Friday, September 28, 2018

Lost in Guildford

Just what does Guildford have against proper road signing?  I only ask because I found myself trapped in Guildford town centre for a while this afternoon, after coming off of the A3 at the wrong exit.  It seems that if you want to go to London, Dorking, Leatherhead or Bagshot, the town is happy to show you the best way out to those destinations with plenty of signs.  The trouble wa that I didn't want to go to any of these places: I was trying to get back on the A31 to Farnham (and from there back to Crapchester).  Were there any signs telling me how to do this?  No, there were not.  There were signs for the station which, I eventually realised, was also the route for the A31 and Farnham.  But not being a local, this wasn't automatically obvious to me.  Quite why the local authority couldn't simply have put up signs for Farnham is beyond me.  Still, if nothing else, I did get to see Guildford town centre, where a lot of people I know go shopping.  I don't think I'll be doing any shopping there - after today's experience I don't think that I ever want to see the place again.

But why was I on the A3, let alone mistakenly in Guildford, I hear you cry.  Well, I was on my way back from Surbiton, where I'd been looking at some second hand Saabs.  (You have to travel these days to find the used car you want, particularly if it is a lower production marque like Saab).  I didn't like any of them enough to make any offers.  Of the two 9-3s and one 9-5 I saw, I wasn't terribly impressed.  Mechanically sound, but tatty interiors and scruffy bodywork.  The main one I was interested in, a 9-3 automatic, for example, had a badly worn dashboard, (with some of the button legends completely indecipherable), a faulty radio and externally had a bad scuff mark and visible dent on the driver's side rear quarter.  Plus, it need a service and the washer reservoirs were low on fluid.  I know the latter two things because the car told me - Saab's can be real blabbermouths, as their dashboards include a driver information screen which relays all manner of information about their current status. The bottom line was that, despite showing a mileage half that of my current car, it was actually in slightly worse physical condition.

So, my search for a replacement car goes on.  This is the bit of buying a second hand car that I hate: all the traipsing around bleak car yards, looking at cars which turn out not to match their descriptions or pictures on Auto Trader or Exchange and Mart.  It's particularly tedious when you have to travel any distance to see the bloody things.  I know that part of the problem this time around is that I'm being such a cheapskate with regard to what I'm prepared to pay.  It does limit the field, somewhat, and means that you end up looking at a fair number of clunkers.  That said, having checked my bank account again today, I've decided that looks healthy enough for me to up my budget, which, in turn, means that I can look at some Saabs up for sale a bit closer to home. They are also higher spec, slightly newer and, hopefully, in better condition.  Still, a day looking at Swedish cars in Surbiton and getting lost in Guildford beat being at work.  Don't worry, I'm not going to go off on another tirade about my employment situation.  Suffice to say that my escape plans are advancing.


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Terror of the Tongs (1961)

I saw this one on Talking Pictures TV a couple of months ago - it's one of those Hammer movies which rarely seems to surface on TV.  A hybrid of horror and historical movie, Terror of the Tongs is basically a reworking of Hammer's earlier surprise hit, Stranglers of Bombay, but in colour and with a name horror star headlining.  While the earlier film was a highly sensationalist account of the nineteenth century Indian Thugee cult, Terror of the Tongs was a similarly sensationalist account of the activities of the Tongs in nineteenth century Hong Kong.  Not surprisingly, the budget didn't stretch to location filming in Hong Kong, with the colony instead recreated at Bray Studions, including a wharfside featuring a docked paddle steamer.  Directed by Anthony Bushell - a one time lead actor in pre war British films turned director (he's probably best remembered now for playing Colonel Breen in the original BBC production of Quatermass and the Pit) - the film features plenty of brutality, with numerous stabbings, poisonings and severed hands. 

Despite not sparing on the gore and violence, Terror of the Tongs is a far less effective film that Stranglers of Bombay.  Possibly this is because it is such a calculated attempt to replicate the earlier film's success - it feels too formulaic and lacks spontaneity.  Although Christopher Lee gives a typically menacing turn as the chief villain, to contemporary eyes the sight of him wearing 'oriental' make up is jarring, (to be fair, it is less exaggerated than the make ups he wore as Fu Manchu).  Indeed, as was the custom at the time, the majority of the Chinese characters are played by white British actors wearing dubious make up.  The decision to cast Burt Kwouk, an actor genuinely of Chinese descent in a brief, but key, role simply serves to highlight the inadequacy of the other casting.  Very much in the film's favour is that it only runs seventy six minutes or so, meaning that it doesn't really have time to outstay its welcome.  But, although mildly diverting, providing some crude thrills and violence, the studio bound sets and casting ultimately make Terror of the Tongs  a somewhat inadequate entertainment.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Novichock Experience

We still don't know - was it all a hoax or not?  I'm referring, obviously, to the latest bout of panic to hit the streets of Salisbury in the wake the Novichock business earlier this year.  I was there when it happened.  Sort of.  I was just leaving my Mum's house the other Sunday when we heard all the sirens screaming toward the town centre.  My initial reaction was to hope that they weren't going to a road accident on my route out of town - I didn't want to be delayed getting home.  Luckily, my route out of Salisbury never goes near the town centre, (my mother currently lives on the east side of the city), so it wasn't until I got home that I found that all the fuss had involved a couple being taken ill at a town centre restaurant.  Now, I can't deny that I felt quite smug when I saw which restaurant it was - I've never liked it simply because the premises it occupies was once Beech's Bookshop.  It was a defining feature of Salisbury when I lived there.  Sure, its musty, second hand books were overpriced and it tended toward leather bound collectible editions of dull old classics, but I did get some long out of print film books there that I've never seen anywhere else.  So, the old place held a certain sentimental value to me - seeing it turned into a faux-Italian chain restaurant was pretty upsetting.  Consequently, part of me was quite glad to see it suffer some kind of comeuppance.

