22/02/10 – 27/02/10

Ach. Aaarggh. Grumble. Spit.

My computer has gone away on its holidays to Bellshill near Glasgow to be mended by a brisk and competent-sounding woman called Monica. We have spoken at length on the phone, Monica and me, and I think she is definitely the woman for the job. I like a haughty sounding dame with clipped syllables, and cannot wait for her to get what I can only assume will be her latex-gloved hands on my optical drive.

In the meantime I still have three wheels on my wagon (which is more than can be said for the music streaming service Spotify, but I’m getting ahead of myself here) and can attend to my full-to-the-brim days with what’s left in the flat. But I have gone wrong somehow. I am sleeping like Bagpuss on valium and I’m moving in constant slow motion. Clock hands are whizzing and calendar leaves are flying off like in that movie The Time Machine (1960) and, to a lesser extent, The Time Machine (2002).

Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux or Guy Pierce and Samantha Mumba. There’s not too much to choose between the films really is there? I don’t think the earlier version lives up to its reputation. I don’t think the later one is as bad as it’s slagged off as being. The book is pretty cool and mercifully short, and it’s certainly left a hell of a sci-fi legacy. Perhaps that then.

So, I am feeling worryingly decelerated and my brain has the same texture and size as a single grain of couscous. Is there a word for that? A couscou perhaps. What is this, old age or something? I’ll be forty-five in July and, whilst it feels like I’ve been around for no time at all, there’s been an annoying recent increase in the number of times when I have found myself the oldest person in the room.

What I haven’t noticed before is that supposed lurch to the political right that is supposed to happen as you age, but now I’m beginning to wonder if it’s been going on without my noticing it. Watch this…

That John Milius, eh? He’s got a point hasn’t he?

See what I mean?

John Milius, for those of you who don’t know is the American writer director behind some of the most right wing mainstream American movies of recent decades. He wrote and directed the egregious Red Dawn (which I love) a survivalist gun-nut dream of a movie. He directed and co-wrote (with Oliver Stone!) the 1981version of Conan The Barbarian which with its uncompromising Will To Power orthodoxy could nearly have been directed as is by Leni bloody Riefenstahl. I love it too.

Milius also wrote at least one draft of Dirty Harry, ace surf movie Big Wednesday and Robert Shaw’s USS Indianapolis monologue in Jaws. Love. Love. Love.

But it’s complicated.

I was brought up bolshie leftie by my CND supporting peacenik parents (I love them too; I’m just full of the stuff tonight). My childhood stance was that you put in what you’ve got; you take out what you need. You know, that kind of nefarious social engineering that ends up with everyone fed, clothed and health-cared. Good people look after other people I thought. Bad people look after themselves. And that in my infantile mind was the difference between left and right.

Still is, pretty much. But, as I said, it’s complicated.

When I was a young man Milius represented everything I didn’t like politically. Self-reliance. Self-will. The exercising of superior strength. The vanquishing of others. But as I’ve aged I’ve begun to understand the subtler texture of what he represents and I don’t really disagree with it. It’s not just me either. He’s pals with liberals and bleeding hearts and intellectuals like Spielberg and the Coen brothers.

In my simpleton way I now see politics the same way I see broader morality. Looking after others is essential for a stable society. Looking after yourself is essential to personal survival.  The survival of the individual, which I’m certain is what life is all about, is so inextricably linked with survival of species that any behaviour that is 100% in one direction is self-defeating.

If we are all hawks then we pull ourselves apart in no time at all and society never gets started. If we are all doves we have a static society in which nothing ever changes and which would dwindle pretty quickly. What’s the ideal mixture? I’m putting money on 80% dove behaviour, 20% hawk behaviour. And that’s how I can relate to Milius’s apparent ubermensch fixation.

Flipping heck these preambles aren’t getting shorter.

I mention Milius because he came to mind earlier this week when I was playing Batman Arkham Asylum on the PS3 with my urbane and always witty pal Lawrence.

