All the laser beams, neon lines, wireframes, Knight Rider-esque cars called Fairlady Z, and er… giant salamis floating in space that you could want in this 1983 demo reel by Japan Computer Graphics Lab.
Some bonkers choreography with Heather Parisi, from the 80s Italian variety show Fantastico. Firstly, Frankie Goes to Hollywood never seemed so… confusing? It looks a bit like a toned down, bowdlerised high school production of Cruising. Still molto gay, though. If Heather’s dance partner is thinking about relaxing, doing it or coming, I very much doubt it involves her. Put some trousers on Heather, love. You’ll catch your death of cold.
Even better, here’s Heather again doing some way-ahead-of-their-time Gangnam Style ridiculous dressage pony moves and gurning to Tullio De Piscopo’s nail in Italo Disco’s coffin, Stop Bajon (Primavera). The smoke in these bubbles must be what the choreographer was inhaling when they came up with this number.
Watch out for a random, drunken, camp fellow enjoying his big acting break at 11:48, a bit of very irresponsible chiropraxy at 12.49, some very unsexy from 13.35, and– saints preserve us!– pierrots throughout.
I’ve been reading Postmodernist patriarch Jean Baudrillard’s book about the USA, called America (Verso 1988, new edition 2010). Although it’s occasionally mired in the kind of obscurantist, elliptical wittering that he’s rightly condemned for by some people– the gobbledygook blindly imitated to devastatingly stupid effect by many academics, critics and artists since the 1990s– it also has some incredibly sharp observations about a country and a populace that at heart he obviously enjoys a great deal. He often unfavourably compares his native France to the USA, although this is not as funny as his bullseye hits on US culture; these are not very far from what (postmodernist) native writers like Chuck Palahniuk and David Foster Wallace would be doing ten years or so later.
Writing in the mid 1980s, Baudrillard also makes some incredibly prescient and accurate observations about where Reaganism, Thatcherism and the whole greed-is-good yuppie privatisation era would lead politics, morality and society. You’ll need to read the book for those predictions, though, because they’re too long for a blog post.
Here’s some of his funnier, pithier aphorisms and observations about America instead:
“The Getty museum where old paintings look new, bleached and gleaming, cleansed of all patina and craquelure, with an artificial lustre that echoes the fake Pompeian decor all around them.
In Philadelphia, a radical sect named ‘MOVE’, with a bizarre set of rules, including one forbidding both the practise of autopsy and the removal of rubbish, is cleared out by the police, who kill eleven people by fire and burn down thirty adjacent houses, including those (the irony of it!) of all the neighbours who had called for the sect to be removed.
… they certainly do smile at you here, though neither from courtesy, nor from an effort to charm. This smile signifies only the need to smile. It is a bit like the Cheshire Cat’s grin: it continues to float on faces long after all emotion has disappeared… It is part of the general cryogenization of emotions. It is, indeed, the smile the dead man will wear at his funeral home, as he clings to hope of making contact even in the next world. The smile of immunity, the smile of advertising: ‘This country is good. I am good. We are the best’… Smile if you have nothing to say. Most of all, do not hide the fact that you have nothing to say nor your total indifference to others. Let this emptiness, this profound indifference shine out spontaneously in your smile. Give your emptiness and indifference to others, light up your face with the zero degree of joy and pleasure, smile, smile, smile… Americans may have no identity, but they do have wonderful teeth.”
I recently renewed my acquaintance with Lamberto Bava’s deliriously silly 1985 gore film Demons/Demoni. It made me pine for the days in the late 1980s and early 1990s when me and my friends actively sought the worst VHS rental films to laugh at, be bewildered by, bitch about, quip at and get drunk with. For those who have missed out on this kind of wonderful experience– maybe you have mostly dullards for friends, or your partner affects only to enjoy good films or something, I don’t know– I recommend Red Letter Media’s Best of the Worst videos to give you an idea of how much fun you can have with a couple of atrocious films, a few (or a lot of) beers and some witty pals.
