Grasping the Thistle: A documentary about Partick Thistle…

Supporting a football team can be easy if you’re just jumping on a bandwagon and supporting a team because they’re successful. When you support a team like Glasgow’s Partick Thistle, success, is measured by different metrics than winning European trophies or billion pound sponsorship deals.

Back at the early days of this millennium, Partick Thistle were pushing hard to gain promotion to Scotland’s top flight. This BBC documentary is full of everything that makes supporting smaller teams painful, and wonderful, at the same time.

Enjoy…

HyperNormalisation: the new film from Adam Curtis

I adore the work of documentary film-maker Adam Curtis which is why I’m excited about his new film,HyperNormalisation, due to be launched on the BBC’s iPlayer tonight. This one is about Donald Trump, Brexit and the system we live in today which is entirely false which we all know is false, but none of us want to admit it.

At 2 hours 46 minutes it promises to be an epic but we need people like Curtis making films that question everything, and well done to the BBC for giving him the time, money and space to essentially do whatever he wants. I can’t imagine ITV or Sky doing that.

So here’s the trailer.

I never find Curtis’s work a chore; far from it, so once I’ve worked through it I’ll give my opinion after watching what promises to be an exceptional work.

About that Louis Theroux Jimmy Savile documentary…

Last night BBC Two broadcast, Louis Theroux: Savile, a follow up documentary to his 2000 documentary When Louis met Jimmy. Savile is Theroux’s mea culpa as he seems to blame himself for his part in failing to uncover what Savile was doing and the scale of which he was a monster.

Indeed looking at the footage Theroux includes in this film of subsequent meetings with Savile 16 years ago it’s hard not to see some huge signs that Savile was frankly, fucking creepy as hell.

Hindsight’s an amazing super-power, and with hindsight it’s clear to see what Savile was. He hid in plain sight, yet I feel Theroux hasn’t any guilt to divest himself of. As said by one of Savile’s victims in the film, Theroux was ‘groomed’ and ‘mugged off’, and so were large amounts of people growing up, myself included.

Yet the stories clung to Savile like a stench. First time I heard these stories was at secondary school in Glasgow in the 1980’s, these where the ‘Jimmy Savile fucks corpses’ stories which in the playground in the early 1980’s was a bit of a laugh, now seem to have an element of truth in them. I heard stories about Savile as I was growing up, and of course, once you start hanging around in pubs you start to hear more outrageous stories. There’s the Richard Gere hamster story, Cliff Richard’s colostomy bag, and of course Jimmy Savile was a subject who’d always be mentioned when drunk talk goes down the weird path of celebrities doing stuff you’d never have considered.

Then in 1990 I went to a party in London with my then girlfriend and her sister, who worked at the BBC at the time. The party was full of BBC employees and again, the drink kicked in and I vividly remember joking about whether Terry Wogan really had a wig (he did apparently) before the subject turned to Savile. I told the necrophilia story I’d heard a decade or so earlier hundreds of miles away in Glasgow to the room which prompted two or three other people to say they’d heard the same story, which in turn prompted worse and worse stories of Savile acting like a creepy old man wandering round Broadcasting House.

My girlfriends sister then mentioned she’d be warned off of being in a room alone with Savile. Another girl mentioned if she saw him coming down the corridor she’d find a door or staircase to enter to avoid him. Other stories were swapped, but 26 years and being drunk at the time preclude me from remembering them. What I’m saying is stories about Jimmy Savile being a necrophile, as well as a paedophile were legion hence why in the 2000 documentary Theroux mentions them to Savile, because it’d have been negligent for him not to. That’s as far as I know the only time anyone in the media ever confronted him about it while he was alive.

Yet if people like me, and all those folk at that party or elsewhere had heard the stories over the decades, then the media will have too. That’s something Theroux touches upon in Savile where he chats to a woman who used to work on the Mail on Sunday who spoke about stories she heard nearly 50 years ago and nobody acted upon those stories.

It was hard to believe that someone who did raise millions for good causes as well as being seen as a Great British Eccentric was a monster, yet hiding in plain sight obviously worked which leads me to this wee story. Around 2002 or so myself and a friend used to go drinking on a Monday night after work, I’ll call him A to keep it anonymous for reasons which will become clear. A had a mate (I’ll call him B) he used to work for when he worked for the Notorious Bristol-Based Sales Company that B still worked for, but B was based now in India running their operation then. B would still come back to the UK to report in, as well as seeing family and friends.

