"Art is not a mirror with which to reflect the world; it is a hammer with which to shape it"

Monday, 24 December 2007

Fairytale Of New York

Fairytale Of New York, 1987. Directed by Peter Dougherty.

Uncut! Uncensored!! Inimitable!!!

…and I’m about to run out of memories! ;-)

By the way, have you ever noticed how the opening to this bears an uncanny resemblance to the synth opening of U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name? Anyway…

Happy Christmas!!!

One and All!!!

Stop The Cavalry

Stop The Cavalry, 1980. Director: Unknown.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Our House

Our House, 1982. Directed by Dave Robinson.

Two more promos that ‘meant something to me’… even though I can’t really recall what. Isn’t that the way with memories? I forget.

Two from The Nutty Boys, always guaranteed to brighten the day. Madness produced the first two albums that I used for ‘promotional purposes’… a friend leant me copies of what, at the time, we thought were Complete Madness and something called ‘Cairo East’, although now looks like the second may actually have been Absolutely with a missing outer sleeve!

The strange thing about Madness, in hindsight, is how out of time they seem. The music does seem to have a strange elegiac quality to it and there’s often a sadness to it all; a yearning for an already missing past. It Must Be Love: jokey promo which still manages to wring the heart-strings… how did they manage that? I suspect it might have been something called talent. Our House: possibly their best song coupled with their best promo. Again all that jokiness is undercut by the melancholy string sections. The promo seems to be harking back to the days of the Boultings, Carry On and Ealing and not with modern ‘mocking irony’ but with seemingly genuine affection; is filled with joie de vivre and musters more humour than most sitcoms can these days (by the way, has anybody else noticed how much the new St. Trinian’s film looks more than passingly like Spiceworld?). The line ‘she’s the one they’re going to miss in lots of ways’ brings a lump to the throat every time I hear it now: you never know what really matters until it’s gone…

It Must Be Love

It Must Be Love, 1981. Directed by Chris Gabrin.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Like A Prayer

Like A Prayer, 1989. Directed by Mary Lambert.

So classic there’s nothing much that needs to be added… so I won’t… Ha! Out-manoeuvred you again! I didn’t have house-room for Madonna until a few years back so I must have been more drawn to the promo than the song: nifty story, beautiful image making (so much so they’ve become a cliché) and a heady mix of steamy sensuality and fervent religiosity… made a major impact on my blank little mind and I loved the religious imagery. I think it was the whole image system that really caught my magpie eye. My only major quibble is the framing device that didn’t tend to get shown way back when, but it works… I guess. Mary Lambert went on to direct Pet Cemetery (sic).

It stirs a memory from somewhere of a million years ago in a different country: while on holiday I once saw one of those ‘Black Madonnas’… I can’t remember where but I’ve narrowed it down to two possibilities Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer or Rocamadour… if the W. is to be believed it may well be the latter. But I’m just not sure. There were fields of lavender around there somewhere as well… looked and smelled wonderful.

…and now I love the song as the well as the promo.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Ashes To Ashes

Ashes To Ashes, 1980. Directed by David Bowie and David Mallet.

Not sure how to introduce this bunch of random weird but that’s never stopped me before…

I sometimes wonder what made me interested in film and the visual arts in the first place. I tend to get a bit irritated when I see some of these interviews where a big name chappy says ‘when I saw **** I knew instantly that I had to make films’. I just didn’t have that moment of epiphany or, at least, I don't think I did. I never did have much memory of my earlier years and a close encounter with a Carlton 3000 GSi (wonderful blacked out windows it had) did for quite a lot more. For no readily apparent reason recently I’ve been remembering some of those early visuals that really got me excited and interested in ‘that sort of thing’ and I thought I’d tell you about a couple of those that have come back to me because I can’t think of anything better to harass you with I love you all greatly and feel a deep need to share!

The family didn’t get a VCR until maybe ’90 which was much later than everybody else I knew, and cinema was an expensive treat that happened once in a blue moon, but TV- that was readily available and what seemed to really make an impression on me quite early on were the fledgling and, in hindsight, somewhat rough pop promos.

I didn’t like Bowie until right recently but this promo sank deeply into my psyche. Everything in it seemed designed to be interesting: Harlequin, or was it Pierrot? (Robert Powell anyone?), padded cells, fires burning on beaches (very Shelley), the weird colour shifts (like some wild DW CSO), images within images, the negative images, pseudo-nuns, strange religiose marches, ink black seas breaking on post-apocalyptic shores and bizarre fleshly underground chambers… Watching again reminded me how much of it I’d forgotten and how this seems to sum up a nifty chunk of my inner showreel… the odd thing is, for good or ill, I’m not sure if I commit much, if any, of this stuff to paper! Oh, and I love the large bulldozer probably because it reminds me of the times my Dad would take me down onto various sites and I was able watch all the JCBs and Barber-Greenes in action and, in Winter, the Maggy-Deutz's.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

OK Computer

So what ‘very important thing’ shall I post about today? Global warming? Economic meltdown? Possible timetable for nuclear war? Nah! Let’s go with a post for people like me… idiots!

Or more precisely, this is a post for all those people like me who are normally quite sane and intelligent* but when confronted by technology turn into a particularly stupid two-year old. And so to a modern morality tale... or at least a modern tale with some sort of moral. Or maybe even a moral with some sort of modernity in its tale. Don’t ask me…

Sometimes my head is filled with luminous luxuriant thoughts brimming full of such magnificence and glory that the sun itself could be dimmed by them; of course, mainly my thoughts tend to burble along like a clear mountain stream with a song that sings of cats, music, cats, film, cats, music, cars, music, cats and cats… And, of course, sometimes my head is just filled with a sort of molasses-like drivel that makes no sense to man nor beast.

Of late my laptop slowed to a crawl… taking upwards of five to ten minutes to load a single web page, so I gave up trying, and at one point became so gummed up that it took over an hour to become unstuck again. Now, does my poor beleaguered head tell me to think through things logically and work out how to resolve them amicably for all parties concerned? Or does it tell me to run round the ramparts wailing and gnashing my teeth waving my fist angrily at a vengeful God? Give you a clue: wasn’t the former. Finally, the brain found some semblance of sanity and remembered what I used to do on a semi-regular basis. Before the rot set in.

And here comes the moral for all the technophobes and fellow idiots out there…

Laptops, and presumably other devices, have various things lurking around inside them. These things are sometimes put there to help. There is a thing called ‘Cache’. This needs clearing out on occasion. There is a thing called ‘cookies’. These should be eaten occasionally and the crumbs disposed into the midden. If you have an ‘Ad-aware’… use it. Oh, and properly turning off ‘the machine’ rather than always just shutting the lid for hibernation is a good way of clearing the virtual memory. And lo, when all these things had been accomplished, it was good: the laptop did work wonderfully and, indeed, the internet was not actually broken.

And the moral of the story? Sometimes it’s not just the technology that’s out to get us; sometimes it’s given a more than adequate helping hand by the fool with the opposable thumbs.

Of course, the good thing about all this is that I’ve been able to take a longer than usual break from the screen which has allowed my eyes to settle back to that whole being able to see properly thing.

So, onto other mindless trivia exciting** news. I’ve spent a good deal of the last couple of weeks worrying about the fluffiest of the cats (known variously as Billy or Flib but known to himself only by his own private cat name… the only thing he actually reacts to is the sound of a mousse lid being peeled back- he just can’t spell!). So, Bill Flib came in and settled to doing absolutely nothing for a couple of days having been out scrapping all night… He’d only managed to get a hole carved out of him the size of a marble… no blood but the world’s largest quantity of vile smelling pus. And so a trip to vet to get it looked at and a second trip to the vet because I decided to worry unnecessarily. The vet cleaned the wound with a cotton-bud and the thing went in and under the skin about an inch: watching inanimate objects entering living flash where they didn’t ought is a genuinely bizarre sight. So for a while he was more a pusycat. I was very surprised at how fast this managed to heal up: two weeks to go from gaping wound to mere scab. Staggering!

Other exciting*** non-news: a CD bought on the highly addictive eBay arrived. The Best Of X-Mal Deutschland, apparently pressed in Brazil^ but bought from a nice chap in Poland. Took a grand total of 5 days to arrive which is far faster than most Brits can manage. It’s very good- how’s that for reviewing prowess? And also arriving was a nice 5-disc Stravinsky set (Orchestre de la Suisse Romande conducted by Neeme Järvi) which was a present to me from me. And I’ve gone back to ‘Untitled Conspiracy Thriller’ (UCT) with the intention of making it work properly this time. I’ve gone back to first principles and the entire plot is now on small scraps of paper pinned to a board. Currently, the major problem is the missing last ten minutes: I don’t particularly want to ‘do a Schrader’. This ending issue also seems to have flummoxed those who’ve trodden this road before me. I know these things: I checked.

And in the immortal words of Columbo ‘just one more thing’: does anybody know if the woman in the Bold 3-in-1 advert is the lovely Nicola Bryant, formerly of Doctor Who…?