If my memory serves me correctly, during that long ago session Demons may even have been part of a double bill with the colossus of crap that is Showgirls, for some reason. Possibly one person bargained that they’d watch Demons if they could also rent Showgirls, or vice versa. In any case there are probably more similarities between the two than one might think. For one thing, both of them are well-made and good looking films even though this fine craftsmanship is in the service of scripts that are absolute trash and never make a lick of sense. Both were (perhaps excessively) sincere attempts at appealing to a mainstream audience, although they went about doing so in such an absurdly maladroit manner that with hindsight they couldn’t be more ripe for cult status instead of mass appeal. The primary difference between the two film makers is that I don’t think even Paul Verhoeven himself ever knows at any given time whether he’s got his tongue in his cheek or if he’s unironically revelling in gratuitous smut and violence, whereas Lamberto Bava seems to be quite firmly in the latter camp. I think gratuitous smut and violence can be glorious, by the way. I’m not knocking them. I mean, has anyone ever made ultraviolence more satisfying and cathartic than Verhoeven does in Robocop?
I’m on the record about the fact that I could hardly care less about spoilers, but for what it’s worth nothing here is going to give away anything major about the film. That’s mainly because there’s virtually no plot to spoil anyway. Some randoms get trapped in a cinema, some of them become possessed by demons and savagely attack the dwindling group of survivors, the end. Characters in the film have hairstyles and outfits in lieu of personalities. We learn virtually nothing about them as individuals either before or after they get ripped apart, gnawed, squished or stabbed.
Stories of 口裂け女, the slit-mouthed woman, emerged from urban Japan in the late 1970s. At first they were particularly passed around between school children, then in the mass media. By the first half of 1979 Asahi Shinbun was highlighting kuchisake onna as a buzzword (hayari kotoba) of the year. In true, random Japanese style one of the others was “rabbit hutches”.
Occasionally Kuchisake onna was reported as a genuine physical threat, a criminal would-be kidnapper or murderer rather than a supernatural being. At times she was somehow both a real world abductor and a folkloric monster simultaneously. (See Hyaku-monogatari for the Edo origins of modern yōkai storytelling) Satoshi Kon’s extremely uneven but in places brilliant series 妄想代理人 Mōsō Dairinin [Paranoia Agent] is obviously heavily inspired by the mass hysteria over Kuchisake onna. A woman with long hair and a white mask– of the kind sold everywhere and very common in Japan to cover the mouth and nose when a person is ill, or against pollution– accosts you in the street and she asks something like “Watashi kirei?” (“Am I pretty?”) or “Atashi bijin ka?” (“Am I a beauty?”) If you agree that she is, she replies “Kore demo?” (“Even [like] this?”) as she tears off her mask to show that her mouth is slit open across the cheeks, from ear to ear. If you tell her she isn’t pretty, she becomes enraged and pursues you with a knife or scythe. The reason for her disfigurement and rage varies with the telling: sometimes it’s a plastic surgery disaster, sometimes a dreadful accident, sometimes self-inflicted. The same goes for the means of escaping her: repeating certain words, offering certain gifts, reaching a certain place before she catches you. Continue Reading
Brace yourselves, nerds. This week it’s an onslaught of vintage computer images from Computers: An Illustrated History by Christian Wurster, published by Taschen. Honestly it’s so interesting and visually arresting (and virtually wordless, as the title suggests) that I could scan almost every page of it, but I’m not going to. I strongly recommend that you buy this splendid book if you like the images I’m posting, just as I suggest you do for the work of any other authors, artists, musicians, or film makers whose efforts I feature here or that you see on other blogs, and just as I also gently suggest that you support me in a small way by buying one of my books if you enjoy this blog.
Anyway, commercial message over, here’s an inexplicable image from a 1984 German ad for the Atari 800 XL.
