Archive for the 'Film' Category

L’EAU DES COLLINES

21 October 2012

Yves Montand et Daniel Auteil in jean de Florette/ manon des Sources ALTHOUGH Marcel Pagnol wrote L’Eau des Collines in Paris in the 1950s, it was set in the south, in rural Provence at the turn of the twentieth century, but it is a timeless tale.

Published in 1962, the two books of L’Eau des Collines Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources — were later adapted by Claude Berri into two of the greatest films ever made.

It was in the mid 1980s when I hired Jean de Florette on VHS videocassette tape format from the local video hire shop. It was so captivating that I returned the tape the following day and picked up Manon des Source to complete the tale.

It is, for me, terribly French — and I mean that in the best way possible.  It reminded me very much of the epic qualities of Hugo’s Les Miserables. That’s what I mean by terribly French in the Best Way.

The story is epic (don’t worry; there’re no spoilers here), and will play on your mind for years to come.  The French twists and turns, the emotional connections and passions.  This is raw humanity, this is beauty and flaws.  Great stuff.

But Berri takes the history of these people, and makes cinematic magic.  The story is baked like a clay pot in the southern French sun, slowly and in great heat. It is paced perfectly – a skill in itself.

Apparently both films were made as one project and chopped up into two and released as two films at different times. This makes it difficult to talk of just one or the other; they are one epic tale really – L’Eau des Collines.

The film(s) have remarkable sound, gorgeous sets and settings, fabulous light and colours, and the editing and directing are masterly. This is high art; somehow it has all come together. This is cinematic opera.

Emmanuele Beart in Manon des SourcesLook at the cast — utterly fabulous! Jean de Florette is played by Gérard Depardieu – and this has to be one of his finest works.  His wife at that time, Elisabeth, played his wife in the film, hence the screen magic. In the sequel, Manon is played by the captivating Emmanuelle Béart.

But the two real core characters throughout are, of course, the terrible two locals, Ugolin and Papet. Daniel Auteuil as just outstanding as the malleable simpleton, Ugolin, and Yves Montand plays the old scoundrel, Cesar Soubeyran (or Papet) so well it actually broke my heart. Yes, Montand made a grown man cry: me. What a performance! His last film too before he died. Poignant.

Jean-Claude Petit did the music, so it was always going to be good, but imagine my surprise to hear Verdi’s The Force of Destiny (La forza del destino) overture… but wait – it’s played on the harmonica by Toots Thielemans! This is utter genius; it links the tales to opera tales, it links the force of destiny theme with the tale of misfortune and fortune of the characters in the film, it is almost accordion – so it Frenchyfes the music, and it so perfectly fits with the mood and feel of the film.  Sadly, due to TV ads, everyone thinks verdi-petit-Thielmas’s tune is The Stella Artois tune!

But think of The Godfather – the way the music themes weave into the film operatically, to flavour and season the scenes in a cultural way. Cinematically, the Godfather is a very similar project; some values, same base human flaws and empathies drawn from the viewer.

jean de floretteSome say Jean de Florette was a brighter, optimistic film because of the Depardieus, mainly the hunchback, Jean – and the fun provided by Papet and Ugolin — and that Manon des Source is darker,  being about female revenge.  I don’t agree.

For me both films have light and charm contrasting with dark and grim – in Jean, think of the struggle for water, and the death scene as dark, while for light in Manon, think of the villagers waiting for water, the coy Manon flirting with the schoolmaster Bernard.

The death scene in Manon is one of the most personally significant scenes in cinema; I find it almost painful to watch.

For me, it is impossible to watch them separately, you HAVE to watch both for it all to work properly.  This is a real masterpiece.  Yes, it is in French — but they do not talk much, and when they do it is slow.  The acting is all the richer for that, and just like all the very best films, it is all about telling the story. This is a great story, a deep plot with twists.  And true to Pagnol, the tale is not merely told by actors, but by music, editing, directing, pacing, lighting, and even the weather and countryside.

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OSAMU TEZUKA

26 May 2012

AstroIt is not really well known that Japan has been a major player in the development of cartoons and comic art. I think they deserve more credit; credit where credit is due — take Iwao Takamoto, for example, Iwao worked for Disney on films such as “101 Dalmatians” and “Lady & The Tramp”, but he also created Penelope Pitstop and Scooby-Doo for Hanna Barbera.

Scooby-DooTakamoto was Americanised, and his subjects were western in all respects, but the Japanese nevertheless managed to develop their own spin on things, and this has grown to be a massive market of  Animé (animations) and Manga.

For Animé, we have Studio Ghibli of Tokyo who make full-length animated movies, and are often referred to as the Japanese Disney. My children adore Spirited Away, My Neighbour Tortoro, Pom Poko, Ponyo and Howl’s Moving Castle. In fact, Spirited Away is the only film made outside the English-speaking world to win an Oscar, and it grossed over $274 worldwide.

Studio Ghibli

Manga is often known as BD – a Belgian/ French term “bandes dessinées” which simply means “drawn Strips”. This is considered better than the American term, “Comic”, which carries the implication of being funny or at least not-serious.

There is a long traditional Japanese history in Manga, and is very influential in producing graphic art novels, particularly of a serious or adult nature. Manga stories are often made into Animé, if popular enough.

TezukaThe Golden Age of Manga dates back to just after World War II, and to one man — Osamu Tezuka.

At just 17, Tezuka created his first pieces of work, The Diary of Ma-chan and Shin Takarajima (New Treasure Island). He single-handedly invented the stylistic attributes that makes Manga distinct. He gave Manga its style, particularly the invention of Manga eyes, which have been massively influential on Japanese Manga and Animé.

