To which the answer to both questions can only be: Yes, they did.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
To which the answer to both questions can only be: Yes, they did.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Below are the spoils of a last dredge below layers of greywacke and our back deck (recently re-stained). I've officially gone beyond casual finds! But there are some intriguingdiscoveries to be had yet: a plastic cow, an LED, something like a toy car graveyard, and it appears that somebody not only had a plastic flower fetish, but they also had a kitty cat...
Believe it or not, I think there's possibly some useful stuff in here for the Bitz Box. Not the clothes peg bits, obviously, but maybe something... vehicular...
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
I am observing St Andrew’s Day, a concession I make partly for the above, and partly in defiance at the enduring saturation coverage St Patrick’s Day gets – a festival of a figure of the church perpetually observed by all-day drinking and questionable boasts about one’s ancestry. I’m no hypocrite, so that’s not for me thanks. I am a little sad the holiday isn’t observed as greatly over here or outside Scotland – it’s not as though both countries haven’t had similar stories to tell over the years with internal warfare, repeat invasions, clearances and extreme disenfranchisement leading to great diasporae and desperate journeys abroad to new opportunities, diving families utterly (it's only been in the last fifteen years my Dad has reconnected with relatives in Aberdeen). I do wonder whether culturally the Irish have it over the Scots in the US, and like Halloween we here in the Antipodes defer to the big countries in these observances. The other influence may be the most telling of them all; early last century St Patrick’s Day was made an official public holiday in Ireland, while as recently as the turn of this century my dour brethren back ‘home’ voted to acknowledge their day, but not as a holiday as that would necessitate the removal of an existing day off in its place. Something about national stereotypes plays in my mind here…
Anyway, there was a brief flowering of Scots identity in the Nineties with a spate of celebrated movies based on Scottish stories old and new. Braveheart kicked things off, and Trainspotting brought modern Scotland to the big screen, followed by Rob Roy, Plunkett and Maclean and lesser projects which inspired author Irvine Welsh to lament the trend and dub the movement “Jocksploitation.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly comics got a look in as well, when in the pages of the Judge Dredd Megazine new script droid Jim Alexander created his own spin on Mega City One's lawman with Judge Ed MacBrayne in Calhab Justice, a tongue-in-cheek exploration of Scottish identity in a future Caledonia that has become a dumping ground for nuclear waste, its best and brightest lawmen are snapped up by Brit-Cit, and the remaining population have reverted to savage clan-based feuding, while behind the scenes a civil war with CalHab's southern neighbours is formenting. The series is not fondly remembered, and Dredd's 'father' and fellow Scot John Wagner has elected to ignore the whole thing, as did latter writer (and fellow Scot ) Gordon Rennie. Well I liked it - not all of it, but there was a lot more to the story than the wayward tale it wove in its short life. They were fractious times for the Megazine though, and though a trade is still nowhere to be seen, I have the feeling a more flattering collection might change a few minds.
For what it's worth, here's my interpretation from a while's back. Now I'm off fer a wee dram.
Monday, November 28, 2011
In the end there were about three or four contenders - some local, some from overseas, and of the three Manic Street Preachers made the final cut. Job half done, I set about planning my journey through their discography - and that's where I came unstuck.
Unlike Iron Maiden, I don't have a long history with the Manics. And unlike the Chills I don't have what you could call a local affinity with them - I've never even been to Wales. Or outside London, for that matter. As a band they are still something of an unknown to me, although I first started properly listening to them around fifteen years ago (ouch). They struck me then as they still do now as a little difficult, particularly their early material. Serious - earnestly political lyrics, soaked in intellectual references that are far beyond my pretty mundane arts degree background, and to top it off, blatantly from a different background. They may be my age, but their political and cultural references are in many ways quite a different beast, and so attempting an objective overview of their material output - especially when there are some formidable and scholarly versions of this online elsewhere, seemed like a hiding to nothing.
And yet, at the final hurdle I took a step back and thought about my place as a listener, of the challenge to hear the meaning behind the music, and my reaction to the big events of their long history (the band is 21 years old now.) No matter how much of a challenge it might set, the history of the Manic takes in a lot of my interests over the same time - literature, history, UK culture, popular culture. Taken as a reactionary journal, how hard could it be?
I'm going to find out, anyway. The Manic Street Preachers released their second singles collection earlier this month, signalling an intended hiatus - perhaps a retirement of the group. Right now seems as good a time as any to begin their story (and mine) from the start.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Friday, September 9, 2011
Much of which is to say, it's great to see that not only is Mr Nicholson still working, but he also has a blog!
So you should go there. It's brilliant, believe me.
And just because I enjoy it, here's another shot of one my favourite Nicholson pieces, the title page for Ian Livingstone's guide to the RPG phenomenon, Dicing With Dragons. Great lines again, with some fine muscular rendering and those cool mountains in the background. I always fancied that this was perhaps in part a portrait of Ian himself, sans glasses and moustache!
