Happy Birthday, Robert E Howard

bobToday I shall have a drink to the memory of one my heroes, the great Texan author Robert E Howard, who was born today in 1906, in Peaster, Texas. A master storyteller, author and poet, his words have inspired, excited and scared me for most of my life. Probably most famous today for his sword and sorcery yarns featuring Conan the Barbarian, he wrote Boxing stories, Westerns, Historical fiction, even a few Detective tales. His poetry is particularly notable, his word-craft quite extraordinary and vivid.

They say never meet your heroes- well of course I never had a chance with Bob, as he died some sixty years before I was born. I have often wondered what it would be like, though, to sit a share a cold beer with him, and wonder if we would get along in conversation. Meeting Lovecraft, say, would be pretty horrific I expect, but I have always had the suspicion that meeting Bob would be a much more positive experience. Mind, although I often had the hope that he would be a kindred spirit, that’s possibly more than wishful thinking on my part. Bob was a complex man who lived in a very different world and his mental health has often been debated by readers over the decades.

I once had an incredibly vivid dream of walking to his house in June of 1936, and dissuading him from his act of suicide. It possibly says more about me, that I can dream of Time Travel and of going back to that one day, and try to stop that one event, instead of, say, dreaming of Dinosaurs or Rome. But we are all  full of weird tales that way, and our dreams often seem to follow a whim all their own.

Anyway, here’s a beer to you, Bob.


Future becomes Past

esc1I am still beyond irritated that I never re-watched Blade Runner during November, 2019. It feels like something vaguely heretical that I never watched that film in that, of all months. Once upon a time, that film was of the future, now its not even of the past, but some alternate past, like the 1997 of Escape From New York, or the 2001 of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Alternative histories, of the future become past.

Perhaps that’s more powerful. It is, after all, the problem when predicting the future in science fiction movies. You can get judged by what you get right, what you get wrong, and maybe that’s missing the point- the films really tell us about when they were made. In the decade that gave us Taxi Driver, it wasn’t perhaps too much of a stretch to imagine New York becoming a maximum security prison to dump all the criminal filth of America into. Likewise when Kubrick and Clarke made 2001 in the 1960s, with America pumping so much money and effort into Apollo, it was no doubt easy to imagine the Superpowers with bases on the moon by 2001. In just the same way that Escape From New York shows how grim society seemed to be getting in the grim late-1970s, 2001: A Space Odyssey betrays the sense of hope and ambition of the 1960s.

In any event, its easy to re-watch 2001 imagining that Vietnam never happened and that political will championed an ambitious space program for decades to follow, or that when economic collapse threatened the America of Escape From New York,  far-right politics condemned society’s ills to the solution of a city turned into a prison. Or, in the case of Blade Runner, that perhaps the Axis won World War Two and set the world into the different path of a German Space Race, and an Off-World solution to the climate collapse of Earth.

In this way the films actually become more powerful, separated from the weight of prediction, instead benefiting from the freedom of dreaming what might have been. I think its something that film-makers etc should perhaps consider when contemplating possible futures: don’t make them ours, make them someone else’s. If the opening crawl of Blade Runner had been something along the lines of: “1946: The Axis wins WWII, 1954: The first man on the moon is a German,  2019: Now” then people would perhaps have been more open, even in 1982, to accept its future noir vision. Its an approach that Villeneuve and his team clearly seemed to relish when making BR2049 and furthering its alternate history/future, something that the film benefits from with its retro tech.

I note that perhaps the next film to join the distinguished company of Escape From New York, 2001 and Blade Runner is Soylent Green, whose grim future of 2022, of devastating climate change, pollution and overpopulation is next to become an alternate past. Mind, as predictions go they possibly weren’t terribly far off with that one.

A Farewell to the King

neil peartI just wanted to write a short post to mark the untimely passing of one of my heroes, Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist of the Canadian rock band Rush. A school friend who was part of our RPG sessions back in the early ‘eighties was a huge fan of Rush and got my brother and I into the band, playing albums like Power Windows before and after RPG sessions, and it stuck (just as another of the lads got us into the Alan Parsons Project- those were great, formative days).

