Monday, February 29, 2016

Hollywood Black Out

It was the Academy Awards last night - not that I'd know as I was showing solidarity with those protesting their lack of diversity by not attending.  Well OK, I wasn't actually invited, so my non-attendance was pretty much obligatory.  But I instead boycotted it on TV to show solidarity.  Not that I would have been able to watch the Oscars even if I'd wanted to as I don't have a Sky subscription.  Plus, I think that awards are all a waste of time and consequently pay little attention to them.  So I missed seeing Leonardo Di Caprio accepting the Best Actor gong in black face as part of the Academy's attempt to promote diversity.  I also missed the bit where, in protest at not winning Best Actress, Charlotte Rampling revealed that she was actually black and had had to spend the last forty years passing as white, as it was the only way to get lead roles in racist Hollywood.  Meanwhile, Mark Rylance revealed that 'he' was actually a woman, forced to pose as male to get the best roles, whilst Kate Winslet whipped out 'her' penis, protesting that the rise of feminism had forced 'her' to go into drag in order to get lead roles.

Whilst I have a lot of sympathy for those protesting at the Academy Awards' lack of diversity - popular culture surely should, to some degree, reflect the society which consumes it - I can't help but wonder why it has taken them this long to realise that the Oscars are not representative.  Or that Hollywood isn't representative of 'real' life, for that matter.  Which shouldn't be surprising, as it was built on the Studio system and those studios were established and run by people who were themselves hardly representative of the audiences they were making movies for.  My biggest problem with this year's protests at the lack of diversity in the Academy Awards' nominations is that those artists leading the charge are not themselves truly representative of the groups they claim are being discriminated against.  Sure, Will Smith, for instance, might be black, but in truth he's also and, I'd argue, predominantly part of an over-privileged elite of hugely wealth movie stars, and has as much in common with the average black person as Leonardo Di Caprio has with the average white guy on the street. Just like Hollywood itself, the whole 'debate' seems remote from actual reality.  Besides, since when did anyone other than Hollywood's pampered elite think that the Oscars had any relevancy whatsoever?

Of course, the real question here is whether Hollywood is actually racist.  Well, certainly in the past, it could be argued that it was.   Although, in reality, in its depiction (or non-depiction) of various minorities in the thirties and forties (and even the fifties and sixties)  t was merely reflecting the prevalent social attitudes of the day.  Ultimately, Hollywood has always been guided by the bottom line: the major studios have always made films which they want to appeal to the widest possible audience so as to maximise their profits.  According to conventional wisdom, this meant that the films had to be headlined by stars that this mass audience could identify with - which, in practice, meant white Anglo Saxon middle class types.  These, predominantly white, audiences, the thinking went, wouldn't be able to identify with black leads.  When black actors did break through and prove to be 'box office' to general audiences, they were treated as aberrations: from Sidney Potier to Will Smith, they were explained as unusually charasmatic individuals who were exceptions to the rule.  Black actors in general could only headline 'black' movies aimed at black audiences.  Except that the best Blaxploitation movies appealed to audiences across racial lines.  Once again, there were written off as an aberration - an exploitation phenomenon which didn't apply to mainstream movies.  And that's the problem: despite all the evidence to the contrary, the Hollywood establishment still think that cinema audiences are essentially white and incapable of identifying with black actors - it's all about the box office rather than straightforward racism.  It's also completely wrong - most audiences are less concerned with the ethnicity of the leads they are watching than they are with their acting ability, screen presence and charisma.  But what do I know?  I've never made a feature film - I've just watched a lot of them and know that the race, creed and colour of the performers has p[retty much nothing to do with my enjoyment of them.  


Friday, February 26, 2016

Monkey Talk

It turns out that even I have limits when it comes to exploring the world of schlock movies, as I found last week, there are some things even a seasoned purveyor of cinema's underbelly finds impossible to sit through.  Now, I've watched a surprising number of the films on the so-called 'video nasties' list of films once rejected by the BBFC for home video release, (most of them weren't nasty at all), I've viewed some pretty explicit porn movies, not to mention countless low rent exploitation movies covering a variety of genres.  Yet none of them drove me to abandon my viewing after barely half an hour.  That accolade goes to 1986's King Kong Lives, the unnecessary and barely remembered sequel to Dino di Laurentis' 1976 remake of King Kong.  The 1976 film itself is much maligned - OK, the fact that King is mainly a man in a monkey suit id a huge disappointment, as are some of the miniatures work, plus, the shifts between location shots and obvious studio exteriors are jarring, but it has a great cast, photography and a John Barry musical score.  Best of all, it has a surprisingly good script, which wittily updates the original to satirical effect, incorporating environmental and feminist themes. 

Despite its shortcomings, the 1976 King Kong made a lot of money, so, ten years later di Lauentis decided to make a sequel, with director John Guillerman, but none of the original cast, returning.  The story is ludicrous: Kong survived the fall from the Twin Towers, but his heart was irreparably damaged - but a team of crack scientists in Atlanta (where the giant ape has been kept comatose for ten years - have developed a giant artificial heart for him.  The only problem is that they don't have any giant ape blood for the transfusion he'll need during the operation to replace his heart.  Fortuitously, an explorer in Borneo captures another giant ape, this time a female, and brings her back to the US.  The operation goes ahead, (using giant surgical instruments, obviously) and, well, you can guess the rest: lots of the usual monkey mayhem.  As before, the giant apes are portrayed by men in monkey suits.  But none of this lunacy was what made me abandon my attempts to watch it. 

