Saturday, July 9, 2011

Postcard from the Hedge

I've the busiest two weeks of my ahead of me , maybe of my life. I've resolved to finish off Big Man Tait and maybe begin Zardoz too ( if I've time ) tomorrow. In the meantime...did you know that Burt Reynolds was John Boorman's original choice to play 'Zed'? Things might have gone very differently indeed...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Graffitational Bull


original thing in full.

Clicky to Embiggen

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The special Z diet( or Zardoz continued )

If Sean Connery was trapped inside your computer he might look like this:

Is 'unintentionally hilarious' any less enjoyable for it's intentions?

Put another way, if a tree falls in the forest with a histrionic heartfelt swoon and all the other trees double up with laughter ( and shake until their nests fall out and the forest floor is just a slimy carpet of broken egg-shells yolk and feathers ) does that mean it's not funny?

The tree that fell mightn't find it funny ( and the poor lickle birdies definitely might have a hard time seeing the joke) but to a 'slap-stick' minded tree it could represent a perfect pratfall, and why shouldn't a tree laugh anyway when he's in the forest and nobody can hear him?

If I'm not making sense, I shant apologise, for as John Boorman demonstrates with Zardoz; making sense isn't everything.

If you have never seen the 1974 film Zardoz then I implore you to leave this page at once,- that's right, click away right this minute, because you're not wanted here, at least not yet, anyway. ( and what's wrong with you?... Hhmpf!).

If you have seen it, but you haven't read the intro to this topic, then please go here.

If you have seen it,
and you've read the intro,
and you've eaten all your greens
and you done got your chores done
and you've said your prayers and did the washing up,
and are now sitting quite comfortably...

then I shall resume:

We were just on the Wicklow hills where a bunch of lads in bullet-belt mankinis are worshipping their God, a giant stone head that vomits guns and tells them that the gun is good and penis is bad , m'kay?.

What's next?

I was going to do a blow-by-glorious-blow account of Zardoz, but honestly.- we'd be here forever and there's really no point in getting into it. I'll say just that the intro is great and culminates with Sean shooting the audience/cameraman in a very unlike James Bond stylee, and that after that, the whole experience is like sitting in a roller coaster made of 'WTF'.

Sean is called 'Zed'. He hides in the giant stone head and shoots the pilot. Then he lands in a commune of half-naked but essentially sexless immortals who seem scared and fascinated by him in equal measure. Like a real commune, they make their own food ( like green bread ), share the washing up, and some of them have become semi-comatose from the boredom that comes from living in forced harmony. The bored ones are called 'apathetics'.

Truly unforgettable( no matter how hard you try) scenes include: The sterile, and almost sexless 'immortals' showing our Sean some mud-wrestling soft porn so that they can study his erection...

Sean demonstrating his superior strength by punching his way out of a polythene bag ( and terrifying all with this ability...)

Sean entering the 'Vortex' by doing a mimed 'walk-down-the-stairs' behind a mirror..
( this bit is what we used to call in the days of VHS, "a re-winder")

The scene where one of the 'apathetics' takes a bead of Sean's sweat, and spreads it all around, via kissing, thereby providing a bit of his manliness to all: this scene is bizarre to begin with, but it starts to really become wonderful when the taste of Seanie-sweat is passed around the group in the style of a half-arsed drama-workshop.
Best of all is Sean's particularly believable, and appropriate, reaction to this display: one of horror and disgust.

A "rewinder" if ever there was one.

Zardoz is full of these rewindable moments, but I personally don't view Zardoz as a straightforward 'so-bad-it's-good' number, for I think that it is ultimately a successful creation.

It has been pointed out {on the waterworld post },- commercial 'box-office' success is no indicator of artistic success.

Which is of course true, but what else is there?

Well there's 'critical success'
Then again even critical success can be negated by those who subscribe to the view that a professional critics response is warped, skewed and coloured by cold analysis and the disproportionate amount of films that a critic watches in comparison to the ordinary fillum-watcher.

That leaves us with what? 'Rotten Tomatoes' collated scores / 'Top Ten lists' ...but fillums aint sports: in the world of sports, 'statistics' refer to something more or less absolute ( and certainly tangible ) but the making of fillums is an art form, or at least it can be an art form; ( a collaborative one, an expensive one and one usually requiring some sort of commercial engine behind but,- an art form nonetheless, ) so basically, any comment is always going to be subjective...

and "fair enough" I say.

