Friday, March 31, 2017

Primitive London (1965)

The success of London in the Raw made a follow up inevitable with Primitive London being released the following year.  The film reunites the same creative team behind the earlier film and adds an evocative musical score by Basil Kirchen, (which echoes the score that Riz Ortolani was turning out for contemporary Mondo movies in Italy).   It's clear that, since making London in the Raw, the producers had been exposed to even more Mondo movies, as Primitive London feels much more like its Italian inspirations, not just in its aforementioned musical score, but also its subject matter, structure and style.  Nevertheless, it remains peculiarly British in its overall feel.  The theme of the the first film - the need to belong - still lingers, but this time it sits within a framing device of the potential struggles a new born in modern London will face as they become adults.  Thus, the film kicks off with a graphic, for the era, sequence of a child being born.  Whilst nowadays this sort of thing is hardly a novelty (Channel Four, in particular, seems intent upon shoving new born babies in viewers' faces on a weekly basis), back in 1965 it still had shock value.  Indeed, this opening sequence defines the main difference between this film and its predecessor: in true Mondo fashion it goes for all out shocks.

The baby whose birth we've just witnessed is premature, we are told, and faces a fight for life.  But even he survives, he will face a lifelong fight to get on in life.  Returning to the theme of the previous film, we're told that becoming part of a group is one way to protect oneself from the cut throat world of modern life - which allows the film to focus on several contemporary youth groups: Mods, Rockers and Beatniks.  This time, rather than the staged Beatnik sequence of the earlier film, Primitive London presents us with a series of interviews with various members of these groups, conducted in pubs and cafes.  These feel far more naturalistic than than anything in London in the Raw and are quite enlightening as to the views and attitudes of a cross section of mid-sixties London youth.  Most impressively, unlike many newsreels and documentaries of the era, the narration never seeks to ridicule the various youth groups, the film simply allows the viewer to form their own opinion, based on the youths' own words.  Another thread of the film follows the progress of a young woman taking dancing lessons in order to become a stripper in the capital's then burgeoning strip clubs.  A further thread looks at the constant need for ever more extreme forms of stimulation modern citis=zens seen to require, including sports such as wrestling (this sequence features Mick McManus), and Kendo.

The need for stimulation and excitement culminates with a series of vignettes following a young middle class couple's first foray into wife swapping parties - complete with a warning over the moral perils of such activities.  The film also includes those staples of the Italian Mondo: an obsession with death and animal cruelty. The former is highlighted with a brief sequence concerning the rising number of motoring-related deaths in the UK and a look at the (still unsolved) series of murders of women plaguing London.  These would subsequently be popularly known as the 'Jack the Stripper' killings.  The animal cruelty aspect is handled in a very British form, by chronicling the journey taken by chickens in order to end up, vacuum packed, on supermarket shelves.  It is interesting to note that this sequence raises the very same concerns about factory farming and the methods used to slaughter the birds, that are still being raised today.  Some things never change - as the narration notes, consumers of the final product really don't care what was involved in its creation, provided the price is right.

The most interesting innovation in Primitive London compared to its predecessor is the inclusion of intentionally humourous sequences.  In one such thread, episodes of which are interspersed throughout the film, a voice over artist (McDonald Hobley, playing himself) becomes increasingly frustrated as he tries to record a single line for a commercial ('Mr Coffee is Real Good'), as an ad executive (played by a young Barry Cryer) constantly changes his mind as to how it should be delivered.  Another sequence involves the regular narration being replaced by the (fictional) producer and editor arguing over the content and editing of the movie.  In a segment involving topless models at a fashion show, close us are replaced by pictures of a cow and other animals, much to the producer's chagrin. (This, I'm assuming, is a reference to the censorship imposed upon genuine Italian Mondos by UK censors, who particularly objected to anything involving or implying animal cruelty).  He later complains about the predominance of overweight middle aged men in a Turkish bath segment.

In addition to all of this, the film includes various visits to London clubs, showcasing various risque and sensational acts, (including comic Ray Martine at the Establishment Club), which featured in the first film.  There is also a look at the fickle nature of fame, particularly for teen idols, as well as brief incursions into the worlds of plastic surgery and gyms.  All-in-all Primitive London provides a hugely entertaining mix of sleaze, exploitation, cod social commentary and sensationalism.  It probably represents the closest thing to a genuine Mondo movie produced in the UK, but, like London in the Raw, retains a distinctly British flavour.  It's far more slickly made than London in the Raw, with the sequencing and editing of the various segments feeling less haphazard than in the first film.  Which isn't to say that it is a better film than London in the Raw.  The earlier film, being a first attempt at a British Mondo, undoubtedly feels fresher and has the advantage of novelty.  But Primitive London is still well worth watching, capturing a particular time and place in a very enjoyable fashion.  Once again, the BFI  DVD includes some excellent extras in the form of various short films and documentaries - so invest in a copy, you won't regret it!


Thursday, March 30, 2017

By the Ringing of My Ears...

I know that, logically, I should today be writing about Primitive London, the follow up to London in the Raw, I'm afraid I don't feel up to it.  Hopefully, I'll be able to get down to it tomorrow.   The reason I don't feel up to doing it now is the fact that I didn't get much sleep last night and consequently feel too fatigued to do the film justice.  The lack of sleep was the result of an ongoing problem with my ears which has been going on for the past week, or so.  It started with excessive wax in my right ear, most of which I was able to remove - to try and dislodge the rest, I used ear drops, which worked surprisingly quickly.  However, I made the mistake of also using them on my other ear, just to be on the safe side.  The result was that ear seemed to become partially blocked as the right one was cleared.  Anyway, my now afflicted left ear finally seemed to clear yesterday evening, but this was accompanied by a bout of tinnitus.  This ended after an hour or so, but returned just as I went to bed, hence the lack of sleep. 

