Thursday, January 31, 2019

Houses of Horror


House of Frankenstein (1944) was the first of the classic Universal monster movies that I remember seeing.  I couldn't have been more than eight or nine and, for some reason, had been allowed to stay up late one Friday night and watch ITV's regular late night horror film.  In truth, it isn't that great a film: I've seen it several times as an adult and it revealed itself as poorly scripted, rickety and overly episodic, in that it failed to integrate its roster of monsters particularly well.  But, to my younger self, it was a magnificent experience, introducing me to the Wolfman, Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster in one go.  It also featured Karloff himself as the mad scientist reanimating them all and threw in his hunchback assistant (J Carrol Naish) for good measure. As a child, it thrilled me to see John Carradine's Dracula reduced to a skeleton by the sun's rays and Lon Chaney Jr turning hairy when the full moon appeared.  The Monster has little more than a walk on role at the end, but geys to hurl people through sky lights before being chased into a swamp by a gang of flaming torch wielding villagers.  It set me off on a lifelong love of horror movies.

What I didn't know then was that Universal, eager to repeat the box office success of House of Frankenstein, quickly turned out a sequel along similar lines: House of Dracula (1945).  I eventually caught up with it when it was shown as part of BBC2's regular Saturday night 'Horror Double Bills'.  In fact, it might even have been on a double bill with House of Frankenstein.  Anyway, while its framing story integrated the monsters rather better than the earlier film had, feeling less episodic, it is a typically threadbare production from the dying days of Universal's B movie unit.  It incorporates a fair amount of stock footage from 1942's Ghost of Frankenstein, in which Lon Chaney Jr had played the Monster.  Which leads to a bizarre moment during the final fiery conflagration (composed mainly of the aforementioned stock footage) when Lon Chaney playing Larry Talbot, The Wolfman, finds himself pursued by the Monster, also played by Chaney in stock footage.  All that stock footage means that Glenn Strange, who is actually billed as the Monster, doesn't actually have to do that much, other than lie on a table and wander around a bit.  As far as continuity with the previous film goes, House of Dracula offers no explanation as to how both Dracula and The Wolfman, both pretty conclusively killed off in House of Frankenstein, are still apparently alive and well, (or undead and well, in Dracula's case).  There is some attempt at continuity with regard to the Monster's fate, as he is found, comatose, in a cave beneath the castle (which has mysteriously moved next to the sea following the previous film), where he had presumably ended up after sinking into that swamp. 

While the casting of the monsters is as before, Onslow Stevens replaces Karloff as the local mad scientist.  Although he isn't actually mad at the outset - that only happens after he inadvertently gets a transfusion of Dracula's blood and starts having nasty turns where he turns evil.  All very Jekyll and Hyde.  Actually, Stevens gives a performance and a half in what is essentially a dual role.  When he isn't being mad, Stevens apparently cures Talbot's lycanthropy (it was apparently the result of pressure on his brain) and establishes that Dracula's vampirism is the result of parasites in his blood, (which give him the ability to turn into a bat).  When he is evil, he revives the Monster for its climactic rampage, which results in the castle burning down.  House of Dracula moves through its 69 minutes briskly enough that there's little time to worry about all the absurd pseudo-scientific explanations for supernatural phenomena, let alone all the plot holes.  It is notable that Chaney only transforms into the Wolfman once during the film - this was apparently due to the fact that the make up department under the great Jack Pierce was running out of the Yak hair used for the make up and couldn't obtain any more due to the war.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Breaking Bad Wind

Did the dinosaurs fart themselves into extinction?  Yeah, I know that current received wisdom says that they were wiped out by a huge meteor strike, but let's not forget that this is still just a theory.  Sure, there's plenty of evidence of a meteor strike which could have resulted in massive environmental and climatic change, which could have wiped out much of life on earth, but it still isn't conclusive.  Indeed, there is evidence in the fossil record that the dinosaurs were in decline long before the meteor strike. Anyway, to get back to the original question: I've been put in mind of this by all this talk/propaganda from those trying to promote veganism, that global warming isn't, as we all thought, down to all the carbon our industries pump into the atmosphere, but is actually the result of all the methane being pumped out of the arses of the herds of cattle we breed for meat and dairy products.  Which set me to thinking, is this really a problem unique to our modern era?  After all, even before we started enclosing the land and intensively farming both crops and livestock, there were huge herds of bovine creatures wandering around wild.  All of them farting profusely.  Just think of those vast herds of buffalo that roamed North America before the white man wiped them out.  Think of all the crap they left behind and the amount of methane they must have produced. 

Then there was Africa which, back in the day, before we hunted them to buggery, was chock full of huge creatures breaking wind profusely.  Just think of how much all those elephants, hippos and rhinos were farting.  Not to mention the wildebeest.  Surely that level of global animal methane production would have affected the climate?  Which brings us back to the dinosaurs.  Can you imagine just how bad dinosaur farting was?  Think of those herds of sauropods wandering around in the Jurassic, letting rip huge farts - not would the stench have been horrendous, (possibly the reason why more of them didn't fall prey to predators like Allosaurs), but the quantities of methane being pumped into the atmosphere would have been colossal.  Now, it is notable that a lot of the bigger sauropods did die out well before the end of the Mesozoic era - by the Cretaceous they had been supeceded by duckbills and horned dinosaurs as the dominant herbivores.  Maybe they gassed themselves out of existence - choking on their own farts.  Perhaps that's why they evolved to have those long necks - to lift their heads high enough that they weren't inhaling their own noxious fumes.  But eventually, the farting became too much and overwhelmed them.  Ultimately, maybe that's what eventually did for all of the  dinosaurs: they made their own atmosphere so noxious that it killed them stone dead.  If we're to believe the vegans, dinosaur farting must have triggered global warming, which eventually destroyed their environment.  The meteor just delivered the coup de grace.

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Monday, January 28, 2019

Busted Flush?