B was fine, a drinking mate, not really a friend per say. We’ve all got people like that in our lives. B used to drop lines about how he’d pay boys in India to do things round his house, which myself and A used to think was cleaning and the like. Thought nothing of it. B was earning stupid sums of money and India has a low cost of living so we again, thought nothing of it. Speed forward a few years and B is now flitting around various Asia-Pacific countries for work while still coming back to the UK where he’d occasionally meet up with myself and A for a bevvy or seven.

Then word came back that B was in some sort of trouble in the Philippines, but it was nothing to be concerned about until when out on the piss one night with A around six or seven years ago I brought up B’s name. Turns out he’d been caught in a scam by some locals designed to entrap Westerners trying to ‘hire boys’. He’d been thrown in prison, and although eventually got out, was exposed for what he was when a family member who’d went out to help him decided to log in on B’s laptop and saw things which made B’s family disown him to essentially leave him to the wolves of the Filipino legal system.

In hindsight, myself and A could look back and pick the signals out of the air. With the power of hindsight we could see what B was, and how evasive he was at times, but you dismiss it as after all, someone you know couldn’t be an abuser could they?

What seems to have happened to Theroux is he was mugged off like myself and A were. We all fell for the superficial, we were in effect, suckered by people who knew how to manipulate people for their own purposes which I don’t think Louis Theroux should wallow in guilt too much. People had 40 years prior to him to question him, they didn’t yet if Jimmy Savile was the subject of playground gossip then that gossip must have been picked up by Fleet Street editors in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90 and up to his death in 2011? Sure a few articles leaked out but what’s now clear is the victims were failed by the Fourth Estate and that all the soul searching from people like myself, you or Louis Theroux can’t change that fact.

Louis Theroux: Savile is on iPlayer for the next month. It is essential viewing.

Shadow of the Ripper-1988 Jack the Ripper documentary

Back in 1988, there was a lot of fuss over the centenary of the Jack the Ripper murders with books, films, documentaries, comics, anything you can imagine basically being created to cash in on this gruesome anniversary.

Not everything was horribly exploitative of what still is the horribly brutal murders of five women.  Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell made its appearance in 1989 in Steve Bissette’s horror anthology Taboo, even the ITV Michael Caine drama has its moments as a good piece of schlock but this for me is the Holy Grail.

Shadow of the Ripper is a superb documentary presented by Christopher Frayling, an academic who takes an academic, but easily accessible journey through the Ripper story which involves a lengthy discussion of the social and economic issues of late 19th century London and of an Empire who at one point was the wealthiest the world had ever seen, but had the most astonishing poverty in it’s biggest city. In many ways there’s parallels with our position today, even down to the callous disregard for women.

The documentary is up on iPlayer, but it was it’s appearance on my YouTube recommendations that caught my attention, so here’s that version which everyone around the world can appreciate. It really is a superb bit of archive television.

The Enfield Poltergeist-BBC radio documentary

The Enfield Poltergeist has been something that’s interested me as a child, not because I’m a massive believer in ghosts and the likes, but because it’s such a fascinating case plus it inspired one of the finest bits of television ever, Ghostwatch.

This is a curious contemporary BBC radio documentary of the time, and it’s a fabulous wee bit of archive. What’s so evocative are the clear differences in accents rather than the bland middle class mush we often hear these days on radio, this actually feels tactile and real which adds to it.

Put aside your feelings on the case, this is a great listen and worth your time.

Comic Book Heaven

I’ve worked in comic shops in Bristol, London and Glasgow. I’ve done comic marts and conventions either with my own stock or working for friends in London, Glasgow, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Manchester, Cardiff and all over the place over a period from 1984 to today, with only recent ill-health excluding me from doing anything this year.

Most of the shops I’ve worked in are nothing like the ones people are used to today where shiny toys and merchandise dominate shiny, often soulless shops where staff often aren’t aware of anything beyond the last decade’s worth of comics, and don’t even think of asking them if they’ve got things like the latest Love and Rockets because they’ll never have heard of it.

No, the shops I worked in bled comics. Sure, we’d do the odd bit of merchandising but you’d often walk over piles of comics to get to more comics. The smell of dust and old paper hung in the air, along sometimes with the musk of some of our customers but there was no mistaking what you were coming in for.  Many of these shops had a grumpy old man who was hiding a decent heart, but make no mistake they loved comics as a medium, not as a fashion or trend.

