Tag Archives: films

Hello Again!

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It’s been a little while – hope everyone’s been well. I hadn’t had much time or inclination for blogging, as I was dealing with insomnia and anxiety in October and November. I get spells on and off and they last for a couple of months at a time. Maybe sometime I’ll write a longer post on it, but for now, I’ll leave it at the fact that I feel better and I’ve been getting more sleep.

We’re now in Gregorian calendar year 2016 – 2015 whizzed by, eh? Sadly, most of the news seemed to be dominated by terrorism, xenophobia, killing and war. I’m hoping that underneath it all, evolution is happening on this boondocks planet. I always try to remain optimistic, but it’s really, really tough sometimes.

Anyway, before I get off on a massive rant about stupidity – I did have some good times in 2015. My holidays in Lyme Regis and Great Malvern were pretty good (though the cottage in Great Malvern left a lot to be desired). The weather in the first half of the summer was lovely – lots of sunshine and low humidity. I didn’t see that many films – in fact, I don’t think I saw any in the cinema. The newest “Mad Max” film looked pretty good and there were a few others, but largely I wasn’t impressed enough by Hollywood’s output. Not much change there, then. There’s a new “Star Wars” film out now. From what I can gather, the plot’s a retread of the original 1977 film, so I’m not too bothered to catch it in the cinema. Maybe I’ll rent the DVD when it’s available – I left my “Star Wars” nerd-dom behind a long while ago. I did watch “Slackers” on DVD, for the first time in years and I still enjoyed it. It’s dated a bit, but I’ll take the 90s hipsters over the ‘millennial’ version – perhaps I’m just getting old. “Toast Of London” and “Horrible Histories” (all five series) were also a mainstay in our house – we’ve had to stop watching both for a while, ‘cos we’d seen them so many times.

Sadly, I didn’t get to many concerts last year – my gig attendance has been pretty shocking. In my slight defense, there wasn’t much on in Oxford that I really had to see. I did see Gryphon at the Union Chapel in London in May, which was a treat and a great show. They’ve since been named as part of the line-up for the 2016 Cropredy Festival, so I may get to see them again – if we decide to go. I wanted to see Matt Berry & The Maypoles in December, but the closest they got was London and I didn’t have the cash. Hopefully, they’ll do an Oxford show sometime. Some ginkus gave their show a negative review, in The Guardian – apparently, they thought they’d be attending a musical comedy gig. Tsk tsk.

Pixie and I also saw the Patrick Marber adaptation of Ivan Turgenev‘s A Month In The Country, titled Three Days In The Country, at the National Theatre in September. The cast featured John Simm, Mark Gatiss and Amanda Drew. I enjoyed it and Mark Gatiss in particular was excellent – a great comic role for him. We lucked out and had a nice, sunny September day in London. There were loads of people out on the South Bank enjoying the weather and the coach ride back to Oxford was fairly relaxing.

There were a load of new albums I meant to buy, but didn’t get round to – here’s some of them:

Unknown Mortal OrchestraMulti-Love

Flying LotusYou’re Dead

Sunn-O))) & Scott WalkerSoused

Fuck Buttons –  Slow Focus (released in 2014)

EarthPrimitive And Deadly

Six Organs Of AdmittanceHexadic

Field MusicMusic For Drifters

The Chemical BrothersBorn In The Echoes

The OrbMoonbuilding 2703 A.D.

There were a load of reissues, too – the four Yes reissues with bonus tracks and surround-sound disc, the deluxe reissue of Jethro Tull‘s “Minstrel In The Gallery”, the deluxe Procol Harum reissues are just a few I’d like to add to the collection. I also bought quite a few LPs, but I won’t list them all here.

I don’t have too much planned for this year – but I may get the Kaleidophonic Stroboscope podcast up and running again, even if just to post the old shows in a new site. We’re having the house re-decorated and getting a new boiler, which is going to soak up most of the cash, so I’ll have to see what I’ve got time for. Stay tuned, kids – I’ll keep you in on the skinny.

Cinema Corner #315: “Dear Zachary” & “Bitter Lake”

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I was doing a bit of Wiki-hopping. You know, where you look at one Wikipedia page, then follow a link to a different page and so on. I bought a used copy of Spiritualized‘s Songs In A&E last week. Running through the other tunes are short tracks all named “Harmony” (with slight variations on the title). I thought I’d check the Wiki page for “Songs…” and discovered that the tunes are named that after Harmony Korine, the actor/screenwriter (most famous for writing the screenplay to the 1995 film “Kids“, a bleak look at da yoof in 1990s New York City). I then looked at the page for Korine and remembered reading about his film “Gummo” a while back. Apparently, it’s quite a difficult film to watch. That led me to one of those list-articles on Buzzfeed, about the “25 Films That Will Destroy Your Faith In Humanity“. Now, it is Buzzfeed, so expect a lot of hype – but some of those films seem to be really draining on the psyche, just from the descriptions. Amongst the violent revenge flicks like “Oldboy” and “I Spit On Your Grave“, is a documentary called “Dear Zachary“. Unlike a lot of the films on the list, it’s available to watch on YouTube. I was curious as to how it ended up on the list, so I gave it a go.

