which would simply result in large numbers of perfectly innocent fishermen, traders, ferrymen and the like losing their livelihoods.
This 'solution' to the problem is about as well thought out as the last one - to withdraw the extensive European search and rescue operation in the hope that the fear of drowning would deter people from making the dangerous passage. Which is rather like trying to cure cancer by making the NHS shut down its oncology departments: 'Ha! They won't dare get cancer now that they know it won't be treated!' Both of these 'solutions' show a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem - it's a question of economics. As long as there is a demand for their services, the people traffickers will find ways of operating. Destroy their boats and they'll simply find more - and charge the refugees they are exploiting even more for their dubious services. If they can't get boats, they'll sell the poor bastards rafts made from oil drums lashed together with timber and rope. Failing that, they'll probably sell them polystyrene floats. The question that European governments need to be asking is why so many people are willing to pay for passage under such hazardous conditions, risking their lives to reach Europe? Obviously, the answer is because they are desperate to escape an even worse situation - war, famine, extreme poverty, persecution. Addressing the motivations of the migrants and looking to find long-term solutions to the problems driving them from their homes might be a better strategy for the world's governments. But hey, what do I know? Sending in the marines to wreck some rowing boats is obviously a better tactic.
It's OK fellow public service workers - we won't have to face any more pay freezes (actually a pay cut in real terms) after the next election. At least, that's what Nick Clegg has promised us - if he manages to sneak into power either by either enabling another right-wing Tory government or by pleading with Labour to let them form a coalition. In view of everything that has happened to the public sector over the past five years that he has been in government - the spending cuts, the continuous running down of manpower levels, the assault on public service provision and the relentless abuse directed at public servants - we can only assume that Clegg thinks that those of us left in public service are complete and utter idiots. It's amazing how some politicians suddenly start expressing their love for us when they think they might need our votes. If the past five years has taught us anything, it is that Clegg can't be trusted - he's prepared to renege on just about any Lib Dem manifesto pledge if it gets him a fancy, yet meaningless, job title and an illusion of being in government.
Still, Nick hasn't been the only party leader coming out with bizarre utterances this week. We've also had UKIP's Nigel Farage reassuring us that he isn't a racist - he prefers Indians to Poles when it comes to immigration. I'm glad that he's cleared that up - some brown people aren't as bad as some white foreigners. Apparently it's all down to those glorious days of Empire when people in the Indian sub-continent were 'our' Asians. Damn it, at least they speak English, unlike those bloody Poles, eh? Personally, I think his newly revealed affinity for the Indians goes far beyond the Imperial connection. let's not forget that the Indians are one of the Aryan races (just like the Germans and Nigel's wife just happens to be German), whereas the Poles are Slavic. Not that I'm implying anything here, obviously, but Farage did also say this week that some things had to be said in terms which might offend in order to get the message across. So, in that spirit: Nigel, you are an obnoxious, small minded bigot and a hypocrite to boot. Fuck Off.
It's been one of those days where I haven't been able to settle to doing any one thing. A situation reflected in this post: there are myriad things I'd like to cover, but I just can't decide which is most important, or topical. So, instead I'll just look briefly at a couple of things which have caught my attention today. Firstly: the poor state of technology reporting these days. You might have seen media stories today about how Google is supposedly updating its search algorithm to favour 'mobile friendly' sites and how this will result in lots of sites losing all their traffic because they aren't 'mobile friendly'. I've read such reports both on the BBC news site and in The Guardian today, both taking this 'mobilegeddon' line and written by supposed 'tech experts'. The only problem is that such reports are wholly inaccurate. The change only affects Google searches made on mobile devices, which use Google's mobile index. Desktop searches will be unaffected. Moreover, 'mobile friendly' is simply one of numerous factors used to rank sites in mobile search results. You can get all of this from Google's own press releases on the subject. Which makes me wonder why the media reporting is so inaccurate - it isn't as if the so-called 'tech experts' in the media actually have to do much research on the subject. To be sure, I don't believe everything Google says publicly and I certainly don't trust them, but in this case, it seems pretty logical that this change will affect only mobile search results. (I have to say, on the evidence so far, this update appears to have changed absolutely nothing in traffic terms).
