Purple Reign

princePrince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 by Duane Tudahl

A glimpse behind the purple curtain, and perhaps the most important recording period of Prince’s career – I say ‘perhaps’ because although Purple Rain is widely considered Prince’s masterpiece/breakout period, I really think Sign o’the Times and his output during that 1985 – 1986 period is more interesting, but that’s likely just a personal thing and I’m certain many fans will argue otherwise. At any rate, this exhaustive  book is an utterly fascinating read. And I must say, it’s a formidable prospect-  it’s huge, running at well over 500 pages of detailed text, I have to admit I’ve barely delved into it but having already learned so much from it,  I feel it necessary to mention the book on this blog to get the word out there to all Prince fans- you need this book. Buy it now or get it put on your Christmas lists, because this will surely be a cornerstone of anybody’s Prince collection in years to come. Best yet, the author intends for it to be the first in a series of such books, so hopefully my beloved Sign o’the Times era will get similar treatment someday.

The book is pretty much a day by day account of Prince’s work in the recording studio from 1st January 1983 through to the end of December 1984, from the last days of the 1999 tour through to the breakout that was Purple Rain and how it changed everything for Prince. It breaks it down to day by day, recording the dates and times and what was done, song by song, session by session, including those many songs currently in the fabled vault yet to be released (and those that leaped out onto the extras disc of the recent Purple Rain deluxe reissue). It documents how he worked, where he worked, who he worked with, and is filled with commentary from those who were there. It really is a new insight into Prince’s genius at a time when he was particularly on fire creatively, and shows just how hard it was to craft those songs. The work involved in documenting all this and collating it is quite breathtaking.

I’ll be losing myself in this book over the coming days and weeks. It’s a helluva book.

Advertisements

Facepalm Hell: Tomorrow, When The War Began

tomm2017.64: Tomorrow, When The War Began (2010)

Oh boy. This is one of those films that you just know is going to be bad, the premise is… well. You know all those teenager-oriented flicks we’ve been inflicted by over this past decade? Here’s another one. We’re in Australia, and seven teenage freinds from a small town go on a camping trip. They have a great time, but what they don’t know is that while they are out in the wilds without any internet or mobile phone signal,  Australia is being invaded by a mysterious Asian superpower. Returning home they find that they are at war and their townsfolk and families have either been imprisoned or murdered. There’s only one thing for it, the seven teens must wage all-out war and free their country. Fortunately, although Australia has fallen, none of the Asian invaders can shoot straight.

Wait, what?

I don’t know, I may have missed some details from going dizzy slapping my face with my palm. Good grief this is pretty horrifyingly stupid.  Attractive lead female secretly has crush on Asian guy from school, invites him to camping trip, and you won’t believe this but… he secretly likes her too. Another girl, a gorgeous dizzy blonde from a rich family (yawn) goes on the trip, has no experience with boys but is bravely confident one day some boy will ask her out… do you think one of the boys in the group has the hots for her? One girl comes from a strict religious background and refuses to resort to violence- will she compromise her beliefs when her freinds are in mortal danger and she suddenly finds herself holding an automatic rifle?

It did occur to me that, with very little effort, this could have been turned into a really effective, really funny comedy spoof of all those teenager-based movies and of course the film Red Dawn which it so closely resembles, but instead it is dreadfully earnest and completely, shockingly serious. This is no doubt due to the fact that it is based on a series of books written by some guy named John Marsden which I have been happily ignorant of up to now. I guess they are great reads for teens who feel misunderstood and under-appreciated and feel capable of curing the world’s problems, but I doubt they are great for adults who have lived in the real world and grown up, and they certainly don’t seem to make for great movie-making. As this film was released back in 2010 it seems it didn’t set the world alight and lead to further films, so at least we should be thankful for that.

