Category Archives: Films

Bronson’s Bedlam

I watched Bronson a couple of days ago, a film I’ve wanted to see for quite a while.

My feelings afterwards were mixed. Indeed, my feelings during it were mixed. Even while I was loving the imagery and inventiveness of it, not to mention the stunning performance by Tom Hardy, a little silent voice inside me was already aware of the con that was going on in front of me.

The con is the middle classes feeding off the degradation of the poor and calling it Art. But it isn’t really the poverty that gets them off, it’s the stupidity that goes with it. Just as we all love watching those horror movies where the dumb bitch goes into the haunted house without a torch, while cheerfully saying to her friend, “You go that way, I’ll go this way”, when every single person in the audience knows no-one, no-one, would ever do that, then so are we entertained by the ignorance of the poor.

And how much more enthralling it is if they are poor, ignorant and smart. Or talented. Talented will do nicely. There is nothing more wank-worthy than watching someone who is possibly more gifted or smarter than you are completely messing up their lives.

This is not a new phenomenon. Go back far enough (and not so very far) and you will find the rich traipsing off in their droves for day outings to lunatic asylums and prisons to watch the poor, the mad and the criminally insane in their habitats of squalor. It’s always been fun for us all.

While modern political correctness prevents us all going down to the local loony bin and guffawing at the people who eat their own excrement or masturbate in trees, we can still go to the cinema and see films about that very same thing, all safe in the dark, getting our jollies.

Mike Leigh has made an entire (insulting) career out of this cheap masturbation. I won’t watch his movies for this reason, but a few months ago I was seduced – and a seduction it was, I should know better – into watching his latest effort, Happy-Go-Lucky, because ‘everybody’ was screaming, “Leigh’s latest is so funny and light-hearted!”, “Leigh breaks new ground with a dazzling light comedy!”. And they were all absolutely right – if you found the spectacle of a ‘girl’ who had Pollyanna disorder to a level that was almost a mental illness, being pursued by an emotionally stunted, deluded, paranoid man, whose mental health was equally precarious and who, in the delightfully frothy climax, becomes extremely violent and abusive in an episode of psychotic breakdown, which, of course, our Pollyanna only looks on at bemusedly because she lacks the correct emotional intelligence to recognise a threat when she sees one. Funny? I nearly died laughing.

This dislike of Oxbridge slumming it at the movies, as anyone who knows my work will hopefully realise, is not because I can’t handle harsh subjects, it’s because Leigh stands back in all his moral middle class rectitude and subtly passes judgement on all his lower class heroes and heroines, secretly sneering at their stupidity, their lack of insight, their caricature lives.

I’m never sure, because I don’t read about the man’s work, whether he doesn’t realise he’s doing this or whether it’s because he thinks we’re so fucking stupid we won’t notice that he’s really Outraged of Brighton getting his jollies out of correcting the universe by parading the poor and the mad as he wants us to see them.

His trademarks and ‘style’ are not unique. Anywhere you find such ‘intellectual’ lolling in the quagmires of the ignorant – like reality TV shows; their poor cousins –you will find the same shit going on: the ‘characters’ are always caricatures, screaming hysterics, the over-the-top lunatic fringe. Just as the shopping-addicted chavs who can’t control their children in Supernanny, or the OCD filthy who can’t keep the excrement off their shower curtains in How Clean is Your House? are always bizarrely ‘stupid’ and/or completely lacking in self-awareness so are the dramatis personae characterised in the work of Mike Leigh or in films such as Bronson.

Bronson, of course, is that more dangerous species of animal. It’s alluringly seductive with that delicious veneer of ‘Theatre’, that gloss of MTV rock video that makes it so edgy, so now. It appears even to “glorify” (where have I heard that before?) its subject. In Bronson, he is lovingly photographed, repeatedly naked, so we can see the raw majesty of the man (look at what a lumpen brute, ape-thing he is – yum). His violence is orchestrated to opera so we can see the tragic quality of his rage, the sheer grandeur of his aggression (look, it’s just like ballet and we get to see that thuggery in slow, slow motion. Let’s rewind.). His explanations of the reasons for his biblical ‘fall’ are limited to two throw-away sentences because he has too much dignity, he is a warrior (oh, who cares how he got that way? We just wanna see him fight, because we daren’t.) How kind the director was to involve him, his family, in the making of the film. How respectful. (We got to rub shoulders with a famous criminal. And his family’s so dumb and greedy they won’t notice we’ve done nothing but show him as a fame-hungry moron without a thought in his pea-sized brain.)

It’s so beautiful as a movie, so poetic, so artistic. Oh, how many sins we can cover with ‘artistic’. What a lovely word it is. God bless the man who first invented it. Even the director, Nicolas Winding Refn, in the ‘Making Of’ said the film is really about how a man discovers his Art. Yes, we’ve just watched 90 minutes of a beefed-up Tom Hardy, naked in blackface (yes, honestly), beating the shit out of everybody and anybody, while saying nothing very much, but all of it cryptic, to discover a man’s inner artist. We know that because there were pencils involved. Oh, and a pan round an art room with a handful of ‘tortured’ drawings. And a fag art teacher from Liverpool, of course, that Bronson just had to hold hostage. But he painted him like something out of Magritte, so that was okay.

Oh, these zany outsider artists – don’t you just love their naïve charm? Who cares why he didn’t just go to art school, or maybe an evening class, or just pick up a fucking pen, or what made him waste his whole life in solitary confinement for trivial almost non-crimes. Not me, I’m watching his penis sway in slow motion as he beats up pigs in full riot gear. Awesome.

After all, Bronson himself (he’s a real-life criminal; really should have pointed that one out sooner) wrote in his autobiography (assumably) that his parents had been ordinary ‘middle class respectable folk’, so why waste time considering that they might not have been? He’s happy with it, why not us? Except when you see his mother and cousin in the ‘Making Of’, even in their thirty brief seconds of air time you can see they look far from respectable, or middle class. They look like what they are, scrubbers that would appear on Jerry Springer, if they only came from Texas.

In short, there’s a story in this man’s life somewhere, it just isn’t in this film. What is in this film is a disturbing and disquieting portrait of the man who made it. And while that’s probably true of a lot of art, it’s more transparently so here.