For me the initial appeal of the bands music were Neal Pearts lyrics; whenever I got a new Rush album (whether it be a pre-Power Windows disc or those that followed it over the years) my first thing was pouring over the lyrics, even before actually listening to the music. As well as a supremely accomplished drummer who just got better and better over the years, Peart was extremely well-read, and it showed in his writing, brilliant at constructing elaborate lyrics full of ideas. Definitely an inspiration in my own (albeit inferior, ‘natch) writing over the years. In a similar way to the APP albums, the Rush albums each seemed to have seperate and unique themes: I was being submerged in Prog-Rock and like my love of Vangelis, in Rush and APP it would last my lifetime.

Rush unofficially disbanded in 2015, mostly instigated by Peart, partly due to health problems ensuing from age and 40 years on the road touring. So I’ve spent the last few years kind of getting used to that, and hoping that maybe his freinds and band mates Geddy and Alex might get Peart into the studio at least, for one more Rush album, someday. We fans are never content, we always want more. More Star Wars, more Rush, more Vangelis. Alas, his passing this week at the too-young age of 67 has finally put an end to such hopes (just as the passing of Eric Woolfson several years also finally put paid to ever seeing another APP album). The news broke late at Friday, and my brother and I shared shocked texts with each other. Peart actually passed on Tuesday, after over three years battling brain cancer- it is typical of the class and dignity of the man that none of us, fans nor the media,  had any idea that he was so ill.

There is a curious synchronicity in the background to all this- Steve and I were watching YouTube videos of Peart just last weekend, and Steve got us tickets to go see a Rush tribute band for tonight (how poignant and emotional is that show going to be following this weeks event?). Its all purely coincidental of course, but I think Peart might have found it as curious as I do; Wheels within wheels in a spiral array, A pattern so grand and complex. A Farewell to the King then.

Another one gone: purely in a selfish way, this getting old sure does get old, increasingly losing all these heroes along the way.

(Almost) a Rise of Skywalker review

If the stars align and the Dark Gods allow it, on Wednesday evening, I believe I shall be entering a cinema complex where I am not known, in a town I haven’t visited in several years, and I shall be watching Rise of Skywalker under the cover of darkness, and a future post perhaps this very week (if I recover from what I’m sure will be a nerve-shredding experience) I shall be posting: ‘(Actually) a Rise of Skywalker review’.

On the other hand, it may well have to wait until the weekend. I mean, if I love the film, I may well be having to eat some very humble pie. It’d be a bit like me watching the latest episode of Dr Who and deciding I was wrong all along and its hard-edged social commentary and excitingly riveting script  (not to mention its exemplary acting and fiendishly ingenious use of Sonic Screwdrivers) have swayed me to its righteous cause. But you know, open minds and all that.

Mind, I appreciate I’m a bit behind the curve at this point. The film has been out nearly three weeks now. In this crazy busy world of social media and internet hysterics the film is quite possibly such Old News at this point, that its hardly worth me writing about. Its gone, its done, and everyone’s looking for the Next Thing already (its actually coming out in a few days, and its the World War One drama 1917).

But it does make one think. There are people out there who literally only watched Rise of Skywalker so that they could rush home and post a video about it. There are people who only watch television shows (or, God help me, movie trailers) so that they can stream their Reaction Videos to it. What kind of crazy bloody world is it that people watch people watching movie trailers?

I like to think I watch films and TV shows because its something I like to do, because I enjoy the art form and watching something creative gives me pleasure (as well as suspiciously high blood pressure sometimes -hello there Jacobs Ladder remake- but hey, its a risk I’m prepared to take for the betterment of those lucky sods who haven’t seen it). I suspect many of those posting all those Youtube videos are making money out of it. Maybe a lot of money, good luck to them. There’s no money in these blogs, that’s for sure.

So anyway, its just that it got me thinking- go back to 1982 and no internet, and magazines like Starburst and Fantastic Films and Starlog. Imagine if something like Rise of Skywalker was released in those times, when reviews were written for magazines and usually printed around the time of, or just after, a films release, by professional journalists who put their name to the review and had it in print for posterity. Gentler, slower times without a ravenous fan-base screaming from the internet mountain tops. Films tended to stick around in the public consciousness longer, or maybe I’m just imagining that, as time seemed to pass by much slower when I was a young teenage geek waiting for The Empire Strikes Back to come out. And waiting to read John Brosnan’s review.

I’ve just got a mental image of me going to work on Thursday and revealing that I’ve seen Rise of Skywalker and one of my colleagues making a grunting noise and saying “what? That old thing?” and me suddenly realising I’m still way behind the curve of the pop-culture zeitgeist. Not so much a case of me and a few others discussing the film over the water-cooler or the copier machine, but rather me trying to find someone who still remembers it.

