…the wind in my fur….

20170527_112426 (2)Westie General: My fear is that my sons will never understand me… Hao! Bark ye! We won again! [Cheers] This is good. But what is best in life?

Westie Warrior: The open field, food in my belly, sun in my face, and the wind in my hair.

Westie General: Wrong! Eddie, what is best in life?

Eddie (by way of Conan): To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their owners!

Westie General: [Cheers]…That is good.

 

(I’m in a very strange mood today, by Crom.)

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We are all getting old, Bats…

bat1Today is Danny Elfman’s 64th birthday. Incredible. I always thought of him as a youngster, one of the young turks that was threatening the thrones of Goldsmith and Williams etc… and he was, I guess. The shock of learning he is now 64, it’s just me forgetting how much time has passed since he came on the scene. My favourite Elfman scores are Edward Scissorhands and Batman… but of course, Batman is some 28 years old now. I really struggle to get my head around that- Tim Burton’s Batman is 28 years old… thats two years shy of the inevitable 30th Anniversary set that Warners will no doubt drop on us. But goodness me… 28 years?

I’ve noted before my tendency to judge the passing of time by film release dates, as if the films and their summers are markers of my life. Which they are of course. I am certain it is the same for everyone who loves film, except that where Star Wars or Blade Runner fit in with my childhood and youth respectively, I am sure that Terminator 2 or Titanic – or even Avatar, I guess, at this point in time- do for others.

But crikey. The idea that Danny Elfman is 64 years old today, and that this year Tim Burton’s Batman is 28 years old…  Yes, its a sobering thought: I’m getting old too.

Holy Anniversaries Batman. And happy birthday Mr Elfman.

Detective Story

detect1.png2017.28: Detective Story (1951)

You know how in detective films and tv shows, they pin up clues on a wall, photos or other items, and use different-coloured pieces of string to connect them together? Like huge complex diagrams or charts, somehow the connections revealed by those webs of string solve the case. But the connections are the thing.

Sometimes it seems a little like that with films. You can watch films at random and suddenly be struck by odd coincidences or connections. As if hidden in the randomness there is some sort of pattern. Maybe there is a meaning to it.

Or maybe not. Why do I mention this?  Well, it was a little curious that only the other week on a whim triggered by TCM’s scheduling that I rewatched The Naked Jungle (1954) and now by sheer chance I was watching William Wyler’s 1951 film noir Detective Story, and it turns out they feature the same lead actress, Eleanor Parker. That coincidence of casting may not be a big deal, but its not the end of it though. The Naked Jungle starred Parker has a mail-order bride initially cast aside as “used goods” when her new husband learns of her previous marriage. In Detective Story, it turns out she again plays a wife with a rather shady past/secret. This time her husband, Det. Jim McLeod (Kirk Douglas) is unaware that her past is linked to a criminal he is chasing; “Dutchman” Karl Schneider, a New Jersey doctor suspected of being an abortionist linked to the deaths of young women. It transpires that she had an affair with a married man a few years before she met her McLeod and went to Schneider for an abortion. The revelation threatens to shatter both their marriage and McLeod’s obsessive worldview/attitude to policing and crime.

Poor Eleanor. Was she being typecast as reputable-looking women with hidden secrets?

Detective Story is a great little film- I say ‘little’ as it’s based on a stage-play and hence has few locations and  pretty much functions as a one-set acting ensemble akin to 12 Angry Men. Its a great, dramatic character piece where action is secondary to the plot and character arcs. Rather the exact opposite of most films that are made today. In that respect, the film is a curio. There are no action scenes, no stunts, no visual effects, just a story, told with characters in a drama set over the course of one evening.

Based on a Broadway play it naturally has the feel of something being performed on a stage. There is a sort of unreality about it that, with its film noir sensibilities, gives the film a curious atmosphere of a police procedural via the Twilight Zone. KIrk Douglas is as intense as ever- perhaps too intense, but that is perhaps because his character is as much damaged goods as anyone else, his character crumbling as he rushes headlong towards his inevitable destruction.