1989-02-09, Tezuka died of stomach cancer in Tokyo.

As an idea of how highly Tezuka was regarded, the city of Takarazuka, Hyogo, where he grew up, has opened a museum in his memory. Japanese Postage Stamps were issued in his honour in 1997. And, the Japanese toy company Kaiyodo began manufacturing a series of figurines of Tezuka‘s creations in 2003.

Osamu Tezuka is held in high regard all over the world; and rightly so. He is a massive influence on street art, graffiti, and comics.

When I first saw his work, I was amazed that it was from the 40s and 50s. He was so ahead of his time. This is merely my small tribute to a great man. Check him out on the internet — and then spread the word.

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CTHULHU

18 March 2012

[Picture of Cthulhu "coming to get you"]Straight away, I will say that this is a strange one.

I have always pronounced Cthulhu as kloo loo (I don’t know why). However, I have recently heard that it has an “official pronunciation” of  kath who loo (which I think is weird, but anyway).

The Cthulhu is a nightmare creature. A monster, trapped and waiting to get us. It has a tentacled octopus head, a fish-scale body, wings, and is a sort of chimera — part human, dragon, and octopus. A grotesquely malevolent creature. Pure evil. A living gargoyle. An alien.

This THING is from the twisted imagination of HP Lovecraft, and it first appeared in a short story published in 1928, “The Call of Cthulhu”. The Cthulhu is imprisoned in an underwater city in the South Pacific called R’lyeh, and this is a source of constant anxiety for mankind at a subconscious level.

Lovecraft developed the character from this story thereafter, and it has been developed further after his death.

HP Lovecraft reckoned that human beings, with their limited faculties, would never be able to fully understand the universe — particularly as it was meaningless and purposeless, and that humans were unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Humans have a tendency to try to find meaning or purpose, and to put their existence as special , significant or central. This was my introduction to the philosophy of mechanism –  metaphysical doctrines known as universal mechanism and anthropic mechanism. I was 17 at the time, and the world was a pretty bleak place, with a disastrous outlook for the future.

Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page had been reported to have bought a house in Loch Ness that was once owned by Aleister Crowley, and Crowley was considered the most evil man who ever lived. So there was all sorts of daft articles going about. Even Eric Clapton’s (or rather Derek & The Dominoes’) Layla was connected to Crowley (Leila Waddell). My sister was an avid reader and paperbacks by the likes of Lovecraft and Dennis Wheatley were all around the house. The 70s was a great period of cross-cultivation in cultures, and everything was merging and overlapping at the time.

The science fiction genre spilled into heavy metal music, album covers and book jacket art bled onto biker’s jackets, tattoos and graffiti.  Fantasy novels depended on things like alternative realities, drug trip type experiences, life on alien worlds or set in the future or distant past. Crowley had created his own religion, so why not science fiction writer, L Ron Hubbard (Scientology)?

It was all a bit mind-blowing and overwhelming for me at times back then. I did not understand enough to have confidence in my beliefs to be thought-through cohesively, and although I was searching around for sense in this, I also searched for inspiration, entertainment and amusement.

Occasionally my searching would bring up something that didn’t “sit right”, something that I disliked instinctively. All of that, all of those things, for me, became embodied in the Cthulhu.

To see why, we have to go back to Crowley.

I read Lovecraft and Crowley in the same period of time. Crowley was interesting and amusing for a while — But I liked his concept of True Will for example. This resonated in me at the time. It basically means do what you want, what you really want. And while that sounds a bit like do anything you want, it doesn’t; it ties in your inner will with a destiny aspect — you have to do what you are gifted at or meant to do.  The trick is finding yourself so that you can live a superior moral life according to your True Will. It’s an attractive religious idea, well grounded in the catechism and conscience, but is the cornerstone of his own religion.

  • But then you find out that he was all a bit odd, mixed up in drugs and ritualistic homosexuality, secretive black magic societies, Freemasonry and more — all of which gathered inside me an anxiety and a dread — and that’s the Cthulhu.

Ever since, and throughout my life, when I have suffered really bizarre and dreadful nightmares, I think of the Cthulhu, and wonder if it is any closer to getting free from its shackles under the sea.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not and never have been a follower of The Beast 666, nor have I a real belief in any mythology, Greek, Roman, Norse, Tolkein or Lovecraft. I did get right into the philosophy of mechanism for a long time, and there remains much of that in me to this day.

But I am also a human, and brought up in a fabulous fantasy world of Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. I am interested in the arts, and cannot deny there is something weird going on — it cannot merely be a collective, collaborative delusion entirely.  Perhaps it’s mood-changing chemicals in the brain?  These are weird and wonderful explorations for each of us to take. All I’m saying is that — rightly or wrongly — I have intuitive feelings, gut feelings, traits that reveal the irrational, illogical, and impulsive emotional over-rides.

I respond to music, to paintings, to love, to food — in partaking, participating and creating. Hard to define, but nonetheless real to me.  Amongst these is the Cthulhu.

The Cthulhu is real for me.  I once thought of it as a stomach ulcer in me, I even briefly thought it could be a cancer, but these notions were soon dismissed in favour of the Cthulhu being external to me.

It’s like a sixth sense. When I begin to feel anxious, I am reminded of the threat to my healthy, happy, state is out there — the Cthulhu is waiting, calling, screaming, plotting, scheming. It’s that feeling that someone’s out to get you — for no other reason than badness and pure evil, or immoral self-interest.