The Last Skywalker?

Woke up this morning to some demented fool babbling hysterically about some new Star Wars trailer- someone who, it became clear minutes later, has never seen a Star Wars film. Well, that’s how researched and balanced British journalism is these days. One of her colleagues admitted to watching all the Star Wars films for the first time a few months ago over a weekend. “I should try that,” the first fool decided before waxing lyrical over how great this film looked.

Well there’s worse ways to wake up in a morning, certainly, but my mood was certainly darkened. Stifling the urge to throw the radio across the room I decided the ‘off’ button would be the smarter move, and then reached across for my phone, found a video link on YouTube and watched the trailer: best get it out of the way and done, I reasoned. Afterwards, surely, my day could only get better.

(It didn’t, as it turned out, because work was a bad day, but that’s another story…).

I watched the trailer. Sighed. The following video was one of those agonising Reaction Videos (‘watch us watching the new Star Wars Trailer!’). Its a wonder I bothered getting out of bed at all, the bloody world has gone mad. So we watch people watching film trailers now. “Its so EPIC!” some bearded moron gushed, his eyes lit up like a six year-old at Christmas. I switched it off. Turned out watching the trailer had been a mistake. Some mornings its best not to engage with the world, at least not until a strong coffee has been imbued and I can handle the insanity.

Don’t. Believe. The. Hype.

People have very short memories. May I point everyone towards Godzilla: KIng of the Monsters? Anyone care to remember that bloody brilliant trailer that looked like the film was going to be amazing, with a big operatic version of Clair de Lune playing over intensely impressive and emotive visuals? Anybody unfortunate enough to have seen that film (myself only recently, which is why I raise this as a pertinent example) will know the truth and appreciate that Hollywood knows all too well how to sell a turd.

Last Week: Battlestar’s coming back

bsgThe relentless shift towards streaming and the rush for new content has seen providers looking at their IP portfolios. News broke last week that NBC Universal, launching a streaming service (titled Peacock) in April 2020, has decided to reboot Battlestar Galactica for what will be a second time. Glen Larson’s original was a pretty blatant Star Wars knock-off in 1978, that is most interesting today for indicating what was the wall of what television could manage back then, and Moore’s 2003 – 2008 reboot was an indication of how sophisticated tv sci-fi had become. Maybe a 2020 reboot will indicate how creatively bereft everything has become, or how general quality has to be diluted by so much content being made now for so many networks/streams- how is anybody in Hollywood out of work anymore?

I must confess I was pretty horrified at the news- I love Ron Moore’s incarnation of BSG, its possibly my favourite sci-fi show. The idea of someone (apparently the guy behind the new show is Mr Robot‘s creator Sam Esmail) going back  to Battlestar and relaunching it in some way is depressing but not surprising. Everyone seems averse to new properties and sees obvious advantages to going back to old stuff, either for nostalgia’s sake or ease of marketing something already familiar or established. I can’t really highlight the creative apathy in this because Moore’s BSG was itself a reboot, and it was great, so I’m sort of championing the very thing I find so disheartening.

But why BSG? Alas, its simply because its something that NBC Universal owns, simple as that. A property that would probably actually benefit from a modern reboot would be something like Babylon 5, but as that is a Warner property, that is only likely to come if the WarnerMedia streaming platform (itself launching next year) deems it a IP worthy of a second try. The caveat I have about B5 is replacing any of its cast, most of whom were pretty amazing- it’s akin to trying to find someone to fill Leonard Nimoy’s shoes casting Spock, which has been troublesome indeed for Paramount and CBS in various later Treks- and of course that’s also a sticking point for any ‘new’ BSG.  Sam Esmail has actually tweeted to disgruntled fans that his project is not a reboot of the Moore series and possibly sounds like something in the BSG ‘universe’ in a similar way to HBO’s upcoming Watchmen series is a spin-off from both graphic novel and movie.

Its really not so much creatively cannibalising an old property but using its IP, and its mythology, as a shortcut- and of course being able to use its title as a recognisable marketing tool. Its still a fairly lousy way of making ostensibly ‘new’ content, but its something we are pretty used to, as Hollywood has been doing it for years, decades, in all manner of movies.  I would much prefer something genuinely new, something none of us have ever seen before, but as the streaming giants bring us ‘new’ shows like Westworld, Watchmen, Star Trek: Discovery, Lost in Space, Star Wars: The Mandalorian, Lord of the Rings etc, I guess I should just appreciate shows like The Expanse, Altered Carbon, The Man in the High Castle, Outlander, Carnival Row, The Boys, Umbrella Academy etc all the more. It clearly isn’t all about reboots and remakes and sequels.

