Thursday, 19 December 2013

It's That Time of Year Again

We're hurtling towards 'Change your calendar or look cheap' day. Or January 1st depending on your mood.  It's that time of year where enforced jollity and gluttony will give way to guilt and an empty wallet.  That's when it's time to make silly promises to yourself: a month of no drinking, cutting down chocolate, going vegetarian, other half hearted 'resolutions.'  Maybe even the doozy, the Big Kahuna: detox.  The trouble is it won't really be a detox.  You'll replace a couple of lattes with green tea and an extra glass of water, you'll carry on eating bread but you might have a salad with a few added goji berries or whatever else is fashionable.  True detox is painful and disgusting, the body likes its little addictions to sugar and caffeine and will punish you for depriving it of a fix.  Headaches and bad breath are the least of your worries and you'll still pop the ibuprofen to keep aches at bay, defeating the object.

So there we go, a couple of weeks without a Dairy Milk before you cave in and gorge on unseasonably early Creme Eggs (don't worry, they'll be on special offer) maybe 'just one' glass of wine, perhaps you'll give yourself a night off from spin class and the treadmill 'just this once'.  Whatever it is there will always be something chipping away at the good intention. Maybe you'll dig your heels in and go for the ultimate in New Year's Resolutions and give up smoking.

I'm a smoker, not an ex-smoker.  I'm a smoker.  On hiatus, I don't think you can ever be an 'ex-smoker.'  My relationship with nicotine has lasted half my life yet this break came abruptly.  I didn't resolve to give up.  I just stopped smoking.  OK, so there was a hangover that lasted three days and fully earned its 'epic' tag but that's just circumstance.  As my body revolted against imbibing I couldn't face having a cigarette, my stomach couldn't face that kickstart and it occurred to my fogged mind that I had no craving for the deathstick.  In fact I hadn't knowingly thought about a cigarette let alone having a smoke.  So that was that, no need to go to the corner shop, no need to wonder who nicked my lighter, no need to have emergency matches.  No need to say 'keep an eye on me pint, I'm going for a faaaaag.'

Giving up helps you live longer, or does it just seem like longer? Was that George Bernard Shaw? If Jed Bartlet doesn't know, how the bloody Hell should I?  What I do know is that I don't really miss it.  I do miss not being able to get into a pair of 28" jeans.  I don't miss the stone and a half I've put on as I graze the sweetie jar a little too much.  Almost constant gum chewing accompanies the now perpetual cold I endure but I can smell and taste more.  Sometimes a blessing as fruit is rediscovered; sometimes a curse as August journeys on the Northern Line take their toll.  I do miss the feeling of  a billion black stars exploding in my bloodstream, the chemical warmth flooding my body, the kohl supernova as nicotine infused blood reaches the heart.  I  do miss the pleasant lightheadedness of the morning's pre-breakfast B&H unravelling the muscles and feeding the receptors created in my brain.  I miss watching the blueish white smoke curl and crawl into frosty air, wisping towards leafless trees.  I associate smoking almost exclusively with winter.  Despite this, I wonder if I ever actually enjoyed smoking or if it was just a habit.  There would be that first cigarette in 24 hours that would floor you, raising the blood pressure and greening the gills.  I don't miss the lonely walk to the smoking area.  I don't miss the disapproving looks outside the hospital or the shopping centre.  I don't miss the cigarettes annoying ability to fill your eyes with stinging smoke.  The smell of cigarettes is horrible, the yellow fingers are repulsive, the price of a twenty deck is forbidding and yet they still appeal.

I stopped smoking without patches, without e-cigarettes or even gum.  I bought nicotine gum 'just in case.'  The stuff is vile.  It's flavour is what I imagine an ashtray would taste like and it attacks the gums like a feverish jalapeno begging to be spat out.  There have been lapses, drunken of course, as I've let myself have two and half fagerettes in just shy of a year.  Pretty good seeing that I went through upward of 30 a day way back when.  You can add another 20 deck to that if it was a long night out and about.

So don't bother with resolutions.  It'll just be another wasted gym membership.  Just do what you want.  If that means you stop drinking or deepthroating Mars bars then stop.  Get help if you need to but don't do it because you ought; do it because you want to. It'll never work otherwise.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Batmania and the Burton Vindication


The mid '80s were a time of trickle-down travesties and trade union bashing.  It was all rather miserable and bleak and I was merely a child.  Despite the doom and gloom two things were happening in sunny Los Angeles: Jack Nicholson turned chewing scenery on screen into an art form and Tim Burton became attached to possible Batman movie.  Burton, an animator, had been faffed about by Disney and stumbled into success when Pee-Wee's Big Adventure inexplicably became a box office hit off a tiny budget. Further success came with the sublime Beetlejuice and Warner Bros decided to greenlight Batman with Burton at the helm.  Then the problems began.

One of the best graphic novels ever
Now, as we learnt from Superman a comic book movie can't have a smooth production.  The '80s had seen the rise of the graphic novel with Frank Miller and Alan Moore giving Batman a grittier, bleaker flavour, truly The Dark Knight.

When Michael Keaton was cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman it seemed that the new movie would be completely at odds with this.  Burton was known for cartoon colour whilst Michael Douglas changed his name to Keaton (after Buster) and shed the taxi cab for comedy.  Now think back to Batman's previous big screen outing in 1966.  Were Warner Bros making their version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  Unfounded omens didn't look good and Warner Bros responded by hiring Bob Kane as a consultant who approved of the project.

Burton bristled against the producers as he tried to cast Brad Dourif as The Joker whilst they had already approached Nicholson for the role amidst rumours of David Bowie and Willem Dafoe.  Who else but Jack could be The Joker?  Well on the way to legendary status and one of the few remaining hellraisers of Hollywood, Nicholson would bring Oscar laden credibility to the production.  He'd done big, hammy characters with The Witches of Eastwick and The Shining and long shouldered the burden of stardom from Five Easy Pieces onwards. Not that bagging Jack would be easy.  An incalculable fee that made the Guinness Book of Records and a contract that would make it easy to be louche were minimum requirements.  Let's face it Jack can do what he bloody well wants and we'll all approve at the smallest glint of that grin.  Factor in a horse riding accident and an oddly predictable writers' strike and cameras were almost ready to roll.  Filming at Pinewood was secret and such was the clamour building that police had to be called when footage went missing.

Batman was a changing beast.  It was changing from a superhero movie or a comic book film into a revolution.  The marketing alone changed the nature of the summer blockbuster.  Teaser posters were everywhere.  Spring sunshine was soaked up by black posters bearing only the symbol of the bat.  Merchandising became omnipresent, from the usual novel to the slightly unusual cereal.  I've still got my Mattel Batmobile knocking around.  It needs a lick of paint and those eBay prices make you faint.  Batman had two soundtrack albums with a Prince soundtrack cementing Batman's place in the zeitgeist.

