Friday, 22 June 2012

"They're livin' it up at the Hotel Diodati.." Mary Shelley the play, Robert Harris's Fear Index

 I like a bit of theatre and really make an effort to get friends out to good theatre events. On my birthday in the past we've all had a lot of fun (post pub) at great London nights out such as Woman in Black and Shockheaded Peter.

I've had a bad run on this in the last couple of years though. I thought the highly rated Jerusalem (to be used as the basis for the Olympic ceremony I understand) was just about the most over-rated live event I've ever seen in any form. As someone who has lived on Exmoor for about 15 years, I found Jerusalem's depiction of rural England ludicrous, with some truly repellant characters that showcase some of the worst aspects of modern England while remaining farcically niave about others. Fantastic acting performances but I hated it with a passion.

Last year I finally worked up the enthusiam again for another play but unfortunately chose Chicago (the musical). I blame too much time on the tube system, passing posters that suggest a kind of theatrical Sin City set to Cotton Club era music. Instead I found myself in something that was more like "Graham Norton's Bugsy Malone XXX". I've never been more embarrassed to be in an audience in my life.

So, for live drama, it has been a while. Luckly, Helen Edmundon's Mary Shelley, which I saw last Saturday night at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, has broken the duck.

It was a impulse decision. as it was only walking distance from where I'm staying. I txted a friend, "It had better have drugs and at least one monster in it" It didn't have either but is well worth seeing anyway.

Compared to other dramatisations of the era this is more straight biopic and it benefits from a more sober approach. The lives of the Godwins and the Shelley's, two generations of radical rock star thinkers of their era, hardly needs exaggeration. The lives of these people glow with such creativity that their actual living reality seems like an extreme plot from a Bronte/Thomas Hardy parody.

Still recovering from the death of the suicide of their proto-feminist mother Mary Wollstonecraft, the three teenage daughters of radical thinker William Godwin find themselves playing host and falling in love with Percy Bysshe Shelley, Godwin's spiritual air. Enormous schandal follows. Eventually two of the three will find themselves on the shores of Lake Geneva at the Villa Diodati taking laudanam with Lord Byron, in a famous ghost story writing competition which will inspire some of the greatest monsters of literary history.
One of the sisters will commit suicide.
Mary, as a teenage single mother, will write Frankenstein. (Also, less well known, The Last Man, the first post apocalypse novel).

Ken Russell's Gothic covers the Villa Diodati part of the saga as if loaded on laudanam itself. I've seen this movie (I was at the London Prem at the Adelphi actually) in all states of disrepair, and disrepair is definately the best way to see it. Sadly missed Natasha Richardson is excellent as Mary but it probably it does the epochal late-niter no favours as a serious subject.

Helen Edmundonsons current play, which has been running for some time up North, very sensibly restricts iself to events from the Home Front, the Godwin's home in Skinner Street in London, stopping before the publication of Frankenstien.
Kilburn walk back from Tricycle

There is enough soap opera incident in these characters to fill three series of HBO saga. It doesn't need to cover the work of the Godwins, The Shelley's and Byron in any detail and wisely restricts itself to the effects of the ideas themselves. From the perspective of the poor parents Shelley is more like a cult leader, a David Koresh or Jim Jones, spiriting half of their family away to become part of his 'community' (along with the children of his other conquests) while leaving poor Fanny trapped in a prison of her own social responsibility.

Lord Byron and the Ken Russell events of Switzerland are kept completely completely off stage leaving a a tragic Thomas Hardy-esque saga to unfold before us. The actresses covering the daughters, Kristin Atherton as Mary, Shannon Tarbet as Jane and Flora Nicholson as Fanny are all convincing, funny and heartbreaking when they need to be. (Flora Nicholson particularly). Direction is tight and design is involving without being a distraction.

Negatives? Mrs Godwin character grates badly (the writing, not the actress I think). Also the atempt at the end to tie up the effects of the radical thought on the family seems contrived. The one thing Gothic got right was a chilling ending showing the morbid, tragic fates of those involved. I wish Mary Shelley had tied things up as neatly, but overall I would regard it a big success.