And this is where it all becomes really offensive to me. When you go to see Terminator, or Die Hard, or a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie you know what you’re getting: the same stripped-off males kicking ass, in the same stylised slo-mo way, only minus the arty shots and the slowwwwwwwwwwww dialogue, such as it is. What you’re not getting with these action movies is some hypocritical ‘portrait’ of a real man. For all their alleged ‘popcorn entertainment’ and ‘cartoon violence’ they do not offer up a real human life as cheap entertainment for middle-class boys who are too chicken-shit to take a pair of pants back to M&S, never mind star in a bare-knuckle fight, so that they can get their strangely homosexual rocks off at some chunk of male stupidity doing the equivalent of hitting his head off the prison bars because he’s some poor thwarted soul who’s so afraid of who he really is he’s created a screaming, raging monster to represent himself in the hope that other men will admire him, or at least be thrown off the scent of what he really is inside – be that gay, artistic, ‘sensitive’ or just plain different.

I fail to see how this exploitation of others’ misfortune, their squalid little lives, differs from parading around the viewing gallery at Bedlam, watching the man who thinks he is a cat catching mice and eating them live, or following the woman who thinks she is giving birth to Jesus squatting and taking a turnip top out her vagina. Just because we’ve scored the raging beast to music, with his desperate, needy permission, does not alter the fact that we are essentially watching a man destroy himself, and instead of either showing that for what it is, a tragic and futile waste, or giving us some insight into it, we parade it as a form of peep-show: we strip him naked, oil him up, paint his body; we lock him in bars, tiny cells, ugly places, so that we can watch his suffering more minutely; we set him against an endless stream of caricature effeminate males so that his gladiatorial magnificence will be even more pointed; we bloody him up and beat him up and lock him up; we give him music, lights, theatre; we put him firmly centre-stage with the expensive lions we brought from Abyssinia and for which we can charge all the plebs an extra ten Sestertii because, after all, how often do they get see a dangerous beast like Bronsonus Maximus stripped-off, growling and roaring like one of said big cats? Oh the nobility, the grandeur.

And when he dies, when one of the expensive felines mauls him to death, we can go home in comfort and ease, knowing it was what he wanted. He wanted to be a famous gladiator, a warrior. It was nothing to do with us being greedy for gore and aggression, for rebellion and insurgence, and him being poor and ignorant, a slave in a system he can’t beat or rise above. It was nothing to do with him having no other way out of his squalor, his captivity, his gaol. No, he is a naked wonderful man-beast and we love him for it.

Bronson. Certificate 18. At a cage cinema near you……… Widgets


Twilight of the Damned

I thought I would never see another blockbuster as bad as The Dark Knight. Hah! That was only because I hadn’t seen Twilight.

Okay, I knew I would probably see as bad, maybe even worse. After all, the law of diminishing returns defines Hollywood, but Christ, it’s truly hard to see how they pull these stunts of screaming mediocrity off. Seriously.

Just take twenty seconds out your day to do this fun exercise. Trust me, you’ve nothing to do that can’t wait. Right, think about the budget of Twilight. I have no idea what it was, but I’m reckoning nothing under 30 million or so – right? THIRTY MILLION. Okay, then we have the talent. I don’t care whether you like any of Catherine Hardwicke’s other movies or not, if she was inept they wouldn’t let her loose with that kind of budget. Hollywood might be a lot of things but they understand money and how to make it (after all, they made it on Twilight and The Dark Knight, didn’t they?), so they’re not going to throw money away on anyone talentless or inept. So, she has to have basic skills. Then there’s the script writer, the acting talent, the cinematographers, the costume designers, the caterers, the film labs, the special effects team: all money, all costs, and all basically assumed to be proficient. In view of this, what then is the alchemy that turns gold (the money-making potential of a film spin-off) into dross?

Like The Dark Knight, I really wanted to see Twilight. I’d had an almost Joaquin Phoenix moment when I first saw Robert Pattinson (when I first saw JP coming out of the caravan in the Gladiator trailer my heart speeded up, my stomach dropped, and the hairs came up on the back of my neck – I’m sure blood also rushed places that are too rude to mention). My Pattinson moment was a ‘not quite, but almost’. Good enough for me. There was also muted colouring, vampires, scary vampires, forbidden love and more good looking boys. What’s not to love? I was on their side. They’d already won me over. I wanted to be awed.

I had never read the book and, like The Dark Knight, I didn’t give a fuck if fangirls in their droves were clustering round it like flies round shit. I don’t go to fan sites, I don’t see fan talk. In fact, unlike The Dark Knight, I had seen precious little twaddle because Twilight hadn’t had a tragic death to push it into the tabloids. So I wasn’t even suffering from the Tim Burton Effect. (Burton once said films can be harmed by too much hype because if it looks as if the wrong type of [or too many] people like the film those that might have enjoyed it assume it isn’t for them.) So when Twilight came through the post to me earlier than I expected I had no fears or prejudices; I couldn’t wait to see it.

On the night, I watched the first fifteen minutes thinking, ‘Story will kick in soon’. Then I watched the next fifteen minutes thinking, ‘Is the story kicking in soon?’ Then I watched the next fifteen minutes thinking, ‘Is it me or does this not actually have a story? Maybe it will pick up when the villains appear.’ That in itself was worrying. Why hadn’t the villains appeared forty-five minutes into the film? (Not sure if it is precisely forty-five mins, ok? I was watching it, not studying it.)

The villains did indeed appear eventually. Sort of. But first we had to have a baseball match in a lightning storm. No, I have no idea why. Although we were told that this was important somehow and it was the only way they could do something, ‘this’ – whatever ‘this’ was – it never was explained. For some utterly incomprehensible reason they stopped the plot, such as it was, and had baseball, then, finally, we get the bad guys. Thank God, now maybe the film will have a point, or a story, or interest, or something. Anything, please God.

Nope. Nope, nope and nope. Although we had the excellent Cam Gigandet, whose work, even in soap operas, is always thoroughly enjoyable, there was no excitement. Nil. None. Nada. Unbelievable. Fucking unbelievable.