Essentially, it’s the story of Andrew Bagby’s murder in 2001, carried out (or so the evidence seems to show) by his ex-girlfriend, Shirley Turner. Bagby had a relationship with Turner while they were both in medical school. Bagby broke it off and Turner, unable to take being jilted, drove from Iowa to Pennsylvania and (again, as the evidence seems to show) killed him in cold blood after he agreed to meet her one last time. Kurt Kuenne (which he pronounces “Kenny”) was a childhood friend of Bagby’s and Bagby acted in a lot of Kuenne’s amateur films when they were students. There are several talking-head interviews with Andrew’s school friends and work colleagues and even his relatives in England, describing his personality in glowing terms.

Bagby’s parents, Kate (an ex-pat English nurse) and David, are given special focus, as they were the main campaigners to get Turner brought to trial in the States (Turner was a Canadian citizen and fled to her native Newfoundland after Bagby was murdered). Turner then revealed she was pregnant with Bagby’s child (she also had three other children from previous relationships). Bagby’s parents moved to Newfoundland to work on Turner’s extradition and then to get custody of ‘Zachary’, as the baby was eventually named. The Bagbys are awarded (very tenuously) joint custody of Zachary and Kuenne drives up to Canada to meet and film The Bagbys and the child.

Tragedy then happens a second time when, realising that her extradition may be imminent and that another episode involving a man jilting her caused Turner to become unstable – she strapped Zachary to herself and jumped into the Atlantic Ocean. Both drowned within minutes. It’s made obvious that the film, while being a tribute to Andrew and Zachary, is more of a tribute to The Bagbys and their resilience in coping with the loss of a grandson and a son and taking on the caprices of the Canadian justice system.

The film, despite it’s depressing content, is well-made. Kuenne probably could have relied less on the musical score for emotional cues (such as the Bernard Hermann “Psycho”-like music for the parts where Turner is shown). Turner is never really investigated, either – her family aren’t interviewed, her background isn’t researched or presented at all. She becomes mainly a cypher and a villain for viewers to project all sorts of ‘evil’ onto. Now, she was more than likely guilty of murdering a man in cold blood and she took the life of a child in a ghastly selfish way. Still, we never know what motivated her to behave that way. She clearly had mental health problems and was quite unstable. Also, the Canadian justice system seems quite flawed – but was this a case of a small community protecting one of its own? Particularly in the wake of 9/11, was there a broader link between the foot-dragging of the extradition trial and the central Canadian government (vis-a-vis: distancing itself from the U.S. government)? I suppose that may be veering into conspiracy theory, but it could be an interesting avenue to explore.

Adam Curtis, the UK documentary film-maker, announced on his blog a short while ago, that he was producing a doc to be shown strictly on the BBC iPlayer. It was to be about Afghanistan and its relationship to Russia, Saudi Arabia and The West.

It finally arrived (called “Bitter Lake”) on the iPlayer in January and I watched it as soon as I had a couple of hours to really absorb the film. It starts with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s meeting with King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, on an American warship in 1945. The U.S. needed oil to run it’s growing industrial complexes and fuel it’s new-found military might. Abdulaziz agreed to produce the oil, but his condition was that the U.S. not interfere in the Saudi faith. That faith is Wah’habbism, a very conservative branch of Islam. F.D.R. also agreed to a massive dam project in Afghanistan, that would help work to ‘modernise’ that country and create a Western-style democracy in the Middle East.

The film then presents a dizzying lesson in Afghan history since 1945, using archival footage, interspersed with unedited BBC news footage shot after the 2001 invasion by U.S. and UK forces. The West, seeking to create a Middle East idyll in Afghanistan, runs afoul of the Saudis after the U.S. overtly supports Israel in the 1950s. The democratic Afghanistan does well in the the 1960s, but then Western student visitors bring leftist ideas with them in the early 1970s. A few years later, after the 1973/1974 oil crisis, which gave the Saudis even more leverage in world affairs, due to ‘petrodollars’ flowing into their coffers – Communism (with a capital ‘C’) started to flourish in Afghanistan. This didn’t sit too well with the Saudis.

Russian citizens, encouraged by this development, started to move into the country. There was a backlash, however, and soon things started to get ugly. The Soviet army invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to back the failing Communist regime. Groups of disparate tribal fighters (with Wah’habbists among their ranks) rebelled against the Soviets. The U.S., seizing an opportunity to fight a proxy war, trained and armed (via the C.I.A.) these groups, who came to be known as the ‘mujahedeen’. The roots of what then morphed into the the Taliban were formed in the mujahedeen.