While appreciating the novelty of this story being told from the Godwin's perspective I was still a bit childishly dissapointed that all the interesting stuff with Lord Byron and the Villa Diodati happened off stage.

By a coincidence I'm just coming to the end of Robert Harris's The Fear Index , which IS set in Geneva Switzerland, a near future Switzerland were the souless high finance equivalent of Skynet and the Forbin Project is about to crash the world.

The power of the Fear Index is that it is not near future however, and the algorithmic tradiing system which is manipulating the worlds financial markets to clean up on bets made against the chaos is actually happening all around us now. And if the AI Gordon Gecko's in Harris's novel i not alarming enough perhaps the knowledge that human beings are doing the same thing as I'm writing this is even worse than Harris's fiction.

Fear Index is a thrilling read you will likely devour, horrfied, in record time. It will tell you more about the Darwinistic forces in modern finance than you want to know, and like the Villa Diodati experience of Mary Shelley and co it reminds us that beneath the surface of Geneva swim some very dark creatures of the human subconscious. Harris knows he is swimming in the same chilled lake water as the Shelley's, Polidori and Byron as he includes his own Dr Polidori character, and the seedy Geneva hotel where main character meets his own monster called 'Hotel Diodati'.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Thoughts on A Punk Tale Of Two Cities

Like punk itself, this contains a lot of self promotional BS, produced like disjointed schizo cut up  immediately at war with its own nature. By the time the self congratulatory nostalgia gets to one hit wonder Neneh Cherry you might be wanting to start a radical nihilist anarchist movement yourself. I hope that's the point.

Best quotes
"Ian Dury was everything Lou Reed wanted to be"    Chrissie Hynde

"It only lasted six months because that all started on speed, and then the Heartbreakers came over and brought smack. And then it ended"   Hynde again

Re: John Lydon vs The Ramones, Someone needs to tell John Lydon that the more bollocks he talks the more he sounds like Malcom McClaren

Overplaying the 1970s IRA bombing campaign to make it sound like the Blitz is laughable. (During the IRA's twenty-five year campaign in England, there were 115 deaths, in six months in 1940 the Blitz killed 40,000 people)

London punk scene had no equivalent Andy Warhol like art scene to the New York punk scene so one of the 'London' artists, Linder Sterling, is included despite being a Scouser working in Manchester (for Buzzcocks)

Punk Britannia : Cosmic Justice 1977 Style

1977 - The message from humanity for alien civilisations attached to the
Voyager space probes includes a speach by the then UN Secretary
General Kurt Waldheim. Waldheim has since been revealed as an
ex-member of the Waffen SS.

NASA had originially asked for permission to include "Here Comes the Sun" from the Beatles' album Abbey Road. While the Beatles favoured it, EMI opposed it and the song was not included.

1977 -  EMI executives (briefly) sign the new music sensation.
"Following the end of the tour in December 1976, EMI arranged a series
of concerts for January 1977 at the Paradiso in Amsterdam. But before
boarding the plane at London Heathrow Airport, the band reportedly
spat on each other and verbally abused airport staff. "One witness
claimed the Sex Pistols were doing something so disgusting that she
could not repeat it for publication . . . it became generally believed
Jones had been vomiting on old ladies in the preflight lounge,"
reported Rolling Stone. EMI released the band from their contract two
days later.
"I don't understand it," Rotten remarked at the time. "All
we're trying to do is destroy everything."

Monday, 11 June 2012

Ennio Morricone special on 6music

If you've had enough of Punk Britannia and need a cool start to a wet spring week

This is good

and highlights available on the freakzone podcast

Sunday, 10 June 2012

John Carter, rant review, comparison with Dune, Lawrence of Arabia and those classic Doug McClure movies

Buy me a drink and I'll give you the rant that TE Lawrence, John
Carter, Flash Gordon, and Paul Atriedes are all the same character in an
evolving form of the same story. The Eternal Desert Champion.


