Thursday, May 31, 2018

In Bad Humour

I never liked Roseanne Barr.  Even before we all found out that she was a Trump-supporting bigot who tweets racist comments while under the influence of drugs I made a point of avoiding her TC shows.  Back in the day, I did try watching a couple of episodes of her eponymous sitcom, when it was all the rage and shown on Channel 4 over here - mainly because John Goodman was in it.  But it defeated me - no matter how good John Goodman was, I couldn't get around the fact that Roseanne herself was awful.  Her delivery of lines was appalling, her characterisation terrible and her overall performance woeful.  And now she's cooked her own goose with her unpleasant tweets and gone and got her sitcom cancelled by the network all over again .  There are those who might argue that the cancellation is an extreme response to comments made by a star in a private capacity.  After all, actors and performers are entitled to political opinions and equally entitled to express them - we watch them for the characters they play, so these opinions shouldn't matter.  But, of course, they do matter.  At least they do when they fall outside of what would be considered normal political discourse.

Moreover, in the case of Roseanne Barr, it is pretty much impossible to differentiate the performer from the character she plays, leaving the impression that her views and those of the character are the same and that the network, by showing her TV series, is effectively endorsing them.  The fact is that there are plenty of actors and performers in the US who openly endorse the Republican party, just as in the UK there are plenty who support the Tories, but, despite what some people might have you believe, none of them have ever been kept off air because of these political views.  Which is as it should be, because, despite what I might think of their ideologies, these are legitimate political parties which don't, as a rule, endorse or promulgate openly racist policies.  Even being a Trump supporter shouldn't get you fired as that alone doesn't require you to tweet racist comments.  That's where Roseanne Barr stepped over the line.  Of course, while the network should be commended for its swift action, I strongly suspect that it was motivated less by moral considerations than by economic ones.  The fact is that these days an advertising supported non-subscription network can't afford to offend either any key viewer demographics or advertisers.  If viewers are offended by a star's private comments and turn off, then they won't see the commercials advertisers have paid big bucks for and they'll withdraw their custom.  Said advertisers also can't afford to have their products associated with views which might affect sales.  Money, I'm afraid, is always the bottom line and is, ultimately, bigger than any star.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Maverick Paperwork

You know, as I grow older I find myself having more and more sympathy the various SFPD Lieutenants and Captains who had to supervise Dirty Harry back in the seventies and eighties.  Not just them, but the supervisors of any of those 'maverick' cops who filled our cinema and TV screens back then.  Of course, when i was younger, I liked to identify with the 'mavericks'.  Granted, being a 'maverick' junior civil servant wasn't easy, but I gave it a go: flaunting the authority of conventional filing systems and striking a blow for the liberation of paper clips.  I mainly succeeded in simply being a pain in the arse.  (In my defence, when I started in public service, there were a lot of arseholes in middle management who treated their staff abominably, with xasual sexism and racism still rife.  Sadly, in recent years a whole new brand of arsehole has colonised civil service management, setting back all the progress I thought that we'd made).  But my 'achievements' were minor compared to the antics of those 'maverick' cops - destruction of property, infringement of civil liberties, reckless endangerment of the public are just some of the things their supervisors were left having to contend with.

Those films and TV series were highly misleading, setting a poor example for easily impressed young idiots like me, mainly in that they clearly implied that, beyond being shouted at by your boss and, possibly, his boss, there were never any lasting consequences to, for example, escalating a simple hostage situation into a war zone.  Yet, in reality, 'mavericks' in any field of employment risk suspension, disciplinary action, probable dismissal and possible criminal prosecution.  The rule of thumb being that the more junior the 'maverick', the worse the consequences.  Yet none of this ever happens to those 'maverick' cops.  Sure, Dirty Harry sometimes gets suspended, but only until his bosses realise the error their ways and that the only way they can regain control of the streets is to let him fill them with blood again via his usual campaigns of brutal beatings and shootings.  Of course, the main reason the bosses have such a downer on these 'mavericks' is the paperwork.  I now appreciate from my own experiences of having to try and clear up after other's 'maverick' actions is that they generate huge quantities of paper work.  And phone calls.  Irate phone calls from the public which have to be dealt with.  It's all a nightmare.  Worse than that, it's a time consuming nightmare.  So. let's hear it for those poor bastards who had clean up after the likes of Dirty Harry, their only reward being called 'pencil pushers' and 'jobsworths'.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Bank Holiday Monday Musings

I really must start doing more on bank holidays.  This is the second one this month where I've done bugger all.  That said, I'm off all week, so its a moot point, really - it's not as if this is te only day I'm going to have off of work for weeks, or even months.  So, sleeping through part of it and crashing on the sofa and watching crap on TV (in between some clearing up), doesn't feel like a wasted opportunity.  I must also start getting back to writing up the various schlock movies I've been watching.  I started getting back into my stride a few weeks ago, but ran out of steam again.  I'm afraid that I've had a lot of distractions lately.  But, to get back to the point, I've seen a good many schlocky movies of late - and some not so schlocky.  I recently caught up with The Last Valley for the first time in thirty-odd years, for instance: an unjustly forgotten and underrated movie from the early seventies.  I was able to watch it again courtesy of the excellent Talking Pictures TV, who continue to resurrect a plethora of undeservedly neglected movies.

Unlike other Freeview movies channels, which, increasingly, seem to be dedicated to screening the collected works of Steven Seagal and Jean Claude van Damme.  I find the latter's films preferable to the former's, but I'd really rather not watch too many of either.  But Sony Movie Channel, in particular, seems determined to show even the most obscure of Seagal's films.  The other day, for reasons too tedious to go into, I ended up watching most of a Seagal film called Code of Honor on said channel.  It was from his most recent era of movie making, where he sports that goatee beard and all his action scenes have to be carefully shot to hide the fact that he is too overweight and physically unfit to actually perform any martial arts moves.  Thankfully, he didn't have too much dialogue, but what on earth was that accent he was sporting meant to be?  As far as I could make out, the conclusion implied that Seagal had simply been the figment of another character's imagination.  Which is a truly terrifying thought - I mean, what kind of sick and twisted mind could imagine something like that?


