Friday, 31 May 2013

The Unbelievable Becomes True

‘The Day The Earth Caught Fire’ is an apocalyptic sci fi classic from 1961. In it, US and Soviet nuclear testing has knocked the Earth out of orbit, and the planet is now moving closer and closer to the sun. The temperature has become unbearable, and food and water shortages have led to rationing, martial law and nihilistic trad jazz parties. The only way of stopping our inexorable journey towards immolation is to detonate yet more bombs and hope that the shock waves might move us somewhere else. At the end of the film, as the bombs go off, two headlines are prepared ‘Earth Saved’ and ‘Earth Doomed’, but we are not informed as to which is going to print*.
An excellent, methodical, believable film, ‘The Day The Earth Caught Fire’ is hugely dramatic and brilliantly executed, with some fantastic miniature work and a clever tinting effect which bookends the narrative, turning everything orange to emphasise the unbearable heat. It has a good cast, too, angry Edward Judd as a loose cannon newspaperman, Leo McKern as his crusty but avuncular Boss, and comely Janet Munro as Judd’s love interest. This is a sultry film in more ways than one, incidentally, with a frank ‘let’s do it, it’s the end of the world’ approach to sex and some semi-nudity from both Munro and Judd. Happily, McKern keeps his vest on.

The film is also notable for an early appearance from Sir Michael Caine, here seen directing traffic. We can't really see his face, but his voice is absolutely unmistakeable. I like Mike, I like Mike a lot.  

Intelligent, logical, frightening, this slice of Val Guest directed genius receives my highest recommendation. In fact, if I had three thumbs I’d stick them all up.
*The American distributors asked for the sound of bells to be superimposed over the end scenes, presumably to indicate that the world was saved, but this doesn’t spoil the ambiguity at all – had they never heard of a death knell?

The Day The Earth Caught Fire

Thursday, 30 May 2013

World Of Wax

More from the wacky 'World Of Wax'. Here, a redundant model is melted down. There's something unspeakably awful about its slow dissolution, especially as it is so realistic. I don't know who the model is, but I would guess at him being the leader of a fifties Communist country,  perhaps one who ended up being deposed and murdered, maybe beheaded and melted down. It would be chilling, if it obviously wasn't at such a high temperature, and the heads impassive expression throughout adds an extra layer of horror.    

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Castleton Garland Day

It's May 29thOak Apple Day, the public holiday held between 1660 and 1859 which celebrated the restoration of King Charles IICastleton Garland Day is a Derbyshire custom which combines 'modern' elements of Oak Apple Day with much older May Day 'Jack in The Green' Paganism.

'The King' is put on a horse then festooned in a heavy garland of flowers topped with a smaller wreath. Thus 'crowned', he goes from pub to pub with great pomp and circumstance, with a Queen, a band, and most of the village following behind him. Music is played, songs are sung, ale is imbibed and, eventually (much to the relief of 'The King', no doubt) the larger garland of flowers is taken from him and put on top of the tower of the church, and the smaller wreath placed on the War Memorial (i.e. where the Maypole would have once been).

Castleton is generally a very interesting place: it has a ruined castle and four impressive show caverns which used to serve as Lead and Blue John mines. It's one of my favourite places, although it can get very touristy - that said, I don't live there, so I suppose I'm part of the problem.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Space 1999: Alpha Child

Moonbase Alpha is a tragic place, isn’t it? It’s a hermetically sealed plastic hellhole with three hundred odd miserable inhabitants who have been wrenched from their homes and sent hurtling through space on a journey from which they will never return. Whatever and whoever they left behind on Earth is lost to them forever and, perhaps worse, everyone on the base is believed dead, blown to bits. Think of the sadness of all those permanently estranged lovers, partners, husbands, wives, parents and kids: no wonder no-one seems to care how many crew members get killed each week, they’re just waiting their turn, hanging out for the relief of sudden, violent death.
Still, this is ‘Space 1999’ so, despite every episode being at least ten minutes too long, we haven’t got time for all that subtext. ‘Alpha Child’ starts with a rare happy occurrence for the beleaguered crew, the birth of a child, the first ever to be born on the base. Within two minutes, however, the tiny baby has turned into a healthy but deaf-mute five year old boy and the mother has gone into catatonic shock, so we’re back to square one on the jollity stakes (it should be noted that the baby's father is dead, killed when Moonbase blew up, so it was already fairly downbeat).

The suddenly a lot bigger child seems personable enough, really, although he has a peculiar interest in how everything works. For some bizarre reason, Professor Bergman, the cleverest bloke on the ship and the most useful, does most of the babysitting, which gives the kid all sorts of opportunity to check out all the technological stuff. All in all, the crew take to him, but not Commander Koening who hates his little guts and mistrusts him. But he’s not unreasonable:  'I know you've all accepted him,  but I have some questions' he says 'You see, I don't know why he is like he is; I can't explain it, nor do I understand it, but I'm not about to shoot him'.