1917, reports of TE Lawrence, the British officer in the Arab Revolt
arrive in the American press. The same year Edgar Rice Burroughs publishes
 his first novel of the American cavalry officer magically transported to Mars
to unite war ravaged Barsoom. Within a few decades Alex Raymond's Flash 
Gordon tells an approximation of both stories in a graphic form.

By the early 1960s David Lean's classic multi Oscar winning Lawrence of
Arabia has retold the legend again with the addition of messianic
self-doubt, genocidal brutality, political betrayal. Shortly after
Frank Herbert uses this new perspective to write the Dune novels, in
which a messianic outsider finds himself leading a desert revolt and
ultimately provokes galaxy-wide political revolution.

And if you think that's stretching a good theory, later I
 tie in the Burton/Taylor Cleopatra epic into Frank Herbert's thought
processes as well, because I am a tireless swashbuckling defender of
movie lost causes, which, should, bring me to John Carter.

This is the enormously unsuccessful adaptation of the first of Edgar
Rice Burroughs (ERB for fans) Warlord of Mars books.
It is the first live action film by the creator of the classic animations
Wall-E and Finding Nemo. John Carter was apparently his pet
project since childhood, and unfortunately it looks like it.

I was hyped to defend this to the hilt in fashion of a swashbuckling
ERB hero as it seemed the critics were out to ridicule it just out of
spite (see also Watchmen).

Well ERB fans I would lower your expectations further:

In summary
  • Tharks
  • Woola
  • Airships

  • All human actors are stiff to point of ridiculous in a huge waste of abundant acting talent
  • Overall design and costumes not distinct enough
  • Battle scenes are dumb
  • Clunky ERB names make the dialog laughable in places

In detail
I'll decline to comment on the title, which is either so boring it's
bold or, if the story about Hollywood's aversion to the planet Mars is
true, craven cowardice. Supposedly after various movies with the
world' Mars' in the title flopped the word was banned from John Carter
Warlord of Mars, hence just John Carter. Good luck selling that.

John Carter opens with a po faced seriousness worthy of the Amicus 70s
adaptations of ERB novels such as Land That Time Forgot and At the
Earth's Core (all starring Doug McClure), and I would steel yourself here
for further painful comparisons with those cheesy 70s classics.

Just when John Carter has arrived on Barsoom and you think the movie
really is dying badly, Tars Tarkas, the Thark, or green Martian,
rides to the rescue voiced by Willem Defoe. You have to love the
heroism of the Tharks, who will fight for any lost cause and damn near
save this movie. Perhaps because he is dealing with basically animated
characters rather than actors Stanton seems free to run with Tars and
his people and they are by a way the best thing about the movie.

During the constant comparisons you will make with David Lynch's movie
adaptation of Dune, (along with Watchmen another slavish adaptation of
source material) you will conclude that the main problem with that
movie was the botched depiction of the desert loving Fremen.
Ironically in John Carter the desert loving locals are the best thing
about it.

The storyline really is a mess, overloaded with Burroughsian bells and
whistles at the expense of the main plot (about 20 mins is devoted to
ERBs quaint 19th century framing story). Obviously the work of a fan in
control of a project who got so close to the material he couldn't see what
was and wasn't working

Most inexplicable is the look of the movie. There no excuse for John
Carter to look so close to a tired remake of the Star Wars prequels.
One whole arena scene is virtually identical to the best scene in Attack of the
Clones. Excusing it  as it was originally in ERBs book is not good enough, the
writer/director should have been detached enough to change it if the
scene had already been covered elsewhere.

Despite $250 million budget and some great detail Mars still looks like
Arizona/Tatooine. Would a slight red filter have driven the budget
over the edge? (The image at the top is red filtered by me, the original
image is shown at the bottom.)

In a great touch that fills you with early hope for the
movie the Disney magic castle shown at the opening is shown recoloured
in beautiful crimson. A fun period trailer of John Carter available
suggests it would be a lot more fun and look a lot less derivative
just shown in black and white!

