Category Archives: Media

Teddy Boys and the Rock’n’Roll Revival

Although fifties-styled clothing was not readily available in High Street stores, revivalists were catered for by small shops, who frequently sold goods through small adverts in music papers. Perhaps one of the best known is Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s shop at 430 King’s Road, Chelsea, which opened in 1971 as ‘Let it Rock.’

The shop initially sold original fifties clothes, but Westwood soon started to produce new copies to sell.

These were not exact copies; colours tended to be brighter than the fifties originals, and featured camp detailing like fake fur or lurex trim.

As a youth tribe, the new Teds in Britain were not far removed from the skinheads. Both movements were almost exclusively working class, and they were both known for racist behaviour and general aggression.

But the teddy boys were far more flamboyant, from their gaudy suits to their authentically charged style of dancing. Even their choice of car was crucial-in the mid 1980s, a car magazine, commenting on the very American looking Ford Consul Capri of 1962, noted that many of the surviving vehicles had tears in the cushion of the driver’s seat-attributed by the magazine as being caused by metal combs sticking out of the seat pockets of the driver’s trousers.

Teddy boys were still around at the dawn of the punk age; indeed, contemporary pictures show than some punks adopted a certain amount of punk gear, with drainpipe jeans or trousers being notably popular (no flares!).

Not that the two factions were united-Poly Styrene, the leader of the punk rock group X-Ray Spex had her market stall of kitsch trashed by a gang of teds. But by the end of the seventies, only the most dedicated of teds remained.

The fifties had by then featured in several high-profile films and television shows, most notably Grease and Happy Days. Although these were American products, they both had a considerable impact in Britain too.

By the 1980s, nostalgic perception of the 1950s was quite different to what it was in the previous decade. In the 80s, cod-1950s style was far more archetypally American, typified by the leather jacket/blue jeans/white 6 t-shirt look. Although the yearning for the past survived, any historical accuracy had been obliterated. Continue reading

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The Phenomenon that was The Shangri-las

By this time, however, her mother has died of a broken heart – “She got so lonely in the end, the angels picked her for a friend… And I can never go home anymore.” Their label, Red Bird, was in serious financial trouble by this point, a situation which had been becoming increasingly serious for some time, and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich had left the label before the release of the above single. Indeed, Red Bird shut up shop in 1966, and the group and Morton transferred over to Mercury records for a further two singles before disbanding. 14 Between I Can Never Go Home Anymore and the demise of the group, a further five singles were released.

He Cried was a cover of She Cried, by Jay & the Americans, and was produced in a typically melodramatic style. Past, Present and Future, the last single for Red Bird featured oblique lyrics to the tune of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and Sweet Sounds of Summer, a lightweight pop number, featuring an incongruously psychedelic middle eight that sounds like it was lifted from the Pink Floyd’s debut album. More interesting were the final single on Mercury, Take the Time, and the penultimatebut-one single for Red Bird, Long Live Our Love. By the release of these two singles, the US had already embarked on the Vietnam War, and the drafting of young men to fight in the war zone had started.

Although no one was aware at the time of the outcome of these hostilities, the decision was taken by Morton to record not one, but two songs that were in market contrast to popular music’s later reactions to the situation. Long Live Our Love opens with a half-spoken monologue (“When Johnny comes marching home again, hooray, hurrah”) before we hear a drum roll, and the song bursts into life The second verse gives a flavour of the song: “Something’s come between us, And it’s not another girl, But a lot of people need you 15 There is trouble in the world.” And apart from a brief soliloquy towards the end of the song (“Please Lord, don’t let anything happen to him… Please.”), there is little suggestion that the boy will come to any harm.

After all, the earlier songs of the Shangri-las were morbid fantasies that in reality represented highly unlikely scenarios; the Vietnam War on the other hand held a very tangible risk of real death, not the comic-book kind. Take the Time was even more remarkable, although it must have seemed hugely out of step in 1967. “This Country that we’re living in knows only that we’ve got to win, no matter what the cost may be, our loss is keeping you and me free” go the lyrics patriotically, to the complete apathy of the record buying public.

