Wednesday 28 October 2009

London Weekend Squirrelvision

I got back from a brilliant weekend in London a few days ago. Highlights include seeing Eric Idle's oratorio based on Life of Brian, called He's Not the Messiah and featuring the rest of the Pythons on stage (sans anglophobe Cleese), meeting Ray Harryhausen, one of my all time heroes, late nights with friends in good pubs and seeing my sister in Cambridge. All in the company of my lovely and quite brilliant wife.

I'll blog about these in a bit more detail soon but if anyone asks again who Ray Harryhausen is, I may lose it (Some people. Jeez!).

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Hellman's "The Shooting"

I said a few days ago I was going to blog about Monte Hellman's The Shooting, which I recently watched.

The semi-randomness of LoveFilm led me to this film. I've been wanting to introduce myself to the films of Monte Hellman for some time so I did the necessaries on LoveFilm and The Shooting came through the letterbox first.

I'd never heard the term Acid Western before I checked up on the film after watching it (in fact, the term wasn't coined until almost 30 years after the film was made). I was already impressed by the film but on discovering the term I re-evaluated the film in my head. It's an interesting idea, to turn the conventions of the Western around to make a counter-cultural statement without actually making the film seem to out of place within the genre (in my mind, at least).

I was aware I was watching a low budget film when watching, but this seemed beneficial onscreen. The whole thing has the feeling of a descent into hell. Almost dreamlike. The small cast and the way the landscape is shot help with this impression. The choice of location makes the characters feel more and more isolated from reality - it seems similar and yet utterly opposed to John Ford's West of Monument Valley. The heat and dryness are emphasised both narratively and visually. Warren Oates character of Gashade also becomes increasingly isolated throughout the film, as he is separated from his sidekick, the well meaning buffoon Coley, and then from his horse. The desert claims the horses, one by one, aided by Millie Perkins unnamed mystery woman as she insists on riding to death every horse she has. We don't know who she is or exactly why she wants what she wants; only that she is out for revenge and when the opportunity arises, her victim is Gashake's identical brother (it's never explicitly stated that they are twins).

This sudden ending, of course, is what really marks the film out from conventional Westerns of the time. The slow motion serves to emphasise the face both brothers share - how much of this is metaphorical? Is this just about Gashake? I'm unsure but it certainly made me question just about all that had come before. The rising hostility of the woman towards Gashake and Coley increases as they become more distant from their mine. She becomes more unpleasant, demanding and obstinate, where in the beginning she hired Gashake due to his past as a bounty hunter (something he seems keen to leave in the past). And when Jack Nicholson finally appears after trailing them for some time, they both assume the role of pure antagonists against Gashake, eager to separate him from Coley, his guns and his horse, although Nicholson loses his own horse, levelling the ground somewhat.

Warren Oates is just superb as Gashake. He knows all is not what it seems but goes along for the money. Or has he? A sense of guilt or resignation hangs around him and Oates plays it all with a genuine stoicism. I wasn't keen on Perkins at all, though. All shouty and mono-expression, she seemed more at home in a Bresson film. Nicholson was a slick and genuinely menacing bully.

One moment that lingers is when Gashake and Coley (Will Hutchins) hear the gunshot signalling the arrival of The Woman. Coley gets such a fright he runs as fast as he can to a high point, carrying an open bag of flour, spilling as he runs. Then panicking child-like man covered in a cloud of white powder.

One unresolved element involves two men, shown only by their boots, who arrive at the mine camp after the group has left, as though they are also after someone.

This is no ordinary Western and I'm eager to find some more in a similar vein. I've been tipped off about Jan Kounen's Renegade (an awesome cast list!), but there's more Hellman to get through first.

The Blue Screen of...what?

Is it the Blue Screen of "Death" or is it "Doom"?

This stems from a comment I made on Facebook about trying to fix my PC. I've been working from my laptop for some time now but I can't edit on this wee thing so if I want to get making films again, I need to get the big bugger working again. My comment about "The Blue Screen of Doom/Death" was met with typical geek derision from my friend Tim.

Doom or Death, either way, I want it fixed. Could be a RAM problem. I've already had to replace the HD so I won't be purchasing a PC from that particular establishment again.

