Dave Prowse has passed away…

Dave Prowse has sadly died and with that goes a large chunk of my childhood.

Of course his role as Darth Vader is what he’ll leave as his main legacy (no actor since has given that sense of physical power mixed with pain that Prowse did) but for a generation of kids we knew him as the Green Cross Code Man, who was a superhero created to teach British kids road safety.

Even then he was dubbed as his native Bristol accent was found ‘laughable’ by some.

Though they eventually let him speak in his own voice.

I first met Prowse when he visited my school as the Green Cross Code Man to do his thing, and I was in awe of how huge the guy was. He seemed 6 foot in every direction. This was just before Star Wars, so few knew what was coming for him but he’d been an actor for some time mainly in Hammer films and odds and sods playing the heavy, but imagine my confusion when I got older and saw him in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

As I got even older and started working in comics, I’d see him at conventions signing for hours and somewhere in a box I still have some Marvel Star Wars issues he signed around 92 or 93. By this point he’d spectacularly fallen out with George Lucas, and Prowse was shunned from official Star Wars conventions, so he made his wage from going to every other show out there around the world. I’d see him frequently in the 90s and 00s with a long queue waiting to for things to be signed.

I’d see Prowse everywhere during this time; at shows, or coming out the Empire Gym he owned when I lived in St. Paul’s in Bristol, or his picture hanging by the bar in the glorious late night eating and drinking den, Renato’s in the centre of Bristol.

Last time I saw him at a show he looked frail, so his convention appearences declined and he’d be working online sending out autographed pictures stating ‘DAVE PROWSE IS DARTH VADER’ because he was.He gave years of joy for generations and he’ll always be Darth Vader.

And the Green Cross Code Man of course…

RIP Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona is dead at the all too young age of 60, and the world loses an artist and a footballer, and if you think football can’t be art then look at this goal.

Back in the olden days before the English Premier League and modern football blandified the game, there were players like Cruyff, Dalglish and Best who strode like giants in the game but were also far from being bland figures routinely rolling off perfectly trained media soundbites.Then there was Maradona who was in a class of his own, and getting the chance to watch him play on the rare chance you coujld back in the 80’s was amazing. Those days didn’t have 24/7 football coverage of the game at almost all levels and overseas football certainly was rarely, if ever shown outwith of things like the European Cup.

So seeing Maradona do magical things with a football in grainly, crackly footage do stuff with a ball was astonishing. Watching him pull his country Argentina up by the short and curlies in 1986 and win that year’s World Cup was amazing. The man was a footballing genius. Less said about some of his off-pitch antics, but let’s focus on what the man didn on the pitch as a genuine working class here who pulled himself up from nowhere to become the greatest footballer of all time.

I’ll miss him. Hearing of his latest venture always made me smile, but watching him in his prime made me fill with joy. He’s going to leave a massive hole in the game.

Sutcliffe! The musical.

Peter Sutcliffe is dead which is a good thing, but during all the talk of his and the women he murdered abanned sketch from Brass Eye came to mind. Brass Eye was a TV series produced by Chris Morris and a team of exceptionally talented team of writers and actors for Channel 4 in 1997. It is by far one of the great bits of TV satire/comedy ever produced in the UK, but during the first broadcast it suffered heavily from censorship, especially in Episode 6 which saw whole sketches lost including one about Peter Sutcliffe starring in his own West End musical.

At the time a Jack the Ripper musical was proposed, plus ‘Ripper tours’ of the murder sites were pulling in the money in the East End of London, which back then hadn’t gentrified to the state it has now so it wasn’t ironic hispters being mocked, but working class women. There was also a glamourisation of old gangsters, some of which commited crimes as bad as Sutcliffe. The idea this sketch was supporting Sutcliffe was a joke, but it was one pushed by the usual suspects.