Batman saw a change in the approach to traditional origin story telling.  The Wayne tragedy occurs in flashback and whilst there are a few liberties taken with the comics it's true enough, establishing just enough of Bruce Wayne's pathos without becoming cloying.  Unfortunately, we also have an origin for The Joker when the ambiguity and mystery of the comics make him all the more fearful by not giving him a definitive past.

Our opening scenes produce a neat and clever twist as comic book fans are invited into the Wayne's mugging only to be displaced.  This displacement is largely down to the film's tone and setting.  Our perceptions of time are being played with.  Burton's retro-futuristic Gotham is an homage to Fritz Lang yet it's populated by ageless automobiles and muggers taunt us with the very '80s American Express.  The '50s curves of the Batmobile caressed the ugliness of the city in a way Nolan's and Schumacher's never did. Amongst the seediness is an elegance and colour is supplied by Burton and exploited by The Joker.  Green and purple collide with newsprint and darkness throught the film.

Our main players are introduced and sub-plots established.  A jealous love triangle, police corruption and Mob betrayal give way to the chaos of The Joker as he attempts to eliminate Batman at the bicentennial parade.  There's a pace to the story that is hampered by the writers' strike as the middle section of the film becomes a number of set pieces loosely connected.  The Joker's mime act lacks build up and the unexplained disappearance of the Gotham City Police Department is jarring as is Batman's attack on Axis Chemicals.  It's a shame there hasn't been a director's cut to add some flesh to these bones.  There's plenty on show that is glorious, from the pure glee on Nicholson's face after joy buzzer deployment to the excellence of Keaton's performance of the fractured Bruce Wayne,  looks like Burton got that one spot on, from the model cathedral to the parade balloons leaking Smilex gas.  The juxtaposition of the manic Joker against Bruce Wayne/Batman's (probably more dangerous) pathology is as potent as it ever will be.

It'll be twenty years before an unnecessary argument over whose Joker is better: an argument that can't be settled by the way.

It'll be twenty years before the breaking of Bruce Wayne is explored again and Batman's position as a necessary but flawed hero is restored.

Before then there's some PVC, nipples and neon and too much pantomime but Batman will return.




Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Superman: The End?

The ejaculation of Superman
Hang about. Superman doesn't need oxygen again? He can speak Russian? He's got another glowy crystal space dildo?  Superman can make things invisible just by squatting near them?  Has Superman's outfit faded in the wash?  These are just a few of the many, many questions raised by Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.  The biggest question of all is just who thought this would be a good idea.  Donner wouldn't go near it and Lester wouldn't touch it with a bargepole either.  The previous films had been huge affairs, lavish almost but here is the Poundland version.  The unmistakable concrete of Milton Keynes dominates as New York's Metropolis becomes a memory.  The Salkinds had sold the rights to the franchise, presumably in a moment of prescience, and despite a halving of budget Cannon Films still put the film into production.  Perhaps it was assumed that the sheer earnestness of the storyline would drag them through.  Cannon obviously weren't content with releasing Masters of the Universe in 1987 so along came another outing for Superman.

Despite the return of Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor as well as Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder everything is just a bit flat.  Reeve didn't really want to come back and was effectively lured in with promises of stroy input, a Street Smart shaped carrot and maybe, just maybe a directorial pop at Superman V.

Reeve wanted the story to be more serious; more faithful to Superman lore and a step away from the good time slapstick of Superman III.  Unfortunately, it seems Cannon Films' scattergun approach to production and corner cutting took greater precedence.  Solid gold nobility in the form of ending the Cold War and nuclear proliferation is the soup du jour.  Croutons take the form of tedious underdeveloped sub plots. The corporate takeover of The Daily Planet is uninteresting and Luthor's newly acquired nephew (who is most definitely not Matthew Broderick) is annoying.  Gone are the days of Puzo's grand vengeance story arc and Mankiewicz rewrites.  And then......then there's Nuclear Man.  Dolph Lundgren was away having a dust up with Frank Langella so the 'role' went to the unknown Mark Pillow.  Poor old Mark couldn't build a career on these fragile foundations.  A flimsy script, dodgy locations and cheap special effects are a plague on all their houses.  Oddly enough, no one seems remotely bothered that Lex Luthor's hair has grown back.  If I'd been Hackman and was playing a role for the THIRD time I think I'd have had a word.  Or a shave.

United Nations based peril
The last time I saw the United Nations on my tellybox Cary Grant found himself in a spot of bother, now Superman goes for his Polaris Missile Removal Scout badge.  ICBMs in their hundreds are rounded up and cast into space.  Yes, it all sounds vaguely familiar and Superman really should have worked out how The Phantom Zone broke two movies ago but on he goes.  These aren't the only feelings of deja vu suffered during Superman IV:The Quest For Peace.  Meanwhile we are asked to accept that Luthor has become a master genetic and nuclear scientist whilst behind bars.  Some pre-Jurassic Park genetic tomfoolery sees Luthor make his evil Superman clone and Nuclear Man is 'born.'  It's all a bit pointless, Superman first appeared in 1938 and so was nearly 50 at the time of production.  As proven by Batman there is a plethora of material to plunder for effective villains.  Couldn't we have had an attempt at Bizarro, Brainiac or even Mister Mxyzptlk?  No, instead we're left with the strangely animated Nuclear Man.  In two year's time Tim Burton will use animated techniques to help The Joker and Batman to much more successful ends.

Everything's just so flimsy,  it's hard to invest or arouse any real interest and you begin to get itchy feet around the 40 minute mark.  From 1978 to 1983 Superman was, literally, on top of the world.  Superman IV: The Quest For Peace was such a hammer blow to the hero's heart it's surprising that even 1999 was early enough for Warner Bros to bash the reboot button.  Especially if those Tim Burton and Superman Returns rumours were true.

This film's only redeeming feature is the double date sequence.  Superman and Lois versus Clark and the entirely forgettable Lacy Warfield.  Superman rekindles his slapstick tendencies but it's Reeve's charm that pulls it all together.  You can almost forgive him for another Rohypnol Kiss earlier in the film.  An epic lunar conclusion is sadly a wasted opportunity as is the Great Wall of China spat and I'm struggling to even wonder that much about all those deleted scenes.  Even The Liability Formerly Known As Jimmy Olsen is an afterthought.

For now, Superman's star has fallen.  There's a bigger shadow coming to take over the late 80s and 1990s.  The Dark Knight is coming back and he looks a lot like Beetlejuice.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

What about Synthetic Unity?