By 1967 though, girl groups were no longer selling, with the exception of the Supremes, who had the backing of the powerful Motown empire behind them.

The music of the Shangri-las was considered particularly anachronistic – rock and pop’s newly discovered intellectuality had no time for silly teenage angst about boys and parents. But despite this snobbery, the Shangri-las racked up two further hits in the U.K, both times with reissues of Leader of the Pack, which reached the British top ten in both 1972 and 1976 (a better chart placing than the original release had managed here). Lucy O’Brien recounts the appeal of this record to a pre-teen audience in 1970s Britain in She Bop II – “This was our pre-teen drama, the one we learned the words to – right 16 down to every tear and every rev of that deadly motorbike.”

This success testifies to the magic of this silly little pop song. The Shangri-las are unlikely to ever be categorised as high art, but this is unnecessary anyway, as the combination of the quaint lyrical thrust of the songs along with their distinctive structures makes them unique.

No matter how old fashioned their music sounds now, the Shangri-las also brought a darker edge to pure pop , turning self-righteous and immature teenage angst and rebellion into unique pieces of music. Continue reading

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David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust and the construction of an image.

In the summer of 1971, the play Pork, based on the diaries of Andy Warhol had run for 26 nights at the Roundhouse in London. Angie had befriended many of the players, a mixture of New York freaks and Warhol ‘superstars’ such as Cherry Vanilla, Wayne County and Geri Miller.

In Nicholas Pegg’s book The complete David Bowie, Wayne County recalls that: “There was someone else [in a newspaper] who said ‘Pork is nothing but a pigsty. Pork is nothing but nymphomaniacs, whores and prostitutes running around naked on stage’3 ”

Most of the cast ended up with Bowie’s manager Tony Defries’ Mainman business organisation, which carried on where Defries’ associate Laurence Myers’ company, Gem Productions, had started off in looking after and grooming Bowie. Essentially employed to ‘put on a show’ and create a buzz around Bowie outside of the UK, the staff excelled in their role, indeed, they probably did take it too far, particularly in the USA. They generally put the impression across that Bowie was a ‘pinko commie faggot.’

Assistants were paid to make sure that doors were always held open for him, the entire entourage travelled in a fleet of limousines and their mantra was ‘Mr Bowie does not like to be touched.’ They both helped project the image and helped him fulfil DeFries’ belief that ‘To become a star, first one has to act like one.’

Bowie himself was noted in that he refused to fly anywhere; American tours had to be embarked upon using the QE2, which was even then, an essentially obsolete yet very expensive way to travel, adding another layer to the Bowie mystique. 3 P283 8 At the time, Bowie had stated that his intention was to create something that rested somewhere between ‘Nijinsky and Woolworth’s.’ The art was not in the music alone; the art was the whole concept of Ziggy Stardust himself.

As Bowie later stated: “I wasn’t surprised ZS made my career. I packaged a totally credible plastic rock starmuch better than any sort of Monkees fabrication. My plastic rocker was much more plastic than anybody’s.” And this was quite true.

Bowie later reflected in Feb 1976 that: “I could have been Hitler in England. Wouldn’t have been hard. Concerts alone got so frightening that even the papers were saying “This ain’t rock music, this is bloody Hitler!” And they were right. It was awesome.” (bihow p30).4 And to see that, one has only to watch the footage of the final concert as Ziggy Stardust, just before the culmination of the Gig, and the final song.

Bowie makes a short speech, telling his audience at the end of it that this was “not only the last show of the tour, but the last show that we’ll ever do,” which led to one of the most anguished outpourings of confusion and bewilderment ever committed to film or tape. One feels after seeing this, that Bowie was not overly exaggerating. Continue reading

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What is a Cult Film?