Much like The Naked Jungle, the sexual undertones and sensibilities of the film betray its age and era. The McLeods are happily married, albeit struggling to conceive a baby, but this apparent idyl is on shaky foundations- when his wife admits to having had an abortion in her past, the social stigma and its impact on the detective’s black and white worldview of absolutes cannot cope. Suddenly she is a tramp, as if the knowledge she wasn’t a virgin on their wedding night invalidates the whole marriage- she was used goods, just as Charlton Heston’s character rages in The Naked Jungle. In that film, it is at least inferred that he too is a virgin (as unintentionally funny the idea of Heston playing a virgin might seem to viewers now). Detective Story rather skirts this, as McLeod is clearly a man of the world and hardly subject to the same restrictions/moral limitations as women are in that world. However, the inferred betrayal, and its impact, inevitably lead to Mcleod’s end. Right and wrong, good and evil, are absolutes for McLeod; all criminals must pay for their crimes, regardless of their circumstances- it is something he ‘learned’ from his own terrible father and how he treated McLeods mother.

detect3If McLeod ever ‘sees the light’ it is only in the face of his own destruction. His wife has left him, knowing he cannot shake his moral beliefs or give her a second chance. But seeing the love of a young woman for a young first-time offender that he was previously adamant had to be prosecuted, McLeod tells his colleagues to the criminal go. He gives the man the second chance he refused his own wife, and as he draws his last breath the two lovers flee the Precinct… love conquers all after all, for a precious few at least.

 

 

All Aboard The Ghost Train… not.

train112017.27: The Girl On The Train (2016) 

Not exactly a bad film, or a particularly good one either. Just stuck in that awkward middle- mostly harmless I guess. To be honest, not knowing anything about either the film or the book it is based upon, I actually came into it expecting a ghost story. Too many childhood memories of being scared witless by The Ghost Train (1941) maybe- I don’t know why exactly I expected a ghost story, but there you go, one of the disadvantages of coming into a film blind sometimes.

Books to films. Is it the film’s fault if it follows too closely to the book, suffering from the same issues inherent in the original? Some books are in no way cinematic but people try to make films out of them anyway. Maybe they should follow the lead of Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Blade Runner took the basic ideas and core plot of the original book but went off and did its own thing as a movie. The Girl On The Train has an odd construction, layers of reveals jumping around timelines and pov, which might well work well in the book (I assume the book has that structure) but possibly just comes across as confusing in the film. Perhaps I wasn’t paying enough attention (waiting for those damned ghosties, or a reveal that the girl was the ghost of a previous murder victim or… well, I was clearly watching/imagining a different movie to what I was watching).

Emily Blunt plays a good drunk but… do actors/actresses sometimes carry over personnas from other films, albeit unintentionally, blurring the effect of their performance? Not her fault, but I don’t think she was exactly right for this part. Too beautiful? Too many prior films leaking in and affecting my perception of her in this one? Whatever, she isn’t a complete success.  Sometimes I wish there was an opportunity for more unknown actors in films, a clean slate as it were. I think the films might be more effective, more a step into the unknown for the audience.

Sir Roger Moore has died

bondmooreThe news that Sir Roger Moore, famous for playing James Bond, has died, at the grand age of 89, is sad indeed (especially on what has been a pretty grim news day here in the UK anyway). While Moore is not my favourite Bond, the appeal of his humorous, tongue-in-cheek spy is undeniable, particularly now, with Daniel Craig’s gritty, darker Bond inevitably reflecting these darker days we live in. There is a wonderful escapism, a sense of returning to simpler, more innocent times with many of Roger Moore’s Bond films. Which is not to suggest they were simpler films for simpler times. Of course, the real world was pretty rough even then, but those Bond films seem (with hindsight) to have been a reaction to rather than a reflection of, those times, in just the same way perhaps as Star Wars appealed with its own escape from reality. Bond fans were taken all over the world and Bond faced many a peril, but always with an arched eyebrow and sardonic one-liner. Yes, I’m thinking of John Brosnan again- its as if Moore was often winking at the audience and reminding them ‘it’s only a movie’.

Ironically, my own favourite Roger Moore Bond movie has always been For Your Eyes Only, which itself was a reaction to the excesses of the preceding Bond film, Moonraker. It was a more realistic Bond film which had less of the humour and crazy gadgets. But I’m also rather partial to The Spy Who Loved Me, which seems the definitive Roger Moore Bond film. Yes it is daft hokum, but its always charming, in no small way due to Roger Moore. If I had the opportunity (and I have not, unfortunately, as alas real-life rears its ugly head- apologies for sporadic postings of late), I would probably pop The Spy Who Loved Me on tonight. I’m sure many of us could do with an escape into the simpler pleasures of a Roger Moore Bond film these days.

