All posts by Rob in Japan

One Summer I….

One summer I went swimming in the river with my best friend. We left our clothes underneath a railway bridge. They were covered with mud when we got back.

One summer I managed to find out where the girl I had a crush on lived. I went to her house and we played old computer games. I can’t remember what they were called. I didn’t see her again.

One summer one of our goats gave birth to kids. I missed it because I was at the cinema watching Batman Forever. When I came home there were three new born kids. The dog ate the placenta.

One summer I thought about what I wanted for Christmas and wrote a list. It was July.

One summer I tried Sainsbury’s Classic cola. I couldn’t see what the fuss was all about.

One summer I delivered newspapers in the afternoon. It was very hot and one old woman invited me inside for a glass of orange juice.

One summer I tried to masturbate. I sat in a room for ages but nothing happened.

One summer I went fishing with my friend. We used my father’s fishing rod and bought bait from the local store. I caught a big fish and tried my first cigarette.

One summer I learnt my lines for the part of Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet. I liked the girl who played Juliet but my friend was Romeo so they got together instead of her and me.

One summer I stayed in my room watching Nightmare on Elm Street and all the other films I wanted to watch when I was too young to see them.

One summer we went on a family holiday to Scotland, it was very cold. I wanted to go to Italy instead.

One summer I went inside my sister’s bedroom. I went through her stuff and she was angry with me.

One summer I tried sailing, but the boat wasn’t big enough. I sat on shore instead drinking rum and coke.

One summer I played Michael Jasckson albums all day. I had posters on my bedroom wall and two of his music videos.

One summer a friend’s brother went to see Madonna in concert on the Girlie Tour. I couldn’t believe that someone so famous would actually come to the UK. I thought Madonna was sexy, it was at the time when Rain was released. I had that song on cassette.

One summer I found £20 in town. Me and my friend went to the burger bar for chips and a milkshake. I can’t remember what I spent the rest of the money on.

One summer I put sachets of tomato ketchup under the wheels of my mum’s parked car. When she drove off they splattered on the ground.

One summer we got an old apple press from our grandparents. We spent days pressing them to make juice.

One summer the post office was robbed. It made the national news.

One summer I made a bow and arrow and fired it at my younger sister.

One summer I went to school for extra lessons. I had to repeat my History paper because I had glandular fever when it was set.

Looking at the presentation of the American male in American Psycho and Shame

Although these films were released at a distance of 10 years, and are stylistically radically different, they both in fact go some way towards an in depth study of the American man. In my opinion, they are the closest we have to getting a real look at how men act and think, these two films have gone further than any other film in doing this.

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American Psycho had a long history of controversy before it was adapted as a film. Already the target of feminists and Christian groups, there was shock and surprise when it looked as though Leonardo Di Caprio was to star in Oliver stone’s film of the book. That never happened. Instead, Christian Bale was bought in to play the role of wall Street trader Patrick Bateman. Perhaps the role was too controversial for any mainstream actor to risk, although I can picture Tom Cruise as having possibly the right combination of vacuity and good looks to have been able to have done a good job. In the book Bateman is seen as a completely self absorbed person, unable to relate to any body except in terms of how he can exploit them.

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Told in the first person, the book only gives us Bateman’s perspective and we are left with less doubt as to whether these terrible events described in graphic detail have actually occured, In the film, we are able to see alternate viewpoints and it is in fact less clear as to whether we can trust what we see on screen. Like the film, the book ends without a clear resolution. Bateman is at a restaurant with his colleagues. In the previous scene he has just confessed to his lawyer the murders of several prostitutes, homeless people, and Paul Allen. In the next scene, this is contradicted.  He is dismissed by a business associate as having left the message on his answer phone as a prank. As for Paul Allen, he was not murdered with an axe, but was seen in London a few days ago. The film thus suggests that all the murders and violence were played out in Bateman’s mind, fantasies of power which he wished to hold over people. Now, perhaps this is a satire of the politics of Ronald Reagan and the Iran Contra Affair. But I don’t think this was Bret Easton Ellis’ original idea.

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Lets take a good look at the scene where Bateman murders Paul Allen. They have met at Texarcana,  a deeply unfashionable restaurant which Bateman booked after he was unable to reserve a table at the coveted Dorsia (a fictional restaurant, although other restaurants mentioned are Nells and Odeon were popular restaurants in the day and mentioned throughout the novel). Paul Allen complains that they should have gone to Dorsia, which Bateman refutes ‘nobody goes there’. In other words, Bateman is desperately uncool and out of his league next to the more successful, therefore more attractive Paul Allen. It wasn’t made so clear in the book how uncool Bateman was, but Christian Bale plays him as a complete jerk. It is therefore easier to laugh at him rather than to fear him.