Apparently, it's toilet paper we should be stockpiling.  Most of the wood pulp used in its production is imported (from Sweden).  Which means that toilet paper production will be highly vulnerable to any transport chaos caused by a 'No Deal' Brexit.  So, either stockpile the stuff now in your Brexit Bunker, or stop putting all those old newspapers out for recycling.  They could be like gold dust post-Brexit - cut them up into toilet-paper sized squares and you'll find yourself sitting on the hottest commodity in Britain.  People will be desperate to get their hands (not to mention arses) on your old newspapers.  You could charge what you liked, (or, more likely post Brexit, barter them for vital tinned foods).  And to think, all those fools were saying that print media was dead!  Perhaps the one good thing to come out of Brexit will a resurgence of popularity for newspapers.  Although not necessarily for their news content.  I don't know about you, but I find it deeply disturbing that this is where we are - contemplating not being able to wipe our arses properly after 29 March.  We're facing the prospect of martial law being imposed after a possible 'No Deal' Brexit if serious civil unrest breaks out as a result of the toilet paper shortages.

Which might well happen.  While some people might be able to get their hands on some of that black market news print as a substitute, others without the financial means to access such stuff might well be forced into drastic action.  They might become sufficiently desperate to try using such other household items as scouring pads or wire wool to wipe themselves instead - with dire consequences.  If anything is likely to cause rioting, it is an epidemic of sore arses rubbed raw by caustic toilet tissue substitutes.  Even if people do use the old newspapers instead, it could still cause problems, as, if the newsprint rubs off, they could find themselves with blackened backsides - which could cause race riots amongst the white supremacists.  I mean, just imagine the reaction of some hardened racist when they discover that their bum is now black?  They'd probably start by spanking their own arses in order to punish the 'black bastards', before blaming political correctness imposed by the government and going onto the streets to protest.  Now, I know what you are thinking: in the absence of toilet paper, couldn't people just go medieval on their arses (so to speak) and use dock leaves and the like instead?  Well, there's no way the environmental lobby is going to allow that, now is it?  They'll be banging on about the appalling exploitation pf plants - soiling their leaves with human excrement, etc.  If only we'd gone more European when we had the chance and followed the example of those fiendish French by adopting the bidet, then we wouldn't be facing revolution post-Brexit, would we?

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Friday, January 25, 2019

The Man With Bogart's Face (1980)


One of the strangest manifestations of the thirties and forties nostalgia which seemed to pervade the 1980s was the relatively brief career of Robert Sacchi as a leading man.  His leads resulted from his resemblance to Humphrey Bogart.  While this resemblance landed him some supporting roles, guest spots and glorified bit parts in several movies and TV series, either portraying Bogart himself, or a character who looks and sounds like him, he also played leading roles in two movies, portraying Bogey-like characters.  The first of these was a 1972 giallo, known in the US as The French Sex Murders and in the UK as The Bogey Man and the French Murders, in which he plays a police inspector who looks like Bogart, sounds like Bogart and dresses like a classic Bogart character.

Eight years later, he starred in The Man With Bogart's Face, a film apparently built around his likeness to the late star.  It was one of a number of films from the era which attempted to recreate/parody 1930s and 1940s murder mysteries and film noirs, (others included Murder by Death, The Cheap Detective and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid).  The USP of The Man With Bogart's Face, of course, was that it wasn't just recreating the genre, but Bogart himself.  Sacchi plays a man who has plastic surgery to look like Bogart, sets up as a private eye called 'Sam Marlowe' who, of course, finds himself embroiled in a plot which parallels elements and characters from The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep (the standard formula for these kinds of films). To be fair to Sacchi, unlike many other would be Bogart impersonators, he really does look and sound reasonably like the real Bogey.  Demand, however, for leading men who look like Bogart was clearly limited as, after The Man With Bogart's Face, it was back to the TV guest spots and character parts in movies for Sacchi.  Oh, and rather bizarrely, providing the vocals, in character as Bogart, for the 1983 single 'Jungle Queen':


(That version actually cuts the song short - there's a couple of verses more, where finds the Jungle Queen - who 'firmly grasps' his 'rod').

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Tales That Witness Madness (1973)


Just a quick 'Random Movie Trailer' today.  It was inevitable that, with the success enjoyed by Amicus with its anthology horror movies in the late sixties and early seventies, others would try to imitate them.  Unfortunately, the independently produced Tales That Witness Madness has to rank as one of the worst anthology movies ever.  Despite a star studded cast, decent production values and the presence of Amicus regular Freddie Francis in the director's seat, the stories themselves are simply not very good.  They provide the viewer with nothing they haven't seen before, even the mental institute framing story feels tired, having been done better by Amicus the previous year in Asylum.  The first story involving the young boy and his imaginary tiger is the only reasonably effective story.  The other three are either ineffective, like the 'Uncle Albert' story, failing to generate any scares, utterly ludicrous, like the third story which sees Joan Collins in a love triangle with her sculptor boyfriend and a tree (yes, a tree), or, like the final voodoo story, telegraph their all too obvious punchlines.

The biggest problem faced by Tales That Witness Madness, though, was that it was released at the wrong time: by 1973 the portmanteau horror movie sub-genre was running out of steam.  In truth, it had been completely flogged to death by Amicus, whose own cycle of such films had probably reached a peak in 1972 with Tales From the Crypt and Asylum.  Indeed, Amicus' later anthology films (Vault of Horror (1973) and From Beyond the Grave (1974) are notably inferior to their predecessors).  Tales That Witness Madness does try to differentiate itself from the Amicus productions by taking a less campy approach to its material, with a cast devoid of obvious horror stars (with the exception of Donald Pleasance), giving relatively restrained performances.  But, with a weak script, it just comes over as po faced and pretentious, too timid even to acknowledge that it is a horror film.  Sadly, it was to be Jack Hawkins' last screen appearance (he died after filming his scenes), while for Kim Novak it marked a return to acting after a four year absence.  She really needn't have bothered.  Novak had replaced Rita Hayworth at short notice, after Hayworth allegedly wandered off of the set and never returned.  She'd obviously read the script.