Painfully I have to say in the pantheon of ERB film adaptations it
comes below Land That Time Forgot and Greystoke. It's ahead of
infamous clunker At the Earth's Core mainly on $250million of visuals.
Earth's Core is a bad movie, much worse than John Carter, and has some
real disasters monster wise but at least the Iron Mole is a well done
departure, whereas the telegram star gate in John Carter is a yawn.
Bad as it is Earths Core did go its own way visually within the
confines of its budget. Too much of JC could be scenes from any number
of other movies.
At The Earth's Core (1976), goofy and stupid but unmistakable for anything else 
Is the justification for this over familiarity that they are staying
close to the original source? My particular problem with the movie, I
have to say not shared by any of the other bad reviews, is with the
female lead, who has strayed away from the source material in a way
that really should have applied to other areas.

Dejah Thoris is very important to the Mars series. The title of the
first novel is Princess of Mars, and the narrative quest of the first
three books is John Carter tracking her down after she professes love
for him and fate tears them apart. She isn't just the female lead; she
is the equivalent of The One Ring in Tolkien. I'm such a romantic at
12 I wouldn't even start the first book until someone told me Carter
eventually gets the girl.

So, as the main drive for the narrative, getting Dejah right is vital.
Flash Gordon and Paul Atriedes are fighting for politics; John Carter
is driven primarily by love.

So amid a number of big problems with this movie that stays slavishly
loyal to so much, turning Dejah Thoris into an identikit empowered
modern heroine is a big mistake. In her first scene Dejah gives an
impassioned political speech and talks about her latest research into
Barsoomian science.

Dejah Thoris is a scientist politician? really?

Of all the things to change you chose Dejah Thoris? You turned the
alluring practically naked alien fox princess into Princess Leia in
fake tan?
Arthur Adam's comic version of the original DJ 
No-one is going to go back looking for feminist icons in Dejah Thoris,
she is pure tease cheese though out ERBS series. All you'd need is a
half interested Megan Fox covered in jewels.

Lynn Collins, the actress, is good, it takes seconds to find stills of
her demonstrating allure but in John Carter she struggles with a part
that is more Californian fitness instructor rather than alien princess
(let alone scientist). I've seen more exotic women working in Earl's
Court Marks and Spensers.

To make one more excruciating comparison with the Doug McClure films,
for me there is no contest between Lyn Collins as Dejah
Thoris and Caroline Munro in Earth's Core, even when it's obvious
Collins could act Munro right off the screen. There is more of ERBs
pulp sexiness in Munro's smile than there is in the entire of the
scientist/princess/swords women version of Dejah Thoris in John
Caroline Munroe as Princess Dia, in Earth's Core 
The original Dejah Thoris loves John Carter because he is an
honourable, strong warrior from another planet. He raises the bar for
Barsoom's Alpha + male. She could have any guy on her own planet but
chooses as a mate an alien from a place millions of miles away. I'm
guessing the original Dejah isn't a gal who makes decisions with the
scientific or political side of her mind.

John Carter chases Dejah across Barsoom through adventures that would
give Dale Arden a nervous breakdown not because she's
invented the Fifth ray or is some Martian Rosa Luxemburg but because
she is the hottest piece of ass in the solar system and the whole
solar system knows it

Did the studio need a more modern positive female role model ? Sola,
Tars Tarkas's daughter (voiced by Samantha Morton), on the verge of
execution for endlessly rebelling against the cruelty in Thark
society, is one of the few characters in John Carter which genuinely

But Sola is an alien.. and this has to be a sexy female role model. So
instead we have the have the actual sex object female role, Dejah,
changed to be Barsoom's leading scientist. (ERB fan bangs head on

Are we saying modern female audiences couldn't relate to a woman just
using her style and sexual power as a weapon in itself? (As Comic Book
Guy might say - there is no emoticon to express the level of sarcasm
needed to end that question)

If Cleopatra were remade today would the studio insist on making her
an Amazonian scientist?