Monday, August 22, 2011
Jetsam is made from crap I haven't thrown away yet, or am in the process of throwing away, or sometimes bottling out and keeping for a while longer. The significant thing is that it's the stuff I've hung onto. Right now the Monkeyhouse is going through a B-I-G tidy up as we make more room for Jet Jr's growing needs, so more of the third drawer stuff is appearing!
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
So it is for me and my beloved that snow was until recently a distant memory, a keepsake memory of Dunedin winters or the occasional hometown experience (Gorillamydreams actually got stuck in Canterbury’s Big Freeze of ’06, of which more in another post). In fact, GMD was only a fortnight ago wistfully and vocally regretting the capital’s lack of snowability, and now look what’s happened. As it was, we can’t say we weren’t warned. It even had the decency to arrive on a late Sunday afternoon in a startling and surprising flurry of specks, then motes, then great sudsy blobs, rendering Darkest Paparangi the look of a suburban snowglobe. Jet Jr was summarily clad in extra layers and marched out to capture and enjoy the moment, and yours truly gathered wood for the fire. Around us people emerged from their homes and the street took on the sounds of kids playing and older kids and younger adults too – it was really rather brilliant. And it lasted for two days, until after early dismissals from work and frosty bus rides (including a memorable climb through Woodridge during which I glanced up from my cell phone game to wonder where in the hell we were in all this muffled clutter of royal icing houses) the rain finally arrived on Tuesday night and dutifully washed drifts and slurry away. Only the wind and the chill remained, as they continue to do.
Ah, but that snow. For a short while Wellington was a would-be Dunedin, and if you squinted and thought of the southern city then maybe, just maybe you could fool yourself into thinking you were back there. But Wellington under snowdrifts I’ve found hasn’t quite got the charm of its deep south sibling. It might be the size, the narrowness of the streets or the closed-in hills that deprive you of the truly big sky vistas of the mainland that I remember. Maybe the scale is wrong, or the angle is off. And maybe that’s why the snows of winters past in Dunedin, on campus and spreading up the valleys and city rises deadening the drone of traffic and closing off the motorway from Pine Hill to the Kilmog have become the stuff of jettisoned past. You can’t throw snow away and you can’t take it with you, but it never loses its magical ability to transform the places you take for granted.
Two days on it’s probably time to take stock – count the logs under the Monkeyhouse, inspect the pak choi and puka for frost damage and consider a little more weather strip around the windows for next year.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Of course, they may have been well-advised to do so, given the title novella features the grim consequences of Wilbur Wheatley's own doomed attempt on the closed stack of Miskatonic University's library collection.
Seriously, how many copies of the actual Necronomicon could you buy with that money?
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Dr John Dee was royal astrologer to Elizabeth I, and her sister Mary before his skill and persuasion found better favour with the Virgin Queen. Dee seems to have been cut from similar cloth to the genii of his era and the later Renaissance; he was a scholar, cartographer, Hermeticist, military strategist, an astronomer and a mathematician. By forecasting the potential death of Mary he courted his own demise, yet in setting an auspicious date for Elizabeth’s coronation almost certainly retained his station as one of her most trusted advisors. His feats were humanist, yet remarkable – he owned the largest library in England and conceived the idea of a national library in the interest of the preservation of knowledge (Mary wasn’t keen), and for Elizabeth he presented the notion (and thus coined the epithet) of a British Empire. By predicting the approaching tempests off the Dover coast he encouraged his Queen to spare her navy the perilous and precipitous defence against the approaching Spanish Armada, and instead they watched nature perform the task from the safety of land. Alongside the Queen’s ‘spymaster’ Sir Francis Walshingham he pioneered the use of espionage and was literally through his own codename the original “007.”
As befalls one who straddles history and mysticism, Dee finds his way into the canon of Iron Maiden songs, with The Alchemist from The Final Frontier:
Dee’s pursuit of mysticism and the occult is presumably what endears him to Maiden, and has helped to ensure the longevity of his name today. He has been described variously as the inspiration for Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Shakespeare’s Prospero; Alan Moore surely also had him in mind in his conception of the latter character for the closing of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, yet it’s curious too that this somewhat late pursuit of his life turns him into an utterly human figure as well. Taking up with mystic John Kelly, an aging Dee and his young wife travelled Europe with Kelly in their pursuit of the supernatural. Communing with angels, Kelly claimed that he had instructions from the diving agents to share a bed with Dee’s wife; Dee reluctantly submitted, and returned to England alone, never seeing Kelly again.
This year’s Manchester Festival of the Arts saw the debut of Damon Albarn’s Dr Dee: An English Opera, from which the following song Apple Carts is taken. Albarn originally was to have worked on the opera with Alan Moore, but the would-be modern polymath and postmodern magician parted company early on, the cause apparently being frustration on Moore’s part rather than the intervention of alleged angels. I love the song; it’s so much that Maiden’s galloping biography simultaneously isn’t, humanist and spiritual, it suggests a twofold narrative, of Dee ordering a new Empire built on the mystical landmarks of England’s past (Silbury Hill), and later returning to “the kingdom of the broken heart”, much beaten and seeking solace beneath its stones, the same man who returned from Europe to a ravaged and looted library and ended his days in poverty, the new monarch James I being the antithesis of his aunt in a morbid distrust of the supernatural.
