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Showing posts from 2019

SINCE THE WORLD’S BEEN TURNING [214]

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With so many end-of-year and end-of-decade lists scattered around, I decided to draw a line under the 2010s by recounting a couple of things that happened to me in 2019 that could not have been contemplated in 2010, and what that means for me in 2020. The thought of starting a video version of “Leigh Spence is Dancing with the Gatekeepers” had not entered my mind even at the start of 2019 but, starting with equipment I was using for other things, namely my iPhone, iPad, and a £10 tripod, I ended the year having already made seven videos – expect more of these in 2020, because bringing my words to life appears to be working out very well. Making semi-professional video as easy as possible to create was the iPad - introduced in 2010, was by no means the first tablet, but it was the one that eliminated the desktop PC from many homes. Using your fingers on a screen to correct colour levels in videos, when you have overlaid a picture of yourself onto a photograph via a green scr

OUT OF SIGHT IN THE NIGHT [213]

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I first saw the 1955 film “The Big Combo” fifteen years ago, as part of my degree studies, so to find it a year ago in HMV, then newly released on Blu-ray, made it a no-brainer purchase. It is almost a stereotypical example of a film noir, with hard-boiled dialogue, hard-boiled actors and hard-boiled shadows. However, I was originally shown the film for the uncharacteristic degree of hopefulness that lied behind the film as it was being made. “The Big Combo” is known as a “nervous A” picture, released by Allied Artists, which had been set up by the B-movie company Monogram as a unit for more lavish and interesting, but still cheaper, productions - it is this thinking that led Jean-Luc Godard to dedicate his first film, 1959’s “A Bout de Souffle” (known in English as “Breathless”) to Monogram.  Therefore, “The Big Combo” was an example of a film where the use of low light to mark cheap sets, using fewer camera set-ups, and using a jazz-influenced score over a full orchestra,

SOMEONE MUTTERS AND THE STREETLAMP GUTTERS [212]

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For the benefit of anyone reading this in the years following the 2019 release of “Cats,” the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical, there was actually quite a backlash at the time. Basically, an embargo on reviews of the film, led to a number of scathing reviews being released at the same time, disparaging the choices made in the adaptation, most notably for replacing stage costumes and make-up with computer-generated cat ears and fur, placing Edwardian London in the centre of the “Uncanny Valley.” I decided to watch the film anyway, not put off by the reports of reviews, and mainly because I would rather make my mind up on such matters. It would be hypocritical for someone that writes about films to swear off a production based on what someone else wrote. I am so used to analysing films that I don’t much care if something is spoiled, because how those spoiled moments are reached may be just as interesting. That said, “Cats” brings up an old British saying:

WE’RE ALL GONNA ROCK TO THE RULES THAT I MAKE [211]

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It is unlike me not to engage with politics, or to even follow it, as my writing here attests, but when it came to the 2019 General Election, and the inevitability of a Conservative win in order to end the deadlock over Brexit, I switched off very quickly. I received my postal vote nearly three weeks before the day of the election, and put the completed vote through my town hall’s letterbox hours before the Conservative Party announced their manifesto. Once the exit poll was declared at 10pm on Thursday 12 th December, declaring a Tory victory by 80-plus seats, I lasted fifteen more minutes before needing to watch something else – I missed the election-night tradition of looking into the counting taking place at the UK’s enormous variety of sports halls. I consider myself politically to be slightly left of the centre, meaning I usually vote for a different party with each election, but never the right-wing Conservatives. Then again, my home town has had a Conservative MP since a

TAKE ME DOWN WHERE THE GOOD STUFF GROWS [210]

