Great Video Nasties Moral Panic Documentary

Great Video Nasties Moral Panic Documentary

I remember the Video Nasties furore like it was yesterday. With my father being an avid Daily Mail reader and staunch Thatcherite I felt like I had a front row seat with the then Tory government seeking to ban the very films I loved when they were released on video in the early 80’s.

I saw most of the media coverage regarding this as it happened. I’ve also seen the later retrospective takes on the moral panic regarding the so-called ‘Video Nasties’ but there is one documentary that perfectly captures the sense of fear, paranoia and scapegoating for the ills of society unfairly placed on these horror films which some were even calling ‘snuff movies’ (!) I’ve uploaded this here for your delectation. Please watch and prepare for your jaw to drop as you witness a frankly unbelievable episode from history in which, at the time, there seemed to be plenty of authoritative voices against these videos but none in the mainstream media who were standing up for them. It was akin to book-burning.

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Hopefully we can learn from this sad era. It could never happen again. Or could it? With this documentary reminding us what happened, more and more this seems like an episode of unjustified censorship which can be consigned to history where it belongs.

 

Lady Bird (2017)

Lady Bird (2017)

I actually went to see Lady Bird because the trailer was so good. Any film that uses ‘Days of Steam’ by John Cale instantly grabs my attention.

Lady Bird is a quirky film that makes me want to punch the air with delight. Thank Christ for all of the filmmakers who see things from a different perspective and dare to portray events by thinking outside of the box rather than just following the herd.

The lead character of Lady Bird is finishing up at school and waiting to go to college. The netherworld period of transition just before the bird leaves the comfort of the family nest is poignant, restless and full of conflicting emotions- a fact which doesn’t escape the filmmakers.

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There are gorgeous observations concerning family relationships and dynamics. One scene involves Lady Bird and her mother having a very serious and embittered argument in a thrift store. But this all ends abruptly on the discovery of a beautiful dress. Suddenly all resentments and grievances evaporate as mother and daughter bask in the glory of this maroon lace concoction.

Another thing about the film that I loved was the Catholic setting. It was refreshing that we have such a setting in a film and it isn’t full of cruelty and abuse (OK- maybe thats me as I’ve watched both Spotlight and Silent Night, Deadly Night recently). Watch out for the inspirational Mother Superior, the all too enthusiastic play director/wannabe football coach and the drama teacher. All great characters which compliment this unique film.

The entire cast are awe-inspiring. Saoirse Ronan owns the role of Lady Bird and is perfect. And its great to see Laurie Metcalfe on our screens again after years of watching Roseanne.

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Offbeat, innovative and original. Lady Bird deserves all of the praise its receiving at the moment.

4 out of 5

Review- Hush (2016)

Review- Hush (2016)

I love it when I know nothing about a film but then discover it on Netflix.

Thats what happened here and I wasn’t disappointed. A deaf mute writer lives in her isolated home on the edge of a forest. And then a psycho nutjob comes her way.

Its suddenly a case of do or die with the writer fighting for her life whilst trying to outwit her tormentor and somehow survive.

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This film is ingenious with a truckload of twists and turns to keep you hooked. Add amazing acting, direction and gorgeous cinematography and you have a gem of a horror movie.

It also has the best use of a corkscrew since Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter and a reference to Extremities.

Watch it and renew your relationship with the edge of your seat. Stunning.

4 out of 5

Review- Danny Says (2015)

Review- Danny Says (2015)

A documentary about Danny Fields, the record industry A&R man/artist liaison/cultural barometer who was the friend of so many great bands and artists and more importantly, had a hand in making sure they could get record deals and record their music so that their genius could be shared with the world.

This documentary gets it just right- there are moments of animation to illustrate the narrative but these don’t overpower the film, there are many musicians and personalities who are either interviewed or spoken about but it doesn’t feel like some kind of bragging rollcall. There are also perceptive and very interesting insights into being gay in a small town and also when Danny had left home and was carving his adult life.

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As for the artists, all of the groups and singers who changed my life are here. From hanging out with The Velvet Underground to working and socialising with The Doors, The Ramones, Jonathan Richman, The Stooges, Nico, MC5…This is a life spent in the thick an alternative American musical history and you feel privileged to be a part of this. There are also hidden gems that are priceless- a taped phone call with Nico, a recording of the first time Lou Reed is played The Ramones and how elated he is by it.

I bought Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges at the age of 14 and it changed my life. And Danny Fields is partly responsible for this. This documentary helps to shed light on a hidden force who made this possible.