God knows there is such a lot of content out there. Time is the one thing these streaming channels seem to be ignoring- just how much time do they think Joe Public has to actually watch all this stuff? I cannot keep up with it as it is, and the idea that I’m somehow expected to subscribe to more in order to watch more… well, surely everyone has a limit. Especially for those of us who would appreciate the time just to rewatch some of our old faves; I tried a few years ago to rewatch Moore’s BSG throughout and gave up somewhere in season two, and have other Blu-ray box-sets (Chuck, Fringe etc) that I would love to go back to but haven’t even tried.

It will be interesting to see how the various television platforms, new and old, fair in the coming years. I’m sure some will be lost along the way, and its pretty hard to see Disney+ floundering so I suppose it may be a case of the old networks and satellite/cable platforms going the way of the dodo. Along the way we will be getting so much to watch, including a new Battlestar Galactica, as long, I assume, that we will be willing to pay extra for it, and that’s the big question. Its not enough to read that new shows are coming- alongside the news of everything coming I have to keep an eye out for where its coming from, to know if I will even be able to watch it. I’ve ‘missed’ so many shows not because I’m not interested or haven’t the time- rather just because I either haven’t access to it or am not willing to pay for it. The cynic in me assumes that the various torrents will all be busy next year. Maybe the more things change, the more they stay the same.


Sara Campbell Remembered

This a post about Sara Campbell, a fan of Blade Runner way back in 1982 who I never met but whose name to me is forever linked to the film, from a letter in a magazine and a published review by her. It’s based partly on a post I did for my old blog back in 2008, which I’ve reposted further below, with some other material. Consider it a Directors Cut of my original post, or perhaps more fittingly, a Final Cut.

But first, as the post below was originally written almost eleven years ago now, a few thoughts to offer some perspective.

To be clear, I never met or knew Sara. All I know of her is her writing that I read in magazines back in 1982 and in online reprints of her fanzine CITYSPEAK, and later in anecdotes or commentary about her second-hand posted that was posted online over the years. I didn’t even learn of her death until many years after it. She is just a name, and the words she wrote that I read.

Films can be more than just films, more than pieces of entertainment, more than pieces of art. Well, yes, most of them are ‘just’ films/entertainment but sometimes they make a connection, achieve a particular resonance, particularly when you are growing up. They can be seminal events/experiences, markers of memory and of one’s past, bubbles of spacetime later revisited by rewatching the film. That’s how it sometimes is for me, whenever I rewatch Blade Runner, or at least the original 1982 version. It doesn’t feel quite the same rewatching the Final Cut of 2007- that isn’t the Blade Runner of my youth. My Blade Runner is the mistake-ridden, mind bogglingly intense version I saw in the cinema back in 1982 and again in 1983. The version I had on a pirate VHS tape given to me in Christmas 1983 that I damn near wore out with religious reverence.

Whenever I watch that flawed version, which thankfully we still have on the SE box-set of 2007, with its continuity errors and cables pulling up spinner cars, other than finding it almost unwatchable now and actually even ‘broken’, I’m swept back to being sixteen in September 1982, and the world I lived in then. Back in 1982  Blade Runner was an incredible experience which had a profound impact on me. But of course it was for many other people too, long before it became a cult movie or a reappraised classic popular movie. We just didn’t have the internet to spread the word and share our thoughts, we fans were isolated like lonely islands separated by great distance. The world was really quite different back then. We relied on magazines and fanzines to share our thoughts and interests in ways forums make instant and easy now. So anyway. There was this Blade Runner fan, by the name of Sara Campbell…

First, my words from my 2008 post, written, at the time, pretty much 26 years to the day that I had first seen Blade Runner…


Remembering Sara Campbell…

The other evening I was browsing through some old film magazines and picked up the Fall, 1979 issue of CINEFANTASTIQUE, which featured ALIEN on the cover. Old magazines are fantastic time capsules, particularly those from before the Internet and before industry marketing teams turned the mags into publicity rags. But what particularly interested me was the letters section. It’s here you get the real meat of both the mag and the times in which it was published. Something like the forums that litter the Internet today, the letters columns of those old mags really give an insight into what people thought back in the day.

