Friday, July 31, 2015

Clarence the Cross Eyed Hunting Trophy

So, some wealthy dentist has shot Clarence the Cross Eyed Lion and taken his head for a trophy, so now the entire world is up in arms about it, forcing him into hiding.  They should set Tarzan on his trail - he'd be bound to be able to track down the bastard, with his jungle skills and the assistance of his animal friends.  Then Marshall Thompson could shoot the dentist with his tranquiliser dart gun to subdue him before handing him over to the relevant authorities.  Apparently this dentist has claimed that he thought he was engaged in a legal hunt.  Oh come on!  Surely the fact that the lion was wearing bloody glasses should have told him that it wasn't a regular big cat?  Maybe that's what those locals who helped him did - knock Clarence's glasses off so that he couldn't see?  The bugger wouldn't have stood a chance - they call that sport?  Mind you, I might have got some of that wrong -  I might be confusing childhood memories of Daktari and that Ron Ely Tarzan series which used to be on at Saturday tea time, with current events.  Perhaps the lion in question doesn't wear glasses, but I'm pretty sure it had a name beginning with 'C'.  Back in my day, lions didn't have human names.  They were called things like Leo, if they had names at all.  If nothing else, this whole business just goes to show that you can't trust dentists.  I mean, they've got form for this sort of thing: Doc Holliday was a dentist by training and he was a cold blooded killer. At least he shot cowboys rather than lions, though.

Perhaps I shouldn't be trying to make light of this situation.  The lion killing has certainly got people around the world up in arms.  Quite rightly, too.  What's happened is pretty disgraceful - that wealth can allow an individual to indulge their anti-social urges and, simply for their own twisted pleasure, kill a much loved wild animal which has given pleasure to the many thousands who saw him.  The hue and cry which has followed has been laudable.  The individual concerned should be condemned and should be held to account for their actions.  What fascinates me, though, is that those pouring opprobrium upon the dentist can't seem to see that his actions represent a good analogy for what is happening in the wider world: a wealthy elite are, increasingly, ensuring that their wealth puts them outside of normal legal constraints, enabling them to treat the rest of us as serfs.  Their influence over governments and unaccountable financial institutions means that they have been able to gradually erode our rights and legal protections, so that now, they can do pretty much as they please.  Like shooting endangered species for sport.  So, if all these people are prepared to take up arms (metaphorically speaking) against this lion-killing dentist, why aren't they prepared to get out on the streets and protest at the growing inequalities in our society, the increasing gap between rich and poor, the erosion of living standards and the destruction of the welfare state?    


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Opening Windows

Apparently my Windows 10 update is ready.  All I have to do is schedule it.  Which I still haven't done.  Operating system updates and installations always make me nervous.  Besides, I've sort of gotten used to Windows 8.1 after having run it for a couple of years.  With the use of some third party apps, it is possible to turn Windows 8.1 into a decent enough operating system - mine boots straight into the desktop (I never have to see those bloody tiles if I don't want to) and has a Windows 7-style  start menu.  Whilst I know that the update most probably won't cause any major problems, there's still that nagging doubt - and I really can't afford to have this laptop fucked up, it's my main production machine when it comes to my various web sites podcasts and films. My only current alternative for these activities is an ancient Linux-powered IBM Thinkpad which, by current standards, is painfully slow (back in the day, when I first owned it, the IBM seemed lightning fast compared to its predecessors).  My recently acquired smart phone is really only good for web browsing and checking e-mail and social media accounts, rather than any kind of creative activity.

All other considerations aside, I think that it is advisable to wait a few days before attempting this update - let the early adopters deal with the teething problems.  Hopefully they will all be ironed out by the time I implement the Windows 10 installation.   I have enough potential problems already,  I'm going through one of those phases when everything worries me and I see disasters lurking everywhere.  Every time it rains, for instance, I anxiously examine the ceiling of the spare room for leaks, despite the fact that the roof was repaired after being damaged in those storms at the other Christmas and there's been no subsequent leakage.  But all of a sudden I've started worrying about it again.  It isn't just the house which has got me worried, either.  Just today I started worrying that the car seems to be producing more visible fumes from the exhaust than normal.  This, despite the fact that I've never actually spent much time previously looking in the rear view mirror for smoke, so really have no idea what is 'normal'.  Not only that, but it is a diesel, so black emissions when accelerating sharply shouldn't be a surprise.  Ah well, it's due a service and MoT in October, so all should become clear then  (if it hasn't already expired of course).  I really must learn to stop worrying.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Ultimate Aphrodisiac

According to Henry Kissinger, 'power is the ultimate aphrodisiac' and, on the face of it, the recent revelations as to what Lord Sewel gets up to when he isn't sitting in the House of Lords would seem to confirm that.  After all, I've still got more hair than him, not to mention quite a few years less on the clock, but I've never yet found myself snorting cocaine (allegedly) off of the breasts of a prostitute (or anyone else, for that matter), but then again, I don't hold a political position which puts me close to the centre of power.  More to the point, I think, is that I don't have money.  Because that's the real truth - wealth is the ultimate aphrodisiac.  At least, for a certain type of person it is.  Let's face it, if Johnny Depp, say, worked in a shoe shop rather than being a fabulously wealthy movie star, I doubt that he would have got laid as much, or have attracted the kind of beautiful models, singers and actresses he has.  I grew up watching old Cary Grant movies on Sunday afternoons, leading me to believe that young women are attracted to older men.  However, as an older man I finally realised that younger women were only attracted you if you were wealthy older movies star Cary Grant.

