10 MOVIES, 10 DAYS: THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

Magnificent Seven

 

Yeah, not the recent still-desperately-trying-to-make-Chris-Pratt-a star remake. Nor the actual original, Japanese Seven Samurai, which is a classic, but which has never had any deep visceral effect on me. No, I’m talking about the classic Yul Brynner-Steve McQueen battle for screen supremacy, with what is, to me, still the greatest assemblage of simply damn cool men to occupy the screen together. Brynner, McQueen, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Charles Bronson… if ever there was a movie that typified the when men were men aesthetic, it’s this one. It’s a movie about honour, about obligation, about being smarter and cooler and simply more– when the chips are finally, irretrievably down– noble than the other guy.

But scratch deeper, and there’s something going on under the surface that isn’t immediately obvious. because this is a movie made in 1960, bubbling over with lakonikos and machismo. But, for all their wild west outsider antihero status, the characters in this movie don’t quite act the way that Hollywood lone wolf western outsider antiheroes are supposed to act. For a start, the poor Mexican dirt farmers that need the great white American heroes to rescue them are treated with genuine dignity. They’re smart, capable people, in their own field of endeavour. They learn quickly. They understand what they have brought into their world, both physically and philosophically. They know what they are losing by taking the actions they do. As much as they still suffer the Hollywood treatment, they are people: relatable, individual, and sympathetic.

And the mercenaries themselves: they know what they’ve given up, what they can never recover. When they lose one of their own to– gasp– a woman, and a domestic lifestyle away from the constant gunfighting and pursuit, they view with it envy, and not a little tenderness. The hardest, most laconic of them all, Bronson’s Bernardo O’Reilly, is brought low not by a superior warrior, or overwhelming odds, but because his armour is pierced by something he could never foresee– his love for the village children, who he desperately wants to steer away from his own life choices. Vaughn’s character Lee has lost everything that he counts on– his courage, his speed, the coldness of his heart– and he understands that that is not his tragedy: it is the awareness of his loss, and how his choices have left him in no position to grow from them that is. These are flawed men, on the wrong end of the culture around them, and they not only know it but they know why. And they not only protect those who need them, they cherish those things that are worth protecting.

It’s still a Western, and a Hollywood Western at that. It still has all the trappings. But, like all spectacles, once the novelty wears off there is a sublimely human story of loss and gain at work, here, performed by actors at the peak of their powers and directed with grace and intelligence. I’ve seen more complex movies. I’ve seen more philosophically ambiguoius Westerns (indeed, there’s another coming up later in this list), but The Magnificent Seven was the first movie I saw that combined all the things I wanted to be, with a message about the responsibilities and consequences of becoming that creature.

There’s a part of me that still wants to ride into certain death with this coolest collection of Real Men Ever ™, but this is the movie that taught my younger self that every freedom comes with a price, and that no character should exist in a single dimension. It is, on the days that Blade Runner is not, my favourite movie, and one I will watch countless times before I die.

 

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY REACHES THE BOTTOM OF THE BUCKET, AND IT’S ON THE MOON

I’m going to assume there was a reason I was so obsessed with making jokes about telemarketing calls when I was a younger man. Just because I can’t, for the life of me, work out what it was now doesn’t mean I didn’t have one then.

I’ll admit that someone discussing their long-distance provider while standing on the moon has a momentary smile factor, but every neophyte science fiction writer knows that nothing dates your work like references to current technology. This has been your salutatory lesson.

 

0200

“That’s one small step for man, one… sorry… who are you?… Yes, I’m happy with my long distance provider…”

 

 

10 ALBUMS IN 10 DAYS, DAY TWO: WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE

Welcome To My Nightmare

Music is meant to be so many things: joyous, heartbreaking, life-affirming, sad, happy, reflective, sensual…… nobody warned me that it could be so outright creepy.