Friday, May 25, 2018

Yet Another Commercial Break

It's another bank holiday weekend and I'm feeling lazy again, so it's back to that old stand-by: a selection of old TV ads.  These are from 1967 and, obviously, in black and white.  They are fascinating because they represent the end of an era,  Back in 1967 TV was still, just, a novelty and the idea of advertising on it was also something of a novelty.  Consequently, there's still a certain innocence about these commercials.  There's no hard sell, irony or knowingness about them.  Compared to the slick production we've become accustomed to, they seem quite crude.  They also feel quite 'forma', with the attempts at a more relaxed, informal approach (such as in the Davenport's ad), seem forced and awkward. 

But the late sixties were a time of flux, as the 'swinging sixties' blew through Britain, youth culture flourished and pop culture started going wild.  Things were also changing in the world of TV: ABC, for instance, was shortly to be ousted by ATV as part of a wider series of changes in the ITV franchises (Rediffusion London would give way to Thames and the weekend London franchise would go over to London Weekend TV, for instance).  Colour TV was also just around the corner in the UK: BBC2 started colour broadcasts in 1967, with BBC1 and some ITV regions following suit in late 1969.  With the advent of colour, the ads started getting slicker.  TV also became less of a novelty and more a part of the furniture in the majority of Britain's homes.  Some of the magic had gone as we all started to take the mavrel of TV for granted.


Thursday, May 24, 2018

Nuptials for the Single Man

So, getting back to Monday's post and my aversion to weddings, I've been thinking about this whole business of the media's assumptions that marriage represents 'normality' and that being determinedly single is 'unnatural'.  I've come to the conclusion that I'm just going to have to marry myself.  Apparently it's a 'thing' now.  It's marketed as a way for us sad single people to enjoy the whole wedding experience without actually having to marry anyone else.  Mind you - it's that whole wedding experience that I've spent half my life trying to avoid.  That's the trouble, you see, this self-marriage business makes the same assumption as the media: that us sad singles actually want to get married and secretly covet all the pomp and ceremony of a wedding - something that our single status denies us.  It's like those dating apps which try and get people to set up their single friends with dates - it's making an assumption that we're unhappy with our situation, which simply isn't true.  But to get back to my proposed marriage to myself - it would have to be quick registry office job, with just a couple of witnesses dragged in off of the street.  I mean, I don't want any of that bollocks you usually get at weddings - and I certainly wouldn't want family or friends there.  I expend enough effort trying to avoid them at the best of times.

Still, at least the reception would be easy - I'd just take myself to the pub and but myself a pint.  Maybe even a packet of crisps, too.  After all, it would be my wedding day, so I'd be allowed a bit of extravagance, wouldn't I?  Marrying oneself seems to be one of the less crazy things people do matrimony-wise these days.  Hardly a day goes by without me reading somewhere about people marrying bridges, tower blocks, lampposts, probably even their cars.  (After all, the most meaningful relationship some men seem to have is with their BMWs, so why not go all the way and marry the bloody things).  It's all pretty harmless, I suppose, but I do wonder where it will all end -people marrying national monuments or natural features, like lakes or mountains?  Mind you, there is precedent for the latter - I seem to remember that on The Goon Show Minnie Bannister, spinster of the parish, once declared that she was in love with a mountain.  She might even have sung a song about it.  And that was back in 1957 or so, (just to clarify, I am too young to have heard The Goon Show on its first broadcast, it was long over before I was born, but I've heard he repeats and shows issued on tape and CD).  There really is nothing new under the sun.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Queen's (Future) Funeral

So, I was reading the other day as to how when the Queen finally shuffles off this mortal coil, we'll get two extra bank holidays: one for the funeral, one for the coronation of her successor.  Which means that we'll have to hope that she pops her clogs during the Summer so that we'll have the best chance of being able to fully enjoy these extra days off.  That said, the sad fact is that most elderly people tend to snuff it during the Winter months - it's the cold that gets them.  Still, I doubt that Her Majesty will have any difficulty affording the heating bills for Buckingham Palace, so we might get lucky.  I know, I know, I really shouldn't be looking at the death of the monarch simply as a chance to get a couple of days off - but we've got to seize these opportunities when they come.  Let's not forget that we were cheated out of a day off when they decided to hold Princess Diana's funeral on a Saturday. That said, on that day, I did make the most of the empty roads to drive down to the New Forest in record time, (which included 'doing the ton' on that bit of dual carriageway as you leave Romsey, I like to think of it as being my special tribute to the deceased Diana: The Princess Diana Memorial Speed Run).  Apparently, one of the other things which will happen when the Queen finally snuffs it is that, between the announcement of her death and the funeral, the BBC will broadcast no comedy.  How will we be able to tell the difference?