All this meandering waffle is my way of introducing the following statement with a straight face: I reckon 'Zardoz' is a work of Art. I think it's quite perfect and could not be improved upon. There I said it. With a straight face.

It is not a good film, nor is it an Ed-Wood-level bad film, it is not especially skillfully told story,( in fact it's utterly bewildering in places and very clumsily paced, ) and yet I believe that absolutely everyone should see it. In fact, were I made Emperor in the morning I should make at least one viewing of Zardoz compulsory per lifetime. I say again, with a straight face,
ZARDOZ is a work of Art.

What I cannot do, with a straight face, is watch it mind you.

What I'm trying to say is that, in terms of success, 'Zardoz' has a special success all of its own.

The 'story' encompasses big themes about what it is to be human. There are some stunning visuals and there's plenty to think about afterwards. Yes it is pretentious, gloriously, refreshingly, nakedly pretentious. And on a magic carpet of pretention, it takes us on a acid trip to psychic-crystal-'right on' utopia before deposits us back safely in a nuclear family.

And loads of hippies get shot.

My point being perhaps that whether you agree with the point made by Zardoz or not,- or whether you can take that point seriously or not, you cannot deny that Zardoz belongs especially to its own time in history: occuring as it did at a specific point in time when intelligent people actually did crap on about 'the age of Aquarius' and gender being just like a construct... man.

Zardoz was a type of big(-ish) budget film that had never been made before and would never be made after. It revels in its trippy-dippy sixties bullshite origins: ( it positively drowns in them ) and yet it attacks them at the same time. I am so glad that it was made and repeat watchings have, for me, proved increasingly enjoyable.

All hail Zardoz.

He special.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Code 46

Code 46 is one of those fillums where they mostly just use 'foreign' to mean 'future', ( The logic being that if Shanghai looks and feels a little 'Bladerunnery', why not just go there to shoot your fillum instead of building a 'Blade-Runner' type set) and in this case it works very well. Code 46 was made in 2003 and I've only heard of it now, but I think it's a cracker.

Now, the pacing's measured and is perhaps a tad more emotiony and relationshippy than one expects in the genre of dystopian motion-pictures but there's nowt wrong with that so long as it works and I reckon that, in Code 46, it does. As I said, a cracker.

In this Philip K.Dickish yarn Tim Robbins plays a cocky corporate suit-wearing wankshaft and Samantha Morton is his plainish, quirky, lonely, 'odd-as-two-left-feet-but-fascinating-with-it' love interest, and I can't tell you much more without ruining it except to say that like all good dystopian fiction, ( or science fiction for that matter ) it's really about the time in which it's made and what's wrong with the world right now.

We're not given much of an explanation for why the gloomy future it depicts is the way it is and perhaps it's a sad truth that a near-future dystopia doesn't need one. Like our own time, travel is restricted between the first world and the third world and the sort of life you can look forward to depends on which you were born into. Code 46 shows us the world we live in already, with a bit more third world and a few more travel restrictions.

One of the things I found particularly fascinating is the way that the invasive and constraining system that enforces the eponymous code is not only believable and practical, but benign in some aspects, ( the accidental breaking of the code merely involves memory erasion of the transgression and the termination of it's results ). We can see how this system is cruel, but we can also see why it's necessary, which makes it all the more 'real'.

The love story is a little strange, a little clumsy (Robbins is twice her height) and even a little cold which again made it feel more real and engaging than the standard 'hearts & flowers' Hollywood depiction.

Best of all, the dystopia takes a back-seat and works essentially to provide a context for a classic greek tragedy that tears at the guts a bit. There is still a point made of course, but is made in an impressively deft and subtle fashion and is all the stronger for that.

Maybe it's just because of where I am in my head right now*, ( or because of all the dystopias of been watching of late Code 46 is by far the most sophisticated ) but I think Code 46 is a cracker.

I say fair play to the director, Mr Winterbottom for never having let his ridiculous surname hold him back.

*If there is anybody in your life whom you miss terribly and can't see anymore, I don't know if you'd enjoy this film more or enjoy this film less because of that: but I do feel you should be warned that parts of Code 46 might sting.

There's an Art to sticking to your guns...

I went to a ‘Street Art Auction’ recently, and it made me think about how things have changed.

