Posts Tagged ‘Horror’

Tokyo Bans Sale of Comics ‘Subversive of the Social Order’ to Children

August 28, 2021

It seems to me that there’s a real war going on in ostensibly democratic countries against freedom of speech and conscience. I don’t think this is confined to either the left or right either. In Britain we have had a successions of governments that have been determined to limit the right to public protest from David Cameron to Johnson with his wretched Criminal Justice Bill. And before then there was Tony Blair and his attempts to control what was being said about him and his coterie on state broadcasting, just as Berlusconi was doing to the Italian state media. John Kampfner wrote a rather good book about it, Freedom for Sale, a few years ago, arguing that governments from Blair to Putin were trying to bargain with their peoples. They got material prosperity in return for severe infringements on their ability to protest against their governments. Well, Blair was wretched, but he did at least tackle poverty with no little success. Cameron, Tweezer and Johnson are simply increasing it.

On the other side of the political aisle, the right are complaining about the imposition of curbs on free speech as part of the campaign against hate crime and the ‘cancel culture’. Some of this is exaggerated. Zelo Street demolished some of the claims Toby Young, Douglas Murray and the rest were making about right-wingers being prevented from speaking at universities by giving the precise statistics. These showed that, while it had happened, the percentage of speakers cancelled was minute. But I do think they have a point. For example, it should be accepted that trans people should not despised, persecuted or suffer discrimination. But I think there are legitimate issues and questions voiced by gender critical feminists about trans activism and that there are spaces that should only be reserved for ‘cis’ women. But to some people, simply voicing what to many people are reasonable questions and criticisms constitute hate speech. There are similar problems regarding the reporting and discussion of racial issues. Nobody should want to empower real bigots and Fascists, but it does seem that legislation put in place to protect minorities from real hate has now expanded into Orwellian thoughtcrime.

And these attempts to limit freedom of speech have got into what is permissible in comics. One of the astonishing snippets I found while flicking through Paul Gravett’s Comics Art yesterday, was that in 2011 Tokyo municipality expanded its ban on the sale of certain comics (manga) and animated movies (anime) to children under 18 by including materials ‘excessively disruptive of the social order’. (Page 72). I realise that Japan is a very conservative society. The right-wing Liberal Democratic party were in power for fifty years or so after the end of World War II. The country is very Confucian in that one respects one’s elders and superiors. Gender roles are very traditional, as are conceptions of nationality. I don’t know if it’s still the case now, but under Japanese law at one time a person could only be a Japanese citizen if both their parents were ethnic Japanese. I gather that there are ways you can become a naturalised citizen, but it’s extremely difficult. It’s also supposed to be a very conformist society, in which children are taught at school that ‘the nail that stands up must be hammered down’. But this attack on comics is extreme.

Such attacks on the four-colour funnies and related media haven’t been restricted by Japan by any means. In the 1950s there was a moral panic in America and the United States against comics, one of the major figures in which was the Austrian psychiatrist, Dr Frederic Wertham. Wertham was one of a number of left-wing, emigre intellectuals who believed that popular culture had assisted the Nazis into power. He believed that American youth was being corrupted into crime and sexual deviancy by comics. He accused Superman of being a Nazi, despite the fact that the character’s only similarity to Nietzsche’s superman is the name, and that the Man of Steel’s creators were American Jews. Batman and Robin were an idealised homosexual couple, an accusation that has continued to plague attempts to reintroduce Robin in the strips. Oh yes, and Wonder Woman was a sado-masochist feminist lesbian. I doubt any of these accusations would have been recognised by the kids who actually bought and read the strips. But Wertham’s denunciations were taken up by a variety of groups, from the religious right to the Communist party and led to the passing of laws across America banning or restricting the sale of comics to children. The ban led to the collapse of particular comic genres, specifically the horror and true crime comics, which were particular targets of the legislators’ ire. It also affected the SF comics, because some of them strayed into politically dubious areas. The superhero comics survived, not because they were the most popular, but because they were the type of comics least affected by the new regulations.

One of the SF comics singled out for censorship was a story in which an astronaut from Earth travels to a world populated entirely by robots. His face hidden in his spacesuit, he tells the robots that they’re being considered as candidates for joining a galactic federation. Shades of Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets by a slightly different name here. However, the robots are divided into two types, blue and orange, and there is hatred and conflict between them. At the end of the story, the astronaut informs them that they have been rejected because of these divisions. It was only when the people of Earth rejected their differences and united, that real progress was made, he states at the end of the story. In the last panel he removes his helmet, and reveals that he’s Black.

Shock horror! An anti-racist message! This was too much for one New York judge, who wanted the strip banned on religious grounds. He believed that God had only given speech to humanity, and hated the idea of talking robots. But the underlying issue is obviously its attack on racism at a time when Jim Crow was still very much in force. Eventually the judge had to back down, and the issue degenerated into a fight between the publisher, EC, and the authorities over how many beads of sweat they could show on the Earthman.

