Monday, December 25, 2023

Merry X-Mash Everybody

 The season of Yule has come around for us all in the Monkeyhouse - and Y'all out there, too. We hope you're able to celebrate it with people and animal friends you love and that you have a cracker or two throughout the day.

Christmas is, of course, the classic mash-up. its origins in several European pagan festivals, usurped by the Christians, moulded into many of its modern trappings by the Victorians - both British and Germanic thanks to Victoria and Albert, and then the new world of the United States and then and then... there's folklore, Christian and Jewish elements and a jolly good old dose of commercial salts through it these days. You get the drift. It's become its own weird thing, forever winter wherever you are, a compulsory feast and with familiar trappings rooted in obscure saints, unnamed angels and a bioluminescent reindeer borrowed from a novelty 45.

So this year's Xmas delivery is a mashup.

There are plenty to choose from. I like a good mashup, and really dig Bill McLintock's inventive blends of unlikely bedfellows (Huey Lewis and Metallica, Donna Summer and Ozzy Osbourne, Deep Purple and the BeeGees.) This year's solstice combo brings Bon Scott's AC/DC  into the world of Peggy Lee with Dirty Deeds Around the Christmas Tree. It's fine, it's fun... but it's not really all that Christmassy until Peg get to join in, naturally. So I've looked farther afield.

And what did I spy, making his way through the snow like some weird English King bossing a peasant to fetch him firewood, but DJ Cummerbund combining Billy Idol (I'm interested already), Jose Feliciano (...okay...), Rob Zombie and er, Rush. Sure, he also interrupts proceedings with a Christmas message but LEAVE DJ CUMMERBUND ALONE AND LET HIM DO HIS TRUMPET SOLO - HE WORKED HARD ON THIS. JEEZ!

It's Feliz Navidad as you may never hear it again. Enjoy:

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Pumped Up Kicks

 Halloween seems to approach with ever increasing speed these days - although being in the Southern half of the globe, the attendant threat of winter's chill and non-renewal of Summer's lease is reversed. Pumpkin time means more of the day's golden orb in the summer to come.

That's quite enough romanticism, folks, because it distresses me to report that the price for your actual crown pumpkin these days is an eye-watering $18 - a clear tenner more than back in the day, not so long ago. And so, the Wizard of Austerity demanded a more modest offering a smaller, buttercup pumpkin - green-skinned Bogie is our model of the year:

The flesh of the buttercup is a little more powdery but darker and sweeter. It might make for an interesting curry, but Bogie's gift to us was a really interesting pumpkin nacho bowl - it goes nicely with cumin, garlic and feta, with lime crisps of course. Here's looking at you, Bogie. And rest assured, seeds have been planted for 2024. Green and grey ones. Happy Halloween, friends.

Monday, September 11, 2023

A Load of old Tosche

 When I was a nipper and watched that Star Wars the character I identified with most readily was Luke Skywalker. He had blonde hair like me (at the time) and a strong sense of moral justice. "It's not fair" he'd plead, pleasingly for a hero destined to be The One. As years went by I finally switched onto his brunette mate, who had the lines, the charm, the spaceship, the gun-slinging skills, the bravado, the hairier friend and got the girl in the end - although knowing how that turned out you can forgive young "Wormy" for dodging that particular competition.

Where I did still identify with young Master Luke is in his interest in Tosche Station, where the power converters come from. My eye was always drawn to the background. The sky, the liver-coloured mountains of Tatooine, the strange fluting and Morse Code-like lighting or whatever they were behind  Moff Tarkin's meeting on the Death Star, the grimy walls of the trash compactor, the endless stars, and the sky again. That blue, seemingly endless expanse that promised so much but hemmed Luke in. Against that the promise of Anchorhead and Tosche Station did sound exotic and interesting. Whatever could it be like?

Turns out, much more of the same. Another set in Tunisia (I knew that much about the location even back in the day, despite me calling Luke's home planet "Tattoonie" for probably a good year). We get to see the location, meet some of Luke's friends (well, Biggs we meet again later, the rest are perhaps more fairweather chums) and learn that young Skywalker has a nickname! That didn't last

Perhaps the scene is too long and in the wrong place, but I love it for its blue sky, new scenery, worldbuilding (we finally meet those friends Uncle Owen griped about!) and a bit more of gauche Luke before the whole Rebellion and later Jedi-dom proves such a buzzkill. And Biggs has a sweet space-cape. 

So far, no reinstatement, despite upwards of four revisions of the original by Lucasfilm. Nor any clean-ups or restorations - this scene is D.E.D ded, I guess. Except for fans; so among the considerable number of remounts, remakes and repairs, here's something that blends the missing from the might-have-been to bide us over. Now, about those power converters...

