Something for the Weakened

Archive for March, 2009

An Portrait

March 30th, 2009 by

Winslade Portrait

Phil Winslade – Ink on cartridge paper, summer 1996.

For the next week or two I thought it might be nice to share a few convention sketches I got, back in the days when I felt remotely comfortable at comic conventions. This first one, by the extremely talented Phil Winslade isn’t the first I asked for, but has the best anecdote. Having realised that artists weren’t able to draw any character that popped into my head, I had taken to asking them to draw things I knew they had already drawn professionally. At this time I knew Winslade by reputation – he and Garth Ennis’ Godess was in the process of being published, but the newsagent I frequented had failed to get any copies – but didn’t know of any characters that he would definitely be able to draw. Stemming the panic, I asked him to draw me. Bless him, he did. I seem to be wearing the first leather coat I ever possessed and the massive belt I recently restole from my father again (I love that belt). I’m afraid my hair really did look like that. It should also be noted that I was known as The Crow back then for reasons I am too tired to go into now. No, it wasn’t to do with the film. For a sketch that couldn’t have taken more than a couple of minutes, with me gurning in that pose, it’s a pretty freaking good likeness. I’m still not dissappointed.

Now, I’m not entirely sure of the legalities of these things, so I will guess that the drawing is copyright to Phil Winslade and I, um, I suppose that I’m currently in the public domain. Offers gratefully accepted.

Bjorn Again Crispian

March 18th, 2009 by

Tribute act who perform all the hits of ABBA in the style of Kula Shaker.

I am on fire today.

Won’t someone put me out.

Please.

Torture Porn Anyone?

March 15th, 2009 by

So I had the misfortune of watching Eden Lake last night, my first brush with anything from the gore hungry, wince inducing, torture porn genre. You know, Saw, Hostel, that sort of thing (as far as I understand itanyway). I was quite heartened by a comparison to Michael Hanecke’s (sp?) Funny Games on the box and having now watched both can see where the comparison comes from, but the gaping chasm in intent between the two left me with more bile in my mouth than some of Lake’s frequently chundering characters. For those of you that don’t know, Funny Games chronicles the tale of a couple of strangers imposing themselves onto a families holiday, taking over and eventually torturing the family to death. Lake concerns itself with a couple who go camping in an unnamed area of English countryside (the accents are from all over the place, so I really couldn’t figure it out), who are annoyed, abused and inevitably tortured to death by a group of young hoodies.

At that basic level, yes the two are extremely similair, but the gulf in terms of execution is so, so wide. Funny Games, like much of Hanecke’s (sp?) work, is a condemnation of screen violence. His film is pretty unpleasant to watch, as that was his intention. It is made even more so by the pair of torturers being likable, wisecracking characters that you side with to some extent before the unpleasantness begins. There is also a meta level whereby the audience become even more complicit with their actions, through knowing winks to the camera and (if memory serves me – I’ve not watched it in a while as it is quite gruelling) occasionally speaking directly to the audience. This culminates in a fantastic stylistic flourish which I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen it, that works within the film’s internal logic, but still comes as a surprise when it happens and successfully crushes the one tiny ray of hope of the final act. As I say, it’s a hard watch and not something I’m likely to go out of my way to see again anytime in the near future, but there is a point to the exercise. A philosophy, a point of view, an ethic is on display.

Eden Lake’s point seems to be “Tsk, the youth of today. I blame the parents you know . . .” Really, there’s nothing else there that I could see to justify the hour and a half of mean spirited unpleasantness on show there. The hoodies seem to be the product of Mail/Express wet dream of what the yout’ are really like – foul mothed, gobbing, knife wielding BMX bandits, marauding around in packs. I imagine that these sort of kids probably do exist, though having never had the misfortune to meet any, I still have an inkling that this is just an unpleasant stereotype writ large. If anything, I have always imagined them to be a product of some sort of inner city deprivation, so quite how this band of morally bankrupt chidlins got that way in a small country village (for that is the film’s setting, generic, nonexistent county withstanding) mystifies me. Growing up in similair environs, even the most unpleasant shits I went to school with had some redeeming features, unlike these revolting caricatures.

Like Funny Games, Lake is a gruelling watch, only more so. It employs some of the same techniques of the earlier film – not showing much of the actual violence, though spending a fair amount of time dwelling on the various wounds and injuries inflicted upon the victims for example. Lake also seems indebted to various generic horror tropes – a massive debt to Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre needs to be paid off at some point as far as I could see. Even though this is the only example of torture porn I’ve seen, I imagine that much of the genre owes a geat deal to the final half hour of Massacre and to a similair extent Takashi Miike’s (sp?) Audition. Both of these films have extended periods of unpleasantness that the viewer can’t help but feel gut twistingly unnerved by, but in the case of both of these progenitors (I think that’s the word I’m searching for) there is so much more to the films. Massacre is a monster film at it’s heart. Leatherface and his clan are caricatures of the southern fried hick stereotype, but taken to such a level that it’s wholy unbelievable. Leatherface’s hulking bulk makes him aas much a force of nature as the woodland he charges through. It’s telling that Hooper’s first sequel to the film is more comic than it is horrific. Audition is even more clever in its manipulation of the audience, deliberately being uneventful and often unbelievably dull for its first two acts, so that when the extraordinary horrors of the final act kick in it comes as that much more of a shock. In both of these cases there is some interesting play with your expectations, a feeling that some actual thought has gone into the proceedings. Meanwhile, back in Lakeworld, none of these ideas seem to be in evidence. I’m not suggesting copying them, that would be pointlessly tedious, but trying to play with the audience’s expectations in some way would have been nice. The fact that there are only two characters with redeeming features (and I personally didn’t find myself particularly warming to either of them), knowing the film to be a horror, I was fairly certain that neither would last the full ninety minutes after their SatNav chirped out “Turn around now.” (probably the only decent gag in the hour and a half)