But geek speak can be a difficult thing. Get it right, some non-geek friends will raise an eyebrow and give you a ribbing for being so geeky. Get it wrong, the geeks will descend upon you, point, stare, roll their eyes and disavow any knowledge of your geekiness and expel you from Geekdom.

All through emoticons, of course.

OK, here's proof of my geek credentials (not counting the huge Star Wars collection my wife lets me keep in the house. Lucky man) - during pre-production, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was once known as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Death. There we are - proof of my lack of social ability and obsessive tendencies combined with the very two words I that started this blog entry in the first place.

Either way, I want this fixed. Getting an itch to make a couple of shorts.

Monday 19 October 2009


I've just heard that veritable bottomless well of film knowledge and chief Shadowplayer David Cairns has been assaulted by some mindless little shits. I hear he's OK, but what a shitty thing to happen. Wishing my best to him and hope they catch the little fuckers. If there's something I hate with every fibre of my being, it's a bully.

I used to live in Leith, near to David, and heard and saw some unpleasant doings (more often heard in the middle of the night) and know how ropey Leith can be. It's still a great place but is also inhabited by the weird and sometimes downright bastardish lower forms of Scottish life. Some friends and I were once witness to some girls screaming obscenities at a couple of teenage lads as we went to the shops after a late beer. We emerged from the shop to see two of them across the road in full view of Leith Walk in a bus shelter, definitely no longer shouting at each other. She certainly couldn't shout with her mouth full, anyway.

Nice. Sunshine on Leith? I don't fucking think so.

There are things I love and miss about Leith. And then I'm reminded all too often about the things I hated about the place. It was once twinned with Rio de Janeiro, you know. There was a sign as you drove down Leith Walk. My wife and I couldn't help but wipe away tears of laughter away when we saw it. Delusion seems to be an important part of some sections of the Scottish psyche. Not to say that it's not a beautiful place, but priorities usually seem askew.

Again, good wishes to David but don't let this incident tempt you to the works of Michael Winner (unless it's a repeat viewing of his Chris Rea opus, Parting Shots).

Facebook Snuff?

What a wonderful age we live in. The web is everywhere and we have access to millions of videos on YouTube.

But I saw something today, posted on Facebook, that has completely repelled me to my core.

There are all sorts of videos taken from real life out there. A few months ago someone posted a disturbing clip of a man electrocuted on top of a train in India, apparently after a free ride on top, like the old image of hundreds of huddled passengers on top of Indian trains we're used to seeing in movies, but are now being stamped down on by the authorities. Why? Well, a crowd had gathered as the station workers tried to get him down but he wasn't having any of it, casually wandering around on top of the carriage waiting for the train to pull away. And then he leans on a power cable. It's over in a flash, literally and his smoking carcass slams down almost as casually, essentially a large piece of burned meat. Very, very dead. It's a shocking piece of footage and has purpose in showing the dangers of doing what that man did. But it finds distribution not solely in that but also in grim entertainment. But most of the chat I saw on message boards consisted of discussion of the cause of the accident and how foolish people can be. It's a dangerous pastime, don't do it.

What I saw today amounted to nothing more than snuff. Beadle does death; You've Been Killed!

A small scooter drives along a busy road in Taiwan, unaware of the huge articulated lorry looming behind. The lorry swerves and smashes into the scooter, drawing the driver under its wheels, crushing him once and then again as the rear wheels hit, dragging him. He explodes. Blood everywhere. His arm swings around on its own sinew as the truck stops.

And someone posted it on Facebook for a laugh.

Why post it on Facebook for reason other that that? There is no warning or thought on the terrible nature of the clip. No empathy. Just a smug joke in the comment line.

I hope this is not real. I hope it's one of the many fakes out there on the web. Because it's getting around. And I wonder if people watching, exclaiming, "Whoah! Wow! Gross! Eew! Hilarious!" realise this basic fact:

This is film of the end of someones life. Ended in an unbelievably undignified and excruciating way.

As a viewer, there is detachment. The footage is from a distance. We cannot see the faces of anyone involved. It's all too much like the video footage Harry Hill muggs it up over on Saturday nights as part of ITVs "entertainment" schedule. And so the fact that this is the death of a person, just as viewers themselves lose family members to accidents, disease or murder.