But, to be perfectly frank, I really don't care about the extracurricular activities of Lord Sewel.  As far as I'm concerned, it's pretty much a private matter.  I'm in no position to stand in judgement over the foibles of foolish, wealthy old men.  What does interest me about these revelations is the level of moral self-righteousness it has ignited amongst both press and public.  'Lord Sewer' one of the tabloids dubbed him.  Really?  Like journalists and newspaper proprietors never get involved in sex and drugs parties with prostitutes?  Worse still was a bit of vox pop I heard on the radio with various idiots from the street being asked their 'opinions' on the scandal.  "Disgraceful.  A man in his position has no business getting involved in that sort of thing', opined one moron, identified by the interviewer as a builder.  Again, really?  Does anyone still think that social position should dictate standards of behaviour?  And this from a builder, who probably regularly rips off his customers, over-charging for shoddy work and who has probably also been featured on Cowboy Builders, Rogue Traders and half a dozen other consumer programmes.  I know which of these I think is more reprehensible.  Let's not forget that His Lordship was doing all of this behind closed doors and surely had a reasonable expectation of privacy.  I know that The Sun will claim some kind of public interest defence, arguing that Sewel, in addition to being Deputy Speaker of the Lords and a former Minister, was also responsible for drawing up codes of conduct for our parliamentarians, thereby making him a hypocrite, it should be remembered that such codes of conduct have to do, mainly, with things like expenses, rather than their private sex lives.

In truth, of course, it has nothing to do with public interest, but instead offers a chance to be self-righteous whilst simultaneously taking a prurient pleasure in reading about Sewel's sexual antics, described with lip=smacking relish by those guardians of morality in the tabloid press, (let's not forget that this is the same newspaper which regularly features teenaged girls topless).   I don't know where this new self-righteousness has come from, but it's suddenly everywhere, usually hand-in-hand with the modern vogue for being offended by the most innocuous thing that you happen to disagree with.  Even hackers (surely one of the lowest forms of humanity) have been bitten by the bug.  Only a couple of weeks ago, apparently full of self-righteous indignation over the infidelity they were encouraging, a group of hackers broke into one of those dating sites for married people wanting to cheat on their spouses, stealing their membership lists.  With this information, these bozos then effectively tried to blackmail the site's users, threatening to publish their details if they didn't leave the site.  Who set them up as arbiters of the world's moral standards?  People who go around stealing private data really have no business believing that they are morally superior to people who cheat on their partners.  One is a criminal act, the other isn't.  Again, we come back to the fact that, whatever we might feel personally about the users of such online services, it is entirely their private matter.  It simply isn't any of our business.  It especially isn't the business of self-righteous web criminals, any more than the sexual peccadillos of peers of the realm are the business of sex obsessed tabloid newspapers with a record for illegally hacking phones.    

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Clunk Click Every Trip

I grew up watching public information films in the seventies.  The BBC was fond of showing them either late at night or, during school holidays, just before children's TV programmes started.  From today's perspective, it seems rather disturbing that so many of them are fronted by notorious sex offenders, but back then we were blissfully ignorant: Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris were just a pair of apparently harmless weirdos.  But to focus on the films themselves - many of them were truly scary.  Everyone remembers the 'Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water' one, narrated by Donald Pleasance in his creepiest voice and featuring a death-like figure watching as various youngsters drown in flooded quarries and the like, but others were equally disturbing.  I always found the road safety ones, with their graphic depictions of drivers going through windscreens and pedestrians being mown down particularly unsettling when I was a child. Then there was the one with the kid climbing up an electricity pylon to retrieve a kite and getting electrocuted for his troubles - pretty grim stuff.  The abrupt endings, often freeze framing on the screaming face of the victims' best friend, brother, mother or whatever, didn't help. offering no hope of an unexpected happy ending ('it's OK, he's only singed a bit and has permanently lost control of his bowels, but he isn't dead').

They must have had an impact on me, as I've always remained wary of  open water, never loiter near electricity pylons and always keep my distance whilst driving, ('only a fool breaks the two second rule').  Moreover, I always buckle up before driving, (although, as it was Jimmy Savile urging us to 'clunk click every trip', perhaps we shouldn't be wearing seatbelts as it is probably all part of some evil paedophile plot).  Even the slightly friendlier animated public information films aimed specifically at kids (the 'Charlie Says' and 'Tufty the Squirrel' series) obviously made an impression, as I never got run over running in front of oncoming cars to get to the ice cream van, never went off with strangers and always made sure that my cat didn't get scalded by pulling pans of hot water on top of himself (I loved that cat). 

But there was one which was far less effective.  In addition to all the road and child safety films, there was also a series about dangers which lurked around the home. One of these feature an old bloke putting up decorations around the house whilst his wife had gone to collect their grandchildren.  He's seen balancing precariously on various chairs, tables and other items of household furniture whilst he goes about his task, all accompanied by the usual soundtrack warning of the perils of not using a step ladder for such things.  The pay off came when the wife and grandkids arrive, see him at work in the living room as they come down the garden path and bang on the window to surprise him - and surprised he is as he falls off of the table he's stood and is seen crashing to the floor.  It then cuts to the horrified expressions on his wife and grandchildren's faces, freeze framing on them.  I'm not sure why, but this always made me laugh uproariously.  Maybe I'm just a sick bastard.  Then again, maybe it was the slapstick nature of the whole thing - it played like a Laurel and Hardy short or even an episode of Some Mothers Do Have Them.   OK, I know it was an old man falling off of the table, but it was still funny.  And you know something?  Repeated exposure to that film has never deterred me from climbing on all sorts of unsuitable things in order to carry out DIY projects.  Ironically, the only thing I've ever fallen off of was a step ladder.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

What the Swedish Butler Saw (1975)

The year 1975 saw the release of two movies based upon the anonymously authored Edwardian erotic novel The Way of a Man with a Maid.  One - The Naughty Victorians - was a relatively faithful, hardcore pornographic version of the novel.  By contrast, What the Swedish Butler Saw is a farcical sex comedy which, despite being filmed in Sweden and Denmark, is in much the same mould as contemporaneous British pictures of the same genre, such as the Confessions and Adventures series.  Indeed, it even features Diana Dors and the lovely Sue Longhurst, stalwarts of British sex movies in the seventies, in the cast.  However, instead of Robin Askwith or Barry Evans, we have Danish erotic comedy superstar Ole Soltoft as Jack, although the performance and characterisation is much the same. 

