Person of Interest: s04 e14 – Guilty


Jury Duty

It’s a perennial tactic for Person of Interest that, after every intense and transformative sequence, it will then give itself a partial reset to the original concept in the form of a standalone Number of the Week, which will be treated with the depth and single focus of season 1. Thus, ‘Guilty’.

Root’s disappeared. Shaw is missing, presumed dead. Numbers have been lining up whilst Team Machine has been otherwise engaged, though most of them are dead because Finch and Co. have not been there to intervene. Finch and Reese debate the current situation, Finch even suggests suspending operations, though Reese can’t do that: to stop would be a worse fate than the death Finch told him they would probably come to eventually.

So they will go back to the beginning and the basics. Just them to and the Machine. No more outsiders, no-one else to be risked. Not even Fusco.

Which is where their plans first go wrong, as the little man won’t accept being pushed iut. He is as involved as them, and he takes over three missing persons ‘Detective Riley’ is investigating, and determines they all had links to Elias: is this Dominic and the Brotherhood regrouping and planning again? A reminder of our lesser Big Bad for season 4, indicating that that strand is now to be reactivated for the run-in.

But this is not our Number. ‘Professor Whistler’ has been summoned to jury duty, putting him out of commission but not (entirely) out of touch. He is sitting next to the Number, Emma Blake (Blair Brown), a sixty-something forcibly retired teacher and fellow jury member in the trial of Chad Bryson for the murder of his far-more-successful-than-him wife, Christine. What’s Emma got to do with it?

But this is a reset episode, and who’s here in the Courthouse, sneaking quietly up on ‘Detective Riley’? Why, it’s our old friend and occasional helper, fixer Zoe Morgan (Paige Turco, making the penultimate of her nine appearances).

Straightway, the ‘us, ourselves, alone’ principle is broken, because Zoe won’t take no for an answer. Emma’s relevance is as a game-changer. Buy choosing one side or other, Emma can bring a jury together to vote with her. Thus she can fix either a ‘Guilty’ or a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict to order. Obviously, she’s been hired by or on behalf of Chad Bryson to procure a Not Guilty.

But she hasn’t. Emma is being threatened, with the thing most likely to infuence her, the death of others, the responsibility for which being forcibly displaced onto her, and she’s to get a Guilty verdict, on behalf of the real killer.

How and why the plot resolves itself isn’t really important: Emma, and her willingness to commit suicide to frustrate the scheme, is the centre of this, but suffice to say that Chad Bryson is cleared and the unsusopected lower-level management guy is arrested by Fusco. Who gets to tell his partner that he knows why John’s been pushing him out, and that he’s aware he might go the same way as Shaw, but he’s accepted that: it’s unspoken but the work they’re doing is as important to the little square man as it is to the original, Finch and Reese. And John Reese doesn’t get to choose for Fusco what he is prepared to die for.

These reset episodes are only ever partial, firstly because PoI doesn’t do going backwards, and secondly because they’re change of pace, souffle not steak. Finch and Reese meet in the same cafe at the end, accept that they can no longer do this on their own. Reese still describes Fusco as fungus, still refuses to respect the detective, still holds him up against Carter and sees him wanting. But he’s in, and he stays in. As will Root be, if she ever comes back.

There’s one other thing. The appearance of Zoe Morgan usually involes Reese getting his rocks off, but when she more-or-less suggests this, Reese makes an excuse. From which our favourite fixer deduces that Reese is in love. With whom? Who else but with the fair Dr  Iris Campbell (Wrenn Schmidt). Iris has signed ‘Riley’ off, even though she knows, from five family generations and her own completion of graduate training, that ‘Riley’ is not a cop.

Indeed he’s not. But Reese has een wihout love for a very long time, from long before Jessica’s death. Maybe he’s not a man capable of it, as Zoe diagnoses, but John feels the need to open up.Non-mandatory sessions will continue.

As will Person of Interest‘s over-arching story.