But, hoax or not, (neither of the alleged victims were poisoned, it turns out, and both were quickly released from hospital), this latest incident has led to fears that the city's economy, already battered from the fall out of the two Novichock incidents, will take another hammering.  Clearly, something needs to be done to bring the visitors back to the city (tourism has always been a lucrative business for Salisbury) - and not just alleged GRU agents looking to poison people.  Ideally, what needs to be done is to actually exploit the Novichock business for the benefit of the local economy.  I've already floated the possibility of 'Tea and Terror' tours around the City, taking in the route originally followed by the Skripals on the fateful day they were poisoned.  Now, of course, it could be extended, to take in the house in Amesbury where the bloke who allegedly found the discarded bottle of nerve agent was taken ill, the hostel in Salisbury where his girlfriend who died after exposure to Novichock, lived and the bins around the back of that charity shop where he claimed to have found the bottle.  I envisage it being like those 'Ghost Tours' they do in places like York (or the 'Ripper Tours' in Whitechapel) - you could have some 'jumper outers' pretending to be GRU agents who leap out at strategic points, scaring the tourists and spraying them with (harmless) liquid from a perfume bottle.

One of the sights on the tour should be the bench which the Skripals were found slumped on, but it still hasn't been replaced.  Some budding entrepreneur needs to set up their own bench there and charge tourists twenty quid a time to have their photos taken sprawled on the bench, covered in puke in imitation of the Skripals.  Trust me: it would be a gold mine.  Bearing in mind that the Novichock used in the attack was contained in a perfume bottle, how about launching an actual perfume with the same name?  Sold exclusively in Salisbury, it could be a real money spinner in the run up to Christmas.  I mean, I've already seen the perfume ads appearing on TV, as they gear up for their traditional seasonal sales boost, when clueless blokes try to ensure getting their Christmas end away by impressing their other halves with some expensive perfume or other.  They could shoot a TV commercial for this new scent in Salisbury.  You know the sort of thing: a snatch of black and white footage of those bins where the bottle was supposedly found, with the sound of people vomiting in the background as someone whispers 'Novichock' on the sound track.  Classy and a sure fire winner.  Ultimately, what someone needs to do is create a whole 'Novichock Experience' to entertain vistors to Salisbury.  Perhaps they could have some sort of virtual reality thing which simulates the experience of being poisoned with a nerve agent for participants.  Or maybe it could be simpler - give them a dose of something in pill form that (harmlessly) simulates the effects of poisoning.  Maybe that was what happened at that restaurant the other week...


Monday, September 24, 2018

Back to the Schlock

I felt a bit as if I was living in some weird parallel universe today: everyone seemed to be talking about the recently concluded BBC serial The Bodyguard.  As I've never watched it, I was left bemused, wondering why new programmes and newspapers, for instance, couldn't just give me the news, rather than keep on about what, to me, was an obscure TV series.  OK, I know that I'm very much in the minority here, as, according to the overnight figures at least, over ten million people did watch it.  But this is an increasingly frequent occurrence for me, as I find myself more and more detached from mainstream TV these days.  As I've mentioned here before, I don't watch reality TV, I don't subscribe to streaming services and regular TV's idea of what constitutes drama these days just doesn't appeal to me.  I really do get more of a kick out of watching old schlock.  Even Confessions From the David Galaxy Affair, which I gave a bit of a mauling to last week.  I have to say that, whilst it really isn't a good film, even by the standards of seventies British sex films, I still found it preferable viewing to most of what's on offer on TV right now.  Also, while I was somewhat harsh with regard to Alan Lake's performance, I should point out that I normally have a higher tolerance threshold for him than most people.  It's just that in David Galaxy Affair he's left exposed by being given so much screen time and a weak script: a little of Alan Lake goes a long way.

Having brought Confessions From the David Galaxy Affair up again, I have to say that it was good to get back to writing up some schlocky movies in the latter half of last week.  It's an aspect of this blog I've been neglecting of late.  It isn't that that I haven't been watching such movies, just that I haven't seen any that moved me to write about them.  Contrary to what some might think, I don't write about every B-movie, sex comedy, giallo, mondo or generally obscure movie I see.  Many of them just don't move me to write about them, some have been more than adequately covered elsewhere by other hands and some are just so bad that deserve obscurity.  Generally, it is those films which evoke some kind of reaction from me, for better or worse, which I write about.  So, David Galaxy Affair got a write up because it promised much and involved so many British schlock movie personalities, yet as a whole fell short, while Secrets of a Windmill Girl (last week's other review), got a write up because of its historical significance, its connections to the other Arnold Miller-Stanley Long collaborations and the fact that I could find very little about it online.  Oh yes - and I enjoyed it.  London Live have some more seventies British sex movies lined up for late night showings over the next few weeks, so you might get a few more reviews yet.  For some strange reason, these movies hold an allure for me - I think, in part, it is because of the juxtoposition of the technical skill with which they are often made, with the tawdriness of their scenarios and subject matter.  They are also, in contrast to contemporary British mainstream movies of the era, anything but bland or pretentious.  So, if only The Bodyguard had been made in 1976 and starred Alan Lake in the title role and Mary Millington as the Home Secretary, I might have watched it...


Friday, September 21, 2018

Confessions From the David Galaxy Affair (1979)

Produced toward the end of the heyday of British sex films, Confessions From the David Galaxy Affair is as awkwardly constructed as its original release title.  The 'Confessions' part was clearly hastily added to the title at the last minute, doubtless to imply some connection with the hugely popular series of sex comedies starring Robin Askwith, by distributors uncertain that the movie would attract an audience in its own right.  Which isn't surprising, as he whole thing seems to have been cobbled together from several different scripts, with the finished product veering wildly in mood as it, apparently randomly, switches mode between crime thriller, comedy and sex film.  Unfortunately, it doesn't do any one of these genres, let alone all three, sufficiently well to satisfy the potential audience for any of these types of film.  Director/Producer Willy Roe and Executive Producer David Sullivan made two huge errors with the film: they waste Mary Millington in what amounts to an extended cameo in a sub plot pretty much unrelated to the rest of the film and they indulge Alan Lake in the title role.