Having never suffered from tinnitus before (I've occasionally  experienced a slight ringing in my ears, but was never bothered by it as it always quickly passed) I was surprised just how loud the sound in one's ear sounds.  In my case, it can best be described as similar to the buzzing sound you can hear when you stand close to overhead electricity cables.  But much louder and inside my ear. In desperation, I turned to the ear drops again, pouring a larger quantity than I should have into the afflicted ear.  Incredibly, after a while, the buzzing stopped (this could just have been a coincidence, or the ear drops could have moved or softened a piece of ear wax). It has returned, intermittently, a few times during the day, not as bad as before, but still irritating.  Late this afternoon it stopped again and, so far, hasn't returned.  Hopefully, this will prove a prolonged relief from the tinnitus.

But to get back to exploitation films, I've been gratified by the positive reception my piece on London in the Raw has received.  People seem to have enjoyed it.  Indeed, in recent years, the most popular things I've posted here have been write ups of lesser known, hard to see and sometimes just downright obscure exploitation films.  Which has left me toying with an idea I've contemplated before: setting up a new site dedicated to such subject matter.  Obviously, if I were to do this, I'd be looking to expand the scope beyond just films and would undoubtedly be looking for other contributors.  With Google making it next to impossible to get traffic for satire sites, it could be the logical next move for me, with regard to online publishing.  But before I make any decisions, we've got Primitive London to talk about.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

London in the Raw (1964)

Some time ago I was lamenting the lack of a UK equivalent to the Italian Mondo genre of 'shockumentaries'.  Well, thanks to the BFI, I've now been able to catch up with British sexploitation cinema's answer to Mondo Cane: 1964's London in the Raw and its 1965 follow up, Primitive London.  These two films brought together some of the leading names in sixties British exploitation films: Arnold Louis Miller, Tony Tenser, Michael Klinger and Stanley Long and was distributed by Tenser and Klinger's Compton Cameo Films.  To focus on the first film, from the outset London in the Raw is a shameless imitation of the style established by Mondo Cane, with its supposedly real, but undoubtedly staged, footage shot on the streets of London.  Opening with a juxtoposition between two 'street workers' - an old busker with a penny whistle and a prostitute inviting foreign tourists to her room - musing that the possible fine for busking was far more severe than that for soliciting, the film quickly moves into its overriding theme: the need for belonging. 

More specifically, the justification for the vignettes it strings together is an investigation into the social pressures which lead people to try and conform to various standards of behaviour, fashion or ideals of beauty, in mid-sixties London.  This starts with women having 'unsightly' hair removed in the name of 'beauty' and a man undergoing a crude (and extremely painful looking) form of hair transplant in order to conform to the predominant view that masculinity involves having a full head of hair.   Other scenarios involve health clubs and gyms, to underline the pressure to conform to physical 'norms'.  Inevitably, of course, things start to move toward the sleazy - a segment on LOndon Beatnik society shows us 'typical' Beatnik behaviour, including girls posing topless as still life models and the Beatniks eating cat food (as its cheap).  People's need to be part of social groups and sub cultures (such as Beatniks) now becomes the dominant theme.  A segment supposedly shot in a clip joint (although it is obviously staged) shows how this is sometimes driven by loneliness and how the 'outsiders' seeking human contact this way are ruthlessly exploited.  This leads us into, arguably, the film's weakest sequence, as we are introduced to various London clubs, which, ultimately, consists of segments of the main acts performing in these clubs.

Despite the repetitive nature of these club sequences, their central premise is that sixties London is an ethnically diverse city, as most of the clubs and societies are specific to various nationalities living in the capital, showcasing their cultures.  In today's febrile, anti-immigrant, culture, this celebration of multiculturalism seems startling, reminding us that, within living memory, the UK enjoyed, if not universal racial harmony, at least a tolerance and appreciation of immigrant cultures.  The film gets back on track with an examination of British drinking culture, with a visit to a traditional working class British pub, complete with singalongs, and more 'upmarket' drinking clubs.  All of which is then juxtaposed, in true Mondo fashion, with scenes of down and outs gathered around fires in a derelict building, drinking meths (mixed with milk, to make it digestible).  Again, the human need for belonging, even to group of meths drinkers, is emphasised.  This sort of 'dark' social group is further explored in a sequence about the London drug culture, with addicts loitering around Piccadilly Circus, waiting to collect their methadone prescriptions from the all night pharmacists.  Interestingly, as the narration reminds us, this was a time when drug addicts were seen as victims and prescribed treatment rather than being prosecuted.  Consequently, the number of registered addicts was surprisingly small.

At seventy six minutes (on the BFI DVD, there were, apparently, slightly longer versions released in the sixties, as well as a cut down forty six minute version which is included as an extra on the DVD), London in the Raw offers a brisk journey through London's seamier side, with everything held together by David Gellar's mid Atlantic accented narration.  Whilst the film is immensely entertaining, it can't quite match the sheer, unrelenting, sleaziness of a true Mondo.  There is an air of English restraint about it: it seems reluctant to go too far, to shock too much.  There's no cannibalism, exotic made up primitive rituals or animal cruelty which characterise Italian made Mondos.  Indeed, it is fascinating to compare London in the Raw with the later Italian 'Swinging London' Mondo, Naked England, which covers much of the same ground.  The latter film also looks at what it labels the 'legalised drug culture', but does so far more sensationally, with addicts shooting up in grimy toilet cubicles.  Naked England, also includes sensational (and clearly faked) footage of the police beating people up, the discovery of the body of a child murder victim, huge amounts of female nudity and even brings Nazis into the mix.  By contrast, London in the Raw looks incredibly restrained.  But it ids none the worse for that, offering a fascinating picture of a pre-swinging London, at a time when people were beginning to notice the social changes which were shortly to transform the city. 

