Seven years and a thousand emptied whiskey bottles before he put the wild back into the west in his bloody masterpiece The Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpah concocted Ride The High Country – an elegant send off to the classic western.
A turn of the century frontier town. The streets have sidewalks, the smell of petrol pollutes the clean mountain air. These fancy Dan’s have got cars goddamn it. Down on his luck ex-lawman Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) is an anachronism with his horse, his shabby clothes and his antiquated set of values. But old timers like him have certain skills, talents that still have their use in this new and civilised age. The bank needs Judd and his expertise with a gun to collect a large shipment of gold from a nearby boomtown and then to return it safely to the bank. Judd has a reputation as a reliable man, but that was forged a lifetime ago. The bank have their doubts but Judd is determined to prove his worth. Recruiting his old partner Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) and cocky youth Heck Longtree (Ron Starr), the three men saddle up on a journey that will see old loyalties tested, codes of conduct compromised and reaffirmed, and of course, some good old fashioned six gun action.
Ride The High Country is an old man’s film in the way it exudes the maturity and wisdom that can only be earned from a lifetime in the saddle, where each bump along the trail is felt deep down in your bones, a lifetime that’s seen youthful eminence change irrevocably to moth eaten irrelevancy. It’s astonishing to think that Peckinpah was 36 when he made it, yet in only his second feature film he establishes the modus operandi that would permeate his entire western output. In many ways one could view Ride The High Country as The Wild Bunch’s or Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid’s gentler cinematic Father. The films share similar thematic concerns, namely the death of the west and the question of where these men fit into a rapidly changing world where the old ways have become the wrong ways. Peckinpah is aided in this by pitch perfect casting. The film’s stars Scott and McCrea were further down the road than their young director, and like the characters they played, were on the verge of becoming obsolete as the Golden Age of Hollywood faded to black. Their long histories in the genre brought to mind a thousand half remembered gunfights and Peckinpah uses this audience association to full effect. Their presence in RTHC is verging on the mythic, two stone effigies come to life for one last gunfight with the feral Hammond clan, to prove one last time that the old ways still had legs – even if they were starting to buckle under the weight of the years. Tough, taciturn and honourable to the core, I reckon the world could do with a few more Steve Judds and Gil Westrums.
I don’t want to say anything more of the plot; to do so would spoil a truly tremendous experience and I wouldn’t be so callous. I saw the film as a boy and it touched me deeply then as it still does now. Perhaps I didn’t understand it’s myriad complexities then, maybe I still don’t, but I can tell you now that it has that something that only the finest films have. It doesn’t matter that it’s a western (although if you like ‘em it certainly helps), Ride The High Country is about an ideal, it’s about maintaining your standards when every other son of a bitch has sold out, given up or drowned in the moral gutter. It is a sentiment and a movie I heartily applaud.
Few artists in rock inspire such rabid devotion as Ian Hunter, and true to form, the faithful turned out en masse to see him play Bath’s Komedia on a drab October night. It struck me as I took my place in the long, snaking queue that Ian Hunter attracts a very particular following; not so much fans more like brothers in arms. Perhaps unique amongst concerts I’ve attended, there was a certain bonhomie in the air; a warmth and familiarity with each other and their common cause that could only come from a lifetime of nights like this. Never before have I seen such a diverse selection of tour t-shirts adorning such a narrow band of grizzled rock and rollers. The 1980 Welcome To The Club Tour, the ‘99 tour, the 2009 Mott Reunion shows; all of these and more were proudly displayed like campaign medals on the breast of an old soldier; and here they queued, ready to march behind their leader once more.
When Ian Hunter took to the stage to a collective roar , it was quickly apparent how much he valued their support. Not much of a chatter in between tracks, he preferred to let the music do the talking. So many of his songs directly address his audience, testimony to the symbiotic relationship between the man and his people. You don’t have to look far to see their shared history. It’s all there in the rousing Saturday Gigs, a loving tribute to the early days of Mott the Hoople, to rock and roll itself, and to young and innocent days. What sounded merely nostalgic back in 1974 is profoundly affecting in 2012, as a thousand misty eyed veterans raise their arms aloft and ask “Do you remember the Saturday gigs? We do, we do.” And they do as well; they’ve got the t-shirts and the wrinkles to prove it.
Last night’s set drew heavily from his latest record When I’m President, with a liberal sprinkling of solo and Mott tracks thrown in for good measure. Despite dicky sound on Hunter’s vocals (he spent most of the night drowned out by the tremendous racket made by his band), the grand old geezer of rock made a mockery of his OAP status, putting in an impressive shift whether setting the world to rights on When I’m President or mourning his old mate Mick Ronson on Michael Picasso. Of the new material, Life and Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse) particularly impressed, with the former the latest instalment in that forty year dialogue with his fans. “I can’t believe after all these years, you’re still here and I’m still here” he sings, still bemused by it all at 73. I however, can. Looking around at the audience, I got the distinct impression that so long as he keeps on keeping on, that they’ll always be there.
The early 70’s was a boom time for hard bitten crime thrillers. Directly following the saccharine 60’s when the film noir of the 40’s and 50’s was about as fashionable as a frock coat and a top hat, the advent of a new decade brought with it a renewed cynicism that made Mitchum’s noir heroes look as fatalistic as Doris Day. All of a sudden the good guys were in short supply, everywhere you looked bad men abounded. Raised on a diet of clean cut heroes, audiences were now increasingly asked to root for morally reprehensible lowlifes who, whilst rotten to the core, were not quite as evil as those on their tail. To survive in a dangerous world of back stabbing and low down double dealing, you had to be one bad mother, and Charley Varrick is a tough little cookie indeed.