So I noticed a short letter berating the editor of CINEFANTASTIQUE for his negative editorials regards the popular science fiction films of the time- namely STAR WARS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and ALIEN. “I keep running across articles devoted to films which you feel are beneath your standards,” the letter stated. The writer of the letter contended that rather than being the film magazine with a ‘Sense of Wonder’ as proclaimed on the editorial, it was instead one with “a sense of hypocrisy”. Indeed, the writer of the letter noted that CINEFANTASTIQUE evidently believed that “STAR WARS was too much fun, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is nice, but its aliens too cute, and ALIEN is too yucchy and besides, it reminds you of a still you saw from  PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES.”

The response from the editor, the late Frederick S Clarke, argued that he did indeed have a sense of wonder, still feeling the buzz from watching 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY back in 1968. He just didn’t seem to think much of the then-modern offerings.

I noted with some irony that I have a similar feeling nowadays, loving STAR WARS and ALIEN as old classics and disliking all the modern cgi-dominated mindless dreck we have now. Times change and yet they don’t. But what really struck me was the name of the writer of the letter- Sara Campbell. I knew that name.

Sara Campbell will forever be linked, in an albeit minor way, with BLADE RUNNER lore. Few people appreciate the fact that when BR was released, it really bombed in spectacular fashion. I think it grossed only $17 million on a $24 million production budget that needed $50 million to break even. No-one saw it and generally critical opinion was very negative. Back in late 1982 the film was over, dead, finished, and the industry was very different back then. Films didn’t turn up on £20 DVDs and Blu-Rays after four months, they disappeared for years. Films were only kept alive by their fans, who read magazines about them, collected memorabilia and the like. There was no Internet to gather together the thoughts and love of fans of movies in forums.

Here in England I watched BR dumbstruck, fell head over heels in love what has always been since then my favourite film, and watched in dismay as the film faded away out of public consciousness. It was a Cult movie back when the word Cult meant something. When in College a few years later, a lecturer looking through my art folder saw an image I had drawn from BR and waxed lyrical about the film… I remember feeling how odd it was to actually meet someone other than my mate Andy who shared my high opinion of the film. Of course years later thanks to video, BR became popular, the Directors Cut got released, critics rewrote their opinion of the film… but for those of us who saw it back in 1982, I honestly think BR feels different, special in a way later fans could never understand.

Sara Campbell was one of those fans from 1982. Just as I was blown away over here in an old ABC cinema that had known better days, over in America, in Oshkoshi, Wisconsin, so was Sara, someone I would never know or meet but who shared with me a love of a special film. Sara got together with a few friends and they made a fanzine about BR, titled CITYSPEAK. You can find the first issue online if you run its title through a search engine. It’s a fascinating window into a time when BR was something new, before it became imitated, before it became popular. Back when it was something special, almost secret. Sara’s love of the film shines through. Reading CITYSPEAK I’m dragged back to those old days, how it felt back then. Later when the film became popular and the book RETROFITTING BLADE RUNNER came out, Sara’s name was mentioned as one of the first voices to popularise and analyse the film. It was the first time I had read about her and her fanzine devoted to BR.

I never got the opportunity to know or meet Sara on Internet forums, share memories of those golden days of 1982. Sara never got to see her favourite film in either its flawed Directors Cut version or completed Final Cut. Having produced three issues of CITYSPEAK, Sara died in 1985.

But it’s funny how someone can live on, in the thoughts recorded in letters to magazines or self-produced fanzines, so that someone halfway across the world who loved the same movie can share those thoughts and opinions, and wonder what they might have thought of the films later renaissance. I guess Sara would have been as excited about the Final Cut as I was last year- I guess she would have loved it. Its a damned shame she never saw it.

So how odd the strange coincidence after all these years, reading through an old film mag and stumbling upon that letter by Sara Campbell some three years before BR came around? How weird is that? Anyway, I urge any fans of BLADE RUNNER to run CITYSPEAK through a search engine and read that fanzine and re-live that buzz from 1982, or if they saw the film years afterwards on video, learn what it was like back then for the original fans.

blade1982So that was my old post. Funny thing was, I neglected to mention Sara’s review published in an issue of Fantastic Films which was, at the time, the first serious critical evaluation of the film that I ever read, a precursor to all the many thousands of analyses and opinions that would be written about the film over the years. A few days ago I stumbled upon my dog-eared and worn copy of that issue and saw Sara’s review again, marvelled at it and decided that I really should resurrect my old post about her, especially as that old blog is lost now, its website long retired. Which is why this post is here now- and I note the odd synchronicity that this month now marks 37 years since I first saw Blade Runner in that old ABC cinema on a Saturday afternoon. 

