Sunday, December 28, 2008

Go Make a Cup Of Tea...

(Sorry for the long and boring post about an utterly personal and uninteresting topic. I will add pictures of naked and semi-naked people at a later date to make it less of a chore to read.)

I've been thinking recently (when I get the chance what with my jet-setting life style and all) about just quite why it is I am so addicted to watching bad movies. I have to come to some conclusions - but first, some broad and unsubstantiated generalisations:

Humans are, for the most part, logical beings. We like to make sense of things, join the dots, make patterns. See actions and reactions. Understand cause and effect. We like to know where our next meal is coming from and whether there will be tomato ketchup easily available if it's not very good.

What human beings don't like is chaos. Thrown into a chaotic situation people will immediately start to impose some sort of order on it - or at least organise a committee to delegate someone else to do it for them.

One of the ways people organise the world is to tell stories. Stories are organised. They have a beginning, (or at least the telling of them will) and an end. There's a middle in between which usually makes some sort of sense, connects the two, and tells us something about ourselves and the world around us. Morals aren't always presented but are often inferred. We learn from stories.

There are many reasons why people consume fiction; comfort I would guess is a major reason. It reassures us to see the bad guys defeated, the murderer unmasked, and true love triumph. All's right with the world - The End. And most people seem to stay within a narrow comfort zone by reading genres they are comfortable with. I doubt if I will ever pick up a Mills and Boon or Harlequin romance for example but there are many who read little else.

We know what we like, and we like what we know.

Some people will enjoy the puzzle element of a Whodunnit or thrillers - trying to outguess the storytellers, some will want the cathartic experience of being scared witless by a horror movie, or will want a good laugh, or have a good snivel at the happy ending of some three-handkerchief tearjerker. The point I'm trying to make here is that when we sit down to a piece of fiction (and Isuspect this is especially true of film because of it's immediacy and power) we already know the sort of reactions it is going to evoke in us. We choose the films we watch according to the reactions we want to have, the moods we want feel. There's an expectation that the movie will trigger a desired response in us. If it succeeds in triggering that response we think it's a good film. If it fails, it's a bad one. The only thing that just about everyone agrees on is that no one sits down to be bored in a movie. Boredom is not something people actively seek out.

What I've come to realise is that the thing I often find I want from fiction - is bewilderment. I like being bewildered. For one thing it is such a fugitive feeling. Like Deja Vu it is not something you can easily trigger in yourself. I know that if I want to laugh, all I have to do is watch a Buster Keaton movie, or Yahoo Serious' Young Einstein, or any number of movies I know I find funny. If I want a good cry I'll watch It's a Wonderful Life, or The Dresser, or Cerano De Bergerac. But bewilderment? How do you bewilder yourself?

I'm often bewildered by bad movies.

A good bewilderingly bad movie is like a memorable dream. It will almost make sense from moment to moment - but then suddenly jump illogically in some disconcerting direction which, because it is part of a story, has to be fitted into place with what has gone before. Stories make sense - that's axiomatic (or possibly tautological) so if the storyteller has suddenly shifted the location of his story and made his characters suddenly do seemingly inexplicable things or vanish then we automatically try to fit the pieces together. It's our part of the game. The storyteller gives us the pieces and we fit them together.

When the storyteller is telling a simple story like Little Red Riding Hood the pieces are presented to us in a simple clear and easily comprehended manner. This happened, then that happened, then this happened..
When the story gets more complex, the story telling process gets more complex. In a mystery story the order of events is often revisited several times, open to multiple interpretations from different characters - not all of whom can be trusted to be honest in their versions.
The skill of the story teller is to present the pieces of his story to us in a way that keeps us interested and - no matter how complicated and fancy the way he shuffles and deals them or disguises them with stylistic tricks - he has to play fair. He has to stick to the rules; even if he is inventing them. How many times have you had the feeling you have been cheated when an author suddenly whips out a piece of story from somewhere, bangs it into place and announces the game is over? The Deux Ex Machina ending, the 'He Woke Up And Found It Was All A Dream' ending, or the character who suddenly changes personality for no reason, and renounces evil, embraces good, tra - la - la! Roses and bluebirds! Goodnight. The end.

In a good, bad movie all those things may happen before the opening credits have finished.

Sometimes the story teller is so wrapped up in his own weird fevered imagination, or so thoroughly incompetent, or hampered by technical problems (like not having enough money), that he doesn't communicate his story in a way that lets us follow it. We try to follow it, for a while at least, because we are conditioned to try but sometimes it just isn't possible.

