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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Perfect Actress!

As is the fashion of most great British actors, Billie Whitelaw played down her career and her art. She called it a "flibbertigibbety occupation" and, again like so many performers, she lacked confidence throughout her life. She had a stutter as a child and suffered from stage fright. This didn't stop her from becoming one the best possible examples of her profession I have ever seen. She ticks all the boxes one could possibly imagine when it came to the pure art and craft (I consider it transcend both) of acting.

Viking Duck



When I look out of my window and the visual display that meets me could easily have been a subject for an Edgar Hunt oil painting. Various breeds of chickens, some Emden geese and even white and blue peafowl colour the green field as they mill about eating the scattered seeds that make up their breakfast. Added to this animated canvas of farmyard beauty are the ducks. Like the chickens, there is more than one breed on show. They include the brown Khaki Campbell and the white Aylesbury. They also include the Indian Runners. These ducks are distinctly different to the rest. Despite a single member who is almost completely black, they are white, like the Aylesbury. However, unlike the other breeds of duck, this bird stands very erect and often with its beak in the air. Like a diminutive goose they march forward with purpose – and nothing stands in their way. For, although many would look upon this scene as the perfect backdrop to countryside tranquillity, I see chaos and carnage.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Militant Moderate!

English: Political Spectrum Chart
English: Political Spectrum Chart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
European Political Spectrum
European Political Spectrum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 Far be it for me to sing the praises of normalcy. I would view my life and upbringing to be rather outside what mainstream public opinion would consider to be "usual". Take a look at my rather eclectic biography - born to an animal circus family, working in the wild animal film industry, martial arts/self-protection teacher, co-promoter of the UK's extreme pro wrestling promotion, professional performer, writer and so on - and you will see a rather eccentric back-story. My life is also full of paradoxes and contradictions. My tastes vary wildly and without any sense of pattern or rhythm, which is a bit like my attempt at dancing or conversation. I have never tried to belong to anything, but often seen movements to be temporary means to an end. Even "my people", the circus people, live very different lives to me and have done so since I was seven years old. My political ideas are also pretty varied too and I have long hated the left/right compass that many people build into their minds. It creates glaring cognitive blind-spots and strikes a very obvious comparison with fundamental religiosity. From the barely veiled bigotry and paranoia of UKIP to the cartoonish trendy Communism of Russell Brand, I think the individual should be wary.

iAuthor Page

This is my new page on iAuthor. Please share with interested parties. I hope to be listing details on my future books and published material. Let's see if it is a fruitful association.

Jamie Clubb. See this and more books, apps and Themes on iAuthor

Don't forget to check out Jamie Clubb's main blog www.jamieclubb.blogspot.com

Monday, 15 December 2014

The Nativity Pigs


There were pigs in my daughter’s Nativity Play. She told me as much weeks ago, but I finally saw for myself last night. They are part of a cast of anthropomorphised animals that decide to stay awake to see the arrival of their presents. Santa Claus is not mentioned, but the surprise birth of Christ will occur that very night in the animals’ manger…. So, let’s get this straight. The animals, which include the only domesticated pink pigs in first century Judea, are excited about celebrating a Christmas that hasn’t been invented yet.  What I am describing is Caroline Hoile’s “Cockadoodle Christmas”, a musical created for three to seven year olds, containing eight original songs. With weird surreal convolutions and contradictions in the plot, it is a very apt representation of Church of England religious culture.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Artistic Diarrhoea?

Horizontally-divided field emblem. Used in Mat...
Horizontally-divided field emblem. Used in Matthew Barney's films. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Plot:

Inspired (I refuse to say “loosely based”) on Norman Mailer’s most heavily criticized work, “Ancient Evenings”, written in 1983, this is a three part/seven act hybrid of opera and various other art forms. Using some structural concepts from the work, the story is largely set around a wake being held for Norman Mailer at his house and the decline of the American car industry. Whilst at the wake Mailer returns from the dead in seven different forms, representing what the ancient Egyptians believed to be the seven stages of the soul. The decline of the American car industry, symbolized by the systematic destruction and decay of a single car and those that work in the industry around it, is itself symbolic of human death. At least that is one interpretation, but who knows?

Review:
“Why doesn’t someone just say ‘no’ to this guy!” was the strained response from a dear friend of mine when I reported back my viewing of this work. We often hear the old cliché that one must suffer for their art. However, it would appear that Matthew Barney wishes to share this feeling with his audience. Forgetting for a moment that he might owe something to anyone outside of his fellow sycophantic artists who pray that they might get his kind of sponsorship, “River of Fundament” is an ordeal – a six hour ordeal of self-indulgence and excess. This isn’t to say that it isn’t often beautiful or clever in parts. I would contend that the film contains some wonderfully shot scenes and some great ideas. It is inspirational, but as I sat watching its premier at the English National Opera House I couldn’t help thinking that the inspiration I was getting might be a coping mechanism, justifying my time spent there. You are provoked to think beyond the numbing of your gluteal muscles and the bemusement of the various hipsters in attendance because you are bludgeoned into doing so.

