What I though of Video Nasties: Draconian Days

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Video Nasties: Draconian Days is the second of Jake West’s films about the history of the ‘Video Nasty’ and censorship in the UK. Like the first one it’s amazingly accessible, but unlike the first one which dealt with the initial Video Nasty boom and told a well told story, this deals with what happened after the Video Recording Act (VRA) was passed and the post-1985 world for the horror/transgressive film fan.

For younger people reading this it’s hard to imagine how tough things were, but you couldn’t just go online and get an uncut version of Zombie Flesh Eaters or Story of O, but you had to hunt in often the most dubious places to get to see what is now, perfectly legal. but thanks to the VRA passed by a Tory Party (supported by a supine Labour Party) wanting to censor films it though was ‘harmful’ to the working classes we had the situation outlined at the start of this film.

Having lived through this time I can say it was extraordinary. This was open state censorship of a kind we’d never seen in peacetime, and for people like me born in the late 60′s and early 1970′s, it was something we’d never seen before at all. We were the generation a wee bit too young for Punk so we came in after the burst of energy Punk created was dying and was being diffused into 100 different ways, but we did it ourselves. In my own wee part in this, I organised the video room for Scotland’s first ever comic convention in 1986 which involved late night showings of some stuff (like Zombie Flesh Eaters) which went down well, on the whole. It wasn’t though until 1988 when I moved from Glasgow to Leicester that things started getting silly.

In the few years from 85 to around 87 or so, you could still find video shops where with a nod and a wink, you’d be able to access the good stuff, that was hidden away. However moving away from Glasgow meant that the gorehound in me could no longer walk down the road and get a dodgy video shop which would rent me a pre-certificate video from a stash well hidden in the back.  Nope, now I had a few shops on the Narborough Road in Leicester which only had the hacked to peices versions of films that managed to scrape an 18 certificate. It was, frankly, fucking shite that adults couldn’t watch adult films legally in their own home because of some manufactured outrage over horror films. As skillfully pointed out in Draconian Days, there was, and never has been, any connection between  horror films and violent crime. But there was a lot of lies and government spin which was published in the British press with virtually no counter-argument. It really was oppressive so no wonder kids were rebelling against the government of the day by organising ways to get these films seen via swaps/trades in the back of horror fanzines.

These fanzines varied in quality, but they were wildly enthusiastic & that’s all that mattered. Again I played a small part in this by helping fight their corner when I worked at Neptune Comics Distributors in the 80′s when my boss wanted to take them off our order forms. I wasn’t fully in the horror film scene but I skirted round it, and dived in every now and then and attended the odd all-nighter or late night double bill at the Scala cinema in King’s Cross in London.

I almost cheered when Draconian Days discussed the Scala days because even though I wasn’t a full part, they were immense. The documentary describes how you walk along the road from King’s Cross station and be offered sex, drugs and pretty much everything you can imagine. King’s Cross then wasn’t the shiny, sanitised metropolitan hub it is now, but it was fucked in every sense of the word. The area was falling to pieces and the Scala was slap in the middle of this tatty, filthy but somehow glorious part of London where police were often scarce. The Scala saved me from muggings or worse on those nights when I’d missed my last train back to Leicester, or I’d lost friends/partners so couldn’t get to, or even remember, where they lived. Rather than kip in a station, I’d take myself along to the Scala and stay til the wee hours. It was indeed like walking out into some post-apocalyptic landscape coming out of the Scala into King’s Cross.

The film also discusses the dealers who’d deal in getting banned films into the UK (normally from The Netherlands/Europe) and copy them for sale to fans starved of their fix in those pre-internet days when a film was a click away. Getting a good copy of a film was frankly, sheer fucking luck and depended on how much you’d trust the person selling it to you, and they’d be shady at best normally.  Film conventions and comic marts used to have dealers who’d sell pirate videos , but few were actually reliable. Thankfully when I was working at a mart at the TUC building in London, I came across a dealer (who I think was a large black chap called Mike) who didn’t just have good quality stuff, but he had copies of films that had been taken from laserdisc! I got myself a nearly perfect Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and The Beyond, and as much as I could get my hands on. At a mart in Birmingham I got a preview copy of Peter Jackon’s Braindead months before it came out in the cinema in the UK because somehow, he managed to get a source who could supply him with preview copies.

Every now and then a mart would have the police sweep down, bust a few people (I remember hiding a box of porn comics during one such bust by sneaking them out the hall and legging it to the van to stash them there) and leave. Things didn’t get really tasty at the marts until after the murder of James Bulger and the tabloids were blaming his death upon violent videos, especially Child’s Play 3. The allegations were nonsense, but this is where the documentary becomes essential viewing as it details how the tabloids and MP’s combined to try to push through legislation that would have effectively banned every film in the UK over a U certificate.