The way in which MIllington's appearance is effectively fumbled is surprising: she was just about the hottest property in the British adult industry in the late seventies and, at the time the film was made, was the girlfriend of Executive Producer and adult magazine publisher Sullivan.  Indeed, David Galaxy Affair was one of a number of sex films bankrolled by Sullivan in order to showcase Millington's talents.  It was intended to build on the success of The Playbirds and Come Play With Me, both of which had starred Millington, yet her scenes here give the impression that they were added as an afterthought, either to pad out the running time to feature length or perhaps to provide a bigger box office draw than Alan Lake.  Which brings us to the movie's central problem: Alan Lake.  Best remembered now for having been married to Diana Dors (who also appears in the film), Lake was a B-list British bad boy actor, usually cast as thugs and heavies.  In fact, I often get the impression that he was the guy you called when you couldn't afford Derren Nesbitt.  David Galaxy Affair gave Lake a rare lead role and, unfortunately, exposed his limitations as a performer.  While he succeeds in making David Galaxy a smarmy, egotistical and completely unlikeable character, (which, to be fair, seems to be the intent of the film), most of this has less to do with the script and more to do with Lake's lack of charisma.  Worse still, both he and the director clearly think that he is funny and Lake is allowed free reign to avail the audience of his comedy 'talents'.  These comprise primarily of a series of bad impressions (including Bogart and John Wayne) and 'funny' voices.  The latter include the usual caricature West Indian and Pakistani accents and, worst of all, a Larry Grayson inspired camp homosexual.  If nothing else, all of this establishes that comedy certainly wasn't Lake's forte, (many would contend that acting wasn't his forte).

As previously noted, the film's narrative is all over the place, making it near impossible to fully engage with it as it jumps one way and another.  The main thrust of the plot (at least, I assume it was meant as the main plot) involves celebrity astrologer David Galaxy being 'fitted up' by the police for a security van robbery five years earlier.  Alleging that they have a witness who can identify him as the getaway driver, the rest of the film sees Galaxy trying to establish an alibi for the day of the robbery.  Unfortunately, his first two witnesses have subsequently died, another denies even knowing him, (fearing her career will be compromised by an association with him), while another is scared off by the police.   For large stretches of the film, however, Galaxy is diverted into other sub plots.  The main one of these sees him retained to bed Mary Millington, a socialite who has never experienced an orgasm.  He is drawn into this by his friend Steve (played by Anthony Booth with, as ever, all the charisma of a stoat in a cheap suit), who has bet big money on Galaxy - London's top ladies man - being able to perform the deed.  Which, of course, he does - with Steve and the other 'investors' in the scheme (including Kenny Lynch) listening in on the action. Another side plot involves some of Galaxy's former conquests scheming to get revenge on him for his treatment of women and there is some intrigue involving his land lady (Diana Dors).  

Like all of the David Sullivan bankrolled sex movies, Confessions From the David Galaxy Affair has high production values and a slick, glossy look -the cinematic equivalent to the look of his magazines.  While Roe's direction is steady, it is also uninspiring and he makes nothing of the late seventies London settings, with a lot of the action feeling flat and lifeless, in spite of the glossy look.  Ultimately, the whole thing lacks pace, with the main plot of Galaxy's race against time to establish an alibi lacking any sense of urgency.  In common with most British sex films of its era, David Galaxy Affair boasts a supporting cast of 'legitimate' actors, most notably Glynn Edwards as the copper framing Galaxy, (he out acts Lake in their every scene together by the simple expedient of maintaining a poker face in the face of Lake's constant 'comic' mugging).  Bernie Winters bizarrely turns up as a the manager of Galaxy's apartment building, while Ballard Berkeley cameos as the judge at Galaxy's trial.  In the final analysis, despite a decent supporting cast and production values, the film's tangled, poorly constructed, script makes the film a bore.  It quickly becomes tedious with even Mary Millington's well staged sex scene unable to save the movie.  It doesn't help that the motivation for the framing of Galaxy never seems to be made clear, leaving the whole thing feeling more than a little unsatisfactory as the closing titles roll.  Far too long at ninety seven minutes, David Galaxy Affair would have benefited enormously from some tighter editing - particularly with regard to Lake's 'comedy' sequences.  That said, even drastic cuts wouldn't have resolved the twin flaws of a poor script and poor lead performance.


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Secrets of a Windmill Girl (1966)

Unfortunately, I don't live close enough to London to receive its local station, London Live, on Freeview. Instead, I have to make do with That's Crapchester and its schedule of a half hour 'local' news bulletin endlessly repeated, punctuated by simulcasts of The Jewellery Channel and scratchy prints of public domain movies.  London Live, by contrast, has a schedule chock full of old TV series and films which are, in some way, connected to London, (this connection can be as slim as a film having Danny Dyer in it).  The line up of films includes a number of sleazy classics, including Sex Clinic, The Sex Thief, Some Like it Sexy and The Playbirds.  If only That's Crapchester had schedules like this.  Anyway, I've recently found that it is possible to watch a lot of London LIve's output live via the web, regardless of where you are in the UK.  Consequently, I was recently able to catch most of a relatively obscure piece of British schlock: Secrets of a Windmill Girl.

This 1966 production is from the same stable as the Soho Mondos, London in the Raw and Primitive London - directed by Arnold L Miller, photographed by Stanley Long and produced by Miller, Long, Michael Klinger and Tony Tenser.  Indeed, the lengthy sequences of the eponymous theatre's dancers going through their semi-naked routines were apparently shot for Primitive London, but not used in that film.  Instead, they were spliced together with a number of scripted sequences to form the basis for this drama chronicling the last days of London's notorious Windmill Theatre.  As the film itself notes, the explosion of strip clubs and adult cinemas in sixties London effectively killed the Windmill and its rather quaint form of erotica - who was going to pay to see girls engaged in mildly titillating fan dances, giving the punters flashes of bared breasts and buttocks, when they could get the full Monty much cheaper at a local strip club or fleapit?  Ironically, of course, the Windmill itself was to become a cinema - owned by Compton Cameo, producers Klinger and Tenser's company, which distributed and sometimes produced adult orientated films.  In fact, Secrets of a Windmill Girl was, I believe, the first film shown there.

