Agh, Commentary Tracks

Well, a pat on my back for watching a disc within a few weeks of buying it (doubt it’ll catch on) but life never gives without taking away, so add another commentary track to the list of all those that I haven’t listened to yet. 

(The disc in question was A Most Violent Year, a film which I first watched on a stream back in 2015 and which I really liked, so when I noticed it cheap on Amazon it proved a no-brainer. More on that maybe at a later time, but yeah its still a great film with fantastic cast/performances, but the Blu-ray comes with a commentary track which tempts and infuriates me at the same time).

So anyway, its such a pity that whenever there’s nothing on the television or I haven’t gotten my head into a book, I can’t just suggest to my wife Claire that we settle down with a commentary track from one of those discs (if I did, she’d give me one of her dirtiest ‘are you mad?’ looks for sure: commentary tracks are for film-nerds. True or false?). 

Not all commentary tracks are equal. Some are awful. Some are great. Some (certainly those when one gets John Carpenter and Kurt Russell together) are legendary. There’s some good commentaries by academics, film historians or critics- some can be very dry, or feel like they are just reading from prepared notes (which sometimes I’m sure they are), but often they can be more balanced than listening to tracks from cast and crew stroking each others egos and ‘goshing’ at whatever’s onscreen. Some can be surprising, I remember that the Matrix films had commentary tracks from philosophers and critics who didn’t necessarily even like the films. Which made me think at the time what a neat idea it was (although studios would obviously be appalled by it), to perhaps put negative views on some tracks, you know, get someone to argue for, someone argue against, the film in question. 

Great unrecorded commentary tracks:

  1. Alfred Hitchcock on Vertigo
  2. Stanley Kubrick on anything (although Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke together on 2001 would have been like brushing one’s hand against a Monolith, or falling into a Stargate, I suspect).
  3. Phillip K Dick on Blade Runner– wouldn’t that have been great? He might have hated the finished film but who knows, he might have loved it and just listening to him see that world through his eyes… sober or high, it would have been a ball.
  4. Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. Just imagine. 

I assure you that if either of those commentaries existed they wouldn’t have remained unlistened to. Crikey, I probably would have jumped into the commentary before even watching the movie. Anybody else got some ideas for great commentary tracks we’ll never hear?

Lucky (2017)

lucky1This was a delight; one of those little films in which, well, very little happens, other than character moments and observations of the human condition- you know, the stuff we seldom see in film these days. I can’t say its perfect, I thought some of it was rather forced and I didn’t ‘buy’ everything, but the good easily outweighed the bad. Its Harry Dean Stanton in one of his last films, for goodness sake, and any criticism I have regards the film is about the supporting cast and some of the script choices: Harry is perfect in this, you can tell it was largely written for him, little nods to his own life history scattered in the details. Mostly its a one-man show, and that’s when the film is at its best. Harry should have stayed in his house watching daytime telly, smoking and drinking too much coffee, sometimes cussing the television inanity. That would have been film enough for me.

Lucky is a sad, melancholy film; its also rather sweet, thankfully without resorting to the saccharine, a tricky balance. Its got a ninety-year old beloved actor playing a ninety-year old loner contemplating his own mortality, realising that everyone and everything and everyplace he knew or knows is either gone already or will be. David Lynch is wonderful, the rest of the cast is okay, but Harry towers over all. The fact that he passed away just a few months following this film’s release just makes it all the sadder.

Every time I see Harry Dean Stanton onscreen… I hear Ry Cooder music. Can’t escape it. That’s Paris, Texas and there is no escaping it, its like Cooder was sound tracking Harry’s face and not the movie. There were a few moments in this film in which, because of the similar desert setting and Harry’s endlessly craggy, lived-in face, that I almost thought this might be some kind of unofficial sequel, in just the same way as Jack Lemmon’s character in Glengarry Glenn Ross seems to be The Apartment‘s CC Baxter decades after the Billy Wilder film, ruined by the darkside of the American Dream.

And hey, this has got Dallas and Brett together again some 38 years after Alien. How weird is that scene: its possibly one of the films weakest, and doesn’t really fit in, I suspect, but hey, its got film nostalgia/event soaked up in it. You just can’t help but smile and wish it was a longer scene, just to live it a little more. And marvel with some horror at the 38 years.