Not only is London in the Raw well worth watching in tiself, but the BFI DVD also contains some excellent extras.  These include Pub, a black and white documentary short which distills a typical evening in a sixties working class pub into fifteen minutes and Strip, which presents a very down to earth portrait of London strippers. Indeed, the extras alone are, in my opinion, worth the price of the DVD.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Enterprising Terror

The burning question about last week's terror attack in London I still want answered is: will it result in new TV ad for Enterprise Cars?  After all, right now the attacker must be about the most famous person known to have rented a vehicle from Enterprise - whose long-running ad campaign is all bout how they combine something British (I'm never clear what) with US-style customer care, (in other words, they smile a lot while they ignore any complaint).  Anyway, a lot of their TV commercials revolve around an American salesman 'hilariously' failing to understand British customs.  There's one, for instance, where a bloke is hiring a van to transport a 5 November guy to a bonfire party, with his young daughter telling the American that they are going to burn the guy (which looks a bit like him).  Cue 'You crazy Brits and the whacky stuff you do at weekends' reaction.  So I'm fully expecting a new advert where the American guy rents a car to a stereotype Jihadist, wearing a suicide bomber jacket and firing a Kalashnikov into the air, who proceeds to tell him that he is going to use the budget hatch back as weapon to kill infidels and attempt to destroy parliament.  "You crazy Brits! What'll you think of next!"

While we're still on the subject of last week's terror attack (and I still am - it's the gift that keeps on giving), what about the revelation that we was using What's App during the incident?  No wonder the bloody car mounted the pavement and hit all those pedestrians if he was using his mobile at the wheel!  For God's sake, that's why we have laws prohibiting the use of devices which could didtract drivers whilst at the wheel.  If he'd survived, I' pretty sure that he'd have received a fine and points on his licence.  And it would have served him right.  But after the texting-at-the-wheel bombshell over the weekend, today the media revealed that he was doing over seventy miles an hour when he drove onto Vauxhall Bridge - well in excess of the local speed limit!  More points on the licence and another fine, I fear.  It's revelations like these that really bring home just what a bastard this guy actually was.  I mean, before I learned of these driving offences, I just thought that he was a crazy murdered with a rexkless disregard for human life.  Now I find he was also engaging in traffic offences with no regard for other road users.  Clearly, the media are right in apparently thinking that makes him much worse.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Gun-Toting Street Punk Psychos

First of all Edd China leaves Wheeler Dealers, then, today, I hear that Tomas Milian has died.  What a week!  Oh yes, there was that terror attack in London, as well.  The one carried out by the 'middle aged terrorist' as some of the press have described him.  I really do object to the idea implicit in their ageist coverage that people over the age of forty are incapable of doing stuff like organising and carrying out terror attacks.  Why should terrorism be a young man's game, eh?  Surely the more mature approach to murder and mayhem an older guy would bring to such outrages would be a distinct advantage compared to to the hot headed impetuousness of youth?  But I digress, let's get back to Tomas Milian.  For those not familiar with his work, Milian was a Cuban born actor whose career began back in the sixties, when he played character roles in a number of Hollywood movies.  But he is best remembered now for his many appearances in Italian genre movies from the mid-sixties onward.  His career came full circle when he returned to the US and played character roles in films like JFK and Traffic.

Although his Italian sojourn encompassed roles in multiple genres including westerns and comedies, I'm most familiar with his appearances in crime movies, where he frequently - and memorably - played complete scumbags.  His performances in these roles are truly remarkable: energetic, charismatic he avoids the usual cliches of the crazed, eye-rolling psychopath, portraying instead characters with comprehensible motivations who are running completely out of control.  Perhaps the pinnacle of his psycho-killer career was 1974's Almost Human, an incredibly nihilistic crime drama in which he plays a street punk on the make who harnesses his inherent ruthlessness and lack of regard for even his own life, to try and climb the criminal ladder.  I really must watch it again.  I don't think I can pay Milian any greater compliment that to say that whenever I see his name in cast list for an Italian crime movie, I know that I'm in for a wild and entertaining ride.  If you haven't seen one of his gun-toting performances, I'd urge you to go out and buy or rent one of his crime movies right now.  


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Carry On as Normal

I had another of those moments today, when I misconstrue something I've half heard on TV or the radio.  This time, having tuned into the radio part way through a news broadcast, I was left thinking that yesterdays terror attack ion Westminster had been carried out by Masood from Eastenders.  What else was I supposed to think, having just heard that a middle aged British Asian bloke called Masood was the slain terrorist?  The more I thought about it, the more I thought that Eastenders had missed a great story opportunity - when Masood left to go to Pakistan, they should have brought him back after a few months, radicalised and a Jihadi.  Ideally, when that bus crashed into the market recently, they should have revealed that the driver was the newly radicalised Masood.  I mean, it would have been an incredibly topical plot line, ripped from the headlines and examining the issues of the day: Islamic terror, radicalism and playing to the Daily Mail crowd by providing tem with another negative Muslim stereotype.  I know, I know, we shouldn't joke about terror attacks, especially barely twenty four hours after they've taken place - but what the Hell.  I'm tired hearing the same old platitudes being trotted out by our politicians and journalists in the wake of the attacks.

I mean, today, for instance, we had to endure hours of MPs standing up in the Commons and agreeing with one another as they went on about the 'resiliance' of the British people and so on.  Which is all very well, but it doesn't actually move us forward.  Moreover, we had the media trotting out the usual stuff about how people were refusing to be cowed by the terrorists, getting back to their everyday lives as quickly as possible.  The truth, of course, is that it has little to do with defying terrorists - the fact is that the majority of people have no choice but to return to normal: they have bills to pay which means they have to go back to work to earn the money to pay them.  Indeed, the only time people don't return to their usual business after a terror attack is when the authorities prevent them from doing so, by imposing states of emergency, closing down public transport and restricting travel.