The second half of this post has nothing to do with tech: today I read that Robert Rietty (sometimes 'Rietti') had died at the age of 92. You might not recognise his name but, unless you have never watched TV or gone to the cinema, you will have heard his voice. Rietty was undoubtedly the greatest voice artist - certainly the most prolific - of the past fifty years or so, frequently re-voicing actors for English language versions of films. or providing non-English speaking actors in English-language films with a voice. Sometimes he dubbed actors simply because directors, producers or distributors didn't like the actor's real voice. Sometimes he'd redub actors when there were problems with their recorded soundtrack - if it was inaudible or damaged, for instance. He was a frequent voice in James Bond movies (he dubbed Italian actor Adolfo Celi in Thunderball, for instance). Sometimes he'd dub more than one actor in a single film. Only a couple of weeks ago I was watching the 1974 version of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, where he provided the voices for Celi (again), Gert Frobe, Charles Aznavour and Alberto de Mendoza, effectively talking to himself in several scenes. Perhaps even more bizarrely, I recall him dubbing Roger Lloyd Pack (Trigger from Only Fools and Horses) playing a hitman in an episode of The Professionals. Presumably, Lloyd Pack's real voice wasn't considered suitable for a sinister international hired killer. Rietty also, on occasion, dubbed well known actors, successfully mimicking their voices. Orson Welles in the 1972 version of Treasure Island, for instance, allegedly had all of his dialogue redubbed by Rietty, whilst he provided Jack Hawkins (who had lost his voice following treatment for throat cancer) with a voice in 1970's Waterloo, (Charles Grey dubbed Hawkins' voice in several other films from the era). More often than not, Rietty's work went uncredited, making him an unsung hero of cinema. He might not have been a superstar, but many movies would certainly have sounded very different without him.
So, what do you do if you want to be famous, a celebrity of sorts, with all the (mainly monetary) benefits it brings, but you have no actual talent for anything? Not even sufficient talent to make any headway on the X-Factor, Britain's Got Talent or The Voice? Obviously, you have to find some way of playing to the only strengths you have, even if they wouldn't usually constitute a 'talent'. If that strength is not caring what anybody thinks of you, thereby enabling you to say anything, regardless of how offensive it might be to the vast majority of people, regardless of whether it is even a well thought out position, then you sign up to Twitter and start saying offensive and 'controversial' things to high profile celebrities, knowing that these will be picked up by the media, resulting in appearances on daytime TV shows and lots of column inches devoted to you in the press. With luck, this will then translate itself into a newspaper column of your own, maybe a radio slot on some right wing talk station and perhaps, if you are really lucky, a TV show on one of the digital channels.
Roughly following this path certainly seems to have worked for this Katie Hopkins person. Sorry, if I sound like one of those mythical out-of-touch High Court judges who never know who any pop culture figures are, but I'm afraid that, until recently, she'd flown under my radar. Whilst vaguely aware of her as some kind internet troll, I eventually had to have exactly who she was and why anyone cared what she said, explained to me. Actually, whilst I now know that she is a failed contestant on The Apprentice (something I never watch), I'm still at a loss as to why anyone seems to care what she says. However, she seems to have stirred up a lot of hatred with her idiotic description, in her tabloid column, of African refugees as cockroaches. Yes, it is offensive. But surely what is more offensive is that this and her other, similar, utterances aren't really the result of any strongly held (but criminally misguided) belief system, but rather have been carefully calculated to generate as much publicity for Hopkins as possible. Real bigots and racists are at least spitting their bile from a clear ideological position - we might not agree with their beliefs, but we can at least understand their motivation. Often their misguided views are a result of a misreading of the poor economic and political situations they find themselves in - blaming the most visible, but usually least culpable - targets for their predicament. Once again, we can at least understand their bigotry. But in Hopkins' case, her outpourings have no ideological or socio-economic underpinning, they are designed purely to create and enhance her 'brand', which she can then market for her own financial gain. Bigotry for cash - now that's offensive.
A classic 'What the fuck?' movie, 1970's Scream and Scream Again has achieved something of a cult status, in no little part due to the fact that it is rarely shown on TV in the UK and for years was unavailable on DVD. The fact that it features all three top horror icons of the sixties and early seventies - Price, Cushing and Lee - a swinging London setting and an incredible opening chase sequence means that you'd be forgiven for thinking that it is some kind of horror classic. But somehow it falls short of achieving such status. Perhaps the main reason for this is Christopher Wicking's fragmented script, which jumps between several apparently unconnected plot lines and which ultimately explains little, leaving the viewer asking 'What the fuck?' Interestingly, bearing in mind how much it disorientates the viewer in a narrative sense, the film was based on a novel by the pseudonymous and prolific Peter Saxon originally called The Disorientated Man.
