Saturday, August 8, 2020

A multi-coloured history

Like most people who saw the green-tinged version of Casablanca in the 1980s, I've always treated colourised versions of old films with extreme caution, and have been happy enough with the glorious tones of pure black and white.

But colorising technology has come so far - they can actually look at a lot of old film, and find information for the proper color encoded in the actual film stock (I don't really understand it, it sounds like magic to me - I read a whole article in Doctor Who Magazine about it, and it all sailed right over my head). And new tech can also mess with the timing of the filmed sequences, smoothing it out and getting rid of the herky-jerky motions of old film, so it can look like it was filmed yesterday.

And I just can't get enough of all the colorised films that you can see now. And not just the World War 2 stuff, where nearly every piece of footage ever shot has been given that kaleidoscopic treatment for new series, but footage from the First World War, and even earlier into the Victorian era, where camera technology was still being figured out.

Looking back at this newly enhanced footage, at people going about their business a century ago, can be absolutely captivating. It's not the same as a recent obsession with looking at old photos of places where I grew up, because this is all about the people in the images, and the lives they once lived.

This footage may look like it was shot yesterday, but these subjects are all long gone. And yet, they're still there on film, looking as real and alive as the people you pass on the street every day.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Sniper porn: A bullet in the right place

I'm a massive pacifist, thanks largely to the comics of Pat Mills, and think that all violence is abhorrent, and that the first to resort to it instantly loses any argument, and that war is a dirty and terrible thing that should never be accepted, condoned or glamorised. But I still love a bit of sniper porn.

I go through a lot of books and movies about snipers, both fictional and non fictional. I love it every time Garth Ennis does another comic about snipers, and I read every single novel Stephen Hunter puts out. There is something about the dedication, professionalism and competence of a great sniper that is always, always interesting.

I don't agree with a lot of Hunter's politics, and the movie reviews he used to write were almost completely diametrically opposite to my own views, but I snap up every single one of his books about the Swagger family and their violent delights.

There's just something about the way the multiple generations of hardcore snipers in Hunter's books go about their business. Like the books themselves, these warriors are efficient and pragmatic, with a notable lack of any kind of bullshit. They don't go in with guns blazing, or set off big explosions for effect, they just put the right bullet in the right place at the right time.
Hunter's books have been adapted for various screens a couple of times, and they never quite work, largely because the simplicity of people like Bob Lee Swagger are overwhelmed by the star power drafted in to play him. But as long as Hunter keeps regularly putting out these books with absolute precision, I'll be reading them. Because war might be hell, but a bullet in the right place can still change the world.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

My first movie library, (as long as it didn't rain)

The first movie library I ever was all movies that I recorded off the TV on blank videotapes. I built it over 12 years, and at its peak, just before DVDs came along and ruined the party for everyone, had a couple of hundred movies stored on big, bulky tapes.
That was the only one to get them. Buying the actual movies was prohibitively expensive, because they went for insane prices. I once got stuck with a huge bill after someone stole Turkey Shoot from my car, and had to cough up $70 for them to get a replacement copy.

Even blank videotapes were expensive - an E-180 tape could set you back $15 in late 1980s money, so it took a few years before I had a decent amount (and the price dropped to $5 a tape in the mid-90s). One of the best Christmas presents I ever got were 10 E-240 tapes - that was 40 hours of video, and I could record so many movies.

It was also so much easier to get two films on one tape. That was just one of the problems - trying to get two 90-minute movies on a three-hour tape took some skill, and usually meant the credits were cut off. I was always just a little bit pleased that I could get both Bill and Ted films on one tape, and still recall the absolute pride I took in editing together a Doctor Who story into one seamless film, especially when it finished literally three seconds before the tape ran out.

There were other issues - relying on analogue broadcast television meant you could end up with all kinds of weird interference; our TV would get these bizarre black bars when it got a little misty. And the general quality of video tape is obscured by nostalgia, it's easy to forget how much the quality could deteriorate when taped.