In 2005 I bought a book called ‘Wall & Piece’ and it rocked my world and made me slap myself in the forehead for the dope that I am. You see, years and years ago, in the early nineties, I went to Art College. Aspects of my time there, I enjoyed immensely and one of the things I enjoyed the most were the little projects that we talked each other into that had nothing to do with our courses or lecturers but were things we just did because we felt entitled to do them as ‘artists-in training’.

I had a ground-floor street-level window with the path just outside so it felt like a shop window and I would put things in it just for people walking by to ‘see’: an old copy of ‘Treasure Island’( I turned the page every day in case somebody was reading it) worn-out black army boots stuffed with hundreds of crow-feathers, my mate Vic made a ‘Clockwork Orange’ by cramming an old alarm clock mechanism into a peeled orange and carefully sewing the peel back together,- the skin shrank and hardened so you could see the ridges on the cog-wheels,- it was very cool-looking for a while. He also made a kind of foetus-figurine out of coiled copper wire and made a chain of springs ( those ones that you find around the edges of old beds to hold the mattress up ) to form a kind of umbilical chord which then went around the window to form a kind of frame. One day, we got a letter in the door from a ‘walker-by’ simply to say that they appreciated our efforts.

That was the coolest thing ever.

The thing that made me slap my head when I read the Banksy book was the realisation that we should’ve just kept doing that. This lighter, cheeky stuff that we did ‘in the world’ had always been more fun. But we had presumed that sooner or later we must put that aside and concentrate on ‘real work’ that gets into ‘The Gallery’ and becomes our means of support sometime in the future when we are ’established’.

When I left Art College (with my ‘distinction’ mind you) the prospect of the slow climb to recognition through interacting with people I didn’t like, in an art world that I found hard to respect, wasn’t very appealing and so I went to Moyross and started working voluntary with kids instead. That brought its own rewards and difficulties but I just gave up what I thought was 'Art'.

When I read that book I realised that we’d been wearing those ruby slippers all along.


Never mind, sure I do be doin' the theatre these days...



Good old Zardoz,

Yes indeed, Sean Connery in a bright red nappy, women with their groodies hanging out and some fine views of the Wicklow hills,— sure where would you get it? This is the very next fillum that John Boorman made after 'Deliverance', and he made it in Wicklow, good man that he is, and I think I've seen it at least five times in my life and holy-mary-mother-of-god what can I possibly say about it?

Fishing about on the interweb for pictures, I came across somebody's Zardoz-themed Hallowe'en costume and all I can say is it takes a brave man to party voluntarily in this get-up. I'll spare you the pictures, it's probably enough to know that he based his home-made costume on this original:

Look at our Sean, just look at him.

Has he no shame.

Zardoz is full of what we abbreviatingly refer to nowadays as WTF? As an example of some of the top-grade 'WTF?' to be enjoyed, here is Sean again in the other outfit that he wears in Zardoz. Yoor a holy show Sean!— a holy show, and this whole fillum is a holy show ago-go with more 'WTF?' than you can shake a stick at.

Probably too much 'WTF?' Certainly enough 'WTF?' to distract from it's many themes. But it's so gorgeous in its WTF-ossity, that I... I feel that it's...

No,no— I'm starting all wrong...
deep breath.
I have to gather me thoughts on this one for any attempt to interpret Zardoz is an attempt to explick the inexplicable.


Now, gather 'round my little internets and I'll tell you a tale worth a mile o' ground of walkin' for to hear:

It all began for me when I was a gorsoon and an erstwhile gorsoon asked me, in a solemn and insistent tone:

"have you seen Zardoz?"

"Er... no"

says I, trying to break his frantic ancient-mariner-like gaze.

" You have to see it"

was his follow up to that statement. Not an unusual one, predictable in fact,in the manner of inter-gorsoonal communication, and the type of statement normally easily dismissed but there was an uncharacteristic iciness in his tone that suggested an unusual level of import to this recommendation. Curiosity over-powered me and I opined the customary


"'Coz it's special"

It was clear from his face he would brook no further discussion of the matter. A VHS copy was duly loaned and time set aside. Down I sat, eager to glean what had infected my normally reticent colleague with such enthusiasm.