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

A Call to [Needles in] Arms

 'Defence Against Invasion' (Jack King, 1943)

Not anatomically correct: Disney's vintage vax reel

My mention this week of Grieg's 'In The Hall of the Mountain King'has made me try to think of where I may have heard the music beforehand. I know it didn't appear on the double Classical Music LP that my parents owned and which I'd listen to for hours as a young Simian, so perhaps it was at school? In an assembly hall, darkened with blackout curtains for the Very Serious Business of health education?

Defense Against Invasion was one of a small handful of educational films I and my class were subjected to in Intermediate years, alongside one or two I am Joe's, surely, and one particularly horrifying one about a fire breaking out in a hospital laundry. It was British, of course. DIA was not British, nor horrifying, but it was gripping, and it made a big impression on me, being cheered on when it came up for a repeat viewing some months later. I've looked for it under an abbreviated title for years, and finally found it. never knew it was Disney - makes sense now. never knew it was THAT old - although content-wise there's some sense to that, too. 

So what is Defense Against Invasion? Why, a short film about vaccination, employing the metaphor of the human body in a war-footing to bolster its, well, defences against infection. Or contagion. It's a bit murky, but just go with it. Because it's a charming little slice of wartime Americana, a sort of Why We Fight set in a doctor's surgery, and then in an imagined bloodstream and body styled in a 1940s Fleisher-like complex resembling a city with roads, bridges, factories (you have to have factories) and defensive ramparts. The heroes of the story are red blood cells (er...), and their horrific enemy "bacteria" (um...) taking ghastly arachnid form and animated superbly with near featureless fluidity. Ooh they're awful - massing in vast number, dividing and increasing appalling surety. It's only the introduction of a weaker strain of foe that readies our plucky red shirts to WAR, to boost their armoury, increase their arsenal, and knock this enemy from their borders with ruthless readiness. It's stirring stuff, and given the year is 1943, the parallels couldn't have been more obvious to a child of my age back then - whereas in the early 80s it seemed quaint, but still a little unsettling. 

So here it is in its short glory. I found it and played in on our telly, bringing Mrs Simian into the room knocked sideways by the reawakening of a very dim memory. Because like good antibiotic resistance, it does stay with you.



Tuesday, September 5, 2023

In the Thrall of the Mountain KIng

 Substitute teachers - where do they come from? Where do they go? What's their story?

In my school years I endured a small number of substitute teachers - usually one-offs, but some lasted a little bit longer. In fact, in my fourth form year in particular, it's probably fairer to say they endured us, precocious little brats that we were. I don't remember many of them now, but one struck a chord with me.

I was in the third form, Year Zero for my Dungeons and Dragons experience, and my knowledge of the game and its fantastic worlds is new to me - still developing with every impression and suggestion that I encounter. It's a time I find myself drawn back to increasingly, before the codification and regulation by the rulebooks, magazines and artwork I'd encounter not long afterwards. But at this time there was none of that; my imagination was in the driver's seat, my mind was open, and my senses were alert to this fantastic new world and something - anything that would feed it further.

Mr R was a local part-time teacher, and we had him for a day - maybe two, tops. What subject he covered I don't know, but the subject he brought to us on one of those days was fantastical - music and literature in Grieg's Peer Gynt and in particular its most famous and fantastic chapter The Hall of the Mountain King.

Edvard Grieg's building, thunderous piece is well known enough - I was sure to have heard it before that day, but I wasn't aware of its story, which our sub dutifully filled in, of the hero Gynt and his wandering into the titular hall to be discovered by the monstrous gathering attending the great Mountain King within. There were even lyrics - we were challenged to find the "Slay Him! Hack Him!" in the one-two of the finale, and, hands splayed as if casting long fingers of firelit shadow against cave walls, our teacher roused us to picture the scene as the music played. Well, it worked for me at least.I was there, in that Hall, running for my life mere months before any would-be hero I could conceive in a roleplaying game would get the chance to.

I met Mr R a few weeks later in the local library while I was photocopying the fold-out maps from some hardback Tolkiens, destined to be stuck together an displayed on my wall. The end of the year was coming, and with it my first proper foray. I don't remember much of our conversation, but I do recall him looking over my evening's work and encouraging me to continue using my imagination, perhaps to make stories of my own. And so I did, to the best of my ability. Stories with ogres and caves and bellowing hordes lurking in stone catacombs with great shadows hunched and grasping behind them. Vast, brutal and sluglike chiefs at their head, ordering nasty ends to any interlopers in his domain. They were basic ideas, soon to be overwritten by 'authoritative' and 'official' creature descriptions and depictions, but their primal origins haven't been forgotten. They're still be best versions of those monsters, for me

Monday, September 4, 2023

The Primal Screen

 A couple of days ago I posted this photo from 1938, curious for its incongruity to me. In the foreground, a row of council workmen mowing the municipal lawns of Oamaru's Severn Street, scythes at the ready or already being put to use. In the background, the familiar arch of the portico of The Majestic Theatre, the town's only cinema for as long as I lived there. The lawns endure, but a different manner of traffic now breezes up the hill in the middle distance, the oaks have increased their girth, and the Majestic has long since shut off its projector amps, turning into an Elim Church.