The Infinite Jukebox: Love’s ‘Alone Again, Or’


If you were around in the Seventies, you couldn’t help knowing this oddly-titled song from West Coast band Love, the opening track of their legendary 1967 album Forever Changes. Like Todd Rundgren’s ‘I saw the Light’ it was one of those singles the record company kept determinedly releasing, Radio 1 kept gleefully playing and the Great British Record-Buying Public kept resolutely turning their collective back upon. You cloth-eared idiots. In a better organised Universe, ‘Alone Again Or’ would have been released just as often and would have been top 5 on every one. Bliss it would have been in that dawn to be alive.
The thing is that if ‘Alone Again Or’ didn’t capture the British ear in 1967, when it was wonderfully, beautifully of its time, there is no evidence in the song that it might do so in the sun-less Seventies.
Forever Changes was Love’s third album and ‘Alone Again Or’ the opening track, written and sung by Arthur Lee, one of two songwriters and singers the band was blessed with. After pursuing a crisp, electric pop style, containing occasional flashes of proto-punk, the band adopted an almost entirely acoustic approach for this album, apparently without prior intent, but in response to the songs and the arrangements that best suited them.
‘Alone Again Or’ has an unusual structure, one that you might think would mitigate against its appeal as a single. The song is a stop-start affair. It opens with a solo acoustic guitar, a complex melody picked out by Lee (or Bryan McLean if it was him) with a mere brush of chords beneath, before the drums enter with a skip beat and the band is there in full, supporting Lee’s voice, eager and enthusiastic. I’ll come back to the words later, but as the verse spins out there’s an accelerating energy, leading to the almost desperate “And I will be alone again tonight, my dear”, a line decorated with trumpet, before the music abruptly ends, and the acoustic intro returns, fading up out of the music.
We run through the intro again, the drum beat skips and we’re back with the band for the second verse, leading to the same climactic line and trumpets.
The intro is played through again, the drum skips, but this is now the solo, and it’s the trumpet which plays the melody Arthur Lee has been singing, supported by sweeping but slightly removed strings, up to that line again, without words.
And yes, we go through the intro and the second verse a final time and when the song dies away to leave that acoustic guitar in place, there is a change of note, a slowing down, and a final dying away to an end.
I love the song, and it’s sound is the sound of Forever Changes, and if you like ‘Alone Again, Or’ and are wondering, the album is indeed worth it. But there’s no denying it is a bit of an oddball, like a miniature song played four times over in the course of three minutes.
And the title leads nowhere. It isn’t sung, and Lee, as I’ve already said, only sings about being alone again, my dear. Who’s he addressing? The first verse is sung to a girl, a woman, a perhaps partner who lets him down, leaving him waiting patiently for her to turn up. He asks how she can do what she chooses to do before announcing that, impliedly yet again, he’ll be alone again tonight.
But the second verse is completely unrelated to this set-up. Someone tells Arthur a funny thing, that he could be in love with almost everyone. He thinks that people are the greatest fun. But once again he’ll be alone tonight…
What gives? These are the whole of the lyrics, a neglectful girlfriend in one verse, a hippy appreciation of humanity in the other. Has Lee dropped acid during the second guitar intro?
Who knows? But though some remember 1967 for psychedelia and all things related, and others recall it as the year of Engelbert Humperdinck, Love and Forever Changes and ‘Alone Again, Or’ were also something that could only have been that year, but which is not only of that year but forever.
Whatever the reason, you know where I’ll always place the blame. There was a lot of bloody good American pop and rock music of all kinds in the Sixties that never stood a chance over here. They stand proudly in the Infinite Jukebox.

Film 2020: Hang ‘Em High


Hang ‘Em High was the fourth film in the ‘Man from Nowhere’ trilogy boxset I bought earlier this year. It was Clint Eastwood’s first American western, a 1968 production that followed hard on the heels of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in terms of release, and the first co-production with Malpaso, the company Eastwood created to control his career.

Before watching it this morning, I was under the impression I’d seen this film before at my old local cinema, the Burnage Odeon, but I remembered nothing of it, and recognised nothing I remembered of the film I’d gone to see (hardly surprising as it was actually High Plains Drifter I watched). I’d never seen it before, so it came as a surprise to view.

Ultimately, though I think the film enjoys the negative benefits of not perpetuating the worse of Sergio Leone’s excesses, I was still not satisfied with it. Like the Trilogy, it’s a very slow film without the benefit of deliberatenerss, and it’s story meanders. Overall, the film suffers for me from falling between two stools, two visions, embodied by the film’s two principal characters, Jed Cooper (Eastwood) and Judge Fenton (Pat Hingle), standing for Revenge and Justice.

