RIP Ennio Morricone

This one hurts because for all my life Ennio Morricone has soundtracked some of my favourite films. When I was young, I was allowed up late to watch A Fistful of Dollars and saw what is still once of the finest titles for a movie ever.

That music though was like nothing I’d heard before and I wanted more. When my parents said this was the first of three films I ensured I was allowed to stay up the next week for A Few Dollars More, however it was that third week with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly which blew my tiny little mind.

You knew from this opening credits score that you were in for something epic, something spectacular and you got something transcendent at the end of the film. I mean just look at what’s going on and story being told here, all made to work thanks to direction, editing and of course music.

Then I caught Once Upon a TIme in the West some months later. The end blew me away.

But Morricone could do whatever he wanted in terms to variety. Here’s the opening credits to Danger: Diabolik with him in full 60’s mode.

Over the years it quickly became clear Morricone was scoring some of my favourite films, and sure, he could raise rubbish up from the depths, but he could add quality to quality, or take an average film and raise it to something else.

By the time he starts scoring Hollywood films, he’s already scored dozens of films. IN fact by the mid-70s his C.V. is enormous, but the hits still keep coming. Take a low budget Italian Z-Grade Star Wars rip off called The Humanoid. It’s a terrible film, but the soundtrack is Morricone experimenting with things like synths in a way he might not have with something a bit more expensive, and better.

My favourite of this time is for John Carpenter’s The Thing, which starts to ramp up the tension right from the start.

After that there were classics for films like Once Upon a Time in America, The Untouchables and Bugsy. All classic scores which pull these films into being something else, but in recent years he’s been scaling back the amount of work he’s doing with The Hateful Eight being the last big score most people will remember him by.

He’ll be missed because he was so varied, so good and just a bloody genius. I mean, just listen to his theme for Space:1999 when they released some edited together episodes to make a film.

RIP Denny O’Neil

When I first started reading American comics few writer’s names stuck with me. Of course there was Stan Lee, but as someone who was more into DC Comics at the time really there was Gardner Fox and Denny O’Neil. I don’t really know why O’Neil became the first writer I made an effort to follow but in thinking of it, I can trace it back to his run on the Justice League of America and this issue.Partly because I loved The Creeper but mainly because it was a great read.

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It wasn’t a massive run but it helped drag the JLA from a fun wee comic to something more aking to what Marvel were doing. Today it’d be called a reboot. Whatever, it was just a great comic, and run, which made me notice O’Neil’s name at a time when you’re more likely to notice an artists name. And it was with an artist O’Neil was to be forever linked with because of their amazing work on Gree Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman. In both cases, characters are rebooted, made gritter to reflect the times of the late 1960’s, early 1970’s.

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His and Neal Adams reboot of Batman, his cast of characters and especially The Joker, became the default depiction of Batman up til Frank Miller’s version dominated from around 1986 onwards.

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He also rebooted Superman, and Wonder Woman, effectively dragging a number of DC’s core titles out of the early 60’s pre-JFK assassination times they were trapped in. Unlike some of his peers, O’Neil’s quality of work into the 80’s didn’t drop and in fact in some cases improved, especially his work on The Question which is a title often forgotten about when discussing the revival of the medium in that time.

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I could spend weeks going through how O’Neil’s shaped my appreciation for the comics medium. As writer, then editor he’s guided a number of creators through who later became giants in the medium, which to be honest few people can claim to have ever done. The entire size of his footprint on the industry is so large we’ll never see the true scale of it because being a creator in this industry and staying relevant in some shape or form for five decades won’t be repeated. He’ll be hugely missed.

 

RIP Max Von Sydow

As a child, my image of Max Von Sydow was from staring at pictures from The Exorcist, as at that point I was too young to watch it and it’d be at least 15 years before I did see it. I saw him as an old, frailish man.

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Yet when I saw him in Flash Gordon he was a relatively young man in all that film’s hot campy glory.