It’s Dee’s fate to have become one of popular literature’s playthings, portrayed as a spy, a wizard, a necromantic villain or a mystical guru. This side of the story interests me less than his falling in and out with Kelly, of whom the jury is itself still undecided – was it carnal interests that led him to turn Dee into a cuckold, or was his growing fame as an alchemist leading him to some drastic action to divorce himself of a man on the wane? It might depend on what book I eventually read…
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Eagle is, was, and was again, a time warp. Initially launched in the Fifties and spearheaded by the still iconic Dan Dare, it was rested a year before I was born, and then was resurrected fresh-faced for my teens. Dan Dare was back, alongside a host of new heroes and topical features, and recalling the title now it seems to me that if the original comic was a naive throwback to more innocent times, the comic of choice to the Baden Powell generation, then the revived title arrived just in time to try to recapture that same innocence. Britain was entering the Eighties, a decade that promised pride and prosperity after the fag end and bleak winters of the latter Seventies. The Queen's eldest son had married his future queen in Westminster, Manchester United - the 'red devils' were top of the FA Cup league, and the Falklands War alerted my maturing eyes and mind to the new generation of battlefield technology - Harrier jump jets, Mig Foxbats, infra-red night vision goggles. This was the flavour of the new Eagle, a mission statement of pop stars (Suggs! Easton! Stevens!), celebrity athletes (Coe! Thompson! Dando!), and the various comic guises of Lenny Henry. It was, to a fault, cheerily British, and I lapped it up as I did Noel Edmonds' Late Late Breakfast Show.
Friday, June 10, 2011
The other notable belligerents will be posted over on Zeus Blog (naturally) in the next few days.
Still, we're mere days away from the midpoint of the year, so time to restock some blog posts. I skipped May and much of April, so I'm going to try something different: ten posts over the next ten days posted once, then re-dated, seeding the weeks I've missed retrospectively, and all done just on the 21st, the Shortest Day.
New topics, new posts, and some stuff that's been sitting in the Drafts folder for a while. Here we go!
Saturday, April 30, 2011
Like, I think, a good number of 28mm model enthusiasts (insert height/ribald joke here)I have a love-hate relationship with the output of Games Workshop. Overpriced, saturation-marketed and fiendishly pitched at kids while relying on the disposable income of men twice their age, GW has for over twenty years been a business juggernaut. I was once told by a GW shop employee that it was a popular component in the share portfolios of Scottish bankers, simply because its business model 'could not fail.' From the outset as a resource for roleplaying gamers, to a venture producing its own RPGs, then to a tabletop franchise with its own rules system, lead miniatures line and eventually spin-off fiction and electronic gaming arms, GW combined a disparate range of previously and barely crossover hobbies – roleplaying, model making, tabletop warfare, and reinvented the gaming genre almost overnight. Gone was the old line, and, sadly, the excellent White Dwarf magazine, but in their wake a new product and gaming system that was in itself a revolution within gaming culture as well as niche marketing. And of course, when GW were awarded the rights to the New Line Lord of the Rings movie gaming franchise, those portfolios must have been very fat indeed.
It was, though, proper and right that GW would have the franchise, they being a sound business and a sure bet. Incredibly, the company stretched out a three movie world (the rights excluded references to Tolkien's other literary works, although workarounds mysteriously got in there from time to time) to a product line that was still being added to in 2010, a decade after the first movie. And the tie-in strategy game was clever and sympathetic to the source material, concentrating on the skirmish scenario rather than the big battles of say Helm's Deep or the Pellenor Fields (though those did feature later in the game franchise). The models were, by and large, splendid sculpts in metal and quite reliable in plastic (the former reserved for the heroes and villains, while the latter filled in the ‘troops’ of orcs, men, else, what have you).
Outside the LotR range though is where GW continue to make the money, and it’s this ever-expanding, constantly-revised world which represents the ‘real Games Workshop’. I find it a startling contrast to the studied and mannered world of the Rings models with their serious earth–tone movie palettes and scales just shy of the ‘heroic’ (a distortion of human scale which accentuates faces and detail, ideal for picking out as a hobby or on a playmat, while the Rings figures’ proportions were more natural). GW’s figures and scenery – Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40,ooo revel in the grotesque and outrageous. The armour is flamboyant, swords are huge and seemingly unwieldy, and guns too, the imagery is part fantasy, part Fascist state and part Spanish Inquisition (and that’s the good guys!) The colour palette is garish, encouraging the hobby’s painters to push the envelope with light and shade, contrast complimentary hues, eschew the muddy and grimy world of real warfare (though there’s a place for that too, in the hobby) for outrageous, dare I say, camp styling. Its figures Pose, rigid macho posturing that is as much about the wish fulfilment of its target audience as it is about the craft behind some astonishing models. And seemingly throughout, the GW Heavy Metal motifs of blades, spikes, Gothic trimming and totenkopf – there’s no space too small to fit in a random skull. Make no mistake, this is a juvenile aesthetic, but an irresistible one, and the pretenders to GW’s throne (Rakham, for example) have readily adopted many of the same styles, acknowledging their popularity. Independent model makers like Hasslefree and Heretic models make GW-like version of heroes and monsters continuing the aesthetic… and the result to me is one of homogeneity. Games Workshop have become so ubiquitous to the point of dominating the fantasy miniatures aesthetic that I find I’m happy to visit Games Workshop’s product line, to marvel at the design, imagination and flair, to tut over the exorbitant price tags, but I’m glad not to be part of it. And I find it becomes rather repetitive very quickly.