The film, which is set in the Oklahoma Territory in 1889, the first year of Benjamin harrison’s Presidency, begins with a lynching. Cooper, an ex-deputy seeking to settle down, build a spread, has bought a small herd of cattle. Unknown to him, he has bought them from a rustler who has killed the real owner and his family. A posse of nine men, led by local rancher Captain Wilson (Ed Begley) refuses to believe in Cooper’s innocence and hang him from a tree. After they ride off, Cooper is cut down still alive by Marshall Dave Bliss (Ben Johnson) and taken to Fort Grant, home of the Territory’s only Courthouse and only Judge, Adam Fenton. Fenton checks Cooper’s story and confims it; he is released as an innocent man.

Cooper is clearly going to seek revenge on the nine men who lynched him. Fenton warns him that to do so will result in his returning to Fort Grant to be hung. Only Justice can prevail if ever Oklahoma is to be granted Statehood, receive a Governor, a state Senate, the full panoply of Law and Justice. All it has for now is Fenton, one man standing for the power of Justice. And Fenton is a fanatic. The only way Cooper can have his revenge is as a Deputy Marshall, under obligation to bring them in alive.

This is the moment at which the film compromises itself fatally. We are meant to sympathise with Cooper, with Eastwood. He has the right to his Revenge and the moment the mantle of the Law is placed on his shoulders he can no longer have it. Yes, he shoots Reno, dead, but it’s in self-defence. Yes, he brings Miller (a young Bruce Dern, father of Laura) in to be hung, but any satisfaction he may have from that – and Cooper shows no satisfaction from any of his successes – is tempered by finding Miller with two teenage boys, companions in a rustling but not in murder. Cooper brings in all three alone, only because the boys refuse to join Miller in an attack on the Deputy Marshall.

For this Cooper wants to see mercy, two boys, eighteen and sixteen, easy to turn back to a righteous life, but Fenton will have none of it. The boys have to be convicted, have to be and are hung, because if the Law doesn’t do it, folks will say it is useless, and they will lynch, and Oklahoma will never become a State.

As for the others, various fates await. Stone the blacksmith (Alan Hale Jr, TV’s Casey Jones and the Skipper in Gilligan’s Island) goes into arrest easily but forces the Sherrif, Ray Calhoun, his friend, to shoot him. Jenkins, the old man, the only one to argue against the lynching, turns himself in. The other five, accepting they were wrong, attempt to buy Cooper off by returning him money, but he will still execute the Law. Two head off into the distance, two stand by Wilson.

Whilst a hanging is taking place at Fort Grant, Wilson and his two loyalists ambush Cooper in the hotel. His life is saved by the mysterious and beautiful Rachel Warren (Inger Stevens, genuinely beautiful) who nurses him back to health.

Rachel is an enigma. By Fenton’s order she is given access to look at every prisoner brought in. It’s hardly difficult to work out why but it’s not until she takes the recuperating Cooper for a picnic and he kisses her, very lightly, only for her to flinch, that she explains. Once she was married, to a Doctor. They were headed west, where he believed he wastruly wanted. One night, two drifters joined them at their campfire. They shot the doctor dead and both raped her. She is looking for them in each prisoner.

Cooper questionswhat Rachel will do afterwards if she finally sees them, or if she never sees them. They are trapped by a cloudburst, take shelter in a rackety shack overnight, and in the morning make love. That cures Rachel, but the same question poses itself to Cooper, who can’t answer if completing his restricted revenge will do the same for him. There’s very little room for women in this film but this touch comfirms a subtle misogyny is nevertheless present.

Cooper’s off after his would-be killers. Tommy and Loomis try to kill him and wind-up dead, Wilson, in fear of prison, hangs himself in his own house. It’s an ironic end but an unsatisfying one.