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Now, how about Brandon in Shame? He isn’t anywhere near the monster that Bateman was. For a start he is nice to people, opening doors for women outside his office building, and he doesn’t kill people. Still, there is something very cold and sinister about him. The film’s masterful opening sequence intercuts slowed down scenes of him staring trance like at a female passenger on a subway train, walking naked to the bathroom in his bare apartment, shot full frontal, the film shows Fassbender at his most naked physically and emotionally. What are we to make of all this? Its very much in a European arthouse style. There is no dialogue for the first two minutes or so. stylistically we are a million miles from the stylised eighties gloss of American Pyscho. Its worth mentioning that teh director of Shame won the Turner Prize in 2008 before directing his first film Hunger, about the IRA dissident Bobby Sands.

Straight away the film lets us know that there is something deeply disturbing about Brandon. Its there on the train, when he can’t accept that the female passenger has got away from him. Still, the film shows behaviour that I would not consider extreme, and which I would say is far more common among men than people believe.

Pornography

Both Bateman and Brandon are avid users of pornography. In American Psycho Bateman rents Videos with titles like ‘Inside Lydia’s Ass’. In Shame, Brandon watches internet porn on his laptop. We are now at the stage when a character in a movie can be seen to sit calmly and watch porn and this is not something to be shocked by, since we know that this is one of the reasons why men spend so much time online. What makes Brandon’s case more interesting is his involvement in porn, his total focus and his ability to screen external distractions, or anything that spoils his enjoyment. The scene I am discussing starts in the first 15 minutes of the film. Brandon enters his apartment, opens a beer from the fridge. He puts it down beside a box of takeout Chinese food. He walks over to his turnatable and drops the stylus on a record playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Only after these preparations can he then turn to his laptop and enjoy the extremes of live internet sex and xxx chat sites. No doubt Patrick Bateman would appreciate such details, all the fashionable accoutrements of the modern single man, although Shame does not go anywhere American Psycho in its relentless product placement.

Relationships with women

Brandon is a man with an insatiable lust for women. No, he is obssessed with sleeping with women. he is inacpable of having any lasting intimacy with a woman, his longest relationship lasted for three months. He is what some women might euphemistically call a committment phobe. In fact he is totally committed to pursuing his goal, and that appears to have sex with as many women as possible. Patrick Bateman was in a relationship with Evelyn, played by Reese Witherspoon. The fact that Brandon refuses any kind of long term relationship makes him unique as a male lead, and I would say, not since Richard Gere as the American Gigolo has a main character in a movie been so against love and committment. Yet as we see, Bramdon is a man totally confident, able to attract women in bars without any pick-up lines or attempts to impress them. quite why he is so opposed to relationships with women we are not sure. The woman who gets closest to him is his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) who comes to stay for an indefinite length of time. The one woman then he cannot turn away, because Brandon has a sense of decency, and even throws away his porn-clogged laptop, but the sex addicted Brandon remains. Troublingly, Brendan’s nighttime rendezvous in the streets lead him to the kind of dives Bateman would not be seen dead in. There is nowhere too insalubrious that Brandon will not go to, he even visits a gay club and has oral sex in a toilet. Not a sign of homosexuality but the sign of man desperate for any physical contact. Whilst most of these sexual encounters he has are grimly routine, there is one rather beautiful scene towards the end where Brandon has a threesome with two escorts and attains some pleasure, thank god.

Restaurants

In both films restaurants play a big part. For Batemen, going to the right restaurants is proof that he is a better person. Such status comes from not doing anything for others or through work but merely by eating the very best food in the chicest establishments. No wonder his favourite magazine is GQ. For Brandon, they serve as way stations between meeting and having sex, which he knows will happen before he has ordered his entree. There are endless descriptions of food in american Psycho declaimed by Christian Bale in a portentous diction as though he were dictating copy for the NY Times.