A tiny head appeared on a black background "My name is Arthur Frayne" says the little floating head,( looks familiar..)
which as it grew larger appeared to be ( Eric Idle ! )
wearing a tea-towel and had a beard and a moustache which as the head grew larger appeared to be ( maybe not Eric Idle )
sporting a curly moustache and goatee which as it grew larger appeared to be ( definitely not Eric Idle) with facial hair drawn really badly with eyebrow pencil.

Also, he's was talking mad-talk. 'He's a mentaller this one' says I. It was hard to understand what he was saying because the drawn-on beard was way too distracting.

Then, what did I see_— only another floating head, this time a big angry bearded stone one coming over the sugar-loaf ( that I climbed in Wicklow when I was in the cub scouts), it lands amongst it's worshippers and announces 'THE GUN IS GOOD! THE PENIS IS EVIL! THE PENIS SHOOTS SEEDS, WHICH BRING NEW LIFE AND POISON THE EARTH WITH THE PLAGUE OF MAN! GO FORTH, AND KILL!' and vomits out a load of rifles.

My friend was right about this film.

It is special.

I'll talk of it no more on this post, this is as much as I'm willing to say at this stage... watch it if you haven't seen it. I will write a proper write-up with spoilers and everything in the near future but I just can't manage it at the moment.

Zardoz is too special for just one post anyway.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Strange, bitter, cynical, lonely, godless, slow-moving & cold while at the same time completely over-complicated, pretentious, patronising and constantly launching into pseudo-profound statements that neither impress nor connect: ultimately just plain boring,

but enough about how ex-girlfriends describe me — let's talk about Robert Altman's Quintet :

Sometimes the mood that you're in, or your general expectation levels colour the experience of watching a fillum, so I'd like to state from the outset that I couldn't have watched this film with a kinder eye than the one that I cast upon it t'other night.

I didn't mind that it was slow-moving and mad, I would have been happy to just follow the story. It has Paul Newman in it, and Paul Newman's great. Cold and depressing doesn't bother me: I miss the winters in Finland, but you cant get into this one, it actually wont let you.

Quintet depicts a frozen and lifeless dystopia heading towards complete extinction much like 'The Road', and like 'The Road' it's harsh.

People die and dogs eat them. A lot, so much in fact, that it starts to look silly. Honestly you could invent a drinking game for watching this film where everyone takes a shot everytime you see the same bunch of dogs nipping in a bored way at a blood-stained corpse and you'd be hammered by the end of it.

Speaking of alcohol, apparantly moss still grows and people ferment the moss to make alcohol and explosives that are required for the plot but otherwise there doesn't seem to be any food gathering food production or food distribution. Despite this, nobody ever eats or seems to be hungry as they are all constantly playing the mysterious and seemingly addictive game 'Quintet'.

This is another problem, there's obviously some point being made about human society's bread-and-circuses love of sport/entertainment and distractions over any engagement with political reality but that's all it is, a point. Plot and story-wise we never get to learn the rules of this game so it just remains a source of bafflement why all these presumably starving people are playing it.

The accidental death (by moss-made explosive) of Paul's wife and unborn child lead him into a b-movie intrigue where he finds a list and must figure out what's going as the people on the list keep getting murdered. ( I know that's officially 'SPOILER' but I don't care, this film already spoils itself )

To remind us that we're involved in double-dealing machinations and intrigue the characters dress as post-apocalyptic Machievellis with capes and big pentangular hats and make the film look like a kind of am-dram production of 'the life of Marco Polo' set in a fridge. To hammer this 'he could be among the Borgias' point home, a lot of them have thick Mediterranean accents and one of them even speaks Latin, all without reason or explanation of mind you.

The big reveal, ( your reward as a spectator for sitting through the whole thing) is Paul's discovery that the people on the list are bumping each other off ( wow! ) in the manner of a game of 'Quintet' ( which means nothing to us as we don't know the rules). We are told so often (via the recurring motif of dogs eating people) that human life isn't worth much so it's hard us to find any of the murders that all horrific or intriguing, or to believe that the protagonist would either.

Paul wins the 'game' and discovers that the 'prize' is simply surviving. He decides not to play a second time and the film ends as he walks north into pretty much nothing.

Roll credits.

Regret time spent watching film.

Wonder how anyone ever let Altman make another.

Resolve to stop watching rubbish.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Handmaid's Fail.