It doesn’t have to be directed to me, however. For example, if  I see a photograph of an electric chair or read about the holocaust, that dark churn in the pit of my stomach, that scare, the horror of evil and the sense of its power — that’s the Cthulhu. Dread Full.

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PHILIP K DICK

19 February 2012

[Photograph of Philip K Dick]Throughout my adult life, Philip K Dick’s work has popped up from time to time to delight me. He truly was different.

It’s too easy, I think, to simply put him down as just a SciFi author.

I have nothing against Science Fiction, and his work is closely related to that genre, but Dick does more than set a story in the future and he does more than fantasise about the future, about space and aliens; he gets into the mind and how it works.

It was in 1982 that I heard about Philip K Dick from a pal. Dick had just died, so there were obits and newspaper columns to ignite interest. On top of that was the movie, Blade Runner.

I loved this film, from Vangelis’s soundtrack to the mash-up of the old Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler “hard-boiled gum shoe”, pulp fiction detective novel with the science fiction future of android robots. It was very stylish, beautifully directed, edited and the acting was quality.  It is a film that lives with you afterwards.

Blade Runner was based on Philip K Dick’s short story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? My pal gave me a bunch of his short stories, and I remember that I read, enjoyed and returned them, and that was that. Only it wasn’t.

I couldn’t tell you the names of his stories, nor any one that stood out more than others.  I do, though,  recall being impressed and perhaps somewhat overawed; it is a lot of new ideas all in one go.  Maybe it was too much in one sitting. I must have read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? — but all I can recall is Blade Runner. Although this might seem to be more about Hampton Fancher’s screenplay than Dick’s short story, Dick was closely involved in the making of this film with Ridley Scott and Fancher.

The story is genius. In the future android robots are so life-like, it takes detectives and tests to spot the difference, and even the androids don’t know they are not real humans. The story is about what happens when an android does find out he’s not “real” — and that he has an expiry date.  This is a man-made organic machine suddenly faced with mortality.  The robot’s quest is to come to earth, track down his maker and try to avoid death.  That is just a marvellous idea. The small group of androids are being hunted down by a Blade Runner — and that’s the detective part of the story.

I later got a loan of  the amazing The Man in The High Castle — this is  actually recognised as creating an entire literary genre of its own – the alternative history genre. I was quite tickled by the thought of Japan running California, and The Germans own new York. Dick has quite an original imagination, but also the skill to write convincingly. This was a what-if story — and I’d not come across that before either.

I loved Total Recall as soon as I heard it was based on Philip K Dick I got tickets — and again, for me, it was the movie, rather than the short story that stuck in my mind. This would be in the early 1990s and it was billed as an action film first and a science fiction film second. At that time the big deal was action and action heroes — and the rivalry among Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Silvester Stallone (and a few others too).

Total Recall was based on We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, and is also highly original. I would reckon that Dick might have come up with the story simply by trying to remember a holiday.  It’s so true that, not very long after we have returned from a vacation, memories fade — and we end up remembering what was filmed or photographed, the souvenirs and a handful of anecdotes.

Perhaps if we did not have these mementoes, we could forget we went on holiday altogether. When you think about it, people do suffer amnesia and dementia, so what is reality? Could we be hypnotised to believe we had gone on holiday somewhere?

In Blade Runner, the androids were created fully adult, but with pre-programmed memories of a fake childhood, mementoes, cards, photos, diaries, toys and keep-sakes. All fake.  In Total Recall, the concept is a business that offers a cheaper alternative to going on holiday — an implanted memory of the trip and fake keep-sakes and souvenirs. Dick is dealing with the same theme — what is real?

In Total Recall, the story takes this to another level — a man wants a holiday to Mars (it is science fiction after all), but cannot afford it, so he opts for the memories to be implanted — however, it turns out that the chap was a spy who had been to Mars, and the government had erased the memory of his spying and Martian activities, and turned him out with a new identity and life. The attempt to implant the fake Mars trip opened up a can of worms as the erased memories started to come back  — making this man a danger for what he knows. Good stuff, eh.

Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, and A Scanner Darkly are all fantastic films based on Philip K Dick’s short stories. They are clever, work on different levels and, despite being about the perception of reality, morality, memories and other internalisations, they seem to be extremely cinematic. In the end, the stories are futuristic and therefore good for exploiting special effects. I often wonder if they can operate on a straight action film only level — or if action film fans leave the cinema inspired or in a philosophical mindset.

I remember wondering if the fact that Dick was a twin affected his outlook, and I looked him up once and found that he was married five times — that would certainly affect the mind and sense of deja-vu and mixed up memories!

The themes that Dick brought to my attention are never far from my mind.  So much of what I do for a living depends on virtual reality — I see things built before they are built.

Anyone today can go on Google maps and wander through the streets of any city or town. My phone can track me and help me identify buildings and statues, music and more simply by holding the phone up and pressing a virtual button.  How could Philip K Dick not be far from my mind; we seem to be living in his.

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QUEEN

21 January 2012

[Queen Logo designed by Freddie Mercury]You know, we are all subjected to revisionism in history and manipulation by the media, it’s part and parcel of this brave new world of 24 hour internet, TV and radio.

The odd thing about Queen is that they are never far away. I can honestly say that almost every day I will hear a Queen track somewhere, sometime — and yet this band is  never recognised properly.  It’s a puzzle actually.

It is impossible, for example to speak out against The Beatles (or any of their former members); they are considered sacrosanct.  It has become a religious truth that The Beatles are the best, most successful, most loved band ever in the history of everything. We are always hearing about how they have done everything, won everything and hold the record in everything. And yet I can go for months, if not years, without hearing a Beatles song on TV or radio.