*You’ve never met me… you can’t contradict!
**Legal note: I’m using the word in the loosest possible meaning of the word.
***Again with the lies!
^Not sure how legitimate this actually is but the quality’s good as are the songs.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Know Your Rights

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
-Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, 1791

When I hear of the latest killing spree, when I see the footage of emergency teams stretchering out bodies, more often than not in the United States, I feel a hollow empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. I find myself shaking my head because I am no longer shocked given the seeming inevitablity of these events. Now, the only thing left to be shocked by is the size of the number preceding the word victims. I’m sure I sound very liberal, limp and wet to almost any American who stumbles across this but I sound liberal, limp and wet in a Britain remarkably spree killing free.

This time in Nebraska a 19 year old man, who I won’t name, shot and killed eight people and injured at least four others. The names of the victims (two customers, six employees)* are Gary Scharf, 48; John McDonald, 65; Angie Shuster, 36; Maggie Webb, 24; Janet Jorgensen, 66; Diane Trent, 53; Gary Joy, 56; Beverly Flynn, 47. Sadly, the killer’s name will be the more remembered; the victims will become a mere footnote to all but their friends and families.

I don’t hold with total bans on firearms: I think the Draconian British ban on certain types of firearms was a knee-jerk reaction to exceptional events and has been ill-advised and unproductive- there is nothing wrong with sensible, well-licenced and regulated gun ownership- ask the British Olympic shooting team. However, I find it hard to fathom what possible reasons there might be for private ownership of an AK-47. The Right to Bear Arms is specifically historically rooted and, sadly, we Brits are in fact to blame for it. Sorry for that. But just once after one of these spree killings I would like to hear a majority in the U.S. or a few Congressmen ask why do we need all these guns? No doubt the old mantra is already being rehearsed: ‘guns don’t kill people, people do’- so why not limit the people allowed to have guns?

The killer’s suicide note apparently stated he wanted to ‘go out in style’: he wanted to be a celebrity and seemingly this was his only way. Celebrity would now appear to have become so idolized and all-important that it no longer matters what dubious achievment attains it or whether you even live to ‘bask’ in it. A prime-time flash of breast, a night-vision filmed internet-displayed blow-job, a live bug menu or an ability to gun down the innocent… apparently anything will do.

Does it help that killers are elevated to a position of ersatz celebrity? Manson, Brady, Hindley, Dahmer, Bundy, Gein, West… we always remember the names of the killer over their victims… even better to be Chapman, Hinckley or Oswald and kill (or try to kill) a celebrity… can’t achieve success by yourself? Ride on the back of someone else’s. Remember ‘Charlie don’t surf’? Hilarious. Seven acts of butchery, a million ‘ironic’ t-shirt sales.**

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person.”
-Article 3, Universal Declaration Of Human Rights

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights… Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”
-United States Declaration Of Independence, 1776

...as long as you're the one holding the gun.

*Sourced at Wikipedia.
**And, yes, the line came from Apocalypse Now and referred to ‘Victor Charlie’, VC, Viet-Cong but it’s long since been expropriated.

Saturday, 1 December 2007


“I don’t think there is anything wrong in having a religious conviction… (but) you talk about it in our system and, frankly, people do think you’re a nutter.”
-Tony Blair, The Blair Years, Episode 3

“God doesn’t exist, grow up.” “Those of us who have reached the age of reason and aren’t afraid of the dark would really like all of the god-botherers to stop bothering us, thanks. … I have had it up to here with the lot of you. Fuck off and fuck off now.”
-a recent screenwriting blogger's posting.

Now, before I get started I want to make it absolutely clear that this posting is NOT about whether a God, or Gods, actually exists or whether any particular brand of worshipping in a Theistic system may be preferable over any other. This post is about something else and will mainly consist of questions…

This post was prompted by several events that seem have occurred one on top of the other but primarily by something over at Potdoll’s Palace. I first started reading the Scribosphere (the blogs primarily devoted to screenwriting) in earnest about five months ago, and you’re all jolly nice people by the way^, and I’ve found there’s much wisdom to be found here (I wish I had something constructive to add to it- I only seem to have opinions and questions!). Shortly after this inauspicious arrival there were a number of posts from various people proclaiming their Atheism. This started me thinking about something which I then put to one side and promptly forgot all about. Then the other day at Potdoll’s someone quoted a hymn but immediately qualified it with ‘I’m not a believer’… and it got me thinking again, why the need to make this clear, people quote from Shakespeare and yet nobody qualifies it with ‘I’m not a Shakespearean’ or ‘I’m not an actor’. Why would it so necessary to clarify lack of belief? Then as if to prove a point there appeared the post from which the above quote appeared.*

My exact question on Potdoll’s post was ‘is there anybody out there prepared to admit to being a Believer?’ I didn’t even realise until it was mentioned that I’d used the word ‘admit’: not profess, proclaim, declare or even just mention, but admit as if it was something shameful- people admit crimes, they admit affairs- they admit things they think they should feel guilty about- but should Theistic belief be such a thing?

I’ve been around various branches of the Arts for longer than I care to remember and in all that time I can only recall four Christians who would openly acknowledge their Faith (one tutor and three students- one from Saint Helena, one from South Korea, one from Britain) but I did find a few who were but wouldn’t publicly acknowledge. All the Muslims and Hindus have been comfortable to profess their belief and, intriguingly, the reaction to their beliefs from others has tended to be more favourable as well- I hope it was not from some patronizing paternalistic attitude or from some notion of inherent exoticism. On the other hand, I have found a large number of proud Atheists including at least three tutors who have belittled both belief and believers, in some instants to the face of the above mentioned believers (not as part of reasoned debate but purely from scorn or ridicule).

It is certainly part of the British psyche to avoid talking too much about various things: religion, pay packet size, being good at things, being proud of things, etc. and the British do seem to cringe when they hear others discussing their Faith. So a certain reticence is understandable. The British are good at reticence! Not that I’d want to boast about it! This all raises a series of questions for me in three distinct areas…

Why do so many screenwriters (and artists in general**) seem to have no Theistic beliefs? Why is this view so prevalent in the arts? Is it harder for we artists to acknowledge a Creator given that we ourselves create on a daily basis? Is it because writers are often highly educated and it is known that there are higher levels of Atheism concomitant with higher levels of education. (Although, it should be noted, there are also many educated people who are devout.)

Are people embarrassed to admit a religious faith amidst such vocal Atheism? And is this particularly so in places like the Scribosphere? If even the (ex-) Prime Minister is embarrassed to mention his religious beliefs why would any of the rest of you Scribes find it any easier? Is it easier to admit to drug-taking than a belief system? Could it be that because the Atheists are more highly educated than the Theists that the believers are not capable of the requisite skill for constructive argument and debate and so prefer to remain silent? Could it be that people don’t mention anything because a strident belief might offend other people? For example, this week an invited guest speaker, Cristina Odone, was stopped from giving a sermon in favour of outward religious expression at a church carol service because it might offend any Atheists in the audience.

General Population
The high levels of non-belief amongst writers and artists are more intriguing given the statistics for the general British population. At the last census (2001) four-fifths of the UK profess to some sort of religious faith (of the others, 15.5% stated no religion and 7.3% refused to say: presumably this included all those Jedi Knights!); subsequent surveys in various newspapers from Left and Right seem to show a general 75-85% belief rate for Britain. Is it advantageous or disadvantageous to be out of sync. with the majority view? Does this or should this give carte blanche to the artist to offend at will those who do believe? Does this mean when writing it is harder to justify belief than disbelief? Does this lack of sympathy (or downright hostility) with believers mean that we writers find making fair representations of religious matters and people harder to achieve?***

As Potdoll suggested “maybe writing is getting more popular because less of us believe? Is it another way to 'transcend' death? Is religion more private than it used to be?”

Is it possible that the general lack of contact with death in our daily lives has made thoughts of a hereafter or a higher purpose to life less necessary? Does an absence of faith mirror a sense of betrayal with religion? Have our creative impulses become a replacement for God? Has the potential of our works to survive us become our pathway to immortality? Has our creativity become our way of working through our problems, neuroses and paranoias; our psychiatry, our confession and our salvation?

“Thank you and may your God go with you”
-Dave Allen

^Blatant sucking up, you lovely, lovely people! ;-)
*And was quite swiftly removed as well!
**The one exception would appear to be composers for some reason… Tavener, Macmillan, Glass, etc.
***Watching the last 7 years of Doctors, as I have, would give a good example of this!

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Gold Against The Soul: Solidarity

The Writers Guild strike is actually very simple to understand. Writers appear to be the only creators to whom the rules of copyrights and patents do not properly apply.

Invent a food processor and licence it… you get a royalty; write a piece of music and licence it… you get a royalty; write a novel and licence it… you get a royalty…

Write a script and… er… er...

Without the originators of the ideas there are no ideas, no innovations and no products!

Hopefully the US Strike will prove conclusively that in any creative endeavour the worker truly does control the means of production.