I finally realised what was going on while watching Ed Wood's masterpiece of incoherence Night of the Ghouls (a sequel to his utterly wrong Bride Of The Monster*) The movie opens with Criswell (real-life fake medium and deranged narrator of several of Wood's films) rising from an open coffin and trying to stare into the camera while reading his lines on idiot boards held too far off to one side of the camera:
"I am Criswell - for many years I have told you the unbelievable related the unreal and showed it to be more than fact. Now I tell you a tale of the threshold people - so astounding that some of you may faint - This is a story of those in the twilight time - once human... now monsters... in a world between the living - and the dead. Monsters to be pitied! Monsters to be despised!"
It goes downhill from there very fast. There is a bewildering quality to Wood's films in which logic and all known storytelling techniques evaporate before your very eyes in an orgy of wrongness... I love his films but it was only watching this one for the first time that I realised the truly weird dreamlikeness of them. While the audience is still puzzling over the philosophical implications of things that are more 'real' than facts, Wood shows us a long interior of a police station full of over-acting amateur actors loudly screeching their lines - the upshot of this over-long, weirdly composed static shot is something strange and scary has happened to an old couple. They've seen something horrible.


Then the voice of Criswell returns:
"This how it began. An incident the police were fearful to admit."
Fade to police car, sirens blaring driving right to left along a dusty road. (Assumption in the audiences mind - these are the police we just saw on their way to investigate the 'incident' )

"Your daily newspapers radio and television dares to relate the latest in juvenile delinquency!"
Fade to a wide shot of some teens gently soft-shoe jiving in a coffee shop while someone whacks a demented jazzy drum solo to an entirely different rhythm on the soundtrack.

Cut to: Another shot of the police car driving left to right along what looks like the same road (Assumption in the audiences mind - the police car is going back to where it came from.)

Cut to a montage of four shots: a bunch of youths looking down - one boy jumps down a bank - onto another and hits him - unenthusiastically cheered on by his friends while Criswell intones:
"At Times it seems that juvenile delinquency is the major problem of our law enforcement officers - but, is this the major horror of our times?"
Cut to: another, near identical (tediously long) shot of the police car going left to right as the mad drumming returns on the soundtrack. (Assumption in the audiences mind - these policemen really don't know where they are going, do they?)

Cut to: Montage: a well lit alley boys boys 'fight' on the ground. A girl holds her handbag and shuffles screen right, a look of unconvincing unhappiness on her face.
"Is this violence and terror the small few perpetrate the most horrible terrifying of all crimes our civil servants - must investigate?"
The mad drumming is back again. Cut to: The police car - from right to left time. (Question in the audiences mind - What the hell is going on?)

Cut to: Another, different, car travelling left to right - this shot taken from another vehicle - I'm no expert on American cars of the period, but this is a much older car and looks like stock footage.
"The national Safety Council keeps accurate records on highway fatalities. They can even predict how many deaths will come on a drunken holiday weekend..."
Roadside bushes whip by as the camera is suddenly in the car, looking out. A close up of a spinning wheel (which can't belong to the car we just saw because it has white wall tyres and wheels on the car didn't). The car drives out of control down a steep bushy bank to come to rest,out of shot, behind a dark tree. Medium shot wrecked car, a body peering out of the smashed side window.
"But what records are kept? What information is there?"
Cut to the same damn police car driving right to left along the same damn road. (Enough! Enough! Mr Wood, we don't need to see every take you made of an establishing shot for another movie**!)
"How many of you know the horror - the terror, I will now reveal to you?"
(None, you fucking weirdo, that's why we're watching this crappy movie!)

Cut to an open top car, a necking couple inside, make out music on the radio. Frogs croaking. Cut to a wider shot of same car. AT LAST! Suddenly we are in linear movie storytelling time. The girl gets out of the car, he follows... The relief is almost overwhelming. Two sequential shots that actually make some sort of coherent logical sense! Blessed relief! The story progresses. This is where the movie really starts, folks!

What, the viewers asks himself, the hell HAD all that 'Juvenile delinquency', and road safety stuff got to do with anything? Nothing. It had nothing to do with anything that had previously happened, or would subsequently happen for the rest of the film. As I sat there trying to puzzle it out I realised it was the most genuinely surreal bit of film making I had ever encountered.

Many directors try to make dream-like movies, David Lynch and Fellini are two obvious examples but neither really get there. Their films are great, I love them, but their dreams are too coherent. Too good. They make too much sense. Their movies, lovely and wonderful things that they are, are composed and edited too lyrically. Dreams aren't lyrical. We impose lyricism on dreams afterwards as we think about them (if we remember them at all) and try to make them into stories.