"I could have just rolled from a rug in front of you Caesar but I
knew you'd prefer to see this glider that I've invented"

Jubilee weekend in North Devon

Went back to Parracombe for the Jubliee weekend. It was somewhat ruined by one of my neighbours being taken away in an ambulance, reinforcing my impression that remote villages in the middle of nowhere are no place for single loners, in fact they are more like incubation centres for paranoid schizophrenia..

Pics are from Woolacombe beach, where the surfaces are fluid enough not to fade into backgrounds from Cabinet of Dr Caligari

Hammer's Dracula and Frankenstein series, as soccer reports

Re-published as a fond fairwell to Bulgarian vampire wizard Dimitar Berbatov. Good luck with your new club, Dimi, I hope it means we see you playing more often.



Curse of Frankenstein
Physically challenged science assistant fumbled with the brain early on resulting in a scrappy second half. Match stayed unresolved until the team bath.

A classic cup tie full of desperate lunges and last minute drama. Peter Cushing eventually emerged as Victor (though not in the Frankenstinian sense) by two falls and a disintegration.

Revenge of Frankenstein
A new brain transplant tactic by the home team successfully avoided the oppositions gallows based off side trap. The resulting cannibalism and bestiality was only interrupted by the predictably clinical finish.

Dracula, Prince of Darkness
With star striker Van Helsing unavailable the visitors relied on the waterlogged playing surface to destabilise the Transylvanian defence, who lost despite excellent support from the bench.

Evil of Frankenstein
Squabbles in the dressing room with the new team physio prevented the home team approaching the match with the right frame of mind. The star player in particular was a disappointment though did contribute to the usual spectacular Frankenstein finish.

Dracula has Risen From the Grave
Controversy marred this match arising from a disallowed staking decision. Home team eventually beaten by a lucky deflection and a spectacular impale.

And Frankenstein Created Woman
Further experimentation from the home teams manager resulted in an unorthodox striking partnership which had much success early on but soon fell foul of unfamiliarity problems. Still, parts of the new formation looked promising and hopefully shirts will be swapped at the end of the next match.

Taste the Blood of Dracula
The Transylvanians, playing in London for the first time found the experience disorientating even with strong local support. With commitment fatally lacking in the opposition penalty area only the Eastern european cuisine worried the Londoners.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
The visitors began this match in determined mood. Again they were outmanouvered though Freddie Jones staggeringly confused performance threatened to bring the home side down in flames.

Scars of Dracula
A scrappy, unpleasant affair enhanced by constant neck high tackles and the graphic dismissal of Patrick Troughton after an off the ball whipping incident. Discipline and order were distinctly lacking despite the surprise presence of Dennis Waterman in Cushings position as the main provider of crosses. Extreme weather conditions contributed to a shocking, if not unexpected, climax.

Horror of Frankenstein
A travesty. They threw the match. "...sick as a rubber bat Brian."

Dracula A.D.1972
The return of the old protagonists failed to save the game from mediocrity as it saw the Transylvanians abandon their old 6-6-6 formation and black on black strip in favour of a Chelsea style line up and flairs. Script to man marking on Lee gave him little to do although a brief appearance from the always entertaining Munroe gave the home fans something to drool about. For the visitors Cushings Cruyff-like bathtub and skylight manoeuvre showed he still hadn't lost that blessed silver touch.

Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell
With Wayne Rooney on loan the Barons side were expected to win this tie though much of it had to be played in lunatic asylum to co-incide with FIFA rules on lunatic England footballers. Despite his presence clumsy mistakes were kept at a minimum (only Simon Wards brain squishing back pass spoke of former glories) and the resulting walk over drove the spectators mad at the end.

Satanic Rites of Dracula
Despite constant threat of illness (to everybody) the more modern Transylvanian formation continued to be refined and with the addition of more money and a sturdy, leather clad defence this became a red hot encounter with Cushing's squad which this time included the ever watchable Lumley. In a narrow finish Lee became a victim of his overgrown pitch with the coup de grace coming in off the post.