Friday, 5 December 2014

We're All Superstitious! A review of "Supersense"

 It seems crazy to think that our very irrationality might be part of what binds our species together and allows a lot of interdependence. Cognitive psychology is a fascinating subject and I have read many good books that explore the irrational response in human beings. The best sceptics, those who usually have a professional understanding of psychology, tend to be a lot more forgiving about those who believe. This seems to come from a strong sense of self-awareness. As logical and rational as we like to think of ourselves, we hard-wired to think irrationally.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Paddington Goes Before a Committee

English: Paddington at Paddington
English: Paddington at Paddington (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


*One day Paddington received a letter telling him he was to be put in front of a committee. “What’s a committee?” he asked the Brown family. “It’s when a group of people get together to decide on things”, said Mrs Brown. “What are they going to decide about me?” asked Paddington. “I think”, said Judy, “That it is about your new film”. Paddington became very excited. “A film? About me?” he said in amazement. “Yes”, said Jonathan, “They have been planning to make it since 2007”. Paddington looked concerned. It seemed like a very long time to plan something. “What do you think has taken them so long?” He suddenly asked. “That”, said Mr Brown, “Is a very good question. After all, you have been loved by the British since 1958. Mr Bond has consistently written stories that have remained faithful to the original idea and seem timeless. A television series was created in the 1970s that fitted so well with the original books that it now seems strange not to hear a Paddington’s stories without hearing Michael Horden’s comforting tones, narrating your adventures”. 

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

John Cleese's Favourite TV Experience

Fig.1. John Cleese with "Murphy" our baby ruffed lemur on the set of "The Human Face".

 Okay, please excuse the massive clanging sound that will resonate throughout this blog now, but I am going to do one of world famous name drops and I don't care. John Cleese is one of all-time favourite Monty Python members and one of my favourite comedians. So, although I am no longer into hero worship and am rather cynical about the human condition in general, I simply cannot pass up the opportunity to reflect on the Cleese moment that was brought to my attention.

Friday, 28 November 2014

The Greatest Martial Arts Movie in the Galaxy?

Just prior to the release of what was supposed to be the final live action motion picture in the Star Wars franchise, the end of the third park of the prequel trilogy, "The Revenge of the Sith", I approached the martial arts magazine, "Martial Arts Illustrated" with an idea. In order to bolster sales for a magazine that had shown drastic decline in circulation I would write an shameless piece of self-indulgence linking Star Wars with martial arts. I like nothing better than linking two disparate passions and this was the perfect opportunity. I wrote regularly for the magazine at the time and would do for a further five years, so I was given the go ahead and I freely indulged. 

I recently found my old article online on this site. The editor has done a very sound job in locating images to convey the obvious similarities between George Lucas's creations and the Asian martial arts, which I have reproduced here. In the wake of growing anticipation of the first third series of movies, I thought it was time I re-aired this piece.




Darth Vader's helmet design was clearly inspired by the medieval Japanese Samurai. Picture from Smick

So Long Soho?

Soho
Soho (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Colorfully painted shop windows in a ...
English: Colorfully painted shop windows in a typical Soho backstreet in London. Deutsch: Farbenfroh bemalte Schaufenster in einer für den Stadtteil Soho typischen Strasse in London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change -”

Today The Guardian newspaper reflected on the apparent death knell of the old Soho. The revocation of Madame Jojo's licence after playing host to audiences for 50 years seems to establish the end of an era.  The 20th century has seen the place be a hotbed of nefarious showbusiness activities, strip clubs and alternative entertainment. The alternative comedians that entertained me in my teens have Soho to thank for a lot their early employment. Similarly many of the truly diverse, influential and daring musical movements cut their teeth in this district. I do have some vague connections with this symbol of romantic sleeze in

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Catch Me If You Can... Hunt Me If You Dare!

I grew up loving superheroes. The majority of my childhood was spent wanting to be a costumed defender of justice. American superheroes invaded my life since my visit to Florida in 1980. After that I consumed whatever comic-book I could get my hands on, eventually settling on a primary love of DC's Batman and Marvel's Spider-Man. Very mainstream, I know, but I guess that is just because both have a lot to say about the human condition. Nevertheless, there were other deviations and fascinations along the way. One muse I discovered when I was six years old came in the form of "The Leopard from Lime Street". The titular character was sometimes referred to as "Leopard Boy", probably due to his age, and occasionally as The Beast of Selbridge, which is probably a take on the Alien Big Cat urban myths that prevail around the English countryside. However, I mainly knew him as the Leopard Man. The character's origin was a blatant imitation of the Spider-Man story and some of his gadgetry, most notably his clawed leopard line, resembled items from Batman's utility belt arsenal, but he had many unique qualities too. So, a somewhat unbalanced merger of my two all-time favourite comic-book superheroes contained in the form of a relatable English school boy. Was it any wonder that it caught my imagination? 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

A Day to Remember?