Whilst not providing the audience with any entirely satisfactory explanations, Wicking's script does allow director Gordon Hessler to create a kaleidoscopic ambience for the film, with the screen action constantly shifting and the plot elements likewise constantly combining and recombining into new patterns. Indeed, the film is great to look at with some fantastic tracking shots as characters are followed through a scene. Moreover, despite the fact that, despite sharing top-billing with Vincent Price, Cushing and Lee provide little more than extended cameos, some of the supporting cast give excellent performances. Perhaps most notable are Michael Gothard as 'Keith', the mysterious sex murderer chased by the police in the film's opening sequence, and Alfred Marks as the investigating detective, Superintendent Bellaver - the film loses a lot of its focus and impetus following his demise part way through the story. So, whilst not a classic, Scream and Scream Again is a highly entertaining piece of pulp, undermined by its lack of a clear resolution. It's never entirely clear exactly why Price's shady surgeon is creating 'composite' beings from human spare parts - years after seeing the film the first time I tracked down a copy of the source novel on eBay to see if that would answer the question. It did - the bodies are being constructed as receptacles for alien conciousnesses to allow them to exist on Earth. Their energies would destroy normal human bodies. Whilst furnishing this explanation, the book was otherwise a fairly standard pulp story of its era (the mid sixties), with none of the verve of Wicking's flawed script.
Probably Hessler's best film, Scream and Scream Again actually did well at the box office when originally released. Milton Subotsky, executive producer at Amicus who co-produced the film with AIP, could never understand this success - he apparently hated Wicking's script and tried to have it thrown out in favour of his own version, which was reportedly a straight adaptation of the novel. However, as AIP was holding the purse strings, he was overruled.
So, I finally came up with a new story for The Sleaze: I'm Blacking Britain! It concerns activists blacking up right wing politicians to raise awareness of racial prejudice. By a strange coincidence, there was a story in the papers today about former footballer Sol Campbell 'whiting up', apparently in order to challenge perceptions of race. Didn't he do something similar before, when, as a Spurs player he wore that Arsenal shirt for several seasons? Oh no, that wasn't to challenge people's perceptions about tribalism in football, but rather about money and glory hunting. I'm not sure what I find most offensive about Campbell: the fact that he left Spurs and signed for Arsenal, or the fact that he's now campaigning for the Tories. Actually, I think it's the fact that he's a Tory - it shows that he's completely lost sight of his origins - which shouldn't surprise us with regard to someone who can move from Spurs to the Arse and apparently not understand why his former fans at Spurs hate him.
Ah, football and politics - two things guaranteed to result in conflict. Perhaps only religion can do more to divide people. Which is why all three are topics probably best avoided in polite company. Luckily, we're not in polite company here, so we can discuss these things to our hearts' content. I say 'discuss', but in reality this is just me ranting. But it is interesting just how polarising these things can be - for all my talk of the need to tolerate other people's beliefs, even when they clash with our own, every time someone tells me they vote Tory I think 'what a tosser'. (I'm sure they think the same about me). It's even worse if I see one of those 'I'm Voting UKIP' signs in someone's window - I just have this urge to throw a brick through it. I have similar reactions to religious types who try to force their beliefs down my throat: 'sanctimonious gits', I think. As for Arsenal supporters, well, that goes without saying: 'arseholes'. (To be fair, these days I find myself hating those smug nouveau rich gits at Chelsea more). Of course, being tolerant, I don't say any of these things out loud, I just think them. But perhaps that's the problem with us tolerant types: we don't vocalise our feelings enough, for fear of offending, which just allows the offensive arseholes to shout their bile at will.
Jesus, this general election campaign is stultifyingly dull. Maybe it's the lack of any real personalities on the part of the politicians contesting it, or maybe its the complete lack of any surprising or inspiring policies, as the main parties all try to play safe. How I yearn for the good old days of the sixties and seventies when we had entertaining politicians, like former Labour foreign secretary George Brown - the man for whom the euphemism 'tired and emotional' was coined. Frequently drunk and angry, always offending someone, from cabinet colleagues to foreign dignitaries to Hollywood stars (he once nearly came to blows with Eli Wallach), he seemed to 'resign' at least once a week and, throughout the sixties, provided the electorate with endless entertainment. Sadly, this election is offering us no such colourful behaviour. Even the much vaunted 'entertaining' buffoon Nigel Farage has, so far, stuck to a carefully stage-managed campaign, minimising any chance of actually meeting anyone who might take issue with him and his crackpot fantasies.