Some of the uncut footage is extraordinary, unsettling and shocking, sometimes all at once. Footage of then-President Karzai’s motorcade wends it’s way through Kabul. Three men sidle up to Karzai’s SUV to greet him – suddenly automatic gunfire rings out and seconds later, the men are laying heaped in the street. U.S. soldiers are shown boasting about being ‘born killers’ and ‘off command’ kills (presumably that means civilians or people the soldiers themselves suspected being Taliban combatants, but weren’t confirmed as such). In one really lovely bit, a British soldier holds a small bird that has landed on his rifle, while a Middle Eastern pop song plays as a soundtrack.

The British presence in Afghanistan, particularly Helmand Province, after 2001 is shown to be largely an exercise in futility, as the soldiers couldn’t tell who were the ‘real Taliban’. Curtis argues that many of the locals were fed up with Karzai’s corrupt police forces and saw the British as backing the police. The locals decided to attack the British, which emboldened the Taliban to return from Pakistan – so essentially, the British were fighting on two fronts at once.

Things changed yet again after the 2008 financial crash, when the ‘bankers and techno-crats’, trusted by the leaders in The West to work out the complexities of the markets, failed to do so. Money was flooded into the U.S., UK and Afghanistan economies in an effort to prop up the system. A lot of the money injected into the Afghan economy was siphoned out to Dubai, further frustrating the Afghan people.

In the end, Curtis argues, despite many different leaders trying to imprint their version of Islam on radical groups, Wah’habbism was still the driving force behind even the newest group of fighters, ISIL (the Islamic State of Syria and Levant), or ISIS. The original strain of Islam that the king of Saudi Arabia tried to wipe out in the 1940s is alive and very much kicking. Curtis also states that The West had to confront the notion that all of its efforts to transform Afghanistan amounted to nothing, but like the lake on the planet in the 1972 film “Solaris”, Afghanistan has left an effect on the Western psyche.

You can watch “Dear Zachary” online here

You can watch “Bitter Lake” here (UK only) and here (rest of the world)

 

Gregorian calendar year 2014: R.W.C. stylee

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You’ve probably got used to me typing this, but jesu crisco, did this year zoom by! It’s been a bit of a weird one, to be honest – not particularly for me, but world events-wise. I’m not sure what anyone’s got against various Malaysian airline companies, but they’ve lost not just one plane, but two, in the space of 8 months – not counting another which was shot down over Ukranian air-space (which was either the fault of pro-Russian rebels, or the Ukranian government military, depending on who you talk to). The only thing I can be certain of is that the insurance affiliates of those airlines are going to busy with claims for the next five years.

Things kicked off again in the Middle East: the Syrian civil war is still raging, with thousands of refugees fleeing to Turkey and Jordan. Meanwhile, in northern Iraq, which has been left as a power vacuum, after the botched invasion and occupation by U.S. and UK forces, a curious army of hard-line Islamic militants managed to defeat the ‘trained’ Iraqi military, seize a lot of their equipment and rampage through most of the towns and villages in their wake. Calling themselves the ‘Islamic State’, they threatened the Turkish border and moved into parts of Syria. Once again (as in Libya) – a Western coalition was formed to “bomb the crap out of them” (in layman’s terms). Has that been effective? Time will tell. Meanwhile, Pres. Obama authorised 1500 more U.S. troops to head back to Iraq in the fight against I.S. – hmmm, I suspect it’ll be “Iraq Invasion – Part III” in 2015. Happy Happy Joy Joy. Israel also had its own conflict in the summertime, as it’s government decided to launch another attack on Hamas. As always, hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed, along with some Israeli soldiers. Most of the human rights abuses appear to be on the Israeli government’s hands, as shown by an Amnesty International report. There seems to be a cease-fire on at the moment – how long it will last is anybody’s guess.

Back in Blighty, things looked pretty grim as well – the coalition gubberment continued its austerity bullshit. Scotland had a vote to determine whether the people wanted to remain in the UK. Both sides campaigned fiercely – even “Dave Scameron” had to make a grovelling speech, sounding like a jilted lover. In the end, the Scots said they’d stay…for now. That bunch of clowns UKIP gobbled up air-time and web-space for winning a parliamentary seat in a by-election. It almost became impossible to look at anything without seeing Nigel Fart-age’s rictus grin plastered on it. The fact that some critters are entertaining an ex-banker’s notions as their own (as ‘one of the regular folks’) just shows how much that ‘this shit just got real’. I just hope people get some sense for the general election in May. We shall see…

I don’t want to be a total downer, so here’s a list of things I enjoyed this past year:

I had a brill holiday in Amsterdam in April – my first trip to mainland Europe. The missus and I stayed with a friend, which saved loads of cash, so we were able to check out the Reijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Hash Marihuna and Hemp Museum and a few more. I walked by the famed Paradiso (didn’t get to go inside, however) and I saw the Concertgebouw, too. We checked out the Cat Houseboat, which was a highlight (well, if you’re a cat person, it is) and did a boating tour of the canals and the harbour outside the city. I met up with my MLA pal Steve Fly at the 420 Cafe and we had a laugh. I was even allowed to do a bit of record-shopping and I picked up a few goodies. We covered so much in a week that it was actually quite exhausting. I loved it, though, and I want to go back sometime soon.