To backtrack somewhat, the reason I was watching it was that last Friday I had come home from work to find the 1976 King Kong playing on Film Four (well, Film Four Plus One, to be accurate).  Having watched it through to the end, I felt I was in need of a further giant monkey mayhem.  So, what could be more logical than to see if the sequel - which I've (still) never seen in its entirety - had been uploaded to You Tube.  Amazingly, it had.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be a Russian language version.  Which, ordinarily, wouldn't have been a problem - I've watched many films in languages I don't speak, with certain types of movie you don't need the details of the dialogue, just getting the jist of it is enough to follow what's going on.  The trouble was that this print of King Kong Lives hadn't been dubbed into Russian.  Oh no, nothing so sophisticated.  Instead, it feature two voice artists, one male, the other female, simply speaking the lines of each character, as appropriate in gender terms, over the top of the English language dialogue.  The result was an appalling cacophony in which you could, frustratingly, hear snatches of the original dialogue before it was drowned out by Russian spoken in a dull monotone.  It was so distracting that I just couldn't focus on the rest of the action and, in frustration, I gave up on it after half an hour.  So, there you have it: extreme sex, violence, gore, poverty row budgets, none of them bother me, but start talking over a giant ape movie in Russian and I just can't take it.    


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Not Tony Blackburn!

The most surprising thing about the BBC's alleged sacking of Tony Blackburn was learning that he still worked for them.  I'd just assumed that he'd been pensioned off to some local radio station which played wall-to-wall golden oldies.  I'm still trying to figure out exactly why Blackburn was 'sacked', though.  It all seems to come down to the fact that he denies ever having been interviewed by BBC officials in 1971 over some allegations made by a teenage girl, (who subsequently committed suicide after the News of the World claimed that it had obtained her diary and was going to publish it and all the salacious details of her alleged affair with an unnamed DJ).  Despite there apparently being documentary evidence of these interviews, Blackburn is adamant they never happened, denying that this is a lapse of memory.  Consequently, BBC management have decided that that this proves that he failed to co-operate into the enquiry into the activities of Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall when they were employed by the BBC, and that this, in turn, demonstrates that his conduct has failed to meet the standards contractually required of him.  Which seems a bit flimsy, I have to say.  Although he might not think that it is a memory lapse, it could well be - there have been several occasions when I've been convinced that some conversation or event that someone else remembers never happened.  Even when confronted with concrete evidence that these things had happened, I still had no recollection of them.

I have to say that I have a certain degree of respect for Tony Blackburn, who, up till now, has been one of radio's great survivors.  I remember when he was in his first flush of fame on Radio One back in the early seventies - he wasn't considered cool or trendy even then, yet had huge listening figures.  Perhaps it is the very fact that Blackburn has never been 'with it' or 'down with the youth' which has kept him in the business for so long - far more cringe worthy than a non-trendy radio DJ is one desperately trying to be 'whacky', 'crazy' and 'with it'.  Blackburn has always clearly known that he isn't 'with it' and has succeeded in using that as a strength.  He survived everything and, until now, seemed to have survived the toxic fall out from the Savile affair, which tainted so many of his seventies showbiz contemporaries.  Ironically though, it seems that the pretext being used to finally oust him from the airwaves is actually in regard to an incident of which he was cleared of having any connection to over forty years ago.  But these days it seems that employers need only the slightest pretext to get rid of employees they don't like - thanks to the gradual erosion of workers' rights and employment protections over the years.  And nobody, it seems, is immune from such treatment.  not even Tony Blackburn.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Dross of the Dross

So, to continue yesterday's theme - have you seen those members of the cabinet supporting the 'Out' campaign for June's referendum on the UK's membership of the EU?  Talk about the dross of the dross!  I mean, really, when the best you can muster are the likes of Grayling (worst Justice Secretary ever), the appalling Iain Duncan Smith and bonkers current Justice Secretary Michael Gove, then you know that the 'Out' campaign is intellectually impoverished.  But the very fact that they are allowed to, in effect campaign against the government's official policy on the referendum whilst still serving in the cabinet, is another demonstration of David Cameron's weakness as Prime Minister.  A strong Premier would make it clear that supporting the 'Out' campaign is incompatible with continuing to serve in cabinet (or as a junior minister, for that matter), as it clearly undermines the principle of collective responsibility on the part of the cabinet.  Faced with such an ultimatum, I'm sure that we'd find that the commitment to leave the EU wasn't actually that strong in many of them.

Mind you, I suspect that most of the right-wing shits supporting the 'Out' campaign aren't fundamentally interested in withdrawing from the EU out of a sincere belief that the UK would be economically better off, or that it would protect the UK's sovereignty.  In truth, it has more to do with trying to undermine the Human Rights Act and remove the UK's commitment to the 'Social Chapter', which guarantees many workers rights and working conditions.  That's right, all the stuff that the right likes to dismiss as 'red tape' and claim is 'holding back' British industry.  Without all this health and safety nonsense imposed by Brussels, they claim, British workplaces would magically become more efficient and productive.  Or more exploitative of workers, some of us might say.  The thing is that in recent years we've had enough examples of what happens when you abolish health and safety in the workplace - just look at all those Asian sweatshops which have burned down killing hundreds of workers.  Yeah, that 'red tape' is a killer, isn't it?  But, to return to the point, this bunch of reactionary brigands see leaving the EU as an opportunity to pursue their various political hobby horses, from rolling back workers rights to reintroducing the death penalty.  Which is why, despite the EU having become something of a vehicle for neo-liberal economics in recent times, I'd rather support the 'In' campaign as staying a member at least means that we won't be entirely at the mercy of these right-wing bastards in order to preserve our basic rights.

