Sunday, 29 March 2009

STEVEN BACH RIP


Sorry to read that Steven Bach passed away at his home in Arlington, last Wednesday. Bach was a studio exec at United Artists during the HEAVEN'S GATE debacle, and his book - "Final Cut" - is an exhaustive account of the trials and tribulations behind the making of this film. This is easily the best book on film I've read to date, and while I don't agree with Bach's opinion of this film, one can only admire his documentation of the events before, during and after.
Bach was also involved as producer on a number of plays and films, including THE PARALLAX VIEW and was involved in the promotion of classic titles such as RAGING BULL, ANNIE HALL and THE FRENCH LIEUTENANTS WOMAN.
He was also responsible for three well-received biographies (one on Marlene Dietrich), and taught film and literature during his final years.

Whether or not you're an admirer of HEAVEN'S GATE, I do urge you to read Steven's account. For my money, Cimino's movie is a misunderstood masterpiece, and "Final Cut" really does deliver a warts and all account from someone who was there.

Friday, 27 March 2009

BRIAN CLOUGH: THE LEGEND LIVES ON


"Telling the entire world and his dog how good a manager I was. I knew I was the best but I should have said nowt and kept the pressure off 'cos they'd have worked it out for themselves"

Sky TV have the lion's share of live football, clubs charge an arm and a leg for admission to games, Man Utd splash out another £30 million on a player and once glamorous competitions like the FA Cup pale into insignificance when compared to the Champions League. Welcome to English football in 2009, where the economy is in full-blown recession and the usual suspects queue to take the piss out of the real paymasters.

On Wednesday evening, an ITV documentary took many of us back to a time where two ramshackle East Midlands clubs were transformed into champions of England. Derby County and Nottingham Forest are just 13 miles apart, and were both heading on the road to nowhere before one Brian Clough and his assistant Peter Taylor took the reins. At Derby, the club was languishing in Division Two; bereft of hope and passion.
Clough's playing career was cut short after scoring over 250 goals, and management beckoned when he became manager at Hartlepool United. Aged 30, Clough was the youngest manager in the league and guided Hartlepool to 8th position in his first full season. In May 1967, Clough and Taylor arrived at Derby, and took them to the Second Division title in 1969. Even better was to follow, as Derby would win the First Division title in the 1971/72 season. Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs, Man Utd.... all those big names came to the Baseball Ground and found that their hosts were becoming a force to be reckoned with. The disaster struck, as chairmen Sam Longson fell out with Clough; an argument which led to Clough & Taylor resigning.

ITV's wonderful documentary follows Brain's story from the beginning, moving through his resignation at Derby, and those infamous 44 days as manager at Leeds which form the basis for the newly released feature THE DAMNED UNITED. Leeds - and their manager Don Revie - were Derby's main rivals. On the field encounters were ill-tempered, tense affairs, and the rivalry between the two sets of fans invariably exploded into violent confrontations, before, during and after games. Clough had always hated Leeds and dropped his calling card the first day he set foot into Leeds' training ground, telling the players they could bin all the medals they had won through cheating. The Leeds players were stunned when Revie walked out, and became intent on driving Clough out of Elland Road. Peter Taylor was managing Brighton at the time, but the pair were re-united when Clough left Leeds and went onto Nottingham Forest where the pair won two European Cups and a succession of other trophies. ITV's documentary takes a warts and all look at this remarkable man, touching on his fight against alcoholism, his row with Peter Taylor (sadly never patched up) and the crazy situation when he attended an interview for the England manager's job, unaware that Ron Greenwood was already in line.Clearly, the FA were frightened by Clough's arrogance, his outspoken views and that he was constantly surrounded by controversy. Screw the fact that he was the best manager in the country! Ex players such as Roy Mcfarland, Johnny Giles, Martin O'Neil and John McGovern all provide valuable insight regarding Clough's totally unique man management style, along with anecdotes and observations from his widow Barbara, and son Nigel who is now manager of Derby County. This is a supremely moving, vital piece of television, retelling soccer history when two men built up a couple of no-hope clubs and made them world famous. Sadly, such a feat will never happen again. Nowadays, it's about the richest takes it all.

Brian Clough passed away from stomach cancer in September 2004. He'd gone on record as saying the biggest mistake he ever made was walking out on Derby County. If Cloughie and Taylor had stayed, Derby would indeed have won the lot, and although one of Clough's signings -Dave Mackay - became manager and won the league with Derby a couple of seasons after Clough and Taylor walked, things were soon to turn extremely rotten in Denmark.

