Archives for the month of: May, 2010

Apart form being Scotland’s other National Drink, Irn Bru consistently makes some of the best and most original adverts around, even when these have been allegedly banned.

Irn Bru’s latest (above) continues in that well-honoured tradition.


One of the most beautiful films ever made, Wim Wenders‘ ‘Wings of Desire follows Bruno Ganz as the angel Damiel, who longs for the physical sensations of humanity.

Damiel’s desire is awoken after he falls in love with a trapeze artist, Marion, as played by Solveig Dommartin.  But as an angel, he can only “assemble, testify, preserve” and never take part in existence.

Whilst travelling through Berlin, Damiel meets an American actor, played by Peter Falk, who reveals himself to be a former angel, who, like Damiel, longed for physical affection and love, and so renounced his immortality to become mortal.

Now Damiel has a way to heal his longing, and take part in life.

The film, with its cast under Wenders’ direction and its script by the brilliant Peter Handke, captures the deep need humanity has for companionship and love, and reinforces the joy of what it means to be alive.

It was originally Descartes who said ‘Cogito ergo sum‘ – I think therefore I am – a catchy little statement that supposedly defined existence. This was later revised in the 20th century by philosopher A J Ayer who thoughtfully suggested ‘I do and I have, therefore I am.’

But it didn’t stop there, as next up was the Post Modernist irony of conceptual artist Barbara Kruger, who announced: ‘I Shop Therefore I Am’. Which is not a million miles from O.T.T.‘s ‘I’m pink therefore I’m Spam.’

But maybe Kruger has a point, as the latest trend for Girls of the YouTube Generation is to display their Shop Art, the ‘haul’ of clothes they have bought, and describe them in intimate detail.

Take a look at small town America, where 16-year-old Juicy Star 07 sits in her pink-walled bedroom, revealing her stash of goodies from a day’s shop at Forever 21. Juicy Star 07 shows the anonymous viewer her new black blouse, her new cardigan, and the bargain-to-die-for, her $6.99 jeans, whilst giving a running commentary on each.

“OK, so normally it would bother me if my jeans didn’t have any detail on the rear end,” she says. “But I was actually reading and they say that if there is not any design on the back pocket on your jeans … somehow it makes your butt look smaller. So way to go for these jeans!”

Other Haul Girls, like SoCal Ashley just go for fashion, music & make-up, while Beauty Cakez puts out her own Beauty Show from her aquamarine Hello Kitty bedroom.

While there maybe those who tut-tut and disapprove, it is more than apparent these smart and sassy girls are using technology in a creative and imaginative way, providing a free service that connects with a community of like-minded individuals.  And that can only be for the good.

Yet, it is not just Haul Girls who like to show and tell.

The YouTube Boys prefer to take apart and fix their latest gadgets, while feverishly telling you what they’re doing. It’s almost like a Deconstructivist techno-porn.

For the YouTube Generation it’s ‘I show and I share, therefore I am”

“Hey, Johnny, What are you rebelling against?”
“What’ve you got?”

Strange to think now, but back in 1954 ‘The Wild One‘ was considered such a serious threat to British society that it was banned by the Board of Film Censors for 14 years.

It was believed that Marlon Brando and his band of slovenly bikers would give youngsters “ideas on how to brutalize the public”. More understandable once you know the film is loosely based on a real event, when a band of bikers took over the town of Holister in California in July 1947, during the Gypsy Tour Motorcycle Rally. Around 50 people were arrested, mainly for drunkeness, fighting, reckless driving, and disturbing the peace. 60 people were injured, 3 seriously. Even so, it’s hard to picture how the chubby Brando and his non-sensical mumblings could have inspired anyone.

Afterall, Britain wasn’t America, as John Lennon later found out when he went to his local fleapit to take part in the alleged riots inspired by Bill Haley and his Comets in ‘Rock Around the Clock‘. Instead of seat slashing and fighting in the aisles, Lennon was dumbstruck to find orderly youngsters appreciatively watching the screen.

If the film did inspire any rebellion, then it was in the imagination of a young poet called Thom Gunn.

Gunn saw ‘The Wild One‘ in America, where it inspired him to write the generation defining poem ‘On the Move‘.

“On motorcycles, up the road, they come:
Small, black, as flies hanging in heat, the Boy,
Until the distance throws them forth, their hum
Bulges to thunder held by calf and thigh.
In goggles, donned impersonality,
In gleaming jackets trophied with the dust,
They strap in doubt–by hiding it, robust–
And almost hear a meaning in their noise.”