It’s also worth putting this into a larger context as at the same time, there was a tabloid and government campaign to outlaw raves, and dance music with the Criminal Justice Bill which included a section to ban “repetitive beats”  in an attempt to crush an inclusive youth culture. This is what I think scared the government and most of the media. It was young people going out doing things like dancing til dawn, or organising all night horror film shows off their own back and they didn’t care for authority. Of course nobody was hurt but it was threatening to the establishment, so it had to stop.

Draconian Days ends with the last days of former chief censor & head of the BBFC James Ferman in 1999. It ends on a fairly optimistic note as it reminds us how in the early days of Tony Blair’s government they were fairly reforming and liberal in places, but we didn’t know what they were going to do to civil liberties in a few years into the new century. We certainly couldn’t have predicted this new puritanism that’s bubbling up from not just the Tories, but also some so-called liberals and on the left. There’s now barely a day that goes by without some campaign popping up on my social media asking me to help someone from banning something. People seem to have an incredibly low tolerance of anything now in an age when we should be more informed and enlightened thanks to the internet.

I hope West does a third film to take in the internet era and the reform of the BBFC before it all comes crashing down when David Cameron comes to power. There’s still a lot of be told, but til then I heartily recommend getting both of West’s documentaries and wallow in those awful days of state censorship which we somehow made the best of. They were bloody great days….

45 years ago today, humans stood on the Moon

45 years ago today, humans took their first steps on another world. It might only have been our Moon, and in galactic terms, this is the equivalent of popping down the shops for a pint of milk. For humanity it should have been the first step for us to push on and out, but instead we’ve sent out robotic craft and built a space station, which is fine, but we’ve not went back to the Moon in 45 years, and probably won’t for a long time to come. As for Mars or beyond, humans won’t see those worlds with their own eyes for decades, at best.

We became insular, cynical and although the Moon race was political in origin, it did more than just getting one up over the Soviets, it showed humans where we are, and how unique we are in our wee corner of the galaxy as the Apollo missions showed us in our place.

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But we pulled back. There’s still plenty who’d rather we spent no money at all on spaceflight and exploration on other worlds. They see it as a waste, and anyhow, that money could be spent better on Earth as if it’s as simple as that.

In reality space exploration is what we as a people need as we need to push on and find out new things about the origins of the universe, not to mention these discoveries add to our knowledge. Cutting off this source of knowledge would plunge us back into a new Dark Age as predicted in Orbiter, a fantastic comic written by Warren Ellis, and drawn by Colleen Doran.

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I don’t want a backward future where we sit in our own filth in our own backyards with nothing to inspire us as a species, and right now we need inspiration to break the cycle of unjust slaughter, pointless death, or corrupt institutions clinging onto control. But you may still say, ‘what about the money spent?’. 20% of the US’s budget is spent on defence. $530 billion. Imagine a world where the most powerful country on the planet spent half of that on feeding the planet, curing diseases, and of course, spending more money on space exploration than the $17 billion it currently spends on NASA.

Of course money is tight, but if we didn’t treat war as a commercial opportunity, not to mention if we taxed those corporations/people currently using complex schemes to ensure their taxes aren’t spent on infrastructure or welfare programmes, but instead sit in Swiss bank accounts, then just maybe, we’d get on with it as a species rather than sit here still in our nappies throwing shite at each other.

I recommend just looking at what those men did 45 years ago and if you’re not awed by the idea that we went to the Moon, and came back then you’re dead from the scalp down.  Here’s a typically awesome clip from The Space Movie with Mike Oldfield doing the soundtrack to get the blood pumping.

So think that 45 years ago the first human stood on the Moon. We need to go back and go on beyond because we need to as otherwise we’ll end up destroying ourselves with bombs and stupidity.

 

A small bit of appreciation for ZZ Top

It’s too hot & I’m melting. There’s too many big scary, miserable things happening in the world and the planet is full of arseholes. Rather than go on about these horrible things on a day like today, let’s take a moment out to appreciate Legs by ZZ Top in all it’s wonderfully sexist glory.

I’ve always held a wee soft spot for ZZ Top not because they’re clearly utterly ridiculous and they know it, but because they’re a fucking great American rock band with ridiculously catchy tunes, and of course, they have beards……

So enjoy….

What I thought of The Wicked and the Divine #2

Thoughts about #1.

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This second issue picks up directly after the explosive end to the first issue as it focuses upon Laura, the teenage girl following the gods at the heart of this story, as she gets more deeply involved with Lucifer, who is in prison.

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Most of the rest of the issue deals with Laura’s attempts to help Lucifer, and in the process be transformed into something more. It’s a more interesting issue than the first one, though it’s still trying too hard in the way someone waxing their moustache while sitting outside on London Fields is trying too hard.