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My Sony Walkman holds my CD collection of over twenty years, spanning hundreds of discs, and thousands of songs, with a few downloads squeezed in too... and yet, why do the same ten tracks swirl around in my mind? It’s time to look at what the algorithm is currently suggesting to me – not YouTube or Spotify’s algorithm, but the one in my head. Warning: contains Eighties and synthesisers. 1) HIP TO BE SQUARE – Huey Lewis and the News Far from needing Patrick Bateman of “American Psycho” to recommend it to you, the tight rock guitars, organ, brass and saxophone hides an often missed ironic statement: Huey Lewis is not saying it’s hip to be square, he’s saying, “I can tell what’s going on” – the slick, professional, business-suited bands of the time were just another trend. Punchier than “The Power of Love,” “Hip to Be Square” has no quiet moments, and never lets up its pace – both its sound and message are timeless. 2) GOOD STUFF – The B52s The Netflix special “Rocko’s M

FORGETTING YOU IS A THING THAT I CANNOT DO [209]

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In the bad movie canon, because there is one, the 1966 film "Manos: The Hands of Fate" is a dubiously cited as the worst film ever made, even over established dreck like "Plan 9 from Outer Space," “Troll 2,” and “Myra Breckinridge.” It is one thing for industry professionals to produce a film that ultimately fails, as the successes will write off their costs. However, the notoriety of “Manos,” a film mostly spoken about to highlight its mistakes, may have helped it to survive and, having watched it, the film’s ongoing story may now have brought closure to the people that made it. “Manos: The Hands of Fate” is the very simple story of a family getting lost on their way to a holiday home, and stumbling upon the lair of a cult. All human life is here - the innocents, the "Master", his henchman, the followers / wives / concubines, and the guard dog. Add eerie imagery, darkness, a creepy portrait, and many images of hands – the title is liter

EVERYONE SEEMS TO KNOW THE SCORE [208]

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Please see below for the script I used: Hello there. It shouldn’t need this much effort, but even a gigantic piece of technology can still tell me that two plus two is four. So, this is the Sports Direct giant calculator. For those outside the UK, Sports Direct is a sporting goods and fashion retailer, towards the cheaper end of the market, but they are also the owners of sporting labels like Slazenger, Everlast and Lonsdale. They are also in the business of selling giant novelty items with their logo plastered on them, like mugs, bowls, and calculators. It cost me all of four pounds to buy, and the cashier smiled when I asked for one – they were on a peg behind her, so I couldn’t just reach over and take one. You can buy similar calculators without the logo, but it’s one more thing with “Sports Direct” on it, and that’s why it exists. Nothing else about this says “sport,” does it? Despite the size this is still a calculator, working like any other... to a point. You’ll

WE’RE THE MASTERS OF SPACE [207]

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As I write, the latest “Star Wars” trilogy is due to end, with “The Rise of Skywalker.” I was not stirred when watching the trailer at the cinema – it was the same tropes, characters and references, in a different order, with all the finality of a “Friday the 13th” film’s ending. Mind you, the unsettling experience of watching the feature, “Joker,” perked me back up, using its own bag of intellectual property to create a powerful psychological portrait.  No wonder a “Star Wars” parody appeals to me – forcing yourself to be original by approaching your source material from a different direction. Even better, "Spaceballs" is not just a good parody of "Star Wars," but a credible science fiction film in its own right, after I forgot I was watching a parody. In 1987, the original "Star Wars" trilogy had been complete for four years, giving the pre-internet general public, not just hardcore fans, enough time to soak in the references that Mel Brooks w

I SEE IT ALL, IT HAS NO GLORY [206]

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“Deliberately scarifying and highly commercial shocker with little but its art direction to commend it to connoisseurs.” With Halloween over, we are approaching that time to be thankful again and, for lovers of films, Christmas roots you to your sofa, with the biggest TV premières saved for the festive period. You may also be given a book or two as a present, a popular choice being books with curated, “definitive” lists, with titles like “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” – ironically, updated versions of that book come out each year, so anyone who saw a film displaced by new entries for the 2019 edition, like “Sorry to Bother You” and “The Favourite,” may have to reassess their options. The above quote, for Ridley Scott’s original “Alien” (1979), came from “Halliwell’s Film Guide,” an originator of the annual film guides that forced their ways into homes each Christmas, from magazine publishers like “Radio Times, “Empire” and “Time Out,” and from critics like Leonard