I will not be spoilering Twilight to tell you it’s the story of a vampire, the delicious Edward Cullen, who falls in love with the completely unmemorable heroine (I can’t remember either the actress or her character) and…. Well, and nothing basically. That’s it. Sum total. They’re supposed to be star-crossed lovers, but other than Cullen walking out on meeting her at the very beginning because he can’t bear to be near her, there’s no feeling of this. And that particular soul struggle lasts all of four minutes. Assumably he sends off for some Be Near Humans Chewing Gum, chews on that and his addiction is promptly resolved.

His ‘conflict’ had the angst factor of a visit to Kwik-Fit Exhausts. In fact, I’d say a trip to the exhaust-fitting chaps would be more stressing: will they put it on right? Will my car blow up? Will I die of carbon Monoxide poisoning? Will they overcharge me? These are all legitimate worries. There were no worries in Twilight. He wanted her; he had her. They were not friends; then they were friends. His family judged her; oops, they’re not fazed at all, although she is allegedly a threat to them. I would defy anyone to find a more harmonious and conflict-free film outside a Christian bible group’s Sunday outing on home movies.

Bland, bland and more bland. Nothing happened, all the conflicts were resolved literally within minutes of their introduction. It was as if Hollywood had decided children could only take 3.7 minutes of uncertainty before they got stressed or lost interest or started throwing sweets, and Hardwicke had been told to stick religiously to clock-based plotting. Conflict… not too much conflict… hold it, HOLD it… resolution. And repeat…………..

The heroine – a brunette, I remember that – had no character at all, other than annoying body tics. She would shake her head, roll her eyes, do arm flapping. It was like watching Ally McBeal without the jokes. Cullen was reduced to albeit very effective smouldering glances and overly red pouty lips. But her corresponding emotional range of sullen to petulant gave him nothing to work off, and the poor actress seemed to keep repeating herself because there was simply nothing else for her to do. She had the baffling tail-chasing challenge of being Girl In Love With Unattainable Vampire Who Is Completely Attainable Throughout Entire Movie. You try acting that one. No wonder she was ticcing and twitching.

And then there was the vampire ‘dad’. Cullen Senior was the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in a film in a long time. Played by an excellent actor, Peter Facinelli, who is genuinely weird-looking, he was shoved on-stage like some strange creature from Japanese theatre. Actually, not even that. He was more like a not very comfortable rock singer playing starring role in a 1980’s rock video that some twenty-year-old director thought would be cool if he dressed up as “Some guy from, like, Japanese Theatre, man. Awesome.”

I accept, because I want to be kind, that it was ‘explained’ that Edward was ‘adopted’ – yeah, by a boy four years older than him, who appears to be in full face paint and yet no-one notices. The film’s set in what appears to be some rural American backwater and yet no-one has noticed a family where the dad is two weeks older than his ‘family’ (who look like a Dolce & Gabbana ‘cast’ who’ve lost the photo-shoot location and are waiting for someone with an IQ or a clipboard – either will do – to come along and save them) and who wears clown-white, mascara and bright red lipstick to work as a doctor. I’ve never been to America, but even in American films, which show America in the best possible light, nobody would expect an audience to believe ordinary Americans would take the Cullen family at face value. They’d be reported to the authorities so fast they’d be on the first deportation boat to Cuba, or hauled up as “peedeopheels”.

I could have forgiven this screaming anomaly had the vampire ‘family’ been at all threatening, or interesting, or in any way enhanced the film, but all they did was feature as decorative if anorexic wallpaper. They always seemed to be in shot in the background of the school canteen. In fact, it felt as if the whole film took place in the canteen. Or in trees. Canteen. Trees. Canteen. Trees. We’re vampires. We only drink blood. We’re in a fucking canteen. For that matter why are they up trees? Bats don’t even live in trees, if this is supposed to be some kind of cool naturalist allegory. Why trees?

And then there were the odd moments of comic relief: the unexplained and pointless baseball, the running up the mountain. Actually, I can’t get past the Mack Sennett speeded-up, comic running up a mountain while giving her a piggy-back. Who the hell thought that was frightening/sexy/entertaining/awe-inspiring? He ran up a mountain. With her on his back. It was like some bizarre scene out of the obligatory school picnic sequence in a family-friendly Robin Williams comedy. A school bully should have arrived and attempted to steal someone’s lunch money, and then Edward would run up the mountain and the bully would be left comically gaping, until his (fat) Mom arrived and he comically tried to explain. What a laff riot. Or maybe it’s more Eddie Murphy’s gig. In white face.

All of this is very fine and dandy. And all of it would have been entirely forgivable if it had been a remotely engaging movie. Independence Day is one of my favourite popcorn movies. It is jingoistic, ridiculous nonsense. BUT, it is fast, entertaining, full of likeable characters racing against odds in an emotionally-charged story. It’s an incredibly expensive and very well-made B movie. It doesn’t aspire to be anything else. It knows its limitations and plays on them to great effect. It gets it all right. It takes every cliché and pulls it off with great aplomb and style. Its characters have character. Its plot moves. What it doesn’t do is deliver up story archetypes (as in, the vampire) and proceed to completely castrate them. It doesn’t take the plot (like forbidden love) and forget to include the forbidden part – or the love. It takes conflict and then puts another conflict within that conflict, within another conflict, running several threads simultaneously. It doesn’t take potential conflicts (like forbidden love, bad versus good, human versus ‘other’ – I could go on all day) and then completely forget to deliver an actual conflict, providing us instead with tree-jumping, and staring – lots of staring.

Perhaps the very worst crime that Twilight committed – other than a criminal waste of talent and money – is that for a story supposedly centring on forbidden love and unappeasable misallied lusts (the lust for intimacy versus the lust for satiation and self-indulgence) is that there was absolutely no sense of erotic tension. Other than one tiny scene on a bed there was no indication that he or she were tormented or restraining themselves in any way. I’m guessing that the film-makers desire for a low certificate led partly to its joyless, lustless, dry as a bone taste, but did they really need to stifle it entirely? I’ve seen episodes of Smallville, which arguably has a lower age demographic, where the erotic tension between Lex and Clark is palpable – and that’s sub-rosa, not the main thrust and parry of the plot.

What happened? How could so much talent and money be so badly mishandled?

But maybe that’s not the question I should be asking. Maybe I should be asking why does Hollywood think it’s okay to do this? And they do. The bottom line is always money. If Twilight makes a lot of money – and I’m sure it did – then they got it right. End of discussion.

