Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Old Boys

A continuing and occasional series of short pieces featuring legends who have slipped into an alternative universe. This time - Polanski and Nicholson in Midnight Express.

Polanski dropped change into the drivers hand, thanked him, and watched while the old Ford, smoke belching from the rotten exhaust and the pistons beating through the block, disappeared into the darkness. He checked the smeared screen on the closed circuit TV and saw it was gone three. He sat down in the canvas fishing chair and felt his back twinge.

‘What were you just saying?’ his colleague said.

‘I said, I met Charlie Manson once.’

‘Seriously? Where?’

‘Just walked into my back yard and dipped his feet directly in my pool. Sharon wasn’t there, don’t recall where she was. But he just sat there and started talking. I gave him a beer.’

‘What the fuck for?’

Polanski looked up from where he’d been picking at the skin around his thumbnail. ‘Because it was 1968, that’s why. You aren’t that old, Jack. Don’t you remember all that shit? Free love, my man. What belongs to you belongs to your brothers, all that kind of thing.’

‘I remember. It seems like a lifetime ago.’

‘Not to me. Feels like only days since I last saw her sitting on the porch, sunlight in her hair, smiling as I drove away.’ Polanski looked back down at his hands, made as if to say something more, didn’t. Jack sat watching him for a moment, feeling sorrow for the pain his old friend still carried.

‘She was a beautiful lady, Ro,’ he said. ‘I know you still miss her.’


A nearly new Taurus pulled up at the booth window, the steady throb of a hip-hop bass line coming from the vehicle. Jack pulled himself up from his stool and leant against the counter, his expanding belly pushing into the wood. The driver’s window rolled down and he saw white tattooed skin, wiry muscles, smelt the dope that came from the car. He suddenly felt hungry.

‘Evening fellas,’ he said. ‘Welcome to Ohio. Four bucks.’

The drawling voice on the driver suggested a long session had taken place. ‘Four dollars? That’s robbery, man.’

‘Take it up with the State Governor,’ he replied, giving the trademark grin that had lit the screen for the last forty years. ‘But if you’re driving across the border, I’m gonna need four bucks.’

A general grumble came from the Taurus and then the driver leaned out the window, the harsh sodium lights from the tollbooth making his skin gray, almost translucent. His smoke hazed eyes were a deep pink. ‘What say you just raise the barrier, old man, and let me through,’ he said, revealing gapped and nicotine-stained teeth.

‘Sorry, I can’t do that,’ Jack replied calmly. ‘It’s against the law, and I could lose my job.’

There was a quick movement, and a short, dull knife blade flashed in the drivers hand. ‘Better your job than your eyes, Granddad. Now raise the Goddamn barrier.’

Jack wasn’t shocked at the sudden threat. Work the midnight express for long enough and you saw the spectrum of human behaviour. He didn’t rush, didn’t change his expression, just reached down below the counter and bought the shotgun up and into position in one easy movement. The barrels had long ago been sawn off and the walnut stock fitted comfortably into his hand. He pulled back the cocks with his thumb and with his freehand carefully removed his sunglasses. ‘Four dollars.’ Behind him he heard Polanski sigh.

The knife disappeared, and Jack saw the whites of the drivers eyes, his trembling hands raised. ’Okay man, be cool. Be cool. I was just playin’ with you.’

Jack grinned, kept the gun raised. ‘That’s what I thought. Now pay or be on your way.’

The driver slotted the gear into reverse, his hands tight on the wheel, but before the car moved the passenger peered out the window, stretching across the driver. He was middle-aged, lank hair and equally stoned. ‘Hey, ain’t you the dude used to be in movies?’

Nicholson slid the dark glasses back onto his face. ‘Yeah, used to be. Now I’m just the guy who’s gonna fuck you up if you don’t turn around.’ He paused. ‘Now move.’

The Taurus backed quickly, tyres squealing, virtually spun on it axis and ground gears as it returned to the highway and headed back into Indiana. Jack watched for a few moments before sliding the weapon back into it’s leather holster and returning to his position on the stool. He felt good, felt the adrenaline in his muscles. Polanski looked at him with amusement.

‘What?’ said Jack, knowing full well.

‘Don’t you think you’re getting a little too old for this cowboy act, my friend?’

‘Hey, I’ve still got the moves, Roman. I’m still here.’