“Remember, remember the 5th November. Gunpowder, treason and plot”

Okay, it’s not the most original way to start a piece of writing, but I do like its ominous-sounding dramatic emphasis. The day the British changed a part of the Halloween celebration to celebrate the downfall of a Catholic terrorist attack against a Protestant King and his establishment has long since lost most of its significance. The oldest living generations in Britain have lived under the shadow of terrorism for a long time now. Many of us were alive when there was another attempt to blow up the head of our country. More of us were alive when various far larger scale terrorist attacks occurred, which rocked the global community in so many ways as to define post 2001 cultural ideas. This has led us to look at the broader view of terrorism and its many complexities. History also tells us that although the Catholics in question were fanatical, James I and his regime were far from a magnanimous example of religious tolerance.

Mary and the Gunpowder Plot - A Review of a Classic BBC Historical Melodrama

The 2000s saw the rise of quality of TV drama. Looking back to the previous decade it was inevitable that this was going to happen and I aim to discuss the matter in an essay on subject. However, for the purposes of this review we find “Gunpowder, Treason and Plot” riding on the wave of historical dramas with rising budgets. The US were already investing in collaborative efforts in Europe that would see series like “Rome” break new ground in terms of mainstream adult-orientated historical drama.

“Gunpowder, Treason and Plot” was a two-part TV production made for the BBC by a key Scottish crew, including Gillies MacKinnon as director. It exhibited a lot of what was to come, but still retained certain elements from the previous era. Jimmy McGovern, creator the critically acclaimed crime series, “Cracker”, wrote the screenplay. For the most part, he does a decent job framing a complex story and takes some original angles with historical characters. He also clearly had his eye on the changing face of historical dramas for an adult audience. The violence and sex scenes, although not gratuitous, ensured a wider audience. Whilst the story featured complex characters played by the principal cast. We are not relegated to a limited number of unconvincing studio sets either. Instead the entire production was shot in Romania and it convincingly recreates Scotland and England. The audience gets a real feel of scope that many previous history-based BBC productions were missing. A peculiar quirk that seems to have bene left over from the past is the peculiar decision to break the fourth wall a couple of times in the second episode. This is done to reveal the

Monday, 3 November 2014

Deceptive Docufiction

There have been many stunning documentaries. However, there have also been many shockingly inaccurate and misleading documentaries. Michael Moore is probably partly responsible for the rise in partisan documentary films. I am not against the concept in principle, although I often wonder if such films should just be categorized under the label "propaganda" and they be reviewed as such. Nevertheless, there are certainly a good number of opportunities we should afford people to give their personal insights and reflections on important issues and I don't want to deny anyone that freedom. Docufiction is an interesting way to explore certain ideas and I think we have to respect it as its own genre. When it comes to art, I am opposed to most censorship, but when it comes to delivering something that is supposed to be factual the line has been firmly crossed between personal expression and simply misleading your viewers.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Melvyn Bragg's Books


 

Melvyn Bragg has earned himself the rare distinction of being a true celebrity academic in modern times. His achievements are vast and impressive. His career got off the ground as a successful novelist in the 1960s and he has gone onto win several critical awards up until the late 1990s. I grew up seeing him as the presenter with the peculiar nasally voice, regularly lampooned by the satirical puppet show Spitting Image, who hosted The South Bank Show. Bragg had a reputation for arts and culture, but I later discovered he was a huge driving force behind science in the Radio 4 programme, In Our Time, which he took over hosting and currently still presents. The show presents itself as a history programme with Bragg hosting or, to be more accurate, chairing a panel of university lecturers on a particular event or person from history. However, in line with Eleanor Roosevelt’s regular quote regarding small minds discussing people and medium minds discussing events, the listener quickly discovers the strength in the show is its exploration of ideas. Bragg does well to keep the discussing going along certain channels and even testing certain arguments with the impartial view his role demands. Such a role reveals a broad yet in depth understanding of a vast array of subjects that straddle the worlds of imagination and fact-finding. As a fellow writer that does not like to be confined to a narrow path, I find it is truly inspiring to see now that his published work includes a wide range of subjects in both fiction and non-fiction. Therefore, I shouldn’t have really been surprised to see the hugely disparate selection of books he chose for 12 Books That Changed the World.

Friday, 31 October 2014

The Blooded Lens Filter Part 1



The Blooded Lens Filter
Distorting Horror Fiction through Cinema (Part 1)

In time for Halloween I thought I would have a little look at the way horror cinema has changed the way we view certain horror icons. Despite there being undeniable original horror movie classics created through the dark genius of great filmmakers like Wes Craven, Dario Agento and Tobe Hooper, a good number of great films have their basis in literature. It’s a great source. Many early “talkies” resemble stage plays because that is exactly what they were. Often these stage plays were based on classic novels. To this day there is a strong relationship between the bestselling novelist and the movie producer. Many book franchises from Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lector series to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series to George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” saga have been written as their filmic adaptations have been in progress. It is often interesting to see how much the two mediums will still diverge in their depictions of characters and events, and how much the adaptation will have an influence over future instalments of the literary franchise. The moving image is overwhelmingly more powerful in conveying a concept than the written word, so if a filmmaker distorts something he can overwrite an entire mythology. Here are a few examples from the world of horror. 

