Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Up Helly Aa

As any Shetland Islander will tell you, they are as much Scandinavian as Scottish (listen to their accents!), and this is reflected in Up Helly Aa, a fire festival held each year where brawny men parade through the streets in horned and winged helmets and pretty much anything that will catch alight is set alight. It's not a particularly old tradition (it started in 1880) but, by Odin, they really go for it.

It's tonight, by the way, so I should probably have mentioned it a few days ago as, even for Scottish readers, Shetland may be quite a trek. Sorry.

Monday, 28 January 2013


Some of the striking ancient monuments to be found in the most northerly part of these British Isles, the Shetland Islands.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Clear Your Diary 3

'Primitive London' today, here, 2pm - with me, Dr. Matt Cheeseman, Dr. David Forrest and 'We Are The Lambeth Boys'. How can you possibly resist? Afterwards - discussion and then we'll be playing records with honking sax, twangy guitar and dodgy sexual politics.This is the last Sunday in the 'Subverse Britannia' series, so make it count. 

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Crawling, Killing, Living!

'And Now The Screaming Starts!' comes out of the traps like a mad greyhound on PCP and, for half its running time is full of thrills, shocks and the marvellous décolletage of Miss Stephanie Beacham.
The pace is so fast and the film so full of incident that after about half an hour you start to wonder how on earth they are going to maintain it for another hour. Right on cue, a strange malaise sets in, the pace slackens and it loses focus and interest, before partially pulling it back in the dying minutes with a climax that could have been chilling if director Roy Ward Baker hadn’t botched it by using all the wrong shots. Still, hey and, indeed, ho, at least we have a decent thirty minutes.
The film is set in the eighteenth century, and takes place at a marvellous looking stately home which is, in the story, the ancestral home of the wealthy Fengriffin family (it’s actually a place called Oakley Court in Bray).
Lord of the manor is Ian Ogilvy who brings his comely fiancĂ©e Catherine (Stephanie Beacham) home only for her to immediately become hypnotised by a scary portrait of his long dead grandfather (Herbert Lom). Within the first ten minutes, all hell has broken loose – a severed hand starts crawling across the floor, an eyeless corpse appears at a window and the newly married Catherine gets sexually assaulted  by the hand and an unseen assailant while waiting for her new husband to consummate their union.  It’s all go and, for the next thirty minutes it’s all killer dogs, sinister woodsmen, misty graveyards and a series of murders that knock off the illustrious supporting cast (Guy Rolfe; Rosalie Crutchley; Patrick Magee) whenever they get close to revealing what they know about the toxic family secret that underpins all the supernatural shenanigans.
The film starts shuddering to a halt with the appearance of Peter Cushing as a psychiatrist brought in to help the increasingly unhinged (and now pregnant) Catherine. I have a massive amount of respect for Peter, but he has little to work with here and, unfortunately, just becomes a giant earhole to pour seemingly endless exposition into. The upshot is that Grandad Fengriffin did something awful fifty years ago, and now there is a curse upon the family, a curse that results in more death, a possessed baby, and a complete breakdown for Catherine and Lord Fengriffin, who ends up exhuming his nasty ancestors mouldering skeleton and smashing it up in a frenzy whilst Mr. Cushing looks on and shakes his bewigged head. Not exactly a happy ending, and not a particularly well executed one, unfortunately, but at least it makes some sort of narrative sense.
As a final note, this is now the third film (after ‘Witchfinder General’ and ‘From Beyond the Grave’) in which Ian Ogilvy attacks something with an axe. In fact, he attacks two things with an axe, a door and a grave. He’s rather good at it, so I suppose he just thought he’d play to his strengths.
As a final, final note, Oakley Court is now a four star hotel, so I might book a room, perhaps get a massage or a manicure or molested by a severed hand.

And Now The Screaming Starts!

Friday, 25 January 2013

The Pit Of Panic

Ah, Robert Hartford-Davis: a terrible film director who made some of my favourite films.'The Black Torment' is a Hammer-esque tale with an olden day setting and lashings of the olde Gothic, just don't watch it if you're even slightly tired as you will fall asleep, it's as simple as that.

