Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Spiders, Spectrum and Pyramid Power

Another year and another Glastonbury festival I didn't go to - but the Dalai Lama did.  Sadly though, he didn't sit on the Pyramid stage and lead the revellers in a series of Buddhist chants which, amplified by the power of the pyramid, culminated in the materialisation of a giant spider from the planet Metabelis III.  It certainly would have enlivened proceedings.  Having recently watched, for the first time since it was first broadcast, most of the Dr Who story 'Planet of the Spiders', I'm well aware that if those damn spiders get on your back, you find yourself speaking in a shrill electronic voice and shooting blue lightning from your fingers.  Clearly, my arachnophobia is well founded.  Those eight-legged bastards, far from being harmless, as their apologists claim, are a real threat to the universe. Damn it, they even did for the Third Doctor, forcing him to regenerate into Tom Baker!  I have to say, having watched that story again, that despite the ropey special effects and rickety plot, Jon Pertwee actually puts in one of his best performances as the Doctor.  He's far more vulnerable and human here, compared to his usual haughty and over confident self, full of self doubt , questioning his own motivations and concerned as to the consequences of his actions.  It's really quite poignant when he finally regenerates.

But it isn't just the Dalai Lama who has been reminding me of my childhood TV viewing.  David Cameron's call for a 'full spectrum response' to the terrorist attack in Tunisia brought visions of Captain Scarlet and Spectrum being sent to deal with ISIS. Who better than an indestructible man to deal with those suicide bombers?   Who better to bomb ISIS than an all-female group of fighter pilots in the form of the Angels?  If these extremists don't like women driving, then just imagine how pissed off they'll be when they find the planes attacking them are being flown by women.  And in Cloudbase, Spectrum would have an unassailable headquarters from which to launch their counter-terrorism activities.  Mind you, I very much doubt that this what Cameron had in mind.  Indeed, nobody seems to know what he had in mind when he uttered his essentially meaningless words.   Today I had yet another reminder of the TV of my youth with news that former Blue Peter presenter John Noakes had gone missing in Majorca.  It was a jolt to be reminded that he's now in his eighties and apparently suffering from Alzheimer's.  My initial reaction to the news was to hope that he wasn't suffering a flashback to his glory days on TV and attempting re-enact one of his daring stunts, like hang-gliding or climbing Nelson's Column.  Luckily, he's since been found, although there's still no news on whether he was attempting to sail around the world in a bath tub at the time.


Monday, June 29, 2015

The Business of Terror

Without wishing to make light of a tragedy, recent events in Tunisia have simply reinforced my aversion to foreign holidays.  Despite all the usual claims that we must also remain vigilant on the home front because these 'militant Islamists' could strike in the UK, I can honestly say that I don't feel that I'm likely to be the victim of a jihadist attack in Milford-on-Sea, which is the sort of place I tend to wind up in these days whilst on holiday.  I found the reporting of the 'Tunisian holiday massacre' rather disturbing - barely forty eight hours after nearly forty people had been killed and many others wounded, the media started focusing on the detrimental effects the attack would have on the local tourist industry.  Apparently taxi drivers and owners of gift shops selling tat could suffer significant losses in earnings.  Is this what we've come to?  People have died and, within a couple of days, everyone is throwing their hands in the air and wailing 'Will nobody think of the small businessmen?'  Is this really the face of modern capitalism?

Then there was the usual confused reporting about the perpetrator - footage of him break dancing and generally behaving like a normal young person is unearthed, accompanied by the usual astonished commentary asking how someone so 'normal' could become a terrorist.  Which ignores the fact that, despite what the authorities want us to believe, terrorists are actually normal, ordinary people you wouldn't give a second look in the street.  They aren't born evil.  They aren't demonically possessed.  They've simply come to embrace an extremist ideology, usually as a result of socio-economic factors influencing their world view - they come to believe that the only solution to their situation lies through violent action.  In other words, their experiences have convinced them that the normal democratic process (where available) does not work to effect change in a way beneficial to them (and after that recent general election result, who could blame them?).  Likewise, they have come to believe that the prevailing social conditions and economic system oppress them, stopping them from advancing themselves.  But it's much simpler for the media and the establishment they serve to portray terrorists as outsiders, psychopaths and evil loons.  The alternative is to concede that we, as a society, might have to bear some responsibility for their creation.

But portraying them as an external force, like invading space aliens, is much easier - they make the perfect scapegoats.  It's got to the stage where 'Islamist extremists' has become the catch-all explanation for everything bad that happens - they are now the external force causing every catastrophe.  That coach crash involving British school kids?  Islamist extremists were behind it.  Why did that US rocket taking stuff to the International Space Station explode?  Sabotage by Islamist extremists, obviously.  Those two kids stabbed near Portsmouth the other day, apparently by a tramp of some kind? Well, don't you know that tramp had converted to Islam and was an Islamist extremist?  They probably ate Freddie Starr's hamster, as well. It explains everything without having to resort to reason, logic, science, human error, social exclusion, economic deprivation or any of the other factors which lie behind events.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Doc Sleaze's Day Off

I took a day off work today.  Officially this time, not like that Friday afternoon I got pissed off and went AWOL.  This time it was pre-planned.  It couldn't have come at a better time, as the four days I did work this week were trying, to say the least.  So today's trip to the seaside was a most welcome diversion.  I ended up spending a fair proportion of my afternoon in Milford-on-Sea, once a tiny coastal village now, if not quite a resort, certainly somewhere that has attracted its fair share of the well off, judging by the kind of housing you find as you approach the beach front.  But I didn't confine myself to the sea front and its upmarket residences, I also spent some time in the older part of the village, which has an agreeably slightly run-down yet twee look.  It's early in the season, so there weren't many tourists about and the local shops weren't full of the usual seaside tat - plastic buckets and spades and inflatable rings - which seemed to make us so happy in those hazily remembered, seemingly endless Summers of our childhoods.