Music

Bateman listens to MOR: Genesis, Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis and the News. A true hipster would have preferred Talking Heads or New Order, though his outre music taste is one of the many objectionable parts of his character. Brandon listens to classical music at home (see above) and knows about jazz, even going to hear Cissy sing a slo-moed New York New York in a wine bar, but this lovely languid divertissement is broken by Brandon’s oafish boss who to our relief is dissuaded from going on a date with her. At an upscale bar Genius of Love is playing, the song was used in the film of American Psycho. Concidence or not, these films do stand comparisons, and it would be fascinating to watch them as a double bill.

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Is Brandon a sex addict, or is he simply the same as all men, but less able to have commitment? Most men, would have more sexual experiences of the kind Brandon engages in but the sad thing is they will probably never have the chance.

Tribute to the ‘dean of the screen’: man who invented motion picture animation

A look back at how J Stuart Blackton invented film animation  

amongst the father’s of early cinema are the well known group comprising the Lumiere Brothers, W D Griffith, Erich Von Stroheim, Charlie Chaplin. Yet one who is not so well known yet had as great an influence on the development of cinema is Blackton, creator of the hugely successful Humourous phases of funny faces:

This is one of the first animated films after Charles Emile Reynaud’s.  In the film, Blackton draws two comic characters on a blackboard using chalk, they appear to move and engage in playful antics. Although the film uses mostly live action instead of animation it had a great influence on later animated films.

Next was “The Haunted Hotel” (1907), another Vitagraph short directed by Blackton. The “Haunted Hotel” was mostly live-action, about a tourist spending the night in an inn run by invisible spirits. Most of the effects are also live-action (wires and such), but one scene of a dinner making itself was done using stop-motion, and was presented in a tight close-up that allowed budding animators to study it for technique.

As well as these early efforts Blackton produced countless films of early cinema, including the first adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Of the 167 films listed on the imdb website, these are the most worthy of attention are: 

Raffles, The Life of Moses, The Battle Cry of Peace, Womanhood, The Glorious Adventure (in Prizmacolour), On the banks of the Wabash, The Clean Heart, The Beloved Brute, Gypsy Cavalier, Tides of Passion, Bride of the Storm and The Happy Warrior.

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J Stuart Blackton: 1875 – 1941  

John Travolta and why those gay rumours just won’t stop

Every time i put the name of a Hollywood star or famous musician into Google it fills in my search with gay. It doesn’t matter how seemingly straight whoever the person in question might be. It appears that we can’t help but be fascinated by the sexuality of famous people. This week’s famous un-outed but probably gay actor is John Travolta. Lets start by having a look at some of the film’s he’s famous for making: Saturday Night Fever, a disco film about a working class Italian who competes in dance contests in nightclubs. So far so camp. Grease, the most over the top, stupid and annoying musical, with tight clothes and quiffed hair, and homoerotic dance routines with pumped up yoing men wearing leather. Admittedly Travolta played in Pulp Fiction with Samuel Jackson as a pair of hitmen, but his character didn’t dare make a move on Uma Thurman.

So what does Travolta do outside of acting? well apart from being a member of Tom Cruise’s favourite religious cult  (and Cruise himself no stranger to gay rumors) Travolta is known as being a professional pilot. This is where the allegations have been coming in thick and fast. Travolta has recently been sued by a former pilot who claims that Travolta had an affair with him. In response, lawyers working for Travolta have threatened  to sue Gottterba, claiming he had signed a confidentiality agreement that forbids disclosing information to the press.

To be fair, the alleged affair took place between 1981 and 1992, the year that Travolta married actress Kelly Preston. Since that time Gotterba has not had any contact with the actor.

There were further allegations this last year. 

In May, two masseurs — known to the public as John Doe #1 and John Doe #2 — and a cruise worker named Fabian Zanzi, sued Travolta over accusations of improper sexual behaviour. Both cases were dropped. It was made clear that in the case of John Doe #1 the incident had taken place in a location where Travolta had not been present the day it was alleged to have taken place. Most probably the allegations of Gotterba, a nobody, will be dismissed in the same fashion. Still, as long as their are workers who have an axe to grind against their former employer, the rumours will continue to flourish. and the last word on Travolta is that according to Carrie Fisher she has always known that the star is gay and should come out and say it.

 

Christmas not over yet

I don’t understand why so many people get rid of their Christmas decorations on the first day of the New Year. for one thing, its depressing in January, More importantly, there are 12 days of Christmas, Twelth Night is according to Wikipedia,  the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking”. 

That’s a good as reason as any for a lst hurrah before the return to hard work and sobriety.

