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Showing posts from April, 2019

NOW THE WORLD IS READY FOR YOU [167]

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My local cinema multiplex is showing “Avengers: Endgame” thirty-six times today. Quite rightly, the reviews for the film, in its opening weekend, have remarked on the extraordinary achievement that has been the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and how it ties up the eleven years of connected storylines that unfolded and weaved through large numbers of films and TV series, coming together for event storylines, and characters appearing in each other’s films. I remember first hearing, in 2005, that Marvel Entertainment had secured a credit facility with Merrill Lynch to start making its own films, intending from the start to make a series of films that would come together, and I just thought, “they’re doing what now?” However, it has not been enough for me to invest the time in watching all these series, as while their characters and storylines were being introduced to the wider public, I had already been catching up on some of them for years. The first superhero comic book I ever

I PUT A SPELL ON YOU [166]

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Few films could ever get away with the explanation that extreme violence and imagery is required to tell its narrative correctly, and “H ä xan” (Swedish for “The Witch,” and pronounced “haexen”), looking at the history of mysticism and the occult, is one of the rarer cases that invented a new type of film to do it. Introduced as “a presentation from a historical and cultural point of view, in 7 chapters of moving pictures,” “H ä xan” is one of the first examples of documentary, one with historical reconstruction too, but the events retold were so horrifying it was heavily censored around the world, and was banned outright in the United States for many years. I had always got the impression “H ä xan” was a bit like “Nosferatu,” in that the producer was involved with the occult in some way - in fact, the money was provided by Svensk Filmindustri, later Ingmar Bergman’s employer, and still running today . The idea for the film did come from its maker, the film and stage actor/di

HERE YOU COME AGAIN [165]

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One month ago, the quiz show “Blockbusters” came back to British television, again. This time, it is on Comedy Central, hosted by Dara O Briain, and while all the elements that have lodged the show in our collective memory are there, it just doesn’t quite feel the same, just like the last few times it has been revived. For the few left that don’t know, “Blockbusters” tests whether two heads are better than one, asking general knowledge questions to a solo player and a duo. Players pick questions from a 5 x 4 board of letters, with each letter beginning an answer. The team that can draw a line of correct answers across the board (vertical for the solo player, horizontally for the duo) wins the game, going on to play the Gold Run for a big prize. Few general knowledge quizzes are also games of strategy: you are essentially playing Noughts and Crosses against your opponent, blocking them from making their line, forcing them to take the long way around. If you reached t

CLIMB INSIDE A DOG, AND BEHEAD AN ESKIMO [164]

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Later than you always should, you realise how responsible your parents are for the person you become. My dad’s renting a collection of “The Goon Show,” on cassette from the local library, sent me down a surreal road through British comedy, and I remember watching an episode of “Have I Got News for You” with my parents in 1993, when Roy Hattersley failed to appear, and was replaced with a tub of lard. However, I had finished watching the first episode of “The Smell of Reeves & Mortimer,” in 1994, thinking, “well, I don’t know what that was about. After coming across episodes of the satirical puppet sketch show “Spitting Image” online, I remembered my parents taping this show, at 10pm on a Sunday night, for me to watch after school the following day. This first episode I saw turned out to be the first of the eleventh series, broadcast on 10 th November 1991 - I was eight years old at the time. “Spitting Image,” which ran from 1984 to 1996 really was the right show at th

WE DO OUR BEST, WE TRY TO PLEASE [163]

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Fifty years have now passed since the release of “Philosophy of the World,” the first album by The Shaggs. Fifty years have also passed since it started being described as one of the worst records ever made: the most often repeated critique, from a review in “Rolling Stone,” described the group of three sisters as sounding like “lobotomised Trapp family singers,” while their playing is described as amateur at best, incompetent at worst. I first came across the album from a video online, describing it in terms of being “so bad it’s good.” With musical taste being entirely subjective, I needed to listen for myself. What I heard conjured up words like “naïve,” “nervous,” “charming,” “claustrophobic” and “insightful.” The Shaggs sound like a typical 1960s American garage band, but one that was caught on record before they were ready to play in public. Discussing the music of The Shaggs in 2019 is entirely bound up with the story of the Wiggin family: Dorothy on vocals and l

THE ANTS GO MARCHING ONE BY ONE [162]

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In “Un Chien Andalou,” the 1929 surrealist short film by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali, there is a shot of ants crawling out of a hole in the palm of someone’s hand. Having watched, as a child, ants working on small dead animals, Dali used ants in his work to symbolise decay, the ephemeral, and decadence. In “Phase IV,” a 1974 feature film by Saul Bass, a cosmic event causes a colony of ants to undergo rapid evolution, creating hive minds, and colonising the world. Dali did not write the script, but he might as well have. This film is often considered to be bad, or difficult to understand, and was one of the first films to be “riffed” on the series “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” when it was still on local television in Minneapolis. It was a good indication of what the show would become once it was seen on national TV, when it was given the resources needed to find the very worst films, but when you are working with what exists in the library of a local TV station, you are g

A GREEN PLASTIC WATERING CAN [161]

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Arriving at the checkout in my local Ikea, waiting to pay for a wooden stool and some paper drinking straws, I looked to my left in disbelief. The area had been piled high with one impulse purchase, like you would find chocolate bars when you pay at a supermarket. However, what Ikea had was a giant cube, packed with tiny plastic potted Jurassic succulent plants, in tiny plastic pots, with a layer of fake plastic soil, for only 95p each. I laughed, because that was all I could do, apart fr om buy one and take it home. Some weeks later, I found another of these things sticking out from an array of real plants, perhaps the result of a customer realising what they were doing, and buying a proper one. It stuck out badly – something looking more life-like would cost far more, organic or not. I bought that one as well. They are now both at work, taking the place of a real Jurassic plant I thought had died, but thrived once I had put it away in a drawer, the deprivation of water and lig

I WANT YOUR PSYCHO, YOUR VERTIGO SHTICK [160]

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Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” is regarded as the ur-text of the American horror genre, but its three sequels have proved harder to find, because of their being perceived as both inferior to the original, and, and as an obvious and poor answer to the rise of slasher film franchises like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”. However, Arrow Video have released “Psycho II” on DVD and Blu-ray, under licence from Universal Pictures, so I braced myself, and handed over some money. As much as Hitchcock did not like the idea of sequels to his own films - although he had remade his British film “The Man Who Knew Too Much” in Hollywood, with James Stewart and Doris Day - “Psycho II” was always going to be out of his hands, especially by his dying three years before its 1983 release. Hitchcock had sold the rights to “Psycho” and his “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” TV series to Universal in 1968, with the film having already made $18 million at the box office – not bad for having spent $800,000 of y