Polanski smiled and gave his head a small nod, reached for a well-used pack of cards on the shelf behind him and snapped the deck between his tanned fingers, started dealing. ‘We both are my brother. We both are. Let’s just stay alive long enough to enjoy it…’

(c) 2010 Rich Wilson

Monday, 4 October 2010

Fantasy Film Theory

I love the idea of alternative Universe. The theory that at some point in time the life we know so well split and fractured, and that in the vast expanse of the space-time continuum another world, the same as our own but slightly different, exists. In that world Bush never made it to the Whitehouse, I never pay taxes, 9/11 is just a date not a disaster. In my personal dream alternative, Hendrix and Morrison form a super group with Keith Moon, Lennon is Prime Minister, and Bruce Lee lives, taking bit parts in martial-arts epics and showing how it’s still done, even in his late sixties. In my dream world, a lot of movies would have turned out very differently. Sean Hartter obviously thinks so too, and as such has created a series of brilliant alternative film posters that have me dreaming about the possibilities that might have occurred, and probably did occur in another life. He’s a talented individual with an obvious love of the grind house and exploitation style poster art, as seen below. You can look at more of his output at

Nothing at all wrong with John Carpenter’s original. But just for a moment imagine if Hitch, instead of ending his career with the lacklustre Family Plot, decided he’d take one more shot at the psycho drama. That was an alternative universe Oscar for Mitchum right there.

Ben Affleck as Daredevil was one of the more hideous movie experiences of recent times. Billy Friedkin would have done things much differently.

Wow. Waken, Bowie, Bava. Did someone just say the best film never made? Oh yeah, I did.

Peckinpah does the Marvel Universe? With Clint? I don’t need to say anything else, we’re talking motion picture nirvana right here.

Malcolm McDowell and Steve McQueen as Luke and Han respectively? Toshiro Immune in Obi-Wan’s robes? Udo Kier! With batshit-crazy Jodorowsky at the helm this could have been a drug trip for a generation. God, I would love to see The Star Wars.

Stephen King’s epic Gunslinger saga has got a television and movie green light under the wing of Ron Howard. I’ll give it a chance, but just imagine the violent, epic possibilities of a Walter Hill directed version, say from around 1978 with a post-Josey Wales Eastwood and a pre-Shining Nicholson…

Phillip K Dick meets Joe D’Amato in a Corman produced, Kraftwerk scored vision of the future.

This genuinely saddens me, because if a brain embolism hadn’t taken the fittest man on the planet this is the type of movie Lee would have been making.

I mean, I love Bill, Danny and Harold as the Ghostbusters, but C’MON! The titans of terror with Bette fucking Davis?

Nice to dream for a while, to think about what might have been. Until next time friends...

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Hammer Of The Gods

Last weekend saw the 30th Anniversary of the death of John Bonham, the hard-drinking, life-loving, legendary drummer from Led Zeppelin. Inevitably thinking of the man took me back to the music, and I listened to selected tracks from the Zep catalogue - Kashmir, When The Levee Breaks, Rock And Roll etc. - and reminded myself once again why I consider them to be one of the greatest bands to have ever existed. Over the same weekend I also found myself watching The X-Factor. I have a love-hate relationship with the show; on the one hand I hate the corporate, sanitised, manipulative creation of pop music that Cowell and the rest of his satanic crew feed to the teenage masses, but on the other I love the freakshow, voyeuristic beauty of the proceedings. It’s the car accident syndrome - horrible and disgusting to look at, but I just can’t force myself to turn away.

For me X-Factor can only be watched to make fun of. It’s not about the music, because to me this isn’t music. It’s bullshit, but it’s bullshit because of the people that are producing it. I don’t want my rock and pop stars manufactured, the ingredients fed into the machine and minced out the other end like the Scarfe cartoons on the Another Brick In The Wall video. I don’t want to see these fucking idiots clean cut, hair styled, smelling good and offering bleached smiles below vacant, soulless eyes. I want my rock stars to be legendary figures, to be quite literally Gods amongst mortals. I want to see and hear brilliant, untouchable heroes. Remember when Wayne and Garth dropped to their knees before Alice Cooper and kissed the earth? That was the truest moment in the movie. We are not worthy.

