Alan Moore and Adam Curtis in conversation…

Alan Moore is a writer who helped change comics back in the 1980’s, and Adam Curtis is the UK’s finest documentarians while both skirt around the edge of mainstream culture to say the least. Below is a conversation between the pair from May 2018 which is a pretty absorbing listen, especially in light of the post Covid world where things are changing all over the place creating an even more uncertain world.

Spend an hour listening to this. It’ll be worth it.

UK ad for Evil Dead 2 from 1987

Evil Dead 2 is one of my favourite films. It is an almost perfect sequel but when it came out in cinemas here in the UK it wasn’t anything like the success the first one was which was a shame. The first Evil Dead ran in parts of the UK for years, with it running in Glasgow in various cinemas for five years.

The second one suffered from the wave of censorship still washing over the UK and also I don’t think people outwith of the fans got it, but time has shown it to be a classic. It did however have a great marketing campaign here in the UK with Raimi working his arse off in terms of publicity, and this advert with Jonathan Ross just sums up the campaign well, and sets expectations for what you’re going to see.

Sam Raimi versus UK censors on live TV

Back in the 80’s and 90’s there used to be a late-night talk show called Central Weekend, shown on the ITV network but based in the Midlands. It was an odd magazine format that would switch from deeply serious to flippant on the turn of a heel. Back in 1987 they had Sam Raimi on to defend not just his two Evil Dead films released at the time, as well as being the mouthpiece of anti-censorship.

The argument is bizarre. At one point Howarth is arguing for parental control while saying that parents are so weak they can’t exercise control over their children and it’s the fault of folk like Sam Raimi but being a Nazi, which is one of the arguments used.  Of course the likes of Howarth have never seen all the film, and also people argue that people see films just for kicks which is basically the entire fucking point of any entertainment.

Raimi spent most of the early part of his career in the UK arguing for his films and in this, he looks weary as he realises that he’s being set up as the fall guy. The amount of venom thrown at him by the like of Howarth over the years would wear anyone out but the fact is Raimi is now one of Hollywood’s most respected directors and the Evil Dead films are regarded as classics, with the first being respected across critical boundaries while Howarth is best remembered for being a homophobe who was roundly skewered by Chris Morris on Brass Eye.

 

What if there’d been a toy line for the 1979 Caligula film?

One of my guity pleasures in the very porny, very gory, very bizarre 1979 film, Caligula.

This was my introduction into the world of Tinto Brass, not to mention seeing actors like John Guilgud who in this film seems to be walking around in a haze counting how large his bank account is going to be once he gets through everything. It is also a mess as producer Bob Guccione rewrote scenes, not to mention inserted hardcore sex scenes filmed on set at night when the actors were away, as he felt it needed more sex to perhaps offset the violence.

Anyhow, the film is a mess but like one of the setpieces, it’s a mess one can’t help but be intrigued by, depending on what version of the film you see as there’s multiple versions depending how how much porn and gore you want. However imagine a line of toys to go along with the film that was made in 1979? Didn’t happen of course but what if it did?

Here you go…

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is the found-footage film that disturbed me

 

Back in the 2000’s things were all over the place for horror films. There weren’t that many great ones (the footprint of 911 cast itself over the first part of the decade) but as the decade progressed things improved especially on the independent film front. I’m a horror fan since a wee boy, so the odd gem that’d come up I’d swallow up like a hungry prisoner, and by the end of the 00’s most of the once-banned video nasties were coming out on disc either uncut, or close to uncut.

Tracking down video nasties used to be fun, but now everything was easy to buy from your local HMV or through Amazon. Then in 2007 a rumour flew around the internet about a film which was deeply disturbing even if it was a found footage film which even by 2007 was wildly overused and full of awful, awful films. The Poughkeepsie Tapes was a low budget film in the found footage/mockumentary style which was familiar by now but what made it attractive was it was bloody hard to get in those pre broadband days. Sure you could find it on P2P sites but it took ages to download, and when it did there was less than an hour of the film. It wasn’t until checking online that you had to use VLC Player to watch it. In short, it was a bit of a hunt to watch the bloody thing in an age when media was readily available at the click of a mouse.

Once I did see the film it was clear this was, well, fucked up. From the off the entire film felt wrong, in a deeply disturbing WTF type of way. Yes there were easy shocks but the entire thing uneased me and even the sometimes awful acting in these films washed me by as another disturbing set-piece came up. I can’t say I enjoyed the film, but I certainly remembered it afterward.

And so it passed into memory only to pop up in conversation during those drunken ‘what films freaked you out’ conversation you’d have. Then the other day this video popped up in my recommendations.

Apart from being a pretty good review of the film, it brought back that slightly disturbed feeling so I found my copy of the film and watched it again. Yes, it still disturbed. The crap bits are still crap. However, there’s that tone and feel that this is right, in that, the film is designed to make you walk away from it feeling like you need a shower which is the sign of a good horror film, but maybe not one you’ll watch over and over again.

