Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach... all the damn vampires"

At the Monkeyhouse we're now up to date with the Twilight movies. Pray for us. Anyway, the beast has been stared down and nope, I still can't see the point of all of this. Same goes for Vampire Diaries which seems little more than an attempt to cash in on the Twiglet phenomenon. There's still a lot of vamptastic media about, even on TV with the (superior) likes of Being Human and True Blood easily the grittiest, gnarliest and earthiest versions yet. But these are all New Vampire media, where the undead leads are beautiful, tortured and sympathetic characters (not such a new idea of course) and the women who love them are steadfastly human. I blame Joss Whedon for that one, but then he did it all so much better, even if he didn’t do it first.

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

Short - and Sweet!

Being a busy working primate dad I find free time an elusive, slippery sort of banana to lay my hands on. Perhaps I’ve overextended that metaphor – you get the drift, I hope. As Jet Junior grows and moves with the speed of a very fast thing I’ve recently begun to entertain the notion that he might actually be Eating Time. Have we spawned a Chronovore? Was there a mix-up at the hospital?

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.

Sample analysis:
"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

Video Affects - Irene Cara 'Flashdance ..What a Feeling' (April 1983)

"She makes me feel kinda funny, like when we used to climb the rope in gym class." Garth Agar,Wayne's World

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)