Thoughts Before Watching
I Eat Your Skin is not a radio drama, it’s a movie but it’s called ‘I Eat Your Skin’ so I feel this is an excellent reason to watch it. I have a very good feeling that this will contain racism, zombies, groovy music and other things which were popular in 1970 and are still popular today. Very excited obvs.
We live in a world today which seems, or is made to seem, more divided than ever. Asterios Polyp is a book about division, but it turns that which divides us into positives, finding balance in opposition and progress in compromise. David Mazzucchelli, best known as the artist for the seminal Batman: Year One, is sole creator on this book and, while he doesn’t deal in geopolitical division or the problems of race or wealth that plague the world currently, the lessons that can be learnt from the deeply human philosophy in Asterios Polyp are ones that we all need to be reminded of.
If you’re even slightly interested in seeing Logan, you probably know that it’s getting rave reviews. So much so that for some people, it’s going to be tough for it to live up to the hype. So let me say right out of the gate that Logan isn’t a perfect movie. But it is a very good one, and a significant enough departure from previous instalments in the X-Men franchise that your enjoyment (or lack thereof) of the earlier movies probably isn’t a very good predictor of whether you’ll like this one. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of Westerns – and specifically the gritty, melancholy, washed-up-gunslinger-reluctantly-takes-on-one-more-job trope, this film is for you.
Looking at some of last year's debuts, it is fun to see how they - with the help of some wild extrapolation - represent the evolution of three very different traditions of British fantasy. So, without further ado, let's gird our loins, say farewell to the small village that never really understood us, reluctantly accept the quest that only we can accomplish, and head off in pursuit of our destiny...
Sabaa Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes is, perhaps, the easiest of these three books to talk about, as it is such a perfect archetype of what it is: an all-star gathering of YA tropes.
We've got two protagonists - Laia and Elias. One's orphaned, one's estranged from their eeeeevil parent. Both have special missions, awkwardly-discovered Chosen Destiny Powers, and harrowing day-to-day lives, periodically punctuated by the need to make Difficult Decisions. Both are spectacularly attractive. Both have 'obvious' love interests (in natural conflict with their Undeniable and Powerful Attraction to one another). Both are born to - and assigned - roles that they don't want to play. Both crave, in order, Freedom, Understanding, Something Different, A World More Fair, and a bit of sexy cuddletimes.
From the mediocrity of War-Gamers' World and One Against the Moon to the horror of Fimbulwinter and The Hidden Children, I read these things so you don't have to. But hey, there's good news as well! Mystery lovers will delight in 13 Minutes and Squeeze Play, and Robert E. Howard is here to restore my faith in fantasy fiction with "Shadows in the Moonlight".
Hugh Walker's War-Gamers' World (1975) is a disappointment. It is a set-up that we don't see so often any more, and, in fact, might be one of the first of its kind. Our protagonist is a gamer, and, in the opening chapters (paragraphs, even), he's sucked into his game world. No longer is he the master of fate - merely one of its pawns! He's seeing, first-hand, the carnage and chaos of his 'game'! He learns a valuable lesson about humanity, privilege and power!
Actually, none of that happens.
"Chicken Heart" first aired on Lights Out in on March 10, 1933.
Stark says: “We sure gonna be mighty rich corpses.”
Yellow Sky is one of those films that I’ve been meaning to watch for ages; mostly because a) it has a female co-lead and b) it’s often referred to as a precursor to that most idiosyncratic of western sub-genres, the Acid Western.
Acids, if you haven’t come across them before, are known, and named, for their counterculture tendencies; the desire to kick the western away from the glowy sunset of manifest destiny and into the dark corners of the soul. Made right on the cusp of the 1950s – the decade of the Western Epic – Yellow Sky is a surprisingly off-beat film. Adapted from a novel by W.R. Burnett, who flitted with ease between Westerns and gangster noir, and directed by ex-World-War-One fighter pilot and all round hell-raiser, William A. Wellman, it’s easy to see how Yellow Sky had the potential to stand out as an unusual Western from the start.
Gregory Peck plays Stretch, the leader of a gang of bank robbers and ruffians, who, after looting a small-town bank, are pursued onto seventy miles of deadly alkaline salt flats. With no choice but to cross, they find themselves dying of thirst in the isolated ghost town of Yellow Sky, inhabited only by an old prospector (James Barton) and his granddaughter (Anne Baxter). Apparently loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, what follows is a clashing of morals, loyalties and greed set within a claustrophobic, visually compelling pressure-cooker.
Without a doubt, the setting is the real star of this film. Yellow Sky looks great, almost alarmingly so compared to other Westerns of the same era, which were often forced to make do with B-movie budgets and materials. Even the quality of the film stock is a surprise, incredibly crisp and clear for something shot almost seventy years ago. Working in black and white, MacDonald makes full use of the Death Valley location with its the arid, inhospitable, terrain; boulder fields in the sun are exploited for chiaroscuro effect, pale dust clouds are kicked into dark angles of shade, silhouettes and shadows abound. Perhaps most memorable in this respect is the final duel between Lengthy, Dude and Stretch; rather than showing the shoot-out itself, we’re presented with the outside wall of the saloon, with its broken window, where the silhouettes of two horses rear in fright.
It all adds to the general feel that the town of Yellow Sky is a no-place, like Hellman’s desert in The Shooting or the snow-locked wastes of Day of the Outlaw. A setting that both highlights and reflects the stark, brutal and often arbitrary nature of humanity; how a person might behave when denuded of society and civilisation.
