Monkey Business

twelveTwelve Monkeys, 1995, 129 mins, 4K UHD

Arrow seems to have run afoul of a faulty master provided by Universal for its new 4K UHD edition of Terry Gilliam’s wonderful, bizarre and disturbing Twelve Monkeys. It actually features on their Blu-ray edition from a few years back, which I didn’t buy because I was hoping to see a 4K edition sometime down the line (pity I didn’t adopt same practice with their Robocop release, but hey-ho). Its a glitch in the edit, somehow, in which about 15 seconds of video is repeated, while the audio track continues correctly. The weird thing is, very few seem to have noticed it on that Blu-ray; it occurs at a fortuitous ((if that’s the right word) moment during some disorientating camera moves and tight edits and can easily pass people by; I’m sure most viewers never twigged it- I’m not even sure I would have noticed it had I not been warned/enlightened.

Didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the film at all, and its rather curious noting on forums that many are refusing to unwrap their copies and are returning them or getting increasingly irate over a replacement disc. Essentially those people are right, there is something wrong with the release and purchasers have every right to expect a ‘proper’ copy without any faults or glitches at all. My old VHS copy got it right, after all, so shouldn’t a brand-spanking new top of the line 4K UHD disc be the same? Of course it should. But this film isn’t broken, and unless you’re really looking for it, it doesn’t pull anyone out of the movie. Indeed in an odd way, it seems rather fitting for a Gilliam film, a sort of meta-reference to the nightmarishly inept bureaucracy of Gilliam’s earlier masterpiece Brazil (now THERE’s a film I want to see on a 4K UHD SE release). Maybe Gilliam himself would appreciate the humour in it. The important thing is that the film looks gorgeous in 4K, its really quite lovely and of course the film is only more effective/more harrowing than ever in our post-Covid world.

But it set me thinking about the theatrical cut of Blade Runner in 1982, complete with dialogue continuity errors, visible continuity errors, scenes played with the wrong dialogue take so that lips weren’t moving when we ‘heard’ someone talking, sequences with cables clearly hauling up spinner vehicles into the air or sitting off-corner where we’re not supposed to see it yet. The film wasn’t accidentally mastered and released like that, it was literally made and finished like that. Now that’s a broken movie- even though I loved it all the same.

A second punch of REH

ghostapril1929Further to yesterday’s post regards the Bob Howard boxing story “The Spirit of Tom Molyneaux”, I’ve since discovered online -its always amazing what you can dig up with a search or two- this image of the cover of the Ghost Stories pulp in which that story first appeared (as The Apparition in the Prize-Ring”). There’s no indication on the cover of why so many REH fans are aware of that particular issue (more because it was REHs first sale to a pulp magazine that wasn’t Weird Tales than any high quality in Howards story). I often get startled by those old pulp covers that were contemporary of REH, the old style of them proving sobering reminder of just how long ago REH lived, and how different those times were.

I often wonder what it would be like to have sat down with him over a beer. When I first read all those paperbacks of his stories my somewhat isolated, socially uncool teenage-self recognised much of my own awkwardness in descriptions of Bob Howard in Cross Plains, who was something of an outcast and considered rather peculiar by his neighbours/fellow townsfolk. But Bob Howard was such a product of his time, and that time is so alien to mine, to the atitudes and beliefs of today. Would we get along as much as I would have hoped?

Answers via a Time Machine, Mr Wells. Anyway, today I followed up that story with another boxing yarn; “Double Cross”, which was another Ace Jessel story- Bob Howard had a habit of writing series of tales featuring the same character seeing that it was a way of securing more sales; if the first sold, then surely readers (and editors) would be interested in further tales? Unfortunately for Howard, his first Ace Jessel story didn’t sell to the market it was originally intended for (Fight Stories) and only eventually sold to Ghost Stories because of its supernatural bent. This second Ace Jessel tale, a more traditional boxing yarn minus any supernatural undertones, would obviously lack any appeal to the Ghost Stories crowd, so “Double Cross” remained unsold after Fight Stories rejected it, and was Ace Jessel’s last adventure, Howard moving on….

