Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Fullenwider by name...

It being Halloween today, I decided to revisit a film I hadn't seen in some years - The Rocky Horror Picture Show. One of the things I enjoy about that film is it's full-tilt commitment to filling every inch of the screen with eccentricity. Many will spot the ubiquitous Christopher Biggins as one of 'the Transylvanians' at Frank N. Furter's castle, but did you know that a good deal of these characters were cast from the UGLY Agency, a theatrical agency that specialized in unique looking performers. One of whom was the glorious 5ft 2in, 240lb American ex-pat Fran Fullenwider who originally contacted the agency for work as a secretary but was simply too big (too full and wide in fact) to fit into the office!

'Fran Fullenwider (and that really is her name) isn't everyone's idea of a typical model. While other girls starve to be a Twiggy shape, Fran smiles all the way to the bank and carries on eating. Her figure is her fortune - and both seem to be growing steadily. "I used to diet all the time," says Fran. "I wanted to be lovely and thin and beautiful, but it never worked out that way. So in the last three years I have decided to be beautiful and fat" And fat means 415 pounds* and a 42-36-60 figure. Texas born Fran lives now in England, where her big interest is the theatre. She's had several parts on TV and in plays since graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Her only problem is finding parts to fit her. After appearing in a recent TV show (on the subject of food of course) Fran was deluged by fan mail. "I get constant streams of admiring letter and I try to answer them all, even marriage proposals" Fran has yet to accept any..."I have two boyfriends already," she says. Figure troubled ladies may find comfort in Fran's story. She's living proof that you can eat what you like, grow as big as you like - and remain radiantly happy"

*Note that this Pulp International article has added an extra 200 pounds to Fran's weight! As far as the internet has it, the biggest Fran Fullenwider got was between 286 -300 pounds. Opinions vary.

Fullenwider had moved from Texas to the UK as a child and was said to have given up dieting by the age of 21. As the above article shows, this proved a lucrative decision and Fullenwider gained an international career; working regularly not only in the UK, with roles in TV series such as The Sweeney, Doctor in ChargeThe Basil Brush Show, Angels, and Wurzel Gummidge and films like The Mutations, The Monster Club (where she dances with Vincent Price) and Eat the Rich, but also as a model and actress in Italy, where she appeared in romantic comedies such as Una sera c'incontrammo, Melodrammore and L'affittacamere

The most tantalising aspect of all in her Italian fame is the fact that Federico Fellini longed to work with her. They struck up a friendship when Fellini auditioned her for a part in his film Casanova and, although he did not cast her on that occasion, it remained a desire of his to do so in the right project right up until his death in 1993. Unfortunately, Fullenwider didn't outlive Fellini by that much either, passing away from a heart attack in 1997 at the age of just 51. Her last major role was in 1993's The House of the Spirits in which she starred opposite the likes of Jeremy Irons, Winona Rider, Meryl Streep and Glenn Close. However, she lives on with the enduring appeal and legacy of the mother of all cult films, The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Monday, 29 October 2018

RIP Derrick Sherwin

The former Doctor Who producer Derrick Sherwin, the man responsible for the creation of UNIT, has died at the age of 82 following a long illness.

Born in High Wycombe in 1936, Sherwin was initially an actor appearing in a range of small roles in many TV series of the 1960s and films such as A Prize of Arms and The Vengeance of She. His relationship with Doctor Who commenced when he took a role in the script editing team. Writing the 1968 Patrick Troughton serial The Invasion, Sherwin effectively changed the shape of the show, not only for the next five years but arguably forever more, thanks to the introduction of UNIT.

Sherwin's inspiration came from Nigel Kneale's Quatermass, believing that Doctor Who had become a little stale, hopping from planet to planet each week. His creation of a military task force, set up to investigate UFO's and peculiar goings on, enabled the show to become grounded (literally) with threats from outer space coming to earth and the Doctor having the responsibility to defend us, alongside Nicholas Courtney's Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart; a character who had previously appeared (as a Colonel in the regular army) in the previous year's serial The Web of Fear.

Sherwin produced Troughton's final story, The War Games, in 1969, and would go on to serve as the producer for the transition period, establishing the new earth-based format and overseeing not just the introduction of Jon Pertwee but also the series move from black and white to colour.