Finally, here is a moving  memoriam for Sara that I found a few years ago on the internet, from CITYSPEAK. Written by someone who knew Sara I add this partly as a footnote to my ramblings, but more importantly as a token effort to assist in keeping her memory alive in a way that my own writing, as someone who never knew her, could never really manage. As I noted earlier, for some of us films are more than films, and while films can live forever as moments frozen in time on celluloid or digital hard drive, they leave us all behind, eventually. We are the tears in the rain eventually lost to time, but the films we love remain. Well, here’s to remembering Sara, who for original fans like me, while Blade Runner will always remain, so does she.

In Memoriam: Sara Jane Campbell

February 3, 1959 – August 20, 1985

Sara Jane Campbell is dead.

She entered Doctor’s Hospital in Manhattan on August 5, 1985, for major-but-routine surgery. The operation was uneventful. Sara was doing fine. She was going to come home on Sunday, August 12th.

At 5:30 in the morning on Saturday, August 11th, the phone rang. It was Sara’s doctor. He needed to reach her parents. Now.

Because at 4:00 a.m. Sara Campbell, 26 years old, young, healthy, and with a brilliant future ahead of her as a writer, as a human being, had suffered a massive stroke. The right side of her body was paralyzed. She was unable to speak.

She was transferred to the neurological unit at Mount Sinai. When I arrived at the hospital, frantic and terrified, Sara set up a system of gestures and hand-movements that enabled her to express herself just fine, even without speech. She played a practical joke on me. I, always her straight man, fell for it. Sara made me do something I’d thought impossible under the circumstances — laugh.

I thought — I knew — it was only a matter of time before Sara recovered. She was young. She was healthy. Dammit, she was Sara. She was my friend. We had plans.

CITYSPEAK was almost ready — she’d just finished her novel, MEMORIES OF GREEN, for inclusion in the zine. CITYSPEAK was half laid-out; as soon as the last stories were in, it would be done. Then Sara and I were going to finish our LADYHAWKE novel. And we were going to collaborate on a novel set in our shared BLADERUNNER universe — we planned to take it pro. We were going to travel. We had just finished redecorating our apartment —

This couldn’t be happening. Not really. Not to someone I knew, someone I loved.

Tomorrow she’d be fine.

Between noon and one o’clock on August 11th, Sara started running a high fever. The paralysis spread.

The next day she was in a coma, on full life-support.

It was the day she was supposed to come home: August 12th.

She never came home.

On August 20, 1985, Sara Jane Campbell, aged 26, was taken off life-support in accordance with her own wishes and at her parents’ request. Without machines forcing “life” to continue, her heart stopped. Her breathing stopped.

Sara was dead.

I an a writer. Words are my tools; I always thought they were poetic, eloquent, powerful. I prided myself on my ability to make them convey what I wished: actions, emotions, character. Life.

I was wrong. Words are empty things; words are useless. How can words on a page describe Sara to all of you who now will never meet her?

She was five-foot-ten. (She had a dimple that she hated.) She had short blonde hair. (She had prehensile toes.) She was a poet, an idealist. (She rescued a stray kitten and named her Zuul, after the refrigerator demon in GHOSTBUSTERS.) She was a writer. (She was a friend.)

She was my friend.

No, that’s wrong again. These days the word ‘friend’ describes everyone from your co-worker to your dentist; a word overworked until it has lost all meaning. Sara was not my ‘friend’. She was part of me.

And nowhere in all the words in the world are words that can tell you truly about this sister not of my blood. None to describe the loss — a loss not just of Sara, but of myself. None to describe the waste — or to help understand why a brave, brilliant young woman with so much to give was not allowed more time in which to give it.

It has taken me a long time to keep my last promise to Sara. In the hospital, while she was still conscious, I told her I would make sure CITYSPEAK was published.


I hope you like it, Sara.

Anne Elizabeth Zeek
August 1985/January 1988



Last week: Ancient (1980s) Artifacts

raiders2Last week I did some wife-mandated cleaning in the garage. I have a storage box in there sitting against a far wall hidden by, er, other boxes and piles of miscellania (it’s a wonder we manage to park a car in that garage). I suppose the box should have, you know, garagey things in it like tools or paint tins or something, but instead its got books, magazines, tapes, cds… stuff that Claire has cleared away and put in there. Basically anything I’ve been looking for unsuccessfully for the past few years, it’s all in there. Opening it was like opening the Arc of the Covenant and screaming “its beautiful!”