(OK, I promise to try and stay away from politics in general and the EU referendum in particular for a while - for the sake of my blood pressure, if nothing else).


Monday, February 22, 2016

The Buffoon Show

Does anyone actually give a flying fuck what Boris Johnson thinks about Europe, or anything else for that matter?  Other than the media, that is, who treated his decision to back the 'Out' camp in the forthcoming, entirely unnecessary, In/Out EU referendum as some kind of earth shattering national event, interrupting scheduled TV programming with a newsflash.  Anyone would have thought that we were going to hear the profound thoughts of some leading thinker, considered so intellectual that the entire nation hangs on his every word, eagerly anticipating his next iteration, as it will shape the way they think on the most important issues of the day.  In the event, all we got was some fat over privileged buffoon rambling on in an incoherent mumble - I eventually gathered that what he was trying to say was that he was going to campaign for Britain to leave the EU.  Which means, of course, that the the 'Out' campaign is now being headlined by Nigel Farage, George Galloway and Boris Johnson - three individuals who, collectively, encapsulate what's wrong with contemporary British politics.

All three of these unspeakable characters have, at one time or another, been hailed by various parts of the media as 'populist' politicians, who somehow represent the views and interests of 'real' people better than 'mainstream' politicians.  Except, of course, that none of them are: Farage is a former commodities dealer, Galloway is a confidante of highly dubious Middle Eastern leaders and former leaders, whilst Johnson is an over-ambitious wealthy Old Etonian adulterer and sinister right wing cunt.  His decision to back the 'Out' campaign is pure political expediency: it allows him to take a position which is distinct from that of David Cameron.  Which is important for Boris in order to differentiate himself from the Prime Minister in any future Conservative leadership election.  That's right, I'm saying that Boris Johnson, darling of the media, the 'anti-politics' politician, is prepared to gamble with Britain's economic future in order to further his own political ambitions.  Not that you'll read that in the press or hear it in any TV commentary, because, as ever, Boris is given an easy ride - after all, he's the peoples' favourite, isn't he?  Well, actually I don't think that he is, really.  I think that the London-centric media greatly overestimate the rest of the nation's interest in the Mayor of London.  Indeed, they don't seem to grasp that most of the country see him as some kind of buffoon who has somehow bumbled his way into a position of authority.  They might think him mildly amusing, but are highly unlikely to pay much attention to his views on Europe, or anything else, for that matter.

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Hennessy (1975)

I remember the controversy surrounding Hennessy back in 1975: double page spreads in the tabloids chronicling every supposedly outrageous scene and general all-round condemnation.  I don't know whether it ever achieved a widespread UK release but I do know that, since 1975, it has pretty much vanished completely as far as the UK is concerned.  I'm pretty sure that it has never played on TV here and has never been given a video or DVD release.  I'm only familiar with the details of the plot thanks to a paperback novelisation of the movie I bought in a junk shop many, many years ago.  (The book gave the impression of having been written by someone who had never actually visited the UK and just had the script to work on as a guide). 

The reason for the hostility toward Hennessy in the UK was simple: it tried to use the ongoing troubles in Northern Ireland as a background for an action thriller.  Not surprisingly, with the 1974 Guildford and Birmingham pub bombings fresh in the public memory, there was little appetite in the UK for a film presenting the activities of an Irish bomber as entertainment.  Indeed, with a scenario involving an Irish demolition expert whose wife and child have been accidentally killed in a confrontation between British soldiers and Republicans in Belfast seeking revenge by trying to blow up Parliament during it's State Opening by the Queen, it must have been obvious to producers AIP that the film was going to prove contentious to British audiences.

It wasn't helped by the fact that, based on the novelisation, its grasp of the situation in Northern Ireland was overly simplistic, failing to grasp the complexities of sectarian politics and the role of British military forces in the conflict.  Instead, it opted for a fairly standard thriller format, with the titular Hennessy having to evade both the British police and the IRA, as they both try to sop him from carrying out his mission.  Despite its provocative subject matter, Hennessy does boast a decent cast, including Rod Steiger (doing one of his 'accents') in the title role and featuring the likes of Trevor Howard, Eric Porter, Richard Johnson, Lee Remick and  Peter Egan in support, (even a youngish Patrick Stewart puts in an appearance in a minor role) .  It also features Don Sharp, a pretty decent director of superior British exploitation films.  All of which indicates that the film was probably technically well made.  Nevertheless, no matter how well made the film was, its subject matter meant that, in 1975 at least, it was never going to receive a sympathetic reception in the UK.

Making an exploitation film about the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland, whilst a terror campaign linked to that conflict was ongoing on the British mainland can be viewed either as brave or foolhardy.  Perhaps if the film makers had been able to claim a serious intent, then maybe it would have been better received.  But as those makers were notorious schlock purveyors AIP, it was never going to be seen in the UK as anything other than an outrageous piece of opportunism.  Only now, with the peace process established in Northern Ireland and the various mainland bombing campaigns fading into memory, can film makers begin to use the conflict as a dramatic device, with films like the recent 1971.   It would be nice to think that, in this new, less sensitive atmosphere, when we can view the whole situation more objectively, that Hennessy might get some kind of UK home video release, so that we can at last judge it on its own merits, (or lack thereof).