As it transpires, the little big baby is actually Julian Glover in disguise, an alien criminal who, along with his mates, need host bodies to transfer into. Their plan is to simply starve the Moonbase crew of oxygen, and then just walk into their still warm but empty bodies. Sadly for the silver clad shape stealer and his pals, it all goes tits up when the intergalactic police catch up with them, a deus ex machina which proves, once again, for all their bluster, Koening and his companions are virtually helpless in the face of the infinite superiority and power of almost everyone they meet en route. On the plus side, the freaky kid turned creepy man goes back to being a proper baby - and is subsequently never heard of again in the annals of Alpha as it's just too bloody complicated to have a kid running around all over.

Going back to my first point, about the terrible mental anguish and sense of loss the crew must feel, there's a telling moment just after the baby is born when, in spite of herself, Sandra Benes begins to cry. Is she thinking of the limited opportunities this child will have, or perhaps of her own thwarted desire to become a Mother? Perhaps she has even left children behind, children who she will never see again, children who believe her to be dead. Sensing her distress, Koening intervenes, but to no avail. His reaction immediately explains why there might be a morale problem. Still, at least he's not about to shoot her.


Sunday, 26 May 2013

F*** Me, It's Freddie!

FMIF as Mr. Rockbottom in the otherwise woeful 'Never Too Young To Rock'. At least he looks like he's enjoying himself, love him.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Never Too Young To Rock

How can one describe ‘Never Too Young To Rock’ without using the term ‘rubbish’? Actually, let’s just get it out of the way: it’s rubbish. That said, it’s not offensive, just shoddy and cheap and scruffy and worn out, the perfect snapshot of Britain in 1975, in fact.

For all that, the story is set in the near future, and provides a dystopian vision of a world that looks and feels and smells exactly the same apart from the fact that pop music is now banned. One man (Peter Denyer: thick gypsy Dennis out of ‘Please Sir!’; nerdish Ralph from ‘Dear John’) wants to challenge this, and so sets out in a ‘group detector van’ to locate bands for a concert that will prove to the powers that be that they are wrong and that pop is mindless fun. Yes, you’re right, it’s ‘It’s Trad, Dad!’ with moonboots on.

Interestingly, the detector van is driven by Freddie Jones - yep, our Freddie Jones. I honestly don’t know what his character represents, but he has a fair amount of fun with the role and it’s nice to see him enjoying himself under what must have been difficult circumstances for him. 

As you might have already guessed, the film exists purely as a way to present lots of performances from the country’s most popular groups (or at least the most popular groups who would agree to appear in something like this) so we get Mud, The Rubettes, The Glitter Band and Bob Kerr’s Whoopee Band (no, me neither, but they're in 'Side By Side' as well). With the exception of the up and coming Midge Ure fronted Slik (who immediately came and went), these are old lag’s bands, made up of men who had been knocking about the music scene since the sixties and finally found success in a period where standards weren’t quite so high. Mud are an undemanding but likeable enough group, for instance, but three of them look like a plasterers on their way to a Bill Haley concert (the fourth, Rob Davis, takes gender bending to a level Bowie could only dream of); The Glitter Band, no doubt traumatised by what they have seen while on the road with The Leader, just look indescribably weary, and all the Bacofoil and mascara in the world can’t disguise their exhaustion and disgust as they unconvincingly pump their fists to one of their repetitive and clumsy hits. These are the damned.  

The finale, in which all the groups unite after a triumphant concert to sing a simplistic ditty (about never being too young to rock) is just awful in its arms around shoulders, leg kicking bonhomie, and, much like the end of ‘Side By Side’ shows just how old fashioned these glittery hipsters are. Tatty, tacky, and best tolerated in the company of friends and a crate, no, two crates, of Bass.  

If you wish to do that now, by the way, you can watch the whole thing on You Tube here. Good luck, especially as the person who put it there seems to be the world's biggest Gary Glitter fan.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Side By Side

'Side By Side' is pretty poor, a collection of unsubtly stuck together bits of comic schtick and hoary old music hall routines interspersed with terrible music from the very worst the 1975 UK pop industry had to offer (yes, Kenny, I do mean you). That said, it's unpretentious and silly and, although I can't say that it has its moments, it doesn't make me want to smash the telly in with a platform boot.

It stars dear old Terry-Thomas (not long off retirement due to ill health) and future Ronald McDonald Billy Boyle as rivals who own adjacent clubs, one variety, one 'rock'. When a jobsworth copper (Frank 'Captain Peacock' Thornton) reports them for various infringements, an ancient town charter is unearthed that states the town should only have one place of entertainment, so the rivals have to prove which club is the best and should have their licence renewed . I'm not going to say any more, as the plot takes third place to broad humour, slapstick and, yes, fucking Kenny - twice - so I'll skip about an hour and say it all works out in the end, as a riot knocks down the dividing wall between the two establishments and they learn to live 'side by side'. Yep, and that story took two people to write.

The music is uniformly terrible, and although its nice to see Mud drummer Dave Mount in an acting role, it's never explained why he spends most of his time working in a shitty club under an assumed name, even when Mud turn up and he starts playing the drums for them. The best bit is a strip tease and bullwhip display from sexy Jennifer Guy, and even that is ruined by the presence of Barry Humphries, who genuinely makes my skin crawl (especially here when he blacks up and sings a song about a 'chocolate covered c**n').

So, not great, but what can you expect from a film starring Stephanie 'I Was Born With A Smile On My Face' De Sykes. Altogether now: 'la la la la la la la, la la la la la la la la la', etc. Still smiling?