Obviously, I'd never exploit a terrorist outrage to try and drive traffic to The Sleaze, but just got this idea for a story and found that I had to write it.  I hadn't planned on posting anything on The Sleaze this week, but it was an opportunity I couldn't ignore: the chance to go back to basics and come up with a story on the fly that took the site back to the good old days when we just ignored good taste and went for the jugular in satire terms.  And you know something? It worked. Obviously, Google did its best to ignore the story, burying it as deep in the search results as it could, it is amazing how much traffic you can get from Bing with a topical story and the right title and keywords. I know, I should be ashamed of myself.  But I'm not.  To return to the terror attack itself - it's clear that we need to be asking hard questions about security measures at the Palace of Westminster.  After all, an armed man gets onto the premises, but Michael Gove and Michael Fallon are left unscathed?  What were the police thinking?  They should have been pointing them out to the terrorist.  (For the benefit of any reactionaries or members of the establishment who might be reading this, I'm not advocating the murder of Tory MPs, this is merely for satirical purpose). 


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Bad Format

Well, I wasn't expecting that.  I've just been reading that Edd China has left Wheeler Dealers.  As I'm sure I've mentioned before, Wheeler Dealers is one of my favourite car-related TV shows and the idea of it without mechanical maestro Edd China in his workshop overhauling the various clapped out cars bought by Mike Brewer is, pretty much, unthinkable.  Edd has put out a short video on You Tube explaining the reasons for his departure.  Basically, it all comes down to something that often afflicts popular TV series: format changes in pursuit of ratings.  Apparently, the last couple of series have been produced by one of Discovery Channel's US subsidiaries, rather than the original producers, Attaboy Productions.  (I say 'apparently' because I only watch it on Quest, which is only up to series eleven - the changes occur from series twelve, half of which was filmed in the US, with series thirteen moving the whole production across the pond).  Incredibly, the new production company decided that the workshop sequences were too difficult to film and decided that it wanted to cut down on them.  Which seems bizarre, as they are, in essence, what the series is about. 

It would seem that this another case of a popular format being acquired by a new producer who doesn't actually understand the basis of the series popularity.  Clearly, Discovery wants to widen Wheeler Dealers appeal in order to attract more viewers, yet in doing so, it is undermining the the actual point of the programme.  Their argument would be that those workshop sequences limit its appeal to car enthusiasts - which is obviously true, they are, surely, the target audience.  Also, despite being an international success, Wheeler Dealers is very British in its ethos, which, I'm sure, is part of its appeal, moving the production to the US risks undermining this 'Britishness'.  But this isn't the first time that new producers have failed to understand what makes a format popular, bringing in unnecessary and  usually disastrous changes.  These days you often see it when they 'reimagine' old TV series for new film adaptations: just look at the movie versions of The Man From Uncle, The Equalizer or Bewitched, for example - all are left virtually unrecognisable from their inspirations.  It sometimes happens when a TV format is bought for an overseas remake.  I've written elsewhere here about the US version of On The Buses, Lots'a Luck, which had so many changes made to it that one was left wondering why the US producers had bothered buying the format. 

Significantly, the TV shows which have made the most successful transitions to the US are those which have had the fewest changes made to their formats.  'Til Death Us Do Part, for instance, made a successful transformation into All in the Family, because it only really changed some of the cultural references.  It was still about a bigoted patriarch adrift in a modern world of multiculturism, clinging to to his outmoded world view like a comfort blanket as he sees the certainties of his old working class culture vanishing.  Similarly, Steptoe and Son successfully crossed the Atlantic to become Sandford and Son - it was still about the fraught father-son relationship between the proprietors of a junk yard.  As for Man About the House, that needed next to no changes to become Three's Company in the States (even copying the originals spin offs).  By tinkering too much with a format, though, you always face the danger of destroying the very thing which made it popular in the first place.  I mean, imagine if the Shed and Buried format was to be bought by a US producer who decided, in order to broaden the show's appeal, that they'd have to feature less of Henry Cole and Sam Lovegrove rummaging through sheds and barns full of automotive junk?  It would be an unmitigated disaster.  But this is, in effect, what Discovery are doing to Wheeler Dealers.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Post Without a Theme

After two consecutive themed weeks of posting here, I start this week with no idea whatsoever as to what I'm going to post about this week.  Of course, those two themed weeks weren't actually planned.  They came about by accident because I started both weeks without a clue to what I was going to write about, so posted stuff out of desperation on the Monday, then just kept following them up for the rest of the week.  I was thinking of having another moan about Google and its latest abuse of its near monopoly in web search.  But what's the point?  Google are evil bastards. There's nothing more to say.  Besides I can take satisfaction in the fact that over the weekend, not only did Google begin to take a kicking from various institutions and businesses over its 'misplacing' of extremist material near their ads, but that I also managed to temporarily out manoeuvre Google and get them to send me search traffic just at the time they were, once again, trying to crush The Sleaze's organic traffic.  Don't ask me how - it involved a combination of my successful playing of their algorithm by adding some page elements I've found that it 'likes' and an unexpected development in the real world which suddenly made one of my old stories relevant again. - but it worked

Actually, the backlash is already beginning to set in, with search traffic from Google being abruptly throttled back this evening, following a third consecutive day of above average page views.  Google just hates anyone to get more than what they've clearly decided is their fair share of daily traffic and punishes 'errant' sites accordingly.  But to get back to those two themed weeks, I have to say that I really enjoyed writing those posts, it seemed to bring the joy of blogging back to me.  Not only that, but they also provided a nice change from the politics and post-millennial angst I've been mired in here for a while.  Although I can't promise any more themed weeks in the near future, the themes I explored over the past couple of weeks have opened up new areas of interest to pursue here.  The 8mm shorts, in particular, have turned out to be a fascinating field of study which I'm sure we'll be returning to soon.  There is also the related genre of 'glamour' shorts which were popular in the UK in the sixties - something else I'm sure we'll be looking at in detail in the future.  As for the rest of this week - I haven't a clue as to what I'll be posting about.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Silent Star Wars

To round off this (unplanned) themed week of 8mm movie digests and shorts, something slightly more up to date: a ten minute Star Wars digest from 1977.  This was produced by Ken Films, a rival to Castle Films, which started at the low budget end of the business, producing condensed versions of AIP B-movies, but, by the seventies, was producing and distributing digests of Twentieth Century Fox blockbusters like Towering Inferno and Planet of the Apes.  These were often in colour, with soundtracks and would run thirty minutes, divided into two parts.  (There was alao a forty five minute digest of Towering Inferno).  Naturally, such productions were relatively expensive, so Ken Films would also produce shorter versions, shorn of both sound and colour.   An example of which is what I'm presenting here.