Of course, being the mid-sixties, in order to get past the censors, the film has to present itself as a cautionary tale, (all that bare flesh is only there to show audiences just how disgusting and depraved the film's subject matter really is, obviously).  So, the plot, such as it is, follows a pair of young women, Pat and Linda, (played by Pauline Collins and April Wilding), who decide to embrak on careers in showbiz by becoming 'Windmill Girls' as their first step.  While Linda prospers and, after the Windmill's closure, forges a career in 'legitimate' theatre, her friend Pat ends up working the strip club circuit, endures gang rape at a party, (a vividly filmed sequence featuring her point of view as various masked faces lunge in at her, which quickly tips over into psychedelia), succumbs to drink and drugs before coming to a tragic end, (which opens the film, which then flashes back from this event to tell Pat and Linda's story).  The strip club scenes are suitably seedy, as middle aged, drunken punters leer at Pat in a manner reminiscent of her rapists, as she performs in some pretty sleazy-looking venues.  In fact, these scenes are actually surprisingly poignant, as Pat breaks down while performing, telling the uncaring audience that she's only doing this while she waits for her big break.

As drama, Secrets of a Windmill Girl is no great shakes.  You aren't going to find much in the way of titillation, either,  However, what it does provide is a vivid snapshot of mid sixties Soho and a valuable record of a now almost forgotten British institution: the Windmill Theatre.  Whole routines including the singers and comics who punctuated the dancers, are captured intact.  The dance routines themselves are fascinating: there is something not just quaint, but actually quite innocent, about the era's idea of what constituted erotica.  It's all very coy and twee.  The film draws a nice parallel between the essential tweeness and faux sophistication of the Windmill and its audiences and the rawness of the strip joints and their patrons who, in contrast to the seated and well behaved Windmill audiences, frequently get up close and personal with the girls.  The film boasts a decent performance from Pauline Collins as Pat and also features early appearances from Martin Jarvis and Peter Gordeno.  Veteran character actor Howard Marion Crawford (best remembered now for playing Dr Petrie to a whole series of Nayland Smiths in Harry Allan Towers' Fu Manchu films), pops up as Pat's agent, forever promising her a West End role, but never delivering, while Eastenders' Charlie Slater  can be glimpsed as a strip club patron near the end.  Overall, it's a good-looking film, shot with the same level of slickness that Miller and Long brought to their London Mondos.  It's a diverting ninety minutes or so, providing a fascinating look at the old Windmill Theatre in its dying days.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Reinvention Game Revisited

So, I'm still pondering this idea of 'reinventing' oneself.  As I've discussed before, it is a term that gets bandied about a lot, but there is very little in the way of specifics out there as to how it is done, other than the usual bunch of online 'gurus' pouring out their usual management-speak and vague new age style platitudes.  In essence, all that 'reinventing' yourself means is jumping from one occupation, or lifestyle, to another, completely different and unconnected one.  Which is more difficult than it sounds.  As I said, I've been thinking about this a lot of late and have come to the conclusion that I'm clearly living in the wrong era as, back in the day, it seemed much easier to switch tracks in this way.  There seemed to be far more opportunities for average blokes like me, (I'm sounding like a bad seventies tabloid article there, aren't I?)  Talking of the seventies, back then I could just have started making adult films.  Everyone else did, it sometimes seems.  They were cheap to make - you needed only the most basic resources - and there was a ready market for them in seedy fleapit cinemas.  You could shoot them in your spare room with an 8mm camera  (if you didn't mind a grainy quality) - you could recruit your leading ladies from the local strip club, pay David McGillivray five quid to write a script (he was banging them out left, right and centre in those days, such was his eagerness to break into the movie business), and away you went.

In fact, you didn't even need a script.  Or sound.  You could try knocking out those short 'glamour films' that he likes of Harrison Marks specialised in and which usually ended up being shown on loops clubs or sold for home cinema viewings.  Nowadays, thanks to the web, viewers of this sort of stuff can see much of it for free, in the comfort of their own homes.  Even if they are inclined to pay for it, they can just stream it into their homes, with a lot of it being live webcam feeds from someone's bedroom.  The artistry inherent in even the crudest of those 'glamour films' has, sadly, gone from the adult sector.  At their peak, British sex movies weren't just about sex - most were ostensibly 'sex comedies', often featuring 'legitimate' actors and featuring half decent production values and witty scripts.  But those days have gone, unfortunately.  Obviously, I could still reinvent myself as some kind of purveyor of adult entertainment, but it would be of the current sleazy internet type.  Which doesn't really appeal to me.  Of course, back in the late sixties and seventies it was altogether easier to get into the film business altogether.  Particularly if you could scrape together some capital - there was always some kind of low budget movie production being put together somewhere, be it the likes of Lindsay Shonteff or Cliff Twemlow. looking for investors.  Those were the days when low budget film makers just went out onto the streets and shot films, without all the tortuous pre-production  'development' they seem to have to go through these days.

When all is said and done, I suspect that my own 'reinvention', if it ever happens, will be somewhat more modest.  I doubt that I'll be financing any films, adult or otherwise.  I say 'if', but it actually has to happen: my current employer clearly has no regard for my health.  Despite knowing that I'm under medical advice to reduce my stress levels, they've ensured that my workload has steadily increased, so that it is now higher than it was when the work stress finally pushed me over the edge health-wise earlier this year.  They are also still deliberately putting me into hazardous situations, which isn't helping my stress levels.  The key for any personal 'reinvention' is to find something I can earn money doing which is less stressful and completely unconnected with what I'm doing now.  In fact, it should be completely different to any of the many paid jobs I've had - I have no desire to go back to any of them.  Moreover, I'd like to do something more 'worthy' than my previous employment.  After all, my main reason for working these days is to ensure that I've accumulated enough credits for a full state pension, I have no ambitions regarding power, fame, wealth or social advancement.  So I might as well try to do something worthwhile, not to mention enjoyable while I pay for my pension.

Labels: ,

Monday, September 17, 2018

A Level Playing Field?