When Sir Richard Fordyke returns to his ancestral home with his new bride, Elizabeth, he is surprised to find that very few people are pleased to see him. The reason? A nasty rape and murder (is there any other kind?) in which the poor victim gasped his Lordship's name before expiring, even though he was miles away in that London. Very soon, he finds himself seemingly pursued by the unquiet spirit of his first wife (unable to give him an heir, she jumped out of the window) and by a series of witnesses who have seen an angry version of him under circumstances that he has no recollection of. So, if it's not him, then who is it that looks like exactly him and is terrorising the village? & why isn't Sir Richard called Giles like every other eldest son of the Fordyke dynasty? It's a tricky one.

Remarkably restrained for a Hartford-Davis film, the pressure to show some decorum seems to have sucked the life out of the production. The first five minutes has an atmospheric sequence where a busty, frightened woman tries (and fails) to lose her unseen pursuer in a darkened wood, but the rest is flat, slow and, despite a couple of murders, a banging window and the odd flash of wenchly cleavage, pretty dull. When the 'twist' we saw a mile off suddenly staggers into view about five minutes from the end, there's a burst of long overdue activity:  women are threatened, villains revealed, murderous imbeciles drool, a bullet is fired into a face, two former friends have a sword fight and, finally, there's an impaling and a happy ending.

I think this is a film that Hartford-Davis made to show people that he could deliver a solid, fairly respectable piece of work after several fairly seamy b-movies and, in doing so, tried out some new things: colour, horror, period drama, a proper story - with mixed results. It's a boring film, but a good career move.

The Black Torment

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Geometry Of Fear

'These new images belong to the iconography of despair, or of defiance....Here are the images of flight, or ragged claws "scuttling across the floors of silent seas", of excoriated flesh, frustrated sex, the geometry of fear....'

Herbert Read, reviewing the 'New Aspects of British Sculpture' exhibition in the British Pavilion at the Venice Bienalle, 1952.

Lynn Chadwick: Winged Figures (1955)
Kenneth Armthorpe: People In The Wind (1950)
Bernard Meadows: Black Crab (1951-1952)

In the late forties, as one war was finishing and another, colder one starting, British sculpture suddenly got, well, let's not say, ugly, but less pretty, less cuddly. The new style was shrapnel like and twisted, usually in bronze, all sharp edges and protruding spikes - angles, mandibles, aerials - primitive, unfinished, abstract - created by violence as much as artistry. It was art that had witnessed the aftermath of bombing raids, and anticipated a nuclear apocalypse.

Reg Butler: Circe Head (1952-53)

Geoffrey Clarke: Head (1952)

Elisabeth Frink: Harbinger Bird IV (1960)

Not so much a movement as a mood, the exhibition kickstarted a number of illustrious careers, and had a powerful influence on British sculpture for decades after the initial shock had worn off.

As Read concluded: 'These British sculptors have given sculpture what it never had before our time - a linear, cursive quality. Their art is close to the nerves, nervous, wiry. They have seized Eliot's image of the Hollow Men... They have peopled the Waste Land with iron waifs.'

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Interesting Postcards

Speedwell Cavern
Derbyshire (A625)


'The Guide's method of propelling the boats along the old mine levels when visiting the Speedwell Cavern. A Method copied from the old canal bargees.'

A rather motley looking crew here. In no order, particular favourites are: the ginger Bay City Roller in the cool striped blazer - absolutely at the height of fashion at the moment this photograph was taken - obsolete by the time it had been printed onto a postcard; the fellow with the semi-closed eyes, great sideburns and a fetching moustache who looks like he's probably carrying a knife; the middle aged woman with the plastic head scarf who is simply refusing to enjoy herself and, last of all, the happy tall fellow at the back who is about to get a severe concussion. They just don't make 'em like this, anymore - who these days would be daring enough to wear a black leather coat with a canary yellow polo neck?