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Big Dumb Distraction

It's been a tough year so far, creatively speaking.  I'm finding it extremely difficult to get started on anything - there are podcasts I haven't recorded, podcasts I have recorded but can't find the motivation to edit together, a film from last June I still haven't edited together, films to be reviewed - the list is endless.  As for The Sleaze, I've been resorting to rehashing old story ideas all too often in order to keep things going there.  I really don't know what the problem is - it isn't a case of not having new story ideas, it's just that I can't find the energy or inclination to actually write them.  In fact, I seem to be doing everything possible to distract myself from creating anything new.  Take yesterday evening, for example: instead of writing a story, I found myself watching, of all things, White House Down on ITV2.  At first, I told myself, I was only watching the beginning to ascertain whether it was the White House under attack movie starring Gerard Butler, or the one with Channing Tatum.  It turned out to be the latter.  But having determined this fact, I kept on watching it.  Disturbingly, I actually quite enjoyed the film.

Make no mistake, by no reasonable critical standard can it be said that White House Down is a good movie.  It is poorly plotted, with often diabolical dialogue and thin performances from most of the principal stars.  Moreover, its scenario is far too complicated with weak exposition, frequently leaving the viewer adrift without a compass, wondering what the Hell is happening and where it is all going.  These problems are aggravated by some choppy editing which seems to have removed several scenes which might have provided some explanation for some of the more obscure plot points.  In short, it is a big dumb action movie and, as such, delivers the main content such films require: lots of frenetic action involving unbelievable fist fights, frenzied shoot outs in which more ammunition than was used in the whole of World War Two is expended in two minutes and lots and lots of explosions. (If I have one criticism of the action sequences, it is that, in common with many other contemporary action films, it overuses CGI effects which, to me at least, rarely look entirely convincing).   Consequently, it provided the perfect distraction from trying to do anything intellectually tasking.

However, I did find my mind wandering a few times, not to the story I was supposedly writing, but to that TV commercial for Money Supermarket - you know, the 'Big Bad Wolf' one with the bodyguard doing that dance.  I just kept thinking that if only Jamie Foxx's President Sawyer had had a bodyguard like that, the film could have culminated with a dance off between said bodyguard and James Woods' villain, with Woods clutching his groin as be threw some shapes.  (I actually can't think of a more apt dance move for James Woods, who has portrayed some of the sleaziest cinematic characters ever seen, than clutching his groin).  It might have helped distinguish the film from Olympus Has Fallen in the minds of cinema goers and thereby improved its box office performance.  But, to get back to my original point, I'm hoping to shake off my creative torpor by actually editing together the various segments of a podcast that I recorded a couple of weeks ago over the weekend, before preparing a new story for The Sleaze next week.  Unless some more big dumb distractions come along, that is.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Channel Surfing

You know you are getting a raw deal when someone spends inordinate amounts of time telling you how good it is and how it is so much better than the previous arrangements.  So when the BBC keeps telling us how much better it is for us the viewers now that BBC 3 has 'moved online', I know that it is actually a crock of shit.  For one thing, what 'moved online' actually means is that a fully functioning free-to-air TV channel has been reduced to a website. A website, incidentally, which already existed as part of the BBC's web real estate. So it hasn't 'moved' anywhere,  It's been shut down as part of the BBC's ongoing kow-towing to the Tory government.  But 'moved online' sounds better than 'shut down' when trying to sell such a retrograde move to licence fee payers.  Now, I'm aware that I fall well outside of the demographic that BBC 3 is meant to serve, but I've never believed in the strange BBC concept that TV and radio channels and their content can be defined by the age of viewers and listeners.  Consequently, I've often found interesting programmes there aimed at minority audiences.

Which brings me to my real problem with the channel 'moving online' - I discovered these programmes whilst channel-hopping.  Indeed, I've found many interesting programmes on a whole raft of channels I'd never normally watch and whose schedules I'd never look at, whilst surfing my way around Freeview desperatly trying to find something to watch.  That's one of the great pleasures of conventional TV, flicking through the channels until something you see catches your attention and you find yourself flicking back to it and watching it.  More often than not, it is something you'd never normally watch: the number of old movies I've stumbled across in this way is huge, for instance.  But it isn't just films, I've discovered for myself all manner of sitcoms, obscure dramas, offbeat documentaries and assorted types of trash TV in this way.  But once you start 'moving online', this facility is lost.  I'm far less likely to bother going to a website and randomly looking at uploaded videos there in the hope of finding something interesting, than I am to alight on a channel by chance and find something to watch.  I'm sure I'm not the only person who does this.  In fact.I#m convinced that this process of 'discovery' is how most people find the stuff which becomes their favourites.  But there are corporate forces out there who seem determined to try and destroy what they disaparagingly refer to as 'conventional linear TV channels', instead believing that 'on demand' viewing is the future.  I think they are wrong.  Very wrong.  Without this process of random discovery by channel hopping, the most interesting programmes will simply never find an audience.  Hell, I know that, in their eyes, I'm a dinosaur, but I like conventional linear TV schedules where you can just, sort of, bump into good stuff unexpectedly.  But, clearly, the powers that be don't like this, as they want us all to be watching whatever they've the new big 'thing' is, rather than discovering stuff for ourselves. 


Monday, February 15, 2016

Love, Inconveniently

So, a while ago I was watching something on TV - I can't remember what it was, it could have been a medical drama or a soap opera, but that's not important, really - when one character asked: "Where would we be without love?"  I found myself answering: "Content, probably".  Which might seem a strange thing to say, (particularly as there was nobody else present at the time, so I was essentially having conversation with some on TV, moreover, I'm pretty sure that their question was rhetorical, anyway).  I mean, we're all conditioned to react positively to mentions of 'love' in the media, as it is usually presented as the solution to, well, everything and its achievement the ultimate aim of all sentient beings.  Obviously, I had to ask myself if there was something wrong with me for having such a dissenting reaction - had I been traumatised so badly by past experiences that I now had a reflexively negative reaction to any mention of 'love' as a positive force?