In his essay on Casablanca, Umberto Eco speaks about attributing the fascination with the work as being due to what it fails to do, rather than what it achieves. Many films designated as cult movies have failed in some way or other; While many failed as commercial entities, there are other factors in evidence that could be considered. For example, the Monkees’ Head failed to get the band taken more seriously. BTVOTD failed to turn Russ Meyer into a mainstream director, and Death Race 2000 was not always recognised as a satirical piece.

Also, a cult movie tends to be caught very much in its own period, rather than transcending it, and this tends to be part of the appeal. A film such as The Wizard of Oz still holds appeal to a similar audience to that which it sold to in 1939. They almost certainly would not care about the apocryphal story of the munchkin that was unintentionally filmed committing suicide on set, or about deleted sequences from the original print. In these days of marketing demographics, the cinema industry produces product intentionally destined to be cult pieces.

Films such as Being John Malkovich, or the work of Kevin Smith or Quentin Tarantino are marketed to appeal to a ‘select’ audience to whom a light-hearted romcom or a good versus evil action film would be anathema, even though they are mainstream products, and represent a strong box-office draw. Such an instant cult following for a film would rarely have been considered thirty years ago, and certainly not by a major studio.

It is only the eventual phenomenal success of the RHPS that awakened filmmakers to the potential of cult appeal as a selling point. That is not to say, however, that cult cinema cannot be produced today. A prime example of this, and conforming to many stereotypes of the genre, is the 1997 film Velvet Goldmine, directed by Todd Haynes. On release, the film underwhelmed critics, despite the hype and anticipation that heralded it.

On paper, it seemed like a winner; A semi-fictional account of rock decadence (read: David and Angie Bowie and the Mainman entourage) and sexual fluidity in early 70s Britain, produced by an up and coming auteur, starring many hot new actors and with a soundtrack that mixed classic glam rock tunes with remakes and pastiches by several cutting edge rock musicians such as Thom Yorke from Radiohead and the group Placebo.

In practice, however, the film showed itself to have a rather garbled plotline, suggesting that Oscar Wilde was, quite literally, an alien, and the clumsy portrayal of 1984 as a repressive totalitarian state, a la both George Orwell’s novel and Bowie’s aborted musical production of it. Bowie had refused to allow Haynes to use any of his songs, so the film had to resort to numbers by Roxy Music, Brian Eno and Cockney Rebel, and the film proved to be a rather revisionist version of the era-much of the dialogue comes from contemporary quotes by Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop (plus a smattering of Wilde-isms), but while characters like, say, Mandy Slade are instantly recognisable to Bowie buffs as being Bowie’s first wife Angie, other key players of the era are distorted into completely different people.

The film is unsatisfying as either a work of fantasy or a factual document as it veers erratically between 8 the two. But despite its disastrous reception (“Ziggy Plop!” said the now-defunct Select magazine), the film has gathered a dedicated cult following-one has just to search the internet to find several fan-pages dedicated to it.

Despite its numerous faults, it has to be said that the film is beautifully shot throughout, the soundtrack remains entertaining despite the conspicuous lack of Bowie material, and although most of the principal players are rather unengaging, there is a feast of entertaining bit-part characters such as Toni Collette’s Mandy Slade, and the performance artist The Divine David’s role as a particularly flamboyant member of the Bijou Records entourage.

The film seems to be particularly popular amongst a select band of young gay men, especially those who feel outside of the mainstream. Cult cinema is difficult to define, as it is pan-genre, and although some films are similar enough to have featured on double bills together, such as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Myra Breckenridge in 1970, or The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Phantom of the Paradise in 1975, cult films tend to stand very much alone.

