Monday, 2 May 2016

May Day

Happy May Day Bank Holiday To All My Readers!

Barney Platts-Mills Double Bill: Private Road (1971) St Christopher (1967)

"I might have known he'd be lurking in the bloody herbaceous borders" 

I last watched this in April 2012. A couple of effusive reviews from a friend on Letterboxd reminded me that I really needed to return to this as I felt I wasn't truly fair to it four years ago - which naturally pained me, being such a fan of Bruce Robinson.

It works better on a rewatch and I enjoyed it much more. Like a pleasing mix of Orwell's Keep The Aspidistra Flying, the late 70s sitcom Shelley and Bruce Robinson's own Withnail and I, Private Road is a gentle satire of what it means to grow up in our society. Bruce Robinson and Susan Penhaligon are both beautiful and charmingly inept as our young lovers 'playing' at setting up home and setting out in life, and finding many obstacles in their way; including a disastrous cottage holiday in the wilds of Scotland (which would shadow similar scenes in Withnail over a decade later) rejections from publishers, a friend succumbing to heroin addiction, and an unwanted pregnancy. The playful semi-improvised interplay between the characters - especially Robinson and his real life friend and flatmate Michael Feast (who performs the wonderfully twee, tongue in cheek and memorable score) - is a winningly natural and convincing and makes up for the occasionally stilted approach of others.

Overall though I am still not convinced the film hangs together as cohesively as it perhaps ought to. What we have instead is a series of great scenes such as the holiday-by-mistake in all but name, the easy chemistry between Robinson and Penhaligon, their bemusement at being confronted by a friend's extremely right-on feminist and political girlfriend clutching copies of Black Dwarf ("What do you write for?" she asks Robinson on learning he is a writer, "Money" he replies) a soul destroying meeting at an advertising agency, where not even the philosophy of working styles in the agency is original, and that wonderful closing scene which sees Robinson perform the most ineffectual 'stick up' alongside Feast for a typewriter to return him to creativity. But you know what? That's OK. It's fine to have several good vignettes as opposed to one well structured film, and its took me four years to realise that I guess.

Private Road's release by BFI Flipside in 2011 couldn't have been more timely. Films like fashions are often cyclical and this captured the boho mentality of the early 70s at the same time that such a culture blossomed again amongst the trendy cliques of London hipsterdom. For the instagram generation, Private Road is something of a treat - providing those hipsters can laugh at themselves I guess.

An extra on that BFI Flipside release of Private Road is St. Christopher; a documentary film made four years previously by that film's writer director, Barney Platts-Mills.

It's an absorbing documentary that sheds light on something that is still very much kept away from societies eye; namely the education and care of children and young adults with special educational needs or, as called at the less PC time, 'mentally handicapped'. The film is divided into two parts; the first at the titular St Christopher's, a school in Bristol run by the inspiring Miss Catherine Grace, a former medical secretary and teacher, the second at the Camphill community village in Botton, Yorkshire, an equally admirable project which offers homes and work to young adults with special needs (often directly referred from St Christopher's) to their individual abilities.

Platts-Mills' documentary technique is observational, which certainly shadows his later fictional work too. He's also clearly good at engaging with young people, which would also hold him in good stead with his first 'proper film' Bronco Bullfrog shot two years later with young non-professional actors from Joan Littlewood's Playbarn project. This is especially evident in the scene featuring Ruth, an emotionally troubled child described as 'psychotic' on her arrival at St Christopher's - a condition which seemed to manifest itself in her being unruly and abusive and imitating cats, her favourite animal. He manages to gain her confidence and, over her emotive and vivid drawings, he gets her to open up.

The teachings and practices witnessed in the film stem from the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who believed that each child should learn at their own pace to help fulfill their destiny. Tragically, a spot of research after watching this documentary suggests that St Christopher's is, as of March 2016, no more after 71 years of service because of financial difficulties. Links to the school's site take you to something called 'The Aurora Group' which purports to be 'coming soon'. I am therefore relieved to see that Botton Village still exists, but only just; please sign this petition to preserve this vital community.

The other extra on this BFI Flipside release is the 1974 short film The Last Chapter starring Susan Penhaligon and Denholm Elliot which I have previously reviewed here

Friday, 29 April 2016

Wear Your NHS: Support Junior Doctors

Junior doctors need our support. The NHS needs to be protected. If you feel passionate about this and fancy a bargain then this Bank Holiday weekend you can bag yourself a Vivienne Westwood designed T-Shirt pledging your support for the Junior Doctors Strike and get free postage and packaging! 

