Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Duffy (1968)

When watching a film from another era, one is constantly faced with the question of whether its visual style and content are actually reflective of that era, or whether its stylings were one of the things that actually influenced the 'look' of the era.  This is especially true of movies made during the 'swinging sixties', particularly those set around 'swinging London' - to what extent they are a true reflection of the era or simply part of the myth of the sixties which has lodged in the collective memory is a perplexing question.  The 'swinging sixties' was an era which mythologised itself as it was happening.  The truth, of course, is that the sixties were only truly 'swinging' for a relatively small number of people, mostly living in West London.  But TV promulgated the images across the UK (the world, indeed) and the relatively new phenomena of fashion chain stores spread cheap versions of the fashions into the provinces.  But the actual 'swinging' culture didn't really spread that far - you didn't get 'happenings' in Wiltshire, where I was growing up, for instance, and while miniskirts and flares became commonplace, 'free love' and copious quantities of psychedelic drugs didn't follow.  As my late father once noted: the 'permissive society' might have been happening in Ladbroke Grove, but there was little evidence of it on the Bemerton Heath council estate in Salisbury.  We certainly didn't have any real hippies - a few of my older siblings' friends grew their hair long enough to cover their ears, listened to Pink Floyd  and wore beads and sheepskin coats, but they still took baths regularly and lived with their parents rather than in squats.

The popular image of the 'swinging sixties' has been reinforced over the years by movies made later but set during the era, presenting a highly stylised  version of the time.  Which brings us, finally, to Duffy, a 1968 caper movie which, despite being made in the sixties, looks like one of those later stylised versions of the 'swinging sixties'.  Indeed, at times it looks like an Austin Powers movie which had actually been filmed during the sixties.  It's hard to put into words exactly how determined the film seems to be to capture the era's own myth of itself, serving up every 'swinging' cliche possible: rich wastrels sporting outlandish wardrobes, joint smoking middle aged semi-hippie drop outs, drug fuelled discos at Moroccan clubs (suitably filmed in soft focus) and lots of counter culture jargon.  Not to mention lots of irreverence toward authority.  Interestingly, only the early scenes take place in 'swinging London' (kicking off at one of those 'swinging' gentleman's clubs where men in fabulous trousers wager a thousand pounds on the throw of a dart), with most of the action taking place in Morocco (actually filmed in Spain).

The plot is straightforward: half brothers James Fox and John Alderton plot to rip off their hated father (James Mason) by stealing a shipment of sterling he's moving by ship from Tangiers.  To do this, they enlist the help of smuggler Duffy (James Coburn), who has retired from the business and now lives in Tangiers in an an apartment full of modern sculptures.  Like Coburn himself, Duffy seems pretty enamoured of the new counter culture of the sixties.  Also along for the ride is Fox's girlfriend, played by Susannah York, who turns out to be something of a femme fatale.  Albeit a very swinging one.  Interestingly, the mechanics of the heist itself are of secondary importance, with the film focusing instead on the shifting relationships between the main characters and establishing the 'swinging' milieu.  Fascinatingly, Duffy scores highly in its (admittedly exaggerated)  portrayal of the whole 'swinging' scene, with the only characters seemingly living the lifestyle being financially well off.  Indeed, the contrast between Fox, who, due to having private means left to him by his mother, can enjoy the full trappings of 'swinging London', and his brother Alderton, who is forced to earn a living working as a lowly clerk in their father's shipping company, neatly sums up the reality of the era.  The fact is that most young people in the sixties were too busy working to have time to rebel or 'swing'.

The film constantly underlines this point, with the 'swinging' lifestyle consistently shown as the preserve of the wealthy, whether at the up market Moroccan beach club which features prominently, or Mason, Fox and Alderton's London club.  The film inevitably culminates with a string of plot twists, none that surprising, which ultimately conform to the underlying morality of the heist movie: that the perpetrators shouldn't profit from their crimes.  That said, Duffy himself does get away with some of the money, but only because he tricks its rightful owner, Mason, into giving it to him as a reward for 'finding' the stolen loot.  While there's nothing really original or unexpected in the plot, it has to be said that Duffy is superbly made, with excellent production values, first rate cinematography and efficient direction from Robert Parrish (who had just come off of another 'swinging' move, the 1967 Casino Royale, where he had been one of an army of directors who were unable to make anything coherent out of the would be Bond spoof).  The performances from the leads are exactly as you'd expect: Coburn is typically laid back, Fox typically aristocratic, Mason typically smooth, Alderton amusing and York beautiful and sophisticated.

Duffy didn't set the box office on fire when it was released, perhaps because there had already  been too many movies of its ilk released. perhaps because it wasn't distinctive enough.  Whatever the reason, the film became unavailable for many yeas, with no VHS or DVD release and few TV outings.  It has, however, recently been resurrected by Talking Pictures TV in a very nice print.  It's well worth watching as it encapsulates the myth of the 'swinging sixties' so well,  Not only that, but it's so, well, groovy.


Monday, July 30, 2018

Faking Fake News

Fake news.  There was yet more hand wringing about this over the last few days.  Apparently, it presents an existential threat to democracy.  As usual, the 'blame' was being placed on the web and, most specifically, social media.  As if the phenomena of misleading and even completely made up 'news' didn't exist long before the net ever existed.  The British press, most specifically the right wing press, have, ever since anyone can remember, been spewing forth disinformation and propaganda in the guise of news stories.  Not just about politics, either.  Take a look at the back pages and all the completely made up football transfer stories there: how many times can Harry Kane be sold to Manchester United or Real Madrid, despite having signed a new contract at Tottenham?  (Actually, can it be a coincidence that the quality and accuracy of tabloid transfer gossip has significantly declined since they were forced to stop tapping people's phones and hacking their voice mails?)  But none of that matters any more because nowadays, according to the traditional media, people are getting their news from that evil social media.