The text on the screen describes what I initially assumed must be a fictional album, since the details seemed so daft: it says the genre is “jazzrock” and the songs have stupid titles like Mango Tango. Passport was, however, a real German prog rock and (shudder) jazz rock band who did indeed release an LP called Man in the Mirror in 1983. This confirms that the gentleman pictured here really is DJing at one of the shittiest discos ever. Probably best not to even try working out what narrative we’re meant to glean from this photo. Miss Average in Pink getting short shrift and a lecture on Hawkwind when she complains that nobody wants to hear prog and jazzrock at a disco?
Interesting with hindsight that actually playing a whole song as a file directly from a digitised playlist was still far beyond the capabilities of a home computer.
Randy Shilts’ books about the misery and deaths of early AIDS sufferers (And the Band Played On) and the persecution of homosexuals in the US military (Conduct Unbecoming) are for the most part pretty grim, as one might expect. Before “don’t ask, don’t tell” the policy was “don’t even think about it.” Many innocent men and women were made to suffer because bigots were allowed to waste taxpayers’ money on harassing people whose sexuality had absolutely no bearing upon their ability to do their jobs, or on the USA’s security. And then we discover (in Conduct Unbecoming) this nugget of hilarious and positively Pythonesque absurdity, from the late 1970s/early 1980s:
“In the course of their investigation, NIS [Naval Investigative Service] agents made a startling discovery– that homosexuals sometimes referred to themselves as “friends of Dorothy.” This code term had originated in the 1940s and 1950s and referred to Judy Garland’s character in the film The Wizard Of Oz. Ever since, gay men had identified themselves as “Friends of Dorothy.” The NIS, however, did not know the phrase’s history and so believed that a woman named Dorothy was the hub of an enormous ring of military homosexuals in the Chicago area. The NIS prepared to hunt Dorothy down and convince her to give them the names of homosexuals.
[In gay bars frequented by military personnel] NIS agents were asking pointed questions about someone named Dorothy. When one unfortunate sailor acknowledged he was gay in order to get out of the Navy, NIS agents sat him down and told him that they knew all about Dorothy. What they wanted to know from him was how to find her. The sailor, who was too young to know the code, was baffled.”
This is the point where Graham Chapman should come in and tell them he’s ending the sketch because it got too silly. Rest assured that Shilts doesn’t miss his golden opportunity to use SURRENDER DOROTHY as a chapter title.
I’m pretty sure that even the most au fait user of gay slang would be baffled by somebody who seriously thought homosexuals were all in cahoots with each other merely by virtue of being gay, and that they were all receiving orders from some kind of underground lesbian linchpin of closet logistics. Presumably Dorothy would also be the chairwoman who ticked off items on the Gay Agenda, and set the exchange rate for the Pink Dollar, Pink Pound, etc. Not that this kind of ridiculous stupidity and ignorance has disappeared: far from it, as is proved by the continued prevalence of “you’d like her/him, s/he’s gay” and “you’re gay, what do gay people think?” type comments.
Right, now let’s see something decent and military. Some precision drilling.
“THIS IS WHERE YOU BEGIN TO ESTABLISH A NEW AND SUPREMELY IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP WITH THE UNCONSCIOUS LEVELS OF YOUR PSYCHE.”
I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have a library- I wish, I wish, I wish I had the money or the space for a proper library of defiantly non-digital knowledge in printed form- but I do have a lot of books. A sufficient number, in any case, to occasionally wonder WTF some of them are doing on my book shelves and how they got there.
‘The Development of Psychic Powers’ is one of these books. Although I would buy it from a second-hand book shop, I know that I didn’t.
A sticker on the back reveals that it was originally bought from Magis Books in Loughborough (who are still in business) and I’ve definitely never been to Loughborough or to anywhere else in Leicestershire. The copy I have is the ninth (!) printing of a 1981 publication.