There is something slightly surreal in seeing something like Star Wars in this format.  Having seen the film on its original release and marveled at the sheer scale of the film and its (then) amazing special effects, I do find it disconcerting to see it in this diminished form.  It brings home how important the sound effects and colour photography were in helping to create the film's impact.  But, if nothing else, it gives us a chance to see what Star Wars might have looked like if it had been made before the advent of sound.  For the record, the colour two-part 8mm digest versions of Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back are very impressive productions and probably represent the pinnacle of the 8mm digest genre.  But by the time they appeared, the writing was on the wall, as the prices of home video players were beginning to fall, bringing them within reach of ordinary people.  There's no doubt that VHS tapes were a far more convenient form of home viewing (you also got to see the whole movie), but there's no denying that the 8mm digests brought with them some of the romance of celluloid, allowing viewers to create a true home cinema experience, complete with grainy immages and the whirring of the projector.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Mondo Before Mondo?

Castle Films didn't just produce cut down versions of old movies, (that was something that escalated in the fifties, after they became a subsidiary of Universal), they originally produced newsreels and short informational films.  Some of these, focusing on the culture and rituals of various 'primitive' peoples, very much have the feel of prototype Mondo movies, long before the Italian film industry invented the 'shockumentary' genre.  The short I've featured here, Belles of the South Seas from 1944, is particularly reminiscent of those segments of Mondo Cane which 'showcase' the supposed rituals and roles of women in various remote island tribes.  Like the Italian film, there's a strong suspicion on the part of the viewer that these rituals and dances have all been carefully 'recreated' for the benefit of the cameras, rather than being actual documentary footage of spontaneous activity.

The focus on the sensational - note the number of references to cannibalism, for instance - and using the 'documentary' aspect to justify the showing of bared female breasts, (something audiences were unlikely to see on a screen in 1944 outside of 'stag' films), on the grounds that it was 'educational', are typical of the Mondo genre.  Not to mention the patronising narration, which constantly belittles the cultures of these non-white, 'uncivilised' people.  (The irony being that the supposedly 'civilised' culture making this film were, in 1944, still engaged in slaughtering each other in World War Two).  Obviously, this short is far less explicit than the later Mondo movies but it is, nevertheless, a close relative.  It is tempting to think that it was films like this which inspired the later Italian genree.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Mummy's Ghost - in Brief

To continue yesterday's discussion of those 8mm digested movies which were available for home viewing (if you had a suitable projector) right up to the early eighties, today I present a cut down version of one of those Universal Mummy movies from the forties I was on about last week.  Reduced to eight minutes or so, The Mummy's Ghost is actually almost tolerable. Even with a running time of just over an hour, the full version is unbelievably tedious, with its reincarnation theme and leaden pace.  Even the presence of John Carradine can't enliven it.  However, the shortened version makes no more sense than the full version - just why does the girl carried off by the Mummy apparently turn into a mummy herself?  After all, she's meant to be the reincarnation of an Ancient Egyptian princess, not her mummified remains, (which we see turn to dust at the beginning of the film).

This condensed version of The Mummy's Ghost was one of a number of such digests of Universal horror classics produced and distributed by Castle Films, (some when in the fifties Universal became the major shareholder in Castle, thereby giving them access to the studio's library).  Although many were, like this one, straight digests of an entire film, others took a more radical approach, highlighting one particular sub-plot and constructing am eight minute mini-movie around it.  Doom of Dracula, for instance, takes all of the Dracula-related footage from House of Frankenstein and fashions it into a stand alone story.  Likewise, I've seen two similar features edited from House of Dracula, one featuring the vampire footage, another the wolfman footage, (although they can't avoid Lon Chaney Jr briefly popping up, without explanation, in the Dracula segment).  I presume there was also a short featuring the Frankenstein monster edited from House of Dracula

This whole world of 8mm shorts is quite fascinating, (I say 8mm, but Castle also produced some in 16mm, including a condensed version of Psycho), and the more I dig into it, the more interesting stuff I turn up. So, stay tuned for more from the world of 8mm movie digests!


Monday, March 13, 2017

Curse of the Crimson Altar in Eight Minutes and 8mm

Back in the day, before on-demand TV, downloads, DVDs, laser discs and even VHS, the only way most people could see movies at home (other than when they had TV showings, obviously) was to watch heavily condensed versions on Super 8 film.  These were sold commercially - I well remember the ads for them which used to run in newspapers - and, to view them, you'd obviously need to have a projector capable of showing 8mm films.  Which most people didn't.  Nevertheless, there must have been a reasonably healthy market for them, as a lot of titles were offered, ranging from ancient horror films, through Italian sword and sandal epics to relatively recent releases (digest versions of the Planet of the Apes movies, for instance, were available).  They were also surprisingly long-lived: digest versions of Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Close Encounters were all available.

These 8mm digests varied greatly in format, some used black and white prints, even when the original was in colour, some were silent, with subtitles. Some ran up to fifteen minutes, but most were around the eight to ten minute mark.  Some offered highlights of the complete film, others a complete sequence (both the Planet of the Apes and Star Wars digests I've seen present the climaxes of those films), but most presented a cut down version of a full feature.  Obviously, it involved some drastic editing to bring a ninety minute film down to eight minutes and retain any semblance of coherence.  Actually, most weren't coherent if you hadn't seen the original. A case in point being the condensed version of Tigon's Curse of the Crimson Altar which I've presented here.  To be fair, it wasn't a great movie in the first place, but the digest version is pretty much incomprehensible.  It opens about fifteen minutes into the movie proper and then proceeds to jump through several scenes at break neck speed before reaching an ending inexplicable based on what went before.  Overall, it's a surreal experience and, on that level, surprisingly entertaining. 


