Karma Kamelion – My History with Doctor Who

So I was doing some admin in preparation for the New season of TYTD Reviews (As an aside; exact dates on the launch date is TBC at this point in time but it’s looking to either be the 28th of February or the 6th of March depending on how quickly I can pull my socks up) and it dawned on me…I’d never done a blog about Doctor who! HOW have I never done a blog about Doctor who? I did a whole month on the internationally famous timelord. I did three whole hour long retrospectives on the William Hartnell years that never got uploaded because It was starting to creep to 90 minutes per retrospective and I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain them…but I’ve never actually made a blog exclusively about the TV show (And set of movies) that were massively influential on my life. So! This entry is going to entirely be about my history with show, my thoughts on it and where things currently sit with me.

(Buckle up kids! this is a Journey into space!)

So! I watched my first episode of Doctor who in the early spring of 2003. It was *I believe* The Peter Davidson Story “The Caves of Androzani” on UKTV Gold. Back then I was suffering from a quite severe stomach illness which meant I was always, without fail, jolted awake at 7am with severe pains (This would go on for 3-4 months before culminating in the 2nd worst illness I’ve ever had that lasted 48 hours and totally knocked me out) this turned out though to have a major upside as UKTV gold showed omnibus editions of Doctor who  between 7 and 9am back then. As such; when I first saw that regeneration story it blew my mind at how weird, wonderful, quintessentially british it was and I was really rather smitten at first sight. I spent most of the spring and a good chunk of the summer burning through Peter Davidson and Colin bakers era of Doctor who. Occasionally an odd Tom Baker would materialise and incredibly rarely (I can only recall 3 times EVER) Jon Pertwee stories would show up. I still recall being absolutely enthralled at catching a Black and white broadcast of “The Ambassadors of Death” captivated at Properly old Doctor who! Black and white doctor who! (I wasn’t to know it was originally in colour) it blew my mind.

(This…was a watershed moment for me)

You have to imagine; at this point all the existing Doctor who episodes had been released on VHS but by 2003 those tapes wernt available to buy in shops…charity shops or car boot sales maybe;…but not in real shops. There were a limited number of DVD’s available (Approximately 10-15) but at the time I was unemployed and had absolutely no chance of affording them.  So these broadcasts were my gateway to the show! I never saw a full story during this time, only either edited episodes or partial stories  (I never quite got in front of the screen to catch part 1 more often than not) but over that year I ended up pretty much watching all of the 5th and 6th Doctors eras. I needed more though.

Jump forward to November 2003 and I’d managed to save up enough money for 2 Doctor who DVD’s which I bought off Amazon (One of my first online purchases…I was a bit behind the times) I really was at a loss for what to pick up but in the end I settled on “The Five Doctors” thinking it would give me a good idea of each Doctors personality and let me make a bit of a better informed decision on where to go next. And “Tomb of the Cybermen” which I chose purely based on what I saw of Patrick Troughtons 2nd Doctor in the multi Doctor story “The Two Doctors” as part of Colin Bakers era…He seemed like a personality I could really gel with and I quite liked the concept of Cybermen (I’ve always much preferred them to Daleks) It was the only Cybermen story out at the time so I thought “Why the hell not”. They arrived on the weekend of the 23rd of November 2003, on Doctor who’s 40th anniversary weekend.

(These two…Oh man…it’s probably the first time I’ve seen these covers in 10 years…memories man…ooft.)

 

That weekend was an absolute eye opener. UKTV gold decided to play Doctor who for most of the weekend. With each Doctor getting a “Top” story played out to represent them. That was the first time I was introduced to William Hartnells Doctor, and Sylvester Mccoys and Paul Mcganns. I got another Troughton story under my belt. And (If my memory serves) it was the first time I ever saw Pertwees opening story “Spearhead from Space”.  This really opened the floodgates for me. I enjoyed that weekends worth of stories so much I knew that I needed to get my hands on more. And specifically the older stuff. through the rest of 2003,2004 and 2005 I started buying up DVD’s. I have very vivid memories of picking up “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” and the “Beginnings” boxset of the first 3 Doctor who serials ever. I eventually picked up some 5th and 6th Doctor stories and finally saw the likes of “The Visitation” and “Vengence on Varos” uncut in there original format.

The announcement that the show was returning to the airwaves after a 16 year hiatus in 2004 completely passed me by. I was too busy with the classic stuff. but in 2005 with 2 weeks to go before the launch of the new series I suddenly locked in and got majorly excited for it’s return. And it didn’t disappoint! If I was an affectionate follower before I was a full blown fanatic after “Rose” aired. I was absolutely smitten with the new season. and in tandem with the classic DVD’s I’d started collecting this started a period of time where all I wanted was the next hit, the next fix of who. Didn’t care if it was new or old. Colour or black and white. I needed who and I needed it NOW.

(This thing just keeps getting better and better)

It was in late 2004 that I also learnt about the “Missing episodes” and while it didn’t particularly phase me in 2004. In 2005 when I was freebasing Hartnell and wondering why my now favourite Doctor Patrick Troughton wasn’t having a tremendous amount of DVDs released. A quick google quickly broke my heart. Missing episodes quickly became my life. I’d pour over telesnaps on the BBC website, I’d scour the net for audio of the episodes. Eventually I got in touch with Loose Canon who were able to provide me with most of there full blown reconstructions (To this day their “Web of Fear” CG recon still holds a special place in my heart) My love for information on missing Doctor who eventually branched out to all missing TV (A passion that still continues to this day. God bless Kaleidoscope)

(One day…)

Basically I was obsessed. I could tell you TX dates. I could tell you every stories writer, every director, every individual episode title for series 1-4…and I was astounded that I couldn’t get a girlfriend at this time (Genuinely). Series 1 eventually came to an end with a regeneration and a cliffhanger that blew my mind. I waited desperately impatiently till Christmas and actually locked myself away to watch “The Christmas Invasion” live and play the red button minigame that accompanied it. it was fantastic. I wasn’t a massive fan of David Tennants first series as the timelord, Series 2 was a bit too romantically charged for my taste personally but hey. its doctor who. It’s still astoundingly great at this point (Daleks V Cybermen OMGWTFBBQ) and my collection continued to grow, I loved series 3 and 2007 was my 1st, 2nd, 3rd and last ever trips to the Doctor who Exhibition in Blackpool…literally the coolest museum I’d ever been to. I genuinely couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I made the pilgrimage to Cardiff to do tours of the Torchwood locations and to see where some of “Utopia” was filmed and to visit the ORIGINAL Doctor who exhibition (Which was located in a shopping center and not in a hanger on the bay). I LOVED series 4 (Some of the best and most consistent television I’ve ever seen) it was near perfect for me and is still my favourite Tennant season.

But then 2009 happened…the specials happened. It was rough. I really didn’t like the specials. There just wasn’t anything there honestly for me. “The Next Doctor” was a cop out that had quite a weak premise that stood up while merry on a Christmas evening, but is pretty much devoid of any rewatch value. “Planet of the Dead” was incredibly flimsy storywise the “Guest stars” were underwhelming and the resolution wasn’t satisfying. “The Waters of Mars” was probably the strongest story of the season…but even that had a quite rubbish villain and tried way too hard to try and tell me how to feel…at this point I felt I was getting a bit tired of Tennant…in hindsight I still stand that had he gone out at the end of season 4 rather than doing the specials I’d have probably left him on fonder terms…The end of time was a bit of a disaster for me…the Master reveal was nice. But the rest of it was an absolute sludge of a story that made almost no sense, had poor editing and lacked any kind of depth or cohesion between parts 1 and 2.

2 things saved the 2009 run for me. One was that I managed to start making a regular income which let me buy WAY more classic Doctor who…which kept me good during the long gaps between new series episodes. And the actual Tennant regeneration and the opening 30 seconds to a minute of Matt Smiths run was FUCKING PHENOMINAL. Seriously in less than a minute Matt Smiths 11th Doctor connected with me in a way I hadn’t felt since I sat down 5 years previously to watch “Tomb of the Cybermen” Matt Smith was my kind of Doctor. And I could not WAIT. For season 5.

(SOLD!)

It. Was. BRILLIANT. Both Season 5 and 6 of the new series completely reignited my love for the show like scraping the rust off and restoring an old car. The direction and cine was fresh and lively. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan were absolutely electric together and the 11th Doctors personality (A cross between the 2nd Doctor and the more “Masterplanny” elements of the 7th Doctor) captivated me. I never missed an episode. I’d rewatch these season religiously. I went on holiday during season 6’s run and ended up renting a portable TV…in Spain. Just so I wouldn’t miss the 2 episodes That would go out while I was abroad. Russell T.Davies was a master of writing emotional characters. But Moffats era would open the floodgates on full blown unapologetic sci-fi bringing some stories to the table that are now considered out and out classics. Retroactively I will concede they arnt perfect…but I still stand that they were Bloody close!

(So…frickin…good!)

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and 2012 was really the beginning of the end for my “Rabid fandom” days as a “Who” fan…by 2012 I’d caught up with the Doctor who DVD’s more or less. Both myself and my (Then flatmate) Ben had started marathoning every episode of Doctor who in order (1963 – 2013) and I’d started to go hardcore about my collecting (I managed to get bootleg copies of Ian Levines Shada, Mission to the Unknown, and bootleg DVD releases for “Dimensions in time” at this time) Season 7 (2012) started out relatively strong if not a little bit fillery…but Amy and Rory’s departure from the show half way through season 7 and the corresponding break really did mark my decline. I didn’t like Clara. I never liked Clara. I still don’t like Clara. She was good  in “Asylum of the Daleks” she was alright in “The Snowman”…her “Official” start in “The Bells of St. John” was a damp squib for me and with the exception of “The Crimson Horror” the entire second half of season 7 was just atrocious. Really poor stories, terrible dumbed down dialogue, all the fine lines and narrative points that made me love seasons 5 and 6 were reduced and “The Rings of Akhaten” to me was the absolute low of Doctor who at any point in its entire run up to that point. While I wont deny I went a bit weak in the knees for the opening “Multi Doctor” montage in “The Name of the Doctor” it was all too little too late.

(This monologue was the best part of the 2nd half of season 7…and it sits in the worst episode of Doctor who that I’ve seen since 2006)

While “Day of the Doctor” went a long way to assuring me that maybe the 2nd half of Season 7 just disagreed with me and that I shouldn’t worry too much (Day of the Doctor was bloody phenominal good fun). Time and the Doctor was not the best way the 11th Doctor could have gone…it was better by Tennant…but not much. Capaldi’s era to me is punctuated by 2 major movements in my fandom. The first was that I pretty much finished my Doctor who DVD collection (I believe by the end of 2015 I was literally just mopping up special editions) and this was the first time I genuinely thought that a Doctor was given scripts that were significantly below their acting ability. Peter Capaldi is an astounding actor. I love his performances very dearly. But in my opinion you could take seasons 8,9 and 10 and build a season’s worth of good episodes out of them. (14 episodes and since you didn’t ask):

*Deep Breath

*Mummy on the Orient Express

*Flatline

*The Magicians Apprentice

*The Witches Familiar

*The Zygon Invasion

*The Zygon Inversion

*Heaven Sent

*Hell Bent

*The Pilot

*Smile

*The World Enough and Time

*The Doctor Falls

*Twice upon a time

As a season that run would be on a par with some of Eccleston,Tennant and Smiths best seasons for me. but the fact that I had to really think hard to remember the episodes of seasons 8,9 and 10 and that the episodes above for the most part only JUST. hit those same heights is a bit of a shame…the majority of Capaldi’s episodes had moments. Had glimmers…but just…didn’t work for me for the most part. Bill was an absolute breath of fresh air over Clara (Who I disliked during capaldi’s era so much that when she left I actually threw a “Claras gone” party…with guests and cake and party poppers and everything) I cant quite put my finger on it but something in the way Moffat ran the show from that second half of season 7 onwards was fundamentally different to how it was run between seasons 5 and 6…Season 10 was the most solid season of Capaldis run but it still wasn’t perfect. He’s still the Doctor I’d most love to see get the Big finish treatment as I think he could be quite genuinely astounding with a decent companion and a good run of well written stories.

