Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Films which spooked me the most.

(I was going to post this as a comment on Cubby's excellent 'Patently Queer' blog as an entry under his 'Hallowe'en Meme', but I found it kept growing and would have overshadowed his own original blog - so here it is separately, re-worded, with acknowledgement to Larry/Cubby for providing the idea.)

In chronological order of film release (all seen for the first time by me in a cinema, of course) :-

Even I was too young to see 'Psycho' on its first time round, but it was re-released in 1966 (in a double-bill with the 1953 'War of the Worlds'). To date I have still never seen a film which elicited so many screams from an audience. The film may appear to be old-hat now, having been dissected and analysed over and over again, and when we watch it again (it really does stand up to repeated viewing with Tony Perkins' performance surely being his best ever) it's more admiration for Hitchcock's artifice rather than for the original raw emotions, which can never be re-captured. If I watch it now, it's in an forensic way, observing how and why it was so brilliantly effective.

Seeing 'The Exorcist' in 1973 for the first time caused me more ensuing sleepless nights than any other film. It still holds up, nearly 40 years later - though it's a shame that the head-swivelling scene looks so artificial in those pre-CGI days. But that's only a few seconds out of a very disturbing and, yes, a good and extremely powerful film.

'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' (original version, 1974 ) - banned from showing anywhere in Oxford (where I was living at the time) and also in many other areas of the U.K.. - and when I eventually did see it I could see why! Nightmare stuff!

John Carpenter's 1982 'The Thing' - the blood-test scene above all. Even though I know which scientist is the replicant it's still as chilling as hell!
Btw I could never understand why the same director's 'Halloween' (1978) is so highly regarded. One of the leading British film critics has called it 'the greatest horror film ever'! I agree that it's certainly a good film but I doubt if it would find a place in my 'Best 500 Films of All Time'.

I'm with Larry in nominating 'Paranormal Activities' as probably the scariest film of recent years. I'm going next week to see the sequel, but it's received poor reviews here, largely because the 'shocks' delivered are due more to sudden loud bangs on the soundtrack rather than skilful film-making. That's not clever, it's just lazy and it's cheating!

Honourable mentions:-
'Alien' - shame that after John Hurt's spectacular stomach-bursting scene, all the subsequent killings seem to be anti-climaxes.
'Poltergeist' - would have been more effective if curtailed before the final half-hour which culminates in the overblown cemetery upheaval and graves- and coffins-opening scene.
'The Amityville Horror' (1978 original) - despite less than enthusiastic reviews I thought it was probably the best among the glut of 'haunting' films made over the following decade. (My main concern was hoping that the family dog would escape unharmed.)

Looking forward to other suggestions by anyone who reads my blog. (Thanks again, Larry)


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Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Re:Jane Austen - It's so disappointing when one's bubble is burst.

About 20 years ago, after a long time of trying, I finally 'got' Jane Austen and since then I've been proud to quote her as genuinely one of my very favourite writers of all time - her prose light as a souffle (or as the lightest sponge cake, as I like to say), an enviably delicate prose style unrivalled by anyone else writing in English. One of the very cleverest people I ever knew (a work colleague in the early 1970s) said that if he could have one wish it would be to be able to write like Jane Austen. It was he who made me determined to try to see what it was that he was seeing in her works - and I finally managed it. I have now read all six of her novels several times each and re-read them regularly in rotation, getting so much pleasure that it's a true delight to be savoured and one not to be dulled by over-familiarity.
Then this morning I hear the dreadful news. After several years of research a (female) professor at Oxford University has concluded that Austen almost certainly owes most of her style to one of her editors, identified as one William Gifford, who polished her sentences, improved the vocabulary, and corrected her grammar, spelling and punctuation, the latter of which was, according to the original manuscripts, particularly poor. Apparently Austen also never even employed the use of paragraphs. Oh dear, what a thumping great let-down! It's not absolutely conclusive yet, but I have no reason to disbelieve the results of this painstaking and exhaustive research. It wasn't so much the plots of her books which were impressive - indeed there is a certain 'sameness' about the stories of unrequited love, long periods of courtship with ups and downs and doubts, the occasional example of scandalous behaviour (for the time) and 'happily-ever-after's. It was the impeccably crafted prose style that won me and many, many thousands of others, over. So now it seems that we've got to direct the praise elsewhere. Not that it makes the actual books any less worthy of admiration, but one can't help feeling a certain deflation. I only wonder how my former work-colleague, if he's still around, himself feels on hearing this news.
Now all I need to hear is that Beethoven got significant 'help' with his composing - and that it was his cleaner who wrote on some blank music manuscript paper "da-da-da-DAAAAH"!!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

In today's films why is so much speech mumbled?