However judge for yourself…

Sean Connery RIP

Sean Connery has died and with him goes an era of mid to late 20th Century movie star of the like we’ll never see again as no British movie star would ever come from the sort of working class background he did. The first film actor to play James Bond and to instill him with a real sense of danger because Connery didn’t grow up in a nice safe middle class environment, but a hard working class Scottish upbringing, and it is this element of danger that made his Bond so vicious. His Bond was a brutal killer, not to mention a rapist with a deep seated misogyny.

They did tone down his Bond near the end of his run, but by this point Connery was clearly bored with the character as can be seen by the way he just walks through Diamonds Are Forever with the same air as someone waiting for the clock to hit 5pm so they can go home. IT was once Connery shook off Bond to make some astonishing films like Robin and Marion, The Man Who Would Be King and the utterly mental Zardoz.

He did enter a sort of Michael Caine period where he’d appear in terrible films like Meteor just for the cash though this period did produce a nice performance in Time Bandits, plus the slightly forgotten about Outland.

A revivial in the mid 80’s saw Connery finally win an Oscar (he should have won it for Robin and Marion) in the splendid The Untouchables, but for those of us of a certain generation it’ll be his turn in Highlander where he’s clearly having fun that will last for us.

During the 90’s he was a solid movid star but for me his last great role (where he’s basically playing an elderly James Bond) is in Michael Bay’s best film, The Rock alongside Nicolas Cage who is in full Cage mode.

The less said of Connery’s last few years the better but by this point he’d done more than enough to cement himself as a geniune film star, not to mention someone who invested a lot of time and money into Scotland. Not enough to stop him being a tax exile but his consistant high level support for Scottish independence was appreciated. Less so his real life abuse of a former partner, but without making excuses for him, he was brought up in harder, more toxic times. It’s just he never had that viewpoint challenged.

So with Connery’s passing an age ends and we have an amazing body of work to enjoy, I just wish his last few films were better than what they were and he’d maybe taken a role that’d have signed off his career with flourish so go watch The Rock to make up for it.

James Randi RIP

It seems somewhat apt that in a year like 2020 where people beleive the most outrageous bullshit and it’s accepted by a range of people from the wokiest of woke to the hardcore far right. People are making careers, even changing laws by telling us black is white so I don’t blame James Randi for choosing this time to leave this mortal coil. Randi, or The Amazing Randi to give him his stage name was a debunker before Derren Brown was a wee boy so over the decades he’s pulled apart every snake oil salesman and bollocks theory you can imagine.

He was especially, and rightfully, hard on top conman Uri Geller in a way which was relentless.

Geller is a conman who has made millions out of this, and Randi was one of the few public figures who called him out, and that was the beauty of Randi. He was a magician who didn’t take these sort of conmen, not to mention he stood firm as a champion of science and facts when conspiracy theory and tinfoilery was growing more prevelant in the public.

Now we have a world where science and fact is under threat like no time since the Victorian era, and we loose Randi. We need more like him, but The Amazing Randi will be sorely missed.

Eddie Van Halen RIP

Eddie Van Halen has sadly passed away from cancer, which adds to the number of depressing things about 2020. I personally was never a huge Van Halen (the band) fan but you’d have to have a soul of brick not to love Eddie Van Halen’s ability with a guitar and what he could do with something people in his genre of rock could barely do. Van Halen (band and person) sat astride late 70’s rock and 80’s hair metal and really for someone like me who was a moody Indie Goth type I shouldn’t have likde his stuff but I did with of course what he did to Michael Jackson’s Beat It being a particular highlight.

Praise has to be laid to Jackson who took a large risk in fusing rock and pop which could have alienated his fans but instead it just introduced them to Van Halen. It’s one of the first big rock and black music crossovers in modern American music which is a lot more segregated than it was here in the UK.

But Van Halen could make guitars sing in a way few people can. Sure, there’s great guitarists and average guitarists can produce one or two great tunes, but Van Halen was someone who could bend the guitar to do what he wanted. in an age where a few tweaks on your laptop can produce a passing imitation the life, joy and soul he brought will be missed.

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.