Cue my face melting like a Nazi caught out by his blind confidence. Well, in a way, anyway- some of the stuff in there certainly messed me up, books for instance, that I cannot ever remember buying, let alone reading, and old xbox games that likewise I cannot remember owning or ever playing, at all. Its like I’ve found stuff that belonged to someone else. Its a little disconcerting, but this post isn’t about my frazzled marbles or ensuing memory loss, but I think that might be a later post regards some Blade Runner-linked examination about what is memory and what is real.

So instead, here’s a post about some of the magazines that were stored in there, particularly a few copies of Fantastic Films, a magazine that I’ve written about before but which I absolutely adored back in the day. A sort of poor-man’s Cinefantastique, the mag was at times beautifully designed for its day and at least turned up in my local newsagents (Cinefantastique was the best, but reserved for speciality comics stores and naturally cost more).

P1090842 (2)Looking through these mags was a strange experience, having not seen them in years but instantly familiar, having read and re-read them so many times over the years. Sure they look a bit beat-up and smell a little like old second-hand bookstores do. Back before the Internet, kiddies, this is what us geeks used to do- go to stores, buy magazines, read them, then re-read them, and maybe re-read them some more. We’ve gotten so used to instant news now it’s a little odd to realise this used to be how we found out about new movies, reading these monthly magazines, and probably it was all old news long before we ever got to read them. I used to read magazines like this, finding details about films sometimes months after their release in America but that didn’t really matter,as the world was slower back then, and often it would be before or even concurrent to the film’s release over here (Blade Runner didn’t turn up here until September, and E.T. didn’t get released until Christmas 1982 long after most had seen it on pirate VHS copies).

P1090843 (2)Naturally its those issues that concerned a little obscure film titled Blade Runner that are the most dog-eared and re-read copies. The issue with Elliot and E.T. on the cover is the one I used to pore over for years, because it had an analysis of Blade Runner by Sara Campbell that I used to read so many times, like it was some kind of Holy scripture. You have to bear in mind that Blade Runner was for many years simply forgotten, a box-office failure that most people had written off. Sara’s inciteful essay was a respectful and fascinating insight by someone who loved the film as much as I did. Sara would go on to found Cityspeak, a Blade Runner fanzine I wouldn’t learn of until years later, and unfortunately passed away not long after, but as a post on my old blog years ago (that I will have to repost here sometime) will attest, I’ll always fondly remember Sara for this review and consider the sadness that she never saw the ‘proper’ Blade Runner that would have blown her away. Life is so unkind.

P1090845 (2)I must also mention a letter in the ‘Reactions’ section of the mag. By the time the issue went to press Blade Runner had already bombed Stateside and this particular letter reflected on that and praised the film. Titled ‘Blade Runner deserved better‘, I have to admit I read and re-read the letter so many times over the years. It was written by Irene Tumanov of Paylin, New Jersey, and bless you Irene wherever you are today (I hope you still love Blade Runner). Irene’s letter- well, maybe someday I’ll type out her letter here in its entirety. But here’s a taster:

“It is only too tragic that the year 2019 is indeed in the midst of us now. We must indeed be dehumanized if we should turn our noses away from such a beautiful film! Not only do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep they also dream of the immortality of such great cinema. I believe it a terrible waste that Blade Runner should be put out to pasture!”

Irene I hope you enjoyed the resurgence of Blade Runner and its rise to success, and the Directors Cut and later the Final Cut, and its eventual sequel. All surely impossible to have imagined back in 1982.

P1090844 (2)But what a summer that was, what a year for genre releases. I took a picture of the contents age of that issue of Fantastic Films, to just demonstrate what an extraordinary time that was. We may have seen better films since, but I don’t think we saw such a group of diverse and interesting genre films like that ever again- when they all come out over that summer in America, it must have been pretty exciting. This edition of Fantastic Films featured articles on  E.T., The Dark Crystal, Blade Runner, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Tron, The Thing, Poltergeist, Firefox, The Secret of Nimh, Creepshow… I’ve always considered that year to be the true reaction to the original Star Wars. Its a little sad that in all the years since, we didn’t really see another year quite like that- back then I thought every year was going to be like that. What a damned fool I was…




(Another) Sign o’ the Times

I’m beginning to think I’m living on some other planet to most folks, and that the title of this blog is getting more pertinent than ever. I read on the news today that Avengers: Endgame has broken UK records for digital downloads. In its first week it has totalled 335,400 downloads.

