Well, here we are at the tail end of another year and convention would seem to dictate I write some kind of retrospective. But, to be frank, I really don't feel like doing that. What can I say that hasn't been said elsewhere? It's been a pretty shitty year - what else is there to say? The deaths of so many celebrities seems to have depressed many people. However, as I didn't know any of them personally, their demises weren't what cast a pall over my year. What affected me more was the death of an old friend back in March. It came as quite a blow and things never really seemed to get back on track after that. Then there was Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the US - it felt like I was on the wrong side of every argument. It was the same away from politics - at work and in my personal life, I felt like I suffered a never-ending series of defeats, with battle after battle seemingly lost. But there was a glimmer of hope toward the end of the year, when I was finally forced to call the union in over a number of issues and they actually managed to send a rep to a meeting with management, (much to the chagrin of a senior manager present at such meeting - she looked like she was sucking lemons every time the rep spoke). I remain hopeful that this intervention might yet yield long-term results.
Not that I'm thinking much about the long-term any more. Right now I'm focused on paying my mortgage off at the end of next April. Once that's done, I'll have some room for manoeuvre as far as work is concerned. The difference that being away from the increasing stress of work over Christmas has made to my health has made it clearer than ever to me that I have to do something to change my work situation. And I have to do that something soon. But whatever I do about work, it won't change the increasingly dangerous circumstances the world in general finds itself in as we head into 2017, with the extreme right on the rise and, in the case of Trump, actually in control. And yet, despite the clear and present danger to our liberties and livelihoods, the opposition seems paralysed, apparently clueless as to whatto do to combat the rise of the right. You'd think that opposing fascists would be pretty straightforward, it isn't as if we haven't done it before, after all. Ah, but the world's a more complicated place than it was in the thirties and forties, people say. It isn't black and white any more - it's all shades of grey. I'm not so sure. I was watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier earlier. Of all the Marvel characters, the Captain is the one I'm fondest of - he comes from a simpler era and maintains his belief that, no matter how complex a situation appears, there is still right and there is still wrong. The trick is to see which is which. And I'd say that right now, discerning right from wrong is the easiest it has been for decades.
Did I mention that my Christmas Day movie this year was Borsalino, the 1970 French gangster classic that finally teamed Alain Delon with Jean Paul Belmondo? Well, I hadn't seen it in years and had forgotten the way it deftly moves from the light hearted capers of the first half, when the two are establishing themselves in the Marseilles underworld, to the somewhat darker and hard edged second half, when the realise that maintaining their position is going to involve a lot of violence, before hurtling to a tragic conclusion. The first half definitely belongs to Belmondo, with his natural apptitude for comedy and roguish charm, his character hustles his way through the fringes of the underworld, preferring con tricks to guns in order to achieve his and Delon's ends. The latter, with his icy charm and imperturbable coolness, comes into his own in the second half, easily adapting to the new world of ruthless gunplay and assassinations. The whole thing is hugely entertaining and just so, well, stylish.
Having reacquainted myself with this old friend of a movie, I finall y got around to watching the 1974 sequel, Borsalino and Co. Despite the fact that the film has, if anything, even better production values than the first, it simply isn't anywhere near as much fun. In fact, itis pretty downbeat and dour. In a way, this was only to be expected, as the first film had climaxed with Belmondo being gunned down by an unseen assailant, just as he and Delon had reached the pinnacle of their success in Marseille. The sequel even opens with Belmondo's funeral and continues with Delon's attempts to identify the killer. Said killer turns out to be an Italian mobster and fascist called Volpone, who buys the police department and eventually drives Delon out of town, having destroyed both his businesses and reputation. Needless to say, Delon returns and wreaks the expected bloody vengeance upon Volpone. All of this plays out in a pretty grim manner, even Claude Bolling's jaunty theme from the first film is only heard once, when Delon returns to Marseilles, with the composer providing instead a foreboding, downbeat score for the rest of the film.
Which isn't to say that Borsalino and Co isn't a perfectly decent period gangster film in its own right - it is only when you compare it to its predecessor that it seems lacking. And what it is lacking, of course, is Belmondo and his rougish charisma. The sequel is very much Delon's film, produced, like the original, by his own production company, one gets the impression that he saw this as an opportunity to make a gangster film entirely his way, without having to share the screen with Belmondo and accommodate his rival's screen persona. Indeed, the two stars had a major falling out after the release of Borsalino, with Belmondo believing that Delon had used his pre-title producer's credit to circumvent their contractual agreement to have equal billing in the credits, and didn't work together again for more than a quarter of a century.
The thing that intrigued me most, though, about the sequel was its political sub-text, which pits Delon's gangster against fascists. The plot makes very clear that fascists are far worse than gangsters who, according to the mythology of the crime movie, keep their disputes 'in-house', only killing each other, only ripping off those who can afford to be robbed and generally benifitting Joe Public by using their ill-gotten wealth to fund things like brothels, theatres and orphanages. The fascists, by contrast, break strikes, denounce socialism, peddle drugs to all and sundry and supply guns to Franco in the Spanish Civil War. That Delon's character is opposed to fascism's main tenents is clear and, with Delon also acting as producer, it is implicit that he, himself, is also opposed to fascism. Yet, in reality, throughout his career, Delon has been dogged by allegations of links not just to organised crime, but also far right political groups. Indeed, only a few years ago he endorsed the French National Front, (from the safety of his Swiss home). All of which leaves one feeling somewhat confused as to the film's political message. In an interesting sidelight, the characters portrayed by Delon and Belmondo in the original were loosely based on two real Marseilles gangsters who, during the German occupation, happily collaborated with the Nazis, something not addressed in the film. Perhaps Borsalino and Co represented an attempt by Delon to draw a clear distiinction between his character and his historical counterpart: he might have sympathy with home grown right wingers, but he'd never collaborate with foreign fascists, (not only is Volpone Italian, but his chief henchman is German and he is seen taking orders from a high ranking German)!