Zeppelin embody exactly what I’m talking about. Here are four individuals who came together to create some of the loudest, most beautiful noise ever pumped into human ears. Bonham, dressed in a boiler suit behind a mountain of drums, working over the skins like a one-man army, beating out rhythms in a frenzy of bloodied attack, occasionally dropping the sticks altogether and attacking his kit with bare hands, battering the beat with his own body. John Paul Jones, like most bass players the quiet, introspective one of the group, but picking out intricate lines and staring into the crowd with an evil shine in his wide eyes that suggest rape and murder are soon to follow. Jimmy Page, resplendent with legs apart and a sweat stained Les Paul hanging from his frame, string bending to heaven with licks stolen directly from the Devils own playbook, the only man in history who could make a black suit with an embroided dragon circling around it look cool. And up front, bare chested, hair flying and the mic lead wrapped around his arms is Robert Plant, jeans so tight you can see the veins in his dick, screaming and wailing for lost love, for breaking hearts and for dogs so black. For a decade this quartet were the greatest musical movement on planet Earth, across a series of astonishingly good albums that, at least for the first four, were so iconic they didn’t even have to be named.

Zeppelin, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend, Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Bon Scott, Dylan, John Lennon, Bowie. Some of them lived and some of them didn’t. The ones that are still with us, that made it through the shitstorm of heavy drinking and bad drugs, have slowed down somewhat, perhaps even revealing that they are just men after all. Of course they are; Keith Richards barely looks alive these days. But here’s the truth, and it may not be the most popular statement I’ve ever made, and it may not be politically correct in a modern world where we are taught everyone is equal, but it is this: THESE PEOPLE ARE BETTER THAN US. They are heroes, they are villains, they are Vikings and Gods. We would love to be them, to have what they had, regardless even of the short lifespan encountered by some of the names above. We will never be them. They won’t speak to us, sign our programs, make friends with us. They have more stories surrounding them than tales in the bible, the difference being that ninety percent of them are probably true. Myths and legends surround them to create the beauty of rock and roll. The first real rock star, the first bad boy of music, Robert Johnson, went down to a crossroads in Mississippi sometime in the early 30’s, met the Devil, and sold his soul for the ability to play with lightning in his hands. Sometime later he walked back into Clarksdale and blew everyone away with his talent, drank a bottle of bourbon a night, and ended up sleeping with a white plantation owners wife. Johnson died at 27, screaming in agony on the floor of a juke joint while howling like a dog at the moon.

It doesn’t matter if Johnson made a deal, or if the truth is he went away for a year, practiced and practiced until his fingers bled, and then returned to town a better player. The story is a good one, is part of the appeal of the blues, and is the reason Johnson is the legend he is today. Blues players were on every corner in the south at that time, and some of them (Son House, Leadbelly) were more prolific and made infinitely superior music to the twenty-nine known recordings of Johnson. But only one of them met the Devil, and that is the making of a hero.

The great, untouchable figures of music have always had exaggerated tales surrounding them. Keith Richards allegedly flew to Switzerland every couple of years to have his blood drained, washed and returned. Johnny Cash crawled into a network of caves with the intention of dying and heard God telling him to live. Keith Moon got lost on the set of Tommy and returned three days later covered in blood, naked, and walked up to the catering truck and demanded brandy. The mystery surrounding these figures is almost as important as the music itself. Maybe that’s the problem; in this modern day world of internet, multiple music channels and ten thousand streams of live media covering every aspect of celebrity society it’s pretty much impossible to keep the mystery going. Thirty years ago the world of information was much smaller and quieter place, and as our thirst for knowledge has increased, our acceptance of mystery has diminished. Jack White knew the power of legend in the making of a band - when he put together The White Stripes back in the late nineties we were told it was his sister Meg on the drums. The band dressed only in red, white and black, said they were obsessed with the number 3, lived together in a house with no TV and only played vinyl recordings by candlelight. No one really believed any of it, but it didn’t matter, because the stories were cool and fun and turned The White Stripes from a simple little garage band from Detroit into a global phenomenon. And then someone ruined it and uploaded their wedding certificate to the web, and it turned out Jack and Meg were briefly married then divorced. Following that Jack dated Renee Zellweger, married a supermodel and obviously decided that if no-one else was going to play along with the fantasy then why should he? Shame, because for a while White could have been standing alongside the giants. The problem was the truth let him down.