There's much to be said for spending some time sitting on the green, observing village life, which, as you can see from the above picture, I did this afternoon.  That's actually a screen cap from some of the video footage I shot today - at some point I'm hoping to put it together into a film about the village.   It was all very relaxing, just sitting there, watching the world go by.  Which was just what I needed.  I really need to do this sort of thing more often, but unfortunately it seems to be getting increasingly difficult to take odd days off of work.  I did think about taking along a friend on this trip but, in the end, I decided to be selfish instead.  I just wanted a day of me time - no demands from other people, no having to accommodate the wishes of others.  I just wanted a day off of work when I wasn't painting ceilings or assembling beds, which is all I've seemed to do during my time off recently.  (Yes, I finally assembled that new bed I bought - it nearly killed me, but I'm finally sleeping on a bed/mattress combination which is neither in danger of collapsing nor trying to stab me).  So there you have it, Doc Sleaze's Day off.  Not as exciting as Ferris Beuller's, I'll grant you, but that was the point: an uneventful, undemanding and very relaxing day.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Poverty at the Palace?

Another day, another tale of cruelty to the old and infirm in Cameron's Britain, as the newspapers are full of reports that an octogenarian lady and her extended family could be forced out of her home due to its advanced state of dilapidation.  Outrageous, I know.  Just another example of the most vulnerable members of our society being let down by those who should be helping them - why, oh, why haven't social services or the like stepped in to help this unfortunate pensioner?  I ask you, how will her majesty cope if she's forced out of Buckingham Palace whilst it is repaired and refurbished?  Surely she can't be expected to set up home in  draughty Windsor Castle, or remote country pile Sandringham?  As for Balmoral, well, it's in Scotland - hostile territory.  Various members of her layabout, universally jobless, family are occupying most of her other palaces, like Kensington and St James.  As for Hampton Court - they let the bloody public wander around there gawping at everything!

I always love it when the right-wing press try to make us feel sorry for the Monarchy by attempting to convince us that these fabulously and wildly over privileged anachronisms somehow suffer the same problems as us ordinary mortals.  They don't.  They live in a different world, (as, apparently, do the editors of the right-wing rags in question).  However, I can't deny that I was moved by the descriptions of the terrible state that Buck House is allegedly in: apparently it all needs rewiring and hasn't been redecorated since the fifties.  It conjures up visions of overloaded old-style two pin plug sockets, with a dozen appliances plugged into a single, sparking, socket, peeling pin-striped wall paper and lumps of plaster falling off of the ceilings.  In other words, something that looks like a seventies TV sitcom depiction of the average working class home.  How can we keep forcing her Maj to keep living in the same conditions the likes of Rag Varney had to endure in 1971?  We should start up a collection for her now, so that she can at least buy some new wall paper.  Perhaps flower-patterned this time.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Ultimate Warrior (1975)

Another half-remembered movie I haven't seen in an age.  I remember a time when The Ultimate Warrior seemed to turn up quite regularly on TV. But, just as black and white movies have gradually been marginalised by mainstream TV, so anything made before 1985 (unless a 'classic') seems to have been consigned to oblivion by the TV powers that be.  Which is a pity.  The Ultimate Warrior, not a  biography of the late WWE wrestler, but rather one of a spate of post apocalyptic movies which turned up in the seventies, is, to my recollection, a reasonably entertaining ninety minutes or so.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about it is that it doesn't feature Charlton Heston, who seemed to be a permanent fixture in this type of film during the late sixties and early seventies, (Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green and Omega Man, for instance).  Instead we have Yul Brynner as the 'waning mainstream star slumming it in a genre movie'.  To be honest, he looks far more at home in this sort of role than Heston ever did, brining his usual enigmatic aloofness to the title role.  As the film is effectively a martial arts/post apocalypse crossover, the role gives Brynner plenty of opportunities to take his shirt off and flex his muscles, something you really couldn't envisage Charlton Heston doing at the same point in his career. 

The set up is familiar: society is fractured after a global catastrophe which has seen the death of most plant life.  A devastated New York is inhabited by various small communities and vicious gangs, which spend most of their time fighting over the scarce remaining resources.  One community is led by scientist Max von Sydow, who is on the verge of having bred a new type of seed hardy enough to grow in the harsh post-apocalyptic conditions,  In order to protect his community from the depredations of gang leader William Smith for long enough to complete his work, von Sydow engages the services of mercenary warrior Yul Brynner.  You can probably work out for yourself how this all plays out.

Whilst the film, as I recall, has the somewhat rough hewn feel of all director Robert Clouse's films, it clearly had a reasonable budget, with an impressively realised devastated and depopulated New York.  Also characteristic of Clouse's other films is the well orchestrated violence, with the vicious clashes between Brynner and Smith particularly well choreographed.   Indeed, the levels of violence and the relatively realistic depictions of its consequences were unusual for films of this era.  There's nothing particularly deep or original about The Ultimate Warrior, but I fondly remember it is an entertaining action film, more entertaining than the vaguely similar Omega Man, for instance, and not as 'important issue' heavy as the overrated Soylent Green. It would be nice to see this turn up on free-to-air TV again - I live in hope that it might yet surface on Movies4Men.


Monday, June 22, 2015

The Wild Beasts (1984)

This is the film that Gavcrimson mentioned in the comments a couple of posts ago:  The Wild Beasts (or Belve Feroci, to give the movies its original Italian title).  I managed to watch the film in Italian over the weekend.  Now, my Italian is non-existent, but believe me, this isn't the sort of movie where you need to understand the dialogue in order to grasp what is going on.  The scenario is simple - dangerous levels of PCP somehow get into Frankfurt's water supply and the zoo animals that drink it go berserk, break out of their cages and run amok on the city streets.  That's it.  The characters are all stock: heroic moustachioued zoo keeper, dogged cop, lady reporter, imperilled daughter of said reporter.  But none of this matters.  It is the execution of this set-up which is, to be frank, astounding.

