Thursday 8 January 2009

Ticker Update and My Own Stupidity

I got a few nice messages from some friends when I posted about my experience with a 24 hour heart monitor back in November. Well, by default, I can now say that I'm fine. I say default as a letter wasn't sent to me by my doctor as there was nothing to tell me. Except that I'm fine. So, for two months of worry and stress about the possibility of heart disease, turns out I'm fine and it's likely down to stress. My local practice told me that they don't send out letters to patients as they'd be doing it all day and it's the hospital's job. The hospital say it's the practice's responsibility. Somewhere, there are patients wandering about in a confused daze.


I got a few more details when I contacted my local GP and the receptionist read out the letter, or mumbled it to me. It might have been a Ventricular Ectopic beat, where the heart's lower chamber can jump sometimes. For folks with heart disease, it's a harbinger of doom. For folks without heart disease, cut down on the stress and caffeine. And booze. I fall into the latter category, thankfully. Due my family history, I get my blood pressure checked regularly and all is well.

Relieving to know. I might also cut down on the booze as I had a few extra at the weekend and wound up leaving my bag in a taxi, containing my notebook (pretty fucking necessary for a writer, don't you think?), DVDs bought in the January sales (No Country for Old Men and another Cagney box set), my glasses and my digital camera which cost me £130 a year ago. Was I angry at myself? Yer right I was. Fuckybaws. But entirely my own fault. This Saturday's trip to Glasgow might be a sober one. I've not made my mind up avout that yet.

The Cagney viewings will continue, however, as the lost box set was cheap enough to buy again. I'm also going to be following David Cairns' new weekly Hitchcock blogs, watching as many Hitch flicks as I can on a weekly basis. If you love films, I can't recommend David's blog enough. Go and check it out.

So, time to forget about material loss - there are far worse things which can happen. Onwards with the writing, film watching and film making.

Sunday 4 January 2009

What was his Business?

The Roaring Twenties. Saw it years ago as a teenager and was my first proper look at the gangster film as defined by Cagney and Bogart. I was surprised at the time to see Bogart in what was essentially a supporting role but even more surprised to see him playing a snivelling weasel who turns yellow when Cagney has him at the end. I found him surprisingly good in this different type of role.

Watching it again, while I still enjoy Bogie's part, it's Cagney who rules, and rightly so, in this tragedy of a decent man who finds himself forced into the wrong side of the law by a combination of elements beyond him. Not welcomed back as the war hero he is, chided by those who stayed at home and jobless, this still doesn't overtly criticise the lack of support to returning troops by home and government but at least began to address the issue before the extreme jingoism of the Second World War took a hold of the US, which would have made this an unconfrontable issue at the time. I haven't seen Best Years of Their Lives, but this has put me in a mind to watch it.

The Roaring Twenties also gives Cagney another superb ending, after falling in to his mother's house all dead and wrapped up in The Public Enemy and after his ambiguous final act of redemption in Angels with Dirty Faces. It's a far swifter end, as Cagney's Eddie Bartlett staggers on to the wide church steps to breathe his last. But the final glorious line bypasses him and goes to the equally tragic but far more aware character of Panama, played by Gladys George. When asked by the officer on the scene what Bartlett's business was, she sums him and his end up as honestly as she can.

"He used to be a big shot."

An undignified end for the big man, framed small against the vast steps. Almost like he is laid open before his god, ready to be judged.

A clue to Bartlett's possible knowledge of his situation with regards to his position and love life can be seen in his holding hands with Panama, even as he admires his girlfriend Priscilla Lane singing in the speakeasy. As though, yeah this life is great right now, but deep down he knows that Lane doesn't love him and he knows he's kidding himself.

Lovely stuff. I'm finding out more and more of the tragic nature if Cagney's gangster roles. White Heat next and I may give The Public Enemy another go.

Friday 2 January 2009

"This beast is dangerously radioactive and colourful!"

Wonderful! I check the TV listings and see that It Came From Beneath the Sea is on. Love it! My earliest memory of a Harryhausen film was caught one afternoon in the late 1970's and it both horrified and grasped my little mind, helping spark my love of old monster movies; I particularly love how they refer to the monster as "The Monster" all the way through the film. It is THE Tentacle Film for me. And so seeing it again is on my list, therefore I've tuned in.

It's been fucking colourised.

I'm not a fan of colourisation. I got a VHS of Night of the Living Dead years ago I've not been able to watch all the way through as it was colourised.

But this is not a bad job and apparently Harryhausen is helping oversee the colourisation of all of his B&W movies. But I love the fact it was B&W. Even if it has Harryhausen's blessing, it just ain't right with me. While a good job seems to have been done, they still can't get skin tones right. While all of Kenneth Tobey's wrinkles remain intact, Faith Domergue's usual shiny rouge lips (a real memory of This Island Earth) have been darkened and her skin looks all pasty, predating Siousxie Sioux by some time and giving her a kind of young Joan Crawford look. Not good. She just looks ill.

The Octopus (or is that Decapus?) tentacles look pretty good though, fitting in with the colours Harryhausen used in his later characters.

But at the same time, it just ain't right, I tells ya! Not sure if I'll watch it all.

That Cagney Swagger

James Cagney's swagger truly caught my Christmas strained eyes whilst watching Angels with Dirty Faces last night. Both hands held slightly out in front (very slightly), swinging stiffly from the shoulder, as his legs pipped along. He keeps this gait as he walks the last mile to the chair, a moment that really got to me, even though I'd seen the film years before and knew what was coming.. The hall is wide and sparse and Curtiz cuts between closer shots of Pat O'Brien barely taking his eyes from his childhood friend as Rocky Sullivan's eyes stay as fixed as his resolution not to go "yellow" and wider shots where Cagney's swagger is displayed for all to see in. It's a hell of a moment and got me slightly emotional, which is usually and odd thing for a film as old as this.

The opening shot of Rocky's neighbourhood is also an absolute cracker, as the camera pans right to left from a close up on a newspaper headline to a wide angle across the incredibly crowded and busy street, it''s walls a moving painting of dozens of beaten rugs and hanging laundry. A simple camera movement capturing a bravura piece of onscreen organisation. It's repeated later on to effectively show the passing of time in the neighbourhood. The newspaper headline, music and cars have changed but the rugs and laundry across the fire exits and balconies still remain.

Another thing I love about this film is the casting of faces. The Dead End kids all have a different look, especially Leo Gorcey as Bimm, who I always thought looked a bit like Cagney (this film has more than one Cagney lookalike in the uncanny Frankie Burke, who played the young Rocky). Gorcey takes a shot at the pool table, dressed to the nines and surrounded by similarly aged extras as onlookers, only perhaps better looking by today's Hollywood standards.

If this was cast today, the bland pretty boys would be likely be cast as the Dead End kids, leaving the more interesting and far more cinematically photogenic faces in the background or perhaps even not cast at all.

On to more Cagney methinks.