I read Margaret Atwood's book of this a couple of times when I was sixteen or seventeen but I never got round to watchin' the fillum because... because, although it was a good book to read, I couldn't see the fillum in it.

After finding 'A Boy and his Dog's sexual politics not quite to my taste I thought maybe now'd be the time to check it out: after all, it's carrying on along a general theme of futuristic dystopia that I started on with A Boy and his Dog, and I was fairly confident that whatever cinematic story was made out of 'A Handmaid's Tale' it's unlikely to be as shallowly chauvinistic as that particular celluloid offering had been, —or at least if it was gonna be down on any gender in a one-sided way, then it'd be down on the 'Chaps' this time.

It's certainly possible that for some people an adaptation of 'The Tale' might be regarded as an (mysophallust?) (gynophile?) (misander?)... as an 'Anti-chap' story ( it's an attack on Chistian right-wing patriarchy definitely), but overall, what I'd gotten from the book anyway, was that the men in this society seem to be having a fairly crap time of it too— even the privileged ones, and that the women, ( far from being uniformly compassionate and oppressed ),— act with a vengeful spite and complete lack of solidarity to one another, which, if you know anything about human nature, you might find both equally sad and authentic, and makes it less of a black-and-white 'man/bad' 'ladies/great' type of thing.

I knew Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway were in it but only discovered, ( to my surprise ), as the credits rolled up, that Harold Pinter had written the screenplay!

'Gettafugatttahere!— 'Harold Pinter'? the Harold Pinter?

Yes... the Harold Pinter, I shit-you-not. It's a terrible thing to confess, but when I saw the name of a Nobel-prize laureate for literature come up (and I'd gotten over the initial shock), I thought

"Oh, I bet this is going to be shit".

Not a reaction that I'm proud of, but the worst thing about it was that I was right.

One of the things that the book pointed out is how everything changes when the context changes: playing the hum-drum act of playing 'scrabble' for example becomes a naughty game for an indulgent Commander to play with his concubine in a society where women are officially illiterate for example. In the context of a fillum I haven't heard much about, by a writer I have heard much about... well the chances are it must be one of the 'shit' things that they did. It is shit.

Sorry boys and girls but there it is. Fay Dunaway's great in it, Robert Duvall plays the 'Patriarch' cipher competently, it's (fairly) faithful to the novel and, in fairness, the two-hour length doesn't drag either, so why is it so ultimately unsatisfactory?

Well for a start, the book represents the story from a far distant future where 'The Handmaid's tale' is an anonymous fragment from the ancient past whose authorship or authenticity cannot be verified, and this gives the story a kind of 'remove'.

This framing is dispensed with for the film.

Also, we lose the 1st-person narrative ( there is no 'voice-over' even ) and without these, the denuded premise seems a bit more ludicrous. With the film you just 'see' it, and if one reads the message as being the standard near-future dystopian warning, i.e. " this could happen!" a part of one's brain kick's back and says

" Nah man, I don't see it"

Despite the striking colour-burka the dystopia she lives in feels... well... like american surburbia in the late 1980's. The handmaid even has Big Blond Hair ( the veil she wears to cover it is dispensed with as often as possible, as if the actress felt she looked plain without her Big Blond Hair, if so, her fears were justified ).

The whole story rests upon our belief in the strength and intelligence of a protagonist who is presented to us in a variety of situations where she can neither speak her mind nor act upon her desires and I dunno if that's possible to carry off but I do know that they picked the wrong generic big-haired dame to do it.

What happens to her only ally in the book and film 'Moira'(McGovern) is an illustration of what the system does to the truly free spirit, in the film she is also a rare opportunity for us to see the 'real' Ofred interacting with someone outside of the social system.

McGovern ( who also looks plain in a headscarf, but at least she doesn't look stupid) is the irrepressible fiesty pal and, despite the film's ludicrous elements she's believable, what isn't believable is why she aligns herself to a drink of water like Natasha Richardson's 'Ofred'.

You never get a sense of 'who' Ofred is, by what she does. The book gave us a savvy and intelligent woman placed in a society that silences her almost completely, the film gives us someone without much to say who does things we don't understand.

It touches upon some really great themes such as:
Freedom and oppression,
society and individuals,
childbirth as privilege, burden or duty to state,
the relationship of privileged women to disenfranchised women.

But in the end, makes no statement about any of them.

Oh Harold, what you gone and done?