I know, I was a little ill-tempered in yesterday's post. It's just that the news media tends to irritate me at this time of year. Most of the time during the festive period they can't be arsed to make any real effort to fill their pages or air time between Christmas and New Year - they just serve up endless retrospectives, 'Best of' compilations and 'Top Ten' lists of things that happened in the preceding year - yet as soon as they come across something they can ruin your Christmas with, be it murders, natural disasters or celebrity deaths, they're all over it like a rash. Mind you, I think even our shitty media are probably feeling celebrity death fatigue with Rick Parfitt, George Michael, Liz Smith, Carrie Fisher and Richard Adams all shuffling off this mortal coil in quick succession. That said, media notwithstanding, I have been feeling vaguely irritated over the past couple of days. There's no reason why I should feel that way. By choice, I've had a low key Christmas of quiet contemplation. I've kept myself to myself, avoided the rest of the human race where possible, (other people are one of my chief irritants, I find), and focused on catching up with old movies, reading PG Wodehouse and drinking beer. I've even steered clear of social media more than usual and have avoided the various online groups I'm involved with.
So, why do I feel this underlying sense of irritation, to the point that I haven't yet replied to a text from a lose friend, sent this morning, for fear that I'll come over ill-tempered? I'm damned if I know. I mean, not being at work and not having to deal with people, I feel the most relaxed I have in months - I don't feel perpetually tired or vaguely ill all the time - so I should be happy. And I was, up until the latter part of Christmas Day. Maybe it was the shock of hearing that George Michael had died. I wasn't a fan, (although I understand that he was a pretty nice bloke as celebrities go), but there's always something disturbing about someone of your generation dying suddenly - it reinforces all those other intimations of mortality you start getting as you slip into middle age. Perhaps it is a throwback to that sense that life is somehow passing me by, which I suffered from the Summer before last. Which I really shouldn't be feeling, as I've been remarkably productive since finishing work for this year: I've turned out a new story for The Sleaze, edited together my traditional Christmas film and even recorded, edited and released a new edition of 'The Sleazecast' (the latter in a record time of twelve hours - I know that sounds a lot for just half an hour of audio, but believe me, its more complex than you realise). And, after a couple of days rest, I'm still aiming to get another story written for The Sleaze and, hopefully, another 'Schlock Express' out before the year ends. So, hopefully the irritation is just a passing mood - maybe tomorrow I'll wake up feeling entirely happy and feel safe to text my friend back.
So now we know: this year it was George Michael. The downbeat story the media like to thrust upon us over the Christmas break, that is. Some years ago, of course, they hit the jackpot with that tsunami which killed all those people - that was a real festive spirit dampener. Most years the media have to be satisfied with an air crash or a horrible murder, but every so often, chance hands them something so catastrophic, tragic or devastating that they don't have to do anything to build it up or shove it in our faces. Because, before the untimely death of George Michael was announced - on Christmas Day, they just couldn't believe their luck there, I'll bet - the media had been trying to build up the usual roster of tragic accidents and murders you get around this time of year as their Christmas misery stories. But a Christmas Day fight involving a hundred youths in Woking (the only unusual thing about that was that they usually have mass brawls on a Friday rather than a Sunday) paled into insignificance against the unexpected death of a pop superstar.
Because there is nothing the news media like better than being able to put a downer on our Christmas celebrations. Now, I know that they'd just respond that they are only reporting the news, they don't make it - they can't help it if celebrities decide to die, disasters strike or killers strike over the festive period. It's just coincidence, but they're obliged to report it. Which is true to an extent. My problem is the way in which they report these things - there's an unmistakable relish with which they approach these stories when they fall over Christmas. Perhaps it is just that there is so little 'news' about at Christmas (mainly because most of the Western world is spending a couple of days just sitting at home, instead of being out starting wars, committing murders and the like), that they are glad to have anything to report- and if it is something horribly bad, then all the better. But there always seems to be something else to it - implicit is the idea that we're somehow wrong to be taking time off to do nothing but have fun and relax. So we have to be brought back down from our revelries by being reminded that all of these terrible things are still going on while we're thoughtlessly enjoying ourselves. Because doing anything but work seems, nowadays, to be seen as anti-social behaviour. By employers, at least. I speak from experience, as my desire to take some time off over the Christmas season this year was met with bafflement. Why would you want to do that - we're getting an extended weekend thanks to Christmas falling on a Sunday this tear, what more do you want, seemed to be the prevailing attitude. Well, maybe the fact that I'm stressed out and exhausted, having not been able to take any leave since the end of Summer is why I'm desperate for time off, I tried to explain. But nowadays, that just doesn't seem to be a good enough reason for taking the leave I'm contractually entitled to take.
The web's least listened to podcast gets another seasonal airing. This time around, The Sleazecast embraces the evil spirit of Christmas during this season of ill
will. Suzie Sleaze's English cousin uncovers the perils of the rogue
Santas, we meet 'The Man Who Hates Christmas' and investigate the cruel
sport of 'Santa Fighting', in which two Father Christmases fight to the
death! We also present a dire warning as to the peril posed by
possessed Christmas trees and expose the sham of Santa's Seasonal Shed. Unique
cover versions of some Christmas classics are interspersed along the
way! A miserable Christmas to one and all
Yes, it's that time of year again. Incredibly, I've been making and posting these Christmas films for six years now - and still nobody has watched them! Anyway, here's the latest, with what is, apparently, my favourite seasonal musical accompaniment. Having rewatched the previous five films today, I've been surprised by the number of times I've used this arrangement of 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' on them. The fact is that I do like it - it has a certain melancholy feel to it which reflects the nature of Christmas: it's both a time for celebration, but also a time for reflection and remembrance of absent friends. Whilst it raises all sorts of hopes, it is also a reminder of how far short we've fallen of those raised last Christmas. OK, I've depressed you all enough, time to go off and enjoy the festive spirit. Personally, I'm planning a quiet night in - with Christmas Eve falling on a Saturday, I can guarantee that the pub will be full of even more oafs than usual at this time of year. So, a Merry Christmas to you all!