 

Breaking into Breaking Bad

break12017.26: Breaking Bad Series One (2008)

Over the past few years I’ve received many recommendations to watch this show. I’m not sure why exactly it has taken this long, except for the obvious pressures on time. It sounds almost ridiculous, writing that, but its true- indeed, watching this series, like any other tv boxset, by its very nature impacts time for other watching other stuff. Or reading stuff. Or chores. Or work. Maybe I should leave all this for when I retire. God knows I have plenty of discs etc that seem like they will have to wait that long.

How do we manage our time when you like watching movies/good tv shows or reading books or… its like saturation bombing, which is to say, this seems to be a very modern contemporary problem that our parents/grandparents didn’t need to deal with and I’m at a loss in how to deal with it. Time, my freinds, is at a premium these days and there is just too much content. There are many shows I have not watched simply for lack of time.

So I’ve finally gotten around to Breaking Bad. And it is as wonderful as everybody has told me. Its dark, its funny, its sad, its thrilling and yes, its amazing how well the show juggles all that- thats an element of this show that is pretty marvelous. Its perfectly acted with a fine cast and sharply witty scripts. Its wonderful to think there are several seasons yet ahead of me. It just feels odd, being so ‘behind the curve’ so to speak, marvelling at actors new to me who have presumably since moved on to other stuff (or in the case of Bryan Cranston, shaking off the first experience of him in the Godzilla movie from a few years back).

And yes, I’m in the position of binge-watching the first few series. Certainly, being able to watch this first season over the course of one week is something that original viewers years ago might have been quite envious of. Its something that occurs to me very often with these box sets; as an episode ends, usually with a bit of a cliffhanger, original viewers had to wait a week for the next episode. This frustration, I do not know- consequently the show possibly performs actually better than on its original broadcast (a friend at work waits for each season of The Walking Dead to finish before watching it and finds it a far superior experience to the long slow lingering death of suffering weekly episodes in which little happens or characters disappear from the narrative for weeks on end).

Like the very best television, Breaking Bad is a character-driven show that clearly demonstrates the superiority that television can have over movies. I have heard it said that we are living in a Golden Age of television, which seems strange when you consider all the game-shows and reality-TV shows that dominate the schedules.  The simple fact is that most of my tv watching is via box-sets, whether physical sets or streaming seasons via Amazon, and sometimes it feels like I do not watch any ‘ordinary’ television programming at all. I am watching fewer movies though. There simply is not the time for everything, especially with how many hours these tv shows tend to entail- on that front, season one of Breaking Bad is not an offender as it encompasses only seven episodes. But it isn’t really just seven episodes is it- not with season two following after…

(But please, do me a favour- if you have seen all this show, don’t spill the beans about what happens later on…. just have a bit of a chuckle about this damn fool being ridiculously late to the party.)

The Naked Jungle (1954)

naked1This is one of those films that made an impact on me when I was lad-  the threat of the relentless army of soldier ants was pretty scary and the experience of watching this film bugged me (sic) for years. An airing on TCM offered me an opportunity to revisit the film after those many years, and in HD to boot. In all honesty, its another one of those situations where a film hasn’t aged at all well, and I guess this was me saying farewell to it as I doubt I’ll ever watch it again- perhaps some films should stay in our childhood past, and we should revisit them with extreme caution.

While the ants no longer dominate the film quite as much as I thought they would according to my memories (they are actually regulated to the last half of the picture), what does rather dominate the film are the sexual undercurrents that quite completely passed me by as a young lad. For a young lad murderous ants are far more interesting than sexual frustrations and heaving bosoms, but with me older now and the ants relegated to the background…