Monday, 26 November 2007

War Ensemble

So, as you may remember the other week, Muppet that I am, I managed to fall like a sack of spuds and managed to land on my wrist and give me what was a ‘minor sprain’. Unfortunately I have a high pain threshold (my 'physio' told me that a decade ago- I’ll tell you why some other time) and a relatively weak connexion to the real world so I was left with two choices… ‘A’, I rest the wrist and let it get better or ‘B’, I decide to ignore it and get on with it… well, I asked the audience and they said ‘A’ so I automatically chose ‘B’! Hoorah for sheer unrivalled pig-headed stupidity! After a day of trying to continue as normal I realised that there’s a reason the audience votes for ‘A’. So, having managed to successfully exacerbate the problem for twenty-four hours I decided to settle… now, my wrist is strapped up which at least reminds me that I really have to try and stop using it. It really is hard to avoid using your right hand! By the way, this episode made me realise I have a USP for any future spouse: I’m immune ‘man-ill’! So, if any future spouse can cope with my wonderful ability to get physical injuries that I don’t notice until they’re properly damaged they’ll discover that at least I don’t get ‘man-ill’. While I’ve been trying not to do anything, I really can’t stop my mind mulching thoughts around and I can’t stop scratching little notes on pretty much everything. So, here’s just a simple, easy-to-type, non-contentious thought I had recently before I return to my hibernation…


I found out a couple of weeks ago that Kenneth Branagh’s new film is a big-screen adaptation of Mozart’s opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). ‘Hoorah!’ I thought, ‘culture for the masses!’. But wait… there’s more! This is Mozart’s The Magic Flute set in the World War I trenches!.

As far I’m concerned it’s not hard:

  • Mozart on film: fine…
  • Opera on film: fine…
  • WWI on film: fine…
  • Mozart Opera set in WWI on film… conceptual disaster!

The first problem is that, while Mozart is a great composer*, opera has always had a rough time in translation to the screen. The problems are diverse but the biggest tend to be:

  • operas are often very long (Wagner’s Parsifal clocks in at just over 4 hours, Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg is about half an hour longer and Messiaen’s Saint-François D’Assise is recognized as the longest standard repertoire opera at around 5 hours); ironically, there are some short ones extant because they were commissioned for television or written for audiences of children;
  • operas are full of singing (I know it’s obvious) and while people are standing around singing they’re not actually doing very much of anything else like blowing up Mittel-European terrorists, spearing sharks or, often, even moving around very much; effectively operas are visually static and for a medium like film which thrives on visual action this is not a ‘good thing’;
  • casting an opera for the theatre is primarily done for vocal considerations rather than acting ability so opera singers are rarely any good at the acting part any way;
  • casting operas for the stage still ends up with weaker singers due to the unavailability of the ideal performer for a role- this also happens with the recordings (opera recordings are very expensive and the first recording officially topping one million pounds was Solti’s recording of Richard Strauss’ Die Frau Ohne Schatten for ‘the Opera company’ Decca in the early ’90s. It could be argued that Solti’s recording sessions of Wagner’s Ring Cycle would be more if they were adjusted for inflation.) So, if you can’t assemble the perfect cast for a run at the opera house or the recording sessions why should it be any easier to find a 6 week window for a film?
  • operas are frequently unrealistic and fantastical yet somehow get away with it, presumably due to the 'willing suspension of disbelief' that is more easily achieved in a stage setting than in more realistic film- from the destruction of Valhalla in Götterdämmerung to Violetta in La Traviata warbling on over-dramatically for 10 minutes about how she’s dying from consumption when in reality she’d mainly be lying back on the bed coughing up blood while people poked her with sticks from quite a long way away.

Die Zauberflöte is one of the most fantastic and unrealistic of all operas and features a story which nobody has ever quite untangled which goes on about ancient figures from Persian and Egyptian mythology coupled with a narrative primarily revolving around some kind of expression of the various Masonic trials**. I can’t recall ever reading anybody actually having fully deciphered it though some people have suggested that it may well just have been nonsense that Mozart and his librettist, Schikaneder, cooked up as a mickey-take. The opera has a very bizarre complicated story which has much to do with symbolism, mirroring and a symmetry of structuring and characterization.

The First World War, for those who live on Mars or are Rachel and Joey from Friends, was a nasty incident that occurred from 1914 to 1918 and primarily involved aristocrats ordering heavily laden soldiers to walk slowly through thick mud towards heavy machine guns. Less frivolously put, it was horrendous and even ITV’s otherwise excellent My Boy Jack, I suspect, downplayed the truth considerably. The First World War was true horror. On the notorious first day of the Somme some 19,000+ British soldiers were killed in about 12 hours: this works out around one death every two seconds for half a day. These figures don’t even include 38,000+ British casualties; 7,000 French and 10,000 Germans. Is it really appropriate to set a light, essentially frivolous opera amongst this misery and suffering?

The Magic Flute project has apparently cost some £13million (or £27m on The Late Review although I suspect they meant dollars). You can see the trailer on the official site and there gaze in bemused awe at the bizarre nature of it all… nuns dancing in the middle of the battlefield, soldiers tied to burning windmill sails, giant lips, bad CGI… it is actually quite hard to work out where the money went. Lengthier sections were shown on The Late Review complete with a stylized (idealized?) version of the First World War complete with pastel uniforms. Through these excerpts it also seemed to be somewhat kitsch, quite ‘camp’ (for want of a better world) and very ‘eccentrically’ directed with wild camera movements and angles of such a hallucinatory feel as to make Apocalypse Now look sane. To me the key to filmed opera is surely to prevent the audience from thinking that what they’re looking at is of an essentially theatrical or artificial origin, to make the whole thing become so immediately alive and real as to distract from the peculiarity and no matter how light the opera may be it should be made in all seriousness- as they say comedy is a serious business! Consider how many film-makers deal with the fantastic without making the audience step out of the reality of the fantastic: Terry Gilliam, David Cronenberg, Tim Burton, etc. It would be intriguing to see what they might do if filming an opera! More worryingly, from looking at the clips one questions recurs, who is this expensive creation aimed at? People who don’t like opera won’t go; people who do may well be put off. This would make it seem like work done solely for the benefit of a select few (mainly the creators): certainly it’s not an attempt to disseminate culture to the non-opera house masses^. Of course it’s always possible to make strange elements work, Cabaret shouldn’t work and does so amazingly well^^ and if you compare it to the straight dramatic version, I Am A Camera (1955, Henry Cornelius), it’s possible to see how well Cabaret really does work.

The Magic Flute libretto has been re-translated from the German by Stephen Fry so will be nothing less than literate (even if, in my not-so-humble opinion, he did completely miss the point of Vile Bodies- Waugh didn’t like the rich fly-by-night lifestyle and satirized it while Fry seemed enamoured of it and content to lionize it, this may not have been his intention but it’s certainly how it comes across to me) but I fear nothing will save a creation, a Frankenstein’s monster if you will, born of such disparate and jarring elements. The whole conceit of the film seems to be wilful, elitist and borderline offensive.

They’ll be doing musicals of singing nuns and Nazis before long… just you wait and see!

*Mozart worked bloody hard at his work and his scores are over-written with a large number of corrections despite what that Schaffer wrote in Amadeus. Amadeus is a rather good film but it’s so factually inaccurate it might just as well have called the composers Pinky & Perky. To paraphrase ‘Shattered Glass’… ‘is anything accurate here?’ ‘there was a Mozart apparently’.
**For a good starter you could try watching Inspector Morse: The Masonic Mysteries… it’s shown on a TV channel somewhere often enough!

^Which certainly excludes me: the tickets are excruciatingly expensive!
^^One of the best films ever made… see I do actually like some films!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Pretty Vacant

As you will now know, unless you have been ‘living in a box on Mars’*, 25 million Britons’ details (15 million adults, 10 million children)… names, addresses, dates of birth, child benefit numbers, National Insurance numbers, bank and/or building society details have been put onto two computer discs by the Child Benefit Agency at the HMRC by request of the National Audit Office. These were then sent to the NAO. By post. Unregistered. And got lost. And could be coming to a post office, letterbox, ditch, criminal mastermind’s mountain lair near you soon…

This isn’t the first Government data security disaster: 42 HMRC laptops containing confidential information have been lost already this year, including one containing the details of 15,000 customers of just one building society; the junior doctor application system was unsecured and personal details were open to all online; the UK Visa applications system was unsecured and personal details were open to all online and the DWP had the details of 1,500 staff swiped and used in a tax fraud…

Thank God this Government isn’t thinking of setting up some kind of vast national database with the details of every man, woman and child on it; and thankfully this database won’t contain any important details like National Insurance numbers, iris scans, fingerprints and potentially another 47 pieces of information; thankfully this Act hasn’t already been put before, and passed by, Parliament in some sort of sinister fait accompli…
…I just hope they spent the price of not registering that mail on something really worthwhile because it’s going to cost a lot more!

