Sunday, 27 January 2013

Berbatov, sorry, Berberian Sound Studio

There was a time when I didn't know who Toby Jones was. Now it transpires he's been in just about every great movie I've seen going back decades. And he's the son of noted Brit actor Freddie Jones - best known (by me) for Frankenstein Must be Destroyed - mentioned in my Hammer tribute to Dimi Berbatov..
(speaking of which I went to Craven Cottage last week to watch a Fulham FC game and had a great time).

How is this for a range of characters...Toby Jones's recent roles include Hitchcock (in The Girl), Truman Capote (in Infamous), Arnim Zola (in Captain America), Claudius Templesmith (in The Hunger Games) and ... Karl Rove (in Oliver Stone's .W).

He seems to have a habit for going head to head with more famous actors playing the same real figure in movies released at the same time. In 2006, in Infamous, he produced a more realistic version of Truman Capote than Philip Seymour Hoffman had the year before in Capote. This year his version of Alfred Hitchcock, in The Girl (about the making of The Birds and Marnie), has set a real challenge for Sir Anthony Hopkins, in Hitchcock (a great deal more sympathetic portrayal about the making of Psycho).

Berberian Sound Studio is an excellent meta-horror movie, showing the recording of the soundtrack of a fictitious and typically eccentric 1970s Italian horror movie called, The Equestrian Vortex. It neatly solves
the problem of Italian horror movies being mostly better in theory than reality by presenting it via sound effects from a recording booth.

Jones plays a British recording engineer mysteriously taken from his work on travelogues in rural England to reproduce a series of horrifying sound effects that begin to effect his mind. Set entirely within the recording studio it manages to be truly mysterious, oblique and yet satisfying in a way that the heavily hyped British horror from last year, Kill List, completely failed to achieve.

Director and writer Peter Strickland creates strange mix of Repulsion era Roman Polanski and period Dario Argento in a chockingly real version of the 1970s. Berberian Sound Studio would equally be a brilliant double bill with either the recent Tinker Tailer Solider Spy or a film like Suspiria (on which The Equestrian Vortex is seems to be based, for the Dance Academy becomes a Horse Riding Academy in the other )

It amounts to the best "Italian" horror I've seen in 25 years - even if it is actually British/German. Not sure what the Italian cast make of the slightly stereotypical portrayal of Italians but as the typically arcane and twisted The Equestrian Vortex itself is mostly presented with a reverential smirk they presumably take it in good humour. If you are aware of the exquisite agony of watching surreal/genius/awful Argento movies you will have a ball with some of the references here. I think they may have missed an opportunity to include a drugged up Italian prog rock band but I guess that might have titled a finely balanced movie towards silliness

Berberian Sound Studio is an obviously loving tribute to the genre and era - while having a good chuckle at it - and it reminded me of Don't! , Edgar Wright's fake trailer for a fake British 70s horror movie
included in Tarrantino's Grindhouse.

American History via Movies and TV

I'm really looking forward to the new Lincoln movie. In the hope that I can enthuse you into history the way I was enthused, and perhaps help put some classic tv/films on a timeline that would help place them in the minds of those younger than myself, here is a personal attempt at a chronological list.

History is boring right? It was for me a long time ago, then my history teacher, Mr Colin Elstone (at Broadway School in Cheadle Cheshire - ENGLAND!)  threw away our suggested text of British History and got us studying U.S. history after the Civil War. When I could place a few historical events next to movies I knew suddenly the whole subject (including previously boring British history) opened up, and before long each new movie and history book was another link in the web of historical events. if you have a little friend asking questions about a particular era or are interested yourself I hope this is useful ...but don't let them watch Deadwood obviously :-)

So here we go.. even when fictional I find them at least representative of the era, and usually pretty entertaining

PATHFINDER (Vikings slave raiding Native American tribes in the Dark Ages)

THE CRUCIBLE (Puritan America in the 17thc)

LAST OF THE MOHICANS (French And Indian War)

JOHN ADAMS (TV SERIES,Revolution until War of 1812)

AMISTAD (Slavery before Civil War)

DJANGO UNCHAINED (Slavery before Civil War)

LINCOLN (Civil War)


GANGS OF NEW YORK (Civil War and politics in the North, 1860s New York, gang culture)