I've been avoiding anything too overtly political here for a while because, for one thing, I'm tired of ranting and because, well, you know, it's like banging your head against a brick wall these days.  Politics today seems to have narrowed down to a handful of issues - Brexit, alleged anti-semitism, for instance - we we just keeping going round in circles over and never getting anywhere.  I'm tired of hearing the same old arguments, half truths and outright lies being rehearsed over and over again.  Particularly on social media.  Which brings us, rather neatly I think (to paraphrase the late Barry Norman) to the point.  I was reading the other day about hoe Jack Dorsey at Twitter believed that his organisation was just so chock full of lefties that staff members with conservative opinions were afraid to voice them in the workplace.  Really?  Really? Well, if that's the case then all those lefties aren't doing a very good job of subverting Twitter (which is Dorsey's clear implication) as it still seems just chock full of unbridled right wing bile.  Sure, every so often some extreme right-winger gets themselves banned because they've been posting race hate, religious hate, pure misogyny or inciting violence.  Bur hey, that isn't evidence of left wing bias on the part of Twitter admins, but rather a regard for simple human decency, shared community values which cut across ideological lines and a desire not to have Twitter's arse sued off.  If you post stuff that's illegal in most civilised societies then you must expect sanctions, regardless of your politics.

But this has nothing to do with actual facts, of course.  It's yet another example of the right's hypocrisy when it comes to the media.  I don't remember hearing any of them crying out about 'free speech' when the only available media was the mainstream media which, in the UK at least, is dominated by the right, promulgating their ideas and constantly denigrating and smearing left wing voices.  But now that they've found that this new fangled social media provides a more even playing field, where all sides have equal access, they cry foul.  Why else do you think that the Tory party has taken an increasing interest in censoring web content under the Trojan horse of 'protecting the children' from all that nasty pornography Tory MPs enjoy accessing in their offices?  But you know something, even if the right are being discriminated against on social media, with their postings and evil bile suppressed, I don't care.  It's tough shit - they had it their own way for decades with regard to controlling the media, now they are getting a taste of their own medicine.  Or would be if there really was some left-wing internet conspiracy against them.  Which there patently isn't.  Some of the claims made by self-identifying 'conservatives' (and since when did this term start including extremists and neo Nazis?) are astoundingly stupid.  I recall some time ago a self-styled 'conservative Christian' satire site complained that they were being censored on Facebook - one of the supporting comments agreed, stating that everyone knew that Mark Zuckerburg was some kind of leftist who used his social media platform to advance his political views.  Wow!  Last time I checked he was actually some kind of right wing libertarian.  But why bother with facts when you are mad that your offensive postings have been taken down because, well, people found them offensive?

Labels: , ,

Friday, September 14, 2018

Moon Zero Two (1969)

Having mentioned Hammer's 'Space Western' Moon Zero Two earlier in the week, I thought I'd take a quick look at its trailer this time.  If nothing else, it confirms my recollection that the special effects were actually pretty decent for a film of this budget, featuring some effective miniatures work and convincing space scenes.  I think what surprised me most when I saw it as a kid was the extent to which it was, quite literally, a 'Space Western', recycling all the tropes of that genre - claim jumpers, stage coach robberies, gun fights - with futuristic science fiction trappings.  This is confirmed by the trailer, which prominently features many of these sequences.  It really does come across as an old western script which has been dusted off and relocated from old Arizona to the moon.  Unfortunately, the low gravity environment of the moon means that everyone moves much more slowly than on earth, slowing down all of the action sequences which, in an actual western, would have played out at breakneck speed.

The reference to 'futuristic weapons' makes me smile as I recall that the characters mainly tote ordinary revolvers.  Which, of course, begs the question of whether firearms would actually operate in a vacuum - would the propellant charges in the cartridges ignite without the presence of air?  I actually have no idea.  Even if they did, the lower gravity would significantly effect the range and trajectory of any bullets fired, (even on earth, atmospheric conditions can seriously effect these things - there was a whole study conducted by the US Army into the way the trajectory of bullets fired from M16s were effected by Arctic conditions).  The presence of all these traditional western elements means that the film never really feels like a science fiction film.  The simplistic plot which unfolds against the background of all the futuristic elements doesn't help.  Neither does that jazz oriented score (actually quite typical of movies of this era), which sounds neither historical western nor futuristic science fiction, but rather entirely contemporary (to the late sixties, obviously).

Perhaps the most jarring element, though, is this bizarre animated title sequence, which seems as if it should belong to an entirely different film:

It gives audiences the impression that they are about to watch some sort of comedy film, a science fiction equivalent to the Pink Panther, perhaps.  It's an indication that the makers had no idea of how the film should be marketed.  Which is hardly surprising as Moon Zero Two lies somewhat outside even Hammer's varied output. 

Moon Zero Two stands as a fascinating oddity in terms of the Hammer catalogue and is very much of its era - I mean, where else can you find a science fiction movie which mixes western tropes with psychedelia, all to the accompaniment of a jazz score?  Perhaps it would have helped if Hammer had employed a director better know for visual flair, rather than the stolid, reliable, veteran Roy Ward Baker, a highly professional director skilled at managing large scale, complex productions, but not noted for a sense of pace or cinematic innovation.  A a less bland leading man might have helped as well.  But the end result is a decently made, if somewhat uninspiring space adventure, a clear descendant of those historical adventure films like Devil Ship Pirates, The Crimson Blade and Pirates of Blood River that Hammer had previously made.  Like them, it is reasonably enjoyable while its on, but not hugely memorable afterwards.


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Magazine Memories

As I've mentioned before, I've lately been mildly obsessed with the long defunct Meccano Magazine, scans of the entire run of which has now been posted online.  It's fascinating to see the content of the publication change over time as the popularity of the various hobbies its predominantly young male readership was interested in waxed and waned.  Obviously, as the title implies, Meccano Magazine was primarily interested in promoting the products of Meccano Ltd, which included the eponymous engineering kits, the Dinky Toys range of diecast metal miniature vehicles and Hornby Railways (and later the Hornby Dublo system).  But it also covered all manner of other hobbies, including balsa wood model planes and boats, fishing, air rifles, bicycles and, post war, plastic model kits and slot car racing.  In addition to these hobbies, it was packed full of articles about real life railways, ships, planes and major engineering projects.  Later on, of course, there were lots of articles about space travel.  There's no doubt that, in the pre world war two years Meccano and Hornby's tinplate O gauge railways which dominated the modelling side of the magazine, but post war, the emphasis began to shift toward other hobbies, with lots more on those balsa wood planes, for instance. 