I covered this one as a 'Random Movie Trailer' a couple of years ago. I thought this might be an opportune time to briefly revisit it, having finally seen the movie in full, (during the Summer, perversely). First up, it has to be said that Don't Open Till Christmas is a hugely frustrating film. It's central premise of a maniac killing people dressed as Santa Claus is simple, yet brilliant. It should make for an effective seasonally themed slasher film. Indeed, it could even have made a fair facsimilie of a giallo movie. Unfortunately, the concept's execution leaves much to be desired: a muddled script, uneven tone, poor continuity and an inconsistent style. None of which should be surprising as the film suffered from having 'too many cooks', or, in this case, directors. Credited to its star, ageing matinee idol Edmund Purdom, a long way from his brief Hollywood heyday, much of the film was actually directed by the likes of Ray Selfe and Derek Ford. The presence of these sexploitation veterans probably explains why the film can never quite make up its mind what it wants to be: veering between, police procedural, psycho thriller, sex film and horror film.
At times it feels as if sequences have been edited together randomly - an impression not helped by obvious changes of season between scenes, making it obvious that reshoots and additional sequences had to be shot after test screenings in order to plug plot holes. Some sub plots, such as the sleazy photographer and the Soho sex show, seem to have been inserted, not just to pad out the running length, but to reshape the film to make it more appealing to adult film audiences. (To be fair, though, these are some of the best scenes). Other sequences seem quite random, most notably those in the theatre, which seem merely to be an excuse for having Caroline Munro perform her latest song - she has no other role to play in the plot. The patchwork nature of the film emphasise the weakness of its script, which just doesn't know how to develop its central idea. Indeed, every time the action flags and the police investigation reaches an impasse, another Santa murder is thrown in to keep the audience interested, regardles of whether they make any sense, plot-wise, or not. Moreover, it leaves so many questions unanswered, such as how Alan Lake is able to keep on wandering into the incident room at Scotland Yard unchallenged, despite having no credentials whatsoever, (and nobody seems to bother checking his claim of being a journalist).
Despite all of these problems, Don't Open Till Christmas remains perversely enjoyable. For one thing, it is commendably sleazy, with lots of action in early eighties Soho, before it was 'tamed' and 'gentrified'. The murders themselves are suitably bizarre and are devised and filmed with a genuine relish. It can also boast of some genuinely suspenseful moments, notably the Santa being chased through what appears to be the London Dungeon. It also boasts a fantastically nihilistic ending, which leaves none of the main characters in the land of the living. The problem is that none of these elements ever seem to quite satisfactorily gel into a coherent whole. As I said, it is a hugely frustrating film - whilst watching it I was constantly thinking of how good it could of been with a better script and a single director. Nevertheless, as it stands, Don't Open Till Christmas is still well worth watching. Not a classic, to be sure, but still a zestfully nasty but enjoyable B-movie.
Thankfully, the days start getting longer now that we've put the shortest day behind us. Which is good news for those of us prone to depression - these gloomy, overcast days where darkness falls around four in the afternoon really aren't good for our mental health. I'm feeling better already. Although I suspect that has more to do with being off work until after the New Year. I spent a lot of today, my first day of freedom, in bed. It did me a power of good. I feel so much better - it's amazing how many of those aches and pains and general feeling of unwellness are down to work-related stress. I woke up today free of headaches, blocked sinuses and back pain. Another indication, if I needed one, that I really do need a change of employment. Still, I got a letter the other day informing me that the repayment half of my mortgage was now complete: I'm now paying only the interest on the half that my endowment should pay off at the end of April. If nothing else, this has handily left me with extra money in my account during this, the most expensive month of the year.
Lest you think I was idle all day, when I did get up, I managed to make a start on some home repairs - I fixed the hot tap in the kitchen. I also started a much needed clear out and clean up which, thanks to work, I just haven't had time to do previously. I even managed to make a start on stripping the paint off of that model railway locomotive I bought off of eBay a couple of months ago. I decided to test out the stripper I'd bought from my local model shop out on the tender frames (I know I can get a replacement for this item at a reasonable price in the event of problems) - the results were very impressive, with the paint stripper taking it back down to the bare metal. I'll turn my attention to the locomotive chassis next. I've also got the joys of replacing the central heating system's valve actuator to look forward to in the days to come. I know all of this might seem an incredibly mundane way to spend my time off from work, but, believe me, it is such a relief to be able to get on with some constructive, non-work related, activities.
I was watching one of those short films they show on Talking Pictures TV the other day under the umbrella title of 'Glimpses'. They rarely run more than ten minutes and are usually public information films of some sort. This particular one was called Christmas in Britain and had originally been commissioned by the Tourist Board or some similar organisation as part of an attempt to persuade people that the UK was a great holiday destination, even in winter. Even though the film seemed to have been made around 1969-70 (judging by the cars), the vision of a British Christmas it conjures up could have been from ten, twenty, even thirty years earlier. Highlights included the festive shop window displays in London, hearty celebrations in a rural village pub, a very middle class looking family Christmas, Christmas Day walks in the snowy countryside and those wild Scottish Hogmany celebrations. It was clearly aiming to sell the traditional 'Christmas card' image of Britain at Yule-tide to potential foreign visitors, despite the fact that, even in 1970, Christmases were very different - usually spent gathered round the TV after a few family rows, the pulling of some cheap crackers containing quickly forgotten plastic novelties and elderly relatives getting drunk on the sherry.