Click here to shop Go on, it's a good cause and I can testify the tees are fab!

Remember When...Gail Porter and Big Ben

Just recently I've been taking regular trips down memory lane thanks to Lee and Herring's This Morning With Richard Not Judy being available to watch on YouTube.

For those not in the know or simply too young to recall the last couple of years of the twentieth century, TMWRNJ (as it was known) was a satirical spoof magazine show that aired at Sunday daytime on BBC2. For two series in 1998 to 1999 it was required viewing for the late-teenage me.

Virtually every edition from the second series sees Stewart Lee performing a rant against what was a worrying trend at the time; female presenters from children's TV stripping off or dressing provocatively for the lads mags (a trend that was examined in Kirsten's Topless Ambition which I've previously blogged about) There were lots of these presenters doing this, but perhaps the biggest culprit was Gail Porter, who Lee neatly served up with this most spectacular roasting...

"This week I've been going into every newsagents in the UK and taking down all the copies of this month's FHM that I can find with the cover of Gail Porter's scrawny Kentucky Fried Chicken bargain bucket breasts, airbrushed bum newly-hatched raptor-foetus body, and drawing a yashmak on it and then putting them back on the shelf. Put your clothes on Gail. You won't get the Live and Kicking job now. Spare yourself a shred of dignity and spare the nation in turn the sick-making sight of your wrinkly walnut bum. You look like a tiny naked child. There's something very strange about it and it's not a very nice sight to see down at the corner shop first thing in the morning when all you want is a newspaper, a packet of fags and a Ribena Light. Get dressed, Gail. Wear a yashmak"

This, along with another reference explicitly regarding the incident that immediately came to mind, reminded me of the time when a 100ft Gail Porter, her bare arse and side boob was superimposed upon the Palaces of Westminster as a stunt for FHM magazine.

How? Why? Just bizarre. Its a stunt that would be unthinkable now, and reminds you just how very different the 1990s where. 

Anti-Semitism? Don't Fall For Tory Smears

It's incredulous that, in a week where we have discussed how manipulative the media is regarding the desires of the establishment and the government of the day, the nation seems to have fallen for it again.

Ken Livingstone was, is and always will be a prat. Don't get me wrong, he has many great qualities, but he remains a frustrating politician; an arrogant, obnoxious soul and someone who always runs off at the mouth and remains unrepentant. But there's no denying that, beneath his inane and offensive comments and attitude, he actually had a point when he said that being critical of the policies of another nation is not anti-semitic. Saying something is wrong does not make you prejudiced.

Unfortunately, because the local elections loom on the horizon, the Tories know they need to get the electorate to conveniently forget things that might see them suffer badly at the polls. Stuff like Cameron's tax issues, the EU question and the internal wranglings within their own party, John Whittingdale getting a free pass from the press he is supposed to regulate for his relationship with a dominatrix sex worker, the junior doctors strike and the NHS being run into the ground, and the people responsible for the Hillsborough cover up (a clue; it was the Tory government of the 1980s and 90s and subsequently the inactivity of the New Labour government of the late 90s onwards) So to do this, they create a mountain out of a molehill with compliant media outlets andalongside the Blairite Red Tories within the Labour party to suggest a crisis within Corbyn's cabinet that frankly doesn't exist. These Blairites really don't care about destroying the reputation of the party they purport to serve because frankly it suits them to see Corbyn sullied. If he performs poorly the local elections it just proves their complaint that left wing politics are no longer valid and will only hasten a return back to the bland and inoffensive centreground of politics. The words of Nye Bevan - "we know what happens to those who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down" - mean nothing to a generation weaned on the empty platitudes and low morals of New Labour and they simply want their ball back and to play by their own shoddy rules once more.

Corbyn has denied there being a crisis because there simply is no crisis. It's a shame he cannot just say that Livingstone is a bit of a prat whose got some considerable past form, that Naz Shah said a deeply irresponsible and hurtful thing online several years ago and has faced the severest punishment in her suspension from the party, and that this is actually yet another example of a media marionette show, from the same biased machine who gave us the lies of Hillsborough. They're just drawing the heat off themselves to save their own skin and preserve their positions of power.

To win an election you have to discredit the opposition and you use every available resource in your powerful armoury to do so. The Tories excel in this and they're doing it now. They're doing it to us again. 

Don't let them. Go to the polls knowing full well these people want you to forget their sleaze, their cons, their mistakes and their lies and focus on the authorised, approved story they're floating now - that Labour is an anti-semitic party. It is not, never has been and never will be. 