So give it a go, but do it in the dark.

 

 

 

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.

How Ghostbusters promoted Thatcherism

Everyone likes Ghostbusters right? I don’t mind it, it has problems but it wasn’t til fairly recently that I was able to work out just what my issues were.

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On the surface, this is a fun comedy/horror/action film with a good script and a few nice performances especially from Bill Murray but its also a highly political film. This never dawned on me til watching the film on TV again recently where that nagging doubt over the film found an answer.

Some context. Back in the early 80’s the post-war social consensus was that the public sector was best to manage things, and that private industry was helpful but sometimes risky, dangerous and expensive. It wasn’t that simple in real life but overall in the UK, and even the US, this worked. Then came the era of Thatcher and Reagan who both stripped the public sector apart as much as both of them could get away with at the time.

Ghostbusters stripped down is about a private company that is dangerous and reckless. Their health and safety is non-existant and this is played for laughs as it contrasts with the plight of William Atherton’s beleaguered city servant trying to dial back the Ghostbusters. It’s funny but it is also sending a serious message that the private sector might be risky and dangerous, so it makes it so Atherton’s civil servant is the real baddie. Now a wee bit of research shows many people picked this up over the years, but the question is how much of a part did Ghostbusters play in almost subliminally pushing a neo-liberal worldview not just in 1984, but in the decades since?

The answer to that is of course ‘I don’t know’ but I’m almost certain it’d have played a part in some people’s shaping of opinion, and of course the best type of propaganda is the type you don’t notice. Ghostbusters then becomes an entirely political film as opposed to the scattershot sequel, the confused 2016 reboot and the forthcoming 2020 version just looks like an exercise in nostalgia.  The 1984 version helped sell a political ideology that changed the world, and that makes Ghostbusters an interesting, and from whatever political point of view you hold, a great work or something troubling.

A totally unexpected reappraisal of Justice League

Yesterday I activated my free month of Amazon Prime to take in Picard, the new Star Trek series. That was excellent and I especially loved the subtle Brexit reference, but that’s for another day. After that I had a look at what Amazon offered, and had Zack Snyder’s Justice League film recommended to me, but I’d found the film a mess not to mention a chore to get through when I’d seen it the only time a few years back. I thought I’d give it a few minutes to see if things had changed expecting to stop and have an early night.

And I liked it lots more than I did previously.

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Maybe some distance has passed, and although the issues still stand it really is more enjoyable than a number of other superhero films, plus it has an actual sense of a directorial vision which the Marvel films, on the whole, have lost.  Sure, the scenes shot by Joss Whedon stand out a mile, the villain is badly done, the script has gaping holes, and that CGI lip is an awful bit of work to appear in a big-budget Hollywood film.

However, the League themselves are actually interesting. Affleck’s Batman is an interesting portrayal of an older man who’d lost his way finding redemption. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is the standout star character of the DCEU and should be its bedrock as Iron Man was for Marvel. While Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman and Ezra Miller’s Flash have a genuine spark on screen. Hell, even Cyborg seemed less tokenistic this time round.  The big loser here is Henry Cavill and his Clark Kent/Kal El/Superman as once he’s allowed to play Superman not as a brooding Emo type, but actually as Superman, he’s a revelation.

It’s a flawed experiment and yes, I’d be interested in seeing what a full ‘Snyder cut’ would look like because again, there’s a bland generic quality creeping in to the point you couldn’t tell who directed one Marvel film to another. With this it is pretty clear it’s Snyder’s vision. You may not like it, but there’s a clear vision which makes the Whedon footage clash so badly, and also, there’s a bit of irony as the Marvel template is based on what Whedon did with the first two Avengers films.

It is unlikely DC/Warners will do a Justice League film again in some time, which  is a shame as it’d be good to see this group together again but in a film free of studio meddling.

But there you go, I never thought I’d write any of that but it shows opinions do change…

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.

Watch this Blade Runner convention reel from 1982

Blade Runner is one of my favourite films. Even if the UK poster is one of the worst posters you’ll ever see.

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In the early 80’s fandom was nothing like the organised beast it is today. Film companies knew enough back then though that keeping fans informed and happy would, hopefully, result in box office gold. Early efforts consisted of a few clips and some posters, maybe even an actor from the film would turn up and sell the film hard.

In 1982 I was a wee boy at one of Glasgow’s then annual science fiction conventions, Faircon, and one of the unsuspected highlights was a promotion by the film company for Blade Runner.  They gave away posters and badges, which are all now sadly lost throughout the years and yes, they’d be worth silly money now but the real highlight was a promo reel for the film which looked amazing.

I haven’t seen or even thought about it for nearly 40 years when looking at YouTube after the death of Syd Mead. It really is a great bit of archive not to mention it brings back al the nostalgia of being stupidly young and watching this all those decades ago.