Comic Book Heaven is a short film about the eponymous shop in New York run by Joe Leisner, the very picture of a grumpy old man but this man loves his comics. This short documentary documents the passing of a type of shop we’ll never see again as we move into a multimedia age. It is worth around 12 minutes of your time.

 

The Umbrella Man

While I recently spent some time in hospital for my stroke I ended up being lost in JFK conspiracy theories on YouTube because that’s the sort of thing you do when you’re bored rigid. In the middle of truly some insane videos I stumbled across a short film by film-maker Errol Morris called The Umbrella Man.

Morris is a superb documentarian going back to The Thin Blue Line, and this short film is a tiny little diamond of a documentary explaining one of the many odd things about that day in Dallas in 1963 when JFK was killed.

Give yourself a spare few minutes and enjoy this fantastic wee film.

What I thought of Futureshock! The story of 2000AD

2000AD in it’s nearly 40 year history has managed to carve itself a nice little niche in the history and culture of the UK, which is quite the thing for a comic that for much of it’s history has been ignored, hated and despised by the guardians of British culture.

Futureshock! The story of 2000AD, is a splendid documentary produced by Sean Hogan and Helen Mullane that outlines the well-worn history (to comic fans like myself) of 2000AD from it’s origins from the ashes of Action (2000AD’s genetic father as it were) to it’s heyday up til the mid 1980’s, and then it’s decline as talent was picked off slowly by DC Comics and then by some appalling management that nearly saw the comic die before Rebellion came in and saved it in the year 2000.

Most of all though it’s the story of Pat Mills who created 2000AD when publishers IPC tried cashing in on the predicted SF boom in the wake of Star Wars opening in the UK in December 1977. Trying to a create a slightly less violent version of Action but with a SF feel was fairly easy, but I remember at the time as a wee boy that loved Action that it’d not be the same, and it’d certainly not be as savagely violent as Hook Jaw, the everyday story of a shark that’d eat anyone, including kids!

Hookjaw

But my ten year old self never had to fear. 2000AD was as violent, brutal and uncompromising as Action was, indeed, it went further because it could hide behind the tag ‘science fiction’. So strips like Judge Dredd (later to become a term used to describe totalitarianism in the UK) and my personal favourite at the time, Flesh (the story of cowboys from the future travelling back in time to harvest dinosaurs for the people of the future’s demand for meat)  filled my bloodlust.

It wasn’t til I got older that I realised just what 2000AD was doing so I realised that Judge Dredd was a fascist, Strontium Dog was an allegory about discrimination and Flesh was about consumerism. All dripping in heaps of gore and violence, but at it’s heart  the comic was saying more, and Mills in Futureshock makes this point well as this was it’s point. Mills was trying to sneak in serious issues under all the violence, and also having writers as good as John Wagner with him to transform something like Judge Dredd to a higher lever, then it became true that for people of a certain age, 2000AD was an essential weekly experience.

In fact from around the summer of 1977 til I’d say, 1984, 2000AD was in it’s prime. Then as documented in the film creators started being headhunted by DC Comics for American work, so the likes of Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore led the way as the so-called ”British invasion” started and over the next dozen years or so, DC employed Alan Grant, John Wagner, Grant Morrison, Brett Ewins, Pete Milligan, Brendan McCarthy, Jamie Hewlett, Neil Gaiman, Mark Millar, Frank Quitely, Cam Kennedy, Bryan Talbot, John Higgins and lots more as British creators filled DC’s ranks, changed American comics, and even had an imprint created for them by DC called Vertigo Comics.

Pat Mills also worked for American publishers, but rather than stay at DC, he also worked for Epic, an imprint of Marvel Comics who published the quite glorious Marshal Law. Mills though did work doing some comics for Marvel’s 2099 line of comics too, but all the time he went back to 2000AD where I think barring Marshal Law and Charley’s War, is where he’s done his best work.

So it’s perfect for the story to be told as essentially Pat Mills’s story because he encapsulates everything about what made 2000AD so fucking essential up until at least prog 500.

prog500

After then for me although 2000AD produced a lot of great stuff the Golden Age was over, and once the comic hit the 90’s it hit a steep decline thanks partly to the comic changing ownership several times, and the editorship of Dave Bishop and later, Andy Diggle. This is the best part of the film as no matter how much or little you know about 2000AD, this bit of it’s history so dealing with Dave Bishop’s disastrous time in charge had to be done as it nearly killed the comic off for good. I’d given it up a long time before this point, but still picked the odd issue up, but during Bishop’s era it was at times totally unreadable.