World Film Services, the production company behind Tales That Witnesses Madness, also produced a couple of other horror films during this period: the intriguing but not entirely successful The Creeping Flesh, and the would be horror comedy Vampira (aka Old Dracula), starring David Niven.  These were something of a digression for the company, which had previously been involved with artier titles like Boom! and Secret Ceremony (with the odd exploitation picture thrown in).  They operated until the mid-eighties, mainly involved with more serious pictures.  Clearly, their excursion into horror didn't prove profitable.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Phantom of Downing Street

Following the rejection by parliament of her Brexit deal, Prime Minister Theresa May surprised the nation by calling a press conference outside Ten Downing Street to announce that, when drafting the failed deal, the had been possessed by the spirit of Margaret Thatcher.  "I know that it was a crappy deal that satisfied nobody, but it really wasn't my fault," she claimed.  "I just found myself writing it - I was powerless to resist the spirit of my illustrious predecessor, who is determined to pursue here Eurosceptic agenda from beyond the grave.  I implore everyone - my cabinet, my party and the wider electorate - not to hate me something I actually had no control over."  Commentators were divided in their response to the statement, with some claiming it was conclusive evidence of the Prime Minister having lost the plot, while others hailed it as a brilliant piece of political strategy.  "On the one hand she absolves herself of responsibility for one of the biggest political defeats in history by ascribing her actions to a supernatural entity, while on the other, by invoking the name of Margaret Thatcher, she raises the possibility of gaining the support of the Tory hard right if she presents the deal to the Commons again," enthuses Hank Brickler, political editor of The Shite.  "After all, how could they vote against something they now know was actually drafted by their heroine?"  Brickler added that he confidently expects Jacob Rees-Mogg and other members of the European Reform Group to perform a volte face over May's deal and support it if represented for a second vote.

Sceptics, however, have dismissed May's statement as being 'utterly ridiculous', pointing out that the photo produced by her office in support of her claims, allegedly showing a spirit form looming over May as she prepared her deal in her Downing Street office, is an obvious fake.  "The so called ghost is clearly just Environment Secretary Michael Gove with a sheet over his head," Joe Brieze-Block, political columnist for The Daily Norks snorts derisorily.  "Truth is, he was probably only there trying to scare her into a heart attack, in the hope that he could step into her shoes."   Brickler, nevertheless, believes that May's claims might have some credence, pointing out that Ten Downing Street has a history of hauntings.  "Margaret Thatcher herself was frequently disturbed by the sound of her predecessor as Tory leader Ted Heath's distinctive laugh echoing around the house in dead of night," he says.  "Every time she suffered a setback - there it would be 'Ho, ho ho!', mocking her.  If it wasn't that, it was the sound of his famous organ reverberating through the building at dead of night.  Of course, he wasn't actually dead at the time - it turned out that he was hiding out in the basement of Downing Street with his organ, driven insane by jealousy at his hated rival's success.  A bit like the Phantom of the Opera."

In a further development, an anonymous source in the Prime Minister's office has conceded that May's statement represented a last minute attempt to avoid blame for the colossal failure of Brexit and to desperately cling to her job.  "We all know that it was a pretty crap attempt to sidestep responsibility, but it was the best we could come up with at short notice," said the source.  "We originally planned to have her vanish over the Christmas break, abducted by aliens perhaps, then reappear when the whole Brexit fiasco was over, so that she didn't have to accept any of the blame for it - she could just come back and carry on as if nothing had happened, like she usually does.   But with all the furore over that bloody vote being delayed, she was never out of the public eye long enough over the festive period to organise a disappearance properly."  According to the source, alternative strategies included the Prime Minister going on a Christmas cruise to the Caribbean and vanishing into the Bermuda Triangle, or vanishing while she ran through a corn field, re-emerging several weeks later, claiming that she had been abducted by the fairy folk.  "We even considered having her disappear in the classic fashion, apparently vanishing into thin air after she stepped around to the other side of her car, turning up again weeks later claiming to have no memory of the intervening period,"  they mused. "But the fact is that she can't even get out of a bloody car, let alone walk around to the other side."

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Monday, January 21, 2019

Shoot 'Em in the Commons

The recent 'no confidence' debate in the UK's parliament was thrown into chaos when, following Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's description of Theresa May's administration as a 'zombie government', a back bencher opened fire with a shotgun.  "It seemed the natural thing to do," Jake Pring, Labour MP for Prickley South explained later. "Every film I've ever seen says that the best way to deal with zombies is to shoot them in the head!"  Sixty eight year old Pring admitted that he had been dozing off during the debate, but hearing his leader use the word 'zombie'. he jerked awake and acted on reflex, pulling out the double-barrelled shotgun he keeps under his seat and opening fire on the government benches.  He denied that there was anything unusual in keeping a loaded firearm in the House.  "It can get pretty bloody rough in there during debates," he claimed.  "It isn't just those capitalistic bloodsuckers on the Tory benches you have to protect yourself against - you need to look out for some of those rabid left wing nutters on our own benches as well!  Only last month old Fred Sibbons, the member for Wickersham Old Fogey, was bitten by one these young lefties and, next thing anyone knew, he started calling for nuclear disarmament,re-nationalisation of the railways and transgender equality!" 

The Metropolitan Police, who have faced much criticism in the wake of the incident, with many critics alarmed that they had allowed a firearm into parliament, have confirmed that it is commonplace for MPs to be armed during debates.  "The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, routinely carries a derringer up his sleeve in case of ambush by the European Reform Group," a police spokesperson claimed.  "Prime Minister May regularly wears a western quick draw rig with twin colt peace makers, while Jeremy Corbyn who, obviously, doesn't approve of guns, sports a silver topped cane instead, in case of werewolf attacks."  For its part, the Labour party has confirmed that it will be launching an investigation into Pring's behaviour, but has stopped short of condemning his actions.  "While, clearly, there were no actual zombies present at the debate, it should be remembered that several members of the government benches are, in fact, well over a hundred years old - how else do we explain their archaic beliefs?" Deputy Leader Tom Watson told a press conference.  "Jacob Rees-Mogg, for instance, is obviously a survivor of the Victorian era.  I think we can all understand why Jake Pring, startled from his slumber, should be terrified of these living fossils, moaning and shambling around the benches opposite.  Our main reservation lies in his use of a shotgun to defend himself, which goes against current party guidelines - wooden stakes are preferred for dealing with the suspected undead, as they represent a renewable resource and support British craftsmen.  Either that, or a decent sword forged from British steel."