There’s not a lot of naturalistic storytelling here, but when it comes (as it does in one three page section), it’s superb and that’s what’s annoying me about this series so far. Gillen is a good writer, even if there’s a lack of distinct voices at times, and while McKelvie is a good artist, and at times, very good indeed, there’s times when his people look too much like the Jamie Hernandez characters he’s based part of his style upon.

This said, I enjoyed this second issue more and there’s a cliffhanger which will make you buy the next issue, but The Wicked and the Divine isn’t doing anything new with the comics medium, but it is going old ground well enough for me to pick up the next issue and see where this story is going.

What I thought of Cap’n Dinosaur #1

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Cap’n Dinosaur is the sort of cleverly daft comic that seems like a throwback to those glorious days of the early 90′s when British comics would bang out wonderfully experimental works just because they could. This isn’t quite up to comics from that time, but it’s close.

It plays with pop culture, more specifically those adverts which used to be at the back of American comics in the 1960′s and 1970′s which looked so exciting and exotic to kids in the UK in the terminally brown era which was then, but now look quaint and of a time far, far away. It weaves these old ads into a film noir  directed by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko which is lovely to look at as it borrows palate and colour from the Pop Artists of the 60′s.

capndinosaur2I should declare here that I’m an enormous fan of Shaky Kane’s work, and he’s one of the nicest people you’ll meet so it’s hard for me to be neutral discussing this. Kane is one of those artists (Dominic Regan being another) in British comics with a massive Kirby influence who never seems to be getting the recognition he deserves for having this skewed vision on 20th century pop culture. In this though he draws a story where the plot doesn’t matter. That’s just there to allow Cap’n Dinosaur and his sidekick, Honey Moon to have a crazy adventure.

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There’s references to hypno-discs, 6 ft Frankenstein, Aurora model kits, and sea monkeys among a sea of references to those comic ads…

capndinosaur4This could have been a forced work of nostalgia to appeal to those sort of people who ‘ironically’ enjoy old things but secretly hate them, but this isn’t that. It’s fun and yes, tongue in cheek but it’s never mocking. It’s just a bit of fun celebrating things from the past and creating new art from old things, while at the same time having a wee nod and wink at the reader for being in on the gag.

Go buy it, you’ll have fun.

What I thought of The Auteur #5

Thoughts about #1#2#3 & #4.

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I’ve thoroughly enjoyed The Auteur by Rick Spears and James Callahan. I came across it because of an eye-catching cover, and frankly, didn’t expect too much but it looked interesting enough for a couple of quid. It is one of the smartest moves I’ve made in terms of comics this year.

There’s a lot of influences for the series worn large. Harvey Kurtzman is there, along with Wally Wood, Alan Moore’s Future Shocks for 2000AD, William Burroughs and in this issue, there’s Hunter S. Thompson in the first couple of pages. I mentioned Chris Morris in a previous review of the series, but I’m not sure if his work is a direct influence but it certainly is something feeling like the sort of thing Morris used to do. But this sadly, is the last issue & I’m sorry to see it end as it’s been a fantastically enjoyable experience.

This final issue opens with film producer/director Nathan T. Rex putting the final touches to his ‘masterpiece’ President’s Day, and going on a wrap party in Las Vegas with some of the assorted nutters who’ve been scattered throughout this series., including Darwin, the large psychopath/serial killer who killed Rex’s star in #3. As befitting any Vegas party there’s drugs with immense side effects…

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There’s a wonderful few pages of dialogue between Rax and Coconut, the girl he’s desperately trying to fuck, or even fall in in love with but just when you think things are being a bit too normal, Spears pulls the rug out from under you and fucks up his cast with some unexpected side effects….

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Does Rex get his girl? Does President’s Day end up being any good? Are there any more drug side effects? Buy the comic and find out.

The Auteur has been a fantastic series full of wit, cynicism, satire, gore, and wonderful joy as it hit a perfect tone in telling this story of fucked up Hollywood people trying to get fucked and famous in equal amounts. It’s not perfect as sometimes it’s laid on on a wee bit too thick, but you know what, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes art just has to go overboard in order to make it’s point, whatever that point is of course

So basically, this has been a great series that few people seem to have read. I hope I’m wrong and that this was bought by more people than I think it was but seeing as the market is crammed full of superheroes, or horror/zombie comics, or endless fantasy titles, The Auteur stood out for being utterly different while remaining unique in an increasingly crowded market where quality control isn’t what is should be by both publishers and readers. Buy this comic. Spears and Callahan are talents. This needs to be on your bookshelf if/when it gets a collected edition.

What I thought of Crossed: Badlands #57

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I enjoyed the Garth Ennis storyline, The Thin Red Line in the last half dozen issues of Crossed: Badlands, so I though I’d give this issue a try and I’ve only got two words to describe it.

Shit sandwich.

I’ve got a few things to say about the Crossed idea & concept in the future, but this issue is just utter shite. Complete and utter waste of time unless you’re into badly written gore & some dubious violence regarding children.