“The Spirit of Tom Molyneaux” by Robert E. Howard

fists1While he’s most popularly known for his fantasy creations of Conan, King Kull and Solomon Kane, Bob Howard’s love of boxing is well documented-both a fervent admirer of the sport of his time, deeply knowledgeable of its history, and also as an amateur pugilist in his own right, taking part in bouts behind the ice-house at Cross Plains, and his passion for boxing is clearly evidenced by the number of boxing yarns he wrote during his short-lived writing career. The Robert E Howard Foundation’s Fists of Iron series, ensuring all his boxing stories, drafts. poems and ephemera are in print, is spread across four substantial volumes of material. My copies have sat on the shelf waiting my attention for far too long- the shipping note and customs declaration for my copy of the first volume, complete with that magical Cross Plains Post Office stamp, is dated June 2013. Other than picking a volume up to browse through or read an isolated story or two, these collections of his Boxing stories have been waiting. And waiting. But 2013? Yikes. And I thought some of my DVDs/Blu-rays had it bad.

So I have decided to strike out and try work my way through these Fists of Iron volumes (albeit I’m sure to become distracted by the pull of some of his other yarns before long, such as his Westerns or Fantasy works, because I suspect constant boxing stories may become wearing, in time, no matter how enjoyable they are). Many of the boxing stories contained in these books are familiar to me, having read most of them at least once before over the decades that I’ve been reading Howard’s fiction, but nonetheless I am certain there are many gathered here that I haven’t read at all, certainly in the pure ‘original text’ versions that the REH Foundation prides itself upon. In the case of this story, there are two different versions, one had featured in Bison Books’ Boxing Stories collection and the other Del Rey’s The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard collection, and both feature in this first Fists of Iron volume. Seems double and triple-dipping isn’t just reserved for home video formats…

The Spirit of Tom Molyneaux” is a lesser tale of Howards that is perfectly fine, and which has a particular fame for being Howards first professional sale outside of Weird Tales.  As one might suspect from it being sold to Ghost Stories (following rejections from the Fight Stories and Argosy pulps), this is a boxing short with a supernatural bent. Its less pronounced in the version here, from one of Howard’s own carbon copies- likely the version Fight Stories rejected.  The ghostly stuff features more prominently in the published version- possibly at the request of the Ghost Stories editor or perhaps more an example of Howard tailoring his stories to a particular market, adjusting its tone to more likely get a sale (he even retitled it to “The Apparition in the Prize-Ring”).

Its the story about Ace Jessel and his epic bout with Mankiller Gomez, a brutal, almost primordial fighter who has swept all before him, taking the title from a fighter who Ace had been in line to fight. Ace is clearly outmatched but seems to take courage from a painting of his lifelong hero and inspiration, the boxer Tom Molyneaux, a black boxer who died a hundred years prior. Unbeknownst to Ace, his concerned manager John Taverel is compelled to bring the painting to ringside, and when Ace is bloodied and near-beaten, Taveral unfurls it so that Ace can see it, and the ghost of Molyneaux comes to Ace’s aid.

Which is a lousy summary of a simple story which, while it doesn’t really at all surprise, nonetheless proves to be a perfect example of just how great a storyteller Bob Howard was. I haven’t read any other author who can capture action like Howard could- his description of the bout is riveting and exciting and its impossible not to get caught up in it. I can’t say I have any particular interest in boxing at all, but I really enjoy Howards boxing yarns (the humorous ones are the best, as they demonstrate Howard’s surprising grasp of comedy) and the supernatural element gives this one a particular flavour worthy of a Twilight Zone segment. Its really pretty good.

One of the eight million stories…

One of the most seductive aspects of Jules Dassin’s The Naked City is its extensive (and pioneering at the time) location shoot in New York during 1947. The film captures the hustle and bustle of the city, featuring New Yorkers travelling, shopping, working, attending their own concerns largely (and even entirely, thanks to hidden cameras) ignorant that a film was being shot. As a document of the time, the film is quite priceless, like a window into the past.