Which is, I'm afraid, utter bollocks.  Sure, print media might, supposedly be in terminal decline, (although the sales of some sectors, such as traditional printed books, have actually begun to increase again), but newspapers and network TV news are still seen as far more authoritative sources than online media.  Their lies are far more likely to influence voters than those peddled online.  If, indeed, voters really are influenced by either - there's scant evidence that they do.  Let's not forget that what is said to be one of the most influential lies of the Brexit brigade's EU referendum campaign - that leaving the EU would save £350 million a week, which could, instead be spent on the NHS - actually appeared on the side of a bus.  Besides, the whole argument about the supposed growing influence of social media is surely undermined by the claims (gleefully reported by the print media) that fewer and fewer people are actually engaging with social media, isn't it?

But the internet provides traditional media with a convenient scapegoat to try and divert public attention (and potential regulators) away from their own nefarious activities.  Even when they aren't peddling outright untruths of their own invention, the UK press spends its time uncritically repeating the pronouncements of whichever right wing would be demagogue they favour at any one time.  And that's the problem - the lack of any coherent critical analysis.  Of anything.  Let alone politics. Which leads to all sorts of bias, whether intentional or not.  Lately, I've become very frustrated with the BBC's reporting of the Electoral Commission's findings that Vote Leave had broken electoral law, presenting these as 'allegations', effectively accepting, uncritically, Vote Leave's line that the Commission is somehow biased and pro-Remain.  But its findings are fact.  The Electoral Commission is the body which sets the rules for the conduct of elections in the UK.  It is an impartial body.  It is interested only in investigating allegations of electoral fraud brought to its attention and its findings reflect the facts that it uncovers.

The BBC would doubtless say that they were trying to be 'balanced' in their reporting. Except that there is no 'balance' between the opinions of Vote Leave and the factually based findings of the non partisan Electoral Commission.  Following the BBC's logic on balance, every time the courts find someone guilty of criminal offences, they should continue to refer to the convicted felon as an 'alleged' murderer, or 'alleged' rapist.  After all, just because the court, having considered the evidence, has convicted them, it doesn't mean that the guilty party has to accept it, does it?  But it is an accepted principal that, until they can prove otherwise in another court, those convicted in court are guilty.  So it is with Vote Leave and the Electoral Commission: until the former can disprove the latter's findings, we have to accept that they broke electoral law.  Come on BBC, we expect better of your much vaunted news services.

I know I've said all of this before, but it seems that it needs saying again.  'Fake News' is one of the most unhelpful concepts bandied around in recent years.  It is so vague that it can be used to dismiss anything that someone in power doesn't like, whether it be factual reporting, fair comment or satire.  The worst aspect of this latest moral panic is the whole idea that false news stories hadn't existed before the internet.  As for all that mock horror from the traditional media as, in the wake of Trump's victory, they suddenly 'discovered' that people write stuff on the web which isn't true!  Oh, the horror of it all!  Who would have thought such a thing?  Worse even than that, is the way in which commentators have flocked to use this alleged 'fake news' as an explanation for the rise of Trump and his ilk, despite the fact that people posting right wing propaganda on Facebook can no more explain the Trump presidency than it can Brexit.  The roots of both are far more complex (and implicate the traditional media), but analysing these would prove just too uncomfortable forte pres, who prefer to rely on their own lazy assumptions about the web.

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Friday, July 27, 2018

Making Me Sick

OK, I'm going to go on about the state of my health again.  Having spent nearly three months off of work earlier this year due to extremely high blood pressure and the diagnosis of diabetes (both the result of work related stress over a period of years), there's no denying that I'm feeling a lot better.  I apparently look a lot better, not to mention thinner.  Unfortunately, this seems to leave management at work believing that I'm completely recovered.  Apparently if you can't see anything wrong with someone, they must be OK.  This week, I've had cause to point out that I'm not OK.  I am nowhere near 100% recovered.  I'm not still taking nine pills a day for fun.  Pills which still leave me with stomach upsets, fatigue and occasional spells of light headedness.  I'm afraid that having blood pressure as high as mine was (I was in imminent danger of suffering a stroke) isn't like having a cold: it isn't something you can take a couple of pills for and, after a couple of days in bed, it goes away and you can carry on as normal.  Its effects are long lasting - the damage it can potentially cause to your internal organs, even your vision, doesn't necessarily become clear for months after it has been reduced.

As I've mentioned before, the whole experience has left me physically weaker than I was before and getting back to my previous condition is proving a long and painful process.  I really wish that it was as simple as getting over a cold, but it isn't.  The fact is that, on a daily basis, I feel out of sorts.  On top of that, because of the diabetes, I have to be careful what I eat in order to keep my blood sugar levels down.  I'm also under medical advice to avoid unduly stressful situations n order to keep my blood pressure down, (just reducing my caffeine intake, which I have done, isn't enough).  I told my managers at work all of this before I returned.  I've kept telling them since.  But they apparently don't listen.  I'm still expected to fulfill my full regular duties, despite not being fully recovered.  As I pointed out this week, if you'd actually organised the assessment by occupational health I was meant to receive when I returned to work, you'd fucking know this.  But, of course, such an assessment might recommend medical retirement (I don't think it would, but it might) and my employers clearly think that simply forcing me out by making life increasingly difficult for me is a cheaper option.  Unfortunately, I'm stubborn and don't like being pushed around - I tend to shove back.  So, even in my weakened current condition, that's what I'm doing. At the very least, I think that they need to acknowledge some responsibility for creating the stressful work environment which contributed to my illness.  Of course, there is a limit to which I will further risk my health and at which I'll simply walk away.  But we're not quite there yet. I'm still determined to piss them off a bit more.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

Mad, or Not Mad?

So, the question is  - is Noel Edmonds actually mad, or just a dick?  The question popped back into my mind recently after learning of his most recent tirades against various fellow celebrities, most notably Rachel Riley, who he seemed fixated on, for their participation on Lloyds' Bank's ongoing mental health campaign.  This is the bank, of course, which Edmonds is currently embroiled in some kind of legal case with.  So, ostensibly, his tirades are about castigating celebrities from making money from an institution he claims still owes him money.  Except tat they don't get paid for this campaign because it is for a charity and is about promoting a better public understanding of mental health issues.  Bearing in mind that, in the past Edmonds has claimed that cancer is caused by a 'negative attitude' and that he cured his own prostrate cancer with 'positive thinking', could it be that his real beef with the Lloyds campaign is that it is trying to remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues?  Could it be that he thinks that mental illnesses are simply a form of 'negative attitude' and, therefore, self inflicted?  Who knows?