Family Horror Films

Cover of "The Monster Squad (Two-Disc 20t...
Cover via Amazon
This great little piece and listing from Empire magazine shows why many of my generation had such a dark childhood. The '70s and '80s were a quirky time for kids with many films precariously set between childish imaginings and adult violence. "The Monster Squad" was a 15 certificate horror comedy featuring the Universal Studios group monster favourites being battled by a bunch of children. The film featured adult humour, including the revelation that "Wolfman  has nards!", and a fair bit of gore too. "Robocop" was not a horror movie, but it wasn't really a superhero movie either. It was an 18 certificate dark satire about consumerism and capitalism, where everything had a price, but it was marketed at children with action figures and toys associated with the movie on sale in time for its release. Its sequel also bore an 18 certificate and was even darker, but eventually we had children's cartoon series.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Ghoulish Nostalgic Nightmares

As this is the eve of my favourite festival and in the tradition of "Throwback Thursday" I thought I would re-visit an old nightmare and up-light the stage with the ghoul... 
 
The ghoul ranks amongst the highest of the unreal terrors that haunted my childhood imagination. These grave-raiding spectral monsters seem to be the bestial vestige of the almost neutered vampire figure of today's popular media. However, unlike vampires, werewolves and ghosts, there isn't a linear line to trace its development through fiction. Its iconography has branched off in several different directions and I think we probably could do with a mainstream horror story focusing on a purer form of this monstrosity. The closest I have seen of this happening appears to be in the anime series, "Tokyo Ghoul".

It is common for generations of adults to complain about the violent content of children's fiction, but I pretty much learnt the bulk of my horror education back in the 1980s before I left primary school. In fact, I read about it in primary school! This terrifying poem by Jack Prelutsky was in a book of general children's poetry I bought from our school's Puffin Book Club. The humour is dark and unrelenting. There isn't even a moral core to the story that is often used to offset the grisly content or horrid fates of children in cautionary folk tales. Like the ghoul itself, the poem is relentless in its onward progression through horridness climaxing with a chilling enough thought to give a child nightmares for weeks to come. Is it any wonder that my generation easily lapped up Roald Dahl's contributions to children's fiction.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Jonas Salk's 100th Birthday


I am going to come straight with you on this one. When it comes to leading lights in vaccinations, most of my historical knowledge ends with perhaps the man we could call the Godfather of Vaccinations, Edward Jenner. Jenner, of course, invented the vaccination for smallpox and started a revolution in medical science. As with an appreciation of the role bacteria play, vaccinating distinguishes itself to the majority of medical treatments in its proactive nature. It puts into the practice the principle that prevention is always better than the cure. By administering a controlled dosage of a disease - in Jenner's case cowpox - an individual's immune system can be activated and thus prevented from contracting a debilitating or potentially fatal disease - in Jenner's case small pox. A continued campaign of vaccinations can completely drive out a disease in a country, as it has done with many deadly diseases we all feared on a relatively short time ago.


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Shelley, Storms and Frankenstein

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Percy Bysshe S...
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Stipple engraving. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"[He] then proceeded, with much eagerness and enthusiasm, to show me the various instruments, especially the electrical apparatus; turning round the handle very rapidly, so that the fierce, crackling sparks flew forth; and presently standing upon the stool with glass feet, he begged me to work the machine until he was filled with the fluid, so that his long, wild locks bristled and stood on end. Afterwards he charged a powerful battery of several large jars; laboring with vast energy, and discoursing with increasing vehemence of the marvellous powers of electricity, of thunder and lightning; describing an electrical kite that he had made at home, and projecting another and an enormous one, or rather a combination of many kites, that would draw down from the sky an immense volume of electricity, the whole ammunition of a mighty thunderstorm; and this being directed to some point would there produce the most stupendous results."

If you don't know already, my guess is that if I told you the above description was taken from another novel based on Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" you would not challenge me. Besides his wild eyes, Mary Shelley offers us no physical descriptions of Victor Frankenstein in her novel. However, the above text comes from Shelley's biographer, Thomas Jefferson Hogg when he describes the famous poet during his time at Oxford University. It's an interesting image. Like Victor Frankenstein, Shelley combined an avid interest in the metaphysical and the occult with the ways of modern science. His spirit and manic enthusiasm paint the very picture many actors would take on board when they portrayed this character. 

New Book by Luna Ballantyne



Luna Ballantyne (pseudonym of fantasy novelist, Ingrid Hall) has released her new erotic novel, "Freedom", which book one of her "Sensual Liaison Series". The story is a time-spanning fantasy centred on the character of Max, the Highwayman, a 400 year old immortal gigolo, cursed by the one woman he loved, who was subsequently executed for witchcraft. The first novel focuses on Max's involvement with a recent divorcee, keen to explore her new found freedom and her natural dominatrix desires.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Champion Charlie Brown!