Following the first serial in the 1970 series, Spearhead From Space, Sherwin departed the series to be replaced by Barry Letts who continued to work to the pattern Sherwin set, ensuring that characters such as the Brigadier and all the personnel at UNIT became staples of the series for years to come. He continued to produce in-house at the BBC, with Paul Temple, The Man Outside and Perils of Pendragon among his credits.

Sherwin would continue to care deeply about the series he helped shape for the 1970s and beyond.When Michael Grade placed the show on temporary hiatus in the mid '80s, Sherwin contacted him with an offer to but the show and produce it independently for the BBC, arguing that the corporation clearly could not afford to make the show or even knew what to do with it. Grade declined but Sherwin would go on to approach his successor Peter Cregeen with the same offer to no avail.


Out On Blue Six: Echobelly

Sartorially, Sonya Madan of Britpop faves Echobelly knew how to make a statement as this picture shows.

Which is perhaps why I personally cannot see anything but innocence and joy behind her decision to go the full 'St Trinians' for the band's debut on Top of the Pops on August 31st 1995 with their number 13 chart hit Great Things. Nowadays we'd wince at the dubious connotations I guess, but I think the chosen attire is thoroughly in keeping with the song's optimistic-future message, and it's really very sweet. Look out for the late Dale Winton at the start too...

End Transmission

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Shine On Kenneth Cranham (or Film Stars Do Drink In Liverpool)

It was towards the end of April this year and a sunny late afternoon when, enjoying a pint or two in Liverpool's greatest pub (and John Lennon's old local), Ye Cracke, I spotted a familiar figure waiting to be served at the bar. The nattily dressed, distinguished, silver haired gentleman was instantly recognisable to me, it was Kenneth Cranham.

Cranham has history with Ye Cracke, having spent a days filming there for the recent movie Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool with Jamie Bell. Amusingly, and fittingly, Cranham's return visit saw him resume the very same table you see him seated at in the picture above, only with his wife Fiona Victory in the spot Bell's bottom had previously been parked in.

As a big fan, especially having been brought up on the series Shine On Harvey Moon which they both starred in, I just had to say hello. They were the sweetest, charming, most approachable pair you could ever hope to meet. He insisted I come over and say hello properly after I spotted him at the bar and, seated at their table, he regaled me with a few brief anecdotes and even took my address to send me a signed photo, which arrived just a few weeks later.

Along with that lovely signed pic, he enclosed a CD recording of a mixtape podcast he had recently guested on, hosted by Hartley Lloyd Pack, the son of his old friend from RADA Roger Lloyd Pack. The podcast contains some of their favourite songs, including as you can see from his note, a lot of Dylan.

I know there's an old adage about never meeting your heroes, but it doesn't apply in this case. Kenneth Cranham was exactly as he hoped you would be, and didn't seem to mind a total stranger coming up and babbling praise at him. He is a true gentleman. I could even just about forgive him for the time he shot that nice Charlie Fairhead in Casualty. Just about, mind.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Out On Blue Six: Madonna

We've reached the summer of 1986 on the weekly BBC4 repeats of Top of the Pops and this fave from my 80s childhood is currently residing at Number One. So stand by for a great song and a great video...

Not only does this vid show Madonna at her hottest, it also looks and feels very much like a film, thanks to Danny Aiello playing the eponymous Papa. As such, this arguably the best acting Madge ever did.

End Transmission

The Habit of Art @ Liverpool Playhouse, 25/10/18

The Original Theatre Company is in Liverpool this week, touring the first ever revival of Alan Bennett's 2009 play The Habit of Art, which depicts a meeting between old friends the poet WH Auden and composer Benjamin Britten in the twilight of their years through the staging of a play within a play, entitled Caliban's Day.

The former illustrious 1974 Everyman company member Matthew Kelly makes his return to the city to deliver a delightfully acidic turn as Auden and as Fitzpatrick, the actor channelling him who would rather be performing a more lucrative Tesco voice over. It's impossible to discuss Kelly without mentioning his tenure as the host of TV's Stars in Their Eyes but, as brilliant as he was in the role of 'Mr Saturday Night', it does him a disservice when you consider how strong an actor (and how natural a theatrical performer) he is. It's almost impossible to take your eyes off him throughout the performance - especially as, apart from a brief moment, he's on stage for the whole play.  