So soporific has the campaign been so far, that it has offered me o inspiration whatsoever in terms of stories for The Sleaze. Indeed, I haven't a clue what I'm going to post there this week, if anything. Not that I haven't been busy elsewhere: I've recorded and edited together a new podcast, with a completely different format to 'The Sleazecast'. It might prove to be the pilot for a new series of podcasts and I might eventually post it here. For the time being, you can hear it as part of the latest 'Overnightscape Central' podcast over at the Overnightscape Central, as part of a compilation of shows by various contributors. 'Schlock Treatment' - for that is what it is called at the moment, it could change if I do more - draws on material already published here and focuses on my enduring interest in low-rent cinema. I must admit that it went together a lot more easily and far quicker than the average episode of 'The Sleazecast', which, by the last couple had become just too complex and time consuming to easily produce - a half hour episode was taking more than a month to assemble. By contrast, 'Schlock Treatment' was produced in a couple of hours. Who knows, it could be the face of the future. Even if it isn't, it was lot more interesting putting it together than following the election campaign.
Just lately it has seemed that every time I watch a news programme I'm confronted by yet another story about US police officers misbehaving. Well, misbehaving is probably an understatement. Usually they are shooting people dead for minor violations (who knew that having faulty brake lights was a capital offence in South Carolina, for instance). Well, to be accurate, it always seems to be white officers gunning down black men. And if it isn't just happening in small towns in Carolina or Missouri - Sheriff's Deputies in California are also handing out beatings to unfortunate victims. I guess it's all part of a dishonourable tradition that includes the LAPD and its officers' beating of Rodney King - this set a benchmark for police brutality, sparking riots in LA. (If James Ellroy's novels are even fractionally accurate, the tradition goes way, way back, to well before World War Two). Not that I'm saying that this is an exclusively American phenomena - it sometimes seems as if our own Metropolitan Police in London are murdering people on a daily basis. And getting away with it. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of all this is that we only know about these cases because somebody happened to film them - it makes you wonder how many times this level of police brutality occurs when there are no witnesses present.
But to cut to the chase, the fact that the most recent of these shootings has taken place in South Carolina set me to thinking - could this inspire a new plot line in the 'reality' TV schlock-fest that is Lizard Lick Towing? I mean, the series takes place in North Carolina and you can't tell me that it isn't going to be much different there than it is in South Carolina: full of rural racism and bigoted corrupt local cops, (of the type often found in Burt Reynolds' films of the seventies). After all, it's high time that those Good 'Ol Boys from Lizard Lick varied their act a bit - there are only so many hill billies and redneck dirt farmers they can tangle with when they repo their vans and tractors. So, what if they were trying to repo some van and followed it out to the middle of nowhere one night, only to find, whilst observing from a safe distance, that they've stumbled on a Ku Klux Klan meeting and that there are two kidnapped black guts in the back of the van about to be lynched? Or maybe, as well as being in the Klan, these guys are also Satanists and are going to sacrifice the black dudes from the van to their great white supremacist devil master? That would make them even more evil. Anyway, the chief Klan/Satanist guy's hood could slip and our heroes recognise him as the local Sheriff! Then they realise that the other Klan guys are all the local Sheriff's deputies! Then they get spotted and have to run for their lives (stopping only to hook that van up to their tow truck - they won't get paid if they don't complete the repo, after all). The next few episodes could show them being chased relentlessly across the state by a horde of corrupt, Satan-worshipping racist cops, trying desperately to hide out for long enough to find someone in Federal law enforcement who believes them. Heck schlock and social commentary - this could be the future of 'reality' TV.
The other day, on a podcast segment I did for PQ Ribber over at the Overnightscape Underground, I was bemoaning that they don't make proper schlock movies like they used to. Sure, they make plenty of imitation schlock movies - you know what I mean, those movies which are self-consciously badly made, or have fake scratches overlaid on them post production to try and make them look like a fifth generation print of a B-Movie. There also a lot of genuinely bad movies still being produced, (just about anything made for the SyFy Channel fall into this category), but bad doesn't necessarily equate to schlock. A true schlock movie has a some undefinable quality which lifts it beyond simply being bad or cheaply made. For me, its that sense of delirium that the best of them have - that feeling that you are trapped in someone else's fever dream. But, on further reflection, it occurred to me that modern schlock has just taken a different form, more in keeping with modern media. After all, they don't make proper B-movies in the classic sense anymore. Just direct to DVD or cable cheapies made with levels of skill and imagination even lower than their budgets.