Made in the early eighties, Wild Beasts predates the kind of CGI technology which would be used nowadays to send hordes of slightly unconvincing wild animals stampeding through the streets.  Instead, the film makers staged it all for real.  So we have incredible shots of a herd of elephants careering down a main street in Frankfurt, causing motoring mayhem, a polar bear terrorising children at a dance class and a tiger rampaging around on a commuter train.  Perhaps most amazing of all these sequences is that which sees a drug crazed cheetah chasing a car down what looks like a main thoroughfare, itself pursued by a police car from which our heroic zoo keeper tries to shoot it with a pistol.  Watching this kind of thing makes you wonder if you yourself might have inadvertently ingested some kind of hallucinogenic substance.

That these sequences should have a certain cinema verite, or even documentary, feel to them should come as no surprise, as the film's director was none other than Frederico Prosperi, co-director of Mondo Cane and several other mondo movies.  The film's quick cutting between unrelated animal attack sequences in different parts of the city is reminiscent of the editing style used to segue between sequences in mondo movies, for instance, as the use of recurring motifs which underline and emphasise the film's themes: attacks on humans often occur under the unblinking gaze of stuffed animals, and mounted animal specimens feature in the background of several scenes, for instance.  More negatively, the film also features plenty of the animal cruelty characteristic of mondo movies: when a horde of rats are destroyed with a flame thrower, for instance, it is clear that real rodents have been incinerated - a disturbing number can be seen trying to escape the inferno, their fur ablaze.  In a later sequence, several escaped big cats make their way into the local slaughterhouse, where they terrorise the pigs, horses and cattle awaiting their fate - the terror of these animals is evident and one lion is allowed to maul and kill a cow trapped in a holding pen.  Again, this sequence is clearly real and not faked.

For sensitive UK and US audiences, (the film never received a theatrical release in either country and English-language VHS and DVD releases have been sparse), the film commits another, possibly even more heinous crime than showing scenes of animal cruelty: it climaxes with the murderous antics of drug addled pre-pubescent children, who cut their teacher to ribbons whilst under the influence.  The spirit of Prosperi's mondo days clearly lives on in his apparent determination to shock in Wild Beasts. On a lighter note, one of the animal set pieces topples over into such utter, surreal, ludicrousness that it made me laugh out loud.  The elephants eventually crash through the perimeter fence of the local airport, giving us truly surreal images of them wandering past hangars full of Jumbo jets, before wandering onto the runway, where they cause an airliner to crash as it comes into land.  Utterly insane, completely over the top and laugh out loud funny - it is a sequence which wouldn't have looked out of place in one of the Airplane movies.

Ultimately, whilst no masterpiece, The Wild Beasts is surprisingly effective in turning its titular creatures into truly monstrous presences.  Prosperi succeeds in making these familiar zoo animals into terrifying alien presences, apparently hell-bent on destroying the human race.  Sure, the film is full of lapses in logic - if the water supply is contaminated, surely the human inhabitants of the city would also all be high as kites, whereas only a small group of children seen to be affected, for example - and a lot of it is in poor taste, but it is hugely entertaining and full of 'what he fuck?' moments.  The fact is that The Wild Beasts could never have been made in the UK or US, (the animal cruelty involved in the making alone would have ensured it was still-born), and, as such, stands as another reminder that there is a whole world of non-English speaking film-making out there which seems completely alien to our eyes.  Sadly, most people in the UK are so parochial that they'll never expose themselves to the experience of watching foreign films which don't espouse the same narrow range of values and attitudes embodied by UK and US films.  I'd happily recommend The Wild Beasts to anyone wanting to broaden their cinematic horizons - it's far more entertaining than a dozen sub-titled continental art house movies.

Finally, kudos to Gavcrimson for putting me onto this film in the first place.  Go visit his site.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Reactionary Bullshit

I make it a rule never to argue with drunks.  Not even when I'm drunk myself.  But especially not when I'm sober - alcoholic intoxication impairs the ability to reason, which means that it impossible to engage in any kind of logical debate with a drunk.  So, today, you are going to get what I didn't say to some drunken idiot in the pub last night, who gate crashed a conversation I was having with the Landlady about so-called 'reality' television.  This individuals 'contribution' to the conversation was the usual denouncement of 'reality' TV as worthless rubbish, but they then went on to pour out the usual utter bullshit as to how television generally was responsible for the decline of Western civilisation - apparently it was the reason for supposed declining standards of literacy, the decline of book sales and the erosion of 'civilised' values.  The trouble with this 'argument', apart from the fact that it has no evidence to back it up, is that you'll find the same cobblers being said about radio, the cinema, the popular press, horror comics, probably even music halls, in the pre-television era.  It seems that there are certain sections of society that always needs a convenient scapegoat, in the form of whatever, at that moment in time constitutes mass popular culture, to blame the supposed ills of the world upon.  Nowadays we're beginning to move from TV being the main culprit to the internet and video games.

The reality is that the amount that children read and the level of their literacy has more to do with the environments in which they grow up than the allegedly pernicious influence of TV.  Hell, I watched a lot of TV growing up.  I still do.  But I grew up in a household that also valued literacy, so I also read a lot of books, and continue to do so.  The two aren't mutually exclusive.  One form of media doesn't necessarily supplant another.  The web, for instance, is still very much a literary-based form of media - it requires a certain degree of literacy to fully utilise it.  Print media might appear to be in decline, but e-books seem to be thriving and, as they make it easier for authors to get 'into print', they are arguably democratising the publishing process.  Video games (or whatever those crazy kids call them these days), whilst not being my cup of tea, are clearly becoming a highly immersive experience for gamers, with storylines boasting the complexity of a novel, yet with the added dimension of user interaction.  None of which seems like a case of cultural 'dumbing down' to me.  Quite the opposite.