As his fellow thesp tasked with bringing Benjamin Britten to life, David Yelland has perhaps a far less showier role (certainly in the first half where he has very little to do) but still makes an impact, notably in the second half when Britten's proclivity for boys comes to the fore. It is perhaps here that the layered nature of Bennett's play really starts to come to life, as Yelland's openly gay actor reveals that he had a 'friend' at RADA who, struggling with the fees, resorted to working as a rentboy (the subtext being there was of course no such friend, that he is referring to himself). When later his character expresses criticism that the play's rentboy character - the 'Caliban' - is allowed to win, it is with both mixture of bitter experience that they do not in reality and a callback to Britten's personality because, as the play attests, Britten was very keen on 'winning'.

The rest of the cast is made up of Veronica Roberts as the patient and understanding stage manager (arguably the subtle heart of the proceedings), John Wark as hapless actor Donald, struggling to come to terms that his role as biographer Humphrey Carpenter is little more than a narrative device, Robert Mountford as the increasingly anxious playwright Neil, Benjamin Chandler as Tim, who gets to drop his trousers as the play's rentboy character, and Alexandra Guelff as the good intentioned and perky ASM George. The latter two I feel should be singled out; Guelff has a beautifully pure singing voice when called upon to stand in as Britten's auditioning choristers, whilst Chandler was, I felt, a little too 'on' at all times in his role. Dialling the performance down a little may have been more satisfactory. 

Directed by Phillips Franks, this revival is rightly faithful to Bennett's text and knows both how to mine a laugh and shock those who mistakenly believe Bennett to be the cosy domain of national treasure status (there were a few audible gasps and tuts at some of the language from the greyer haired in the matinee audience) and features some truly lovely set design from Adrian Linford, which brings the multi-purpose and much cluttered church hall/college room settings effectively to life. Here's some photos taken by my friend Caroline...

The Habit of Art remains at the Liverpool Playhouse until tomorrow evening. If it plays at a theatre near you, I'd strongly recommend catching it.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Don't Let Jamal Khashoggi Die In Vain - End the UK Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia

Labour have been saying this for ages. Maybe if we all sign this, then Jamal Khashoggi will not only have not died in vain, but we can save the lives of thousands more too

Killed in cold-blood. The assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is barbaric and gruesome. He criticised those in power in Saudi Arabia and it has been reported that he was murdered on their orders. The Saudi state keeps changing its story, and is now claiming he died “in a fight”. 

Yesterday, Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt condemned the killing, saying the Saudi response was “not credible”. Yet our government continues to sell them weapons. 

Saudi Arabia’s rulers rely on British made weapons. If we stop selling them arms, it will show them that their actions have consequences. And that Britain won’t stand by while they brutally silence their critics. 

This story is splashed across the news, but the government haven’t yet heard from us, the British public. If thousands of us sign an open letter to Jeremy Hunt today, asking him to halt arms sales with Saudi Arabia, he’ll know we expect him to act.

Will you join me and add your name to the open letter?

Sign here

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Political Drilling

Caught this film on last night's Channel 4 News. Very interesting way to consider the kind of language our hypocritical MP's use in comparison to the present moral panic of drill music.

The full music video is on twitter here

And it's worth remembering that politicians don't just use the language of violence, they enable actual violence the world over. As one of the YT comments under the video puts it; "What's more dangerous, one man in Peckham with a knife or a government that sells billions of pounds worth of weapons to a Saudi dictatorship that routinely murders thousands of innocent Yemenis?"

Wordless Wednesday: 1970

A Prayer Before Dawn (2018)

"...Starring as Billy Moore is Joe Cole, a former National Youth Theatre player and Screen International Star of Tomorrow recipient. Cole has been no slouch in the past few years, notching up impressive credits from his breakout role as John Shelby in the hit BBC period crime drama Peaky Blinders to a BAFTA-nominated performance in the Black Mirror episode, Hang the DJ. He has even courted Hollywood with roles in last year’s veterans drama Thank You For Your Service and 2015’s cult horror Green Room, but it’s perhaps fair to say that for all that he still isn’t a household name. That slight anonymity actually works in A Prayer Before Dawn‘s favour, because what’s integral to this film is Billy’s foreignness. It is simply Cole’s milk-white torso, rather than the star status of an A-lister, that makes him stand out from the broiling tumult of similarly semi-naked and heavily inked Thai convicts.  As the only westerner and English speaker incarcerated there, the bewilderment and isolation he feels is key to his specific ordeal and this is palpable for the audience too, as we are forced uncomprehending down this hellhole alongside him. The danger he faces, as warders and inmates bark and threaten, is credible in a way that a bigger name with a greater baggage of roles behind him would simply be unable to pull off. We know that just around the corner the trailer is waiting for them…with the lesser known Cole, you can believe he’s actually living this nightmare. This may not be the film that affords him the mainstream commercial breakout that is surely on the horizon, but the kudos it will gain in critical and professional circles is further proof of Cole’s ability to pick his roles well...."