DANCES WITH WOLVES (Native Americans, the West)

DEADWOOD (TV SERIES, Reconstruction era, Old West)

HEAVEN'S GATE (Range wars, the Old West)

THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Gilded Age of Robber Barons)

DAYS OF HEAVEN (Rural poverty in the Gilded Age)

BOARDWALK EMPIRE (TV SERIES, Prohibition, origin of War on Drugs)

THE COTTON CLUB (Prohibition, race, music)

INHERIT THE WIND (the Monkey Trial, Darwin vs Bible)

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (Race in the south)

BONNIE AND CLYDE (Great Depression, crime, midwest)

PUBLIC ENEMIES  (Great Depression, crime, midwest)

THE UNTOUCHABLES (Great Depression, crime, Chicago)

GRAPES OF WRATH (Great Depression California)

CHINATOWN (pre WW2 California)


1941 (WW2 in California... sorry .. I love this movie)

THE AVIATOR (post WW2 boom)


GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK (1950s media vs McCarthysim)

ED WOOD (50s Hollywood)

MATINEE (60s Hollywood, Cuban Missile Crisis)

THIRTEEN DAYS (JFK, Cuban Missile Crisis)

THE RIGHT STUFF (Nasa and the space race)


JFK (Assassinations of JFK and RFK)

BUGSY (founding of Las Vegas)

AMERICAN GRAFFITI (Americana pre Vietnam)

ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE (1960s Counter reaction)

BIG WEDNESDAY (1970s Counter culture)



DICK (Watergate)

WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM (1970s counter culture politics)

NETWORK (1970s media and radical left)


THE WARRIORS (1970s New York, gang culture)

ARGO  (1979 Iranian hostage seige)

TIMES SQUARE (1980s New York culture)

DO THE RIGHT THING (New York 1980s race, culture)

FERRIS BUELLERS DAY OFF (1980s Chicago culture)

BOB ROBERTS (1980s Reagan era politics)

WALL STREET (prequel to the Crash of 2008 !)

PRIMARY COLORS (1990s Clinton era politics)

WAG THE DOG  (manufacturing consent, political spin)

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (1990s economy, culture)

THE SOPRANOS (TV SERIES 1990s Crime to Patriot act)

CASINO (development of Las Vegas)

AMERICAN BEAUTY (culture 2000)

FIGHT CLUB  (counter-culture 2000)

8 MILE (counter-culture 2000)

THE WIRE (TV SERIES 1990s War on Drugs)

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS (Military unreality)

BURN AFTER READING (Intelligence failure)

RECOUNT (George W. Bush wins disputed election)

UNITED 93 (9/11 attacks)

TOO BIG TO FAIL (2008 financial collapse)

MARGIN CALL  (2008 financial collapse)

GAME CHANGE (Sarah Palin and Obama's election win)

BREAKING BAD (TV SERIES 2000's War on Drugs)


The rules of selection

Fictional stuff is at least true to its era no West Wing, which I love, but has about as much historical relevance as Space 1999.

No documentaries, no out and out fantasy, no Cohen Brothers (well, except one, which even though it isn't my favourite is incredibly appropriate for the time)

Predominantly set in the mainland of the US, so no Apocalypse Now

Personal favorites win out; so there is no Gone With The Wind or Top Gun, Citizen Cane or Magnificent Ambersons, and Electra Glide in Blue instead of Easy Rider, Broadway Danny Rose instead of Annie Hall, obscure Times Square (which I admit I've not seen for twenty years) instead of Desperately Seeking Susan and it includes tv because.. suddenly not including something like The Wire in a list like this would be beyond ridiculous.

Feel free to add your suggestions to the comments below, this list is not set in stone and I will be adding and changing things as I go

I apologise to Americans for my personal political choices coloring the depiction of your country, particularly early on - there doesn't seem to be a Civil War equivalent of Ferris Bueller's Day Off (Hucklberry Finn?) I promise I will do the same for my own country in due course (but it will be a lot more boring)

Near misses :
Mississippi Burning, Easy Rider, Roots (tv series), Broken Trail (tv series) Sweet Smell of Success, Platinum Blonde, White Heat, virtually everything by Orson Welles & Cohen Brothers, Birth of A Nation (in that it explains a mindset), The General,  True Grit, Days of Thunder, Any Given Sunday, Apollo 13, The Conversation, Three Days of The Condor, Parallax View, The Godfather, American Psycho, Rumblefish, Sleepy Hollow, Kiss Me Deadly, The Long Riders, Repo Man, Hackers, Moby Dick, Band of Brothers (tv series), The Pacific (tv series), The Two Jakes, Quest For Fire...
When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth...
"start at the begining.."
"well first there were the dinosaurs..."