(The one that got away…)

And so we arrive In the 13th Doctors era… And before I talk about this I just want to take a moment here. grab Jodie Whittaker and Bradley Walsh and pop them in a little time pocket outside of this blog because to me they’re brilliant. I like Jodies Doctor (She’s very 5th Doctor for me) and I think Walsh’s “Graham”  has brought some much needed light relief to a series that can get quite dark at times. They’re great. I love them. I wont say anything more about them here…HOWEVER.

(She’s oreet! Seriously; I have no beef with Jodie!)

I haven’t watched Season 12 yet. And I’ve still got 3 episodes of season 11 to get through (At the time of writing) I haven’t watched an episode of Doctor who go out live since Season 11 episode 1 and I don’t want to be lumped in with all the weirdo’s who think theres a culture war going on and the new series of Doctor who is somehow trying to “Destroy white heritage!!!1!!11” But Im really struggling with this era.

I really liked “Rosa”, I really Liked “Demons of the Punjab” everything else I’ve seen of season 11 has been (From a script perspective) slow, dragged out, overly wordy, uninteresting and unchallenging. Every episode is overly long. And even episodes that I  was really warming to (“Kablam!”) throw any goodwill I had with them away with piss poor endings that left me with mixed messages and feelings. I’ve never liked Chris Chibnalls writing, I don’t know why he was chosen to be the showrunner as other than broadchurch his prior works wernt really screaming “Top Sci-fi producer”. I don’t like the newly introduced “Writers room” format. I don’t like the lower episode count. I don’t like the overreliance on big spacey bollocks CGI effects and gimmicks that are clearly gimmicks (I know, I know…but Tom Baker was already a gimmick BEFORE he became the doctor) I don’t like that they’ve moved the show to Sundays. And I REALLY don’t like that the BBC’s own social media feed now completely spoils new episodes within 30 minutes of the credits rolling thus removing any need for me to watch at all…

I fucking hate the toxic side of the fandom who’ve used this change of the guard to attack the choice of a female doctor or to claim theres an SJW agenda because the show is dealing with more diverse topics and I REALLY hate the fans who’ve stuck around who attack anyone who even remotely suggests they arnt totally happy with the latest season. the fandom has eaten itself and kacked it’s pants at the worst possible time to do so and it’s depressed me so much that for now at least I’ve kind of stepped back a bit. Im still working through episodes at a very slow pace (As and when I can fit them in) but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel lethargic about the show in it’s current iteration. It’s mainly the pacing of the scripts, the constant stream of guest stars and at a push…mayyybe a touch of “Crowded Tardis” going on…though that’s really the least of this shows troubles.

I had a friend in 2011 who I met over a mutual love of Matt Smith era Doctor who. Every Saturday we’d meet up and go through that week’s who. When the show wasn’t on we’d talk about Big Finish, rumours on Missing episodes and rumours for the new season. We fell out over Clara (He loved her) but we patched it up. We fell out over this season…not because he likes it and I don’t. we both don’t like it…but he doesn’t like it for questionable reasons…we haven’t spoken since season 11…I don’t know if we’ll ever speak again.

In 2020. I feel very apathetic about Doctor who. The fandom isn’t helping to get me enthused…but the show itself to me feels a bit like it’s just going through the motions. I know the love for the show is still there though. I keep getting twinges to go and dig out some classic doctor who. I still keep my oar in on missing episode rumours and the moment a 9th or 12th doctor Big finish series is announced im totally there. I appreciate that the show is always evolving. I get that. The joy of this show is it’s a bit like a roundabout. You can jump on and off on a whim and one era’s show can be completely different from another. I don’t know where the show goes from here. But whatever happens from here…I’ll still be there either on the sidelines or trying to get onto the pitch. I love the show. and the spark that keeps it excellent is still going…no matter how loudly certain aspects of the fandom screams otherwise.

 

(Obligatory “Doctor in Distress” music video)

The Decade of Change: 2010 – 2019 A Retrospective

Yes! It’s a new Blog! Well I couldn’t really let the end of the year, Neigh. The end of the Decade pass without posting something here. it would just seem quite out of  sorts.  In all honesty I’ve been trying to get a blog up on this site now for the best part of 6 months…I’ve tried 5 times in all and everytime I’ve done so I’ve left it for a day before publishing it and something either in my personal life or on my youtube channel has happened that’s either made it completely obsolete or (In the case of at least a couple of blogs I’ve written that have been based around a particular theme) outside forces have made the point I was arguing in said blog moot, or I’ve changed my mind completely.

(Seems about right…)

In short; I’ve had to either abandon or not publish several blogs over the last 6 months, So I’ve made myself a promise with this one. No matter what, this will be written and published all on the 31st of December. Right now it’s 2:20am on the 31st of December 2019 and Im currently watching  Something Weird Videos “That’s Sexploitation” a documentary about the early history of Sexploitation cinema. Its surprisingly insightful and it’s very unique to see so many vintage clips that previously would have been sat in the deepest darkest seediest pits and back rooms across the US.

(This to be precise…and a fine job they’ve done of it too!)

Anyway; Im getting away from myself here… We’ve had an interesting Decade the 2010’s it’s had it’s highs and it’s lows. And I’d like to take the time here to reflect on this decade personally as…well; a lots happened. So if your looking for the next segment of my history of B-movie cinema or a blog about anime or tv shows I’ve been watching…well you may want to skip to the end. I think it’s probably best to organise these into 2 distinct sectors. The pre 2016’s and the post 2016’s. in my mind at least that makes the most sense as they both are very different times tonally. To me the early 2010’s were a strangely liberating if not creaking time, and the later 2010’s have been the slow collapse of society. Now that’s not to say that 2010 to 2015 was perfect. Nor was it to say that everything after 2016 has been dreadful. But it just makes it easier to write about here.

So; 2010. As strange a time for me as it ever has been honestly. I had just gotten out of a very complicated friendship (Romantic feelings were involved and I’ll say no more about that here) I was a bit of a mess emotionally because of this (I didn’t really get over these issues until about 2014/2015) I had almost no money, no idea what I wanted to do with my life, I didn’t own a car (nor did I know how to drive) I was living with my parents and was generally flicking between being busy making films/expanding my education and figuring out what I wanted out of life (Predominantly centered around whether I wanted a partner/friends or whether I should just coast around going where I wanted and doing what I wanted.) For the most part I wasn’t unhappy. But I wasn’t exactly beaming for the most of this year. I made some good friends that year who continue to be associates to this day. I’ve never been a “Going out” type of guy. A pub nights about as far as I’ll go really. So I don’t tend to see the guys from this time as much as I’d like to. but the fact they’ve hung around with me as long as they have really does mean a lot.

(It was a stiff upper lip year if ever there was one…)

2010 was a bit of a stalled year. I was taking a lot on and I had no idea what I wanted. I was drifting aimlessly and seemingly directionless. 2011 would certainly offer direction, but would also be particularly awful. I’d decided after much thought to go to university. My love of film had led me to want to do a course on the subject to a degree level and so I chose to study media film production with a minor in experiemental film history. I had the choice of whether to do the experimental film element or not and as I thought “Well it’s another string to my bow” alongside having a love for the abnormal and bizarre of film history. I was to spend my first year in a halls of residence and it was here that one of the biggest issues of 2011 really cropped up.

Ladies and gentlemen it will not surprise you to learn that I am not a thin man, I am chonky. A plump fellow…not massive mind…but big. Equally; I am not a sportsman… In fact I’d go as far as to say for the most part I strongly dislike sports. while I’ve been told I have the profile/frame to be a great Prop/Center Forward (Whatever the hell that is) sport has just simply never interested me. while my peers were on the football/hocky/rugby fields of this great country. I was learning how VCR’s worked, making makeshift ariels out of tinfoil and coathangers and learning the joys of CB (I can assure you those skills help me now as much as they did then…make of that what you will).

The reason I raise this is because I was told that when it came to selecting who I would be sharing my halls of residence with they selected people who were all roughly studying the same thing. the problem was all the people studying my course had already been assigned a halls of residence meaning a good 10-15 people in my class (Myself included) had to be grouped into the closest thing to my course possible due to there being no room. I was therefore left on my own. In a halls of residence with no one on my course. With 14 Broadcast journalists…14 broadcast journalists who had all chosen to specialise in Sports journalism. They were all pretty much insufferable. Imagine the most “Lads,Lads,Lads” group of young men you can possibly imagine and your not far off. They did nothing but play football all day and all night, both in the halls of residence (The hallways and the kitchens) and outside the building meaning you would regularly hear the sound of a hard leather Kacey ball smacking against dorm doors all day. and all night. At all hours. They played video games…but only variations on Fifa at all times of day and night, at full volume. They didn’t clean after themselves, they drank round the clock (That was forgivable) but they wernt interested in films, tv shows…anything like that…if it wasn’t football, horseracing or rugby they just didn’t want to know…and they were relentless and insufferable.

(Artists impression…but pretty damn close)

Only complicating matters, my student loan (While approved) didn’t land for the first 6 months. meaning I spent a massive chunk of my first year raiding my parents cupboards for food and borrowing money on the promise when my loan landed I could pay them back. And as anyone who’s been in a bad situation can tell you. the only thing worse than being stuck in a bad sitatuion is to be stuck in it and not have the money to get out of it or escape. This also had the knock on effect of damaging my studies. As without any money to fund study materials, rental fees for camera kits and a total absence of a budget I wasn’t able to really make films or even afford basic printing to meet deadlines. In their infinite wisdom the university had also decided not to introduce a dedicated experimental film lecturer to the course until the 2nd year of studies. But they DID decide to segregate the experimental students, give them separate briefs but ask them to work with the main media film students for the first year as the skills were universally transferrable. This caused multiple problems; not least because the main media film lecturers dispised the experimental film lecturers and took every opportunity to belittle the course altogether. This combined with my lack of funds basically meant that anyone who worked with me, was doing it for almost nothing and would be stigmatised for doing so. And due to my lack of funds I couldn’t make the films I wanted which led to a lot of rumours circulating as to my competency.

It was bad in 2010. But now I was Poor, Emotionally unwell, stuck in building 5 days a week with 14 louts and hated by the majority of my peers and teachers. By December of that year I have vivid memories of sitting in my dorm room watching “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” while 2 lads outside smashed a ball against my door and screamed incomprehensibly that I realised I’d hit an absolute low. And that at that moment if I could have left university I would have.

(It was a low point to say the least…)

2 things however happened that year that would change my life fundamentally. About a month into the course we were sent out to the lake district to make documentaries and on the coach I had a chance encounter with a young man who would go on to be one of my best friends. You’ll know him as my co-commentator on “The Comedy Dining Experience” but had Ben not mentioned he was absolutely exhausted after a long night of listening to Bowie records I don’t think we’d have had the long friendship we have had. Ben made that multi-hour coach trip a delight and he’s never disappointed since.

2011 was also they year I met Miss TYTD. We were both part of a drama group. She’d been dragged along by a friend one night and liked me so much she decided to stay (That’s the honest truth!) from there we really hit it off and one thing led to another…the rest they say is history. She kept me sane for a massive chunk of that first year of university. When people were pouring on the hate, when things got almost unbearable she was there to calm the storm. I genuinely don’t know what I’d have done without her. I genuinely don’t know what I’d do without her.

The three of us would hit the student bar hard. Working our way through the menus of food, being very very silly and enjoying night after night of Karaoke (You should  have seen mine and Bens rendition of “Every Sperm is sacred”, or my rendition of “Pretty Woman”) it bought the house down.