Well, at least there were comics creators in America prepared to deal with the issue. Pat Mills, the creator of zarjaz British comic 2000 AD, says in his book about British comics and his career in them, Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! that even in the late 1960s, the policeman heroes in British comics were making quite racist comments about Blacks. Part of what made 2000 AD’s predecessor, Action, so controversial was that Mills and the other creators there had been determined to make it as relevant as possible to contemporary British youth culture and deal with the issues and stories affecting and demanded by the young readership of the time. It was originally going to be called ‘Boots’, after Dr Martens’ distinctively rebellious footwear, followed by the years. So ‘Boots 1977′, Boots 1978’ and so on. But this was too much for the publishers, and the name Action settled on instead. In the end, the comic only lasted a couple of years because it was so controversial, with the major criticism that it was far too violent. 2000 AD was its successor, but here, unlike Action, the violence would be done in support of the law. This led to Judge Dredd, who was deliberately designed as a Fascist cop. The strip’s founding artist, Carlos Ezquerra, was Spanish, and so incorporated into Dredd’s uniform the style of the Fascists then making life a misery in Franco’s Spain, the helmet, the shoulder pads and the eagle badge. And I don’t think it’s an accident that the light reflected in Dredd’s visor looks like ‘SS’. Dredd was thus partly a comment by Mills and Wagner on some of the authoritarian trends in contemporary policing. Other strips tackled issues of racism and religious bigotry – Strontium Dog and Nemesis the Warlock, for example, and sexism, like The Ballad of Halo Jones. There was also a strong anti-war message in the ABC Warriors. Mainstream American comics had been tackling some of these issues for a decade or so previously. There were issues of Spiderman, for example, that tackled racism, and the Blaxploitation craze of the 1970s led to the appearance of Black superheroes like Powerman, Brother Voodoo and the Black Panther. Since then, and particularly since the collapse of the Comics Code Authority in the 1990s, comics have become an accepted and critically respected medium for the discussion of political and social issues. This has reached the point where Conservative and more traditional fans and comics creators believe that the medium and related forms of popular culture, such as SF and Fantasy film and television has become too politicised. In their opinion, contemporary comics writers and artists are too concerned with pushing overt messages about racism, sexism and gay rights at the expense of creating good, likeable characters and engaging plots and stories.

Martin Barker describes how comics have always been the subject of suspicion by the left and the right, going back to the Bloods and Penny Dreadfuls of Victorian Britain, and the cheap, popular novels being read by ‘the democracy’ in his Comics, Ideology and Power. Girls’ comics seem to me to have come in for a particular bashing. They were attacked by conservatives for being too radical and challenging traditional female roles. The left attacked them for being too conservative and not teaching girls their proper, traditional place. Barker shows how these attacks were way off, tearing to pieces specific criticisms of various strips. He argues that children actually subtly negotiate the content of the comics they read. They accept only those elements of the strips which appeal to them and ignore the rest. They do not simply accept everything they read. Barker’s final chapter is a passionate attack on those, who were trying to censor comics at the time he was writing. This included Thatcher and the Tories, but he was also angry at his own camp, the left. Brent and Lambeth councils were also leading an attack on popular literature through their zeal to purge their municipal libraries of anything they considered racist.

And they attack on popular literature has carried on. I remember the furore at the beginning of this century against the Harry Potter books. American Evangelical Christians accused J.K. Rowling of leading children into Satanism and the occult. Well, I admit I’ve only seen the films, not read the books, but I must have missed that one. It’s always seemed to me that the Harry Potter books actually were part of a long tradition of supernatural fantasy in children’s literature going right back to E. Nesbitt and beyond, and including The Worst Witch and Gobbelino the Witch’s Cat. Their attacks on Potter contrast with the Pope’s, who praised them and J.K. Rowling for encouraging children’s imaginations. There was also a rabbi, who wrote a piece praising Potter as a kind of model for Jews.

I’m not a free speech absolutist. I believe the promotion of certain opinions should be outlawed. Obvious examples include anything that encourages the sexual abuse of children or real hatred and violence towards minorities. I have no problem with the law banning the incitement to racial hatred. This was introduced in the 1920s or ’30s with the aim of combating the rise of real Fascism in the form of Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, Arnold Leese’s The Britons and other violent, deeply racist and anti-Semitic outfits. I also believe that parents have every right to exercise concern and control about what their children read or listen to, or are taught at school regarding certain highly controversial issues.

But I am afraid that the rules against certain types of hate are being used to silence perfectly reasonable criticism. One of the quotes that my accusers have cited to show that I am an evil anti-Semite is a statement where I say that every state and ideology should be open to discussion and criticism, even Israel and Zionism. There is absolutely nothing anti-Semitic in that. Even the wretched I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism states that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic only if it is applied solely to Israel. But that sentence makes it very clear that I don’t single out Israel and Zionism for especial criticism. I simply state that they should not be above it. But to the anti-Semitism hunters, this is obviously too much.

I am very much afraid that freedom of speech, discussion and conscience and true liberty of the press is under attack. The Conservatives want to close down any view that isn’t their own, all while arguing they’re simply standing up for free speech against the censorious ‘woke’ left. And there are forces on the left trying to close down reasonable debate and criticism under the guise of protecting people from hate.

We have to be careful, and defending freedom of speech and publication from attacks, whether by left-wing councils like Brent and Lambeth in the 1980s, or right-wing local authorities like Tokyo and its law of 2011.

This should not be a partisan issue, but should stretch across the political spectrum. But my fear is that it won’t. And as both sides struggle to establish the kind of censorship they want, real freedom of expression will die.

Cartoonist Kayfabe on Rob Zombie’s and Richard Corben’s ‘Bigfoot’ Comic

July 9, 2021

Here’s another video from the Cartoonist Kayfabe channel in which hosts Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg discuss a comic with a paranormal theme. This time it’s not ancient astronauts, but Bigfoot, created by horror director Rob Zombie and comics legend Richard Corben. Corben is one of the great comic artists, though his work I think overwhelmingly appeared in the underground, independent comics and Heavy Metal, the Canadian version of the French Metal Hurlant. The Bigfoot comic didn’t last very long. It told its story in about four or so issues. It was about a child who goes on holiday with his family to the great northern woods, where everyone except the boy, including the family’s dog, is beaten to death by a rampaging Bigfoot. The orphaned lad pleads with the local sheriff to hunt down and kill the monster, but the sheriff refuses to do so for the same reason the local authorities don’t close down the beach in Jaws – they’re afraid of creating a scare. Years later, the boy, now grown up, returns and he and the sheriff and his deputies go after Bigfoot. They manage to kill it, but it true horror style there’s a whole family of Bigfoots, who manage to survive and escape.