Read my full review at The Geek Show

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Feminise The Fifty!

The Bank of England are redesigning the fifty pound note and debate is raging as to who should the new face of the bank note. 

Because only three women have featured on bank notes, the feeling is it should be a woman. Unfortunately this means some right wing idiots are campaigning for Margaret Thatcher to be the face of the fifty (shudder) but I think it's high time that we not just a remarkable woman on the next new bank note, but also one of colour.

With that in mind, I would ask that you all please sign the petition to get WWII SOE heroine Noor Inayat Khan to become the new face of the redesigned fifty pound note.

I can only echo what petition starter Zehra Zaidi has said; the first radio operator to infiltrate Nazi occupied France, Noor Inayat Khan was a truly remarkable woman that generations owe a huge debt to. Her work during WWII rightly saw her awarded a posthumous George Cross, alongside fellow agents Violette Szabo and Odette Hallowes, who Zaidi would also like to see represented on the fifty pound note, should the Bank of England consider more than one person. 

The petition explains at length how Noor's story is relevant to this day. We need to honour her memory and take the opportunity to depict her as a positive Muslim role model. 

Monday, 15 October 2018

The Comfort of Strangers (1990)

The Comfort of Strangers plays out rather like an art-house version of the then-popular mainstream Hollywood (erotic) thriller sub-genre of the yuppies-in-peril, except it isn’t altogether clear to audiences just what peril our yuppie couple are facing, so abstract and shadowy is its approach. We know that Robert is a wrong ‘un (of course he is, he’s played by Christopher Freakin’ Walken!) and we know that he possesses an unsettling interest in Colin and Mary long before they do, as Schrader allows us to glimpse him in the distance surreptitiously following them down the cloistered shadowy backstreets of Venice. That Schrader chooses to set the film in Venice (McEwan’s novel hints at this setting but doesn’t ever stipulate) means we have echoes here of Don’t Look Now, and the half-glimpsed figure of the menacing Walken is as elusive and distinctive in his white suit as the dwarf in her bright red coat. Shot beautifully by Dante Spinotti, the strange and feverish, dreamlike Gothic atmosphere of the city and Pinter’s screenplay makes The Comfort of Strangers the ideal companion piece to Roeg’s earlier film.

Read my full review at The Geek Show.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Batman (1989)

Is there a greater pain for a kid to be too young to see a film at the cinema?That was the predicament for me in the summer of 1989 when, at ten years old, I was too young to go to the cinema to see the 15 rated Batman. So, until it was released on VHS rental, I had to experience the film vicariously instead. Thankfully because Batman was the summer blockbuster that year, I had plenty of opportunity to do just that; thanks to toys, comic books and sticker/trading cards. My mum worked at the local shop/off licence at the time and me and my friends would forever be going back and forth there, buying the crappy Batman bubblegum just to get a hold of those stickers/cards. I learnt what the word 'sabotage' meant from them - it accompanied a photo of the Batmobile racing through The Joker's lair leaving explosions in its wake. Whenever I come across the word now, I still think of that. 

Now, Tim Burton films aren't really my bag but Batman is the exception that proves the rule. Burton wasn't/isn't actually a superhero comic book nerd but despite, or perhaps because of that, he creates arguably the finest Batman movie. His  sensibilities perfectly match and compliment Bob Kane's creation; the skewed Gothic landscape of Gotham City, those jutting architectural monstrosities that pierce the sky whilst garbage (both in litter and human form) line the streets below is reminiscent of Ivan Reitman's equally Gothic depiction of New York  in 1984's Ghostbusters, shaping my view of that city. Even better, Burton understands Batman because he is an auteur who is all about the lonely outsider figure - and you can't get much lonelier than Bruce Wayne or much more of an outsider than his alter ago, Batman.