(Mood. mainly because things were getting better plus friendship innit.)

2012 was great. A real change of pace and things genuinely only got better and better. My student loans finally landed (2 payments in one go!) and after I’d paid off my debts I was able to actually get on with getting on. I scraped a pass in my first year of studies (Much to everyones annoyance) and as if to put fire in my belly for the second year after finding out I’d just passed my first year by an hairs breath a lecturer cornered me in a lift on my last day and took the opportunity to tell me that he didn’t like me, that he didn’t think I was right for the course and that I should seriously consider leaving. I don’t take kindly to that kind of talk. So that made me resilient to stay (Im so glad I did) I remember the last day in halls as if it was yesterday I stripped my entire room in 45 minutes the moment my last class ended, my room was spotless and locked within the hour and I had ran to the halls office to get rid of my keys as soon as I physically could. I was done with the sports journalists, I was done with the oppression, I was free for the summer. My partner had recently applied to be a lodger at a nearby house and I spent my summers both with her at her place and her at mine. It was also over the summer that I was able to secure a student house for my 2nd and 3rd year of university. I was sharing a 3 and a bit bedroom house with Ben and 2 other housemates. And when university started back up in September it was fucking ace. I’ve never had so much fun in my life. it was nothing but drinking, watching weird art house films, staying up till the sun came up and all the debauchery and weirdness you’d expect from a student house full of weirdo’s odd balls and nerds. Yes it looked like a bombed out dive. But it was our bombed out dive and we loved it dearly.

(Artists impression…again not too far from the truth.)

Equally the experimental lecturers finally appeared on the scene and quickly set the record straight on what experiemental cinema was and why we shouldn’t be segregated against the main film students. I managed to make films! award winning films at that! and they were weird and expressionistic and passionate and I loved shooting them, I loved working with the people who helped me shoot them and slowly but surely word got out about “Dans strange shoots” more people got interested, more people wanted to work with me, more people realised that the rumours about experiemental students from the year previous was a load of bollocks. Things got good. Unfortunately things would begin rather sadly for 2013.

One of my housemates was a punk. And a damn fine chap he was. He was a socialite, he loved parties and he was loved by most of the course. He was the biggest champion of what I did and had my back whenever anyone called me out. my strongest memory of him would be Halloween night 2012 when he returned from a Halloween party in the early hours of the morning to find me just about to load in “Theatre of blood” he’d never seen it, we sat and watched the whole thing. he loved it. I felt like I’d given him a gift. Unfortunately  he also was not a well man. Both mentally and physically. In 2012 he got into a relationship which went well for a few months, before becoming rocky. And then ended quite ungraciously. And unfortunately it hit him harder than I’ll ever know as sadly he committed suicide in early 2013. It was horrifically sad to find out about his loss, and for at least a couple of weeks our course was suspended while everyone processed exactly what had happened. It bought out the best and worst in some people but after some time to reflect we had to push on. we kept making films, we kept up with the work. But for that first half of 2013 things just weren’t the same.

Late 2013 was an absolute cluster fuck in my mind honestly. We began our 3rd and final year of the course in the midst of looking for a new housemate. Alcohol was flowing seemingly endlessly and freely, and both me and Ben had decided to watch every episode of Doctor who from 1963 – 2013 in order (Including some of the missing ones) literally for the rest of 2013 and half of 2014 our days could be summed up as: Wake up for lectures, watch about 16 episodes of Doctor who a day (Sometimes more sometimes less) do a few hours of course work and if we had time, or if we wanted a change, cram in some MST3K…all the while while heavily under the influence and still getting up to the kind of things students are well known for. Everything all blended in to one big ball of memories. The only thing I remember is that we started with “An Unearthly Child” in the first week of September and by the 2nd week of December we’d hit “The Invasion of Time” it was like living in a washing machine.

(We kept a scorebook and watched everything from “An unearthly child” to “Time of the Doctor”…we called each other up on Christmas day to talk about it!)

2014 was the best year of my life to date. Honest to god. You couldn’t make this shit up. As years go it was a blinder. So; kicking the year off we were back on the Doctor who marathon. And we’d just started Tom Baker in season 16. Ace. I’d also heard in the first week of the new year that some of my films had been selected for screenings in Florida, Australia and in and around the UK. Nice. I was working on a film at the time that was inspired by “Christmas Cooking with Fanny Craddock” and that film would go on to be screened at the BFI and would receive a 2nd place award for best film of the night at said event. Brilliant. My partner was in a stable place, was happy and we’d realised this was now a long term thing. we were both very happy. Even more brilliant. I finished my time at university with a 2:1, loved by my peers, missed by my lecturers and with multiple accolades hanging up in the universities corridors. To say my fortunes had turned around would be an understatement. The hardest thing I had to do this year was to hand my student house keys back in once my time at uni had ended. Saying goodbye to Ben and my other housemates not knowing how long it would be before I’d see them again or whether we’d drift off forever genuinely bought a lump to my throat.

In the last weeks of my time in university I had applied to several film jobs and one of them came good working for a post production company. It was a hell of a commute to get in, but they all seemed really nice and the opportunity to be paid to do what I loved seemed too good to be true. So I walked out of university with a good degree and into a good job. Using the money I made from my job I took up driving lessons and passed by test in the November of that year. I bought my first car (A ’97 nissan micra…babe magent let me tell you now!) and to top the year off I won a reasonable sum of money on a scratch card meaning I could clear off the last of my university debts (Not including the student loan) AND have a nice Christmas as I continued to receive emails confirming my films had been selected for screenings across the world. On December 31st I spent the last few hours of the year at a party with my partner and some friends, loving every moment and genuinely not wanting it to end.

Unfortunately the rot begins to set in here.

2015 was a bit of a non year to my memory. It wasn’t a bad year. but it wasn’t good either…it just sort of happened to me. The job was still going well, but some of the varnish was beginning to come off. I was promised a rose garden. But I was beginning to smell manure. No jobs perfect mind. so I kept on carrying on despite my bosses increasingly strange requests and stipulations. My partner decided to start university in this year too. Which she enjoyed. Though this then put some strain on our relationship as I was working a 9-5 gig Monday to Friday and would frequently be exhausted and she was doing what I’d been doing for the previous 3 years. It was a difficult time. but we felt through it and eventually found a setup that worked after a few months. by the end of the year I was told I was to be given a pay rise for my good work. This ultimately however ended up with me making less money than before as I hit a tax bracket which led to me being 10 pounds worse off a year than before. (I was being paid just above minimum wage at the time). the year had it’s bad moments…but by the end things had more or less balanced out. it was overall still a quite good year…just not 2014 good.

On January the 9th 2016 I was sat in a pub in Manchester with Ben and we were joking about how awful it would be if David Bowie died. In amongst chatter about Kraftwerk and Lou Reed and the Bowie discography. The next day he was dead. Bowie had been a part of my life since I was 12 years old and after decades of bowies music being there for me and Blackstar having just been released. To have him suddenly die was an absolute shock to me (As it was to many others) I’ve always said there are only 3 celebrities I would ever seriously seriously mourn if they died. Bowie, Paul Heaton and Brian Wilson. It was a serious smash to the nuts. Im not going to lament too heavily on 2016. Mainly because every media outlet has done so. We lost a lot of good people that year, and a lot of very stupid and poor decisions were made. to me it was the beginning of the mess we’re in now. but on a personal level taking all the sorrow of politics and death out of the equation 2 things happened in this year. the first was that my job became increasingly unpredictable and untenable. My boss was beginning to become increasingly irratic and while I admire anyones dedication to 100% perfection. My boss at the time maybe took this a bit too far. By the end of 2016 my passion for the job had been utterly eroded by red tape. it became a job I just did. Rather than a job I loved. And as the screenings for my films slowly dried up too I found myself once again adrift.

2 things happened that were good for me in 2016. I got promoted to the most senior role in the post house. And one of my best friends for a number of years managed to get a job working under me at said post place. So I was suffering…but at least I wasn’t suffering alone.

(Sorry to assault your ears like that…but it was the first thing that came to mind…Dont know why though…again…sorry.)

2017 from a personal perspective was a bit of a non year. my relationship was steady, the year opened with my boss warning the whole company that the business could fold at any minute (It didn’t…) and my friend realised what mess he’d landed himself into as my boss had turned his attention to attacking both him and myself for anything and everything that wasn’t done 100% the way he wanted it doing (Often what he wanted would be decided on a then and there basis) by March I’d realised I hadn’t made a new film or done anything creative purely for myself in 3 years. I really wasn’t happy about that so I decided to set up a number of projects. Both me and Ben worked on a pythonesq, fast sketch inspired show called “Show Cancelled” which we pitched to several small cable TV networks to little or no success. I started writing a short horror revenge movie which got no further than half of a first draft. And, after helping my partner with some university coursework involving movie reviews for a magazine. coupled with a few other factors around finding information out. I decided to open a youtube channel where I would catalogue and talk about films that no one at all was even remotely interested in. the cult, the obscure, the weird. I did it mainly for semi-selfish reasons. I was fed up of not being able to find information about obscure films. and after being told I’d really liked a film I had no memory of watching from a friend. I decided it was probably a good idea to document my thoughts to confirm I wasn’t going crazy should that situation arise again.

It was the beginning of one of the best decisions id made in this half of the decade.

(Some time around November of 2017…so proud.)
  1. I’d had enough. A job I’d loved had been completely hollowed out by my boss who’s answer to anything not going exactly the way he wanted it to had been to just take those roles off me and give them to someone else permanently. Examples being; I missed punctuation off the end of a request email twice. As a result. I had the privilege or writing emails taken off me. I would produce edits for clients and the boss watched a couple of these, asked for changes, which I made, then when the client came back saying he didn’t like the changes the boss had suggested. The boss told me to re-edit the films and then took all the best film jobs that came in off me and gave them to someone else. By the end of my time at that place I was doing the absolute barest minimum and because they couldn’t just get rid of me they were in a situation where they couldn’t give me anything without it seeming like they were wrong to take stuff in the first place, but equally there wasn’t anything else I was skilled to do.

Things really came to a head when after 4 years of pushing to have a contract. The boss finally handed us a one size fits all form which contained a stipulation saying that if we left the business we would be unable to work in the specific field we applied for for 3 years thereafter. While that’s fine if you’re an accountant or a PR man in the job I applied for (Because It was a very niche job) it wasn’t fine for a jobbing editor. Basically it meant if I quit or left. I wouldn’t be able to be an editor for any other company for 3 years. I consulted a union about this who said it was completely unlawful. My boss found out I’d contacted a union and called a “Meeting” which amounted to him and the accountant basically screaming in my face for an hour, calling me “Scum” making out that they were a family and that they’d felt betrayed by what id done. They then basically said that if I didn’t sign the contract there and then I’d be chucked out and never work again. I should have left there and then. But I needed this experience as It was my first time working in a film related industry and the 4 years + the reference would have really helped me get on. I signed and immediately set about plans to leave.

(Yeaaahhhhh I was pretty much done.)

It took a few months but eventually my partner found somewhere that seemed pretty good,it was outside the film industry, but on substantially better pay. The hours were very reasonable, it was almost on my doorstep as opposed to the near hours drive in and hour and a halfs drive out I’d been doing. I passed the probation period and I was having a good time. not many people really “Got” me in this new place. But I was allowed to have headphones on and I was pretty much left alone. So it was great. I could be left alone, catch up on audio books AND get paid for the privilege of doing a job I didn’t hate.  By September of that year I’d had a promotion and was now on a HELL of a lot more money that I had been in the previous job AND I was now entitled to work from home if I wanted. which would come in handy for what was going to happen next.

