Sunday, 29 June 2014

Out On Blue Six : Elbow

I love Elbow, and I love this song Lippy Kids, which was a real highlight of the set they performed at Glastonbury on Friday night - watching Guy getting the audience to callback the whistles!

It's a song that is so evocative of what it details; defiant kids making their own entertainment on street corners during seemingly endless summers. It reminds me so much of growing up in the 80s and 90s.

I think this picture goes hand in hand with the song

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News Hounds (1990)

"A week ago I was 'avin' a nice interview with 'em...askin' about me hobbies and star sign an' that. Now they're doin' this to me?!"

I'm a big fan of Les Blair's films. A true contemporary of Mike Leigh, not only have they worked together (Bleak Moments) and share the same improvisational film making methods, they also went to school together. Occasionally he's accused of producing Leigh-lite work (his 1993 film Bad Behaviour springs to mind) but I think that's a very unfair criticism. In a body of work that includes GF Newman's Law and Order, London's Burning, Honest Decent and True and some distinctive features in the Screen One strand - including this one from 1990 - it is clear he is anything but light or a pretender of some sort.

News Hounds, a film about the shabby world of tabloid journalism, is a film with as much to say today in the post Leveson world as it had 24 years ago. Set around the fictitious offices of The Brit newspaper (a thinly disguised The Sun) it stars Adrian Edmondson - virtually unrecognisable here in a fine straight drama performance from his work on Bottom or The Young Ones - and Mike Leigh's muse and then wife Alison Steadman as journalists who may have full bank accounts but have a cavernous hole where there morals should be. 

On his website Edmondson reflects on the enjoyable and beneficial long rehearsing and devising period for making the film (for his previous Blair film, Honest Decent and True, he recalls an in depth two month rehearsal period before the cameras rolled which seems to fit in with the Leigh working method) A week of this process was spent at The Daily Star's offices shadowing the news desk; "the phone rang and someone shouted across to the News Editor 'It's Greenpeace!'. 'Tell them to fuck off!' came the reply"

This work paid off as Blair captures a frighteningly realistic air to the proceedings, with its thieving, lying beer swilling journalists, that it makes the viewer feel in need of a good shower afterwards. The plot is relatively simple but that benefits the piece, giving us a feeling of just a few days in the life of a busy working newspaper office. Following an abortive undercover scoop on a kinky sex loving MP (its pulled by the powers that be with no explanation other than the chewed out editor Paul Kember's cry of 'we dropped a bollock') The Brit newspaper decide to go all out for a 19 year old actor from the Isle of Dogs (a young Steven Macintosh) who is achieving fame and household name status for his role on the TV soap 'The Square' (EastEnders in all but name) It's Macintosh's character who utters the immortal quote at the start of this review; the build 'em up and knock 'em down nature of the British tabloids relationship with celebrities in a nutshell. In dragging this young actor to the front pages, we see the reporters steal a photo from his half sister's (Linda Bassett) home which will prove that she is in fact his mother, and help place the final nail in the coffin of the Ade Edmondson character's life outside the grubby Brit offices - not that he seems unduly affected by this.

The key to Blair's work is believability and the extensive and unusual working methods clearly pay off to capture that air of authenticity. There's a frighteningly good performance from Alison Steadman as the chain smoking Nina Myskow alike who pretty much provides the answers for her interviewees; finishing their sentences, cutting them short and putting words in their mouths, and she gets to act opposite the vile Edwina Currie playing herself (though you'll note the scene cuts just as Steadman asks her who she fancies in The House - time will subsequently tell us John Major was the man in question!) as well as Edmondson's boorish moustachioed rugger bugger turn. But these are just the two 'starring' roles in what is truly a fine ensemble piece that includes Paul Kember, Christopher Fulford, Judith Scott and Antony Marsh all shedding light on the caustic and nefarious environment that brings many homes its headlines in the morning.