So Cooper hands in his badge. He wants the dying Jenkins pardoned but Fenton won’t do it. Cooper’s sick of Fenton’s Law, that demands death from the undeserving, that is no more than a legal lynching. Cooper is arguing for a more modern approach, a Justice tempered by Mercy, by sense, by rehabilitation, but that’s the future. Fenton’s Law is pragmatic: it has to be strict, it has to punish and do nothing but punish, it has to ignore its own mistakes, because only through the Law suppressing the will of the people to execute Revenge will Sttehood come, will checks and balances come, with Fenton be relieved of his awful, exclusive responsibility for life and death.

He sneers at Cooper and his future: marrying Rachel, buying a spread, aising cattle and kids. Jemkins willnot be pardoned. Unless Cooper puts the badge back on. Two futures, incompatible. Cooper puts the badge back on. Jenkins is pardoned. Cooper is handed two warrants, Maddow and Charley Blackfoot, the last of the nine. The Law still wants them. Cooper rides out. Rachel’s re-awakening, through love for (and sex with) him is at best put on hold, poor woman.

Within two years of making this film, Inger Stevens would be dead of a drugs overdose, which explains why such a beautiful, cool woman, already a TV star, in showsnever exported to Britain, never came to my attention before. Nevertheless, for all it amounted to, I’d have preferred it if her strand had been eliminated from the film. It serves no purpose in the overall story, lumpy and ill-formed as that is, except to make her further a victim, for no justfiable reason.

Overall, I prefer this film to any of the Leone trilogy, but I can’t say I’d queue up to see it again. Some of it is the difference between 1968 and 2020, and the increased pace of everything these later years, but for an action film I find Hang ‘Em High far too slow to hold my attention.

Preventative Comics: Will Eisner’s ‘PS – Preventative Maintenance Monthly’


PS 1

Almost since I first heard of Will Eisner, I’ve been aware that he spent most of the period between the end of The Spirit and his Section and the first appearance of the legendary A Contract with God using his cartooning skills in service to the US Army in its technical magazine, PS – The Preventative Maintenance Monthly.
Aside from occasional features on the series, and the illustrations reprinted to accompany these, I’ve remained ignorant of this part of Eisner’s career. Not any more though: the by now thousands of comics I have on DVD-Rom, in a pile still less than three inches high, now includes 103 copies of that magazine, including a run of the first 100, from 1951 to 1961. And it’s that unusual magazine’s turn to fall under my inquisitive eye.
This is not going to be anything like the kind of review I’ve been writing for those other comics. PS is simply not that kind of magazine. It is what its sub-title says, a technical magazine devoted to a very practical subject, namely the correct and best ways to maintain Army equipment of all kind in a state of readiness for instant use, in the kind of condition best suited to preserve the life and limb of those who work the trucks, bulldozers, vehicles, vessels, bull-dozers and armaments, waiting to be used.
We’re not talking stories here, plotting is of no relevance and the quality of the scripting serves only one fundamental purpose: functionality. This magazine is written for the American soldier who is responsible for maintenance of equipment. It’s tangy, laconic, written from soldier to soldier but this is the veneer that renders the dry facts less dry but no less factual.

Joe’s Dope Sheet

The DVD appeared to start from issue 17, in 1954, when the format changed, and when more of the magazine was given over to Eisner. The first sixteen issues are staid and formal, very much the technical magazines, with pages of type in two columns, decorated mostly with photos or straight, practical cartoons.
Eisner’s role is minimised. He contributes header cartons for various sections,. These feature his experts, who provide answers or host suggestions told in a tangy, slangy fashion, speaking the Army’s own language. These are (Master-) Sergeant Half-Mast McAnick, gorgeous specialist Connie Rodd and, not that he lasted long, Captain ‘Windy’ Windsock to answer your air-mail.
But his major contribution is Joe Dope, an eight-page Spirit Section-style story including a pull-out and pin-up poster summarising the month’s point to be made in a five-line poem. As comics go, it’s almost purely technical, with a schizophrenic heart: for the body of the section, Joe, a goofy-looking, round-faced young man with a prominent central tooth, is the guy who instructs and corrects, especially after issue 3 to Private Fogsnoff (and is that not a familiar name from The Spirit?), only to be held up to ridicule as the example of all kinds of bad practice once we reach the poster.