A film can be a cult item because it proves to be more effective than its sum of parts or it could be because it falls into the camp double bluff of the “its so bad its good” kind. The style of the film tends to be a more important consideration than the plot, and like with 1960s episodes of the TV show Doctor Who, the more quaint and unconvincing the special effect, the better. But perhaps the main appeal of the cult film is that it was either rejected by, or never intended for, the mainstream. Finding art in that which is perceived as trash by the mainstream can be a lot more satisfying than simply consuming that which is an accepted part of the dominant cultural ideology. Continue reading

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Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is maverick 1960s porn purveyor Russ Meyer’s finest achievement. Mayer had made many low budget flicks before this, like Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, a great film depicting the adventures of three psychopathic go-go-dancers (it’s as good as it sounds). But Beyond the Valley was his first for a major studio, and as well as having a higher budget (all the better for filming the crowd scenes and financing an appearance by The Strawberry Alarm Clock, a late 60s rock group that was on the wane).
The script was jointly created by Meyer and Roger Ebert, a film critic, of all people. Although a colourful whirl of Los Angeles life at the turn of the decade, BTVOTD was not based in any fact – the men got their idea for the unhinged ‘Teen Tycoon of Rock’ Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell from Phil Spector. Neither of them actually knew him, or knew much about him, so they wrote the character as they thought he’d be like. It certainly isn’t an accurate source of reference for its period, but it is lots of fun.

Claimed (later) by both men to be a parody, BTVOTD is an odd film – it looks several years older than its release date of 1970. Interestingly, the band that the film is centred round, The Carrie Nations, nee whatever, had no precedent at the time – successful female groups of this time tended to be a puppet of a pop svengali, not the feisty, songwriting, instrument-playing bunch depicted here.

The band, consisting of feisty lead singer Kelly, doe-eyed and melancholy Casey and hip soul sister Petronella were all played by ex-Playboy centrefold girls. Despite their dubious pedigree, all three pull off their parts with great aplomb, even given Dolly Read (who plays singer Kelly), whose accent sometimes veers back into English – she was born in Bristol.

The film charts their rise to fame, and their downfalls along the way. Starting off by playing college gigs, they move to Los Angeles, where one of the band has a long lost aunt, who she is convinced will help them. And this she does, by promptly offering her neice half a million dollars of an inheritance. She then introduces them to a leading music producer at one of his parties, the suave Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell. This bizarre character, who constantly talks in a cod-shakespearean way was indirectly inspired by legendary loony record producer Phil Spector -neither Meyer or Ebert had met him, and so came up with a fantasy of what they imagined him to be like, a technique which helped them create other characters too.

All three of the girls were played by ex-nudie models with no previous acting experience. To their credit, they pull their roles off very well, although Dolly Read, the female lead, does occasionally slip back into a British accent (she was from Bristol, fittingly enough). But the most striking character goes by the name of Ashley St. Ives. Played by Meyer’s then-wife, she is quite terrifying in the pursuit of the band’s original manager, Harris Allsworth. “She went after me like a barracuda”, quips one (clearly gay) gentleman at one point, and you can clearly see what he means. Sadly she isn’t in the film for long, but she sure makes her mark.

The film looks rather older than it is, which makes all the jaunty drug references and sudden nudity all the more jarring. In fact, it is more reminiscent of a highly condensed soap opera than a movie at times, a fact borne out by the use of dramatic organ music at pivotal points, in the way that a show such as Peyton Place would have done.

BTVOTD comes across as a lurid and hysterical piece of exploitation, and a lot happens during the running time. Apparently Meyer and Ebert insisted that the parts were to be taken seriously by the actors, but had intended the whole thing to be a send up, and the lack of knowing smiles or winks just heightens the ridiculousness. Filmed in glorious, saturated Technicolor, and with sets that represent the worst (or best) of late sixties design, BTVOTD is quite a trip in every way possible. Continue reading

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Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Olivia De Havilland is particularly good in her role, especially as she normally played a wholesome character in most of her films. In Charlotte, her character’s about face, from angel to monster, is carried off with great aplomb – it would have been even more shocking to a sixties moviegoer who had only ever seen De Havilland in nice-girl roles, to see her hiss “Damn you! Now will you SHUT your MOUTH!” to a boggle-eyed Bette, after a few good slaps.