Watch it in full on YouTube here

Silent Sunday : Glastonbury

Friday, 27 June 2014

Out On Blue Six : The Seekers

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Rattle of a Simple Man (1964)

Adaptation of the 1962 stage play of the same name by Charles Dyer, you could be forgiven for thinking Rattle of a Simple Man is an archetypal 60s British comedy judging by its cast list and the cover of the recent Network DVD release. However, the film is actually a bittersweet study of two protagonists from very different walks of life imbued with a pleasant gentle humour and some stark home truths.

Steptoe and Son star Harry H Corbett stars as Percy, an innocent and simple man who, in his 30s, still lives at home with his parents. He's down from Manchester with his mates (including Michael Medwin and Last of the Summer Wine and Porridge star Brian Wilde) for the Cup Final at Wembley when, after the match, they take in the sights of Soho. There he meets Cyrenne (Diane Cilento, one time Mrs Sean Connery) a beautiful, cool and classy prostitute and is enticed into a bet with his pals that he can't take her back to hers and sleep with her.

The premise allows us to explore the differing morals and speed of life between the provincial North and the bright lights of the capital. Shot in 1964 it is perfectly timed to capture the brink of the Permissive Society and Corbett's gauche eye opener feels utterly believable. Essentially a two hander for much of the film, the performances of Corbett and Cilento are wonderfully watchable. Far more kitchen sink than the Carry On you would possibly expect - especially when one considers some of the big revelations regarding each character's life and the strong social comment; Dyer was after all a playwright who liked to focus on lives that weren't traditionally talked about, and would go on to write Staircase about an aging homosexual couple, also made into a film with Richard Burton and Rex Harrison in the latter half of the 60s - Rattle Of A Simple Man is an overlooked 1960s feature. The play has had a long and varied life with such renowned and popular actors as John Alderton and Pauline Collins and Stephen Tompkinson and Michelle Collins appearing in the lead roles in productions down the years.

Julie Christie

Girls With Guns

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Ade on Rik

This lovely video has been uploaded to YouTube, an edited package of all the tribute mentions Ade gave to Rik Mayall, his old comedy partner, just four days after his death at the Middlewich festival with his band The Bad Shepherds. You can see he's really choked, bless him.

I also love the tribute from street artists in London

See more here

Theme Time : Dennis Waterman - Minder

In the 1970s, writer Leon Griffiths was touting a screenplay he had penned about London's gangland around various production companies with little success. Eventually someone gave him some advice; the script wasn't much cop, but two minor characters - a used car salesman and his bodyguard/gopher - had potential, 'why don't you write a series about them?' Griffiths was told and sure enough, he took the advice and created Minder.

The show was quickly picked up by Euston Films in 1979 as a vehicle for Dennis Waterman, who was looking for a new show after The Sweeney had finished its run. He was cast as the titular Minder, the former professional boxer and ex convict Terry McCann, to the wheeler dealing minor con Arthur Daley played by George Cole. 

Waterman stayed with the show until the seventh series in 1989. It seemed to signify the end, but Minder returned in 1991 with Gary Webster as Arthur's nephew Ray Daley taking on the strong arm duties until its eventual conclusion in 1994. Let us not speak of Channel 5's ridiculously poor 'reboot' with the odious Shane Ritchie as another Daley nephew, Archie, and Lex Shrapnel as his 'minder' Jamie. It lasted for just one series in 2009.