*Thank you The Simpsons.
**By the way, the wrist’s now nicely swollen and I’ve had to type this, letter by letter, with the end of my nose… I share because I care!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

The Facts Of Life

Today you’ll just have to put up with a random unfocused musing. My leg went numb in my sleep and this morning when I was got up I tried to put some weight on it, fell ass-over-tip and, of course, my hand went out to break the fall. Minor wrist sprain, no great shakes... I'm more concerned about the landing on my ribs, given that I broke three of them many years ago since when they've never stopped hurting, particularly when I do that whole breathing in thing... So, what you’re getting is spell-checked but not especially brain-checked! (The bulk of this post was actually written yesterday though- so not much of an excuse really!)

So, on Sunday those good people at the BBC showed the enjoyable comedy How To Murder Your Wife (1965, Richard Quine*)^ starring the ever dependable Jack Lemmon and, surprisingly, Terry-Thomas. The basic story is of Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon), a newspaper cartoon strip writer-artist who lives a happy well-ordered playboy bachelor life aided by his British manservant and general factotum, Charles (Terry-Thomas). The cartoon strip chronicles the travails of a super-spy named Bash Brannigan. Stanley tests out the basics of his stories for the character in real life before inking them up. Then, after a drunken party Stanley wakes to discover he’s married to the Italian Miss Galaxy contestant who wants to change pretty much everything about his well-ordered life and Charles quits his employ. So, Stanley writes this marriage development into the Brannigan strip (and doubles his audience) but as he vents his (humorous) frustrations through the strip his thoughts turn to murder: he rehearses Brannigan’s wife-killing murder plot in reality (though without wifely participation) then inks it up and publishes. Of course, his wife leaves him and he’s promptly arrested for her murder… the evidence is damning and his confession witnessed by 80 million readers of his syndicated cartoon strip…

Right, so what’s actually happened is a bloke researches and rehearses a plot for a fiction which is then mistaken for reality. A slightly more obscure film, the comedy Please Turn Over (1959, Gerald Thomas), from the writer that brought us the early more gentle black and white Carry On films, Norman Hudis, tells of a small 50’s English village that gets fired up over the publication of steamy novel written by the Headmaster’s over-imaginative teenage daughter who has clearly drawn all the characters from life but precisely none of the situations that she puts them in. Reputations are all in this village and so, for example, the imaginary revelations of womanizing by the local doctor are damaging. But what is so wrong, all this young woman has done is draw her characters from life and that’s what writers are meant to do, isn’t it?

So, here’s where I’m going. Where does fiction end and life begin or, alternatively, where does life end and fiction begin. In doing the research for a project these days you run the risk of breaking the law without knowing it: if you research methods of poisoning or bomb-making you could be unwittingly breaching one of the myriad recent Terrorism Acts. (Fight Club and Spooks both require- and give- information that could be material in the 'preparation of an act of terrorism'.) If you write your murder plot story in the wrong way it may end up looking like you’ve been plotting to kill your nearest and dearest.

For veracity’s sake you should research things but if you draw too shady a character from life you could end up indicting them and end up with both criminal and police on your back. (And how are you really meant to get in touch with these various nefarious characters in the first place?) If you delve too effectively into the underworld you may end up looking like you have been enjoying a bit of a double-life yourself! And if you just ground your characters too closely in people you know you may end up losing all your research subjects!

I’ve realised that the artist, writers in particular, is effectively committing themselves to a lifelong public Rorschach test, exposing their inner self on a regular basis for little remuneration. So, you’re meant to do the research without getting arrested, draw some characters from life without getting a ‘contract’ taken out on you or losing your friends then weld these to some original ideas and characters and situations. No matter how many times I’m told to the contrary I have never believed anything other than that the writer’s personality and stance seep in: they’re cutting their cloth from their imagination they can’t help but add some of themselves. A diamond may no longer be coal but its raw stuff is still carbon; such is the case with the writer. So now, the writer’s trying to avoid arrest, being the subject of a hit and worrying about giving too much away… such as their dark desires to invade Antarctica or ride off into the sunset with Skippy the Bush Kangaroo…

Now, if a writer puts the same characters, themes and situations in repeatedly there must be some reason, from trauma to obsession to deeply held belief, even if this doesn’t manifest itself in the most obvious of manners it will still be there. If you continually show shots of bare feet there may just be something going on; if there’s always a character plummeting from the heights the author may just have vertigo… There was an anecdote on The Culture Show the other week while Cronenberg was discussing his new film Eastern Promises. Cronenberg said that in the early 80’s he was at some event and saw Scorsese across the way. The two men finally spoke to each other and Scorsese confided that he’d been nervous about meeting someone he’d assumed to be disturbing given the nature of his films. Cronenberg thought this was amusing coming from the man who brought us Taxi Driver! But if a Scorsese can make such an assumption what hope for the rest of us…

I’d love to think I can keep myself covered and make sure I give nothing away but I’m sure as my body of specs are (when completed and) read in concentration they’ll give me away with every word on the page!

So to my conclusion… er, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t! So, I suppose you just have to get on with it and be damnd... or do nothing! I don't know... why you looking at me?

*Script by George Axelrod who also wrote the wonderful Breakfast At Tiffany’s.
^apologies for my continued use of the pro-director, anti-writer format but it’s how I was taught on my aborted Ba. and is the usual way these things are done.

In Deep Water

Anybody watching the news in Britain today will have seen that the Fishing Industry has come up again. And again the issue is over the quota business. In short: North Sea fishermen (particularly) can only land catches of certain varieties up to the quota limit. Anything of these varieties over the limit has to be thrown back into the sea to preserve the stocks… even though by this time it is dead and is now good for nothing but gull-food. It was quite clearly lunacy when I realised this several years ago and it’s clearly lunacy now. There are a couple of problems to contend with: firstly, if you let the fish land and be sold you are rewarding people for breaking the quotas and this will end up being flagrantly abused no matter how understanding the authorities are to genuine over-catches; next, the fish in the sea are a finite resource and must be protected; lastly, the throwing back of perfectly saleable edible dead fish is unethical, immoral and unbelievably wasteful. Trawling for one type of fish is the equivalent of taking a scoop of hundreds-and-thousands and hoping you'll only pull up red ones!

Personally, my idea, which is totally naïve and daft of course, is to allow the over-quota fish to be landed and sold but, instead of directly benefiting the fisherman (the under-quota catch to be sold for their direct benefit like now), the money goes into a hardship fund for the benefit of the whole fishing community: to be used when the quotas are fully filled and the fishing fleet is laid up. The fishermen don’t benefit directly and have no incentive to over fish; the fish aren’t wasted; once the quotas are filled the fishing stops as always but there is money available to benefit the fishermen during the off-times. I know… it’s stupid and I’m entirely sure the politicians will come up with something far better and more sensible… maybe some kind of quota system which involves throwing good fish back into the sea. Dead.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

We Can Work It Out

I found this in the Sunday Times’ Culture section a couple of weeks ago then promptly lost it before I could share. Now, I’ve found it once again…

“US television series are shaped by focus groups: the blond cop in Heroes was originally a redhead, but focus groups prefer blonds. More depressing is the case of the new Bionic Woman, starring the ex-EastEnders export Michelle Ryan, whose sisters was, in the unaired pilot, deaf, and spoke as if she were deaf. That made viewers uncomfortable, and now she is a “normally troubled” pot-smoker. Such cowardice may explain Bionic’s tumbling ratings.”
-14th October 2007

I realise movies have been subjected to test-screenings for many years and changes have been made accordingly: for all I know they’ve been doing it to TV forever (so let’s all acknowledge in advance that this could be some ill-conceived spleen-venting). However, I do find some of the above slightly disturbing and I’m left wondering about a few things. Makes me wonder whether this is a step on the path to the ultimate in team-writing… why don’t we just give the audience a long list of clichés and ask them to vote on which they’d like to see in their TV shows (and maybe this is how the writer’s strike will end- with audiences collectively writing the shows!). Also makes me wonder where that ultimately leaves the role of the creative imaginative writer who is capable of thinking outside of the ‘dressing-up box’. Makes me wonder about all those poor redhead actors whom the studios have just discovered don’t sit well with their audiences. More seriously, it makes me wonder how Marlee Maitlin is going to continue working. Makes me wonder about notions of equality. Makes me wonder why it’s acceptable to remove the disabled* just because they make the audience feel uncomfortable: do these same audiences cross the road when they see a wheelchair come towards them on the pavement; do they ask for a different shop assisstant if the one they’re talking to just happens to be deaf… because Heaven forbid that they should be made to feel uncomfortable.

Anyway, on a lighter note, it also reminded me of a story I heard a few years ago about the making of Friends. I read that in later series each episode took about 6-7 hours to film because when the studio audience didn’t laugh sufficiently loudly (did they use the infamous clapometer?) they got the writing team to rewrite the line until they got the requisitely loud laugh. How an audience who were sitting through tiny chunks of dialogue being flung at them could find this funny is beyond me. (‘Laugh or the doors will not be unlocked!’) Maybe the story was apocryphal. But it’s a good stick to beat Friends with… arguably the funniest and yet blandest sitcom in the history of television!

*Which I know is not the correct word but I’m no longer sure what the correct word is. Apologies! However, as I was registered disabled at University maybe I shouldn't get too worried about it!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

A Drug Against War

There was a story that seemed to sneak out over the weekend which didn’t garner much coverage. Is it hilarious? Is it sad? Does it even make sense? It doesn’t have anything to do with writing or the media but it seemed quite indicative of something or other.