The last great, truly legendary rock star we had was Kurt Cobain. The man was wild, sensitive, insane and depressed. Combine those elements with brilliant song writing, a split personality and a heavy reliance on hard drugs and you had a hero for a youth generation that had come through the excess of the eighties and landed hard into teenage years in the dismal, depressed nineties. There was nothing for these kids to look forward to and Cobain was their spokesperson, his attitude and music perfectly capturing the dissolution and anger of modern life. Kurt was never comfortable with his celebrity status, although he was clever enough to understand the power of the media in getting his views heard. For all his MTV appearances, the videos and the rock star wife he remained an enigma, occasionally frustrating but never, ever boring. I was lucky enough to be at the Reading Festival in 1992 and watched him bought on stage in a wheelchair, wearing a hospital gown, (a couple of weeks earlier he’d be admitted for yet another drug episode). It had been touch and go if Nirvana would make the festival, and word was that he was weak through therapy and would need to be seated for any performance. And then, after a nervous moment Cobain leaped from the chair into Breed, amps pounding the opening riff and sending the crowd into frenzy. It was probably the best two hours of live music I’ve ever witnessed, and one of Nirvana’s finest moments. The day Cobain put a shotgun beneath his chin and squeezed the trigger no-one could really say they were surprised, but his death left a hole in music that has yet to be replaced. Not to say there haven’t been fine rock and roll musicians since, but as yet no-one has risen to the status of legend. And it’s got nothing to do with the fact that Cobain and many others checked out early, died before their time. Sure, death often puts a seal on an iconic status, and who is to say what middle-age would have done to Cobain or Hendrix, but it’s not how they died that made these people legends. It’s how they lived.

In the end though, when all the drugs and dust have settled, it comes down to the music. The Doors, The Who, Zeppelin, The Stones, Bowie, Cash, Nirvana - all bands and artists with a fantastic catalogue of great songs. But also bands and artists with the charisma, attitude, talent and fuck-you attitude that can’t be learnt and certainly can’t be manufactured on a reality pop television show. Which brings us back to John Bonham. Here is a man who, through the power of rock and roll music and astonishing talent, not to mention a ferocious lust for life, was safe in the knowledge that he could walk into any room, any bar in the world and quite literally screw any woman in the place. You could be sitting with your wife having a quiet pleasant dinner in some high-class establishment somewhere, and within five minutes of Bonham walking through the door the kitchen would be on fire, the waiter would be bleeding, you’d have lost your shirt and be doing lines of cocaine from a knife and Bonham would have your wife’s dress up around her waist while bending her over the table and banging into her from behind. While you watched. And here’s the kicker… you’d let him, because When The Levee Breaks is that fucking good. Truly my friends, we are not worthy.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The Old Boys

A continuing and occasional series of short pieces featuring legends who have slipped into an alternative universe. This time - Quentin Tarantino in Nativity Massacre

The child was maybe seven years old, dressed in a sheet with a messy crop of blonde hair and tears dribbling down his flushed cheeks. Other boys and girls stood around him on the bare stage, their eyes wide and their mouths open as the tall man in black paced back and forth, his arms wide and fingers spread as words spat themselves from his mouth at intense volume. Most of the words the children didn’t understand, but a few of the older ones knew they were words they would be punished for saying themselves. Swearing was very wrong.

‘Eleven times I’ve told you to walk across to the door and knock loudly,’ said the man, now standing with his hands on his hips and levelling his cold stare at Charlie, who was now shaking as well as crying. ‘Eleven fucking times! How hard can it be, really? Please, tell me?’

‘I, I, I duh-duh-duh-duh don’t kn-kn-’

‘Let me tell you something, Son, I had a crowd of Chinese extras on set at the Shaw Brothers who could take direction better than you, than all of you, and the only English they knew were the words for money and beer.’ The man stopped and sighed. ‘I assume you all understand what I’m saying?’

None of the children answered, just looked past the man to the sound of the gymnasium door closing, and the relief on many of their faces was obvious as heels clicked across the wooden floor towards them. Charlie ran his sheeted sleeve across his face and left a streak of tears and snot on the cotton. The man span around from his young cast and looked at Mrs Collins. Short and gray, plump verging on heavy, and the head of school drama. And since Miramax had pulled funding and every other studio had rejected his scripts and pitches, his direct superior.

‘Excuse me, Mr Tarantino.’