Well, not quite.  The fact is that when I look back at all the times I've been in love - or thought that I was in love - I can see the the turmoil it caused me at the time.  Not just emotional turmoil, although that was always bad enough, but also the way in which my life in general was turned upside down in attempts to accommodate someone else.  Established routines would be thrown out of the window in order to schedule assignations and the like.  Now, some would say that all of those things are part of the exhilaration of being in love.  Personally, I just found it exhausting.  I'll admit it, I'm a creature of habit.  I'm selfish.  I don't like my life being disrupted.  None of which is to say that I'm 'anti-love', (which is why I didn't post this yesterday, on Valentine's Day - actually, that's not really true, I didn't post it then because it was a Sunday and I generally can't be arsed to post at the weekend) - I'm sure that there are lots of people who enjoy all that turmoil, and good luck to them.  But I have to say that since I made my only resolution every New Year to stop falling in love, I've felt more content than I have since I was a child.  Which isn't to say that I've given up entirely on the notion of love, I just want it to be as convenient and orderly as possible.  Perhaps I can schedule it in for some time in the Spring of 2017?  (In the afternoon - I'm not a morning person).


Friday, February 12, 2016

Peur Sur La Ville (1975)

A highly entertaining policier, clearly inspired by Dirty Harry, Peur Sur La Ville is, as far as I can tell, the movie which set Jean Paul Belmondo off on his mid-career diversion into playing tough rogue cops and secret agents. Like Dirty Harry, the film sees Belmondo's unorthodox Paris homicide detective on the trail of a serial killer.  The killer, who calls himself Minos and leaves a fragment of a photograph of himself at the scenes of his crimes, is busy targeting women he considers to have behaved immorally in some way.  As in the US film, there are various sub-plots and diversions only peripherally related to the main plot.  The most significant of these is Belmondo's continued pursuit of a fugitive cop-killing bank robber he'd previously tangled with - this culminates in an extended chase sequence on the Paris Metro.  Unfortunately, in order to pursue the robber onto the Metro, Belmondo has to break off his pursuit of Minos, who escapes to kill again, resulting in the detective facing allegations that he put settling a personal vendetta ahead of catching a serial killer.

Central to the film's plot is the fact that Belmondo's character isn't actually a homicide cop at all - he's been temporarily transferred there from the robbery squad after the earlier encounter with the bank robber.  Consequently, his approach to the Minos investigation is far less intellectual than that of his colleagues, as he tries to apply the more physical approach he employed on the robbery detail.  The focus of the latter part of the film is his attempts to apply a more methodical approach to identify the killer, before he wraps up the case in true Belmondo fashion with an action orientated climax which sees the detective being lowered from a helicopter to crash through a plate glass window and engage in a furious fist fight with Minos.

 Belmondo is as charismatic as ever in a movie which combines suspense with some superbly orchestrated action sequences - most of which feature the star performing his own stunts.  Indeed, the middle section of the film sees Belmondo switching from one extended and exhausting chase sequence to another, firstly chasing Minos across Paris' rooftops, before breaking off the pursuit to instead chase his bank robbing nemesis through the Metro.  Obviously, credibility isn't Peur Sur La Ville's strong point, but in the hands of director Henri Verneuil, (a frequent collaborator with Belmondo), it is an extremely well made and exciting cop movie, which can easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its US equivalents.  The film's well worth a look, with the Paris locations and French police background making a refreshing change the big city US locations usually featured in this sort of film.  Moreover, unlike his US equivalents, who are generally portrayed as pursuing some political agenda to achieve 'real' justice in the face of the 'liberal' law enforcement establishment, Belmondo's cop is an essentially amoral force, simply trying to achieve results by any means necessary.

Released in several different English language editionsunder various titles, the original French cut of Peur Sur La Ville is currently available on DVD, complete with an English language soundtrack.  The English dubbing is of a reasonable standard, although Belmondo has a different dubbing artist than on most of his later films, which took a little while for me to get used to.  That said, at least his English language 'voice' here sounds reasonably appropriate to the actor and the character he is playing, unlike many others I've encountered on the English language versions of foreign films. 


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ten Years Ago Today (or Thereabouts)

You know what?  I've been doing this for ten years.  That's right, ten years of Sleaze Diary.  I only realised this the other day, when I noticed that the oldest archive entry is for February 2006.  To be fair, as I recall the posts for that month were effectively test posts before the blog went live - I don't think that I made it public until March 2006.  Nevertheless, it's a long time to be doing this and I sometimes wonder why I do keep on going.  I started this blog back in the days when The Sleaze was still a static site and adding a new story or article took almost as long as writing the item.  I decided that I needed a more immediate form of publishing to supplement the main site, somewhere I could react immediately to events in the real world and record my thoughts and ideas in real time.  Indeed, Sleaze Diary still has the description 'Editorial Blog of The Sleaze', even though it has drifted away from that original format over the years.  In recent years it has become a vehicle for my various pop culture obsessions, not to mention my first steps in podcasting (before I joined the Overnightscape Underground, which is where my new audio stuff now appears).  It's also been a place where I've worked through my various emotional traumas of the past decade.

