Friday, March 29, 2019

British Pulp

Having looked at a few US men's pulp magazines of late, it is worth noting that the UK had its own post-war pulp scene.  Most of these were cheap publications taking the form of 'pocket books', printed on low quality paper and sporting some extremely crudely executed covers.  The above second issue of the Weird and Occult Library (which ran for three issues in 1960), is pretty much typical of these publications, which came from a variety of fly-by-night small press publishers such as Scion and Badger.  It is notable that no authors are accredited on the cover.  Not that it would have mattered as nobody was likely to have heard of them, most being 'house names' associated with that particular publisher, each often used by multiple authors.  Sometimes an entire issue might be written by a single writer, using multiple 'house names'.

Supernatural Stories was a pocket book series from Badger Books, which straggled over a period of some thirteen years between 1954 and 1967, with the quality of the covers generally improving over time:

To confuse matters, it also appeared under a couple of variant titles:

The Supernatural Special title seemed to be used on issues featuring a single novel-length story, whereas the reasons for the use of the Out of This World monicker seems less clear (to confuse the matter, there was an entirely separate publication using this title which ran for two issues in 1954-55, whether this was absorbed by Supernatural Stories or whether this was an attempt at product differentiation to give the impression of two different magazines appealing to slightly different audiences - the two titles alternated for a while in 1957-58 and the first appearance of Out of This World is uniquely attributed to 'Cobra Books' - isn't known.  Regardless, it is notable that both of these editions of the variant titles carry stories by R L Fanthorpe who, under various names, including Bron Fane and Pel Torro, provided the lion's share of Badger Books' content,  He's still around today, as the Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe, an ordained and practicing Church of Wales minister. 

Finally, another, relatively short lived British weird pulp was Phantom, which ran for sixteen issues during 1957-58.  Featuring cover art almost as crude as Weird and Occult Library, its early issues claimed that it featured 'True Ghost Stories':

This bold claim was, however, quickly dropped, with the last few issues carrying the strap lines 'Weird Tales' or 'A Magazine of Weird Tales'.  These late attempts to add an air of class were clearly unsuccessful as the magazine abruptly ended with issue sixteen.


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Indicative of Idiocy

I know that I said I was going to try and get this blog back n the pop culture beat after a surfeit of politics in recent weeks and, indeed, I've made a start on that this week, but after the last couple of days, I feel I must comment on current political events.  I've become extremely frustrated by the way in which the series of 'indicative votes' over Brexit carried out by the Commons yesterday, have been represented in the media.  The failure of any of the eight options presented to 'win' an outright majority has been presented as yet another 'failure' of parliament and another stick with which the (mainly right wing) media can beat MPs.  In the wake of the votes last night, we even had 'Guy Fawkes' trending on Twitter, with the usual bunch of reactionary morons going on about how the Gunpowder Plotters had the right idea - MPs are so useless they deserve blowing up.  Which not only betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the plot (to assassinate a Protestant King) but also as to the entire purpose of the 'indicative votes' exercise.  (Indicative if their idiocy, perhaps).

The clue, obviously, is in the term 'indicative votes' itself: the series of votes was designed, not necessarily to find a single option with overwhelming support, but rather to narrow down the plethora of options on offer in order to see what sorts of options had the most support.  Which is why a second round of 'indicative votes' is planned for Monday (depending on the outcome of other votes), with the field narrowed to those options with the greatest support.  Which, looking at yesterday's vote, seems to be for some kind of customs union with EU, perhaps to be ratified by a public vote.  In fact, Ken Clarke's version of this option would have emerged a clear winner yesterday, if either the SNP or the self-styled 'Independent Group' of MPs hadn't abstained or voted against it.  A wider point to make about this process is that it actually represents Parliament doing what it is meant to do - trying to make legislation.  Let's not forget that it is Parliament we elect, not a government as such.  Parliament is the democratic body with the sovereignty to make binding laws, not the government.  So, stop whining about those 'bloody MPs' etc - this is them doing their job and attempting to do what the government can't: making legislation which is least damaging to the nation's interest.  Or at least attempting to, which is more than this incompetent government is doing.


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A Double Bill from 1966

Ah, those were the days when distributors tried to tempt audiences into cinemas during holiday times with double bills of second ranked pictures, neither of which would lead a programme on its own.  This 'Exciting All 'U' Warner-Pathe Holiday Attraction!' from Christmas 1966 was clearly designed to lure younger audiences into the cinema over the festive season, either to get away from family festivities or sent there by parents eager to get rid of squabbling kids over the Christmas holidays.  It brings together two 'exotic' (and distinctly non-festive) action-adventure movies based on popular literary characters: Tarzan and Fu Manchu.  Both are essentially B-movies but, as was the practice during the fifties, distributors would often release such films in double bills instead of a more expensive A-picture and supporting programme.  It certainly gave audiences the impression that they were getting their money's worth.

I've seen both of these films many times on TV and I must admit that it would never have occurred to me to put them together in a double bill.  I have to confess that I'm not really a big fan of Tarzan movies but, as a kid, I watched most of them on TV.  Tarzan and the Valley of Gold was, as I recall, one of the last of the cycle of Tarzan films produced by Sy Weintraub during the fifties and sixties, and the first with Mike Henry, (he had been preceded in the role by Gordon Scott and Jock Mahoney).  It was one of three films with Henry shot back-to-back in Brazil, which felt like pilots for the late sixties Tarzan TV series.  Which, in effect, they were: Henry was originally slated to play the lead in the TV series but, after being bitten by the chimp sidekick, sued Weintraub and was replaced by Ron Ely in the series.  The one thing I clearly remember about Tarzan and the Valley of Gold is that Henry seems to come on more like James Bond than Tarzan, with lots of globe-trotting in a safari suit.