But just reading stuff isn't a guarantee of that people are actually consuming 'culture' - a lot of what gets read would undoubtedly be classified as trash by those who advocate the value of literature.  Besides, just because people don't read books doesn't mean that they lack literacy or aren't exposed to culture.  The fact is that people today are able to consume their culture via a far greater variety of media than ever before - it's part of an evolution that's been going on for the past couple of centuries, from the rise of the popular press, through film, audio recordings, radio and eventually TV.  Each new innovation has increased access to culture.  But, of course, for those who condemn things like TV, it isn't proper culture, it is popular culture aimed at a mass audience rather than an elite.  Which also utter bullshit.  Popular culture might not be high art, but it is entertainment, and there is nothing whatsoever wrong in entertaining people.  Besides popular culture provides us with fascinating insights into the era in which it was produced, far more so than 'high' culture aimed at an elite does.  It should also be remembered that much of what is now considered 'high' culture - Dickens or Shakespeare, for instance - was original popular culture, aimed at a mass audience.

Anyway, the point I'm groping toward is that the anti-TV bullshit is an incredibly reactionary position to take - it condemns the very concept  of mass culture, rejecting it as 'bad' and anti-social.  Like all such reactionary positions, it seeks to blame the perceived ills of society upon some external factor, be it television, video nasties, gay marriage or immigrants , rather than acknowledging that they are the result of complex socio-economic factors created and controlled by government and business.  If educational standards are poor, then it is down to education policy, which is dictated by governments which are elected by ourselves. Likewise violence and anti-social behaviour - they are fostered by the kind of society we create.  But like I said, a reactionary position - and one being espoused by a drunken idiot who likes to style themselves as some kind of 'bohemian' 'radical' type.  Should we be surprised?  But, the rant's over now!  Hopefully, next time I'm in the pub, I won't have my conversation hijacked by a drunk.  Then again, pigs might fly.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Shatter (1974)

One of a pair of movies Hammer co-produced with the prolific Hong Kong studio Shaw Brothers, Shatter is nowhere near as well remembered as its companion piece, Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.  Which isn't surprising, as its attempt to mix Eastern martial arts with a Western espionage thriller simply wasn't as distinctive, bizarre and just plain camp as the other co-productions mix of Kung Fu and vampirism, with Peter Cushing's Van Helsing going East to fight Dracula's Chinese acolytes.  Whilst Seven Golden Vampires had the virtues of originality in its set up, Shatter's scenario had already been before and done much better, most notably in Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon

Neither Shatter nor Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires set the box office alight, (despite its novelty value, the latter picture was severely hampered by the lack of Christopher Lee as Dracula - John Forbes Robertson, in lurid make up which makes him look like a stereotype theatrical 'Old Queen' and sounding suspiciously as if he's being dubbed by Robert Rietty, is a poor substitute).  In part this was undoubtedly due to Hammer's lack of a proper US distribution deal at this point in time, but the poor quality of the films (in comparison with earlier Hammer output) and their, even in 1974, rather dated feel, really didn't help.   Nevertheless, one can't help but wonder whether, if the films had been better received, it might have proven a turning point for Hammer, reviving the company's fortunes.  Certainly, the hook up with Shaw Brothers must have looked, at the time, a shrewd move - UK producers were, by the mid seventies, desperate for new sources of finance, as US funding dried up.  With the Hong Kong studios riding high due to the popularity of martial arts movies in the UK and US, not to mention the access to a vast and - for Western film makers - virtually untapped Asian cinema audience, the co-production deal clearly seemed a recipe for success as far as Hammer's management were concerned.  Perhaps if the films had been better, then Hammer might have been rejuvenated.  In the end, however, the films fell between two stools, satisfying neither Western nor Asian audiences, instead coming over as awkward compromises.

I must admit that it has been an age since I remember Shatter being shown on TV in the UK.  I vaguely recall it turning up late at night and, whilst my memories are hazy, I think that I'm safe in saying that the trailer makes it seem far more exciting than it actually is.  Interestingly, the film was started by American director Monte Hellman, a Roger Corman protégé, but was completed by Hammer owner Michael Carreras after the former was sacked.  Whether it would have been a better film had Hellman been allowed to complete it is an interesting question.  Somehow I doubt that it would have done any better at the box-office.  As the seventies wore on, it became increasingly obvious that Hammer's finger was no longer on the pulse of popular expectations for exploitation films.  For contemporary viewers, their period horrors seemed too sedate and fussy, even with injections of sex and nudity to accompany the gore, and audiences could no longer identify with their remote and alien seeming historical settings   Even worse, the studio's attempts to update their horrors to contemporary settings always seemed half-hearted.  This last-gasp attempt to tap into the zeitgeist - in this case King Fu films - equally failed to grasp changing audience expectations, attempting to graft tired old formats onto the martial arts bandwagon instead of creating anything new. 


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lions in the Lanes

The animals are loose on the streets.  Or they were in Tbilisi, at least.  It's not everyday that you see footage of hippos and bears loose on the streets outside of Italian shockumentaries.  I must admit that with all the stories of the authorities shooting various escaped animals in order to 'protect' the public, I was somewhat surprised that hordes of Italian documentary makers didn't rush to Georgia as, if classic Mondo movies are anything to go by, there's nothing they like better than footage of animals being killed or subjected to human cruelty.  I know that the Georgian authorities are claiming that these bizarre scenes were all the result of flooding which resulted in the animals escaping from the capital's zoo, I have a sneaking feeling that Tbilisi is always like that.  Not that I'm stereotyping former Soviet republics, of course, but the idea of wild animals wandering the streets of their cities doesn't seem that unusual. 