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Of course, it was a mix of Von Sydow’s wonderful acting and Dick Smith’s still astonishing makeup, and so for a while Max Von Sydow was my favourite actor. I’d eat up all his films when they landed on TV in those pre-digital, even pre VHS days so everything from The Seventh Seal to his still remarkable Jesus Christ (there’s something alien about his version of Christ I’ve never seen since) in The Greatest Story Ever Told, my favourite of the biblical epics with Ben Hur.

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There’s a ton of lost gems in Von Sydow’s C.V including the gloriously bizarre adaptation of Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf which simply has to be seen, preferably while off your face on MDMA.

1980 and 1981 saw him in some of my favourite films, including the mental Escape to Victory and Death Watch, a great SF film filmed here in a post-industrial, but pre recovery Glasgow. It’s a film I’m always recommending because it simply is a lost gem.

If I sat down and wrote a list of my favourite films, Max Von Sydow’s name would pop up over and over and over again in the credits, from Dune, to Dreamscape, to Hannah and Her Sisters, to Until the End of the World, to What Dreams Will Come, and fuck, even Judge Dredd has some moments.

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A great actor not afraid to play in genre film as well as mainstream film, and one who was such a talent he made it look effortless, but it really wasn’t. Another one who’ll be missed.

The coronavirus will kill us all

Every now and then Planet Earth spits out something that’s designed to wipe large numbers of people out, and this latest case of death from nowhere is the Coronavirus. We’ve had these things before and although they’ve sadly killed people in numbers, we’ve not seen the sort of global pandemic which has wiped out hundreds of thousands, if not more.That was back in the time of reason when science and sanity overruled all, even when countries woujld be ruled by idiots.

Well, now we’re in the age of idiocy. In the US, Donald Trump has appointed Mike Pence to oversee the effort to fight this, and here we’ve got Mike Hancock, UK Health Secretary who thinks we can get rid of it by washing our hands while singing God Save the Queen.

So, seeing as white can now be black, and that we’ve already got conspiracy theorists saying ‘THEY’ produced this to for some reasons or another, and in an age where facts are flexible the truth is we’re fucked. I look forward to our forthcoming apocalypse with some glee as it means we’ll be free of the age of stupidity.

RIP Andrew Weatherall

DJ, producer, writer, performer and musician Andrew Weatherall has died aged 56, which is far too young. Most folk will know him through his production of Primal Scream’s Loaded in 1990 but he wrote my life’s soundtrack for the early 90’s. I’ve touched upon this briefly before here.

I broke a tape replaying the first Sabres of Paradise album, Sabresonic, so much. The second one, Haunted Dancehall was the soundtrack to 1994 and of course Raise by Bocca Juniors in clubs in Bristol and London back in the day.

A Weatherall remix could earn you money, chart places and critical acclaim but for me the Weatherall project that welded itself to me was One Dove, their only album Morning Dove White and the song One Love.

I listen to that and I’m 20something walking into a club in Bristol hearing this shouting ‘WHO THE FUCK IS THIS?’ to a mate, who found out who it was, and that sparked me out in my mind as this was the sound in my head. Dot Allison’s vocals made everything perfect, while Weatherall’s guitar mix (he really was a great guitarist) is still a fucking tune and a half.

Weatherall mixed everything it seemed together to create glorious sounds, which as said, sometimes sounds exactly like what’s going on in my head. I could fill up pages and pages of his work but I’ll wrap up with a tune from Fuck Buttons, Surf Solar, which bizarrely ended up being used at the London Olympics in 2012. All those years dancing on the outskirts and suddenly his sounds are in the middle of one of the most establishment events out there.

Nobody will replace him. 56 is far too young and dear god, how badly will I miss his tunes…

RIP Terry Jones

Back in the 1970’s I was but a wee boy, and like many folk back then, a Monty Python fan. When hearing that Michael Palin and Terry Jones had made their own series, Ripping Yarns, like many youthful fanboys I was aside myself and to this day I adore every single one of them but Golden Gordon is by far my favourite.