But they didn’t get it right. Twilight is junk. Complete crap. And it’s not often you’ll hear me say that. I like to be kind to creative output. If I know something is going to be crap (Mills & Boon romances, reality TV, tabloid newspapers) I don’t read/watch them. I don’t belong to the school of watch junk then criticise it. It’s the last resort of morons. If it’s so bad, why the hell are you watching it? Unsurprisingly, because that way they get to masturbate their own egos by holding forth on something so uncomplicated an ape could do it. And do it better. It’s easy to be a critic of crap. I don’t do it. If I do watch something that I know is lowest common denominator ‘entertainment’ I don’t then give it bad reviews, or go on fan sites to scream about it. Why would I do that? I thought it would be bad. It was. Nobody made me watch it and I’m certainly not going to moan about my own stupidity. But this? This is different. I expect something of Twilight. Like I expected something of The Dark Knight. There is no excuse when you have the best acting talent and professional directors and scriptwriters – which Twilight had – to turn out dreck. So why?

Because it makes money. We’ve already said that. And I’m sure it’s true; like I keep saying, both Dark Knight and Twilight made oodles of money. But good stuff makes money too, so is it really a valid excuse? In fact, Dark Knight and Twilight were guaranteed to make money. So much money and promotion was invested in them they literally couldn’t fail – other than through natural disaster, like a tsunami washing away the entire Western seaboard of America on opening night, perhaps.

Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe when there’s so much money riding on films like this human terror kicks in and the fear of failure makes every move ultra-guarded. “We can’t do this because the X fans won’t like it, or do that because the Y believers are watching our every move. And don’t forget that time the Z backlash group had last summer’s blockbuster pulled.” Maybe at the very bottom line is a fictitious Ultrafan – the ultimate god of Hollywood. Maybe the fanboy really does run the show. Maybe at heart every Hollywood accountant and executive fears every moron on IMDB baying for their blood. Maybe Twilight is nothing more than the end product of playground bullying, and Twilight and The Dark Knight are exactly what the fans deserve. These movies are the ultimate compliment, and like all compliments from strangers who are currying favour, they are false, fawning and ultimately worthless. Twilight is Hollywood’s gift to Stephenie Meyer’s fans. It’s crap – but they’re loving it. Fuck, it surely doesn’t get any more karmic than that.

I drink your milkshake…

There will be blood.

Daniel Plainview, in the film of the above’s name, is a wampyr. Yes, a big, hairy vampire, literally sucking the life-blood out of the earth, in the shape of oil. He fastens his corporate teeth of greed into the earth’s neck and sucks it dry. And then, when he exhausts that, he crawls like the undead through the earth and latches onto other people’s life-blood and sucks that dry too.

In the words of the movie, of him, “I drink your milkshake. I drink it all up.” (You know my usual spiel, ‘Or words to that effect.’ Yes, you know my paraphrasing well.)

Maybe there’s some parallel in the name Daniel here. Can we make something of it? A Daniel playing a Daniel with a strong resemblance to another Daniel. No, none at all, but it makes a nice segue.

The vampire legend has a long and colourful history. There’s theories that it comes from the disease porphyria. This disease, prevalent in Transylvania at one time, causes people to develop photosensitivity, pale skin, red teeth and nails. They will even pee ‘blood’ – simply discoloured urine. Not much of a leap that these odd, unhealthy walking dead individuals were accused of sneaking out and drinking blood at night. After all, the buggers were peeing it, bleeding it out of their eyes.

Probably wasn’t helped that hallucinations were also part of the symptoms. Imagine some poor sick soul wittering the medieval equivalent of, “I drink your milkshake. I drink it up.” Crosses and garlic probably seemed like a damn good idea.

Then there’s the psychological ramifications of vampirism. People stealing your spirit, your soul, your essential essence, your psychic energy. We all know emotional vampires who make us feel tired and drained. People who being with for half an hour makes you feel like you’ve been through the wringer. Succubi, incubi and everything in between.

Then there’s Daniel Plainview, stealer of souls.

Nowadays the vampire is an emasculated comic book villain, a creature of Goth clothing and eye make-up. He’s a kid on a skateboard with no shoulders made into a hero, and about as intimidating. We build them with bigger and bigger teeth, more and more blood, and (maybe with the exception of 30 Days of Night) they get less and less threatening.

The real vampires, the real monsters, are Daniel Plainview and all the men like him. Daniel Jackson Moore, for one. And his big brother for two

Just before my Amazon discussion forum debacle went postal I posted about the book on a thread (two, actually) on vampire novels. I quickly got a slap for my audacity because, quite correctly, “You admit yourself the book is not a vampire story”. I did say that (along with the reasons why I thought it was still relevant), because I didn’t want to disappoint people who were expecting a Buffy or a Blade or any of their clones. But it is a vampire story. It very very much is. I’ve always said so.

You might remember, an age ago, me mentioning our brief foray into reverse shoplifting. This is where you sneak copies of your book onto the bookshop shelves and, the theory goes, once you sell a book it puts it into their system/s. Thus, you get bookshop orders. This is to try and get past the fact that bookshop chains won’t take orders from small firms.

Our reverse shoplifting was both a huge success and a terrible failure. Our books (three of them) sold, all in the first week (two days actually), in all but one store. That one sat there, and sat there, and sat there. In W.H. Smith’s. And on the horror shelf at that. Even more ironically, we hadn’t put it on the horror shelf. In Waterstone’s and Smith’s we’d put it in Crime. In HMV we’d just put it in fiction. There’s no other options there. But Smith’s moved it. Into horror. Where it sat, and sat, and sat and then, finally, sold. But we never did get onto any bookshop order systems. That was the failure part.

But I always felt it was interesting that on the strength of the cover/blurb some member of staff thought it sounded like a horror novel. I’ve always felt that my early horror diet is very apparent in the book. Indeed, I’ve always felt it was a supernatural tale without the requisite pixie dust.

It’s an adult fairy tale. And when we bring out the US edition I will market it as that. First time for everything.

Danny is wampyr. One of the denizens of the night. Think of the overwhelming evidence:-

Danny cannot go out into the sunlight. He has pale skin that burns easily.

He has hair that is frequently described as being the colour of blood. On top of that it is said that his hair looks as if it would bleed when you cut it.