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Friday, January 18, 2019

Nude for Satan (1974)



Italian schlock at its most demented, Nude for Satan was originally rejected by Italian censors on due to its lengthy 'obscene sequences', particularly those depicting lesbian sex.  which leaves one wondering exactly what the original, uncut, version of the film was like, as the version passed by the censors (and currently available on DVD, includes copious amounts of sex and nudity, including plenty of lesbian encounters for the female lead.  Like many Italian sexploitation  movies of the era, Nude for Satan offers the viewer a heady mix of sex, sadism and Satanism, yet, unlike the best of these films, never manages to make its ingredients gel into anything really coherent.  While director Luigi Batzella's (directing under the pseudonym Paulo Solvay) attempts to create a dreamlike atmosphere all to often come over as jarring and disjointed, they do, at least, leave the audience feeling completely disorientated, desperately grasping at anything that looks like a narrative thread.  In fact, the overall impression given is that he was simply making it all up as he went along, filming new scenes as they came into his head.  Of course, such a stream-of-conciousness approach to film making could, potentially, be quite rewarding, particularly in the context of a fantasy film.  In the case of Nude for Satan, however, any virtues this technique might have brought are frequently undermined by an obviously tiny budget, where supposedly brick walls are revealed as obvious scenery 'flats', (or perhaps that's the intention - it emphasises the unreality of the world the characters find themselves thrust into), and reduces a car crash to a single wheel seen rolling across the frame.  Then there's the absolute worst fake giant spider ever.  (I'm arachnophobic and just about anything vaguely spider shaped has me shrieking, but this fake spider was just so ludicrously bad that the only reaction it evoked as it menaced the heroine was laughter). 

The plot involves Dr Benson (Stelio Candelli), on his way to a nocturnal house call at a remote property, coming across a crashed car containing an injured young woman, Susan (Rita Calderoni).  Seeking help, he drives her to the nearest property, a creepy old castle, where encounters Susan's double: a woman called Evelyn, dressed in eighteenth century clothes, who seems to expect him.  Or rather she's expecting someone called 'Peter' who apparently looks just like him.  Mistaking Evelyn for Susan, Benson goes off to sleep with her.  Susan, meanwhile, regains consciousness and also enters the house, where she encounters a mysterious stranger (James Harris), whose hospitality she accepts and quickly finds herself engaged in a lesbian encounter with another woman who has apparently appeared from nowhere.  The next day, Susan encounters who thinks is Dr Benson, but is actually Peter (like Evelyn, he is dressed in anachronistic costume) who, in turn, mistakes her for Evelyn and makes lewd advances toward her.  As the film progresses, Benson finally realises that Evelyn isn't Susan, who he rescues from the aforementioned spider when she falls into its web while fleeing a Satanic orgy, presided over by the stranger who is, obviously, Satan, which she was witnessed.  The film becomes ever more confusing, as Benson chases Peter around the grounds of the castle (where it is suddenly day time), before finally confronting him in the castle (where it is night again).  Peter reveals that he and Evelyn are Benson and Susan's alter egos, who have given themselves over to unbridled passion and sensuousness, surrendering entirely to the pleasures of the flesh.  Susan succumbs to Peter's charms, another orgy, presided over by Satan, breaks out, before Benson finally consults the mysterious old book in the hall way for a way to break the Devil's spell and a fiery conflagration breaks out.  Benson abruptly finds himself back at the scene of the accident, but this time Susan is dead, having succumbed to her dark side during their sojourn in Satan's limbo.

In the end. Nude for Satan treads a fine line between horror and outright pornography, seemingly lacking the courage to cross completely over into the latter.  Strangely though, despite all the sex, nudity and kinkiness (the main orgy scene involves the girl who had got it on with Susan being brutally whipped by the crazy old butler), the film is, in the final analysis, a very old fashioned morality tale.  Trapped in a timeless limbo, the protagonists are given a simple choice between giving in to their basest nature, or rejecting their darker sides and, by extension, the Devil.  And that's it, despite all the confusion and obfuscation, all the attempts to make itself mysterious and obscure, the film boils down to that.  Which, is perhaps, its biggest weakness,  After all the preceding craziness, the viewer is left hoping for a more complex, more profound denouement.  That said, it is still an entertaining ride.  Often for the wrong reasons, like the shaky sets, ropey giant spider and James Harris' terrible acting.  Yet the film possesses that true characteristic of great schlock: the feeling that you've stumbled into somebody else's fever dream.  The viewer is thrust into a deliberately confusing scenario, virtually from the off, where normal rules of time and causality don't seem to apply and is left constantly asking who?, what? and why?  Which is not necessarily a bad thing.  Particularly in a cheap sexploitation film. The film also has the advantage of only running eighty minutes, so it never quite outstays its welcome.  (There is, apparently, a ninety minute version, including hardcore scenes, available in the Netherlands).   A truly bizarre movie, Nude for Satan, while living up to its title, also provides the viewer with a perplexing eighty minutes of entertaining madness.  Well worth a look.

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Clutter of Life

When you start getting told that you need to throw out your books, then you know that this 'de-cluttering' nonsense has gone too far.  It is, surely, the ultimate act of philistinism to simply erase one's entire reading history in the name of that dubious belief that a tidy home (or desk) is the sign of a tidy mind.  I have shelves of old books all over my house and rarely part with any of them.  They aren't mere possessions, they are part of who I am, chronicling my changing tastes in reading matter and the waxing and waning of various interests.  They are a repository of accumulated knowledge, there to be consulted when needed, (and they give far more information, in a far more convenient form, than any Wikipedia entry).  But it goes beyond that - I love their physical presence: the way they feel, the way they smell, (older paperbacks have such a distinctive smell), their often wonderful cover art.  And you know something - I even reread them.  Last Summer, for instance, I selected some old paperback novels at random from my shelves to reread - it was a fascinating experience. It is surprising how little one remembers of the details of even the novels you most enjoyed.  One of the paperbacks I reread I couldn't remember a thing about beyond the second chapter - I was also struck by how dated it now felt, (it was published twenty years ago) - nobody had a mobile phone, let alone a home computer and the internet wasn't even dreamed of.