Here’s the situation as far as I’ve deciphered it: Britain is currently suffering from a major shortage of morphine (for pain relief). Morphine is made from opium poppies. So, the government has approved the growing of opium poppies in Britain for the first time but it’s all got to be done in secret locations under tight security. However, I have heard of a place where there’s quite a lot of Opium. I’ll give you a clue, begins with ‘Afghani’ and ends in ‘Stan’.

Now, it seems the original plan in Afganistan was to take all the ‘evil’ opium (destined to be heroin) and destroy it. This plan hasn’t been working terribly well. It seems the Afgan opium farmers aren’t entirely happy with this it. So, over the weekend there’s been a new policy announced… we buy the opium off the Afghan farmers then we destroy it.

Now, here’s a vague thought, a little blue-sky thinking if you will… we buy the opium and then we… use it!

Now I’m no top-level politician so I’m not all smart so I may well be wrong but I could imagine a couple of advantages…
  • if we buy the opium (for a fair price… Fair Trade opium anyone?) it will break the supply chain of the 80-90% of heroin on British streets originating in Afghanistan,
  • we can ensure that the money goes straight to the Afgan farmer rather than going straight to the Taliban who promptly buy things like guns with it,
  • it frees up UK fields for stuff like ‘crops’, you know, food, which by a strange quirk of fate it seems we’re actually a bit short of*,
  • it frees up the non-Afghan troops, Afghan National Army and Afghan Police to spend their time more productively,
  • it would increase goodwill with the Afgan farmers who get very upset when they see their livelihood being taken away,
  • lastly, let’s face it, Afghan farmers have proved they’re really rather good at growing an opium crop…

So, why aren’t we doing this? Why ask me? Oh yes, because I brought it up... I can only think of three reasons:

  • it’s the wrong kind of opium,
  • it runs contrary to some ideology-based theory (drugs are bad, opium becomes drugs, therefore opium is bad),
  • there's a problem with a treaty (probably money-based),
  • politicians are incredibly stupid.

…I know which one makes sense to me!

So there you go, nothing to do with writing but I thought it was 'curious' to say the least...

*You may not have heard this but believe it or not the EU are now predicting food supply shortages and soaring food prices in the EU because their encouragement of converting fields to bio-fuel crops has been such a roaring success that food crops have been ripped up like nobody’s business. That’s why the Italians had the strike where they refused to buy pasta. All the Umbrian wheat fields that have always been the bread-basket of Italy providing so much high quality wheat have been torn up and converted to bio-fuel. Lack of wheat and increased demand means soaring prices!

Monday, 12 November 2007

Enjoy The Silence

This worked for me even if it hasn't worked for anybody else so I'm passing it on for your edification! Maybe I only think it worked for me and the calls dropped off because all the companies simultaneously realised I didn't have any money!

This is a public service announcement. With guitar. Alright, I was lying about the guitar. That’s resting quietly in the other room right now. My wonderful, battered, old, incredibly cheap guitar; so patient, so loyal, so terribly badly ‘played’. And I use the word played in the loosest possible sense of the word!

So, on to the PSA. This applies to UK residents only. Inspired by this post I thought I’d bring the following to your attention in case you didn’t already know it… they don’t exactly publicize it. You may have noticed that there is a tendency for some companies, wanting to try and sell you things you neither want nor need, to phone just as you settle to meals or in the evening when you’ve just sharpened your quill for an good evening’s scribing. Very annoying. I bring you the solution: the Telephone Preference Service. It’s simple: you ring up BT (0845 07 007 07) and register yourself on the list free of charge and Paul has kindly pointed out that you can register online here. After that you are not allowed to be cold-called. By law. Then if they do ring you, you should ask the name of the company and how they got your name/ number then you listen to them squirm and virtually beg you not to inform BT about their multi-nefarious ways. If they are found guilty they are fined several thousand pounds per call.

Since signing up to this service the number of cold calls has not so much dropped as plummeted. It’s down to about one call every six months and given that previously it had been up at the five a night rate I’d say that counts as an improvement! There is only one exception to this: it only applies to calls originating in the UK. However, at present that’s the majority. Hope that’s some help!

…and talking of cold-calling… the other day a young chap rang on the doorbell. Duly, it was opened to him and as he stood on the threshold of the porch he revealed his fell purpose: he was after selling some things…

The first question, would I like a conservatory? Not really, with a North-facing garden it would be less a Summer-house more a refrigerator.

The hopelessly optimistic young chap looked at the uPVC double-glazing not one arm’s length from his very self and thus came the second question…

Had I thought about getting double-glazing fitted? Er, where exactly?

…and so the borderline delusional young man, standing in the porch, came to his third and final question…

Had I considered getting a porch? I must have fainted from the shock for when I came to the night was dark and the young man had long since fled…*

*Almost all entirely true!

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Not Forgotten…

…those men and women without whose great sacrifice many more artists, writers, composers, poets and painters, would now be silent or silenced…

Friday, 9 November 2007

Night Shift

…and so the dread dates have passed, the festivals of larkness and fright, and I ascend once more to my lofty crag, there to stare mournfully into the Heavens…

Actually, I have mixed feelings about Hallowe’en. I like the idea of Hallowe’en far more than the practice. Maybe my feelings are best summed up by the statistics: five years ago Britain spent about £8 million on the festivities; last year it was £100 million. This sheer profligacy tends to irk me to a certain extent. I don’t much like the way that, like virtually everything, it’s been hijacked by the true blood-suckers, the free market capitalists. It seems to have reached the point where nothing is genuinely pure, untainted by the desire to extract the last penny. From love to death, weddings to funerals, nothing is left unexploited.

I have images in my mind of what Hallowe’en should be but the reality always fails to live up to it. I like the idea of Hallowe’en as a breach between our world and the next, a mingling of the Quick and the Dead. I see the Eastern European customs of spending the night in the cemetery commemorating the lives of the departed with food, reflection and celebration and I see a culture more in touch with something deeper. It seems strange that for all the violence in the news and on-screen death has become unmentionable and unthinkable. Personally, I’m not frightened of being dead, merely of the dying.

‘O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!’ For my part in the Hallowe’en revelry I removed the chimes from the doorbell (not that I need worry on my mountain crag… the lengthy climb usually puts off all but the most ardent trick-or-treater) and watched The Blood Spattered Bride (La Novia Ensangrentada) (1972, Vicente Aranda), which has brought my Spanish up to about ten words.

If I’d seen The Blood Spattered Bride earlier I’d have included it on the vampire film list but I hadn’t… so I didn’t. This film caught me by surprise as, while by no means a masterpiece, it was a well-above average genre entry being far more serious-minded than some of the associated lurid artwork. It was made at the same time the Hammer studios productions were starting to wind down, and two years after the studio made their own adaptation (The Vampire Lovers) of the same story, Le Fanu’s Carmilla. The two could not be more different in both execution and outlook. The Spanish production has a contemporary setting, a couple of (comparatively) shocking violent moments and a refreshing lack of obsession with the Lesbian elements (I say this not pejoratively but because other productions have dwelt on these scenes sensationally.) Many of this era’s Euro-horrors tend to portray women as grasping harpies or pathetic victims while their husbands are invariably womanizing sadists; not here, he’s actually a normal human being. And this is possibly where the film really scores, by having genuine sympathetic characters involved in the otherwise strange narrative. The most striking revelation was that the endeavour was interested in a real theme (male fears of female empowerment and female fears of aggressive male sexuality), although I couldn’t quite work out which, if either, side of the fence it chose to fall on. Though the last couple of images give a hint to the makers’ stance. There are some wilfully bizarre decisions including a woman snorkelling under the beach sand and, for no readily apparent reason, they changed Carmilla’s patronymic from Karnstein to Karstein.

I can’t help thinking there is interesting work to be done on Spanish cinema under Franco given what came out during and shortly after the regime: The Spirit Of The Beehive, Cria Cuervos, the Blind Dead series and so on. There’s also probably something to be done with the cultural differences between various different Euro-horrors of the 60’s and early 70’s. Clearly, Italian horror is different from Spanish is different from French is different from British. Of course, it’s probably all been written but I won’t let that stop me from musing.

I hope you liked my rundown of my vampiric treasures. There were a couple of titles I nearly included but didn’t; quickly here’s what and why:

The Mask Of Satan (1960, Mario Bava) a fine looking film and certainly Bava’s best. I probably should have included it!
The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967, Roman Polanski), while there are some marvellous scenes (the vampire ball and the mirrors, the Jewish vampire) for a spoof it is not nearly funny enough (especially when compared with Young Frankenstein) and it’s also quite slow and overlong.
Martin (1978, George A. Romero), perhaps, along with Season Of The Witch, Romero’s least typical film. (The Crazies is more or less Night Of The Living Dead with a different MacGuffin.)
Nosferatu, The Vampyre (1979, Werner Herzog), a fine film yet surely rendered superfluous by the original. However, the line of coffins being carried through the town has a power all its own, Isabelle Adjani is striking and the score has some great moments, the most unsettling and greatest being the choral piece borrowed for Kate Bush’s amazing Hello Earth (buy it!).
Nightwatch (2004, Timur Bekmambetov), this is a great fun film and a lot of care has been taken to fill it with novel touches- even the subtitles are interestingly done- but there seems something missing.