I've just been to see 'The Social Network', about the creation of Facebook - or so I've read. Just as well I knew that beforehand because at least half the dialogue was totally lost on me. I find this a feature of more and more films these days. Clear diction just doesn't seem to matter as it once did. It's almost as though it's not really that important to understand what they're saying as long as you get the drift, though even that can be a challenge.
From the very opening scene of this film, between two characters in a crowded bar in which something about the Chinese population (I think) was mentioned , but managing to converse without raising their voices to be heard as I would have had to do in similar circumstances, the majority of ensuing scenes were similarly blighted. And yet the film has had such glowing reviews in the U.K. - one critic I read even calling it "probably the single best film of recent years". Did he then manage to catch the dialogue? I find that hard to believe It may indeed be a near-masterpiece, but as it's such a wordy film, where I, for one, couldn't understand what was being said, I'm not in a position to judge.
I don't think it's a case of deteriorating hearing on my part, or of the volume being too low. (In some films the incidental music soundtrack is just too ear-splittingly loud.) I certainly have no difficulty in ordinary face-to-face conversation. I think this practice of poor articulation started in the early 90s - and since then so many films have, for me, been marred by this indecipherable under-the-breath muttering. I really can't understand how anyone can follow it and I honestly wonder whether people are just too embarrassed to admit not having a clue about what the actors are saying for fear of appearing stupid. One theory I have about why this state of affairs came about is that as scenes are normally are shot over several 'takes', after a while everyone on set, the film crew as well as the actors, know the script so well that the latter become lazy or even bored, and no one gives a thought as to if an audience listening for the first time will catch the words.
Watch a film on TV made in the 1980s or before, and you can hear just about every single word - and that applies to American films as well as British, so the problem can't be one of accent.
Maybe 'The Social network' actually is a very good film. I can't really say. But on a scale of personal enjoyment, despite all the praise it's received, my own candid score would be a lowly 3/10.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Coming around again!

For me, tomorrow is the day that Macca sang about on 'Sgt Pepper' - but instead of 'Vera, Chuck & Dave' on my knee it'll be Blackso, with Noodles looking on - whether out of envy (but he'd be welcome too, if he'd only stay) or bemusement, it's difficult to judge.

Not doing anything special - but can't ever remember one single b/day I've ever had when I did.

Dinner will be my absolute favourite in the entire gastronomical history of the world - eggs, chips and beans (chips = French fries):-

Eggs - let's have four (five would be gluttony!), fried in veg oil, turned over for about 30 secs
Chips - in a heap. Maris Piper potatoes, chunky, and fried till they are deep brown and crisp
(Baked) Beans - in a separate bowl (so as not to cross-spoil). 'Heinz' from a tin, most of the sauce drained off and a large pinch of curry powder added.
- and perhaps a cheap and cheerful Shiraz might help ease the entire meal's path down my gullet.

Now, I defy anyone to suggest a dish more sublime than that. Simply unbeatable! The perfect celebratory repast.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

My few days away - the evidence.





Returned yesterday after my annual (sometimes bi-annual) visit to my sister's on Teesside, on the English north-east coast.
The seated trio is myself with my sister and her hubby, Ted.

During my stay visited Whitby, the best known town close by. It was once a thriving fishing port, and though it still has that industry, it's on a much-reduced scale.
Whitby was given particular additional fame by Bram Stoker who chose to have his Count Dracula land in England here.
In the final picture, on the summit of the hill are the ruins of St Hilda's Abbey, originally 7th century and sacked by the Vikings two centuries later, though nothing of the original remains apart from the site. It was restored in 1078 and remained an establishment of high national and indeed, international, significance until 1540 when Henry VIII dissolved all the country's monasteries on declaring himself head of the church in England in place of the Pope . (The little 'ship' in the same photo is a tourist sight-seeing boat for harbour and sea trips. Tacky, but also rather quaint.)

Okay, history lesson over. Now let's get back into routine.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Howlers from 'The Weakest Link'

Yesterday: -
Q. "Which Jewish place of worship is derived from the Hebrew word for 'assembly'?
Answer offered: "Mosque".