Palin and Jones were their own team within Python, and out of all the groupings that came out of Python these two were the best and the funniest because Palin was just a brilliant performer, while Jones timed the comedy in those episodes to perfection. They were very British, very English bits of humour that now, sadly, will be lost to people because the reference for these stories (pulp magazines and British boys comics) are not part of your average Millenial’s cultural wardrobe.

Jones was never the standout in Python for me when I was younger. It was John Cleese but as I got older and older I’d notice what Jones was doing as well as his sheer comic bravery in getting a laugh with this being one of my favourite Python sketches ever.

Something then dawned on me watching this for the 1000th time, in that if I imagine Python to have a voice, then it sounds like Terry Jones. Not Eric Idle, Cleese or anyone else. Even now if you’re riffing off Python then it’s his voice you’ll be using.

And then I started growing up, latching onto the alternatic comedy boom of the 80s which washed all before it, except for Terry Jones who stamped his approval upon things wonderfully.

And that was it. Jones was my favoutite Python which made his descent into dementia so horrible to see his mind go but his friends stood by him all the way. There’s a point if the DVD of the O2 shows from 2014 where Jones is clearly distressed and confused backstage, but all of them form a shield to protect and to encourage him. It’s a small, tiny moment but it shows you what he meant to his friends, and now, it’s a sad moment because we know this is him slipping away but still able to cling on thanks to his mates.

I’ll miss Jones. He was always fun, always entertaining and always it seems, right. Like everyone it seems I’ll miss knowing he’s not around to make the world that wee bit of a better place a lot.

Losing Clive James

Clive James is dead. That sentence has been getting ready to be typed for nearly a decade as he fought leukemia, but he managed to fight it longer than predicted in turn giving us work that told us about how a man knowing he’s going to die sees the world. Even near the end he could still show signs the cancer hadn’t beaten him.

I, like many people of my age, first experienced James via his chat shows after Clive James on Television made him a mainstream star as he introduced and spoke about American and Japanese television especially.

This programme was a gateway drug for me. From here I went and found his writing and criticism (remember how great libararies are) which meant I discovered probably the greatest television critic of the 20th century however it really was his work on TV that topped the education his writing gave me.

His interview with Peter Cook and Barry Humphries is an essential for anyone who loves comedy, as well as watching three people on utterly top form as James just feeds the pair lines, which is enough for them to perform. I especially love Cook’s contempt for the forthcoming 87 election coverage.

We won’t see the likes of James again. A lack of critical thinking in criticism, plus the lack of sheer ability to play with different mediums as well as tailor material to different audiences without dumbing down is impossible in today’s media landscape, especially in the UK where mixing intellectualism into the mainstream is now frowned upon.

But his work lives on. As a tip for any budding critics I suggest you read any of his work, but I started with The Crystal Bucket and this work made me appreciate criticism as a need for us to understand art, plus it showed criticism could be an artform in itself. For that alone I’m eternally grateful to James for. He’ll be missed.

Rutger Hauer RIP

utger Hauer has died at the age of 75 and it’s a damned pity. Hauer in another reality would be laden with Oscars, BAFTA’s and be lauded as one of the greatest actors, and leading men of his generation. Instead he forged a solid career but never got the acclaim, or often the roles, he deserved.

Like most people outwith of The Netherlands, I first saw Hauer in Blade Runner and was blown away by him and one scene in particular.

It was when I was older that I discovered his earlier work with Paul Verhoeven, with Turkish Delight

And the still extraordinary Soldier of Orange. Apart from Blade Runner this is the best film he ever made and contains this amazing scene of Nazi homoeroticism.

Then there’s the glorious joy of Ladyhawke

And the barking mad insanity of Flesh and Blood.