But what of the actors? Oh yes, them. Gregory Peck is a decent lead, playing a former hard-hearted bandit who finds his moral compass swinging towards honesty. However, Richard Widmark (who you might recognise as the lead from Jules Dassin’s wonderful 1950 noir, Night and the City) steals the show as Dude, Stretch’s treacherous second-in-command. Neatly dressed in a white shirt and tie where the others are scruffy, Widmark is a wonderful foil. He plays Dude with a casual viciousness tempered only by a lust for gold.
Yellow Sky is a bit of a smorgasbord of Western character actors. John Russell – star of Lawman and, many years later, crooked Marshal Stockburn in Pale Rider – gives a good turn as brooding lout Lengthy, while Harry Morgan, (aka Col. Sherman T. Potter in M*A*S*H) does a decent job with not many lines as turncoat-turned-ally Half Pint.
Anne Baxter (who was, incidentally, the granddaughter of Frank Lloyd Wright!) does a great job here as the trouser-wearing, shotgun-toting Mike. When Stretch attempts to bully her into giving them food, she threatens him with her gun. He swipes it off her, only to get socked in the face. This being 1948, there are plenty more opportunities for Harassment of The Female Character (more on this later), but not without Mike rather skilfully shooting off some of Stretch’s scalp the next time he tries anything. All in all, Baxter is a compelling lead; she plays Mike as tough, resilient and hot-headed, without being too clichéd. HOWEVER:
As we might suspect from the grabby-grabby poster, there’s a lot of that ol’ Hollywood favourite: kiss-first-don’t-ask-later. Wellman’s guilty of exploiting this, leaning rather heavily on sexual threats to create tension. The film opens with a scene of the gang leering at a painting of a woman on horseback, commenting: “I sure would like to know what she plans to do after she gets done riding that horse”. The subsequent introduction of Mike, a young woman alone in an isolated town with only her grandfather for back-up, has a predictable effect on the gang. She is mocked by Walrus, quietly idolized by youngster Bull Run, and harassed by Lengthy, subjected to constant not-so idle threats.
Again, after seeing that poster, we also shouldn’t be surprised to discover that one of the worst physical offenders is the upstanding Stretch himself. After sternly forbidding his men to bother Mike, he can’t help but break his own rule, firstly by insulting her: “You know if you was prettied up a bit you’d look almost like a female,” and secondly by dive-tackling her to the ground to assault her, just to prove that he can. Although she wins both rounds, shooting him in the head and insulting him right back "You smell. Didn't anyone ever tell you before that you smell bad?" eventually forcing him to – literally – clean up his act, it’s still frustrating stuff. But then, this is 1948. Although she rides off at the end in the company of Stretch, wearing a flowery hat, I suppose the fact she does it as part of a gang, on her own horse, wearing her usual shirt, trousers and gun-belt is some sort of minor victory.
One thing: don’t let the opening of the film fool you. In the first frame we’re told that this is THE WEST, 1867 while an instrumental version of Oh! Susanna plays. Ignore that. Things are about to get better. Also ignore the first line of the film: “Hey! Look at that!” followed by someone pointing to a skull with an arrow through it. IT GETS BETTER. I PROMISE. Of course, we encounter the usual Native American stereotypes and racial slurs, in this case focused on Apaches. Grandpa does comment that Mike was “raised by Apaches… fine people if you can understand them”, and although there’s some standard nonsense whooping and shooting, it’s mostly offscreen, thankfully.
All in all, Yellow Sky is a mixed bag; a Western of its time that makes a decent attempt to side-step the usual tropes, a visually compelling piece that uses the landscape to reflect its overall themes, and a film that has more than a few hidden currents beneath its surface… As Grandpa says: "Guess the war upset a lot of those boys. Got them off on the wrong foot.” What was true of 1867 could be as true of 1948: yet another group of young men, spat out by war, suddenly adrift in a world that has made its moral fragility abundantly clear. A precursor to the Acid Western indeed.
It was the end of the swinging sixties.
That day, like so many others, the London sky was sad like a cold cup of tea.
The nasty rain rattled tediously at my windowpane.
I was waiting for my new tenants to show up and inhabit me.
Haddon Hall was the Gothic Victorian mansion in Beckenham where Bowie and his first wife Angie lived from 1969 to 1972. Accompanying them at various times were a random crew of musicians: people who moved in and out of their lives. Bowie, of course, was the most significant resident of Haddon Hall - even at that point - although he was still working out who he would be.
David and Angie rented the ground floor flat, which had (according to Angie, in later interviews) been previously home to some professors and their 27 cats. It was in Haddon Hall that Bowie crossed over into Ziggy Stardust territory, finally embracing his weird; accepting that he was more than just the guy who played at the local pub three times a week.
There are certain genres with which audiences are so familiar that it seems impossible to create something really new. It’s rare to find a romance, for instance, that doesn’t follow the familiar pattern of boy-meets-girl, boy and girl get together, something comes between boy and girl before a final reconciliation.
Teen movies ending in the big game or big dance has become so formulaic that teen movie parodies are now almost a bigger genre than the original source. Classic monster horror, bound by such narrow constraints, is a genre in which things grow increasingly stale. This is perhaps particularly true of zombies whose specific conventions prevent much experimentation; 28 Days Later and World War Z may have been refreshingly new, but they also bent convention so far as to be dismissed by purists. How then, does one take two stale genres in this case zombies and teen-romance (look how that worked out!) and create something with impact and excitement?
Well, to everyone’s surprise, the answer came from Archie Comics.