Remastered Babylon 5 on Amazon Prime

b5a“Faith manages” was a line Delenn used to say, and I have to wonder at the odd synchronicity in which, having posted just a few days ago regards the possible reboot/remake of Babylon 5, I learned yesterday evening that the remastered Babylon 5 is available on Amazon Prime, albeit by some circuitous route. It turns out that Amazon have launched a ‘mini-channel’ here in the UK (not sure about elsewhere in Europe, but I presume its being rolled out) called imdb TV, which is free but ad-supported, and includes, buried in the long list of available shows, the complete remastered Babylon 5. The imdb-TV channel takes a little of digging to find, and  Babylon 5, for me at least, wouldn’t have a chance of being found had I not been tipped off that it was there (somewhere) but I guess a search for Babylon 5 would have found it easily enough (I prefer to take the Indiana Jones-with-a-remote route, I get a much rosier glow of satisfaction when I get there).

The persistently questionable Amazon compression algorithms likely don’t show the series at its best, and the CGI looks as woeful as it ever did, but back in its 4:3 picture format, the show returns to how we first saw it when it originally aired and the non-effects shots look pretty good, considering (probably would have looked better on a Blu-ray, just saying). Naturally it would be even better without any ads but hey, it weirdly maintains that authentic ‘watching on Channel 4’ ambience I suppose.

I’m not suggesting, tempting as it is, that I’ll manage to rewatch the whole series- maybe if I’d invested in a Blu-ray set I would have felt disposed to make the additional effort/exert better self-discipline. As it is, there’s just so many time constraints these days, but at least I have an option to see the remastered Babylon 5 that I didn’t have before. At very least I shall watch my favourite, key episodes from each season, but you never know…

The Asphyx (1972)

asp2Probably more one of those fairly obscure film coincidences rather than one of those film connections that leaves me scratching my head at the sometimes arcane synchronicity of movie-watching, but it turned out that The Asphyx was directed by Peter Newbrook, who was the director of photography on Corruption, which I watched just a few days earlier. While the two films are both of the horror genre, they couldn’t be more different- Corruption was a present-day horror calculated to shock, reflecting the growing trend at the time for nastier horror thrills for audiences jaded by the more traditional horror films that Hammer had been making for over a decade, and The Asphyx was much more restrained, a period piece that deliberately avoided being graphic or gory, and wouldn’t have seemed out of place had it indeed been from Hammer.

Barring an ill-judged present-day opening and close which bookends the story proper, the film takes place entirely in Victorian England, and the peculiar obsession of Sir Hugo Cunning (Robert Stephens) a scientist who notices grim shadowy artefacts in his photographs of the recently, or imminently, dead. He deduces that his unique photographic chemical solutions are capturing the image of the Asphyx,  the spirit of the dead of Greek mythology, and proposes a way of trapping the creature in a device of his own devising, thus granting immortality to the subject of the creatures attention (the Asphyx unable to take possession of a dying person, that person would then be unable to die). While Stephen’s experiments prove successful with a family pet and then later upon himself, things start to go awry when he attempts to immortalise his daughter…

It is to the cast’s credit that the preposterous plot is taken absolutely seriously, in the best tradition of Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee in any of their own Hammer yarns, and Robert Stephens certainly lends some weight to it all. A well-respected actor who was at one time tipped to be the successor to Laurence Olivier for his theatre work, he was very much a theatrical actor, very intense. I recall him appearing in Ridley Scott’s first film, The Duellists, and voicing the part of Aragorn in the BBC’s marvellous radio dramatization of The Lord of the Rings. I’ve always struggled with him, personally, but oddly enough he works well here as the typically slightly manic, deranged scientist whose personal tragedy during a family boating accident drives him to ever greater extremes. The central premise of the film is daft but its treatment is actually quite disturbing, especially with someone like Stephens as the star: for once I’m not going to suggest its a horror film that would have been better with my old favourite Cushing in the starring role.

Indeed, I have to wonder if Stephen King was at all familiar with this film, because it shares some striking similarities to his story The Green Mile, and the film directed by Frank Darabont: maybe its a stretch, but an immortal character accompanied by his immortal guinea pig through the decades seems rather akin to The Green Mile‘s immortal Paul Edgecomb and his similarly immortal pet mouse, Mr .Jingles, and both tales share grisly scenes of an Electric Chair doing its ‘thing’. One of those film coincidences maybe.

A Babylon 5 Reboot?

b5rebootThat picture above is almost enough to drive me to tears. So many of those wonderful people gathered for a fun publicity shot, so clearly enjoying themselves, are gone now; Richard Briggs, Andreas Katsulas, Stephen Furst, Jerry Doyle, Mira Furlan, Jeff Conaway (and of course, not pictured here, Michael O’Hare). Its the sadness and loss that permeates the memory of Babylon 5.