Moments catch my attention. Its like the film’s crime drama  narrative is an obstacle to the fascinating glimpse of the real lives, the real city. There is a scene early in the film in which Det. Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) walks a crowded street in search of clues to a murder. As he does so he almost stumbles over a dog being walked, and behind him we can see an attractive young woman walking in his same direction, screen right and after they cross the road (she reacts irritated by a car that gets too close to her) eventually passing out of shot screen left as Halloran enters a premises. I wonder who she is, who she was, what she was doing, where she was going, and what happened to her, what was her life. Impossible questions to answer. One of the untold eight million stories of this Naked City.

Not his Superman

superman78While reading through an old issue of Cinefantastique the other day (the Forbidden Planet double-issue, from Spring 1979, I assume) I came across a capsule review of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie which I hadn’t noticed before, and which, while I’m accustomed to the somewhat po-faced attitude of that mag’s editorials, quite took me aback. With due deference to its writer Robert Stewart, I quote the following:

“The film fails to explore the possibilities of having a new and modernized Superman tackle the real problems of the world in the late 1970s- assassinations, mass suicides, mindf–kers, famine, the CIA, sexism, racism, provocateurs, ageism, unemployment and economic collapse, corporate takeovers, bureaucratic  psychopaths, etc. Instead, he confronts villains not much different from those of the Batman television show…” 

My initial thoughts were that this guy probably loved Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: his review seems more a manifesto for Snyder’s films than anything to do with Richard Donner’s film (clearly Donner’s respectful approach to the original comicbooks went right over Mr Stewarts head). It’s one of those reviews which criticises a film more for what it is not, than what it is.

But it did set me thinking, which was probably the point of the review (so bravo, Mr Stewart, wherever you are now). I’ve noted elsewhere that I’ve really not been a fan of the recent Spiderman films and much of this -and it applies to all three ‘versions’ of the character, the Tobey Maguire films, the Andrew Garfield films and Tom Holland’s films- is simply that none of them have really captured what I loved as a kid growing up reading the 1960s/1970s Spiderman comics by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, John Romita, Gerry Conway and Ross Andru. They are perfectly fine films as they are (well, to varying degree anyway) but none of them capture the characters and mood/spirit of those comics, so its inevitable that, for me, they are lacking something. They are probably more faithful to the comics of the past twenty years (that I have never read, although I did read part of the J. Michael Straczynski run of Spiderman comics drawn by John Romita jr. which are likely indicative) which is fine, and I should maybe give them the benefit of the doubt there. But my question is, am I being fair? Is it a case though of me disliking films more for what they are not than what they are?

Well, not exactly. I do think there are very real issues with the various films; retconning bad guys to be more sympathetic victims of misfortune than genuine villains is one of my pet peeves, likewise I utterly detest all the various Spidey suits of the Tom Holland films, all that nano-tech/Iron Man rubbish, all that metal arms out the back etc that defy reason, physics and gravity. That’s not any kind of Spiderman I want,  just further evidence of the Marvel films increasingly playing fast and loose with comics canon etc (as far as I know, as it could be something featured in the comics, but I doubt it). Likewise some of the writing feels pretty dire, with some fairly shocking leaps of logic, but that’s something evident in much film and television now; the talent pool is pretty weak now because there is just so much content being produced across film/television streaming etc. And yeah, in defence of writers, maybe its all those producers and executive producers interfering with the material- some films and shows I see now have as many as twenty and more producer credits, and I often wonder if the time will come when the number of producer credits will outnumber that of the cast.

I won’t even watch The Eternals; Jack Kirby’s 1970s comicbooks are amongst my very favourites. They possibly haven’t aged very well in some ways, but they were so bold and imaginative, full of the Chariots of the Gods stuff that excited me so much as a kid and was quite popular in that decade. The film, from what I have seen of it in trailers, has nothing in common with those comicbooks other than name (to be more faithful to Kirby’s work, it surely should have looked and felt more akin to 2017s Thor: Ragnarok film, which really captured the feel of a Kirby strip). I do know Neil Gaiman wrote a reboot/continuation and suspect the film has more in common with that than original creator Jack Kirby’s opus but I may be giving the film too much credit even there. Maybe I’ll get to watch it eventually but certainly I have little if any interest in it; the film was made to be something else, not something faithful to the original comics, and that’s surely true of much current Marvel Studios output.