My partner y’see had not been doing too well…in her last year of university she suffered a breakdown and had had to drop out of university to recover. Only she didn’t have a family home to go back to and we were in the process of saving for a home of our own. So she ended up sofa surfing for a while eventually winding up back at her old lodgers house where her mental health had deteriorated rapidly. By August of 2018 she was in a very bad place and needed to get her own space. This came in the form of a supported housing project in which she was given her own flat and a support worker who would make sure she was doing alright and could get back on her feet. Unfortunately she continued to deteriorate until by September she was deeply. Deeply unwell and required both myself and her support worker to support her. The working from home allowed me to do this (Something that would have been absolutely out of the question in my old job…) and on at least half a dozen occasions that ability quite literally saved my partners life. Because of how fragile she had been during this time I had to stop doing pretty much everything. I cobbled together what I could for my youtube channel to make sure I could get to the end of the year and not just stop making videos abruptly, and spent my time running between my house, her flat and the hospital. It was fucking grim to say the least. I didn’t get to spend the end of 2018 with my partner as she was in the hospital and wasn’t allowed visitors.

2019 started much the same way, my partner was still unwell, I was beginning to strain to keep up with the demand of making sure she was alright while also holding down a job AND I began to worry about what I was going to do with my youtube channel. And to make matters worse due to an error within HR. my company mistakenly made my redundant in February of that year. apparently my job title hadn’t changed on the internal systems meaning I was still listed in the job I had before I got promoted. I was manning a quite critical part of the business when this happened and at first no one listened to me when I told them there must have been a mistake, that is until my manager spoke up and then they realised something had gone wrong. They couldn’t just undo the redundancy however as all the paperwork had been arranged and things had to be processed before thay could be re-processed. So I was told that they effectively didn’t know what was going to happen to me. all they could advise was that I hold tight for 6 months while things got sorted out. then my manager got made redundant. Then the team who got me made redundant got made redundant and basically I spent from February till about September of this year without a Scooby doo as to exactly where I stood and what was happening with my position. At this point I’ve been told Im now safe, but that my contract needs completely rewriting to bring it up to date. Theres no ETA on when that’s going to happen. But that, barring major incident Im not going anywhere any time soon.

(Things picked up towards the years end and hopefully they will continue to do so.)

It’s been a turbulent time for my partner as well, she was in a bad way till about May time when there finally came a bit of a calm. She’s still up and down now mentally but for the most part at least she seems in control of her situation. If not vying towards the precarious. I don’t know whats going to happen to her. But for now she’s more stable than she’s been in months and I hope this lasts as long as possible.

Equally in February of 2019 we adopted a cat together. Her name is Zelda and she’s perfect. I wish you could meet her dear reader as im sure you would agree. 2019 would also be the year I would propose to my partner. After 7 years of us both thinking the other wasn’t interested in marriage. In 2018 we got very drunk and actually spoke about it. and when we sobered up in the morning. We were both still interested I asked her then and she said yes. So while on literally the worst holiday I’ve ever been on in my life (Seriously if you ever meet me in real life feel free to ask me about this. It was Fucking awful) 12 months on from that discussion I finally asked her with a ring. And she didn’t turn me down. So y’know what? fair play to her naturally im over the moon that she’s tolerated me for this long!.We have no plans for a wedding just yet as we’re still trying to get a house sorted out. but we’ll take things one step at a time.

(You bet your sweet bippy she did!)

And so we arrive at the present day. I’ve been working hard on season 7 of the show which is looking likely to go out in the first week of March 2020 I’ve done 10 episodes out of 16 or 17, I recently sat down with Ben to do 2 new comedy dining experiences which will be a hell of a laugh to edit I can tell you now. and for the last 3 weeks I’ve been on Annual leave from work, watching movies and running round like a headless chicken trying to please everyone in both mine and my partners families. Its been very stressful but then Christmas usually is. Personally im considering booking another holiday as soon as possible! theres a lot of possibility on the horizon over the next decade. And shits looking bleaker than it’s ever looked before in terms of politics and media. So all I can say is. If this last decades taught me anything. It’s seize the day, enjoy every minute you can get. Don’t cow tow to people who are clearly wrong. Admit your mistakes and no matter how weird, out there or fucked up you think your being.

Theres always someone out there who’ll appreciate you for who you are and what you do. Never be disheartened by dismissal. Because things DO work out. even if it isn’t the way you were expecting. I started the decade alone, emotionally damaged, poor and isolated. Im ending it with a fiancé, a cat, a best friend, a circle of close friends and acquaintances, awards and acknowledgement, a drivers license and a job I enjoy. I have goals, I have direction, and in 2 and a bit years I’ve grown a youtube channel about bad movies, art house films and the kind of stuff you find in a bargain bin from 0 to 250 subscribers (And I’ve made some damn fine friends in the process) I hope that the good things continue and the bad things are lessened. And I hope the same happens for you too… It’s now 5:35am and I have a new years eve party to attend later tonight. One of the few parties I’ve ever chosen to go to (due to the aforementioned pub man lifestyle) so Im looking forward to it. I wish you all a happy 2020 and I really hope the next decade is as kind as it will allow.

Im going to leave you below with a list of 10 films I saw this decade that either blew my mind or have personal sentimental value to me. They arnt specific to this decade…they’re just films I’ve seen this decade:

*House (Hasu) (1977)

*The Wicker man (1973)

*Robocop (1988)

*Bloody New Year (1987)

*Head (1968)

*Day of the Dead (1985)

*All Ladies do it (1992)

*Doctor Strangelove (1964)

*Theatre of Blood (1973)

*Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide (2010)

– Dan

(This is the last song I’ve fallen in love with this decade. Also; this was the decade I fell in love with Itallian Synth/Discopop. I hope you like it too.)

So You’ve Ruined Your Life: A Guide to Terrible Cinema And How You Can Avoid It (By Embracing It) – Part 2: The Atomic Age

So…the 1930’s happened. It was a relatively quiet year…not much happened…there was a little bit of tension in Europe but things quietened down quite quickly (Some things never change)…World War 2 pretty much decimated the European film industry at the time. What at one point was an incredibly flourishing experimental and creative industry lost almost 50% of its resources over the course of the 2nd world war and countless movies were either destroyed for being deemed “Obscene” by both sides of the battlefield or halted due to the ongoing conflict. The result of the conflict had only one “Winner” from a filmmaking perspective really. The US, who used their several years not being involved in the war growing and firmly rooting their time into an industry they had started some 20 years prior. Hollywood is a small section of Los Angeles, no longer than16 blocks wide and five blocks high, this tiny piece of land was established in the name of film and film production some time around 1910 and over the following 20 years it would go on to grow one of the most substantial film industries in the world. America hadn’t been directly affected by World war 1. In fact quite the contrary quite a few creatives most likely immigrated into the US around this time to escape the conflict. And through the 20’s this industry would grow and grow and grow. By 1925 American movies were making up to 50% of all foreign film rentals and by the 1930’s Eight studios basically owned Hollywood. Universal, Fox, Paramount, RKO, Loews Incorporated (Part of MGM), Warner Brother, United Artists and Columbia Pictures.

(The “Land” bit fell down…so they took it away…the rest is history.)

All of these studios were fairly well known for each having a genre that they excelled at and largely stuck to. Universal for example was seen as a Horror Studio, RKO was known initially for musicals before branching out more into fantasy and Sci-fi and so on. There was however a growing issue. The film industry was running the risk of becoming quite insular and there was a growing concern that there may come a time where noone outside of those 8 film studios would be able to successfully market their film. While it wasn’t quite an anti-competitive environment…if you weren’t one of the “Big Eight” and were planning on having any success outside of your town in filmmaking…you’d might as well not bother at this time. There was equally an even bigger concern that through various backroom dealings, these big companies may eventually merge. Effectively creating one “Super company” that would have complete and total power and influence over the market. And while the US loves them some capitalism. They’re generally petrified of the idea of a single company owning close to 100% of all assets in one particular industry (As well they should).

(Theres a love for Capitalism…but not TOO much capitalism…and a hatred for sharing…I dont get it either…)

Equally their was a growing call for more regulation around the content of films themselves as the industry had slowly been edging closer and closer to more and more edgier content designed to shock, disgust or nauseate audiences. because of this in 1930 “The Hays Code” was introduced to predominantly stop the possible intervention of the government in enforcing their own brand of regulation on the industry. It was technically entirely voluntary but the oligopoly of studios quickly adapted the code as a means of keeping those reactionary pressure groups and the government at bay. The code was pretty broad and unclear. There wasn’t anything specifically “Banned” but it was effectively a set of guidelines that covered the basics (No on screen sex, no drug use on screen, no gore or heavy blood, no profanity etc…) the code was in effect until 1966 and quite nicely cuts across the decades we’ll be covering today.

Both the 1940’s and 1950’s would effectively be dominated by 2 major events, the strict regulation on competition laws within cinema itself and the rise of science fiction/horror films. And the former is probably the best place to start. As mentioned earlier from the mid 20’s to the mid 30’s the Hollywood system was basically “If you arnt part of the Big 8, don’t bother”. You might think that’s a bit of a defeatist attitude but the reality is that even if you made your film in this time, there wasn’t any way outside of being incredibly chummy with someone who owned a cinema for your film to ever be screened anywhere because of a practice largely known as “Block Booking”. Y’see a few of these big 8 owned the cinemas that their films played in. So only their films played there. And the studios that didn’t own their own cinemas? (Or didn’t own a lot of cinemas) they’d simply “Block book” out a cinema almost indefinitely with their films to stop other companies taking their patch. Effectively they’d pay up front to book out every screen of every cinema sometimes taking entire chains. Just to screen their own movies for infinite periods of time. Had MGM not owned a cinema chain they would realistically just pay all the cinemas within a certain strategic distance to only play their movies sight unseen. Blocking out any competition and keeping their movies more profitable over the competitions. You might see this as being a bit unfair…and so did the US department of Justice.  In 1938 the issue became so bad that the department of justice sued all 8 major studios for the practice which was settled on a “Gentlemens agreement” in 1940…the studios did what all studios do the moment something isnt hard legislated though and threw that “Gentlemens agreement” straight into the trash. And while they did sort of reduce their amount of block booking, the agreement suggested that no block booking should take place at all…it would be a bit like promising your flatmate you weren’t going to eat his food anymore, eating all his food. But when he confronts you about it claiming “Well hay! I left you some milk for your cereal!…assuming you had any cereal left…”

(You cant like…OWN food that grew in the ground man…)

 

This weakening of guidelines did have the benefit of allowing some films to finally start slipping through the cracks. Some re-edited in the form of serialisations and others in an actual full length feature format. As you can well imagine this slight creaking open of the door inevitably cause the splurge of more “Independent” features shoot through the cracks…some pretty decent…others…not so much. The so called “Poverty Row” were the groups best suited to come out of this agreement in the best light. They we’re a small conglomerate of B-movie and lower budget production studios desperately trying to make big money but forever held back by the studio system of the time and the general fact that the majority of their crews and castings were misfits. Wannabe scriptwriters, directors with a “Vision” actors who thought they were Betty davis when in reality they were more Weird Al. Poverty row was a fairly shortlived concept but in that moment between 1938 and 1948 they were in their element. Producing such classics as “The Mad Monster” which was basically a poundland rip off of the wolfman with non of the charm and about 1/10th of the visual creativity. Or “White zombie” a film starring Bela Lugosi only 1 year after he defined the vampire Genre with Dracula playing a Haitian zombie master who can resurrect the dead, who decides he wants to kill a woman and bring her back to life to be his forever alive wife…yeh things got a bit weird sometimes on Poverty row.