But ten years of Sleaze Diary isn't the only anniversary being celebrated this month.  Apart from my birthday in a couple of weeks' time, this Monday it will be forty five years since we went decimal.  That's right,the UK's decimal currency will officially be middle aged.  Interestingly, although I was at school before decimalisation, I have no recollection of actually using the old monetary system - in anticipation of the change, at school we were taught nothing but the decimal system, even though it would be a couple of years before its introduction.  Consequently, I could never understand the nostalgia amongst my elders for the old system, as the decimal system seemed so simple and logical compared to the old one of twelve pennies to a shilling and twenty shillings to a pound.  Apart from the use of two different bases withing one currency (twelve and twenty) - three if you include guineas (twenty one shillings to a guinea: a base of seven) - it implied that the people who invented it had twelve fingers.  It was the same with the whole base twelve Imperial system of measurement, (although, interestingly, I still use feet and inches rather than metres and centimetres), which just seemed to smack of the arrogance of Empire: the fact that our ancestors had twelve fingers proved their superiority over all those ten fingered natives.  Not that I wasn't aware of the old system - I'd seen the old coins and goods in shops priced in pounds, shillings and pence.  Moreover, the old shilling and two shilling coins (which were identical in size to the original decimal five and ten pence pieces, respectively), lingered in circulation until at least the 1990s.  Even the old sixpence was legal tender until 1980, or so.  Anyway, it doesn't seem possible that it is forty five years since the new money came in, just like it seem possible that it is ten years since I started this blog.  Clearly, time really does fly when you are having fun.


Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Good Days and Bad Days

So, I have good days and bad days, but most are just mediocre.  If you've ever had the misfortune to have suffered from clinical depression, you'll recognise the pattern.  Long after the worst episodes are behind you, the low level depression lingers, taking the form of broken sleep patterns, lethargy, random feelings of despair and general listlessness.  Their severity waxes and wanes, often for no discernible reason.  As I've mentioned before, I try to maintain a 'steady state', avoiding emotional highs and lows - you learn never to get too excited by anything as that raises expectations which will likely not be fulfilled and, conversely, to try not to to get involved in anything which might drag your mood down.  Generally speaking, this works pretty well, although people who don't know you well (everyone I work with and most of the rest of the world) will inevitably assume that you are some kind of emotionless Vulcan, (which is fine by me, as Mr Spock was always one of my heroes).  Consequently, you also learn to hide behind a  mask, a front you put up for the outside world through which you simulate the expected emotional responses to various situations.

All of which sounds pretty grim - the fact is that most of the time such coping strategies operate only in the background.  I only retreat behind my defences when I feel I'm slipping into a stressful period.  Which is how I feel right now.  The low level depression symptoms are surfacing more frequently as are the bad days.  The fact is, though, that I know the source of my feelings of despair: work.  Increasingly, I feel, I'm being forced into impossible positions, with unreasonable demands being put on my time, my health and safety compromised and the very principles of the public service ethos I believe in, being undermined.  It's got to the stage where I no longer have any belief in the utility of what I do, nor any respect for the people in charge.  All of which is very stressful, not to mention dispiriting.  I know that until I move on from this job, the low level depression symptoms will keep coming back.  Sure, I know that in a couple of week's time I will have convinced myself that things aren't so bad and I'll feel better, but it will only be a matter of time before something happens that triggers the depressive cycle again.  So, the answer is obvious, isn't it?  Change jobs.  But that's easier said than done, with my age and the general economic situation against me.  Plus, I'm a terrible procrastinator, forever convincing myself that the relative security of a bad job is better than the uncertainty of unemployment or a hypothetical unknown future job.  However, I'm slowly but surely nudging myself toward an exit from my current employment.  I'm formulating plans.  Of course, formulating is one thing, actually implementing them is another.  But I'm edging closer.   


Monday, February 08, 2016

Look Back in Discomfort

Films offer a fascinating window into the past.  Not just in terms of the fashions people were wearing, or the lifestyles of an earlier era or even the paraphernalia of the past, such as cars and kitchen utensils.  They also offer us an insight into changing public attitudes to a range of ideas, activities and opinions.  Often they portray their protagonists participating in activities which were then considered acceptable, but which would now make them a villain if they were shown doing the same thing in a contemporary film.  This was certainly the situation with regard to an old British adventure movie I was watching over the weekend.  Hell Below Zero (1954) was one of a pair of action films that Alan Ladd made in the UK for Warwick Films, (owned by Irving Allen and a pre-James Bond Albert R Broccoli), the other being the 1953 war movie The Red Beret.  As the title implies, most of the film's action takes place in Antarctica as Ladd's character attempts to get to the bottom of what really happened to the captain of the factory ship of a whaling fleet, who has apparently vanished and is presumed to have fallen overboard to his death.  Whilst most of the movie's action is pretty routine, it is this whaling background which seems startling to contemporary eyes.

For one thing, it is quite a jolt to be reminded that as late as the mid fifties, there were still fleets of whalers roaming the planet's oceans, decimating the whale population.  Equally jarring is the fact that the film presents these activities quite uncritically.  Indeed, at the time that it was made few, if any, people challenged the existence of the whaling industry - which was still huge - or the fact that so many everyday consumer products were produced using materials sourced from whales.  The scenes of whales being hunted and killed with explosive tipped harpoons, before being sliced up on the factory ship, which are presented in such a matter of fact fashion in Hell Below Zero now seem appalling.  Even worse, from the point of view of the contemporary viewer, is that that the whalers themselves are presented as predominantly sympathetic characters and Ladd himself, the film's undisputed hero of the piece, is seen happily harpooning whales.  All of which factors make Hell Below Zero a difficult watch for many modern viewers - even when one tries to put what's happening on the screen into a proper historical perspective, (as I always try to do with older movies), parts of the film make for uncomfortable viewing.  That said, whether we like it or not, within living memory there was a whole industry based around the hunting of whales - an industry upon which the livelihoods of thousands of people depended.  And those people weren't villains, no matter how much we might be tempted to characterise them as such, they were just trying to earn a living.  Times change, attitudes change, but film preserves to posterity a snap shot of those attitudes at any given time.