Which is true, indeed, of what Disney is doing with Star Wars. They are making Star Wars tv shows and movies that are increasingly removed from the original film trilogy I grew up with, and they are as much not ‘my Star Wars’ as anything Marvel Studios films and tv shows are- and the same is true of the current crop of Star Trek tv shows. That being said though, some of these shows, certainly the Star Trek stuff that I have watched, are really woeful, regardless of how ‘faithful’ they aren’t in spirit and subject. The second season of Star Trek: Picard is especially diabolically poor, an absolute nadir for the Star Trek franchise.

Mind, even Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard have their fans, I suppose, although those viewers must be especially forgiving of terrible writing, huge plotholes, leaps of logic (and illogic). Indeed I think the shows are fundamentally unforgivable in how crass and stupid they are, and seem to have been written by soap opera and tv sitcom writers rather than anyone actually skilled or knowledgeable of both science fiction or indeed the particular franchise canon (I can’t help but feel this is largely true of the Star Wars and Marvel stuff too, and I don’t know if this is from laziness, ignorance or simply an intent to strike off to pastures new on the back of established IP).

Thank goodness Blade Runner 2049 was sincere and respectful of the original film and extended upon the 1982 original film’s themes and mood thoughtfully, rather than just go the other, easier way, instead making a film about with a Roy Batty Mk.II or an action-based film about a new Blade Runner battling Nexus 7 or Nexus 8 improved, nastier Replicants. After all, it could have been, easily- look how generic the Terminator films became. I may not live to see any more Blade Runner movies, but at least I don’t have to witness what happened with Alien, its Lovecraftian alien creatures turned into spacesuit wearing bald guys in Ridley Scott’s ill-judged Prometheus. The more I think back on Prometheus, the more it actually seems a story about Space Gods akin to Jack Kirby’s 1976 Eternals comics repurposed to fit within the Alien franchise in order to get made (I can well imagine Ridley wanting to make a high-concept Space Gods movie and having to sell it as an Alien movie in order to get it greenlit).

Which I suppose means I should remain absolutely fearful regards that Blade Runner tv series which Ridley is producing. Maybe my luck is going to run out; and certainly, I will feel much more aggrieved regards something spoiling my appreciation and adoration of the 1982 film than I am by some Spiderman film not really being the web-slinger that thrilled me when I was seven years old.

Recent Additions/ Capsule reviews

P1110251I’ve been weak, and succumbed to a few sale offers over the past several weeks, and there have also been a few disc releases of the films from last Autumn/Winter that I’d been waiting for.

Matrix Resurrections 4K UHD: A film of two halves, really, but my review can be found here.

Whiplash 4K UHD: I watched this on a rental a good while ago, when it absolutely terrified me. I don’t know why I’m putting myself through this again, except that the 4K disc was in a sale and yeah, it seemed like a great film last time around. We’ll see what I think if/when I can muster the courage for another anxiety trip…

Cliffhanger 4K UHD: A guilty favourite, my review can be found here.

Beverly Hills Cop 4K UHD: No, I don’t know what I was thinking. It was in a sale, I used to love the Axel F single back in the day (I have the 12″ in storage somewhere), I’d seen the film on a VHS rental. Once. Actually I quite enjoyed this disc, there must be something of a nostalgic pull from anything 1980s just lately. There’s a scene in a bar where a Prince song I didn’t know was playing on the soundtrack and it bugged the heck out of me until I learned from the credits that it was a Vanity 6 song (so yeah, Prince in all but name) but it only intensified that whole 1980s ‘thing’ running through this film. The hairstyles! The fashions! That Glenn Frey song!

Eddie Murphy was actually bearable back then. There’s a story about Eddie Murphy and Jack Lemmon on the Paramount backlot which I’ve probably mentioned before, so I won’t go on with it here unless someone wants me too…

West Side Story (2021) 4K UHD: I watched this a few nights ago; quite magnificent, I thought, and easily Spielberg’s best film in twenty years. I actually think there is something in Spielberg’s style, like his slow camera crawls into actor’s reaction shots, how staged his set-ups tend to be, how much he leans on John William’s music scores, that is wholly suited to musicals. I hope to give this a proper review post sometime, but yeah, I thought it was brilliant. The staging, the use of the camera, the art direction, the casting… I could imagine it winning all sorts of Oscars in a non-Covid universe in which this film made any money (shame Oscar seems to ignore a dud). It goes without saying that the music is sublime, I’ve always loved Robert Wise’s original film and have seen the show on the stage once (albeit something provincial) so it was a given I’d enjoy it, but I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.