Brought memorably to life by Walter Matthau, Charley Varrick is a middle aged, trailer park dwelling crop duster, turned violent bank robber. After a marvellously orchestrated opening heist on a small town bank swiftly descends into chaos, Varrick’s life is turned upside down as his easy $25,000 score turns out to be a $750,000 bloodbath. Varrick is nobody’s fool, and quickly realizes the origin of the extra $725,000; and that being chased by the police is the least of his concerns. What follows is a thrilling game of cat and mouse, as he attempts to outwit a psychopathic mob assassin with both his skin, and the loot intact. Charley Varrick is different to most films of its type in that its hero is less reliant on the ability to shoot his way out of trouble, instead favoring a deadly ingenuity that elevates the movie to something more than mere genre piece. Matthau excels as a character for whom his gift for improvisation is all he has, and it’s to his credit that he makes a bad man a compelling, if not wholly sympathetic lead. Varrick ain’t the sort of chap you get to know. His emotions, whatever they might be, are all internalised. Whatever hand fate deals him, Matthau’s hangdog features betray nothing, other than a steely determination to stay alive; and over the course of 111 thrilling minutes that proves to be quite a task.
To reveal anything more of Charley Varrick would be to spoil it completely, suffice to say that is a lean, tightly plotted, and entirely satisfying experience; acknowledged as a profound influence by Quentin Tarantino, and greatly enjoyed by yours truly.
Of all the so called heritage acts still plying their trade, none seem more at home with the tag than Ray Davies. Whilst some of his peers would run a mile from such a musty sounding label (although they’d be too slow to get very far); on the evidence of last night’s show Ray Davies is one contented man, happy as a pig in the proverbial curating a travelling museum devoted to his lifetime’s observations on a peculiar brand of lost Englishness.
For nigh on fifty years he’s been dancing to his own beat. Ray Davies, the perennial outsider; a rock and roll pervert who spent the summer of love tucked away writing songs about steam trains and village greens. Ray Davies, the introverted extrovert who prefers to walk down the street unrecognised, a man who freely admits to sabotaging The Kinks chances of success whenever it looked most likely with detours into music that few wanted to hear. At 68 years old he shows little sign of changing. Take this tour, the snappily titled Ray Davies October 2012 UK Tour. In typically twisted fashion, there is no new material to promote; this is rock and roll for rock and roll’s sake and it’s really rather refreshing. The newest number he plays is five years old and it’s a good one, but that’s not why we’re here and whatsmore, Ray knows it. We want Autumn Almanac and Victoria and Dedicated Follower Of Fashion and Waterloo Sunset. Like a child’s Christmas list, our demands are lengthy; but Davies duly obliges like a rock and roll Santa Claus, dispensing the songs we know and love as gifts to his delighted audience. The favourites came thick and fast, and the Forum quickly assumed a Last Night of The Proms atmosphere with Ray’s regular encouragement to sing-a-along turning the old theatre into a cacophony of noise. I saw a lot of happy faces last night.
Of course, some people wouldn’t have liked it. They’d call it a nostalgia fest like that’s a bad thing, and how wrong they’d be. Oh it’s a nostalgia fest alright, but that’s precisely why it’s so good. Last night I witnessed a performer and his audience, still joined at the hip after all this time by the songs that soundtracked their lives. In fact, to call them mere songs is to serve them a gross injustice as they are so much more than that. They are part of our collective DNA. They and the great tunes of the past by so many titans of popular music are the glue that help keep us together, now and forever. Last night was a joyous celebration of our shared history, a living history that is rich, vibrant and oh so melodic; the story of us condensed into three minute miracles encapsulating a time, a place and a way of life that once was but can never be again. Times may change but the village green lives on in song and that’s ok by me.
Browsing through the options on Netflix, Righteous Kill stood out like a straight man at a Kylie Minogue concert. In a nutshell, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino play two veteran cops, hot on the trail of a vigilante killer who may well be one of their own. Hardly a trailblazing synopsis for sure, and a Netflix user rating of 3 out of 5 was mediocre at best; but the promise of De Niro and Pacino, properly together for the very first time was too much to resist. Surely it couldn’t be that bad? Could it….?
Righteous Kill is the sort of film that makes a whole host of alternative, intrinsically unappealing activities seem a darn sight more attractive. For example, in the 96 minutes it took to sit through this ode to shite, I could’ve listened to half of Steve Wright’s “Big Show” on the BBC IPlayer, or for that matter, had a catheter fitted through my bumhole. Talking of catheters, I’m pretty certain the dream team of Rob and Al know all about them, as they stretch the definition of veteran cops to breaking point. Apparently, veteran cops don’t retire, they just become elderly cops; good news I’m sure for all you frightened citizens out there. So, the revised synopsis. De Niro and Pacino play too decrepit cops, hot on the trail of a vigilante killer who may well be one of their own. Did I say hot on the trail? I didn’t mean hot. I meant cold. I meant fucking Baltic. The NYPD might as well have put the boys from The Last of The Summer Wine on the case. I’m not sure if it’s the script or the fact the cast are now older than Jesus, but the art of detecting has surely slowed down some since the glory days of Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. Hell, even in the 80’s this would’ve taken Al and Rob all of five minutes to solve. As it is, the pacing of Righteous Kill makes the average episode of Miss Marple seem like The Bourne Identity. You know things are really bad when a Brian Dennehy cameo can’t liven up the proceedings! At the point when 50 Cent appeared, I was contemplating getting a tattoo; by the time De Niro got his vigorous sex on, I wanted to go back to work. Avoid like a land mine.