Charlie Brown, created by Charles Schultz, is the USA's most profound and simple antidote to the culture of competitiveness. Charlie Brown's genesis was as a single strip cartoon for Sunday newspapers. His creator continued producing these witty, simplistic yet thoughtful stories told completely from the point of view of children up until his death. Along the way these iconic little stories inspired numerous TV specials, series and feature films. This was the first feature film outing for him and the rest of the "Peanuts", and it stands up today, in a time of 3D and adult animation, as a wonderful comment on "every kid in every town".

The film focuses completely on the crux of Charlie Brown: his perpetual failing. From the very beginning Charlie Brown fails at everything whether it is being able to spot impressive images in clouds, baseball games, flying kites, floating boats in a bath or even playing noughts and crosses in the dirt. He can't even win an argument to have the dandelions removed from his baseball pitcher's mound. Matters are not made better when his best friend sister's psychiatric service decides the best way to treat him for his lack of self esteem is to project all his faults onto a screen via a slideshow! His best friend, Linus, decides that the only way for Charlie Brown to gain confidence is to win at something. Against the jeers of his fellow schoolmates he decides to enter the class spelling competition. However, success might offer more unforeseen problems that make his failures seem small by comparison...


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

All Change!

Professor Stephen R. Covey
Professor Stephen R. Covey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"People can't live with change if there's not a changeless core inside them. The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who you are, what you are about and what you value."


In recent years I have found that I have come almost diametrically in opposition to the views I once held on a lot of self-help.  It is not good enough to simply apply positive thinking and sometimes it can be outright dangerous to do so. A lot of self-help is over-marketed snake oil mysticism tangled up with a type of smiley faced bullying and it has seeped into many aspects of our culture. Having said that, I am not one to completely dismiss everything that has been said by all these self-appointed gurus. When I first started reading into the gaping flaws of psychoanalysis it did not lead me to consign my copy of Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" to the bonfire. Rather I looked more into his personal philosophy and certain observations on human nature that I feel do stand up to scrutiny. I was less drawn into his logotherapy, but that is a topic for another day. Likewise, I found myself looking back over the work of Stephen R. Covey, a giant in the motivational field who is often listed alongside the likes of Tony Robbins (a regular target of all self-help critics), and I have to say a lot of what Covey has to say is still pretty sound stuff.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Showing up


“If today was the day you were finally going to win, did you show up?”
-          Daniel Waldschmidt

The above quote was randomly selected on my email provider. It is an interesting mutation of a statement attributed to the comedian/actor/director Woody Allen in 1977 by his partner Susan Braudy, “80 per cent of life is turning up”. In 1989 Allen discussed this attribution, correcting to be something more specific: 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Restrained Twist on the Cuckoo Thriller?

I guess I have been interested in the concept of cuckoo stories since I first studied Emily Bronte's only novel, "Wuthering Heights", for my English Literature A level many years ago. The novel's driven Byronic hero, Heathcliffe, was uncharacteristically attractive compared to many cuckoos in fiction. Typically they are malignant spirits that seek to usurp the order of a loving family and often use tactics such as deception, intrigue and accumulating violence. This eventually concludes with a siege-like situation with our sympathetic heroes fending off the antagonistic cuckoo in a life and death struggle. In these respects, "Chloe", the subject of the below review differs quite a lot from the norm...

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Vigilante Thriller with Pedigree? - Review of the Brave One

Cover of "The Brave One [Blu-ray]"
Cover of The Brave One [Blu-ray]
 Plot:

Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) is an outspoken radio host. Her expressive opinions on her late night show have recently been focusing on the decay of her neighbourhood. One night she and her partner are victims of a vicious and unprovoked assault. Both are serious injured with only Erica surviving the attack. Struck by fear, she illegally purchases a gun. Finding herself in another violent incident she uses it and begins a life as a vigilante. Meanwhile, Detective Sean Mercer (Terence Howard) is appalled by the corruption he sees around him...

Review:

I always find it interesting to see what a very high calibre and respected artist can do with a simple and sensationalist genre. The last 15 years or so have seen an increasing number of writers, directors and actors decide to see what they can do with a populist medium. I would like to think that they were all inspired to do this in the same artistic vein that Alfred Hitchcock, considered by many to be history’s greatest director, decided to tackle a horror with “Psycho”. However, I cannot see Wilhelm Defoe and

Friday, 19 September 2014

Behold... Vulvatron!