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4 out of 5

The Warriors (1979)- The Film Leeds Local Authority Tried To Ban

The Warriors (1979)- The Film Leeds Local Authority Tried To Ban

Its amazing what you find when you go trawling through the microfiche archives for your local newspaper.

When browsing through the back issues of The Yorkshire Evening Post for 1979 I noticed that The Warriors, Walter Hill’s gritty, comic book style New York action flick was actually shown at a ‘members only’ cinema called The Tatler here in Leeds rather than the bigger Odeon and ABC cinemas where I’d expect a big studio film (The Warriors was made by Paramount) to play. Why was this?

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The Tatler Cinema Club, Leeds

With a bit more research I discovered why. Local authorities here in the UK can view any film that the BBFC has rated 18, or when The Warriors was released, X certificate. They can then go further than the BBFC and ban a film outright if they wish to do. These are exceptional cases but in the past this has happened. The Life of Brian was notoriously banned in Hull until 2008.

This can also happen in reverse- a local authority can show a film in cinemas in its threshold that the BBFC has banned. This occurred in 1999 when Camden Council awarded The Texas Chain Saw Massacre a special ‘C for Camden’ certificate to show the film even though it was still banned by the BBFC. I was lucky enough to see the film during this run. It was reclassified as an 18 and no longer banned by the BBFC shortly after this.

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The original ticket stub from the TCM screening in 1999. The film was certified ‘C for Camden’ but still banned by the BBFC.

In the case of The Warriors, the local authority here in Leeds chose to ban the film even though the BBFC has classified it as an X. This was due to the violent content of the film.

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What the film critic in The Yorkshire Evening Post had to say about The Warriors and it’s local authority ban.

However, you can’t keep a great piece of art down for too long. There was a loophole that meant that any banned film can be shown uncut in a licensed ‘members only’ cinema even if its been banned by the BBFC or a local authority.

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Original Yorkshire Evening Post newspaper ad for The Warriors and it’s Tatler run

And thats just what happened in Leeds. The Warriors was shown at The Tatler Cinema- a ‘members only’ cinema that at that time was showing ‘erotic’ (or as we’d say here in Leeds- ‘mucky’) films.

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Original newspaper listing for The Warriors in Leeds. Don’t understand the ‘One Hours Wait’ though- yet another mad rule that applies to such clubs?

This must have been a massive two fingers up to the Leeds local authority who thought that no one would be able to see this film that they thought would corrupt and inspire a whole slew of really nicely choreographed gang violence here in Leeds as The Armley Baseball Furies fight for their turf against The Gipton Riffs.

This loophole was later amended by the BBFC decades later to prevent uncut films (specifically with pornography in mind) being shown in members cinemas if the BBFC had banned them or not certified them R18.

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Original Warriors UK quad cinema poster

Strange bedfellows- The Warriors, a film made by huge studio Paramount Pictures being shown at a cinema that primarily showed porn. Overzealous censorship makes great comedy.

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Inside The Tatler. Plush for a cinema that showed mucky films.

 

 

 

Review- ‘Wonder’ (2017)

Review- ‘Wonder’ (2017)

WARNING- The ending of this film is so sugar coated that you will become diabetic.

This film is basically saying ‘Life sucks whether you have a facial deformity or not’.

Julia Roberts is great (as per). Owen Wilson is in a film that isn’t an utter embarrassment for once (way to go).

But the film feels like an overlong episode from some bright and breezy TV show. Theres no real depth even though the subject of someone being different could be examined perceptively in relation to human nature and people’s vicious pack mentality.

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Theres also some vile stereotyping going on here. All the bullies within the film are white and stinking rich. The goodies either have a facial deformity, are related to him, aren’t white or are a member of another religion (the Jewish headmaster). Social justice filmmaking. Urgh.

If John Waters had made this film, the lead character would have accentuated his unique looks, dressed in drag and owned this film. Maybe Mr Waters could remake this. In fact I think hes already made that film- it had songs, dance routines, Divine and was called Hairspray.

Watch Mask instead. You get Cher and bikers thrown in as well.

2 out of 5

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Mask (1985)- Cher, bikers and a blind girl. A much better film

No Homo: John McTiernan’s Predator (1987)

No Homo: <em>John McTiernan’s Predator</em> (1987)

I had the honour and privilege to be able to see Predator (1987) in 4K and on the big screen the other day. It felt like visiting an old friend.

Predator belongs in Arnie’s Imperial Phase which for my money runs from the Conan films up until Red Heat. At this time he was making action movies that defined the genre, pushed its boundaries but fully exploited their future status on the medium of video- in other words they were violent and gory as hell.

