10 MOVIES, 10 DAYS: YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN

Young Frankenstein

For a period of my teenage years, Mel Brooks was the funniest man alive. I was, and remain, an unabashed fan of his off-color, utterly inappropriate humour. Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, The Producers, Silent Movie, History of the World Part One, To Be or Not To Be…… they make me snort with unrestrained, childish glee.

Young Frankenstein is something better. It’s everything Brooks’ other best films are: funny, scatalogical, sexual (Madeline Kahn was an early, intense, crush), nonsensical, and absurd. But it also shows a deep love for its source material, in a way that most of hos other parodies don’t. And it is also very, very clever. It can be argued, with some success, that the central trio of talent involved– Brooks, Gene Wilder, and Marty Feldman– were never in better form, certainly never better together. And the whole thing just hangs together so beautifully.

For most of my career I’ve been a speculative fiction writer, but the label has sat uneasily upon me. I’ve been open about it– I like being a spec fic writer, but I didn’t set out to be one. I set out to be a writer. No prefix. I’m fascinated by artists who transcend their prime activity, by polymaths, by people who aspire to break out of their artistic restraints.

Young Frankenstein stands out. It’s a sign of artists investing in something so deeply that they transcend their surrounding ouvre. In many moments within the film, their investment transcends the material itself. It’s funny, it’s anarchic, it’s everything you want in a Mel Brooks film… and then it’s a bit more. For an artist who has failed more often than he has succeeded in transcending his own ouvre, it’s an education.

And it’s still fucking hilarious.

Blucher!

 

10 ALBUMS, 10 DAYS: PRINCE CHARMING

Prince Charming

Honestly, everything you need to know about the impact this album had on me as a kid is summed up by that cover image.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know what a bogan reservation Rockingham was in the 1980s. Imagine being trapped in that environment. Imagine having the shit kicked out of you on a very regular basis by the knuckle-dragging bogan ditch-digger-to-be that surround you. Imagine not having the tools–physical or verbal– to mount any form of sustained defence, or escape. Imagine knowing, somewhere in your bones, that you simply don’t belong. Imagine not being able to pin down why you feel that way, not being able to define the artistic and creative stirrings that have yet to find voice but which will slowly and surely come to forge the path that you’ll take to claw your way out of that environment.

Then imagine this album dropping into your Christmas stocking. Imagine the first flickering of light in the back of your mind, the first moment of ‘ahhhhh!’.

Nothing sounded like Adam and the Ants. Nothing. And nothing looked like them, either. Oh, there were other new romantic bands, don’t get me wrong. But nobody with the commitment. Nobody with the elan. And just when everybody had grown used to the banderos/rancheros look and sound Adam had perfected over the preceding years, he disappeared. And returned 12 months later, looking like this.

My. Head. Exploded. So many things I could not verbalise, could barely define, sprung into focus. Later, I would encounter Bowie, and T-Rex. Madonna would rise through popular culture. I would come to love, and study, and understand film, and the way an actor can shed and inhabit skin after skin after skin. But this album– and, it should be pointed out that much of the music on it is not particularly good– was my first chameleonic moment. I caught a glimpse of something that has underpinned so much of my psychology, and certainly my art, ever since– you don’t have to be anywhere forever. You don’t have to be anyone forever.

The music has receded, but the lesson has remained, and for that– and the sense of eventual release it presaged– I will remain grateful.

10 MOVIES, 10 DAYS: HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER

High Plains Drifter

There’s some damn weird shit going on here. A stranger rides into an isolated town, rapes one of the local women, bullies the local businessmen, shoots folk, and generally terrorises the townspeople until they hire him to protect them from three Very Bad Men ™ who are returning to cause mayhem after a stint in the pokie. In response, he anoints a dwarf as Sheriff, orders the townspeople to paint every building bright red and rechristen the town ‘Hell’, and sets out a giant picnic using every scrap of food the town has to spare……

High Plains Drifter is not your average western. It’s a metaphysical rumination on the nature of evil, and the deals that marginally-honest people will make to keep hold of power. It’s downright spiritual. It operates on multiple levels at once, taking a brutalist approach to themes of betrayal, power dynamics, and heroism. It is, at once, both repellent and utterly fascinating. Its surface layer is skin thin– the expendable loner versus the trio of obvious baddies– like High Noon seen in a fun house mirror. But the surface narrative is simply the delivery medium: what’s really being discussed here is something far deeper, and far more insidious.

Clint Eastwood has always been a master filmmaker, and his record as a total jerk of a human being is also well established. High Plains Drifter is a nearly-perfect vehicle for him– a psychological examination of extreme viewpoints, in which innocence is seen as weakness and the only strength comes from a toxic masculinity that eats the person wielding it, even as it reinforces the might-makes-right conservatism that we know is central to Eastwood’s world view. It is no simple western. It is a brilliant western, and its brilliance lies in the fact that its brilliance as a western is almost entirely irrelevant to its brilliance as a truly weird psychological horror story.

It’s a jaw-dropping piece of cinematic wonder, and I find myself returning to it on a regular basis, just to watch in awe as it remorselessly unfolds its weirdness. It is a perfect lesson in character development, and how to build a narrative from nothing but rotten materials.

 

 

10 MOVIES, 10 DAYS: THE GENERAL

The General

The General is a stunningly funny film. Thing is, I didn’t realise that until the third time I watched it. The first time, I spent the whole experience with my jaw hovering just above my ankles. The second, with my face pressed up against the screen as I spent my time trying to work out how. The third time was the one where I could sit back, relax, and take in just what an unbelievable genius Buster Keaton was.

And a lifelong fascination was born.

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10 ALBUMS, 10 DAYS: FLOOD

Flood

Picked up on a whim in a Subiaco market CD shop in the early 90s, after hearing only one They Might Be Giants song, this is the album that spawned a nearly-thirty year love affair. I’d never heard anything so quirky, so individual, and so delightfully obtuse before. Here was a large slice of my humour, and my thought processes, set to music. After my first wife died, I went on a comfort spending spree: along with enough KFC to seriously damage my health, and an obsession for Terry Pratchett books that lasted the better part of three years and led to a fast, sharp, deepening of my nascent relationship with Luscious (a story for another time), I took my credit card and internet connection to the music store, filling out my collection from their first album right through to Mink Car in a matter of months.

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THUMBNAIL THURSDAY TAKES A VOTE

Meetings are for people who can’t do things via email. My last workplace was especially fond of them, to the point of non-ironically holding meetings to decide how future meetings would be held. And, of course, as anyone who has ever been subjected to these bullshit reacharound-a-ramas will tell you, if you really want to be miserable in your job, be the guy who misses the vote they inevitably hold the first time you decide it’s all a load of bullshit and decide to wander in late because nothing ever gets decided at these damn things anyway, amirite?……

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“Ah, Judas. Come in. I’m afraid you missed the start of the meeting. We took

a vote on who should betray Jesus…”