Fortunately I’m not alone. There’s a sizeable community of model collectors and painters who have broader tastes, and gladly support the more unique output of the likes of Hasslefree and their compatriots. On the Lead Adventure Forum, a place I regularly visit, there’s great interest in the model miniatures of the 1980s with their less precise and sometimes wonky mouldings, their less uniform approach and broader influences. There’s sometimes a challenge to bring out the best in those figures with paint that GW’s heroic scale can lack, being so prescriptive with its exaggerated scale. And there’s the look of those figures, a relic of past days in gaming when not everything looked like it was drawn by the same team of artists or based on the same house style. I have a small handful of Eighties figures still with me, waiting for a new paint job and a reinvention, and while my skill levels have been raised greatly by exposure to GW’s hobby literature, they won’t be getting the Games Workshop treatment.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
As it happens the miniature painting was going well - I was about halfway through and not far from another burst that would see me about three-quarters through. Most of the major Dwarves were either painted to completion, or being spruced up from the last pass; the remainder were a couple that needed some remodelling before painting, so they would always be left 'til last, despite me attempting to paint the guys in alphabetical order.
Saturday, April 2, 2011
First off, I’ve selected my Company of Oakenshield figures to be the first off the block in completing their painting and adapting. It’s a bit of a cheat because this is the third Spitting Lead project I’ve nodded towards now, but the likelihood of the Hobbit movie releasing (or somebody leaking) shots of the Dwarf actors in costume increases by the week – so it’s a race against time. Not that I’m trying to prove anything. These figures aren’t based on the actors and only have the barest allegiance to the look of the last Middle Earth trilogy, so until Games Workshop get their satanic mills up and running as official licensee this is the nearest I might get. And to be honest, I don’t know if I’ll buy the resulting merchandise once it’s out anyway – the number of LotR figures I have at home actually terrifies me*.
Ahem. So it’s a question then of what to use for ’my’ Company. The text of the book comes first of course. But do I use the colours suggested literally, or drub them down into a more Jackson-esque earthy palette? Tolkien’s description of the Dwarf cloaks and hoods is a veritable rainbow – even one of the Company has a blue beard! Should they be armed, as this doesn’t happen until mid-story (and certainly doesn’t include so many axes)? In the end I’ve chosen to go for colour, but diluted and made a little earthy, lest Thorin’s posse emerge looking a lot like the New Dalek Paradigm. And we all know how well that went down, right kids?
The other consideration I have is the sculpts themselves – I’ve done a fair bit of chopping and replacing of limbs and weapons, I’ve made a hood and fattened up Bombur, even crafted a nose. The plastic figures are great for this sort of stuff, tolerating fine shaving and repositioning far better than the metals. The trade-off with plastic though as far as GW are concerned is in detail – plastic figures just don’t compare to alloys, which is a big reason why you don’t see many plastics among the finalists for GW’s annual Golden Demon competitions. At the time, and as for now these plastics are the closest and cheapest available likenesses to the Company though (of course they’re cheapest – I’ve had them for nearly four years!) so I’m stuck with them and must do my best. Challenges, gotta love ‘em.
The last consideration is pose and style. Nearly every character in The Hobbit is transformed by the quest – it’s a road movie. Some even don’t make it to the end (sorry kids), and as indicated above, the question of what they’re wearing and bearing changes through the story. My solution is the same as I’ve come to with my Doctors Who (also being finished before the next illustration project kicks off) – each character is themselves ‘classic’ – an individualised and (hopefully) sympathetic representation of their greatest looks, rather than a frozen point in time. During my first pass at the Company the figures were painted as though the Dwarves were travelling through Mirkwood, but I’m going to move a little further along the timeline now, particularly so I can add a dragon-hoard element to some of the major characters. *POA. All enquiries welcome!
Friday, March 25, 2011
I thought as a child,
and I viewed movies as a child.
Now I am a man, I realise I can have both things at the same time.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Adolescence is hell. The flipside of being at our most potent and energetic stage of life is for much of those years a lack of real control; of emotional impulses, our hormones and the development of our changing bodies, and outwardly our social and family groups, and imagined destiny. Charles Burns' Black Hole takes a walk through these dark woods of impending adulthood - the wilderness at night is a recurring location for the stories within, and in its gradual opening reveals a world of repulsion, guilt and questionable decisions. The re-telling of a journey to adulthood as body horror.