TV: I didn’t watch many series this year – I haven’t seen any Breaking Bad or Game Of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire. Other than a few BBC Four history docus, the only show I watched regularly was the excellent Toast Of London, with comedian/musician Matt Berry in the title role. The second series was shown in November and December and it’s even more surreal than the first series. Nice to see Berry’s Garth Marenghi cast-mate Matthew Holness in a bit part in one of the episodes. I also watched the Black Mirror X-Mas special. I didn’t catch the second series (still want to watch it sometime), but when I saw an ad for “Black Mirror: White Christmas“, it looked intriguing enough to me to see it. It seemed quite clever to me, with the three stories intersecting each other, though that wasn’t fully revealed until the very end.

Music: There were loads of albums released this year which I haven’t checked out yet. Hell, there’s still albums from 2013 I haven’t added to the collection. Flying Lotus released “You’re Dead” and Sunn-O))) teamed up with Scott Walker and released “Soused“. Mike Oldfield returned with “Man On The Rocks” and Beck‘s “Morning Phase” was rumoured to be pretty good. Karl Hyde (out of Underworld) and Brian Eno released two collaboration albums, but again, I haven’t heard anything from them. Pink Floyd (or ‘Pink Three’, really) released “The Endless River“, culled from sessions in 1993 and ’94 – it’s the final recorded appearance of Rick Wright and, according to David Gilmour, the last P.F. album ever. Peter Hammill (of Van der Graaf Generator and a long and varied solo career) and Gary Lucas (mostly known for being a member of Captain Beefheart‘s Magic Band and Jeff Buckley collaborator), got together and produced “Otherworld“. Those are just some of the albums I meant to buy. I did buy the newest Mastodon record (on disc – I don’t have the space to buy everything on LP), “Once More ‘Round The Sun“. I’ve only listened to it once and the verdict so far is pretty good, but I need to give it a few more spins. There were also the usual hundreds of reissues, but the ones that got the most attention were the release of the complete “Basement Tapes“, by Bob Dylan and The Band and the massive Led Zeppelin box set reissues, for each Zep album (the first five have been released so far). Luckily, the albums are also available in 2-disc sets, so you don’t have to shell out for the super-deluxe boxes, to get the extra tracks. The Quietus website published an excellent article on what they consider to be the epitome of psychedelia at the moment, which led me to check out The Cosmic Dead, Demdike Stare and UK stoner/doom merchants Electric Wizard. There’s a great D.S. DJ set from the Boiler Room in 2012 that you can watch here. I’m going to listen to more from those bands in the new year. Concert-wise…well, I saw Kate Bush in September – ’nuff said there. I also saw The Orb in November, which was a treat as I hadn’t seen them since 2001. I hope to see more shows in the coming year, provided I can afford tickets.

Film: The only film I watched in the cinema was Wes Anderson‘s latest, “The Grand Budapest Hotel“, which I enjoyed, possibly even a bit more than “Moonrise Kingdom” and definitely more than “The Darjeeling Limited“. I’m not usually a big fan of Ralph Fiennes, but I thought he was excellent as ‘Gustave H’. The supporting cast were great as well, including Jeff Goldblum and a very sinister Willem Dafoe. I meant to watch “Gravity” in the cinema, but I waited too long and the run finished. “Interstellar” looked interesting as well – a decent sci-fi flick amongst the usual Hollywood dross. One cool thing I discovered is that The Filthy Critic is back in business. I used to read his reviews all the time in the early 00s – but a few years ago, he seemed to give it all up. I happened to check his site a couple of months ago and found he’s back at the movies – seeing a lot of shitty Hollywood films, so I don’t have to (though he and I disagree about “The Grand Budapest Hotel”). Good times!

Theatre: I only watched a few plays this past year. I saw “Strangers On A Train” at the Gielgud Theatre in London in February. It was pretty good, though Hitchcock‘s film still seems the definitive version. This stage adaptation covered more of the psycho-sexual aspects of the story and characters. Jack Hutson was especially good as ‘Bruno’. I also saw “Dial M For Murder” at the Oxford Playhouse in March (yet another Hitchcock connection). The staging was quite clever and the cast were competent and didn’t try to be slavish to the film. The Oxford Shakespeare Company put on another of their brill outdoor productions this year at Wadham College. It was “As You Like It” this time and we watched it in early September, on the final night of the run. I also caught “Electra” at the Old Vic in November, featuring Kristin Scott Thomas in the title role. She did pretty well, though the cadence of some of her line-reading seemed a bit strange. The rest of the cast were quite good, too (though I would have rather seen Amanda Drew as ‘Chrysothemis’, but Liz White was O.K.), aside from Tyrone Huggins (as ‘Aegisthus’), who seemed to want to be a bit too “actorly” in his part.

