Saturday, February 14, 2009

Films, more zines, Barack Obama (MRR #308)

I don't consider myself a film buff of any description. The wife and I have a Netflix account but have a tendency to keep a DVD for at least a month before returning it unwatched. A complete waste of money. I think watching films is an impulse thing for me: if something happens to come on the telly that looks interesting I'll watch it, or if I feel like watching a film I'll go to the video shop and see what tickles my fancy. Unfortunately the video shop nearest us closed recently (prompting the switch to Netflix) although there is a really good one that's not that far away. I hardly ever go to the cinema these days, despite living in a place where you can hardly move without passing a great art-house theatre or multiplex mall. You get the best of all worlds here, the latest special effects blockbusters play next door to the most obscure indie documentaries, so choice isn't the problem. Price might be though; it's ridiculous what they charge for films nowadays... when I was knee-high to a grasshopper you could go to the matinee and catch a Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serial, the latest Charlie Chaplin, and a newsreel about good old Tommy knocking the Hun for six (all enjoyed while sucking on a bag of jujubes), for under a shilling.
Like most red-blooded boys growing up in the Seventies, I loved Bond films. The first ones I saw in the pictures starred Roger Moore as Bond, which was confusing because I was used to him on TV as The Saint. However, there is only one true Bond, and that's Sean Connery. There was the added thrill that he was from Scotland, so it wasn't totally unrealistic to think I could grow up to be like him. Like most red-blooded boys, I wanted to be a secret agent when I grew up. The fact that I am not a secret agent (or an actor) is probably the only department in which I am not exactly like either Bond or Connery. James Bond films shaped me into the hyper-nationalistic, violent, xenophobic misogynist I am today.
My next great love was kung fu films. Bruce Lee became another hero of mine and I had a massive poster of him from the final scene of one of my all-time favorites, Enter The Dragon, on my bedroom wall. I remember being really bummed out that I was blond and definitely not Chinese so I knew I wouldn't grow up to be just like Bruce Lee. I have a hazy recollection of seeing Enter The Dragon at the cinema but since it came out in 1973 (when I was 3) I'm either wrong or I saw a re-release of it. I definitely remember my dad taking me to see The Big Brawl (1980) starring Jackie Chan. I used to come out of films like that so excited and full of energy. The film wouldn't quite leave me for a while: part of me would believe that I was in fact a kung-fu master, and that any passer-by on the rainy Scottish night-time street was a potential enemy from a rival Shaolin temple.
I think I came to the realization that there was more to the pictures than action films around the time the UK finally got a fourth television channel. Channel 4 was initially started with a remit to focus on obscure, fringe programming. They also had a reputation for showing a lot more skin than the other channels. As my adolescent self stayed up far too late watching Channel 4 on my little black and white portable telly in the hope of seeing some tits (or even the odd patch of pubic hair) I was inadvertently exposed to all kinds of artsy-fartsy experimental film making, not to mention plenty of social realism, documentaries, and a lot more queerness than I was comfortable with at the time.
As I got older (right up to the present I suppose) my tastes have centered around the sort of gritty social realism exemplified by Ken Loach or the British kitchen-sink dramas of the 50s and 60s. I love Ealing Comedies. Film Noir. Bill Forsyth (Gregory's Girl, Comfort And Joy, Local Hero). What list of film favorites would be complete without Spinal Tap?
I almost forgot to mention one film that dominated just about every kid's psyche around my school: Quadrophenia. I wasn't a Who fan before I saw it and it actually took me a while after it to become one. I also was never really a mod, I wasn't anywhere near cool enough, but that film came along at just the right time for me and many others, shaping musical tastes, fashion styles, and aesthetics for years to come, in the UK at least. I doubt whether The Jam and other mod revival acts, not to mention 2-Tone, would have been anywhere near as big without the movie version of the Who's rock opera.
Do yourself a favor and seek out some of the stuff I've mentioned above, and now you know the sort of stuff I like, get in touch with your own recommendations.