This collection was recommended to me by Tim who in turn had had it passed on to him by an enthusiastic friend. Black Hole is the culmination of a decade's work by Burns, and in design it shows. It's a heavy work thematically, but physically its weight may be added to by the sheer expanse of black ink used in the strip's monochrome palette. The artwork is often symmetrical, with panels mirroring one another across page spreads, and the white detail on the literal black hole of the graphics providing startling retinal after-images. It adds to the general trippiniess of the subject matter, and is a perfect visual impression of one of the story's big themes - the claustrophobia and loneliness of the developing teen. Forming the story are the experiences of four teens - stoner Keith, the A-student object of his affections Chris, her boyfriend Rob and would-be artist Eliza as they variously fall prey to the Bug, a physical and sexually-transmitted mutation that offers no special insight or super powers, just the certainty of being ostracised.
I was surprised to read that among the excised material in the anthology edition I'd read is a yearbook quote from an unnamed afflictee set (probably) some time after the story, suggesting that the Bug's outward manifestation is temporary, underlining its association with adolesence and pre-adulthood, but at the same time offering a potentially happier ending for (most of) the protagonists. That this is removed in the later version means that this hope for a happy conclusion is taken away, and the angst of the present, however temporary, remains. I'm in two minds about this; the story is frustratingly open-ended in places - as much as its focus shifts within the narrative anyway, so a likely resolution is welcome. On the other hand this sort of resolution is clearly not what Black Hole is about, any more than reaching the age of true adulthood, however arbitrary, is. If adulthood is personal responsibility and responsibility towards others then the three survivors are severally already there.
Friday, March 4, 2011
Two examples here, then. The 1995 disappearance of Richey James Edwards, co-lyricist and rhythm guitarist for Manic Street Preachers is one still (relatively) recent and notable example. Edwards’ story can be seen here, though it’s far from being an unfamiliar one to anybody who followed British indie and pop music in the 90s.
What's your story baby/No control of what I am saying
Winter leaves still make me believe/No vendettas, just a cherry blossom tree
(‘Nobody Loved You’, from MSP’s This is My Truth, Tell me Yours)
Edwards and bassist, co-lyricist Nicky Wire shared a flat in the band’s early days, outside of which a cherry tree grew. That this tree became something of a symbol for Edwards can be seen in the video for Everything Must Go, the second single off the album of the same name, the next release after James’ disappearance. Blown and denuded by wind as the remaining band stage a rending, Spector-like anthem of loss and overcoming, it stands in the video, petals cascading across the faces of the band, and remains the final shot of the clip. With no confirmed sighting of him since that time James was declared deceased ten years later, the popular conclusion being suicide.
The thought of never knowing/can kill me just the same
A solitary blossom/reminders of a friend
(‘Bitter Glass’, from Feeder’s Pushing the Senses)
To another solitary blossom in John Lee, late drummer for Feeder. Lee’s suicide was no less shocking to his fans, and perhaps came as more of a surprise. With an album in the wings, Feeder continued, dedicating their first single Come Back Around to their fallen friend. Though his place was most certainly filled for the recoding, the band went one step further in the video – replacing Lee not with one drummer, but four. All women, all pretty much identical. The reveal is gradual – nothing for the first verse, then gradually as the camera pulls back, the ‘fourth wall’ is revealed to show surviving members Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose performing not for the camera, but for Lee’s stand-ins, the filming deliberately slowed to ensure all four drummers worked precisely and mechanically. It’s an arresting video, even if somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the indulgence of the drummers being young, beautiful women being apparently a nod to Lee’s spirit in life, and complaint of no women in their past videos.
I like both videos, particularly as each song provided a proper introduction to their bands for me, though Feeder’s video was discovered long after I was aware of the song. Previously the band had been a well-meaning, fun sounding guitar group, responsible for the cheery Buck Rogers. The post-Lee Comfort in Sound certainly indicated a shift in the band’s sound, continuing to last album Pushing the Senses, where the drummer’s death remains a background concern. In the case of Manic Street Preachers I’d followed them vaguely through early music-press baiting exploits – equal implausible boasts and portentous stunts (Edwards’ 4Real incident included), but it was Everything Must Go that drew me in properly. My induction into the band is based on them as being without Edwards (who was never replaced). I can’t say I’m genuinely a Feeder fan, but I’m definitely a Manics one. Both videos come across as sensitive and not sensational, reverent but not cloying; they’re affirmations of the strength a good band can draw on and build on in the face of tragedy. That both bands had a life beyond the death of a member is a testament to that strength, and a rare thing in modern music.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
I do recommend the visit. It's short, sweet, well-argued as always, and the comments field is always worth a browse for FT's usual gang of highly-informed and pop-passionate contributors and readers. Viewing Maiden's chart triumph through the lens of popular music rather than the heavy metal scope would perhaps inevitably garner a measured score out of ten on their own ratings system. In this case I don't think the score unfair - in fact, the number is... not unfitting at all...