Gunn’s poem critiqued the film’s sensibility, its search for purpose for meaning, while noticing the underlying homo-eroticism, contained within the denim and leather of its biker heroes.

“Men manufacture both machine and soul,
And use what they imperfectly control
To dare a future from the taken routes.”

‘The Wild One’ presented a portrait of a world where the individual could control their own destiny.  This appealed to Gunn, who was a young gay man at time when homosexuality was a criminal offence in Britain.  To the poet, Brando and his rebellious cohorts presented a sharp contrast to the gray and repressive world Gunn inhabited. .

“A minute holds them, who have come to go:
The self-denied, astride the created will.
They burst away; the towns they travel through
Are home for neither birds nor holiness,
For birds and saints complete their purposes.”

Gunn’s analysis inOn the Move‘ provides a literal manifesto, that later became the poet’s own.

“At worse, one is in motion; and at best,
Reaching no absolute, in which to rest,
One is always nearer by not keeping still.”

For Gunn never kept still. He followed his lover to America, where the tolerance he found in San Francisco changed his verse style from English tradition to American idiom; from strict form to free verse. In the same way Gunn by day was a disciplined intellectual and by night a physical hedonist, who cruised for sex and indulged in drugs.

However, the excesses of his personal life never detracted from the discipline of his poetic vision. He was once described as “the only poet to have written a halfway decent quintain while on LSD.”

Gunn used his experiences as material with candour and sympathy, which led many to believe he “seemed to hold no small number of life’s mysteries and meanings within his grasp.”   A truth that is more than evident when you read his brilliant, beautiful and inspiring poetry.

Dennis Hopper was 13, when he first sniffed gasoline and watched the clouds turn into clowns and goblins. There was little else to do in Dodge City, where he had been born and lived. Catch lightning bugs, fly his kite, burn newspapers, swim. Hopper was, by his own words, “desperate”.   A sensitive child without the stimulation to keep his fevered imagination in check.

He went to movies and watched Abbott and Costello and Errol Flynn. Hopper o.d.ed on gasoline fumes and became Abbott and Costello and Errol Flynn. He wrecked his grandfather’s truck with a baseball bat. It was a hint of what was to come.

Signed at 18 on contract to Warner Bros, Hopper identified with Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, and James Dean, but found he was expected to conform to the studio’s whims. Hopper was too sensitive to conform, and his vulnerability saw him bullied and picked on by old time studio director Henry Hathaway, who had him black-balled from Hollywood.

For the next few years, Hopper did little work. Instead, he picked up a camera and documented the social and cultural changes that were happening across America, and to himself, during the 1960s.

Towards the end of that decade, Hopper channelled his knowledge and experiences when he directed and starred in ‘Easy Rider‘, the film that announced the birth of a new generation of film-makers.

From this success, Hopper moved on to his next project ‘The Last Movie’, but drink and drugs unfocussed his vision and the studios destroyed his film.

It seemed the pattern set out in childhood was to continue.  Yet Hopper could still make his presence felt, as he did in ‘Apocalypse Now‘ but once again the truck got smashed, when his improvised scenes with Marlon Brando were heavily cut from the film.

By the mid-1980s, he had given up drink and drugs and had accepted his lot making B-list films. That was, until ‘River’s Edge’ and ‘Blue Velvet‘ confirmed what should have been apparent all along – Dennis Hopper was an incredible and unique talent. A talent that should have been given more respect and opportunity to fulfill his vision as an actor and as a director.

But sadly he wasn’t, as one of his last films as director ‘Catchfire’ (aka ‘Backtrack’) was taken out of his hands and hacked form a 180 minute cut to 98 minutes.  Hopper disowned it and had his name removed.

Thereafter, Hopper mainly stuck to acting, and though always watchable and still able to deliver film-stealing performances, as evident in ‘True Romance‘ and ‘Speed’, he made 20-odd forgettable movies.

Even so, Hopper appealed because his performances revealed the depth of his life-experience and a resonance of his emotional hurt that made each role he acted in real for the audience.

Hopper never faked it, and it was this talent which made Hopper more than just an actor, but a great and genuine artist.

Sean Connery once remarked that ‘From Russia With Love‘ was his favourite Bond film, as it depended more on story and character than gadgets and special effects.

This is true but the film also had a great title song, sung by the incomparable Matt Monro, and outstanding performances from Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya in its favour.

By the time of making ‘From Russia With Love‘, Lotte Lenya was a celebrated singer and actress, known for her pioneering performances in, her husband, Kurt Weill’s and Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Mahagonny-Songspiel‘ (1927) and the legendary ‘Threepenny Opera‘ (1928).