And now Pinky, we will take over the WORLD


1983 was a bit of an odd year cinema wise.  The battle of the Bonds rang out as Octopussy clashed with Never Say Never Again whilst George Lucas released his extended toy advert Return of the Jedi.  Another of the 3s came in the form of Jaws 3-D; three doesn't seem like a lucky number.  Much maligned by the public and critics on release Superman makes his return in the less than originally titled Superman III.  Now, that title is slightly misleading.  Whilst it is Superman III, it's less a superhero movie and more a vehicle for Richard Pryor.  Pryor is cast as Gus Gorman a secondary character and then promptly takes over overshadowing Reeve's overdue top billing.  Pryor was aided in this by director Richard Lester, the usurpation of Richard Donner now complete.  After this, the now mainstreamed Pryor got himself a $40 million contract with Columbia and went on to Brewster's Millions and the like.

Whilst Superman and Superman II were effectively parts of the same film the Salkinds now have their man in charge to deliver the version of Superman that they always wanted.  They've seemingly won the war with Donner but not without consequences.  Gene Hackman refused to have any part of Superman III whilst Margot Kidder is marginalised and so we have a Superman devoid of his nemesis and love interest.  Their replacements aren't entirely effective.  Lex Luthor is replaced by the lightweight Ross Webster played by the efficient Robert Vaughn and Annette O'Toole steps in to be Lana Lang, an entirely unneeded Lois Lane mark II.

Casting isn't the only departure as Superman III has an overly slapstick feel and veers into camp territory from the outset.  The space based opening credits of the first two films is replaced by a slapstick sketch.  If it wasn't for the titles and the merest hint of the Man of Steel you wouldn't know it was a Superman film amongst all the sight gags and penguin based near misses.  Pamela Stephenson meanders through the chaos and will be recycled as the Woman In The Red Dress for The Matrix.

You look very familiar
A nice touch with a photo booth reaffirms Superman's presence before we make way for The Richard Pryor show.  Pryor is Gus Gorman, a bum who develops a penchant for manipulating BBC style computers.  When I was at school there was Repton, we didn't even have the vaguest notion you could use one of those beige beasts to control the weather or an oil tanker.  It makes you wonder what a Sega Dreamcast could have really done.  It's also slightly scary to think that the iPhone in your pocket is a vastly more powerful piece of kit than anything Gorman tapped away at to analyse Kryptonite.

Superman III is a very confused film.  So much seems to have been done on the hoof and this scattergun approach doesn't lend itself to a coherent story.  Why should Kent's return to Smallville coincide with Gorman's need to use an untraceable computer?  It shouldn't but it does.  The return to Smallville also affords the opportunity for The Liability Formerly Known As Jimmy Olsen to find a rival.  Little Ricky might be prepubescent but he makes Olsen look redundant.  Yeah Ricky is a bit of a drip but he has more of an affect on Superman than Olsen and Lane have combined in the previous two films.  This is all down to the best part of Superman III: Supes chemically induced internal conflict.

Smoking kills. Subtle
 Now, we know Superman is an alien and we know that he's going to have some Daddy issues.  Juxtapose that with his protection of the human race from itself and what's left for poor old Kal-El?  Who's giving him a foot massage at the end of the day?  A little bit of tar based blagging from Gorman and we find out that Superman isn't very happy at all.  Some misconstructed Kryptonite leads to Superman, slowly going bad.  The change is subtle in comparison to the visual comedy style Lester has employed so far.  Superman has a cheeky glint in his eye as he fancies a bit of sexy time with Lana before going on a massive bender.  Superpowered peanuts lead to a trip to the junkyard and Superman's internal torment gains physical form.  Whilst this makes little or no sense the battle is magnificent and leads to perhaps the most iconic Superman image ever:  Clark Kent tearing his shirt to show he is Superman Regained.  It wasn't just a case of getting the cape and tights down to the dry cleaners.
Hey kids! Johnnie Walker is bad!
Our reinvigorated hero now has one small job, to defeat Webster who we had largely forgotten about.  Webster's evil scheme has evolved to involve oil tankers, ransoms and now a cave housing the world's most powerful computer.  You see, Gorman had gotten bored of hacking financial systems and traffic lights on his BBC and felt he needed a bit more oomph to really take control.  Apparently weather control isn't enough.  So, some pocket based blueprints become a computer that will give James Cameron ideas and Superman is lured into a trap.  Now for some more inexplicable goings on.  I can deal with a massive computer becoming self aware.  I can deal with said massive self aware computer turning Webster's sister into the genuinely scary Robocop forerunner.  But I can't deal with the massive self aware computer putting Superman into a giant zorbing ball to suffocate him.  I've seen Superman fly through space to turn Earth back in time, I've seen Zod talking on the Moon so why am I now being asked to accept some zorbing based shortness of breath?  It's a good job Superman has access to the pink goo from Ghostbusters II to sort this misfiring computer.



There's still time left for a needless cameo from a future Eastender and a few extra pounds per square inch to put a smile on Lana Lang's face.  Yeah, Superman III is muddled and overly comic but there are some lovely moments and it probably stands as my favourite of the Superman films even with the niggling unanswered question of why Lorelei plays dumb.  Despite all this there's a feeling that the Man of Steel is running out of steam.  He's got one outing left in the 80s and it's not one to look forward to.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Holy Skunk Sweat it's Planet Houston

Superman II is fraught with controversy, or, at least, it was.  If I'm completely honest I have no idea if I saw Richard Donner's restored version first or the Donner/Lester mash up.  There's a kebab joke in there somewhere that I'm too lazy to make. Due to the majority of scenes being filmed alongside Superman we still have a high level of continuity despite some minor flaws.  Brando is surgically removed from the original Superman II  edit to cut costs and Hackman stood by Richard Donner and has minimal screen time.  The hiatus in production sees Christopher Reeve practically Hulk up and Margot Kidder fade away, yet despite all this Superman II falls into that very small group of sequels which are better than their originals.  The main reasons for this look like extras from Cabaret and are called Zod, Ursa and Non.

Our sequel is primarily concerned with Zod's hateful urge for revenge on Jor-El.  The beauty of it all is that we already know this thanks to the original.  Vendetta isn't just the purview of the Mafia but it helps when the ideas are Mario Puzo's.
Zod's Night Off

Hang on a minute.  Zod has been floating through space in the time it's taken Kal-El to grow up.  Is Zod aware that Krypton is no more and Jor-El gone with it? I suppose there'll be a handily placed crystal to help answer such questions.

We are forced to remember Zod et al from Superman due to the jarring introduction to Superman II.  The opening credits are essentially a highlights package from 1978 with a brass introduction.  It's absolutely ages before that swoosh of Alexander Salkind Presents and still no top billing for Christopher Reeve.