Books: I started the massive published version of Philip K Dick‘s “Exegesis” (whittled down to 1,000 pages from a much, much larger archive) – but the sheer volume of ideas and concepts in it caused me to put it down a few times, to let my brain process what I had read. In between, I read a crime thriller (“The Bat” by Jo Nesbo), an atheist call-to-arms (“The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins) and several weirdo/speculation books (Charles Fort‘s “The Book Of The Damned” and John Michell‘s “The Flying Saucer Vision“, among them). I actually finished more books than I thought I would this year, which I’m happy about – squeezing reading time in between work, making mixes and internet time. I even read a couple of online ‘books’ on my phone on the work commute: Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” and David Keenan‘s “England’s Hidden Reverse” (which, like the Quietus article, turned me onto a few artists I hadn’t heard of and re-introduced me to Nurse With Wound). I’m looking forward to starting on David Mitchell‘s “The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet” and “The Bone Clocks“, Nick Awde’s Mellotron” and my friend Matt Bartlett‘s “Gateways To Abomination“. If you want to see all the books I read last year – check the Goodreads widget in the margin of the blog.

Well, kids – that was my 2014 – as a last note, I’d like to shout out to my pal, Singing Bear, who’s also a co-author of this blog. He had a pretty rough year. I won’t go into detail, but he had a shocker. I wish him the best for 2015 and I’ll try and cajole him to maybe post once or twice here in the next twelve months. In the meantime, check out his own blog, Grown Up Backwards.

Onward and outward, friends!

Daft Or Dastardly? The Laurel Canyon Conspiracy

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A short time ago, a FB friend posted a link to a site all about the supposed “Laurel Canyon Conspiracy”. I think the context was a post I shared about Aleister Crowley. I’m not a hard-core Thelemite – but I do enjoy Crowley’s books on magick and the bit of his fiction I’ve read so far.

In any case, the L.C. conspiracy seems to have been first posted online by a bloke called Dave McGowan in 2008. Since then, it’s been reproduced in sections or in it’s entirety on various sites. Usually, I dismiss that kind of thing outright as nonsense, thought up by paranoids who want to blame the shitness of their own lives on some over-arching group (The Bilderbergers, The Rothschilds, The Rockefellers, etc, etc.)

McGowan contends that the 1960s counter-culture began in the Laurel Canyon neighbourhood of Los Angeles. The main characters in the scenario, such as Jim Morrison and David Crosby, were the scions of upper-ranks military commanders and intelligence personnel. They were then indoctrinated into working for the CIA to….well, McGowan never really says. Was the aim to spread the gospel of non-violence and psychedelics, to create a pliable populace easy to manipulate? Was it to create a counter-culture to scare the god-fearing Joe and Jane Six-Packs into voting for a strong conservative government and perpetual warfare?

Maybe both, or neither. There seem to be a couple of glaring errors in his analysis, almost from the outset. He contends that Frank Zappa was ‘pro-war’ and that all of the bands hung out together and were all good pals. According to the testimony in other books, Arthur Lee, of the band Love, liked neither Frank Zappa nor Jim Morrison. David Crosby has gone on record several times about how much he loathed Jim Morrison. Frank Zappa lampooned the ‘hippie scene’ quite a few times on his early albums (especially “We’re Only In It For The Money“, released in 1968). The idea that these disparate personalities were all gelling together for the CIA seems ludicrous…add in Stephen Stills, Charles Manson, Dennis Wilson (of The Beach Boys) and Neil Young and things seem even further far-fetched.

McGowan has done quite a bit of research on the history of Laurel Canyon, especially during the 1920s and 1930, when it’s homes were bought up by some big-name Hollywood folk, as well as stage magician extraordinaire, Harry Houdini (yep, he did some work for the U.S. gubberment too, says McGowan). McGowan impressively does find connections between a lot of the key L.C. players in the 1960s and while it may look like something sinister was happening, I’m not convinced that because a lot of the musicians were ‘army brats’, they automatically were drafted into helping the military/industrial complex. The U.S. military was a big employer immediately after WWII, when a lot of them were born – it doesn’t seem like much of a coincidence to me.

To be fair, there was a lot of weird stuff happening – but it seems L.A. does attract it’s share of chancers and miscreants and has done since the film industry set up there a hundred years ago. Add in psychedelics and sexual liberation and well…you got yourself a freaky scene, man. McGowan does shed light on the infamous Manson murders of 1969, deviating a lot from the ‘official’ story given by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi. Apparently, it was the result of a couple of drug deals gone very badly. Manson botched a drug deal with an African-American dealer, which left him (Manson) paranoid and looking for protection. Allegedly, he approached the “Straight Satans”, a biker gang, who were hanging around Manson’s place for the ‘free love’ and drugs. They thought Manson was a joke, but agreed to protect him if he could score some mescaline for a party they were throwing in a couple of weeks’ time.