Now, whenever I hear or see Clough's name, I think of those great games I was privileged to attend: the 3-0 against Benfica, 5-0 v Spurs, 4-0 v Liverpool, Colin Todd turning defending into an art form, Kevin Hector's goals.... great memories. I am be fairly sure that Cloughie and Taylor are up there now, looking down on us and watching the games with their expert eyes running over the leagues and formulating their own teams and tactics.
Cloughie is a legend, always will be. My sincere thanks and admiration for those golden years.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

CREEP: MORE TUBE TRAIN TERROR


Following on from THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, here's an earlier film which also deals with underground carnage. This time, we're in London.

Don't Ride On Late Night Trains". Sound advice, whether or not you happen to have seen Aldo Lado's 80s sleazefest, and a wholly appropriate warning for Kate (Franka Potente) - a young German girl living and working in London.

The promise of a VIP pass to a George Clooney showbiz bash prompts Kate to make an early exit from a party where she's been kept busy fighting off the amorous attentions of co-worker Guy (Jeremy Sheffield). When the aforementioned lech turns up on an empty Charing Cross tube train, Kate is 'rescued' by the titular crature who appears to offer a rather drastic type of security for vulnerable females.

Don't you believe it? Soon, this by now terrified young woman is frantically trying to break out of a transport network that is locked and chained til a new dawn breaks, with a homeless couple (Paul Rattray and Kelly Scott) and their dog providing the only immediate aid.

Taken at face value, Creep packs in action and thrills a-plenty during its brisk 85 minute running time, though Potente's character requires generous suspension of disbelief during the more frantic set-pieces. The Creep - a deformed ex-member of the human race - immediately recalls the creature from Gary Sherman's Death Line (a major influence on this film), although the air of medical deviancy and use of surgical apparatus of evil can be traced to the more recent SESSION 9.

Despite its flaws - top-heavy on combat, - CREEP is a pleasing throwback to 70s British horror, and it's good to see such a film given appropriate cinema cetification: sure, we all hate to see a director's vision destroyed by nonsensical BBFC cuts, but let's get real with regard to '15' and '18' certificates. Creep deserved the latter, and I'm still amazed at several recent theatrical releases that were deemed suitable for younger audiences.

It's bloody, often downright nasty (witness the scene where Creep begs for mercy - a plea based on memory rather than contrition) and absolutely guaranteed to induce fear and loathing the next time you find yourself down in the tube station at midnight with a seemingly empty platform for company.

Good, unwholesome entertainment, and how refreshing to encounter a genre movie prepared to rope in national and regional issues of concern: drug abuse, the disenfranchised and the sorry state of our famous underground networks all come under the spotlight.

I do hope Boris Johnson is watching.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

ALL ABOARD THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN


DON'T RIDE ON LATE NIGHT TRAINS has long proved to be particularly sound advice, as far as Horror Cinema is concerned. DEATH LINE, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and CREEP all serve as stern warnings of the perils that may lurk beneath the streets of our capital city. My own experiences of London's famous underground system have normally been stress-free, with the tube serving as a convenient way of getting back to my hotel after an enjoyable evening out. Indeed, Paul Weller's Jam anthem - 'Down In The Tube Station At Midnight' - rarely entered my head during the customary route from The South Bank through to Goodge Street. One night in particular, I made this fairly short journey alone, and a lot later than usual. Upon alighting at Goodge Street, I began to walk along the platform and up to the lifts and encountered not a soul (living nor dead) until I got out onto Tottenham Court Road. 3 or 4 nerve-wracking minutes, during which my mind began to replay scenes from the aforementioned films, while Weller's lyrics reminded me of the sort of shit that goes down in the midnight hour.
Now, we have another film set below the city streets, and a fresh set of nightmares to endure.

Based on Clive Barker's 1984 short story, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN is set in Los Angeles where a photographer (Leon, played by Bradley Cooper) becomes obsessed with tracking down a serial killer who is butchering late-night passengers on subway trains. Encouraged to further his career by capturing the savage heart of the city, Leon takes shots of a gang mugging a lone female and compels her assailants to flee, pointing out the presence of CCTV cameras. Next day, Leon discovers the girl has gone missing, and decides to pursue the disappearances of other tube travellers. Soon, it appears that the mysterious Mahogany (Vinnie Jones) is behind the gradual increase in missing persons, and Leon must take a perilous journey which could well terminate in death.

Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN made me sit up and take notice like no other film since Roth's HOSTEL(s). Here, we have old school style which reminds us of what Horror Cinema can do when a decent script is married to solid directorial values and bolstered by several winning performances. Cooper is better than good as the ambulance chasing lensman who s-l-o-w-l-y gets under the skin of what may be a centurion serial killer, while Leslie Bibb runs with the task of portraying a resourceful heroine who finds her own increasing involvement may propel her to a bloody end. Vinnie Jones? Well, he's considerably more violent here than he was on the football pitch, and makes for a beautifully drawn (almost) silent psycho, delivering deadly stares and transforming murderous intent into absolute bloody carnage.

Thanks to unforgivable studio neglect, most of us have had to catch this film on DVD. I rented the Blu-ray and can unreservedly recommend a purchase. There is heavy grain at times, but lighting and colour usually reflect the grim subject matter, with steely interior shots and standout crimson reds making this an unspectacular but complimentary transfer.
Maybe you should make this film your next stop?

THE HAUNTING: ALTON TOWERS


Probably England's best loved theme park, Alton Towers is located in the grounds of a former stately home in the county of Staffordshire. The estate dates back to before 1000BC and became a fortress for a Saxon king. A castle was built there after the Norman Conquest, but was destroyed during the English Civil War. Today, the site is home to a number of exciting attractions, with white-knuckle rides rubbing shoulders with monorail trains, cable car rides and many live events including all-night ghost hunts.

Alton Towers is rich in supernatural lore, with several reports of a lady dressed in black who has been seen walking the corridors of the towers; a strong smell of lavender perfume hanging heavy in the air. A tall man dressed in Victorian clothing has also been seen, and staff and visitors have reported having stones and sundry objects thrown at them on many occasions.
In 2006, Alton Towers gave members of the public full access to the towers and grounds, with the first of a series of all-night ghost hunts. Mediums, seances, workshops and guided tours are just a few of the features and tools on hand to ensure an evening of chills and thrills for those curious to see whether the Towers' haunted history will yield any sightings or paranormal phenomena.

These events are held throughout the year, with next one pencilled in for 11th April. Cost of a ticket will be approx £65, and the ghost hunt runs from 8.00pm - 5.00am. Places are strictly limited, and you will be able to find out dates and all the important details by googling Alton Towers Ghost Hunts. Alton Towers is only around 10 miles from where we live, and we hope to attend one of these events when cash flow permits.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

RIP NATASHA RICHARDSON


An English rose. Gone, but forever in full bloom.

Friday, 6 March 2009

AN ALTERNATIVE DERBY


Radio One was never the same after John Peel passed away. This rather special DJ was responsible for turning thousands of ears towards some of the great bands that few others would give airtime to. I'll always remember one particular show when John read out a letter from one of his listeners who declared he listened to 'Peelie' every week night. John thanked him for his support, but gently took him to task, stating that he should be out and about at gigs checking out some of the terrific music on offer. Johnny Vincent has similar views, and decided to write and publish a book which captures some of his experiences of the music scene in Derby, bringing back memories for those who shunned the sofa and actually got out there in the thick of it.

Here, Johnny looks back at the venues, some of the bands who played there and an array of colourful local characters. New Order at the Blue Note, The Fall, UK Subs at The Ajanta, The Smiths at The Assembly Rooms, the Sex Pistols debacle when the council banned them from playing the Kings Hall, The Damned at The Assembly Rooms... great gigs from way back when are discussed with real love here, together with valuable input from ex members of local bands such as Anti Pasti and Avoid. Johnny also holds forth on his own musical experiences; the pitfalls associated with gig promotion and various life experiences that often made me laugh out loud. 'An Alternative Derby' is written with an enormous amount of passion,humour and humility and Johnny Vincent has a happy knack of being able to paint pictures of moments in time that will leave you nodding your head as the memories come flooding back, or cursing the fact that you weren't there to experience some truly golden times.

'An Alternative Derby' is published by Lulu and you can purchase a copy by clicking here
I may well read a more enjoyable, evocative and consistently moving account of life and music in the next few years but, to be honest, I doubt it.