Spider Man: No Way Home 4K UHD: Dude! Dude! Dude! Oh dear, the writing in this film… what, described somewhere as the best comicbook movie ever made? What? I’ll write a proper post about this film someday, but just an observation: there were a few times in the Lee/Ditko/Romita era comics that Peter Parker was revealed to be Spider-Man but those guys usually managed to write an elegant and imaginative way of Peter outwitting people and fixing things and maintain his secret identity. But the film Peter Parker shown here is some kind of selfish idiot or the films writers lacked the imagination and wit of 1960s comic writers/artists, because this film… maybe its cleverly undermining traditional super-hero tropes and the films actual uber-villain is Tom Holland’s Spidey himself. Or maybe I’m giving them way too much credit…

The Shawshank Redemption 4K UHD: I wasn’t going to do it. Its one of my favourite films (I was one of the few who saw it in the cinema when it came out, so hey, kudos to me) but the Blu-ray was fine. But sales. Bloody sales.

Ratatouille 4K UHD: My favourite Pixar movie, and a lovely feel-good film that I probably need now more than ever. I don’t expect any great leap over the Blu-ray, but it does seem I’m upgrading too many of my favourite films to 4K UHD, especially when the sales make it seem a reasonable decision rather than inherently dumb, which it really probably is.

Backdraft 4K UHD: Sales. Sales. Sales. Actually, I watched it a few nights ago and I quite enjoyed it. I’d actually forgotten Robert De Niro was even in it, its been so long since I’d last watched this (probably on DVD). It takes a few too many liberties with my intelligence with some of its heart-tugging silliness “Look at him… that’s my brother goddammit!” but it does look awfully good in 4K. I seem to recall it was this film that made me dislike Hans Zimmer scores for years, my goodness he never did do subtle.

Death on the Nile 4K UHD: Watched this on Saturday. Its quite inferior to the previous Murder on the Orient Express, from the pretty woefully miscast cast to the strangely uninvolving plot… and I’m not sure the virtual sets nonsense worked at all. I guess it was a deliberate stylistic choice but it left it feeling very… distractingly artificial? I can accept that in a Star Wars prequel with George playing with his toybox but a period murder mystery that could have been shot on location?

Nineteen Eighty-Four Blu-ray/DVD: Ah, the Peter Cushing one, that I’ve never seen but always wanted to. I’m only irritated by the fact that since this arrived in the post, Amazon has been repeatedly reducing the price of this thing. I hate it when that happens, especially when I haven’t seen it yet. See also too many other discs currently unwatched to mention, but still, its the principle of the thing.

The Proposition 4K UHD: Saw this on Sunday. Lengthy fawning post to sometime follow. Quite breathtakingly brilliant. One of those times that I blind-buy a physical disc release of a film I’d previously missed somehow and discover something quite excellent. Does this qualify as a Christmas movie? Was John Hurt ever better?

Brute Force/ Naked City (Blu-ray): I watched Brute Force last night. Brilliant film. They really don’t make ’em like they used to. I shall catch up with Naked City sometime soon. This was another sale buy that had me wondering why I hadn’t succumbed to its charms before. Arrow’s double-bill package is well designed (lovely hardcase box) with a fine book to pour over, bountiful extras; another great example of why I still love buying physical releases of old films. But its gotten me ordering Jules Dassin’s Rififi on Blu-ray, further proof that it gets expensive sometimes as one film leads to another. Damn those trailers…

A peculiar tonic: The Out of Towners

outotThe Out of Towners, 1970, 101 mins, DVD

With everything that has been going on recently, my clear-out/review of books/discs etc has been put on hold, the garage still full of boxes. Occasionally I make an effort when I can focus on something but don’t have much heart in it.  Curiously though, yesterday glancing through one of the boxes of DVDs I noticed Arthur Hiller’s 1970 comedy The Out of Towners, starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis. I’d forgotten that I even owned it, recently tempted by an Australian Blu-ray release from Imprint… I hate forgetting that I had the film on disc, even an old DVD; I never used to forget that kind of stuff. Either my memory is going, or I just have too many discs: cue Orson Welles impression: what curio lurks in the remotest corners of all those boxes?