But to get back to the point - this decluttering nonsense.  It is part of this increasing trend in the media to tell us that our houses should look like show homes: neat and pristine, as if they have never been lived in.  When I was a child, things were very different: peoples' houses were chock full of what would now be dismissed as 'clutter', but what we then recognised as a lifetime's accumulation of 'stuff', which reflected our lives and character.  It personalised our environments and made our houses into homes: the places we lived in.  Nowadays, though, such homes would be arrogantly condemned as being 'untidy'.  But, as alluded to earlier, this obsession also applies to the workplace, where 'tidiness' is erroneously equated with 'efficiency'.  The reality is that workplace 'tidiness' is actually designed to impose conformity upon the workforce, to completely depersonalise it and, by extension, those who work in it.  Anything which might link it to the outside world is branded as being 'untidy', or 'clutter'. As for the idea that a 'tidy' environment equates to a 'tidy' mind: utter bullshit.  Apparently chaotic environments (although they are only 'chaotic' to outsiders, the 'chaos' merely represents a different form of organisation), often reflect a creative mind.  It often also reflects the fact that someone simply prioritises actually getting on with the job in hand rather than wasting time on lining all their pencils up. Besides, these so called 'tidy' minds are, in my experience, more often than not, actually sterile minds producing no innovative or original thoughts and having no flexibility in their thought processes: things must be done one way and one way only and that's the 'tidy' way.  Give me the cluttered life and mind any day.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Worst Men Can Be...

It's a funny old world we live in, where some people become enraged to the point of apoplexy over a razor ad.  Gillette, it seems, has upset lots of people or, to be more accurate, men, by launching a new campaign which changes their familiar slogan of 'The best a man can get', to 'The best men can be', and which rejects masculine behaviours such as bullying, bigotry and sexism, instead emphasising more positive behaviours which confront and challenge such negative masculinity.  Which, you'd think, in this day and age, would hardly be controversial.  Yet social media has been full of foaming at the mouth loons vowing never to buy Gillette razors again because of this dismissal of 'masculinity'.  Let's just stop and think about that - for these idiots 'masculinity' apparently is defined by sexism, aggression and violence.  You can't be a 'real' man unless you disrespect women and intimidate those you perceive as being weaker or just 'different' to you.  Scary stuff - thee are attitudes tat many of us hopd had died out with the dinosaurs.  Or at least with the 1970s.  I remember growing u in the seventies being fed all this crap about how 'real' men didn't cry or betray their emotions lest they be seen as weak and how physical prowess was the only true measure of 'manliness'.  It was bullshit then and its bullshit now.  Except that there still seem to be a lot of morons out there who still believe it.  Presumably, they cling to these idiotic notions out of insecurity as to their own masculinity.

Whenever I see such outpourings of idiocy, I'm left wondering whether we're going backwards and these pillocks are growing in numbers.  Or, is it simply because the advent of social media gives them greater opportunities to vent their bile that it just seems that there are more and more haters out there.  Because the sad truth is that the disaffected and discontented are always far more likely to use any form of communication to shout about their (mainly imagined) grievances.  And if it isn't razor blade adverts enraging them, then it is commercials for HSBC which dare to suggest that the UK, whether it likes it or not, is part of a wider global community.  What amuses me about this particular example is that this particular campaign has been running for months, but the Brextremists have suddenly understood what it is saying and are complaining that it is 'Remain' propaganda.  Or there are always those vegan sausage rolls sold by Greggs - trust me, their presence doesn't stop anyone from buying and eating the real ones.  But that doesn't bother reactionaries like Piers Morgan, who realise they can get some more mileage out the non-issue by stirring up the morons with a few blustering Tweets.  Then there's all the hate directed at journalists like Owen Jones, who dare to challenge established political and social orthodoxy with their writing.  Now, I don't always agree with what Jones writes and I'm certainly not as enamoured with Jeremy Corbyn as he is, but the hate directed at him (particularly by a lot of those 'Tories-in-disguise' faux 'liberals' out there is astounding.  They are clearly intimidated by his intelligence and the fact that he actually appears to have some sort of principles, that they feel moved to engage in some 'traditional masculinity' with regard to him.

The irony, of course, that these reactionary whiners, who seem to get unreasonably upset by TV commercials and newspaper columnists who don't engage in racism and sexism (and have the audacity to criticise those who do), are also the very people who seek to label left wingers with consciences 'snowflakes'.  Yes, that's right, caring about the rights of the oppressed, standing up for equality and, well, just demonstrating some degree of compassion, is being 'oversensitive'.  We do indeed live in a funny old world these days.


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Monday, January 14, 2019

The Swedish James Bond



With its insatiable appetite for male orientated action films. Movies4Men chews its way through countless Jean Claude van Damme and Steven Seagal pictures, not to mention an apparently endless procession of spaghetti westerns and Italian war movies (and the odd Yugoslavian war movie, to boot) and lots of those cheap Sci Fi channel direct-to-DVD films.  In the midst of all this schlock, they sometimes turn up something completely unexpected, which, in addition to providing a new viewing experience for a couple of hours, also opens up a whole new world of pop culture hitherto unknown to oneself.  This weekend, for instance, I caught a 1998 film called Commander Hamilton, of which I knew absolutely nothing.  The cast and credits, (which included US actors like Peter Stormare and Mark Hamill and a Norwegian director), told me that it was an international co-production, rather than a Hollywood product.  It turned out to be an action/espionage epic which hopped from Sweden to Russia to the Middle East and took some strange turns - the climax feature the PLO as the good guys, helping the titular hero to foil an American millionaire villain's plot to detonate a stolen ex-Soviet nuclear warhead.  Surprisingly, not all the Russians were bad guys: just the ex-KGB and Russian mafia guys - the Russian cops were sympathetic characters who assisted the hero.

As it turned out, Commander Hamilton was a Swedish movie, which was clearly designed to be a break out production aimed at an international market, based on two novels by Jan Guillou which are themselves part of a long-running series about the 'Swedish James Bond', Carl Hamilton.  Of course, being Swedish, Guillou's character, despite being as ruthless and violent as Bond, has leftist and pro-Palestinian sympathies: the Israelis and Americans seem as likely to be the villains as the Russians or Chinese are in western spy stories.  On the basis of the film I saw and from what I've found out about the original books and other movie adaptations, Hamilton is also a much more complex character than Bond, with his stories posing various moral and ethical dilemmas as to the role of espionage organisations and secret agents when they operate within a democratic framework. 

