Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Chrstmas is a Love Story

The kids these days - and by kids I also mean middle-aged nostalgonauts, have apparently taken to dubbing a certain Bruce Willis movie a 'Christmas Movie.' Fair enough - I can't argue, as to shout against all that would also be to shout against some other fine Yuletide romps, like Gremlins, Batman Returns - and even Shazam! has Santa in it. It's a movie about children, wishes, magic and families - of course it's a Christmas movie!

But similar things could be said for songs. We adopt songs for our times, and reinvent songs to fit our times. I was agog this week to discover, for example, that my chosen musical bete noir of Nativity-tide, the veritable dog in the manger if you will, said Jingle Bells - is many times not Christmas. It's a Thanksgiving song, apparently. But here we are. And sometimes songs slip into Christmas by intent, despite some ropey sentiment (cough!DoTheyKnowIt'sChristmascough!) and, in the following case, by timing and visuals.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood's The Power of Love, the third and greatest of the singles troika going by that name in 1985, is now 35 years old. Sweet Baby Jesus. Released in November of that year, it crept into the public consciousness and made FGtH's third consecutive number one from their debut album. Thematically, it's not Christian in focus or Christmas in theme, but I cant hear it without thinking of the Godley and Creme video and its multi-ethnic magi, imagining the lyrics to be the sentiments of a bewildered and bowlderised Joseph, who loves this girl, but like her is just being caried helplessly along by a greater tide. Back in its native home that video (not to mention single sleeve) did the job, almost, and it would have made the coveted Christmas Number One slot but for Sir Bob Geldof and chums. Never mind. Enjoy this at the close of another brutal year- the sweeping strings, lulling piano, children's cartoon bogeymen, and those vocals. Dampen down the inhumanity and misfortune that 2019 wrought, and hope for better things to come. Let yourself be beautiful, indeed.

I had a girlfriend once who thought this song was warbling drivel. Always knew she was a wrong'un.




"I always felt like 'The Power of Love' was the record that would save me in this life. There is a biblical aspect to its spirituality and passion; the fact that love is the only thing that matters in the end."
- Holly Johnson


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Kinkle All the Way

Merry Christmas one and all, and welcome to another annual seasonal musical.

I'm pretty sure my introduction to The Kinks came courtesy of my big brother and his borrowing back in the day of a friend's copy of 18 Karat Kinks - probably highly collectable nowadays benig both a local collection and on vinyl, but as golden as this collection is (look at the Sixties gems there - Lola! Got Me! All Day! Dedicated Follower! Sunny Afternoon! Waterloo!), it's barely half the story of Ray Davies' huge career. There was more magic being spun even then in the early Eighties as davies took his group Staeside for arguably a more lucrative second career. This particular track was one of them, a post-punk stab that's too melodic to be provocative, yet with a 'stuff your toys - feed the poor!' swniment that can't be overlooked.

Santa gets mugged. But it's all in a good Clause- er, cause. Just don't let the kids hear the opening verse - it almost gives the game away!


Monday, November 5, 2018

Night and dark

Another Guy Fawkes Night has passed, and tomorrow I'll be off to work in the morning, kicking spent fireworks on the street as I walk to the bus.

Guy Fawkes Night is our national guity secret. We have no claim to it, and little good ever came of it, save the delights of children in wicked firelight and bangs and cracks loud enough to wake the Devil.

Trooping the Guys, Oamaru, November 1936.
Photo courtesy: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19361118-49-4

As a child, particularly in the Seventies, I loved Bonfire Night and the excitement of fireworks, took part in enjoying the casual availability of firecrackers and rockets once pocket money became a factor and have plenty of good memories from years of marking the event: genuine actual rural community bonfire nights in Morven, an hour up the road from our home town where real Guys were wheeled around before their ritual immolation for various charitable ventures. I remember Tom Thumbs, Po-Has, Golden Rain (stop sniggering back there) and Roman Candles (but not Doublehappies), and my Dad nearly burning a hole through his new wooden fence with a shonkily-nailed Catherine Wheel, and I remember school friends who'd work their way through toy plastic soldiers and a pack of smaller crackers, doing what schoolboys have done to toy soldiers since time immeasurable. My memories aren't unusual, and do count for something, but I'm happy to have them in the past when the present means that public displays (especially in the bigger cities) are much more spectacular, better run, safer and free, and I haven't bought a firework (sparklers included) in nigh over twenty years.

But the whole thing is an absurdity placed where it is, and when it is to this day: during Daylight Saving at a seasonally dry time of the year in a past colony when even Australia don't observe the festival. It's a throwback.