As Little Britain fans will know, Dennis Waterman always 'sings da feem toon', and Minder was no exception; along with songwriter Kenny, he provided the cheery pub singalong I Could Be So Good For You which reached number 3 in the UK charts of November 1980

A criminal record? You decide.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

RIP Eli Wallach

Another sad loss; veteran actor Eli Wallach has died aged 98. Called 'the quintessential chameleon' when receiving an Honorary Oscar in 2010, Wallach appeared in such movies as The Magnificent Seven, The Good The Bad and The Ugly (pictured above) and The Misfits, a film in which he appeared alongside Marilyn Monroe as these wonderful on set photos show


Rapid Reviews : Mr Wroe's Virgins by Jane Rogers

Bought in a charity shop in Settle whilst there om holiday, Mr Wroe's Virgins is a novel based on fact; in the 1800s the Christian Isrealite preacher and prophet John Wroe of Ashton Under Lyne, Lancashire claimed that God had told him to take seven virgins from his congregation to give comfort. The book tells the tale - from four of the virgins perspectives - of the nine months they shared together, until accusations of indecency and a subsequent trial brought the household to a dramatic end.

Told almost in Rashomon style; i.e. showing the same event or events from the different perspective and views of each narrator (there's probably a better, more literary based example than the film Rashomon, but sod it that's the one I'm using) the story is engrossing and personal and surprises you by having one narrator reference an event as little more than an aside, leaving the next narrator - who it may affect more - to describe it naturally in more depth. It makes for a very matter of fact, satisfying approach from author Jane Rogers, who I've come to really admire since reading her novel The Testament of Jessie Lamb last year. There's just one character who stands out whose motivations and thoughts you are not privy to, and that is Mr Wroe himself. Historically fascinating, the story has extra weight now given the revelation of the more later day sex scandals of the Church - I was especially shocked and amused to read how the Elders of Mr Wroe's Church would request the lash as punishment for such seemingly minor offences as being late from the virgins, with the proviso they must hold the Elders by the groin throughout the ordeal!

The novel was adapted for television in the early 90s by Danny Boyle. It starred Jonathan Pryce as Wroe alongside Kerry Fox, Kathy Burke and Minnie Driver, to name but a few, as his virgins. The series has never been released onto DVD, but it is currently being uploaded onto YouTube in parts. 

Wordless Wednesday : Copping An Eyeful

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Alexei Sayle - Social Workers

Escape To Victory (1981)

After another total washout for our national team on the world stage I've come to realise with some despair that this film is probably the last time we won anything!

To a child growing up in the 1980s, Escape To Victory was the best film ever! It married the two fascinations inherent in the British psyche (football and the war) and brought together a superb cast to play the Allied 11; Michael Caine led a team of football legends, some players of the day, such as Ossie Ardiles, alongside heroes dads or older brothers would speak of in reverential tones; Bobby Moore, Pele....and if that wasn't enough, there's even bloody Rocky in goal!

Of course the older you get the more you realise how silly this is. There's a germ of intelligent and indeed more serious entertainment occasionally glimpsed here, the story was inspired by a real life and altogether more tragic event, known as 'The Death Match' and the argument of co-operation or collaboration is given voice (albeit half heartedly, unlike say The Bridge On The River Kwai) regarding Caine's team captain Colby.

 But overall, it's perhaps just as well the film doesn't take itself too seriously - as much as I love Michael Caine, it requires some suspension of disbelief to imagine the well fed paunchy 50 something movie star as a malnourished POW and former West Ham and international footballer! Whilst one can almost see the boxes ticked to get Stallone to sign his contract;  Gets head kicked in *tick*, Gets a romantic interest *tick*, Gets to escape and have some solo action in the middle of the film that really drags the pace *tick*, Big showy display to win the game *tick* - as it is such good intentions that has made this a TV perennial for every Christmas, Bank Holiday and, of course, during every international football tournament ever since its release.

And that slo-mo of Pele's triumphant overhead goal culminating in sympathetic German officer Max Von Sydow's rapturous applause is a thing of beauty.

As Caine himself says just prior to kick off "Here's to victory!"

Out On Blue Six : S O H N

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Rapid Reviews : The Yorkshire Quartet by David Peace

Firstly, an explanation. I don't think I'm actually very good at book reviews, but I still want to do them from time to time. So, with that in mind, I'm trying out a new post style that could become a series called Rapid Review; basically it will be a relatively short and punchy review of whatever book I feel like writing about.

