Saturday, 22 September 2018

RIP Chas Hodges

And there's been yet another sad loss announced today; Chas Hodges, one half of legendary musical duo Chas & Dave, has died following a battle with esophageal cancer at the age of 74.

Despite his well earned fame with Chas & Dave, it's only a fraction of the music legacy Chas Hodges has left us. As a young session musician in the late '50s, Hodges worked for the legendary producer Joe Meek, backing such rock and roll superstars as Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent (pictured below) and performing in The Outlaws with Ritchie Blackmore and Mike Berry.

In the early 1970s, Hodges played bass guitar and gave vocals in country rock band Heads Hands & Feet and performed tracks on The Old Grey Whistle Test

His bandmate with Head Hands & Feet was Albert Lee and the pair went on to play in the band Black Claw alongside Dave Peacock, a former session player for Joe Meek who would go on to become Chas' long running partner in Chas & Dave. However, in 1975, the pair played on Labi Siffre's Remember My Song album, including the track I Got The, which their guitar and bass riff was later lifted as a sample for Eminem's hit My Name Is

By the close of the decade Chas had joined with Dave Peacock to develop a musical style that merged rock music and the cockney singalong that they termed 'rockney'. Chas & Dave was thus born, with their breakthrough single Gertcha peaking at number 20 off the back of an advert for Courage Bitter. It proved to be the first of eight top 40 singles, nine charting albums, four FA Cup singles for their band Tottenham Hotspurs and a host of TV specials. They opened for Led Zeppelin at 1979's Knebworth Festival, played Glastonbury in 2005 and counted Tori Amos and The Libertines as some of their famous fans. 


Thursday, 20 September 2018

Petitions to Labour NEC

Momentum believe it is important that the Labour Party have an open selection process and no MP veto. Please sign the following petitions to ensure this happens because the NEC may block them come Saturday. It's time to put an end to the divisions within the Labour Party and make it a more democratic place that has MP's who want to work for the will of the people, rather than feather their own nest.

No MP Veto Petition

Open Selection Petition

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

RIP Denis Norden

Another sad loss announced today is the death of Denis Norden, the comedy writer and host of the one-time ITV staple It'll Be Alright on the Night, at the age of 96.

Norden had apparently been ill for some time, residing for a number of weeks at London's Royal Free Hospital where he died earlier today.

Born in Hackney in 1922, Norden was a contemporary of Kingsley Amis at the City of London School and at the age of sixteen was accepted by the Daily Express to accompany their foreign correspondent in Spain to report on the civil war - it was only his parents putting their foot down that nixed his plans. Unperturbed, Norden left school to become the countries youngest cinema manager at just 18, before joining the RAF on the commencement of WWII. There he met Eric Sykes and the pair soon branched out into entertaining the troops with ENSA. It was with Sykes and a fellow comedian Ron Rich that Norden came across the recently liberated camp Belsen, appalled by the inhumanity and the starvation they witnessed among the inmates who had yet to be repatriated, the trio immediately hurried back to base to collect as much food as they could, handing out rations to men, women and children on the brink of death.

After demob, Norden teamed up with fellow comic Frank Muir and the pair began writing scripts for radio. Theirs was to become one of the most successful and enduring partnerships in the history of British comedy and together they wrote three hundred episode of Take it From Here which ran for eleven years, launched the career of June Whitfield and placed phrases like 'trouble at t'mill' and 'disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' into common parlance. The pair would go on to work in TV appearing both in front of the camera as well as creating the school master sitcom Whacko with Take it From Here star Jimmy Edwards and legal comedy Brothers in Law with a young Richard Briers and writing for The Frost Report and Marty. In film they gifted Carry On movies such classic lines as 'Infamy, infamy, they're all got it infamy' as memorably cried by Kenneth Williams in Carry on Cleo. Norden also co-wrote the screenplay for Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell starring Gina Lollabrigida for which he received an Oscar nomination. He also penned the screenplays for films such as The Best House in London and Every Home Should Have One.