I expected the chief Babylon 5 event of 2021 would have been a remastered release of the complete series on Blu-ray- alas, that hasn’t transpired, the remaster limited to a digital-only release and streaming on HBO Max over in the States. Regrettable, if not surprising, the way physical formats become increasingly marginalised: possibly the new interest/HD remaster was just two or three years too late for the disc boxsets I had hoped for.

But it seems there was a hidden reason for that HD remaster, as it appears to have been a way of gauging interest in the Babylon 5 franchise- and somebody likes how it turned out. It has been announced by Warner Bros that the show is being rebooted, some totally unexpected news that is part exciting, part intriguing, part absolutely horrible. I suppose in a world in which Blade Runner got both a sequel and an anime series spin-off, anything is possible, but Babylon 5 coming back? Beyond weird. About the only thing that possibly makes any sense at this point is the news that original creator and writer J. Michael Straczynski is involved- on Twitter he has announced that he is currently writing the new show’s pilot. 

Straczynski has revealed that it won’t be a continuation or sequel, if only because of the simple, inescapable fact that we have lost the actors who played the major characters of Delenn, G’Kar, Franklin, Vir and Zack… its impossible to go back again, to the Babylon 5 we used to know and love. Instead he seems to be going back to the original idea for the show, a “from-the-ground-up reboot” retelling the story with what I assume will be a fresh, contemporary spin. Horrible as it might sound. I just find it rather unnerving, reading about kicking off with the season two storyline of John Sheridan (played by Bruce Boxleitner originally) being assigned to Babylon 5, a five-mile long space station positioned in neutral space attempting to maintain an uneasy peace between rival planetary empires. 

It could be brilliant. Imagine Babylon 5 with a considerable budget, in 4K, with cutting-edge visual effects enabling the scale and scope of the galactic space-opera. But it could be terrible. I suppose there’s no reason why they shouldn’t, but it could turn out to be about Earthforce commander Jane Sheridan and all sorts of new characters, a new G’Kar and a new Londo, or a new Delenn, switching sexes etc and just.. well, I suppose that’s the whole point of a reboot, and there’s likely no good sticking too close to the original anyway. But as a fan of the original, who took that shows ups and lows to heart, all those cliff-hangers within the show and outside (would we get a third season? would we get a fourth season?), it feels so difficult even considering going back. Can you go back? Those of us who grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy have already found its impossible to bring some things back. Maybe original B5 fans should stick with our DVDs (damn it, I still want my HD remastered discs!) while Straczynski makes the new show for an entirely different audience.

I can only hope that somehow Straczynski finds the formula to reboot it in the same way as Ronald D Moore managed to do it with his Battlestar Galactica; you know, different and better: but its a different thing, turning Glen Larson’s cheesy Star Wars-knockoff/homage into a gritty and adult show, compared to rebooting something that was perfectly fine first time around. Good luck JMS capturing lightning twice. 

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The 2021 List: September

Such a strange month, September, looking back on it. Somehow I squeezed some television shows in, but for the most part it was hard work sticking with them. The BBC’s Vigil, for instance, wasted an interesting premise by just getting dafter and dafter, until I was ready to throw objects at the screen: I’m developing a genuine antipathy for BBC dramas lately and wondering what I’m paying a TV License for (if ever the BBC was forced to move to a subscription model, one has to wonder if that would be the end of it). The writing on Vigil was absolutely appalling, guilty of all the worst excess of the more recent Line of Duty series. In one episode the pretty protagonist had her head smashed into a metal bulkhead, cutting her forehead open, and then next minute after a trip to the medic not a bruise or a scratch or plaster. Maybe they were worried about continuity or impairing her pretty face. Ridiculous rubbish and best avoided.

Not that this month’s films were really very good either, but the fairly dismal bunch was enlivened by the wonderful Nobody (really must get around to posting my review of that), the bizarrely interesting Corruption, and the sublime The Green Knight. I’m not sure what lies ahead for October- the fourth Columbia Noir box from Indicator needs to be gotten through, and the 4K editions of Dune (1984) and The Thing (1982) have been patiently awaiting the perfect dark evening. Possibly just as well that I held back watching them as I have no pre-orders for discs due in October at all, so yeah, catching up with unwatched discs seems to be the order of the day for October if only to give me something to post about, unless Netflix and Amazon have a few surprises.

Oh, and there may actually be a trip to the cinema for the first time in fast approaching two years, for Villeneuve’s Dune. Maybe. After waiting so long for this much-delayed film I’ve actually found my anticipation waning. I suppose that’s a tricky thing regards marketing films, especially over the past year or two due to Covid, teasing images and trailers and maintaining the hype and interest without falling into some kind of fatigue: they could have shot another Bond movie in the time we’ve been waiting for this latest one. 