He has “hypnotic” eyes.

He produces an odd lassitude in people. His presence is described frequently (constantly) as “you want to just lie down and sleep” when he is near. This is how vampires traditionally overwhelm their victims. Poisoned breath, mesmeric hold, charismatic ‘being’ – no samurai swords, animal noise dubbing or epic jumping involved.

He feeds off bodily fluids. Not blood, but the next best thing, brimming, literally, with life. He does, indeed, drink your milkshake.

He has minions, his Renfield, recruiting his victims, enabling his ‘sickness’, arguably feeding it.

He has his ‘brides’, a coterie of the enslaved, sitting tight, home in the castle, while he stalks lonely, abandoned places, snaring people without friends (Conley, Stephen, the twins, Ewan, the boy in the Indian restaurant, the Hendersons… the list is endless) who won’t be missed when he vanishes them out of their world into his.

He has his Van Helsing, Harry Greaves, stalking him mindlessly, just determined to put an end to his ‘sickness’ until he too gets snaked into Danny’s twilight allure.

His attributes are legendary. He has sharp white teeth, born and replicated of his vampire creator, the godfather of vampires, his older brother. He is physically perfect, somehow conveying both male and femaleness, a sense of dominance along with unusual supplication, rather like a spider playing dead on its web, all the better to reel you in, pierce you with one prick (yes, every pun intended), then drain your dry.

He has serpentine hair, cat-like eyes, a lithe and dangerous strength.

He always has to return home to his little box of earth (literally, in a farm) at dawn.

He longs to be human, normal, like others, and knows that he can’t.

He seeks out the company of humans, trying to warm a dead soul, but knows he is not one, and never will be.

He is only truly loved and understood among his own kind, fellow vampires, hiding their awfulness from humanity under a veneer of civilisation.

His victims are both willing and unwilling, hypnotised and longing. They want him to want them but don’t want to pay the ultimate price, becoming one of the undead, another bridesmaid, but never quite the bride.

He warn his victims that he will suck them into his heart, hold them closer than they’ve ever been held before, wrap them in his aura, but never feel anything for them, but they are fooled by his supernatural ‘glamour’ and feel that they will kiss the beast and free his beautiful soul. They think they are in Beauty & the Beast when really they are in The Snow Queen. There is no crossing from his world into yours. It’s a one-way ticket, you leave your world to inhabit his. And you don’t come back.

His life is lived in a netherworld, out of sight of the real world.

He has to hide his appetites, his dark secrets, his history and antecedents from everyone.

When people fuck him they often do it vengefully, as if they were staking him through the heart, or trying to make them feel the heat of their humanity. He remains untouchable. And untouched.

He feeds. It’s his prime function. Whenever he ventures forth it is to feed. Be it milkshake, humanity or need that he wants from them, it is always about feeding.

He gives only what he can, whether that’s an illusion of warmth, a touch of otherness, or a moment of being immortal. Humans crave his otherness while it repels them.

He dreams of being separated across a river from his own kind, unable to cross it just as a vampire cannot cross running water, a metaphor for the fact that the river of life forever separates the living from the (un)dead. When he finds his lost brother in the dream, he is bleeding from his hair, sitting with the dead in the rotten bed of the river.

He drinks your milkshake. We are forever anthropomorphising animals, loving all the little cute ones that make us warm and cosy and feeling no empathy for the predatory and ‘dangerous’ ones. When a panther or a snake kills they are merely being a panther or a snake. They do what they are. They can’t be gentle or cute or human-friendly. They are not evil, they are simply being themselves. Thus Danny drinks your milkshake, because Danny has been trained to drink your milkshake. The only thing Danny knows is drinking your milkshake. He just is. It’s inevitable.

DANNY is one of the finest, most exhaustive, profound, moving and psychologically chilling horror stories of vampirism ever written.

I rest my case.

Sad, Boring and Head-bangingly Funny

That was my Christmas. Or at least my Christmas viewing experience. If I tell you it featured the biggest movies of 2008, and that they were The Dark Knight, Wall-e and Jill & Jodie Do DANNY, reckon you can work out which adjective fits which movie?

The first one I saw was Wall-e, on Christmas day. It was great. what else can I say? Funny, sad and perfectly rounded. He was cute, the story was funny and involving, and the satire on the (American?) way of life was spot on, giving more than enough bite – a thing that is all too rare in ‘kids’ movies and altogether absent from animation. In fact, for the first part, when it is just the robots on a rubbish heap Earth, you forget that it is animated. Very enjoyable and heartily recommended, except for the fact I kept tearing-up during it. Every time he ran over the damn cockroach (cricket? Cockroaches are not common in the UK, okay?) I cried. I cried when he ‘lost’ Eve. I cried when he found Eve. When he floated away. And so it went on. Personally, I reckon I was just over-excited from it being Christmas, with no orange colourings involved. Wall-e is sad, okay? But in the nicest possible way. Watch it and marvel.

After that it was the turn of The Dark Knight. I actually bought this film at FULL price. Well, as cheap full price as I could find it (£10 in Morrison’s). I never buy films full price and sometimes wait around two years to see something just to save money, so this was a big sacrifice, in the spirit of Christmas – or at least commerce.

It sat on my shelf for about two weeks beforehand, tempting me with its delicious shiny newness, its glossy sleeve, its shiny foil printing, its dark and mysterious use of the bat logo. I had quite enjoyed Batman Begins even although it was a little po-faced, but everyone was saying this was hugely better and “very dark” and, of course, it had the added benefit of Heath Ledger in his “darkest” (again) role as the Joker. And certainly it looked like a whole lot “darker” (once more with feeling) Joker than Nicholson’s camp one. In short, I was looking forward to it.

Now, while I was perfectly aware of the inherent sexism in my film mags’ coverage of The Dark Knight, I really expected the film to be good. I even believed that, like they said, it was probably better than Twilight, that other hyped-to-overkill extravaganza. I’ve long since trained myself to pick out the measly truths embedded in journalists masturbating over flavour of the month. And if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that when it comes to masturbation over love objects a fanboy in full hard-on mode proves the “thinking with their dicks” saying to the inch. There is no-one – I will repeat that – no-one as unbalanced as a fanboy drooling over that which he loves. Compared to fanboy passion, fangirls’ obsessions look like tame stuff. Maybe its because the fanboys don’t hop ship as much as the girls, who are far more easily bored and constantly seeking the next big thing.