If nothing else, it seems like the ideal scenario for a low budget action film. After all, if you can have Snakes on a Plane, why not Lions in the Lanes?  It could be a starring vehicle for some washed up TV star - David Hasselhoff springs to mind.  He did do Anaconda 3, after all.  He'd be perfect casting as the white hunter called in to clean up the streets of Tbilisi after a mass wild animal escape from the zoo.  If you could work in an alien angle - perhaps they were behind the escape when they tried to abduct earth fauna for their experiments, even better, they could have enhanced the intelligence of the animals, or something - it would be perfect as one of those crappy SyFy Channel movies.  Zoos and their animal inmates have been surprisingly neglected by the world of exploitation films, which have always seemed to have favoured the more garish attractions of the circus, instead.  There was Murders at the Zoo back in the thirties, with a mad zoo owner using his exhibits to get rid of his adulterous wife and her lover, amongst others. It was gleefully nasty by the standards of its time.  The only other zoo-based horror I can think of is an early sixties variation from Herman Cohen called Black Zoo, with the legendary Michael Gough as a crazy zoo owner who runs some sort of animal worship cult and, wouldn't you know it, uses his exhibits to get rid of his enemies.  Unfortunately, outside of a couple of trailer and a few excerpts, I've not yet managed to track this one down, as it looks to be certifiably insane.  Although I'm sure that it could have been improved by the addition of David Hasselhoff, possibly wrestling a bear on a roof top...


Monday, June 15, 2015

Mid Year Ramblings

So here we are, at the half way point of the year - do we feel that we have actually achieved anything as another arbitrarily defined unit of time inevitably begins to slip from our grasp?  Probably not.  Which is why I try not to be goal-orientated in life - it will only end in disappointment.  Far better, I find, just to take things as they come and have some vague idea of what, ideally, I'd like to do in the coming months.  The trouble with having goals is that life has a tendency to intervene:  this whole year, so far, every plan I've made has been blown off course by a series of unexpected events, from leaking hot water cylinders to collapsing beds and back-stabbing mattresses, each of them has forced me to revise my plans.  Not that this has necessarily been bad: I now have a fabulously comfortable new mattress which has transformed my sleep patterns and I'm in the midst of assembling a new bed, both of which I would have kept putting off implementing if not for the bed and mattress incidents earlier this year.  Similarly, following the water cylinder incident, my kitchen ceiling has never looked better after being repainted to cover the water stains, the rest of the kitchen is shortly to receive a much needed repaint, also as a result of the damage caused by the leak.  Again, tasks I would have kept putting off.

My spare room is also nearing the completion of an overhaul forced on me by water damage caused by that storm damage to the roof the other Christmas and the subsequent penetrating damp caused by the council's ivy blocking my guttering and sending rainwater straight down the outside wall.  Again, it had needed doing for years, but I just kept putting it off.  Hopefully, this renovation will pave the way for me setting up my model railway in the spare room again - something else I've found excuses to put off.  None of these things were goals I set myself at the beginning of the year, but I'm glad to have done them.  Indeed, if I had set them as goals, I'd probably still have been procrastinating over them now, halfway through the year.  It's been the same on other fronts in my life - I've continued to catch up with a fantastic number of obscure low rent movies, mainly accident.  Most of them I didn't go looking for, they just turned up by happenstance as I was trying to find other stuff.  Which is the best way to discover things - planned searches take all of the mystery and fun out of it.  The same applies to holidays - I've never understood those people who plan their holidays down to the last detail.  My ideal holiday involves just drifting around somewhere, seeing what turns up and what I stumble across.  Much more interesting, believe me.  Speaking of holidays, I really need to work out when I'm going to take this year's long Summer break.  Anyway, I've rambled long enough on the evils of goal-orientated existence.  I'm going to bumble around a bit and see who is in the pub...  


Friday, June 12, 2015

Hacking Back

I think that it is obvious to all that I've been at sixes and sevens of late with regard to this blog: no sense of direction, posts all over the place, stuff I keep promising not appearing - that in-depth look at Mondo Movies, for instance.  This, in large part, is down to me trying to juggle several things at once - that long-mooted schlock movie blog, devising new strategies to prop up traffic over at The Sleaze, tracking down and watching obscure films, mulling over whether to go ahead with a new podcast series.  However, I have at least dealt with one pressing problem: that bloody persistent Ukrainian hacker who keeps launching brute force attacks against The Sleaze. I mentioned him a couple of months ago - he's the incompetent who can't even find the correct address for the login page, hitting a non-existent page instead.  Last time he spent the better part of 48 hours hammering my site with an automated script trying to break in by trying combinations of guessed passwords and user IDs, except that he'd pointed the script at the wrong page.  Undeterred, he kept going even after I'd blocked his IP address.  The trouble is that, whether he was hitting a non-existent page or being bounced off the site, it was eating up my bandwidth and slowing the site down.

Anyway, he came back mid-week (the IP address was from the same range and ISP as the one I had banned) and started hammering away at the non-existent login page (he just doesn't learn), again, I blocked his IP, but he just got ever more aggressive, upping the tempo of his script to attack the site every second or so.  Suddenly a solution occurred to me: as the page he was hitting didn't exist, I could safely put a redirect on it and, as I had his IP address from my server logs, it seemed obvious that that should be the destination of the redirect.  Which meant, in practice, that I was looping his attacks back against him: every time he hammered my site, he was also hitting himself.  Not surprisingly, within five minutes of setting up the redirect and lifting the block on his IP address, he ceased and desisted his activities.  And he hasn't been back.  So far.  Hopefully he's finally learned something - some of us site owners bite back.  Not that this victory means that I can afford to get complacent about the threat posed by these bastards - I've also activated various other security precautions to foil their activities.  Which seem, so far, to be working - there's been a significant drop in the volume of brute force attacks on my login since I put these measures in place.