Who are these people buying digital downloads? Who are these people who have abandoned physical formats and jumped onto this digital train to God only knows where? I don’t get it. I don’t think I ever will. Ever since I ‘lost’ my digital purchase of Robotron on my old Xbox 360, a few dozen digital albums I bought on Virgin Music several years ago and my digital copy of Blade Runner that mysteriously vanished from my Flixster account, I’ve sworn off digital anything. I don’t trust it. Far as I can see, nobody ‘owns’ anything when they buy something digitally, its instead just a license and I can trust any vendor about as much as I can trust Rancors are vegan.

But digital is certainly popular with someone. Me, I can easily wait an extra week or two to buy a copy on 4K disc if its a film I really want to see at its best, or on blu-ray or wait a few months longer to see it on streaming via Prime or Netflix or maybe Sky. But I’ve got shelves of discs behind me that most folks are just not interested in, home video collections going as out of fashion as decent Star Wars movies.

The BBC news report also states that as far as Avengers: Endgame is concerned, its widely expected that it won’t appear on other platforms such as Sky, Netflix or Amazon and will instead other than digital sales will only appear on Disney’s own Disney+ platform for streaming. As long as physical disc formats are still in the mix and I have that choice, then I’m reluctantly fine with the situation (to a point) but I am sure we can all see where the future is eventually heading.  Sign o’ the times indeed. I’m feeling old enough these days without this nonsense.


On this day, a year ago… IT.

That title almost sounds scary, doesn’t it? Curious that it refers to a horror film that wasn’t scary, but that’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes. I am often shocked, browsing through past posts, when the whim takes me to look back exactly a year, and I suddenly see reviews of films and think, ‘a year ago? Already?!!’ It can be quite brutal, the passing of time- or certainly the tricks time seems to play on us. For instance, today, a year ago, is when I posted my review of IT. I cannot believe it has been a year already. Mind, I did read a little while ago that IT Chapter Two (because the novel was split into two movies) is due soon, in September I think. Which should be two years since the first film was released (as I ruefully recall it making a mint and then BR2049 failed to muster the same excitement the following month).

Which brings up the harsh realisation that BR2049, which I always seem to think of as still a ‘new’ or even recent film, is actually nearing its second anniversary….

But anyhow, returning to IT– I wasn’t particularly impressed by it (when a horror film isn’t at all scary, then it’s doing something wrong in my book) but the film was extremely popular indeed with the public and I wonder if they will return to cinemas in droves to watch the second half. It has been two years, afterall, even if it may not feel like two years. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, comparing the first films box office and the second films, as Villeneuve’s Dune project will be emulating this with its own part one/part two, with the first film coming in December 2020. I suspect the gap between the two Dune films will be longer than two years, simply due to the scale of the project, but I suppose you never know these days, with so much post-production occurring during filming- the old preproduction/production(shooting)/post production being so blurred now.

I’m not suggesting two years is too long, but will the public still think IT is sufficient part of the cultural zeitgeist that Chapter Two  will be a must-watch at cinemas? I can’t say I’m particularly enthused enough to even catch up with it on (eventual) home video release, as that first film was more than enough for me but as patently shown on this blog before, I’m not exactly in tune with the mass public. Maybe people are really excited.

Its a curio, almost, in this age of binge-watching seasons of tv over a weekend, for people to return to the bad old analogue days of waiting years for a film to come out. When I was a teenager, three years between Star Wars films felt like forever. These days it’s like three years passes by so quickly, it’s as if I’m sitting in George Pal’s Time Machine and everything is just racing past- and I don’t think it’s simply just me getting older, I think it’s partly how the world is now. Films come and go now, here today, forgotten tomorrow, replaced by the next blockbuster- there is simply so much content. In the old days, a film like Jaws seemed to hang around in the mainstream culture seemingly for years, films now seem to be more disposable. Which is ironic, as thanks to streaming and discs, it could be argued they stick around longer now, but you know, what teenager cares a hoot about Avatar now? Or even the Matrix films?  But maybe in a funny way, that helps films like IT, and waiting two years for the second entry- these days, two years doesn’t feel like anytime at all.

Afterall, I still can’t quite believe its been a whole year since I saw that first one.