The two talk about how the comic’s depiction of Sasquatch as a brutal killer is a quite a departure from the creature’s normal appearance in popular culture. Quite. It isn’t like the show, Harry and the Hendersons, in which Bigfoot lived with an ordinary American family, and very definitely did not go on the rampage and try to kill them. It also differs from the various accounts of encounters with the creature. Many of the people, who claim to have met Bigfoot say they had feelings of fear or terror, and some of the encounters were genuinely terrifying. In some of them, the witnesses say that the creatures surrounded their house or cabin howling. I’ve also read and heard of cases where people say that the creatures threw rocks at their homes. In one case I read, a man was abducted by Bigfoot and taken to its lair before finally managing to escape. However, I haven’t heard of Bigfoot actually killing anyone. The comic does, however, connect with Bigfoot lore by including references to the Patterson-Gimlin film. That’s the piece of cine film, which apparently shows a Bigfoot walking through the forest. The video’s thumbnail shows the comic’s portrayal of the creature in the movie. It was shot in the 1970s by two men when they were out travelling through that part of the American wilderness, and still divides people today. One documentary discussed the movie with a primatologist and a special effects expert with the film industry. The primatologist believed the footage must be fake because the animal didn’t look like a real ape. The special effects expert, however, believed it was genuine because its fur was of different length on different parts of the body, something that isn’t achieved even on the very best Hollywood creature costumes. Zoologists have also cast doubt on the creature’s existence by pointing out that none have ever been captured and if it does exist, it’s numbers are too small for the creature’s survival.

Similar ape-men, however, have been reported all over America, such as the Florida Skunk Ape, so called because the women who encountered it said it gave off a pungent smell. Some of the Bigfoot reports are more like a paranormal encounter than one with a real, paws and pelt animal. Witnesses describe it appearing and disappearing, or suddenly noticing that it was there and there have been suggestions that it has the power to make itself invisible. I honestly don’t know what the reality is. I suspect the creature is probably paranormal rather than physical, but some of the encounters may also be the result of hoaxing and misperception.

Bigfoot and the Yeti interest me, and I find it interesting how the creatures have entered popular culture, of which this comic is an example. Piskor and Rugg debate whether there were any other Bigfoot comics. One believes there weren’t, while the other says that there were any number in the ’80s and ’90, but they were all produced by comics fans and so were home-produced. They appeared in mimeographed copies with the pages stapled together at fan conventions. This isn’t a comic I’d ever read, but I do find it interesting as a cultural curiosity.

Mr H Reviews Russian Horror Movie ‘Superdeep’

July 4, 2021

Mr H is a Youtuber who reviews mainly Science Fiction and Horror movies. In the video below, he gives a good review to Superdeep, a Russian creature feature very much in the same gory vein as John Carpenter’s classic The Thing. Spoilers: The movie is about a group of scientists and explorers who go down Russia’s deepest borehole, where they encounter a type of fungus that infects its victims, turning them into vegetable monsters. Mr H was impressed with the quality. It has excellent special effects, and was made on the incredibly low budget of $4 million. Pacing, he says, is a problem and there were moments when the film sagged. But it had been given a budget of $8 million, he feels it could have easily held its own with the big budget contemporary American films. He especially gets irritated with the flicks that are made for $200 million, but the green screen effects are still sloppy and obvious. And he’s particularly enthusiastic about this flick as its return to the old style, mechanical, physical effects of rubber monsters and models, rather than CGI.

I’ve got a couple of Russian movies here on DVD. One is First in Space, about Yuri Gagarin’s historic manned spaceflight, the other is Guardians, a superhero movie about a team of men and women given special powers by a secret KGB project launched by Stalin. Scattered across the Russian federation, Georgia and the Central Asian republics, the team must come together to stop the evil villain from taking over Russia and the world. The special effects in both movies are excellent, while Guardians has all the tropes of the superhero movie, including secret, immoral government projects. The only difference with western, American superhero flicks is that it’s set in Russia, and so the heroes’ final showdown with the villain is in Moscow, natch, rather than New York or Los Angeles. I can very well believe that the SFX in Superdeep are similarly well done.

I also like the fact that this film uses practical SFX. I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, before the rise of CGI, and was fascinated by the skills of the model makers and make-up artists. Artists like Rob Bottin and Rick Baker really expanded the boundaries of what could be done using latex and their work on films like The Howling and The Thing is still very much admired. In recent years there has been a revival of interest in practical effects in films like Harbinger One, which made it very clear that it was inspired by The Thing and Alien. One of the complaints a number of people have made about CGI is that, no matter how well it’s done, it doesn’t have the convincing presence real, physical effects. This is a film I’d actually like to see, but unfortunately it’s on one of the streaming channels, like Netflix, and I don’t want to subscribe just for one movie.

Mr H Reviews the Concept Art for Neil Blomkamp’s Aborted Alien 5

June 18, 2021

Mr H Reviews is a YouTube channel devoted to SF, Fantasy and Horror TV, film and comics, and particularly Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, which is one of Mr H’s favourites. Over the past months and weeks he’s posted a number of pieces about the concept art for Alien 5 which is just being released. Alien 5 would have been directed by Neil Blomkamp, the director of the awesome District 9. This was an SF film in which alien refugees arrive in South Africa, and are isolated in shanty towns, where they’re oppressed by a government determined to stop them breeding, and preyed on by criminal gangs who want to use their body parts for muti sorcery. The hero was a government official in one of the government anti-breeding teams, who starts to mutate into one of the aliens after an accident destroying one of their makeshift hatcheries. He is then sought and has to fight in his turn government agents, who wish to use him to unlock the secrets of the military technology the aliens have brought with them.