On the face of it, The Way of a Man With a Maid wouldn't seem to be an obvious candidate for adaptation into a softcore sex romp.   The 1908 novel is a first person account (by a narrator named 'Jack') of one man's systematic subjugation, humiliation and rape of several women.  Over several episodes, Jack lures a series of women into his home made S&M dungeon, where he ties them up an subjects them to various types of bondage, before raping them.  Of course, not only does the act of rape awaken their repressed sexuality, it leaves them entirely subservient to Jack and willing participants in his subsequent, carefully planned and highly elaborate abductions and rapes.  His first victim is a young woman named Alice, who once jilted his attentions.  She then lures her maid Fanny into the dungeon (which Jack refers to as 'The Snuggery') for the same treatment.  The two women then help Jack subjugate Alice's friend Connie.  Finally, Lady Betty and her daughter Molly are lured to the dungeon where they are subjected to all manner of sexual humiliation and degradation and forced to perform various incestuous acts.  By this time, Jack has to do very little, other than watch the spectacle as his earlier victims - now his willing accomplices - do all the work.

In order to turn this into a comedy suitable for seventies audiences, What the Swedish Butler Saw turns Jack from the confident sexual predator of the book into a nervous, semi-incompetent, comedy character.  Furthermore, it focuses entirely upon the novel's first episode, prefacing it with a brief account of Jack's childhood of sexual repression at the hands of his parents.  Following their deaths, he stumbles across his father's hypocrisy, discovering that he had been a regular at Diana Dors' high class brothel, at which establishment Jack then receives his sexual education.  Jilted by Sue Longhurst's primly virginal Alice, Dors advises him that he needs to awaken her sexuality, by force if necessary.  Eventually luring her into his 'rape room' - which he has constructed with the aid of his deaf comical butler - he subjects her to some fairly tame bondage shenanigans, all played for laughs and involving some bizarre home made sex machines, which wouldn't have looked out of place in a slightly saucier Carry On film.  In a major departure from the source material, Alice eventually takes the initiative, turning the tables on Jack and consenting to have sex with him as his attentions have, indeed, awakened her repressed sexuality.  (Interestingly, the other adaptation of the novel -The Naughty Victorians - also felt it necessary to alter the ending, to show Jack's victims turning the tables on him at the film's climax).  The final scenes see Jack effectively trapped into marriage with Alice, before the film ends with Jack and Alice sharing their marital bed with his butler and Alice's maid (who have also engaged in a series of 'comic' escapades throughout the film).

In order to pad all of this out to feature length, various 'comic' sub-plots are added to the narrative, such as all the business with the butler's deafness and Jack's erotic photography business.  Most bizarre of these sub-plots involves Jack the Ripper, who is secretly living in Jack's house and emerges periodically from hidden doors, or observes the bondage action via a pair of eye-holes cut in a painting.  Despite his occasional appearances, nobody other than the audience ever see him - not even the policemen who, acting on a tip off, arrive to search the house, interrupting Jack's bondage session with Alice.  This provides another bit of farce with the now naked and still restrained Alice opts to pretend to be a statue rather than endure embarrassment of the policemen realising that she is a real naked woman.  The Ripper is last seen fleeing the house at the film's climax, unable to put up with that four in a bed romp.  The Ripper scenes are utterly mystifying - quite irrelevant to the plot and not at all amusing.  It's fascinating that film makers who felt it necessary to dilute a tale of erotic sadomasochism by cutting out the subjugation, degradation and rape of the heroine, presumably because they felt that the enlightened audiences of the seventies wouldn't be receptive to scenes of sexual brutality against women should think that a notorious serial killer of women was a suitable subject for comedy.

The film's attempt to turn a paean to the joys of the subjugation women into a sex comedy celebrating the power of bondage to liberate women's sexuality, enabling them to become, not sex slaves, but instead sexually confident dominant partners in a relationship, doesn't really work.  Despite her ultimate emergence as some kind of sexual predator herself, it is clear that the lengthy sequence in which Alice is naked and restrained, subjected to various forms of mechanical stimulation, are presented entirely for the titillation of male audiences.  Her 'liberation' makes her no less of a sex object than the character's literary equivalent.  Moreover, the attempts to present Jack as some kind of Robin Askwith-style ingĂ©nue sits uneasily with his bondage obsession and determination to subjugate women.  The fact is that in none of the Confessions films does Timmy Lea find it necessary to tie up a woman in order to get her to have sex with him.  Indeed, whilst the Timmy Lea character often seems intimidated by women, it is clear that he does actually like them and recognises them as human beings - I was never entirely convinced that Jack did really like women, instead seeing them purely as sex objects. 

Originally shot in 3-D and released under a plethora of English-language titles (the version I saw had a title card reading My Favourite Butler), the film remains a curiosity: an attempt to transform a piece of 'classic' misogyny into a softcore sex farce, it really doesn't work well on either the sex or farce fronts.  Nevertheless, it provides a mildly entertaining diversion, with Diana Dors and Sue Longhurst delivering decent performances in spite of the weak material.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Lurch to the Left?

With all the current furore surrounding the Labour leadership contest, it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that those on the right of the party currently waving their hands in despair and predicting the end of the party if 'left winger' Jeremy Corbyn wins, are basing their arguments upon a false premise: that of Labour's 'disastrous' defeat at the last general election.  This, they say was the result of the party's 'lurch to the left' and that further 'leftward' movement will make Labour unelectable for all time.  False premise number one is that the defeat was disastrous.  Despite the loss of seats, it's worth remembering that in terms of percentage vote, in England Labour had its best showing since the beginning of the century.  Indeed, overall, across the UK and despite the wipeout in Scotland, Labour's share of the vote was slightly up from 2010, whilst the Tory percentage share was slightly down. The disparity in seats won is, in large part, the result of the UK's antiquated 'first past the post' electoral system. 

False premise number two is the 'lurch to the left' and its supposed unpopularity.  Clearly, the 'Blairite' definition of left wing is very different to anyone else's - the fact is that Labour ran on what was effectively a 'Tory-lite' programme in 2010 which failed to comprehensively challenge any of the assumptions underlying the Tories' 'austerity' policies.  And it lost.  In fact, its worst losses  came in Scotland, at the hands of the SNP, which was running on an overtly anti-austerity programme. All of which indicates that, in some parts of the UK at least, there is an appetite for so-called 'left wing' policies.  Furthermore, the 'Blairite' lament that, in England, many traditional Labour voters rejected the party's supposed 'left wing' manifesto, thereby 'proving' their case, is completely nonsensical.  For one thing, it completely ignores the fact that it for politicians to persuade potential voters of the validity of their policies - they have to go out and make the argument.  Which is something Labour completely failed to do.  Indeed, by failing to lay out any coherent alternative to austerity, they didn't actually have an argument to articulate.  Moreover, a significant number of potential Labour voters didn't even bother to vote because they felt that no party was representing their interests - Labour needs to articulate a set of policies which give those people some hope that engaging with the electoral system might actually effect some positive changes to their circumstances.