It’s all very odd; by contrast, Queen are not held in the same reverence as The Beatles or [insert favourite  artiste here].  But why are they not revered? I say that they ought to be — and probably moreso than (dare I say it), The Beatles.

For the record, I bought the first Queen album early on.  I cannot claim to have fanatically bought all their albums, or even to have gone to see them in concert, so I’m not a fan per se.  However, I have to stand up and say that Queen are undervalued and under-rated — even by me. I ought to have gone to see them live, but I’ve well-and-truly missed that boat, and, believe me, I regret that a great deal.

OK, so what is the deal with Queen? Well, let’s look at this strange band.  Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon formed the band in the year that The Beatles disbanded, 1970.

Everyone knows that The Rolling Stones played songs by Jagger & Richard, and that The Beatles played Lennon & McCartney songs. Queen were different; they are the only group in which every member has composed more than one chart-topping single — all four members of Queen were inducted into The Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003.

[Famous Queen image - underlit group]Who hasn’t heard of Bohemian Rhapsody? What an impact that song has had!  The video for it, the length of the song, the musicality and scope — all unprecedented. The song has been parodied to death, but it remains so well loved. It is a classic moment in the movie Wayne’s World. This song was voted The UK’s favourite hit of all time in a poll conducted by The Guinness World Records British Hit Singles in 2002, and two years later it was inducted into The Grammy Hall of Fame.

Queen defined stadium rock —  live rock gigs on a huge scale — they didn’t just play at the audience, the audience played a special part — We Will Rock You, and Radio Ga Ga are inspirational in that respect.  A music industry poll ranked Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985 as The Best Live Act in History.

But it’s not just live that Queen excelled, there is a very real legacy in tv aderts, in movies, in background muzak, in all sorts of things and in all sorts of ways. For example, in sporting events, Queen are always present with hits like Another One Bites The Dust, We Are The Champions, Don’t Stop Me Now and We Will Rock You. I honestly cannot imagine any competition of any kind where Queen was not involved in some way — these songs capture the emotion perfectly. We Are The Champions was voted The World’s Favourite Song in a global music poll.

[Statue of Freddie Mercury overlooking Lake Geneva]We Are the Champions and We Will Rock You were inducted into The Grammy Hall of Fame. Queen have been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and were awarded a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame and on the Rockwalk in LA.There are even statues to Freddie Mercury, most notably overlooking Lake Geneva in Montreux.

Queen have sold a shedload of records over the years as well. The Guinness Book of World Records, stated in 2005 that Queen albums have spent a total of 1322 weeks (twenty-six years) on the UK Album Charts — more time than any other, and since 2006, The Greatest Hits album was the All-Time Best-Selling Album in UK Chart history, with sales over 5.4 million copies. Not only that, but their Greatest Hits II album is the eighth best seller, with sales nearly 4 million!  Some estimates have Queen selling over 300 million records worldwide.

Queen have had a total of 18 number one albums, 18 number one singles, and 10 number one DVDs worldwide.

The are ranked highly in almost every possible list by viewers, listeners, music critics, television channels, polls. Not just the band, but each member individually is recognised as a songwriter or master of their instrument — and all are considered brilliant vocalists.

But it doesn’t stop there; there was a musical called We Will Rock You,  by Ben Elton, Brian May and Roger Taylor, which was produced by Robert De Niro, and has proved to be a record-breaking worldwide hit musical.  There’s even a ballet by Sean Bovim, and a computer game called Queen: The eYe, and they have regularly featured in Guitar Hero and Rockband games and even Karaoke software (Singstar).

The band did the soundtrack for the film, Flash! Featuring their hit, Who Wants To Live Forever?

Their songs are so well-know, yet so varied: Fat Bottomed Girls, The Show Must Go On, Who Wants to Live Forever?, A Kind of Magic, Princes of the Universe, Hammer to Fall, I Want to Break Free, Under Pressure (with David Bowie), Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Bicycle Race, Tie Your Mother Down, Somebody to Love, You’re my Best Friend, Love of My Life, The Prophet’s Song, Seven Seas of Rye, Killer Queen, Keep Yourself Alive, I Want It All, I’m Going Slightly Mad, One Vision, and dozens more.

The odd thing about Queen was that they managed to be heavy metal at the beginning — despite being called Queen and having an outrageously gay front man.  They were forgiven everything for being extremely talented — Freddie’s vocals were in no way run-of-the-mill, he even did a duet with an Opera Diva (Barcelona) — the man could sing. Deacon’s bass lines are just legendary, not merely the obvious ones like Under Pressure, Another One Bites The Dust, but pick a Queen song at random, and you will find a real treat.  Taylor’s extremely high vocal and jazz-class drumming have transformed every single song, and is signature for the band’s sound — along with Brian May’s unique guitar sound and virtuoso playing.

May was — for me– even more brilliant for the intrigue, the air of wonder that he played with an old British sixpenny piece, that his dad made his guitar, Red Special.  This was in no way a band that was cashing in or following any trends or jumping on any bandwagons.  This is probably why they were left alone by the Punks in the ’70s — they were authentic, they were nothing but themselves doing their own thing — and that is perhaps their greatest legacy — the inspiration to create without limitation by manifesto.

Annoyingly, they seemed to do all this effortlessly.  They were self-deprecating, they took the mickey out of themselves. This is so definitively British, that I would hazard to say that there is no more British a band as Queen.

