Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Here's a thing

Feeling frustrated. Everyone but me is asleep and as usual the neurons and pulses that fire my brain are refusing to shut down for the night. I have a late 80’s/early 90’s rock mix coming from my stereo speakers - at the moment it’s The Pixies with Debaser - and all is quiet at Wilson Towers. I’m trying to write fiction and it’s literally like pulling teeth. It’s one word after another. Now I guess all writing is one word after another, but in my current condition it’s as if my fingers are pushing through syrup. I’m dragging the words out of my imagination, slowly, and the problem is what little is going down on the screen is, quite frankly, shit. Feeling frustrated. I really do wonder if this pursuit is worth it. Some days I can’t even write badly, and believe me, badly would probably be better than nothing - have you seen the money Stephanie Meyer is pulling in with the Twilight series of novels? Take it from one who has read a few pages with a mixture of grim fascination and a burning jealousy, Miss Meyer is never going to win the Booker prize. Feeling frustrated. I heard it once said that writing is the most solitary and loneliest of art-forms, that all those hours spent wandering around your own imagination can affect a person in unknown ways. Maybe it’s time I got out of the mind-station for a while, laid a cold flannel across my forehead and concentrated on the sound of silence. Maybe not. But I still feel frustrated.

Anyhow. I have a Blog and I write stuff here for people to read, and sometimes I put things on here that I like and I hope you will too. Tonights offerings are:

This amazing short film by Patrick Jean called Pixels. If you’re into old school videogames you’ll be grinning as Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Bomberman and much more attack and destroy NYC in two and a bit minutes that should make Michael Bay sit up and take notice before he pushes the go button on anything again. This is truly brilliant.

The Way Home by George Pelecanos. One of the writers on ace TV shows The Wire and The Pacific has been writing complex and emotional thrillers for almost twenty years, set in and around his hometown of Washington DC.. He’s one of my big influences and his latest novel is as good as anything he’s ever produced.

Letters Of Note is a fascinating website that will keep you engrossed for hours. Webmaster Shaun Usher describes it as “an attempt to gather and sort fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos.” The fact that most of the material on the site is from famous names throughout the 20th Century is a bonus, and the site has genuine and authentic scans and reproductions of the original material, like this letter below from Jimi Hendrix:

Finally, a fantastic remix from one of the best films of the last ten years. Shaun and Ed, dancing to electro at 4.00am makes Pete very, very angry. And makes me laugh a lot.

Until we pass by again. Goodnight sinners.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Save The What?

The whole recycling issue really leaves me cold. My wife loves it. We have a large plastic box in our under stairs cupboard where all cardboard, cans, junk-mail, boxes etc. are placed. All recyclable items MUST be placed in this box. There have been the rare occasions when I’ve forgotten the rules and tossed a can into the regular rubbish bin. On those occasions it has been a minor miracle that I’ve actually escaped without the skin being flayed from my back. If I make that mistake now it’s purely due to an absent mind and not any streak of rebellion. Cans go in the box. It doesn’t matter if the box hasn’t been emptied for a couple of days and the recyclable pile is the size of a mountain and as unstable as a Third-World dictator while the regular bin is empty. CANS GO IN THE BOX. Through pain, I have learnt.

The fun doesn’t end there. The box is then taken out for it’s contents to be transferred to the external bin. We have three bins now, large rectangular receptacles on small, neat wheels that stand in a line like soldiers of fortune keeping an ecological watch on my personal chunk of the planet. There’s a brown bin that’s designed for garden rubbish - grass clippings and hedge cuttings and the like. A green one that is designed to receive regular rubbish (although these days I don’t think anyone really knows what the hell regular rubbish actually is). And then, there’s the blue bin. Otherwise known as the recycling bin. We have a recycling box in the house, and it’s contents are transferred to the recycling bin outside. Easy, huh? Just lift the lid, throw the contents inside and-

NO! Of course it’s not that easy. Because paper goes into another box inside that bin while plastic and cardboard go into the main area. We’ve already done the separating, yet now we separate those piles into yet more piles. It’s roughly around this point I consider taking one of the rusty cans I’m in the process of chucking and slashing it across my wrists.

When I was a kid we had one bin. ONE FUCKING BIN. Imagine that! It was metal and round and sat proudly next to the shed and we threw everything into it. Why did that change? Why is it that I receive a schedule of recycling from my local authority every year that not only tells me how to recycle, but even hints with vague threats that if I don’t do it my rubbish won’t be taken away. Because we MUST think about the planet. It’s dying, don’t you realise? There are no trees left in Nebraska. A polar bear is now living on 4 foot by 4 foot chunk of ice because you’re to damn lazy to sort your Guardian from your bean cans. If we don’t make an effort, the ozone layer will burn and our seas will boil. We. Will. Die.