Alien 5 would have followed on directly from James Cameron’s Aliens, making Alien 3 and Alien 4 elseworlds stories set in an alternative timeline. In the universe of Alien 5, corporal Hicks and Newt would both be alive, as would Ellen Ripley, and ready to fight H.R. Giger’s most infamous brainchild yet again. The film was apparently all set and ready to go into production with Cameron scouting out locations for filming. It was stopped because Ridley Scott, Alien’s director, didn’t want it interfering with his Alien films. Scott claimed that Alien 5 didn’t have a script, which has been contradicted by the concept artist, Geoffroy Thoorens, who said his paintings were based on a preliminary treatment. Apparently the real reason Alien 5 was cancelled was Scott’s ego. He was jealous because Cameron’s Aliens was more popular than his, the film which launched the franchise.

Whatever the personal politics and clash of egos behind the decision, it’s a pit that Alien 5 wasn’t made because it would have been awesome. The art shows Hicks as a combat vet, scarred from the acidic blood with which he was sprayed during his battle with the evil critters in Aliens, but ready to put on that combat armour. From the art, Mr H. surmises that the plot is about Ripley and her team coming aboard a facility somewhere – there are paintings of a space station and a oil-rig like structure on a storm-tossed ocean. This facility may not be run by Wayland-Yutani, the evil company in the Alien movies. There are no Wayland-Yutani logos or markings. However, it seems the facility has got a Leviathan spacecraft, which is covered in the resin secreted by the Aliens. This also seems to be taken apart in an attempt to back engineer it. The company are also harvesting the eggs, and it seems that the company has actually won. They’re farming the Aliens to use them as bioweapons. A queen alien escapes, and all hell breaks loose.

The film adds a new stage to the Alien lifecycle. This is the trematode, a wormlike creature with pincers and proboscis, which eats its way into its victim’s guts and lays tiny facehuggers. The art shows one marine pulling one of these little bastards of his stomach, while another character is attacked while pinned under a door. There’s also a nod to the cityscape of Blade Runner, in that one of the paintings shows a futuristic city very much like Scott’s depiction of the LA of 2019. But this has a gigantic tower, which may be a space elevator or space bridge, and which contains a hollow running its length, possibly to throw something up into orbit. The company appears to have produced biomechanical armoured suits, resembling the Alien exoskeletons. Ripley dons one of these to fight the queen, who is killed by fire from a railgun or something similar. Another painting shows the space bridge or whatever it is on fire. This suggests that it’s the corporate head office, and that not only has Ripley or her successor defeated the Aliens, but she’s also taken down the company that thinks it can cultivate and control them. Here are the videos.

I’m afraid I’ve posted these videos out of chronological sequence, as I haven’t watched them in order. I hope you can still follow the progress through them, however.

Mr. H speculates that the art may be released because there is renewed interest in the movie. However, he eventually settles on the explanation that the Non-Disclosure Agreements that have prevented release of the art have finally lapsed, as Disney is on the point of buying Fox. I find this a particularly grim prospect. I don’t think it’s at all healthy for a sizable portion of Hollywood and western film entertainment to be part of a giant, global monopoly. I also don’t think Disney are the corporation that’s best suited to real, innovative Horror or dark SF. They’re based on family-friendly entertainment, and while they have considerably diversified, especially with the acquisition of Lucasfilm and Star Wars, I really don’t think they’re suited to managing darker films and concepts.

It’s a pity that Alien 5 wasn’t made. It would have been far better than Alien: Covenant, which I found disappointing and uninspired. It got rid of the interesting ideas and sole remaining character in Prometheus. The Engineers are all wiped out by the evil robot David, who has also murdered Shaw, and is now just keen on breeding more of the proto-Alien creatures, until one finally appears at the end. This threatens the new heroes, is defeated, but not before the heroine finds out right at the end as she’s going into hypersleep that the robot she has trusted up to now isn’t the ship’s good android, but David, who has smuggled the Alien eggs and embryos on board.

I think part of the problem is that Scott simply has lost interest in the Xenomorphs. He’s said that they’re not scary anymore, and that robots are more frightening. Hence the appearance of the evil robot, David. But I think he’s misunderstood the situation. People still want to see the Xenomorph. A year or so ago there were a series of short films released on YouTube by various directors set in the Alien universe and where different characters have to fight or deal with the Aliens. These generally speaking weren’t long – about 15 minutes or so, more or less. But they were well done with some interesting ideas. They showed that directors could still make an entertaining and original story with the creatures, and that there were more than enough fans willing to watch them.

It also seems that Scott’s role in the original movie has been overhyped. Some of the creative decisions that built the franchise were not his, but came from the two producers, Hill and Giler. These included the appearance of an android and the hiring of H.R. Giger as concept artist for the creature. Scott was brought on as director at the very last minute. It’s an excellent movie, and Scott is a brilliant director – I rate Alien and Blade Runner as masterpieces of 20th century cinema – but he isn’t the be-all and end-all of the Alien franchise. I agree with Mr H that the studio shouldn’t have bowed to him and cancelled Blomkamp’s flick.

One of the commenters on one of these videos suggests that, if the film isn’t going to be made, then a comic or graphic novel should appear to tell the story. Apparently this has been done with the alternative Alien 3s that were submitted and scripted. I think it would be an excellent idea. I’d also like another Alien movie to appear, though I’m not sure I’d like it to be the final episode of the trilogy Scott set up with Prometheus. Not after Covenant, unless there’s far more interest in the Aliens. Scott’s a great director, and part of me thinks that it would be good to see how his trilogy ends, but I also think that it’s time the franchise was perhaps handed over to someone younger and with a greater appreciation of the Xenomorph’s popularity.

But the release of this concept artist shows not only the imagination and skill of Thoorens, the artist behind it, but also that there is still considerable interest in Alien movies and that they haven’t been exhausted of ideas. Not just yet. They just need the right director.

Couple of Videos on the Model Work on the BBC SF Comedy, Red Dwarf

February 24, 2021

These are another couple of videos I found on YouTube. In the first, model makers and special effects technicians Bill Pearson and Steve Howarth talk about their work on series 10 of the show. It’s a deleted scene from the film Sense of Scale, which appears to be a movie about the work of model makers like the two. It’s one of a number of videos about the creation of model effects for films and TV series like Red Dwarf, Space: 1999, Alien, Aliens, Outland, Flash Gordon, the 1990’s version of Total Recall, Coneheads, The Fifth Element and The Empire Strikes Back by piercefilm productions.