The fascinating thing is that, before seeing this film, I had no idea that the Hamilton character even existed, despite the fact that he is huge in certain parts of continental Europe.  The non-English speaking parts, to be precise. It is another example of the cultural parochialism of the English-speaking world. There are vast swathes of non-English films, TV and literature out there which we are completely missing out on because we 'can't speak the language' and reading sub-titles is apparent 'too difficult'.  Hamilton is a prime example of tis: it turns out that, like James Bond, there have been numerous adaptations of the Jan Guillou novels since the late eighties, on both film and Swedish TV.  Stellan Skarsgaad was the first Hamilton, Mikael Persbrandt the most recent.  Indeed, the first of Persbrandt's two films as Hamilton was a massive hit across Europe.  But not in the UK or US.  (Unfortunately, it was rapidly followed up by a vastly inferior sequel which killed the prospect of any further films in the planned series.  A new TV series, however, with yet another lead actor, is due on Swedish TV this year).

As for the film Commander Hamilton, I have to say that, whilst quite slickly made, it did feel a little disjointed, which might have something to do with the fact that it was also released, with much additional footage, as a TV mini-series.  It actually demonstrated the same flaw as many Bond movies from the sixties and seventies, with the constant changes of locale leaving the viewer sometimes scratching their heads as to just why we're now in yet another exotic location.  Some of the dialogue feels clunky, which is a always a problem in this sort of international co-production, but most of the action scenes are pretty well done.  Overall, performances are also decent, although Stormare seems slightly odd casting for the lead, but delivers a degree of edginess which suits a trained assassin, while Mark Hamill seems to think that he's playing the villain in a Roger Moore Bond movie, it is, nonetheless, a very enjoyable performance).  Anyway, to wrap up and just for the hell of it, here's a selection of the many faces of Commander Hamilton over the years:







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Friday, January 11, 2019

The Wild Eye (1967)


It was inevitable that, after the phenomenal popular success of the first wave of Mondo movies, that they would suffer some kind of backlash.  From the outset, critics and 'serious' film makers had poured scorn upon them, casting doubt upon the authenticity of their footage and condemning their exploitation of  animal cruelty, indigenous peoples and the vulnerable to provide cheap shocks and thrills to Western audiences.  The Wild Eye is probably the first cinematic attempt to dissect the Mondo movie phenomena in dramatic terms, focusing on the efforts of a (fictional) cynical Mondo director to obtain the most sensational footage possible, regardless of the cost.  Interestingly, its director and co-writer is Paolo Cavara, who had collaborated with Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi on Mondo Cane and Women of the World.  Indeed, the cynical and ruthless Mondo director portrayed in the film was reportedly closely based upon Jacopetti, with whom Cavara had fallen out.

In terms of presenting a critique of the genre, The Wild Eye doesn't go much further than the aforementioned film critics had.  Its main innovation is to question the motivation of the Mondo film makers themselves, rejecting the defences variously used by former colleagues Jacopetti and Prosperi that they were either merely neutral observers who simply edited and packaged their 'found footage' into entertainment, or that they were using this footage to expose wider audiences to serious issues otherwise ignored by film makers.  Instead, he places them firmly in the role of agents provacateurs, deliberately and cynically creating their supposed 'found footage' by manipulating individuals and events, thereby falsifying any claims of veracity and purity of intent.  Of course, the problem in taking such a moral position is not only that Cavara himself was therefore party to such deceptions during his earlier career, thereby calling into question the veracity of his own approach to his material, but that The Wild Eye itself is as exploitative as the films it criticises, recreating their footage for the entertainment of its own audience.  Moreover, because the audience knows beyond any doubt that the faux Mondo footage presented in The Wild Eye is fake, it lacks the impact and thrill of the 'real' thing.  After all, much of the entertainment value of the Mondo genre comes from the audience's attempts to discern what is real and what is fake: without the possibility that some of the most appalling scenes might be real, then the frisson gained by watching it is gone.

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Jazz Singer (1980)


The release of yet another version of A Star is Born last year made me think of another much-remade musical movie: The Jazz Singer.  While the 1927 original long ago secured its place in cinema history, the various remakes (a 1952 film starring Danny Thomas and a 1959 TV version starring Jerry Lewis) are largely forgotten, except, of course, for the notorious 1980 remake.  Sadly, it is remembered for all the wrong reasons: critically reviled and a box office flop, it is perhaps no surprise that there have been no further attempts to remake the property.  But is it really that bad?  Well, technically it is a well made movie, with its high production values showing the big budget.  But it is hampered by several factors - the most obvious being that its title no longer makes sense.  As with the previous two remakes, the protagonist no longer sings anything that could be described as 'Jazz'.  Updated, like those earlier versions, to a then contemporary setting, the film also updates the music to reflect contemporary styles, with Neil Diamond performing soft rock numbers.  (To be fair, the soundtrack album was a big hit, indicating that with the musical score, at least, the film had connected with a contemporary audience).

Another problem lies with the leading performances.  When he isn't singing, Diamond is muted and moody, whereas Laurence Olivier, playing his father, lays on the ham.  Using what became, in this phase of his film career, his familiar middle European accent, (also on display in Boys From Brazil, Dracula and Marathon Man), is ramped up with huge dollops of added 'Jewishness'.  His outrageous over  acting overbalances the film and threatens to drown out everyone else - especially Diamond.  But the biggest problem is that, despite all the attempts at updating, the film's plot just seems so old fashioned. Indeed, like previous versions, it follows the plot of the original pretty closely, (even referencing the 'black face' performances of the original, when Diamond tries to help out some black musician friends by blacking up to perform with them when a band member falls ill), delivering a film which just feels overly sentimental and cloying.  Unlike A Star is Born, which has a plot which can be played out in different eras and genres and is open to constant reinterpretation, The Jazz Singer's plot is firmly rooted in a very specific era and culture and attempts to remake it seem to indicate that it simply doesn't translate well to other eras and musical genres.  It is worth noting that the original owes its lasting fame less to any artistic merit it might have than to its technical achievement in being the first 'talkie'.  A 'unique selling point' that no remake could ever replicate, of course.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Political Posers

Oh my God!  Someone's spotted a drone!  Quick, shut down the entire country!  A second major airport shut down by phantom drones - really, this country is rapidly becoming a laughing stock.  If it isn't what are effectively toy helicopters bringing international air travel to and from the UK to a halt, it is farcical non deal Brexit rehearsals involving parking lorries on motorways.  Neo Nazi thugs, meanwhile, are apparently free to harass MPs and journalists outside of parliament without fear of police intervention.  We seem to be back in the same state of affairs we were in directly after the EU referendum result, with the PM effectively abdicating their responsibilities and other senior ministers more interested in bolstering their positions as potential successors to the Premier than in actually providing any leadership in the here and now.  It felt as if there was nobody at the wheel of the ship of state.  Two years on and it feels even more rudderless, with a Prime Minister going around in circles, refusing to accept defeat and attempt a new strategy and ministers spending their time posturing for the press in the vain hope of succeeding May.