Brides of Fu Manchu is probably the more interesting of the two films, being one of the notorious Harry Allan Towers' series of Sax Rohmer adaptations starring Christopher Lee in 'oriental' make up to portray the titular character.  It's somewhat surprising to see that it only carried a 'U' certificate during its initial release as even the 'mild' version used for its UK release (and subsequent TV screenings), focuses on the horrific aspects of the story and features lots of cleavage and torturing of women.  ('Stronger' versions featuring topless scenes were made for overseas markets).  This was the second in Towers' Fu Manchu series, after this the quality of the films would rapidly decline, in line with their budgets.  Brides, however, is still a handsome-looking production, shot, in part, at the former Hammer studios at Bray, with a decent amount of action and half decent script.

The sixties were a different age in terms of cinema going, as the existence of this sort of double bill testifies.  You certainly got more for your money - while programmes were certainly shorter than in previous decades, with newsreels, short films and cartoons gradually disappearing during the course of the decade, you at least still got two movies on the bill, whether an A picture and support feature or a double feature of this sort.  Moreover, programmes were continuous - you could go in at any point and stay in auditorium as long as you liked in order to catch up with the bits you had missed.  (Indeed, my first ever cinema going experience was being taken to see The Jungle Book by my parents at the local Odeon.  We came in about fifteen minutes into the main feature, but were able to watch it to then end, watch the support feature, then watch the first fifteen  minutes of the next showing of Jungle Book).  I recall that well into the seventies new releases usually ran with a supporting feature - by then usually an older film which had already had its first run rather than a dedicated B-movie. (I remember Doc Savage - Man of Bronze, which had already had a couple of TV outings, turning up as support for Warlords of Atlantis, for instance).   Seasonal re releases of movies packaged into double features was also fairly common: Spy Who Loved Me went out on a double bill with Pink Panther Strikes Again in the Summer of 1978, for instance, while I remember seeing newly struck prints of Jason and the Argonauts and Mysterious Island on a Summer double bill, not to mention a pairing of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein and Silent Movie.  Sadly, nowadays we have to pay a small fortune to watch a programme consisting of a single film accompanied by half and hour of adverts and trailers, which never feels like value for money.


Monday, March 25, 2019

Return of the Vampire (1943)

I'm trying to ease my way back into the world of schlocky pop culture, so I thought that I'd start by going back in time to the forties anf having a quick look at the trailer for Return of the Vampire.  A cheapjack attempt by Columbia to cash in on the popularity of rival studio Universal's cycle of horror movies featuring Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman and the Mummy, Return of the Vampire actually has several points of interest, that lift it above the average B-movie horror of the period.  Most notably, it headlines Bela Lugosi, recreating his most famous role in all but name: his vampire might here be called Armand Tesla but he is clearly closely modeled on Count Dracula.  The fact is that, despite the success of the their 1930 production of Dracula, (starring Lugosi, of course), Universal hadn't made the most of the character, focusing instead on, first of all, Frankenstein and his monster, and subsequently the Wolfman.  Dracula's legacy in the Universal films was, up to that point, confined to two appearances by his off-spring: Dracula's Daughter and Son of Dracula, neither featuring Lugosi.

Columbia clearly saw a gap in the market and came up with Return of the Vampire, featuring Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi, for whom this was a rare return to top billing in a studio production.  After this, it was back to poverty row and the treadmill of Monogram productions.  The film was undoubtedly also influenced by the success of Universal's recent release Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, which packaged together two monsters for the price of one, with the Columbia movie featuring not just a vampire, but also a werewolf.  The latter has an interesting story arc, starting as the vampire's servant, being released from his curse and joining the good guys, before falling foul of the resurrected vampire and turning lycanthropic again.  In a final twist, he turns again and becomes instrumental in Lugosi's downfall, at the cost of his own life.  Columbia were clearly going all out to replicate the tragic werewolf character created by Universal for Lon Chaney Jr's Wolfman.  The film is also unusual in making the Van Helsing character female and giving her the added motivation of having to protect her own daughter from the vampire in the latter part of the film, whilst simultaneously facing a Scotland Yardmurder investigation for her original staking of the vampire.  (another Universal reference: in Dracula's Daughter Van Helsing himself finds himself facing a similar investigation for his staking of Dracula in the previous film).

Return of the Vampire also features an intriguing narrative structure, with the vampire's two manifestations occurring twenty four years apart, initially during World War One, being resurrected in World War Two after a bomb falls on the cemetary where he has been buried.  In effect, his deprivations becomes an analogy for the horrors of war.  During his second coming, Lugosi's vampire takes on the identity of a refugee scientist escaped from a Nazi concentration camp, newly arrived in London (and murdered by the werewolf).  There's no escaping the insidious spread of evil, it seems.  Directed by B-movie veteran Lew Landers, Return of the Vampire might lack much of the visual style of the Universal films it seeks to ape, but it moves at a good pace, packing a lot of incident into only sixty nine minutes.  It is also, in quality terms, several steps above the kind of films Lugosi would subsequently find himself appearing in.  Clearly, it must have been successful enough to convince Universal that there was still mileage in the Dracula character, as they resuscitated him for House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula in 1944 and 1945 respectively, albeit played by John Carradine rather than Lugosi.


Friday, March 22, 2019

'I Took a Chance With Sex Pictures'

Following up the recent posts featuring men's magazine covers, here's an instance of the phenomena I mentioned last time: the re-use of a cover painting to illustrate a different story in a different magazine. The original - which one assumes is illustrating 'The Naked Blonde of Paris' - is seen here on the December 1964 issue of Real Men.  It reappears, in slightly modified form on the cover of the May 1966 Man's Life cover, illustrating 'Incident at Benghasi':

Note how the image has been cropped for its second appearance, in an attempt to make it more relevant to the story it is now illustrating (not to mention making it fit into a different layout) - the quicklime sack and the hand of the girl being dissolved in the lime pit have vanished, as have another female victim and the soldier manhandling her.  The trouble is that the setting still doesn't suggest the North African setting of the new story, nor does it show 'six women and one man', but rather one woman and two men.  But hey, it was a cheap way of creating a new cover. 