From those first slithering bass notes (Doom doo-doo doo-doo dooooooommmmmmm, chING!), to Alice Cooper’s half-whispered, half-cajoling vocals, Welcome to My Nightmare slunk sideways into my life at a point where I was beginning to discover that, whatever life held for my peers, it was never going to be something I wanted to share. Seductive and damaged, it was simply like nothing I had ever heard before. No amount of ratings-friendly FM chockablockarocka hits could prepare my teen self for the musical creature that extended a cadaverous forearm from the shadows and beckoned closer… come closer…

I’ve spoken before about the bogan musical wasteland that Rockingham was during the 1980s. If it wasn’t draped in plaid and winnie blues, it was poofter music, and you were a poofter for listening to it. And poofters, which in Rockinghamese meant ‘anything we don’t understand or betrays the least difference’ were there to be beaten.

Alice Cooper confounded everything the surrounding wildlife held dear. By turns sensual and damning, gender-fluid and sexed-up, inviting and terrifying, his opus to a damaged soul wormed its way into my thinking and never left. Freed from the constraints of a band dynamic, and free to engage in the full theatrics that he’d been working towards for years (something I would learn about later, as interest turned to fandom turned to exploration), Welcome to My Nightmare was a perfect distillation of everything that could excite and transfix a boy desperately wanting to escape, but lacking the tools to do so.

It would be years before he was this visceral again, or so deeply cracked in his imagery and musical narrative– perhaps only Former Lee Warmer from 1983s underrated DaDa achieved the skin-tightening creepiness of tracks like the title song, and the deeply disturbing landscape of Years Ago and Steven (Oh, Jesus, that haunting, despairing cry: Steeeeeven! Steeeeeven!); and he wouldn’t release an album of such concentrated narrative power until 1994’s The Last Temptation. Here was something I could cling to, a rallying cry to the schism inside me that I didn’t yet have words to define: there are more like me, that don’t quite fit, that never feel comfortable, that would rather escape into damnation than succumb to emptiness. It is a flag I have stood beneath ever since.

It is, quite simply, a masterpiece: of musical narrative, of pop music, of the idea of the concept album. What it awoke in me, that desire to explore the joy that comes with walking wide-eyed into the shadows, has never left.

Leaving lepidoptera……

 

I’m listing ten albums that have influence me over twenty days. Click here to explore my thoughts on album number one, Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

 

10 DAYS, 10 MOVIES: BLADE RUNNER

Here we are, with the companion piece to the 10 Albums meme that I discussed yesterday. This time, it’s movies, and I’m starting with what is, on more days than not, my favourite movie.

 

10 Movies: Blade Runner

Blade Runner

 

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…”. Is there a more eloquent and ambiguous death soliloquy in modern movies? certainly, I don’t believe there is one that spins an entire movie around on its axis the way Roy Batty’s final speech does. Blade Runner has such a harsh, utilitarian beauty running throughout it– splashes of neon glinting on rain-soaked concrete, beams of light through decades of dust– that this sudden revelation of a beautiful soul, destined to die by uncaring, scientific hands, hits you like grief, and never really, fully, departs.

I’ve loved science fiction since I was a child. At first, like all children, i loved the simple and hopeful iconography– space flight, new planets, alien life. I bypassed the formative children’s texts of my time– my first book was a collection of adult stories, and I pretty much went straight to the Masters and stayed there for many years. Star Wars, a simplistic 1930s story that was already obsolete by the time it encompassed my ages of 6-11, never really took. Doctor Who did, because at its best, it reached for adult answers to questions I didn’t quite understand, as a young teen. The science fiction I loved as a child– and still do– had consequences, and death and pain and loss weren’t pretty.

Blade Runner was something else again. Grey areas folded back upon each other until the moral ambiguity itself became something fascinating– an entity in its own right, where I could watch the movie again and again, from any number of different angles, and always find a new sympathy, and new belief. And this was coupled to a story that rollicked along, with death and danger and very cool things. On top of that, the iconography and imagery spoke to something urban and decaying in my own world view, right at the point where I was maturing into a thinking adult creature, in the concrete-and-steel-and-nukes-for-all 1980s.