Model railways being my primary reason for looking at these magazines in the first place, it is interesting to note how, as far as Meccano Magazine was concerned, for much of the immediate post war era there was only one 00 gauge model railway system available in the UK: Hornby Dublo.  Rivals such as Trix and Playcraft are never featured and rarely have any adverts in the magazine.  The existence of Triang Railways, Dublo's biggest rival from the mid fifties onwards, is never acknowledged.  Indeed, although Lines Brothers, the owners of the Triang brand, were allowed to advertise their other products - most notable Scalextric - in the magazine, you would never have known that they also produced a hugely popular 00 gauge model railway system.  Reading the model railway related articles from the fifties to the early sixties is to witness the Dublo systems attempts to adapt to the challenges being posed by the unmentioned Triang system, from the new, more detailed locomotives and rolling stock, to the gradual move from three rail to three rail.  But, of course, it was all in vain, with the Meccano empire faltering in the mid sixties, to be bought out by Lines Brothers.  The Dublo system was nominally combined the Triang system under the Triang-Hornby banner. 

Interestingly, there was a long period when model railway coverage was entirely absent from the magazine, reflecting the uncertainty over the future of the Hornby brand.  As soon as the merger was confirmed, though, a whole new slew of articles started appearing, all focusing on the Triang-Hornby range, (which was primarily the Triang range, of course).  To be fair, other brands were now acknowledged, with articles on building white metal locomotive kits and Superquick card building kits, for instance.  As the sixties gave way to the seventies, the model railway articles began to dry up again, presumably reflecting the fact there were now several well established magazines devoted solely to the subject.  Which, increasingly, was the problem for Meccano Magazine - it was too generalised and there were now magazines dedicated in their entirety to individual hobbies, be they model railways, remote control planes or model boats.  Despite attempts to find new hobbies to fill its pages - military modelling and miniature wargames started to feature prominently from the late sixties - Meccano Magazine began to falter and turned back to a focus on Meccano itself before finally folding.

Looking back on these old magazines has been a revelation - not just the articles, but the adverts too.  It really was a different world.  A pre computer and electronic gamers era, when even TV was in its infancy, and craft-based hobbies still reigned supreme.  It was all about creativity and imagination.  I'm not saying that it was better back then, just that it was fascinatingly different.  It seems unthinkable now that young people could get their kicks from building their own radios, for instance, or constructing models of the Eiffel Tower from Meccano.  But, of course, they had few alternatives.  Even model railways have moved on: back then,if you wanted detail, you had to add it yourself.  Nowadays, the models are incredibly detailed straight out of the box.  Mind you, they aren't as robust as those old Dublo and Triang models, nor as cheap.  But that's progress, I suppose.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A Double Bill and Some Movies That Might Have Been

This turned up on Twitter a while ago.  I suspect that it is a double page spread from a trade magazine rather than a poster.  A suspicion reinforced by the fact that it is publicising Hammer's latest releases for 1969 and there seems to be staple holes in the centre fold. The double bill it is advertising represented another attempt by Hammer to diversify away from Gothic horror pictures, with prehistoric epic When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth looking to capitalise on the success of  Hammer's earlier One Million Years BC and Moon Zero Two an attempt to cash in on the then recent first moon landing. The latter, billed as a 'space western' boasts some pretty decent special effects, but a pretty pedestrian plot.  To be fair, the last time I saw it was when I was a kid, I suspect that I might enjoy it more as an adult.  When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth likewise boasted good special effects, with Jim Danforth supplying the stop motion dinosaurs.  It also boasts lots of cave girls in tight fitting bikinis (and some topless scenes in the European release versions).

While this is certainly the sort of double bill where most people would have left the cinema feeling they'd had their money's worth, perhaps more intriguing are the 'coming attractions' listed at the bottom of the ad.  Some of these films were produced and released by Hammer, with Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed and Taste the Blood of Dracula being released a few months later.  Creatures the World Forgot, another prehistoric epic, but without the dinosaurs, followed in 1970, along with The Horror FrankensteinThe Claw, I suspect, eventually became the 1972 Les Diaboliques inspired psychological thriller, Fear in the Night, which feature Peter Cushing as a headmaster with an artificial arm.  Of the others mentioned, I have no idea what In the Sun might have been about, likewise The Reluctant Virgin, (although there was a 1971 Italian film with this as its English language title), the other two, I do have some knowledge of.

The Haunting of Toby Jugg was a long in gestation Dennis Wheatley adaptation Hammer had originally intended as a follow up to The Devil Rides Out.  In the late sixties Hammer had high hopes for its proposed series of adaptations of Wheatley's best selling occult novels, seeing them as potential successors to their existing Dracula and Frankenstein franchises, which were clearly running out of steam.  Despite nowadays being one of Hammer's most admired productions, The Devil Rides Out didn't turn out to be a big money spinner on its original release.  Consequently, despite a script being commissioned from Richard Matheson, the proposed Toby Jugg adaptation was eventually shelved.  (The BBC finally adapted it under the title The Haunted Airman a few years ago).  As far as I'm aware When the World Cracked Open never made it to the script stage, but at least two promotional posters for this project were prepared  Interestingly, one appeared to give the story a futuristic setting (space helmeted figures and ray guns), while the other gave it an historical setting, (all sailing ships and pirate types).  Both, as I recall, showed the oceans draining away as the result of the titular cracked earth.  Clearly, Hammer had a concept for the film, but were undecided as how best to execute it.  Either approach - science fiction or historical - could have drawn upon the experience of previous Hammer productions like Moon Zero Two, or Devil Ship Pirates, for instance.  Foe whatever reasons, the film seemingly never progressed beyond this promotional poster stage.  It remains, along with The Haunting of Toby Jugg, an intriguing might-have-been in Hammer's history.