As for the other things distracting me - well, traffic to The Sleaze has had a temporary boost by changing tack with the stories.  After a long string of political satire stories throughout the general election, which only did middling business traffic-wise and a couple of politics-related stories post-election which performed disappointingly, I put up a silly conspiracy story about the 'Titanic' and hit the jackpot.  It's always the way - those lovingly crafted witty and intellectual satire pieces are always outperformed by smut and conspiracies.  The success of the 'Titanic' story pretty much vindicates my recent decision to change direction with stories over at The Sleaze - less politics for a while and a return, instead, to the kind of weird and surreal stuff which used to dominate the site.  Away from The Sleaze, I'm still working on that new schlock site, although the obscure movie watching is on a bit of a hiatus at the moment: not only have I recently OD'd on Mondo movies, but I need a breathing space to start writing up some of the stuff I've seen.  On a related note, I'm still mulling over a schlock move podcast to accompany the new site.  Hopefully I can get a bit more focussed here, as well.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Naked England

I still haven't tracked down a full version of this truly magnificent looking Mondo, so this tantalising English Language trailer will have to suffice for now.  Really, it speaks for itself.   It's an Italian perspective of England in the tail end of the swinging sixties (it was released in 1969).  I'm always fascinated by outsiders' views of England, bearing in mind he way we like to stereotype foreigners. Clearly the Italians thought that the country was a hotbed of decadence hiding behind that front of respectability we like to present to the world.  It's all here: sex, drugs, violence and even trepanning.   All related to us by the sneering narration of Edmund Purdom, who made something of a career out of providing the voice overs for the English language versions of Mondos after he went to live in Italy after giving up on Hollywood.  But I've said enough and I'll leave you to marvel at Naked England and ponder over what other delights the full movie might have to offer.  (Once again, if you know where I can obtain a full version of this movie, even in Italian, let me know).


Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Hard Grafters

David Cameron is living dangerously in his call to world leaders to take the current investigations into corruption at FIFA as a cue to take action globally against high level corruption.  After all, many of us would counter that he should start at home by looking into the financing of his own party.  Some of us haven't forgotten all that business last year of wealthy businessmen being able to get access to ministers by making contributions to the party funds in order to attend Tory party functions.  And let's not forget all those Russian oligarchs who come over here, driving up property prices in London, and make substantial contributions to Tory party coffers - I'm sure they expect something in return for their largesse.  Yet it is the, by comparison, paltry sums the Labour party receives from the unions that the press obsesses over - despite the fact that their contributions are entirely open and transparent, as are the origins of the money they give.  Then there are those outsourcing companies who bid for public sector contracts - regardless of whether they have any expertise or experience in providing the services involved - then fail to deliver when they get them: when was the last time any of them gave back the public money they'd taken under false pretences.  To cap it all, Dave and his cronies are always telling us how much they like 'hard grafters'...

But perhaps Dave doesn't believe that he's presiding over rampant corruption.  Just like FIFA's Sepp Blatter, who remains adamant that he knew nothing about any corruption and that it wasn't his responsibility anyway.  The human capacity for self deception is, after all, seemingly limitless.  Obviously Dave would argue that there's no corruption going on as all those contributions to party funds were open and above board - just like that ten million dollars the South African FA gave to arrested ex-FIFA man Jack Warner.  He'd doubtless say the same thing about all those public sector contracts - there was a fair and open bidding process.  But that doesn't change the fact that by outsourcing key areas of public service provision to companies that clearly intend making a profit from them, his government is ensuring that these area of government activity are no longer being run for the public benefit, but rather for private profit.  Which is, generally speaking, the hallmark of a banana republic.  Although, obviously, the UK couldn't be a banana republic as we still have a monarchy.    More of a Mango Monarchy, perhaps.

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Monday, June 08, 2015

Zombie Career Eaters

Of all the obituaries of the actor Richard Johnson that I've read, or heard. over the past couple of days, only one - The Guardian's - saw fit to mention Zombie Flesh Eaters, even then, they referred to it by its less 'vulgar' original title of Zombi 2.  There seemed to be a marked reluctance on the part of critics and obituary writers to acknowledge the fact that respected actor Richard Johnson had once appeared a notorious Lucio Fulci horror flick.  So notorious, in fact, that like several other Italian horror films of the eighties, it got swept up in the whole moral panic over so-called 'video nasties' and ended up being banned in its original form, with an edited version eventually finding its way onto video in the UK.  So obviously, that's something the British cinema establishment would want swept under the carpet: a mainstream actor they are lauding after his death having appeared in a video nasty.  How vulgar!  There really is a terrible degree of snobbery in this country when it comes to popular culture, where 'name' actors who appear in genre movies are considered to have been 'slumming it'.  Zombie Flesh Eaters might not be the most sophisticated piece of film making, but it is entertaining.  Moreover, it certainly isn't any worse than many of the 'worthier' projects Johnson was involved in - the film version of Crucifer of Blood comes to mind - and is certainly better than some of his other genre excursions like The Monster Club or The Devil Within Her, for instance.