There’s our hero, clad in a fetching combo of shiny suit and dapper hat; a little older, a little rounder, just as angry. Or so we hoped…..one question buzzed incessantly around my head like a fidgeting fly coated in itching powder; what if Elvis has gone soft? The signs were there in ominous neon, a hundred feet high. Happily married, doting dad, living in Canada….What if Elvis has gone soft? There it was again; the nagging doubt. And then he strapped on his telecaster and began to sing. Any lingering fears as to the mellowing effect of multi-millionaire middle age were instantly dispelled, as he launched into a blistering version of I Hope You’re Happy Now, sneering and snarling like it was 1978 and he was directly addressing a doggy dropping. Marvellous! Sorry I ever doubted you Mr Costello.
After rattling off a few innovators to get the party started, attention turned to the giant wheel that dominated the stage; the famous spinning songbook; essentially a fairground apparatus with 40 different songs and themes displayed around its garish face. Assuming the guise of mischievous MC Napoleon Dynamite, Costello donned a top hat and twirled his cane with fiendish relish, quipping and hustling as though his life depended on it, whilst his ravishing/ravishable assistant prowled the aisles, selecting random members of the audience to spin the wheel and have their song played whilst they danced onstage in a cage. And why not? Whilst my inner Costello says the Spinning Songbook is a labour saving device designed to alleviate the pressure of choosing a setlist from such a diverse back catalogue, it made for an undeniably entertaining spectacle, as well as producing a show that touched bases with career highlights and obscure gems, as well as the occasional all out snoozefest. But whenever things threatened to get a mite too grown up and sophistimicated, an Accidents Will Happen or a Watching The Detectives was never too far away to relieve the tedium of the old, “here’s one off the new album” syndrome.
Elvis and his Imposters sound as though they’ve been playing together since the dawn of time, which if your worldview began with the birth of punk, then I suppose they have. Essentially The Imposters are The Attractions with a different bassist. These boys have got history and you can tell, whether on an out of control Oliver’s Army or a show stopping, even more psychotic than usual I Want You. It’s all there in Steve Nieve’s swirling organ patterns and Pete Thomas’s pounding drums, with that voice right upfront, telling it like it is; like he always has. And in amongst the gimmicks and distractions, that was all that mattered.
Once upon a time when the world was flat and inhabited by black and white people, the western was very popular indeed. It’s estimated that during the Golden Age of Hollywood, westerns accounted for up to 30% of all feature films produced, such was the insatiable demand (and low production costs) for tales of the American frontier. With literally 100’s of westerns rolling off the production line each year for the best part of three decades, separating the wheat from the chaff can be an arduous business. Most of them are at best, routine; aimed at an undemanding audience who liked their good guys squeaky clean and their bad guys very bad indeed. Things were simple then. After 70 minutes of helpless heroines, derring do and dastardly villainy, justice would be dispensed with the crack of a six gun and all would be right with the world. But every now and again, a very different beast reared its idiosyncratic head.
Take The Gunfighter, a film about reputation and its nasty habit of following one around. Gregory Peck stars as Jimmy Ringo, the titular shootist and possessor of one very unwanted legend. In every town and every saloon, Ringo’s reputation as the fastest gun in the west precedes him. Deadly confrontation lurks around every corner from an endless supply of young punks, eager to make a name for themselves as the man who shot Jimmy Ringo. No matter how hard he tries to avoid it, his fame is such that he cannot survive without killing; and survival is the aim of the game. Only by doing so can a reformed Ringo reunite with his estranged wife and the young son he has never seen, if of course he can escape the gun toting shadows of his past.
The Gunfighter is very unusual in that it depicts a thoroughly depressing profession for what it really is. The Wild West has rarely seemed so grim. Gunfighting here is not something to aspire to, it’s something that gets you killed. Ringo’s proficiency with death isn’t a blessing it’s a curse, an albatross around his neck dooming him to forgo a normal existence in exchange for a daily struggle for survival with death as his only company; always on the move, ever wary of a bullet in the back. His dreams of starting a new life are hindered at every turn by some new adversary, each more determined than the last to blow his sorry head off. Reconciliation with his family is the hope that springs eternal, but it’s a forlorn hope at best. Unlike your typical western female of the time, Mrs Ringo is neither helpless nincompoop nor brassy broad; she is a realist long since resigned to life as a single parent and a widow to a walking corpse. Over the course of 85 taut minutes, we watch enthralled as Jimmy Ringo battles to prove her wrong and postpone his date with death. Westerns don’t get much better than this.
Zulu Dawn is remembered as the lesser regarded prequel to Zulu (when indeed it is remembered at all), which is a great shame for a lovingly crafted epic of the sort they just don’t make anymore. Where Zulu told the story of triumph in the face of insurmountable odds, Zulu Dawn is chiefly concerned with the dark heart of Empire and with military folly on the grandest of scales. With such lofty themes at its core, it’s hardly a surprise that it failed to capture the public imagination in the same way as its more straightforward predecessor. Time then for a revaluation.