There’s also the matter of the placing of the torture. As I’ve stated in my three examples, the nasty ramps itself up in the last act. Lake sticks its first and most unpleasant moments at the start of act two. The grisly (and almost gristly) acts on display gave me a semblance of nausea as they were occuring, which I assume was the intended effect, but these came to an end when that scene did. So where do you go after you’ve provided the big visceral thrill of the film? Into a sort of cat and mouse chase movie it would seem. That’s hardly satisfying as a device, now is it? I suppose that due to having only the two protagonists in a horror film, the film maker feels that they have to put them into some sort of horrific situation before they lose the audience’s attention in this day and age, but Audition is less than a decade old and seems to have manged to get quite a following (though maybe that’s by virtue of Japanophiles, supposed art house credentials and the fact that it washed up before the torture wave crested). This bolt shooting (metaphorically, though things might have benefitted from some absurd bolt gun action) essentially hobbles the second half of the film. While they could have spent more time making me actually give a shit about this couple, instead the violence explodes onto the screen early with nothing to subsequently back it up. None of the supposed thrills of the final forty-five minutes have as much impact once your stomach has settled from that initial scene of blood letting. Especially the ending.

The ending – SPOILER ALERT (though, seriously, you don’t want to watch this film) – is where you get the “Well I blame the parents,” ‘moral’. The woman (I forget the caharacter’s names, have forgotten that of the actress and have spent far too much time writing this already, so I’m going to start researching the fucking thing) escapes the woods back to civilization, crashes into a pool party (where they’re listening to Mel & Kim, which was the other instance where the film pleased me), which we quickly realise is the home of the parents of one of the nippers who’ve been doing the terrorising. The youngster arrives home, claims his innocence, is believed over the woman in peril, who is summarily dragged off screen by the father with claims that “We look after our own around here!” (in spite of the fact that the parent’s accents seem to come from various parts of the British Isles too, implying to me that you must live in this village for about a week and a half before being considered a local – my parents have lived in the same village for approaching thirty years and have only started being thought of as local by the lifelong locals over the past decade) and presumably executed while the main youngster tries on his newly stolen aviator shades. Bleak, eh? Left me with a nasty taste in the mouth. It’s just a celebration of unpleasantness, with a message so pointless (look – the kids couldn’t finish her off, but the Dads can – society is to blame!) that it made the preceeding hour and a half seem all the worse. At least Audition and Massacre had some hope at their climax, while I seem to recall Funny Games has some implication that while it’s protagonists will never find redemption, that they may be on their way to some kind of deserving fate (though I might be remembering that wrong – it might be bleaker still, but bleak with a message).

About half way through the thing I found myself wondering who exactly the target audience for this thing was. Two thirds in I realised that it was me. Not me now, but the me of my adolesence, when I was craving more horror, more extreme cinema of any kind. At the time I recall fantasising that films that pulled absolutely no punches should exist. Things so grisly, bleak in their outlook and hard to physically look at were exactly what I wanted to see, because they didn’t exist at the time. The not so recent wave of BBFC back downs making most of the video nasties that were banned during my teenage years available in any high street retailer means that I never really got to see any of them, and the occasional Lucio Fulci that would slip through the net was never as unremittingly gross as I wanted it to be. When I was fifteen, I fear that I would have loved Eden Lake. Now it leaves me colder than minus four kelvin. Ladies and gentlemen, I am sad to report that I have turned into a grown up.

Now that’s really fucking scary.

Lost Fun

March 10th, 2009 by

Rummaging in the archive, I came upon the Pages of Fun I have in my posession (fewer than I’d thought – don’t worry, I’m not demanding them back, nor am I that bothered about what has become of them). Had a quick check in the archive and realised that I had one that was missing. So, for the sake of some sort of near completeness, here it is.

Lost Fun

See how much I’ve grown as an artist? Do you? Do you? Me neither. Bah.

Brand Error

March 9th, 2009 by

Toothpaste shouldn’t be salty, should it? I’m fairly certain it shouldn’t taste of fish either. It claims to be toothpaste on the tube, though I’m beginning to wonder. If I’m forced to wear dentures in the next couple of weeks, we shall all know why.

Ten Things What I Have Done Learnt This Week

March 5th, 2009 by

1 – That long johns can be an absolute boon in sub zero climates.

2 – That watching someone playing a theremin well close up is akin to some sort of erotic experience.

3 – That collossal waterfalls are possibly the most impressive things in the natural world.

4 – That when people tell you not to touch their dogs, you should not touch their dogs, no matter how much you feel you’ve ingratiated yourself with them.

5 – That I can no longer smoke dope without becoming a morose, silent lump in a corner (though I had suspected this for some time).

6 – That I look like a bit of a cock in a peaked cap (again, this was more a case of suspicion conformation).

7 – That the experience of having one’s lower body immersed in hot water while one’s head and torso are being snowed on is surprisingly pleasing.

8 – That whale meat is surprisingly tasty and (Bonus Learning!) that blubber tastes remarkably like pate.

9 – That six hundred square feet of tarpaulin flapping in a force nine gale directly outside one’s cracked, unshuttable hostel window is liable to prevent sleep.

10 – That stick figure gags about shooting at babies feet to make them dance work in any language.

Thing eleven would bring things down, so let’s leave it at that shall we. Normal service will resume when I decide what that might be. Happy, um, thingy.