In Spain they eat a cake called the King’s Ring, see picture below,

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Sex scandal of silent screen icon Clara Bow

Having watched BBC four’s tribute to one of early cinema’s biggest stars made me keen to learn more about Clara Bow. Here is what I dug up:


Clara was born in poverty in the slums of Brooklyn, her father was a drunk and her mother was in and out of mental asylums. She was extremely popular in films for a while, her most noted film was ‘It’, the it of the title referring to sex appeal.  She found it hard to converge her private life with her screen roles. Her famous lovers included Gary Cooper, Victor Fleming, Gilbert Roland, and Harry Richman.

Revelations of her affairs, including an orgy with a football team, came out during a court case in 1931, when she sued her former secretary, who had embezzled and tried to blackmail her. The scandal put an end to Paramount. Her husband was cowboy turned politician Rex Bell.

Completley unneccesary film trashes memory of Hollywood

Warped genius? Toby Jones starred as Hitchcock, with Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren

In all my years of watching films and mad-for tv productions I have never witnessed quite such a wrongheaded and misguided undertaking as BBC 2’s The Girl, a supposedly accurate account of Hitchcock’s warped obsession with actress Tippi Hedren.

As Hitch buffs already know, Hedren became Hitchcock’s newest blonde muse in 1963, when Grace Kelly refused his pleas to leave her gilded palace in Monaco and come back to work with him.  (Kelly had already starred in Dial M for Murder, Rear Window and To Catch a Thief, all Hitchcock films).

At the beginning of the film, Hitchcock and his wife watch an advert on TV and think that the model would be perfect for his new film. So he arranges for her to attend casting and is instantly smitten, giving her the part of Melanie Daniels in his adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds. So far this goes along with reality but soon the story took a dangerous turn into unreality. All of a sudden Hitchcock forces himself onto the uinwitting star, trying to woo her byu reciting lewd limericks and leching over her at every available opportuinity, though whether any of this actually happened is anyone’s guess (Hedren has said in interviews that Hitchcock did sexually harrass her).

In the most disturbing scene, thew director terrorised Hedren, first by flying a mechancial bird on a wire into a phonebooth and shattering her with broken glass, then, in the attic scene, by having live birds swoop and fleck at her and repeating the process a dozen times until Hedren is caked in blood. Again, I doubt very mnuch if this actually took place but the film took every opportunity going to paint the legendary director as a wheezing sex maniac, looking like cross between a circus dwarf and the elephant man. At least Sienna Miller as Hedren was given the opportunity to show how beautiful she can be, although she is in reality too slim and angular to play the inreal life shorter Tippi Hedren, who was also a much worse actress. It wasn’t enough to stop the film from being an unseemly and revisionist account of the twentieth century’s most talened director, and it got it wrong to the last by claimiming that Marnie (1964) was his last masterpiece, when that honour must surely go to Frenzy (1972).

 

HOT SATURDAY: The very modern bromance of Cary Grant and Randolph Scott

 

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Everyone knows Cary Grant, debonair English born actor of North By Northwest and The Philadelphia Story. He started his acting career aged 16 in Vaudeville before settlling in Hollywood. His first break was opposite Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus, He then played alongside Mae Venus in She Done Him Wrong. It was ‘The Awful Truth’ that first introduced audiences to the Cary Grant persona: a highly polished, fabulously groomed gentleman, an absolute master at flirtation. It is during this period that things get interesting for us. In the generally repressed 30s Grant shared a bachelor apartment with fellow actor Randolph Scott, an actor no less handsome and surely the masculine ideal of cinema. (see photo below)

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They shared a house on Santa Monica. The photos below show just how close the two were:

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Grant loved only two things more than women and films: physical fitness

Or a game of table tennis

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looking playful

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playing a competitive game of backgammon

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Enjoying an intimate dinner

Even though they totalled seven marriages together they enjoyed a glorious homosocial relationship, as these candid photos reveal. frankly, they were hardly discreet in showing their affection:

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They were really very modern in the way they lived. Its good to know that they managed to live out their lives even at a time when the very dangerously oppressive and intolerant.

Who’s Sorry Now? Or how beneath the schmaltz of Connie Francis lay murder and rape

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Connie Francis in an MGM publicity photo

Connie Francis has a voice that has been described as sounding like melting honey. And she released some of the most sugary and anodyne songs in the American songbook, pop-rockers like Lipstick on Your Collar and Stupid Cupid were big hits. They were released during the strange period in music between Elvis going to war (1956) and the Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Francis sang about young love and going on v-a-c-a-t-i-o-n. By 1962 she had amassed enough hit songs to fill two sides of a Greatest Hits Record. Her albums continued to pour out, covers of songs written by Les Reed and Bert Bacharach. She recorded two excellent country albums, though they weren’t massive hits. Connie became more successful in European countries, recording albums in Spanish, Greek and German.