Friday, February 05, 2016

Doom and Gloom in the Lounge Bar

I feel I need to clarify something from the previous post, when I was moaning about You Tube recommending breast feeding videos to me: I have nothing at all against women breast feeding in public places.  Obviously, breast feeding is the most natural thing in the world and it should be much easier for women to do it in public without being ogled by idiots or complained about by morons.  I just don't want to see videos about it - it isn't my 'thing'.  I'm well aware that there are men out there for whom watching women breast feed their babies is a sexual fetish, but I'm not amongst them.  I'm afraid that my fetishes are boringly conventional.  Right, now that's out of the way, onto today's business: people who drag the mood down in pubs.  No, I'm not talking about regular pub bores, (although one of the culprits I have in mind is probably the most boring man in the world), but the type of people who not only go to the pub to have depressing conversations with each other, but who also conduct such conversations so loudly that the entire pub can hear them, pulling the whole mood down.

This isn't a new phenomena.  I remember that, many years ago, when I first stated drinking in my local, there were these two people, a man and a woman, who used to turn up and have very dull and loud conversations, which would always culminate in the bloke, (they weren't married or in a relationship, as far as I could gather, but just friends), drifting off into a dirge about his failed relationships, his inadequacies and how he didn't deserve to be happy.  All of which inevitably put a downer on everyone's evening.   I don't know whatever happened to them - perhaps he topped himself, or finally found true happiness, who knows - but eventually they must have stopped coming in, although I can't say I noticed exactly when, I was just relieved not to have to put up with the cloud of depression they brought with them.  In recent months, however, there seems to have been a resurgence in these types of downers coming into my local. Why, I don't know - maybe other pubs have gotten fed up with them driving trade away and barred them.  Whatever the reasons, they seem to be flocking into the lounge bar of my local pub.

Worst offender is, undoubtedly, the aforementioned world's most boring man, who spends is time blocking the bar whilst attempting to have excruciatingly disjointed and dull conversations with the bar staff.  Even after he's had his last pint, he still loiters, bringing the mood down with his mumblings.  Everybody tries desperately to avoid making eye contact in case he takes that as an invitation to talk to them - you can feel the relief when he finally leaves.  Then there are these two who appear to be a reincarnation of the previous depressing couple.  This time they are, as far as I can discern, brother and sister and their every conversation degenerates into an argument about family.  A conversation conducted so loudly that that everyone can't help but hear them.  Finally, there are the ad hoc groups of boring and depressing bastards which now seem to form spontaneously on quite nights - like last night when I found myself subjected to the collective misery of a trio of these individuals who decided to swap depressing world views.  One of them, I've known for some years, but yesterday she revealed a side pf herself I'd never before encountered: bemoaning what a terrible person she was and how her life was totally shit.  She was joined by another pair that I didn't know, one of whom was one of those people for whom life has clearly been one trial after another, with the world conspiring against them to make their life a misery.  Jesus Christ!  All I'd wanted was a couple of quiet pints!  As their loud lamenting of the unfairness of life went on, I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that I spend a lot of my working days dealing with people who really are at the bottom getting dumped on by life - and they don't complain anything like as much as this lot!

But really, what is wrong with people?  These days, if they aren't depressing everyone else in the pub with their negative waves, they seem to want to start arguments with you under the pretext of having a 'conversation'.  Personally, I go to the pub for a bit of relaxing social drinking - a few conversations about football over a couple of pints, or a bit of a laugh with friends and acquaintances. And on a good night, that's what I get.  But these boring and depressing bastards are making that more and more difficult.  Lighten up and try going to a therapist instead of the pub.  


Thursday, February 04, 2016

Boob Tube?

Just how does You Tube come up with those 'Recently Uploaded Recommended For You' videos you see listed when you log in?  Obviously, I know that they are produced by an algorithm, but my question is, what data are they feeding into it to produce these results?  I've always assumed that the recommendations are somehow based upon the videos you've most recently and most frequently viewed, taking into account your whole viewing history, to come up with something vaguely relevant to your interests.  So, you can imagine my surprise when, earlier this evening, I found amongst the recommendations from recently uploaded videos, 'Hot and Rainy Afternoon Breastfeeding Outside', 'How to Express Breast Milk by Hand' and something called 'Daddyhunt: The Serial'.  Quite where all this emphasis upon babies, let alone breast feeding, originates from, I cannot fathom.  A quick check on my viewing history confirmed that the most recent things I'd been looking at were various clips from Jean Paul Belmondo films and several old horror movie trailers.  Certainly nothing to do with breast feeding or babies.

The only thing I could see which was in any way related was the trailer from the seventies Antony Balch movie Secrets of Sex.  Oh, and I suppose that rewatching the trailer from seventies sex comedy Outer Touch did involve looking at some bared breasts, although no breast feeding was involved.  As an experiment, I tried watching the opening and closing titles of Big Wednesday, to see if this might affect the recommended recent videos.  It did.  The breast milk expressing video, (which, although I didn't watch it, struck me as simply being an excuse to watch a woman having her breasts groped), vanished in favour of a Dr Who video featuring Jon Pertwee.  Again, the logic escapes me.  Now, I know that this all seems very trivial, after all, haven't we all been subject to the vagaries of online algorithms?  Like that time you looked at some Jeremy Clarkson books on Amazon, only to find that they were now recommending you buy Mein Kampf?  (Yeah, I know, I stole that from Stewart Lee, but it still amuses me).  But these video recommendations are all part of a wider and very worrying trend. Not only is You Tube shoving breastfeeding and fatherhood in my face, but my email spam folder is constantly full of stuff offering to hook me up with MILFs and offering me discounts on disposable nappies.  Damn it, even ebay keeps sending me emails recommending I look at various baby products.  I wouldn't mind, but the last things I bought on ebay were a new set of blades for my electric razor and replacement mains charger for this laptop.  What have they got to do with babies?