Reeve builds on his Woody Allen impression whilst Kidder has gone all gung ho in Paris.  The Inspector Clouseau theatrics are all a set up for an inadvertent jailbreak just off the dark side of the Moon.  It seems that the Kryptonian prison of choice, The Phantom Zone, is a bit fragile near nuclear events.  Given that stars are basically supermassive nuclear reactors and The Phantom Zone floats through space this is a shocking design flaw.  Brando may not be on screen but Jor-El's presence is definitely felt.  That aside, Zod, Ursa and Non's lunar trip is a masterpiece (CLIFF CLAVIN!).  It seems that Kryptonians don't need to breath oxygen which is at odds to Superman's almost drowning in Superman and the big suffocating bubble in Superman III.  Oh, alright, I won't nitpick but I will point out that The Phantom Zone made more noise than the Death Star blowing up.

Lois' suspecting Clark of being Superman is paced wonderfully and the false reveal at Niagara Falls is excellent before Clark's clumsiness around the fireplace ultimately reveals him as the Man of Steel.  It's just slightly surprising that Superman had to save a child and not The Liability Formerly Known As Jimmy Olsen.  Once again the sheer amount of soft focus seems to affect Lois Lane's thought process.  Either that or all those hot dogs have gone to her head.

Once Clark is demasked his and Lois' relationship fully forms and it's now that you see that Tarantino was right when he used Bill for his painful exposition of Superman's myth:

'Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears - the glasses, the business suit - that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent. He’s weak… he’s unsure of himself… he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race. Sorta like Beatrix Kiddo and Mrs. Tommy Plimpton.'

What we're not ready for is Superman to make such a big sacrifice and, quite bizarrely, become a human by way of a crystal box.  Superman taking Lois to the Fortress of Solitude will be echoed in later superhero films, it's almost inevitable that Vicki Vale will find The Batcave in 1989. 

All the while another strand of revenge is forming.  Lex Luthor has escaped from his jail and is pursuing the secrets behind Superman, hoping to uncover something a little stronger than kryptonite.  Luthor begins scheming as he uncovers the relationship between Superman and the soon to be famous General Zod.

I'll ignore the Christian references as Zod rolls into East Houston, Idaho and Sheriff J W Pepper en route to The White House.  Superman is now in a quandary, having given away his powers and getting bitchslapped by trailer trash he realises that Zod will destroy the human race unless he does something.  Luckily, conveniently and inexplicable easily he becomes Kryptonian again and we're all set for the Battle of Metropolis sponsored by Marlboro.
Superman is bad for smoking

In the '70s and '80s smoking was still sexy,
how else would such product placement happen?  The Marlboro van crumpling under Kryptonian is more glaring than the exploding Coca Cola sign.  If any of this looks familiar it's probably because Joss Whedon ripped it off for The Battle of New York in
Avengers Assemble and the uncanny simliarities within The Matrix trilogy.  It seems Hollywood is doing its best to eat itself.




In a seemingly French moment Superman retreats to his North Pole hideaway pursued by the Phantom Zone inmates with Luthor and Lane in tow.  A classic double double bluff sees Zod dealt with but not before one of the strangest things you'll ever see.




The cellophane S attack is bonkers.  After holograms and heat rays comes this.  It doesn't even do anything except leave you scratching your head.  Despite this Zod meets with an unsatisfactory misty end and Luthor is returned to custody.  All that's left is to sort out the now, apparently messy, love story.  It seems that Lois Lane is a bit selfish and doesn't want to share Superman with his planet saving duties.  It begs the question: 'what did she expect?'  Rather than a messy breakup and a potential expose in the Daily Planet Superman comes up with yet another bonkers turn.  the Rohypnol Kiss wipes Lois' memory and all is good again.  Our ultimate boy scout has gone a bit rapey to keep things 'normal.'  There's only one solution to this ethical problem and that's a scheming businessman and a self aware computer but that's next time when Superman a meets crap Eastenders villain in 1983.

One last thing.....whilst everyone kneels before Zod it's worth noting that Bill Cosby doesn't.


Friday, 25 October 2013

Superman: The Vendetta Begins

Look Ma, no wires
Superheroes all have origins and so have to have origin stories.  The trauma of betrayal that awoke crime fighting desire or the bestowal of cosmic gifts need to be explained in order for the audience to buy into the hero and his code of ethics.  Now Superman is arguably the purest of all superheroes, the embodiment of hope, morality and humanitarianism: the very best of mankind. But he's an alien.  How can you reconcile his stellar immigration and emergence as the World's Boy Scout?

Easy.  Give him two ridiculously iconic fathers and get Mario Puzo to write the screenplay.  OK, so maybe most of Puzo's story was ditched by Donner and Mankiewisz but he's still got the writing credit.  It helps that it's 1977 and Kubrick has long opened up special effects use and George Lucas is making space age fairytales popular.  Warner Bros and Richard Donner set out to film Superman and Superman II at the same time.  Quite a show of confidence seeing that this is the first of the blockbuster superhero films; a bold gamble on an unknown quantity as the superhero genre didn't even exist.  It seems production was far from plain sailing from the script rewrite to Brando's diva turn and demands, not to mention having to actually cast Superman at three different ages.  Was Christopher Walken really offered the role? Burt Reynolds too?  Nowadays it's hard to see anyone other than Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel.

It all comes together and becomes the perfect introduction.  We begin on Krypton, the deep space leg of Bowie's Isolar tour.  Krypton is a barren place and essentially a background space for Brando to fill.  Brando's Jor-El is a scientist, a leader and a genius.  Jor-El's hubris is displayed in his dispute
Do not put that up your bum. A & E will bever believe you.
with Krypton's ruling council and not the fact he pops his infant son into a crystal soap dish without as much as a jumper to keep him warm.  Krypton's doom confirms Jor-El's theories yet doesn't explain how he had time to record the history of Earth on crystal sex aids and use them to build his son, Kal-El's, escape pod.

Kal-El hurtles through space and absorbs history, a subtle nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey and a slight confirmation of L Ron Hubbard's belief in engrams.  Not much happens in Smallville till Kal-El crashes at the feet of father number two: Glenn Ford.

Best. Dad. Ever.
Fate may have worked differently and Clark Gable may have been cast as Jonathan Kent and whilst that would have had a cute symmetry for Superman it would have robbed us of Ford's magical turn.  In just one scene Ford shows us effortlessly how a young Clark Kent has been instilled with decency and a very 1950s style of American goodness.  There are few sadder scenes in cinema than Jonathan Kent realising his heart is failing him.  The movie feels like it has barely started and we've so far been introduced to almost everyone important to Superman's development and future including the fleeting appearance of Lois Lane and the reverence for the old Superman TV series.  It's not just Hitchcock who did cameos.