Despite the eighteen month gap between the two issues, it is notable that the main themes of the stories are remarkably consistent.  Wife swapping, which was something of an obsession with these publications, features prominently on both covers, for instance.  While the other stories maintain the fixation on violence against women, sex and the incarceration of women, more sex, and wanton women.  By 1966, though, despite the continued appearance of Nazis on the cover, Man's Life is beginning to reflect newer political realities, with the women now being imprisoned and mistreated by the Viet-Cong and a 'Red Official' effectively selling his daughter into 'freedom' in the West.  The more things change, the more they stayed the same in the world of men's magazines...

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Bunker Mentality

It's like the last days of the Third Reich, isn't it?  Brexit, that is. I know that we're meant to say that it is like the fall of the Roman Empire, because Nazi Germany is, apparently, a 'lazy metaphor'.  Not to mention offensive.  Well, go ahead and be offended.  Then fuck off.  The Third Reich analogy is better: we've got a deranged leader devoid of any authority beyond their bunker (or Number Ten, take your pick), barking out orders to armies (or political parties) that exist in name only and is constantly addressing the nation, telling us how the current chaos isn't their fault.  Is it too much to hope that May completes the analogy by shooting herself?  I know, I know - offensive and bad taste, but I just don't care anymore: May has chained herself to her vision of Brexit and is effectively putting a gun to our heads, telling us either we accept that or she's going for full on 'No Deal' Brexit and taking us all with her and to Hell with the consequences.  Really, it's her or us.  Sadly, I can't see anybody in her cabinet having the backbone to organise the equivalent to the 'General's Plot' and arrange for someone horribly mutilated by Brexit to blow her up.  Mind you, knowing our luck, she'd follow the analogy again and miraculously survive.

But really, is it any surprise that I should be obsessed with Third Reich analogies when the entire language and imagery of Brexit has, of late, itself been permeated with war like metaphors?  Every where you look, that 'blitz spirit' is being invoked with regard to the possibility of 'No Deal', or some twat of a Brexiteering Tory MP is going on about how his father stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.  That's not to mention all the talk of 'Brexit Bunkers', where we'll have to hide when the European hordes are at the gates.  It's a pretty crap, low budget movie-type, version of the Third Reich, I know.  But at the centre of it all is a pretty crap Fuhrer substitute: that paragon of incompetence, Theresa May.  Should we be surprised that someone who was a barely adequate Home Secretary has turned out to be an utterly inadequate Prime Minister?  Certainly, her disregard for established procedures and protocols was evident when she was in charge of the Home Office, as was her propensity to deny responsibility for her (frequent) mistakes.  Her contempt for the parliamentary process and the principles of representative democracy - an attitude which surely should disqualify her from holding any high office - has been evident from the outset of her disastrous tenure as Premier, with her attempts to prevent Parliament from having any say in the Brexit process.  But hey, enough of my periodic political ranting - I really must get back to the schlocky pop culture stuff...


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Send the Buggers Back!

OK, I'm still getting my head around this white supremacist terrorist who goes to New Zealand from Australia and murders fifty local Muslims because he thinks there is too much immigration.  Clearly not strong on logic.  But maybe there's something in the idea that immigration causes all of our current problems.  No, hold on, I'm not turning into some kind of Nazi.  Bear with me here.  I'm sure that, to take the case of New Zealand, that the Maoris have been saying for centuries now that there's been nothing but trouble there since all those European immigrants arrived there.  It was only a few at first, but then they swamped the place and started breeding - before anyone knew they'd taken all the jobs and were building their bloody churches everywhere.  Before they knew it, the Maoris where in the minority and their culture relegated to a tourist attraction.  I think that it is high time the Maoris started a campaign to 'take back their country', telling all the white people that it was 'time they went home' to Europe.  The Aborigines in Australia should do the same thing - after all, they've got it even worse, forced by successive waves of white immigration into the shittiest bits of their own country.

Of course, the most obvious place for such a campaign would be in the US, where Native Americans have been shabbily treated by those bloody immigrants.  Not only did the whites wipe out their buffalo, expose them to new diseases and steal their women, not to mention their land, but they've essentially trashed the place, ransacking its natural resources and poisoning the land with industrial pollution.  Surely it's time for them to go back to their own countries?  In fact, if I were a Native American, I'd be advocating building a wall down both coasts to try and stop any more of the bastards from getting in.  'Palefaces go home!'  That should be their slogan.  It isn't as if those white immigrants did anything to integrate themselves - they made no attempt to adopt local cultures and customs, let alone the language.  They didn't even try to change their names to sound more like locals:  nobody went from Dick Scratcher to Little Scratching Cock upon arriving in America, for instance.  The refusal to change their names is also relevant in the UK: you'd have thought the likes of Nigel Farage and Mark Francois, rabid Brexiteers both, would have had the decency to Anglicise their surnames.  Especially Farage, which is a Huguenot name, marking him out as the descendant of refugees.  Well, his ancestors might well have been able to claim asylum from religious persecution, but the Huguenots aren't being persecuted in France anymore, so it's time, surely, for him to go home.  Either that, or change his offensively foreign name.  Yeah, send the buggers back!