Which is essential, as the entirely depressing and negative message that the likes of Tony Blair and his cronies give when they dismiss Labour's left of centre principles as being electoral poison, is that there is no possibility of meaningful change any more.  That in order to gain power politicians must ignore their obligations to represent the people in favour of always adopting policies which favour big business instead, as that will ensure 'prosperity' which, apparently, will solve all our other problems.  The bottom line here is that I'm not actually a Corbyn supporter - I have real doubts as to his leadership qualities and some of his views give me real cause for concern.  However, I'm tired of the way in which his leadership campaign has become the focus of attacks on the credibility of any kind of anti-austerity policies.  The fact is that his apparent popularity - which has got the Blairites scared - indicates that there is wider support for left-of-centre politics in the country than they care to contemplate.  Which scares them even more.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Mighty Gorga (1969)

Talking of bad movies - and if we weren't, then we should have been - it is to my great regret that I've never been able to get my hands on a complete version of The Mighty Gorga.  The various clips I've come across indicate that it is undoubtedly a highly entertaining slice of low budget movie making.  Indeed, the above set of clips (not a 'trailer', despite what the You Tube poster's title might claim), highlight the movie's two greatest special effects: the dinosaur and Gorga himself.  A micro-budgeted King Kong rip off from the late sixties, I do know a little bit about the film's production, courtesy of an article about producer/director David L Hewitt in one of the Shock Xpress paperbacks.

Whilst the dinosaur is clearly a (pretty poor) puppet, the budget didn't run to hiring an ape costume, so Gorga was instead created by sticking hair onto a car suit, whilst the head was a hollowed out foam novelty gorilla head, (the eyes are clearly plastic and unblinking).  Hewitt himself was inside the 'costume' and, judging by the fit of wheezing Gorga has after fighting the dinosaur, suffered badly from asthma.  Hewitt supervised the effects himself and, to be fair, despite their general shoddiness, he did at least use some process work to integrate the creatures with the live actors - I've seen many other low budget films of this type (some of them studio backed productions) which instead rely on poor back projection to achieve this or, worse, don't make any attempt to include their monsters in the same shot as the  actors.  After watching the clip, it will probably come as no surprise to anyone that Hewitt was also responsible for some of the effects work on Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

In order to pad the film out, Hewitt filmed several of the actors getting on and off of an airliner and walking around San Diego zoo (all without permission from the venues).  Amongst the actors involved were such low budget stalwarts as Anthony Eisley, Scott Brady and Kent Taylor - the name of any one of this trio on the cast list of a film is usually a guarantee of low budget schlockiness.   From what I've seen and from what I know about The Mighty Gorga, it is clearly one of those low budget movies which you can't help but admire - a film made by people who are professional film makers, but who inhabit the hinterlands of commercial movie making, where they simply don't have the resources to realise their ambitions.  But that doesn't stop them trying to emulate big budget studio pictures on shoestring budgets.  All power to them, I say: at least they can maintain some semblance of independence in an industry dominated by accountants and executives who see films simply as 'products' and can't see beyond the potential for profitable spin offs when it comes to green lighting projects.

But best of all about this kind of film is that it rekindles that crazy belief that all of us who have ever shot a home movie have: that we could actually produce a commercial feature.  I mean, even I could manage special effects on a par with The Mighty Gorga (green screen effects are actually very straightforward to create on your laptop nowadays if you have the right editing software - much easier than they were to achieve on film back in the sixties).   Damn it, I'll have to get my great nieces to work making a dinosaur puppet - they could probably build something along the lines of the one in the clip.  They'd probably even operate it for me...


Monday, July 20, 2015

Nazi Business

I really don't understand this furore over film of the Queen (in her pre-Queen days) giving a Nazi salute to Hitler.  So what if the Royals were all a bunch of Nazis?  The previous Pope was one, for God's sake and nobody seemed to bat an eyelid over that.  And he was a proper Nazi, not just someone who did fascist salutes as a child - he was a fully paid up member of the Hitler Youth.  Indeed, a Nazi Pope should have been far more shocking than fascist sympathising royalty.  After all, one would expect members of a feudal institution based upon birth right to tend, politically, toward extreme and authoritarian ideologies which purport to be for the benefit of the common man whilst actually concentrating power into the hands of an unelected and unaccountable elite.  By contrast, one would hope that the leader of the world's largest Christian church, based upon the principles of forgiveness, love and tolerance, would have a sound record of anti-Nazism. 

It isn't as if Britain's royals don't have a track record for this sort of thing - let's not forget Prince Harry dressing up as a Nazi officer that time, or the Duke of Windsor's well documented dalliances with Hitler.  Then there was the Queen Mother.  Allegedly, she was more that a little bit right wing, politically speaking.  Certainly, she was right wing enough that a group of conservative politicians, businessmen and military officers contemplating a coup against Harold Wilson were confident enough of her reactionary nature to approach her to act as a figurehead.  The most intriguing thing about this storm in a tea cup is that the piece of film in question comes from some kind of  royal 'private collection' of movies which are never to be made public.  Which begs the question of what the other films might show.  You can understand why they'd want to suppress footage of royalty giving Nazi salutes, you have to wonder what they think is on a par with that (or even worse than that), so that it also has to be suppressed?  What other decadence have they committed to celluloid?  And do they all sit down in the Queen's living room and watch these secret films every Christmas?