(An Example of Poverty Row…Small and mighty)

These films were usually personified by cheap sets, bad actors and ropey editing, cheap and quick filmmaking where studios were constantly in a state of Pop-up and decline. But for that 10 year gap they were making serious cash. But that all came to an end when paramount (a long time member of the now rechristened “Big Five”) was sued formally by the USDJ for once again flouting the rules on block booking. And in a historic ruling it was finally written into law that film studios were now not allowed to just blind block book out entire chains of cinemas solely for the screening of their movies. That any cinema screening films must have at least 2 distributors under there books at any one time, that discrimination against smaller film companies was to be outlawed, and that screening schedules must be uniform so as not to allow some theatres to be bribed with premiers over others.

(And 8 became 5…)

This was both the make and break of Poverty row. On the one hand it effectively gave them free reign to put any of there content into cinemas. On the other it quickly bought the success of these schlocky B-movies to the attention of the Big Five who realised they could make a small fortune in producing smaller, better quality horror/scifi films in the vein of these B-movies for a fraction of the effort and cost. This in turn birthed what is probably the most famous era of B-movie filmmaking in the history of cinema. The age of the Creature Feature.

While the term “Creature Feature” wouldn’t be coined for at least 2 decades beyond when the era actually started (It was also referred to “The Atomic Age” because of the overuse of Nuclear materials as a means of creating said creatures) it came to stand for a swathe of films released in the 1940’s and 50’s that ranged from supersized animals, to abominations, to people transforming into creatures. (What would later morph into the Cronenbergian nightmare subgenre of Body horror). this included films like; “Man Made monster”, “The Wolf Man”, “Them!”, “The Thing from another world”,  “The Blob”, “Tarantula”, “The Deadly Mantis”, “The Fly”, “The Crawling eye”, “The Black Scorpion” and “Attack of the Giant Leeches” the list literally runs into the hundreds of titles. And about 90% of them could be summed up as follows. “A scientist has a plan to make the world a better place by developing a chemical or technology that in theory will solve a major ecological crisis. Something goes wrong with the chemical/machine and an animal or human cells are caught in the crossfire resulting in either a giant or mutated version of said animal/human destroying everything in it’s path until it’s either taken down by the army of dies of it’s own self inflicted injuries”. This also usually involved a hell of a lot of back projection to make these creature look massive, or in the case of a human prosthetics to make them look hideously mutated. If it isnt a scientist working for the benefit of mankind, then it’s a mad scientist looking for revenge on mankind of shunning his idea of wanting to create a 90 foot spider or a half man half Wotsit hybrid.

(Sort of…)

Its important to appreciate that there was a very narrow window of a few years where these movies transitioned very quickly from “Genuinely impressive must see cinema” to “Oh jesus how bad can these films get!?” nightmares. And it was simply due to repetition. Too many people making exactly the same film but with varying effects budgets and different types of animals. It’s an important takeaway in the film industry. I always try to live by the motto of scriptwriter Terrance Dicks who said “You can have an original idea; but it need’nt be YOUR original idea” but you also need to be aware of your surroundings when living by that rule. It’s fine to make an action movie, or a mafia film, or an emotional experimental black and white art housefilm dubbed onto tape for realism…but if your doing that at a time when those genres are being made by literally absolutely everyone else (And yes. I am talking everyone outside of this university campus as well) then your touching attempt at making a powerful impact on your audience will land about as well as an egg to the face of a minister. I always encourage film makers to look out beyond there “Clicks” their friend circles and actually explore what other university film makers, what other indie film makers are making. And then avoid that stuff like the plague unless you can genuinely improve on those ideas. Because if you cant (And it’s typically very unlikely that you can) your film will be utterly defanged and it just wont land the way you think it will.

(I guarentee one of you at some point in your film making career will make a varient of this)

Poverty Row ended for a mixture of reasons, in part because the big studios realised they could make more money by just making marginally better versions of films that were originally made by the starving artists of the Hollywood system and in part through syndication the row would all but cease to exist by the mid 1960’s due mainly to the films being screened in syndication on television. The row moved into TV and TV movies became the new poverty row of cinema. Something that’s only really started to be corrected in the last 10-15 years really. But we’ll get to TV movies another time because we’re already pushing our luck here and I haven’t even got round to talking yet about what is arguably the best and worst thing that Poverty Row birthed in it’s time.

(This handsome mother lover!)

Edward D. Wood Jr is a name synonymous with bad and cult film making. A poster boy for the age, his movies regularly chart as some of the worst ever made. I would happen to disagree with those polls but hey; everyones a critic these days…Mainstream audiences will probably best know him as the subject of Tim Burtons biopic “Ed Wood”, being played rather eccentrically by Johnny Depp. Now I should be clear; their are much MUCH worse film makers out there. Not just in the modern day but in the past as well. The likes of Coleman Francis, Clark Paylow and even Harold P. Warren would give Wood a run for his money. But Ed was an auteur. And the one thing he had going for him was a ruthless drive to get his films out there to as wide an audience as possible no matter what. Whether it was via exploitation cinema and the likes of his gender identity crisis spectacular “Glen or Glenda” or whether it was marketing his magnum opus “Plan 9 From outer Space” as being the last feature film of Bela Lugosi (Only a half truth as Lugosi is only in the opening minute and a half so of the movie and is then played by doubles for the rest of the film…what a way to go….). If there was an angle that could be taken for low to no money, Ed was the man to take it.

Set’s were mainly cheap wood or cardboard, there was little to no set dressing (A plane cockpit was literally just bowed cardboard, a curtain and 2 bog standard plastic chairs. Not even desk chairs. Just cheap garden chairs.) Let it never be said by anyone (student or otherwise) that you dont have the budget to realise your vision. Ed was doing octopus fights and graveyard based alien invasions with nothing but a few pie plates and a few good people who were genuinely captivated by the enthusiasm of this man.

(While not an “Official” set photo…I’d be surprised if the real Ed wood Didnt pull this face while filming his masterpieces at some point)

I think thats an important lesson to take away from this period of film making if nothing else. Have passion for your film. Genuine passion. If it isnt keeping you awake at night and making you dance between thinking its the best idea in the world and making you a nervous wreck, it’s not worth making. If you develop an idea and your half hearted about it; Bin it. It’ll never be great and by the time you get to shooting you’ll want to cave your skull in out of hatred for it. But if you really truly love something. Even if it’s just the seedling of an idea, it’ll carry you the whole 9 yards and then some. From experience filmmaking has taught me that the best films are made with 2 kinds of energy, absolute enthusiasm, or hatred sought from vengeance. These are the only two energies that seemingly get the job done (And done well) you’re either making your film because you genuinely believe it’s worth it’s existence. Or because you want to prove to someone or something who’s been negative towards you that it’s worth existing and has meaning and value.

Some of the best films I’ve seen have come from those two places, and Ed wood was definitely in the former of those camps. All his films are corney, laughably bad and bordering on the unwatchable in places. But because he genuinely thought these films were worth their existence they possess a quality that half loved or unloved films can never achieve. That kind of positive energy resonates through the film in the direction, the cinematography and the performances. You can almost hear Ed in the background radiating a “This will be the shot they remember me for!” attitude. And thats why his films have lasted in the public consciousness for so long, they’re fun goofy little movies that have a charm all of their own accord.

Rather unfortunately Ed would never experience the adoration that was bestowed to him by cult cinema fans. After Plan 9 he made 2 further mainstream features “The Violent Years” and “Night of the Ghouls” both slightly more grindhousey than his previous works. As if marking the end of an era “Night of the ghouls” was released in 1960 and it was his last attempt at mainstream success in B-movies. While he would try on and off over the next 2 decades to get another chance. It would never come.

(Truely it was the end of an era.)

After “Ghouls” he slowly began to sink into a tide of pornographic direction to make ends meet and alcoholism. Ed died in 1978 due to a heart attack, he was 54 years old. Less than 2 years later Woods “Magnum Opus” “Plan 9 from Outer space” would be voted the “Worst movie ever made” by the founders of what would go on to be “The Golden Turkey Awards” hollywoods most esteemed honour when it comes to terrible film making. In 1986 Wood would feature extensively in the book “Incredibly Strange films” and in the early 90’s MST3K would riff 2 of Woods films to great audience response. The 10 years following woods death would see his entire ouvre re-evaluated and what was at one time unwatchable dross was now loved unwatchable dross…and that changes everything.

(Ed’s last film was found quite recently and has been released on Bluray. I havent seen it yet but I certainly hope to.)

As we see out tonights session Im going to play you Woods Masterpiece “Plan 9 from Outer Space” I’d like you to bear in mind while watching this film that Ed Wood thought this was the movie that would “Make” him. The film that was going to get him the star on the hollywood walk of fame and would set him up for life. And…in some ways he was right. Though probably not in the way he had intended. As always im happy to talk about any of the films mentioned tonight and im also happy to recommend any titles should anyone here be interested in learning more about Ed wood, film makers like Ed wood or the Atomic Age of film making in general. Thank you again all for coming. And Enjoy.

So You’ve Ruined Your Life: A Guide to Terrible Cinema And How You Can Avoid It (By Embracing It) – Part 1: The Silent Age

(So…since around 2013 I have had in mind a series of Lecture “Talks” charting the history of alternative, cult and “Bad” cinema. How through awareness of these often overlooked films that filmmakers and in particular student filmmakers can learn about the pitfalls of film making and in doing so can apply this knowledge to their own work. This year I have decided to publish these talks in a series of volumes with recommended viewings per session. Each of these in an academic context would pool clips for reference and would typically end with a screening of a film reflective of the talk in question. I will try to replicate these as best I can below for reference. Please also bear in mind that a lot of this would be spoken to film students within an educational environment and while not verbatim the below is going to read a lot less like an essay and much more like a script. So here is part 1 , it wont be entirely reflective of the rest of the series but that’s largely because it covers Bad and cult cinema from the 1890’s to 1939. Thank you.)

I want to open with a question just to get a feel for the room. How many people here when trying to justify a film idea to a tutor or lecturer would reference a known terrible movie as the reason why your film should get made?

… (The Assumption would be not many)

Alright…and how many people here when trying to pitch a film idea to your lecturer or tutor would include references to films currently in the cinema or films that have high critical acclaim? Say from magazines like Sight and sound or empire…y’know…good stuff?

…(The Assumption would be quite a few)

Okay. And would you say it was fair to say that if you watch good films, award winning films, that you will learn from those films how to make good movies. Great ones even?

…(The Assumption would be a mixed response as a few people would realize this is probably a trap)

But then…How do you know what exactly quantifies a bad movie?…I only ask because having been to universities and colleges multiple times to work with students on their films to help gain a better understanding of their work, I see the same thing time and time again. Students get so wrapped up in the visuals, the look, the feel of the film. the idea that they want it to be the best it can possibly be. How they strive for perfection and how they’ll sink hundreds (And in one students case who I worked with thousands) of pounds into 4 and 8k cameras, professional actors, the purest of the pure audio recording equipment, just to try and get the cleanest and best possible image. that they don’t stop to consider exactly whether the idea they’re pursuing is even a good one.

You can make a film out of anything. I firmly believe that. Any item, location, person. There’s a film there. A story something to be discovered. But how you approach that discovery can be the make or break of a films success. Modern mainstream cinema is two things. Diverse and homogenised. We are currently living in a time where there has never been more choice in what to watch and yet at the same time everything more or less looks the same. We have entered a period of cinema history where every film that comes out is polished to within an inch of it’s life. has sharp contrasting colours, is mainly shot in front of green screens and the emphasis has been levied on a “Fix it in post” culture wherein by filming things wide, flat and in the mutest of colour profiles the entire film can be both physically and emotionally constructed in the edit. It’s processed film making. And outside of the fringe film-makers. The people who are literally one man bands or who manage tiny indie productions. People who can rarely score a local cinema screening letalone a national one for there independent release. The industry seems to feel that this processed method is the best way to make movies that make money and keep costs down.