So, just why does the web keep bombarding me with all this baby-related stuff?  I'm a happily single and childless man who has no affinity with babies and no desire to have children of my own.  Is it fate trying to tell me something?  Because if it is, I'm failing completely to understand what it is.  Just stop with the baby stuff, OK?


Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Coup or Cobblers?

So, I was reading this article in The Guardian the other day about how the UK military might react if a Corbyn-led Labour government was elected and went through with abolishing the UK's so called independent nuclear deterrent.  There was all the usual speculation about military coups and the like, (believe me, there are a scary number of military types who have little regard for the democratic process they supposedly serve and protect, particularly when they think that their interests are under threat from elected governments), if the government concerned had only a narrow majority and therefore not a proper (in the military's eyes) mandate.  As in all such articles, there was also the usual arguments as to how the military top brass might try to justify such a coup: the main 'justification' being that their oath of allegience is to the Crown not the government.  (Although, as, constitutionally, the Crown delegates most of its powers to Parliament and therefore the elected government of the day, this is utter nonsense and offers no credible defence for subverting the 'will of the people' as expressed via parliamentary elections).

What always perplexes me about such speculations is that they all centre around the idea of a hypothetical future Labour government threatening the interests (ie budget) of the military, because the left always cuts defence spending, don't they?  Actually, the reality is very different.  This Tory government, for instance, has slashed defence spending by unprecedented levels.  Military manpower is at an all time low, the Royal Navy's 'fleet' is a joke - less than twenty major surface ships - and the RAF appears to consist of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.  Joking aside, the UK's military capabilities have been severely compromised by the Tories.  Indeed, some essential capabilities, such as long range maritime reconnassaince (essential to the protection of the Navy's Trident SSBNs), no longer exist and we instead have to rely upon the French and Canadians to track Russian submarines making incursions in UK territorial waters.  Compare all of that to the last Labour government, which commissioned all manner of major military projects from aircraft carriers to renewing the Nimrod fleet.  It's a pattern repeated over and over historically, with Tory governments frequently making far bigger cuts to military budgets than Labour administrations.  So, why isn't there talk of military coups to unseat Cameron in order to protect the nation's defences?  Could it be because all such talk of military coups bollocks?   Could it be that no matter how much some top brass might itch to seize power, they know that there would be no popular support for deposing an elected government?

Besides, with the military now a shadow of its former self thanks to the Tories, they just don't have the resources to mount a coup.  Maybe that's why Cameron and his cohorts have made these cuts: in order to protect themselves from a coup - they realised early on that they were so shit that there was every possibility that the electorate might just support a military coup to depose them.  On a brighter note, the Tory cuts also mean that the military as so weakened that they probably couldn't resist any kind of popular uprising against the government.  So, it looks like the revolution is back on! 

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Monday, February 01, 2016

Dropping Like Flies

They're dropping like flies, aren't they?  The year is barely a month old and the celebrity casualty list for 2016 is already mounting.  It's interesting, though, how some celebrity deaths 'crowd out' others: whilst the media was busy reeling with shock from the announcement of Sir Terry Wogan's death yesterday, for instance, no mention was made of the passing of superlative character actor Frank Finlay.  Whilst I know that the latter was no longer a household name hadn't been in the public eye for some years, it seems a pity that his death went largely unnoticed, bearing in mind his huge contribution to British popular culture both on film and TV.  Thanks to their frequent TV outings, there surely can be few viewers who haven't seen his portrayal of Porthos in Richard Lester's Three Musketeers, Four Musketeers and Return of the Musketeers, whilst his performances in Bouquet of Barbed Wire and Casanova made him a huge star on seventies TV.  Not only that, but he was Inspector Lestrade not once, but twice - both times, interestingly in movies pitting Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper: Study in Terror and Murder By Decree.  Oh, and he was in seminal big budget schlock movie Lifeforce, which should, if nothing else, ensure that he has some kind of lasting cult status.

None of which is to imply that the the accolades and eulogies heaped upon Terry Wogan over the past couple of days have been undeserved.  He was undoubtedly a huge part of many people's lives and his genial, yet often highly subversive and sometimes surreal, banter made a massive contribution to the UK's popular culture. Certainly, I grew up with Wogan during his first stint on the Radio Two breakfast show - it was on in the house as I got ready for school and on in the car on the way to school.  As he moved into TV, his presence was all-pervasive.  He became one of those public figures that, as a child, you assume will be part of your life forever.  They'd been celebrities since before you could remember and it seemed that they always would be.  It seemed impossible that the likes of Wogan, Cilla Black or The Beatles, for instance, would ever grow old.  It certainly didn't seem possible that they were just mortal like the rest of us.  Yet now both Wogan and Cilla have gone, along with half of The Beatles, finally putting paid to my childhood belief in them as some kind of challenge to the very notion of human mortality.  In the end, despite their fame and fortune, their lives proved to be as frail and transitory as those of everyone else.  Proof, if any were needed, that, as the poet James Shirley observed, death truly is a leveller of men.