Yesterday I had to register my dad’s death, having finally been notified that the hospital had emailed the certificate of death to the district registry office. As I’m his eldest son it seemed right that it fell to me, and as my mom wasn’t up to it, one of my brothers went along with me. Seeing my name printed on my dad’s final death certificate as ‘informant’ looks…. horrible, frankly, as is the finality of my dad’s life (birth date, date of death etc) just summarised like that, like a book being closed, too soon.

So not the best of days; and last night caught mid-evening with a few hours clear after walking Eddie, I recalled noticing the Out of Towners DVD and suggested putting it on. Films are inevitably subject to mood and I’ve been caught a few times over the past few weeks at a loss for what to watch; what’s safe, what isn’t (clearly Field of Dreams is out of bounds for some time yet). I figured a Neil Simon comedy from 1970 starring one of my favourite actors would be harmless enough.

So the damnedest thing happened. When the film ended I suddenly realised that, for the space of a ninety minutes or so, I’d forgotten my woes, drifting off into a safer world. Movies can be an escape, and The Out of Towners proved a surprising tonic.

Its not, in all honesty, a particularly good movie. I know it was popular when it came out, but its never been a particular favourite of Jack Lemmon’s films for me. I much prefer the far superior The Prisoner of Second Avenue, another Neil Simon comedy with, oddly enough, similar locations (both set in New York) and themes.  I think The Out of Towners gets derailed by the increasingly farcical calamities it inflicts upon the husband and wife Lemmon/Dennis characters. Simon’s comedy works best in its sparkling dialogue, and subtly-observed character beats and observations, and The Out of Towners has less opportunity for this as it progresses and gets ever more manic.  Its not a bad film, but comparisons with The Prisoner of Second Avenue does it no favours at all. I simply adore Prisoner, its one of my very favourite films.

But The Out of Towners is safe; its harmless, silly fun and it certainly worked wonders for me: I guess its true, even an average/poor film can be the right film at the right time, its like some strange sorcery at work. I suppose if we could figure that out and we watched the right films at the right time, we’d all be happier even at the worst of times.

An update

First, my heartfelt thanks to those of you who commented on my last post. I read and deeply appreciated the kind words and thoughts shared regards what has been going on.

Things have, unfortunately, moved on in ways that, yes, I had feared but, worse than that, progressed more suddenly than I or anyone in my family had expected. My Dad passed away late on Tuesday evening; it was, in the end, really quite sudden. While his gradual decline over the past week had been worrying we had still held out some hope (you cling to anything, frankly), but on Tuesday afternoon we were told Dad wasn’t responding to his treatment and that the doctors felt it was time to allow nature to take its course. You can never prepare for news like that, no matter how you might try. You have to suddenly get your head around the cold fact that there would be no ‘cure’ after all, and that instead we had to turn thoughts towards a Hospice and palliative care, and making what would be my Dads last days the best they could be, but as it turned out there was yet one last, cruel twist- Dad only had hours, not days, and the arrangements for transferring him to a local Hospice proved to be pointless (it seems any plans we made for the past few weeks never came to anything, each plan unravelling).

Those last hours were not good; its impossible to immediately comprehend all the myriad implications of what we were being told, the finality of it and the suddenness of it. Bad enough being advised that Dad wasn’t ever coming home, but for it then to dawn upon us as the afternoon slipped into evening that we only had hours, minutes, not the days or weeks of this new scenario. I  take some consolation that we -my two brothers and I, and my mother- were with him at the end. I’m certain that, if Dad had to decide upon his final few hours, he would have wanted it to be with his family around him.

As I type this a few days have passed but the dim unreality of it all remains. I don’t think it has sunk in at all yet. Although Dad had been ill for several weeks it had never seemed so serious that we might lose him, and indeed only several days ago, confined to his bedroom as he was due to his back pain, he was able to chat and joke with us, and nobody could have thought this might lie ahead. So this past week or so since his stroke changed everything feels… well, obviously it feels unfair, unjust, but its such a major shift in what our lives were and what they will now be, its difficult getting a grip on it. What is life going to be like without him? Attention has inevitably turned to taking care of mom, and our focus is on that, and settling Dad’s affairs.