Indeed, trying to pitch Britain at Christmas as a desirable holiday destination, to my contemporary eyes at least, seems pretty strange. The fact is that for a visitor, it represents a time when Britain is at its most insular - everyone turns inward, focusing on the family group and private celebrations at home. Sure, you might well find the pubs opening late on Christmas Eve, with plenty of bonhomie on display, but once it gets to closing time, everyone just goes home, bringing an abrupt end to the celebrations for any visitors. Not that anyone in their right mind would want to come to the UK at Christmas if they could help it, surely? Every year, around this time, I find myself wondering why the Hell I don't go away at Christmas - why do I endure the cold, the damp, the dark gloomy days and all the false bonhomie year after year? It isn't as if there is anything holding me here over the festive period: I'm not religious, I gave up on family Christmases decades ago and my closest friends mostly have families of their own to celebrate with, so I tend not to see them over the festive period. So, why don't I take y weary bones off to somewhere warm, sunny and Christmas free for a couple of weeks every December? The answer, of course, is that it somehow wouldn't 'feel right'. Those images of a traditional British Christmas promoted by that film are so deeply ingrained in our psyches, thanks to a lifetime of socialisation, indoctrination and media imagery, that this time of year is inextricably linked, in our minds, with the idea of hearth and home. Even for those of us who avoid family Christmases, the idea of not being at home during this time, still seems inconceivable. Consequently, here I am, feeling exhausted and depressed, yet still planning to stay at home again at Christmas.
So, let's kick off Christmas week with a look at what TV has in store for us this festive season. Well, basically it is all the same stuff as before, but with tinsel on. When I was a kid, I was disappointed to learn that all those Christmas specials of popular shows were actually filmed as part of the regular series recording block - more often than not during the Summer. Once I knew that, it rather killed the seasonal vibe of say, The Two Ronnies Christmas special. All I could think of as I watched it was of the studio audience sweltering away in the Summer heat whilst surrounded by tinsel, forcing themselves to laugh at unseasonal jokes. Many seasonal specials, to this day, seem to exist in some kind of parallel universe: regardless of what the UK's weather is actually like at Christmas, they always have a white Christmas. But to return to the point, what does this year have in store, TV-wise? One thing I've noticed is that they've finally realised that seasonal episodes of medical dramas are inappropriate: who wants to spend Christmas Day watching the aftermath of some horrendous accident or families having their Christmas spoiled by someone cutting off their hand whilst carving the turkey, or Granny choking to death on that sixpence in the pudding? They probably suffer enough of that in real life, without wanting to see it on TV as well.
But the undoubted highlights of Christmas TV these days are the Dr Who Christmas special and the various festive editions of the soap operas. This year, will we finally get that Dr Who special where the Doctor materialises on a Christmas themed planet, only to find that all of his previous regenerations are also there and they are all forced to spend Christmas together? Horrifying. Either that or the one where he goes back to the swinging sixties and teams up with Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones to battle aliens who are feeding on the sexual energies relesed by the permissive society. (I've been pitching that one for years, but, for some reason, the BBC just isn't interested). Still, when it comes to the Christmas soaps, I have got an inside track on EasteEnders. Apparently, Phil Mitchell's doctor will prescribe an experimental drug to help combat his liver failure, with the result being that Phil turns into a ravening monste,r attacking other residents of Albert Square, tearing out their livers and eating them. Eventually he climbs on to the roof of the Queen Vic, where he shot down by Sharon, using a silver bullet sold to her by Ian Beale - he's been taking no chances since Lou Beale was bitten by a werewolf in 1994, keeping a stash of them in his bedside drawer. (Actually, I strongly suspect that Phil's liver transplant story line will be concluded by him receiving a compatible organ from one of his cousins, Ronnie and Roxy, as they are apparently being killed off over the festive season). Remember, you heard it all here first!
Should we be bringing back as zombies convicted criminals who die before they've completed their sentences? I only ask because, in some quarters, there seems to be an idea that those offenders who have the audacity to die, whether by accident or the result of illness, whilst they are incarcerated, are somehow 'cheating' their victims of justice. Just the other day I heard a senior police officer on the radio describing a convicted peadophile (and former senior police officer) of having 'won' again because he had died only a few weeks into his sentence. Believe me, didn't 'win'. He died. That's quite different. It's not like some kind of 'better' option to prison. You don't walk free. in fact, you don't walk anywhere, ever again. Not only is death not the easy option, if you are of a religious bent, you'll know that, if you are a bad guy, then it means eternal damnation. Which, despite the current state of our penal system, isn't an easier ride than prison.
But maybe that's the problem - you just can't be sure that hell and eternal damnation actually exist. So the only practical alternative, as I see it, is to bring these bastards back from the dead, somehow. That way you can keep punishing them and force them to complete their sentences. Let's face it, with more and more peadophiles seemingly evading prosecution until they are drawing their pensions, this is probably the only way we're ever going to get full 'satisfaction' from their punishments. (Of course, one might argue that a large degree of responsibility for the fact that these peadophiles evaded prosecution for so long actually lies with the very senior police officers who lament how they've 'cheated' their victims by dying. Perhaps if they'd properly investigated the allegations against these people in the first place, they might have secured convictions before the perpetrators were at death's door). But just how do we bring them back? Should we be recruiting voodoo priests as prison officers? The only problem with using voodoo is that the dead prisoners would come back as zombies - completely lacking in free will, memory, personality or sentience. Which would making continuing their punishment pointless. They would be completely unaware of why it was happening.
So, maybe the answer lies in some sort of scientific resurrection, which preserves the offender's personality. Perhaps some kind of Frankenstein-style brain transplanting would be in order? Stick their brains into the bodies of of recently deceased, younger, accident victims? Mind you, that could bring problems down the line - when they'd finally served their sentences, they could be physically younger than when they started. They'd be rejuvenated, ready to start offending all over again. Plus, it could be a bit disconcerting for the relatives of the people whose bodies they received to find that their loved ones had apparently returned from the grave as raving sex offenders. Anyway, whatever the solution, it would entail the irony of seeing the sort of people who usually call for the return of the death penalty for child molesters instead calling for them to be kept alive.
I decided to take a week off of updating The Sleaze this week. It's not that I've run out of story ideas - I've got two three I'm currently trying to develop into full fledged stories - simply that I'm feeling utterly exhausted. Perhaps its the time of year - all those overcast skies, don't do much for my mood, nor do the dark afternoons and evenings - maybe its because I haven't been able to get any time off work since my summer leave. I've also had a gruelling week, kicking off with a lengthy meeting on Monday that included an intervention by out union rep and continued with me losing the better part of a night's sleep to what I can only describe as an allergic reaction - apparently to an organic yoghurt I'd eaten. It left me wheezing, with blocked sinuses and swollen eyes - a bit like the worst of my hay fever attacks from a few years ago - and my stomach just couldn't wait to get rid of its contents. The whole experience left me feeling completely drained of energy and I've just about managed to stumble through the last couple of days.