AND SCREW YOUR WIG ON TIGHT [205]

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The story of enterprising and ribald comedian Rudy Ray Moore, and how he made the outrageous blaxploitation comedy “Dolemite,” is worth retelling for how Moore inhabited a character far larger than life and tastes could allow, recording explicit stand-up albums, leading to films, all forced into life by sheer force of Dolemite’s will, and Moore’s determination. “Dolemite” could never have been a studio project, but popular culture pierced itself on it very quickly once Moore made it himself. The Netflix comedy “Dolemite Is My Name,” stars Eddie Murphy as one of his heroes, with a script by the writers of Tim Burton’s film “Ed Wood,” in a passion project that took fifteen years to complete. (How is this for six degrees of separation: Rudy Ray Moore starred in “Dolemite,” whose cinematographer, then U.C.L.A. film student Nicholas von Sternberg, was the son of director Josef von Sternberg, who directed Marlene Dietrich in “The Blue Angel” - Dietrich appeared in “Touch of Evil” w

MAMA I’M SURE HARD TO HANDLE [204]

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This is Part 3 of an apparent series about the 1970 film “Myra Breckinridge” – find part 1 here [ link ], and part 2 here [ link ]. In short, I think “Myra Breckinridge” is the worst film ever made because I needed it to be the best ever made, and it wasn’t – a statement I made so snappily in my notes, I didn’t realise I hadn’t used it in my first two thousand words on the subject.  Having given myself time to recover, I can return to my study of “Myra Breckinridge” to discuss what happened next. To further understand my enemy, I have invested in my own copies of the sources of information that have most influenced the opinions made about the film, and one that even Gore Vidal’s original novel couldn’t do without. My intention is ultimately to refer to them when I eventually write the definitive book on “Myra Breckinridge” – I have already pointed out the rarity of a transgender film buff writing about a film whose protagonist is also a transgender film buff – but, in the meantim

WHEN YOU TELL ME WHAT WILL BE [203]

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I don’t like being given opportunities to feel old, especially as I am still in my thirties, but the inevitability of progress in technology, working against my human stubbornness to adapt to a new way of working, will provide more situations to reflect on where that progress leaves you. What am I talking about? It’s more that I don’t expect my devices to talk back at me, mainly because I turned off their ability to talk. Even more, I have turned off their ability to evaluate my commands. Before I make myself sound even more paranoid, this is based on the principle of knowing that, if I want something, I will ask for it. I will not say “Alexa...” or “Hey Siri,” “Hey Google,” “Hey Cortana” – I’m not really a “hey” kind of person – and expect the artificial intelligence based on previous interactions to throw up what it thinks is the right answer, or what is the first answer, or the answer most accessed by others.  The only virtual assistant I do use is Siri, on my Apple TV

I’M GIVING UP ON TRYING TO SELL YOU THINGS THAT YOU AIN’T BUYING [202]

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A direct link to the video is here: https://youtu.be/7v9vB0SNG6I Below is the script for the video:  Hello there, this is Leigh Spence is Dancing with the Gatekeepers, I’m Leigh Spence, and this is Fratton Road, one of the main shopping streets in Portsmouth, on a rainy, windy morning in October 2019 - my umbrella had already broken by this point. It was quite early, and most shops hadn’t opened yet. This video will look around a shopping mall I made a video about two years ago, mostly because I kept getting requests to film an update, and because people like watching videos about dead malls over videos about calculators.  Incidentally, my video about the INTERESTING HP-12C calculator is available on this channel. Fratton Road is receiving money from a Government fund to revitalise high streets, provide better transport links, and find new uses for vacant buildings. However, I don’t see much of a future for the former Troxy cinema, a building so derelict