It's a popular held belief that mainstream movies from Hollywood in the 1980s were aspirational, selling the capitalist dream, but I don't think that's strictly true. Not every movie from this period was a glossy, America Fuck Yeah(!) recruitment advert for the US military (Top Gun) or misappropriated by the very people they were attacking (Wall Street). The more 80s movies I've revisited in this project the more I see how preoccupied they were with class, something America as a society claims they have no issue with, and the failings of the American Dream. John Hughes in particular was renowned for addressing how distinctly less green the grass actually was on the other side of the fence, with just as many dissatisfied and sensitive kids from the right side of the tracks struggling with the family they were born into (Cameron in Ferris Bueller's Day Off) as those on the wrong side (Bender in The Breakfast Club). As a character, the billionaire Bruce Wayne, a man who can buy anything he desires ("Where does he get those wonderful toys?") and resides in a mansion so large some rooms are unknown to him ("You know, to tell you the truth, I don't think I've ever been in this room before") could come off as twattish as any of Hughes' yuppie villains (James Spader's sleazy Steff in Pretty in Pink or Craig Sheffer's equally obnoxious Hardy in Some Kind of Wonderful) but Burton and his star Michael Keaton manage to avoid this pitfall in a way that is not too dissimilar to how Hughes conveyed Ferris Bueller - they make him charming. This is a Bruce Wayne who is such an outsider that he is capable of attending his own party without being recognised. Compare this to Christopher Nolan's subsequent approach to the character where the party is only a party when a seemingly drunken Bruce Wayne deigns to show up, accompanied by leggy models on each arm. Nolan's Wayne may only be playacting to distance himself from his crime-fighting alter ego  (much like the aristocrat Sir Percy Blakeney would play the fop to distract attention from his heroic alias, The Scarlet Pimpernel) but his behaviour is obnoxious as anything Hughes could come up with, enabling the belief that you can behave however you please providing you have enough money and pull. In contrast, Burton understands that money cannot buy Wayne's happiness and certainly not when you consider his fortune came with a price he didn't ever want to pay - the murder of his parents. Bruce Wayne may have reached the top of the capitalist society and achieved the American Dream, but all he wants to use his wealth for is to fight injustice, not just for the parents he could not save, but to make Gotham a better place for those less privileged than him too. In short, Burton's Bruce Wayne is eccentric, reclusive, grieving and totally at odds with the outside world. Sound familiar? He's Edward Scissorhands. This is why Batman is such a perfect Tim Burton character, it's also why Burton totally understands that the only Batman story worth telling is why Bruce Wayne is Batman. Anything else is ultimately just a generic superhero adventure. 

It's perhaps why Burton identified that generic failing that his follow up, Batman Returns faltered and why he subsequently left the franchise to Joel Schumacher who ultimately made it as camp and cartoonish as the Adam West series had been. As a response, Nolan's later films took great pains to convince us that they weren't just 'generic superhero adventures'. Seemingly embarrassed by the immaturity inherent in such a genre, Nolan created instead parables on how America have dealt and continue to deal with the war on terror. They became political, gritty and 'real' which, ironically, only served to highlight the silliness Nolan wished to avoid - just how gritty and real and serious can your movie be when your character is running around in tights and a mask? Burton manages to walk the line in a far more satisfying manner, acknowledging the goofy premise but ratcheting up the chills by creating a stylised world for his characters. In the wake of the box office success Nolan's films achieved, superhero movies have become darker and more action-packed and totally missing the nuance that Burton hit upon almost thirty years ago. Hollywood may now be flooded with tentpole movies featuring every single Marvel character you can think of but really, is there anything they offered that has been more singularly and knowingly enjoyable and original than Jack Nicholson's Joker throwing shapes to Prince whilst 'improving the paintings' in The Flugelheim Museum?

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Death Wish II (1982)

Michael fucking Winner. A repulsive tyrant of a man who couldn't direct traffic, he reached his nadir (or found his level, depending on which way you look at it) with the Death Wish movies - films that allowed his tacky impulses and base crude desires to run wild.