Manson went to Bobby Beausoleil, who had formed short-lived psychedelic band The Orkustra (who later morphed into It’s A Beautiful Day) and knew a lot of the Laurel Canyon players. Beausoleil then contacted Gary Hinman, an acquaintence and fellow musician. Gary spoke with a couple of chemist friends who said they could get the amount of mescaline together. Money changed hands and that was that. Until, according to the bikers, the mescaline was bunk and they demanded their money back. Beausoleil went to Hinman, who said he’d already spent the money. Manson got involved and Hinman was killed, after being kept in his home by Beausoleil. Hinman was suffocated, still suffering from a wound Manson had given him. To make the murder appear as a political attack, they scrawled “Political Piggy” on Hinman’s wall.

Beausoleil was, of course, the prime suspect for the murder of Gary Hinman and trying to protect him, Manson hatched the idea of a few more murders to make it look like a political gang was on a rampage – hence the “Healter Skelter” (sic) and “Piggies” scrawled on the walls of the Sharon Tate home in blood. Bugliosi thought that Manson was serious with his “race war” talk and run with that story. It seems it’s a lot more mundane. It was all about money and paranoia.

Getting back to the original premise – why would the CIA create the counter-culture, only to destroy it (via Manson and Altamont) a few years later? The Laurel Canyon theory also ignores all the other contemporary scenes in San Francisco, New York, London, Paris and Amsterdam. The S.F. and London scenes were already in action as early as 1964, while Laurel Canyon didn’t really start until 1965 or ’66. While isolated examples like Vito Paulekas and Zappa seemed ahead of the game, most sorta drifted in after the fact.

Aside from the Hinman killing and the Tate-LaBianca murders, the other major tragedy of the era was Paulekas’s two-year-old son, Godot, falling to his death in his father’s studio. There’s also allegations that before he died, he was ‘introduced to sensuality’ by being passed around to adults open mouths. So, yes, there’s alleged child abuse as well. Still, I don’t believe that everything and everyone in the Canyon at that time were CIA agents and connected to the government. None of the conspiracy theorists have offered any sort of official proof – wouldn’t a Freedom Of Information request turn up hard evidence that Crosby et al. were on the payroll? Perhaps I’m naive in that respect.

As with anything – you can read the theory for yourself and make your own decision – it is twenty-one pages long and covers a five decades or so, so it does get meandering. It’s here, if you dare.

Also, as a bonus – McGowan references the film, Mondo Hollywood, several times in the article – you can watch the film in it’s entirety below:

Theatre Round-Up #111 – Hitchcock-O-Rama

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A little while back I mentioned that I had been to see “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time” at the Apollo Theatre (before the now-infamous ceiling collapse). While we were there, Pixie noticed that there was a stage adaptation of Strangers On A Train“, on at the Gielgud Theatre. First published as a novel, written by Patricia Highsmith – then released on-screen as a Hitchcock-directed thriller, we decided to take the plunge and get tickets.

I hadn’t seen a show at the Gielgud and it’s quite a nice space. The stage set had a revolving design that would spin for scene changes, which I thought was quite clever. A read a few reviews in which the person found the set distracting, but I didn’t have that problem. The cast were good, though Laurence Fox played “Guy Haines” a bit too nerdy at times. Jack Huston was excellent as “Charles Bruno” and Miranda Raison was good as Guy’s long-suffering wife, “Anne”. Imogen Stubbs vamped it up as Charles’s mother, affecting a sort of high-pitched gravelly voice.

The first half seemed almost scene-for-scene a run-through of the film, while the second got darker and seemed to take it’s cues from the book, particularly Charles’s quasi-incestuous relationship with his mother and his homo-erotic longing for Guy. He tries to split up Guy’s marriage and destroys Anne’s pregnancy by giving her chlymidiosis (he visits a farm with infected sheep and wears tainted boots into their home). The ending was unexpected and varied a lot from Hitch’s film. Charles and Guy huddle together as Guy’s barn/workshop burn around them. Nice fire effects for that scene as well!

The missus also checked the Oxford Playhouse listings around the same time and noticed a touring production of “Dial M For Murder” was going to be on in February and March. We were curious about how well it would adapt to the stage and duly bought tickets.

Put on by theatre group Fiery Angel and directed by Lucy Bailey – the play is virtually a scene-for-scene re-make of Hitch’s film. The cast were quite good, though Pixie didn’t like the transformation of “Max Halliday” into a dour Scotsman (played by Philip Cairns). Kelly Hotten provided glamourous cool as “Sheila Wendice” (with a proper English accent – as much as I like Grace Kelly, her accent was a bit off in the film). Robert Perkins was quite good as the conniving and domineering “Tony Wendice” – which is a tough role to claim, after Ray Milland‘s in the film. Christopher Timothy (yep, the “All Creatures Great And Small” actor) played “Inspector Hubbard” in a more gruff, ‘East Larndon’ way, unlike John Williams‘s posh, cut-glass manner in the film.