The most blatant of these political posers of late has been the Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who came hurrying back to the UK from his Christmas break to personally deal with an entirely manufactured 'crisis' about people trying to illegally enter the UK in tiny rubber boats.  The fact that such crossings go on week in, week out and are almost always unsuccessful hasn't deterred Javid from deploying the Royal Navy to deal with this 'threat'.  He's trying so hard to build up a 'macho' image with regard to immigration, in hope of wooing the Tory right in a possible leadership election, that I'm surprised he hasn't gone on TV, smashing bottles over his head, telling potential illegal immigrants that 'we're fucking mad here - so stay away if you know what's good for you!'  Either that, or we'll see him wading out to sea and attacking alleged immigrants' rubber boats with a carving knife, in an attempt to sink them before they can get to shore.  Perhaps he'll simply resort to arranging photo opportunities where he is seen personally grabbing immigrants by the scruff of the neck and hurling them back into the sea, shouting 'And stay out' after them.  Of course, the very fact that an utter mediocrity like Javid is even spoken of as a credible Tory leadership contender underlines what a desperate situation we're in right now.  I mean, really?  Worse still, incompetents like Jeremy Hunt (a man who only gets jobs when someone even less competent than him is sacked) and Dominic Raab (the man who, as Brexit Secretary, seemed surprised to learn that a huge proportion of Britain's trade is conducted via Dover, our major European port) are also spoken of as potential Prime Ministers-in-waiting.  Although, to be fair, none of them is as bad as the despicable Esther McVey, whose name has also been mentioned in connection with leadership bids.  Still, I suppose that if we're already a laughing stock in the eyes of the world, we might as well go the whole hog...

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Monday, January 07, 2019

Protecting January

'Veganuary' is the latest abomination they are trying to foist on this first month of the year.  Is it any wonder that people routinely label January as being the most depressing month of the year when it is constantly being hijacked by various causes?  If it isn't vegans trying to steal our meat, then it is the anti-alcohol brigade trying to make us all go fry for a month on the pretext of improving out health.  We really need to protect January from these opportunists.  Now, I won't deny that moderating one's alcohol intake isn't a bad idea (for health reasons I've cut back on my drinking over he past year), but the idea of suddenly giving it up for a month in January isn't just madness, it is pure sadism.  I mean, if ever there was a month where alcohol was needed, it is January.  How else to soften the blow of having to g back to work after Christmas?  Or to blot out the debts run up to finance Christmas.  Let alone give us the strength to face another year of drudgery.  But if they aren't trying to get you to give up booze for January, then it is for October ('Stoptober').  I've always found these 'themed' months for giving things up as tiresome as I do the concept of 'New Year Resolutions':  if you are going to do something, whether it is giving up alcohol, cigarettes or farting in lifts, then just do it - don't wait for some arbitrary date.

But lets just return to 'Veganuary' for a while.  This is part of a concerted effort (pushed by The Guardian newspaper) to shove veganism down our throats.  Now, only the other day I saw an article somewhere asking why do people hate vegans so much?  Well, the fact is that isn't a case of hating the vast majority of vegans.  They've made a lifestyle choice and that's fair enough.  It is a personal choice which they have every right to follow and I'll happily support that right.  The problem comes with the evangelical wing of veganism which spends its time telling us non-vegans how evil we are and trying to convert us with their fire and brimstone scare tactics.  It isn't that they are vegans which makes them hateful, but rather their self-rightousness as they bang on about how cruel we are to breed animals just to eat them and use their products.  As if the animals care - they spend a lot of their time, left to their own devices, killing and eating each other.  It is this minority of vegans who we hate, just we hate all zealots and bigots.  Their refusal to accept that they still constitute a tiny minority in this country (despite The Guardian's constant attempts to big them up) really doesn't help.  If they would just stop trying to push their agenda onto the rest of us, we wouldn't hate them so.  After all, I don't go around force feeding sausage rolls to vegans and vegetarians - I practice live and let live, I even welcome the introduction of vegan sausage rolls at Greigs as a welcome act of inclusiveness.  So how about returning the courtesy vegan fanatics?

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Friday, January 04, 2019

Busy Doing Nothing

I seem to have spent the larger part of the last couple of weeks doing bugger all.  A lot of that bugger all being done lying in bed.  There's a part of me which keeps trying to convince me that this has been a waste of two weeks off work, that I should have been out 'doing' things.  But the fact is that after the year I'd just endured, I needed all the rest that I could get.  Indeed, I've been surprised by just how tired I turned out to be - not only was last year exhausting, but I'm afraid that the continuing side-effects of my various medications, not to mention my ongoing diabetes, have taken their toll on my stamina and reserves of energy.  Still whether I'll actually feel 'refreshed' when I return to work next week is another question.  At least, from next week onward, I'll only be working a four day week, as I've decided to reduce my hours for the sake of my sanity, safety and health.   But as far as these past couple of weeks go, I never did catch up with those friends I was hoping to see - everyone seems to have followed my example of going into semi-hibernation this Christmas.  But I did catch up with some DVDs and I did make a start on sorting out the wiring on my model railway layout.  (I've also started testing a new - to me, at least - controller, which incorporates inertial controls and a brake simulator).