The original 1974 movie Death Wish was based on the novel of the same name written by Brian Garfield some two years earlier. Garfield's inspiration came from his own brushes with crime; his wife's purse being stolen and his car vandalised. On each occasion, Garfield's immediate response was a desire to kill those responsible, but he quickly brushed such thoughts aside as the primitive impulses they clearly were and decided to write instead about a man who not only succumbs to those initial thoughts and impulses but who finds he's unable to escape them once he's exacted his revenge. The novel was released to favourable reviews but was not a bestseller. Despite this, film producers Hal Landers and Bobby Roberts showed an interest and purchased the rights for a big screen adaptation. Their original plan was for Sidney Lumet to direct and Jack Lemmon to star as the vigilante, with Henry Fonda co-starring as the detective on his trail. 

Let's just pause for a moment to think how brilliant that would have been. 

But it was not to be. Lumet chose to direct Serpico instead and the project went to Winner, who immediately cast Charles Bronson. The veteran tough guy thought he was miscast, suggesting instead a "weaker kind of man...(like) Dustin Hoffman" (presumably he must have just seen Straw Dogs?), but was drawn to the premise of the film because he too admitted to a secret desire for vigilantism. It proved to be a massive boost to his career and, thanks to the sequels, kept him in work for much of the 1980s despite really being, in the words of 80s hero Roger Murtagh, 'too old for this shit'.

Garfield himself was appalled by Winner's take on his story, arguing that it advocated violence rather than condemned it. "They made a hero out of him. I thought I'd shown that he'd become a very sick man" he said, immediately penning a follow-up novel entitled Death Sentence to repent for the sins of the film adaptation. A loose adaptation of that novel would eventually see the light of day in 2007 with Kevin Bacon in the lead. But it was in 1982 that Death Wish got its first official sequel, thanks to the persistence of Hollywood's most outspoken outsiders, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus of Cannon Films, who were hungry to capitalise on the market potential of a movie franchise.

The story is pretty much a retread of the original film. Now residing in LA, architect Paul Kersey decides to dole out his own brand of hard justice once again following the rape and murder of both his housekeeper and his daughter, the latter of whom was still catatonic from the rape she endured in the first film. So we get a wide-eyed, mute Robin Sherwood staring directly to the voyeuristic camera whilst she is gang-raped in unflinching detail. Cheery stuff hmm?

Winner, who sickeningly proclaimed "rape doesn't date!" when promoting the production, immediately fell foul of the British Board of Film Classification thanks to the unsettling voyeuristic and salacious male fantasy tone he brought to the the two rape scenes. The BBFC censor edited James Firman described the film as being "about as irresponsible a filmmaker could be about the treatment of rape for purely commercial ends. This director is simply trying to stir up as much controversy as possible because he's in desperate need of a hit". Four minutes were subsequently edited from the film for its release in the UK and this edited version is still the only one available in the UK (though the previously censored rape of the daughter is shown in the Cannon Films documentary Electric Boogaloo to highlight the film's trouble with the BBFC. It is, as you would expect, sickening; the film's original screenwriter and Cannon scribe David Engelbach described, in the same documentary, Winner's directorial choices when approaching rape as simply there to "to get his rocks off. The script did not need it" Needless to say Winner had heavily revised Engelbach's screenplay prior to the commencement of shooting). It's interesting to compare how censorship differs in the US and the UK; here censors are more mindful of violence whereas in the US, the MPAA get the scissors out for sex. However, in regards to this film, they clearly found sexual violence less of a problem than they might have done with consensual sex. I find that quite disturbing really.

Repugnant, exploitative, sleazy and grubby, Death Wish II no doubt achieved everything Cannon and Winner wanted. After all, neither producers or director ever seemed to aim for greatness, preferring instead publicity, notoriety and money.  The offensiveness doesn't just stop at the premise and the action on display either; the screenplay never once gives any attention, insight or motivation to Bronson's character, which means there's a huge void at the core of the film. This lifelessness carries over into Bronson's lethargic acting style and Winner's sleepwalking direction, which only ever comes alive when some poor actress is made to strip before the camera ahead of being brutalised. Perhaps tellingly, Winner never once shoots his leading lady, Jill Ireland, in the nude - why? Because Ireland was Mrs Charles Bronson and he'd have clearly done some violence for real if Winner ever suggested she disrobe in such a distasteful, disturbing scenario.