You know where I'm going with this. Every bloody year, newspaper editorials about grass fires, damage to property, cruelty to pets, and worse in the past (skyrocket fights between the towers of Otago University's Unicol hall, for example)Yes, I think, as I mentioned earlier, we need to move fireworks to another time of the year in the Southern Hemisphere. Remove the barbaric Jesuit Plotter observance - it is literally meaningless in New Zealand, serving only as an excuse for jokers to bring out the perennial gag concerning Fawkes being "the only person to enter Parliament with honourable intentions" (ho ho), move any actual fireworks to a winter month like, say, July, and stop the public sale of fireworks altogether.

of course, this is exacly what the Wellington City Council did this year, observing matariki as a true winter festival of light, and while the night was cold, the publc still came, braving a waterfront chill to be assured of a good show (slightly delayed due to an errant whale in the harbour, of course) at a child-friendly time.

Fireworks AND Parliament. Matariki 2018

So there - proof of concept, and we'd have the unending thanks of emergency services, the SPCA and parents of very young children the country over.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Infogothic: An Unauthorised Graphic Guide to Hammer Horror

This week my good chum Alistair Hughes' book comes out. In fact, it launches today/tomorrow - Halloween in the UK (oops - Sex Pistols earworm!). It is, of course, this very book:

Infogothic : An Unauthorised Graphic Guide to Hammer Horror

And of course it's a thing of beauty. And wit. And stake-through-the-heart fandom, because Al's book, an infographics coffee table guide to the oeuvre of Hammer Films, is truly a labour of love.

Researched, written and illustrated by Alistair here's everything you might want to know about the van Helsing and Frankenstein family trees, the body count of Carmilla Kanstein, the many creatures of Hammer's prehistoric epics, the lunar rovers of latter-day space western Moon Zero-Seven. Elsewhere are maps - Hammer's middle-Europe, Southern England in locations and settings, a history of the world in Hammer movies - it's all pretty much there.

Beyond that, there are ample diversions - and puns surely ripped up from a grave somewhere: The Rides of Dracula details the various carriages and conveyances of the Count and his pursuers; Stalk Like an Egyptian does the same for the various mummified fiends of Hammer Studios, and The Phantom Dennis covers the various adaptations of the great Mr Wheatley. Where relevant, the works of Hammer are placed alongside other works by Universal and similar studios, placing the Undead Count, the Promethean Man, the Cursed Pharaoh and the Wolf Man alongside their alternative kin. There's no mistaking that Infogothic's focus is on hammer's works, but occasionally the lens pulls back, and there's a context involved as these creatures change and evolve  before and after the rise and fall of the House of Hammer.

I'm biased, of course. Having interviewed Al for Beyond the Sofa last week, our longstanding friendship is readily acknowledged, but I think that even without our mutual interests and history, there'd be enough in these pages to feed my various interests - spaceship plans, magic circles, family crests, imaginary continents and prehistoric languages - there's fodder here for any interested modeller, gamer, fanfic writer or trivia buff - it's highly versatile

It's also splendidly illustrated. Not using official photos has brought the publication price down, but you simply don't miss them, because the line illustrations within are consistent, recognisable, and slavish in their detail. Al's work is simply among some of the best in recent NZ media, and it's wonderful to see it presented here in full colour.

My regret in viewing Infogothic is its necessary limitations - which became the limitations of my own Hammer knowledge. Wisely, Al has contained his scope to the genre-output of Hammer Studios - the horrors, fantasy and sci-fi movies. Man About the House movie fans look elsewhere - but as I mentioned in our podcast chat, reading Infogothic also revealed to me how much I have confused the works of Hammer over the years with other less-celebrated studios, such as the worthy Amicus, as well as Tigon and Tyburn. As it is, Amicus could possibly sustain a volume of its own, maybe also the Roger Corman and Vincent Price adaptations of the works of Edgar Allen Poe; but neither have the breadth nor the variety of Hammer's output (yes, On the Buses included), which becomes a strength of this book as well. Also unrealised to date, a look into the unmade Hammer films - as much as we can know about them. But other guidebooks will do for those, and maybe the fates will conspire to provide Al and us with an opportunity for a revision or a return - I know the author has plenty of ideas still, and hopefully we'll see more of them very soon.

Infogothic : An Unauthorised Graphic Guide to Hammer Horror is available from its publisher, Telos, as well as Amazon US.  For a rather fine peek into some of its pages, check out Al's blog Fasmatodea, and the following video created by Monster Kid Radio:


'Punkin' Disorderly

Wooo! It's Halloween again, wooo!