Monday, 21 January 2013

Django Unchained

I saw Django Unchained last night.. 90% of it is the best western I've seen since High Plains Drifter - and I include in that the recent remake of True Grit. Fantastic characters and action while somehow being as funny in places as anything in Blazing Saddles. There is a scene with clumsy KKK members, including Jonah Hill and Don Johnson, complaining about the holes in their hoods being too small that is worth the price of admission alone.

Samuel L Jacksons head butler is about the most hellish villain I've seen since the heyday of Karloff, he makes Leonardo Di Caprio's plantation owner - who is himself toe curlingly evil - seem almost human.
typical of Tarrantino, who has to do things his own way, it carries on from a magnificent shoot out climax into a really stupid tacked on ending, (complete with the worst directors cameo in the history of cinema) that had everyone shaking their heads in frustration as we left the cinema..

I guess I should add for completeness that it was a real trek to get to the Brixton Ritzy (great place, almost goes without saying) through serious snow in London + engineering work on tube network that typically did not help the transport situation. Worth it though.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Happy January Snow Chaos From London

Nowadays, when London is full of Eastern Europeans who are fully acquainted with real snow and how to get through it, the almost annual UK snow chaos is downright embarrassing. When we used to have snow chaos in the UK it was irritating, but in the spirit of Dunkirk crisis mode we like to slip into it was also kind of fun. This year we had weeks of warning, and the amount or grit applied to London streets before the snow arrived made it feel more like Cairo.

But for all this preparation the headlines this morning are full of how useless Brits are in the snow .. though to be fair we should probably narrow this to London, or perhaps just the airports. As I type this hundreds are marooned at Heathrow not because it was physically possible to fly planes yesterday but just because the airport does not have enough spare capacity to cover  emergencies and British Airways will not have enough spare staff on standby to cover staff delayed beyond the end of of their safe working hours. Abandoned travelers are left to find London hotel accommodation late on a Friday night. Good luck with that.

So yeah I'm moaning about London now because I am back with new place to stay near Caledonian Road.

Previous place, The Stay Club in Harlesden was little more than new build student accom but I would certainly recommend it, with all it's teething problems, over the other hotel options available to all  not being subsidised by companies or wealthy parents.

I can also recommend a stop - off on the A303 - Ampersand House.
Recent years dealing with UK Snow Chaos has forced me to look into a possible stop off point half way along the journey from Devon to London and this place in Dorset is just minutes of the A303. Nice people, kedgeree for breakfast, and home-made jam tarts.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Music recommendations for Dig!

Recommendations on Dig! ? I like to follow the narrative in the doc which is the Dandies start brilliantly and they disappear up their own pretension, the BJM start off a totally embarrassing shower of tw@s...
.... and remain that way 
(but their music improves)


the Ep We Are The Radio is a good start as it is basically Anton collaborating with a good singer.

I also like My Bloody Underground, and Strung Out In Heaven and even the earlier some of the early stuff when I'm in a retro-but-can;t-stand-Oasis mood (but never in company)

For the Dandies, 


are both total classic pop albums I think. Bowie is a fan

If you want to try them a bit more edgy


don't bother with anything after 2004 .. which was basically the year Dig! was released...

Dig Dig!

Dig! the best music documentary ever ....can now be seen online

Mandingo (1975) : an antidote to Christmas (and Valentines Day)

Reading all the hype over here for Tarrantino's Django Unchained there
is a movie that gets mentioned a lot...

Mandingo (1975) was always mentioned along with The Devils, Straw Dogs
etc as a shameful 70s exploitation exercise but unlike the others
rarely got shown at the trendy movie confines like the Scala and
never on tv. I downloaded it recently and watched it as an antidote to
Christmas tweeness and it is a hell of a lot better than it's reputation.
It's horrifying and shameful all right - but only because it is
probably all real history. Susan George (just off Straw Dogs) is
brilliant and James Mason is much better than I was lead to expect.