Theres a reasonable chance that the people sat here tonight are predominantly producing films based on this processed diet. That is to say, your scope of the film making landscape extends to films that have played nationally in cinemas and maybe one or two “Safe” out there films like “Baby Driver”, “Mandy” or “The Neon Demon”. That’s fine. Im not going to judge you…but you should all be ashamed of yourselves…Im joking…im not joking. it’s clearly a safer option to assemble your film in post over running the risk of trying something new and it potentially going wrong on set. I can practically hear some of you right now thinking “It’s all well and good telling us that…but it’s my degree thats on the line with these productions” and thats fine. I get that. what I do need to say though is that, making mistakes is useful. it teaches us not to do them again, it also makes us think about the processes we do in filmmaking completely differently and may even lead to a new and even better idea than we had previously.

I love bad films. I love cult films. the two arnt strictly the same thing. you can have cult movies that are absolutely astoundingly good. And you can have bad movies that even I wont touch with a ten foot pole. As a film student many years ago I found myself a bit adrift to my peers. They were obsessed with perfection and terrified of failure. Unless it was HD they didn’t want to know. If it was older than 12 months without attaining “Classic!” status they pretty much weren’t interested. Myself? Well I and my flatmate at the time who also studied film wanted schlock. We wanted awfulness. We watched some of the worst movies ever made during our time at university, purposefully and with intent to learn. At the time we saw students on the verge of bankruptcy if not a full mental breakdowns due to the stress of striving for that perfection. This wasn’t what film making should be about. Film making should be a fun experience. A beneficial experience. Something that while stressful to organize should be relaxing to shoot.

When I made my films lecturers were always curious about my references and sources as they were always typically for terrible films. I would always tell them that the best way to describe what I was doing was that while other students were desperately trying to climb an endless ladder spewing money and energy in the process in search of a film they’d probably be unlikely to obtain; I’d pulled out my shovel and I was digging down to see how deep the ladder was buried. And I had a blast doing that. Naturally when digging you tend to find odd things and some were very useful…not everything…but some things were…and one of the gateways to help me get a foothold on what I affectionately call good/bad cinema? Was Mystery Science Theatre.

Mystery Science Theatre 3000 or MST3K for short was a series that ran from 1988 until 1999 in the US before being cancelled until 2015 when Netflix revived it. it’s still running to this day and if you want to dip your toe into the ocean of utter trash that’s been released over the years. This would probably be your gentlest way. The series which originally aired on public access television straight out of Minnesota has a very simple premise. A janitor for a generic company who’s pretty easy going, is kidnapped by his bosses and blasted into space aboard a ship fitted with a cinema of which he becomes an unwilling test subject in an attempt to weaponised bad movies to break the will of the people of earth over which the bosses would rule as overlords.  Stay with me…the janitor however is able to remove some of the parts from the ships projector. The ones that let him play, stop or fast forward the movie. And with those parts he builds himself several robot friends who help him keep his sanity by poking fun at the films and acting as a bit of a make shift family. Much to the annoyance of the bosses.

Still with me? it sounds ridiculous but I assure you it’s one of the best ways to get a foot hold on the world of bad movies if your new to these things. The original run covered films dating back as far as the 1930’s and as recent as the 1990’s. the current series has films as recent as 2016. The writers are fantastically sharp, the jokes are funny and the films are indeed some of the worst ever produced (As a reference point I highly recommend: “Rocket Attack U.S.A”, “Manos: The Hands of Fate”, “Hobgoblins” and “Cry Wilderness” if you want a good starting point on these) theres over 200 films covered by these guys and they’re a really great resource for learning about terrible film makers like Coleman Francis, Bill Rebane and Sam Newfield. But I digress.

Why should you care about bad movies? Well. My reasoning is that if you only watch good movies you’ll only learn how to make movies that conform to whatever the societal construct of “Good” at the time actually is. And in effect you wont actually be making a good film you’ll actually be making a bland but visually nice and appropriate for the time film. I want to help you break that mold. By watching bad and underappreaciated movies not only will you balance your film diet but it’s hoped that you’ll learn something ultimately much more important. How to avoid the pitfalls of trying to make a good film and ending up with a bad…or worse. Bland film. by seeing and understanding how a film maker can go so wrong even if it was intended as their shining masterpiece you should *In Theory* be able to recognise when you yourself are going or are about to go down a very dangerous path to mediocrity and failure. consider me your guide on this journey. My word isn’t gospel and there will be people who will disagree with me about what I will say through this series. So do bear in mind that these are my own observations and opinions and if you don’t agree with me. that’s absolutely fine. I will hang around after the screening to chat about anything you want to question or discuss.

The first distinction we need to draw here is what makes a film “Bad” and what makes a film “Cult” over this series I’ll be talking about both films interchangeably so getting the definitions from my perspective here right is pretty crucial as I don’t want to mislead any of you at any point. A Cult film isn’t necessarily a bad film. All cult really means ultimately is that it appeals to a niche audience. Typically cult films are good. They just don’t tend to follow the modern constraints of mainstream appeal and as a result a much smaller audience appreciate them. cult films can also be enjoyably bad…that is to say so bad they’re entertaining. We’ve all seen a film where an actors hammed a performance, or a cameras cut at just the wrong time or held too long on a shot and it can be funny. Good/bad movies are a cornerstone of cult cinema and as a result they often go hand in hand with just obscure but good cult movies. Bad movies by contrast are not necessarily always cult. Sometimes a bad movie can just be bad. as in. not even enjoyably bad.

Sometimes bad films can be entertainingly bad but still not be cult due simply to just how few people have actually hear or seen them. it means that just because a film is enjoyably bad doesn’t necessarily make it cult and just because a film is often viewed as a cult film doesn’t necessarily mean your automatically going to be viewing something made for 20p and shot in someones back garden. I know this sounds overly vague and not helping matters, all of what I’ve just told you is on a sliding fluid scale. That is to say a film that could be seen as bad for a number of years can ascertain cult status by building up a following over a long period of time. Equally films that were seen as cult in their time can over time just become bad movies. And to throw another curve ball into the mix if a cult film becomes popular enough it can transcend its own cult status and become a mainstream classic. But we’ll get round to examples of all of these in good time. For now it’s just safest for me to say that if I say a movie is a bad movie. Its bad. if I say it’s cult I’ll clarify what I mean by that if needed and so on.

So In order to understand what im on about and to kick all of this off we’ll need to take a trip back to 1920’s to what is widely regarded as the first “Proper” cult film. A film that at one point or another has been in all 3 catagories we’ve talked about. And that film was F.W Murnau’s “Nosforatu: The Symphony of the night”. Before Nosforatu, silent film cinema…and to be fair…cinema in general was in a period of distinct infancy. There were classics in there own right released but in what might come as a bit of a shock to some of you at least 75% of films produced between 1895 and 1936 are missing…AT LEAST. That number is very likely to be higher due simply to the fact that there wasn’t really a comprehensive list of films made around this time and that the records we do have are often riddled with inaccuracies and duplications. As a result while it’s probably fair to say their were bad films during this time. The fact that they either no longer exist or are presumed to no longer exist and that their isn’t really any records of reviews of these films to back them up kind of make them a moot point. Bad films in this period however can kind of be a bit more forgiven. The craft of film making was literally just beginning with a  lot of it’s influence carried across from theatre. The earliest films were usually quite literally just recorded stage shows or recordings of life at that time. And the actual full feature films that were produced were often just adaptations of these stage recordings utilizing actual locations instead of sets. They were still directed as theatre productions and it was rare to see films utilize shot setups, or advanced direction/cinematography.

Nosforatu in the modern day is widely regarded as a legendary classic that bought the Bram stoker novel Dracula to the big screen for the first time. However on it’s actual release it was widely regarded as an absolutely interminable boring watch. Critics at the time complained the film was way too long and soon after it’s release a lawsuit from the stoker estate effectively saw the film banned and copies of the film set by court order to be destroyed. Luckily for Nosforatu by the time of the court injunction prints of the film had already been sent to several countries worldwide and when the film hit france…while the critics of the time still disliked the film. it was tremendously well received by the French surrealist movement and members of the counter culture. Who held it up as an icon of what would develop into the German expressionist movement. As a result Nosforatu is widely regarded as being the first “Cult” film. it found it’s niche audience and because of this it was able to survive the court destruction order. With fans across the world producing dozens and dozens of copies and hiding them in the hope of preserving it’s legacy.

Today Nosforatu is held up as an example of a classic of the silent era. Widely adored by critics and still shown at screenings around the world. It’s an impressive film. the critics of the time were absolutely right, it’s a very long and quite boring film in honesty…im not a fan. But I’d be hard pressed to deny that it was highly revolutionary for it’s time and that had this film not survived the world would be a significantly poorer place for it. heres a clip:

Now; considering how badly this film was reviewed. Even in light of it’s reevaluation. You’d be hard pressed to deny the menace and atmosphere created in that sequence. The striking shadowy shots in the long hallway shot, the fear expressed by Hutter even the colour tinting sets a tone and feel within the film. it’s a beautiful set of shots in an incredibly early example of genuine tension building cinema. And had the film not had the re-evaluation, the slow building of a cult audience. It most likely wouldn’t exist today and as a result a massive amount of films would either not exist or be fundamentally different as a result. The main point im trying to make here is, even films that are considered bad may have moments within them that are actually quite brilliant. and that what makes a film bad today may make it a masterpiece tomorrow. It’s important to keep an open mind with cinema and not to rely too heavily on the promotion of a film to sell you the premise. It was important in the 1920’s and it’s absolutely critical in the 21st century.

Through the 1920’s the german expressionist movement would proceed to dominate the European markets with similarly cultish movies such as “Faust”, “Metropolis” and “The Man Who Laughs” and it’s influence would dictate the style, look and direction of cinema through the decade. While I certainly wouldn’t say “The World Adopted german expressionism” it’s fair to say that young directors and producers around that time were heavily influenced by their styles and stories. In the US in particular these films “Flare” would be adapted quite heavily within horror and science fiction and this would be Crystalised by one studio in particular.

Universal Studios was fairly in it’s infancy at this time having been created in 1912, they quickly tried to establish themselves as the “Horror Studio” in 1923 they released their first “Proper” horror film  an adaptation of “The Hunchback of Notre dame” followed up roughly 2 years later with an adaptation of “The Phantom of the Opera” which was only just over a decade past it’s publication date at this time (Which is a bit weird to think about really). The success of these films would lead universal at the turn of the 1930’s to set in motion plans for a series of films which would change everything. While “The Hunchback” and “The Phantom” are considered universal horror films. it was the “Universal monster movies” series that would cement and secure universal as a major studio power. The 5 films they would release through the 1930’s and early 1940’s (Plus the dozens of sequels to these films they would release from the 1930’s to the 1950’s) set the standard for monster movies that would act as the “High bar of horror and sci-fi” right the way through to the mid 1960’s. films like Dracula, Frankenstein, the invisible man, the wolfman each bought something new and previously unseen to screens. These were at the time however considered “The Mainstream” audiences would flock to see these movies in the same way that audiences go to see the new marvel movie or the latest block busters today.

But while Universal was capitalising on the success of these new monsters, rival company MGM silently released a horror movie which in my opinion; blows all of the universal horror films clean out of the water. A film so shocking that it had to be withdrawn from it’s initial release and shortened to 65 minutes from it’s original 90 minute runtime just for how powerful it was in effecting audiences. This film is the one we will be watching in full tonight. Tod Brownings “Freaks” has been described as “existing in a subgenre of one” and it’s fair to say that you will most likely never see a film quite like this again. The big selling point of this film at the time (And…sort of today as well really) was that the cast was more or less entirely made up of heavily deformed, disabled or afflicted actors. The plot: a horrifically cruel hearted tale of a trapeze artist known as Cleopatra who seduces and marries a dwarf called Hanz who secretly owns a large fortune, with the aim of killing Hanz with the help of a strongman called Hercules. Im not going to say anymore than this until the film is over. but even in the 21st century I would consider this film fairly shocking still.