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Friday, July 17, 2015

A Touch of the Sun (1979)

I was going to talk about What The Swedish Butler Saw today, but another day working in he heat has left me feeling too frazzled to do it justice.  Hopefully, I'll get back to it next week.  In the meantime, I thought that I'd briefly look at what has to be one of the worst films ever made: A Touch of the Sun.  It used to turn up on late night TV quite regularly in the 1990s, under its alternative title of No Secrets!, and I was recently reminded of it when I was researching Peter Cushing's filmography for another project.  So bad was the film, that I'd completely blocked out of my memory the fact that Cushing, an actor I have great respect for, appeared in this farrago.  But he wasn't alone, various other thesps who really should have known better, including Wilfrid Hyde-White, Melvyn Hayes, Kennan Wynn and, in the lead, Oliver Reed, also appear.

Shot in Zambia as some kind of vanity project on the part of the director, (although I'm convinced that there also had to be some kind of tax write off involved), this supposed comedy is utterly dismal.  To give you some idea of how bad it is, the above clip is actually one of the highlights of the film.  Reed affects a poor American accent in his role as a bumbling US marine, (I'm guessing that the director would have liked to describe the character as 'Clouseau-esque' - in his dreams), sent to an African dictatorship to recover a crashed US satellite. He has lots of 'hilarious' encounters with various 'wacky' characters, played by the aforementioned actors, taking time off from their paid holiday in Zambia.  The 'special' effects are anything but - the budget was clearly miniscule, the script dreadful and the direction abysmal.  Really, A Touch of the Sun is a crime against cinema.  The 'bad cinema' cultists might like to lionise Ed Wood's body of work as the 'worst movies - ever', but they've clearly not seen as much trash cinema as I have -  A Touch of the Sun wins hands down.  Whilst Plan 9 From Outer Space is actually so inept that it is funny and is curiously entertaining, A Touch of the Sun is merely cringe-worthy - you actually feel embarrassed for the cast as they mug their way through what they clearly know is a barrel-scraping exercise.  The closest thing to a redeeming feature it has is the performance of local 'talent' Edwin Manda as the villainous dictator - his performance is so ridiculous and over-the-top that it is almost entertaining.  Almost, but not quite.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Democracy is Dead

Before returning to our usual business here of smutty films and the like, I think that we have to pause for a minute and mourn the death of democracy.  For that is what events in Greece amount to - in spite of electing a government on a clear anti-austerity programme and in spite of a referendum vote against draconian bail out terms, the rest of the Eurozone have still imposed humiliating terms on Greece in order to keep it afloat financially.  They have effectively usurped a democratically elected government of its economic sovereignty.  If this isn't a conclusive demonstration that the democratic process has been rendered irrelevant by the financial elites, then I don't know what is.  It pains me to admit it, but this is the sort of thing, (along with the UK election result where 36% of the vote gave the Tories a whacking great parliamentary majority, not to mention FIFA, where a president who has presided over unprecedented corruption keeps getting re-elected), which makes it seem as if Russell Brand has a point: voting doesn't change anything.

But you don't have to be in Greece to be witnessing, close up, the dying throes of democracy.  Just this week has witnessed our own government assaulting the BBC, trying to sneak fox hunting back in through the back door and announcing yet more restrictions on Trade Union activities.  These latter moves are particularly worrying as, whether you like it or note, Trade Unions are a vital part of any healthy democracy, allowing workers to 'level the playing field' when it comes to negotiating with employers and safeguarding workers' hard won rights in the workplace.   But that doesn't bother this government.  As if all the proposed thresholds on turnouts and percentages needed in strike ballots, not to mention the suggested restrictions on picketing weren't bad enough, they are also proposing to restrict Unions' use of social media during strikes, requiring all their tweets and posts to be  'approved'.  Really, this is the sort of thing you'd expect in extreme right-wing authoritarian regimes, oh wait, that's what we've got here in UK these days...

But seriously, both here in the UK and across Europe, our leaders are becoming ever more brazen in their contempt for the democratic process.  Sure, they play lip service to it, but have no intention of actually subjecting themselves to it.  If you still think that our democratic institutions are the only legitimate way to effect change, then you are deluded.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: revolution is clearly the only way to wrest back control.  Believe me, both our political elites and their puppet masters in the worlds of finance and banking are only going to start showing us some respect when we start putting them up against walls and shooting them.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Steady On, Jeeves!

My recent reading obsession with PG Wodehouse inevitably led me to that 'lost' episode of the Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie Jeeves and Wooster TV series, based on the equally lost Wodehouse novel Steady On, Jeeves!  Suppressed for many years by the late author's estate, the novel revealed Jeeves' side business of erotic photography, often featuring himself as a model.  When Bertie's Aunt Dahlia faces the repossession of Brinkley Court as the result of her unpaid gambling debts, Jeeves steps in with a plan to create a nude calendar featuring the chaps from the Drones Club in order to generate revenue.  Using his secret photographic studio, Jeeves soon has ten months in the bag, but Gussie Fink-Nottle's provocative pose with one of his newts results in the negatives being impounded by the Obscene Publications Squad.  Moreover, a series of mishaps sees Bertie Wooster - 'Mr December' - forced to hide naked, save for a Santa hat, in Madelaine Bassett's wardrobe.  Much to the chagrin of her fiancĂ© Roderick Spode, who proceeds to chase the naked Wooster around the grounds of Brinkley.

Of course, Jeeves comes to the rescue, revising his original scheme and organising, at short notice, a nude calendar featuring himself and his fellow butlers and valets from the Junior Ganymede Club.  He also arranges for Spode to be arrested for homosexuality (still an offence in 1936), convincing the police that Brinkley Court is, in fact, a naturist resort and that Spode, unable to contain his raging perverted passions after seeing Wooster naked, attempted to sexually assault. To facilitate the ruse, the entire household agree to divest themselves of their clothes for the afternoon - which causes Bertie's Aunt Agatha, paying an unannounced visit, a severe case of the vapours.  Jeeves' appearance as 'Mr July' necessitates Bertie standing in for him behind the camera - astounded by the prowess with the ladies displayed by his 'Gentleman's Gentleman', Wooster utters the immortal words: 'Steady on, Jeeves!'.

(The stills are actually screen caps from What The Swedish Butler Saw, a seventies sex comedy I hope to feature here soon).