Sunday, February 27, 2011
For more years than I care to remember this is how Christchurch and I have related to one another: at a studied distance. Coming from a small town a little under the halfway mark of the mainland the city was unavoidable as I grew up. It was the other big smoke after the nearer and more accessible Dunedin, and it differs from its more southern sibling by being almost the opposite of my overcast, damp, hilly once second home - flat, wide, with dazzling blue skies. In winter it broods with seemingly perpetual rising damp from the swamp land it was built over. In summer it bakes, its centre streets too far from the sea to cool themselves, all the better to maintain its main river Avon snaking its way under willows through suburb and CBD. As a child I holidayed there with my family, staying in the Meadow Park caravan site with visits to the Orana wildlife park, the shops of Cashell and Colombo Streets, or Ferrymead. Usually there'd be a visit to an elderly relative. As a teen I saw it less; Dunedin was where my brother flatted, the bands I liked came from, and was just more interesting, I thought. By my university years, now ensconced in the Edinburgh of the South, Christchurch was even farther away, but reasserted itself as the location of some more testing life experiences: I got hellishly sunburned there one summer with friends, my band toured there several times on equal occasions successful and frustratingly under par, and after hope against hope I got my heart broken there. So for years Christchurch and I weren't friends.
The thing I've realised after all those years is that nearly every time I stayed in the Cathedral City, it was on someone else's terms, or on someone else's time. I've slept there in caravans and motel rooms, on the floors of lounges and church halls, on the sofas of friends' flats and in the spare bedroom of a great aunt. I've never lived there, never explored and got to know the city's inner streets and outer suburbs at my own pace. I've been in the Cathedral but never up its spire, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to do that now. That same spire is rubble and twisted copper sheeting now, and too many of the city's grand and historic buildings have been destroyed, or are awaiting destruction in the name of public safety. The Avon is grey from liquefaction, the city's heart momentarily stilled. A big part of me wants to visit Christchurch's CBD, perhaps to try and grasp fleetingly what remains of the city centre that will surely be erased by time and recovery. Certainly I want to go there to put the pictures present and past into some context, the scale of the city's destruction being too large for the TV or computer screen, and too vast for my mind's eye to capture it. Only now, for the best and saddest of reasons, Christchurch's inner environs are as closed to me as they are to anyone else whose business isn't to aid in the awful task of recovering its missing citizens and begin the slow and painful process that will be the city's own recovery.
The Christchurch I knew and regarded with mixed sentiment is all but gone, and its future will be built upon the distressing moments of last week and their aftermath. It's also the current home of a good number of good friends and family members. When that future begins to be realised in whatever form, and when the time is right, I feel I owe it to Christchurch to go there, stop and have a closer look, to remember and reflect how it was and be a part of what it might yet be.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
The reason for this is that it's simply harder to find the stuff by accident. So what's here is a canny compilation of foreign objects from our current house and back yard, plus what we found in the garage on moving in, and some more stuff from under the back deck. Oh, and at least one bit there - the lower half of a lead miniature (probably a horsie-riding kerniggit) from our last ever Dunedin flat. Yeah, I indulged in suburban archaeology there too and discovered lots of cool stuff - old bottles, a tin bath that ended up as a planter in my mum's garden (naturally), and some RPG discards that, by pure Otago coincidence, may have belong to a gaming acquaintance of my brother's well before we lived there.
Other items of interest: the aforementioned train/wagon wheel, plastic flowers (we got a lot of those in various states in the soil), two Super 15 hacky-sack things (one of which had an operating voicebox at time of discovery, the other had been disembowell'd) and the round yellow thingy top centre-ish. I think it's supposed to be a haystack as there have been a few agriculturally-themed toys discovered so far (well either that or we had Lilliputian farmers occupying the land before settlement). In my opinion it's headed straight for the bitz box as a future native hut or even maybe a Baba Yaga conveyance.
Friday, February 11, 2011
But still there was more. Plastic figures to supplement the already classy metal sculpts, armies of 'Wood Elves', 'wandering' Uruk-Hai and a new Ent model. And there were Dwarves - more of them than you could shake a stick at, and certainly more than were ever depicted living or dead in the movie trilogy and book.
Namely these guys:
Oh sure, GW couched their description in carefully-worded snippets, such as "Dwarf Rangers patrol the lands around every Dwarf Hold, ensuring the safety of their homes from the Dark Lord's servants and wandering monsters..." and "...to help them track their foes and blend in with their surroundings, Dwarf Rangers are more likely to wear natural colors than their kin." In White Dwarf game designer Adam Troke claimed:"We know that Dwarves travel around a lot and don't do so in full armour...", but most fans seemed to know what was more likely to be going on. GW had a license for Lord of the Rings and its appendices, but crucially at that time not The Hobbit and not The Silmarillion. And these guys - a set of 24 plastic Dwarves in hoods and simply armed for 'travelling', looked for all the world like a way to include the Company of Thorin Oakenshield, of whom we'll be hearing a lot about now that The Hobbit has been kicked off and those same travelling Dwarves fully cast.
As it happens I picked up the set - not because I was playing the game, but because I could see how these plastic figures could easily be turned into something approximating Thorin's Company - they were halfway there already, right? And so I did - mostly. But not entirely. And so, with the film Company announced and not yet revealed in their screen attire, I thought I might as well finish the job I started, before the Hobbit movies reduce my versions to being either hopelessly naive or just waaay off the mark.