Unsurprisingly the film garnered incredibly negative reception in both its cut and uncut form from audiences and critics alike. It more or less killed the career of Tod Browning the man who bought us the Universal “Dracula” amongst other horror gems at the time and was the only MGM film ever to be pulled completely from release before completing it’s domestic engagements. We’re quite privileged really to be able to even view this film tonight. MGM effectively disowned it, selling the rights to the film in 1947 to an exploitation film director who proceeded to run the film through the 1960s, 70’s and 80’s at various midnight movie screenings. The film was banned in the UK for 30 years due to being too exploitative. And im only referring to the cut version here…the original 90 minute cut at this time is considered lost…so lord knows what wider audiences would have made of that version in contrast.

The film never received a VHS release in this country. And a DVD release was quietly shuffled out in the early 2010’s with a couple of extra features explaining why a third of the film is missing. There is no Bluray of this film available. Though it Is currently in my top 5 films I would love to see get a full remastering. It’s not a perfect movie. but I very much doubt you will ever see any kind of film from this period look and feel the way this one does. But that’s enough Hyperbole for now. lets get started:

Now; Im not expecting everyone to have loved that film. Quite a few people will be offended by that film. but that’s good. Its okay to be offended by films. its okay to think this film was rubbish. Im hoping that after this you will all go out…maybe to a pub or coffee shop, or even just on the ride home, and talk about what you’ve just seen. Explain why you thought it was offensive, why you thought it was rubbish. Or if you thought it was brilliant like I do that you talk about why you thought it was brilliant.

Theres plenty to take away from this film. the ending in and of itself at the time would have been seen as utterly horrific but by modern standards has almost a streak of black comedy running through it. the idea that Cleopatra ultimately ends up becoming the one thing that terrifies her the most. The one thing she spends most of the film ridiculing is satisfying but at the same time quite a harsh contrast to a film that does have a lot of merriment about it. it could be argued that the title “Freaks” is an offensive title given the castings. But I would argue that the film is actually an act of wordplay. With the afflicted cast in this picture actually showing more humanity about them than non afflicted members who in many ways are the “Real” Freaks of the feature. Indeed Hanz and his fellow performers have depth, character detail and actually run a spectrum of complex emotions that really is very unusual for the time in cinema of this era. it acts to shine a light on decency and humanity. It would be easy to dismiss this film as exploitation on a surface level. But even digging remotely deeper below the surface unveils a quite complex script and Brownings direction only enhances some of these elements without being overly handholdy.

If you want an example of genuine exploitation 6 years later in 1938 Sam Newfield would release “The Terror of Tiny Town” which was basically a western script that no studio wanted that was eventually picked up purely because Sam and his writing partner Fred Myton repitched the fill with the exact same plot but suggested that it be filmed with an all dwarf cast. With mini Shetland ponies standing in for full size horses and scaled down sets. That’s a real film. im not making that up and it’s one of the most genuinely offensive exploitation films ever made.

The difference seemingly here was the scripts way of relating to the cast in “Freaks” and “A terror in tiny town” with the formers script being adapted from a short which puts the disabled cast in such a light that portrays them as human. That actually gives them human qualities and doesn’t try necessarily to portray them as weird, evil or one dimensional. And the latter instead doing the opposite. Taking a generic script and turning it into a film purely through it being a spectacle to see the disabled cast members act in the film. in many ways turning it into a sideshow (Which is ironic given the former is more endearing to the cast and is LITERALLY set in a sideshow)

Freaks was a film ahead of it’s time. Had it been made 10 years later it probably would exist in full to this day and would also probably have had much less of an impact. Through the rest of the 30’s horror and science fiction would be released in the dozens year on year and would gradually become a staple of the film industry it was around this time that the idea of a “cult audience” was initially developed, As films that didn’t necessarily do as well as they could have (produced by the likes of RKO and other smaller film companies) would attain small but reliable followings. The decade would see the release of fantasy movies like “King kong” scifi movies like the “Flash Gordon” B-pictures  and towards the end of the decade horror would be firmly run into the ground with films like “The Phantom Creeps” illustrating exactly why “Just because Hollywood could, doesn’t necessarily mean is should” but in the 1940’s B-movie and cult cinema would continue even further down the rabbit hole. And in the next session we will be taking a look at the gradual collapse of some aspects of the film industry and the seeds being sowed for the rise of a new genre of film making and film makers.

All of the films I have spoken about today I would highly recommend you seek out, they’re all worth watching. Even if I haven’t been particularly favourable about them, because at best they’ll challenged your pre-existing thoughts on how cinema should behave and at worst you’ll waste 90 minutes of your time and probably laugh at least a couple of times at the absurdity of them in the process. As always im happy to answer any questions or offer additional recommendations should you wish to explore this era further. And I hope to see you all again soon. Thank you.

Fourscore and 4 seasons ago…

So this one may be a bit disjointed. Mainly because at the minute I’m leading quite a hectic lifestyle trying to rebalance my home/work life. It’s now July the 9th and today’s been one of the hottest days in my area for a while. At this point I’m on the cusp of finally aclimitising to it…which is a pity because I know in the next fortnight or so we’re going to go right back to the sludge fueld rain filled drudge that is british weather.

(Actual footage of me everyday for the last 2 weeks)

Yesterday was a pretty productive one in all honesty. I finally tackled some of the prep work for the Halloween specials I have planned for this year and I managed to do a bulk recording of packaging shots for upcoming episodes (I’m now pretty much up to date till early December which is nice).

(It was a satisfying if not burny experience)

 

One of the bigger things I did yesterday though involved something I’ve been meaning to do now for a very long time. And it’s one of those things that’s been playing on my mind pretty much since the 2nd season of my show started. We need to talk about “fourscore 2”. Now I dont expect very many of the people reading this to know what “Fourscore 2” is…hell even the people who should know about “Fourscore 2” sometimes dont know about “Fourscore 2”. it has a fairly long lasting history in british broadcasting though it’s often overlooking in favour of it’s Younger, Bulkier much more memorable brother.

So. The year is 1982 and Channel 4 is gearing up for it’s big launch. it had been almost 20 years since the last channel launch happened with the fractured beginnings of what would later amalgam into ITV. As a result 4 wanted to do something drastically different. they didnt want to be seen as just another stuffy, conservative whiffing, stiff upper lip of a channel. They wanted to be seen as cool, modern and hip. the original ideology for channel 4 sounds almost otherworldly by modern standards. indeed if they ran with there original plan in modern times it would probably have crashed out of the listings about a week into broadcasting. This is because Channel 4’s opening gambit was to run on a diet of Art house films, documentaries from around the world, american imports, alternative comedy and music. It was brilliant. Oh it was pretentious, it was hipster well before it’s time. but theres something about a channel where I can watch The Smiths over my morning cereal, “Dream Stuffing” during my supper and “Letters from a dead man” while in a semi drunken stupor at 3 in the morning that just makes me fall in love with the concept of a “High art” terrestrial television channel. I mean…it wasnt faultless…when it worked it worked brilliantly…but art is a fickle thing and sometimes what reads as a good idea on paper can have awful and terrifying ramifications once broadcast…

(Yes this was a show that actually went out on television…Yes. One day I will cover this…And yes im now on a register for having watched it…)

 

But I digress; To coincide with this major event Channel 4 wanted an ident theme that sounded grand, bold, fresh. Something that would drag television kicking and screaming away from the somewhat classically royal theme tunes that had come before it. And in doing so they ended up recruiting one David Dundas (Of Blue Jeans fame) in to help score the music that would define the channel. And he knocked it clean out of the park. Because in 1982 Channel 4 launched with “Fourscore” and if you dont believe me that it was a bloody impressive piece of music here’s how it went out at the time.

(BEHOLD YOUR NEW MASTERS AND QUAKE WITH FEAR!)

its a very impressive track with some serious studio work behind it. if you want some idea of how well received it was, well, it’s still being used to this day (Albeit in a slightly remixed form) but what of “Fourscore 2”?. Well. As far as im aware Dundas isnt capable of just knocking something like “Fourscore” out of the park in one take and there were several variations of Fourscore that were brought into existence before we landed on the iconic theme thats hung around on 4 now for the best part of 36 years.

One of these variations is “Fourscore 2” effectively a somewhat more Jazzy version of “Fourscore” that managed to escape the cutting room floor, it did so by ending up as the “Go to” music for whenever Channel 4 had technical difficulties or, for a brief stint in the mid 80’s, it was used to fill in air time when an industrial dispute meant that Channel 4 couldnt show adverts so instead they ran with a somewhat seething holding card slagging off the unions for daring go on strike at the detriment of the channel.

(Hey…I can live with a lack of capitalism in my adverts…jussayin)

It was also later saved by Dundas himself as “Fourscore” grew in popularity it was eventually issued as a 45 vinyl under a pseudonym “The Airwave Orchestra” and y’know what was the B-side to that 45? Yep. Fourscore 2. Now. I cant lie and say that I’d always been a fan of Fourscore 2…in fact it was only around 10 years ago that I first started actively watching channel idents and listening to test card music (It sounds better than it reads I can assure you…also for anyone who’s curious the answer is “the 90’s Central idents” and “For the good times” by Graham Preakett) but theres something about Channel 4’s idents and music and in particular “Fourscore 2” that just draws me to it. I think it’s probably because it’s so representative of the time it was made really…you’ll struggle to find a more 80’s sounding test card track than “Fourscore 2” it’s upbeat and whimsical and while I can understand why they went with the original “Fourscore” for the channel itself…I equally have to say that to me. Fourscore 2 blows fourscore out of the water.

(Ohhhhhh yesssssssss…*Covers up crotch area*)

So in 2017 when I was first planning my youtube channel and my videos I had no idea how long I’d be going for, nor did I really think about the long term layouts and styles of my videos. So when it came to assembling the first few episodes I just needed some music to open each episode that was inoffensive, upbeat and reasonably easy listening. my answer was to dust of Fourscore 2. Now as a filmmaker myself I realize that in using fourscore 2 im breaching copyright. But at the time I assumed I’d probably do my youtube channel for a couple of months, get bored and drift off…I almost certainly didnt think I’d still be here a year and a bit later with a website and various social media links. I realised pretty much halfway through season 2 of youtube videos that I really should consider moving to something a bit more copyright friendly…Channel 4 have a habit of striking videos with worldwide blocks and the last thing I needed was to have half my videos removed, so I decided to try and find someone to cover Fourscore 2 or do a soundalike (Because I Really do love it’s composition)…2 seasons later and not much has changed. Until this week. This week I finally started writing season 5, and I couldnt let fourscore 2 continue…I really couldnt. If copyright wasnt an issue it’d be seeing me well right up to season 55…but at this point I need to protect my channels content and I needed to be able to go forward with something copyright friendly and similar in tone.

So. Armed with Garage band and a midi keyboard. I set about re-recording Fourscore 2. I’ll be honest. it’s not as good as the original. I tried my very best but im an amateur musician at best and David Dundas is…well…David Dundas. It came out better than I expected but thats not saying much. Im happy with it and for me it does the job. But this season will be the last one to use fourscore 2. I’ll miss it in all honesty. but im sure you all can appreciate my position on this one and that you’ll learn to love the new theme in September in the same way I myself fell in love with Fourscore 2 the first time I heard it. it wont be wrong…just different…at least thats what I keep telling myself…

(Yeh…its far from perfect…but for a 15 second sting it’ll do the job…)

 

EDIT: As an additional; if you are interested in learning more about Channel 4 then you simply must watch Applemasks documentary on the history of the channel, he’s funny, witty and bang on the money in covering every minute detail of this channels long and winding history from Arty/hipster repository to Reality TV bin and beyond in every shade colour and hue, seriously. Check him out. he’s ace.