Friday, March 10, 2017

Half Man, Half Fish, All Pervert?

No, I'm not going to talk about The Creature From the Black Lagoon and his transgressive behaviour.  I don't care that he appeared in three films (although only the first one is really any good), that doesn't make him a classic horror movie monster, thus he doesn't warrant inclusion in this week's discussions on the subject.  Although, I have to say that if we were to include him in the discussion then the whole scenario of a half man, half fish, (or whatever the Hell he's meant to be - some kind of prehistoric humanoid amphibian, I think), stalking nubile young women in the swimsuits swimming in the titular lagoon, then its pretty obvious what transgressive behaviours he is exhibiting.  Voyeurism, for one.  I say voyeurism, but it actually turns into stalking.  But the most glaringly obvious transgressive behaviour being implied is that of bestiality - I mean, he's an amphibian lusting after and carrying off to his lair, human women.  What else is he going to do with them there?

Quite why a scaly amphibian would find human women attractive is, of course, never addressed by any of the films.  After all, if the situation were to be reversed, would the audience be expected to believe that a human man might find a scaly green woman with gills sexually alluring?  But the sexual attraction that various monsters and aliens apparently feel for human women is an enduring theme in horror and science fiction movies, (not to mention pulp magazines - just look at some of the late forties and early fifties covers of Planet Stories). Bearing in mind the place and era most of these movies were being made in - fifties USA - it is tempting to think that they are commenting on what would, back then, have been considered a transgressive behaviour: interracial romance.  But perhaps this really would be to read too much into what are, essentially, B-movies.  but you never know.


Thursday, March 09, 2017

More Monsterous Behaviour

OK, to continue what seems to have become this week's 'theme', I'm well aware that, in the last post about horror movie monsters and transgressive behaviour, I neglected to mention Frankenstein's Monster.  Well, as always there's the sex angle: like the Mummy, the Monster is always carrying off young women in low cut dresses, or even their underwear, with the clear implication of a sexual motive.  Indeed, in the 1931 Frankenstein, there's a scene where Karloff's monster lumbers into his creator's bride-to-be bedroom - the way the sequence is cut, with the bride-to-be lying prone on her bed, hair disarrayed and limbs akimbo, clearly implies rape.  Of course, there's always the question of whether Frankenstein has constructed his monster with the requisite equipment for that sort of activity - certainly, the creature's attempts to get the good Doctor to create him a mate seems to imply that he is equipped.  (Interestingly, in the original novel, written before science had any understanding of genetics, Frankenstein worries that if he creates a bride for the Monster, they will procreate a whole race of misshapen monsters.  In reality, of course, as they would have possessed someone else's organs of procreation, they would have produced offspring that looked like whoever had donated such organs). 

Whilst an argument for the Monster's transgressive behaviour being rape, an argument could be made that it is the the creature himself who represents trangressive behaviour.  Some years ago I read a book entitled Dreadful Pleasures, by James B Twitchell, which attempted a Freudian analysis of the classic horror monsters.  The Frankenstein Monster, according to Twitchell, derives much of his psychological impact on viewers because he is the product of unnatural sexual procreation.  He is, of course, not born of woman.  Indeed, no woman is involved, at any pint, in his creation.  He is entirely the product of a man. Put crudely, the Monster is the result of masturbation, a terrible warning of what happens when unnatural (ie solo) sex usurps the normal sex act involving a man and a woman.  Indeed, bearing in mind that the original novel was written by a woman, it could be argued that the story serves as a warning of the terrible consequences of trying to usurp woman kind from their rightful role of creators of new life.  So there you have it - Frankenstein's Monster is less a masturbatory fantasy than a masturbatory nightmare.


Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Monsters Behaving Badly

It's all about transgressive behaviour.  Being a successful movie monster, that is.  My musings here about Mummy movies, yesterday, left me thinking about just why Egyptiam mummys don't make for truly great monsters.  As I mentioned in the previous post, unlike most other classic horror movie monsters, the Mummy presents no sexual threat towards all those women he carries off.  Sure, his interest in them is usually motivated by the fact they are the reincarnation of his long lost forbidden love, but there's never any suggestion that he's going to be do anything physical about it, even if he was still equipped, (the mummification process usually involved various of the vital organs being pickled in jars).  Of course, if he could do something physical with those women, then that would represent some very transgressive behaviour, as four thousand year old embalmed corpse having sex with a living woman would surely count as necrophilia.  But without the sex, what's left for the poor old Mummy in terms of transgressive behaviour?  Things like drinking blood or cannibalism are out as he's dead and needs no sustenance to keep his embalmed body alive, (except regular infusions of the juice from Tana leaves in the old Universal Mummy movies of the forties).

By contrast, other movie monsters indulge in nothing but transgressive behaviour.  Vampires, in particular, are all about sex - all that blood drinking is clearly a substitute for oral sex.  They also spend a lot of time targeting innocent young women, preferably virgins, and violating them with their perverted practices.  This is particularly worrying as the vampire has typically been undead for hundreds of years, making him the ultimate in dirty old men.  But the vampire's depredations are a complex business, the the clear implication that his victim has sometimes been 'asking for it', in that they are sexually promiscuous and/or a willing participant in the blood drinking/sex.  (This is particularly apparent in Hammer's Twins of Evil, where its the 'naughty; twin who first falls under the spell of the local vampire, with her more virtuous sister resisting his advances).  But, more often than not, the vampire's attacks are more akin to rape, with his attentions being forced upon an unwilling victim.  Like rape, it isn't about sex, so much as power: not only is the vampire usually a member of the nobility, but his attentions usually leave the victim helpless in the face of his power.