But Noel certainly likes his 'positive thinking'.  I remember reading the article Jon Ronson wrote after spending some time behind the scenes at Deal, or No Deal -  Edmonds came across as something of a weirdo with his belief in 'cosmic ordering', which he claimed had turned his life around.  'Cosmic ordering' is an extreme form of 'positive thinking' which involves 'asking the Cosmos' to give you what you need.  In practice, the only mechanism involved seems to be writing down your wishes and waiting for them to come true.  In other words, it is no different from the kind of wish fulfillment fantasies believed in by most young children.  But Noel is really into it.  Which, surely, is grounds enough to question his sanity.  Especially when you remember his frequent delusions of grandeur - who could forget how irate and indignant he became when one critic had the audacity to describe that show he did on Sky as being merely an entertainment show?  Then there were his attempts to turn Noel's House Party into some kind of live attraction with his failed Mr Blobby Land (or whatever it was called) amusement park?  Not only did it fail, but he also murdered that elephant to get it set up.  That's right, I'm saying that Noel Edmonds murdered an elephant.  If you recall, one of the things that had to be closed and demolished to make way for his failed amusement park was a local zoo.  While all of the other animals were relocated, there was one elephant foe which no new home could be found.  So it was put down.  That elephant's blood is on Noel Edmond's hands.  As far as I'm concerned, he's an elephant killer.  And if that isn't a sign of craziness, I don't know what is.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Some Messages From Our Sponsors...

Another one of those days when I can't think of anything to post about - I spent much of the day on a hospital appointment, then waiting for my vision to clear after the eye drops used in the examination, (it was an opthamology appointment, to check for any damage done to my eyes by the high blood pressure and diabetes I diagnosed with earlier this year - there was nothing permanent, as it turned out).  So, as ever, I'm falling back on that old stand by - a selection of TV commercials from my youth.

These are from around 1973and feature an eclectic collection of products.  I have to confess that I used to have a bit of a thing for those Findus crispy pancakes, although that was in the nineties, so I don't think this ad influenced me, particularly the cheese and bacon ones.  Everybody knows the R Whites adverts of course.  They were showing this one for years afterwards.  The secret lemonade drinker's singing voice was, of course, provided by Elvis Costello's dad, a noted vocalist in his day.  It's good to see Dudley Moore proving that size doesn't matter.  Tobacco products are another of those things that can't be advertised on TV any more.  Which is a pity, as the old ads they made for them were invariably glossy and eye catching, selling you the fabulous lifestyle you would enjoy if only you'd puff on a cigar or two.  But celebrities didn't just advertise cigars, here we have Arthur Fowler from Eastenders helping to sell the new Allegro.

It seems strange now to see a car generally regarded as the nadir of British car design being marketed as a technologically advanced giant step forward for the UK automotive industry.  But at the time it was initially well received, featuring a much more modern design than earlier BMC/BL designs and incorporating all sorts of then advanced features as front disc brakes, which are nowadays pretty much standard on cars.  The Vauxhall ad with the talking Griffin logo is nothing short of bizarre.  Although more fondly remembered than the Allegro, there are equally few Venturas, Victors and Vivas left on the road nowadays.  Mind you, I've never been kindly disposed toward the Vauxhall Viva after some bad experiences traveling in a friend's ancient Viva when we were students - these included the windscreen wipers failing during a rain storm, the accelerator sticking while driving around the back streets of Bristol and acceleration so poor that I thought that a cyclist we'd just shouted abuse at (he was wearing Union Jack shorts) was going to catch us up. 

As for the PG Tips ad with the chimps - well, we aren't allowed to be even mildly amused by these any more on account of the alleged animal cruelty involved in their making.

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Monday, July 23, 2018

MacKenna's Gold (1969)

Sometimes, as a kid, you see a film on TV which has been built up all week as some kind of big screen epic, a sprawling, action packed adventure, featuring all manner of star names.  Then, when you actually see it, you realise that it actually isn't very good.  Sure, it has all those stars, although some of them barely feature, and it is long, but it just doesn't hold together as a movie.  The years pass and, if you think about the film at all, you wonder if, maybe, you were too harsh in your judgements.  Then, you finally get an opportunity to see it again and decide to give it another chance.  But, you know what?  It still isn't any good.  Not an absolute stinker, but just not very good.

I've just had this experience with MacKenna's Gold, the 1969 would be epic western, which I caught again in Talking Pictures TV over the weekend.  I always remember it as being a big disappointment when I saw it as a kid - not just because of Gregory Peck's phoned in performance, or Omar Sharif's bizarre casting as a Mexican bandit, nor J Lee Thompson's trademark pedestrian direction, which leaves the film moving at walking pace.  No, it's the fact that it features a poorly thought out scenario, a fractured narrative and a disjointed structure, all of which leave the film limping along.  Adding to these problems are some poor, for such a big budgeted movie, special effects which undermine several key sequences.  The miniatures work, in particular, is unconvincing and undermines several key sequences.  While, on the whole, the cinematography is very good, there are sequences which look grainy, as if shot on poorer quality stock.

It really doesn't help that the film keeps introducing characters, usually played by well known actors, then killing them off a couple of scenes later, without them having added anything to the plot.  Part way through, for instance, it brings in a group of venal towns folk, led by Eli Wallach and including such acting luminaries as Raymond Massey, Lee J Cobb, Burgess Meredith, Anthony Quayle and Edward G Robinson, yet most of them have only a handful of lines and most are quickly killed off in an ambush.  It seems an utterly pointless waste of acting talent.  Telly Savalas as a corrupt cavalry sergeant gets a slightly better deal, becoming, briefly, a main character late in the film, but, in truth, his presence still seems pointless, adding nothing to the narrative.