Zulu Dawn examines the deeply flawed political and military decision-making that resulted in the invasion of Zululand, leading to the catastrophic defeat at Isandlhwana – the worst inflicted on the British Army by a native force. Although the campaign would ultimately end in some kind of victory for the British Empire (read up on the history and decide for yourself what kind of victory that is), this is a film about defeat. The fate of the men on the ground is sealed from the very beginning, when wheels are set in motion that cannot possibly be halted. Determined to pursue a course of action designed to destroy the Zulu kingdom, the political leadership of Sir Henry Bartle Frere (John Mills) is rotten to the core, and motivated by a borderline Fascist desire to “provide a final solution to the Zulu problem”. Lt. Gen Lord Chelmsford (Peter O’Toole), the military commander on whose orders men live or die is shown to be blundering at best, and vain, incompetent and responsible for the death of 1300 at worst. In one of the film’s best scenes, Chelmsford lounges beneath a marquee packed with yes men behind a dining table fit to grace Buckingham Palace, where he quaffs wine, fills his belly and denounces the bad manners of a fighting man more concerned with the welfare of his men than the quality of the claret. He is naturally completely oblivious to the slaughter occurring several miles away.
Riding the wave of revisionism prevalent in 70’s filmmaking, Zulu Dawn attempts to give a balanced account of the campaign, and so it is that the Zulu’s themselves are given a voice. Happily, the filmmakers steer clear of presenting them as noble savages. Their rituals and customs are shown to be cruel and barbarous and alien to the British mindset, yet this was not the reason given by the British for declaring war. Sound familiar? Columns of Redcoats advance on Zululand in the name of an Empire built on cruelty and barbarism, an Empire completely alien to those they seek to conquer. When two great powers founded on blood collide, the results are never going to be pretty.
Zulu Dawn sacrifices some of the gritty claustrophobia of its predecessor for a bigger, if not necessarily better feel. The story is played out on a broader canvas, with garden parties, Governor’s offices and the wide open spaces of the savannah to the fore. No expense is spared in recreating the South Africa of 1879. The costumes and pageantry are as sumptuous as one could hope for, whilst the battle itself is skilfully brought to life. The moment when the doomed British realise the full extent of their predicament as 20,000 Zulu warriors bear down on them is chilling indeed, whilst the panic and desperation of a rapidly deteriorating situation are effectively evoked as the outnumbered redcoats are overwhelmed and slaughtered with frightening ferocity.
At the end of Zulu, the survivors of that remarkable action trudge shell shocked through the smoking battlefield as the narrator reads the names of the 11 men awarded a Victoria Cross; a triumphant note to finish on if ever there was one. Zulu Dawn has no such happy ending. Oh, the Zulu’s walk triumphantly over the fallen alright - but their victory would be short lived. Zululand would be crushed beneath the boot of Empire before the year was out. As for the British Empire, glory is out, folly is in. Ultimately, a bad decision can prove as fatal as a spear in the gut. Either way, it’s the little guy who loses out.
The introduction of Timothy Dalton as 007 breathed new life into the ailing franchise after the worst excesses of the Roger Moore era. Gone were the days when a brave stuntman would pretend to be a 58 year old secret agent, swinging from a vine and emitting a Tarzan call whilst wearing Roger Moore’s cast off ginger wig and an ill fitting tux. As the march of old father time caught up with Granddad Rog, and the sensible mid 80’s tightened their icy grip on everyone’s favourite sex addict; godawful jokes, Grace Jones and rogue geniuses intent on destroying the world were yesterday’s news. In their place came a gritty realism (for a Bond film), not seen since the glory days of Sean Connery. Bringing a harder edge to the role (which essentially means less smirking, less sex and no jokes), Dalton’s Bond is a capable Bond, adept at navigating the murky waters of a cold war world where the cartoonish, megalomaniac villainy of old has been supplanted with something far less principled – and far more sinister.
In Licence To Kill, Bond faces an adversary firmly rooted in the headlines of the 1980’s. Franz Sanchez is an international drug dealer, and by all accounts, not a very nice man. This is apparent, not only from his morally dubious profession, but from the manner in which he feeds Bond’s best friend to a shark, forcing 007 to embark on a mission of violent revenge. In the old days, the bad guys were always quite cuddly. Despite possessing a set of metal teeth here, or a deadly bowler hat there, one always got the feeling that their heart wasn’t really in it. In the Moore era, villainy wasn’t a serious business; it was as though the baddies were in it for the craic, and if their evil plan came off, so much the better. Licence To Kill is different. There is an utter ruthlessness at work here, practically unique to the franchise. As the only Bond movie to be awarded a 15 certificate, its home to a great deal of unpleasantness. Over the course of its running time, heads explode, bodies get shredded, and people generally die pretty horribly. You see, in the Timothy Dalton era, sharks don’t swim menacingly by; they stop for lunch, fully intent on a three course meal. Whilst this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it’s an approach that perfectly suits the darker nature of Dalton’s portrayal. Never comfortable punning his enemies to death, Dalton looks totally at ease playing a man for whom unpleasantness is second nature. For his 007, sex and high jinks are secondary pleasures at best, a world away from the playboy of old. In Licence To Kill, the mission is everything, and Bond will do whatever it takes to achieve his deadly aim.