Death is a part of life. We need to be able to see it and accept it. But that doesn't make it funny when it happens in real life. I'm a horror fan. Some of my favourite films involve terrible ends for many characters. But, it's not real. I know when Ash loses an arm or when Kane has his final meal that this is part of how we look at death, through either humour or exaggeration of deeper fears. And I know what it's like to find a dead body in real life - utterly distanced occurrences and sensations. I'm not going to get into an analysis of real life death and movie death. I shouldn't have to. People should be able to see something like the footage described and realise that this is real. Someone died. Those pixels do not represent a staged action or stunt. That blood is real. And you're laughing at it. Yes, we should be able to look at death; it's that taboo we hide from, often by laughing at it. But to engage in the act of distributing said footage for cheap laughs is low. Fucking low. It's not dealing with it. It's the lowest form of Schadenfreude I can conceive of. Would the folks laughing at this clip make jokes about the men, women and children who died in the Omagh bombing or the Concorde disaster?

No matter the technology or the medium, people should still know the basic difference between what is, real and fiction, right and wrong.

Or, it's fake and I've ranted over nothing. Frankly, I'd rather have ranted over nothing.

Monte Hellman's Flying Circus

OK, last week was a bit shit. Well, I was a bit shit. Or, my mind was in a bit of a shit place. Apologies for the vent.

These are the things we deal with sometimes.


I watched my first Acid Western film tonight, The Shooting*. It was also my first Monte Hellman film. It's late now but I'll blog about it tomorrow.

But Warren Oates was superb.

On another more jolly note (jollier than last week's bout of shit), my wife and I are off to see Monty Python this week! Well, four of them. No, Cleese isn't dead but he's not coming. Spoilsport. But, to make it even better, I hear Neil Innes and Carol Cleveland will also be there. While I hated Spamalot, I'm looking forward to Eric Idle's He's Not the Messiah oratorio.

Yes. There is a Python oratorio.

Our seats'll be shite but we don't care!

I once walked past John Cleese across the road from Harrods, a few years ago. He glared at me and truly is freakishly tall. Met Palin and Gilliam in years previous. Nice gents.

*I've linked to the Wiki page instead of IMDB as there's more interesting information there.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Time to Vent

Writing can be a lonely business.

Stuck in one place. Working in a vacuum. No one around. Little to no contact with the outside world or those you're supposed to be working with. And it can be awful. Bloody awful. A feeling of unbelievable remoteness and that this may all be a joke, brought on by a combination of circumstances and decisions, making you question what you're doing and who you are more than ever. Making you feel the furthest from where you want to be.

That time is now.

Thursday 8 October 2009

Back To It.

Back from our holidays (a while now, but away from the blog even longer) and getting back to it. Y'know, writing. For no money. That old chestnut.

Concentrating on one thing for a long time often makes me forget about the other stuff I have to do. Come on; I'm a man! We're only supposed to be good at doing one thing at a time.

This, of course, is a load of bollocks.

But, I find myself in limbo and realise I have to pick my arse up and get on with things. The feature script I've been working on for the past 18 months is in the hands of The Powers That Be, which means I have to bide my time. Up to a point. In the meantime, that old nemesis of mine - discipline - has reared its not-as-ugly-as-I-think head and I'm getting on with other things. This is the first time in a while I've been able to devote this much time to my own spec stuff. I'm getting my portfolio up to scratch so I'm going over an older script and revising it, choosing other ideas to turn into outlines and writing one of them into a full blown first draft. This one is an ghost story that's been floating around for nearly 10 years now so I have copious notes to get through. I expect to squirm and cringe at some of my older writing. But the idea still excites me so there must be something there amongst my aged scribblings.

I'm getting on with trying to write outlines and selling synopses again - not an easy task, but there are hints and tips out there.

And I now remember that it's enormous fun doing my own thing again - writing stuff I want to go and see myself, which is one of my most important rules. My present material consists of different genres, some same genre stuff with wildly different tones and just plain old lunacy.

So, I'm firing up the movie scores on my hard drive to aid with the old inspiration thing (a bit of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, I reckon) and getting down to it again. Time to lose myself in my head. Which is ironic considering how much I was told not to as a kid.

As fellow blogger David Bishop would put it, "Onwards!"