It's about time we saw some scenes of mild peril.  Supes has gotten into his red pants and Clark Kent has become a klutz and inexplicably landed a job in New York Metropolis at The Daily Planet.  He's also developed the rather odd habit of having conversations with a crystal DVD of his father.  Don't worry, Air Force One has engine trouble.  The aching politeness of Superman in his interview with hardnosed reporter Lois Lane is juxtaposed with the introduction of second hand car salesman Lex Luthor.  It seems all that soft focus goes to Lois Lane's head as she swoons and falls in love with the red cape and exposed pants.  It's going to be a while before we find out exactly what Luthor is up to so we'll have to sit back and endure the flirting.  What could have been a His Girl Friday kind of courtship in reverse is disemboweled by a softcentre voiceover and a flying trip.  It's now that we need our villain to come to the fore.

To the fore Luthor duly emerges.  With a plan that wouldn't have been out of place in a 70s Bond film Luthor wants to make a killing on Californian real estate with the handy use of a nuclear missile.  It's a scheme Max Zorin would be proud of but there's just one problem: Superman.  And so comes the cinematic establishment of a classic superhero subplot: Kill The Bat.  For any super-villains scheme to succeed he must first kill the superhero of the piece.  Sure, we've seen Bond strapped to laser targeted tables and penned in with alligators but a superhero has to have one specific weakness that can be exposed.  The Martian Manhunter isn't too keen on fire and The Green Lantern is famously adverse to yellow (yes, the colour) but Superman is OK as his weakness blew up in space.  Kryptonite is gone.  Or is it? Of course it isn't and Luthor has got some.

Events are coming to a head, Lois is bombing along a California road, Superman is having a bath and Luthor's plan is getting close.  All the while The Liability Formerly Known As Jimmy Olsen is having a walk by a dam.  If Gene Hackman hadn't have been cast as Lex Luthor none of this would've worked as it is we can suspend our disbelief right up until the cheat.

Yep, Superman, the walking, talking pillar of truth, justice and the American Way cheats.  Faced with an impossible choice we are asked to accept the greatest example of deus ex machina ever.  The system restore approach to this story's end sticks in your throat and actually goes some way to lessening our hero.  Shouldn't a real hero be prepared to make sacrifice for the greater good?

Despite the fractured production and the unsatisfactory ending Superman is wonderful.  The introduction of our hero and his backstory, love interest and main antagonist are concise and brilliantly efficient.  The decision to simultaneously film the sequel means a franchise's worth of characters are established along with their motives.  This is an absolute masterstroke and so much better than Marvel's Easter Egg approach in recent years.  Warner Bros took a gamble and their decision to go big and bold paid off.

Dust yourself down as it only gets better.  Better on Planet Houston.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Superman: The Trailer

Have no fear. My mighty pants will save the galaxy for the US of A
I love B movie sci fi.  All of it, from War of the Worlds to The Thing From Another World and The Blob.  Give me Day of the Triffids and a bag of Maltesers and I'll pretty much do what you want.  So Superman and the Mole Men should be great, yeah?

The 1950s were boomtime for B movies and scifi B movies in particular. We're hurtling towards the arrival of James Dean and Hitchcock giving his blondes full colour.  In the meantime, the ample barrel chest of George Reeves squeezes into the blue lycra and oversized red pants.  Oh boy, those pants are huge.

Superman was 13 in 1951, a year older than Batman, Siegel and Shuster's creation was already immensely popular for a teenager. So popular that he warranted a shift in a glorified car park to squeeze out a whopping 58 minutes of film.  Except, it doesn't really feel like a film.  Superman and the Mole Men feels like a Rinso sponsored Disney vs HG Wells mash up.  Superman and the Mole Men is what it is and that is a bottom of the bill extended trailer for a TV series.  Nowadays it'd be one of those special features on disc four of the special edition you just bought that never quite makes it into the DVD player.  The characters are well known to us, there's Lois and Clark, the generic old country boy and the tunnel visioned sheriff.  It's the 50s so there's a healthy dollop of suspicion and the threat of mob mentality but no Fonzie. 

In fact, the cut glass diction of Lois and Clark drives this into a rather serious cul-de-sac, mild mannered Clark Kent is far too assertive in the face of the commies under the bed (well, down the oil well).  There's no hint of Kal-El but from the start you're left in no doubt that Superman is an alien.  He's from outer space.  Now, we've been au fait with this for 75 years but it's never really been foregrounded like this.  He's an outsider, a refugee and never has Superman felt more sci fi than he does here even when flying or seeing through walls.

Lois and Clark are brought into a backwater called Silsby to do a story on the world's deepest oil well.  Quite how this is supposed to boost Daily Planet circulation is beyond me.  But the well is shut!  Nope, there's no Timmy stuck at the bottom but there's definitely something going on.  Lois and Clark do their best wooden impression of Mulder and Scully and oranges glow in the dark and women in floral dresses scream at the camera.  The poor little mole men, all filed down conehead and bug eyes appear and skulk about like this is German cinema.  The allegorical mole men have the unfortunate dispensation of walking like they've shit themselves. 
No, it's not Dan Aykroyd
All tiptoeing and black jumpers with a penchant for making things glow in the dark the mole men may as well have a hammer and sickle on their jumpers and scream 'WE'RE SOVIETS' until they're brought down a peg or two by a little girl who thinks she's just met Orko.

A mob forms and there's some resourceful vandalism of the town's barbers before a whooshing and the familiar display of strength from our hero who then sets about teaching us all a lesson.  Superman's morals are almost as big as his pants acceptance and tolerance abounds.  The Hollywood Code was fully entrenched and television was yet to challenge cinema and so both sides are permanently separated and relatively unharmed, the Cold War intact.

Superman and the Mole Men is from another time and it is difficult to relate to.  It's a little too serious and lacks a few elements we take for granted.  Lois and Clark need a little bit of sexual tension and Clark definitely needs to be a bit more goofy, a bit more affable.  Someone give Terence Stamp a nudge and get him to dig out his cabaret gear.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Batman (1966) or POW! How to Kill an Acting Career



So, here we go with my first foray into the Marvel vs DC Movie Mashup and it's all the way back to 1966.  World Cups and Harold Wilson, Blonde on Blonde and an Everton FA Cup win. But none of that really matters.  Not when you're thinking about superheroes.

I'm a child of the '80s and I know two Batmans.  One is the Dark Knight: stoic, emotionally stunted and very, very serious.  The other is a camp cowboy in grey, unflattering cotton lycra mix with speech bubbles that come out of his hands.

Batman was born in 1939 and became a leading light of the Golden Age of comic books, he was a dark vengeful detective not a superhero; a man who had put his intelligence and money to use, the perfect foil to the alien Superman.  By the late 1950s superhero comics were waning,  the Comics Code of America, war and the nuclear age had taken their toll whilst the world was becoming freer as Baby Boomers grew up.  At the same time Batman comics were very sci-fi orientated, full of aliens and gadgets.  Just as the comics took a turn back into darkness ABC commissioned a Batman TV series.  Ironically, ABC's vision of Batman was Pop Art and drenched in camp comedy, practically a parody of Bob Kane's character.