Then there’s the fun Razor Blade Smile (1998, Jake West); the fascinating Wisdom Of Crocodiles (1998, Po Chih Leong); the strange Australian Thirst (1979, Rod Hardy); the lovably daft Love At First Bite (1979, Stan Dragoti); Kiss Of The Vampire (1964, Don Sharp) and Queen Of The Damned (2002, Michael Rymer), which is just a guilty pleasure…

Of course, all this fangtastic vamping around (*feel free to groan*) has made my mind wander back to the vampire films I’d like to write. This is a very bad thing. I’ve thought on the one many times before and it always defeats me. It’s probably a novel rather than a film and yet the images that come to me seem so rooted in the cinema. I have vast quantities of notes, more ideas than a single film could support and yet at heart there is a giant problem… I can’t decide on the focus of the story. Do I go with the main character’s past or stick to their present? Do I risk comparisons with Blade or Interview With The Vampire? In my head it works, but on paper it would only ever be like Ives’ Universe Symphony*, a monumental conception probably never intended to be performed. It looks absolutely beautiful in my head but it doesn’t really make up for a lack of a coherent plot.

“O friends, no more of these sounds!
Let us sing more cheerful songs, more full of joy!”
-Friedrich von Schiller

*The Universe Symphony was intended to be played by three full orchestras each on top of a hill or mountain top and augmented by steeple bells. There is now a recording available but it was recorded in the same manner as Stockhausen’s Grüppen. Grüppen was supposedly ground-breaking with its three orchestra line-up but was predated by Ives’ nigh-on unperformable work by some 30-40 years.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Darling, You’re Meme

…word has reached my mountain lair that I have been ‘memed’. This means I have inveigled my way into being accepted… and thus the first stage of my plan for ‘total global domination within the next five years’ is now complete! Mwahahahaha! Until I reveal the list… then you’ll all just laugh at me! Actually, this turned out to be far harder than I thought it would as I realised I considered what I thought I was proud of deeply lame! So, here, in no particular order, are ‘five things about myself that other people may consider lame, but this writer is secretly proud of’.

I have never willingly taken illegal drugs. Why does this make me lame? Because I kind of assume that pretty much everybody else nowadays is regularly getting off their faces!* Because of this I have been able to reach the following conclusion...

I have never understood fashion. For example, why would I need a new pair of jeans with a different fit just because some gonk on a magazine thinks I do? My old jeans work fine- battered but comfortable, why buy new while they're still functional?

This applies to things thrown up by technology. Facespace? Mybook? Friends Dehumidified? Not a clue! I got my first CD player in 1993 (so I could listen to the Under The Gun and Tower of Strength CD singles amongst other things). It sounded great in ’93. It sounds great in ’07. Why would I need to upgrade? I don’t own an iPod; I will never own an iPod… I want to be aware of my surroundings. Then there are computer games: I played one in the 80’s then once again maybe a year ago. What on earth is so endlessly fascinating?**

However, I do have a mobile phone… it has a dial^. And if I was a complete Luddite you’d be reading this when the carrier pigeon knocked on your door. Fashion: an excuse to try and sell me things I neither want nor need just to keep the economy growing. Not being interested in any of this fashion stuff frees up a lot of time for other far more useful things like...

I have catalogued all my Vinyl & CDs and all my Videos & DVDs. Really. Lame. Until you consider the numbers involved. I don’t have a deep desire to start duplicating things just to avoid appearing geeky! Everything is then sub-divided and cross-referenced just to increase the lameness of the whole endeavour. On the other hand, the setting up of these lists was how I taught myself to type without looking at the keyboard. Which I’m also quite proud of… even if I can only do it on a flat laptop-style keyboard! This has no bearing on the fact that...

I seem to prefer the company of cats to humans. They’re self-contained, can be self-sufficient, they’re smarter, friendlier, more honest, less greedy, better conversationalists, don’t get drunk and keep themselves cleaner… albeit in the most disgusting of ways. Of course, this excludes all members of the Scribosphere, family members and potential employers who are all wonderful, wonderful people. I’m backing the ‘opposable thumbs for cats’ campaign! When we recognize their place as our Overlords the world will finally be set to rights! I have never catalogued my mogs but they do help with the fact that...

I believe in Ghosts. Not the nice Hippy-New Age kind that come with crystals and chanting and then do the dusting with the corners of their sheets. Oh no. These are the type that cause cats to stare into space and hiss. These are the evil spirits that throw crockery, poke you in the eye and hide the teabags (could there be a greater Evil than that?). However, I'm safer than the rest of you because I know they're out to get us. Thankfully, they won't sneak up on me because...

I never switch off. My brain is continually fizzes. Everything is there to be learned from or studied. Films, TV, magazines, books, CD’s, CD booklets, the internet, watching people… thoughts and ideas explode every second and every single one must be written down. This means I never need to take drugs...

I must sound suitably lame by now? Did I pass the audition? Of course, nothing I do is actually lame… everybody who doesn’t do what I do is! Isn't it the truth that one man's meat is another man's poison. It should also be noted that most of the music I have collected could well be considered ‘lame’…

…I shall put the mark of the meme upon…. Valentine Suicide, Rob, MJ, Tom and the person who keeps arriving here via this search or alternatively Andy

*I chose those opening words very carefully because about 20 years ago I was ONCE givena mug of hot chocolate spiked with a well-known resin by a ‘friend’ for ‘fun’. It was all a waste of time as I’d already drunk the best part of a bottle of Smirnoff. I just fell asleep. The 'friend' soon became an ‘ex-friend’ and I never felt a need to try it again. I also recently discovered the painkillers I was prescribed for my dislocated knee a decade or so ago were Class B but that was all legit as there was a prescription.

**Is this Halo 3 thing that everybody mentions a computer game of some kind?

^That’s a lie… it’s just two tin cans on a line of string!

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Bela Lugosi's Dead

So, it’s another Hallowe’en; the one night in the year when the shackles can be shaken off and children can use threats of violence to get free stuff and adults can use somewhat ‘unusual’ ingredients in confectionary. In honour of this auspicious date I thought I’d share, and praise, some of my favourite vampire films. Some lauded, some derided; some good, some… not so good.

Nosferatu (1922, F.W. Murnau)
The father of a race of monsters, to purloin a phrase. Although there are references to a Roumanian film named Drakula from a year earlier this ‘lost’ film is apparently a biopic of the original Vlad. So Nosferatu is arguably the first vampire film. Illegally produced, we’re lucky to have this expressionist masterpiece. Refulgent with evil, disease and decay, 85 years old and still magisterially above all that came after. One tomb rose larger and more lordly than the rest and on it but one word, Nosferatu.

Vampyr (1931, Carl T. Dreyer)
Dreyer is now mainly praised for his later (and earlier) weightier films and Vampyr would appear to be an oddity in his canon. It is a genuinely odd experience. It’s supposedly a ‘talkie’ but the dialogue is so sparse as to make that a misnomer. I would argue it is the final European Expressionist horror, at the border with the American Universal horrors. It’s almost plotless, dreamy, almost hypnotic. The hero’s waking interment is perhaps the most notable moment. The curious pervasive bleached out effect was caused by the brief and deliberate opening of the film cans to the light after shooting.

Dracula (1931, George Melford)
Forget poor old Bela a while and track down a copy of this. During the silent era films could be exported round the world with only the inter-titles needing to be changed but as sound came the studios were posed a problem of exportability. The answer initially for companies like Universal was to make their films again in Spanish for the South American market. These versions were filmed using the same sets and often the same storyboards but they had one startling difference: they were exempted the strictures of the Hays Code. While Browning’s version is ponderously directed, restrained, rather slow and bound to the stage version and therefore stagy, this Spanish language version has a more spooky atmosphere, better acting, a looser feel (it’s half an hour longer), an eroticism entirely absent from the Lugosi version, heaving bosoms and an expanded climax (Lugosi’s demise is entirely off-screen and denies the audience resolution). The minor flaw is that this Dracula is only marginally better acted than Lugosi’s.

The Isle Of The Dead (1944, Mark Robson)
This is praised here. I suspect this is the best vampire film from the 40’s. By the time Lewton came along Universal were reaching the bottom of the barrel, packaging and repackaging their classic creatures in increasingly desperate ways. This was something else, something different, and it had Karloff.

Dracula (a.k.a. Horror Of Dracula) (1958, Terence Fisher)
One of the big ones and an obvious choice. Never mind that about the only thing it kept from the novel was the title, this is a good film of the old man. It’s well cast, well made, makes good use of this new-fangled colour thing and Christopher Lee surely makes one of the most imposing presences as Dracula. 1966’s Dracula, Prince Of Darkness is maybe, marginally, the better film with it’s widescreen and bolder conception but this has a much better ending… which harks back to the original Nosferatu.