Oh and let's add something else to the litany of unsavoury things Winner was - lazy. Isaac Hayes was recommended for the score to this film but Winner chose instead Led Zep legend Jimmy Page. Why? Because Page lived next door to Winner. Page's score was subsequently nominated for a Razzie, but let's face it the whole stinking film deserved to be put in the incinerator.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Malicious (1995)

Malicious is story of a college student whose long term girlfriend won't put out in the public library. Annoyed, he decides to fuck the next woman he talks to (in her open top convertible, in a rainstorm, on a baseball field - don't you love the 90s?) A little while later (and another fuck later, this time on a boat - 90s!) the girlfriend decides she should put out in the library after all, and the guy realises what a mistake he made fucking the other girl. Unfortunately, the other girl isn't the type to accept she was just a piece of disposable ass to him (what is she, one of those feminists or something?) and decides to get revenge in your standard bunny boiler way of killing a household pet, attempting to murder his mother, framing him for assault, to name just a few. And to think, none of it would have happened if his gf would have just put out in the first place. Tsk, wimmin huh?

I guess the moral of the story is in two parts; the first is there are two types of women in life, the frigid sweetheart and the hot psycho, and the second is it's so hard being a man and having a cock and stuff. Boo hoo hoo.

By rights I really should hate this kind of offensively sexist Fatal Attraction knock off  but I enjoyed every cheap and tacky 1990s TV movie moment of it, thanks in no small part to the genius casting of former John Hughes princess Molly Ringwald as the woman scorned. 

Ringwald is clearly relishing the opportunity to play a role that is hot temptress one minute and deranged villainess the next. You can see why she signed on for it, affording her the chance to step away from the teen movies that made her name - a move that is best exemplified by her decision to go topless in one of the film's sex scenes (a gorgeous sight to behold I might add) - but the sad truth is that she outshines everyone else on screen, barring perhaps John Vernon in a very small (though nonetheless second billed) role. The weak goatee'd Patrick McGaw is the weak willed man and is so dreadfully wooden, he makes Keanu Reeves look like Olivier, whilst Sarah Lassez has the thankless role of his virginal girlfriend.

It's not just the poor acting and the sexist nature of the storyline that stick in my craw about Malicious, there's also the way in which it uses child abuse as the reason why Ringwald's character is the way she is. Despite the revelation that her father abused her, the film refuses to offer a shred of sympathy for her character, because sympathy is of course solely reserved for the man who thinks with his prick and treats women like shit.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell To Earth

I'll keep it brief, I loved it! 

"Swiss Army with added Sheffield Steel!"

Jodie is wonderful in the role (of course) there's great chemistry between her and her 'gang', and there's no weak links to be found. It was a funny and dramatic, deeply atmospheric story with great heart (much more so than the cringeworthy attempts at mature emotion that RTD or the Moff could often give us) and a gruesome bad guy. But best of all, there were clear line deliveries, crisp sound design and beautiful, subtle music - great reworking of the theme tune too!

RIP Ray Galton

Very sad to hear that legendary comic scriptwriter Ray Galton has died at the age of 88.

Surrey born Galton was working as a clerk for the TGWU when, at sixteen, he knew something was seriously wrong with him. He was 6ft 4in but weighed only nine stone and suffered from a bad cough, sweats and little energy. Diagnosed with TB, he was packed off to a sanatorium in Milford, near Godalming where his future in comedy was set thanks to a chance meeting with fellow patient, Alan Simpson (who sadly also passed away last year at the age of 87). 

Working together, the pair's first great success was writing for Tony Hancock; between 1954 and 1961 they wrote some 150 scripts for the comedian and secured his status as the nation's favourite comedian. When Hancock decided he wanted to go it alone, Galton and Simpson devised a one-off Comedy Playhouse about a warring father and son rag and bone team. Their script, entitled The Offer, went on to become Steptoe and Son, a long-running BBC series that stands to this day as one of the finest sitcoms.

Away from Simpson, Galton worked with Johnny Speight on the police comedy Spooner's Patch, and with John Antrobus on Room at the Bottom and Get Well Soon, the latter a sanatorium-set sitcom inspired by Galton and Simpson's initial encounter.


Saturday, 6 October 2018

Out On Blue Six: Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Caballé

Sad to hear of the death of Montserrat Caballé today. This was a barnstormer of my youth, prepare to have your hairs stand up on end...