For the BR2049 Bookshelf

cinefexBack in 1982, I remember standing in the old Andromeda Bookshop in Birmingham, upstairs in the magazine section. looking through Cinefex issue 9, which was devoted to Blade Runner. I very nearly bought it, but on limited pocket money funds decided to buy a few REH paperbacks instead, and maybe pick up the Cinefex at a later date. Damned fool I was. There was never any later date for Cinefex 9, as it quickly sold out and I spent years looking for a copy. Fortunately the issue was reprinted by Titan books in a hardback book many years later, which itself is OOP now and fetching rather large sums, so I did manage to eventually own and read it.

So, when I learned the latest issue of Cinefex would feature BR2049, I quickly ordered it, keen on history not repeating. It arrived a few days ago and it’s a pretty good read. It doesn’t look as if Cinefex devotes issues to single films as it used to (God knows there’s far more effects films these days than there used to be) so the BR2049 article shares the issue with articles on Dunkirk, The Dark Tower and the latest Kingsman film. Consequently the coverage isn’t as in-depth as it was for the original film (the issue also devotes a few pages to a pictorial of the original Blade Runner coverage from 1982, which is nice but does raise the forlorn wish that the issue might have simply been devoted to both films).

Of course in the good old days Cinefex coverage meant brilliant pictures of behind the scenes stuff, like models being built and matte paintings being painted on glass, and on the whole that’s all gone now thanks to CGI taking over. But BR2049 does feature extensive miniatures so there’s some nice pictures of that, amongst the CGI renders and wireframes that no-one on this planet can make exciting. I think the Cinefex article suffers from the cloak-and-dagger secrecy around the film prior to release, so although it discusses the creation of the 1982 Rachel, it doesn’t have any images to back it up, which have been made available elsewhere on the internet since the films release. Ultimately it’s a good article but not as exhaustive or complete as I would have liked, but hey, it’s different times now. We don’t even have the massive articles of Cinefantastique these days either. Progress, eh?

artbrA much more complete package, imagery-wise at least, can be found in The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049 book. Its an oversized (and consequently rather expensive, although Amazon have since reduced the price substantially) coffee-table book, that from the title might be inferred to be an art book but is actually more of a making-of book, dominated more by behind the scenes and production photographs than artwork. As a visual record and memento of the film and how it was made, it’s quite brilliant and everything a fan of the film could hope for. The imagery for the visual effects material is superior to the Cinefex article, although the text less substantial (so yeah, you really need both sources, unfortunately). The book also shares some of the limitations of the Cinefex article regards some of the more closely-guarded sequences (no imagery, again, of the CGI Rachel for instance).

It’s a brilliant book though. I might have preferred more substantial text but the imagery is breathtaking in the film so consequently that gets reflected here. There are some lovely behind the scenes shots and commentary about the film. It’s exactly the kind of book that I would have loved to see about the original film. Both are intensely visual experiences, and the Blade Runner ‘bible’ Future Noir is severely lacking in that regard. So maybe someone might write a more in-depth book about making BR2049 someday, who knows, but for now this will more than suffice.

george-hull-br6.jpgI almost wish one of the actors could have written a diary like Bob Balaban did for CE3K, that was a great book. Walter Koenig did a similar fly-on-the-wall book for ST:TMP. You don’t see that kind of book/coverage anymore but both were fascinating glimpses of the frustrations of making technically-demanding films and managing all the boredom behind the scenes. Yeah we get loads of DVD/Blu-ray featurettes on the best disc releases these days but that’s never as impartial/balanced coverage as one would prefer.

Fabrications & Misinformations: (not) a Youtube Woody Allen movie, but maybe it should be.

utbeThis morning I had an hour free, and thanks to the wonders of intelligent televisions (question for later: are the televisions more intelligent than the programs displayed on them?) I decided to load up Youtube, put ‘Blade Runner 2049’ in the search box and see what popped up. There’s a few nice featurettes on there; Weta has a nice one about the miniatures, and there are obviously those prequel shorts (I rewatched the Blackout 2022 anime, that’s really good). Some nice analysis videos are starting to surface- 2049 is clearly a great film for discussion.