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Monday, March 18, 2019

Crowd Funding Fanatics

My increasing desire to give up work, (or at least, my current employment), is taking me down some interesting avenues.  As I've mentioned before, I've all manner of activities I'd rather be doing than working, but that nobody is ever likely to pay me to do them.  It turns out that you don't actually have to find some way to monetise one's hobbies, instead, you apparently can instead get publicly funded for indulging one's interests.  No, really, you can.  Well, if you are a right-wing scumbag whose 'hobbies' include shouting abuse at pro-Remain MPs or organising anti-immigration demonstrations/riots, that is.  It has been brought to my attention that a number of said extremists actually finance their activities via  online crowd funding sites.  They argue that all the important political activities they indulge in - putting bricks through the windows of Jewish-owned shops, fire bombing mosques, harassing ethnic minorities - makes it impossible for them hold down full-time jobs.  Well, that and the fact that simply being right wing bastards makes them effectively unemployable.  Instead, they appeal to their supporters and sympathisers for funds to live on via crowd funding.

And, it seems, it works.  There are enough neo Nazi shits out there with more money than sense out there to support some of these scumbags.  So, to get to the elephant in the room, (it's blocking my view of the television right now), why don't I just set up a crowd funding page with the aim of getting sufficient money to stop working?  I mean, asking people to give me money because I'm basically tired of working and would rather spend my time playing with my model railway, watching and reviewing obscure films and writing shit and stuff, is surely a more tempting proposition for potential funders than saying I want cash so that I can be a full time Nazi, isn't it?  I ask you, who would you rather give your money to: me, or some fascist thug?  I'd say that it was no contest.  Not, of course, that it will happen.  I'm afraid that the sad truth is that hate sells.  Why else do you think there is so much Nazi paraphernalia for sale out there?  The kind of people who buy it are the same people who crowdfund Nazi agitators: fanatics.  Sadly, there aren't so many lovers of exploitation films and model railways out there with the same level of fanaticism.  Moreover, even if there were, they'd be competing with me for crowd funding to pursue these activities, rather than giving their money to me.  So, another scheme to stop working foiled...


Friday, March 15, 2019

Grimy Sell Out

Do you remember when Michael Winner started doing those TV ads for insurance, (toy know the ones: 'Calm down fear, it's only an advert, etc')?  As I recall, they were initially and briefly shown in the late night schedules, before temporarily vanishing, leaving those who first saw them suspecting that we had dreamed them.  After all, we asked ourselves, why on earth would bombastic film director and restaurant critic Michael Winner be doing a series of ads where, essentially, sends up his own image?  Yet, as it turned out, he was doing them, as we realised when they finally hit prime time and began to multiply, with numerous variations on the basic theme.  I suppose that they were the Gio Compario adverts of their day.  Anyway, to get to the point, I had this suspicion that I'd dreamed a TV commercial again the other week, when I thought that I had seen an advert for Ladbrokes betting shops featuring celebrated grime artist Dizee Rascal in a time machine shaped like a red phone box.  I know, ridiculous, eh?  As if someone like Dizee Rascal would throw away his credibility by promoting gambling!  Yet, it seems, he has done just that.  I've now seen the advert several more times.  It seems to be part of a new series of ads put out by Ladbrokes, featuring various 'celebrities', plugging the joys of throwing your money down the drain.

None of the other ads, however, have left me feeling as depressed as the Dizee Rascal one.  He had so much street cred, with his history in pirate radio, a pioneer of UK grime, he just seemed the last music celebrity likely to sell out.  And to do it by advertising gambling really does seem like a kick in the teeth to that section of British youth he was supposed to be inspiring.  It just seems to be saying 'Hey lookk, even if you have been an incredibly successful and critically acclaimed artist, if you are black and working class, then you still can't escape the class stereotypes of small time gambling addiction and seedy betting shops.  Still, I suppose that he hasn't been in the charts for a while now, so has to find some way of maintaining his profile and making a quick buck.  I just wish that he had chosen something more innocuous to advertise.  Because his isn't the on;y incongruous celebrity endorsement out there, (Harvey Keitel in character as Winston Wolf shilling for Direct Line Insurance comes to mind, or Jeff Goldblum advertising PC World, for that matter), but they at least tend to plump for relatively harmless products to endorse.  The whole world's turning to shit, I tell you.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Disability Wars

The charging of Professor Stephen Hawking's former nurse for abuse, pertaining to their time caring for the late physicist, leaves me wondering whether said abuse involved his participation in some kind of gladiatorial contests for the disabled?   Yeah, I know, we're heading back into bad taste territory here, but bear with me.  I've always had this suspicion that such things go on: a sort of cross between Fight Club and Robot Wars, where teams, or more likely families, enter their wheelchair- bound disabled relatives into a knock out contest to find who is the toughest.  Obviously, not all disabilities are equal, so the use of technology is involved to even up the odds.  You know the sort of thing: buzz saws or hydraulically operated axes and machetes attached to the electric wheelchairs.  They'd undoubtedly have to be armoured wheelchairs, other wise the contests could be over pretty quickly.  I mean, imagine if one contestant had a huge electric drill mounted on their chair and their opponent had only a cricket bat, well, it would be no contest, would it?  All over in a couple of turns of that drill.  Anyway, I always thought that Professor Hawking could be a knock out, so to speak, at this sort of thing.  After all, as a scientist, he'd have been able to come up with pretty radical weapons to strp onto his wheelchair.