Obviously, back in the pre-digital age, when we only had the terrestrial TV channels, the death of some national figure meant that all the normal schedules would be suspended and we'd be forced to watch sombre tributes on every channel for days on end.  Indeed, I remember that when Princess Diana died on a Saturday night, I awoke the next morning to find every radio station playing sombre music and every TV channel seemingly simulcasting the same news reports.  It was a bloody relief when Channel Four broke ranks and returned to its regular schedules late in the morning: I never thought that I'd be glad to see an episode of The Waltons.  But from then until the funeral, most TV and radio became respectful and bland.  Any film involving a car crash was yanked from the schedules, nothing with swearing in it was allowed.  I recall how the DJs on Radio One weren't allowed to banter as normal, they just played the blandest possible records and made uncontroversial comments about the weather in between them.  But nowadays, with the plethora of digital channels on offer, I really don't see many of them suspending their normal schedules in the event of the Queen's death.  I can just see Dave announcing, on the day of the funeral, its special tribute to Her Majesty in the form of back-to-back episodes of QI in which she is mentioned by Stephen Fry.  Perhaps Quest could give us the Queen Elizabeth commemorative Wheeler Dealers marathon, culminating in a new episode where they buy and restore a Daimler like the Queen's - which Mike Brewer then makes a small loss on when he tries to flog it.  The possibilities are endless.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Unhappily Ever After

For some people, anything to do with death disturbs them.  The site of a coffin makes them recoil.  They have to turn their eyes from wreaths and funeral processions.  I feel the same way about weddings.  I run at the sight of wedding dresses, try to drive wedding cars off of the road when I encounter them and turn the other way whenever I see a sign advertising a 'wedding sale' or 'wedding event'.  I've spent so many years inventing excuses for turning down wedding invitations from both family and friends - thankfully, most people now seem to have the got the message: I don't like weddings, I don't attend weddings.  Believe me, by not inviting me in the first place, you'll be saving everybody's time.  I actually can't remember the last wedding I attended - I do remember many of those I've avoided, including my nephew's (I've still never met his wife) and several friends and work colleagues' weddings.  I feel no sense of shame or guilt over these avoidances, just relief.  As you can imagine, this past weekend was something of an ordeal for me, what with the Royal Wedding dominating the media.  After all, if go out of my way to avoid the weddings of people I know, why on earth would I want the wedding of complete strangers forced down my throat?

I wish I could say that there is some story behind my wedding phobia, that I'd once been jilted at the altar or, worse, I'd once left someone standing at the altar.  I say 'worse', because, in fiction and the media, it is always portrayed as somehow being a greater 'crime' for a groom to jilt a bride than the other way around.  Yes, indeed, I'd love to be able to spin you some yarn as to how, in the dim and distant past, I found myself heading toward matrimony, but had an epiphany in which I had a vision of being shackled to someone for the rest of my life and realised it wasn't for me, so ran away to sea instead.  (In fact, I can just imagine myself agreeing with all the arrangements because it would be easier than forcing a confrontation, then just not turning up on the day.  I've got form for that sort of thing: when I was a teenager, for instance, some friends kept on and on about going to see this bloody film I wasn't interested in one Saturday - in the end, for some peace, I agreed to meet them at the cinema, then just didn't turn up.  I went off and did something by myself which I actually enjoyed, instead.  Over the years there have been many similar incidents).  But no such thing ever happened.  Although, in part my negative feelings toward weddings is derived from my anathema for the idea of forcing myself to share every aspect of my life with somebody else.  I'm a very private person and, after years of living on my own, a very selfish person - I'm accountable to nobody but myself and have to consider no one but myself when making decisions. I've never wanted to be part of a double act.

So, I decided many, many years ago that weddings and all that bollocks wasn't a route I was going to go down.  But that alone doesn't account for my dislike of weddings.  It is also part of a wider dislike for over-organised large scale social gatherings.  Yeah, that's right, I'm deeply anti-social.  I just don't like people much.  Not en masse, at least.  Then there's the simple fact that weddings are stultifyingly boring, full of false bonhomie.  It's like my late father always said: funerals are always preferable to weddings as you don't have to pretend to be enjoying yourself.  Ultimately, though, I've grown to dislike weddings for what they represent: the whole concept of marriage as the norm when it comes to relationships.  I dislike the way that the establishment - whether in the form of the tax system or the church - and the media consistently try and judge you on your marital status.  If , by my age, you aren't married and have no interest in marriage, then there must be 'something wrong' with you, they imply.  Worse still is the way in which it is implied that us 'sad' singles should be pitied.  for god's sake, fuck off!  I know, I know, I'm being a right miserable git.  But I've spent the last forty eight hours having somebody else's wedding shoved in my face by the media, despite my best efforts to avoid it.  On top of that, I've been in a decidedly strange mood today - part melancholy, part sheer tiredness at people keep asking how I am.  I'm fine, for Christ's sake, how many times do I have to tell people?


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Five Days a Week

Well, Friday again and another working week over.  For me, this has been the first full working week I've done since I was signed off sick back in January - a combination of a 'phased return' to work and a bank holiday weekend have meant that since returning in April it has all been half days and three or four day weeks.  I suppose that completing a full week is some kind of achievement, but it has still left me exhausted.  In fact, these days I feel so tired that I'm turning into an old man and taking evening naps when I get home.  Still, there's another bank holiday weekend coming up, thank God.  In the meantime we hve the 'big event' to look forward to tomorrow.  That's right, the FA Cup Final.  It's another of those events which, when I was a kid, seemed earth-shatteringly important.  Everyone seemed to be watching it.  The build up to the match on TV was incredible.  Of course, back in those days, it was shown simultaneously on BBC1 and ITV and kicked off at three o'clock in the afternoon.  Nowadays, it is on the one channel (BBC1 this year), kicks off much later in the afternoon and has a minimal build up.

Back in the day, the build up used to start with the Saturday morning kids TV, with FA Cup themed editions of the likes of Multi Coloured Swap Shop. The BBC would follow this up with special FA Cup editions of It's a Knockout and Question of Sport.  ITV would usually have Jimmy Tarbuck, (frequently assisted by Saint and Greavsie), hosting some star studded ore match party, (I say 'star studded' - Kenny Lynch was usually there).  It was a huge event.  It all seemed to mean something.  Nowadays, it barely registers.  Mind you, this season, in particular, the final involves two teams I detest - Manchester United and Chelsea - which minimises my interest.  It's one of those matches where I wish that both teams could somehow lose.  Perhaps it is just as well, then, that this year the FA Cup Final is being overshadowed by that business going on in Windsor earlier in the day.  You know, the Royal Wedding which represents the greatest union of Anglo-American talent since Laurel and Hardy formed their double act.


Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Big Sleep (1978)

Most people remember that Robert Mitchum played Philip Marlowe in the rather good 1975 version of Farewell, My Lovely, but few recall that he played Marlowe for a second time in the seventies, in a remake of The Big Sleep.  There are good reasons for this, in large part due to the fact that the film seems to have vanished completely from our TV screens.  Also, of course, it is always overshadowed by the 1946 version with Humphrey Bogart.  The fact that the 1978 film was written and directed by Michael Winner, who these days tends to be remembered as an egotistical purveyor of violent revenge fantasies, celebrity food critic and car insurance salesman.  While it is true that many of  Winner's films from the early seventies onwards are pretty much unwatchable nowadays, pompous, overblown and very reactionary in their themes and execution, not to mention misogynistic, I'm actually prepared to defend The Big Sleep.  I've always found it perversely enjoyable thanks to the eccentric decision made by its producers to transplant the story and characters from forties Los Angeles to seventies Britain, while still keeping the characters of Marlowe and several of the other key protagonists American.  The end result is, to say the least, somewhat peculiar.

Yet it almost works.  This, in large part, is down to an excellent cast, particularly Mitchum who, although his performance isn't up to the standard of his previous appearance in the role, perfectly encapsulates Marlowe's combination of world weariness, cynicism and shop worn integrity.  It also helps that, despite the temporal and geographical dislocation, the film follows the plot of Chandler's novel reasonably closely.  Plus, shocking though it might seem, Winner's direction is actually pretty effective - the film looks good and moves smoothly and most of his usual, trademark, excesses are absent.  Sure, the film can never really challenge the Bogart version, but it does represent and interesting and surprisingly entertaining alternative take on the story.  The contemporary UK setting might seem an odd choice, but it sort of makes sense - Marlowe had been updated before, (the Elliot Gould starring Long Goodbye and the 1969 James Garner headlined Marlowe, for instance), and it is always interesting to see how Marlowe's forties values deal with the modern world.  Combining the updating with the unfamiliar UK setting not only heightens the idea that Marlowe is a man out of time and place, but it also neatly differentiates the film from its predecessor.  With The Big Sleep now available on DVD and Blu Ray, I might yet get around to seeing it again.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Subterfuge (1968)

I wasn't even aware of this film's existence until it turned up on my local That's TV channel over Christmas, when they gave their schedules entirely over to old public domain movies of variable quality.  Clearly made to cash in on the 'spy craze' of the sixties, Unlike many of these type of movies (particularly the Italian made ones) Subterfuge tends more toward the Harry Palmer school of espionage than James Bond, presenting us with a dour tale of double agents within British intelligence, played out against the background of a dour-looking and wintry London.  The budget and ambition of the film is indicated by the calibre of its main stars: Gene Barry and Joan Collins.  Both steady and reliable second string leads, but fundamentally unexciting.  Barry was coming off of a reasonably successful TV series in the form of Burke's Law (or Amos Burke, Secret Agent, as it became in its final season) and was very good at playing, well, the Gene Barry character.  He specialised (or was typecast, take your pick) in playing well dressed, high living two fisted men of action.  His biggest hits were on TV, whether as Bat Masterson, Amos Burke or, in the seventies, The Adventurer, They were all pretty much interchangeable.  (As was the scientist he played in the lead of George Pal's 1953 adaptation of War of the Worlds - he might have worn glasses, but nobody was fooled: he was looking to defeat those pesky Martians in a stand up fist fight).  Subterfuge is pretty typical of the kind of films he starred in during the latter part of his career: slightly above average B-movies.

And, to be absolutely fair, despite its relatively uncharismatic leads and obviously limited budget, Subterfuge is actually a reasonably decent film: well crafted, decently scripted and quite watchable while it is on.  It musters a pretty decent supporting cast, including Michael Rennie as Barry's boss, plus Colin Gordon, Tom Adams (veteran of several other low budget spy movies of the era) and, surprisingly, Richard Todd, as the three double agent suspects.  I say, surprisingly, but by the late sixties Todd's days of winning World War Two for Britain in celluloid, portraying a series of stiff upper lipped military officers were well behind him and his career in decline.  Nevertheless, it still comes something of a jolt to see him in a B-movie playing Secret Service chief who frequents pervy clubs.  (I suspect that one of the reasons he was cast was because of his height: he was relatively short and wouldn't tower over Gene Barry, for whom this was, allegedly, something of an issue).  The cast also boasts Marius Goring (an actor who always seemed far too good for the sorts of films he ended up in) as a low rent Blofeld-type villain (complete with armies of white clad, motorcycle riding henchmen), and Suzanna Leigh, (an actress who all too often seemed wasted in thankless supporting roles, although I have fond memories of her being molested by some carnivorous sea weed in Hammer's utterly barmy The Lost Continent), as a sadistically kinky villainess with a penchant for black leather.