Monday, July 13, 2015

No Sense of Fun

It's Monday, so I'm going to moan.  I think that I have good cause to moan.  In fact, I think that I'd be perfectly justified if this were to develop into a full blown rant.  This past weekend I had to endure the annual torture of my aural sensibilities known as Crapchester Shite, sorry, Live.  I've mentioned this so called 'music' event before, where local self-styled musicians take a weekend off from ruining the drinking experiences of pub-goers all over Crapchester and instead hold a free (obviously, as nobody would pay to hear them) 'festival' in the park across the road from me. The cacophony which emanates from it is truly horrendous. Luckily, this year the wind was blowing in the right direction to carry the worst of it away from me.  However, I still had to spend the rest of the weekend with attendees of this event trespassing on my property and generally making a bloody nuisance of themselves.  For some reason, some of them seem to think that they can use my back garden as a short cut to the park (it is neither a short cut nor a public right of way).  They are quite brazen about it - they walk straight past my kitchen window before, in full view of my living room window, climbing over the low wall which separates my garden from the shrubbery of a small piece of council park land.  This still doesn't get them any closer to Crapchester Live than if they had simply walked down the road at the front of my house - they still have another main road to cross.

Part of the problem seems to lie in the fact that there is an alley way giving rear access to this terrace of houses which comes off of another alley way which is a public right of way.  Despite the fact that our alley way is clearly for access only, people still seem to think they have the right to walk down it.  As my house lies at the far end, I've never bothered putting up any kind of gate at the rear of my garden - it is obviously (so I thought) a private garden and not a public thoroughfare.  But it seems that these arseholes disagree.  Clearly, I'm going to have to turn my back garden into a fortress.  This was confirmed as a necessity when, early on Saturday evening, having (ironically) finished doing some work in my garden, I'd just settled down in my living room with a pint of beer, when I saw these two clowns saunter into my garden and proceed to stroll down the path.  This was despite the fact that I was in full view through the living room window.  They didn't move when I stood up and gesticulated at them, nor when I started unbolting the back door,  They finally made a run for it when I opened the door and shouted "Get off my property and stay off" at them.  It only later occurred to me that this phrase came dangerously close to making me sound like some old time crazy coot from a western movie (probably played by Walter Brennan) who chases claim jumpers or cattle rustlers off with his shotgun:  "I see you roun' here ag'in, you'll get an ass fulla buck shot  You're darn tootin'!" dammit!

 Anyway, I didn't have to put up with day two of Crapchester Shite as I was out most of Sunday, but when I got home yesterday evening I found empty beer cans dumped all over the steps at the front of the terrace. I really shouldn't have been surprised - in the past we've had glass bottles smashed all over the same steps by bastards attending the event, not to mention the number of times attendees have mistaken either the steps or the back alley for a public convenience.  For some reason though, the sight of those empty Fosters cans (they don't even have good taste when it comes to beer) really pissed me off.  I ended up kicking them into the gutter - the local council allows this event to be held in their park, so they can clear up the mess the fucking bastards who attend it leave behind.  The worst thing about the whole Crapchester Shite situation is that if you dare to criticise it in any way, you find yourself shouted down by its supporters (who are actually relatively small in number, but generate a lot of noise) and accused of being a 'kill joy', a 'miserable bastard' and of 'having no sense of fun'.  On the latter point, the could be right, as I tend not to have much of a sense of fun when it comes to complete strangers vandalising my property or invading my garden and consequently my privacy.  But I guess I'm just being unreasonable.  Ultimately, their defence of the event and the noise pollution, vandalism and disruption it causes is to fall back on the moronic chant of: "But it's only once a year".  To which, of course, I give my standard counter: if I was to break into your house and relentlessly bum rape you for an entire weekend on an annual basis, would that be OK?  Because, after all, it would only be "once a year".   This time I might even add: "You're darn tootin'!"

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Friday, July 10, 2015

The Manster (1959)

The Manster is another of those elusive movies which I first encountered via a still in a book on horror movies when I was a kid.  It depicted a bestial-looking two headed guy fighting with a Japanese scientist.  The caption gave no real elaboration on this scenario and information about the film was hard to find.  Moreover, despite having had a UK release (under the title The Split), The Manster never turned up on UK TV and I never recall having seen a VHS or DVD release. So I was glad when it turned up on You Tube.  Running a brisk 72 minutes and photographed in crisp black and white, this US-Japan co-production wastes no time in serving up its surprisingly (for the time) brutal thrills, opening with a massacre at a geisha house, perpetrated by some kind of hairy hominid. 

Said creature turns out to be the creation of the local misguided scientist, who has his lab on the slopes of an active volcano.  The beast naturally returns home, where the scientist shoots it, revealing that it had once been his brother, who had volunteered to be an experimental subject.  (The scientist had also used his wife as a guinea pig - he keeps her, deformed and insane, in a cage in his lab).  Having run out of family members to experiment on, the scientist, Dr Suzuki, instead surreptitiously injects a visiting US journalist with his serum.  Inevitably, the reporter starts suffering all sorts of side effects, most notably a radical change in personality as he switches from being a conscientious journalist eager to return home to his wife in the US, to being a sleazy lowlife crawling through the underbelly of Tokyo, spurning his visiting wife for Suzuki's femme fatale assistant.

Inevitably, he starts having peculiar turns, in which his right side turns hairy and bestial and he starts murdering people - mainly prostitutes, but also a Buddhist priest and eventually an American psychiatrist trying to help him.  Eventually an eye appears on his right shoulder, to be followed by a complete second head after he receives an electric shock.  The rampaging two headed beast follows his predecessor's example and heads for Suzuki's lab, pursued by the police, his estranged wife and his editor.  Once at the lab, the creature inevitably kills Suzuki, before chasing the lady assistant up the volcano where he finally splits into two: his orginal self and a hairy hominid of the type seen in the prologue.  The hominid throws Suzuki's assistant into the volcano before being pushed in himself by the reporter.