The ceeeping dread of The Hitcher. His opening scene is just fucking scary as anything.

The Legend of the Holy Drinker should have cemented his reputation as a true great of acting.

But instead genre fare came his way with the 1990’s being somewhat of a barren wasteland creatively, unless you count his mysterious Guinness ads from the time as a high, which compared to some of the crap he was in, they certainly were.

And yes, I’ll admit these ads shaped my dress sense for the late 80’s with lots of collarless shirts and long black coats.

In 2005 a couple of cameos in big Hollywood films came coming with Sin City and Batman Begins. These should have kick started a revival but sadly no, and Hauer stayed working constantly with his last role of real note being the title character of Hobo With A Shotgun.

Hauer leaves behind a huge CV. Most of it isn’t worth paying attention to but dear god, some of the highlights shine and there’s so many highlights. He’ll be missed for what he did and what he could have done as well.

RIP Bob Napier, an unsung hero of comics

For what seems like a lifetime I’ve been working on a blog about the unsung heroes of British comics. You know, the type of folk who at best may get a passing mention in one of those articles about British comics that leaps from 2000AD, to Alan Moore and then to Vertigo often missing out the folk who didn’t just keep the scene going, but actually helped carve the foundations and build the bloody thing in the first place.

One of those names on the list has been Bob Napier, and sadly, he’s now passed away after battling illness for some years. He was a founding partner in the legendary Glasgow comic chop, AKA Books and Comics, not to mention the entire Glasgow comics scene owes him a debt because if you’re sitting in the city enjoying the scene and the ‘geek’ culture of today one of those people who built the well you sup upon is Bob Napier so raise a glass in respect to the man.

Bob was a big man. Although his other partners were in various forms more public than Bob, he was very much the driving forceand kept things sane when at times it could have went horribly off the rails. He co-founded the AKA fanzine born from drinking in the back of Wintersgills in Glasgow’s West End though to the opening of the shop in the now defunct Virginia Galleries. Although not a full time employee like John McShane and Pete Root, or an occasional presence like Steve Montgomery, Bob imprinted himself on AKA to the extent that to miss him from the history of the shop or the Glasgow scene is an injustice which sadly is far too common. Even in this piece here, Bobbie is reduced to an ’employee’ which is a slight although corrected shows how history often reduces the role of important figures. Though his appearance in a Marvel Captain Britain strip now makes him a Disney character which I think he’d have liked…

I only saw Bob a few times after the disintegration of AKA in the 90’s. As regular readers of this blog will know I was living in England, and by the mid 90’s my trips home were becoming less frequent so the last time I really spoke to Bob was when he had a wee unit in the old Candleriggs Market selling comics for prices which today would be a steal but then were pretty decent. I remember we had a chat, caught up, I bought some Flash back issues, promised we’d go for a pint with Pete Root next time I was up and with that I never saw him again apart from briefly seeing him at the Glasgow Comic Con at the Royal Concert Hall a couple of years ago which made me regret ever living up to that promise of a pint as his battle with illness had clearly taken its toll.

However let’s not end on such a note. We all live with regret but it is with Bobbies friends and families that our sympathies and attention should lie. If you can make it, his funeral is 9am on Saturday the 22 June at Daldowie Crematorium in Glasgow. Say cheerio to one of the people who did all the hard work in appreciating, loving and building up comics at a time in a city where it was hard to do so.

Cheers Bob, I hope to have that pint with you and Pete some day in an afterlife where the taps run with beer and comics…

RIP Billy McNeill

Celtic and Scotland legend Billy McNeill sadly has passed away. It wasn’t a shock as he’d been ill for some time but this absolute giant of a man will be best remembered not just to be the first Scottish and British player to get his hands on the European Cup, but for being one of the very best players Scotland ever will produce.

I’m a Partick Thistle supporter but to not admire the man and there’s fans of many a Scottish club, Rangers included, who think the same. A giant who’ll be missed.