I could just imagine him deploying stuff like an electromagnetic pulse device, which could knock out all the electrical systems in a rival's chair with one blast, leaving them at the mercy of his laser gun.  Or perhaps he'd have some kind of mini-missile launcher with which to blow opponents to smithereens.  (Obviously, being a scientific genius, he would have designed some sort of inertial compensation system to deal with the recoil).  All of which is why I envisaged his nurse entering him in such contests.  I'm sure that big money rides on these competitions, with Far Eastern betting syndicates placing huge wagers on their outcome.  That nurse could have cleaned up with Hawking as a contestant.  After all, a lot of the competition would be bound to be a bit crap - you know the sort of thing: short fused packages of explosive on the end of long poles, in the hope that they can 'drop the bomb' on an opponent before it goes off, or ineffective spring loaded knife throwing devices.  The more I think about it, the more complicated these contests seem.  If we restrict them to just people in wheelchairs, then there would be accusations of discrimination.  Would the solution be to allow all contestants to use wheelchairs, just so long has they have some kind of physical disability? Because a contest between a guy in an armoured wheelchair and a bloke with a walking frame would be completely unbalanced.  There would also have to be precautions to stop unscrupulous teams from sticking corpses in wheelchairs, then controlling them remotely - with no living person in the seat, they would have infinite endurance, being impervious to damage.  It might be bad taste, but there's no denying that it could be an intriguing prospect.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Conspiracy of Conspiracy Theories

So, I have this theory about conspiracy theories.  That they themselves are part of a conspiracy.  A huge conspiracy.  I've come to the conclusion that they have been promulgated by shadowy forces as part of a long term plan to completely undermine public confidence in, well, reality itself.  Bear with me here while I try to explain. We have to go back to basics here and ask ourselves exactly what conspiracy theories are designed to do: to question the veracity of accepted idea or historical event, suggesting that it has actually been fabricated by the establishment in order to hide the 'real' truth.  They do this by highlighting supposed 'anomalies' in the accepted truth that somehow undermines that truth.  The idea is that by sowing these seeds of doubt in peoples' minds, they will eventually end up questioning the accepted version of events.  In effect, they offer up 'alternative facts' in order to establish an 'alternative truth'.  Take the moon landings, for instance.  According to the conspiracy theories, despite being established fact, these were in fact faked by the US in order to 'win' the space race with the USSR.

Now, at first, such theories were widely dismissed as being the products of cranks.  But, over the decades, these cranks have persisted with their supposed 'anomalies' in the evidence of the moon landings' reality, so that they have seeped into the public conciousness and taken root.  Their spokesmen have infiltrated even the respectable media, always looking and sounding, not like the cranks they are, but like respectable and rational suit wearing types.  After a while, the rebuttals of their 'evidence' by NASA and other experts start to sound too trite, too glib, because they are unchanging, (because they are true) and, worst of all, because those relating them to the media are part of 'the establishment' with vested interests in maintaining the alleged falsehood.  Eventually, we end up with the current situation where we have a significant minority of apparently otherwise rational people who believe that the moon landings were faked, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Facts are no longer sufficient to establish truth.  Particularly when they are presented by experts.

The moon landing conspiracy is just one of a plethora of these theories currently in circulation, all of them collectively eroding a section of humanity's belief in reality.  Nothing, these theories keep saying, can be accepted as fact - if you don't like a particular event, history or news story, it is OK to dismiss it as fake: if you root around enough you can always find, or more likely be told, some 'alternative facts' that seemingly contradict it.  Lies suddenly become currency as they never have before.  The path is paved for the likes of Trump - populists who embrace this idea that the 'establishment' and established facts can't be trusted - to sweep in and present themselves as anti-establishment saviours, here to rescue us from all this 'fake news'.  Thanks to this 'conspiracy of conspiracy theories', the sinister forces of the extreme right can now manipulate the political debate like never before opponents and opposing ideas can be undermined by suggesting that they are the conspiracy and by deploying 'common sense' to supposedly undermine those pesky facts.  I mean, just look at the way climate change is attacked: 'Hey, if there's global warming, how come it's snowing, eh? Eh? EH?  Explain THAT pointy headed scientists, you dumb asses!'  Or renewable energy: 'Hey, what if the wind stops blowing, eh?  Your wind turbines will stop and you won't have any electricity!  You DUMB ASSES!'

If you do believe either of these things I'd just point out that the first 'common sense' statement conflates global climate changes with localised weather conditions: just because it is cold where you are today, doesn't mean that overall global temperatures aren't rising.  As for the business about wind generated power, the fact is that wind turbines are deliberately deployed in positions where wind speeds rarely, if ever, drop to zero, (offshore, for instance, where there are usually well above average wind speeds).  Moreover, they are designed to be able to generate electricity while turning at relatively low speeds which require only gentle winds.  Besides, wind power isn't the only form of renewable energy - solar power generation, for instance, is becoming ever more significant.  (Yeah, I know, if the sun goes in you'll have no electricity, etc).  But why let facts get in the way of your bigotry - ignorance is far easier.  In fact, it's bliss, so I'm told.  Especially if you are some sinister right wing cunt out to destroy civil society as we know it in search of a quick buck.

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Monday, March 11, 2019

A Route to an Interlude

An interlude.  That's what my life needs right now.  It happens all the time in books and films: people suddenly drop out of their usual hum drum lives and go off on some kind of adventure.  Or if not an adventure, some kind of life-changing experience.  Or, if not that, they retreat to some rural hideaway, where they contemplate their lives, before returning, spiritually refreshed.  In essence, they go off and be someone else for a while, live a different life, see and do different things.  A bit like being on holiday, but without the stress and the pressure to relentlessly enjoy yourself.  Also, unlike a holiday, an interlude's duration is indeterminate.  These interludes often seem to involve romances, or encounters with strange and beguiling women.  All in all, it sounds the sort of thing I could do with right now.  I really feel that I need something to change, so that I don't feel that I'm on a bloody treadmill all the time.  I just need the promise of something interesting, perhaps even challenging, coming into my life, if only temporarily, because, right now, work is boring me to tears.  Part of the problem has been in going down to only four days a week: my long weekends just highlight how dull the rest of the week is. 