Contemporary schlock is instead to be found in the kind of 'reality' TV programmes of the kind I've watched too many of lately: those storage auction shows and programmes about US car repo firms. They certainly have an air of surrealism about them, the way in which people suddenly become insanely aggressive with each other as they battle to buy the shitty contents of some storage locker, for instance. Even more surreal is the number of times those lockers they've fought over and overpaid for turn out to have some amazingly valuable antique hidden in them, or and a vintage car lurking under a dustsheet. What's truly schlocky about them is the fact that they are so obviously faked, yet everyone involved acts as if the carefully staged events we see infolding are real and spontaneous. Take Container Wars, for example, that highly 'realistic' depiction of port authority auctions of unclaimed shipping containers. From the off, this show is so obviously faked - someone must already have knowledge of the contents of these supposedly sealed containers. After all, if they are of international origin then the Customs authorities will have to have checked them, otherwise they'd be opening them up to find the dead bodies of illegal immigrants piled up in them. Either that, or some lucky bidder will make an amazing score when they find those blocks of cocaine secreted inside that container full of crappy furniture they've just bought. ('That's amazing - I paid twenty thousand for the container, but this shit has a street value of over a million! That's an incredible result!'). Yet everybody on it leaps around and shrieks as those containers are opened, as if it all really is a surprise.
Even better, those shows about the towing companies unfold like the cinema serials of old with their ongoing storylines, character arcs and sub-plots. In a previous post I noted that, if this were still the seventies, Lizard Lick Towing would have been a Burt Reynolds movie, full of Good 'Ol Boys engaging in manly hijinks as they repossess cars. In virtually every episode I've seen, the protagonists have to repo some van or tractor from a barn in the back of beyond and end up being attacked by a bunch of shotgun waving hill billies wearing dungarees and straw hats. Sometimes they disturb these hicks at night and they come rushing out of their cabins dressed in their long red one-piece underwear. As in all good schlock, no stereotype is left unturned. South Beach Tow is, if anything, even schlockier, making no bones about the fact that everything we see has been 're-staged' for the cameras, using actors to portray the supporting cast of irate car owners, rival repo agents and irate bystanders, (but everything depicted is based on 'real' incidents, of course). Just like the auction shows, everybody seems to be insanely aggressive and every job descends into an assault or full blown brawl. But, as with Lizard Lick Towing, the police are amazingly never called to these very public incidents and nobody ever seems to get arrested, (or if they do, they only ever seem get cautions, rather than custodial sentences). Ah yes, schlock is alive and well, it seems, and living in a storage container.
As I get older, I find that it is the simpler things in life which give me the greatest pleasure. Today, for instance, was a beautiful Spring day full of hazy sunshine. I don't know what it is about hazy sunshine, but I find it intensely pleasurable, giving the day an atmosphere that a clear sky never can. Being off work this week, (and still amazed that, for once, I'd managed to book off a week of unseasonably good weather), I decided to take a break from my various DIY efforts, (mainly trying to repair the damp damage to the kitchen and spare room wrought by the leaking hot water cylinder and the gutter blocked by the council's ivy, respectively), and spend today simply enjoying the glorious weather. So, as I often do, I ended up at my favourite Iron Age hill fort, dodging the various Easter holiday groups of children, students and the like as I wandered around its reassuringly familiar environs.
It's days like today, when time seems to stand still and I spend what seem like peaceful hours sitting on a hill fort admiring the view over the South Downs, watching birds of prey hovering and listening to birdsong, that I realise that we would all benefit from a calmer pace of life. When I'm not spending my time driving from one pointless work job to the next, as I seem to spend a large part of my working life doing, or enduring desultory hours in the office pursuing pointless paperwork and chasing arbitrary targets, I really do feel more at peace with myself. We really do need to take more time out to just watch the world go by. It isn't just restful, it's definitely better for you - my stress levels have dropped off markedly - and today were non-existent - in the week I've been off work. All my regular aches and pains have likewise vanished. Sadly, of course, it can't last and I'm back to the grindstone on Monday. But that still gives me another three days of peace...