"She may not look like much, kid, (etc) The Majestic 1985-86

There have been several attempts to bring the flicks back to Oamaru - and currently there is indeed a theatre in the main street. But I'm sure I'm not alone on my generation and those before who miss the old theatre, modest as it was, with its front foyer, two-tier seating and single screen. From a rerun of Dumbo to Tim Burton's Batman it was, bar one or two holiday visitations, the only movie theatre I knew, and the one in which I thrilled to animated Disney classics, was traumatised by the likes of Watership Down, The Black Hole and The Mouse and his Child (yes indeedy) got turned away weeks before my 13th birthday attempting (rather weakly) to get past the front door to see Blade Runner, hooted with my friends to the brilliant near-mid 80s run of Ghostbusters, Gremlins and Back to the Future, was blown away by Star Wars and The Terminator, and, of course, saw in my first proper date - the details of which can stay in my memory, thankyou very much.

As do many of the details of the theatre insides. I wish I could remember more , even as it does occasionally appear in my dreams, its back wall and screen strangely open to the blinding outside world, into which we would surely emerge from a reliably good matinee. You'd hope it was good, being from my end of town, as the bike ride there and back was at least forty minutes either way. Like much of my childhood and teenage entertainment, some planning was required. That, of course, was one of the essentials of the experience, confirmed by at least one instance of me mowing my nan's front lawn and mutely witnessing a troupe of schoolfriends wheeling their way past, surely (definitely) to see Flash Gordon. At that age moviegoing was a purely social experience to be recounted the next school day, so that was that. No videos, to VHS boom for a few years of course, and no toilet breaks. You never timed those well.

it was, of course, video that killed the local cinema's star. The not-small number of choices on offer, the possibility of two - even three movies to watch in an evening, then rewind and watch again. The power of the pause button... a Pentecostal fate seemed the only salvation to our beleaguered movie house, and so it was. 

Ah, but they burn into your mind, those early projections, and if I could borrow a time machine I'd surely take a trip to 2pm on a Saturday afternoon and pay a visit to those dim aisles on squeaky crocodile-jawed chairs. And I'd be faithful and true - staying seated right through to the end, bladder be damned. Or at least the intermission.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Second Birth

 Well break out the fancy glasses and hold the ice - guess what's finally coming to the party?

Yes, thirty-six years late is better than never, for The Chills' Brave Words remaster - long dreamed for by its chief architect, is finally being realised in a matter of weeks.

I have a long attachment to this album; bought two years after its release, it was one of a few of avid purchases (most of them from the Flying Nun stable) that paved the way to my leaving home and second identity as a 'Scarfie', a 'muso', and a fan. Even then, reading in interviews the disappointment of Martin Phillipps in the production and engineering of the band's first full album, I was pretty happy with my lot. Sure, the sound is muffled and distant, coming across as though recorded beneath a duvet - but so what? The Dunedin Sound was never known for its high fidelity, and this muted, compressed version issuing from my turntable was the perfect soundtrack to what I expected and got in the southern city - damp, dim, disconsolate and dreaming of better things. Little wonder The Chills were the ideal I latched onto in my own musical efforts for a year or so.

Still, Phillipps was insistent, and critics agreed; Mayo Thompson's production lacked the sparkle of The Chills live, and what I'd taken for hushed intimacy was read as lacking the immediacy of the real thing. Years passed, the band and its leader grew older, changed and courted several untimely demises - and then this, and something of a return to form, critical reappraisal, National Treasure status, and... 

So, next month, then. Spoken Bravely, the Remix promises the original album reinvented, remastered and complemented by a bevy of bonus tracks, including the House With a Hundred Rooms EP (a European release which I never managed to track down) and 'I Think I Thought I'd Nothing Else to Think About', B-Side to 'Wet Blanket', the album's one single. Possibly enough to get me to fork over my readies. But I've also heard the aforementioned B-Side and House's 'Party In My Heart' and been won over. More to come when the album drops, as the kids say, but I can't wait to hear a refreshed 'Night of Chill Blue' and 'Dark Carnival'. 

Cheers, Chills.