Despite not being up to coming up with a new story for The Sleaze, I haven't simply squandered my down time watching TV (although I have done a lot of that), as I've managed to record the bulk of a new episode of Schlock Express, which should see te light of day over at the Overnightscape Central in the next week or so. I've also been filming stuff for the, now traditional, film of the Christmas lights of Crapchester - expect this closer to Christmas. I say 'closer to Christmas', but the fact is that we are already close to Christmas. I'm afraid that the season has rather crept up on me this year and I find myself completely unprepared, with just over a week to go. That said, I have managed to get my great nieces' presents, which, they'd no doubt tell me, is the most important thing I have to do. But, apart from that, I've done nothing, not even put up my Christmas trees, (although I have tested those cheap lights I bought from Asda many years ago - they still work). On a brighter note, I have negotiated an earlier start to my Christmas break - I'm only working the first three days of next week.
The other day I was asked whether I'd seen any 'good' films lately. "Define 'good'," was my reply. After all, critical judgements are all relative and entirely dependent upon factors subjective to the viewer and the circumstances under which they saw the film. Then some smart arse came back with the question, "Well, have you seen any films that you think are 'good'?" But the problem remains, how do we define 'good', even in personal terms? Indeed, is the duality of 'good' and 'bad' in any way a useful approach to assessing films? Particularly films of the type we tend to discuss here. Take Pete Walker's Frightmare as a case in point: is it, in any way a 'good' movie? If we were to judge simply on technical criteria such as cinematography, dialogue, productions values, lighting or sound quality, for instance, I doubt that anybody other than Walker's most ardent fans would rate it as being more than 'adequate'. Similarly, it would win no prizes for its, sometimes clunky, plotting or the originality of its basic set up. In fact, upon its initial release, the film was reviled by most critics, condemned, in fact, as an example of everything wrong with low budget British horror movies.
But to properly appreciate Frightmare you have to understand what it represents - what Director/Producer Walker and his screenwriter David McGillivray had set out to achieve. Produced at a time when the established giants of British horror films, Amicus and Hammer were on the skids, with the latter, in particular, desperately trying to adapt its product for contemporary audiences, Walker and McGillivray sign posted the way ahead for horror cinema. Whereas the traditional Hammer product had located its horrors in a 'safe' fictionalised Victorian setting, Frightmare, sets its depravations fairly and squarely in contemporary Britain, denying its audience any 'historical' insulation from them. True, other British horror movies in the late sixties and early seventies had already utilised contemporary settings, but they had still employed traditional horror tropes such as mad scientists, vampires and monsters and traditional plot structures. There are no mad scientists, ghosts or monsters, however, in Frightmare. The only 'monsters' present are ordinary people, like ourselves. Which, undoubtedly, is what made contemporary critics so uncomfortable - with no fantastical framework to distance themselves from the violence and unpleasantness on screen, they were unable to simply dismiss it as 'harmless fantasy'. An earlier generation of critics had, of course, expressed a similar reaction to the earliest Hammer horrors, which recast the black and white Universal horror fantasies of their childhoods as highly sexualized gore-fests in glorious colour.
To return to 1974, this reaction was, as far as I can see, exactly what Walker and McGillivray wanted. The whole point of Frightmare seems to be to satirise the middle class idea that violence and depravity are things which happen to other people and which can be ignored by 'decent' people. Even when it does impinge on the lives of 'regular' people, it can be safely neutralised and contained by the appropriate authorities. Hence the film is structured to constantly juxtapose the comfortable middle class world of dinner parties and professional employment enjoyed by the nominal hero and heroine with both the juvenile delinquencies of the latter's half-sister and the gory goings on at her parents' remote country cottage. Said parents are former psychiatric patients recently released after fifteen years of incarceration, having been declared 'cured' by their doctors. The wife had been found guilty of a series of cannibalistic murders, which her husband, although not a participant in the killings, had sought to cover them up. Unfortunately, whilst the authorities had succeeded in temporarily containing this aberrant behaviour, their complacent assumption that the wife was cured is quickly proven wrong. Once again, her husband, aided by his now adult eldest daughter attempt to contain her cannibalistic tendencies by supplying her with sheep's brains. The younger daughter, by contrast, seems to have inherited her mother's violent tendencies, although these are lazily dismissed as regular teenage rebellion. Inevitably, they turn out to be far more sinister.
Ultimately, authority, whether in the form of the police, the medical profession or psychiatry, prove unable to deal with this renewed outbreak of suburban cannibalism, mainly because tey trefuse to truly believe that it is happening. In the film's latter stages, it moves from merely satirisng middle class complacency to an extension of the assault on the religious right-wing morality lobby Walker and McGillivray had mounted in their previous movie, House of Whipcord (in which a reactionay retired judge ran his own private court and prison to punish 'depraved' young women). Here, they attempt to undermine the notion of 'family', as propagated by the reactionary religious faction, as something which guaranteed safety and promoted moral values. As the film's family unit is reconstituted at the film's climax, things take an even grimmer turn, culminating in a bleak and nihilistic final scene.