Ultimately, this new fangled approach to an old favourite alienated large sections of its audience, but don’t let that put you off. Some people have no taste. Whilst Licence To Kill is undeniably something of a departure from the formula committed to stone tablet all those years ago, it has enough typically Bond-ian ingredients to keep the faithful happy. The globe is well and truly trotted, women’s clothes still fall off with inexplicable ease, Q is still a gadget geek and ultimately James Bond emerges triumphant. Reassuringly, some things never change.
To anyone who thinks Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary output is restricted to tales of a smug twat with a penchant for puzzles, pipes and heavy duty narcotics, think again! Arfur’ (That’s Sir Arthur to you!) dabbled with pretty much every genre under the sun in his 43 year writing career, including excursions into the Supernatural, Science Fiction and Erotica. Only joking about the Erotica. A Study in Schlongs is sadly an unrealised project! I digress. As to his actual body of work, that some of those worthy efforts have fallen out of print, and that all of them are doomed to cower unloved and ill-remembered beneath the looming shadow of his most famous creation is a great shame, and ultimately a greater loss to the reading public.
Take The Lost World, arguably Conan Doyle’s second most recognised work. It is in every respect the equal of the adventures of Messrs Holmes and Watson, providing thrills aplenty for the dedicated connoisseur of good old fashioned entertainment, yet it enjoys a fraction of the reputation afforded to Sherlock. If you said The Lost World to your average human being (and there are a lot of those about), they would probably think first and foremost of the rather unnecessary sequel to Jurassic Park. Which is frankly unfair. The only thing the two Lost Worlds have in common is that they both have people in them. And dinosaurs. We can’t overlook the dinosaurs I suppose.
The Lost World is very much a product of its time. When Sir Arthur put pen to paper in 1912, it was slap bang in the middle of the golden age of exploration, a period in time when great swathes of the earth remained unexplored and ripe with untold promise; when a mere mortal could become a God, simply by conquering the unconquerable with little more than a pack of huskies and a Swiss Army Knife. Simple. It is such a quest that forms the basis of The Lost World, a novel that sees Conan Doyle exchanging the familiar gas lit alleyways of turn of the century London for the untamed wilderness of deepest, darkest South America.
Now if I were to swap my mundane suburban existence for the myriad joys of the jungle, I am willing to bet both my kidneys and a signed photograph that all I’d get for my efforts is malaria and the unwanted attention of some very angry drug runners. But The Lost World isn’t reality, it is fiction; glorious, wonderful fiction, from a bygone age when derring-do was to the young men of the day what stabbing Policemen is to their contemporary counterparts. This jungle is home to Apemen and Indians, to Pterodactyls and Plesiosaurs. It is every little boy’s wildest dream brought to life by a master craftsman, an opinion I think he would’ve appreciated given that the preface to the book states:
I have wrought my simple plan
If I give one hour of joy
To the boy who’s half a man,
Or the man who’s half a boy.
A more admirable reason to write I cannot imagine. And if the promise of adventure isn’t quite enough for you, Conan Doyle creates some wonderfully memorable characters to share the experience with. I ask you, who wouldn’t want to travel to a mysterious plateau to prove the continued existence of Prehistoric life with the rambunctious Professor Challenger for company? And who wouldn’t want to hunt the deranged missing link in the evolutionary chain with the heroic Lord John Roxton and his trusty rifle at their side? If the answer to either of those questions is “Me” then I have absolutely no wish to know you and I ask you to leave this website immediately!
For a fella with a reputation as the grand master of horror, Vincent Price didn’t half make a lot of rubbish films. From The Tingler to The Pit and The Pendulum, the amount of godawful Vincent Price movies clogging up a bargain bin near you could bridge the water between Dover and Calais, whilst the good un’s can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Thank heavens then for Theatre of Blood, the one undoubted masterpiece in Price’s lengthy oeuvre, and an absolute hoot from start to finish.
Theatre of Blood is the perfect vehicle for Price’s particular brand of horror, with a character and plot seemingly tailor made for him. He excels in the role of Edward Lionheart, a notoriously dreadful Shakespearian actor with a serious taste for ham. Sick to death of the ‘groundless’ vitriol directed at him by his many critics (played by a veritable who’s who of British character actors), Lionheart decides that enough is enough, embarking on an orgy of murderous revenge – with a Shakespearian twist. As you do! Throwing himself at the role with gleeful abandon, Price is like a kid in a sweet shop as he hams up soliloquies dressed as a French chef, brandishes a rapier whilst trampolining, and pretends to be a gay hairdresser named Butch, amongst many other acts of inspired lunacy.
If the thought of Vincent Price camping it up doesn’t sound very frightening, then you may well be surprised. All of Lionheart’s macabre revenges are styled after the works of Shakespeare himself, meaning that they are innovative, unpleasant, and far too clever for the likes of me and you. The moment when a lone critic is butchered in an abandoned building by a mob of meth drinking maniacs (in homage to Julius Caeser don’t you know?!), is genuinely unnerving; whilst other fates are either too hilarious to be true, or far too horrible to contemplate. When played out in such an over the top manner, the cumulative effect is of a nightmarish pantomime where the baddie is not only behind you, but intent on feeding you your own dog in a pie. If that ain’t the definition of horror, I don’t know what is.