She even starred in a few films, as most singers were sometimes ill-advised to do. Where the Boys Are is worth a mentiion, if only to see how inoffensively American teenagers were depicted in films of this era. The film even tries to incorporate some of the surf mania that was becoming a feature of American culture at this time.

After the sixties Connie Francis’ life took an unexpectedly tragic turn.

While appearing at the Westbury Music Fair in New York, on November 8, 1974, Francis was raped at the Jericho Turnpike Howard Johnson’s Lodge and nearly suffocated to death under the weight of a heavy mattress the culprit had thrown upon her. She subsequently sued the motel chain for failing to provide adequate security and reportedly won a $2.5 million judgment, at the time one of the largest such judgments in history, leading to a reform in hotel security. Her rapist was never found.
In 1977, Francis underwent nasal surgery and completely lost her voice. She went through several more operations and even when she got her voice back, she was forced to take vocal lessons, something she had never done before.

More tragedy

In 1981 her brother George Franconero was killed by mafia hitmen. Franconero was a lawyer co-operating with authoirties against organised crime figures. Further sadness followed when her father had her admitted to a psyciatric hospital in Dallas, claiming she was a danger to herself. Connie got out four days later but her father had her commited to a mental hospital in Florida. Once more Connie got herself released. Then one night in February, while at her home in Essex Falls, N.J., she decided to end her life. Alone in the master bedroom of her sprawling pink ranch house, Connie reached for a bottle of sleeping pills and swallowed a handful of tablets. The following morning a housekeeper found her lying across the bed, unconscious but alive. “I was really in bad shape until April of this year,” admits Connie. “It’s very unusual to get the kind of second chance I got. But a third chance is almost unheard of.”

In a sense her whole life has been a series of chances won or lost. There is no doubt that she owes most of her success to her father’s controlling management of her. She won a talent contest aged 4, 15 years later her woeful Who’s sorrry Now sold a million copies.

|As of 2011 Connie Francis continues to perform, bathed in white light, the words to the hit Among My Souvenirs sounding out:

There’s nothing left for me
Of days that used to be
They’re just a memory
Among my souvenirs

her memories forgotten in her fans’ rapturous applause.

prostitutes, meth and murder; the ultimate exploitation news story from the jungle of Belize

The recent news story of the murder of Gregory Faull has become a frenzy of media interest due to the man involved: J0hn Mcafee, the Silicon Valley who years ago made millions from the anti- virus software that still bears his name. Ever since the body of  Faull on November 11, lying dead in a pool of blood in his home, Mcafee has gone into hiding.

According to the International Herald Tribune, before he became a cyber renegade, ‘Mr Mcafee led a noisy, opulent and increasingly stressful life in Belize. He was known for the retinue of prostitutes who moved in and out of his house and for employing armed guards, some of whom stood watch on the beach abutting his house. he also kept a pack of dogs on his property who barked at and sometimes bit passers by.’

Faull had apparently been bitten by one of the dogs, and had complained to police, but nothing had been done. That appears to have been a blunder in hindsight, Mcafee has said in his blog that he had no choice to flle, fearing that the police were trying to kill him. Some Mcafee watchers have a different take, claiming Mcafee had become paranoid after months of experimenting with and consuming MDPV, a psychoactive drug, these experiments were detailed on Bluelight, a blog used by some drug hobbyists.

whatever the truth, Mcafee now lives a dissident life, the details of which have gone viral. He has a reputation for being a first class hoaxer, pranks turn up in his professional life time and time again.

He has recently surfaced in Guatemala, where he has been denied asylum. Mcafee claims he wants to return to the US but does not know when that will be possible. He is still considered a ‘person of interest in the Faull case. In a recent interview in the Financial  Times he spoke abot the constraints of his wealth:

One mistake was building so many different properties around the world – at least 20. “The South Padre Island one? I spent $5million building it – I was there for one week.”

In aother words, there is a chance that he has become bored by his wealth and prefers life on the run. The final irony? He doesn’t even use Mcafee, saying,”I take it off.  Its too annoying.”

 

Rob Cottingham, 10/12/12