We spend about a third of our lives asleep and a great deal of the time we are asleep we spend dreaming. Dreaming is obviously important to us. There is some reason why humans have to spend so much of their time time believing they are fighting enormous custard creams, or rowing across a sea of spaghetti, or running around their school yard naked from the waist down (or is that just me?). With Ed Wood, and all the other very bad movie makers of the world, we can all have a chance at that kind of experience while wide awake.

It's an opportunity I can never pass up.

*Starring Bela Lugosi in his next to last completed movie. Bride of the Monster contains one of the greatest bits of weird acting of Lugosi's career (and that's saying something). There's a moment towards the start of the film where a hapless victim wakes to find himself strapped to a surgical table, a captive of the evil Dr Varnoff (Bela in white coat and stethoscope) and about to be experimented upon with a atomic powered ray. Hey, what gives!
"Soon," gloats Dr Varnoff clutching one of those huge switches so beloved by mad scientists, "you will be asa bik as a chiant, wid the strength ov twenty men, or -- like all the others, DEAD!" Lugosi throws the lever. Lights flash. The victim convulses against the straps binding him to the table then falls limp. Bela registers horror (or something) and steps forward, dons the stethoscope, listens to the man's heart. Nothing. His shoulders slump. Another failure.... Then. In a truly inspired moment of acting genius (Bela is so in the moment here) he discerns a possible glimmer of hope and... stethoscope still in place - listens to the man's head! .. and then his wrist! ... only then does he finally give up hope.

**Plan Nine from Outer-Space

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's 21 minutes past Christmas. I'm sitting at the computer waiting till I go to bed so that I can sneak the girls', stuffed full of goodies from Father Christmas, Christmas stockings, onto their couch on the landing.

The girls, full of Christmas expectations, didn't get to sleep till gone 10 and Merriol and I spent the next two hours wrapping stuff and sorting out the order in which presents from other people would be opened to avoid sulks along the "She got more than me!" line - and coping with Merriol's colour-coded wrapping paper system. Father Christmas has three types of paper this year* one for presents for Daisy, one for presents for Holly and one for presents to share.
Then there's the different coloured papers for presents from us to the girls. I just did what I was told but I did end up having to re wrap at least one thing, shifting it from a Father Christmas present to an us present to keep things balanced.

I'm looking forward to seeing what Holly makes of one her gifts from us. When Tyler was here he bought Holly a chess set. It's a sort of Johnny Appleseed project of Tyler's, he leaves chess sets wherever he goes. Unfortunately Merriol and I known less than nothing about the game so, wrapped up H's pile of goodies, is a book called something like How to Humiliate Your Dad at Chess. If nothing else I might learn how to set the board out without looking at the picture on the box - which in this case was a bit of a mistake because whoever set the pieces up for the studio photoshoot managed to put the bishops on the corners - and even I know that's wrong. I did scan it but have lost it in the guddle in my computer.

It's now 1 am. I think the girls will be finally asleep now....

.... I hope...

Sneak... sneak...

Merry Christmas...

*Now safely stashed in the loft where it will be forgotten till the very instant I put next year's left-over roll on top of it.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

After a lot of fannying about - far too much - I have finally finished another Cheesybeat blog entry. Between sneakily sneaking secret things into the house past the kids because of the soonishness of Christmas and doing the washing up I don't seem to have done anything worth reporting at all. So, to fill up the space, here's all the movies I didn't watch this year. All the ones I abandoned, for a variety of reasons - mostly 'cos they're the wrong kind of bad. (I know Phoebe, I know.)

Elektra -
Comic book based flick about 'Back from the dead' female assassin with issues. I gived up after 15 minutes when I realised it wasn't going to stop looking like a car commercial. Terrence Stamp appeared in flashback as the aged martial arts master and looked bored out of his skull, if he couldn't be bothered why should I? Presumably he was getting paid to be there; I wasn't.

I can do no better than quote one of the IMDb reviews of this piece of shit: "a woefully unfunny film, with none of the 'so-bad-it's-entertaining' elements which similar films sometimes provide." Yep, that just about sums it up.

Hamlet -
Ethan Hawke in the title role and a cast worthies totally at sea in a total fuck-up of a movie in which the director spends most of his time trying to point the camera at the BACK of whoever is speaking's head in order to make the lousily-recorded, mumbling and whispering that they are doing totally incomprehensible. Only Liev Schrieber (as Laertes) looked like he had a clue what his character was meant to be saying and then said it with a clarity and conviction that just made everyone else look even more lost. I lasted 30 minutes before hitting the off button.