To start with the four books that go by the names The Yorkshire Quartet or Red Riding by acclaimed author David Peace; 1974, 1977, 1980 and lastly, 1983

I started reading this series last year and, after a break between 1977 and 1980, I completed the series this week. These books are like downing a bottle of gin before breakfast and then receiving a punch to the gut. Visceral and uncompromising they detail four pivotal years across nine years in the heart of Yorkshire, a Yorkshire rife with crime, corruption, child abductions and murder. Drawing on real life events - some of the books specifically deal with The Yorkshire Ripper inquiry, whilst they also echo the wrongful imprisonment of Stefan Kiszko with his character of Michael Myshkin, a young man with learning difficulties who is subjected to a serious miscarriage of justice - Peace blurs reality to create an almost alternate world across the timeline that nevertheless has the all too cruel, grimy and grubby ring of truth. There are no heroes as such in Peace's world, but plenty of villains, especially those in the Yorkshire constabulary. 

The novels require a good memory and I must admit whilst the break between 1977 and 1980 may have helped restore my positive outlook on the world, it did hinder my ability to follow all the plot points and characters as well as I'd have liked when returning to conclude the series. Highly recommended to anyone with a strong constitution, but be advised to select something light to read immediately afterwards! The series was adapted for TV as Red Riding, but the books are far superior.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Great Scot

Two for the price of one today, because I like the similar theme each photograph has.

Peter Capaldi, seen here in The Field of Blood

Ken Stott, seen here as Rebus

Two great Scottish actors and favourites of mine.

God, I could murder a pint now!

RIP Felix Dennis

Felix Dennis, the 60s radical, poet, magazine publisher and one of the founders of the infamous Oz magazine passed away yesterday following a battle with throat cancer aged 67.

Highlights in Dennis' career include being hired by Oz in 1967 and spelling Che Guevara's name wrong on a poster to mark his death (he later claimed he got the spelling from The Guardian aka The Grauniad of course, so infamous was it for its typo errors) invading David Frost's chat show, swearing and attacking him with a water pistol in 1969 and being briefly imprisoned in 1971 for Oz's obscenity trial following the notorious 'schoolkids edition'. Upon his release from jail, he was whisked away by John Lennon no less.

In 1991, the BBC produced a TV play entitled The Trials Of Oz to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the trial. Dennis was played by Kevin Allen, the actor/director brother of Keith.

He launched Dennis publishing in 1973, starting with Kung Fu Monthly to cash in on the popularity of Bruce Lee. Other titles included Auto Express, Mac User, Computer Shopper, Maxim and various tie-ins for Hollywood blockbusters like Jaws and Star Wars. Today, Dennis Publishing is a major company responsible for such big titles as Viz, The Week, PC Pro and Men's Fitness and it was he the BBC originally wanted to star in The Apprentice. Dennis declined, claiming firing wasn't his sort of thing and stepped aside for Alan Sugar.

Worth about £500m, and one of the nation's 100 richest men, Dennis claimed to have spent around £100m on sex drugs and rock and roll, which saw him battle an addiction to crack cocaine in the 1990s which, after kicking it, led to him becoming a poet. He penned around 1,500 poems including one for his charity The Heart of England Forest, which plans to create a broadleaf tree forest in Warwickshire; "Whosoever plants a tree, winks at immortality"

It wasn't his only charitable endeavour, earlier this year he secured laptops for 12,500 schoolchildren in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Dennis said that his interests were "commissioning bronze sculptures, drinking French wine and avoiding business meetings"

In 2008, Dennis was the subject of some controversy and suspicion when it was alleged that he told a reporter, during a very boozy lunch, that he had once killed a man who had made the life of a woman Dennis knew "a living misery. He beat her up, beat her kids up, wouldn't let her alone, kept on...I killed him. That's all you need to know" 

He was certainly unique.