But here’s the thing. When I was at home the other Thursday I watched the huge, diesel-burning, atmosphere polluting garbage truck pull up our street. I watched the group of lads jumping out and emptying the blue bins. And not once, not once did they separate anything. Everything went into the back of the truck. Everything. Alright you say, maybe they were just storing it all in the back of the vehicle so they could sort it all out back at the depot? The fuck they did. The drove back, emptied that truck into the landfill hole and went for a cuppa. I’m sure it’s not their fault and that they do their best - they probably haven’t got enough man power or enough hours to do the job. However, I paid £112 a month last year in council charges and for that sort of money I don’t see why the council can’t keep up their part of the bargain if they’re demanding I do the same. I don’t see them spending my hard-earned on anything else. The roads are knackered (and of course we pay other taxes for that), I rarely set my house on fire, have a heart attack or get arrested, so I have no requirement of the emergency services. All my council appears to do with my money is take my recycling bins and mix them back up again. For £112 a month. Sounds like a bargain.

But the real issue of recycling is one of guilt. Yes, the planet is suffocating and choking on our fumes, beautiful species are becoming extinct at an alarming rate and the polar ice-caps are melting. It’s all true. But if I wash out my Ragu jars and put them in the right box they won’t. And it makes us all feel good, because we’re doing our bit and making the effort. We won’t feel guilty about all the other pollution we cause in the week - light pollution and high energy pollution and exhaust pollution and all that traffic that gets us to our hated jobs where we continue to make, build and design things that people don’t really need for a world that can barely sustain what we already have. It’s like going to Church for two hours on a Sunday morning and then spending the rest of the week sinning. You can get away with because you’ve done your bit.

I can’t give you numbers, but I’ll bet we could do some real recycling if for one week none of us drove anywhere. If our electricity and gas supplies were turned off at 6.00pm. If our power stations closed down during the hours of darkness. We could make a real, serious change. What’s that? You need to drive to the office because there are odd people on the bus. It gets cold at night and you don’t like wearing any of your sweaters. You really like slamming a pizza in the oven and having it ready just before the latest episode of Lost comes on the tube. Shit! Me too. I love my pepperoni special while Jack and Sawyer tramp across the island for the hundredth time…

The best thing to do is just keep separating those tins. Everything will be fine.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Dead Before Dawn

I watched Zombi 2 this morning (a.k.a Zombie Flesh Eaters a.k.a Zombie) for the first time in several years. My buddy Dan bought a super-cool DVD special edition a while back, convinced that due to his worship of Romero zombie flicks he’d love this one. He’d never seen it and I told him not to hold his breath, but if he hated it I’d give him the asking price. He did, I did, and now it’s the last movie on my DVD shelf. I can’t say I was surprised that he didn’t care for the picture. It’s cheap, incredibly dated, has routinely awful performances and is far removed from any form of style or finesse.

But I love the film. A lot of my affection comes from my age and the era I grew up in as a film geek. Zombi 2 was an Italian Exploitation rip-off designed to cash in on the hugely popular success of George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead, which had been a massive hit, especially in Europe, in 1978. The Italians, ever quick to jump on the bandwagon, threw together a script, some gore and a clutch of actors and let hack-extraordinaire Lucio Fulci direct the whole mess. Stuffed full of lurid splatter and nasty violence, we get plenty of head explosions, throat rippings, gratuitous nudity, a splinter of wood in an eyeball and a superb underwater moment when a zombie attacks a shark. Seriously. It was sold at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival before it was even completed, was a worldwide hit and proceeded to make a fortune, revitalising Fulci’s career and kick-starting the new wave of Italian horror in the eighties.

Released in the UK on video in 1983 it immediately found it’s way onto the Department Of Public Prosecutions list of so-called Video Nasties that circulated Thatcher’s Britain and deprived many a movie fan of seeing what they wanted, as well as putting many small video stores out of business. I was eleven at the time, and already a huge movie nerd, and I can still remember the thrill of looking at the garish box cover art to Zombie Flesh Eaters (which was the UK title, and what a title) sitting on the shelf, realising that there was no way on Earth my Dad would let me see it. I’d been allowed to see Alien and An American Werewolf In London and The Omen, but extreme Italian horror? Not a chance.

But when you’re a kid, those boxes and those cool names burn their way into your fevered mind. I used to dream about Zombie Flesh Eaters and other flicks with titles like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Ilsa She-Wolf Of The SS, The Bell Of Hell, Cannibal Apocalypse, The House By The Cemetery, Tombs Of The Blind Dead… I visualised plots and scenes for these films, to such an extent that the actual watching and realisation of them could and mostly never did live up to my expectations. In fact, it’s true to say that by and large many of the titles that made their way onto the banned list are much more fun to read about than to watch. However, that knowledge only came to me in later years. As a pre-teen horror fan they rocketed to the top of my list of movies to see.

The DPP ban was successful and in 1984 many films were removed from shelves and my dreams died. But this young film fan was resourceful, and towards the late eighties I started to pick up film magazines like Deep Red, Gorezone, Shock Xpress and Sleazoid Express. Here was film journalism aimed directly at me, with promises of new films from Italy and Japan and appreciation of directors like Dario Argento, Jess Franco and Lucio Fulci. Writers who loved Zombi 2! It was also around that time that I discovered there was a network of like-minded fans who met at movie festivals, swapped lists of their personal collections, traded VHS tapes and didn’t let archaic releasing schedules or ‘banned’ lists preventing their love of cult and horror cinema. It saw a period of my life when my movie collection went from a couple of hundred titles to a couple of thousand, when I was writing to and trading movies with people from as far as Japan to Brazil (the internet was years away) and the rattle of the letterbox in the morning meant another crazed chunk of cinema, not the electric bill.