As in “Strangers…”, the stage set was clever and also featured a revolving piece – this time only the sofa. Early in the play, Tony is speaking to an old school acquaintence, “Captain Lesgate” (played by Daniel Betts, who, with his character’s ‘tache and booming voice, reminded me (unintentionally) of Matt Berry as “Stephen Toast“). I was paying attention to the dialogue and only noticed in a break in the talking that the sofa had spun around. The backdrop was see-through, which allowed the audience to watch as characters appeared in the ‘hallway’ outside of the flat.

Two enjoyable plays, but I’ve got my fill of murder-n-plots drama for the moment. Next on the list, I think, will be “The Events“, which will re-open in London in July.

“Strangers On A Train” finished it’s run at The Gielgud in February 2014.
“Dial M For Murder” is a touring production which is on in Newcastle this week.

One Of *Those* Posts – Things I Enjoyed

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I usually avoid doing those “year end” kinda things – ‘cos really, it’s only the year-end in the Gregorian calendar, not in loads of other calendars. Anyway, here’s a list of some things I liked this past spin around the sun. In no particular order or category:

The Summer: Even though I left my job at the beginning of June, I had quite a good summer this year. I visited my family back in the U.S.A. for two weeks – I hadn’t seen them in nine years, so it was a treat to see all the nieces and nephews and my cousins and their little’uns. I also met a friend and did a bit of record shopping, too. Back in the UK, it proved to be a decent time, as the weather (mostly) brought sunshine and warmth. Compared to last year, this year was a model season.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II: I first heard this band through Marc Riley‘s 6Music show a couple of years ago. I kinda liked their strange, psychedelic R&B-influenced sound, but not enough to pick up the first record. Riley started playing the first single off of the new album, “Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark)” and it became a near-instant earworm. The album was released in February of this year and I bought it shortly after. I find there’s not a bum track on it – though for those with short attention spans, “Monki” can probably overdo it a bit.

A Field In England/Kill List: Pixie and I watched “Sightseers” early in the year and I really enjoyed it, particularly for the performances of Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, as the main protagonists. “Sightseers” was released in 2012, but we missed it in the cinema. Director Ben Wheatley was finishing up “A Field In England” even as were sending the rental DVD of “Sightseers” back. I was back in the UK in time to watch A.F.I.E. on BBC Four in early July and it blew my mind. Set in Civil War-era England, it involves some deserters who are tricked into helping a necromancer into searching for a ‘treasure’ hidden in a deserted field. There’s madness, psychedelic mushrooms and magick thrown into the mix. I thought it was brilliant and I’m definitely buying the DVD. I watched “Kill List” shortly after and while it wasn’t quite as visually arresting as A.F.I.E., the story, in places, seems far more intense. A soldier-turned-hitman gets lured back into the business by his friend and ‘associate’. At first, it seems like a routine mission, but things get progressively weirder as the film goes on. The ending scene is a shocker and it’s wonderfully played and is a genuine “Holy shit!” moment when you realise what has happened. Superb.

Fuck Buttons: I’d heard about them a couple of years ago, but I wasn’t quite sure I’d like their music. I checked out a couple of clips on You Tube, but I filed them in the “kinda interesting, maybe check them out later” dept. This year, they released their third full-length album, Slow Focus. I listened to a few of the new tracks and really liked them – so I bought up the back catalogue (not tough, as it’s only two records so far). At the moment, “Tarot Sport” is my fave, though “Street Horrrsing” has it’s ace tracks, too. I also found out that Blanck Mass is Benjamin John Powers‘s (of F.B.) ambient side project. Blanck Mass’s track Chernobyl was used to excellent effect in “A Field In England”.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time (the stage version at the Apollo Theatre, London): You can read my longer review in the last post. Excellent staging and cast – highly recommended. You won’t be able to see it until the beginning of January, as part of the ceiling in the theatre collapsed during a performance – luckily there were no fatalities.

Leonard Shlain – The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess: I didn’t get to read quite as many books this year as I wanted to – but “The Alphabet…” was quite entertaining and enlightening. I read it while on holiday in the States. Shlain’s theory posits that while worldwide literacy has been very beneficial on the whole, it has also brought subjugation of women in almost every culture in which it’s been introduced. You may not agree with it, and find his research lacking – but I find it quite compelling and very possible. Copies are still available – I bought mine quite cheap off of eBay.