In short, despite being as wary of the hype as ever, I was beguiled. Beguiled, I tell you. Well, I was about to be rudely awakened.

I can’t be clever here and tell you when I first realised all was not rosy in the garden of “darkness” but I do know that the first time Batman came in and did his funny voice – I am dark and troubled. I reveal my dark and troubledness by speaking two, or maybe three, octaves lower. – I thought, what? But it passed, a minor irritation. Not my creative choice, but what the hell. Then I became aware of gadgets. Altogether too many gadgets. Indeed, the James Bond of gadgets – complete with an M character. And, as soon as I thought that, I thought, Hell, yeah, I’m watching James Bond in his dressing-up clothes – oh, and without any of that series’ irony or sardonic ‘wit’ or self-deprecating humour. And I can’t stand James Bond – another fanboy film mag wank buddy – even with those save-alls. This was not good.

Then DAD snuck in, along with some ‘gangsters’ who were wheeled in and out like cakes on a trolley as soon as we needed a MacGuffin. Now a MacGuffin is usually an object, something incidental, like the glowing briefcase in Pulp Fiction – it’s not usually a whole fucking panoply of ‘characters’ with an albeit minor sub-plot. And, oh look, Morgan Freeman’s wandered in again. Who the hell is he? I’ve forgotten. And what the hell is Gary Oldman playing in that dull, mumbly way – a character out The Bill? Or maybe Casualty. He was rather like fifth stretcher bearer, or maybe young, idealistic paramedic. Wander in, wander out.

There was so much wandering.

By the time we reached the videogame sequence – slotted in when Batman saw a whole chase sequence done like neon X-rays which were meant to be sonar microwaves from his oscillating radar-infused specially-modified mobile phones, handily created by Morgan during one of his wanders, and paraded briefly on approximately 3,000 TV monitors that probably cost more than the budget of some Indies, and which was wholly pointless, since they didn’t use them, they never showed us anything on them, and they had no actual relevance to the plot – I realised the Deadly DAD had struck. Yes, you all remember DAD – Dashing About Disease, an affliction most usually exhibited by blockbusters, but not exclusively. Right now I’m watching the TV series Jekyll and it’s got DAD in spades. And it’s only six episodes long – three episodes too many.

The Dark Knight had DAD. I couldn’t believe it. Worse, it didn’t even have any good bits to counteract the flaw. At least Pirates at World’s End had the ship in the desert and groovy crabs, and Johnny Depp. The Golden Compass even had a damn fine bear, and Nicole Kidman is always a delight, even in a boring film. Like Johnny you can just watch her for sheer aesthetic pleasure. But Batman had nothing. Nothing, I tell you. How in the name of all that’s holy did they do that? You’ve got a man in black leather/rubber, jumping off tall buildings and beating up felons. You’ve got an excellent villain plus another villain-in-the-making with only half a face (great special effects there, by the way) – how do you make that boring?

But boring it was. No matter how much I wanted Heath’s (second) last role to be his best (he was very good) he simply isn’t in it enough. When he is, he very nearly lights up the screen. But not quite. The weight of stodge around him is too heavy even for him to leaven.

I read so often in the months after his death (I’m still reading it now) the wilful pretend ruminations of “Why was The Dark Knight such a huge success?” The mouth-open, we’re-so-naïve-we-just-pissed-our-pants-and-thought-it-was-raining, disingenuous, somehow hypocritical cupidity of this makes me want to bitch-slap the perpetrators up and down the room. He DIED. He died (after) playing a “dark” (how many times is that now?) character. Instant drama, pathos, tragedy, life mirroring art, tragic loss of a (beautiful) talent = many, many, MANY bums on seats of wholly not Oscar-worthy film. God, that really is not rocket science, even for dumb fanboy bitches.

The sheer doughy ineptitude of The Dark Knight has now made this Gosh-but-we’re-cute-in-blinkers pondering of the bleedin’ obvious so much more offensive. Now I want to scream from the rooftops and herd them all up with an electric cow prod and make them admit that they know damn fine why the film was such a success, and it was nothing to do with the bleeding movie, I can tell you.

The Dark Knight was boring. I still can’t believe it, and I’m going to be sorely disappointed for a long time to come. This is not something I often say; I disapprove of the misanthrope sentiment – but beware the hype. Any glamour or greatness the film has is solely due to the circumstances surrounding the death of Heath Ledger, and his corresponding sainthood. The film itself is a plodding, po-faced, grim and uninteresting wade through ‘grown-upness’ of the worst sort, with no screen character given any time to develop warmth let alone empathy, and with poor old Batman sidelined – in his own movie – to a mere wandering emblem of something “dark”, which he gets to convey by talking in a black minstrel voice. Dark indeed. You have been warned…

Which brings us finally to that last great blockbuster of 2008, the Collected Thoughts of Chairmen Jill-Jodie.

Yes, I laughed. I also cried. And beat my head on the desk.

Along with a few other fans, Jill and Jodie have recorded their thoughts on The Danny Experience (I’m thinking a theme park) on film. Jill and Jodie interviewed each other and themselves and even Jill’s small and innocent children (Jill’s tiny infant recognising DANNY is both funny and alarming). The most startling thing to come out of the movie/s though was not insights into DANNY, but watching Jill & Jodie’s dynamic. Of course, other people might not be quite as riveted by this as me. I just can’t help myself.

Jill is articulate, but doesn’t think she is. What’s more, Jill is incredibly shrewd at times. In fact, she’s the only person to spot a very crucial point about Ian in all the time the book has been out. I found myself saying proudly “Good girl” in sheer gratitude. Not many of those moments to the pound. Unfortunately and hysterically, in equal measure, she seldom gets a chance to be articulate, because every time she pauses to think Jodie is answering for her. At length. Cue a Jodie diatribe/lecture – funny, enlightening and strangely compelling. Jill, to her credit, never once loses her temper at this constant ‘shouting down’. Indeed, Jill seems to look up to her little sister’s brightness. Which at times is very bright. But she completely overlooks her own more thoughtful astuteness. She does undo this sterling trait, of course, by her discussion on the difference between fiction and non-fiction – that was the head-banging and laughing simultaneously moment. I’m not going to spoil it for you, you can see it in the finished film, sometime next year.