The series ran for three seasons and sandwiched between seasons one and two was a hastily put together movie starring most of the TV cast.  Sadly, Julie Newmar missed out and Lee Meriwether was drafted in as Catwoman.  The villains are the real stars and there's a level of innocence and pure fun that makes Batman brilliant.  Four TV show regulars form United Underworld, I mean who
Just one villain? Nah, I'll take the lot.
makes a superhero movie with just one villain? 

Cesar Romero plays The Joker as a pure clown and it's this gay abandon that makes the character more dangerous than other incarnations.  He's so unpredictable which compliments the scheming of Burgess Meredith's Penguin.  Bouncing between the two is Frank Gorshin's manic Riddler, a performance aped by Jim Carrey in 1995, whilst Catwoman is essentially the groups pawn, used for bait and reconnaissance.

A simple plot is stretched over 105 minutes with a clever appreciation of the Cold War and several breaches of the fourth wall.  Ignore the huge lumps of ham in the form of Chief O'Hara and the irritant Aunt Harriett and enjoy the saturated colour of the dehydrated United World Organization's Security Council.

Ready for anything
We begin with a bit of high budget tomfoolery and an exploding shark. Yep, Peter Benchley is rapidly scribbling that one down.  The vanishing yacht and the imprisonment of Commodore Schmidlapp feel like they could be investigated by Steed and Mrs Peel, instead we are whisked away to downtown Gotham and Commissioner Gordon gets handy with some Polaroids and a slide projector.  The United Underworld are loosely headed up by The Penguin and romp around in a, frankly, ludicrous submarine.  A porpoise may foil a torpedoeing of the Dynamic Duo but no submerged mammal gets in the way of the kidnap of the Security Council.  The cheeky Schmidlapp had invented a funky Dyson which helps store people in their own, individual test tubes.  Chuck in a kidnap and an infiltration of the Batcave and The United Underworld are very busy indeed but there feels like there's something missing.  The TV series had been built on cliffhangers and set piece fights yet apart 'some days you just can't get rid of a bomb' the ridiculous peril of seeing Robin about to be drowned in a giant Slush Puppy or Batman being fed into the Human Key Duplicator is absent.  We're crying out for 'Same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel' moment.  You'd have thought they could have found just one more abandoned candy warehouse in Gotham.  No matter, the brisk pace sees Batman come to an enjoyable end.  You won't see an ocean based ending again until Star Trek IV.  I'm not entirely sure if that's s good or bad thing.

After a spot of rehydration without Lucozade Sport Batman saves the day and quietly returns to the small screen.  He won't make it back to the cinema for over 20 years.

At least Batman endured, unlike Adam West and Burt Ward.  Once the series was cancelled both found work hard to come by having been so heavily identified with the thwocks and the pows.  Even a rumoured flirtation with Bond wasn't enough to keep West off the convention circuit before nostalgia saw Batman reappraised and a stint in Quahog.  The dodgy rumours of deviancy made it hard for Ward to shed his life in tights, maybe he should have taken that role in The Graduate.  Batman himself wouldn't be rid of the camp and colour until the mid 80s when Frank Miller and Alan Moore took the character back to black and a darker, dirtier Gotham.  Their work would be the template for Burton and Nolan.

Batman appeals to the kid in me, the colour, the nostalgia and the camp make it perfect easy viewing and it's unfair to compare it to the modern cinematic interpretation. 
One thing's for sure: Adam West was a better Batman than George Clooney and he didn't need nipples on his Batsuit
.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Booze, Burning and The Black Sea

Sunny Beach, Bulgaria

There's a beach over there. Honest.


A day ago I returned from a week's holiday in Bulgaria.  I'll admit it, I'm a little the worse for wear but not as bad as I feared I would be given past experiences in Xanthi and Cyprus.

Bulgaria had been on the holiday radar for a couple of years: cheap, relatively hot and still relatively unknown. Hurrah! Chilled out evenings in a beach side bar without huge groups of pissed up Geordies fresh out of school!

Evening flights from the uninspiring North terminal at Gatwick meant a leisurely trip to the airport only dented by an inconsiderate Chrysler driver.  He was obviously on a mission to prove that it's not just BMW drivers that act like utter, utter cunts.  
 
I like departure lounges.  

The swindling and overpricing on a preflight pint is outshone by the perpetual daylight and the feeling that time doesn't really matter as much.  Weak will and a cheeky smile meant a preflight pint was followed by a double vodka necked as the realisation that our flight was boarding kicked in.
 
In the beginning
Holiday mode kicked in completely as we bought further overpriced booze on the flight over.  This was all compensation for having an air steward's crotch in my face for the safety demonstrations (a newly discovered peril of sitting in the front row.)  Unlike the, more than slightly, inebriated travellers on the return flight we were well behaved.

Warm muggy air hits you as you leave Bourgas arrivals.  It's one o'clock in the morning and still very warm, a tedious coach transfer was made bearable by a couple who didn't seem to know which hotel they were staying at getting on and off the coach repeatedly.  Maybe you had to be there.

Bognor or Bulgaria?

Exploration of the area basically gives you an 8km beach lined with two almost parallel rows of hotels.  All of them huge.  This is an area that has been built with the express purpose of tourism. 

Sunny Beach is the first place I've been to where the tourism feels manufactured, other places like Italy, Cyprus or Turkey the tourism has sort of evolved around history or natural features.  This is probably why there's a feeling of 1970s British seaside resort around the place; as if Skegness suddenly got sunny.  The beachside fairground complete with haunted house and mini rollercoaster just needs a Jurassic 3001 to complete the Clarence Pier look.
Why Portsmouth chose Jurassic Park to give a rollercoaster legacy is anyone's guess
The air is heavy with the smell of waffles and doughnuts frying.  This place will be hellish at the height of the school holidays.

Obviously, the fairground wasn't of any real interest to us.  It was all about the beach and the nightlife.

The beach is lovely and sandy, fight for a decent patch of sand instead of trying to work out who you have to pay to rent a sun lounger.  Quite how big the Black Sea is is a bit of a mystery as you dip your toes.  Thankfully, the beach isn't overrun by jet skis and boats just a huge number of Russian and German tourists.  The evenings are for the pubs and bars.  Don't kid yourself thinking there's culture hidden next door to The Funny Pub, Guaba or the ubiquitous Irish pub.  Why is it that wherever you are in the world there's an Irish pub?  the organised bar crawl is one way to ensure you'll lose one day in bed with a vicious hangover.  Blame the 'vodka' it's called Flirt and is, quite simply, evil.  Don't believe the ads, you'll be too busy trying to remember your own name let alone do anything else.