Bishop’s always been a divisive figure in British comics. In fact I remember one UKCAC in the mid 90’s a Famous British Comic Creator telling Dave Bishop how much of a cunt he was to his face in the bar. I also remember another such creator telling a possibly libelous story about him so needless to say the man was a polarising figure.  As was Pat Mills to some people, but Mills was never ‘management’ in the sense he was a Yes Man doing the company’s wishes. Bishop was. That all said, Bishop comes across the best I’ve ever seen him in the documentary and Andy Diggle (whom I’ve never met so can’t judge personally) comes over dreadfully as a slightly petulant, passive-aggressive person which when confronted by Mills’s straight edge ‘fuck you’ attitude also looks evasive. It’s a fantastic segment and finally lays dead to the myth of comics documentaries that it’s a lovely job and there’s no viciousness or hate in the industry….

Another good point Mills makes about the comics decline is that certain creators used it as a launchpad to get American work. Some people flitted back and forth, but mainly most never came back once they’d cracked the US and indeed, I know of a couple of creators who were not exactly shy of telling people of their plan and in their cases it mainly worked out for them.

Thankfully though the story ends well as video game publisher Rebellion buys 2000AD, and under the editorial hand of Matt Smith the overall quality has increased so the comic’s future looks assured as it expands across the planet.

By the end of Sean Hogan and Helen Mullane’s great film I only had a couple of minor complaints. It could have done with another 15-30 minutes to give a bit more context for people not familiar with the ins and outs of the comic’s history, plus it’d have allowed the film a bit more breathing space as it flies by as it is. The petty moan I suppose is the terrible thrash metal opening music….

I’d highly recommend Futureshock! The story of 2000AD as one of the best documentaries on comics you’ll see, but also as you’ll see, a reminder of just what 2000AD has done for British culture, art, music and indeed, everything as it seeped slowly into the public’s psyche. Buy the film online at the likes of itunes, or buy the DVD, it’s not expensive and it’ll be vastly worth it!

What I thought of Glastonbury: The Movie

glastonburythemovie

In 2006 director Julien Temple released his film Glastonbury, a documentary encompassing the then 35 years of the festival. This though wasn’t the first attempt to make a film of the festival, in fact it was the third. The second was Glastonbury: The Movie released in 1996, a fallow year as 2006 was which meant there was no festival  but 1996 was just as the festival was sneaking into the mainstream thanks to Channel 4’s often chaotic but great coverage, and the blending of the alternative into the mainstream culture.  Festivals themselves were just being commodified thanks to the likes of T in the Park or the truly dreadful V Festival all trying to capture and bit of Glastonbury or Reading, rebrand it with the logo of alcoholic drinks or multinationals and flog it back to the kids.

Glastonbury: The Movie captures a time before the festival became such an essential part of summer consumerism in the UK. It tells a story of a time before far too posh students ticked off the festival before going to work for their parent’s company, or before middle class Guardian readers would push their kids around or before marketing directors called Nigel would turn up in their Audi A8 and get drunk on far too expensive wine.

The film was shot at the 1993 festival which also happens to be the second year I went and the first I remember anything of any worth about. In fact I saw them filming several times over the weekend, and to this day I swear I’m in the final film though friends deny that to be the case.

Unlike Temple’s later film it doesn’t tell the story of the then 23 years of the festival, but of the weekend itself through several narratives; the jazz band (this is the early 90’s, jazz was bizarrely popular even though it’s shite), the hippy girl that turned up without a tent and several others in an attempt to create an idea of what it’s like over the weekend. It doesn’t quite work as we watch these people go around the festival as frankly, they’re not very exciting or interesting. What is interesting is just the simple shots of crowds and people just talking or getting on with enjoying the festival which includes the music, though not on the Pyramid Stage, only on the NME Stage (now the Other Stage, the story of how Michael Eavis kicked out the NME needs to be told one day) and around the site. The effect of this is that the filmmakers are forced to look away from the obvious place (the main stage) and to the large part of the festival that til recently was barely mentioned by the BBC, or if they did, it was only in a smug ”oh, it’s not as good as watching Kaiser Chiefs’ type of way by someone as objectionable as Jo Wiley.