RED DWARF X miniature effects – YouTube

The second video comes from the channel of someone styling themselves Duane Dibley (the Duke of Dork). As fans of the series will know, this is the stylistically challenged alter ego of the Cat. In it, Bill Pearson talks about his work on series 4 of the show when production was moved to Shepperton. He talks about how some of the props and effects ended up in skips, including one that was damaged by Craig Charles. Money was tight, and so instead of building the scutters from scratch, as they had in the first series, they used parts from radio controlled cars and electric screwdrivers instead. They also recycled props and bits of set from other shows, including a Science Fiction film Ridley Scott had completed filming there. It was only after the series ended that Patterson realised he had never made one of the major vehicles in the show. But his chance finally came when he asked to make one to be given as a prize in a quiz show.

Super Models (Featurette With Red Dwarf Model Maker Bill Pearson) – YouTube

Red Dwarf is one of my favourite SF shows, and one which, in my view, deserves its longevity and cult status. It’s really fascinating to hear from one of the team of talented artists, model makers and technicians which gave this show its great SFX. These still stand up today when miniature work has largely been superseded by CGI. Pearson mentions this in the first video, saying that he’s proud of their work on Red Dwarf, but thinks that he’ll now spend the rest of his life working in low budget projects, because the major films and TV series have gone over to CGI instead. This is a pit, as I’ve a great deal of nostalgia and respect for the practical special effects used in the Science Fiction and Horror movies I grew up with. As spectacular as the CGI graphics can be, there’s still a popular demand for old style practical effects. Harbinger Down, a horror film that came out a couple of years ago, was made using these traditional special effects techniques to cater to audience keen to relive the pleasure of the type of effects they’d enjoyed in Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing.

Pearson, Howarth and the others, who worked on shows like Red Dwarf are immensely talented artists, and I hope their skills will continue to be in demand by producers and directors, who appreciate the value of good, practical special effects.

Video of Original Star Trek Theme Played on the Theremin

January 31, 2021

Here’s a link to a very fun video on YouTube. It’s from Katica Illenyi’s channel on YouTube, and is of her and the Animae Musicae Chamber Orchestra playing the theme tune of the Classic Star Trek series, with Illenyi herself on Theremin. That’s the weird instrument that operates through subtle changes in a magnetic field produced by the position of the player’s hands, so that you play it without touching it. It’s a strange, fascinating instrument with a very weird sound, and so has featured in the music for a number of SF and horror movies, as well as Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’. I like the Next Generation Star Trek theme, which was taken from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but for me the real Star Trek theme is still the original. I hope other Star Trek fans enjoy this as much as I did.

KATICA ILLÉNYI – STAR TREK (theremin) – YouTube

History Debunked on the Anachronistic Casting of Black Actors to Play Ann Boleyn and Queen Caroline

December 14, 2020

One of the complains raised by some members of the right against the demands for more Black presenters and actors on screen is that it represents a form of cultural colonisation. The past is deliberately being re-shaped to suit the multicultural present. The right-wing internet YouTuber, Alex Belfield, has argued that by the Beeb’s standards, Blacks are actually overrepresented on television. At the moment British Black and Asian population constitutes about 13 per cent of the overall population, but form 22 per cent of the presenters, performers and broadcast on the box. It’s why he choose in one of his videos to attack the Beeb for wasting even more license-payers’ money on someone to head a diversity department. He maintained that the problem wasn’t the underrepresentation of Blacks and Asians in front of the camera. It was that they weren’t represented in the ranks of BBC management, which remained very White and middle class.

There are a number of recent and forthcoming adaptations of classic literature, in which Blacks and Asians have been cast in traditionally White roles. And so Blacks have been cast to appear in the children’s classic, The Secret Garden, Philip Pullman’s Fantasy series, His Dark Materials, and Dev Patel, who played the Master in the last series of Dr. Who, appeared in a colour blind, multi-ethnic version of Dickens and is due to star in an adaptation of the medieval story, Gawain and the Green Knight. There’s also a version of the Lord of the Rings planned by the Corporation, in which a third of the cast will be Black or Asian with Lenny Henry.

But this desire to recast White characters with Blacks isn’t confined to fiction. Channel 5 has announced that it has cast a Black actress, Jodie Turner-Smith, to play Ann Boleyn in a three part series about Henry VIII’s second wife. And Netflix has also chosen a Black actress to play Queen Caroline in its regency romance, Bridgerton.

History Debunked’s Simon Webb has posted several videos about this. He was rather incensed by the decision to recast one of the characters in The Secret Garden as Black, and describes how there was some popular criticism of a similar recasting in His Dark Materials. However, he says that left-wingers and progressives answered that by arguing that the role was fiction, and that Pullman never specified what colour the character was.

That argument, however, cannot be used to defend the false representation of Boleyn and Caroline as Blacks. He views this as a deliberate attempt to colonise the past so that it resembles what he describes as the ‘bastardised’ multicultural present. It is also not being done in a vacuum. There are Blacks, who believe that Queen Caroline really was Black, as was James I of England/VI of Scotland, and Edward III’s son, Henry, the Black Prince. This recasting of real, historical figures has to be resisted because it is actively falsifying history to make it appear that Blacks had a far greater role in shaping history than they did.

Here’s the video about Ann Boleyn.

Jodie Turner-Smith to play Ann Boleyn – YouTube

The idea that Queen Caroline was Black comes from the fact that she was partly descended from a thirteenth century Spanish Moorish prince. The Moors in Islamic Spain – al-Andalus – were Arabs and Berbers, rather than Black Africans. Caroline herself was so far removed from her Moorish ancestor that any Black ancestry she had wouldn’t have been expressed physically. She was a German princess, and so would have been White in appearance.