But, this time around, I least knew why the movie seems so compromised.  It was the victim of a change of mind by the studio as to how the film should be presented.  It was apparently originally intended to be one of those three hour Cinerama wide screen epics, shown as a 'road show' presentation, complete with an intermission. The format had been popular during the sixties, with movies like The Longest Day and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World, not to mention numerous musicals, had been successfully released in this form.  But, for some reason, Columbia got cold feet about MacKenna's Gold, deciding to cut down the release version to just 128 minutes.  At what point the decision was made is unclear - I don't know whether there were scenes filed which weren't used, or whether some sequences simply weren't filmed at all,  Either way, it explains the film's disjointed, episodic, feel.  I can only assume that the group of famous faces who turn up as the greedy citizens originally had more scenes and, some of them at least, played a more significant role in the story.  The sudden change in format probably also explains the grainy sequences, which were shot on 35mm stock rather than the 65mm stock required for its originally intended Cinerama release.

As it stands, MacKenna's Gold is a fitfully entertaining film, with a few effective set pieces overwhelmed by its slow pace and disjointed narrative.  It's tempting to speculate that, in its original format, it might have been a classic epic western.  But the presence of J Lee Thompson (in my opinion a vastly overrated director, whose lack of any concept of pace hobbled many a would be action movie) at the helm indicates otherwise.  It would just have been a slower, longer movie, albeit with a more coherent narrative, it's length magnifying its central problems of poor casting and weak plotting.


Friday, July 20, 2018

Another Rant Round Up

It's Friday and, as I enjoyed last week's rant round up so much, here's another set of mini-rants about the things which have riled me this week.  Apparently The Rock shouldn't be playing someone with an artificial leg in his latest film because, well, he has two real  legs and it's denying an opportunity to a real disabled actor.  You know, I strongly suspect that the people who come out with this sort of thing don't actually understand the whole concept of 'acting' - it's about pretending to be someone you aren't.  By their logic, then, disabled actors should never play non-disabled characters, (I recall that back in the day Herbert Marshall was a popular actor who only had one leg, yet always played two-legged characters, clearly this shouldn't have been allowed).  Gay actors can't play straight and vice versa.  If we take it to to its logical extreme, then black actors should never play characters originally written as white and female actors shouldn't play parts originally written as male. As for vampires, werewolves and aliens, well, if filmmakers can't get the real deal then they'll just have to stop making horror and science fiction movies.  It really is an utterly ludicrous idea, on a par with the idiocy of 'cultural appropriation'. 

Elon Musk - I'll just say this: a man who proposes to encase and transport young Thai boys in a plastic cylinder on the pretext that it is a 'mini submarine', is in no position to accuse anybody else of being a 'pedo'.  Donald Trump - he just gets ever more surreal, branding himself as being 'fake news' after being questioned over an interview he gave to The Sun.  Astoundingly, he made Britain's worst tabloid look like a paragon of truth.  Then, of course, he 'misspoke' - what he meant to say in Helsinki was that Putin was meddling in US elections, but instead said 'Sure, Vladimir is fucking me up the ass'.  You just can't make this stuff up  Then there's our shambles of a government.  Apparently leaderless, certainly rudderless as the UK faces the threat of being wrecked on the rocks of Brexit.  Not that the opposition is any better: the Lib Dems seemingly can't be bothered to turn up for crucial Brexit votes, while Labour, already mired in allegations of anti-Semitism is busily trying to redefine what constitutes anti-Semitism, presumably in such a way that it doesn't include hatred of the Jews.

Finally, they are running that bloody advert again.  You know, the one for KP peanuts where that bloke turns up at somebody's party with a baby elephant and proceeds to criticise their peanuts because they aren't KP, then, with his elephant, ransacks the house until they find the genuine KP nuts.  Which they then force the hosts to put them out for everyone to eat.  Look, if people are hiding their good peanuts from the guests, then there's a reason for that.  They probably don't like them.  Fair enough.  But I feel that it is extremely bad manners for any guest, let alone one with an elephant, to take it upon themselves to redistribute said nuts.  Who the fuck does he think he is, the rude bastard?  And why would anyone take an elephant to a party as a plus one?  In fact, was he even invited?  Certainly, the hosts don't seem to know him.  Does he just go around crashing random parties in search of KP peanuts?  I'll tell you now - if some fucker turned up at my party with an elephant, I'd tell him to fuck off - and take his elephant with him.  If you notice, he never takes his coat off, so he's clearly used to getting kicked out of parties for his peanut antics.  As he should be.  You know, that advert really gets on my tits.

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Universal Hate

You know, while listening to an item on Radio Four about the Tories' attempt to replace five hundred and seventy two types of benefit, (or however many there are), with a single 'Universal Credit' system, why can't they replace all the major types of hate and bigotry with a single 'Universal Hate'?  I men, it would make it so much easier for bigots, neo Nazis and the like, none of all that nonsense of having to keep up with who you are meant to be hating this week - it will be covered in a single package of hate.  Then there are those really annoying days when you just want to go out and harass some Muslims, but you just can't find any, but there are a lot of homosexuals about.  Except that, under he present system of hate, they are only fair game if you are a homophobe, but you are an Islamaphobe.  But under 'Universal Hate', it would be OK - you could go out and harass anybody you liked.  Just so long as they are a minority, of course.

Such a simplification of bigotry would undoubtedly be a boon for the bigots themselves.  The likes of the EDL and BNP frequently seem somewhat confused as to who they are marching against.  Now it won't matter.  If you want to burn down a mosque, but can't find one, don't worry.  A synagogue will do instead.  But look, it works for victims, too.  No more of that tiresome rigamarole of trying to work out what sort of hate you've been subjected to when reporting it to the police.  That's right, no more wasting time trying to decide whether you've been the subject of homophobia, racial prejudice or disability hatred - it's all just plain old 'Universal Hate'.  (Surely a boon for all those black, one-legged lesbians the likes of the Daily Mail seems to think are out there).  It would be good for the police, too: only one type of hate crime for them to ignore.  Everybody's a winner!  If nothing else, this just goes to underline how mind-numbingly dull my job is that I find myself thinking of stuff like this!


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Seventies Sitcoms: A Corrupting Influence?