Away from the Pyramid means all the little things that are now sadly gone from Glastonbury manage to get captured, so the weird and wonderful improvised stuff from the busker standing on his head to the woman who just turned up selling banana cakes are captured lovingly without comment. Even in 1993 the festival’s scale was such that trying to capture it fully was impossible but what Glastonbury: The Movie does is to grab a snapshot of the festival coming out of the 80’s and the violence that closed 1990’s festival, and standing on the cusp of a massive musical explosion in the UK in the shape of Britpop, not to mention Glastonbury Festival itself was only a few years away from entering the public mindset in a massive way with the mudfest that was 1997. The images of which managed to mythologise the festival in such a way that people who’d never considered going saw pictures of people having the time of their lives in feet of sticky mud and fancied going.

But this film tells a story beautifully of a lost era I only managed to enjoy for a handful of years before the money, the TV channels and the likes of the BBC, Guardian, and endless vacuous celebrities turned up on site to ensure the festival became sanitised and commercialised. This tells a story of shimmering golden sunrises and sunsets. Of popping wood around campfires. Of laughing with friends at 4am. Of kissing someone at dawn at the stone circle. Of just wandering round the festival soaking up all of it; the sight, the smell, the sheer fantastic glory of something that at the time felt like it’d always be there, but as we now know is lost to us. Hence why this film, out of the three main feature films made about Glastonbury, is my favourite.

You never forget your first time, and in effect Glastonbury 1993 was the first time I’d been and managed to take it all in. It was the year I fell head over heels in love so badly with not just a place, but a sense of somewhere and something that 22 years later I’m still trying to recapture by heading back to Worthy Farm every year. It might be commercialised. It might have Wayne Rooney standing there at the side of the stage drinking Bud. It might have endlessly bland Indie bands playing to posh London hipsters working out where the gym and the nearest McDonalds is, but it’s Glastonbury. Scrap away the bullshit and that festival I experienced in 1993 is there. It’s hidden, but it’s there.

If you’ve never seen Glastonbury: The Movie, then do so. I used to have a VHS copy of this that nearly fell apart because me or mates used to watch this as part of an annual ritual to prep up for the festival. A few years ago a DVD came out of it, and it’s simply fantastic with the sort of extras a Glastonbury veteran can look at in awe, but I’ve still not managed to get through all of it. It’s by no means a perfect film, few are and there’s too much jazz in it (I really don’t like jazz you know) but it’s one of the few films that make me happy, sad and overjoyed at the same time as it takes me back to those few memorable, brilliant days of summer in 1993.

What I thought of Bitter Lake

The new Adam Curtis documentary Bitter Lake, is either a stunning new way to tell a narrative of history that many don’t fully know, or is a jumbled hurried mess, and in fact it really depends on how you look at it. As far as I can see there’s three ways to look at it. One is as a pure documentary. Second is as an art piece. Thirdly is as a hybrid of the both, and that’s the only way it works for me, though it’s not without some problems as a piece.

Bitter Lake is a two hours, 17 minute, film that details the role of Afghanistan in global politics, especially the politics of the West, and how deals made by the American government after the Second World War led to the current problems with Islamic extremism. In some ways it’s a companion to the Power of Nightmares but it tells it’s own story through Curtis’s patchwork of news footage, interviews, archive from films, TV and advertising, not to mention footage you wonder just where he gets it from (there’s one scene of fleeing Taliban soldiers that I have no idea how Curtis got his hands on it) but it’s the raw news footage that’s jarring as it enables Curtis to bring down the illusion of what TV news is.

The problem I have though with Bitter Lake isn’t it’s length but the way that Curtis meanders for much of the film at a comfortable pace, and then in the last half hour crams an awful lot in which leaves the viewer in a bit of a sensory overload trying to keep up with the narratives Curtis is tying together. It could have been tighter which would have tightened it up not only as a highly effective documentary, but as a work of art which is what Bitter Lake is. This is documentary as art and you haven’t seen anything quite like it as Curtis tells us this almost fairytale type of story of shady American deals, or Saudi Arabian tyranny, Afghan suffering at the hands of the Russians, Americans, British and Taliban or simple beauty or simple horror. This is something that couldn’t work on mainstream TV in 2015 and that is simply a tragedy, yet well done to the BBC for bankrolling it and giving it a pride of place on iPlayer. I can’t think of any other channel in the UK (bar Channel 4 back in their pomp) that would let a filmmaker do this.

See Bitter Lake, and see it if possible in one sitting uninterpreted. I’ve included the iPlayer link above but this is only online for another three weeks or so, which isn’t a problem as there’s a Youtube version, though who knows how long that stays there?

This is possibly the most important film of the year not only for it’s historical content, but for how Curtis spins his vision. Watch it, you shouldn’t be disappointed