Jodie, of course, is, as always, delightfully Jodie, a spectacular original, holding forth with breathtaking scope – and speed. You have never seen someone drink so much orange juice – I suspect laced with vodka – and still remain upright. And talking. Quite coherently too.

Then there’s the dog fighting the teddy, and Jill & Jodie fighting over what comes next, or how high the camera is, or indeed about nothing much at all, or Karl wandering in and spoiling the ‘moment’ – such as it is.

That would be the Karl who says, quite audibly, just out of shot, “DANNY is crap”. Oh dear, just a tad threatened there, Karl. Don’t worry, Jill still loves you. And she doesn’t measure you against John and find you wanting. Honest. Six inches is perfectly respectable.

You can see a little snippet of the dynamic duo’s joy factor up above in the banner there, giving you all a taste of the pleasure to come.

So that was it, my sad, my boring and my head-bangingly funny.

Jill & Jodie the Movie – be afraid, be very afraid…

P.S. Keep forgetting to tell you, you will remember a year (or more) ago that I said we were putting up the price of DANNY V1? Well, I’ve put it off and put it off, but that time is come. DANNY V1 is going up to £16.99 at all outlets except Poison Pixie’s, where it will remain £12.99-ish. So… if you want it, or know anyone who wants it, it will be increased very shortly. I’ve subsidised Amazon’s profits by making a loss on every book sold quite long enough. Right, warned ya, I’m done.

The Sound and the Fuzzy

I came to William Faulkner by an odd and circuitous route.

When I was around 13-15 years old, I saw an old black and white film on TV one Sunday afternoon that I’d really liked, in a weird, covetously secret, excited kind of way. What I’d liked about it specifically was the relationship between Yul Brynner (with hair) and his “ward”; a relationship I saw then as patriarchal.

Years later all I could remember about it, other than my mysterious excitement, was a scene with them in a garden. I couldn’t even remember what happened in it, only that it had hooked into a dark vein inside me and wouldn’t let go.

Over the years I tried to track it down without success, having no idea what it was called and having only ‘a young Yul Brynner with hair’ to go on.

One night, however, about a year back, I decided to knuckle down to the onerous task of trying to find it by wading through all of Yul Brynner’s films (and he made a surprising amount) on IMDB and seeing if anything sounded likely.

Sure enough, I finally found it, or what I thought was it, The Sound and the Fury from 1959. He had hair, he looked after a family, including his wild young niece. I was filled with the joy that only catching a part of your elusive past can create. I promptly hared to Amazon to purchase it, regardless of price.

No joy. It wasn’t available in the UK, on any format. I tried the US. No joy there either. I retired crestfallen, wondering if I could write to the film company and ask if they had a copy.

Imagine my delight a year later when I’m revisiting the film on IMDB to see if there’s any word on bringing out a DVD when I fall over someone saying they got a copy from this web site, which contains several people doing the same thing, invaluable chappie selling not-on-DVD movies to desperate types like me (Yes, you’ll see my buying history on here if you scroll down, you sad person. And no, the picture of Yul is not from this movie.)

This is a white hat bootlegger who only sells films you can’t get by any legal means – bless them. As soon as the film becomes a legitimate DVD they stop issuing it. Bless them again.

So I do all my checks: feedback? (good), prohibitive postage from US? (no, very cheap), problems with sending abroad? (no), reasonable DVD quality? (seems to be) – and off my money goes.

And back the film comes in due course. I watch it the morning I get it and it is pretty much nothing like I remember it – which is par for the course for something you’ve waited 30 years to see again. However, I was right about that garden scene (it was a kiss, of a weird and dangerous sort) and I can see why I liked it. Shaping the novelist to come indeed.

Although this seems to be a shorter version than I saw, it’s still a good film, perversely unusual, and I have no idea why it is not more popular (one for my next Maverick guide, on forgotten and reviled movies). And it inspired me to read the novel. I hadn’t realised it was based on a novel until I saw a lot of people on IMDB moaning that it doesn’t resemble the book (they never learn, do they?).

So, off goes Mr Scratchmann’s money – he bought it for my birthday – and back comes the book.

First I’m surprised to see it’s rather short. I’d looked it up on Wikipedia, the very best place on God’s earth to read what ‘everyone’ thinks of anything, and the entry had been so long and lyrical I imagined it would be a great big fat Ayn Randian thing. Not at all.

I’m kind of prepared for the reading experience of this ‘classic’ because I’ve been forewarned on Wikipedia that it’s written in a stream of consciousness style. I admit I am somewhat cooled by this. I have no patience for it in my dotage, but I set my hat at it in a ‘determined not to be prejudiced against it by Wikipedia’s pseudo-intellectual/s’ way. Not the book’s fault.

So, I settle down in my morning bath and find the book has an introduction. The introduction, it transpires, is to tell me all about the book before I read it. Assumably in case I am put off by the impenetrable prose style of the “first 70” pages, as told by an idiot, full of the sound and the fury, signifying nothing – as the bard said and Willie, the second, adopted. (A quick note here to point out to anyone who is about to read How to Write the Perfect Novel – already available from a seller [not us] on Amazon in the US, and from Poison Pixie in the UK, by the way – I was right about using Shakespeare in your titles if you want to win the Booker or, in this case, become a “literary giant”. I’m telling you, bloody good advice in that book, even if I do say it as what shouldn’t.)

In fact, the introduction tells me everything I need to know about the book to spare me any confusion at all. God forbid I should have to work anything out for myself. There’s two Quentins; the change in typeface indicates shifts in time; Quentin the first has drowned himself; first part of the narrative is by…; second part is by…

And so it goes on. In short, a whole Coles Notes at the front. And I’ve read it unwittingly, expecting that it was going to tell me something I needed to know about the book’s history or its historical context or something. But all it actually wanted to tell me was what the book is about and what it means and what happens in it, in case I get confused, poor dear, and don’t realise that I’m reading a masterpiece and think it is just a piece of wandering, half-assed drivel.