Milius once said something to this effect (and irritatingly I can’t now source the quote), that if he lived in the Star Wars universe he would have been on the side of Darth Vader and the Empire.

This was at a time when there was only one Star Wars movie (the fourth – and if you need that one explaining find yourself an 11 year old boy and he’ll talk you through it). This seemed a very contentious thing to say at the time. Now I look back on it though he had a point.

The audience is never in any emotional doubt in the first Star Wars films as to who the goodies and baddies are. On the one hand cute wholesome white folks and comedy robots, and on the other hand Peter Cushing and a seven foot tall wheezy bastard in a black cloak with henchmen recruited from RADA.

What Milius had done was to detach himself from the situation presented to him and looked on it as an outsider with no emotional attachment. And I think as soon as he did that he’d seen a terrorist organization trying to topple a legitimate power structure. Wow. Loony extremists blowing up a massive structure with puny aircraft. I think the later Star Wars films probably made more of the moral defensibility of Luke Skywalker and company’s political stance. I’m not sure. Perhaps you could ask that eleven year old boy again.

This is my qualm with Batman. I’ve never really questioned the fact that he’s in the right and his enemies are in the wrong, but how cut and dried is it actually? Batman’s position is not an appointed one. There’s no mandate and, crucially, no accountability either.

His enemies are pretty lame as criminals go and often they don’t even seem to be involved in any criminal activity at all.

Comedian Craig Ferguson used to do a routine about the ending of each Scooby Doo episode where the ghost or whatever was unmasked as Mr. Johnson, the amusement park owner, who was trying to scare developers away so he could get to some buried treasure or other. The police would take Mr. Johnson away and reassure the kids that he was going away for a long time.

“On what charge?” Ferguson wanted to know. “Possession of a sheet, a projector and some luminous paint? Going wooooooooooooooooooooo in a built-up area?”

These are fair questions. There doesn’t seem to be any actual criminal act here. So it is too with Batman’s enemies.

There are admittedly occasional murders and bank raids, but there’s also an awful lot of joking, riddling and (in Killer Croc’s case) being a crocodile, which isn’t covered by any criminal code. In fact more criminal damage is done in an average episode of Jackass than in an entire supervillain’s career.

What you have from one point of view is a bunch of eccentrically dressed individuals who are terrorised in their legitimate individual pursuits by a self-appointed, sexually uptight bully in rubber pants.

It would even be possible to argue (as I think is often done in comics stories) that there didn’t really used to be a problem with supervillains until the superheroes turned up. If they are solving a problem at all it’s one that they’ve created.

You can think too much about comics and computer games though.

Before I leave it entirely I just want to praise Batman Arkham Asylum extravagantly. Lawrence and I finished it on Tuesday and I have played it through again since, trying to catch some of the bits we missed first time round. It is a significant aesthetic, narrative and technological achievement beautifully calibrated and weighted as an experience and so absorbing that it’s almost impossible to stop playing once you’ve started.

It plays to the strengths of the Batman character. He famously doesn’t kill and so you get through the whole game (which is quite a violently combative affair) with no lives on your conscience. It also plays constructively with the deeply Manichean elements of the Batman mythos. And I don’t just mean the black/white, good/evil dichotomy. There are conflicts of gender (with some pretty kinky sexuality on display), sanity, and even a well-explored conflict between the plant and animal kingdoms.

We’ve come a long way from Pong in 35 years.


Some movies:

Katalin Varga (2009) is a curiosity whose initial appeal lies in its being not quite like anything else. Filmed in Romanian by an Englishman (Peter Strickland) over three years and for a reported 30,000 Euros this tells the story of a woman exiled from her village who embarks on a mission of revenge for past actions.

To say more than this would be unwise and unfair. If there is a template for this sort of film-making then it is Paul Thomas Anderson’s wonderful There Will Be Blood. The action is minimal, the music highly evocative and, as was the case with that movie, if you don’t know anything about it beforehand then you won’t have any idea what is going to happen next so absolutely does it eschew narrative convention. It is mesmerizingly filmed and wholly recommended.