Indeed, it is the streak of violent kinkiness running through the film, (Leigh's character gleefully tortures Barry by strapping him to a table  wiring him up to the National Grid, for instance), which distinguishes Subterfuge from the sorts of contemporary TV movies it often resembles. Arguably, without these episodes, it could easily have been an extended episode of Barry's Amos Burke, or even The Adventurer.  That said, plot-wise Subterfuge is relatively sophisticated for a movie of this type, with the use of an outsider - Barry's US agent, in this case - to try and flush out a traitor within an intelligence organisation, isn't a million miles from The Ipcress File.  Of course, the hunt for the mole involves Barry getting into the prime suspect's wife's bed and romancing Joan Collins.  There are plenty of red herrings along the way (although it is blindingly obvious quite early on who the real traitor is) before it all climaxes in a frenetic bout of action on a beach.  The director, the prolific Peter Graham Scott, moves it all along efficiently, if blandly, making the most of his grey and mundane locations, which contrast nicely with the complex espionage machinations unfolding against them.  I say 'blandly', but Scott was a director who, basically, knew where to pint the camera to maximum effect: while there is nothing stylish or flashy about his direction, it does allow the story to unfold clearly and logically, regardless of plot convolutions.  While a more 'stylish' director might bring more visual flair to a movie, there is always the danger that their directorial tricks will undermine the narrative: something that Sidney J Furie's direction, for instance, often threatens to do on the afore-mentioned Ipcress File.

So, while Subterfuge is no lost classic, it is an entertaining diversion with some good performances, a reasonably intelligent script, some authentic sadism of the kind found in early Bond movies and a suitably downbeat ambience.  As an added bonus for railway enthusiasts, there are several scenes at a post-steam Paddington staton, featuring a variety of Western Region diesel hydraulics, including two Westerns (one in the then new corporate blue livery, the other still sporting maroon livery), a Hymek and an NBL Type Two, (the latter two still wearing their green liveries).


Monday, May 14, 2018

Powerless in the Face of Cultural Appropriation

Another evening completely disrupted by Southern and Scottish Energy's inability to maintain power supplies to its customers.  Thankfully, this time it lasted less than an hour, but saw the entire town blacked out.  This is, of course, the third time in three weeks I've had my power supply disrupted and the fifth time this year.  It really is beyond a joke.  Every time I sit down in the evening and try to watch TV or do anything on line, I now fully expect the power to go off without warning just as I'm getting going.  Needless to say, tonight's planned post here has been postponed as my mood has been disrupted and I've effectively lost my thread.  As I've said before I'm either going to have to move house to somewhere with more reliable power supplies or install my own generator.  But enough of Southern and Scottish and their inability to maintain electricity supplies.  What else has been happening in the world?  Oh yes, the Eurovision Song Contest.  Apparently Israel won.  Which probably means that the song was crap.  But less crap than all the others.

But wait!  Apparently the winner is guilty of 'cultural appropriation' because, despite being Israeli, she wore a kimono and used various other Japanese motifs in her act!  Really?  For fuck's sake!  'Cultural appropriation' is just about the most idiotic non-concept I've seen deployed in many a year.  I mean, what are its proponents actually saying?  That no artist is allowed to take inspiration from any culture that they weren't actually born into?  That nobody is allowed to draw upon any cultural experience other tan their own in their artistic endeavours?  Utterly ridiculous.  Where will it end?  Look - there's a Japanese man wearing blue jeans and they are a product of US culture: cultural appropriation!  Presumably, all popular music produced in the UK since the 1960s should be banned because it mostly drew its inspiration from the work of black American musicians.  Cultural appropriation!  It really is another piece of pseudo-intellectual trendy bollocks that needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history as soon as possible.


Friday, May 11, 2018

Eagles Over London (1969)

Rounding out a week of posts dominated by the theme of 'cut and paste' film making, a quick 'Random Movie Trailer' for the notorious Eagles Over London, a 1969 Italian war movie which recreates Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain.  I say 'notorious' because, while the film has its admirers who always cite its action scenes as a strength, these scenes, as usual for Italian war movies, are hugely inaccurate and feature lots of anachronistic equipment, but in Eagles Over London, these become so ludicrous as to completely undermine the movie's credibility.  Leaving aside the straight-winged Stukas seen dive bombing the beaches of Dunkirk, it is the Battle of Britain sequences which are especially poor, featuring Messerschmitt 109s in RAF colours, (actually the post-war Spanish built versions of the 109, to be wholly accurate),  battling Spitfires with swastikas on their tails.  Not just idiotic, but - for British audiences - also deeply insulting.

These sequences are made to seem even worse when it is borne in mind that the movie The Battle of Britain was released the same year and featured extensive aerial combat sequences with the same planes fighting on the correct sides.  And they were the same planes - the Spanish Messerschmitts and Heinkel bombers and the Spitfires seen in Eagle Over London were fresh from duty in The Battle of Britain.  In fact, most of the fighters had been specially restored for the latter film and their double duty was presumably a way for the production company to recoup some of its costs.  Which, of course, doesn't quite constitute 'cut and paste' film making as it was only a re-use of props, rather than footage.  However, ten years after they were filmed, the Dunkirk and Battle of Britain sequences were lifted wholesale for use in another Italian war epic: From Hell to Victory.  In fact, this was the film I originally saw them in and marveled at their ineptitude.  It was only some years later that I learned of their origins.  I have to say that both films are terrible, although From Hell to Victory is probably more entertainingly bad - its cast of international 'stars', including George Peppard, George Hamilton and Horst Bucholz, and its pretensions to be a war epic, just gives it the edge.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Cut and Paste Film Making (Part Two)

While we are on the subject of 'cut and paste' movie making - where footage is lifted from an older production and used as the basis for a new film - as we were last post, several more examples have occurred to me.  Any discussion of the subject has to make mention of the great Roger Corman, king of the low budget movie.  Having produced the relatively expensive (by his standards, at least) Battle Beyond the Stars, it was inevitable that he would recycle the special effects sequences, which he duly did with Space Raiders, which repurposed the footage for a new story.  In more recent times, I recall seeing a low budget action film on Movies4Men which was built around the special effects sequences from Airport 80: The Concorde.  I can't for the life of me remember the title of the new film, but I do recall that the matching of the footage was quite well done.  TV, of course, has regularly used footage from old movies to make their episodes look more expensive than they actually were.  The Lee Majors series The Fall Guy, for instance, where he portrayed stuntman and part time bounty hunter Colt Seavers, often incorporated movie footage.  There was one episode which was composed mainly of footage from a movie called Stunts, with Majors' costumed to match Robert Forster, the film's star, in the long shots.