I'm glad to see that the spirit of seventies British sitcoms lives on in the UK, if not on TV, then in real life.  I was reading a local news story today about women in Southampton complaining about a series of bus-related gropings.  Apparently they were happening at bus stops and even on buses.  Sadly, it apparently had nothing to do with On the Buses-style sex offenders who work on the side as bus drivers and conductors.  Police have reportedly arrested a seventy year old man in connection with the incidents.  Which means that I had to lay to rest my imagined scenario of Inspector Blake gleefully announcing 'I'm going to have you this time Butler', as he catches Stan in the act of feeling up an entire queue of 'seventies crumpet' style female passengers.  Except, of course, that back in the day, Stan and Jack didn't molest the passengers, they instead focused on the female staff at the depot.  Which, these days, would result in complaints of sexual harassment, disciplinary action and probable dismissal.  Not to mention lurid stories in the tabloids.  To be fair, even in 1972 it would probably have resulted in some kind of disciplinary action (although probably not dismissal) and lurid stories in the tabloids. 

In the current climate, I'm sure that we'll have various sections of the media claiming that the Southampton bus groper's behaviour was the result of having watched too many repeats of those seventies sitcoms on ITV4.  I know that every time I see a an episode of Man About the House I'm gripped by the desire to engage in a flat share with two female friends in order to continually bombard them with sexual innuendo, not to mention smoke forty cigarettes a day and discuss pornography with my dodgy landlord.  Yes indeed, they are obviously a corrupting influence.  One of the most striking things about seventies sitcoms is the way they treat as subjects for humour things which today might be considered comic taboos.  And I don't just mean sexual molestation and the objectification of women.  The other day I was watching an episode of Doctor in Charge from 1972, in which a depressed and overworked Dr Collier's presumed suicidal tendencies are used as the jumping off point (almost literally) for an hilarious slapstick climax with him and Dr Waring clinging to some scaffolding while Dr Bingham loses his footing on the roof and is left swinging by his ankles from a climbing rope.  Let's be honest, these days you would only attempt humour about mental illness and suicide in the context of some 'edgy' BBC Three sitcom written by and starring obscure 'alternative' comedians.  Oh and there definitely wouldn't be a laughter track.

Yet Doctor in Charge was one of ITV's most popular prime time sitcoms (as were the other 'Doctor' series).  There is a case to made that some seventies sitcoms were actually pretty progressive in their willingness to tackle difficult issues head on.  Perhaps their willingness to laugh at these issues should be seen as commendable.  Not that I'm trying to say that things like the harassment and sexual assault of women, let alone mental illness and suicide, aren't bloody serious serious subjects.  They are and they should be taken seriously.  But at the same time, there is something to be said for laughing at these terrible things - in a way it helps defeat them, it shows a refusal to be cowed.  Ridicule is often the best answer to evil.  Not that I'm making a case for every seventies sitcom here - I'm afraid that the likes of Love Thy Neighbour are indefensible. It takes a degree of skill and subtlety to tackle racism via the use of a bigot as your main character.  'Til Death Us Do Part, by and large, managed it, but Love Thy Neighbour, with its endless steams of racial abuse uttered by its 'hero', failed miserably. 

But some seventies sitcoms showed a surprising awareness of the issues surrounding the conservative social views of their main characters.  The long running Sid James vehicle, Bless This House, might have seemed a pretty regular example of the 'generation gap' comedy with Sid exhibiting the sort of knee-jerk, sexist and racist attitudes many of its viewers could identify with, but many episodes were written by Carla Lane, who frequently subverted these assumptions.  In one episode, for instance, Sid is shocked when a colleague points out that the young secretary he has just been bombarding with sexual innuendo and objectifying in front of the whole office, is barely older than the teenage daughter he has been shocked to learn both knows about sex and has boyfriends.  Our hero is not only revealed as a dirty old man, but also forced into an uncomfortable moment of self awareness.  Pretty sophisticated stuff for a seventies sitcom.


Monday, July 16, 2018

The Politics of Ignorance

It's the sheer ignorance which appalls me, the way that people, even supposed political correspondents, think that they can discuss political issues without grasping even the basics of how political systems work.  On a daily basis I see ridiculous statements presented as fact go unchallenged by journalists and other so called experts.  Especially where the Brexit referendum is concerned.  Take the oft quoted phrase used in response to calls for a second referendum or the reversal of Brexit: don't you trust the British people?  Well, obviously not, or we wouldn't have a representative democracy where we elect a parliament to make the significant political decisions on our behalf.  This isn't unique to the UK.  Most democratic states use variations on this system.  The referendum, curiously enough, isn't generally used as a means of framing legislation.  In fact, they are more likely to be used as demagogues and dictators to rubber stamp repressive, but populist, measures, thereby giving them a spurious sheen of respectability, ('it was the public's choice to make homosexuality/the free press/religion/etc illegal').  It's why, when they are used in democratic societies, their results are usually non-binding upon the government, (just like the Brexit referendum).

The electorate at large, sadly, are too easily swayed by the emotional and illogical 'arguments' of the so called populists, prey to the lies and half truths they peddle in pursuit of their dubious ends.  Hence the triumph of representative democracy, where we delegate those decisions to elected bodies we assume are better placed to make an informed decision.  Although, watching the conduct of some the Brexit bastards on the Tory back benches of late, one might reasonably question such a proposition.  The problem, obviously, is that the majority of the public simply don't have access to all of the relevant facts and arguments concerning complex issues such as the UK's relationship to the EU, which simply can't be boiled down to a binary choice of 'should the UK leave the European Union. Yes or No?', as the 2016 referendum did.  (Notice how there's no mention of how the UK should leave the EU< or what its future relationship with the EU should be in the event of it leaving.  Which leaves me wondering how the Brexit bastards can possibly say that anything short of a complete break - so called 'hard Brexit' - wouldn't be what people voted for and would be a betrayal of the 'public will'.  (Ignoring the fact that, constitutionally, in the UK it is parliament which represents the 'will of the people', not a single referendum result).  Yet more unchallenged nonsense).  The advent of the internet should, in theory, have given people greater access to the sort of information they need to make informed political decisions. Sadly, it hasn't worked out that way, with the web rapidly turning into a vast continent of lies.

I know I've said all this before and that it sounds as if I'm giving one of my AS level politics lessons from back in the day when I was still in the classroom.  But I just felt it needed to be said again:  I'm so tired of all the ill-informed bollocks I keep reading in the media which, as I've said, seems to go unchallenged.  It's wearying and depressing.  Is it any wonder that these days political discourse seems to be dominated by lies, hate and rancour?  It really gets me down.  I think I'll try and steer clear of politics for the rest of the week.