Rhythms, tempo changes, key changes, riffs, melody, harmony, simplicity and complexity — Queen have it all. Originally they shunned synthesisers and sequencers, and relied on overdubbing and production techniques.  They evolved as a band, they grew, and they set the bar. High.

They have been a part of the soundtrack to all our lives since 1972, they have sold, won and done everything. I cannot think of a band that balanced just so — they were bad boys, drinkers and drug-takers, they partied hard, yet everyone loved them. They were respected by hardcore drummers and singers, bassists and guitarists, yet they dressed as women in their promos and Mercury was overtly over the top flamboyantly gay. Genius stuff.

On a personal note, one of the maddest nights I have had was in the Scottish Border town of Annan a decade or more ago, when all the local men in the town dressed up as Freddie Mercury in white vests and false moustaches, to a man carrying floor brooms as mic stands, striking Mercury poses and postures for a charity night at some pub or other.  I had to wipe the tears from my eyes from laughing so hard.

So thus ends my tribute to Queen, unique and mad and very, very, British. The biggest influence on popular music and production anyone could imagine!

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MIKE MYERS

17 September 2011

[Picture of Mike Myers]On the face of it Mike Myers is a comedian who has done a lot of TV, voice-overs and movies. But saying just that would be doing the man an injustice; Mike Myers is one of the most culturally significant people I can imagine.

It is staggering how much of a cultural influence Myers has had on my life — and all our lives (like it or not). Wayne’s World was the start here in the UK, although he was a TV star in the states on the extremely cool and very famous Saturday Night Live (SNL).  How can one film have so many “catchphrases”? Because of Wayne’s World, people suddenly were “blowing chunks” instead of being sick, girls were “Foxes” and “Babes”, and described as “Hot”. People still say: “Oh yes, it will be mine” in a silly voice — as well as “exsqueeze me!”.  The most infamous linguistic feature was certainly adding “Not” to the end of an assertion to negate it — “She’s a babe (not)”.

[Picture of Wayne from Wayne's World]Wayne’s World changed the world, the everyday world of the early 1990s.  People started speaking that silly Wayne’s speak —  and it remains. Wayne and Garth are archetypes now for middle class teenagers. This rock-loving age group speak in strange ways, repeating in-jokes, memes, catchphrases, stock-phrasing, triggered responses and the like. “Shwing”, and “We’re not worthy!” are context-dependent AND are accompanied with specific gestures and actions.  It is a rich and complex form of social comment and comedy.

Myers’ characters used contrived rituals and language, and referred to a lot of contemporary TV shows and films. These cultural references actually make the characters and the strange world in which they live.  There kids were good with girls, confident, and in an affluent, safe world.

These teenagers were not body-conscious, filled with fear of failure, in poverty, or at odds with authority.  There are no references to acne, masturbation, drugs, drink, bullying, careers, huffy hormonal imbalances, nocturnality, and all the other things that real teenagers are about.

Nevertheless Myers managed to get Wayne & co to come across as genuine, authentic, naïve, likeable, and even aspirational at times.

The film doesn’t date because it taps into time-honoured classic cultural memes and themes, such as Alice Cooper, Stairway To Heaven, Bohemian Rhapsody, Fender Stratocasters, Hockey, Burgers, TV, records and all the things that have targeted teenagers for decades.  Even the fashion is the same — Mackinaws, tee-shorts, jeans, converse shoes, baseball hats.

But Myers did not stop there. He came up with the deliciously mental “So I Married an Axe Murderer” — which is the greatest Scottish movie ever.

His crowning glory might be the voice of Shrek in the Pixar cartoon movies, but for me, it would probably be “Austin Powers“, “Dr Evil” and “Fat Bastard”.

[Pictures of Mike Myers in various guises]

What an influence on our every day culture — “Get out of my swamp!” (in Shrek’s voice), or “Ooo Baby” (in Austin Powers’s voice).

He’s Canadian, but seems to have cornered the market in Britishness (Charlie from So I Married an Axe Murderer, the cartoon ogre, Shrek, and Fat Bastard are all Scottish , Austin Powers and Dr Evil are English).

[Picture of Myers as Fat Bastard]People today impersonate Austin Powers, Dr Evil, Shrek, Fat Bastard, Wayne, Garth routinely — from doing the phrases, and the voices to full costume.

I cannot think of another comedian, or another human being who has had such an influence on popular culture as Mike Myers, and this is my recognition for that and personal tribute to him.

As a footnote, when I was younger, The Bangles were around the charts, and every young lad of my age fancied the pants off Susanna Hoffs. Myers plays in a band with Hoffs called Ming Tea. Myers sings as Austin Powers, Hoffs  is Jillian Shagwell, lead guitar and backing vocals. How cool is THAT?

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PETER SELLERS

29 May 2011

[Picture of Sellers as Clouseau]Peter Sellers is a childhood hero of mine.  I cannot think of him without smiling.  Loads of people have said that Peter Sellers is the greatest comedian of all time. They just might be right.

However, a lot has been written about Sellers, but most of this is rubbish.  I say that, not because I know better; I never met him, and never knew him. I say that because most of what’s been written has been by people who also didn’t know him either. There is also a lot of looking back with today’s prevalent views and dominant ideology, and I don’t think you should do that; Sellers was a man of those times, not of today’s.

I can recall the way men were when I was younger and everyone smoked and drank. I can remember my father’s friends and I can still pick up the vibe.  Those were days when women dressed very differently from men.  The gender gap was massive compared with today.  There was a man’s world and Sellers lived and worked there.  Back then you could understand someone turning down open-heart surgery after having 13 heart attacks in a short space of time.