A black queen in Netflix’ new series Bridgerton – YouTube

See also:

New, multicultural versions of two classics of English literature – YouTube

TV Diversity Is NOT A Problem 🇬🇧 22% 📺 BBC Give Us Back The £100,000,000! – YouTube

Multi-Racial Casting Already in Theatre

I think there are also a number of other factors driving this trend. Multiracial casting has been around in the theatre for a very long time. I think as far back as the 1990s Black and Asians actors were being cast in traditionally White roles in Shakespeare. I remember an article in the Independent or the I came out a few years ago commenting that such casting was accepted by audiences, even when people of different ethnicities played members of the same family. There was also something of a furore a few years ago when the Black opera singer, Willard White, was cast as Odin in Wagner’s Ring. What seems to be happening is simply that this same process is being extended to film and TV. The Dickens’ adaptation that came out recently not only starred Dev Patel as the central character, but also had members of the same family played by actors of different races. It was made by Armando Iannucci, one of the brains behind the comedy news programme, The Day Today and other shows in the 1990s.

Few Explicitly Black Parts and the Metropolitan Bubble

I also believe that it’s due to the fact that there are too few parts specifically for Black and Asian actors. That’s been the complaint voiced by one of the Black activists pushing for the greater inclusion of Black performers when he was interviewed in the I a little while back. Blacks and Asians are minorities, and generally are under represented in the upper ranks of society. Hence the demand for colour blind casting and that directors should be willing to cast Blacks and Asians. It also seems to me to be also partly a product of the metropolitan bubble in which the media and its chiefs live. Over a third of London’s population is Black and Asian, and I think there’s an automatic assumption that somehow this is true of the rest of Britain. Some Black activists and performers have been really shocked to find that there are large parts of Britain with hardly any people like themselves. Years ago the late Black actor and comedian, Felix Dexter, appeared on the panel in an edition of the News Quiz, which came from Edinburgh. He expressed his surprise that there were areas of Scotland with hardly a Black face to be seen. While undoubtedly true, his surprise struck me as also a tiny bit racist in itself. There was an element of complaint in it, as if it was somehow a defect that these places happened to be nearly all White. It reminded me a bit of the comments by Victorian explorers about going into parts of Black Africa and elsewhere previously untouched by the White man. I’m sure Dexter and those, who share his views would have been horrified by the comparison, but I believe it’s a true one.

Selling Programmes to a Non-White Foreign Audience

I also wonder if it’s also driven by a need to sell these programmes abroad. Blacks constitute something like 10-13 per cent of the American population, and together with Asians constitute 25 per cent of the American population. I’ve no doubt that the Beeb will also be seeking to sell the programmes to Black majority and Asian countries, such as Africa, the Caribbean, India and so on. Hence the decision to cast Black and Asian actors may well come from a desire to appeal to foreign, non-White audiences.

Dangers of the Falsification of History

I wouldn’t have a problem with this, were it not for two reasons. I’m afraid that it really will result in a falsification of history. If it was just a case of TV companies trying to reach new audiences in line with present, multicultural sensibilities, I’d be perfectly happy with it. Provided that the audience understood that what they were seeing was fiction. They they understood that Queen Caroline and Ann Boleyn weren’t really Black, and that Victorian and medieval Britain weren’t as multicultural as today’s London. But I really don’t think they do. And this is going to be a particular problem with some Blacks, who believe that their history has already been appropriated by Whites. This is very much the case with Afro-Centric History and ancient Egypt. All the Black people I’ve met have believed that the ancient Egyptians were Black. This isn’t unreasonable. They portrayed themselves as darker than the other peoples further north and east, like the Minoans and the Semitic peoples of Canaan and the Ancient Near East. Examination of human skeletons from ancient Egyptian tombs show that many were more Black African in appearance than previously assumed, and certainly the sculpture of Queen Ty shows her as being very Black. On the other hand the Egyptians portrayed the African peoples further south, such as those of Nubia, to be much darker than themselves. I also don’t think that the ancient historians, like Herodotus, described them as Black. Herodotus was well aware of Black African peoples and tribes, like the Ethiopians, but he doesn’t describe the Egyptians as one of them, at least, not that I can remember. It isn’t unreasonable by any means to believe the Egyptians were Black, but there’s also room for debate. Unfortunately, I’ve heard some really bonkers conspiracy theories about the supposed White appropriation of the ancient Egyptians. One Black American I knew at college claimed that the reason so many statues from ancient Egypt had chipped or missing noses and lips was because the European archaeologists deliberately removed them in order to hide their African identity. It’s a paranoid, ludicrous idea, though you can’t really blame people for believing it. Black people have historically been abused and exploited, so it’s to be expected that this sense of exploitation, and that they are being deliberately denied a glorious history, should extend to one of the most famous and brilliant of ancient civilisations.

But I’m very much afraid that once the decision is taken to cast Blacks as real, historical figures, some people will genuinely believe that these figures really were Black, and that those evil Whites have falsified history once more to hide their true racial origins.

There is also the problem that recasting the past so that it appears more multicultural than it really was may also lead to modern audiences not realising just how hard a struggle Blacks and Asians had to gain their freedom. Nearly a year ago now Mr H of the YouTube channel Mr H Reviews raised this objection to the Beeb’s new adaptation of that horror classic, Dracula. The convent to which Harker flees for help and medical treatment in Budapest is shown as multiracial, with many of the nuns Black and Asian. He felt that this was anachronistic, though I’m told by a friend of mine with a greater knowledge of church history that the Roman Catholic convents in the city were staffed with people from the missions to Asia and elsewhere, so it’s possible there would have been Black and Asian nuns there.