As for the other popular movie monsters, well Dr Jekyll's transformation into Mr Hyde is clearly sexually motivated.  The good doctor's bestial alter ego allows him to indulge in all sorts of sexual depravities his normal repressed self could only fantasize about.  Much the same applies to the werewolf, who also crosses another boundary by eating people.  But, as we've established, the poor old Mummy does none of these things, leaving him a bit dull and repetitive.  If you need further proof of the need for successful movie monsters to exhibit transgressive behaviour, just consider how dull the zombie (a close cousin to the Mummy) was in film - just shuffling around, looking vaguely menacing as they quietly decayed - until the late sixties and Night of the Living Dead, when they became cannibals.  Since then, they've slowly but surely established themselves as 'king monster' in the movies, (despite the fact that, flesh eating aside, they are still pretty boring, lacking any personality or motivation).


Monday, March 06, 2017

Mummy Movies

I caught a couple of Hammer's Mummy movies over the weekend - to be precise, I watched exactly half of their Egyptology output, as the only ever made four Mummy movies.  Of these four, arguably only the first, The Mummy, made in 1959 and starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (in the title role), is actually any good.  Their last entry in the genre, 1971's Blood From the Mummy's Tomb, has its supporters: it is certainly a good looking movie with a lot of atmosphere and some decent suspense sequences, but it is undermined by a confusing script (based on Bram Stoker's Jewel of the Seven Stars) and serious production difficulties/  Peter Cushing had to leave the film early on due to his wife's illness, to be replaced by Andrew Keir, and director Seth Holt died suddenly, before he could complete the film.  Michael Carreras stepped in for the last week of filming and madea valiant attempt to put together a coherent film from the footage.

The other two Hammer Mummy movies were both made in the sixties and have attracted few admirers.  Both Curse of the Mummy's Tomb and The Mummy's Shroud are essentially B-movies, made on low budgets to form half of a double bill, but neither is without points of interest.  Despite a low budget and lack of any of Hammer's regular top line stars, 1964's Curse of the Mummy's Tomb is surprisingly good looking and, under Michael Carreras' direction, manages top create some good atmosphere, particularly once the action moves to turn-of-the-century London.   Whilst the film's Mummy lacks the sheer  presence that Lee had brought to the role in 1959, it still makes an effective monster, especially when looming out the fog at its victims.  John Gilling's 1966 The Mummy's Shroud has far lower production values, with most of the action confined to a studio-bound recreation of Cairo, consisting mainly of whitewashed interiors.  It does, at least boast the presence of Andre Morrell - although top-billed, he makes an early exit.  Roger Delgado gives a satisfyingly over-the-top performance as the villain, with Catherine Lacy as his cackling, fortune-telling mother, giving him a good run for his money.  The film's Mummy, whilst not the most convincing-looking mummy (although, ironically, it was closely modeled on a real mummy, which can still be seen in the British Museum), is surprisingly violent, dispatching his victims by throwing them through windows or poring acid over them.  Set-pieces such as these are undoubtedly the film's highlights, well handled by Gilling, who also manages a startling sequence when the Mummy first opens its eyes and a startling climax where it, quite literally, tears itself to pieces.

Ultimately, both films demonstrate the fundamental problem with Mummy films:  it is virtually impossible to vary the plot.  It's always the same: a tomb is 'desecrated' by American or European acrcheologists, invoking a curse which involves a Mummy coming to life and murdering them.  Both films tr to bring in variations - Curse mixes in a 'Wandering Jew' element with a character turning out to be the Mummy's brother (and murderer) who is cursed to live until he dies by his brother's hand, while Shroud brings in a sub-plot involving the Mummy protecting the tomb of a long-lost boy Pharoah - but essentially, they are just remakes of the 1959 film.  Blood From the Mummy's Tomb at least tries to be innovative, bringing in reincarnation and dispensing with any actual Mummys perambulating around London.  Interestingly, both Curse and Shroud feature rapacious capitalist businessmen who want to exploit the Mummy for profit, exhibiting it around the world as some kind of fairground attraction.  This immediately makes the Mummys' main victims much less sympathetic.  Wheras in the 1959 film one couldn't help but feel that the archeologist victims were essentially blameless, in these two films you are left feeling that some of the victims had it coming.  Of course, the main reason for this plot device was to induce some audience sympathy for the Mummy in each film, both of whom lacked Kharis' complex back story in Hammer's first Mummy movie.

And that's the problem with movie Mummys: once they've become a mummy, swathed in dirty bandages, they lose their individuality and capacity for any kind of emotional expression.  Only Lee in The Mummy succeeds in projecting and emotion, via his blazing eyes and longing looks at the reincarnation of his lost love.  Hammer's subsequent Mummy's were bit-part players, lacking Lee's non-verbal acting skills.  Plus, other than murder people, the film-makers never find anything really interesting for the Mummy to do.  He might carry off young women displaying lots of cleavage, but ultimately he presents no sexual threat, unlike a vampire or the bestial likes of Mr Hyde or the werewolf.  Nevertheless, despite all of my reservations about Curse and Shroud, I still have a fondness for them.  They aren't classics and certainly can't match any of Hammer's best films on any level.  But they are efficient B-movies which deliver ninety minutes or so of solid, if undemanding, entertainment.

They are certainly far better than any of the later Universal Mummy pictures of the 1940s.  I once watched all of these in a movie marathon on some long defunct digital channel and nearly lost the will to live.  While the Karloff original was glacially slow, it at least had some good set pieces and a decent cast, the best of them was the semi-sequel, The Mummy's Hand which, despite some irritating comic relief, builds up to a nightmarish climax, its shuffling Mummy with its withered arm making a surprisingly terrifying monster.  The Mummy's Tomb is just about bearable, but marks the start of Lon Chaney Jr's tenancy of the Mummy role, (although, in reality, it was usually stuntman Eddie Parker under the bandages.  The Mummy's Ghost and The Mummy's Curse, however, are terrible, with plots as indecipherable as the hieroglyphics on the walls of the Egyptian sets, a deathly pace and incredible lapses in continuity.