And again, criticising Israel does not make you anti-semitic. Please take the time to read what Jewish people actually think about this whole affair.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Hillsborough is One Battle Won, Now Let's Win the War

The verdict returned this week regarding the Hillsborough disaster was incredible. Finally, justice has been done. But the fight to get such vindication was a herculean effort that deserves recognition, and this petition at 38 Degrees asks that all members of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign receive a National Honour to mark their courageous battle.

But the fight isn't over yet.

The people responsible for the tragedy, the lies and the cover up that has continued for decades need to be held criminally accountable now and we await those results eagerly.

But we also need to look at all the cover ups that occurred under Thatcher's fascist regime in the 1980s, because it is now clear to all that that decade was nothing but a class war between us and them that saw them determined to eradicate, slur and sully the good name and livelihood of this countries working class. 

Recent documents brought to light reveal that Thatcher had always fully intended to destroy the mining industry in this country, that she lied and that she unlawfully branded those who dared to oppose her as liars, hooligans, anarchists and 'the enemy within'. The real 'enemy within' were of course the Tory party, the police force and the media bias of the Murdoch press and the BBC, so let's hold them accountable now.

Let's ramp up the Orgreave campaign for truth and justice, and lets hold to account Theresa May's agreement with Andy Burnham in the House yesterday to investigate all miscarriages of justice.

Please, tweet the home office @UKhomeoffice, and please email Theresa May as I have done; (please not that is the correct email address, not the one on the above poster image!)

Please, let us get our good name back, let us get the justice we deserve, let us get those responsible, those who treated us like dirt, to face the consequences of their scurrilous actions. 

Do it now, because cover ups on the scale of Hillsborough, Orgreave, the unlawful shooting of Cherry Groce that sparked the Brixton riots to name, the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry, the murder of Ian Tomlinson, Operation Elvedon, the institutionalised child abuse and VIP paedophile ring at the heart of the UK's media, government and police force, to name but a few, could all occur again tomorrow. We need to protect ourselves for the future by looking to the past. Please, do it now and let us take a step towards justice once more.


Dita Von Teese & Stefania Farrario

RIP Barry Howard

Hi-de-Hi star Barry Howard has passed away following a short battle with cancer. He was 78

Howard starred as the supercilious, acid-tongued ballroom dancing instructor Barry Stuart-Hargreaves who reserved his most waspish asides for his equally haughty wife and dance partner Yvonne played by Diane Holland for the first seven series of the classic sitcom from 1980 to 1986. He was dropped in series eight and replaced by Ben Aris, with rumours at the time pointing to unreliability and an issue with alcohol. 

Howard continued to work in panto, often opposite John Inman as The Ugly Sisters in several productions of Snow White, and continued to appear on television with appearances in shows such as You Rang, M'Lord and the Russell T Davies sitcom The House of Windsor though he would often complain of typecasting following his most famous role. RTD would later give Howard his last acting role on TV, appearing in a 2009 Christmas episode of Doctor Who which bid farewell to David Tennant's Doctor.


Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Justice Comes To Liverpool

In the many news reports aired today, the same sentiment was repeated over and over; that Liverpool felt like a different city today, a city that could breathe again now that justice has been granted for the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster.

I had the privilege of being in the crowds this afternoon outside St George's Hall to pay my respects. It was a deeply moving sight, seeing the floral tributes and people laying bouquets, scarves, and T-shirts on the steps before the chimes of the town hall bells echoed across the city 96 times in commemoration not just of those who lost their lives, but those who campaigned long and hard for 27 years for this day. But it was an uplifting experience too, as we realised we had come together, no longer just in grief, but in triumph that justice had finally won out. 

I'd been at a picket line for striking junior doctors in the city earlier in the day too and found that to be a great experience of people coming together and uniting in a common cause too, so it really was something of a double whammy for me to experience today.

Unfortunately I couldn't hang around all day and so I was not one of the approximate 30,000 that lines the pavements from Lime Street Station to St George's Hall this evening. A shame, as it looked like a night to remember.

But, do I think Liverpool feels different? I think that, whilst we would all give anything for Hillsborough not to have happened (and by the same token for the NHS not to be in the crippling state it is currently in) it is nice to be in a position to reacquaint ourselves with a sense of solidarity, support and community spirit. To rub shoulders with people, chat and smile and feel for once like we're all part of something, and that things can change if we all stand together. 

If you ask me, Liverpool carries on, just like it always has, but perhaps with its head held a little higher and with less woes upon its shoulders after today.

It will never walk alone.