‘Yes? Can’t you see I’m working?’

‘I apologise. But do you really think this is the right way to approach this? Terrorizing the students in this manner. And I’m not sure some of this material is appropriate.’

‘What? ‘Vision’ isn’t always appropriate, Ma’am, neither is art. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t right.’

‘But I really don’t think the headmaster would approve of-’

‘Of what, exactly?’ Tarantino interrupted, pushing his cap back on his wide forehead.

Mrs Collins swallowed hard before she answered. ‘Of young Charlie Edwards calling the three wise men “motherfuckers”’.

‘Well, do you want to keep this play in the past, Mrs Collins, or make it fit for a modern audience?’

‘I can appreciate certain modern interpretations, Mr Tarantino, such as changing the stable for a drive-in motel, but I must protest over the use of the language.’

‘This is how people on the street talk, Mrs Collins.’

‘Perhaps so, but Joseph promising to penetrate the behind of the Innkeeper-, I mean, Motel Owner’s Mother is rather strong for six-to-nine year olds.’

‘It’s a strong world that we live in. People get fucked in the ass on a daily basis.’

‘Not at this school, Mr Tarantino.’

For a moment there was a standoff as they stared at one and other, their eye contact finally broken when one of the boys broke wind, perhaps with nerves. A small ripple of giggles began until Mrs Edwards silenced them with a practised stare. Tarantino took a step towards her.

‘What do you want?’ he said, his tone more controlled. ‘Tradition? Or cutting edge?’

‘What I want, Mr Tarantino, is for the parents of this establishment to buy a ticket, watch their little darlings, drink a glass of overpriced wine afterward and go home with a warm Christmas glow while the school counts the takings in the hope that we can buy new books next year. If we go down your route, we’ll have the governors rioting in the aisles and civil lawsuits bought upon us before we’ve got time to breathe.’ At this she also took a step forward, until they were almost nose to nose, and spoke in a soft voice. ‘Do we have an understanding?’

‘I’m going for lunch, I don’t need this.’

Mrs Edwards smiled as he strutted towards the doors. ‘I take it we do then? Don’t forget we have a staff meeting at one.’ She stopped, and then almost inaudibly under her breath, and purely for her own amusement, added, ’Motherfucker.’

Quentin Tarantino stepped through the doors and into bright sunlight, washing him in a wave of heat. His car was on the far side of the parking lot and he was already visualising the beer stashed beneath the seat. He started to whistle the melody to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - that seemed to happen a lot recently. Cowboys liked guns, and a gun seemed like a very attractive prospect these days…

(c) 2010 Rich Wilson

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Seven-Ups

It’s been a while since I posted an entry of things that have caught my eye or that I’m looking forward to. That may have something to do with me filling this blog with bizarre and generally unwanted fiction that no-one wishes to read. Not this time, friends. Your humble narrator will now take a backseat to people with genuine talent, starting with this brilliant little short film from British director Matthew Savage and starring Noel Clarke. You may know Clarke from his on-off role in the latest incarnation of Doctor Who, but he is also turning into one of the most influential people on the UK film scene, having written and directed Kidulthood and the recent 4, 3, 2, 1. Reign of Death is a science-fiction noir in the classic style of Bogart, and shows real style and love for the genre. The good news is that with Clarke’s input Savage is seeking funding to turn his short into a full length feature, and based on this five-and-a-half minutes that would be a very good thing.

It may have a ridiculous name, but the trailer for The Cup Of Tears is a thing of visual beauty, showcasing gorgeous CGI blended with live action and coming over like the bastard love-child of 300, Sin City and Kill Bill. It’s the brainchild of Irish commercial and music video director Gary Shore, who worked for six months on the trailer in the hope of securing funding to expand his vision into a full length feature. And Universal and Working Title have picked it up for development. If done right, this could screw with your brain and polish your eyeballs. Although I will bet my right hand the title will change.

I know very little about Amock, apart that it’s from the artfx students of French university Montpellier and that it features much screaming and running about in the documentary style of Rec and Paranormal Activity. And there’s also some pretty nice creature effects in it.