Labels: ,

Monday, September 10, 2018

Doctor on the Grope

I was back in the seventies again yesterday. I decided to round off my day by watching an episode of Doctor in Charge from around 1973.  Interestingly, it only featured two of the usual four doctors - Robin Nedwell's Dr Waring and George Layton as Dr Collier.  This was undoubtedly due to the length of runs of some popular ITV comedy series in the seventies.  Doctor in Charge, for instance, ran for forty three episodes split over two series.  Consequently, not all of the main cast would appear in every episode, so as to give actors time off during the run.  To return to the point, the episode I watched - 'In Place of Strife' - included some extraordinary, to contemporary eyes, scenes, which most definitely wouldn't be allowed in any modern sitcom.  Most bizarrely, Dr Waring mistakes a group of stereotypically seventies horny decorators who have arrived to repaint the hospital, for a group of medical students he is meant to be taking on his rounds.  Inevitably these rounds include a ward full of attractive young women, one of whom (played by the lovely Valerie Leon) is a patient of Waring's who is awaiting an operation to remove a benign cyst from one of her breasts.  You can see where this is going, can't you?   That's right, Waring gets his 'students' to 'examine' Valerie Leon's breasts, (after warming their hands, of course). 

Now, while it might, in retrospect, seem more than slightly disturbing that what is, after all, sexual assault, mass sexual assault at that, should be considered a source of comedy, what I found more incredible is that, when the mistaken identities of the 'students' is revealed, the patient doesn't sue the hospital, Waring isn't struck off and the painters arrested.  But hey, it was the seventies and things were different back then, apparently.  To be fair, later in the episode Waring does face the prospect of suspension.  But not because, due to his negligence, a group of sex mad painters were able to grope Valerie Leon's breasts en masse.  Rather, it is because he has unwittingly brought the hospital to a halt by provoking strike action on the part of painters, porters and nurses after he and Collier have shifted furniture, emptied bed pans and painted a bit of wall the decorators had missed.  Because, this being the seventies, the main thrust of the episode was to try and satirise the then state of British industrial relations, where unions insisted upon clear demarcations as to type of work their respective members were entitled to do. It's very mild satire, though and it is notable that Waring's superior, Professor Loftus has no sympathy for hin.  As he points out, Waring wasn't put through six years of medical school just for him to shift office furniture about - that's what the porters are paid for.

But, to modern eyes, the satire seems like a side show and the groping is the elephant in the room.  The lack of repercussions just seems incredible.  Whilst it is tempting to think that this is just another example of the lack of 'realism' in seventies TV, particularly sitcoms, the reality is that we still see this sort of thing in contemporary medical dramas.  Jut look at the BBC's Holby City and Casualty, for instance - how many times have regular characters in these soaps committed what, in real life, would constitute gross professional misconduct, yet face only the most minor of sanctions, returning to duty in the next episode as if nothing had happened.  That said, I can't actually recall any multiple breast gropings going on in Holby City.  The odd mass shooting, yes, but no knocker grabbings.  Obviously, I should be shocked and offended by what I saw in that episode of Doctor in Charge and should be calling for it to be banned.  But, I'm ashamed to say, it amused me in a perverse sort of way.  When you think about it, it is a remarkably dark slice of black humour to find in a seventies sitcom: the idea of some individuals happily exploiting their position as supposed 'medical professionals' in order to feel up strangers.  It also says something about the way in which we blithely accept the 'right' of certain authority figures to abuse their positions - until the patient realises the mistake, she is happy to be intimately groped by a group of strange men simply because they are wearing white coats and therfore 'must' be doctors and trustworthy.  Deep stuff for a seventies sitcom.

Labels: ,

Friday, September 07, 2018

End of Another Summer

I was going to post something about the model railway locomotive I've been putting together from bits I bought on eBay several years ago and have had in storage ever since.  Unfortunately, other things came up unexpectedly, halting, temporarily, progress on this particular project.  Which is frustrating but typical of the way things go in my life these days.  Besides, as I mentioned yesterday, my mood is becoming increasingly melancholic.  I'm nearing the end of my extended Summer break and, to be frank, I really have no desire to return to work next week.  Even after three weeks of leisure time, I still feel like I'm only just getting back into my stride after all the crap I've endured this year.  There's no doubt that being away from my horrendous work place has helped my recovery from illness immeasurably:  not only is my stomach far more settled, but I don't fatigue as easily as before my holiday, nor have I experienced any light-headedness since taking this time off.  The only conclusion can be that work isn't good for my health. Which, let's face it, I already knew, following my three month illness which kicked off the year and was largely the result of work related stress.

You know the best thing about these past three weeks?  The fact that I've managed to avoid having to deal with people.  I've kept my human interactions down to a bare minimum.  There have been days when, barring exchanging pleasantries with check out operators in shops, I've not had a single conversation. They were brilliant days!  As I get older, I find that I increasingly prefer my own company.  There are no arguments, no colleagues trying to belittle me because I won't break the rules for them, or endanger myself for the job.  No tiresome small talk and meaningless enquiries about one's health, (the fact that the questioner never waits for a reply is always indicative that they don't actually care).   I've been left alone with my own thoughts.  Which has been wonderful.  Best of all, I haven't had other people's problems constantly being my problem, as is the case at work.  I realised early on during my break that I actually didn't miss anything or anyone from my workplace.  If I never saw any of them again, it really wouldn't bother me.  There are certainly no conversations I'd miss as I find it impossible to actually have a conversation on any subject I'm interested in with anyone there.  But, the fact is that, at least temporarily I'm going to have to go back there next week.  That, and the fact that Summer is clearly slipping away now, leaving me with a feeling of unfinished business, are the clear causes of my melancholy.  But at least I'm beginning to feel more like my old self. 


Thursday, September 06, 2018

Burt Reynolds RIP

I returned from an overcast and rainy day at the coast to find that Burt Reynolds had died, news which simply added to the feeling of melancholy which always afflicts me as I near the end of my Summer break.  The fact that he was eighty two was shocking enough - it seems only yesterday that he was in his hey day and the fact that this was actually forty odd years ago now is yet another reminder of my own encroaching years - let alone the news that he had died.  But that's the thing about celluloid - our heroes are forever preserved in their prime.  Our constant exposure, via TV and DVDs, to their greatest hits helps create the idea that they are somehow unchanging, their celluloid image preserving them from the ravages of time.  Sadly, though, unlike Dorian Grey's portrait, it is the image which stays young and the real thing which ages away. 