Wordless Wednesday: Not Fair, Not Safe

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl

To further commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, here's the short film Postcards from Pripyat by Danny Cooke from CBS, which captures the remains of Chernobyl's ghost city via haunting drone footage.

Out On Blue Six : The Smiths

Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the tragedy at Chernobyl. With this in mind, here's Panic by The Smiths, a song penned by Morrissey and Marr allegedly because of how 'Wunnerful Radio One' reacted (or rather refused to react) to the news as it broke.

The story goes that Marr and Morrissey were listening to the radio station when a news report announced the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Russia. Straight afterwards, disc jockey Steve Wright played Wham's 'I'm Your Man' 

"I remember actually saying, 'What the fuck does this got to do with people's lives?'" Marr recalled. "We hear about Chernobyl, then, seconds later, we're expected to jump around to 'I'm Your Man'" 

While Marr subsequently stated that the account was exaggerated, he commented that it was a likely influence on Morrissey's lyrics. The band even commissioned a t-shirt featuring Wright's portrait and the phrase "Hang the DJ!" as pictured below.

Thirty years later, the cheesy DJ - no one's idea of Mr Wright - is still a mainstay of afternoon radio, albeit it on Radio 2 were he has hosted the same format show since 1999. No accounting for taste, I guess.

End Transmission

Justice at Last

Great news from Warrington; the 96 victims of 1989's Hillsborough disaster have finally been granted the justice they so long deserved. The jury returned to state that they were the victims of gross negligence and unlawfully killed.

The jury found that Ch Supt David Duckenfield's actions breached his duty of care to the football supporters that day, that failures by him and commanding officers led to the crush on the terraces and confusion regarding the opening of the Leppings Lane exit, and that police errors overall led to the dangerous situation at the turnstiles. They also found that the major incident was not declared quickly enough by the South Yorks constabulary and Ambulance Service, leading to delays in the emergency response. 

They also found that the Sheffield Wednesday stadium itself had defects and an incorrect safety certificate amongst other issues.

The 27 year campaign from the families and survivors is at last fully vindicated and David Cameron has praised their long struggle - interesting, considering how for many years the Tories seemed content to lay the blame squarely at the fans door thanks to inactivity and the slurs made by Tory fave The Scum.

Protect the NHS

Today marks the start of the BMA's 48 hour industrial action which will see all junior doctors from all areas of the NHS walk out and protest against Jeremy Hunt's imposed new contract. I wish the doctors all the very best today and tomorrow and pledge them my undying support in standing up for what they believe in and fighting this government's harsh anti-NHS regime. It's not safe and it's not fair. 

Monday, 25 April 2016

Out On Blue Six : Blackstreet

End Transmission

The Legend of Barney Thomson (2015)

Based on a novel by Douglas Lindsay, The Legend of Barney Thomson is an impressive directorial debut from actor Robert Carlyle; a quirky and grubby love letter to his native Glasgow - it's certainly good to have him back on these shores making small, cultish movies.  

Starring as the eponymous Thomson, Carlyle is a modern day Scottish variant on Sweeney Todd: a hapless, discontented barber pushed further to the back of the shop because of his lack of patter who uses the tools of his trade to diminish the local population. It's all an accident of course, at least initially; a skirmish with his boss who wants to sack him concludes with him getting a pair of scissors embedded in his chest. Luckily for Thomson, Scotland is currently in the grip of a particularly unpleasant serial killer, who posts dismembered body parts to the constabulary (a leg here, a hand there, a cock and an arse) represented by DI Holdall, an increasingly embittered cockney fish-out-of-water played by Ray Winstone, and his rival, the ambitious, modern thinking and officious DI Robertson (Ashley Jensen), who are stymied for a lead on the killer's identity. 

Much of the buzz around Barney Thomson was the casting of Emma Thompson as Carlyle's character's raddled bingo playing old mother Cemolina, despite Thompson being just two years older than Carlyle in real life. It's a wonderfully eccentric stroke, and the performances - Thompson drenched in prosthetics - matches it, so its easy to see why this became the film's main draw and point of interest. Yes, it's a 'big' performance but, as the nightmare mother from hell, it really couldn't really be anything else so it would be churlish and rather joyless to complain. It also perfectly compliments the increasingly jittery (and very funny) turn from Carlyle as things get disastrously out of hand.