But I watched a few review videos, and good lord some are just plain terrible. Is this the future of film criticism? Two guys are on there talking about 2049 for some forty minutes and they can’t even remember some of the character’s names. On another there’s four reviewers talking about the film, and one of them claims the original Philip K Dick ‘short story’ states that Deckard is clearly a Replicant. What is he talking about? That is patently not the case, and it’s a novella, not a short story.

This kind of stuff really winds me up. In this day and age, misinformation is everything- I mean, some people believe everything they see on the tv or internet. And everyone seems to think they can be a presenter or critic and put themselves up on stuff like youtube without any qualifications or talk without any research or due diligence. God knows this blog is read by very few and amounts to very little in the great scheme of things, but I think about what I write and make an effort to be factually correct. But some people are spouting utter nonsense and drivel on these videos. It’s like the inmates are running the asylum, and quality control comes a distant third, fourth or fifth in the aim to get as many clicks/views as possible.

The dangers, of course, are that some people’s careers can be put at risk because of the unqualified opinion and vitriol on these sites/videos, whether it be the film-makers being spoken about or professional critics views being swamped out in all the nonsensical noise. Every fool seems to have an opinion, well, of course they do, and I guess everyone has a right to voice that opinion, but please, take the courtesy of due care and do some research.  Next thing you know, our Prime Ministers, Politicians and Presidents will think they can spout any utter nonsense without having to back it up with facts. Oh, wait…

 

The Movie Art of Syd Mead

syd1Here’s a timely arrival, considering it’s clearly Blade Runner week here- Titan Book’s The Movie Art of Syd Mead. It’s a large-format, full-colour hardback totaling something like 256 pages, covering all of Mead’s work on movies over the past few decades, with the inevitable meat of the book (pages 88 – 153) concerned with his most famous project, Blade Runner.

I must say, I’m surprised to find there are pieces here I have never seen before, and others rarely printed, and even the pre-production paintings so familiar over the years are (mostly) printed from great scans and often spread over two pages, unveiling new details. (There is one painting, for Sebastian’s apartment, that is only printed at half-page size and looks to be from an older, inferior scan from the others, which likely explains its reduced size). There are, surprisingly, a few pieces actually missing so its is by no means complete, though the rarities/’new’ pieces are consolation.

For Blade Runner fans, this is a great opportunity to obtain a pretty definitive collection of Syd Mead’s sketches and paintings for the film. If ever a film deserved an ‘art of’ book, it was Blade Runner, and I know there have been a few attempts to get such a work published over the years but various rights issues nixed them. Considering Mead’s importance to the film, I guess this book manages to complete half of such a project (a ‘proper’ art of book would also need the matte paintings, the Ridleygrams, the storyboards etc). In any case, it’s a wonderful way to rediscover Mead’s Blade Runner artwork with most of it all in one place- the omissions are a little annoying, but I suppose they may be due to some pieces being in the hands of private collectors and/or the available scans not being good enough for inclusion (oh, oh- that doesn’t mean a ‘Movie Art of Syd Mead: The Final Cut’ will be due in a few years? It’d almost be poetic considering the many different versions of the film itself).

It even has a surprise at the end- a few pieces that Mead completed for Blade Runner 2049, for which he did designs for the film’s Las Vegas setting. I had no idea that Mead was in any way involved in the new movie. Incidentally, Blade Runner 2049 is getting its own ‘art-of’ book, currently due before the end of this month (conveniently delayed so as to avoid spoilers around the film’s release). So I guess it trumps the original film in that way at least (actually, it’s also getting a soundtrack release too so…).

Anyway, barring the odd omissions it’s a great book. I’d have appreciated a bit more text/ Mead commentary but that’s just being a bit picky, the artwork is the real draw and the reproductions are pretty great. It’s just over £20 at Amazon currently so well worth it.