The question is, though, just how does one instigate one of these interludes?  I've noticed that the fictional ones often start with picking up some female hitch hiker who turns out to be either some kind of wild free spirit who drags you off at a tangent, or a secret agent who embroils you in some kind of bizarre and dangerous caper, or is on the run from organised crime, involving you in some kind of desperate chase.  There's also the possibility that they might turn out to be a dangerous psychopath, (they certainly are in all the exploitation films I've seen) - which is why I tend never to pick up hitch hikers.  That and the fact that since I've been driving the Saab, I've become very picky about who I allow near my full leather upholstery.  If it isn't picking up random women, then these interludes frequently seem to be instigated by being mistaken for someone else: like Cary Grant in North by Northwest.  Mind you, I have no head for heights, so hanging off of Mount Rushmore would be out in such a scenario.  Putting small ads in newspapers, (or even, I suppose, newsagents' windows), seeking adventure, or offering your 'services' is, according to fiction, a good way of transitioning into an interlude.  Although you risk being mistaken for a an escort, some kind of pervert or a hit man for hire. 

So, all I need to do now is instigate some kind of interlude in my life - perhaps I need to overcome my aversion/fear of hitch hikers, as this seems the easiest way.  I can always get seat covers to protect the Saab's leather.  Trouble is that the only hitch hikers I ever see are heavily bearde hairy blokes with huge rucksacks and questionable personal hygiene...


Friday, March 08, 2019

'I Crushed the Dope-Crazed Sex Smugglers'

Now, the obvious assumption the casual viewer of this 1963 Man's Exploits would make is that the cover illustration makes reference to the 'We Saved the Blonde Beauties from the Piranha Horror..." caption.  But does it?  I mean, where are the piranhas?  That's a snake menacing those two whipped and bound young women in decorous states of undress.  One of whom is a redhead, rather than a blonde. The illustration could equally fit with 'The Brutal Red Spy Master Who Tortured his Mata Haris!', or even 'I Crushed the Dope Crazed Sex Smugglers'.  After all, you'd have to be dope crazed to be tying up women, whipping them and throwing them into tanks with water snakes.  There's also a good chance that it is a 'generic' cover, chosen precisely because it could, at a pinch, fit several of the stories being plugged.  Indeed, men's magazine covers were often re-used by different magazines in the same stable, usually years apart, when they more-or-less fitted one or more stories in a forthcoming issue.  It was an obvious way to cut costs.

Whichever story is being illustrated, the cover is pretty typical of its era and genre.  All the popular elements are there: the girls in their underwear, their brutalisation by villainous men, the bizarre method of torture and/or execution, even a whip.  The somewhat stiff and unnatural posing of the female characters is also typical - possibly dictated by the prevailing dictates of newsstand 'decency' of the day.  The artists were probably under orders not to have them writhing around in any manner that could be construed as sexually provocative or, even worse, implying that they might be enjoying their ordeal. (Interior illustrations tended to be much less restricted, with plenty of bare breasts on display).  The slightly bemused, rather than terrified, expressions they wear are also pretty much typical of these illustrations.  Most men's magazine covers of the era enacted variations on this theme: often the torturers were uniformed Nazis, variously freezing, incinerating or covering in molten gold buxom underwear clad beauties.  Animal menaces like the snake were also popular and included everything from mink to gorillas.  Sometimes a male would be rescuer would feature, either themselves captured and forced to watch the deprivations being carried out on the women, or sometimes seen sneaking up on the unsuspecting torturers as the go about their business.  Whatever the variation, no matter how bizarre the scenario, the underlying theme of misogyny was constant.  These were men's magazines, after all.

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Thursday, March 07, 2019

Mondo Freudo (1966)

Ever more desperate for new angles with which to frame and legitimise their, mainly faked, footage, Mondo movie makers came up with ever more bizarre premises for their movies.   Consequently, the producers of Mondo Freudo make the preposterous claim that their film somehow explores the 'world of Sigmund Freud' in a desperate grasping at some shreds of credibility.  Unfortunately, they seem to think that the work of Freud equates to sex - the more perverse and shocking the better.  Now, I'm no expert on Freudian psychiatric theory, but I'm familiar enough with his work to know that it is about a lot more than simply sex.  It's true that is work explored the psycho-sexual aspect of human behaviour (and his one time colleague Carl Jung did eventually break with on the grounds that Freud was putting too much emphasis on sex), but I somehow doubt that he would have endorsed this film.

As ever, the film's target audience are repressed middle aged men convinced that somebody, somewhere, is getting more than their fair share of sex.  As Philip Larkin once noted, sex was invented in the sixties - suddenly it seemed to be everywhere and if you weren't getting it, there was something wrong with you.  The media perpetuated the idea that there were various 'hot spots' around the world - such as London's Soho, Japan, Mexico, Berlin - where not just regular sex was available 'on tap', but also more exotic varieties that men could only dream of, (or read about in the lurid pages of men's magazines).  Mondo Freudo sets out to exploit those furtive thrill seekers too timid to actually go to these places and see for themselves what was happening in this new world of sex, (not much, in reality), by going there for them.  Or not, as the case might be: wherever the various bits of footage making up the film purport to have been shot, they all look distinctly like California.  The 'exotic' sex presented includes a bit of Japanese S&M, a Mexican sex slave auction (a favourite theme in these films) and some London lesbians.  The fact that lesbians are presented as some kind of fabled creature speaks volumes as to the sort of audience the film was aimed at.

If all the business about using cameras with powerful telescopic lenses to secretly capture the action sounds familiar, it is because the trailer for Mondo Bizarro, which we looked at a while ago, uses the same schtick.  Which isn't surprising as both are from the stable of producer/director/writer/editor R L Frost, who, when not putting together these mock Mondos using faked footage, was busily assembling 'genuine' Mondos from chopped up and re-purposed footage from Italian originals.  Of course, the emphasis upon using these cameras fundamentally alters the whole character of the Mondo from supposed documentaries using footage filmed with the knowledge and consent of the participants, to pure voyeurism.   A voyeurism that 'takes you to places you never dreamed of', but only if you are very unimaginative. 


Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Modesty Blaise (1966)

Parodies are surprisingly difficult to pull off.  For one thing, they require an understanding of whatever it is that they seek to parody, be it an individual, a specific character or film, or even entire genre.  Arguably, the best parodies are those made by people actually love what they are parodying.  Adaptations from one medium to another are equally difficult - should it be as literal as possible, how 'respectful' to its source should the adaptation be, should it be faithful in 'spirit' rather than to the letter?   Modesty Blaise tries, and fails, to be both of these things: it purports to be based on the popular Peter O'Donnell comic strip while at the same time being a parody of the early Bond movies and, by extension, the whole sixties spy film craze.  The problem with this approach, of course, is that the comic strip was, in no way, a parody of Bond.  While the strip's original commission for the Daily Mail in 1963 doubtless owed something to the success of the previous year's Dr No film adaptation, it had been conceived by O'Donnell many years previously, his original concept pre-dating the first of Ian Fleming's novels.

In deciding to make the film some kind of parody, the makers had to jettison just about everything that made the comic strip distinctive and popular.  The title character is no longer the capable and multi-talented woman of action of the strip, but instead a fashionable clothes-horse who seems overly reliant upon others to get her out of difficult situations.  Twice in major set pieces, including during her climactic fight with the main villainess, she has to be rescued by side kick Willie Garvin, for instance.  In fact, throughout the course of the film she seems actually to do very little, more often reacting to events than being proactive.  Her influence on the way the plot unfolds seems quite negligible.  Rather than getting involved in the action, the Modesty Blaise of the film seems more interested in sporting a variety of chic outfits and hair styles.  The film also alters her relationship with Garvin, suggesting, in the latter third of the film, that it might yet be come more than the purely platonic friendship of the strip. 

But if the film doesn't appear to understand its source material, it equally doesn't seem to understand the spy movie genre it seeks to parody.  Sure, there are lots of gadgets even more ludicrous and outrageous than those in the Bond films, while the heroine's constant costume changes reflect the styles sported by the various Bond girls.  There is also an eccentric mega-villain with a a world-spanning crime organisation, an island hideout and an intricate plot to hijack a consignment of diamonds and the whole thing climaxes with an Arab Sheik and his men riding to the rescue in the manner of the US Army in Goldfinger or US Navy in Thunderball.  But while similar elements might be found in the average Bond movie (or any of their imitators), they aren't what the Bond films were about.  The Bond movies of the sixties were, in part, post-Imperial fantasies of Britain still being able to 'punch above its weight' in world affairs, and equal measure an attempt to reassert 'masculine values' in a changing world.  As well as gender politics, they are also about social class, wealth and consumerism, (Bond, for instance, has sufficient 'class' to be a guest atM's club, but not be considered for membership, while most of the villains have wealth - demonstrated by their possession of expensive consumer goods - but would never be considered 'socially acceptable' in the 'right' circles.  It is notable that in Moonraker, (the novel rather than the film),Sir Hugo Drax is initially given away by his propensity for cheating at cards - something a 'gentleman' would never do -while in On Her Majesty's Secret Service Blofeld seeks legitimacy through his claim to a title).

None of these things are reflected in Modesty Blaise, with the parody elements working on only the most superficial level.  But, once again,  the biggest flaw lies with the portrayal of the titular character.  Surely key to parodying a series of films (and indeed a whole genre) about a male chauvinist spy who regularly subjugates women, would be to present us with a hugely capable female lead who effectively puts such macho stereotypes in their place, (which, in effect, is what the source material does)?  Instead, Modesty is reduced to the level of a Bond girl, looking pretty and stylish, while being regularly imperiled and rescued by male characters.  Ultimately, the film's main idea of parody seems to be to try an subvert audience expectations with regard to the genre.  It presents an action-adventure film with little action - much is promised, with sequences seemingly building up to major set pieces, which then fail to materialise.  What action there is passes off in the most perfunctory manner, with the whole climactic sequence being undermined by Blaise and Garvin bursting into a musical number as they make what looks like it might be their last stand against the villains.

This apparently deliberate subversion of spy movie conventions is compounded by putting Joseph Losey in the director's chair.  Losey was essentially an art house director with no real feel for genre movies: he seems as ill at ease here as he had when in charge of Hammer's science fiction horror The Damned a couple of years earlier.  He has no sense of pace, with the film moving far too slowly to build up any sense of excitement or expectation and clearly has little or no interest in the action sequences (such as they are).  The main casting is also off, with Monica Vitti doing little to suggest the character of the strip and Terence Stamp's Willie Garvin coming over as a stereotyped cockney geezer character from just about any swinging sixties movie or TV series of the era.  Dirk Bogarde fares better as the the villain, Gabriel, a criminal mastermind with pretensions of culture who baulks at the more unpleasant side of his 'business', agonising over the fact, for instance, that the pilot of a jet he is about to have shot down has a wife and children.  (Though, in the end, this doesn't stop him from giving the order).  This is probably the only part of the subversion of expectations in the film that actually works, with Bogarde's Gabriel perversely seeming the most sympathetic character in the movie.  Clive Revill and Rossella Falk give him excellent support as his two main sidekicks.