The fact is that, despite the fulsome praise heaped upon him now that he's dead, Johnson, like many actors of the 'second rank', earned a living between 'prestige' projects by appearing in TV series (I well remember his guest shot in Murder She Wrote) and medium to low budget genre movies.  Another role not mentioned in most of the obituaries was his appearance as a modernised Bulldog Drummond in a pair of late sixties British Bond knock offs which tried, with some success, to imitate the style of the Italian-made 'Eurospy' movies of the era.  Again, theses are the sort of films no 'serious' critic would bother with, despite them being fascinating artefacts of their era and the whole Bond phenomena of the late sixties. But there's nothing new in this snobbery - I've seen many other performers' histories effectively rewritten after their deaths to expunge anything which doesn't fit with the image the mainstream feels they should have.  Norman Wisdom was a much-loved and wholesome family entertainer - so the sex comedy he made, Sauce for the Goose, was written out of history as far as the obituaries and tributes went.  It's just like those TV retrospectives of the likes of Arthur Askey or John LeMesurier, say, that you see: they never mention the fact that by the mid-seventies they were appearing in sex comedies like Rosie Dixon, Night Nurse, or Confessions of a Window Cleaner, respectively.  In fact, the films themselves, despite being hugely popular and big commercial successes in their day, are now ignored by mainstream film historians.  Anyway, to return to the original point, I think my tribute to the late Richard Johnson will be another viewing of Zombie Flesh Eaters


Friday, June 05, 2015

End of Week Ramblings

I once saw Charles Kennedy speak at an event in London.  It was back when I was doing teacher training - the event was for A-Level politics students and gave them the opportunity to hear politicians from across the political spectrum speak and put questions to them.  Amongst the other speakers were Jack Straw, David Willetts and George Galloway.  But Kennedy, who had returned to the back benches by then, was far and away the best speaker: charismatic, passionate and sincere.  Which is why, in an era when the public perception of politicians seems to be that they are untrustworthy, venal and unprincipled, his death is such a tragic loss.  Of course, when he was alive, the media never missed a chance to highlight his problems with alcohol.  Indeed, it was the media's relentless focus on these problems which were a major contributing factor to Kennedy resigning the Lib Dem leadership.  Not that alcohol problems should necessarily disqualify anyone from political leadership.  Let's face it, Churchill was notorious for his heavy drinking and Stalin was allegedly consuming several bottles of vodka a day as the Germans advanced on Moscow.  By contrast, Hitler was a teetotaller and just look at how that turned out.

But for a while it seemed that Kennedy's untimely death would be eclipsed as a news story by Sepp Blatter's surprise resignation as FIFA president, despite his triumphant re-election only a few days earlier.  Not that he has actually stepped down from the role.  He remains in charge until an extraordinary meeting to elect a successor, which might not happen until next year. Which means that he'll be in charge throughout the current investigations into alleged corruption at FIFA.  The cynic in me can't help but suspect that between that election and now, there's going to be a whole lot of shredding going on at FIFA headquarters.  Then again, Blatter himself might be innocent of any wrong doing.  Maybe that's why he makes such sanctimonious statements about the allegations.  But even if that were the case, the fact remains that he has presided over FIFA since 1998 and it is his job to know whether officials are behaving corruptly.  Mind you, whilst Blatter might be on the way out, none of his potential successors instil any confidence that they'll actually change anything: a Kuwaiti Prince is hardly representative of football fandom and let's not forget that current media favourite, UEFA President Michel Platini, voted in favour of Qatar getting the 2022 World Cup...


Thursday, June 04, 2015

Listing the Past

Continuing my nostalgic theme from earlier in the week, of late I've been indulging in another of my obsessions: poring over old TV listings.  This can be a frustrating task, as the available listings, especially those from before the 1980s, are fragmentary and incomplete, typically giving only programme titles, leaving one to speculate as to the actual content.  Nevertheless, the information they yield is fascinating, indicating the ways in which our TV viewing habits have changed over the decades.   I find the fifties and early sixties especially interesting, as they lie beyond any of my memories of TV and also represent a time when the UK only had two TV channels, (and before 1955, only one), in the form of the BBC Television Service (which effectively became BBC One after the creation of BBC Two in 1964), and the ITV network.  Of course, back then, ITV was a network of affiliated regional franchises, which came on air piece meal between 1955 and the early sixties, with another major reorganisation in the late sixties.  To confuse the ITV picture further, in some regions there were separate franchises for weekday and weekend broadcasting, with different companies providing the services, (a situation which persisted in London until 2002).  Many of the early ITV franchise holders were themselves owned by various combinations of newspaper groups, film distributors and electronics manufacturers. 

But to get to the listings themselves, direct comparisons between the BBC and the various ITV franchises is difficult due to their incomplete nature: it is very difficult, pre 1965, to find same day listings for both channels.  However, a comparison between two days in 1955 - 13 Sep for the BBC and 23 Sep for Associated Rediffusion TV (weekday ITV franchise holder for London) - serves to show just why ITV was suddenly so popular amongst those who could receive it when it came on air.  It should be mentioned that 23 September was the first full day of broadcasting for ITV.  That said, its schedule for this day seems pretty typical for the era.  The first big difference between the ITV and BBC schedule lies in the extent of their coverage - ITV started much earlier, with some morning programming, clearly aimed at housewives (a daily serial and a DIY programme showing 'how to do practical tasks - those usually done by husbands').  The BBC, by contrast, didn't kick off until three in the afternoon, with a women's magazine programme followed by children's TV.  ITV had clearly not started producing Children's TV programmes at this stage, instead offering a preview of such shows in the equivalent slot.  But it is in prime time that the difference between the two channels really becomes evident.  The BBC's main offerings - a profile of film director Anatole Litvak, nature programme Zoo Quest and a play - seem rather staid and, well, worthy.  By contrast, ITV offered a motoring magazine produced by the RAC, a musical spot, a comedy, a game show, Around the World with Orson Welles and, horror of horrors, an American TV series in the form of Dragnet.  All-in-all, a far more populist line up, offering some kind of variety to viewers looking to be entertained.  Plus, ITV had the novelty of commercials between the programmes (and they really were a novelty back then).  Clearly, the ITV approach must have found favour with the public as, within a few months, the BBC schedules start to include game shows, serials, comedies and imported US series.  The modern schedule had been born...