Predator works on so many different levels.

The film is the perfect example of a comic book come to life on celluloid. The film possesses the kind of exaggeration and imagination that normally couldn’t satisfactorily be translated to film. Predator shows that these forays into the surreal and its larger than life action sequences can be successfully conveyed. All of the characters could equally be seen in comic book panels as much as they could be on film. The film is so gung-ho that it feels like a war comic crossed with a shoot em up video game at times.

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The Predator’s thermal vision that the audience is privy to is also a comic book device.

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Another sequence that is reminiscent of a comic book is when Dillon’s arm is cut off but continues to fire a gun.

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Also, just as action and horror movies were massively successful on video in its infancy  and its growth as a medium, Predator combines elements of both genres and turns them up to 11. The sequence involving Dillon’s arm is a great example of a sequence that appeals to both action and horror fans.

In fact the film is extremely subversive as it starts as a jungle commando action vehicle but then suddenly changes direction. This could have failed to work and come across as forced and completely contrived if handled in the wrong way. But instead it works brilliantly.

The horror and more specifically the slasher conventions within Predator show that the film wasn’t just appealing to the fans of action movies. The Predator’s handiwork is shown as the jungle crew discover the skinned bodies of others hanging upside down. The crew soon find themselves to be the quarry rather than the hunters in the same way that a group of teenagers would be in a stalk n slash movie. They are easy meat.

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The film also contains the same kind of kills found in a slasher movie with skulls, intestines and exploding heads all featuring.

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Another slasher staple that features in Predator is the unmasking of the killer which of course prompts Dutch to exclaim ‘You are one ugly motherfucker!’ The unmasking sequence is especially a staple of the Friday 13th films in which Jason Voorhees is regularly unmasked to reveal his true face.

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A mug you wouldn’t chug- the unmasking of the predator

Predator also goes the extra mile when it comes to its action genre ingredients. There are guns and muscles aplenty. But where Predator tries to excel when it deals with these components, in doing so it instantly becomes very very homoerotic.

There must have been something distinctly gay in the air in some Hollywood quarters in 1986/7 as two other unintentionally/intentionally homoerotic films were also made around the same time- Top Gun and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.

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The homoeroticism of Top Gun (1986) and
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A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1986)

In fact, Predator is so proudly masculine, homoerotic and therefore camp that to take any of these variants further would topple the film headlong into the genre of gay pornography.

It doesn’t take a lot for the ultra masculine to turn ultra homoerotic and camp. Let me illustrate- think of a clockface as representing all of the different variants of masculinity- 1 represents the camp, effete and effeminate (two examples are Quentin Crisp and Julian Clary) and 12 represents the ultra masculine, musclebound and testosterone soaked (Arnie, your average MMA fighter, the larger WWE wrestlers). There isn’t that much of a distance from 1 to 12 on the clockface is there? Also, just because a man might be camp or effeminate doesn’t mean that he isn’t without balls of steel. Do you think it was easy for Julian Clary and Quentin Crisp to be openly gay and effeminate when they first came to light in the public gaze? No- it took guts and moral fortitude. They are far from being submissive sissies. There are paradoxes at the more extreme positions on the clock.

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Whilst number 12 on the clockface is seen as the most masculine its also, paradoxically very camp and homoerotic also. The male who wishes to assert his masculinity more potently will build up his physique and muscles. To display this ‘uber masculinity’ he will expose his body more thus paradoxically instantly appeal to the some members of the same sex. He wants to accentuate his masculinity and has at the same time become more camp, desirable and homoerotic because of this.

This heady brew of the masculine and homoerotic is first seen in the film when Dutch comes across his old friend Dillon again. A handshake turns into an epic display of biceps and a very manly (and very camp) arm-wrestle. You could be forgiven that this is in fact some kind of 1980’s gay porno movie.

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The camera seems to relish and luxuriate upon the male cast in the film. There are many shots of gleaming muscles, sometimes clutching huge guns. Predator is a glistening, sweaty jerk-off fest for the gay gaze.

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The bead of sweat rolling down the ample chest of the character of Billy is one such example of this. The same character later on in the film decides to ‘take it like a man’ by slitting open his well built chest to prompt the predator out of hiding so that they can go one on one. Its a startling display of machismo that is instantly appealing to the action fan and those who are sexually aroused by such testosterone fuelled exhibitionism. ‘Taking it like a man’ means something very different in gay circles. The pitcher becomes receiver. He decides to ‘receive’ the alien.