So, is Frightmare a 'good' film? More to the point, did I think it was 'good'? Well, by any regular standard of criticism, it probably isn't. Walker is a solid, rather than inspired, director, but, after a fairly slow start, keeps the film moving and approaches the subject matter with real relish. The performances of the supporting cast are adequate, but not outstanding. The 'star' names, Rupert Davies and Sheila Keith are, by contrast, outstanding. In what was to be his last film, Davies gives a terrific performance, entirely sincere and believable as a man desperate to protect the woman he loves and maintain some semblance of 'normality'. Sheila Keith is truly magnificent as his cannibal wife, one moment coming on like a loveable old granny, the next demonically stabbing people with hot pokers and drilling open their skulls with a Black and Decker so as to get at their brains. Indeed, it was the electric drill scenes which seemed to upset contemporary critics the most although, see today, they are pretty mild. But these scenes look forward to the gore films and video nasties of the later seventies and eighties. Which is where a lot of the film's significance lies - as well as being a riposte to the increasingly feeble traditionalism of the once mighty Hammer, it provided a clear indication of an interesting new route for the horror film. Which partly answers the question of whether its 'good' or not. In purely artistic terms, probably not. But in terms of what it represented, both as a blueprint for the future of the genre and a critique of middle class values with regard to violence and the family, Frightmare is undoubtedly very 'good'. Except that I still don't think that 'good' (or, by logical extension 'bad') is a useful term with which assess and classify films. They can be both at the same time. Ultimately, a more useful and pertinent measure is whether or not you enjoyed a film. On any level. By such a measure, Frightmare scored pretty highly with me.
The first time Boris Johnson says anything vaguely sensible and he gets slapped down by the Prime Minister. That Saudi Arabia is a major sponsor of Islamic terrorism shouldn't really be news to anyone, though. Nevertheless, it doesn't stop us cosying up to them - they're traditionally a big customer for British weapon systems. Who needs a moral foreign policy in the face of hard cash, eh? Not a Tory government, that's for sure. But don't worry, the Saudis are apparently 'not offended' by Johnson's comments. Clearly, he needs to try harder. Perhaps he should look back to the dying days of Empire, when we Brits thought it OK to refer to Arabs as 'wogs', even in their own countries. I was reminded of this less-than-glorious part of our Imperial legacy recently, when I started reading Dominic Sandbrook's Never Had it So Good. He relates te story of how, during the UK's occupation of the Suez Canal Zone, a British soldier reported on a car accident to his superior officer, writing that one car involved had been a Rolls Royce with 'two wogs' in the back, one of whom 'was called King Faroukh'. When the officer told him that he couldn't call the King of Egypt a 'wog' and ordered the soldier to rewrite the report, he instead wrote that the car contained 'King Faroukh and some other wog'. Sadly, this was all too typical of the casual racism which characterised those last, delusional days of Empire - you would have hoped that as Britain divested itself of Empire it might start to accept its former subjects as equals.
But it could no more do that than accept its diminished position in the world - all those decades, centuries indeed, of convincing ourselves of our superiority over non-white colonials, were too deeply ingrained. Of course, a lot of these delusions came to a juddering halt with the Suez Crisis in 1956 - the last swagger of Britain and France as Imperial powers which ended in a humiliating climbdown in the face of near universal condemnation.. Actually, it occurred to me whilst reading the Sandbrook book that this Autumn had marked the sixtieth anniversary of the Anglo French (with Israeli collusion) invasion of Egypt in supposed 'defence' of the Suez Canal. (Those damned Egyptians were arrogant enough to believe that they could nationalise their main economic asset and not have British soldiers occupying parts of their country and interfering in their domestic affairs. Who the hell did they think they were?).
With the current mania for glorifying all things war-related which seems to grip both politicians and media, I'm surprised that we didn't see it celebrated. After all, we're being forced to relive every moment of World War One, despite it being a 'bad war', on the pretext that we're merely remembering those who gave their lives in the conflict - so why not do the same for those who gave their lives in the Suez operation? It wasn't their fault they were caught up in an Imperial folly. But that's the point, we don't want to be reminded of an episode which demonstrated Britain's impotence as a world power. Especially in this new era of 'patriotism' in which right wingers promise that Britain can be made 'great' again by turning our backs on those horrible Europeans and keeping out those filthy immigrants. Much of this 'patriotism' harks back to a fantasy version of empire and expresses itself in terms of racist attacks upon 'foreigners' and ethnic minorities. It seems those old Imperialist attitudes haven't gone far after all. The main difference now, though, is we're only insulting the 'foreigners' when their in 'our' country, rather than occupying theirs and heaping racially charged invective upon them in their own homelands.
A forgotten film from a forgotten bestseller, The Sentinel doesn't even enjoy the notoriety of other Michael Winner films like Death Wish or The Wicked Lady remake. By all accounts it is just about as subtle as most of Winner's seventies and eighties output. Unfortunately, I've never been able to track down a copy to form a proper opinion, (it has had a DVD and Blu Ray release in the US), so I can only judge the film on its reputation. Which is pretty poor. Jeffrey Konvitz's source novel, (he also co-scripted the film adaptation) had come hard on the heels of the film adaptation of William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist and the film was an attempt to cash in on the demonic movie craze instigated by films like Rosemary's Baby, The Amityville Horror and The Exorcist. Indeed, it liberally mixes elements from those movies - Catholic priests, young woman apparently in peril from her weird neighbours in a mysterious apartment building and gateways to Hell - to little effect.
The film is notable for giving early roles to the likes of Jeff Goldblum, Chris Sarandon , Tom Berenger, Christopher Walken and Beverly D'Angelo, as well as providing employment for veterans like John Carradine, Burgess Meredith, Arthur Kennedy and Martin Balsam. The trailer pretty much gives away the main plot points: the building is a gateway to Hell, the dying blind priest its guardian, keeping the denizens of Hell (the other occupants) at bay, the heroine is doomed to become the priest's successor. In the end, this lacks the novelty of Rosemary's Baby, the spiritual dimension of The Exorcist, with its examination of the nature of religious faith or even the pure pulp excesses of The Amityville Horror. This lack of an additional dimension is possibly why The Sentinel has failed to gain the lasting appeal of its contemporaries.
Jesus! They just won't leave you alone, will they? The internet is just full of people making demands of you. Right now I'm being harassed by some meerkats over some bloody cinema ticket deal which I'm apparently eligible for because I bought my car insurance via their site. I can see that I'm going to be forced to take up the offer just to get them out of my inbox, despite it being pretty pointless as I rarely go to the cinema anymore (I can't afford their prices). Moreover, I'm one of those strange people who likes going to watch films on their own and the offer has to do with getting two tickets for the price of one. But anything to stop them from pestering me! But if it isn't the meerkats, then it's bloody Amazon wanting me to rate and review purchases, in this case, a couple of French DVDs I recently bought. The thing is though, I haven't watched either of them - i bought them to watch over Christmas. Besides, why would I want to review them on Amazon's site when I could do it here? As for all that rating of the seller and the transaction, that's fine, except that they also want you to leave a comment. What do they want me to say? Surely the number of stars you've given tells its own story?