My earliest memory is one of my Dad. I must have been two years old, I think, maybe not even that. My Nan used to live near a big park and my Dad took me to play in the woods there (somewhere that he played in his own youth) and while we were playing Dad hid behind a tree. Running around, laughing, I suddenly realised that my Dad was nowhere to be seen and that I’d lost him and I vividly recall the horror of it (I’m sure we all have childhood memories of ‘losing’ our parents in crowds etc) and I burst into tears, and I remember Dad poking out of his hideaway assuring me everything was fine, but I was so upset he took me back to my Nans house and mom. I’ve been thinking of that day often, now. It feels like I’m back in those woods and Dad has disappeared behind that tree but, this time, he’s really gone and never coming back, he isn’t ever going to poke his head out from behind that trunk again and tell me everything’s going to be alright.

I may be awhile

I don’t know where to start.

I think I’m typing this down with no intent of actually posting this, or maybe I will.

I’ve been posting updates here on my blog in spite of Things. Or in defiance of Things. I haven’t really been able to watch much (maybe regular visitors here will have noticed my increasingly infrequent posts over the past few weeks), and when I have, I’ve really struggled to find the heart to write about them. Sometimes its helped. Gets my mind off Things.

When the darkest of noir films still seems something of an escape, one has to wonder.

In fact, its had me wondering what the purpose of films are- if they are a form of escape, of getting away from reality, then is that necessarily healthy? While it seems reasonable to ask, ‘where’s the harm?’ is there a case of watching just too many films than one really should? Maybe we should consider WHY film-lovers enjoy watching films so much, perhaps wonder if its a Good Thing of not. I don’t watch any television soaps, but I have heard them described as an opiate for the masses. Maybe its true of films and books too. Depends on the film, of course- I don’t expect Come and See could ever be described as a soothing respite from anyone’s reality.

So what brought me to these ruminations?

Let me go back a few weeks. First, my mother-in-law fell while walking her dog, and broke her shoulder. Since Claire is an only child and her Dad passed away a few years back, and that her mom couldn’t be left alone, Claire spent a week of nights over her moms, looking after her. Following this, her mom went into hospital for an operation on her shoulder which meant a week there, and the complication -well, annoyance, really-  of hospital visits with Covid controls etc. The operation seemed to go well and she was brought home with a carer organised in the mornings and with Claire driving over to take things up later each day (like walking the dog that inadvertently caused all this in the first place, but hey…) . Her mom is 80 years old, and recovery could be a long road.

But lets go back a bit.

Four days after Claire’s mom had her fall, my Dad had a heart attack. My Dad hasn’t been well for some years: COPD, a disintegrating hip, a ‘silent’ heart attack that no-one was really aware of which apparently happened a few years back, two bouts of cancer (one of which ongoing), blood clots… that isn’t the all of it. I often say with grim mirth worthy of Robert E. Howard that it would be easier and quicker to list what’s right with Dad than what’s wrong with him. So, a week of us worrying, him in hospital, us unable to visit (he was in a different hospital to Claire’s mom, one which at that point hadn’t been cleared for any visiting at all) and an operation to fit a stent.

When Dad came out, we were hopeful for the best but there were some complications- on return home, Dad was in such desperate back pain, which we believe was a trapped nerve, that he had to stay upstairs as they only have an upstairs loo and he was physically incapable of getting up or down stairs, even aided. So Mom and Dad have been living upstairs for the past few weeks, my two brothers and I taking turns (I’m Tuesday, Friday and Saturday) staying over sleeping in the back room to help mom with him- even getting him from bedroom to bathroom was an ordeal, and the chronic pain meant long nights of broken sleep but it did, gradually, get easier…

I’d love to go back. You know? Jump into a Time Machine, set it for six months in the past. Or anytime in 2021. Because I could do without ever experiencing 2022.