A variation on the Jekyll and Hyde theme, The Manster is one of those films which, on one level, is so preposterous that you want to laugh at it.   However, it's portrayal of the fleshpots of Tokyo and its sheer bleakness make this impossible.  Interestingly, it offers no pat happy ending - the reporter, now divested of his evil twin, is still arrested for the murders he committed whilst under the influence of Suzuki's serum, with his wife and editor left pondering whether the authorities will offer any mitigation because of the circumstances in which actions took place.  Some of the special effects are, for a low budget movie of the period, quite effective, especially the eye on the shoulder.  The second head - some kind of mechanical prosthetic - isn't the worst attempt at realising such a thing I've ever seen.. The use of low-key noir-style lighting helps to keep it from looking as ridiculous as it should.  Even the actual split isn't badly done - effected by having the actors playing the reporter and the hominid placed behind a conveniently placed tree when it occurs, with one going one way, the other the opposite way, tearing the raincoat they are wearing apart.  (Somewhat miraculously, the reporter's underpants remain intact).

All-in-all, The Manster isn't a bad little B-movie.  Not hugely original and with a typically wooden cast speaking stilted dialogue (although, to their credit, they play it all straight), it nonetheless succeeds in creating a dark and sleazy atmosphere and delivers some decent thrills.   Not a classic, but still worth watching for lovers of schlock.


Thursday, July 09, 2015

No Strings

I've decided that I don't like puppets.  OK, I still quite like the ones on Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet (the proper sixties originals, not the more recent CGI versions), but other puppets - no.  This dislike has surfaced recently and I blame it on the growing number of TV commercials which seem to use puppets.  That bloody mobile phone network one with the irritating purple puppet thing which goes around telling everyone how 'it's going to be alright' was bad enough, (what the fuck is all that about anyway - why should some furry purple thing make me want to sign up to a particular network?).  But then they started that sodding hotel booking one with the puppet versions of the actors in it singing about the virtues of the service.  Maybe that's what I don't like - the singing.  Perhaps it is singing puppets that I don't like.  Thankfully neither the members of International Rescue nor Spectrum felt the need to burst into song whilst they were rescuing people or thwarting the latest Mysteron plan to subjugate earth, respectively.  The Muppets, on the other hand, were always bloody singing - and I was always pretty much lukewarm about them.

The more I think about it, the more I suspect that my sudden dislike for singing puppets could be post traumatic stress disorder, triggered by those TV commercials.  The trauma in question being my childhood exposure to Pinky and Perky.  For those of you fortunate enough never to have encountered this pair, they were puppet pigs that used to have their own children's TV show in which they performed cover versions of various pop songs of the day in horrible shrill voices.  They also had a whole supporting cast of animal puppets similarly performing contemporary pop numbers.  It was horrendous. I'm afraid that I just didn't see the point of it - unlike the puppets on Thunderbirds, they didn't do anything except bloody sing.  Badly. I'm sure that I've been scarred for life as a result of my exposure to them.  They were unaccountably highly popular, with spin off comic strips, annuals and the like.  Of course, my childhood exposure to them might well explain why I like bacon so much - perhaps I'm subconsciously eating the irritating little bastards every time I enjoy a toasted bacon sandwich...

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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Not So Smart

As I might have mentioned in passing the other day, I've recently acquired a smart phone as a replacement for my old mobile.  I know that, in the past, I've railed against the 'smart phone bores' who spent all their time in the pub playing with their devices and discussing their operating systems (inevitably Android), but I decided that just because I owned a smart phone, I didn't have to behave like an arsehole. (I hasten to reiterate that I don't consider everyone with a smart phone to be arsehole - just the smart phone bores and idiots who download all those useless apps.  If you are using your smart phone to do something sensible, like reading this blog, then obviously you aren't arsehole). Besides, smart phones are a lot cheaper these days and saving money is always a big motivator for me.  The fact is that I've never really been a phone person, landline or mobile.  Consequently, my poor old mobile has spent a lot of time stuck in my pocket doing very little - it existed mainly to call the AA if my car broke down.  So, when it was clear that I was going to have to replace the increasingly tired and battered Nokia, I decided that I might as well replace it with something that could do a bit more than just make and receive calls and texts, in the hope that this added functionality would encourage me to use it more.

So, in the few days I've owned it, has my smart phone changed my life?  Not really, but it has provided me with an alternative device for web surfing while I'm in bed - it's far more convenient than lugging my laptop upstairs to the bedroom.  It is also likely to replace both my cheap Chinese MP3 player for podcast listening and my venerable digital voice recorder for making podcasts.  It might even allow me to stay on top of my social media accounts a bit better - being away from my laptop most of the day means that I can only belatedly react to a lot of the stuff going on (particularly on Twitter).  I suppose it also means that I can access that online pornography that David Cameron is obsessed by anywhere that I can get a signal.  Bare boobs on demand - how did we ever exist before this innovation?  Oh yes, I can also make phone calls and send texts on the new phone.  If nothing else, I suppose that owning a smart phone means that I've finally joined the twenty first century.  Mind you, as ever, I like to be different so I've eschewed the obvious option of a cheap Android phone and instead have opted for a Windows phone.  Hell, I'm a Nokia loyalist when it comes to mobiles, so a Lumia was always going to be the only choice.  I have to say that the Windows 8 tiled interface makes far more sense on a mobile device than it ever has on a laptop.  As a parting thought, I have to say that I'm slightly disappointed - they call it a smart phone, yet I find that I'm still having to make all the decisions for the device.  That doesn't seem very smart to me...

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Monday, July 06, 2015

Simple Choices

Is it any wonder that the Greeks voted the 'wrong' way (at least, as far as the right-wing press and European establishment are concerned) in their referendum - apparently it wasn't clear to them what they were voting for or against.  At least, that's what various commentators would have had us believe in the run up to the vote.  Quite what they thought was 'difficult' or 'confusing' about what Greek voters were being asked to deliberate on is beyond me: 'No we don't accept the terms of the latest bail out' or Yes, we do accept them'.  Pretty straightforward, I'd say.  But then, these same commentators would have you believe, Greek voters didn't understand the possible consequences of what they were voting for or against or, indeed, why the referendum was being held.  Which is just about as patronising as you'd expect from the knee-jerk reactionaries of the right.  The Greeks were well aware of what they were voting for - just as they were well aware of what they were voting for when they elected the Syriza-led coalition government on an anti-austerity platform. 