The Hunger (1983, Tony Scott)
Alright, it’s more flash than real substance but is that a major problem? This has several of the same themes as brother Ridley’s contemporaneous Blade Runner: mortality, passage of time and memory, etc. This also seems to prefigure Anne Rice’s Queen Of The Damned. On top of this there’s the luminous Catherine Deneuve and a great piece of Schubert. Recent pictures of Deneuve would seem to indicate that she’s as ageless and timeless as her character here.

Hellraiser (1987, Clive Barker)
Hellraiser? A vampire film? The bad guy’s a dead man revivified with blood who then gains strength through drinking blood from the necks of his victim. This is one of the few modern horrors to actually take itself and the genre seriously: cinematic, intelligent and generally well-acted. The score is a marvellous work in itself. All of this is carried over into the sequel, which has better acting by the presence of Kenneth Cranham. Personally, I think there are unconscious references to Dracula, Prince Of Darkness even though Barker asserts that he doesn’t much care for the Hammer Draculas.

Near Dark (1987, Kathryn Bigelow)
Vampirism brought kicking and screaming into the modern age in a way that Dracula A.D. 1972 could only have dreamed about. This has a genuinely grimy edge of society outcast feel that is impossible when the bloodsucker is in a tuxedo. These are vampires that exude a sense of threat reinforced by the fact that it could be the guy next to you in the bus station.

Nightlife (1989, Daniel Taplitz)
A strange sad comedy-horror. It’s set in Mexico City which lends a new angle to the proceedings. The story is a love triangle: evil vampire and young doctor in love with the same vampiric Maryam d’Abo. Strangely, it’s quite melancholy for an ostensibly light comedy.

Sundown, The Vampire In Retreat (1990, Anthony Hickox)
Vampire comedy with everything thrown into the mix from mad scientists to cowboys. This is great fun. I initially watched this trepidation expecting something stupid but passable… then all of a sudden it’s excellent, smart, scary and funny. And it’s full of people that make you say ‘that’s what’s-his-name… you know…’

Tale Of A Vampire (1992, Shimako Sato)
An unfairly maligned, deeply flawed film. Deeply romantic, deeply melancholy. Virtually a three-hander from Kenneth Cranham, Julian Sands and Suzanna Hamilton. It’s a little slow, a little dreamy and very good-looking. It’s not a perfect film by a long distance but it has a certain something; a spot of imagination that is lacking in many films with many times the budget. And what happened to director? He apparently returned to Japan to continue making films.

Nadja (1994, Michael Almereyda)
A playful yet serious film, seemingly a deliberate return to the atmosphere of Vampyr with a plot liberated from Lambert Hillyer’s 1936 Dracula’s Daughter. This is from the days of American Indie cinema when there was genuine variety. Quirkily cast with memorable turns from Elina Löwensohn in a role she seems to have been destined to play as Dracula’s Daughter and Peter Fonda as a Van Helsing only eclipsed in eccentricity by Hopkins for Coppola. The chiaroscuro photography is radiant with a nifty trick of becoming ‘pixelvision’ for the vampire’s p.o.v. as filmed with a toy camera.

Interview With The Vampire (1994, Neil Jordan)
A fine version of Anne Rice’s only genuinely readable ‘Chronicle’. The tale of a strange and dysfunctional vampire family this film shouldn’t work: while the costumes and design are as sumptuous as would be expected and the direction is great, it does have Tom Cruise, a story told entirely in flashback narrated by a main character who’s clearly still ‘alive’ and a strangely enervated performance from Pitt. Strangely all the script drafts pre-release solely have Jordan’s name as writer by the time the film was released the sole writer was Rice. There seem to be few differences between the early scripts and the film. Quite odd.

Blade (1998, Stephen Norrington)
Portentous and groaning under the weight of it’s own seriousness it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable and very stylish action-horror-thriller. Del Toro’s sequel is interesting; Goyer’s isn’t.

Dracula- Pages From A Virgin’s Diary (2003, Guy Maddin)
Dracula the ballet. This is a wonderful dreamlike, mist-enshrouded film. Maddin is clearly indebted to expressionism and the black and white is only broken by the addition of vivid blood red. The music’s Mahler. That should have been enough to get it on the list.

Shadow Of The Vampire (2000, Elias Merhige)
How can you not love a film that has the central conceit that Murnau’s Nosferatu wasn’t fiction? This is more than just an interesting concept: this is a film about film. This is about the artist, about what or who they are prepared to sacrifice for the sake of their vision. Dafoe’s performance as Nosferatu is superb as is the make-up that renders him nigh-on unrecognizable. And that brings us neatly back to where we came in. Aren’t the cycles of life wonderful?

And that’s that. So, have a happy Hallowe’en and, should you observe such things, a contemplative, commemorative and comforting All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days. And the sun arose once more, shining its light and life across the land...

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Keep Talking

So, now we’ve all been put out of our misery, well, those of us who live in the PIRW*, the only part of England worth living in** and congratulations must go to Patrick Evans. Right so, not the end of the world… there’ll be other opportunities, other schemes and so on. Mind, I don’t want to scare anybody but SW got 129 entries and RP have had nigh on 2,000. I’m pinning my hopes on everybody else being monumentally bad… possibly illiterate… or probably Jack Torrance…

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
-Samuel Beckett

Such is life.

However, as I mentioned I went down to Bristol the other day to make sure that the Digital Shorts proposals made it in because the Mail was still looking ‘shaky’. In passing, I met other people handing their works in and was reminded of something. Accents. Or rather… a lack of accents.

I made a rather cack-handed attempt^ at the start of my last post to write closer to my native accent- though not very successfully I’m afraid! This was because I’d been genuinely surprised that for a place like Bristol, which has its own distinctive accent, in a wider area with another distinctive accent, neither the staff at South West Screen (who I have absolutely no quarrel with) nor all the people delivering their works while I was there displayed any accent. I mentioned this to someone a couple of days later and they said that accents were disappearing across the board. I’m not sure that’s really true: when I’ve been in Yorkshire, Lancashire or Wales I can hear very clear and distinct accents. I suspect it’s the West Country, in particular, which is losing the distinctive accent. I think there are several reasons for this, including but not exclusively:
-the influx of incomers buying second-homes which they only live in 2 days a week while displacing the younger members of the local community,
-the relatively dispersed populace of a wide area (a million people in Liverpool while there are under 5 million in the whole of the ‘six counties’^^),
-the lack of the accent to be heard in the media,
-the reinforcement of negative West Country (‘Mummerset’) stereotypes.

At this point you’re probably shouting what is the point of this diatribe?

So, how about some context. I was born in the West Country, I was brought up there and still live there. Consequently, I have quite a bit of an accent. Depending on who I’m talking depends on how strongly it comes out: with my relatives it becomes far stronger but when I was at University it was pulled back; of course, at times of stress it reared its head to much hilarity. When I was younger I was told by a careers advisor that I was ‘clearly intelligent but if I ever wanted to get anywhere I had to lose the horrible accent’. That sort of thing tends to stick in the mind. At the time I was only mildly miffed but now when I look back I realise that this ‘person’ wouldn’t have dreamt of saying similar to a Yorkshireman or a Scot. So why was my accent so off-putting? It served my family well for centuries (well, apart from the Irish and Welsh ones who presumably had Irish and Welsh accents!).

When you consider the accents on British TV there is clearly a wide variety and of those represented nobody would dream of removing them. Liverpool is memorably heard in Brookside and Boys From The Blackstuff; Manchester in Cracker and Life On Mars; Glasgow in Taggart; Edinburgh in Rebus and London is impossible to avoid from Eastenders through to Mockney. Would anybody dream of removing these accents?

On the other hand you have the West Country. And I should also mention Wales and East Anglia. Holby City and Casualty are set in a fictionalized Bristol-Gloucestershire and when the show started the cast attempted to get the accents right (particularly noteworthy was Cathy Shipton) and yet within a couple of series there had been a conscious decision to remove them leaving them solely to farmers with manglewurzle based injuries and council estates; Midsomer Murder is said to be set in the East of the West Country and amongst the concoction of accents it’s only the stupider types who get the local accent; the recent Murphy’s Law was set in Norfolk and mainly the accents came out as Mummerset (stage school ‘rural’) rather than the far flatter Fens accent. Only Doc Marten, set in Cornwall, tries hard and mainly succeeds; possibly Martin Clunes is nervous that he’ll return to his Cornish home one day and find a giant Wicker Man waiting for him!

The late great Ronnie Barker summed up the majority attitude quite well when discussing the ‘Two Yokels’ characters. Why did he choose yokels? Because he wanted someone readily identifiable as ‘thick’ and because ‘you can poke fun at yokels as nobody sees themselves as being one’. However, the accent was instantly geographically identifiable and reinforced a negative stereotype. How many media people in perceived positions of authority (newsreaders, weather presenters, current affairs presenters, etc.) have a West Country, Fens or Welsh accent (honourable exceptions: Huw Edwards and Phil Harding of Time Team)? The common consensus is that West Country is stupid, is uneducated, is for the ‘serfs’. Is it any wonder people chose to discard it? Ironically, Shakespeare is now thought to have had something akin to the West Country bur meaning that two of the four books every home should have were written with the accent: William Tyndale, translator of the Bible into English was from Gloucestershire (as were J.K. Rowling and perhaps the greatest British TV writer, Dennis Potter).