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Rant Round Up

So, caught up in World Cup fervour and the heatwave, as I've been lately, I've neglected to rant about a whole lod of other stuff that's been going on and has annoyed me.  To compensate, here's a brief 'rant round up' to try and cover some of the lost ground.  First up: no, Elon Musk, the rescue of twelve Thai boys and their football coach from flooded caves is not an opportunity for you to stroke your ego by turning up with more of your crazy but utterly pointless contraptions.  Jesus, fucking billionaires!  You'd think that being fabulously wealthy would be enough to satisfy anyone - the knowledge that you will want for nothing for the rest of your life would surely make you feel incredibly secure.  But apparently not -  so many of these wealthy fuckers spend their time (and money) doing all manner of stuff to garner publicity and boost their insecure egos: building mini subs to rescue kids from caves, flying balloons across the Atlantic, you know the sort of shit I mean.  look, if you want to do something worthwhile people will remember you for, try giving away all your worldly wealth to help address issues like global poverty, homelessness and general deprivation.  Christ, bearing in mind that the personal wealth of some of these bastards is bigger than the GDP of some small countries, they could even resolve all these problems by only giving away 99% of their money and still be multi-millionaires.

Talking of billionaires: Donald Trump - go home.  He really excelled himself this week, declaring a politically awkward interview he'd given to the Sun 'Fake News'!  But don't worry, he thinks that ordinary Britons love him.  Sadly, there actually are some utter ball sacks out there who apparently like this bell end.  And I don;t just mean that currently unemployed sack of shit Boris Johnson, (OK, I know that he's still an MP, but I doubt that he sees that as a proper job).  We've had the likes of the abominable Nigel Farage and the despicable waste of space Katie Hopkins gushingly tweeting their support for the orange knacker.  I mean, really, if that's the best you can muster in terms of support - the utter dregs of British society - then you should be ashamed of yourself.  Damn it, if I found that Katie Hopkins supported me, or even agreed with anything I'd ever said, I think I'd contemplate suicide, so shameful would it be.  Aside from rich dicks and publicity hungry arseholes, the other thing which irked me over the past few weeks was a newspaper story about the fire on Saddleworth Moor, bemoaning how such a major incident wasn't being reported nationally because the 'southern' dominated media wasn't interested in anything going on in the North.  Really?  For a while that fire was all I bloody read or heard about in the media.  I really do get sick of this fake Northern self pity at being ignored by the media, 

I live in the South and I get the bloody North rammed down my throat at every turn: the oly football teams we hear about are fucking Liverpool and Man Utd/City, every sodding drama series seems to be set in the North, every TV presenter and commentator has a Northern accent.  The South is badly unrepresented in the media (no, Eastenders doesn't count, it is set in London, which isn't the South) - I rarely hear a proper West Country accent, for instance, unless it is being parodied.  Since Howard's Way, I can't recall any major drama series being properly set in the South.  (Again, Inspector Morse doesn't count - Oxford is part of the Midlands and Midsomer Murders is filmed in the Home counties which, like London, isn't really the South).  Where are our dramas, set in Southampton, Portsmouth, or even Bristol, (even Casualty has moved production to Cardiff)?  Or Plymouth and Exeter, for that matter?  Where are our rural soaps?  I'd venture that Wiltshire is better farming country than bloody Yorkshire, so where's the Southern Emmerdale Farm?  Part of the imbalance, I know, is down to the fact that, when ITV was a series of regional franchises, the Northern, Midland and London broadcasters tended to be the better funded ones, contributing more programming to the network.  The main sSouth of England franchise, Southern, was traditionally content to rake in the ad revenue and pay it out to shareholders rather than actually make decent programmes, (cheap daytime fare like Out of Town and House Party and various kids shows don't, in my opinion, count).  But the BBC has no such excuse in this department.  Anyway, that's the rants rounded up for now.

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Curse of ITV

It's the curse of ITV.  As soon as I saw that ITV were exercising their 'right' to show the second World Cup semi final, I knew that England were doomed.  They always perform badly when their World Cup matches are shown on ITV.  The statistics back it up: their win rate on ITV televised matches is something like 28%, compared to around 80% for matches shown on the BBC.  Just look at Russia 2018 - first two group matches, shown on the BBC, won them both.  The only group match they lost was the one against Belgium, which was shown by ITV.  Then there was the first knock out match - it went all the way to penalties because it was shown on the commercial channel.  By contrast, England breezed through the BBC screened quarter final.  It really is about time that the FA put its foot down and told ITV, 'NO'.  If England are ever to succeed in a World Cup, then ITV need to be banned from showing their games.

It would be no great loss - I mean, their coverage is dire, regardless of results.  Their entire presenting team of BBC cast off pundits and Roy fucking Keane need to be given their marching orders.  Especially Keane - if he wants to cover the World Cup as a pundit, do it on bloody RTE and don't darken these shores again, you miserable git.  'England are in the Semi Finals, but I'm still going to say they are shit'.  Yeah, fuck off Roy, it's closer to the trophy than you ever got.  As for their main presenters, we've gone from Adrian 'I'm being paid a shed load of money for this, but I've still got a face like a slapped arse' Chiles, to another BBC exile, Mark 'Where's my personality' Pougatch.  Give me Gary Lineker any day - at least he's played in a bloody World Cup Semi Final.  (Going back to Adrian Chiles, briefly, why do people keep paying him large sums of money to present TV programmes very badly?  He was dreadful doing that ITV breakfast programme and worse still presenting their football coverage.  The One Show was about his level: trivia masquerading as current affairs).  Really though, in the national interest, ITV must be kept away from any future tournaments featuring England. 

And that, I promise you, is the last time I'll mention the 2018 World Cup, which managed to draw me in, before cruelly dashing my hopes.  Well, for now, at least.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Taboos of the World (1963)

I'm still in something of a 'Mondo' mood.  I partially sated it the other week by watching Addio Africa.  Or, a version of Africa Addio, that is, as many different edits of the film exist.  The one I saw was the longest version currently available with an English language narration.  This is still several minutes shorter than the Italian language original and cuts some sequences, but adds others.  It is still more complete than the butchered US release version, Africa: Blood and Guts, which is something of a travesty, editing the film down to less than half its original length and focusing on the violence.  Whichever version you watch, it's a grueling experience. But we're not here to talk about Africa Addio (we'll hopefully get to that in a later post), but rather to take a quick look at the trailer for another intriguing-looking Mondo movie: Taboos of the World (1963).