 

1982

As I write this, 35 years ago.

Half a lifetime ago I guess. I was sixteen.

I remember, walking with a group of friends (most of whom I have not seen in decades- in that pre-social media era freindships had a habit of splintering off forever,  lives spinning off like shattered shards of glass). We were walking to another’s house on the other side of our council estate, to play Dungeons and Dragons (we were RPG-junkies for a few years back then). I remember walking down a street as we made our way across, talking about Blade Runner, thinking about the film’s year of 2019. Worked out how many years ahead it was, how old I would be in that year. A time so long-distant to a sixteen-year-old! 2019 was some incredibly far-off shore, a distant alien landmark, way past that other notable year, 2001, that figured so highly in our geek estimations.

It’s odd to consider that Kubrick’s special year was such a landmark to my generation and those before us-  2001: A Space Odyssey! Those very words were exciting, powerful, they carried some kind of arcane meaning. People now, kids, likely look back on it as just any other date, just another old movie. For us it was something bigger than us, something evocative of a space-faring future ambition. We had visions of returning to the moon, going to Mars. Even in 1982 it all seemed a matter of when, not if.

In hindsight, we were pretty stupid. But 1982, 35 years ago, it was another world.

1982 was a year for other worlds. Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Runequest, Gamma World. Well, I could go on and on about those RPG days. Back when the acronym TSR meant so much, Gary Gygax was some kind of genius, and Games Workshop was a gateway to incredible places- each of us of our group would pick a game system and create adventures we would later gather to play.  I ran a campaign titled Shadow World using the AD&D rules that went on for years. I still have books and folders of work I wrote for it, up in my loft- it was such a passion of mine that took so much time it’s hard to fathom now. I should have been out fooling around with girls but instead was inside my room dreaming up dark dungeons and evil sorcerers. Well, either that or reading or painting.

I read so much back then- Arthur C Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert E Howard…

1982, Arthur C Clarke was still alive and writing, as was Ray Bradbury. Frank Frazetta was still alive. John Buscema and Gil Kane and Gene Colan and so many others I grew up with were still working in comics. I was reading 2000 AD in those days, the comic still in its prime. 1982 was the year they ran the 26-issue Apocalypse War saga in the Judge Dredd strip. Each week after reading each installment I was trading comments with my mate Andy in the halls of our secondary school. Block Mania, East Meg One, War Marshall Kazan, Stubb guns, 400 million dead... it was some glorious soap opera, a comicstrip punk-Charles Dickens that unfolded each week, and we would marvel and moan at the various turns of fate as the saga progressed.

I remember the threat of global nuclear armageddon was very real, so that Apocalypse War storyline seemed very pertinent. We actually went to war that year, an old-fashioned war: Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and we sent an armada to those small islands thousands of miles away that no-one had even heard of. I remember the daily updates on the news.

1982 was a very good year for films. Its why this blog has its name, for one thing.

Blade Runner, ET, Poltergeist, Star Trek: Wrath of Khan, The Thing, Mad Max 2, Conan.People often refer to it as the ‘summer of 1982’ and of course it was if you were American, but in other countries that incredible summer of genre films was spread out across the year, as releases were not so immediately global then. Wrath of Khan was here in July, The Thing in August (what madness was that?), Blade Runner and Poltergeist in September, Tron in October, and finally E.T. not until December when likely everyone had already seen it on pirate VHS. Video piracy-  how I first saw The Thing and Conan and Mad Max 2 (and The Exorcist, too, that Autumn).

I could never get my head around being able to watch films on-demand at the press of a switch. Even today it seems a bit weird, a bit like sorcery. In 1982 of course it was a slice of the future, but always over someone else’s house; at home we couldn’t afford a VHS machine until we rented one in late 1983.  Those dark Autumn nights of 1982 when we gathered over a freinds house when his parents were out and watched those VHS copies, they linger in my head forever, so intense it almost seems like yesterday. I giggled like some kind of idiot on first watching The Thing (it just seemed so extreme, in hindsight it was probably nervous laughter, not funny ‘ha-ha’ laughter, but I hadn’t seen Dawn of the Dead at that point). I detested Conan for not really being honest to the Howard books (though I made peace with it soon enough on subsequent viewings) and I remember being gobsmacked by the wild kinetics of Mad Max 2.