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Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Living in the Past

Apart from looking at pictures of 1970s American sports cars, I suppose that another symptom of a midlife crisis is obsessively watching old TV series you remember for your childhood in some vain attempt to rekindle one's mythical lost youth.  I say 'mythical' as my youth really wasn't that exciting or event-filled.  But, like everyone else I know, I like o look back on it and pretend t myself that the 'old days' when I was growing up were so much better than today.  But to cut to the chase, thanks to the Horror Channel (now available free-to-air on Freeview) I was recently able to re-watch a Dr Who story that I hadn't seen since it was first broadcast in 1970.  'Inferno' comes from Jon Pertwee's first series as the Doctor, when the BBC were trying to refashion the show as a Quatermass-lite science fiction thriller series, with stories set exclusively on contemporary earth.  The trouble with this formula was - as then script editor Terrance Dicks pointed out - that basically only two types of story were viable: alien invasions and mad scientists.  'Inferno' was an attempt to vary the earthbound nature of the stories by having the Doctor inadvertently slip into a parallel universe whilst investigating a drilling project being run by a scientist who is a bit, well, mad.  It was an ingenious way to allow the Doctor to have an adventure on what was effectively an alien planet without actually leaving the earth.

It's cleverly done - the Doctor finds himself in the alternate world version of the drilling project, where the scientist in charge really is mad and Britain is some kind of fascist dictatorship.  Everyone he knows from our universe has an equivalent - some of them evil.  The Brigadier's equivalent, for instance, is the Brigade-Leader, who sports a black eyepatch and lacks his alter-ego's moustache.  But the story eschews the simplistic approach of making the parallel world just an evil version of ours.  Many of the characters are decent people in both realities, but in the circumstances of the parallel world forces the versions there into sometimes compromising their values in order to survive.  The scientist in charge of the project is clearly unhinged and insanely over-ambitious in both worlds, but in the parallel fascist Britain there is no framework of civil authority to constrain him, so his project inevitably ends in disaster.  Which is another ingenious aspect of the parallel world plot line: it allows the series to have its cake and eat it by having the Doctor fail to save the 'earth' for once, but also to escape back to his own reality in order to prevent the same thing rom happening to his version of the earth.

It was fascinating watching 'Inferno' again at a distance of more than forty years.  I'd always thought that I remembered the story vividly, but seeing it again, there were parts I'd forgotten and much of the plot unfolded differently than I had remembered.  The production values were very much of their era and featured the characteristic seventies TV mix of filmed exteriors and videotaped studio sets.  It was also clear that, in order to bring the story up to seven episodes (most of Pertwee's first series consisted of these longer stories) a fair amount of padding had been inserted into the script,  In particular, the whole sub-plot involving the green liquid being brought up to the surface by the drilling, which turned anyone it touched into a Wolfman-like monster, was there primarily to bring the story up to length and provide a 'monster of the week'.  The green stuff and its effects were never properly explained.  However, the story remained commendably atmospheric and tense, with the parallel world and its cast of familiar-yet-unfamiliar characters was still quite disturbing.  But did watching 'Inferno' again make me nostalgic for 1970?  Not really.  It was entertaining but the fact is that the world has moved on - modern TV, for instance, has far better pacing and production values.  It's nice to visit the past, and in particular our childhoods, but I wouldn't want to live there: no internet, only three TV channels, polluted air and rivers, racial prejudice on a scale it is now hard to believe, 1970 now seems like some bleak alternate universe.  Although, to be fair, it is in our present reality that Britain has the fascist dictatorship... 

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Monday, June 01, 2015

Midlife Crisis Number Three

So, are we enjoying Summer yet?  After all, having kicked off with such a blazing hot sun-filled day as today, it's bound to be a good one, isn't it?  As I sit hear, listening to the wind whipping around outside and with rain drumming on the windows, it occurs to me that either I've been watching too many old episodes of Wheeler Dealers on Quest, or I'm heading into another midlife crisis. I say another, this at least the third - last time around I trained as a teacher (but still don't work as one).  However, this impending crisis seems to be following the pattern of my first (which occurred when I was still in my early thirties) when I started buying clapped out and rusty American muscle cars.  Just lately I've found myself looking at pictures of early seventies Ford Mustangs and getting out my old tuning guides for Ford small block V-8s.  Sadly, the days when you could still buy 1971-73 Mustangs (and even some lower-spec 1970 Mustangs) in restorable condition at reasonable prices have long gone.  The passage of time ensured that even these one-time unfashionable models, (which brought the Mustang's first generation to a close), with their angular looks and de-tuned engines, have now attained 'classic' status and the commensurate hike in prices.

Hell, even the once reviled Mustang II which replaced the original car from 1974-78 is now considered a classic and even tatty examples seem to command premium prices.  Times have changed in other ways since my original midlife crisis fascination with American cars - back in those days you could easily source a seventies or eighties Mustang, Camaro, Firebird or Cougar in the pages of your local Auto Trader.  Nowadays, the only American cars you'll find there are the very recent model Mustangs, Cadillacs and Lincolns.  You have to go to the small ads at the back of the specialist magazines to find classic Yank tanks for sale.  And all at prices which are far too high for me. So it looks like this midlife crisis will have to stay a pipe dream.  Which is probably just as well.  As I found out last time, seventies American sports cars can be pretty high maintenance, which is why I eventually gave them up.  Much as I loved driving my old 1978 Camaro Z-28, I finally decided that there were other things I'd rather be spending my money on, rather than an increasingly needy car.  People might denigrate mass production cars like the Mondeo or Focus, but believe me, there's a real novelty in having a car that starts first time, every time and which doesn't constantly have bits coming loose or falling off.  They also don't cost an arm and a leg to have serviced.  Which isn't to say that I wouldn't buy another classic American car again, if the circumstances were right - when they run, they're fantastic machines to drive.  But, for now, I'll stick to looking at pictures of them.