Charlotte is in my humble opinion, a better film than its predecessor. The pace is snappier, and the horror more ludicrous. And unlike Baby Jane, the ending could almost be described as a happy one. Continue reading

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A new Swiss humanitarian convoy for the city of Donetsk

On 22 May 2016, two humanitarian convoys Confederation carrying chemicals for treating water and medical supplies left for Ukraine in the conflict zone.

Part of the convoy with medical equipment and medicine was awarded to the Kurakhove hospital this morning.

The products have been transported by road but also, for the first time by rail .

Sunday morning, a train ferrying chemicals for water treatment left Switzerland to Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine.

The cargo is for waterworks of Donbass, which supply the population with drinking water on both sides of the line of contact.

Other goods, including medical supplies, including spare parts for X-ray machine, are transported by road to Donetsk on trucks.

A second convoy of fourteen trucks, is designed to transport some 245 tons of chemicals to the waterworks of Donbass, in the city of Krasnoarmiynsk placed under government control.

A load of medical equipment and medicines by truck was delivered this morning at the hospital Kurakhove.

Convoys benefit from the guidance and support of seven members of the Humanitarian Aid of the Confederation, which is part of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) and as collaborators of the embassy and the Kiev cooperation Office.

This convoy is the fourth Swiss humanitarian convoy for this area of ​​conflict since the spring of 2015.

The SDC is so far the only state actor to organize humanitarian convoys crossing the contact line in eastern Ukraine. Continue reading

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The New USA -v- Russia Cold War. Seeing the Wood Through the Trees.

I’m not sure why anyone falls for the dishonest media spin from either side.

The current “cold war” situation owes more to an engineered conflict that is agreeable to both sides (EU/US and Russia) to distract the peasants from the domestic economic turmoil.

Creating political theatre and ‘threats’ allows governments to run loose economic policy and pour money into defence without taking a beating on the markets.

The ISIS/AQ threat is better persecuted by special forces. To be able to dump billions into new defence projects and soak up blue collared workers into a standing military you need a credible threat.

China doesn’t work so re-igniting the cold-war provides a convenient dog and pony show to distract everyone from our politicians inability to extract us from the economic quagmire they put us in.

There isn’t a single military expert who believes any conflict between NATO/Russia can ever be won by either side, regardless of the military technology employed, since as soon as either side crosses a certain line, then it would escalate to tactical nuclear options, followed by wholesale destruction from the ICBM arsenal.

Putin knows exactly how much rope he has to play with, NATO isn’t going to risk anything over places like Georgia or Ukraine, it is fairly doubtful they would do much over the Baltics. Putin would have to launch an invasion of Finland or Poland before you’d see any kind of response.

Really this is the stuff of Tom Clancy. Any war between major superpowers would plunge the entire global financial system into a collapse, global trade is too interwoven for anything over than skirmishes over non-relevant world economic players.

It’s well known that the UK could no longer even repeat the task force needed to defend the Falklands, but Argentina doesn’t gain anything from trying to take them by force again.

Putin is never going to invade Ukraine, he has the capability and stated he could be in Kiev in 2 days if he wanted (which he could). But occupying a sovereign country would bankrupt Russia and likely lead to his own regime falling.

He is a smart guy and knows real wars are now fought with the media. Market manipulation and information warfare not armour and foot mobiles.

The military talk up a threat to get bigger budgets and new kit, the media toe the line because fear sells more print than Kim Kardashian’s arse, and Putin gets to hold his political control by playing the archetype Russian bear.

Behind the scenes they all discuss what their plans are and laugh at us little people.

Whatever is said publicly the west want to keep Putin in power. He is predictable and capable of holding the country together in a manageable state. They would rather have Putin than some irrational unknown hardliners trying to be a Putin without the smarts of knowing where the line is drawn.

The west don’t care about Russian domestic policy. What they care about is stability of regimes not spooking the markets and causing economic collapse.