Science Fiction TV series often use a similar technique, except that instead of recycling footage lifted from an old film, they continuously recycle their own special effects sequences.  The Gerry Anderson series UFO is a good example of this: early on in the production cycle they clearly filmed a series of elaborate model sequences for things like the SHADO interceptors taking off from the moonbase and flying over the moon's surface, or the SkyDiver submarine launching the sky aircraft from uner the sea.  These were then used over and over again in episodes when such shots were required.  When you watch the series in its entirety, it quickly becomes clear that very few new special effects sequences were filmed for specific episodes, the scripts instead being adapted to accommodate existing footage.  In fact, it wasn't just model shots which were recycled in this way: several actors featured in more episodes than they actually filmed as shots such as the interceptor pilots sliding down the chutes into their craft, or sitting in their cockpits, were re used episode after episode.

Finally, there is an example of 'cut and paste' film making of local interest to me.  The Will Hay film, Oh Mr Porter! was partially filmed at a disused station on a closed (and now long since lifted) branch line near Crapchester.  This hadn't been the first time that the line had been used as a film location.  A few years earlier, in the silent era, when the branch was still open, another movie, involving train chases and derailments, was filmed there.  The train footage was subsequently lifted and used, with an added soundtrack, in the Will Hay film, to supplement the newly filmed material.  It was only in recent years that the original silent film was restored and re released.  So, there you go, a brief guide to 'cut and paste' film making.  There are many other examples out there, I've simply outlined those I'm most familiar with.  The big question, obviously, is whether the resulting films are any good and have any merit as movies in their own right?  In part, I suppose, it depends how much recycled footage they use.  Frequently, only a few seconds of old footage might be used to save costs where mounting a new special effects sequence from scratch would have been prohibitively expensive and time consuming.  But I have to admit that those films which seem to exist solely to reuse old footage have always left me feeling somewhat disappointed.  They don't feel like films in their own right and I can't help but feel that they are essentially lazy, cheating paying audiences by peddling second hand wares in the guise of a new product.  In truth, of course, most people watching these films never realise that they are seeing second hand footage spliced together with minimalist new scenes.  It's only sad bastards like me who have seen too many movies who notice, let alone care!


Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Cut and Paste Film Making

Yesterday being a bank holiday meant that some channel somewhere would be showing an old war movie - and, lo and behold, ITV4 obliged with Tobruk, a 1967 Hollywood desert war epic.  I have to say that, by no stretch of the imagination could Tobruk be considered a good film.  Historically speaking, it has only a nodding acquaintance with the facts of the war in the Western Desert.  But it is spectacular featuring, as many war big budget war movies of its era did, large scale battle sequences, (featuring, as ever, lots of anachronistic equipment, particularly the tanks: the Afrika Korps are driving aound in post war US M48s, for instance).  However, my main interest in Tobruk is in its role as a 'donor movie', with its action sequences being lifted wholesale and transplanted into a different movie.  Raid on Rommel (1971) is one of my favourite examples of 'cut and paste' movie making.  On paper, it sounds like an impressive war movie, featuring none other than Richard Burton in the lead.  In reality, though, it was actually a cheap production, originally intended for TV, built around the action sequences from Tobruk.  Well actually, it went further than that, utilising just about every long shot of military hardware on the move from the earlier film.  It must have been an easy shoot for Burton - all he had to do was wear a costume matching George Peppard's from the earlier film, and film a few close ups and dialogue sequences.  That said, the matching of shots and the integration of the footage from two different films shot years apart is very good.  Indeed, had I never seen Tobruk, I might have thought Raid on Rommel an exciting big budget war movie.

Not only does reusing footage in this way allow for the production (in both cinematic and manufacturing senses) of a new film on the cheap, it also allows the studio to wring more value from the earlier film.  This is especially important if that film had been an expensive production which suffered disappointing box office returns.  Tobruk, though, had been a box office success, as had another 'donor film' used to create a 'new' war movie.  633 Squadron had been a big box office success in 1964.  So much so that the producers wanted some kind of follow up.  An inexpensive one, though.  Consequently, most of the flying sequences were lifted for Mosquito Squadron, with David McCallum wearing Cliff Robertson's wardrobe from the previous film and Nicky Henson improbably doubling for Angus Lennie.  Once again, the matching up of footage is pretty much seamless. Thankfully, the new film didn't use the poor model shots from the climax of the earlier film, instead substituting some dodgy model shots of its own.  It also lifts some shots from another sixties war movie - the opening shots of the V1 launches and subsequent attack on London are taken from Operation Crossbow.

But the 'cut and paste' method of film making isn't confined to war movies: the 1973 Rod Taylor version of Trader Horn is notoriously built around stock footage of two earlier films, the the original footage confined to those scenes involving Taylor (shot in Hollywood rather than Africa).  Sometimes film-makers would remake their own films, using footage from the original.  In 1955, for instance, Zoltan Korda remade his own pre-war colour production of The Four Feathers as Storm Over the Nile, with all of the expensive battle sequences being re-used from the earlier film.  A few years later, Cubby Broccoli's Warwick Films did something similar, building 1958's The Bandit of Zhobe around the action sequences from Zarak, which they had released the previous year.  Matching the shots was pretty straightforward as both films starred Victor Mature.  (A lot of the battle footage from Zarak later turned up in Hammer's Brigand of Kandahar.  All three films were directed by John Gilling).  One of my favourite examples of this sort of cannibalisation is the Italian movie Black Cobra 4, 'starring' Fred Williamson.  Wanting a a fourth installment of the popular action cop/blaxploitation series, but not willing to pay Williamson for his services, the producers simply edited together footage from the previous three movies, redubbing and repurposing them into a new plot, linked together with some newly shot expositional footage.