And you also had to deal with some brutal censorship on free-to-air channels. The copy I had of Robocop from the TV was so ridiculously shredded with all the sex, swearing and violence taken out, that it was one of the very first films I ever bought from a video store ($15 at the Highfield Video store, which closed down more than 15 years ago).

Video tapes have changed into collectibles, but they were once indispensable, and while that collection of hundreds of movies might be long gone, they kept me in movies for a significant part of my life.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The deeply weird death of Iron Fist

We're all used to characters going out in a blaze of glory these days, but Danny Rand's fate in the last issue of Power Man and Iron Fist is strikingly weird, 34 years after it was published.

In the story by Christopher Priest and Mark Bright, Iron Fist doesn't die saving the world or the universe or anything, he is just so exhausted from using his energy to keep a terminally ill boy alive that he doesn't wake up when that boy revives as a huge, super-powered man, who then beats Iron Fist to death while he's asleep, and then disintegrates into nothingness.

It's not surprising that it was so controversial at the time, and possibly why you don't see too many reprints.  Priest admitted that it was a delibrately 'senseless and shocking and completely unforeseen death', because death is often senseless and shocking completely unforeseen. But the callousness of it, and the way it actively doesn't seem to give much of a shit about the characters, who are denied any sense of justice or resolution or closure they might require, is still a little breathtaking

It was weird enough recently seeing Batman go down with barely a fight in that back-breaking episode, but at least he was conscious, and was facing one of his greatest villains. This is just some harsh shit.

The death lasted for about four or five years, until previous Iron Fist artist John Byrne brought him back in his Namor series, so the whole incident has been quietly forgotten (I think there was some kind of super-skrull shenanigans involved), but it still packs a punch. Even if Iron Fist didn't.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Twin Peaks: All those missing minutes

The Twin Peaks movie never had a chance. Generally reviled on release, it's since proven to be one of David Lynch's most enduring and rewarding films. Away from the hype that surrounded the series when it came out, Fire Walk With Me is now seen as a truly horrific and tragic movie, as poor Laura Palmer falls into hell (and then rises again).

Famously, there was a whole movie's worth of footage removed to make the film more accessible. Which pleased exactly nobody- people who didn't like Twin Peaks didn't care because they were never going to see it in the first place, and the people who fell hard for the series were never going to be satisfied when entire subplots and scenes featuring favourite characters were brutally sliced out.

It was never that hard to find out what was missing - one of the very first things I ever did on the internet (after spending four hours downloading the Stargate trailer at the local university's computer lab) was look up a transcription of those script pages. I printed them out, and read them a dozen times over the next couple of decades. I think I've still got them in a box somewhere.

And when those missing minutes did turn up in the past couple of years, I had already envisioned every shot so much, that it was all so familiar. It was as if I'd already seen them as much as I'd seen the movie itself.  A lot of the scenes have something added in the acting and production - and there are a couple of scenes that need some serous ADR and a proper score and some general filmification, but that simple aesthetic of the missing footage predates Lynch's later aesthetic, and can be genuinely haunting.

But those scenes are all so familiar when I see them now, because of that enduring power of the script by Lynch and Robert Engels. They always belonged in the film, and always have.

Monday, August 3, 2020

My mates: Blogs, videos and amoebas

I've been doing this blog for 11 years now regularly, and I have never, ever recommended to anybody I know in real life that they also should do it. It's always been good therapy for me, getting all this rubbish out of my head, but it's definitely not for everybody.

Still, people I know have been doing similar things, and I have to admit that I'm glad this proves me right about everything. This kind of thing really is good for you.

My American/Kiwi pal Nik - who was blogging long before I even thought about it - has started again after a gap of a few years, filling his My Impression Now blog with some scorching hot takes on Harold Lloyd, Bob Dylan and Mr Terrific. He has also been putting up scans of comics he created when he was young and keen, and is promising the first Amoeba Adventures in decades, so the world isn't a total hell hole just yet

My other mate Schulz is also been doing some great posts lately on his own blog, started after all his freelance work dried up. Luckily, his brunch delivery service has taken off, so he can afford to do some writing for free and fun, and is often right about some nerd shit, including why the US Utopia remake looks so awful, the horrors of binging on the Hobbit movies at the cinema, and why the best bits of The Last of Us Part II have nothing to do with zombies.