(One day I’ll cover Channel 4 schools in detail…one day…)

The Threads Comedy Dining Experience (2018)

Something a bit different today and a bit of a bonus here. While working with Ben on producing the Public information films special we had some downtime and we decided to watch the feelgood film of the 80’s “Threads” better still we recorded the experience which I present to you here as a fully functioning feature commentary!

(Warning!: this is not as well researched or thought out as my typical reviews, throughout this both me and Ben are drinking and enjoying the finest takeaway my city has to offer…this is much more laid back and mainly for fun…with that in mind I hope you enjoy…)

FLCL and Me – A Prologue.

This ones going to be a little bit more “From the heart” to be completely honest with you. I was intending on making this a video, I wrote it literally in the early hours of this morning with the full intent to record it this afternoon and have it live before the night was out. but having edited it a little bit and re-read it a couple of times I just dont feel it fits in with my usual video stuff. As a result I’ve decided to make it a spur of the moment blog post instead, though I will properly review FLCL at some point in the future but in order to make this work the way I want it to I kind of have to rely on my memories because otherwise it would be pretty meaningless for what im About to get into into.

In 2008 I was at a relative low point in my life, I was in the midst of some of the most difficult examinations I’d have to go through to date as a knock on to that I realised that even if I finished the exams with a good grade I had no plans for what to do once I’d passed, Id also found out that a good chunk of my friends from that time were basically only being my friend because they thought they could get something from me. And I was trapped in a situation where I was forced to be in close contact with someone who I had feelings for who didn’t feel the same way with no real means of escape from that situation for at least another 18 months. In short 2008 was a pretty shitty year. I felt trapped, alone and stressed out in a way that I’ve never been before or since.

As a result I pretty much spent that year desperately trying to escape from the real world because It was all a bit too much and I didn’t want to tip myself over the edge. There are moments in your life where things will perfectly align. I don’t particularly believe in a god or an afterlife but there are some moments that are so well timed as if to suggest that the world surely cant be a random mish mash of happenings. And in 2008 two of those moments happened that saved my life and fundamentally altered the way I look at the world.

(This was the other lifechanging thing, but thats another story for another time…)

One of those moments was in the middle of summer and I was asked to do some research for a business report. And like any good student with access to the internet that meant I spent a good chunk of my time on youtube watching videos. It was while I was there at my computer on that humid summer afternoon that I first discovered FLCL, or Fooly cooly, or Furi kuri depending on your preference. I’d briefly had a fling with anime and manga a couple of years prior to this and I thought I was on the way out from it by this point. But there was something in that 140p resolution video, that animation style, that vibe that just kept me watching. Back then youtube would only let you upload 15 minute chunks and the 6 parts that made up this series were all split up into there various pieces, all with varying quality and all with varying stopping and starting times. But at the time that didn’t matter. I was captivated.

I’d never seen anything like it, the tone, the animation, the music, the philosophy. The whole thing was just totally unique. It wasn’t ashamed to be what it wanted to be and it looked damn fine doing it. I Devoured as much of it as I could get my hands on. I remember that finding a complete version of the 5th episode (Brittle bullet) was particularly difficult due to the fact it dealt predominantly with guns which at the time Youtube  didn’t really tolerate. But eventually I saw the whole thing and it was absolutely beautiful.

(I mean, Just look at it! This was made in 1999!. its astounding!)

I don’t fully understand the philosophy of the show at this point anymore. I last watched it in full nearly 7 years ago, but at the time it was this radical stand out piece of art that spoke to me directly, it told me it was okay to be different. It was fine to do your own thing, that you didn’t need to rely on what other people thought of you or saw in you because someone out there will accept you for who you are regardless of what you do or don’t do in life. That it was okay to be childish sometimes but equally that responsibility for your actions and life choices are absolutely of equal importance.

At the time I was just beginning to get into film making, I’d started about a year and a half prior to this and I was in the midst of making my first feature film. I had no idea what I was doing and it was genuinely a terrible movie. But that’s because at the time I didn’t really know what art house was, I didn’t know what experimental cinema was. I grew up in a small backwater town where we had 2 cinemas and neither of them played anything other than mainstream fodder. So here I am producing an experimental drama channeling my feelings visually into the piece with no idea what an experimental film was. And im showing these rushes and scripts to people who had no idea what experimental cinema was and they just didn’t get it…and at the time I don’t think I fully understood it either…I’d later realise that experimental cinema was really quite a niche genre and that it wasn’t about making sure as many people saw it as possible more that it was making sure the right people saw it. watching it back now I can pick apart the whole thing. Its incredibly literal and im very embarrassed by the whole thing. But I digress.

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(It was about as bad as this…and that’s pretty bad…Still you gotta start somewhere…thats what I tell myself at least…)

FLCL hit me at just the right time because while I was working on this film in my spare time I’d be marathoning the anime pretty much non stop in my down time. And everytime I would come up against someone who would attack me personally for the way I dressed, or spoke or anyone who just didn’t like my films. FLCL would be the thing I would tune into to tell me that it was alright to be me. And that the people out there who thought it was okay to try and bring me down either just wernt accepting of people like me or they were just trying to make themselves feel better.

There was just something about these 6 episodes that really connected with me. I think the varying animation was definitely a factor. It’s a very different experience to watching any other kind of anime. The plotline was bittersweet as well, its to this day one of the only series I’ve ever seen that mixed hardend robot fighting anime with slapstick comedy, Hardened experimentation with the format and also a pent up will they/wont they romance angle. They got the balance right between mixing well written and very human characters with crazy off the wall extremism. The soundtrack, almost entirely composed by the pillows and was revolutionary to my ears, the direction was near pristine, the editing and styalisation was almost unmatched. And for a year or so I was as ingrained into it as it was into the counter culture.

Over the following 18 months I’d collect as much FLCL merch as it was possible to get my hands on, I bought the manga, the novelisations, plushies, T-shirts, I managed to import 2 out of 3 of the original soundtracks from Japan, I had a beanie with Haruko’s P! symbol on it, a wall scroll that’s still on display in my house to this day, my computer was decked out with stickers from the show and both my wallpaper and my screensaver were images from the show and my most prized possession is the limited editon US DVD boxset. Which is not only the most expensive DVD boxset I’ve ever bought, but It’s now also the most expensive DVD boxset in my collection. In 2009 I spent £210 shipping that set from America to England (It cost £80 up front, followed by another £80 to release it from German customs, followed by a further £50 to release it from English customs) now if you’re a nerd for your media history then you’ll know that just over 12 months after I spent this frankly ludicrous amount of money for 3 dvds and a free t-shirt coupon. That an official UK release of the series came out for £20 and I very nearly cried…but y’know what? In 2014 I sank another £25 into rebuying the UK set on Bluray which is still sealed on my shelf to this day.

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(This is my ACTUAL boxset in all its beautifulness…I dont think I’ll ever part with it…but its painful to even touch just for the price alone…it also took nearly 3 months to get to me…)

I have incredibly fond memories of FLCL, it was a series that changed my life in ways that I really struggle to put into words.it came in at just the right time and carried me through a very dark period. But like all dark periods they’re bound to pass eventually and at some point in the late 2010’s or early 2011 I just kind of…drifted from it. I went from at the peak a 3 month period where it would be the only thing I’d watch to in the end pretty much forgetting about it. By 2011 I had bigger fish to fry really, I’d recently started a new stint in education, I’d met a beautiful woman who’d go on to become my current long suffering partner and I was mixing and mingling with a new crowd of people who were genuinely interested in me for who I was, not for who they wanted me to be.

Looking back these days I feel like FLCL is an echo to a completely different time so far removed from my current life that it might as well be alien to me. It is to me this ghost of a 6 parter that came crashing into my world, changed my life and then left without a trace…in many ways echoing one of the shows main protagonists Haruko. And life moved on really…I grew older, built a meaningful relationship and several meaningful friendships, these friends and my partner grew older with me. And I forgot about that awful year that quite literally was nearly the death of me. Things were looking up…

(For anyone interested this is the wallscroll I own as well…it cost £30 and unlike the DVD boxset it cost me nothing in customs charges to ship it in from Japan.)

Then 2016 happened. 2016 for many people would at best be described as a difficult year. What with Brexit, Trump, rising tensions towards the possibility of nuclear apocalypse, rising food prices and half of the people you loved from your childhood dying randomly it was a difficult one to get through in one piece. There were also some personal troubles in my own life. My partner was going through some very messy health issues that I wont get into here but it put a lot of stress on both of us, I’d recently started to have a few tensions build up at work and most of my friends moved away for better job opportunities or were generally out of action…2016 was a pretty shitty year. And then there was an announcement that filled me both with dread and total excitement. FLCL was coming back. At the time there wasn’t a whole lot of information available all I knew was that it would be coming soon and there’d be 12 new episodes set in the modern day split over 2 seasons. It was like an old friend had just called me up after years.. and the reason it filled me with dread and excitement? Well. Because in my mind the show was perfect just the way it was. Why run the risk of pissing on a near pefect legacy by bringing it back for 12 more episodes? Equally I was very concerned that it personally might reopen old wounds  I’d not seen the show for years at this point and the only thing that would make it worse than it not being very good was revisiting the show I loved to find that it was garbage or that id built it up in my semi adolescent mind into something that it simply wasn’t. Obviously I was excited at the idea of it. If you’d have told my teenage self that FLCL would be coming back for a full 2 seasons I think he’d have cried. But there was just something sat in my mind that didn’t feel right about this. That was concerned about it.

(I got a bad feeling about this…)

Over the incoming 2 years that would follow a trailer or 2 would see the light of day that only further worry me. Mainly because it seems like they’ve jettisoned the strange and wonderful animation style that drew me to the series initially. It also seemed really quite overly angsty. Which I seem to remember the original series having a level of Angst about it but nothing quite like what this trailer was giving off…it also seemed like they’d gone all in on the comedy elements with strange and goofy characters littered throughout…bearing in mind that in the original series there was maybe 3 or 3 goofy characters and even they were tinged with a certain level of darkness.

Then last week, they announced the official launch of the series as the 2nd of June 2018 at midnight. And as of this recording I haven’t watched it. I don’t know much about the new series. I know it has the pillows in it and I know they got the original writers back in. But I don’t necessarily feel comfortable with the way this series has been resurrected…it feels like a nostalgia grab rather than a meaningful continuation… I think I might eventually watch it but I just don’t want it to ruin a show I loved. For my own sakes. At some point I will rewatch the original series again…and I’ll share my findings on here as and when that happens. It may be awful, it may be better than I remembered it. But with the new series im not so sure… for now I feel comfortable with those vivid memories of hot summer evenings plonked infront of a laptop discovering a show that no one In my country I knew had heard of.

(The mangas pretty bloody awesome too…I should really re-read it sometime…)

As is the custom occasionally I like to end these blogs with some music and I cant really think of anything more fitting than the end credits to the show, but in a resolution that I’d have killed for about 10 years ago. Enjoy.

(Part 2 of “A new career in a new town will be coming soon…but this literally kind of forced its way out of me in the last 24 hours so I thought it best to share…)

That Warm Fuzzy Glow (Why Medium Matters) – Opinion Piece

Largely for completionists sake; I thought it best to share this post here. This was an opinion piece I wrote a short while ago about how the format you choose to present your film in can be detrimental to how well/poorly it is recieved by an Audience. whether you choose to present it in HD, VHS, DVD hell even laser disc quality. the medium will effect the film differently each time. whether you need that pin point precise sharpness or maybe you wish to use the fuzz that VHS can offer to your advantage as a direction. I believe that choosing your format should be as important as shot compisition or the way the film is edited. (I also use this piece as a way to put across my genuine love of all things VHS so do prepare to see me wax lyrical about the joys of it)

(Ever since I optimised my editing desk to include a HD to SD to VHS converter deck I really must say that cutting stuff like this has been a breeze!)