I was delighted to hear that the Thrash Metal band, Gwar, announced Vulvatron (played by Kim Dylla) as their new front-woman. Never a band to take themselves too seriously, Gwar took horror rock theatrics, popularized by the great Alice Cooper, to a new and different mutation. They were ahead of Death Metal, Black Metal and Nu Metal, effectively sending up the genre before it had had a chance to take itself seriously. They were never really a brand of Thrash Metal I especially liked from a musical perspective, but I loved their imaginative live sets and the sheer audacity of their ideas. The 1980s were a time when the mainstream ignored the beautifully ornery reaction to 1970s rock stage shows presented by punk rock, quickly developing into corporate rock and glam metal. Gwar rode these over the top theatrics into a crazy mythology of science fiction, horror and fantasy, attacking media censorship and revelling in the fun. They were never a band's band in the respect that their line-up has been a consistently revolving array of artists, including those who work diligently on the bands costumes, staging and SFX. However, I like the fact that despite delivering interviews in character they refreshingly admit they are playing parts. This makes a change from many rock stars (including some of my favourites) who think they are method actors and get absorbed into their manufactured persona. 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Thomas Cromwell Revised

Portrait of Thomas Cromwell. New York, Frick C...
Portrait of Thomas Cromwell. New York, Frick Collection. Oak panel, 76 x 61 cm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"The ambitious have no friends" - Brian Taggert and Faustus Buck

Thomas Cromwell seems modelled for the role of the devious and manipulative power behind the throne. He is depicted as a ruthless and power-hungry man of ambition who destroyed several notable figures on his ascent to the position as Henry VIII's chief minister. Virtually every portrait I have seen of the man is unflattering. He scowls from his seated position with cold eyes over a long and sharp nose. Danny Webb's depiction of the character in the TV series, "Henry VIII",  takes this image and runs with it in perfect style. He is seen as a scheming and overly-ambitious man. Yet his latest biography challenges this view, presenting a man who was loyal to his family and loved by the common people. He was the most hated man in England, but this may have been as much to do with the influence of his aristocratic enemies, led by Duke of Norfolk as it was to do with his ruthlessness.

Friday, 29 August 2014

The Lines Before the Score: A Reflection on "Jaws" the novel

Jaws (novel)
Jaws (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I recently picked up my copy of “Jaws” and I have to admit that the opening passage is very hard to beat. Consider these very famous lines: 

“The great fish moved silently through the night water, propelled by short sweeps of its crescent tail. The mouth was open just enough to permit a rush of water over the gills. There was little other motion: an occasional correction of the apparently aimless course by the slight raising or lowering of a pectoral fin -- as a bird changes direction by dipping one wing and lifting the other. The eyes were sightless in the black, and the other senses transmitted nothing extraordinary to the small, primitive brain. The fish might have been asleep, save for the movement dictated by countless millions of years of instinctive continuity: lacking the flotation bladder common to other fish and the fluttering flaps to push oxygen-bearing water through its gills, it survived only by moving.”

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Sheridan La Fanu Honoured on Google


“But dreams come through stone walls, light up dark rooms, or darken light ones, and their persons make their exits and their entrances as they please, and laugh at locksmiths.”
― Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, “Carmilla”

I am delighted to see that Google has decided to celebrate the 200th birthday of the Irish author, Sheridan Le Fanu, today. Le Fanu was a prolific writer who is best remembered for his mystery and horror fiction. Unlike other several other Gothic writers of the 19th century, such as Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, Le Fanu was totally dedicated to a career in writing. He studied law at Trinity College, Dublin and was called to the bar in 1839, but already had his mind on journalism. A year previously his first ghost story, “The Ghost and the Bone Setter” signposted where Le Fanu’s literary influence would lie. From 1840 he would become the owner of several newspapers and would go on to write many books and short stories. 

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Folklore as a Tool



I am currently reading "Dracula: Prince of Many Faces - His Life and Times" by Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally and I came across this wonderful passage:

"Although folklore has to be used with caution by the historian, it can be a legitimate tool. There are perhaps more reason to trust collective folk wisdom, because people can be more discriminating on what they chose to remember, than the memoirs of statesmen, diplomats, and kings, who often to chose to deceive posterity to enhance their reputation."

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Robin Williams Shines Brightest in an Unusual Light - Review of "One Hour Photo"

Cover of "One Hour Photo (Widescreen Edit...
Cover of One Hour Photo (Widescreen Edition)
Plot:
One Hour Photo” is a psychological thriller starring Robin Williams as Sy Parrish, a photo technician working at a large supermarket’s one hour photo developing clinic. Living a lonely and solitary life, the painfully shy Sy becomes obsessed with his regular customers, the Yorkin family (Michael Vartan, Connie Nielsen and Dylan Smith), and fantasizes about being “Uncle Sy”…


Review:

With the death Robin Williams I was inspired to look back on this very original thriller, which immediately impressed me when it first came out on video. Rather than going the route of most psychological thrillers, which inevitably involve a lot of overt sexuality and vivid depictions of violence, this took a very different and more sympathetic approach.