MY ALTERNATIVE DERBY


Just finished reading Johnny Vincent's simply fab 'An Alternative Derby' paperback, which takes an informative, entertaining look at the music scene in Derby. I'll be reviewing Johnny's book a little later, and will also link to the site where copies can be obtained. 'An Alternative Derby' brought back a ton of memories, reminding me of pubs, clubs, music venues and very special events that were part of my life, back in the mists of time.
For someone who lived 'out in the sticks', Derby held a considerable fascination for me: a big city full of musical and cinematic delights, with the added attraction of a great football team. I'd been a Derby fan since I was 8 years old, and trips to The Baseball Ground with my father became a fortnightly occurrence. When the great Brian Clough walked out with Peter Taylor, dad lost interest in attending games, but I kept the faith and started going to home and away games with a group of friends. In those days, it was so easy to get caught up in the fun and games surrounding football rivalry, and gaining admission to the away fans section in the old Columbo Street end of the ground was just one of our favourite gags; an occupation which could be pretty hairy around 2.55pm when the signal went up to announce our presence. Away from the football, things were getting very interesting from a cinematic perspective. From an early age, I'd been a regular at the local cinema, thrilling to the likes of THE BIBLE and FEAR IS THE KEY, and graduating to forbidden X cert fare such as DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE and BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW. Gaining admission to some of these films was always laced with uncertainty, and dependent on who was manning the box office that particular evening, but we got in more often than not. Sadly, the cinema closed when I was 16 and I turned to Derby in search of my weekly fix. The old ABC cinema on East Street became my home for a while, and introduced me to a wonderful world of cult movies. Yet again, the cinema closed down, with Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND and HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY making for a terrific double-header on its final day. Now, Derby has a trio of multi-screen cinemas and an additional 2 screener called Quad which screens the very best in world cinema and offers so much more for those interested in the arts. Sadly, time and money has not allowed me to visit yet, but it's comforting to know it's there. Before Quad, there was the Metro cinema which had the same wide-ranging brief with regard to screening films that were often regarded as minority interest fare. THREE COLOURS RED, INFERNO, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, DIVA, SUBWAY, BIRDIE, FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, RING, IN PRAISE OF LOVE, MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE, SALO, THE HOUSE OF MIRTH and THE BLACKOUT are just a few I've been lucky enough to see on the big screen there. Unfortunately, a 30 mile-round trip, coupled with lack of cash and a bus service that almost rivals trains across the Gobi desert in terms of frequency meant my visits to Derby decreased as time went on.

On the music front, 1976 onwards was a golden era with the Kings Hall, The Ajanta, The Rainbow Club and the Assembly Rooms all figuring in my musical education, together with halls country wide such as The Marquee, Brum Odeon, Sheffield Top Rank, Rock City Nottingham, Hammersmith Palais, De Montfort Hall and the uni at Leicester and a host of other venues. If London's Marquee was possibly my favourite music club, Derby's Ajanta breathed heavily down its neck. Stiff Little Fingers, The Pop Group, The Slits, The Damned, Crass, Joy Division, Honey Bane, Magazine and Chaz Harper's United Kingdom Subversives...... just seems like yesterday when we were queueing up to gain admission, with gig after gig stretching behind us and before us. In the early days, a few of us used to go from my hometown, but one evening in particular, I ended up going on my own. While downing a pint in the Ajanta, a guy came up to me and enquired whether I was on my jack. When I replied I was, he grabbed me by the arm and said, "You're with us now". So, from that evening, I hung around with the Burton punks and our friendship lasted for years. Bob, Nicky and the guys and gals: if you ever read this, cheers for some great times! Of course, all good things come to an end. The Ajanta eventually closed, and we ended up going to the Rainbow Club to see bands like UK Decay and The Subs but it wasn't quite the same. Still good fun, though. Anyone who used to frequent that club may remember an older guy with a beard, decked out in shorts, who used to pogo enthusiastically down the front. Probably dead and gone now, but he had the spirit which is what really counts. Before The Rainbow opened, a couple of us spied an ad in NME which had Discharge down to play at The Ajanta. While we knew deep down that the club couldn't possibly have re-opened, we decided to travel and hooked up with a few like minded souls who were hoping against hope that the advert was correct. Of course, it wasn't but after the small crowd had wandered off, my friend and I forced open a door and gained entry to this ruin of a building. For a few minutes, we walked around the theatre and went on the stage where the late Ian Curtis had played his penultimate gig; stood at the front where we'd sung along to God knows how many anthems for doomed youth and moved through the wrecked seats; the last of which had been totally fucking blitzed when The Damned came to town. The place was full of ghosts, but they were friendly spirits, brought back to life by memories and misspent youth. Taking a last look at the place, we climbed out into the cold night air. That was the last time I set foot in the place.
So, that's the end of my story but the events that took place live on and I guess they always will. If I could go back just for one day, I'd spend it with a morning visit to RE Cords record shop, a tear-up at the football in the afternoon and a gig in the evening with Chaz Harper's rabble-rousing troops. Johhny's book tells things so much better than I can, so I hope you check out my forthcoming review and treat yourself to a copy of 'An Alternative Derby'.