All the American acting is very very impressive considering the subject matter (and that fact that some of them are not career actors).
Edit : Ken Norton died today 19/09/2013. He is the principally who I'm referring to. I have seen much worse one-off acting performances from the likes of Burton and Olivier, and apparently Mr Norton wasn't a bad boxer either.

Mandingo reminded me of The Devils a lot in its honesty - Mandingo is
not a porn film, it's like an even more nightmarish Southern Wuthering
Heights, filled with absolutely red raw racial and sexual politics.
One extra dimension that Mandingo has over the Devils is the change in
attitudes since the time.. you can see a glimpse of 70s sexism in The
Devils but even though Mandingo is trying to be politically correct
for its day it seems shockingly naive now.

It's a fascinating movie that will be talked about and compared to Gone With The Wind long after we are gone. Contains some nasty implied violence but virtually no gore, and the sex seems amazingly restrained for the time. Unfortunately it is not a movie you can bring up for conversation in a family atmosphere.. well .. anywhere... ever..

Finally cottoned onto Blade Runner...

I was a massive, MASSIVE Blade Runner fan.. in 1981.

When the film came out in 1982 it nearly ruined it for me.

I'd seen all the stills, been taken in by all the hype (this happens a lot) and read the classic novel on which it is based.

Seeing Blade Runner the film was THE disappointment of 1982. I hated the voice over and the way the hero gets his arse kicked all over the place. Hated the love scene, with one of the most beautiful women in the world at the time being knocked around and brutalised. I hated the end.

It was epic disappointment, like seeing both Matrix sequels at once. Like Highlander 2 without the cleansing feeling of justifiable vengeful anger. Like the second series of Space 1999 without the cushion of youthful innocence.

When rumours of the unicorn and the new ending to Blade Runner appeared in the 90s I didn't believe it. I thought the unicon was footage from Scott's LEGEND crow barred into the plot to make it more interesting in the same way that the outtakes from THE SHINING are used in the original happy ending.

(That SHINING/BLADE RUNNER story is quite amusing. Ridley Scott sees the preview audiences just don't understand the original version and decides on the voice over and happy ending himself. He sends some poor woman photographer up to Canada in a helicopter to shoot footage of mountains for two weeks and when they process the film it just appears full of mist. Scott happens to know Kubrick and knows that mad Stanley probably shot ten films worth of footage of mountains for the opening of THE SHINING. He contacts Kubrick who is childishly excited.. Kubrick has seen the incomprehensible Blade Runner work print and loves it!)

My re-acquaintance with Blade Runnere started when I stumbled across the new 3 disc Vangelis soundtrack first. It is an incredible set of music that like the film just increases in complexity the more you investigate. To be complete soundtrack of all versions it would not just include all the Vangelis music (when even now has not all been released) but the really quite good temporary music featured in the Workprint version of the  filmand the crazy orchestral version we had to put upwith for years from the New American Orchestra. The soundtrack seems to expand as more is brought into the light, just like the film.

So I found myself listening to the Vangelis in the car at night and thought I'd give the film another chance. I got myself the Blade Runner "Collectors Box" set for xmas.

To cut a long story short, (and the making of Blade Runner documentary : 'Dangerous Days' is longer than the film) I'm now completely sold on the mind bending Deckard is a replicant ending.. not so much for the pretentious unicorn stuff but for the other subtle and not so subtle hints now revealed.

Best of which is an unused version of the happy ending I hated in 1982. As Deckard and his pet replicant drive off into the sunset together, all full of madly inappropriate smiles, Sean Young looks at Harrsion Ford and ends the film with "I guess we were made for each other".
And suddenly the 'happy ending' has become the ending of 'Brazil'..

And even having seen it twice in the last week I need to see the film again.. if only for that great scene where Deckard is testing Rachel to see if she is a replicant as Tyrell looks on approvingly. Suddenly Tyrell is having one replicant the other to test both of them, testing his prototype replicant replicant hunter before he sends it out to take on the prodigal son Roy Batty, before Batty can get to him.

So the Deckard is a replicant stuff is a little odd when the interaction with the police is taken into consideration.... but then in Dicks novel Deckard at one point stumbles across an entire police
precinct of replicants pretending to be police...

Great Rachel art was found here