Television

103) Raised By Wolves Season One

105) Into the Night Season Two 

112) Sex Education Season Three

115) Vigil Season One

Film

101) The Racket (1951)

102) Django (1966)

Clear and Present Danger (1994)

104) Horizon Line (2020) 

106) Kate (2021)

107) The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021)

109) Nobody (2021)

111) Bloodbath at the House of Death (1984)

Glory (1989)

110) Gunpowder Milkshake (2021)

113) Corruption (1968)

114) The Green Knight (2021)

116) Walk A Crooked Mile (1948)

Columbia Noir: Walk A Crooked Mile (1948)

walk1Not, as the title might suggest to our more sequel/prequel/reboot-cynical eyes, a prequel to Columbia’s 1954 noir Drive A Crooked Road, this is a pretty mundane espionage thriller that’s shot in a semi-documentary style, as if its a dramatic re-enactment of contemporary events. Unfortunately that documentary style, peppering the film with a distracting, incessant narration, dilutes the film of any actual drama – it simply doesn’t work properly as a dramatic film. Indeed when watching the film I wondered how this would work on its original theatrical release, regards whether audiences back then more readily accepted being preached at and warned/informed of a horrible Red Menace. I guess its just a case of a film being of its time.

Russian spies have somehow infiltrated atomic research facility Lakeview Labs, the FBI stumbling upon a nefarious scheme stealing crucial atomic formulas out of the country, shipping them to London (and then onwards to Eastern Bloc locations unknown) hidden inside oil paintings. Thanks to the London link, Scotland Yard ‘exchange agent’ Scotty Grayson (Louis Hayward) has come to America to assist his colleagues in the F.B.I. in bringing down their common Red enemy. Partnered with F.B.I. agent Dan O’Hara (Dennis O’Keefe), Grayson works to uncover and bring down the spy network before it can steal all Lakeview Labs research and possibly use its formulas against the Free World. 

As you can possibly imagine, there is a lot of preaching in this film- its practically a propaganda piece and full of paranoia; audiences likely lapped it all up back then but it feels very forced and more than a little unpalatable now. That said, though, one has to remember here in the UK we recently had the situation of the Salisbury poisonings so maybe films like this are a timely reminder of how little has actually changed for the better. I can only imagine how the high-tensions of this films era would have reacted to such events back then (American citizens actually poisoned by chemical warfare? Yikes!).

How much this film qualifies as noir is debatable. It has some visual noir references and naturally all the subversive menace it accounts is a typical noir staple. What I always get from films like this is a great appreciation from seeing what is essentially a Lost World, especially with this films semi-documentary style allowing us here a pretty candid, realistic look at San Francisco’s 1940s streets, decor and fashion. I just have an endless fascination with the Time Machine aspects of films like this- the mood and tensions of the era, the ‘look’ of the world back then. Walk A Crooked Mile may not work as a film as films should, but its does give me a glimpse of another world that is quite enthralling and seductive. Also, spotting locations from other films is always a bit thrilling- I believe I glimpsed the apartment building from which Scottie tails Madeleine Elster in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (Brocklebank Apartments, 1000 Mason Street on Nob Hill) through a car window in one fleeting shot.

Even better then, is that Indicator’s new release (this film first up in its latest Columbia Noir boxset) features an intriguing documentary short Routine Job: A Story of Scotland Yard (1946) portraying the routine work of detectives in the London of its day, a world as much science fiction now as anything in a James Cameron Avatar movie.  Filmed in real London locations and featuring what does seem to be real people its a more rewarding watch, to me, than the main feature, and one of those cases of special features outweighing what should have been the main draw. And hey, you can even watch it here for free on good old YouTube if you have no interest in the noir box. I’m dubious that I’ll be rewatching Walk A Crooked Mile very often, but this short feature will likely pull me back with its hypnotic window to the past and its own long-gone city and people. 

The Green Knight (2021)

greenkThe Green Knight is based upon a 14th-Century poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in which a gigantic knight attired in green, arrives at Camelot on New Years Eve and suggests a Christmas Game, in which one of Arthur’s knights may strike him once with his axe on the agreement that a year and a day hence, that person must arrive at the Green Knight’s own chapel so that the Green Knight may return the blow. When none of the knights of the round table dare, Arthur moves to take the challenge but instead Sir Gawain, his young nephew asks for the honour. The Green Knight kneels before him and Sir Gawain beheads him with one stroke- but the Green Knight does not fall; instead he picks up his severed head and reminds Sir Gawain of the bargain, that the young man must arrive at the Green Chapel a year hence. So a year later Sir Gawain begins his journey from Camelot to the Green Chapel in a test of his courage and honour, not knowing if he is fated to return.