It took me four days to remember I'd been in Candybar.

Behind all the hotels and the casinos seems to be a little resentment towards the tourists from Western Europe in spite of the boost we're giving to the economy.  It's almost as if the resort has expanded too quickly in too small a space.  The hints of Eastern Bloc still shine in the sunlight but soon they'll be swallowed up by the abundance of tattoo parlours and sex shops.






There did seem to be a fascination with tattoo shops and Angry Birds.  They are practically everywhere.  No sign of any From Russia With Love antics though.

I may have drunk my bodyweight in Kemenitza, got a little sunburnt and banged my head but Bulgaria is alright in my book, nice and relaxed but hectic when you want it to be.  I'm looking forward to visiting again.  There might be one supermarket I'm not allowed in though.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Hope Lies In The Proles

I was in my mid-teens in 1996 and just getting 'in' to music whilst hurtling towards GCSE exams and apparently growing up.  Britpop was in it's pomp and Oasis vs Blur was arguably one of the biggest things on the planet.  The bandwagon was big enough to share with the likes of menswe@r (who were great) and Kula Shaker whilst giving some much deserved exposure to Pulp, Elastica and Manic Street Preachers.

There were personalities everywhere; the warring oafish Gallaghers, the ever changing Albarn, the embodiment of geek chic in Jarvis but no one really came close to the fierce intelligence held by Wire and Edwards.  Nicky and Richey weren't happy to just be a bit clever and well read; it was a display.  It was a weapon against the mainstream and that's how a song alluding to Auschwitz got to number 2 in the UK charts.

The first single from Everything Must Go and since The Holy Bible and the events in February 1995 saw a change in tack.  Introspection and rebuilding linked with nostalgia and a redefinition of the band's identity to give A Design For Life.

My first exposure was the video.  Mistreated celluloid showing the band in the ruins of the Roundhouse and Nicky strutting around dressed as a Madchester relic.  The strings start gently and then the guitars but there is nothing that prepares you for the chorus.  Simple, repetitive and now anthemic if you listen to the NME, it was a call to arms; a 20th century 'workers of the world, unite!'  The Manics had reestablished their own socialist credentials whilst reminding us that we were still in the midst of class conflict.  It would be another year before the Labour landslide and hopes pinned on Tony Blair.

The song is so self aware, identifying the working class and yet screaming that we shouldn't be underestimated, hints of Orwell, Bacon and Marx all tied together with Blackwood and Welsh mining.  These are just a few of the reasons why I love this song, it's just unbelievable it was kept off the number 1 spot by Return of the Mack by Mark Morrison.


Sunday, 28 July 2013

Manics Top 50 Songs Part II

Songs 25 - 1

This is all laid out on paper, I've shuffled the order and crossed things out. I'm trying to invent new numbers that mean I can squeeze songs up the running order.  The only thing I'm certain of is my number one.

25

Facing Page: Top Left

This shows how hard this is. This was number four for a while.

24

If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next

All those horrid little Britpop kids bought this and then we told them it was about the Spanish Civil War. Cue blank stares and sighs.  The video's a bit weird though.

23

Suicide is Painless (Theme From M.A.S.H)

22

Yes

At last, more from The Holy Bible.
21

Born A Girl

20

This Joke Sport Severed

This is getting serious now.


19

The Love Of Richard Nixon

 Yay! More Lifeblood....no YOU shut up. 

18

Everything Must Go

A song of cleansing and renewal, acknowledging the past yet trying to lighten the load.  We've all got baggage, if only we could all deal with it like this.

17

You Stole The Sun from My Heart

This is like the Twin Peaks of songs, happy go lucky on the surface before a chorus of darkness and turmoil within touching distance.

16

This Is The Day

A cover version of a song I'd never heard.  Standard Manics behaviour.  There is so much optimism in this song.

15

Postcards From A Young Man

Is that...is that Tim Roth? Yes, yes it is.  The second of three booming tracks to open an album.

14

Solitude Sometime Is

A song that's carried me through some hard times.

13

Masses Against The Classes

Noam Chomsky welcomes in the new millennium and the song is deleted on release day. Still got to number one. It was number one between Westlife and Britney Spears. Says it all really.

12

Motown Junk

Deliberately provocative and still sounds as good today as it did then.
11

La Tristesse Durera (Scream To A Sigh)

From the overproduced beast that was Gold Against The Soul this huge song is holding up the top ten. 

10

P.C.P.


A perfect example of Richey's love of words and playing with them and our own connotations.

9

Golden Platitudes




 A recent masterpiece and probably the most gentle sounding song in my top ten.

8

Roses In The Hospital


OK, the 'Minic Street Preachers' overlay made me laugh.  Highly personal and with glorious (if a bit too obvious) nods to The Clash, I love this song.

7

This Is Yesterday


If only I'd put this alongside Everything Must Go for juxtaposition.

6

Motorcycle Emptiness


This is really low down, sorry. So many see this as the quintessential Manics song but it's not. It's a song that evolved and was clipped and polished to the glorious version included on Generation Terrorists

5

Stay Beautiful


The odd Beetlejuice video and the sheer bravado of the band that scared the producers into cutting out the swearing make this near perfect.  Radiohead swore on Creep but I think a radio edit and an album version of this would be diminishing.

4

No Surface All Feeling


This needs to be listened to as the sun sets.

3

Judge Yr'self


This was for Judge Dredd?  I'm not sure Stallone would've got it.  Quite how this has been so neglected I don't know.

2

Faster


The distillation of Richey in crystalline perfection. It still makes me smile at just how many complaints the BBC received after this.

1

Design For Life


A song that works for everyone. Ignore the idiots who drunkenly shout along to the chorus, another casualty of Britpop, instead cherish this truly anthemic song.

So, there it is. Not too much tinkering but still plenty had to be cut out.

My handwriting isn't all that bad

Manics Top 50 Songs Part I

The countdown part I (50 - 26)

So, encouraged by Twitter and New Chart Riot I sit with a blank piece of paper, some CDs and my fruit based MP3 player. I'm determined not to look at other lists that might sway my judgement. I have a red pen for corrections and we're off.


I get distracted easily

50

Automatik Tecknicolour

I've been listening to a lot of Kraftwerk and Neu! lately so the title of this hidden away song grabbed me.  Possibly the most obscure track I've chosen.


49

RP McMurphy

Hang on, it's not all B sides is it?

48

Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky

Wedged between two huge tracks on Everything Must Go is this delicate piece. It includes a harp. What's not to love?

47

Umbrella (cover)

Yeah, a cover version! Kicks Rihanna in the face.

46

All We Make Is Entertainment

45

Let Robeson Sing

Know Your Enemy isn't my favourite, it's OK, My Guernica comes later.