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Within the film there is also the spectacle of the slow striptease of Dutch. Throughout the course of the film Arnold appears in varying degrees of undress and displays more flesh and more muscle. There is also an unbelievable shot when the crew arrive in the jungle. Dutch crawls through undergrowth with the camera just above his body as he does this, resplendent with an amazing shot of his arse. Ever wanted to know what it would be like to be on top of the film’s lead character? The camera realises this for the spectator.

Arnold’s striptease cumulates with his character covered in mud (!) with a lit torch in one hand and giving a manly bellow to the heavens to alert the alien that he is ready for battle. Man vs alien- and no ugly extra-terrestrial is going to kick Arnie’s alpha-male butt. Whilst this scene is intended not only to signify the potency of the masculinity on display its also the ultimate in homoeroticism and camp iconography- a distillation of the whole film in one sequence.

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Theres also the bromance/relationship between Mac and Blain. After Blain is killed there is a palpable longing on the part of Mac which suggests that he misses him for being more than just a fellow soldier. This pining between two male characters is reminiscent of Peter being distraught by the passing of Roger in George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Or the ending of Brokeback Mountain. Yes, nothing gay here.

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Male longing- Brokeback Mountain

In fact Blain recalls the ‘macho man’ archetype in the same way that The Village People’s leather-clad biker does- moustache, sexually potent (Blaine describes himself as a ‘sexual tyrannosaurus’), whilst looking down on others who aren’t as masculine. Blaine refers to those people as ‘slack jawed faggots’ the way a leather fan might look down on the camper constituents of his community. Also, notice the use of the word ‘faggots’- Blaine doth protest too much. Or hes just trying to deflect from the obvious conclusions.

With the character of Blaine there also the issue of guns, the size of those guns and the ‘gun as phallus/symbol of manhood’ baggage that is imbued with such imagery. Just as Blaine has stated that he is a ‘sexual tyrannosaurus’ he qualifies this with the gun he carries- a huge gun that can fire countless bullets at once and has a barrel that rotates as its doing this. Blaine calls the gun ‘Old Painless’ and at one point says that its time to bring it out of its bag. This recalls the way a man might say its time to ‘unleash the beast’. Never has a gun represented a penis so obviously.

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Blain and his impressive weapon

Also within the film there seems to be a celebration of gun size as an extension of manhood for each character. There are many shots of gleaming muscles and equally huge guns held proudly by each character. Theres also the incredible scene in which the muscled components of the crew fire their guns into the jungle when they happen to see the alien. The scene goes on for way too long, prompting the audience to question why this is. A joyous piece of action genre abandon? A display of unabashed masculinity? Or the film’s equivalent of a circle jerk? This scene is as close as the film can come to each character having his cock out to show who really is King Dong.

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The Predator circle jerk

In fact the film early on introduces a female character into the proceedings to seemingly try to stop the film being a solely male musclefest. Shes also introduced to make the film homosocial- a female distraction from the otherwise all male action and to show that, ”y’know, we’re not actually faggots or nuthin’ ”.

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Predator’s all male cast. Nothing gay here.

Anna Gonsalves however isn’t the kind of weak and spineless female character who requires a man to save her from any encroaching danger. She is resourceful and an equal. She spends her formative scenes trying to escape from the crew but then is seen as someone more than willing to pitch in to save herself and the lives of the others in the crew from the predator. She is self-sufficent and with this all male crew, thats pretty much for the best. Saving women would take away from their self-love and exhibitionism.

Ultimately what was Predator’s demographic and who it was made for- the laydeez? Of course not. It was made for male action and horror fans. This vehicle of muscles and macho posturing with the odd splatter scene was made for men. It makes the film even gayer/homoerotic.

Even the behind the scenes stills from Predator were homoerotic. Hers a picture of Arnie holding a huge snake.

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But whilst most of society was a homophobic cesspit when Predator was released the world seems to have changed since. Homophobia is thankfully being seen as unjust, outdated and as never being valid in the first place. Arnie is now a successful Republican politician. Whilst everyone was celebrating the amendment that allowed Gay Marriage in America people on Facebook were changing their profile pictures so that they had a rainbow flag filter. Arnie did the same. Most welcomed this. However some old school action fans did not. Arnie’s comeback was epic.

Things really were changing. Just as Arnie was finally embracing gay marriage and equality, was it possible that he knew that Predator was in fact a homoerotic musclefest all along? It would be great if someone from the Predator crew came forward to say that that this was actually the intention. Just imagine the uproar!