Oh, a surprise contender for film of the year here- I REALLY enjoyed this one. I was totally swept up by the slow, almost funereal pace (very Villeneuve, particularly Blade Runner 2049) the intense atmosphere, the almost tangible sensation of the power of myth, of the power of story, and the reader/viewer grasping for meaning in a narrative strange, impenetrable and wondrous… it was utterly intoxicating. Its no accident that an early key scene has the old, waning King Arthur asking his entourage for a story, or that later we see villagers watching events retold in a puppet show: story, myth, legend, this film is more about the power of narrative, allegory and meaning than it is an actual tale of a Knight on a quest (albeit, the simple truth of the film is that Sir Gawain is no knight- its more the story of a very flawed man on a quest). 

In some respects, this film is utterly at odds with modern audience expectations, accustomed as we are to frequent prophecy of ‘The Chosen One’ whether it be either Anakin or Luke  in Star Wars or Neo in the Matrix or Paul Atreides in Dune, or of a hero going on a journey and succeeding in some selfless act of bravery (like Frodo, say, in The Lord of the Rings). We have become programmed to expect one thing, when instead this film gives us another, older truth. Again, The Green Knight reminds one of Blade Runner 2049 and its own protagonist who believes he might be special, the miracle child, only to learn that he isn’t. In The Green Knight, Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) is always found lacking-instead of doing great deeds, right from the start he is recovering from a drunken night in a brothel; he’s more playboy than noble knight, unable to appreciate the events around him (he totally misses the ‘point’ of the Christmas Game, decapitating the prone Green Knight when he has already been assured he will have to reciprocate in a years time: all Gawain can think about is the moment, the immediate gratification of now, he cannot grasp the ‘bigger picture’ and any sense of responsibility). Shortly before., Arthur (Sean Harris) asks Sir Gawain “Tell me a tale of yourself, so I might know thee,” but Sir Gawain blankly responds that he has no tale to tell. This moment of self-realisation is all for naught, however: any clarity all too fleeting. Gawain doesn’t realise that he needs to earn his tale, needs to work for it, instead simply seizing immediate opportunity when it is handed to him (when the Green Knight arrives and offers his Christmas game): it may be unintentional, but I rather fear that there is something oddly modern about Gawain in this film, that perhaps he reflects us of today, as he seems throughout the film so very out of place and time in the halls of Camelot. He cannot be selfless, or patient, he is always caught up in the present, he always asks what is in it for him, or fails to be charitable- even when he tries to be good, he does so chiefly for a price or reward.

The beauty of this film is across numerous fronts: first the story is absorbing and enigmatic and, as I have noted, likely confounds many expectations. It is swamped in allegory and hidden meanings, and has several absolutely arresting moments. At one point Gawain is ambushed by thieves deep in a forest and is left there, tied up- a slow panning shot spins from a frustrated Gawain to eventually return to him, time having passed and his corpse lying there, still bound by rope, now reduced to bones before turning again and returning to him, alive again, seeking escape (we are teased by alternatives, possibilities, particularly at the very end). Later he witnesses huge giants crossing a wide valley, literally as if the magic is walking away, the pagan world replaced by the Christian.

Alice Vikander plays both Gawain’s commoner lover, Essel, and later in the film the lady of a castle who attempts to seduce him while her husband is out hunting. Why she plays both characters I do not know, except that she represents in both guises the same temptation of the flesh which a true knight should be able to resist for honour’s sake (Gawain fails, naturally). In any case, in what I believe is the key moment of the film, as the beautiful lady of the castle she delivers a speech describing the power of green; “moss shall cover your tombstone, and as the sun rises, green shall spread over all, in all its shades and hues. This verdigris will overtake your swords and your coins and your battlements and, try as you might, all you hold dear will succumb to it. Your skin, your bones. Your virtue…  Red is the color of lust, but green is what lust leaves behind, in heart, in womb. Green is what is left when ardour fades, when passion dies, when we die, too.” Less Love Conquers All than Nature Conquers All, suggesting that no matter all mankind’s achievements and wonders, all will surrender back to nature eventually. Perhaps the Green Knight represents a pagan God, or Nature herself, and Gawain the future of a mankind forsaking its roots in favour of artifice and progress. The beauty of Nature, certainly, seems a major subtext of the film, dominated by breath-taking imagery and location filming- in a very tactile way, the land and the weather of the British Isles is a character of the film, perhaps the most important one. It is perhaps suggesting that we are the land, that the land is us, in a similar way to how, in John Boorman’s 1981 Arthurian film Excalibur, Perceval learns that King Arthur and the land are one, and thereby gains the Holy Grail.