It was the famous Blue Peter clip of the elephant making a mess of the studio that led to Norden's twenty-nine year run as the clipboard wielding presenter of ITV's blooper clips show It'll Be Alright on the Night. He had been reminiscing about that moment with producer Paul Smith one lunchtime in 1977 and wondered if there was any mileage in an outtakes show.They soon get their answer: a commission was made by LWT within half an hour. Despite Norden's reservations over the title, the show was a huge success for ITV in a time when the internet wasn't even a gleam in the eye, let alone YouTube, and Norden became a household name as a presenter, something the writer never expected - indeed his famous clipboard was said to be something he used just to preoccupy his hands. Failing eyesight as a result of a haemorrhage in the back of his eye meant he had to retire in 2006 when he could no longer view the clips. His successor was the rather faithful Griff Rhys Jones but the show's heyday was over, unable to compete with the aforementioned YouTube and the many imitations it had spawned. It has recently had an attempted relaunch as David Walliams Presents It'll Be Alright on the Night, an even worse title than Norden considered original to be, by virtue of its association with the irritating Walliams who has replaced Jones. 


Monday, 17 September 2018

Last Year In Marienbad (1961)

What did I make of Last Year In Marienbad and can I put it into words without sounding pretentious? Hmm. 

Find out by reading my review at The Geek Show

Entebbe (2018)

José Padilha, the director of Narcos (I believe it's a popular drama series on Netflix, m'lud) delivers yet another dramatised account of the 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight by two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two German members of the Baader-Mienhof Gang and the subsequent successful Israeli commando rescue mission entitled Operation Thunderbolt, in his film Entebbe (I refuse to call it 7 Days in Entebbe, deal with it)

It has always surprised me how cinema seems fascinated by these events because it offers relatively little in cinematic terms. Operation Thunderbolt was swift (it lasted just over 50 minutes) and devastatingly accurate, making any recreation relatively straightforward and, crucially, very short. As a result, any film purporting to depict the events accurately must concern itself wholly with ratcheting up the tension leading to this military action, focusing on the uneasy, fractious relationships both in Israel's political arena and on the ground in Entebbe itself between the hostages and their captors. Thus is the direction of Padilha's film, but any hope that this would be a more even-handed study is quickly lost when you realise that not only is there little in the way of a voice for Palestine in the proceedings, there's crucially nothing for France either ('not their problem' dismisses Tel Aviv, and subsequently the film itself), and very little for the hostages themselves who are extremely faceless in terms of the proceedings as a whole. The latter is an especially odd move when you consider the main aim of the film is to address the threat these people faced and how important it was to secure their safety. Instead, Padilha and his screenwriter Gregory Burke solely concern themselves with the two German revolutionaries, Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike), and with the Israeli PM, Yitzhak Rabin, and his Minister of Defence, Shimon Peres (Lior Ashkenazi and Eddie Marsan).

Can we talk about Eddie Marsan - crucially what has happened to him recently? I don't mean his increasingly ugly and belligerent tweets that seek to condemn anyone on the left, spin the idea that Corbyn hates all Jews, and demand that we 'Make Britain Great Again (though all that in itself is concerning enough), I mean his sudden inability when it comes to acting. Seriously Marsan was once one of my favourite character actors but he's delivered some stinking performances of late (Their Finest, The Limehouse Golem, Atomic Blonde) and his depiction of Peres as a malevolent toad, ominously croaking  in favour of violent retaliation in Rabin's ear doesn't reverse this trend. Every time he appears with his strange make-up, delivering even the most innocent of lines with heavy portent and an 'Allo, 'Allo style foreign accent, I was left to wonder just what he was thinking. It's tonally very off-putting with the rest of the film and is in stark contrast with Ashkenazi's performance and indeed everyone else he shares screen time with.

The acting honours here must go to Pike and Brühl. The latter may be typecast to play the German villain in any Hollywood movie these days but the characterisation of Böse is that of the film's conscience. He may be viewed by the world as a terrorist, but he possesses both an idealism and a desire to challenge injustice that has brought him to this moment and he stays true to his beliefs by refusing to play the Nazi. He gets some good scenes to address this alongside French actor Denis Ménochet as the Air France captain. Alongside Brühl's sympathetic turn, Pike also refuses to play the part of Kuhlmann as the mad, unfeminine (and therefore somehow more threatening, more reviled) terrorist that other dramas have a habit of depicting her, and delivers the kind of eye catching and satisfying performance that she has become renowned for. There's one key scene that shows the humane side of her that I shan't give away and may have been corny in a lesser performer's hands. It's just a shame that their Palestinian comrades are not given the same kind of privilege of three dimensional characterisation too. For a film about the Israel and Palestine conflict its galling that the POV of the latter is routinely expressed via two white people.