The Dead Outside (2009) is described in review quotes on the sleeve as “a seriously creepy zombie apocalypse” and “a side tale to 28 Days Later”, both of which are a bit cheeky and misleading. It’s a low, low budget post-apocalyptic character piece filmed in Dumfries and Galloway. In the wake of a pandemic that has left the infected incoherent, raging maniacs three unaffected survivors shelter in a remote Scottish house.

My initial reaction was of the “Oh suffering Christ” variety. How many more remakes of Night of the Living Dead can the world cope with? Well if there’s room for one more then make it this one because there’s a lot to recommend it.

There’s a professional lustre to it which a lot of UK zombie knock-offs can’t manage, but more importantly it makes a virtue of its micro-budget concentrating on character and back story rather than red paint and digital pudding.

It reminded me a bit of Chris Gorak’s 2006 movie Right At Your Door but set in a drab Scottish landscape rather than an LA suburb. This is a compliment.

House (Hausu) is a 1977 movie directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi and just released as part of Eureka’s wonderful Masters of Cinema series of DVDs. I can’t believe I’d not heard of this before as it is pure dead mental fun.

Obayashi developed his craft in advertising but here, in his first feature film, shows no sign of this having hampered his imagination. Based on an idea thought up by Obayashi’s seven year old daughter Hausu tells the story of seven Japanese school girls who set out to spend their summer in the spooky isolated mansion of one of their aunts. What follows is an almost indescribable Japanese mash-up of High School Musical, The Banana Splits and The House By The Cemetery.

There’s a gleeful and anarchic disregard for consistency throughout. Humour is interleaved with horror. Flashbacks are done as black and white or sepia films with characters commenting on the action. Animation mixes with live action with no apparent logic or coherence. It’s all rather enchanting. And very horrible indeed.


Hey, I didn’t get round to writing about Spotify. Maybe tomorrow.

4 comments on “22/02/10 – 27/02/10

  1. Milius very much missed the point with Star Wars then. It’s the bloody American war of independance! All the bad guys speak with an English accent, all the good guys are yanks (even Wedge Antillies, who’s played by Ewan MacGregor’s uncle). At the very least a right winger, therefore probably from the South and on the side of the confederaceh, should be rooting for Rebels.

    That said, the Empire have some big ass ships!

    Never really notice that about Super Villains btw. The “there weren’t any before you showed up, Heroman” arguement has been made many a time btw. It’s bollocks for the most part as generally the super villains show up pretty damned fast and some times just before the guy decides to put on some latex. I doubt that “insert super villain” would be able to whip up whatever evil gizmos they use in a week. It’s generally the JJ Jameson type that spouts it because he hates Spider-man…

  2. Oh yeah, it’s always about us; big, fat, self-centered, adolescent country that we are! 😉

    From the point of view of the dominant paradigm (Jeez, John you got that word stuck in my head), the patriots must have looked like a bunch of terrorists, shooting from behind trees and stone walls, and not lining up to be shot in nice neat rows like the Redcoats wanted. But according to the bull we were taught in school, we were on superior moral ground – so it was okay. Somehow we were never taught about neighbors tarring and feathering whole families because they were Tories or ear cropping or mobs ransacking their houses before setting them alight.
    I’ve done it again, lost track of my rant. Right. Milius and Star Wars. At least he was honest about being on the side of The Empire. It’s endlessly fascinating to me that American right-wing nationalists and religious idealogs fail to admit that the very ideas they hug to themselves so closely have more in common with the enemies of their founding history than with their ancestors.

    And I LOVE the 80/20 rule! It has so many uses. 80 % of your sales come from 20% of your stock. 80% of the world are followers, 20% make change. 80% of anything is trivial, 20% is important…

    It *is* good to have you back on the blog. Gives me a mental nudge, especially when I don’t quite know what you’re talking about!

    • The Jacobites got a sternly worded letter for not standing at the other end of a field and shooting back and forth too, because it was ungentlemanly. We prefered to charge at the enemy and hack them up with swords. Worked really well too

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