Blade Runner struck me at the right time in my personal and cultural development, and posed questions that I can revisit and unpack again and again. The action is tone-perfect, the music drills right through me, and the visuals still give me a shiver. It’s a narrative, visual, and thematic experience that has leached into my bones, and I love it deeply.

 

So, there’s my first movie. Tomorrow, I’ll discuss another album, and then we’ll go back and forth until both lists are exhausted, and we will be, too.

 

 

 

 

10 DAYS, 10 ALBUMS: THE WALL

In recent days, two memes have circulated throughout Facebook– one where respondents list ten albums that have had an impact upon their lives, and another that does the same thing with movies. What the heck: I thought I’d do them here. So, for the next 20 days, turn and turn about, I’ll be listing ten albums, and ten movies, that I’ll take with me to my death. And on the 21st day, just to keep things simple, I’ll die.

Much of my early musical education came via the medium of Best Of albums, but I’ve decided to leave them out– as compilations of a musician’s high points, and distillations of everything I was hearing on the radio at the time, they strike me as a little unfair. So, despite them being ventricles of my musical heart, there is no Best of Queen Vol 1, no ChangesBowie, no Complete Madness. Likewise, no live albums for the same reason (I may do a couple of 5 for Fridays in the future on the topic), so no Angels: Liveline or Thorogood Live. Here, album tracks and mis-steps and bizarre musical experiments they probably wished they hadn’t bothered with, are those studio albums that have hit my heart, and stuck. Let’s start with the first of them, shall we?

 

PINK FLOYD: THE WALL

The Wall

 

I am a life-long Pink Floyd fan. And, while The Wall is not my favourite Floyd album– you can toss a coin between Wish You Were Here and Animals for that distinction– it was the first Floyd album to really capture me, and it’s the one I return to over and over again, when I need to immerse myself in a musical narrative. I bought the double cassette with my carefully scrimped pocket-money when I was 12, on the back of local FM radio’s continuing love affair with Another Brick in the Wall part 2, Comfortably Numb, and Run Like Hell, and was immediately hooked by the complexity of the lyrics, the unremitting grimness of the story line, and– triggering a lifelong love of concept albums– the fact that the whole thing fit together to tell a story. It’s not their most musically complex or ambitious album, but, for me, Pink Floyd are never as complete as they are here: driven by a rising narrative line; matching rhythms and crescendoes to the rules of storytelling; and finding space both within and between individual songs to lay down musical themes and pick them up again, riven with additions and reinterpretations.

I’ve owned the album in three different media, and the accompanying movie in two. I can still sing pretty much the entire album verbatim, and some of the individual songs will be on my playlist until the day I die– Goodbye, Cruel World stands a very strong chance of being played at my funeral.

Thematically, in its presentation, and artistically, The Wall might just be the most important album in my creative life. It certainly helped chart the course of my personal journey, right at the beginning point of my intertwining of art and life.

I treasure it.

 

First album down. Tomorrow, I’ll look at a movie that has had a lasting impact upon me, and we’ll go back and forth for another eighteen days after that.

 

 

 

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY GOES TO HADES

It is the arrogance of your typical religious type to believe that, if there is any form of omnipotent being, and any type of afterlife created by that being, that the typical religious type flapping his or her gums somehow gets some sort of choice in defining the type of afterlife to which they are sentenced.

All of which is a complete aside to the bitching job I did sketching Hades’ pecs. Just saying, in case he tunes in, but I made him look ripped.

 

0139

“Would someone please persuade Mister Perkins to give in to the inevitable?”

 

 

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY WRECKS HOMES *AND* TUNNELS

Relationships are the grist upon which almost all artists mill. And relationships breakups, while they can be tragic, can also be the funniest part of the whole thing– for an outsider. Anthropomorphic relationship breakdowns? Well, that stuff just writes itself.

Also, I have no idea why I have so much trouble drawing humans, hands, cars, buildings, trees and straight lines, but I somehow managed to do a fairly decent job of a bipedal star-nosed mole with its arms crossed getting the hump with its soon-to-be-ex partner. Go figure.

 

 

0051

“See other people? We can barely see ourselves!”