But its worth pointing out that Carlyle didn't just stop there when it come to pulling together a strong cast; there's also a delightfully foul mouthed cameo from Tom Courtenay as the police chief, Martin Compston, James Cosmo, Stephen McCole, Barbara Rafferty and that wonderfully underrated Scottish acting legend, Brian Pettifer as Charlie, Thomson's friend; a man who has to ask Thomson to go on the fairground rides with him for fear of looking like a paedophile going on them alone. Fair enough too; with his tight curls, '70s frilly shirt, suit and bowtie, he cuts the kind of figure that you really wouldn't trust with your kiddies.

If all this sounds OTT, it's pretty accurate, but to call this outlandish would actually do it something of a disservice. Carlyle, perhaps taking a leaf out of Irvine Welsh's book, creates a realistically drab and curious Glasgow that is only marginally heightened. For example, I could imagine someone like Charlie existing there, as much as the Henderson barbershop still being a going concern. Granted, some of the characterisation, the more outre moments of gore and the denouement may occasionally threaten to tip the action into more surreal and more familiar waters, but Carlyle's hand remains firmly on the tiller to keep the authentic localism and sense of place largely intact. The lounge music soundtrack - all Acker Bilk, Engelbert Humperdinck and Roy Orbison - really helps with this, along with Fabian Wagner's sublime and eye catching cinematography.

Based on this evidence, I really hope Carlyle steps behind the camera again soon. 

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Key (2003)

The Key is a sweeping and ambitious three-part drama from 2003 that is a paean to 'the Red Clyde', the strong trade union movement and Labour support that existed in Glasgow for decades but which is now a thing of the past since the independence referendum and the 2015 election that saw the SNP become the overwhelming majority party for Scotland.

Written by Donna Franceschild (Takin' Over The Asylum, Donovan Quick) The Key is a very human story which focuses on three generations of one family, taking in events of the twentieth century from World War One and the Bloody Friday strike of 1919 to Blair's Labour landslide victory of 1997. At the heart of the story is the militant Mary Corrigan (played by Dawn Steele as a strong young woman and June Watson in later but no less impassioned years) whose life mirrors the century, and the mystery of the titular key she habitually wears around her neck.

Refreshingly, and perhaps what I like the most about The Key is that the story is told pretty much exclusively through the eyes of its strong female characters. There's not just Mary, there's also her daughter Helen (Anne Louise Ross) who enters the world of work when her husband (Ewan Stewart) is crippled by an accident at the shipyard and rises to the ranks of regional organiser with a public services union, and her granddaughters Jessie and Maggie (Frances Grey and Ronnie Ancona); the latter is a determined and ambitious young woman who is standing for parliament as a Labour candidate, whilst the former is the families dreamer, a wannabe writer, worn down by life and working in a dog-eat-dog call centre.

The other thing I really like about The Key is that, six years into the premiership of Tony Blair, it dared to point out that New Labour wasn't the utopia we had all hoped. Its depiction of the importance it puts into market forces and its betrayal of the old left and the unions is something that was pretty verboten to say at the time - so perhaps it could only be a Scottish drama that had the balls to make such a statement, sowing the seeds for the disillusion we have seen since the referendum. With that in mind, the main message of The Key is that change comes not from politicians, but from honest, hard working people who stand up and say enough is enough, things are unfair and they need to improve. These people are therefore the likes of Mary, Helen and Jessie rather than Maggie, whose decision to become a 'Blair Babe' is based on her having fully embraced the ethos of New Labour simply because she doesn't want to be on what she perceives to be the losing side like her parents or Mary before her. Throughout, The Key remains authentic to the story of people being caught up in the wider power struggle occurring around them, rather than those in positions of power in the first place.

Unfortunately it's not without its flaws. Some of the dialogue and performances veer into spoof territory (it's really difficult to spout political soap box rants without them appearing a little cliched) and overall  it's perhaps too epic a story to be told in just three one hour episodes. The budget doesn't really stretch to illustrating the canvas in full either, with scenes depicting Bloody Friday and The Battle of Orgreave looking a little unrealistic because they can't really match the numbers. It's the kind of story that deserves a cast of thousands, so it naturally suffers a little on a small BBC budget. Nevertheless, it does boast a solid cast and it is good to see the likes of Ken Stott, Kevin McKidd, Katy Murphy, John Sessions and Paul Copley in relatively small parts in the broader brushstrokes of history, whilst Dawn Steele and Frances Grey impress in the stories biggest and somewhat parallel parts.

The Key seems curiously largely forgotten for a programme that only aired thirteen years ago (not all that long ago in TV terms) so it's good to see that it has been released by Simply Media, a DVD company that is doing a great job of releasing some treasures from the BBC archives, with a good many productions from the '80s, '90s, and early '00s finally seeing the light of day.