The format was pioneered by Republic Pictures back in the forties, when they started fashioning new cinema serials out of their older products in order to cut costs.  Usually, they'd take two earlier serials, take their action and effects footage (Republic's serials, despite limited budgets, featured some excellent effects and model work, not to mention the best stunt work) and build a new sory around them.  As with the later productions using this method, the new leading actors would be costumed to match up the shots.  The end results were, more often than not, highly entertaining.  I'm sure that I've discussed all of this in a previous post but, despite numerous searches of the blog, I'm damned if I can find the post.  So, I decided to do it all over again.  (I'm also planning to use some of this material in a forthcoming podcast).


Monday, May 07, 2018

Sunshine and Sofas

Time was that I would have felt the need to spend a beautiful sunny bank holiday like today out somewhere.  Walking up a hill or along a river bank.  Maybe even the beach.  But nowadays, just crashing on the sofa and relaxing, with the back door and windows open to let in the sun (not to mention my neighbour's cat), is sufficient.  If there is one thing I've learned this year, it is that recovering from serious illness takes a long time and requires a lot of relaxation and doing nothing.  The days (as recently as last year) when I thought it was sensible either to go to work regardless of feeling unwell, or to return as soon as I felt remotely better, are long gone.  Indeed, my recent return to week, despite being 'phased' over four weeks has, I suspect been too soon - I feel constantly tired and out of sorts.  My only consolation is the fact that I only have to survive it for another few weeks before I can enact my masterplan and jack it in, using the several weeks of paid leave I'll be entitled to once I enter my new 'leave year' in June, as notice.  After that, I intend taking a few weeks (possibly months) out before I attempt any return to the world of employment.

This four day weekend (I was off work on Friday, as well) has been a Godsend to me - not only have I managed to get a lot of much needed rest, but I've caught up with some more schlocky movies and made a start on some other stuff I've previously not had the strength to tackle.  Luckily, we've got another bank holiday coming up in a couple of weeks time, at the end of month.  Perhaps I'll take the opportunity then to get out in the sunshine (although, knowing my luck, it will pour with rain).  Maybe I'll fulfil an ambition and stumble across one of those porn shoots which always seem to be going on in the countryside.  You know what I mean: all those pictures of young women with their knockers out, posing by trees and the like in rural settings, that you see online.  I mean, there must be so many of them going on that I'm amazed that, in all of my country walks over the years, I've never come across one.  At any one time, there must be hundreds of women in their underwear draped over branches and fences in the countryside, with their accompanying armies of photographers, lighting technicians, dressers, make up artists and the like.  Yet, I've never yet come across a single such occurrence.  Which I find most perplexing.  Still, you never know - maybe next bank holiday I'll find one of these shoots...


Friday, May 04, 2018

Back After the Break (Again)

So, it's another Friday, the first day of my long Bank Holiday weekend, which means I've spent the day doing Bank Holiday weekend stuff: setting up my new watch, which arrived today, de-cluttering parts of the house, browsing second hand books and cleaning the car.  Consequently, I've got nothing to post about today.  Sure, there are still a plethora of schlock movies I've yet to write up, but I'm feeling too lazy to do any of them today.  Which means that we're back to that old stand-by: a selection of TV ads from my youth.

These are from the early eighties, the days when the railways were still nationalised and British Rail was marketing its cheap day return tickets to ordinary holiday makers.  It's fashionable to mock British Rail and its inadequacies - often poorly maintained stock, problems with punctuality and ageing and increasingly unreliable infrastructure and bad sandwiches - but at least people were able to afford to travel by train back then.  Fares were relatively cheap, making day trips to the coast feasible for non-millionaires.  And, in truth, although the corporate blue and grey livery was dull as ditch water, British Rail's services were no worse than their flashily liveried successors.  Still, the eighties were the days when teletext services were still both a novelty and considered a technological miracle.  Whilst the BBC version was always called Ceefax, the ITV equivalent, as seen in the Philips' ad, was originally called Oracle.  Later, someone had the bright idea that the commercial teletext service should be treated like a regional franchise and put out to tender.  Which resulted in Oracle being replaced by the inferior Teletext (such an original name), provided by the Daily Mail.  Although the BBC still runs a digital version of its service, teletext was, of course, eventually superseded by the advent of the web.

Moving on, I well remember the Princess, (not the Austin Princess, mind - Princess was, like Mini, a marque in its own right in the British Leyland of the seventies and eighties), which was BL's prestige model.  There were several variations, including, as I recall, a Vanden Plas model and a Wolseley version, but it was the standard Princess version which was built in the largest numbers.  Indeed, BL sold a good many Princesses back in the day, but you'll rarely see one on the road today.  Sadly, the build quality left something to be desired: I remember that a friend's parents had one and bits of trim (and worse) were forever falling off.  The Ford Fiesta, by contrast, was an instant success and remains part of the Ford line up to this day.  Unlike the Princess, you still see some Mk1 Fiestas (usually the XR2 version) on the road today.  I have a real soft spot for the original Fiesta, I still prefer its body shape to the current version.  It remember riding in one that my father was driving while his regular company car, a Mk2 Escort, was in the garage - its road holding was markedly superior to the rear wheel drive MK2 Escort.