End Transmission

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Fame (1980)

Fame is a bit like Saturday Night Fever in that the collective consciousness seems to be labouring under a misapprehension as to what kind of film it is. Like Travolta's disco classic, Fame is wrongly considered to be a glitzy piece of music and dance - cinematic fluff from the tail end of the 20th century. Mention Fame to most people and they'll probably explain it via Irene Cara's hit of the same name which features the euphoric, we-can-do-anything lyric "I'm gonna live forever, I'm gonna learn how to fly - high!". To these people, Fame is a musical; precocious students with impromptu dances during their lunch hour. All jazz hands, sweat bands and lycra. 

But whilst Fame certainly is that (and the subsequent TV spin-off series was almost exclusively that), as a film it is also something a whole lot more. Something darker, more downbeat and ultimately more real. Abortion, poverty, racial inequality, homosexuality, suicide, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic strife and a harrowing '#MeToo' moment (for the aforementioned Cara's character)  all feature in Fame. When you take all that into consideration, it's not exactly High School Musical is it? 

It is this contradiction of grit and glamour that is there for all to see in the film's tagline; "Fame is the glamour of the Great White Way of Broadway and the squalor of 42nd Street" and, Directed by Alan Parker, Fame captures the oft unspoken truth of the pursuit of a career in the performing arts. The central message of Cara's theme song, which features such an exuberant outdoor dance sequence that literally stops traffic, may be about living forever through their success, but the film's actual narrative does little to suggest that such immortality and adulation is waiting in the wings for any of them. The old adage that school is the best years of your life seems to be incredibly apt for our youthful protagonists as the innocence of their dreams are resolutely lost by the time the credits roll. As talented as they may be, the chances are they'll most likely be waiting tables once they graduate, as evinced by the fate of the former school golden boy Michael (Boyd Gaines). 'Remember my name' the lyric may well implore, but the truth is, they'll be lucky if they remember to tip. In keeping with its surprisingly gritty flavour, it offers no consolations or solutions for any of its characters. All they have, as the film pointedly and poignantly ends with them performing together on stage for one last time, is their shared experience and their bond.

Fame is an episodic and occasionally frenetic, Altmanesque snapshot of life for the students at the school, from nervous auditions through to their senior year and graduation. It boasts some excellent performances that show a real change occurring within each character (specifically Maureen Teefy's Doris and Ralph played by Fever's Barry Miller who seem to grow before our very eyes) and a unique perspective on American culture from Englishman in New York, Parker. Whilst it's arguably a little overlong at two hours ten minutes, its place in popular culture is assured, if a little mistaken by audiences.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Out On Blue Six: Charles Aznavour, RIP

I'm also sorry to hear today that the legendary Gallic singer Charles Aznavour has died at the age of 94.

The French Sinatra was the son of Armenian immigrants and grew up in poverty. Nevertheless he went on to use his incredible talent to break out of such deprivation and sell more than 180 million records and star in over 60 movies.

My father has always been a bit of a fan, this - arguably Aznavour's most famous hit - being a personal favourite


End Transmission

RIP Geoffrey Hayes

September was a pretty bad time for celebrity deaths and I'm sorry to report that October has started in much the same manner with the news that Geoffrey Hayes has passed away at the age of 76.

It's somehow always that little bit sadder and more affecting when the celebrity death is a part of your childhood. I guess it's like a reminder that your own childhood is now so very long ago.

Geoffrey Hayes was known to millions as 'Geoffrey from Rainbow' having presented the childrens favourite for eighteen years from 1974 to 1992, sharing his house with Zippy, Bungle and George and playing host to musical trio Rod, Jane and Freddy. 

What isn't perhaps widely known however is that prior to Rainbow, the Stockport born Hayes was a serious actor, playing DC Scatliff in long-running BBC police drama Z Cars. When Rainbow was axed after a 1,000 episodes, Hayes admitted he found work hard to come by as, "directors could only think of me as Rainbow's Geoffrey". Indeed I recall him saying that when the show that made him a household name and a favourite uncle for children everywhere came to a close he immediately sought work on The Bill, because other than Rainbow, he'd played a detective in Z Cars and that was what he knew. The thought that he could appear in The Bill was a naive one, but it perhaps sums up the man really; a sweet innocent who couldn't comprehend how TV had moved on whilst he was doing a wonderful job entertaining children. Work was hard to come by and he became a supermarket shelf stacker and minicab driver. What entertainment work he did find included public appearances, panto, and guest appearances on game shows like Never Mind the Buzzcocks in 2002 (opposite Coolio!) and most recently, in 2015, Pointless Celebrities

He died in hospital and leaves a wife and son.