In an age when absolutely nothing seems taboo any more, with so=called 'reality' TV regularly serving up the sort of content you might only have found in soft core porn a few years ago, it seems odd to think that there was a time when you could titillate cinema audiences with the prospect of seeing some 'taboo breaking' behaviour.  Especially when a lot of it, like eating snakes, jumping down wells and some mildly smutty temple engravings, seems pretty damn tame by today's standards.  But, as I've noted before, the pre-swinging sixties were a different world, still living in the shadow of the less socially liberated immediate post-war era.  Overseas travel was, for most people, a novelty and, consequently, much of the rest of the world seemed incredibly exotic to most Europeans.  I've yet to track down a complete version of this film but the trailer indicates that it includes the usual Mondo mix of sex, sensationalism and animal cruelty.  All proven box office winners back in the sixties but undoubtedly the subject of disapproval nowadays.  Now, it seems, shockumentaries are bad, but low rent 'reality' TV exploiting the emotionally vulnerable, subjecting them to public humiliation and ridicule, is OK. 


Monday, July 09, 2018

The Heat is On

What a time to be alive!  England are in the World Cup semi finals, the UK is in the grip of a heatwave and two of the most despicable and incompetent members of the cabinet (and that's saying something), have had hissy fits over Brexit and resigned.  Really, though, if May had any real gumption as a Prime Minister, both David Davis and Boris Johnson should have been sacked long ago.  Davis for incompetence alone - his apparent inability to grasp even the most basic facts about the UK's EU membership was bad enough, but lying to parliament over the non-existent Brexit impact studies should have been the final straw.  But apparently not. As for Johnson, if generally being a buffoon and constantly embarrassing the UK in his role as Foreign Secretary wasn't sufficient grounds for dismissal, then his constant undermining of and lack of respect for the Prime Minister should have resulted in him being shown the door.  Sadly, though, we live in an age when the UK's main political parties have weak leaderships, apparently unable or unwilling to control potentially destructive elements of their parties, leaving a vacuum at the centre of British politics.  A vacuum in which opportunists and extremists like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg can flourish.

But hey, this is all getting too heavy.  I really don't want to talk about politics,  It's far too hot, for one thing. Not that I'm complaining about the heat.  I welcome it, I'd rather be sweltering than freezing.  I'm actually finding the heat much easier to handle this summer, which is probably because my blood pressure has dropped significantly.  I'm sweating far less and the high temperatures don't leave me feeling exhausted all the time.  I just don't understand these people who keep moaning about this protracted heatwave: surely this is the kind of Summer we've been complaining for years that we don't get in the UK.  Well folks, it's here at last, so enjoy it!  Who knows when we'll get another Summer like this?  (Actually, with global warming, it could be sooner than we think).   Yet there are people who keep on complaining about the heat.  These are probably the same people, though, who are prepared to spend significant amounts of money to spend two weeks every year in search of temperatures like these. Bizarre.  Obviously, there are some things I don't like about prolonged heatwaves: mainly the fact that they encourage over weight middle aged men to wander around shirtless, usually drinking beer from cans.  I really don't want to see their tattoos and beer bellies.  I also don't want to have to pay for the treatment on the NHS for their inevitable skin cancer in few years time.  For God's sake stay covered up, not just for decency's sake, but for your long term health, also.  Otherwise, long may the heatwave continue.

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Friday, July 06, 2018

Never Say Novichok Again

This recurrence of the novichok nerve agent in Wiltshire just goes to reinforce my theory that the whole Russian connection is just a smokescreen and that the UK government is actually being held to ransom by some SPECTRE-like international crime syndicate.  Clearly the government didn't pay up after the first poisoning in Salisbury, so they've upped the ante, targeting not ex-Soviet spies this time, but ordinary people.  They're sending a message: nobody is safe - you can decontaminate as much as you like, but we can still get you.  Believe me, right now Number Ten is in panic mode (although, these days, one has to ask when it isn't), with all these cabinet meetings supposedly about Brexit a cover for hastily convened crisis meetings.  Why else do you think that the government are getting nowhere with Brexit (other than their utter incompetence)?  As I write this, M is on the intercom to Miss Moneypenny, telling her to recall every double O agent in Europe, no matter how vital their current mission might be.  Which will be a cue for a middle aged man in a dinner jacket to have a fight with a bloke with metal teeth on a plane, before jumping out without a parachute.

I know, I've seen far too many Bond movies (not to mention having read all the books as well).  I do have to say,though, that the bit in Thunderball where M does have all the OO agents in Europe has always left perplexed.  There seem to be a hell of a lot of them gathered together in the briefing room.  Bear in mind that in Moonraker (the book, not the film), Ian Fleming clearly states that there are only ever three OO agents active at any one time.  Even in the 1950s there weren't that many people that the UK government wanted killed.  That said, even Fleming seemed to become confused as to who the other two OO agents were.  Originally it was 007, 008 and 0011.  While the first two remained constant throughout the books, the third OO varies: 009 in Thunderball, 006 in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  Which, if nothing else, confuses the issue of how the numbering system works as it indicates that, unlike the implication in Moonraker, new OO agents aren't simply numbered consecutively from the last one to die or retire.  And, in the films at least, they do die at an alarming rate: 002 in Man With the Golden Gun, 009 in Octopussy (although 009 turns up again, apparently unscathed in World is Not Enough and Spectre), 003 in View to a Kill, 004 in Living Daylights and 006 in Goldeneye

But, getting back to this nerve agent business, there's no doubt that this latest attack is the most exciting thing to happen in Amesbury since, well, since ever.  I don't want to diss a town but Amesbury makes Salisbury look like an exciting big metropolis.  While it has expanded quite a ot in recent years, my childhood memories of Amesbury are of one of those 'blank and you miss it' places as I was driven past it in the back seat of my Dad's car.  I know that's undoubtedly an unfair assessment of the place, but coming from Salisbury, I was used to seeing lots of streets, shops and stuff.  Which Amesbury, to my child's eye view, didn't seem to have.  But hey, it's certainly on the map now.  It'll probably get even more coverage when half the OO section descend on the town in pursuit of Blofeld and the inevitable car chases and gratuitous sex and violence ensue.