So, does any of this miscellaneous ranting actually matter? Obviously, I’d say yes but I’m terribly biased. I think it matters because, firstly, if the British can’t even respect the diversity of their own country how can there be real respect for those who have more recently chosen to call it home? Secondly, accents are an integral part of the culture of a country, a living history as valid as the exhibits in a museum; they are a living document not only informing us of where we have come from but also colouring the way we reference the works of the past. Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, Burns’ poetry or Potter’s screenplays would sound very different without the author’s native accent. Lastly, why does accent matter? Because it’s part of your voice, part of your style, it’s honesty and its part of you…

If anybody out there in the Scribosphere from the West Country (and a lot of you seem to be) or not, accented or not, has an opinion I’d be very interested to hear in the comments. Is the accent dying out? Should they die out? Does it matter? Should people feel ashamed of where they’re from?

“It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.”
-Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw, 1913

*PIRW= the People’s Independent Republic of Wessex (or the West Country) which is part of my master plan to gain independence from the rest of England similar to Wales and Scotland.
**Or am I joking?
^Originally a West Country dialect word.
^^ Six Counties, an alternate name for the West Country, being Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Cornwall.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Digital Tension

So, I done gwain mi’ way down a’ Bris’l. Und oi presented them to mi’ works fer ther Digital Shorts, zo I did. None too major in general scheme o’ thing but o’ import to me, noneless. Journey o' underd mile starts wi’ a zingle step, so they do zay… ‘septin’ this case it were more a quick step down M5. Und this ‘ere Shorts thing been bein' a bit odd for me. After when it was firzt bein' announced I cudn think a zingle thing fer it. Nuttin’ come inta mi’ yud!

This lack of ideas continued for a couple of weeks. I noted, maybe, thirty different thought-trains but nothing like a full idea. I’d come settled for not entering anything. Then, with maybe ten days left, an idea came to me while I was asleep, fully formed with the structure, the characters, the dialogue, the whole thing in place. Of course, I was asleep at the time so when I woke up the next day there was a minor flaw: I could remember everything… except the dialogue. So, I wrote the thing (with rough dialogue) and prepared the entry from it, they solely wanted a synopsis after all, but I would have been preferring not to do it from something all arse-backwards! Then, I found a short I did a while back and prepared an entry from that too. I reckoned me it best to have not one good piece but two middling and get me a doubled chance of failure!

At the actual SW Screen office, there was a steady stream of entries coming in: I asked if there’d been many. There have. A lot. One bloke seemed to have a vast pile which either meant he’d not read the instructions or was handing in for a whole herd. Course, anybody with talent isn’t going to be posed a problem but I’ll wager that none of us really knows for certain whether we’ve been gifted this wise. Even if we had, would we really know? It’s one of those things that’s probably haunted every writer since the dawn of the chisel on the stone tablet… Ug the Caveman was heard muttering all day in his cave, ‘am I any good?’ Of the two submitted shorts, the older short was a take on horror and the brand-spanking new one wasn’t. The new one has a wonderfully pretentious Latin title that means ‘have mercy’. They’re both a bit (small ‘p’) political.

So, now I have four pieces lodged in various competitions for good or ill: Red Planet (like pretty much everybody), South West Screenwriter Development* and two for the Digital Shorts. Do I rate my chances? Not really but then I’m an eternal pessimist, so I wouldn’t! ‘Try again. Fail again. Fail better’ as a great man once wrote. I have two longer and, in my humble opinion, much better short scripts waiting in the wings.

Now, for the first time in at least a couple of months I have some choices to make as to what to write next. It’s always slightly strange to have a freehand. The conspiracy thriller I mentioned before has gone west. I managed to get 40 pages in and realised it failed a simple test I have: would I actually watch this. Simple truth is I would have walked out after about fifteen minutes. The concept is not inherently bad, it’s just that it’s being written by some kind of fool who’s trying to bore the audience into submission: the start’s a bit dull, the middle is fine but the end is a muddled ill-thought through mess. I think the truth is that I’ve gotten too close to it so now is the time to set it aside and clear it from my head for a little while.

There are a number of things I’d like to write but I’m really not sure which: weird Vampire epic, Sci-fi Vampire Western, mad-cap comedy whatnot or a dark occult horror using a couple of characters from a previous script. However, I think my vote goes to the film about revenge. While preparing the Digital Shorts, bits of it seemed to rear their heads constantly telling me to get on and write them down. I’m not sure what details to mention about it so I’ll confine myself to saying it’s about a person who has a trauma and feels a deep need to kill some people: simple! The big problem is that the idea-monsters have demanded a stupidly complex triple three act structure all using the same character at different eras of their life at the same time to contrast against each other and all within a standard three act structure. I may be able to convince them that two are enough with maybe a flashback to the other. I don’t know whether they’ll buy it though. Cruel idea monsters!

I’ve also been maliciously neglecting to listen to a whole host of CDs I’ve bought over the last couple of months. Top of the pile would have to be:
  • PJ Harvey’s White Chalk (good West Country lass),
  • Siouxsie’s Mantaray,
  • Bat For Lashes’ Fur & Gold,
  • Maps’ We Can Create,
  • Skeletal Family’s Burning Oil,
  • Dot Allison’s Exaltation Of Larks,
  • Primal Scream’s Live In Japan,
  • Mahler’s Das Lied Von Der Erde (conducted by Karajan with Christa Ludwig),
  • Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (conducted by Solti),
  • Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 (Karajan again),
  • Gorecki’s Beatus Vir (and some other choral works on an unbelievably obscure Polish record label)

…and so on and so on…

There’s also a couple of DVDs but music is my first and abiding love; film is my cruel and unrelenting mistress constantly demanding my attention…

There’s also about three weeks of post to come… quite a lot I suspect as I pre-order the new CD and vinyl releases online… really hope the Pistols 7s are not monumentally screwed from sitting under a ton of junkmail in the sorting office!

So, there you go a brief précis of my rather dull week. Now, there’s the Rugby final, the last round of the F1 with Mr. Lewis Hamilton, the return of the right-wing programme I love to hate/ hate to love, in other words, the excellent Spooks and the new series of Top Gear to look forward to…

*Or whatever it’s called. I prefer functional titles for these schemes. Screen Yorkshire is wackily calling their Digital Shorts scheme ‘Caught Short’ which is probably an amusing pun the first time then gets progressively grating and albatross like as the months pass and people keeping asking what you’re working on. A talented friend of mine didn’t that he was submitting for the Digital Shorts scheme!

Monday, 8 October 2007

Isle Of The Dead

As I've been neglecting you recently I thought I'd just share something with you... because I like it. And because I care.

This is the Isle Of The Dead (1880) by Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin. It's been the inspiration for numerous painters, novelists, composers and film-makers. Those that stand out, for me, are Rakhmaninov's tone poem of the same name, H.R. Giger's Homage series* and, of course, the eponymous 1944 film.

The Isle Of The Dead (1944, Mark Robson) is a sadly neglected and under-rated minor masterpiece from Val Lewton's famous RKO unit. This genuinely spooky chiller starred the inimitable Boris Karloff as a hardened Greek Officer of the First Balkan War quarantined on the titular island with a mixed ensemble as a plague stalks them... the plague of the vorvolaka, vampirism. The basic material could have inspired a mediocre or melodramatic slice of hokum but in the hands of the Lewton team it becomes so much more than its inauspicious premise. While it could be considered a horror, the atmosphere conjured is something entirely different to the standard; dreamlike, almost ethereal, it conjures the feel of such horror aberrations as White Zombie (1932, Victor Halperin), Vampyr (1932, Carl T. Dreyer) or Lewton's own production I Walked With A Zombie (1943, Jacques Tourneur). Some 20 years later Karloff seemed to retread this territory for his segment ('The Wurdalak') of Mario Bava's unrecognizedly influential Black Sabbath (1963).

*I don't think it would be too great a stretch to see the influence of this painting on Giger's design of the derelict spacecraft in Alien.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

The 2007 Edition of the Highway Code has just been published: it’s now longer than Leviticus and with more rules!

The following are now considered ‘bad’ while driving: smoking, drinking, eating, listening to music, sat-navs, map-reading (it's far better to drive round forlornly staring at sign-posts) and talking with passengers.

So, basically all the things that a person would be doing to break the monotony of a long journey (...except smoking which is a vile evil thing that gets people thrown bodily from my moving vehicle), only the politicians and bureaucrats with easy access to the redoubtable London Transport system (or chauffeur-driven gold-plated carriages) could come up with this.

The Transport Minister, Jim Fitzpatrick, asserted on the news,

“When driving your hands must never leave the steering wheel.”

I’ve been driving round in first gear ever since!!!