In ‘From Russia With Love‘, Lenya played Rosa Klebb, a sadistic former SMERSH Agent who has joined SPECTRE to become Ernst Blofeld’s No. 3. The name Rosa Klebb was a pun contrived by Bond author Ian Fleming, derived from the Soviet phrase for women’s rights, ‘khleb i rozy’, which is a Russian translation for ‘bread and roses’. Lenya’s perfromance as the sadistic Klebb is one of the most iconic of all Bond villains, with her poisoned tipped dagger, secreted in the toe of her shoe.

Lenya’s Klebb often overshadows Robert Shaw’s underplayed, though equally efficient Donald ‘Red’ Grant. Shaw was a highly talented man whose own personal tragedies (his father a manic depressive and alcoholic committed suicide when Robert was 12) and alcoholism hampered him from rightly claiming his position as one of Britain’s greatest actors.

Robert Shaw established himself through years of TV and theatrical work, most notably his chilling and subtle performance as Aston in Harold Pinter‘s ‘The Caretaker‘. He went on to ‘The Battle of the Bulge‘ (1965), an Oscar-nominated performance as Henry VIII in ‘A Man For All Seasons‘ (1966), ‘Young Winston‘, the mobster Doyle Lonnegan in ‘The Sting‘ (1973) and most memorably Mr Blue in ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three‘ (1974) and Quint in ‘Jaws (1975).

But Shaw’s success as an actor was countered by further personal tragedy when his second wife, Mary Ure, died from an accidental overdose.  Ure’s death caused Shaw considerable guilt and despair, and led to the actor becoming severely depressed and reclusive in his personal life.

Shaw countered this by continuing his career as a respected and award-winning novelist and playwright. His first novel ‘The Hiding Place’, was later adapted for the film, ‘Situation Hopeless… But Not Serious‘ (1965) starring Alec Guinness. His next, ‘The Sun Doctor’ won the Hawthornden Prize.  While for theatre he wrote a trilogy of plays, the centerpiece of which was his most controversial and successful drama, ‘The Man in the Glass Booth‘ (1967).

The Man in the Glass Booth‘ dealt with the issues of identity, guilt and responsibility that owed much to the warped perceptions caused by Shaw’s alcoholism. Undoubtedly personal, the play however is in no way autobiographical, and was inspired by actual events surrounding the kidnapping and trial of Adolf Eichmann.

In Shaw’s version, a man believed to be a rich Jewish industrialist and Holocaust survivor, Arthur Goldman, is exposed as a Nazi war criminal. Goldman is kidnapped from his Manhattan home to stand trial in Israel. Kept in a glass booth to prevent his assassination, Goldman taunts his persecutors and their beliefs, questioning his own and their collective guilt, before symbolically accepting full responsibility for the Holocaust.  At this point it is revealed Goldman has falsified his dental records and is not a Nazi war criminal, but is in fact a Holocaust survivor.

The original theatrical production was directed by Harold Pinter and starred Donald Pleasance in an award-winning performance  that launched his Hollywood career.  The play was later made into an Oscar nominated film directed by Arthur Hiller and starring Maximilian Schell. However, Shaw was unhappy with the production and asked for his name to be removed form the credits.

Looking back on the play and film now, one can intuit how much Shaw’s own personal life influenced the creation of one of theatre’s most controversial and tragic figures.

Robert Shaw died of a heart attack in 1978, he was 51.

There’s an oft quoted line about Scotlands football team how they manage to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory. It’s a line that does in many ways reflect the Scottish character, as we can often appear a nation of heroic failures, rather than an empire building super power.

Yet, this failure comes with considerable cultural ramifications, something that can be seen in Donald Cammell‘s film ‘Demon Seed‘.

Cammell was the son of the poet and writer Charles Richard Cammell, who had written the biography of Aleister Crowley. Born in Castlehill, and not Edinburgh Castle as he would later claim, the young Cammell was considered a child prodigy and by the 1960s had established himself with London’s Chelsea set as an artist, illustrator and portrait painter. By luck and connections he started writing movie scripts and soon co-directed his first, and most legendary film ‘Performance‘.

Performance‘, which starred Mick Jagger and James Fox, should have made Cammell a major star but the film was quickly disowned by its production company, was considered obscene, violent pornography and described by one critic as “the most completely worthless film I have seen since I began reviewing.” What should have been a victory, was an unmitigated disaster.

It took Cammell seven years to make his next movie, the sci-fi thriller, ‘Demon Seed’ – a highly provocative and intelligent film. Again, it should have established Cammell as one of the world’s great cinematic auteurs, but Fate was to play a damning role.