The content is fairly laughable and also surfing the fringes of the Trade Descriptions Act, since it’s not really about developing psychic powers. Most of the activities involve Zener cards, pendulums, dowsing and similar activities that might have given stoned teenage girls a giggle in their bedrooms during the late 70s or early 80s. We’re not talking about The Exorcist or any Scanners-type activity here. Continue Reading
For those who thought Bing Crosby and David Bowie was a pairing of hallucinatory unlikeliness, a bit of Grace Jones + ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ + Pee-wee Herman + something that’s (ostensibly at least) a kids’ TV show= FULL NORMALITY INVERSION.
First thing of note: Jones has been wrongly delivered to Pee-wee, having been originally destined for the White House; in winter of 1988 the president of the United States was George Bush Senior. Do we really think that Bush deserves to get Grace Jones delivered to him in the mail at Christmas, or ever? We all know he wasn’t a good boy. Continue Reading
A Halloween viewing of the notorious Ghostwatch set me thinking about the undercurrents of historical phobia that seemed to bubble up particularly strongly through British culture in the 1970s and 1980s. This in turn reminded me of the exceedingly cult show, Sapphire and Steel, which is still fondly remembered by many British people of a certain age and a particular bent (and also apparently in unexpected places like Peru) for moderately but permanently traumatising them when it was first shown in the early 80s. I recently watched this show again as well, including episodes that I’d never seen before either when they were first shown or when they were repeated in seemingly endless loops during the late 1990s and I evidently had little better to do than watch satellite television all night.
For those who don’t know or are young, the eponymous characters were played by two pretty big British stars of the time. I read somewhere that one of the reasons the show was relatively short-lived was that its stars had so many other jobs to do, although this also sounds like the kind of bullshit that agents put about as a kind of bargaining chip for their clients. Joanna Lumley and David McCallum play a pair with definite but asexual chemistry. They could loosely be described as psychic detectives who appear, sometimes literally out of nowhere, to deal with what are obliquely half-explained as incursions from time or dimensions beyond the ordinary. These may take the form of anachronisms, time slips or hauntings but the situations in which Sapphire and Steel find themselves invariably start out weird and then rapidly spiral into the incomprehensible. In a good way.
In keeping with all British television of that time, they were probably given about £10 to spend on making it and it looks like they blew £5 of that budget down the pub before they even started filming. It’s incredibly stagey and untelevisual in its execution, and often they don’t make the best use even of the limited sets they’ve been able to bodge up. But anyone (or rather, any team of people) who can create even a handful of chilling, iconic and never to be forgotten scenes or images within such restrictions… well, I think they deserve a lot of credit.
All of the “Assignments” (in total six stories consisting of varying numbers of weekly episodes) except one were written by P.J. Hammond. He clearly had issues with history and the persistence of the past, turning domestic staircases, bedsits, train stations and even a petrol station into ominous facilitators of incidents that often amount to temporal rapes; modern people transformed or disappeared or imprisoned in loops of time or battered by echoes of past atrocities. These aggressions are, moreover, apparently instigated by the malignancy of Time itself. It slowly becomes as clear as anything ever does in the series (i.e. not very clear at all) that Sapphire and Steel are interlopers too, perhaps merely humanoid or passengers riding in human forms rather than truly human. Despite being firmly of the (then) present and emphatically not time travellers, Steel in particular has odd gaps in his knowledge such as being unsure of the difference between World Wars I and II. Sapphire sometimes speaks disparagingly of “humans.”
Of course in support of this historophobia theme I could also go to Hammer and to Doctor Who’s Tom Baker gothic horror/Victoriana period, but if you think I’m walking into that minefield you’ve got another think coming, my friend. There’ll be absolutely no discussion of Doctor Who here. It’s more than my job’s worth, mate. You know, health and safety.
I’ve spoken to you all sternly about spoilers before, but again I’ll say that if you’re the kind of big baby who whines about spoilers for things that were on television thirty years ago then you’d better go and do something else. Continue Reading