In the case of regency Britain and the upper ranks of society, intermarriage between Whites and Blacks wasn’t unknown, but it was rare. A few years ago back in the ’90s Radio 4 did a programme about the Black son of a White planter or British aristocrat, who had a glittering political career as an MP and ended up, I believe, as the sheriff of Monmouthshire. One the other hand, when Major Moody came to write his report in the 1820s on whether Blacks were ready for their emancipation, he argued that they would never be accepted and treated fairly by White society. Part of his argument was that there were so few marriages between Whites and Blacks among the upper classes. Moody’s wife was Black, and so his report and its conclusion that the enslaved population of the British empire weren’t yet ready for their freedom was a real shock. But if Queen Caroline is presented as a Black woman, it obviously contradicts Moody’s own observation. And his observation and the argument it supports shows just how strong racial prejudice was among some sections of the populace in 19th century Britain.

Double Standards on ‘Cultural Appropriation’

My other problem with this is that of the accusation of ‘cultural appropriation’. This only seems to go one way. Black involvement and participation in White culture is actively encouraged and its absence condemned and deplored as a form of racism. But this doesn’t go the other way. When Whites adopt non-White culture, it’s condemned as a form of cultural theft. In the case of those cultures that have been colonised and nearly destroyed by White expansion and imperialism, like the Amerindians and Aboriginal Australians, this is fair enough. But there should surely be no objection to the casting of White actors as Black characters in works by Black and Asian writers and playwrights. Not if it’s done as part of a multi-ethnic cast and avoids the obviously offensive, like blacking up. But I’ve yet to see a White actor cast in a Black part in an adaptation of one of Wole Soyinka’s works, or Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. I therefore feel that Webb has a point when he attacks it as a form of cultural colonisation. Because until Whites are allowed to play Black roles, that’s what it is.

I’m prepared to accept that the portrayal of myths and literary characters on screen is changing as society changes, and that mostly this harmless. Dickens, Shakespeare and medieval classics like Chaucer and Gawain are great tales, and should appeal to everyone, regardless of their colour. But I have grave reservations about the decision to do the same to historical figures.

It might be well intentioned, but too many people may believe it’s fact, and so a mythical, false history created.

Mr H Reviews Raves about New Russian SF/Horror Flick ‘Sputnik’

August 23, 2020

This is something a bit lighter for a Sunday morning. Mr. H Reviews is a YouTuber, who discusses genre film – Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy. In this video he posted the other day, he praises a new Russian SF film, Sputnik. There are no spoilers, but he briefly sums up the plot. It’s set in in the Cold War, and is about a cosmonaut, who returns from space with something alien. It seems to be in line with films like Alien, although it also reminds me of Britain’s own Quatermass.This classic piece of British SF Horror first appeared as a Beeb TV series in the 1950s, before being filmed by Hammer. It was also about an astronaut, Caroon,from a British manned space mission at a time when we did indeed have our own space programme and were the third space power along with the Russians and Americans. He returns alone from space, his two fellow astronauts mysteriously disappeared, in a coma. It then emerges that he too is carrying a hostile visitor, and is slowly mutating into a threat to all life on Earth. Mr. H. also compares it to the much more recent movie, Life, which is also about a group of astronauts discovering and having to deal with a hostile alien entity in orbit.

Mr. H. is impressed by the film’s high production values, especially as it had a budget of 190,000 Roubles, which equates to about $2.5 million. I can’t say I’m surprised. Russia, for all its role as a global superpower, has a much smaller economy. When Simon Reeve toured it in a BBC documentary series a few years ago, I think he said that it’s economy was the size of Italy’s. It’s tiny for such a large country with a similarly large population. But that does mean that films can be made more cheaply there.

And the Russians are certainly capable of producing SF movies of the same quality as Hollywood blockbusters. A year or so ago before the lockdown I found in HMV a Russian superhero movie, Guardians. This was about a group of men and women from across the Russian Federation – one was from a nomadic people from Central Asia, another from one of the countries in the Caucasus, who have been given superpowers through a secret Russian government programme. But they now have to team up against an old threat  – the former chief of another underground project, that was shut down by the KGB, who is now determined to take over the country and the world.

It’s rather like contemporary Hollywood SF/ superhero movies with its theme of secret, unethical government experiments. And of course, as it’s a Russian film, it culminates in a battle over Moscow. If it was American, it would obviously be New York or LA. Guardians is a Russian language film, so you have to deal with subtitles, but it does show that the Russians are capable of producing genre movies of the same standard as Hollywood. And it’s also interesting to see how the Russians take over and adapt the plot and tropes of the western superhero genre.

I haven’t seen Sputnik, and so really don’t know anything about it apart from what Mr. H. says in the review, but it looks interesting. Here’s his video.

 

 

‘Mr H Reviews’ on the Casting of Robot Lead in SF Film

August 8, 2020

‘Mr H Reviews’ is a YouTube channel specialising in news and opinions on genre films – SF, Fantasy and Horror. In the video below he comments on a piece in the Hollywood Reporter about the production of a new SF movie, which will for the first time star a genuine AI. The movie is simply titled b. Financed by Bondit Capital, which also funded the film Loving Vincent, with the Belgium-based Happy Moon Productions and New York’s Top Ten Media, the film is based on a story by the special effects director Eric Pham with Tarek Zohdy and Sam Khoze. It is about a scientist, who becomes unhappy with a programme to perfect human DNA and helps the AI woman he has created to escape. 

The robot star, Erica, was created by the Japanese scientists/ engineers Hiroshi Ishigura and Hohei Ogawa for another film. The two, according to the Reporter, taught her to act. That film, which was to be directed by Tony Kaye, who made American History X, fell through. Some scenes for the present movie were already shot in Japan in 2019, and the rest will be shot in Europe next year, 2021.