Backtrack a few months to Easter, 1982, and Tron: I remember playing an RPG over a freinds house and we paused to watch Disneytime on his portable telly. Imagine five or six of us enthralled when they showed a clip of Tron: it was the Lightcycle chase, and this little portable b&w television was suddenly a window into the future. Hell, I was still playing videogames on my Atari VCS and they were nothing like the cgi being thrown around in Tron. We had seen nothing quite like it, it was like something that arrived out of nowhere.

It was like that back then. Films did seem to come from nowhere. I remember every month going into the city to the specialist bookshops, reading all the latest movie news in the latest issues of Starlog, Fantastic Films, Starburst, Cinefantastique, Cinefex. Marvelling at the latest pictures, reading the latest previews/reviews/interviews. There was no internet, films were spoiled less and information harder to come by. Trailers were rarely seen (not available at a whim as they are now).

When I saw Blade Runner that September, I had never seen a single scene beforehand, hardly any pictures. I do remember a film-music programme on the radio on which I heard the sequence of Deckard meeting Tyrell- that was my only experience of that film beforehand. I wonder if that was why the film had such an impact on me back then? Nowadays we see so much, learn so much, before we even see a film. It steals the surprise somehow. It’s so hard to avoid these days.

Back in 1982, films kept their surprises.

 

 

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

stigmata“She was a redhead and he liked redheads; they were either outrageously ugly or almost supernaturally attractive.” 

Thankfully I still have quite a number of Philip K Dick novels to read; the guy was nothing if not prolific, with a huge body of work. Reading a PKD novel or story for the first time is a very welcome treat, but it can prove to be addictive. Once you’ve experienced PKD’s rather unique mindset, you find its rather seductive, and as you’ve finished one novel or short story, its all too easy to reach for another. Another ‘fix’. Which is an interesting analogy considering that The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, which I’ve just read and was originally published back in 1965, is a story partly about addiction and drug-induced hallucinated alternate worlds. And God. And aliens. Well, God as an alien, infecting the realities of those who try the new drug that this God has brought from deep space. Sounds odd? Welcome to the mind of that genius visionary Philip K Dick.

The funny thing about PKD, is that its easy to get the impression he is making up the story as he goes- its not often that I ever get the feeling anything is really planned out or reasoned before he wrote it. I may well be wrong, but it does seem that he simply takes a proposition or turn of thought and runs with it, sees where it goes. There’s a sense of chaos under everything, as if anything could happen next. One of the best things about his stories is when he indeed pulls the rug from under you, suddenly twists the story into a new direction. Usurps your expectations and, most of the time, your sense of reality. You think its one thing, and then it turns into another.

stig2In the case of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, you find yourself wondering if what is happening to the characters is ‘real’ or just another hallucination, like dreams within dreams, layers of hallucinatory experiences. Time has little meaning- someone under the influence of the drug might be unconscious for just minutes in the ‘real world’ but years or even decades could go by in the strange hallucinatory world he/she might find themselves in – indeed, even trapped in, as Palmer Eldritch/God proves to be rather dangerous and threatening in his/its own attempt at survival.  Is reality being infected by God, as he manifests himself everywhere like some kind of virus, a multitude of Palmer Eldritch’s, or is it just another fantasy? Is it God that has infected Eldritch or some alien approximation? I often think PKD is always writing on the edge, reconsidering where he is going, threatening to go racing off in some other path entirely on a whim. It makes his stories rather challenging but also greatly rewarding.

There’s certainly no way there will ever be a film based on The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. But I’d love to see one.