But while Modesty Blaise might not be a successful film, it isn't exactly a bad film.  While he might not have had any empathy for the spy genre, Joseph Losey wasn't a bad director and he gives the film a great look, with inventive cinematography and beautifully composed shots, full of interesting camera angles, often literally framing characters by shooting them through windows, apertures, even art works.   Overall, it's production values are excellent, with superb costume and production design and boasts an enjoyable musical score from Johnny Dankworrth.  In the end, though, all of this is in vain, as the film fails as either an adaptation of its source material, or as a broader parody of its genre.  The fault for this lies fairly and squarely with the script.  O'Donnell, who was invited to write the original screen treatment, later complained that only one of his lines of dialogue survived into the finished script.  It is significant that O'Donnell subsequently novelised his original version of the script, which was published as Modesty Blaise a year before the film appeared and became a best-seller and the first of eleven Modesty Blaise novels.  The film, by contrast, turned out to be a huge box office flop,leaving both fans of the comic strip and spy movies frustrated.


Monday, March 04, 2019

Salving Our Consciences

As soon as David Lammy used the term 'White Saviour Syndrome' with regard to certain Comic Relief celebrities, I just knew what the reaction would be - and sadly, I've been proven right, as, on TV and radio phone ins and across social media, all the usual ignorant bigotry has come tumbling out.  All the usual stuff about 'ungrateful' recipients of our aid, how those bloody Africans won't help themselves and just sit around waiting for us nice white people to turn up with the money and last, but not least, the tired old allegation that Lammy is being racist for condemning white people trying to capitalise on their charity 'work'.  The latter nonsense, of course, demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of how racism actually works: it is based on power relationships.  Historically, white Europeans have had the power - be it political, economic or legal - to discriminate against non-whites who, because of their lack of power, couldn't possibly reciprocate.  Clearly, David Lammy, even though an MP, doesn't have the power to discriminate against anyone, white or otherwise.  (His words might, I suppose, be considered prejudicial against white people, but that's completely different).  The fact is, though, that he wasn't attacking anyone for simply being white, or saying that they shouldn't contribute to charities, just that they shouldn't exploit their charity work in order to boost their public profiles and egos.

Which, I'm afraid, is what a lot of this celebrity charity stuff is about.  All charity is, to an extent, about salving one's conscience: by making that contribution you convince yourself that you don't have to feel guilty about the fact that you are doing relatively OK while poverty, inequality, violence, famine and all those other old favourites are still at large in the world.  By giving some money, you can feel that you've 'done' something, without having to think about why the world is the way it is, without having to contemplate that the system might need fundamental change.  It's the same for celebrities, but more so - for them it is also a way of justifying their existences and high salaries.  Plus, there's always the matter of how it enhances one's public profile to be associated with worthy causes.  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm sure that there are plenty of people, celebrity or otherwise, who are perfectly sincere in their charity work.  Although, by and large, I suspect that they are the ones who don't seek publicity over it.  The specific problem Lammy was trying to highlight was just this - it is the way in which this charity work is framed which is the problem.  It potrays the recipients as passive victims and focuses on those providing the charity as 'saviours', coming to the rescue of these poor, helpless people, who become mere props for celebrity photo opportunities.  Obviously, his biggest 'mistake' has been in targeting a 'national institution' like Comic Relief .  Speaking personally, Comic Relief and the way it presents its work has always made me uneasy: it comes over as hopelessly patronising toward its recipients and all too often seems a vehicle to promote the public images of preening celebrities in search of photo opportunities.

Worst of all, it never seems to address the fact that most of the problems experienced by modern African states have their roots in European imperialism.  Yeah, I know that people here in the UK hate to be reminded of our role in the imperialist exploitation of large tracts of the globe, ('We can't be held responsible for the crimes of our ancestors', they cry, while simultaneously still going on about what the 'bloody Krauts' or 'bloody Japs' did in the war), but, nonetheless, we can't evade responsibility.  Charity drives can, in no way, address the situation adequately.  But, I've ranted enough.  The fat is that I simply don't like the very concept of charity, that the needy and disadvantaged should be subject to the whims of the better off when it comes to assistance.  I seem to recall that Clement Attlee once said something along the lines that if a rich man truly wanted to help the poor, he should pay his taxes.  Indeed, far more effective than releasing crappy charity singles, I'd say..

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Friday, March 01, 2019

Going Loco

Well, this is where we are with that model railway locomotive I've been working on for a couple of years now.  As you might recall, when I bought it, it was sporting an entirely fictional blue livery.  After labouriously stripping that off (and discovering that whoever did the painting hadn't stripped the factory coat off), I'm finally close to completing a repaint into the correct British Railways livery.  After two coats of matt black, a couple of coats of the correct shade of green have now been applied to the relevant areas, (after the abortive first attempt using Railmatch paint, which turned out to be far too dark - the Precision Paints BR standard green has dried to a far better match to the correct shade).

As you see the model's upperworks now, they are just waiting for some minor retouches to the black to dry.  Once dry, the buffer beams will be repainted red, after which lining transfers will be applied, before the smoke deflectors and handrails are replaced.  Then a number and nameplates will be added before it is reunited with its chassis.  Speaking of the chassis, this too is currently undergoing a repaint as the wheels, bogie and trailing truck had all been painted red, as had the tender chassis.  The cylinders were blue.  So far, the chassis tender frames have been repainted in their entirety, while the bogie, cylinders and driving wheels on one side of the chassis have so far been restored to black.

It has been a labourious and long drawn out process, halted for long periods by last year's illness and problems at work, but the end is finally in sight.  My shift to a four day working week this year has been a Godsend, finally giving me the time to press ahead with this project. Once completed, I've got another locomotive constructed from parts bought on eBay nearing completion - the tender still needs some minor work before it can be painted.  Thankfully, this second loco will be a far simpler painting job: as an unrebuilt light pacific with its 'streamlining' intact, it doesn't have any of the odd shapes and angles of the rebuilt pacific just painted and has very simple lining, so it should be a much quicker process.  In the meantime, I have a couple of shabby Trix coaches needing attention...