Recently:-
Q."Which African city is overlooked by Table Mountain?"
A: "California"

Q."Which country in the British Commonwealth has the highest population?"
A: "Russia"

and a golden oldie:-
Q." Which Royal House succeeded the Tudors?"
A: "Buckingham Palace"


I know people say that when you're actually on a TV programme it's much harder, but these are classic clangers which would shame any schoolkid - or at least I'd like to think so.
I have been four times on a BBC radio quiz (on music), recorded in a theatre before a live audience of 200 or so, broadcast not only nationally, but also worldwide on the BBC World Service, and I was never so over-dazzled by the experience that I gave inane answers.
I sometimes think there really are just so many genuinely ignorant people around that it makes me want to despair. Of course most of us believe in democracy and the right of everybody to vote (and, incidentally, I support the enfranchisement of all prisoners, whatever their crime, sadly not practiced the U.K.), but to think that there are so many uninformed people whose votes count as much as one's own is scary. Many of them don't even know the name of our Prime Minister or, say, which political party Mrs Thatcher led. (Oh dear, complaining about other people's voting sounds dreadfully reactionary but I'm really taking a swipe at a certain widespread woeful ignorance rather than the fact that people are entitled vote, which of course is surely an inviolable right.)

By the way, the first example above is not untypical of the confusion many seem to express between Islam and Judaism. I find they always tend to mistake the latter for the former, rarely the other way around. I've no doubt that when members of either faith hear such responses they are tearing their hair out, and with just cause.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Those spooky but wonderfully inexplicable moments of foreknowledge.

I'm sure that just about everybody gets a random thought about something in advance of unexpectedly experiencing it. Yesterday afternoon I was sitting here at the computer when the memory of an old 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' TV programme popped into my mind, ostensibly for no reason at all. I must have seen it in about 1960 and have certainly never seen it again. It concerned the macabre tale of a man who was thought to be dead but was actually alive and conscious, though showing no external signs of life. Various people (hospital staff? Undertakers? I can't remember) were discussing him and how to dispose of his body. In a voice-over he expressed his helpless horror at seeing and listening to them and his intense frustration at not being able to indicate that he was, in fact, still alive. Just when he was on the verge of giving up, one of the staff in the room notices a tear running from his permanently-open, weeping eye. That is the indicator that saves him from, literally, a fate worse than death. So after momentarily reflecting on this story for just a few seconds I dismissed it from my mind.
Then this morning I take the top book from my pile of 'still to read' (about 20 books currently). It's a Stephen King compendium of 14 short stories entitled 'Everything's Eventual'. I read the first story, called 'Autopsy Room Four'. Imagine the shiver up my spine when I find not only that it consists of a very similar situation to the TV programme which I'd been thinking about, though set, unsurprisingly, in an autopsy room, but in an afternote to the story, King actually mentions this very Hitchcock TV programme of 50 years back which had just popped into my head yesterday. (Incidentally, he says that the actor playing the subject was Joseph Cotten, a name which, at my age then, wouldn't have meant anything to me.) What a weird feeling it was! It makes one stop and ask oneself "Just what is going on here?" But at the same time as it's unsettling, it's also satisfying and intriguing.
The argument against the significance of such events is that one thinks of so many things, several hundred in the course of one day alone, that it's hardly surprising that now and again a seemingly random thought is bound to correspond with a later-occurring experience.
An even more spectacular incident happened for me when I was once in Amsterdam when, for reading material, I'd taken with me a single-volume Shakespeare play (as one does), this one being Richard II. Before going out to see the then new film of D.H.Lawrence's 'The Rainbow' (released in that city before it opened in England) I read a passage from the play which included the use of the word 'camel' and in an annotated explanation at the bottom of the page I learnt that the word, as well as being the hump-backed ruminant creature, also meant a stout kind of rope. Reference was made to Jesus' saying that "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (apologies if I haven't got the wording exactly right), which makes more sense when 'camel' = 'rope' than the animal trying to get through that minuscule aperture. (Since then the situation became more confused when I learnt that one of the city gates of ancient Jerusalem had the nickname of 'The Needle's Eye' because it was so narrow and low. So who knows now to what Jesus was actually referring? But, depending on the interpretation, while one is pretty difficult to achieve, the camel-animal going through the eye of a sewing needle is, if it needs saying at all, impossible. So, having just read that information about 'camel' and 'rope', I put the book down and went out to the cinema. When the film started, the very opening scene was a church service with the preacher declaiming from the pulpit "It is easier for a camel to pass through......" More shivers down the spine. Spooky or what?