I do not believe he was depressed in the modern sense.  I think he was a very creative and humorous personality, and this would naturally lead to periods of writer’s block, and of boredom.  I don’t think we ought to make too much of any of that.  Humans have good times and bad times, I think we can forgive and forget most of the normal human errors and traits in favour of the aspects that matter — in Sellers’s case, what made him loved and famous was his creativity, his fun and his personality.

I was not really old enough for The Goon Show era, but I did appreciate these later when I heard them. I got into Milligan, and then Sellers made it big.

Dudley Moore sort of did the same thing later — a very specialised form of comedy, and a not-all-that-good-looking man making it big in the States.  Super models and yachts in the South of France.  Sellers blazed that trail.

Sellers and Moore are so valuable in that respect.  This cannot be underestimated; it shows that yes, it IS possible to live that life — to join the megarich Hollywood jetset — as long as you had genuine talent. And you do not have to sell-out and change!  And its not just Dud, Rowan Atkinson has gone into movies, and he’s a hit with Mr Bean (even in cartoon form), Russell Brand is just starting.

[Cartoon Inspector]For me, and so many others, Peter Sellers was definitely a role model.  I adored his out takes (I am pretty sure he single-handedly invented the out take genre); they showed the fun he had at work.  Hey, I wanted to have a job like that.  Imagine enjoying your work? Everyday would be such fun! He was such a student of human nature (all mimics are), too much is made of him saying he had no personality as he was always adopting a character or other — THAT was his personality, he interprets and reflects, and uses inventive ways to communicate his views and feelings. I can identify with that, sometimes I have to put on a silly voice to say something important, and I really don’t know why, other than it is how I somehow have to do it!

I simply remember Inspector Jacques Clouseau as one of the funniest characters I have ever seen.  I love all the Pink PanthersSteve Martin, sorry, but the role is Sellers’s.  These films always make me laugh – and without fail – and within a few minutes because they are so tightly written, gag after  gag of comedy genius.

There really has been nothing to match it since.  The nearest have been American self-referential cultural parodies, such as  Porky’s,  Animal House, Police Academy, Police Squad, and Airplane.  All very silly, very, very funny, but not ground-breakingly genre-inventing original.  Pink Panther came from nowhere, it set the bar.  Edwards and Sellers were not doing ironic humour, developing a TV show sketch or referring to modern media culture (such as The Simpsons and Family Guy do).

[Picture of Sellers as Dr Strangelove]The legacy is obvious — not just the cartoon character in the Pink Panther show, or the Goon Show’s influence on Monty Python and so forth. But the character of Dr Strangelove too. We couldn’t have ‘Allo ‘Allo with their rubbish French accents without Clouseau. Harry Enfield and so many of today’s British comedians refer back to Goons, Sellers and Python as a matter of course.  But Sellers was kinda cool too, everyone wanted to be around that type of guy because it was going to be good fun.

Peter Sellers’s biggest feat was being able to pull off being a really funny comedian, yet being a proper grown up man (he managed never to come across as a fool or an idiot). He managed to be one of the cool crowd, a jet-setter, with his own ratpack, and yet he stayed himself.  He often said he was always in character as there was no Peter Sellers character, but he never changed into an American fake or flake.  For a man with no character, he had bags of something that everyone could agree was “Peter Sellers”.

I read not that long ago that he was brought up with a strict Roman Catholic education, and because his mother was Jewish, he was sensitive to religious topics especially anti-Semitic or bigoted comments.  He was not of any religion, but it is very clear that he had a strong moral compass.  He shared that with his close friend in the Goons, Harry Secombe – who later presented a long-running Christian Hymn programme on British TV.

But it is telling that with his health crises, he never turned to religion, but to alternative therapies.

“Being There” was simply wonderful acting, and a triumph in that it showed the preposterousness of our ways without hamming up the comedy. Textbook example of exactly how this ought to be done.

Ultimately, you can look back over Sellers’s work knowing that it is safe — you can watch with your family without fear. No political subtexts, no cultural references to date it, no swearing or off-colour stuff.  It’s not Carry-On, it’s not Benny Hill slapstick, it’s just real life with the fun squeezed to the fore. It shows up the preposterousness and pomposity of our world.

That’ll do me. It’s timeless; we never learn.

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FAKING IT

13 November 2010

It’s sad when you see folks losing their jobs, and it always brings it home to me that many concepts still held dear by many, are in fact outdated and no longer valid.

For example, you cannot declare that you have graduated and therefore finished with learning, there is no such thing as a job-for-life (nor even job security). People are worried still about having a “proper” rational or logical career path! In this modern world, they key word is adaptability and variety — the ability to adjust, change, adapt and keep-up.

Way back in 2001, I came across Channel Four’s “Faking It”; this is superb TV, and unlike so many other shows, no-one is exploited,  ridiculed or victimised in the name of entertainment; everyone’s a winner. Here’s the “blurb”:

Entertaining transformational battles against the odds. Intrepid volunteers are plucked from their natural habitat and given just four weeks to master a skill well enough to fool a panel of expert judges.

I remember a fast-food van burger flip cook faked being a proper restaurant chef. A painter-and-decorator was shown how to fake it as a conceptual artist — that was fantastic TV! There was a chap called Spence who was a man’s man; he was a big, strong, hairy chap with a homophobic navy sea-going background, and he learned to be a Drag Queen!   A male ballet dancer became a wrestler, a vicar started selling cars, and a waitress from a ferry became a woman yachtsman.  There were loads like this, and not one was bad.