Okay, I think. Well, forewarned is forearmed and after around four pages of Benjy’s half-sentences and meandering internal rambles I think, Mm, I can see why they warn everybody, since you have no idea what’s going on and, on my part, don’t much care either. But what the hell, I’ve started so I’ll finish. I’ve been reassured by Those Who Know that it gets easier after the first 70 pages and by the end all will be crystal. It’s a tale told backwards, as it were, and as someone who’s done the same thing I can hardly throw stones.

Soak in the bath, read the book.

And I do, for.. what?… 11 days or so? I started on the third of December – do the math yourself. I finished it today, and I know absolutely nothing more than I did from reading the introduction. (I did get out the bath occasionally. I didn’t lie in there for 11 days, reading. Come on.)

Yes, the two and a half page (large type) introduction tells you the whole book, or at least all you’re going to learn from it.

In the first 73 pages of the novel you learn that Benjy doesn’t think right. And he makes a lot of gibbering idiot noises and the word Caddy has a special significance for him. In the next 104 pages you learn that Quentin (the first) is at college. You also learn he picks up stray children, seems disturbed, is incapable of finishing an internal sentence, although he manages fine with external, is jealous of his sister’s ‘relationships’ and has confessed to committing incest with her.

In the next 86 pages you learn that Jason – a so far unimportant figure – is so consumed with anger over being done out of a job by Caddy that he makes everyone’s life a misery and is a (somewhat enjoyable) sarcastic cunt. He’s also a self-righteous thief and a racist – but no worse than any other racist in the book, of which there are many.

In the last 57 pages you don’t so much learn that Dilsey, the family servant, is a poor put-upon old nigger – their term, not mine – as see even more of how put-upon she really is. The only benefit from the last two sections is they are more or less in straightforward English. However, they are largely redundant, adding nothing much to what’s gone before.

The first two sections spend all their time not telling you things, storing vital (maybe) nuggets of information in a fog of words so thick and impenetrable even Jack the Ripper might have had to stay indoors and thus save some lives.

The last two sections are like fillers – we’ve got all the nasty stuff out the way, now we’ll tack on this ostensibly ‘legitimate’ story and it will look like a real novel and no-one will spot that I’ve just snuck incest, promiscuity, alcoholism, illegitimacy and the decay of the American South right under Middle America’s nose. Hee-hee me.

Hee-hee me indeed.

Faulkner published this novel in 1928 and it caused a big scandal. Unfortunately, although everyone assures us that said furore happened no-one sees fit to tell us exactly why. Assumably we don’t need to know that. Hey, it was controversial, man. Yeah, must be a classic.

A classic of what? How to couch a story in something so far up the hole of euphemism it may never see the light of day again? What, in the name of all that’s holy, is the point of that?

This kind of cunting drivel (excuse my French) is responsible for shit like the Booker Prize and its attendant backwash of literary effluent that we drown in today. This is the ‘literary heritage’ that novelists like Faulkner have left us.

Cowardice. Cowardice in huge ugly spades. What’s worse is it never works. No matter how much you try to sweeten the bitter pill for the reading classes they always see through it. Faulkner buried anything his novel had to say under a deliberate obfuscation of words. He thought that way he could either fool the literati into thinking he’d said something deep about man’s darkness, without actually having to say it, or that they wouldn’t get what he was actually saying at all and he’d ‘win’ by putting one over on them.

Oh, but poor Faulkner was writing in the twenties and thirties, a different era, a different time; people couldn’t take the truth then. It was illegal to publish the truth then. Really? Well, it was illegal to publish the truth 138 years beforehand when the Marquis de Sade was writing about similar subjects. And, indeed, he was incarcerated for it, but that never stopped him writing any truths he saw fit, in ‘English’ any ten year old could read. (He was French, you know that, right?)

And de Sade was far from the only one. Authors before and since de Sade have done the same thing, and received the usual vilification. Faulkner was never quite vilified though. And it didn’t take long for the intelligentsia to christen him a ‘genius’. After all, all the obfuscation has to be worth something. Just think, if he had written ‘Quentin wanted to fuck his sister’ there could be no doubt, no indecision, no double-meaning – and no long essay on the ‘hidden’ subtext of Faulkner’s work.

Without that deliberate confusion, the swamp of internal ‘ideas’, that mass of indigestible nonsense masquerading as an ‘interior life’, how could he be considered deep? What would be deep about ‘Quentin wanted to fuck his sister’? Nothing. It’s deepless. Straightforward, to the point, forthright, true. And that wouldn’t do at all.

And so every cowardly piss-ant author since then, keen to write ‘dirty’ and still get it past his headmaster and his mum – the two basic prototypes of any prize-awarding body – has hit on that same recipe. Take what you want to say – ‘Quentin wants to fuck his sister’ – and wrap 200 pages around it with nary a clear thought in sight, then stick another 100 on the end, with no ‘artistry’, to pretend the first 200 are a deliberate artistic statement rather than a spineless coded message and behold – a genius is born.

And that stunt is genius.

So the film versus the book? No resemblance. The film takes only the 86 pages of Jason’s ‘story’ and changes them to make Jason a hard-done-by soul who may or may not be in love with his ‘niece’ (thus, somewhat cunningly, sublimating the Quentin/Caddy story of the original). They are careful to turn him into a hardworking disciple of the American dream and make Caddy into an ageing slut. They also separate the relationships so that he is not a pure blood relative. Despite all that, or maybe because of it, the film is hugely superior to the book. It tells a straightforward story and skips all the supposedly ‘enlightening’ padding. Despite its obvious clean-up of Faulkner’s risqué material it feels curiously like a more realistic view of life. At least when it deals with promiscuity, alcoholism, and its ‘hint’ of incest it does it with a kind of forthrightness that was actually unusual in cinema of the day, and that is completely absent in the supposedly superior book.

And, of course, Yul Brynner’s arguably obnoxious alpha male is very sexy, in a borderline abusive kind of way.

The book is the Brokeback Mountain of its day, claiming to be ever so controversial and outspoken when really it’s some kind of dinosaur throwback trying to wring sympathy for people who deserve none by trying to make them look tragic while so euphemising their story that the Salvation Army might write a hymn about it. It’s ‘tragedy’ for the ‘Infinity True Life Stories’ classes. Show me the horror – in the nicest way possible.

William Faulkner, founding father of The Great American Warm & Fuzzies.

Awwww… Cwute.