I thought The Green Knight was a spectacular and absorbing film, certainly one of the best I have seen this year. I watched it on Amazon Prime but wish I had seen it at the cinema- I sincerely hope that it will be released on 4K disc eventually, I would love to see it again in the highest quality possible (the stream on Amazon was 4K UHD but the compression wasn’t the best, with frequent blocking in some of the many darker sequences reinforcing the fact that disc is best). Its definitely not a film for everyone and will clearly divide audiences, but I thought it was wonderful and a worthy successor to John Boorman’s film.

Corruption (1968)

corrupt4I came to Corruption rather blind- indeed until a few months ago when Indicator put it’s new Blu-ray edition up for pre-order I didn’t even know it existed (this is its first release on home video in the UK), but as its a horror film starring Peter Cushing, one of my all-time favourite actors, it was an inevitable purchase, particularly when I learned that Peter Cushing pretty much disowned the film, embarrassed by it and refusing to ever talk about it afterwards. Like the same years The Blood Beast Terror, the film was a means to an end- Cushing needed the work to pay his beloved wife Helen’s medical bills, and while, as ever, he gave everything to the film (he lived by the credo that his audience always deserved at the very least that he make every effort in every project, refusing to phone-in a performance (Bruce Willis take note)), its clear Corruption wasn’t a very pleasant experience. The Blood Beast Terror is far inferior film, and far less interesting to watch now, but it was clearly a more positive, fun experience for the actor. 

Both films came about as horror films were changing- the days of the traditional Hammer gothic horror were waning, and horror films were becoming more explicit, with more violence, gore and nudity. Even though Hammer had often troubled the censor with its films, the boundaries were moving and leaving Hammer behind (Hammer would soon react in the 1970s with films like The Vampire Lovers, Twins of Evil and Hands of the Ripper but the studio would always be behind the curve). Corruption reflected those changes, indeed, embraced them, and its really quite shocking to witness dear old Peter Cushing in the starring role in a film as thoroughly nasty and exploitive as this one. 

Corruption is not a very good film, but its is an absolutely fascinating one, and rather disturbing too, if only for the fact of seeing Peter Cushing in it. For my first viewing, I threw caution to the wind and watched the continental version, which was more graphic than the more restrained UK edit (the Indicator disc contains three presentations, the UK, US and continental, which was retitled Laser Killer but retains the original Corruption title here). It proved rather a shock, seeing Peter Cushing wrestling with a topless woman, stabbing her to death and wiping his bloodied hand on her breast before graphically cutting her head off. It doesn’t make the film any better, but it does make it more notorious and unpleasant (the UK version has a different actress playing the victim, and she keeps her top on). 

Peter Cushing plays a gifted surgeon, Sir John Rowan, whose unlikely, younger girlfriend, Lynn (Sue Lloyd) is a successful model who is scarred by an accident partly caused by Rowan when he is caught in a jealous fight with Lynn’s photographer, Mike (Anthony Booth channelling Andy Warhol). Rowan’s guilt over Lynn’s disfigurement drives him to drastic measures to restore her face and beauty. Initially this finds him visiting the morgue and interfering with the corpse of a beautiful woman, cutting out the bodies pituitary gland for its fluids, but the subsequent operation on Lynn, while a success, is only a temporary one. It becomes clear to Rowan that for longer results he needs to use the female pituitary gland of living subjects, and therefore is forced to go on something of a killing spree, his first victim being a prostitute in what is perhaps a grim nod to Jack the Ripper. Rowan’s horror at what he is doing brings him to a halt but Lynn become manic about maintaining her beauty and drives Rowan on.

corrup2Cushing, as ever, is quite brilliant. His repugnance at his own actions, as his initial guilt pushes him into increasingly despicable acts, is palpable; possibly a reflection of the actors own distaste for the project. I’d actually suggest its one of his better performances, but part of that may be the shudder one feels at the  bizarre sight of him in something so… exploitive, at least in the continental version I saw. Sue Lloyd is the real surprise- she’s absolutely superb. I only remember her from her role in the TV soap Crossroads when I was growing up- this film suggests that she was capable of far more, and her character’s madness and evil is quite convincing as she manipulates and ultimately betrays Rowan. The rest of the supporting cast is also very good- Kate O’Mara, Noel Trevarthen, Vanessa Howard and  Wendy Varnals give very good performances (I wasn’t so enamoured by Anthony Booth). The colourful 1960s fashions are delirious madness, although the attempt to depict the swinging sixties flounders terribly – its obvious the middle-aged film-makers didn’t have a clue regards youth culture, in just the same way as Hammer blundered in films like Dracula  AD 1972.