Monday, February 7, 2011
Moore's music was a passing interest for me, and in all that interest probably didn't outlast my sixth form year. At the time though he was The Man - a very ordinary-looking bloke with a prodigious talent for guitar, evidenced by his very early career start with Thin Lizzy and later on his series of solo albums where his rather decent vocal talents were also employed. Around the time of my interest in his canon Moore shifted genres and became predominantly a blues guitarist. Blues was my brother's music, had an air of superiority and snobbishness in its audience, and so that was enough for seventeen-year old me and that was that. But Wild Frontier - some way into his solo career and perhaps not as good as earlier efforts, is still an important album for me, introducing me to a broader set of musicians after my enthusiasm for heavy metal had waned. Most importantly it introduced me to Thin Lizzy, although the Skids got a not-small look in as well, the three being roughly 'Celtic rock' and therefore to my still in-training ears, a very good thing.
Above, Moore get reacquainted with his former bandmate in a very ropey and over-earnest video for his Run for Cover album (it's Lynnott's last recording before his death the following year). Below, Moore joins erstwhile compatriots Knopfler, Gilmour - oh, and a couple of bassists, in a rather amusing Raw Sex/French and Saunders skit from a little further back in the day.
There, that's cheered me up. RIP Gary.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
The Nineties were a bad decade for vampire movies with a few exceptions from reliable hands (Coppolla, Jordan, er - Rodriguez?) and they really offered nothing new. If you want the great modern vampire movies of not-so-recent memory, you have to go back another ten years.
The Eighties had the best vampire movies of our lifetimes.
I don't say this lightly, but I know I'm right. For me four movies stand out, each promising something new to the previously tired formula and most of them delivering. Like their Nineties counterparts they boast strong directors (including one Oscar winner), good casts and great pitches. Here's how it breaks down for me, but first two words of caution. Firstly, these movies have not aged well and feature some hairstyles the Eighties have not called to ask for them back. Secondly, the trailers are all available on YouTube, but haven't been included because the trailer cutting for these movies is counter-argument and provides more free cheese than an overstocked fromagerie.
Let’s nibble away, shall we?
The Hunger (d. Tony Scott, 1983)
The Pitch: Ageless vampiress brings her dying lover to town, ensnaring an urban gerontologist in their search for true immortality.
The least of the four films is this one for the story itself, adapted from a novel by Whitley "Communion" Strieber. There are problems with it - characterisation is a little off, and it's s-l-o-w for a horror/thriller, but it's nothing if not stylishly shot providing style over substance in bucketloads. Featuring proto-Goths Bauhaus and their seminal anthem Bela Lugosi's Dead it's become something of a cult hit, and the Goths I knew loved it. File under 'significant' for a modern take on the traditional Eurotrash wealthy vampire set, for Bowie's character's appalling death by waiting-room, and an interesting mingling of the traditional vampire motifs (almost none, actually) with what appear to be some Egyptian Mythos symbolism, the ankh being the most potent. Intriguing.
Fright Night (d. Tom Holland, 1986)
The Pitch: Rear Window with a vampire - and your only ally is a burned out TV show host!
Aimed more at the teen market and therefore lots more fun; in fact, the best of Eighties vampire movies are teen movies, possibly showing the way forward even then. This movie has the least memorable director (Holland went on to give the world Child's Play, so stayed in the genre) and some borrowed SPFX (Ghostbusters, apparently), but is both creepy and irreverent, providing some with a homoerotic subtext that’s also intriguing. Key highlights have to be future Jack Skellington Chris Sarandon and once-Cornelius 'Rowdy' Roddy McDowall in a fun portrayal of a very obvious pastiche (how could he not be with a name like Peter Vincent?) The least said about the sequel and comic sidekick’s later movie career the better. Oh, and hello Marcy from Married… With Children in an early role. Only real let-down: the music. But you can’t have them all.
The Lost Boys (d. Joel Schumacher, 1987)
The Pitch: New kids in town mix with the Wrong Locals. Youth in revolt has a taste for blood, and your mom has strange taste in men!
Perhaps the king of them all, and despite two sequels never equalled. Schumacher brought in a great cast – Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, Dianne Wiest, Fred Hermann PLUS Coreys Feldman and Haim and future Wyld Stallyn Alex Winter. Most of them are pretty good, some of them are fantastic, and the least of them at least has the good sense to stay off-camera most of the time. The LA setting with its sorta Santa Monica helicopter opening shot is gorgeous, and the visual nods to teen culture’s immortals (a Jim Morrison mural in the vamps’ quake-devoured mansion) are also very smart. In fact, the soundtrack also deserves a mention, boasting Echo and the Bunnymen’s cover of the Doors, INXS and Jimmy Barnes (well, okay), and ‘Cry Little Sister’, a much-covered non-single that provides the movie with a hugely evocative overture. Too many highlights – everyone has a couple (maggots, rail bridge, first attack, Frog brothers), so I’ll just say “Grandpa” and leave it there.