No doubt Putin told the US exactly what he was doing in Crimea – he’s not so stupid as to antagonise a nuclear superpower. And no doubt the American administration agreed that the strategic importance of Sevastopol was sufficient grounds for them to protect their interests without interference knowing the potential instability Ukraine was facing.

Anyone who thinks what politicians say and do, or what the media report is in any way representative of what goes on behind closed doors at this level of geopolitics has clearly fallen for the body of lies entirely woven for their benefit.

Remember. War is good business. Most of our enemies like Bin Laden and Saddam were created to serve economic purposes. Suddenly Putin is the bogeyman and Iran is our new best mate. When they want to give China an economic haircut, they’ll be next.

Don’t fall for the rhetoric from either side. Continue reading

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Shock News: Western Media Suddenly Decides Russia is the Good Guy.

When a propaganda channel like Fox News begins to make positive noises about Russia, we must wonder why the narrative has changed so fast and who is pulling the strings. We all know about Fox News, often referred to as … Continue reading

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Book Review: Exceptional – Why the World Needs a Powerful America by Dick Cheney

It starts out quite interesting, actually. It walks the reader through history as Cheney sees it first, starting off with the founding fathers and the usual stuff about freedom and liberty, and he dwells on the relationship between the US and Europe in the second world war somewhat.

Reading through the lines you start to see the changes in attitude from what started out as good sound principles of freedom and liberty to what we see today (not sure he intended that to show through as clearly as it does). From what I deduced, it was somewhere between the end of the Vietnam war and the arrival of Carter as president the US started to become noticeably aggressive and interventionist abroad.

The book implies that Reagan was single handedly responsible for bringing down the Berlin wall with his Brandenburg speech. Not true.

It is an interesting read initially for the non-American as it offers an insight into *why* Americans think as they do.

What is disappointing in a way is how he described the principles the US was founded on and its early development (I suppose we all knew them anyway but they are well presented therein). He describes a country that anyone would want to live in.

What I see as an outsider (and occasional visitor), is how far wide of that mark and those intended standards the US has become, both with actions abroad and the influence of big media and business on the masses and the political decision making. But that happens anywhere.

I had no opinion on Cheney one way or another, so I can read his opinions without any particular bias against the guy. He seems to have a dim view of Obama, but then again, so do most Americans.

I was finding untruths and flawed thinking early on. The bloke is the neocon of neocons.

He seems scornful of any president who didn’t want to bail into any country, all guns blazing, at the drop of a hat. He thinks the Iraq war was a terrific idea. Obama and Clinton have had scorn. He seems to like the Bushes.

It started out well but then goes downhill rapidly with his train of thought……

Then it gives a scary insight into the neocon mind. Example: Indignation that Assad didn’t step down as Obama “instructed” him to do. Really!

About a third of it is taken up with quotes from other neocons to support his worldview, with some commentary in-between.

Then follows page after page of quotes from Obama with him trying to rip it to bits. The thing was, after reading Obama’s stuff, I am actually starting to like the bloke. I didn’t before.

Then he launches into the real out there stuff: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, etc. were all *super* ideas and they should have gone much, much further.

He thinks Russia is still the USSR, and must be hemmed in and castrated at any cost. He has similar views of China.

Then, there is page after page of what he thinks the next president should do, which basically is rule the world and start World War 3 to do it.

It rounds off with a General Cheeseburger rant about “exceptional”, greatest country in the world, apple pie on Sunday, blah blah.

I can only say its great that this old duffer was put out to grass. If one who thinks like him gets in the White House in 2016, there will be a world war for sure.

All in all it was a disturbing journey into a disturbing mindset. After reading it, I am surer than I ever was of the need to contain American aggression around the world and de-dollarise. I came out of it – unintentionally – with a new-found fondness for some of Obama’s ideas.

Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America

Should read:

Dangerous: Why the World Doesn’t Need a Powerful America Continue reading

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