Our neighbourhood was quieter than your actual grave this year, in fact. No visitors, no roaming trick or treaters, child-sized or teen and gangly. A sorry state of affairs, but the diametric opposite of newer suburbs like Churton Park where, allegedly, a greater proportion of Asian families have readily taken up the Americanism of the 'holiday' and gone all-in. Maybe. We might have to get in the car next year and see for ourselves.

That didn't stop a little bit of home craft for another year, though, and this year, as in 2017, Jet Junior got into the pumpkin-carving lark by designing his own pumpkin's face - all deliberately mismatched eyes and lopsided toothy-peg mouth. He's a natural! For myself I did two: one small butternut variety (like Junior's) for a workplace table display as we had a themed office lunch, and a bigger one for home - both a little more traditional, with triangled eyes and sawtooth grins.

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the Jack Pack of 2018...


Learnings for this season: Butternut pumpkins are pretty easy to carve with a sharp knife and an ice cream scoop, and ideal size for a kid's lantern. Their smaller interior, however, means the lid inside is more likely to dry out and get scorched by the candle inside. My tip: consider making a tight hole in the base to fit a tealight candle almost flush with the 'floor' of the fruit, or even safer, opt for battery-powered mock tealight LEDs. Cooler, less hazardous, and aside from the no-flickering aspect, every bit as good as a naked flame.


Jack-o-Lanterns also like being turned into magic lanterns!




Sunday, October 28, 2018

Happy Horrordays 2: A Deadworld Judge

It's been a long time since I bought 2000AD fresh, but one series nearly had me returning to the Prog, surprisingly.

Kek-W's several arcs that form his Dredd Deadworld series is a fascinating creature. Initially set as Dreams of Deadworld, a series of vignettes between the Four Dark Judges and illustrated in gooey, gory and fetid detail by Dave Kendall, the Fall of Deadworld series has swelled and grown like one of his many pustulent diseases, detailing the crumbling civilisation that led to, nurtured, and ultimately assisted Judge Death and his cohorts to destroy an entire world in the name of a twisted, absolute mockery of justice.

Judge Death is legend in the world of Dredd, but aside from the occasional trip to Deadworld by Dredd and Anderson, and something of a spurious confessional by the arch-fiend himself, this is the closest we get to seeing it in its collapse and creation, and the closest we see its ruin through the eyes of its inhabitants. It's an uneasy read, and I'm grateful it's an occasional one - I don't think the Prog could sustain such levels of misery and bleakness. The ending, when it comes, has to be one of the most downbeat since Helltrekkers.

Anyway, here's my hasty (as usual) take on what is now mainly the vision of Kendall's 'living' Deadworld Judges before the grue really hits the fan for the final time. The first Deadworld Judges were, it should be pointed out, drawn by Peter Doherty for the Young Death miniseries in the Judge Dredd Megazine. From there Greg Staples pretty much copied them wholesale in the Prog, until this new(ish) series dispensed with the mid-era virulent reds and whites and offered something more washy, dirty, and - well, unhealthy. I'm not sure what Kendall would make of other Dredd spin-offs, but for the meantime I'm happy for him to be in this series. He wears it well.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Happy Horrordays 1: Kate Bush: 'Hammer Horror" (1978)

Today marks the beginning of a bijou series of posts themed around Halloween. Hooray!

Also, today marks the fortieth aniversary of the single release of this little number from Kate Bush.

On Point!


What is there to say about Hammer Horror? Well, just look at it. It's a marvellous slice of Seventies gothpop and, mere months after her debut Wuthering Heights (Hammer is her third single outside Japan) must have looked to the casual observer to be fully setting out Bush's stall as a specialist in supernatural and ghostly turns. In fact, according to legend the song concerns thetrical superstition and an actor assuming the role previously held by a departed friend. So, not really about the Hammer Horrors themselves, and of course, Hammer Studios never did their own version of the song's Hunchback of Notre Dame. But that said, I never really took much stock in the artist;s own description of her songs (some songs off Hounds of Love in particular.)

But that video. Here's la Bush, looking all black and velvety and witchy, with a hooded dancer helping her through some of the more physical moves executioner-style. Bush live is a tricky thing to track down, and in the examples I've seen, it seems our Kate prefered to concentrate on the dancing for this one, and in the Tour of Life footage seems to even dispense with the idea of miming.

Effective, though, and decidedly creepy - especially that last minute throat grab. Good luck getting that on before the watershed in later years, and even now it comes across as edgy.