This is nothing new, just a fantastic trailer for one of the very best car chase movies of all-time, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. I saw this as a kid and instantly fell in love with Susan George (who was a staple of great 70’s genre cinema such as Straw Dogs, Fright and Venom) and desperately wanted to be the legend Peter Fonda. It’s a simple on-the-run tale as Larry and Mary pin the pedal across country in a beautiful, throbbing Dodge Charger with corrupt cop Vic Morrow in persuit. This story has been told a hundred times since, but never with this much style and just pure damn Seventies cool. Essential cinema for gear heads, beloved by Tarantino - a must-see action classic.

If you’re a fan of genre cinema, then you hold Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the God-like status they deserve. While director buddy Edgar Wright has been putting together his adaptation of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World and preparing to go Global, Pegg and Wright have been making Paul, starring as two comic-book geeks who are on a road trip across America and pick up a friendly alien who has escaped Area 51. It’s directed by Greg (Superbad) Mottola and will be out early next year. All other details are shrouded in mystery, but if this first picture is anything to go by it should push all the film-nerd buttons - they’re at Comic-Con, for Christ sake…

If you’ve read my blog or social network shit recently you’ll know of my love for Canadian band Metric. Their Fantasies album from last year was a masterpiece of dreamy indie-rock, and Gimme Sympathy is the highlight, four minutes of the kind of music that moves the soul and makes you wonder why this four-piece isn’t playing everywhere. They’ve released a superb video to go with the song, and it perfectly captures the mood and spirit of this truly innovative band.

Finally, I know nothing of this except it’s about a young innocent who is drugged, brainwashed and abused by a corrupt clergy, receives a sign from God to seek vengeance on her tormentors with a huge arsenal, which she does, and then the church hires a motorcycle gang to track her down. IMDB say this is out next year. There hasn’t been a decent nunsploitation picture since MS.45, and I don’t care if this is so bad it’s good or just plain bad. I can be a cheap and easy date, and I’m sold on the title, that decription and this poster, and as such I WILL be watching a film called Nude Nuns With Big Guns.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Old Boys

First in an occasional series of short pieces featuring legends who have slipped into an alternative universe. This week - Bob and Al in Working Blues

The lights were low, the air heavy with the scent of incense. Smoke appeared like mist in the haze of the lamps. Pacino stretched his neck, heard the cartilage crack. ‘You really need that shit burning?’ he grumbled.

‘Yeah, I do. It helps me get in the zone, and I don’t see it disturbing you.’

‘You used to get in the zone with a pint of scotch. What the fuck happened to you, Bob?’ Pacino winced as he tweezed another hair from his nostril. ‘In fact, what the fuck happened to both of us?’

De Niro shrugged, stared at his aging profile lit by the bulbs around the greasy mirror, could just about remember how good he used to look. ‘A new breed came along my friend. Young and easy, without all the drugs and the baggage. Without the status of legends.’

‘Yeah? Well I liked being a legend,’ Pacino said. ‘What I don’t like is plucking hairs, sniffing your hippy sticks and sitting here in my own sweat.’ He sighed and rubbed a hand across his tired eyes. ‘You heard back from Marty lately?’

‘I leave messages, but he doesn’t return my calls,’ De Niro replied, unable to keep the disappointment from his voice. ‘Too interested in that kid DiCaprio these days.’

‘Fucking loser. I’ve seen no talent in that pretty little shit. And as for Scorcese, what the hell has he done recently? I saw Shutter Island, and it was no Goodfellas, let me tell ya.’

De Niro span around on his stool, the heavy woollen leggings he wore crackling with static. ‘Maybe not. But it wasn’t Rocky And Bullwinkle. And correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you grace the screen in Gigli?’

‘Oh, fuck you.’

‘Al, let’s face it, we took some wrong turns, made some bad choices. At least we’re still working.’

Pacino didn’t answer, just ran black panstick around his eyes and struggled his skinny frame into the thick brown vest that matched the leggings worn by his friend. Both of them stood together, and Pacino scooped up the horse head that lay in the corner, it’s empty eye sockets mocking him. In a few moments he knew his own manic stare would be filling those dark holes. He looked at De Niro for a moment, and in unison they picked up the .45’s from the dresser. There was nothing more to say, only actions to be taken.

A knock on the door, and a moment later a young, blonde man pushed his head around the frame. ‘Two minutes and we’re on, Gents,’ he said, his voice high and grating. ‘If we can just-’ He stopped and shook his head. ‘Jesus, how many times do I have to say it. No guns. This is a family pantomime.’