The decision to make a movie starring a robot looks like an attempt to get round the problems of filming caused by the Coronavirus. However, it also raises a number of other issues. One of these, which evidently puzzle the eponymous Mr H, is how a robot can possibly act. Are they going to use takes and give it direction, as they would a human, or will it instead simply be done perfectly first time, thanks to someone on a keyboard somewhere programming it? He is quite enthusiastic about the project with some reservations. He supports the idea of a real robot playing a robot, but like most of us rejects the idea that robots should replace human actors. He also agrees with the project being written by a special effects supervisor, because such a director would obviously be aware of how such a project should be shot.

But it also ties in with an earlier video he has made about the possible replacement of humans by their Virtual simulacra. According to another rumour going round, Mark Hamill has signed away his image to Lucas Film, so that Luke Skywalker can be digitally recreated using CGI on future Star Wars films. Mr H ponders if this is the future of film now, and that humans are now going to be replaced by their computer generated doubles.

In some ways, this is just the culmination of processes that have been going on in SF films for some time. Animatronics – robot puppets – have been used in Science Fiction films since the 1990s, though admittedly the technology has been incorporated into costumes worn by actors. But not all the time. Several of the creatures in the American/Australian SF series Farscape were such animatronic robots, such as the character Rygel. Some of the robots features in a number of SF movies were entirely mechanical. The ABC Warrior which appears in the 1990s Judge Dredd film with Sylvester Stallone was deliberately entirely mechanical. The producers wished to show that it definitely wasn’t a man in a suit. C-3PO very definitely was played by a man in a metal costume, Anthony Daniels, but I noticed in the first of the prequels, The Phantom Menace, that a real robot version of the character appears in several scenes. Again, this is probably to add realism to the character. I also think that in the original movie, Episode 4: A New Hope, there were two versions of R2D2 used. One was the metal suit operated by Kenny Baker, and I think the other was entirely mechanical, operated by radio. Dr. Who during Peter Davison’s era as the Doctor also briefly had a robot companion. This was Kameleon, a shape-changing android, who made his first appearance in The King’s Demons. He was another radio-operated robot, though voiced by a human actor. However the character was never used, and his next appearance was when he died in the story Planet of Fire.

And then going further back, there’s Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mad plan to create a robotic Salvador Dali for his aborted 1970s version of Dune. Dali was hired as one of the concept artists, along with H.R. Giger and the legendary Chris Foss. Jodorowsky also wanted him to play the Galactic Emperor. Dali agreed, in return for a payment of $1 million. But he stipulated that he was only going to act for half an hour. So in order to make sure they got enough footage of the great Surrealist and egomaniac, Jodorowsky was going to build a robot double. The film would also have starred Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha, as well as Jodorowsky’s own son, Brontes, as Paul Atreides. The film was never made, as the producers pulled the plug at the last minute wondering what was happening to it. I think part of the problem may have been that it was going well over budget. Jodorowsky has said that all the effort that went into it wasn’t wasted, however, as he and the artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud used the ideas developed for the film for their comic series, The Incal. I think that Jodorowsky’s version of Dune would have been awesome, but would have been far different to the book on which it was based.

I also like the idea of robots performing as robots in an SF movie. A few years ago an alternative theatre company specialising in exploring issues of technology and robotics staged a performance in Prague of the classic Karel Capek play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, using toy robots. I can see the Italian Futurists, rabid Italian avant-garde artists who praised youth, speed, violence and the new machine world around the time of the First World War, being wildly enthusiastic about this. Especially as, in the words of their leader and founder, Tommasso Marinetti, they looked ‘for the union of man and machine’. But I really don’t want to see robots nor CGI recreations replace human actors.

Many films have been put on hold because of the Coronavirus, and it looks like the movie industry is trying to explore all its options for getting back into production. However, the other roles for this movie haven’t been filled and so I do wonder if it will actually be made.

It could be one worth watching, as much for the issues it raises as its story and acting.

Video With Original Footage of David Rappoport in Star Trek: The Next Generation

June 19, 2020

Major Grin is a YouTuber, who posts videos about Star Trek, many of which mock the show, pointing out some of its flaws and inconsistencies. The video below is just a collection of scenes from Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Data, the android crew member, visits prisoners in the Enterprise’s brig. What may make it particularly interesting for fans of the series are the scenes from the story ‘The Most Toys’ where he visits the villain, Kivas Fajo.

Fajo was a galactic billionaire collector of strange and rare objects. In ‘The Most Toys’, he takes Data captive and tries to add him to his collection. Data resists, and is helped to escape by one of Fajo’s employees. Fajo  intercepts them, however, shooting her with his disruptor, and threatens to kill another one of this servants unless Data obey him. Data raises his phaser to kill Fajo, but is then rescued as both he and Fajo are transported back to the Enterprise.

The role of Fajo was to be played by the British actor David Rappoport. Rappoport played the leader of the dwarfs in the 1980s Terry Gilliam fantasy film, Time Bandits and one of the O Men in one of the Beeb’s ’80s children’s programmes. He was also friends with the people, who ran the Old Profanity showboat down on Bristol’s docks. Despite his lack of height, Rappoport was a performer with real charisma. He had attitude, style and swagger, as shown by his performance in Time Bandits. He appeared in a number of movies and TV series, but managed to break out from just playing SF/ Fantasy roles. Shortly before his death, he starred in a Channel 4 show about an uptight British businessman, complete with bowler hat and pinstripe suit, who becomes more relaxed and laid back when he visits America and experiences proper pop music. Sadly, he died during the making of ‘The Most Toys’ and was replaced by an actor of normal height.

It’s interesting comparing the performances of Rappoport and his replacement. While the other actor’s performance is light, almost comic, Rappoport’s is all snarling aggression, spitting hate at Data from behind the cell’s forcefield.

I don’t want to take anything away from Warwick Davis’ achievement in making the same transition from SF, Fantasy and Horror to mainstream television – he’s now the host of the British game show Tenable – but I do wonder how much of his success he owes to David Rappoport having done it just before him.

David Rappoport – one of the great figures of British fantasy cinema. RIP big fellow.