But, all-in-all, it has been a very quiet festive season for me and a slow, low key start to the New Year.  After all the unexpected turmoil of 2018, I'm keeping my ambitions and expectations for 2019 modest: just staying healthy will be an achievement.  But I can't keep drifting along, seeing what happens.  I'm really going to have to take some more positive action this coming year to try and push my life forward.  I'm tired of just meandering through life, waiting for stuff to happen.  Hopefully, with one less day of work a week, I'll have more time for stuff like home improvements, looking properly into possible career changes and the like.  Not to mention more time for podcasting, writing and the railway.  Maybe I'll even find time to catch up with those elusive friends.  In the meantime, I still have a stack of DVDs still to watch and several pieces of schlock from those already viewed to write up here, including the likes of Lucio Fulci's Lizard in a Woman's Skin and British sexploitation oddity Secrets of Sex.  The whole schclock movie thing was something that got somewhat neglected by me last year, as I was chiefly preoccupied with being ill for so long.  Hopefully, things can get back on track this year. So, there you have it: two weeks of doing bugger all to set me up for another fifty weeks of daily grind!

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Thursday, January 03, 2019

Back After the Break - Yet Again


Only the second post of 2019 and already I'm resorting to old TV adverts.  I'm afraid that I've felt somewhat under the weather all day and, when not in bed trying to make up for a largely sleepless night, (thanks to aforementioned unwellness), I've been on the sofa watching DVDs.  So I've just not got the energy or inclination to come up with anything else for today.  Anyway, these ads come from 1982 and provide the usul selection of long forgotten advertising for long forgotten products.  Of course, many of the manufacturers are still with us, but with somewhat more sophisticated products and sales campaigns. Take Glade, for instance.  Is this the first of their air freshening products to be advertised on TV?  It certainly seems crude compared to their later products which plug into electrical sockets, don't have to be waved about by hand and make your house smell like a pine forest.  I remember the days when we didn't seem to care about such things - if your house was beset by the smell of burnt toast, or someone had let rip a particularly offensive fart, we just opened the windows and doors to let some fresh air in, or just waved newspapers around.  Most of the time, though, we just accepted that peoples' houses stank, but were too polite to mention it.

I have fond memories of those Green's cake mixes - my mother used to make a lot of them.  They came in various flavours and were a tea time favourite.  At one time we had a cat that liked sponge cake and would eat bloody great chunks out of the top if he found them unattended in the kitchen, while they cooled from the oven.  Even putting a cloth over them didn't deter him - the furry bastard somehow found a way of getting under the cloth, eating a chunk from the middle, then leaving the cloth looking undisturbed.  This, inevitably, caused much outrage and consternation when the sponge was uncovered for the filling to applied.  It's interesting to see the Post Office pushing its Giro Bank services so heavily but, of course, by 1982 Thatcher was in full swing, unemployment was rising and benefit payments were issued as Giro cheques.  It was also an era when a lot of people still didn't have bank accounts and the Post Office services were easier to set up and use.  (My Great Aunt, who died last year aged 96, never had a bank account, never trusting the banks. To the day she died, she swore by her Post Office savings account).  Those Cinzano Bianco ads with Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins were all the rage back in the eighties and new ones were looked forward to the way the John Lewis Christmas ad is looked forward to these days.  I now, hard to believe, isn't it? 

But times change: nowadays, it would seem unlikely that a retired former policeman would be viewed as a suitable front man for selling anything, let alone tyres.  But back in the eighties, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Robert Mark was still remembered as the man who had, a decade earlier, cleaned up the Met, cracking down on corruption, with two senior officers being prosecuted and hundreds of other ranks dismissed or forced to resign.  So, if he told you that a particular brand of tyres were the safest on sale, you knew he was telling the truth.  Even in 1982, advertisers were still relying on racial and cultural stereotypes to sell their products.  In the case of Heineken, a Dutch based brewer, it's all good natured stuff, but the combination of jungle back drops, black singers and Caribbean musical rhythms to try and indicate that a Cabana chocolate bar is, well, 'exotic', seems somewhat suspect by today's standards.  And finally, back to the post office and a plug for stamp collecting. Now, there's something you wouldn't see advertised now.  It's hard to remember now, but stamp collecting used to be a huge hobby back in the day, although I'm surprised to see it getting a plug as late as 1982.

So, there you are, another trip down memory lane via the medium of TV commercials.  Hopefully, normal service will be resumed tomorrow...

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Tuesday, January 01, 2019

A Slow Start

What a dull start to the new year.  I don't just mean the largely overcast weather.  Everything has just been flat and dull.  The usual New Year's Day football schedule was reduced to just three Premier League matches, TV 'events' have been limited to an episode of Doctor Who (which was, I'll concede, somewhat better than the preceding series, but that isn't saying much) and the first of four new episodes of Luther, (a series which so badly wants to be a giallo movie, but falls short of the requsite style and truly crazy plotting).  Even the web has been dead all day, with next to no updates on social media and no new posting on the forums (or should that be fora?) that I follow.  Surely everybody can't be hungover?  I mean, despite being New Year's Eve, everywhere seemed to shut early yesterday, limiting the opportunities for seasonal binge drinking. I'm sure that New Year used to be a bigger deal than this - deep in the recesses of my memory I seem to recall the TV companies making an effort with their schedules and events going on to mark the New Year.  But apparently not anymore.  It seems to have fallen victim to the modern desire to pack away the Christmas season as quickly after Boxing Day as possible.  Indeed, this year, retailers seemed more eager than ever to sweep away all trace of Christmas: the seasonal goods started disappearing from the shelves on Christmas Eve in some shops and had all but gone by yesterday.  Large parts of the local Christmas market, (which is meant to be in situ until Twelfth Night) have already packed up and gone home.

Of course, according to the media, UK shops have seen disappointing Christmas sales, so obviously want to move on as quickly as possible, to find some other angle to try and get us to spend money.  As ever, the explanation for the troubles of the High Street all centre upon the increased popularity of online shopping.  But that seems far too simplistic.  IN the UK, at least, I'm sure that the presents problems have more to do with the uncertainties surrounding Brexit.  With the spectre of a No Deal Brexit and the possible economic chaos still looming over the country, people are simply not spending money.  While there's been a lot of talk of people buying and hoarding supplies in their 'Brexit Bunkers', the fact of the matter is that money is easier to hoard than tinned goods and medical supplies.  Until we have a clearer idea of what shape the economy is going to be in post-Brexit, people are going to be reluctant to spend their cash.  On anything.  So, Britain's shops could have a long wait for sales to pick up.  Not that I did anything to help today: I emerged only to buy a newspaper, spending the rest of the day either in bed or on the sofa.  And why not?  There was nothing else going on anywhere, after all.

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