It's the same with bloody eBay. Mind you, even worse, every time I look at something and don't bid on it or buy it, they start sending me emails asking if I'm still interested in it, (I wasn't actually interested in the first place, I was just browsing) and if I'm not suggests a load of other stuff, (which never seems to have any relevance to the item I was looking at in the first place). But its the constant attempts to get you to give 'feedback' on everything you do online, every site you visit, which really gets me down. When did the web become so needy? But it isn't just the constant pestering, there's also the constant attempts to organise you. I was checking what my phone had automatically uploaded to Microsoft's cloud storage a while ago, only to find the storage system attempting to organise my photos and videos in various ways: landscapes, buildings, etc. Just fuck off, was my reaction. They don't need to be bloody organised in anything other than chronological order. Maybe. They are my pictures and I can find what I want without these attempts at 'organising'.
I have to admit here that 'being organised' is one of my pet hates amongst workplace jargon. There's this strange idea that to be organised (and, by extension, efficient) you have to have everything in neat piles and straight lines. As I've explained to various managers, just because you have your desk neatly organised with all your pencils in straight lines, it doesn't mean that you are organised. All it means is that you are good at arranging things into neat geometric patterns. It never goes down well. So, as you can imagine, I don't react well to having web applications trying to algorithmically organise my stuff. Anyway, all these intrusions into my personal business have left me yearning for the days when entertainment wasn't interactive. Damn it, I remember the days when the only thing a TV demanded of you was your attention while it showed you stuff you wanted to watch. Nowadays they are all 'smart' and trying to second guess your viewing habits. Fuck off, I say. I'll be the judge of what I want to watch, not some bloody algorithm!
What's it all about, eh? Because I'll tell you, I have no bloody idea. I've come to the conclusion that the modern world is all too confusing for me to understand anymore. Maybe it's and age thing. When I was younger I thought that I had it all figured out - I was sure I knew what was going on, what I thought about it and what should be done. But as I've grown older, I've become less sure about everything. The more I learn, the more I realise that I don't know. On issues over which I once had firm opinions, I now waver. Age and experience have made it easier for me understand the opposing view. Up to a point, that is. I'm afraid that I don't find it easy to understand the new extreme right. Sure, I understand why their creed has a wide populist appeal: like all extreme political philosophies, whether of left or right, it provides people with an apparently straightforward perspective, in which all the ills of society, (and most specifically, their problems), can be explained in simplistic terms. Hence, the current far right narrative posits that if your standard of living is declining, you are having problems securing accommodation or work, then the root cause is the level of immigration. One the basest, 'common sense', level, it seems to make logical sense: foreigners are flooding here for one reason only, to take our jobs and by extension homes, health service, schools, benefits, etc. Of course, it ignores the fact that immigration levels aren't that high and that foreigners arriving in the UK might not just be moving for economic reasons - many are actually refugees and asylum seekers.
The problem is that this narrative has become ingrained in the public consciousness, thanks, in no small part, to the right-wing media here in the UK, that even politicians in the middle ground and left feel obligated to pay it lip service, talking tough on immigration for fear of offending the electorate. In reality, of course, they should be arguing that, rather than being the result of some external force, the economic problems experienced by people and communities is actually the direct result of political policies implemented by the government. A government that many of them must have voted for. But, admitting that would require people to then have to take some responsibility for their political actions. Hence the popluarity of the extreme right view: it isn't your fault, it's all the fault of immigrants, transsexuals, single mothers (delete minorities as applicable), the last Labour government, political correctness and/or health and safety gone mad and multiculturalism generally. But, as I said, I just can't appreciate this world view as having any validity. Whereas I might have mellowed over the years with regard to all manner of things I used to take a hard line on, from organised religion to the legalisation of drugs, I still will have no truck with these right wing crackpots.
But we live in an age where we are constantly being urged by various touchy-feely types that, thanks to social media and the way in which the web tries to 'tailor' what we see online to fit our 'profiles, we are in danger of existing in individual bubbles, where we are never exposed to any ideas which might challenge our ingrained prejudices and beliefs. Try following people you disagree with on social media, they say. Try to turn off your preferences on news sites. Experience the opposing view, they say, you'll find yourself gaining a more 'balanced' view of the world. The problem with that is thatthere are good reasons why we seek out our 'own kind', both on and off line - it's reassuring and non-confronting. In truth, we don't want to be constantly confronted with people and ideas which will leave us angry and disturbed. The fact is that I've tried 'seeing the other point of view' for a while and it wasn't at all healthy. Whilst I was researching various conspiracy theories for some stuff I was writing for The Sleaze some time ago, I spent a fair amount of time hanging around various websites run by prominent (and not so prominent) members of the 'conspiracy community'. I can tell you, it really did my head in. Their world view is so confused and illogical, based upon a hugely selective reading of historical fact, it is painful for any rational person to try and comprehend. I most certainly didn't end up feeling that I had a more 'balanced' view of the world. On the contrary, the experience just confirmed what I already knew: they are all crackpots. It's the same with the extreme right - I don't need to expose myself to their rantings and biased news sources, I already know that they are dangerous vcrackpots and that their creed is offensive to any decent human being.