The imposing figure of the monstrous Idi Amin of course loomed large over Entebbe and it does so here too, played by the statuesque Nonso Anozie. It's all too easy for an actor to go big and chew the scenery when given the opportunity to play someone like Amin, but Anozie chooses instead to underplay. It's a restrained performance that  further highlights the ball-dropping nature of Marsan's approach. 

I suppose the major hurdle facing Padilha is to offer something different from the films that have gone before him and he does this not only via some of the choices the script and the performers make that I have mentioned here, but also in the depiction of some key events. The death of Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu is one that is always considered a great act of heroism but is instead depicted her as one of a spectacular error of judgement. The experienced assault force commander chose to give up the element of surprise by killing the Ugandan sentries and was shortly killed by a sniper whilst standing outside of the terminal building. There are many theories as to why Netanyahu made such a mistake (in his book Yoni: Hero of Entebbe, Max Hastings suggests he was simply burnt out) but the overriding theory Padilha wants us to appreciate here is that Yoni's death led to his brother commencing a career in politics - his brother of course being Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Israeli PM who is unlikely to ever seek peace with Palestine. 

Perhaps Padilha's own personal stamp on the story is most clearly felt in his decision to incorporate the rather artistic flourish of a series of modernist dance performances by Israel's Batsheva Dance Company during the raid itself. This arises from his decision to depict one of the commandos (Pride star Ben Schnetzer) as being in a relationship with a dancer. It's a divisive decision; a distracting turn-off for some or an intriguing parallel of skilled choreography for others. Personally, I didn't mind it but I can see why others would complain that it pulled them out of the crucial events. 

On the whole, Entebbe has been considered a bit of a flop but I found it a solid enough reconstruction with strong production design that is heavily redolent of the 1970s and a glossy sheen. It's only the refusal of the film to acknowledge that both the Palestinians and the hostages have a story that ought to have been addressed here much more comprehensively than it was that has ultimately left me feeling somewhat cheated.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

RIP Zienia Merton

The Burmese born actor Zienia Merton who played Space:1999's Sandra Benes has died at the age of 72.

Merton became an actress as a teenager in the 1960s playing the Chinese girl Ping-Cho in the 1964 Doctor Who serial Marco Polo. Her other credits included the Beatles film Help!, Jason King, Strange Report, Return of the Saint, Dennis Potter's Casanova, The History Man, Angels, Tenko, Grange Hill, Bergerac, Dempsey and Makepeace, The Lakes, Casualty, The Bill, EastEnders, Coronation Street, Doctors, Wire in the Blood, Law and Order: UK, and The Sarah Jane Adventures.


RIP Dudley Sutton

I am utterly gutted to hear that the great Dudley Sutton has passed away at the age of 85.

Sutton will be best known for his role as Tinker Dill, the eccentric 'barker' in the 1980s/'90s Sunday night favourite Lovejoy, but his impressive career dates all the way back to the 1950s and the groundbreaking work he did at Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop. In the early '60s he worked with director Sidney J. Furie on two controversial movies; The Boys (1962), about a group of teddy boys facing the death penalty for murder, and 1964's The Leather Boys, in which he played a gay biker at the time when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK. 

Possessed with a magnetic and often eccentric screen presence that could alternate between loveable and comic and edgy and menacing, Sutton overcame a notorious period of hellraising in the 1960s and went on to become a familiar face on our screens for over fifty years. His TV credits included roles in The Saint, The Baron,The Avengers, Dixon of Dock Green, Softly Softly, Department S, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Porridge, The Sweeney, Shine On Harvey Moon, Widows, Smiley's People, The Beiderbecke Affair, Bergerac, The Comic Strip Presents, Casualty, Holby City, Coronation Street, Emmerdale, EastEnders, Doctors, Skins, and Wallander.

On film, he appeared in several Ken Russell productions, most notable as the sinister interrogator Baron De Laubardemont in The Devils, the spaghetti western A Town Called Bastard, Fellini's Casanova, Derek Jarman's Edward II, Sally Potter's Orlando, The Walking Stick, The Tichborne Claimant, Tomorrow La Scala, Dean Spanley, Cockneys Vs Zombies and The Football Factory. As well as some very ropey 1970s productions like the Mary Millington sexploitation flick Playbirds, the James Bond rip-off Number 1 of the Secret Service, the dismal Michael Winner remake of The Big Sleep and the Michael Caine turkey The Island.