Even my oldest mate Kyle, who I've known for 35 years, is doing his own thing. He's not a writer, and never really has been, but he's got a YouTube channel with hundreds and hundreds of subscribers where he talks about his favourite comic books, and is far more social with his nerd interactions than I could ever be.

They're all doing their own thing, and doing it well, and I'm more convinced than ever that it's good to get this out of your head and into the world, whether the world asks for it or not.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Why I dig the Green

I'll watch absolutely anything with Eva Green in it - and not just because she's strikingly attractive, with razor sharp features and a voice that could cut through diamonds. It's because she totally commits to a role, whatever it is. She always gives it her all.

It doesn't matter if she's in a lesser Tim Burton, or is playing the first Bond girl of a new era, or going full mental in the remorselessly cheesy Penny Dreadful, or even playing the sexy, sexy villain in a goddamn 300 sequel, she gives it everything she's got.

Disappointingly, it doesn't always feel that way in the TV adaption of The Luminaries, where hew character is restrained and repressed, when she should bulging out of the screen. The show is okay, with some really good bits and some truly naff bits, but if you're letting Eva Green loose on a part, you really need to let her loose. She doesn't do half-arsed.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Seeing your dead loved ones isn't a thing

If there is one cliche in movies or television that I just can't bear to see anymore, it's the moment when a character has a vision of somebody who recently died.

It usually comes towards the end of the story, when the hero sees their mentor/significant other/life partner, and the visions rarely last longer than a few seconds, before they disappear and the mundane world goes on. But putting such a tiny dose of magical realism in grounded narratives always feels false.

Because when you lose someone, you don't get those kind of hallucinations, and it's almost insulting to insist that people do, because grief is all about the absence of that person in your life, and the fact that you will never, ever see them again, outside of your dreams. While you might emotionally feel their presence in your life, and it can come on in the strangest fucking ways, you're never ever going to actually see them across a crowded room, giving you a knowing nod.

(And Marvel movies in particular need to fucking stop with the heroes meeting their dead fathers in an idyllic afterlife, because that's been done to death too.)

It's just about bearable when it's blatantly a fantasy scene - Bert Cooper's magnificent side-shuffle off screen and off the mortal coil in Mad Men is still outrageously good - or part of an overall mythology, like the apparitions seen beneath that magic tree in Gilbert Hernandez's Palomar.

But it's a cliche that has to go. Grief is a universal experience - we all feel it, sooner or later - and that just means people should know better than to trivialise with that knowing nod.

Friday, July 31, 2020

So that's how Batman broke his back

I was reading the monthly Batman comics as they led up to the Knightfall saga in the early 90s, but because I lived on the edge of the world, I missed some of the crucial issues - one of the first disappointments caused by Key Issues syndrome. I got the first couple of chapters and the big-ass Batman #500, where Azrael became the Bat, but never actually read the issue where the Batman's back was actually broken.

And even though that one of panel of Bats going over Bane's knee has been reprinted a thousand times, I only finally read that fateful issue last week, in the Tales From the Dark Multiverse hardcover collection that DC recently put out.

And it's surprising how little fight there actually is in it. At least the Batman in Dark Knight Rises puts up a few kicks and punches before Bane breaks him. But the 1990s Batman - who is far more fallible than the current version - is an absolute mess. He spends far more time thinking about the various exhausting battles than landing any blows, and the entire issue is Bane just kicking the fucking shit out of him. At least Superman took Doomsday out with his final blow, Batman just takes it.

Batman is a lot harder, and a lot less human, these days, and if they were telling this story in 2020, he'd put up more of a fight, or have some kind of contingency plan, (even if it all goes wrong). To see him just pummeled like this is actually awful. Who knew one of Batman's greatest battles could be so painful to watch?