But to get back to Burt Reynolds, he was just one of the coolest of movie stars when I was growing up: tough, handsome but never taking himself too seriously, both on and off camera.  Indeed, it was his adoption of a less serious screen persona which proved the key to his success, marking him out from his contemporaries.  Some of his earlier films, made mainly in the late sixties, are somewhat odd to watch now, with Reynolds playing it relatively straight as a more or less conventional leading man.  Sure, a lot of his best known films are pretty lightweight, but they were hugely popular, providing solid entertainment to cinema audiences in the seventies and eighties.  The fact is that there is nothing wrong in turning out movies intended to be entertaining - it's more difficult than it looks and Reynolds was remarkably consistent during the seventies and early eighties when it came turning out such hits.

But Reynolds also turned out some more 'serious' pictures, always acquitting himself well.  Hustle, in particular, stands out for me. What initially looks to be a Dirty Harry inspired 'maverick cop' movie quickly turns into something very different, taking a detour into noir territory.  It's well worth a look.  While a lot of Burt Reynolds' later output was of hugely variable quality, he leaves behind a solid body of work which continues to entertain.  Like I said earlier, he was something of a hero to the younger me.  Damn it, he drove a Trans Am (the coolest car I've never owned) when he was'The Bandit' and he made moustaches cool for good guys (pre Burt, only villains sported them - only Errol Flynn or Ronald Coleman could get away with a pencil 'tache when playing heroes).  Above all, he always embodied the values of liberalism and tolerance, something relatively unusual in a Hollywood action star of his era.


Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Cannibal Capers

I had another of those moments today, where I completely misconstrued a newspaper headline that I had glanced at.  It was along the lines of a former patient suing a hospital after contracting a flesh eating bug there.  At first glance I thought that it was a story about how someone had been exposed to some virus which had turned them into a flesh eating fiend, chewing their way through the wards.  Perhaps, I thought, the virus was the result of some kind of shady research being carried out at the hospital.  Probably by a mad doctor.  I had visions of a crazed cannibal, stalking the hospital corridors, clad in a blood soaked hospital gown, tearing the throats out of stray porters with his teeth.  Maybe, I thought, the people he bit, but didn't eat, would also turn into cannibals, resulting in gangs of them overrunning the hospital and the military having to be called in to try and control the situation - by shooting anyone who looked like a cannibal.  Perhaps the whole thing culminated with the whole hospital being burned to the ground in an attempt to contain the cannibal holocaust.  It would make one Hell of an episode of Holby City.

Except, of course, that if something like that had actually happened, then I'm sure that I would have read about it in the papers.  At which point, I came back to reality and realised that the headline was, obviously, referring to the fact that the patient in question had contracted a bug that ate his flesh, whilst in hospital.  I blame those Italian cannibal movies for my initial confusion.  Most specifically Antonio Margheriti's Cannibal Apocalypse, which boldly mixes the Vietnam war movie with the cannibal sub-genre and introduces the fascinating idea that cannibalism might actually be a contagious disease, transmitted by bite, rather than a cultural phenomena.  If not exactly a great movie, Cannibal Apocalypse is certainly audacious, if not outrageous.  It throws absolutely everything into the mix: disturbed Vietnam vets, cannibals, gore, biker gangs, medical horror, the whole damn lot.  Plus, it stars the legendary John Saxon, an actor whose career has been as long as it has been varied, with the quality of the stuff he's appeared in varying wildly.  But, to return to the point, whatever its deficiencies, the imagery and concepts articulated by Cannibal Apocalypse are clearly sufficiently powerful to have made a lasting impression on me.


Monday, September 03, 2018

New Season

All the signs are there that we are slipping into Autumn.  (In meteorological terms, we're already there, as the start of September is the official start of the season).  For one thing, we've seen the start of all those campaigns to get us to give up anything we enjoy for a month.  I've never seen the point of these campaigns.  If you want to give something up, just do it.  Don't stop, say drinking alcohol for just a month - you won't give it up for good, you'll just spend the following month binge drinking. Then there are the campaigns to get you to grow facial hair for a month for charity.  Oh do fuck off!  If you want to give money to charity, just do it.  Moustaches are for life (or maybe holiday romances, like mine at the moment), not just whimsical charity campaigns.  In days gone by, the surest sign that the season was changing were the TV schedules - each new actual season was accompanied by a new TV season.  The most of important of these was the Autumn TV season, with its run up to Christmas, which was always the TV event of the year.  As the nights drew in, people inevitably turned increasingly to their TVs for entertainment.  Consequently, Autumn was when the TV stations debuted the new series of all their top shows.  By contrast, Summer was the least important TV season, with stations assuming that everyone was out enjoying the good weather and not watching TV, so they filled their schedules with repeats, shows they had no faith in and sport.

Nowadays, it is often difficult to tell the difference between TV seasons.  Sure, stuff like X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing still run their new series in the Autumn, but the good old days of the big 'New Season' announcements by the main TV channels seem to be long gone.  New programming seems to spread more evenly across the year: even Summer now seems blessed with its fair share of new series.  The main thing which seems to have denoted the start of a new TV season are the adverts.  Not that there has been a wholesale change in what we're seeing in the commercial breaks, but several long-running series of ads have been showing new 'instalments', while several others have switched formats completely.  Most notably, seems to have dropped James Corden, although that Mercedes he drove in their ads is still there.  Now, however, it is being driven by some weiro who is probably a serial killer and has Corden's body in the boot.  I'm not quite sure why they  have decided that a psychopath is the best spokesperson for a comparison site, but I guess that when the alternative is James Corden... Well, personally, I'd have brought back Brian the Robot.  I wonder whatever happened to him, who is he doing ads for now?   More shockingly, it seems that Oak Furnitureland have finally sacked the two guys who have been in their ads for what seems like decades.  You know the ones I mean: the hapless store manager and his even more hapless assistant, who spend their time 'knocking on wood' and vising customers that 'there's no veneer in here'.  What are they going to do mow?  It was apparently the only work they could get (apart from guest appearances in Holby City as' patients of the week').  But that, it appears, is what the new TV season has come to: a few news commercials.  Ah, for the good old days!

Labels: ,