As for the 'why', well, I think that was pretty clear to everyone involved, too.  On the most basic level, as the bail out terms are of momentous importance for Greece, it was essential the government knew clearly what position it should take with its creditors - it was only right that the Greek people should have a say in this.  Moreover, if a 'No' vote was secured (as it has been) it would reinforce the Greek government's position that it had a clear anti-austerity mandate from its own people.  Most crucially, the referendum wasn't just about the bail out terms, or the legitimacy of the whole austerity nonsense - it was about national sovereignty and the principle that democratically elected governments have the right to pursue the platform on which they have been elected, rather than having their policies dictated to them by external, unaccountable and undemocratic financial institutions.  Thanks to the Greek electorate, democracy in Europe isn't quite dead yet.  Because, without being melodramatic, that was what was at stake in the Greek referendum.  Although, bizarrely, we had EU technocrats trying to tell us that allowing people to decide on a crucial issue via the ballot box was somehow 'undemocratic'.  That's the kind of crazy world we live in, where 'democracy' can be redefined as not having a say in political decisions.  Increasingly, the EU is resembling the declining days of the Roman Empire, desperately trying to pull conquered provinces into line and suppress their bids to reassert their independence.  Which is sad, as it was once - and should again be - a force for institutionalising and expanding concepts like democracy, the rule of law and human rights throughout the continent.  Now it seems to be just another tool of the corrupt financial institutions and capitalism which are apparently hell-bent upon subjugating us all. 

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Friday, July 03, 2015

The Wrong Type of Heat

Another day in the blistering heat.  It's strange how we British spend so much time complaining when it rains during the Summer months, yet when we get a genuine heat wave, we all start moaning that it is too hot.   Apparently it is all down to the fact that we get the wrong type of heat here in the UK.  At least, that's what someone was trying to convince me of today.  You see, in Morocco you can go out all day in the sun and never burn, but come back to the UK and your skin peels off in the heat.  I suspect this has more to do with the fact that when people go off on their foreign holidays, they tend to smother themselves in sun cream, yet back home don't seem to think that their skin might need the same protection.  Personally, I just try to stay out of direct sunlight at this time of year and instead lurk in dark corners.  Actually, I've just learned to take precautions like always wearing long sleeved shirts when outside in this weather (my skin burns before it tans) and, since my once luxurious locks have begun to thin, wearing a hat when the sun is very strong.  To be honest, my main problem in the heat is the risk of dehydration - I spend a lot of the time in the car and, even with windows open and fans on, it feels like a furnace by mid-morning.  Consequently, this week has left me feeling exhausted.

Which is probably why I've spent most of the week here being nostalgic and rambling on about the TV of my childhood and my fallen heroes of that era.  Thankfully, no more of these figures of my past have died (not that I've heard of, anyway), but that won't necessarily stop me from getting nostalgic again.   Talking about The Val Doonican Show yesterday reminded me of all those other TV favourites of the seventies who had eponymous shows back then: Lulu, Petula Clarke, even Vera Lynne.  At holiday times they'd all have their own special programmes - how well I remember Tom Jones on Happiness Island back on Easter Monday 1974.  That was the one where he performed that song on the yacht, whilst dressed only in his speedos and a sea captain's hat, which traumatised my ten year old self greatly.  I mean, that was the image of masculinity which we were supposed to aspire to - is it any wonder I was left feeling totally inadequate?  How could anyone live up to that?  Cliff Richard was another semi-permanent fixture in the schedules back in the early seventies, with It's Cliff Richard.   Another Saturday night show, this one was sandwiched between Dr Who and Dixon of Dock Green.  There's probably a joke in there somewhere, but it's probably also libellous so we won't go there.  I seem to remember that Engelbert Humperdinck had his own show around this time as well, but he was no match for Cliff  (again, there's probably a gag in there, but it is still probably libellous).  But enough, for now, of this nostalgia.  I've got to go and sort out my new phone.  I'm already getting nostalgic about the old one...

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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Rocking Chairs, Pullovers and Bowler Hats

Val Doonican is dead!  How can we go on without the Irish crooner and his nice pullovers and rocking chair?  Actually, we've been doing pretty well without him since he retired from British TV back in the eighties.  But for more than twenty years he seemed to be a Saturday night fixture on the BBC with his show.  It was television of a different, far gentler, kind than we've become used to - if a celebrity has their own TV show with their name in the title these days, it's usually some kind of egotistical chat show, with the guests lucky to get a word in edgeways.  Back when Val was in his prime, though, it was the norm for singers to have their own show where, in addition to trotting out some of their favourite numbers, they'd feature several guests, usually other singers or comedians, allow them to do their thing and probably perform a duet with them.  To be frank, when I was a kid, these types of TV shows used to bore me rigid - all that bloody singing!  Dr Who and The Basil Brush Show were more like my idea of Saturday night TV - not to mention Kojak in the mid-seventies. At least stuff happened in them!  Besides, there are only so many times you can sit through Val singing 'Paddy McGinty's Goat'.  Obviously, I was in the minority with these opinions, as his show ran and ran and even spawned a series of popular Christmas specials - mind you, even Doonican himself admitted that he found these unwatchable.

Despite not being a fan of his shows, it always seemed clear to me that Doonican was a pretty nice guy.  So I'm going to enjoy his legacy before someone starts making allegations as to what he got up to with Paddy McGinty and his goat in the 1970s.  Sadly, Val Doonican is just the latest in a number of people from the world of entertainment who we've recently lost: Christopher Lee, Ron Moody, James Horner, the list just goes on.  Saddest of all, from a personal point of view, has been the passing of the great Patrick MacNee.  The Avengers was a big part of my TV watching childhood - Diana Rigg was my first crush and MacNee's John Steed was, for my younger self, the epitome of what an English gentleman should be.  I know he was 93, so his death was hardly a shock, but it still came as a bit of a blow to me: another big part of my childhood gone.  An interesting fact about MacNee which I learned from his obituaries was that, in later life, after he had retired to California, he became an enthusiastic naturist.  I'd like to think that he kept his bowler hat on and still carried his umbrella, though.  Now, that would have been an interesting episode of The Avengers - Emma Peel opening her front door to find Steed, clad only in bowler and umbrella, standing there, with  'Mrs Peel, we're needed', written across his chest.

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