Surely someone should stop them? I refer, of course, to the scientists currently preparing to restart their experiments with the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. I'm not a Luddite but damn it, are they crazy? I've read that their latest experiments are designed to explore new dimensions, beyond the normal three. For God's sake, have these people never read any pulp magazines or seen any dodgy science fiction movies? If they had, they'd know that these other dimensions are just teeming with hostile life forms just itching to get their slimy tentacles and mandibles on our planet. Trust me, if they run those latest experiments then, next thing we know, we'll all be enveloped in some other worldly mist and fighting for our very existence against hordes of eldritch terrors from beyond normal space-time. I shudder to think what effect it might have on the election campaign. I mean, if UKIP are getting upset about immigrants from Eastern Europe and Asia coming to the UK, who knows how they'll react to people being chased down the street by two headed cannibals from the eighth dimension.
In fact, this whole business could play right into UKIP's hands, justifying their hard line on immigration. Maybe they're behind it - are we sure that Nigel Farage doesn't have a brother who is a particle physicist working at CERN? I know that sounds ridiculous, I mean, looking at Farage it is hard to imagine anyone who shares genes with him being able to muster sufficient intellectual wattage to get even a boy scout proficiency badge, let alone a doctorate, but you never know. To be honest, I'm surprised that UKIP haven't used an increase in UFO sightings as evidence that the government's policies on illegal immigration aren't working. If he'd gone down that route, then Farage could have claimed that his alleged ordeal at the hands of the NHS was actually the result of alien abduction: 'Illegal aliens stole my testicle', perhaps. So, as you can see, it is imperative that someone stops those crazy mad scientists at CERN before they unleash all manner of horrors upon on, not least the prospect of a UKIP election victory.
All the religious types - Pope, Archbishop of Canterbury, David Cameron - have given the world their Easter messages, so I figured that it must be my turn now. Ok, I know I'm leaving it late as Easter is nearly over, but what the Hell, I'm off work for the rest of the week, so, for me, the Easter break continues until then. This is just the beginning. But enough of the preamble; let's get down to business. Whilst the Pope and the Bish have called for an end to the persecution of Christians, I'd like to be a bit more inclusive and call for an end to persecution of anyone. Really, there's just too much hate in the world these days. Truth to be told, there always has been. It's just that these days, thanks to modern media, we're just more aware of it. And it's all so senseless, generally based upon ignorance and bigotry. Why hate and persecute people just because they have a different set of beliefs or lifestyle to yours? Even if they are Nazis or child molesters, surely we should pity them for being their morally reprehensible belief systems and behaviour. Believe me, pity is a far more potent weapon than hate in the face of extremism - they want you to hate them, to react to their bile because if you do so, then they've achieved one of their aims: to force us into taking refuge in irrationality, Pity, by contrast, disarms them - they have no answer to it.
But enough of the airy-fairly live they fellow man stuff - I have another message this Easter for certain persons out there: the would be hackers who periodically make unsuccessful attempts to hack my website. In particular, I'd like to address some comments to the clown who spent most of the weekend using a Ukrainian IP address to hammer The Sleaze in a brute force attack on the site login (you know who you are): give it a fucking rest, pal. I know that you are using an automated system, but even so, most vaguely competent hackers know that once their IP has been blocked from accessing the site, it's waste of their time and pretty quickly give up and point their software somewhere else. But not you - oh no, my logs showed that you just carried on for another twenty four hours, wasting my bandwidth. To make it worse, you weren't even hitting the actual login page, you'd simply made an assumption as to its URL and were actually getting a 404 response for hours before you were blocked. Jesus! As if hackers aren't bad enough in the first place, it now seems I have to deal with incompetent wankers as well! So there's the other bit of my Easter message: hackers fuck off. You people really are worth hating. Anyway, Easter messages aside, I hope everyone had a good Easter. Mine was relatively quiet: chocolate was consumed, beer was drunk, relatives visited and the week's DIY projects commenced. Hopefully, the rest of the week will go as smoothly.