Ultimately, Theatre Of Blood is a delight; a genuine one off and a technicolour oddity in a black and white world. I suggest you seek it out.
When debating Clint Eastwood’s best western, its generally agreed to be a two horse race between the spaghetti-licious The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and his autumnal masterpiece, Unforgiven. And it’s just that kind of attitude that gets me all riled up! Unforgiven?! I’ve never heard such hogwash in all my life. After I’ve finished pistol whipping any loudmouthed Unforgiven aficionado into bloody submission, I’d like to make them a cup of tea and sit them down in front of The Outlaw Josey Wales (and not in the good chair I might add!). By the time it’s finished, they’ll be dancing to a different tune! Probably “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”……
The Outlaw Josey Wales is a sensational piece of filmmaking, directed by the man himself at the top his game, and fit to stand alongside the finest westerns of Ford, Peckinpah, and Leone. The greedy so and so also excels in the title role as a peaceful Missouri farmer turned gun toting renegade, bringing all of his grizzled charisma to a character he was born to play. Josey Wales seems happy enough letting the American Civil War pass him by, tending his fields and generally looking contented with his lot. But after the brutal murder of his wife and child at the hands of mangy Yankee scum, he puts down his pitchfork and picks up his six guns to kill those responsible – or die trying.
So far, so typical right? But if you think you’ve seen this kind of thing a thousand times before, you’d be very wrong indeed. As much as this is a story of revenge, it is a tale of redemption, following Wales from his lowest ebb as a soulless killing machine, forged in the fires of a brutal age, to his gradual re-assimilation into polite-ish society. But that don’t mean Vicar’s tea parties and country rambles; no sir! The bulk of the film sees Wales pursued through hell and highwater by those he seeks to annihilate, with all the attendant gunfights and narrow escapes you could possibly wish for. The violence here is swift and deadly, and not played out according to any code of conduct. Everyone is affected by it, as evidenced by the ever expanding retinue of strays and waifs who accompany Wales on his savage flight, each in need of his fearsome protection. In the company of this surrogate family of world weary Indians and desperate pioneers, Wales attempts to find some kind of peace with himself, en route to the inevitable bloody showdown.
The Outlaw Josey Wales belongs to a very select band of westerns that convey an authentic vision of the American frontier. Like the foul landscapes of TGTBATU and Unforgiven, Wales’s world is a harsh environment, populated by rapists and ruthless killers for whom a moral compass is something to be shot in the back. Around every corner lurks death, but hey, it could be worse! As Wales himself would have it, “Dying is easy for men like you and me. It’s living that’s hard.” And The Outlaw Josey Wales is hard living indeed.
With Arthur, The Kinks (for whom eccentricity and willful perversion ran through their veins in place of blood), attempted that grand rock statement of years gone by; the concept album – and in doing so crafted the finest record of their long and varied career. For an effort described by Greil Marcus as “the best British album of 1969”, Arthur ain’t half a hard sell to the uninitiated! It tells the story of a very ordinary chap and his very ordinary life from the cradle to the grave. Born into the twilight years of the British Empire on whom the sun never set, we follow Arthur through the ups and downs of an average existence, as his hopes and dreams are systematically snuffed out, one by tragic one. The Grease soundtrack this ain’t, but for anyone prepared to face up to the harsh realities of a mundane suburban existence, all packaged in some of The Kinks most delightful melodies, Arthur is a must listen.
The success of a concept album hinges on the strength of its story, not to mention a great set of songs. Happily Arthur has both in spades. Its concept lends itself particularly well to The Kinks, allowing Ray Davies songwriting to flourish in a setting he’s clearly very comfortable with. On Arthur he touches base with of all his favorite themes. From the nostalgia of “Young and Innocent Days”, to the ode to the working class that is “She’s Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina”, this is classic Kinks territory, as bittersweet as a cherry sour and as English as Yorkshire Pudding.It is this sense of all pervading Britishness that forms the albums core, a national identity that shapes Arthur’s life, an identity moulded from conflict, from class, and from blind faith in his betters, the very shackles of Britishness from which he can never hope to escape. For Davies, the scars of Empire run as deep as the Mariana Trench, with the rot setting in from the first lines of the barnstorming opener, “Victoria”. Right from the off its clear that Arthur is a very insignificant cog in a monolithic machine, and whatsmore he knows it; but hey, it’s fine because that’s what the likes of Arthur do. You’re born, you do your bit, you die. Bleak eh? As the years wear on and Arthur’s impact on the world around him diminishes, alongside that of the Empire he holds so dear, he experiences hope, loss, ambition and disappointment; that is to say real life pouring out of your speakers in Dolby 5.1. And just in case I’ve fooled you into thinking it all sounds a wee bit depressing, never fear. Whilst Arthur features some occasionally glum home truths, when they’re told by The Kinks at their irresistible best, it’s hard to stay glum for long.
Nestled snugly in Seat G5, eagerly awaiting the return of the Rhinestone Cowboy to the Colston Hall, the thought occurred to me that I really didn’t know what to expect from the Glen Campbell Final Farewell Tour. All the talk in the press had centred around the effects of the Alzheimer’s that had taken its icy grip on Mr Campbell’s faculties, an effect noticeable enough to make him go public with news of his affliction. In the shows prior to his sad announcement, Campbell’s monologues had become noticeably slurred and rambling, our hero increasingly reliant on a teleprompter feeding him the lyrics to songs he’d been singing for forty years. Something clearly wasn’t right. Sensibly, the Campbell clan acted quickly to quash any rumours of a return to his hellraising past of drink and drugs, breaking the bad news with the promise of The Final Farewell Tour, Glen’s last hurrah and a chance to say ‘so long’ to his devoted fans before riding off into the sunset in a star spangled rodeo. The question I asked myself was what sort of farewell would it be?