I love the original. This watered-down, fat, slick incredibly bland, mush made me want to puke. Dreadful. Which is a pity 'cos Mrs. JM bought it for me as a pressy and I wanted to like it so much. (In retaliation I bought her Love Actually which she had long wanted to see but had never got round to watching. She hated it; so we're even.)

The Last Days of Frankie the Fly
another £1 wasted in Tesco. When will I learn? Nu-Image's movies are crap. No matter how many good names they get to act in the damn things (or how wonderful their assistant editors are).

Menace from Outer Space.
I think if you fall asleep three times while trying to watch a movie it's time to give in. Especially as this piece of dross was cobbled together from episodes of a 1956 kids' TV show called Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.

Women in the Night -

Hooo Boy! This piece of cheapo, postwar Nazi & 'Nip' bashing shite must hold some sort of record for the most on screen verbiage before the first spoken line of dialogue in motion picture history. First we have a scrolling prologue (four screens full) - Followed by an establishing shot of the 'Bureau of Records', followed by a stock footage interior, and a zoom in on a drawer labelled "Case Histories Crimes Against Women", a tilt down to another drawer: "Confdential". A hand pulls open the drawer and starts to flip through the files giving us a chance to read their titles and some of the contents: (three shots showing eleven separate bits of paper to read). The last piece of paper is turned over to reveal a still photo of some women and a German soldier. Lap dissolve to stock footage of somewhere labelled: "Shanghai". Dissolve to yet another on-screen, full screen message: "In the Final Days of the war...blah blah blah". Cut to another filing drawer, a hand pulls out yet another typewritten card to read: "Crimes against Hospital Nurses Location: Shanghai". Lap dissolve to a sign "University Hospital" Dear god! I'm loosing the will to live here... Another dissolve to a sign saying "Nurses Quarters", another dissolve to a crucifix. The entire audience spells out 'I N R I' to themselves they are, by now, so used to reading anything that's on the screen. In all it's four and a half minutes! before anyone says anything meaningful - and then it's to read out a list of the character's names as they step forward one by one. Heaven help us! Not more establishing! There are seven writers credited with the script on this movie; I guess none of them had an eraser.
Luckily my copy died about ten minutes later. I will not be looking for a replacement.

Cyber Tracker -
Starring Don "The Dragon" Wilson (that should have been enough) I gave up after our bodyguard hero's wife delivered, with all the emotional depth and earnestness of a high school performance of Strindberg, the immortal line:

"I can't live my life waiting for you to walk through that door dead or alive."
A line I am determined to work into a play or story some time..

Bettie Page
April 22, 1923 – December 11, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holly made her speaking début* today in the school nativity play. She was the Archangel Gabriel and was wonderful. By which I mean she entered when she was supposed to, stood where she was supposed to stand, delivered her lines loudly, clearly and in the direction of the people they were supposed to be directed at, and all without being prompted once and - and this is the really amazing bit - and she didn't pick her nose, or fiddle with her knickers once the whole time she was on stage (which is more than I manage to do in any shows I'm in).
She also exuded a golden mystical glow and hovered a good six inches above the stage, but that might just have been a wee bit of wishful pride on my part.

Better late than never (I know you've missed it) here's the monthly What I Watched On My Winter Holidays list for November. It's only two weeks late.
  1. The Man From Planet X - An American studio film set on a small Scottish island which happens to be the closest point on earth as a passing planet zips past (like they do). Lots of walking past the same plaster rocks, fog, and 'nightime' shots to disguise the small studio space and lack of scenery. The obligatory alien abduction of the heroine happens off-screen - this movie was that cheap. In fact not a lot happens really, apart from some of the most atrocious 'Scottish' accents ever committed in Hollywood; they were fun.
  2. Freejack - oh dear god. Based on a story by one of my favourite SF authors Robert Sheckley - I hope he got paid a lot. It was worth it though to hear Anthony Hopkins deliver the line: "Welcome to my mind..." as only he could. A moment you can enjoy here and now, without having to waste ninety minutes of your life like I did, by watching the trailer:

    Though it was probably better in context.
  3. The Addams Family - Slightly postponed from Hallowe'en's Friday Night With the Kids Movie. I love it - but try telling that to an angry mob.
  4. Lady From Shanghai - which, once you get past Welles' 'Oirish' accent, is a stunning little film. As with all of Welles' movies I would love to have seen the long lost original cut.
  5. Flight of the Navigator - meh!
  6. The Man With Two Brains - I laughed. A lot. Steve Martin used to be funny and still is. By which I mean the films he made then are still funny now - unlike people like Gerry Lewis, or Arthur Askey who were funny then but aren't now (and haven't been for a long time). Though there were people who went on laughing at Arthur Askey years past his (and their) sell-by dates so maybe I'm just laughing at stuff that I used to find funny but that isn't widely considered really funny any more and I just haven't noticed.
    I guess the acid test will be whether my children find The Man With Two Brains and The Jerk funny in a few years time. Fast forward six years and I can almost hear one of my girls saying to the other (or possibly one of the others depending on the sex of child number three, due in less than four months): "Oh crap! Dad's going to do one of his 'Is This Funny?' experiments on us again, just pretend to like it so he doesn't feel old, will you?"
    I love my kids; they're so considerate...
  7. The Earth Dies Screaming - Great title, lousy movie (a Universal Law I suspect) in which a small bunch of set-bound survivors of some unexplained catastrophe (possibly the dreadful score) which has left everyone but them dead, slowly discover that world's population (or at least the population of that village where they seemed to shoot every other episode of The Avengers) was destroyed by an alien force using killer robots (only two of which are ever seen on screen at the same time). The robots, it turns out, are controlled from a teeny weeny radio tower in the middle of a field nearby which our survivors blow up using some convenient dynamite. Huzzah!
  8. The Starfighters (MST3K) - a monumentally dull film which consisted for most of its running time of every single inch of US Air Force stock footage of the Lockheed 401 Starfighter intercut with a total non story of three new recruits making a lot of telephone calls. Starring a man whose later credits include several single episode appearances in TV shows culminating in: "Ironside" .... Paul (The Body) (1 episode, 1971). The Starfighters was probably the highpoint of his career. As highpoints go it's probably one of the lowest ever.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A whole week since my last blogging. The weather has warmed up a bit - though I'm sitting at the computer with a hot water bottle on my lap and a quilt wrapped round me, I haven't had any adventures, no excitements. I haven't read any books, listened to any groovy new music, watched any new films. I haven't written anything, insulted anybody, had any fights, with anyone I haven't done any evil crap music things over on the other blog, hardly done anything in fact apart from my annual misguided attempt to out stare Christmas in the hope that it will back down and slink away, humbled and defeated, and just disappear...

just fuck off...

just go away...

As normal I have lost; Christmas IS inevitable. (Dammit!)

In admitting defeat I have drawn my first cartoon for weeks - which you'll not be seeing for a bit because it's for this year's family Christmas Card (Phoebe and Tyler only just got last year's Christmas card - and they had to fly 8,000 mile to get it.) This year it almost has a 'seasonal' feel to it, unlike last year's:

Grotto 101
Merry Zmas 2007
Well it made me laugh.

One of the things I hate about this time of year (apart from the cold, the wet and the vast number of parsnips* in the organic veg box) is the imminent arrival of the whole Christmas / New Year's bollocks.
For years I have managed to sidestep the whole Hogmanay nonsense on the grounds that expecting me, as a non-drinker, to endure enforced jollity in the company of insanely pissed, and raucously jovial people is a cruel and unusual punishment that no man should endure - and anyway, someone has to babysit the kids don't they. Goodnight don't get too pissed and don't breath on me when you come home. Happy new year? Whoop de doo. When I wake up on January 1st my nose is usually still running, and my feet are still cold and I know that for the rest of the year everyone is still going to be utter bastards to each other all over the world, no matter how much drink-induced bonhomie the BBC televised from Edinburgh's Royal Mile.

Nya! Fuckit. I'm just turning into an old grouch. My brain stops working in any meaningful way in December. I grind to a halt. This happens to me every year. All I really want to do at the moment is stay in bed with the curtains drawn and eat vast amounts of fat. I want to hibernate. My body just wants to eat butter by the block, miss this bit of the year out all together and Fast Forward to April. Unfortunately for my body I have kids who get up and need feeding (no matter how dark it is outside in the mornings) and who have come to expect Father Christmas to leave them goodies.

And we don't have any curtains in the bedroom.

*The Devil's veg.

Here's the best misplaced apostrophe I have come across in ages. I love this one. Makes my brain hurt trying to work out if there are two simultaneous spelling mistakes going on here or not.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Blog Entry Number 501

Normal service will be resumed as possible. A combination of viruses, second-hand jet lag, and some of the coldest weather we have had around here for ages (down to minus ten C locally and snow closing the roads) have not made sitting in an unheated part of the house trying to think (let alone type) pretty low in the old pecking order at the moment.

Higher up the pecking order is paracetamol, tea, hot water bottles, bed and trash SF novels.

I will be back in touch when I re-emerge.

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Copyright (c) 2004-2007 by me, Liam Baldwin. That's real copyright, not any 'creative commons' internet hippy type thing.

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