Elastoplast is always one of those things I'm constantly surprised that the makers felt needed to be advertised.  If you cut or grazed yourself, what else were you going to use to dress the wound?  OK, I know there are other brands, but in eighties Britain Elastoplast dominated the market and all those cheap own-brand supermarket equivalents were yet to appear in force.  But advertise they did, implying that their product was even good for sawed or chopped off digits.  Who needs micro-surgery when you've got Elastoplast?   Cassette books - who the heck remembers what cassettes were nowadays?  But, like teletext, back in the eighties recording a book reading onto magnetic tape was considered cutting edge technology.  But those were the pre CD days when even the Walkman used cassettes.  Of course, even CDs are obsolete now, overtaken by MP3 downloads.  However, the cassette books were the precursors of today's audio books and proved that a market existed for such things, even though the technology being used back then was, actually, pretty cumbersome.  I have to confess that I actually still have a large number of cassettes (and the means to play them), including both music cassettes and quite a bit of spoken word.  I always preferred them to vinyl as you could play them in the car as well, (in the days before cars had CD players, the cassette deck was the ultimate in in-car entertainment).  Ah, those were the days!

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Thursday, May 03, 2018

A Shocking Incident

My life has been in a state of chaos for last couple of days, with two consecutive evenings disrupted by yet more localised power outages.  That's four this year and two in as many days.  Yesterday's lasted just under eleven hours - Scottish and Southern Electricity (SSE) were told about the outage just after it occurred at around eleven in the morning, but didn't bothering sending anyone to the sub station for nearly four hours.  An hour and a half after that, more people were sent out to start digging up the pavement by the sub station.  Well, I say the sub station, but they spent nearly an hour parked in my road (which is a couple of streets over from the sub station) doing sweet FA.  As ever, SSE are assuring everyone that they've fixed the problem once and for all.  Except that I can guarantee that they won't have.  So, as ever, I've made another complaint about the frequency of these outages, SSE's failure to maintain its infrastructure adequately and their poor response times.  As ever, it will be ignored by SSE.  I can see that the only solution to SSE's inability to maintain a power supply to my house will be to install my own generator. Or move house to somewhere SSE isn't responsible for maintaining the local power infrastructure.

But I don't want to waste any more time on SSE. Going back to the previous post and that strange incident with the deer apparently performing some kind of vigil over its dead companion, which affected me quite deeply.  Well, one of the reasons it might have struck such an emotional chord with me is that, many years ago, I actually struck a deer whilst driving one Sunday evening a few miles from the incident.  That affected me quite badly at the time.  Thankfully, I've never hit a person while driving a car, but I can only imagine that how sickened I felt after striking and killing the deer is similar to how it must feel to run a person down. But much, much worse.  In part, it is the sheer feeling of helplessness you have as you realise that hitting that animal is inevitable - there is nothing you can do to avoid it.  It was made worse by the fact that I had seen the deer in good time - it had crossed the road already and I thought that it was going to vanish into the fields beyond.  But for some reason, it turned around and ran back across the road, right in front of me.  Even though it wouldn't have done any good, I couldn't brake sharply as there was in idiot in a BMW hanging off of my rear bumper. 

I do recall that, as the deer ran in front of the car, the words 'big cat' flashed into my mind for some reason.  Perhaps it was because of the colour of the animal's fur - it reminded of a lion.  Who knows?  As I say, I was left badly shaken up by the incident and, once I'd shaken off the pillock in the BMW, I had to pull over, as I felt physically sick.  The damage to the car was pretty extensive and it ended up spending a couple of weeks off of the road in a body shop.  (Luckily for me, it was a company car, so my insurance wasn't affected).  Anyway, what the whole sorry business brought home to me was that if hitting a deer on the road upset me that much, then hitting a person would be emotionally catastrophic.  It's something I've thought about a lot since that night and I honestly don't know how I could live with myself if I ever killed a person like that.  It wouldn't matter if it was an accident and they'd stepped out in front of me without warning: I know that I'd still feel responsible.  So, maybe that's why the recent deer business had such an impact on me: it brought back all those feelings of guilt over that other deer all those years ago.


Tuesday, May 01, 2018

An Incident on the Road

A few weeks ago, on a dark and rainy Sunday evening, I was driving home along the old A30, I came upon a sight which has subsequently lingered in my memory.  Midway between Lopcombe Corner and Stockbridge the road twists around and steeply dips down to crossroads, before climbing, equally steeply, finally emerging into a long straight, before climbing again after the junction with the Middle Wallop road.  It was as I was beginning to accelerate into the long climb after the crossroads, that I saw something in the road - there was a prone deer which had clearly been struck by a preceding vehicle.  As I slowed to pass the dead deer, I saw that there was a second, very live, deer standing over body, as if standing guard over it, or perhaps even in mourning over its fallen comrade.  Something about the deer's apparent devotion to its friend moved me deeply.  For a moment I considered pulling the car over and putting the hazard warning lights on.  But to what end, I reasoned to myself.  What was I going to do, comfort a deer?  Try and persuade it that its vigil was pointless and that it needed to move itself off of the carriage way and away from danger?

I know that I was probably guilty of anthropomorphising and attributing human emotions and thought processes to an animal.  I know that, in reality, the deer simply had no comprehension of what had happened to its friend, no concept of death and was simply expecting it to get up and carry on across the road.  Yet there was something in its look, in its stance, that seemed to say something different.  It just struck an emotional chord in me - at that moment I so desperately wanted to do something, anything, to help it.  As I said, that tableau has haunted me ever since.  It has left me with an enduring sense of deep sadness.  Perhaps I'm getting soft in my old age.  Maybe my emotional response to the incident is linked to the dramatic reduction in my blood pressure - certainly, I've been feeling more like a human being since I've been taking medication for the hypertension.  Whatever the reason, the memory of that deer standing guard over its fallen friend lingers in my memory.