  • The show actually changed people forever; they even had a “Faking It Changed My Life” programme.

There are many lessons to be gleaned about tolerance, open-mindedness, the benefit of hard work and applying oneself, learning and teaching methods, bonding, microcosmic societies and cultural mores.  It shows what we, each of us, are capable of, what we can do with our lives when we “think outside of the box”.  You leave each episode filled with joy, hope and a sense of opportunity and possibilities.

Of course, they are “Faking It” — the clue is in the title, but while they are not actually suggesting that you can have a complete career change after 4 weeks’ training (although it can happen), it does show how much of everyone’s daily life is maintained at 10 per cent skill level — people work well under their capability.

I remember seeing a movie years ago about a man who pretended to be a doctor in a hospital, and as I couldn’t recall the name of this film, I tried to look it up — and although I couldn’t find anything on-line to jog my memory, I was struck by the amount of real (and recent) instances of men faking it as a hospital doctor.

In May 2008, Eric Perteet fooled his own wife pretending to be a doctor at Piedmont Hospital’s ER in Atlanta USA, a year before that — at Tampa General Hospital (also in the USA), Anthony James David gave up being a landscape gardener to pretend to be a hospital doctor.  He was arrested wearing blue scrubs on his way to work!

Eric and Anthony may have been loonies, but they were harmless as they didn’t actually try to do anything medical.  That would be really crazy — like Scott E. Hanson, a 22-year-old from a town called Crooked River Ranch in the USA, who in April just last year (2009), actually performed surgery on at least three people, according to the police. Scott had no medical training, and operated in his victims homes for an eight month period!  Now, not only is Scott seriously loony-toons, but so is the system that allowed this to happen and to take so long to detect and stop.

The thing about Scott is that he wasn’t clever enough, unlike the infamous Frank Abagnale Jr — the fraudster played by Leonardo di Caprio in Speilberg’sCatch me If You Can” — Abagnale pretended to be a pilot and actually flew people around for years.  He pulled this off by being very clever and talented. He applied himself and worked hard.

Abagnale also pretended to be a hospital doctor for nearly a year! He invented a character called Dr Frank Conners to get an apartment where he became friends with a  neighbour who was a doctor at a hospital in Georgia. Dr Conners became the chief resident paediatrician, supervising interns as a favour to this neighbour — just until they found someone who could take the job full-time. Abagnale/ Conners did not find the job difficult because supervisors do not have to do any actual medical work. He was able to fake his way through most of his duties by letting the interns handle most of the cases that came in during his late night shift, for example setting broken bones and other such tasks. When the hospital finally found a proper replacement, Abagnale left undiscovered, and returned to his life of crime and fraud.

I have met a great many people who “Fake it” in the sense that they are given a task that they are not qualified for, and they get on with it — and learn along the way.  Who is to say that the end result is “bad”.  Can a person who has acquired skills through being self-taught or informally coached be considered as less than a qualified but inept person? Is there a congruence — where what a qualified person has forgotten equals what a “Faker” has never known, that the two share the same practical, everyday, knowledge and skills base?

My whole life is like that; I don’t use my qualifications at all — never have!  Instead, I have always earned my living by doing things on a self-taught, get-it-done basis.  I pick things up quickly, and know that everyone around me is doing the same.  It must be really hard to leave a line of work for a while; on returning, everything would have moved on. New software and equipment is coming out all the time, nothing stays the same for very long, life is continuous development. So it is mainly all about positive attitude, confidence, applying yourself and getting immersed and totally involved.  Just like the TV show.

Maybe “Faking It” is a bad term; it carries with it connotations of fraud, deceit and not-being-true, honest or right and proper. Although we all have to do it these days, it doesn’t mean that we are deranged like Eric or  Anthony, deranged and dangerous like Scott, or clever and fraudulent like Frank. Someone needs to come up with a better description than “Faking It”.

It has always been the case that graduates arrive in the workplace filled with qualifications, and have to start learning their job and career from scratch.  It’s about experience and learning procedures and shortcuts, being effective, and making money. You go from being immersed in academia, to being immersed in the real world. That takes some adjustment, but immersion is key.

The applying and the immersion also seem to apply to learning a foreign language; it is easier and better to give up your mother tongue for a while and live and breathe the other language in that country.

Some actors immerse themselves in a character, and this amounts to an episode of “Faking It” for they get coached by experts.  One has to imagine that this also has the potential to change them forever.  If I had a chat show, that is something I definitely would pursue with celebrity interviews. In fact, the process would make an excellent “Faking It” show in its own right.

The first time I saw Gwyneth Paltrow was in “Shakspeare in Love”, and I thought she was English born and bred; her accent was spot on. I must say, however, that I dismissed her as yet another starlet, possibly because she was engaged to Brad Pitt for years and then dated Ben Affleck for years as well.

I started to revise my opinion a little when I found out that she was not English, then I found out that she was fluent in Spanish as a result of spending a year in Spain as a 15 year-old exchange student.  Personally, I reckon that this application and immersion has affected her in her approach to work.

Mind you, I always revise my opinions when I discover that a person is fluent in another language, or that they play an instrument or sing. Sandra Bullock is fluent in German. Cate Blanchett was superb in the Italian movie, “Heaven“, and Jodie Foster was a surprise French-speaker in “A very Long Engagement“. Juliette Binoche was amazing in “Certified Copy” — acting her socks off in French, English and Italian!

Kevin Spacey sings and is a great impersonator, and I liked the guitar-playing, country-singing River Pheonix in “Thing Called Love”.