Well, I’m thrilled to report that despite the cynical observations of some, The Final Farewell Tour is neither exploitation of an aging cash cow nor a voyeuristic peep into the mental decline of a legend. The show was a celebration pure and simple, a joyous knees up in honour of a fantastic career. At the centre of it all was a man who, whilst not exactly at the top of his game, was absolutely determined to send us home smiling – and that’s just what he did. Accompanied by a band comprised of family and friends (including his daughter and two sons keeping a watchful eye), the 75 year old Campbell bounded around the stage with the enthusiasm of a little boy, regularly expressing his astonishment at the quality of the songs he’s had the pleasure to have sung. And what songs they are; Wichita Lineman, Galveston, By The Time I Get To Phoenix – all the hits were present and correct, as well as a smattering of poignant numbers from his new record, Ghost On The Canvas; all of which sounded like classics in the making. As for the man himself, those famous pipes of his showed no sign of wear and tear despite the occasional mistake, and the joy in his voice as he shouted ‘let’s play one!” prior to wonderful guitar solo after wonderful guitar solo was a pleasure to behold. A force in decline? You could’ve fooled me!
Ultimately, the thing that impressed me most about Glen Campbell was his own smile, as wide as the great American Vistas he paints in song. Sod the usual clichés about nobility and triumph in the face of adversity that accompany Campbell wherever he goes; he might not always have been able to articulate what he wanted to say, but that smile did all the talking. Glen Campbell’s just happy to be up there doing his thing and for people to still be digging it after all this time. How dare anyone tell him to stop?
You know, I’d forgotten just how enjoyable a good James Bond film can be? Whilst it’s generally agreed by the boys and men of this world that all of 007′s adventures have their merits (even proper stinkers like Die Another Day and Moonraker), the bad films (of which I’d say there are about 25%) and the formulaic ones (maybe 60%) tend to overshadow the very best entries in the series; those rarest of gems that offer a glimpse of Bond as he was always meant to be, the Bond of Ian Fleming.
There is really something to be said for James Bond done right, and From Russia With Love is quite possibly the donest rightiest of them all. For once, 007 behaves like the spy he is, espionaging it up to the max at every available opportunity in a complex battle of wills with SPECTRE, the deadiest criminal organisation of them all. Well, apart from FIFA that is.
Connery’s got his hands full here, with danger and boobies around every corner, and not necessarily in that order either! Whilst inevitably big Sean can (and does) handle whatever’s thrown at him, be it buxom fighting gippos, or a lesbo Russian minger with a poisoned knife in her shoe and a rather fetching red mullet, the real joy of this film is the sense that for once, 007 might have bitten off more than he can chew.
Kronsteen, the chess playing criminal mastermind behind the plan to eliminate our hero is surely too thorough, too diabolical to let Bond slip through his elaborately laid trap, whilst Robert Shaw’s Red Grant is the Gold standard for menacing, psychopathic henchman who just won’t let it go. Add a sultry and quite possibly treacherous Russian cypher clerk into the mix, set the whole shebang in the impossibly exotic surroundings of Istanbul and Venice, and climax aboard the Orient Express with the most backbreaking, brutal fight of the series, and you’ve got yourself a winner. Surely Bond can’t escape this time? He bloody can you know!
When the brothers Mael of Sparks fame sat down to write their classic ode to facial hair, Moustache, which namechecks Pancho Villa, Fu Manchu, Ronald Coleman and Adolf Hitler amongst others, there was one notable wearer of the hairy lip they forgot to mention. Yes ladies and gentlemen, it’s the one and only Burt Reynolds!
Now Burt Reynolds without a moustache is a bit like a dog without poo on its bum, or a teenager with half a brain and no STD’s – it’s virtually unthinkable.
You see Burt and His Moustache™ go way back, enjoying a symbiotic relationship that’s lasted for aeons; sort of like The Rolling Stones but much, much hairier. Actually Burt and His Moustache™ are very much like The Rolling Stones. Take Mick away from Keith and what have you got? A diabolical solo album and the mother of all benders; but put ‘em together and they’re capable of minor miracles.
Which brings me back to Burt Reynolds and his Moustache™. Imagine my surprise when I sat down to watch the classic thriller Deliverance, starring Burt Reynolds and His Moustache™, only to discover that His Moustache™ had in fact failed to show? I should have known when I bought the bloody thing, a cursory glance at the DVD case would have revealed that this was a film starring Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, and not Burt Reynolds and His Moustache™. Good job I didn’t look, because if I’d known the moustache had gone AWOL then I surely wouldn’t have bought it, which would’ve been a shame because Deliverance is actually rather good.