‘Sorry,’ De Niro said, and they both returned the replicas to the dresser. ‘It’s a hard habit to break, y’know. Right, Al?’ Pacino didn’t speak, just kept his eyes toward the floor.

‘Okay, okay,’ said the runner. ‘Just put your bloody hooves on and let’s move.’

Pacino waited until he’d gone and then slipped the horse head over his own, glad that the tears in his eyes were shielded from his colleague. Behind him he felt Bob grab onto his hips, bend over into a ninety-degree angle, and heard his muffled voice telling him to go. At least he had the head tonight, he didn’t think he could handle being the ass, not the way he was feeling. They fumbled their way out of the tiny dressing room and moved up the corridor, hooves beating a slow and sad melody against the tiles as they headed toward the stage…

(c) 2010 Rich Wilson

Monday, 21 June 2010

Get Out Of The Water!

On June 20th 1975 Jaws was released into cinemas across the United States and Europe. It was the first film to ever open countrywide on thousands of screens, and was the first true summer event movie. In five months it become the most successful motion picture of all-time, a record held until the Star Wars came along in 1977.

Jaws, in my opinion, is a perfect movie. In the 35 years since it’s release a lot of box-office breaking pictures have come and gone, and very, very few have had the cultural impact that Steven Spielberg’s simple little monster movie has. I can clearly remember my first viewing. The movie had been re-released in 1980 and I begged to be taken along. My Father, a keen film fan and supporter of my blossoming obsession with films agreed. I was hooked from the opening bars of John Williams iconic theme, nervous by the time the skinny-dipping girl was pulled under the water, and terrified when Ben Gardener’s head came bobbing out of the hole in the boat. By the time the credits rolled I knew three things: I hated sharks. I was never going to go in the water. I couldn’t wait to watch it again.

It’s perfect because Spielberg knew that character was the key ingredient. In Roy Scheider’s police chief Martin Brody we get a sympathetic hero to follow - the audience is Brody in the film. He’s our anchor, and despite flaws one of the best leading characters on film in the 70’s. You see his fear of the ocean. You see his love for his family. We are given time to really explore these emotions before the second half where the film opens up with an impossibly young Richard Dreyfuss as Matt Hooper and the wonderful, grizzled old bastard Quint, played with utter perfection by Robert Shaw. They are total opposites - one studies sharks and one kills them - but they are constantly at odds on board the tiny fishing boat Orca, with Brody as the balance between them. As we’re drawn out to sea in pursuit of the monster we are drawn further into the story, and as with all the best films, drawn into the world. During the classic moment when Shaw tells the story about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis it’s like we’re sitting at the table with him. These characters totally take you along for the ride. You’re frightened with them, want them to live and survive.

And then there is that shark. You don’t need to see it to be scared of it. Quint fires three barrels into the animal and for a while all you see are those yellow barrels, bobbing menacingly along the waves, following the boat, and you know that whatever is attached to those barrels is seriously, deeply pissed off. Hooper goes down in the cage and the fish smashes it apart, effortlessly, like it was made of balsa. Salty sea-dog Quint gets bitten in half, and then there is just Brody… who hates the water, can barely swim, climbing up the mast of a sinking boat while that fin speeds towards him. The fish is a machine, unstoppable.

It’s perfect because Spielberg stripped Peter Benchley’s best-selling source novel (which is at best a poorly written pulp thriller with too much scientific explanation and cheese ball dialogue) down to the basics. The plot is one line: A giant killer shark is killing the locals of an Island and the chief of police has to stop it. From that simplicity is built an incredible film, which went drastically over-budget and over-schedule. Storms stopped production. The shark sank. The studio didn’t believe that a shark could be scary. Dreyfuss and Shaw clashed on set. But from chaos came genius - everything came together on this one. Steven Spielberg was firing on all cylinders, operating with the drive of a young man trying to make his mark. John Williams gave the film the perfect heartbeat. Carl Gottlieb gave it the perfect pace. Bill Butler gave it the perfect, real-world look. Every single actor was perfectly cast.

Jaws is lightning in a bottle. Spielberg couldn’t make that same movie today even if he still had Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw. It’s a product of its time that is, in its own way, timeless. It’s entertainment with brains, a summer blockbuster that is anything but hollow. In short, it’s a classic and will live long past its makers.

Happy 35th Anniversary, Bruce.