Based on the best-selling novel by Dean Koontz, ‘Demon Seed‘ speculated on a computer, Proteus IV, impregnating a woman to create a living hybrid of man and machine. A bit like ‘Rosemary’s Baby‘ except with a computer. Cammell had major studio backing and his star was Julie Christie, was at the height of her fame, with a series of film hits including, ‘Shampoo‘, ‘Don’t Look Now‘ and her Oscar nominated performance in ‘McCabe and Mrs Miller‘. He even had Robert Vaughn as the voice of Proteus. With such talent on board, it seemed Cammell  was destined to make a brilliant film and at last achieve the success he deserved.

But no. After years of preparation, and  just as the film was released in 1977, a new sensation swept all before it, which made ‘Demon Seed’ look cheap, dull and boring. George Lucas‘ ‘Star Wars‘ changed film, cinema, TV and the way an audience responded to entertainment for ever. As Cammell’s film disappeared, ‘Star Wars‘ conquered the world.

The failure of ‘Demon Seed‘ marked a cultural shift in cinema, the end of an era if you like, for Cammell’s movie was the last of the great, intelligent speculative science fiction films. True, there would be the occasional movie like Ridley Scott‘s ‘Bladerunner‘ or, David Cronenberg‘s ‘Videodrome‘, but cinema and its audiences demanded the sensations that ‘Star Wars’ delivered, and the sound and fury of the summer blockbuster was born.

For this reason, ‘Demon Seed‘s’ failure has been cinema’s and our loss. ‘Sex in the City 2‘ anyone?

Last month, some copper got into a bit of bother over his use of the term matronly, when describing a female motorist.  The Professional Standards and Quality Committee (PSQC) of the West Midlands Police, rebuked the hapless policeman for using “unprofessional and inappropriate” language.  You’d think the fuzz would have better things to do with their time than investigate their own hard-working bobbies over their use or misuse of language.  But no, for that’s the kind a world we now live in, where we’re judged as guilty before we are even accused.

Personally, I wouldn’t give two hoots about being described as ‘matronly’.  In fact I’d probably take it as a great compliment to be associated with that formidable, hard-working, leader of carers we commonly know as matrons.  To me the term ‘matron’ also suggests that wonderful actress Hattie Jacques, who, along with Tommy Cooper, Eric Morecambe, Les Dawson and Kenny Everett, has that rare ability to make me smile every time she appears on screen.

Hattie Jacques was a beautiful wonderful woman – every TV biog on the star will tell you that.  She radiated warmth, wit and charm and had a great delicacy about her – just watch the way she uses her hands, or how she moves.  But best of all, she was a brilliant actress, something that gets over-looked in amongst all the tabloid stories about mad shagging and the fat jokes.  Hattie acted every part as if it was real, and few actors can honestly do that.  It’s all in the eyes. Just watch Hattie’s eyes and you’ll see what I mean.

For example, when you watch, say Meryl Streep inSophie’s Choice‘, it is as Chris Petit once wrote, like watching the inner workings of an expensive Swiss watch, which is fine for a technician, but what the audience really want to see is the beautifully crafted, jeweled exterior.  That’s the thing about actors, a lot of them put their faces through a rigorous olympics, only to leave their eyes as spectators.

Hattie didn’t do that, she used her eyes to communicate what her character was thinking, in a similar way to the likes of Ben Kingsley in ‘Silas Mariner‘ or ‘Sexy Beast‘ or Michael Caine in ‘Alfie‘.  It is a very rare talent, but one of the many Hattie had.

If you don’t believe me, then the next time you watch a ‘Carry On‘, just turn down the volume and watch Hattie excel at telling the story with her eyes.  You’ll suddenly realise how wonderful Hattie Jacques truly was, and why being described as matronly isn’t so bad afterall.

John Hersey died on the 24th May 1993.

Hersey wrote the most influential piece of journalism to come out of the Second World War – ‘Hiroshima‘.

‘Hiroshima’ examined the experiences of six people who survived the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945. The immensity of these events, on some faraway shore, would have gently diminished without Hersey’s writing.

All too aware that: “The important ‘flashes’ and ‘bulletins’ are already forgotten by the time yesterday morning’s paper is used to line the trash can. The things we remember for longer periods are emotions and impressions and illusions and images and characters: the elements of fiction.”

Hersey mixed fictional techniques with journalistic narrative, to create a new form of journalism, that was to influence the likes of Lillian Ross, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe.

But more importantly, Hersey’s ‘Hiroshima‘ was a stark warning that some humans now had the potential to destroy our world, a thought that has countered all human existence since.