Sy represents the alienation of individuals in modern society. The film’s ending provides us with a strong negative motivation for Sy’s desire to be a part of the perfect family, but the bigger picture is a story about how we often treat other members of our society. Sy’s narration discusses the false representation offered by photographs. The tragedies are rarely seen. Instead family albums of photographs are tapestries of smiling happy faces. Sy accepts this is not the true face, but he wants to believe in this utopia. The inspired set designs of the movie depict his workplace as a sterile and emotionless machine that affects a “heaven-like” hyper-reality and his home, where he keeps his shrine to the family he is stalking, is symbolic of Hell. Humans are naturally social creatures but Sy has no family or friends. Humans are driven to improve and be creative, but when Sy gets passionate about maintaining a certain standard in his workplace he is scalded and reminded about his position in the order.

Friday, 8 August 2014

A Lazy Cat? - Review of "The Cat's Meow"

Marion Davies
Marion Davies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Cover of "The Cat's Meow"
Cover of The Cat's Meow
 It is 1924, at the height of the jazz age, where the Charlston is all the rage, Prohibition is en force and silent cinema has made Hollywood. On 15 November newspaper publishing magnate W R Hearst (Edward Herrmann) leaves San Pedro, California on a cruise to San Diego with his luxury yacht filled with a veritable who's who of Hollywood. These include his mistress, the up-and-coming actress, Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst), the world famous comedy actor Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), the English novelist and scriptwriter Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley), Hearst's film critic Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly) and movie mogul Tom Ince (Cary Elwes).

The cruise and its onboard partying have all been arranged in honour of Ince's birthday. However, Ince is after a bigger present than a luxury cruise and some cake. His film business has been in steep decline for the past five years and he sees this as his opportunity to convince Hearst to go into partnership with him. Meanwhile Chaplin has his eyes on Hearst's starlet mistress who longs to play comedy roles instead of the stuffy period dramas her lover pushes her into. She and Ince are not the only one trying to climb the ladder to the career of her dreams, as Heart's film critic is desperately trying to get foothold in somewhere.

All the while Elinor Glyn watches. With careers at significant turning points for all concerned, Ince's machinations are set to have life-changing results for most and a life-ending result for one...

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Demonic Possession, Hauntings and Such Like - A Review of "The Conjuring"

Lorraine Warren
Lorraine Warren (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Plot:

In 1971 the Perron family (Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarl, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver) move into an old farmhouse. A series of unusual events lead the family to enlist the help of psychic investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Famiga respectively). The Warrens discover a history of suicides and murders that have taken place on the surrounding land that once belonged to the owner of the Perron’s house. This owner had been accused of witchcraft who had tried to sacrifice her child to the devil and eventually killed herself in 1863, cursing all those who lived on her land...


Friday, 25 July 2014

Ripper Retrospective - Revew of the classic "Jack the Ripper: Summing up and Verdict"

Ripper Bridge
Ripper Bridge (Photo credit: STINFLIN Pascal)



1988 was a hell of a year for Jack the Ripper enthusiasts. Being the centenary of London’s “Autumn of Terror”, few producers, publishers, historians, writers and professional criminologists missed a trick. From movies about a copycat serial killer called “Jack’s Back” to a wide commissioning of any work that was tied into the Whitechapel Murders, the year was full of old and new theories on the identity of the killer and every self-respecting bookshop made sure their respective section was stocked up. I was only 12 at the time and fell in love with the shamelessly melodramatic and lavish ITV miniseries, “Jack the Ripper”, which for all its thrill and wonderful cast and production values did not yield a convincing theory on the case. In his amazingly explorative “From Hell”, comic-book writer, Alan Moore, touched on the whole the institution that now surrounds Jack the Ripper and pretty much nailed how it has become virtually impossible to unmask the fiend of Victorian London. He echoed in the century of the sadistic serial killer and, as sharp as the weapon he wielded, tore open the British Victorian veneer of pomp, prosperity and conservatism. In the tradition of Arthur Conan Doyle – was consulted at the time of the murders – and the institution that Agatha Christie would start, the Ripper also provided us with a real-life whodunit. Amidst the flow of reprinted books on silly theories, I was lucky enough to obtain a copy of “Jack the Ripper: Summing up and Verdict”, which had been commissioned for release in 1988. 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Batman at 75




I have loved Batman from almost as early as I can recall. As I push the ever aging and failing mechanism I call a brain to recreate the images of my past, I am filled with a sense of happiest during those earliest of years. One of my happiest memories was being four and a half years old on holiday in Florida. It was the only true holiday I recall as a child. Even then the model for what I like best about a “holiday” was set during that dreamlike time. We were a circus family, in the middle of running our own circus, and so we saw circus people and circus-related places. I got my head stuck in the railings at SeaWorld and I saw Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. I remember our Mexican driver and my amusement that the steering wheel was on the other side the cars. These were all great recollections, but some of my most comforting memories came from staying at the hotel.  I wasn’t used to staying in any other accommodation than a wagon (caravan). I remember falling in love with two icons that have stood the test of maturity: Charlie Brown and Batman.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The British Playboy - Review of "The Look of Love"




Plot:

This is the biopic of Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan), the British millionaire publisher, club owner and real estate developer. “The Look of Love” takes a reflective look through the eyes of Raymond after he attends his daughter’s funeral. We see his rise to success as a night club owner and publisher of “Men Only” after discovering how to create publicity stunts in the 1950s. The film looks at the eventual price Raymond will have to pay for his self-indulgent lifestyle as a playboy and the impact it will have on those closest to him, his wife Jean (Anna Friel), his lover Fiona (Tamsin Egerton) and especially his daughter, Debbie (Imogen Poots).