The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner:

I'm writing this just after the voters of America elected their first non-white president, Barack Obama. It's still early days obviously (he doesn't take office for a couple of months!) and a lot of folk seem to have lofty and slightly unrealistic expectations for the man, but the mood is hopeful. I've said before in these pages that I don't put much faith in 'democracy' or party politics but at the very least it's encouraging that the leader of the free world is African-American.
Less encouraging is the success (by a slim margin) of Proposition 8 here in California. Proposition 8 contained an amendment to the California Constitution defining marriage as a purely heterosexual institution. This measure was sponsored by a cabal of conservative, right wing, and religious groups in response to the Supreme Court's ruling that same-sex marriage was legal in this state. As someone who's been married for over thirteen years I often tell my queer friends that it's not all it's cracked up to be, but in all seriousness marriage (rightly or wrongly) bestows certain rights on people and to deny those rights to a class of people is discrimination. 'Defenders' of the 'sanctity' of marriage insist that the Proposition was not about discrimination or about taking away anyone's rights, citing that gays could attain all the same rights as married straights by entering into civil unions. This is not just a smokescreen; it's an outright lie. While a civil partnership does bestow some of the same rights as marriage, some crucial rights are still left out. For example, the US Immigration and Naturalization Service doesn't yet recognize civil unions. I have been able to live and work (and pay taxes) in the USA for so long because my spouse is American. If I was gay, forget it. Still, the fight against Prop 8 isn't over: the Yes on 8 campaign was funded heavily by the Church of the Latter Day Saints (i.e. the Mormons, who not so long ago promoted polygamy), but as a religious organization with tax-exempt status, they're not supposed to use their money to try to influence legislation. At the very least they should lose their tax-exempt status, but let's face it, it probably won't happen.
As a result of writing about some of my old favorite zines a few issues ago I heard from my old friend Adam of Go! fanzine, who was pleased to be able to demonstrate to his girlfriend that he was once at least "a wee bit famous." Glad to be of help Adam. See ye in the Halt. I was also grateful to receive the latest issue of Seven Inches To Freedom, an entertaining read out of Florida. This issue (#6) is in fact dedicated to the best of the Florida scene. Considering that the only decent thing out of Florida is Tom Petty and I can only stand him in small doses, I expected a pretty thin issue, but in fact the zine is crammed with stuff, including an extensive discography of almost every Florida label since 1989 and an argument for the first Scrotum Grinder 7" being the best Florida record ever. I'm going to have to take your word for it on that one, boys and girls. If you want to check it out yourself I believe one US dollar will suffice (double it if yer forrin): Joe Lachut/SITF, PO Box 457, Fort Myers, FL 33902-0457)
While on the subject of zines, a recent visit to Issues (a great magazine store in Oakland) reminded me that I was remiss in not mentioning Chunklet when discussing my appreciation of mean-spirited humor. Although it doesn't come out very often, Chunklet never fails to entertain, despite the fact that it consists almost entirely of indie-rock inside jokes. Also, for some reason, they take a lot of digs at MRR even though none of the writers (and certainly none of the readers) have probably read an issue of Maximum since the mid-90s, if ever. The issue I just picked up, #20, is, predictably, dense with jokes in type so tiny you'll need a new prescription by the time you've finished it. I can't even begin to start listing some of the contents so just take it from me: you need it. It's a little pricey at $10 but one issue goes a long way. This will be in your bathroom magazine rack for months. Go to
Wow, I think this might be one of the longest columns I've done for the mag. Still, I missed last month's deadline so I've got some making up to do. PO Box 22971, Oakland, CA 94609, USA. I surf my ego at I've also been a somewhat irregular contributor to Bricks And Mortar, the music blog started by MRR's own cheeky mockney chappie Tim Brooks. See what Tim and I (and some other familiar faces) have got to say for ourselves at Cheers!

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