I won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it, but basically it tells the story of three city types and their macho moustacheless friend, who decide to take a canoeing trip deep in the heart of Hicksville, USA. Suffice to say it doesn’t quite go according to plan. Screw it I’m gonna spoil it for you. Jon Voight gets tied to a tree with his own belt and has to watch helplessly as two randy hillbilly’s rape his poor gormless friend, but not before making him squeal like a pig, boy. Nice. Action man Burt intervenes killing one of the toothless wonders with a well placed arrow like Kevin Costner in a chest wig, in the process saving Jon Voight’s ass from a serious pounding. The fourth friend, we’ll call him Gaylord, is frankly appalled by this sudden turn of events, Burt’s necessary show of murderous violence tipping him over the edge and thus sparking the moral dilemma at the heart of the narrative. Is the killing of the homicidal bum bandit justified? Can their lives ever return to normal? Will Burt Reynolds’s Moustache ever grow back?
Having seen both Smokey and The Bandit and The Cannonball Run, I am delighted to confirm that Burt and his furry friend do eventually reunite and hit top form together once again, his hairy mojo helping him to lure both Sally Field and Farrah Fawcett back to the comforts of his motor ve-hicle.
As for the questions posed by Deliverance, I can’t help feeling that everything I’ve described and all that happens subsequently is a direct result of Burt’s decision to remove the Mooch. Bum rape, murder, broken lives – it’s all Burt’s fault. When Samson lost his power it was because of a quick nap, a jezebel and some industrial strength sheep shears, but Burt – he shaved it off himself. It’s practically Biblical!
“And during the making of the classic thriller Deliverance when Burt decided to shave off his moustache and venture into the wilderness, God did smite Burt’s character with a broken collarbone and a drastically reduced role in the film’s climax.”
The Book of Burt 13: 19 – 24
None of this, none of it would have happened had Burt stayed true to himself, had he worn his facial hair with the pride it so clearly deserves. But in undergoing this epic test of human endurance sans ‘tache, he learnt a valuable lesson, a lesson I believe he carries with him to this day. How do I know? Well, you didn’t ever see The Bandit breaking his collarbone. Or getting bum raped. I rest my case.
The period between 1970 – 1980 saw David Bowie strike a vein of form that few in the history of popular music have topped. More prolific than The Beatles, more variety than The Rolling Stones, for a decade Bowie really possessed The Midas Touch. During that time he recorded Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Low to namecheck the most commonly revered (see any Top 500 Albums Of All Time List), as well as finding the time to recordYoung Americans, The Man Who Sold The World and Station To Station. His output during the ‘golden years’ includes forays into glam, heavy metal, soul and electronica; and every man and their dog has been influenced by his efforts. Now 12 fantastic albums in the space of ten years at an average of more than one a year is a prodigious output by anyone’s standards – but they aren’t entirely without their critics.
Although falling within that wonder run, Pin Ups (1973) and Lodger (1979) are generally considered to be the poor relations to their more illustrious bedfellows. You won’t see them in any retrospective magazine articles or snappy summations of his career. They are four star anomalies in a constellation of five out of fives. Now in the case of Pin Ups I can see where the critics are coming from as it’s a cover album (albeit a great one) perhaps most famous for its iconic front cover featuring Bowie and Twiggy and bereft of the innovation of the records that came before or after it. But Lodger?! Now that’s a different story.
The third and final part of his Berlin trilogy, a series of albums showcasing Bowie at his most artful, Lodgersees him abandon the format of its two predecessors in favour of a wholly song driven piece. The accusation against Lodger seems to be that it somehow lacks the experimental drive of Low and “Heroes” wherein Side One featured unhinged pop songs and side two sombre instrumentals. Lodger is perceived as the weakest of the three because it has sacrificed the wanderings into the uncharted territories of joyless and frankly overrated soundscapes that characterised “Heroes”. Essentially the feeling seems to be that something has been lost by reverting to conventional songs. But what’s wrong with songs? Although Low for me is an inspired album from start to finish with its split personality dovetailing perfectly, “Heroes” is essentially more of the same but not as good. The instrumental numbers are by and large dead ends and not a great listen by any stretch of the imagination, the redeeming feature being the songs on the first half of the record which are all of a uniformly high standard. With that in mind it makes sense that Bowie should choose to drop the instrumentals from his next album having taken them as far as he could, and focus solely on the skew whiff adult pop songs that are his strength. On Lodger Bowie takes everything he’s learned from the Berlin era and takes it to its natural conclusion, creating a record that is frankly all over the place and positively bursting with ideas. It doesn’t stand still for a moment, every song packed with an urgency missing from the better regarded “Heroes”, yet with all of that albums best features present, correct and expanded upon. There’s a real international feel toLodger unique amongst Bowie’s back catalogue. As this is the man behind Ziggy Stardust, that doesn’t mean he’s shipped in Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Pavarotti for some stomach churning duets. Nothing so disgusting. The ominous reggae of “Yassassin” and the off kilter tribal beats of “African Night Flights” never feel forced or out of place. Best of all, this never feels like a worthy project.
It’s rock and roll innit?
As ever with his best stuff, the music teeters on a knifes edge, the whole damn thing falling in the parking space reserved between genius and insanity. “Look Back In Anger” gallops along at a breakneck pace like an out of control thoroughbred, threatening to trample the listener beneath its flailing hooves. “Boys Keep Swinging” is yet another gender bending classic from the man who wrote “Rebel Rebel” whilst “DJ” is undeniably one of his most inventive singles. How anyone could long for the tedious instrumentals of “Heroes”is beyond mem as is the suggestion that Lodger is the most conventional of the Berlin trilogy. Far from it.