Thursday, July 05, 2018

Vegetable Cruelty

Whilst I've been engaging in football-related revelry here, other things have been going on in the real world.  But I'll come to the latest nerve agent business in the fullness of time.  Right now, I'd like to rant a bit about bloody vegans.  I remember when they used to be a joke, seen as cranks existing at the extreme edges of vegetarianism.  But now the bastards are everywhere, getting in your face and telling you that 'meat is murder'.  What sparked off my latest burst of outrage was an article in The Independent (you know, used to be a newspaper that nobody bought, now it is just a website that few people click on,) ostensibly about the latest shooting of a wild animal in Africa (this time a rare Giraffe) by a hunter who then proudly posts the photos of themselves posing with the body all over the internet.  But it quickly became obvious that it was merely a vegan propaganda piece.  Apparently, you aren't allowed to express outrage over the slaughter of wild animals by hunters if you eat meat because that makes you a hypocrite because, you know, 'meat is murder'.  For fuck's sake, you self righteous bastards, do fuck off! 

There is a world of difference between being unnecessarily cruel to animals by, for instance, hunting them purely for sport and killing them, as humanely as possible, for food.  I know that facts are alien to these sanctimonious arseholes, but the homo sapiens is an omnivorous species, meaning that meat always has been part of our diet.  Moreover, there is a whole class of animal, the carnivores, who exist by eating meat.  Do these pricks go around shouting 'meat is murder' at lions and tigers?  Do they force their pet cats and dogs into vegan diets?  Actually, some of them do try the latter, which is both cruel and potentially fatal.  So, clearly, animal welfare isn't really the vegans' priority.  I wouldn't mind, but why do they think that not eating meat or using animal products makes them so superior?  Have they seen the conditions vegetables are kept in?  Factory farmed, exposed to the elements and buried up to their roots all day.  Outrageous!  Moreover, don't they know that plants scream when they have their leaves or flowers pulled off?  Do they honestly believe that chopping up innocent vegetables and putting them in scalding water isn't cruel?  Vegan bastards!


Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Quantum Penalty Shoot Out

So, the box was opened and the cat was alive: England progress to the World Cup quarter finals and the negative narrative of them being perennial losers is banished for a few more days.  But now we're back in that quantum limbo where England as semi-finalists co-exists with the possibility of England as losing quarter finalists.  Still, quantum speculations aside, there is undeniably something deeply satisfying in seeing England finally win a penalty shoot-out.  And the Columbians were dirty bastards, making their last gasp demise on penalties even more satisfying.  That said I could have done without all the tension - after all, I'm under Doctor's orders to avoid stress as it isn't good for my blood pressure.  The biggest obstacle England had to overcome tonight, though, was the fact that the match was being shown live on ITV.  Now, not only is ITV's football coverage utterly dire, but, statistically speaking, England have a very poor win rate for matches in the finals of tournaments when they are shown on ITV.  Thankfully, Saturday's quarter final is being shown on the BBC, so at least that's one handicap that England won't have to labour against.

The question, obviously, is if an England match was to be shown simultaneously on both ITV and the BBC, would there be different results for viewers of each channel?  We're back into quantum physics territory here.  That said, I can remember a time when England's matches in World cup Finals we're shown simultaneously on both channels and I don't recall them losing on one, but winning on the other.  But that still doesn't mean that it couldn't happen.  Of course, there is a downside to England's survival, for a few more days at least, in the World Cup: between now and Saturday we're going to be besieged by idiots using it as an excuse to march around the streets drunkenly shouting 'ENGERLUND!'.  Oh, and there'll be even more cars festooned with England flags driving around.  I've actually never understood the flags.  I mean, I know that I'm in England, I don't need to fly bloody flags from my car to establish the fact.  But, on the bright side, the quarter final coincides with the first day of the latest incarnation of Crapchester Shite, 'C-Love', so should help keep attendance (and the accompanying anti-social behaviour, which, in the past has included people trespasssing on my garden, using the rear alley as a public convenience and littering the street outside my house) down.  Hooray!


Monday, July 02, 2018

Schrodinger's World Cup

OK, I'm finally going to have to talk about football.  And quantum physics.  We're in that strange situation with the World Cup where England have escaped the group stage, but have yet to play their first (and possibly last) knock out match of the tournament.  Which, in practice, it means that for fans and the media, the possibility of progressing, even winning the World cup still exists.  They are all still allowed to be elated, they can still dream.  Yet at the same time, there coexists the possibility that they will lose and go tumbling out of the competition.  It's a bit like Schrodinger's Cat which, until the box is opened, exists in a state of limbo, neither dead nor alive - both possibilities coexist until that fateful moment.  Gareth Southgate is still the greatest England manager since Alf Ramsay and Harry Kane still a national hero.  All those firms sponsoring England can still dream of another couple of weeks of their World cup themed advertising campaigns and the press can still dream of more column inches about England's glory to come.

Simultaneously, Southgate is vilified as the worst England manager since Steve McClaren, Harry Kane is branded a flop, those advertising campaigns come to an abrupt halt and the media looks forward to more column inches slating England.  You can see both of these narratives jostling for position as the match approaches, with fans and press alternating between bouts of euphoria and despondency.  Which one finally comes into full existence will be decided over ninety minutes (or more, if it goes to injury time and/or penalties) tomorrow night.  Right now, though, many can't decide which reality is preferable: an England victory will simply put us all into another limbo as we await the quarter final.  A defeat, however, would not only put us all out of our misery, but would confirm the underlying assumption among press and many fans that England are the perennial non-achievers, that no matter how ell they perform, they always fall at their first real test.  There's undoubtedly something reassuring about such a narrative: the inevitability of failure becomes something you can rely upon - success would be an unknown country, something to be feared.  Still,by this time tomorrow we'll all know which way the cat has jumped and which reality has prevailed.