The Naked Jungle betrays its era with a frankly offensive treatment of its native South Americans. It is 1901, and Christopher Leiningen (Charlton Heston) is the indomitable White Man who has spent 15 years carving his own plantation out of the wild jungle, bringing civilisation to the wild natives who work his land for him and serve him. Having been there since the age of 19, he realises he should be raising a family in this kingdom he has created, so he marries an American woman by proxy and has her sent down to him like some mail-order bride. The feisty redhead that has been selected for Leiningen (he has never met her) is Joanna (the beautiful Eleanor Parker), but he balks at the fact that she is actually a widow, declaring her to be ‘used goods’.  The sexual undercurrents are quite obvious; Parker pouts and sighs and Heston scowls and snarls with frustrated desires. There is some wonderful innuendo, as in the line when Parker snaps  “If you knew anything about music, you’d know that the best piano is one that’s been played!” 

naked2It’s a terrific potboiler really and the sexual tension is almost palpable. In spite of her protestations, since Leiningen is a virgin and Joanna does not reach his standards of propriety, Joanna must return from whence she came, but this is interrupted by the onslaught of an army of soldier ants that threatens the plantation and their very lives. Yeah, well, this is the part of the film that I remember from watching it as a lad. Again, the film betrays its age and ‘acceptable’ politics of its day, as the natives threaten to flee but are shamed into staying by Joanna who cries “Leiningen doesn’t run! Leiningen’s woman doesn’t run!” Yes, she gets her man, and he gets his woman, and again its up to the white man to save the day as he single-handedly races into the army of ants to blow the dam that will destroy the horde, sweeping the army aside in a torrent of water as the jungle reclaims the plantation.

Well, with me older and wiser now in more enlightened times, the film does leave a rather bitter taste in the mouth. Its a film of its time, I guess, but the vivid and rather blatant sexual intrigues that dominate the first half of the film made it a quite surprising watch after all these years. And it is rather curious to see such a young Charlton Heston so soon after having seen him in The Omega Man– he’s almost funny in this, a brooding man mountain wracked by sexual frustrations. Some would describe his performance as wooden, but of course its actually pure Heston.

My REH Bookshelf Pt.1

Last week I received the three most recent Robert E Howard books from the REH Foundation Press, so I thought it timely to post some pictures of my Robert E Howard collection. I’ve been collecting REH books since 1978, and I think it is true to say that REH fans have never had it as good as they do now, thanks to the efforts of the folks at the REHFP. There is still, and always will be, a unique thrill to receiving a box from them postmarked from the post office at Cross Plains, Texas, a special place in Howard lore.

reh1So here’s my first photograph, and this is pretty much my collection from the last few years and it clearly demonstrates how much I have benefited from the REHFP. While many of these books contain stories I already owned in earlier books, they also contain a wealth of fragments and drafts, and informative essays. And of course they are handsomely collected in hardback format in very limited editions, usually only 200 copies. I can never figure out how REH fandom is so limited that these books don’t seem to sell-out. They aren’t cheap, but when I think back to the bad old days of buying paperbacks these are more that worth the investment, and will hopefully last the rest of this REH readers life.

Highlights are almost too numerous too mention. The Collected Poetry is a hugely important volume, and the Collected Letters also. If these were the only books that the REHFP had ever printed, that would have been more than enough to satisfy collectors. In all honesty though I adore all of these books and only wish I could make the time to properly re-read them all enough. I often think that if ever I manage to retire one day I will enjoy the fruits of my collecting by spending years reading and re-reading these volumes -I only hope I can keep my marbles in order to do so! But I’m certain in the meantime I’ll give it a good go whenever I have time- currently I’m reading through the Breckinridge Elkins books. At any rate, though their frequency of books is somewhat haphazard, I’m certain that the REHFP have yet more books in the pipeline.

One anecdote I must make- my copy of the Collected Poetry was actually delivered across town as the address hadn’t been written properly on the package. As it wasn’t tracked, I had no idea, but thankfully it was delivered to me by the recipient of the package who had subsequently managed to track me down. I don’t think I ever had opportunity to thank him enough, as I was quite bewildered when he turned up at my door late one summer evening with the box. I’m really not usually that lucky a person -the ghost of Howard was looking over me that night!

This second photograph is a sample of the REH volumes I’ve collected over the past few decades-

reh2Now this picture contains a few real finds that REH collectors out there will likely recognise and which will mean nothing at all to most everyone else, so please bear with me. First is The Last Celt, which I bought from Forbidden Planet back in, 1985 I think, on a rare trip down to London. I couldn’t really afford the book but I couldn’t resist it. Its a hugely influential book about REH, at one point the bible of REH collecting. Written and compiled by the late Glenn Lord, who was the most important REH fan there ever was, its a cornerstone of my collection. Glenn was kind enough to reply to an email from me many years ago.