[Embedded video clip of River Phoenix singing in “Thing Called Love” on Youtube]

Tonight, I’ve just seen Paltrow sing country to promote her film that is coming out next year. She had the guts to sing live at the Annual Country Music Awards in front of all the established Country Music performers.  Sounds like “Faking It” again!

[Embedded videoclip of Paltrow at CMA singing Live “Country Strong” YouTube]

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtnnOoxw9yo&]

I think she has the country twang to a tee, and did a good job.  Of course some people will say that she’s an actress and not a country singer — but what is that all about?  There’s no qualifications for either, really, certainly, if she sells tickets or CDs, then that’s what she does and is — just the same as everybody else!

[Embedded Trailer for “Country Strong” clip from YouTube]

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOLzfxrgvKM&]

So if no-one can invent a better term, I hope that “Faking It” loses some of its negativity, because that’s what we do — that’s what we all do all day every day; we have to — and that’s how we survive.  We learn by immersion and applying ourselves, then the world changes — no sooner have you learned all the features on your phone than it gets upgraded, you got used to XP and out comes Windows 7, you learned to fax, now you e-mail. There’re no qualifications, no courses for all this stuff we have to do, it’s just so sad to see folks being sad about losing their jobs, and worrying about what to put in their CVs, if only the attitudes and systems could catch-up with the Faking It environment in which we all live, the world would be a happier place.

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KICK ASS

11 May 2010

I saw ‘Kick Ass’ tonight, and surprised myself for enjoying it; I didn’t expect to watch it right through, but I did, and I was engaged the whole time.

The lead role is played by the guy who played young John Lennon in ‘Nowhere Boy’ – an English chap called Aaron Johnson. He plays a New York dork, a High School comic-book geek called Dave Lizewski who buys a scuba suit and decides to become a crime-fighter — a superhero without powers.

Meanwhile Nicolas Cage and 11-year-old daughter are getting back at the police and a drug baron ‘Frank D’Amico’ (played brilliantly by Mark Strong) by dressing up as superheroes.  Dave’s YouTube hit hero (‘Kick-Ass’) gets confused with Cage’s ‘hero’ and war breaks out.

I’m trying not to spoil it here.  Go see this film; it’s worth it for an evening’s entertainment.  It’s got the quirky editing and perfect comedy timing of the modern era, it’s never dull, completely over the top, and somehow believable in that you willingly surrender your disbelief throughout. The script is crafted to allay all your fears and qualms, and turns the plot around to their benefit.  basically, you are putty in their hands.

This is a beautifully crafted film, wonderfully lit, great editing, superb camera work and great direction.  Cage clearly relishes his role, from interacting with his daughter to dressing as Batman.

The moral tales about judging a book by its cover, retribution, bullying, perseverance, doing the right thing, not standing-by, but standing up — and more are there, so are explosions, torture, various acts of violence, kung fu, love interest, teen angst, comic fantasy, drugs, and everything else inbetween.  It has a broad sweeping range of everything, from pretty criminals to master criminals, good policemen to bad policemen, contradictions and moral grey areas.

It is a boy’s film, mind you, not for adults or females. Go enjoy!

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VIRNA LISI

17 March 2010

[Picture of Movie Poster for How to Murder Your Wife]In today’s’ parlance, O.M.G.

The one and only time I have seen Virna Lisi has been in one of my all-time favourite movies, she plays “Mrs Ford” in “How To Murder Your Wife (1965)” starring Terry-Thomas, Eddie Mayehoff and Jack Lemmon. What a film!

She is simply STUNNING looking. She speaks Italian and cooks all the time. She was so utterly perfect for this film! She has a waist like Sophia Loren (see picture below) and everything else better than the rest. More arresting than even than Marilyn Monroe, bustier than Diana Dors, sexier than Brigitte Bardot. Virna Lisi had it all. Seriously. Wow.

[Picture of a young Sophia Loren with small waist]

The thing for me, was her face. I remember thinking I really liked her face and suddenly realising that the face was important as you would have to look at it most often! In other words, it was not all about curves!

[Picture of Virna Lisi in How to Murder Your Wife]

Virna Lisi is simply gorgeous, and her name is like the Mona Lisa, she’s a work of art!

I tell you what: I saw her in this film, and although I looked long and hard in the real world as well as film, I never saw anything come as close. Virna Lisi is in a class of her own. A goddess.

[Monochrome Picture of Virna Lisi] [Monochrome picture of sexy Virna Lisi]

I adored this film — the cartoons, the draughtsmanship, the photography, the bachelorhood, even Hefti’s music.  It epitomised The Playboy lifestyle. The way this Italian wreaks havoc on the poor guy, the way the American lady works on her to turn her into a standard nag. Ah, what a film on so many levels!  Lisi actually meets Lemmon by jumping half-naked from a cake! How good does it get? OK, it actually gets better when she dances on the piano, but hey.

Her long eyelashes, her lipstick’d pout, her dreamy come-to-bedness, her curves, her innocence, her Italian-ness. The bob of Blonde hair. (A BLONDE Italian???) Ooh, what a heady mix. How could anyone kill all that?

[Picture of Virna Lisi on Piano in How to Murder Your Wife] [Picture of Virna Lisi sleeping in Jack Lemmon's Bed in "How to murder your wife"]

Why don’t they make ’em like that any more?

This film made me want to work at a drawing board, take photographs, have a brilliant bachelor pad/ NY town-house,  work things by remote control, have membership to a gentlemen-only club with steam rooms and a pool, and have a butler who made me cocktails and got the shower working properly for me in the morning. Ah, one can dream can’t one?

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