Saturday, March 04, 2017

Non Entertainment Tonight

We've had a week of showbiz things I found that I really wasn't interested in.  Especially the Oscars.  I didn't realise just how disinterested in the Academy Awards I'd become until this last week, when even the furore of the wrong movie being announced as 'Best Film' left me unmoved.  I mean, what does it actually matter which one gets the award?  It's long since passed the point when the awards are based on any kind of artistic merit.  It's all politics, all about which bland piece of product ticks enough of this year's required boxes to win.  I'd like to think that I'm being too cynical about this, but I know I'm not.  As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I don't have much time for awards as it is - I'm not quite sure what they are meant to prove. Even when the criteria are clear, the judgements are ultimately still entirely subjective.  Besides, I've always felt that when it comes to artistic matters, the whole concept of 'best' is meaningless, you can never really compare like-with-like as, by their very nature, all pieces of art are unique.

Anyway, another showbiz non-story briefly caught my attention, this time concerning another one of those magazine photo shoots young actresses tend to do - the sort where they are semi-naked and tease that you might get a glimpse of nipple, or flash of buttock.  In this case it was Emma Watson, late of the Harry Potter franchise, revealing a bit more breast than usual,  The fuss that this created in some quarters, well, The Daily Mail, was highly amusing.  It seemed to centre around the idea that a former child star revealing that she actually has breasts was some kind of 'betrayal' of her young fans. I was left bemused by it all - it's surely hardly a surprise, even to Mail journalists, that twenty six year old woman might have fully developed breasts?  They do understand the concept that children, even child actors, grow up to be adults, don't they?  Perhaps not, judging by all those tedious items they churn out on the subject of 'Look at how these former child stars have grown up - isn't it amazing?'  Not really, no.  It's simply normal. 

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Thursday, March 02, 2017

Over Sexed and Over Here?

Sometimes you've got to wonder - only the other day I saw a headline describing Malmo as the 'rape capital of Europe'.  You know, if I was the mayor of Malmo, I'd be looking to fire whoever is in charge of the PR campaign for the tourist industry.  Because, you know, I really don't see that as being a selling point - I certainly wouldn't visit Malmo on that basis.  And I'm pretty sure that it's not going to do anything to attract female visitors, either.  It's hardly up there with 'City of Culture', say, as a slogan.  But I shouldn't be making light of accusations, never mind how false they are.  The 'capital of rape' nonsense was another example of the fake news peddled by the right with regard to Sweden.  The country has always held a fascination for reactionaries, with its image of liberalism, reasonableness and free love.  As if all that wasn't bad enough, in recent years the Swedes have also started being nice to refugees, allowing them to settle there.  Now, combine that with all that free hardcore pornography right-wingers imagine Sweden is awash with, and what do you get?  A tidal wave of porn-fueled rapes committed by gangs of rampantly aroused foreigners.

The idea of immigrants, particularly those from Muslim backgrounds, being more prone to committing sexual offences has become something of an obsession for the right, with hardly a week going by without some report or other of 'European' (ie, white) women suffering mass assaults at the hands of gangs of immigrants.  The fact that none of these have proven to have any foundation in fact is neither here nor there, of course.  True or not, they serve their purpose of insidiously reinforcing the negative stereotype of the sex offender immigrant in popular culture.  Not that there is anything new in this idea of 'foreigners' somehow being 'better' and more enthusiastic rapists than Europeans - just listen to that song on Peter Wyngard's album 'Golden Throats'.  You know, the one called 'Rape', in which he 'amusingly' chronicles the different rape techniques of various ethnicities.  But that was the seventies - and now, it seems.  And let's not forget all those stories you used to get in the old men's magazines about western women being ravaged by Arab potentates or devious Orientals.  Mind you back then, the women put themselves in peril by ill advised travels in foreign climes.  Nowadays those bloody foreigners are over paid on benefits, over sexed on rape and over here.  Apparently.  


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Day of Decision?

The aftermath of last week's cold lingers - I still feel incredibly tired a lot of the time, I alternate between sweating and shivering and my motivation to do anything is non-existent.  Worst still, I've walked back into a state of chaos at work.  It doesn't help that the weather is relentlessly miserable, into the bargain. I'm beginning to wonder if I wasn't better off last week, too sick to get out of bed.  Indeed, even in the worst depths of my illness, there was a part of me thinking that, no matter how bad I felt, at least I wasn't at work.  Which just goes to show the state of affairs my relationship with work have reached.  I just don't want to be there.  I don't like the organisation I work for, I don't like what I do and I have no respect for the people I work with.  Luckily, the solution isn't far away.  As my building society keeps reminding me, the last of my mortgage comes to an end in a couple of months time.  Which isn't really news, I know.  I've been on about it for the past few years.  But, at last, the moment is almost upon me.  A decision is required as to what I'm going to do once free of my biggest monthly outlay and in full ownership of my home.

I've long speculated that I might, at the very least, reduce my working hours.  But events in the workplace today, which served to emphasise further the utter contempt with which management views its employees, (it didn't involve me directly, but the fall out inevitably will), pretty much tipped the balance, in my mind, to quitting completely.  I know that, arguably, while feeling low in the aftermath of an illness isn't the best time to make major, life-changing decisions, but I've looked at the situation from both emotional and logical perspectives and have come to the same conclusion.  My current work is the primary source of stress in my life right now.  Stress which has, over recent years, had an increasingly detrimental effect upon my health.  It gives me nothing in the way of job satisfaction in compensation.  Continued staff cuts mean that I'm doing more and more work, for no more pay or better conditions.  Indeed, over the past few years, my only 'reward' from management for covering other peoples' jobs is a kick in the teeth.  The truth is that the only thing holding me back from deciding to make the break complete was the usual fear of being left without an income.  But viewed logically, there is little to fear: my home will be my own and I've managed to put myself in a position financially, that I could happily survive for two or three years without working.  The fact of the matter is that I need to take a break.  Not just a week or two's leave, but a proper break without the spectre of returning to the Hell that is work looming over me.  I need time to think.  Sure, there's a fair chance, that come the end of Spring I'll be walking into oblivion, but if I don't take this opportunity to make a break, what's the alternative?  More years of misery until I retire?  I know that I can't take that!