Well, it's proven all but impossible to come up with a proper post for today. I'm afraid that my evening has been overtaken by events, in that I've had to devote part of it to trying to repair my heating system. To be fair, it is only one part of the system - the valve actuator. This has, over the many years that I've owned this house, been the most troublesome part of the heating and hot water set up. The one fitted when I bought the house failed a couple of years later. Unfortunately, it turned out to be of a type that was no longer manufactured and its 'cradle' and three-way valve were incompatible with any other type. So, I took the plunge and replaced the valve and actuator with a commoner type. Which worked fine for a few years, until the new actuator - a spring return type - failed. I lost count of the number of those spring return types I went through - the spring inevitably fails. Eventually, I replaced it with the motorised version. This actuator has served me well for many, many years. Until the last few weeks, that is, when it has begun to jam in one position, cutting off the central heating part way through the evening. Tonight, I finally got fed up with freezing and I've had the actuator off of the valve and I've manually adjusted the valve, which I've also lubricated. It's reassembled now and I'll have wait and see whether it works properly now. I've a nasty feeling that I'm going to have to buy a replacement actuator.
I wouldn't mind, but this is the second time in only a few days that I've been forced to carry out repairs in the bathroom (the actuator and valve are in the airing cupboard, which is in the bathroom). On Friday evening, I went to switch on the bathroom light and the cord came away in my hand. Obviously, it was far too late to obtain a replacement corded ceiling switch but, faced with the bathroom light now being permanently on, I decided to dismantle the existing switch in order to turn it off. Buying a replacement on Saturday should have been straightforward, but I had to, quite literally, fight my way to Wilkinson's throufg hordes of Christmas shoppers. I mean, what is wrong with people? This year, they seem to be worse than ever: stopping without warning, unable to walk in straight lines, standing around in groups in the most inconvenient places possible. It was all made worse by idiots wandering around who thought that they could look at their smart phone screen and walk at the same time. I had to explain to one of these idiots that they clearly couldn't multi-task in this way as, despite two attempts at evasive action on my part, they still managed to collide with me. Anyway, I eventually got what I needed and managed to install the new switch for the bathroom light, which now works perfectly. Except that it makes a different sound. The old one made a clicking sound when the cord was pulled. The new one makes a clinking sound. Every time I switch the light on now, I feel that I'm not in my bathroom. It just doesn't sound right. I'm sure i'll get used to oi, bit for now, it is very disconcerting.
Apparently someone, somewhere in Britain has dug up some bones from the Roman era which have turned out to be of African origin. I'm amazed that Nigel Farage, Paul Nutter and the rest of the UKIP, BNP, Britain First and EDL types haven't been calling for them to be repatriated as they are clearly illegal immigrants. "We don't want any bloody foreign bones here - especially if they were black when they were alive. The bastards!" I can imagine them crying. I do wonder if there was an anti-immigration movement in Britain during the Roman occupation? Were there groups of Ancient Britons, faces blue with woad, huddled in huts muttering about how since joining that bloody Roman Empire, they were being overrun by hordes of immigrants from everywhere from Gaul to North Africa? Coming here, stealing our jobs and women - who do these bloody Romans think they are? Was Boudicca actually the leader of the Ancient Briton Independence Party rather than the Iceni tribe? If only she'd held a referendum rather than burning Londinium to the ground and rampaging around the country massacring people.
It's curious how many people seem to think immigration to the UK is a new phenomena. Interestingly, they often seem to be the same people who talk nostalgically about the 'great' days of the British Empire - the self same Empire which was one of the main engines of immigration to the UK. Just like the Roman Empire before it. Indeed, it was policy as far as the Romans were concerned to always post legions recruited from some other part of the Empire to any given occupied territory in order to lessen the threat of popular uprisings and rebellions. Hence the presence of North Africans in the UK during the Roman occupation. They also had a policy of offering retiring legionaries plots of land in occupied territories for similar reasons. Unlike the British Empire, the Romans rended to practice multiculturalism and religious tolerance. (I know the latter might come as a shock to Christians, but the fact was that as long you didn't disrespect the Romans' gods, they'd let you worship anyone you liked. The early Christians, however, insisted upon proclaiming their god as the only true God and condemned the Roman gods as pagan idols. No wonder they were persecuted). Perhaps we should have remained in the Roman Empire - from the stance of increasingly intolerant Brexit Britain, with the prospect of a Trump presidency in the US and the rise of the extreme right across Europe, the days of Rome's ascendancy suddenly seem halcyon. Sure, they could be a bit draconian when dealing with opponents and the Emperors were often homicidal maniacs, but at least they didn't have austerity - just look at all the roads, aqueducts, villas and amphitheatres they built, all at public expense. Let's start the campaign now to bring back the Roman Empire!
It's December, so it must be Christmas. I know that the municipal decorations have been up in the streets and shopping centres since mid-November, but with the advent of December we've had the appearance of workplace decorations. In my office at least. It's at times like this that I'm glad that I spend most of my working day outside of the office. I've always felt that tinsel in the workplace is inappropriate. For one thing, work is meant to be unrelentingly dull and soulless, otherwise there'd be no relief in leaving it at the end of the working day. For another, some of us don't like having someone else's conception of the festive season being thrust in their face. Damn it, when will people respect the fact that I celebrate Winterval, not Christmas? Besides, it still is only the first of December, still too early for indoor decorations, in my opinion. As my regular reader(s) will know, I don't put my modest decorations (two Christmas trees) up until quite late in the Christmas run up. I'm guided in this by my childhood memories of Christmas, when the decorations wouldn't go up before the last but one Sunday before Christmas Day - and my family weren't weird in this respect: back in the seventies it was the accepted practice.
The start of December also brings up the vexed matter of seasonally themed stories on The Sleaze. Usually I leave any attempt at this until late in the day, which usually results in disappointing traffic - this sort of story has a very limited shelf life. That said, they do have the potential to yield results on an annual basis, as Christmas rolls back around again. And again. But releasing the story too early in December can also be problematic, with readers perceiving you as having 'jumped the gun'. Then there's the problem of finding a new angle every year: I've had Santa gunned down as he made an anti-globalisation protest, revealed as a white supremacist, outed as gay and championing pagan Yule tide rites amongst other things. I'm not sure there are many more variations left, which is why, in recent years, he's been largely absent from the seasonal stories. Anyway, as last year's story was actually pretty popular despite being published on Christmas Eve, this year I've perversely decided to release the 'official' Christmas story today. It's started slowly, I'll admit, but I'm hoping that it will pick up traffic as Christmas gets closer. We'll see.