Horrible Histories/The Wrong Mans: H.H. finally finished this year, after it’s fifth series and it’s a shame, because it got better and better as it went along. The song/band parodies were ace and their send-up of “Masterchef”, ‘Historical Masterchef‘, was seriously funnier than most adult sketch shows, to me, anyway. “The Wrong Mans” is a series on BBC Two, that was shown in the early autumn. It stars Matthew Baynton, who was part of the H.H. cast and James Corden. I’m not really a fan of Corden’s, so I thought it could go either way. Luckily, Baynton held his own and Corden’s usual antics were limited to just a few scenes. I thought it was good, for a modern Hitchcock pastiche. There’s not much wiggle-room for a second series – but then, teevee writers can come up with some convoluted shit in order to keep a franchise going. We’ll see…

The World’s End: The final film of Edgar Wright‘s “Cornetto Trilogy” (featuring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) was released this past year. To me, it didn’t have quite the gut-bust laugh quotient of “Shaun Of The Dead” or “Hot Fuzz“, but it’s still a quality flick. Part 90s nostalgia, part sci-fi and part “you can never go home again” story – it makes a fitting end to the trilogy. I won’t go into plot specifics, in case you’ve not seen it, but I will say that “Fuck off back to Legoland, cunts!” is one of my fave film lines of the last ten years.

Matt Berry – Witchazel: I’d been meaning to pick this up for a loooong while and was given the CD as an X-Mas gift this year. It’s as good as I’d anticipated and for anyone who digs early 1970s psychedelic/progressive folk and English whimsy, this is a must-have. Berry is a comedic actor who’s appeared in some of the funniest shows of the past five-to-ten years: The Mighty Boosh, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace…and (the somewhat patchy) The IT Crowd. The guy’s also a solid musician and I’ve got his second album “Opium” as well (his first album, “Jackpot“, is waaaaaay out-of-print and you most certainly won’t find it on the interwebtubes or eBay – trust me, I’ve looked). Berry’s newest series, “Toast Of London” was broadcast in the autumn and it looks like a second series has been commissioned. “T.O.L.” uses “Take My Hand“, from ‘Witchazel” as it’s theme tune.

There’s loads more music, some teevee and books I enjoyed – but then this post would be mammoth and would stretch your reading patience to it’s limit. Hope your year was near what you wanted it to be and roll on Gregorian calendar year 2014!

Cinema Corner: A Field In England

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Hey now! July already??? I apologise for the long delay – I was fairly busy throughout June. I left my job, having worked where I did for three years. There were several reasons – an announced recruitment freeze, meaning that if one person left our team, the rest would have to pick up the slack. I was determined that I wasn’t wasn’t going to be a slack-picker-upper. I also didn’t like the team management, their…ah…style didn’t really suit me. A few other things, too – I had it in mind to leave sometime this year, etc. etc.

In any case, I’m now job-hunting again. So far, it’s not gone as smoothly as I’d hoped. I was hoping to at least have an offer by now. I’ll keep on keepin’ on, though.

I also visited my family in The States for two weeks in June. My father has not been well for the past year and has been in and out of hospital. He also turned 71 this past June, so I thought I should go visit. You never know with age and illness and we could all travel to the bardos at any time. I meant to post about my visit, but I didn’t get much time while I was there. Perhaps I will at a later date – depending on my work schedule (heh heh…)

Now, the reason for this post is the newest Ben Wheatley film, called A Field In England. Pixie and I recently (six weeks ago?) watched his dark romantic comedy Sightseers and I quite enjoyed it. I’d recommend it, but with the caveat that there are moments of gruesome violence, if you’re a bit squeamish. “A Field In England” was launched with simultaneous releases in the cinema, DVD, pay-to-view and shown free on Film Four. I think that has been done with a few other films – but this was the first time for a very low-budget independent film.

I’ll try not to include too many spoilers, but the plot concerns a group of deserters from an English Civil War battle, from both sides of the conflict. There are four men, three are common soldiers, but one, Whitehead (played brilliantly by Reece Shearsmith), is educated and reveals that he works for a ‘master’ who has alchemical knowledge. There’s the promise of an alehouse ‘just over the next field’, by one of the soldiers, so they head in the direction he suggests.

After that, things get strange. They arrive in a field ringed by mushrooms (which turn out to be of the psilocybin variety). After eating a stew made from them, they free a necromancer (another great performance by Michael Smiley), by tugging on a rope wrapped around a wooden cylinder found in the field. The necromancer, called O’Neill, knows Whitehead and enlists him in a search for a ‘very valuable treasure’ located somewhere in the field.

What follows is by turns creepy, trippy and confusing, but at the end, a transformation. The characters themselves go through metamorphoses (metamorphi?), so that the real alchemy becomes about the changes in people, not lead to gold. Maybe it’s the mushrooms, or maybe it’s the circumstances – we’re never told. I quite enjoyed the film, the cinematography seems superb, all shot in crisp black and white. The dialogue veers from salty swearing to quasi-magickal pronouncements and while not completely in the language of the Stuart era, still seems ‘realistic’ enough.

It may not be your cup of (mushroom) tea, but I’d recommend “A Field In England”. A strange, psychedelic period piece that attempts to do something different. In an ideal world, it would be the film of the summer.