I’m having a bad time typing this down, it was worse experiencing it, believe me, than I could possibly express here, and I certainly didn’t have it the worst. A complicated regime of differing medications for pain relief, given at certain times, rigorously followed and recorded, with nurses and doctors visiting and assessing him. Family spending time over there to support my mom and break the monotony of life essentially trapped in a single room. TV put into the room with a DVD player, lots of films on the go (one afternoon for instance I watched the two Equaliser films starring Denzel Washington with him, and I absently worry that I’ll never be able to re-watch them without remembering that afternoon. I mean, its a Good Memory, sitting with him, but there’s all that attendant worrying at the time etc…).

I could write about the long odyssey of a stairlift, waiting for it to be authorised and fitted. But not here. The black humour and irony of it being finally fitted yesterday is just… too… noir.

One has to remember, my brothers and I each have fulltime jobs on the go. Of the three of us, I could be the most flexible, as I’m still working from home – two years, now- so as somebody had to stay with my Dad at all times, when mom needed to go anywhere, such as the Bank, or for shopping, Claire would stray with Dad and I’d take mom out, and I’d arrange my work-hours around it, no great hardship; I’m fortunate I can do most of my job just as easily at midnight as at midday.

OK. You’re possibly wondering where this is all going.

On Tuesday, my Dad had a stoke.

It happened just around breakfast; he’d had his cereal, and mom was going through the long list of tablets that he has to take. My brother who had stayed over the night before hadn’t long left, everything was going along what had become, over a few weeks, the new routine.

I’m working in my back room at home. I get the phone-call. Drop everything, race over there. Ambulance is till there so I park in the street. I dash into the house, expecting the paramedics to be still upstairs with him, but my mom is down in the living-room sobbing her heart out and my dad is in the ambulance I’d just walked past. I’m trying to comfort mom and find out what’s going on and the ambulance departs.

As In write this, a few days later, my Dad is very ill. But he’s still here. The stroke has taken his speech, and also the muscles in his throat which has resulted in him being nil by mouth with the complication of a lung infection (Dad’s muscle problem meaning that saliva/fluids can now pass down into his lungs, and typical of Dad’s run of luck, he picked up a chest infection inside of three days). Damage to the left side of his brain means he can recognise us but can’t understand what we are saying, or where he is or what’s happening.

Remember what I said about the darkest noir film being a pleasant escape?

Dad is in a very bad way. We have been advised that, due to all his other ailments, the hospital staff will not attempt to resuscitate should he suffer another heart attack or stroke or whatever else might befall him. In my darkest moments over the past few days I dare the unthinkable and consider that might not be a bad thing. And the guilt is terrible.

I have been suffering some very dark nights of the soul. At times it feels like a nervous breakdown. But we have to be strong, remain positive, fear the worst, hope for the best. Support mom the best we can.

My work colleagues have been good, I wasn’t able to do much this past week. Frankly, seeing Dad on Thursday, for the first time since the ambulance rushed him away, threw me in a tailspin, and since then my heads not been much good for anything. He seemed to recognise me, I could hold his hand. Back home, every time the phone rings its something of a nightmare tension creeping up my spine. Anxiety seems to be a constant state of mind.

And Claire’s mom, on her own slow road to recovery, still needs our help, although Claire has shouldered the majority of that this past week.

Has anyone seen the news here in the UK lately? Massive fuel and energy price rises, the cost of living going sky high alongside inflation, our PM seemingly  having a defective honesty gene (or at least one gone AWOL), there’s a war in Europe… I mean its like Everything, EVERYTHING,  has gone to shit. Will Smith tried to punch Chris Rock’s lights out at the Oscar ceremony for goodness sake. And its all like background noise, happening on some distant planet.

Films seem very silly, inconsequential. Its hard to focus on them when I try to watch them. Maybe I need them more than ever, I can’t decide. Maybe this blog can help, if only by distracting me, making me focus on something else (at the minute, its failing miserably). Which is, all of this, me saying I may either be away for awhile or I may not be away at all. Its impossible to say, as I don’t know what the next day might bring. Normal feels a long long time ago. and so very far, far away.

Bollocks. I finished with a Star Wars reference. What a –$$££$%% geek.

(February 1978, I’m twelve years old and Dad is taking my brother and I to go see Star Wars… )