Near Dark (d. Katherine Bigelow, 1987)
The Pitch: Redneck vampires in a blacked-out winnebago kidnap new recruits in rural America. The Hills Have Fangs? Not really. Iit’s odd to think of this coming from the same year as Lost Boys, being as removed from the earlier movies’ very urban settings and instead heading out to the badlands for what its creators tried to make, a modern vampire Western. As the pitch might indicate, the result is cast very far from the premise, helped (or not) by a score by Tangerine Dream (it also features a flicknife-sharp cover of Fever by The Cramps, bringing us back to the Goth splatter chic of The Hunger). I saw this myself in the early Nineties, so draw parallels with the likes of Wild at Heart that couldn’t have been there at all. Worth a look, though, even if to see what the once Mrs James Cameron managed to do with her ex’s favourite guest spots Lance Henrikson and Bill Paxton.
I ask you – did we ever have it better?
Bonus video: the past reinvented for the present - here's Gerard McMahon aka G Tom Mac performing a fantastic swamp blues version of his Lost Boys theme, inspired by True Blood.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Projects have been tentatively promised, set aside and some abandoned as a monkey’s errand. I miss a lot of my favourite shows, blessed be our hard drive DVD. But there’s some solace for me in the form of Ferndale's blog over on Throng, which provides succinct, witty, snarky and up to date recaps of The Nation’s Pulse, Shortland Street.
"I don't want to over-intellectualise things here - this is Shortland Street, let's not forget - but I'm starting to think Bella basically acts as a Shakespearean fool on the show. Basically she acts like this total dipshit, with weird occasional undertones of meta-commentary on the inherent ludicrousness of everything else that's going on. Maybe."
I may never have to watch the show again! Jet Jr can be bathed at a leisurely pace! On the other hand, having the luxury of being able to follow the show over dates beyond the reach of TVNZ’s On Demand gizbot does mean I must also face up to the crushing disappointment of missing the series’ first ever Zombie episode from just before last year's cliffhanger. Nooo! I missed Christmas Zombie Tracey!
Still, stuff like that’s bound to be out there on the webs somewhere. They wouldn’t throw away TV gold like that.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
I am twelve and my life is entering the turmoil of adult change. Oh yes, on the inside it's all bubbles, toils and trouble. Thankfully, on the outside things are a little more calm. The nights are drawing in, and my brother and I have jumped on the domestic technological wave and are attending Saturday night computer club at the home of a local man who has a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. It's a wonder of technology I think, but though we'll have succeeded in hauranging our parents and will have a Spectrum of our own in our home within a year, the computer is not going to be My Thing. I enjoy the games and have a stab at graphics (Sinclair's BASIC programming is ridiculously intuitive at least), but my problem is a lack of patience and my brain. It's simply not a mathematical one, and is more of your frustrating right-side model. This means, though, that music videos have a profound effect on me. The Human League have released in this same month '(Keep Feeling) Fascination', a brassy continuation of their ascent into pop from those brief and early industrial singles I'd discover years later (I still like Being Boiled!) So for the League it's a move away from the sequenced programming of their early sound and into something more organic and, well, human. The video's good too. Of course it's nothing on Irene Cara's second movie tie-in (her first being for Fame of course.)
Cara's video heroine spends almost the first minute of the video cycling through her industrial city home, back to camera or in silhouette before the camera closes in on a figure welding (or not), androgynous until her industrial mask is raised and there she is - Jennifer Beals in all her striking beauty. It's an easy trick in retrospect, and as much-used as this video has been lampooned in future videos and ads, but it surprised me at the time, as assured as the rest of the piece in its smooth movie-style editing, not greatly different (intentionally so) from the movie it's welded to.
The editing is slick here - the use of a body double for Beals' dance scenes seems so much more obvious to me now, but it's still a stylish package (though Michael Sembello's follow-up soundtrack single Maniac boasts a video that with a smaller source tape cuts and fetishises its subject to an even more surgical degree). To the uncoordinated, the physically awkward or untested - the young adolescent in other words, it's an intimidating spectacle. I felt much the same way seeing (ahem) 'Kevin Bacon's assured floorwork in Footloose - surely also the work of a more athletic double, but that's the illusion of movies, and it fooled and beguiled me. Once I worked out that the disciplined world of dance and movement were as much for me as Human League's early digitised, robotic anthems, as reliant on a small, precise sequential actions as computer programming or music video editing, the writing was on the wall. I stuck with the breakdancing meetings to third form, and that was it shortly afterward. I remember my heart sinking as I read a quote from Sting once: "music is simple, really. It's just mathematics."
There's artiface behind all art. The audience is only hoodwinked when it's made to look easy.
GAZ: It's Flashdance. She's a welder, isn't she?
DAVE: A welder? I hope she dances better than she welds. Look at that. Her mix is all to cock.
GAZ: What the fuck do you know about welding, any road?
DAVE: More than some chuffing woman. It's like Bonfire Night.That's too much acetylene. Them joints won't hold fuck all.
(The Full Monty)