Next along the shelf are, like The Last Celt,  a number of REH books from Donald M Grant, one of the most important publishers of REH material, certainly in the 1970s/1980s- the highlight of these is the rare Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, a semi-autobiographical novel by Howard. Another favourite from my collection is a book about Howard rather than one by him- a memoir by Novalyne Price Ellis titled One Who Walked Alone. She was a friend of Howard and was the only girl he ever dated or had any kind of relationship with, and as she had literary leanings herself, she kept journals and diaries of their times together. This book is a particularly candid, first-hand document about Howard and formed the basis of a later film. Remarkably vivid, reading this book is like stepping into a time machine and the closest one can get to meeting Howard.

Then we come upon the expensive section of my collection- back before the REHFP rescued Howard collectors, the British publisher Wandering Star instigated an ultimately too-ambitious project of luxury limited editions. The books proved a contentious issue in REH fandom, but I well remember my thrill back when they first came out and I’m grateful to everyone involved in the (ultimately abortive) project. Having had to put up with cheap paperbacks and those old second-hand Donald M Grant editions that I could get hold of, new, luxury hardbacks of curated Howard material were a godsend. I remember picking up a flyer in Forbidden Planet announcing the three-volume Conan books. It was like winning some kind of lottery, it was so exciting! The first Wandering Star book was the Solomon Kane book, lavishly illustrated and bound, complete in slipcase with prints and a cd of some recited Kane material.  I bought that from the old Andromeda Bookshop in Birmingham- it was an expensive purchase but I never regretted it.

Further along the shelf you will see my copy of the Neville Spearman edition of Skull-Face Omnibus. In the history of REH publishing, this is one of the important volumes, originally published in 1946 by Arkham House. Dating from 1975, I bought this copy of the Neville Spearman edition from Andromeda Bookshop in 1983. Although I had bought some Conan paperbacks years earlier, it was this book that truly sealed my fate regards collecting REH books. The typeface is so small just reading a paragraph now is enough to induce a major headache, but fortunately all the books material has since been reprinted elsewhere and more legibly.

A few more Donald M Grant editions follow, and L Sprague de Camp’s rather inflammatory biography of Howard that I bought for £8.75 in 1986 (I know, because I have the receipt slipped inside the book), back when I was deep into buying the many REH  paperbacks of the time. I don’t have any of those paperbacks at hand to display, as they are stored up in boxes in the loft- but there were lots of them.

Finally (for now) on the shelf are two deluxe reprint volumes of the Roy Thomas/Barry Windsor-Smith Conan comics that pretty much started my whole affair with REH when I first read the weekly reprints here in the UK in 1975. So in a way they bring things full circle.

I have some other REH books I haven’t photographed here -the Bison books from several years ago, the Del Rey books based on unpublished Wandering Star volumes, the aforementioned paperback pile from the 1970s-1980s boxed away and several volumes of critical works about Howard’s work, as well as a number of comic collections from Dark Horse. Plenty there for an eventual Pt.2 indeed,  but what I have featured here is pretty much the bulk of my collection. I certainly don’t consider myself an hardcore REH collector but it has become something of a lengthy fascination that somehow defines me- any other REH collectors care to share details of their collections?

 

Warner Herald, Sept/October 1982

br herald2.jpgHere’s a curio that I discovered in some old papers today. It might be rather rare after all these years so I thought it worth posting about. Its the first issue of a four-page newspaper titled the Warner Herald, which I picked up in my ABC cinema when I first saw Blade Runner back in September of 1982.  Evidently it is something Warner Bros tried back then to publicise its current movies. No idea if it ever managed a second issue, although a column within this does ask for letters for a future Letter to the Editor page. I kept it as a keepsake and stored it away all these long years, occasionally digging it out for a nostalgic read. Anyway, here’s a few photos of those sections concerning my favourite film, as this may be interesting to other Blade Runner fans. The photos aren’t brilliant, I guess I can scan the pages in if anyone really wants to read it properly. If nothing else, its an insight of how the film was marketed back during its initial release. You know, back in the Dark Ages when the world was pre-Internet.

br herald1

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