I saw in the long Easter weekend crashed out on my sofa, following a few pints at my local, watching a double bill of sexploitation films I'd recorded from the Horror Channel, (which has recently gone free-to-air on Freeview). The marvellously titled, Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, was a follow up to Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, one of the most unpleasant sexploitation films I've ever tried to watch. Maybe I'm getting old and reactionary, but I can't help but feel that a movie which uses the atrocities committed in Nazi concentration camps as a basis for sexual titillation is crossing some sort of line. It's also a dismally ugly film, to boot. The sequel, however, opts for a more comic book approach, with the titular character now running a harem for an evil Arab Sheik - which involves kidnapping new concubines, overseeing their 'training' and punishing and torturing any who try to escape or act as spies for her employer's enemies. All of which provides plenty of opportunities for scenes of lesbianism and BDSM to keep the dirty rain coat brigade happy. Being a seventies movie, the naughty Sheik is naturally involved in hiking up oil prices, thereby providing a sub-plot involving a Kissinger-type US diplomat and his military aide being sent to negotiate with the Sheik in order to reduce oil prices. The aide (actually a CIA agent) is simultaneously involved plotting to have the Sheik overthrown.
Ultimately, the film is about the triumph of American cock, as the aide's sexual prowess naturally 'turns' Ilsa, with her becoming pivotal to the Sheik's overthrow. I say 'American' cock as the aide wears a US Navy uniform but, to be perfectly fair, his accent is mid-Atlantic and his acting so wooden, he could have come from anywhere. Like its predecessor, the film is full of tasteless sequences (exploding concubines, for instance), but somehow, when placed in a more obviously fantasy context, they seem more laughable than reprehensible. Bare Behind Bars, the second part of my double bill, is a 1980 Brazilian sexploiter which was once banned in the UK. Presumably on the grounds that no audience should ever be subjected to such sustained bad acting, (and even worse dubbing in this English language version), and threadbare productions values. Apparently made as a parody of the 'Women in Prison' sexploitation sub-genre which had been popular (with some audiences) during the late sixties and seventies, comes over as far, far worse. An endless parade of nudity, lesbian sex and brutality, with interchangeable characters and next to no plot, it quickly becomes tedious. Culminating in a prison break, during the aftermath of which the escapees brutally murder a husband wife in a home invasion (in the original print, the husband is castrated and his genitals fed to the family to dog, in the version shown by the Horror Channel, this sequence is edited, with the castration only alluded to when the police find the husband's mutilated body), the film finally judders to a halt, with one escapee killed by her pimp and the others recaptured. There's probably a moral there, but the time I'd sat through both of these films, I'm damned if I could figure out what it was.
So here we are, Maundy Thursday. Time was that those of us working in the public sector got the afternoon off on Maundy Thursday, but that's something else this government has spitefully taken away. (Actually, the change goes back to New Labour days - our 'privilege days and half days are now included as part of annual leave, although what I'm supposed to do with a half day is beyond me - but I'm prepared to use any stick to beat this government with). Obviously, I could have simply taken that odd half day of leave today, regardless. But for various reasons I had to be available all day. Nevertheless, I had hoped to effectively finish my actual work early, then slope off and do something relaxing whilst leaving my work phone on. Needless to say, that plan was stymied by the sudden appearance of a whole stack of stuff in my in-tray this morning which I had to action today, as I'm on leave next week. So I ended up spending several hours this afternoon crawling my way around the narrow streets of some far-flung villages. What kind of local council allows parking on an already narrow road running through the middle of a village, I ask you? As if it wasn't congested enough already, for God's sake. I was stuck in traffic for what seemed like hours.
But, as I've already mentioned, I'm now off work for the next ten days, with the wonderful prospect of not having to crawl out of bed for work tomorrow because it is Good Friday. Despite this only having been a four day working week, it's left me feeling drained. Probably because I've been trying to do in four days what I'd normally do in five. On top of that, I've had to deal with the local council again over my parking permit: after wasting time phoning them three times to try and renew it and being fobbed off with excuses as to why they couldn't and I'd have to ring back, I instead tried to do it by post. Bad idea. They issued me with the wrong permit, which resulted in more frustrated phone calls (it took forever to get over to them the concept that the permit they had sent me wasn't the one I'd asked for and needed, even then they tried to charge me a second fee for issuing the correct permit). I finally got the right permit in this morning's post - forty eight hours after the previous one had expired. But enough moaning. I did do something enjoyable this week - I recorded my contribution for this week's Overnightscape Central podcast over on The Overnightscape, on the subject of schlock. A topic close to my heart, I really got a kick from recording it - you can hear the whole podcast over there now. Anyway, I've rambled on for long enough - bring on the Bank Holiday weekend.