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Ensnared Melodies

English: Original oil painting by Pappi, 2008.
English: Original oil painting by Pappi, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Introduction

As with poetry, aspects of a romantic relationship are regular topics in songs. From longing to heartbreak to the joyfully unique feelings a person experiences when they are with a loving companion, popular music has it all covered. Relationships are very complicated self-imposed institutions and no one knows how they will turn out. Worse still, the majority of the stories we have told each other throughout time present too much of the “happily ever after” ideal that never happens. It little prepares us for the many twists and turns that lie ahead both in our partners and in ourselves. Sometimes those twists lead to a bizarre perversion of what was a loving romance. The following songs I have selected reflect on this perversion. Words like “trap” and “abuse” are used to describe something that other songwriters, more often than not, beautify and society, driven by our instinctive impulse to breed, venerates as our ultimate purpose. “Love” and “heart” are in there too, but they take the form of vulnerabilities that are being used as instruments of torture.   

Friday, 20 June 2014

The Lust for Failure? 2007

"Losing: it’s like winning, but with more experience."
- Anon
2013 Introduction
Below is an article I wrote back in 2007 long before I started making a deeper study into the nature of failure and mistakes. That particular journey moved me more into scepticism and critical thinking, as well as a willingness to embrace the benefits of accepting personal errors. Since writing this piece I read the brilliant "Mistakes were Made (but not by me)" by Carol Tavris and the equally entertaining "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margins of Error" by Katherine Schulz.
Cover of "Little Miss Sunshine [Blu-ray]&...I have never been a natural and have always had a passion for teaching. I think the disadvantages you face in not learning things easily enrich your ability to teach. It often amuses me when I hear people who put themselves over as great teachers and yet seem to have an inability to admit being flawed in anyway. They often won't even admit to making mistakes in the past. Such people seem to take on a religious view of their teaching ability, emulating some sort of Christ figure who is perfect in every way and revered by his discipiles as being the greatest of teachers. Personally I take the rather more mortal outlook that comes from works like Stephen Briers "Superpowers for Parents" and the aforementioned works by Tavris and Schulz that a teacher who shows they are faillible and even exhibits his mistakes and flaws is much more effective than those who easily gained skills or refuse to admit being wrong.


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Late Psycho

Psycho
Psycho (Photo credit: -Alina-)
This is a review a wrote a while back and I thought it would be appropriate to share today, one day after the 54th anniversary of the premier of Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho". Yes, I am late, but couldn't resist the opportunity. 

"Psycho" must go down as one of the most important films of all time. It is memorable for many reasons, of big cinematic importance and hugely influential. Firstly, it is the most successful film Alfred Hitchcock made. Hitchcock is often justifiably regarded to be the greatest director of all time as well as the "master of suspense". "Psycho" is not only a great example of Hitchcock's artistic ability at his peak, but also a perfect demonstration of the art of suspense. It was also a great demonstration of his working relationship with his wife, the great editor, Alma Hitchcock. The use of music and voyeurism in film was never bettered by "Psycho", and many movies from art-house to the slasher horror have this film to thank. "Jaws", which also went onto becoming a massively influential film, uses a lot of what Hitchcock established by using the killer's point of view and allowing a tremendously atmospheric yet incredibly simplistic score to move the whole movie along. It took several decades before movies like "From Dusk Til Dawn" and the works of George R.R. Martin would understand the power of being ruthless with lead characters as well as showing amazing restraint with genre material. "Psycho" broke all the rules and established something brave yet artistically brilliant.    


Sunday, 15 June 2014

Challenging Material

Timothy Leary
Cover of Timothy Leary

I wrote this article in about 2007. This was before my self-help bubble popped (see my Martial Arts Scepticism article, "The New Martial Arts Mystique" on that one)
Timothy Leary’s “Evolutionary Agents” is not a book you would immediately associate with Geoff Thompson’s Real Combat Method. I doubt even Leary - with his leftfield views - imagined that his lucid and controversial work would become set reading material for a class training to get certification in self-defence instruction. Yet there we all stood in a circle being questioned by Geoff Thompson, himself, about our thoughts on the work.


In truth the course was far more than a simple “hard skills” course for training how to deal with a violent situation. Most of the students who went on the course already had instructor level certification in one respected realistic combative form or another. My take on Geoff’s decision for making such books s Leary’s compulsory homework for all who attended the course was because they prompted an internal battle. This is what might be termed “Cerebral Self-Defence” or, as Geoff once put it, “Self-defence is defence against the self”.