All that is a (long) story for another time though, because I’m getting away from where I started, which was with today’s viewing of Zombi 2. I couldn’t recommend this film to anyone whose love of horror cinema comes from the glossy, MTV-style product that Hollywood throw into the theatres these days. Movies like Saw and Final Destination have their place in this world, and I have seen and enjoyed them, but Fulci’s masterpiece (and I use the word carefully) is a different genre, a different world away. I suspect that if was a kid of this generation and I sat down in front of Zombi 2 for the first time, I’d hate it. It has all the negative elements that I described earlier.

But as I said, not only do I love it, frankly I think it’s fucking brilliant. A boat drifts into New York harbour appearing to be deserted, and it’s only when two shockingly dumb cops start nosing around the deck that a palid, crazed creature comes up from below and starts taking chunks out of them. Titles, then some nonsense with Tisa Farrow (sister of Mia) and the great Ian McCulloch as scientists who decide to head off to a weird island in the Caribbean to investigate the work of Richard Johnson (allegedly drunk throughout filming) who’s been experimenting on the dead. The first half of the movie comes on like some boys-own adventure with boats, islands and lost treasure, and then following an attack by the undead the second half picks up the pace with some relentless splatter as our heroes are eaten one-by-one until a fiery climax as waves of zombies are alternatively torched, get their heads blown off, or both. Farrow and McCulloch escape to their boat, but tuning their radio in they hear panic in New York. The zombies have made it into Manhattan, presumably off the yacht from the beginning (It‘s never really explained, and Fulci was never much of a one for continuity or common sense). The credits roll over a cracking shot of the dead shuffling across the Brooklyn bridge.

It’s such a mish-mash of a film. Italian production, an American actress with Farrow, two veteran British actors with Johnson and McCulloch (star of the classic Brit Sci-Fi series Survivors in the seventies and who would go on to appear in Fulci’s even more crazy The Beyond two years later). A film shot in 70mm widescreen but with shaky zooms and some dodgy focus, and in the case of the New York scenes shot completely illegally. But it somehow works. Lucio Fulci is still considered a cheap hack in the mainstream but he knew how to stage a scene and turn on the gore. Zombi 2 is always exciting and never, ever boring, which is something I can’t say about a lot of horror pictures I see today. It is of it’s time, and will never find new appreciation with a modern audience, but for genre fans of my age it is a true classic to be revered and treasured.

The only problem I have now is the burning urge to buy sparkling new special DVD editions of Fulci’s other classics and remind myself how much I love them all over again. In the old days it used to take weeks, sometimes months to get my hands on a film. I just took a look on Amazon. The Beyond, House By The Cemetery, City Of The Living Dead, New York Ripper, Don’t Torture A Duckling, Lizard In A Woman’s Skin… They’re all there, with re-mastered discs stuffed full of special features. And that’s great, really, because these movies deserve to be seen in the best possible prints by a new generation and by us old bastards who only ever had shitty third generation VHS copies to squint at.

These days collecting cult and strange cinema is so much easier than it used to be.

But nowhere near as much fun.

Monday, 5 April 2010

10 Thoughts From Navarone

Thinking that having the six pins and the plate pulled out of my ankle would have me back skipping around like Usain Bolt on speed within 24 hours is possibly the most misguided thought I’ve ever had.

Seven episodes of Lost left. Still no idea what’s really going on, and as time progresses, I’m fairly sure the writers don’t either. Still, it was fun while it lasted.

Jimmy Page’s guitar riff on Led Zeppelin’s In My Time Of Dying is pretty much the most perfect thing I’ve ever heard. Watching Page, The Edge and Jack White jam to this classic in It Might Get Loud just brightens my day every single time.

Writing is a frustrating, un-rewarding, depressing and lonely occupation. But when I’m on it, and I mean really on it, nothing makes me happier.

I have an awful lot of man-love for Jason Bourne.

Eating all your Easter Eggs as quickly as possible so you can’t see the mountain of chocolate any more will not stop the guilt. Especially when the cocoa smudges on your shirt are a constant reminder of what a greedy bastard you’ve been.

Why must they now release all the old classics on Blu-Ray? I’m broke, but that HD version of Lucio Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead is a must-have.

My PornStar T-shirt needs to go in the bin, because (a) it’s now so old and I can’t really tell where the holes end and the sleeves start, and (b) it’s blatant false advertising. Ask my wife. It’s more PornHope than PornStar.

I have a dream about taking my family and running away to somewhere remote, idyllic and peaceful, with long days filled with golden sun and nights dreaming beneath the stars. And as I get older, I realise that I must give it my all to make that dream a reality.

Repeatedly watching the trailer for Scott Pilgrim Vs The World will not make the August 6th release date come any faster.

I try and I try, yet still cannot find any Brain Salt on the shelves at Boots. If I could just take a spoon a day… Think how amazing my thought processes would be.