Its hard to qualify Corruption as a good film- frankly, it isn’t, but it is something of a morbid fascination. It is just so bizarre and strange and unpleasant. The film takes a very odd turn towards the end, when Rowan and Lynn are accosted by criminals who are clearly burgling the wrong summer house, and concludes in a frankly astonishing climax of mass murder enacted by a wildly out of control surgical laser, which censors would never allowed just a few years before. Its a crazy finale which is followed by a curious coda that is either a total cop-out or possibly an apologetic reaction to the films previous excess. 

corrIndicator’s Blu-ray is possibly far more than such a film deserves: a genuine special edition, with an 80-page book and replica production skills accompanying the disc inside a handsome slip-box. The book is excellent, with really informative essays that I found thoroughly engrossing after having watched the film. Its a lovely package which feels like total overkill for a film of such dubious quality (although the very fact that a film such as this can get such treatment is an almost endearingly lovely thing, even if Peter Cushing would be aghast, no doubt). The disc itself, alongside the three versions of the film, contains a commentary track, numerous interviews and featurettes and a 72-minute audio interview from 1986 with Peter Cushing himself which I can’t wait to settle down with. Its a typical Indicator triumph. Bravo.

 

Vangelis’ Juno to Jupiter

junocvrIn his music through all the past decades, one thing regards Vangelis’ music has been clear- for all its futuristic feel, thanks to it being primarily (albeit not exclusively) electronic in nature, the composer has always had one eye firmly on the past. His music has always had a classical, ancient bent, an inherent ethnicity that adds a flavour and colour all its own. The heart and soul of his Blade Runner score, for all its futuristic electronica, is in its sense of ethnicity, of a melting-pot of cultures and language: you can hear in the soundtrack all the visually diverse cultures seen onscreen, and the 1940s fashions and art deco stylings scattered amidst all the technological grandeur of the films production design; its all there in his score. Its the one thing that has, for me at least, kept Vangelis’ music standing quite apart from other electronica, and musicians like Jean-Michel Jarre, Tomita, Brian Eno or Wendy Carlos. The curious thing is that this perpetual nod towards the past –Mask, Mythodea, El Greco being the most obvious examples, but I think you can hear it in all of his work- has allowed a sense of timelessness to so much of his music.  I can go back to his 1970s and 1980s albums and they feel as fresh and ‘new’ as they ever did, and very often they just seem to improve with age, as if they were just waiting for their time, or for the rest of us to catch up with them. I listen to his 1975 album Heaven and Hell all the time, its like nothing else sounds remotely quite like it, and I also find myself returning to his 1990 album The City very often… both albums are hugely different from one another, but they share the same feeling, of being some artefact of both future and past.

So finally after the most curious release odyssey I can quite remember -certainly within the Vangelis catalogue, although I suppose the eventual (and repeated) release of the Blade Runner soundtrack possibly trumps it- we have actual physical copies of Vangelis’ latest project, Juno to Jupiter, in our hands. Some of us of course have been listening to this album since August last year, when an online store sold digital copies of the album on what had been the albums original planned release date. The album was quickly withdrawn from sale over that odd, confusing weekend when so many Vangelis fans were wondering what in the world was going on, but it left Vangelis followers in a curious position. Some of us were listening to and enjoying the new album, while others were left in the dark, frustrated.

While I suppose the album found its way onto torrents and spread wide on swashbuckling sites, I think some credit is due to those fans who respected Vangelis’ desire to hold back the album release, because I’m not aware of the album ever dropping onto YouTube for instance, and those of us who would ordinarily be posting detailed reviews etc refrained from doing so. I wrote a review at time, thinking I would be posting it in September on its rumoured revised release date, but that didn’t happen. In fact so many revised and rumoured release dates never happened, I began to wonder if it would ever get a release at all, and superstitiously deleted my review without ever posting it. Vangelis cancelling releases is hardly something new: I’m always thinking of the 2011 Qatar concert that was filmed for a DVD and CD release that never happened. While its bizarre that it would be over a year before the proper release ever occurred, at least Juno to Jupiter finally came out.