44

All Is Vanity

43

Damn Dog

A late change of mind saw this come in and boot out a Lifeblood track.

42

Underdogs

41

From Despair To Where

Probably should be higher but this is hard work, this list.

40

Further Away

More from Everything Must Go? Yes, and there's plenty more where this came from.



39

Mausoleum

More than ten songs in before we get to The Holy Bible and the horror and violence being thrust into your face. Excellent.

38

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head (cover)

I nearly went with Last Christmas but this is the perfect example of how the Manics can be playful as opposed to political, inaccessible and difficult.

37

Drug Drug Druggy

36

Little Baby Nothing

35

Australia

Kidnapped and made to sell holidays and beer this song still remains brilliant.

34

Your Love Alone Is Not Enough

Hmmm, have I dispensed with the duets already?

33

Revol

Bonkers. Nonsensical. Ridiculous. Marvellous.

32

My Guernica

Another that should really be higher up the list.

31

Jackie Collins Existential Question Time

You see this on a track listing and it raises eyebrows, then you go and question the morality of suburbia.

30

Methadone Pretty

The first line says it all.


29

Love's Sweet Exile

Is this a little Generation Terrorists cul de sac? 

28

You Love Us

27

Kevin Carter

I remember at the O2 gig there were a couple of blokes in the queue for the gents who didn't know who Kevin Carter was.  The Manics always encouraged us to read, to learn, to expand horizons. I felt sorry for those two blokes.

26

Sorrow 16

Maybe the earliest song included in my countdown.


Saturday, 29 June 2013

Yeah, so, this happened.

My curiosity was pricked and a sense of wanting to know was awoken inside.  Thoughts began to circle closer to the 'Church.'

Yeah, like everyone, I'd heard about the tithing and the extortion, giggled at the aliens that apparently floated around and puzzled at how people could buy into it.  Then a thought hit me: wouldn't Christianity be treated almost exactly the same as Scientology if the Bible had surfaced in the 1950s?

So, I had a little rummage and came across the gateway to L. Ron Hubbard's 21st Century world and took the Oxford Capacity Analysis questionnaire.  Two hundred questions apparently designed to discover your personality.  Two hundred questions of varying degrees from the fairly superficial 'are you a slow eater?' to the downright odd 'do you browse through railway timetables for pleasure?' I've paraphrased and these are the only questions I really remember.  I wondered how my multiple-choiced answers to this type of question be able to fit together a picture of me.  Miles away my answers were being plotted onto a graph of my personality.

I'm naturally sceptical and expected the results to be less than positive yet still resolved to go and see what the fuss was about.  However, even as I exited Blackfriars tube and looked at the London Eye in the distance, I was in two minds.  Before I knew it Beck had shuffled onto my iPod and I was stood outside the flat facade of the Church of Scientology.  Plasma screens shine forward from between the marble-esque slabs and a revolving door is spinning as two girls in their mid-twenties enter.

The interior is a cross between embassy and hotel foyer, with a hint of airport waiting area.  The staff are young and fairly serious looking.  I know I'm being paranoid but their looks were bordering on stares.  Announce your purpose and you're whisked away to another floor.  It's a tour now and my guide, named after a perfume, deposits me in the bookstore.  Straight into the sales pitch. Admirable, yet all I care about is that Hubbard has had his books translated into Latvian.  Banner posters laud how many books Hubbard has had published and, yawn, become bestsellers.  There can't be many books out there that haven't been on the New York Times Bestseller list.  I decline my first opportunity to purchase some of Hubbard's literal wares and am shipped off to 'The Exhibition'.  Not so much an exhibition but an extended bookstore, albeit with added DVDs and interactive plasma screens.  I am left to my own devices as my guide toddles off to fetch my test results.  I flick through video testimonials of Dianetics users and success stories of the Scientology purification diet, all strangely devoid of any specifics.  Time ticks away, quite a lot of time actually.  I begin to step away from the videos in case there is some subliminal message I'm being exposed to.  My guide still hasn't come back and I'm beginning to get bored.  Saving me from a propaganda film about Volunteer Ministers my guide returns and all the rumours of Scientology's evil schemes and omnipresence are reduced to a joke as I am informed that my test results can't be found.  Despite previous confirmation of results submission I have to sit the test again in good old fashioned pencil and paper style.  I console myself that the world won't be taken over by an organisation that's struggling with the Data Protection Act and a decent filing system.

I leave the other testees to complete as I am whisked away to glass walled box and then it begins.  My perfume guide begins to explain my results, naturally they're not good.  Her description of my personality (neatly categorised into ten points) is far from favourable.  The test shows me to be 'Unstable Dispersed,' 'Depressed' (although this bounces up and down, so I presume I'm now manic), 'Nervous,' 'Withdrawn' and despite scoring well within the ideal zone my positive scores in the fields of 'Inhibited' and 'Uncertainty' are also bad.  Well, bugger me, I'll get a free therapy session out of this. I try to suppress a little grin at the forlorn state of my life before the script kicks in.

My guide, now shifting to recruiter, has me in her tractor beam.  The interpretation of my scores leads her, via a fairly rigid sales script, to diagnose hidden traumas within my childhood.  Now it gets a little uncomfortable, despite my protestations that my childhood was fairly normal (I'm not saying anything about the lack of time I have for my family) she won't relent.  The back of my brain is flickering with memories of 'Quid Pro Quo,' a familiar voice is pushing itself to the front of my mind.  Almost verbatim Dr Hannibal Lecter is quoted.  I even went back to the film to double check.



That stare pushed me down and into the back of the seat.  It was difficult to resist but resist I did.  Her tone changed and became a little softer asking me what would be the one part of me I would wish to change.  Silence was not the required answer and so I was steamrolled straight into another sales pitch.  No, I didn't want a Dianetics DVD but I was cornered by a short course in self confidence.  My relentlessly being pushed into signing up and parting with a few quid seemed to be the goal and escape was made via a vague promise that I'd pick the phone up once I'd gotten home and checked my diary.  I can only assume that they've realised the phone number I submitted wasn't mine and I can only apologise to the person who they got through to.  Since I'd set foot in the building not one person had mentioned spiritual advancement, guidance or how to deal with Thetans.

In the space of just over thirty minutes I'd been targeted and converted from someone with a vague sense of curiosity into a cash cow in need of guidance.  Who knows, if they hadn't have gone in so hard they might have been a bit more successful but in the end this was a double glazing sales pitch gone feral.  Understandably, the Scientologists have got to pursue their audience a little harder than the older religions although I suspect they might be better off having a clear belief structure as a sales pitch instead of coming over as a tax efficient pyramid scheme.  It's interesting that spellchecker wants to change Scientologists to Syndicalists.  I'm happy to remain a Preclear, although I may well be a 'Suppressive Person' now, and might give the Mormons a poke next.