Which leaves me in the peculiar predicament of reviewing a ‘new’ album release which is quite old to me. Over the past year I have listened to this album so many times, with it often becoming a soundtrack to my workday since I’ve been working from home throughout the pandemic. Its as familiar to me now as all Vangelis’ albums; its lost that exciting, this-is-new feel that comes with every fresh Vangelis discovery. I’ve listened to it and recognised nods back to the Heaven and Hell music used for the Cosmos TV series, or the officially-unreleased Tegos Tapes and other little musical easter eggs scattered throughout its generous near-73 minute running time (as far as Vangelis releases go, this is some kind of epic in length at least). Unfortunately, while 73 minutes sounds wonderful, this is spoiled somewhat by just too many ideas being squeezed in, but more on that later.

jupiterjunoOne curiosity of Juno to Jupiter is that, contrary to its epic length, the actual music feels rather intimate and low-key. There are exceptions, of course, such as the 11-minute workout that is Zeus Almighty, but on the whole the album feels very restrained when compared to, say, the sprawling, huge operatic odyssey that is Mythodea, another of Vangelis’ works that just gets better and better with age. I mention  Mythodea because, like Rosetta, it shares a common theme to Juno to Jupiter, in that it is music written to accompany a real-life, actual space mission of discovery. In fact, one could almost consider those three albums as being a trilogy of sorts, and its clear that Juno to Jupiter is much more like Rosetta, sharing much of that albums approach and sonic stylings (inevitable, really, as they are two of his most recent works while Mythodea dates back to a 2001 release, and its music actually farther back than that, to at least 1993).

There is an ambient feel to Juno to Jupiter, each track transitioning to the next, the audio journey mirroring that of Juno itself. It makes for a very good listening experience, similar to how Vangelis would often rework his film scores into album releases, but conversely I think this may be the biggest weakness of this album, something I also felt true of Rosetta. Other than the aforementioned Zeus Almighty, when listening to this album I keep wishing Vangelis developed each track more, they each feel like little ideas that need development and stretching out, but instead they rather play out a theme or motif and then frustratingly ebb out into background noise to enable a transition to the next track. Its the biggest weakness of Rosetta, too, in my mind, with tracks that were not given sufficient room to breathe. I guess I just miss some of those big epics of the Nemo years, those tracks that were given time to stretch and breathe like the sublime Himalaya from his 1979 album China. I think its a genuine weakness of the tracks that they usually last about three or four minutes (some less than two, even) compared to the average of six or more minutes of those on Mythodea, for example.  

Which is not to say that Juno to Jupiter is a bad album. Its a very good album, and a very good listening experience, but its the individual tracks themselves that are weakened by Vangelis’ likely preoccupation with that overall experience and ensuring the flow from one to another (the transitions are largely very, very good indeed, its just a shame they conversely hamper the quality of the tracks themselves). I guess its largely something of personal taste, but I would have preferred fewer, but longer tracks, ones which shared the scope and breadth of Zeus Almighty. Instead, the generous album running-time is compromised by it squeezing eighteen tracks in -eighteen!-which leaves many of them feeling almost like sketches than the fully-developed tracks that Vangelis might have had on earlier albums. I’m sure many fans and purists are furious at my description of the tracks as sketches, and rest assured a Vangelis sketch is something very good indeed, with moments of genius nonetheless, but all the same, having sat with this album for twelve months, in just the same way as with Rosetta, for me there is something not quite ideal regards Vangelis and these shorter compositions, especially when so many are cut even shorter by the need to find passages to transition between the tracks proper. Compare the tracks on Juno to Jupiter to those of Direct, say, which all seem perfect and fully-formed, whatever length they really needed to be to proper realise their promise.

To be sure, there is some beautiful music here, and some of it is vintage Vangelis the likes of which it seems only the maestro can accomplish. The opening section is very strong -I adore Inside Our Perspectives, if only it could be stretched into an eight-minute workout, and likewise In the Magic of the Cosmos is a nod to Vangelis magic (sic) of old. The three tracks featuring Angela Gheorghiu as soprano are very strong and remind one of Mythodea, and I only wish the closing track In Serenitatem, which seems to gloriously harken back to the sublime Summit from China, could have been twice as long as it is. There isn’t really a bad track on the album, its just the balance seems wrong to me, it should have been fewer, longer tracks, but again, that’s likely just my own personal taste and affection for some of Vangelis’ masterworks of old. Its very possible that time will be kind to this album and its perfection will dawn upon me, who knows, its happened before with Vangelis’ music.