This initial run feels constrained. It reminds me of the early pages of Frank Bellamy’s life-story of Winston Churchill in the Eagle, inhibited by drawing a living person, and so big a national hero. Eisner isn’t sure how far he can go, how playful he’s allowed to become. The magazine is serious, and so is he. Joe gets the best of it, his feature is intended to be character-oriented, but the Dolan-esque Half-Mast and the statuesque cheesecake, Connie, are just figureheads.
Things start to change from issue 9 onwards, as Eisner’s given a freer hand to establish himself in the body of the magazine. Suddenly, pages without illustration are greatly diminished. Photographs are replaced by compact technical drawings. Connie doesn’t, and never will, escape from being cheesecake, a GI’s pin-up of a woman, but she starts to develop a personality, an ultra-competent, stern-face model (in both senses) of expertise, knowledge and professionalism.
‘Windy’ Windsock disappears, unnoticed. He will be replaced, before too long, by Sgt. ‘Bull’ Dozer, a solid, forage-capped hulk of a man, whose speciality is everything. Issue 17 sees a change in format. Joe’s feature is renamed Joe’s Dope, and centralized to make it easier to remove the pull-out. Eisner starts to freewheel in his stories, and he’s contributing more and more art, taking over pages to insert large sketches to dramatise, with tongue firmly in cheek, the importance of whatever aspect of Preventative Maintenance is being covered here.
And Connie, despite spending most of her time in a uniform that includes a firmly below the knee skirt, and incongruous high heels, grows ever more delightful to look at.
Connie’s role is the expert, showing the hapless Joe and Fos how to do things right, and in what, I take on trust, is the right degree of detail for the guys out in front at whom this is aimed. Dope and Fosgnoff are as deliberately dumb, if eager, as Connie Rodd is on top of things, but this just excuses the detail into which the explanations go, laid out for the actual serving man who lies along the spectrum between her and the dummies to follow without assumptions.
Obviously, there’s no narrative and no character development and, as such, the magazine doesn’t have the kind of narrative progression that usually informs one of these posts. But the work is by Will Eisner, which means that it is inherently fascinating to me, and should be to you.

Connie Rodd

The amount of additional cartooning required varies from issue to issue according to the subjects being covered each months. Sometimes, the equivalent of a full comic is required, if a detailed sequence is called for, whilst more often it’s no more than small spot-cartoons, humourously exaggerating responses to the work in hand, or the effects of not doing it right.
The highlight is always the Joe’s Dope section, with very rare exceptions in full colour and given the full Eisner treatment. This is where the work is at its most comic and serious at the same time. How effective is it? I am perhaps the last person to ask: my skills have always been academic and not practical. Someone with an underlying interest in engineering and electrics would, I imagine, fall upon this as inherently fascinating, and I’m sure that if I had the practical bent of my father, I would get a lot more out of this than cartooning,
As it is, this is not the kind of thing to make me concentrate too heavily, and that’s before taking into account that the issues on this DVD-Rom are from the Fifties, and I would guess myself to be on solid ground in assuming that most of this work is obsolete in detail, and to a lesser extent in principle.
Or if it isn’t, then what has sixty-five years been spent doing with Army equipment?

Interior layout

There was a change made in issue 37, when the Joe’s Dope section ended with Pvt Fosgnoff being discharged to civilian life as a motor mechanic, a long way from his dream girl Connie… and promptly showing just much much – if you can really say ‘much’ – he had learned… And Joe himself was transformed. You couldn’t remove him, his name was over the door, but suddenly he was nearly as competent as the superhuman Connie, and the silly cartoon face came and went between issues and had to be alibied to plastic surgery following one final goof, after which Joe was an ordinary, pleasant-faced young man in uniform, showing the less conscientious how to do it.
It appeared that the Army were not happy with being represented by two standard issue Will Eisner schlubs. Joe’s role would be minimised to the point of his disappearing – not completely, though Eisner teased killing him off in issue 73, December 1958, having him appear to succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning from leaving an engine idling on a winter night, before revealing it as the dreaded dream of cliché (not that I hold Joe in any malice).
Ultimately, Eisner would end up buying back the rights to the characters, though I don’t know that he ever made use of them. Sometimes, as a creator, you have to own your children so as not to see them mistreated.

Several times, the magazine would style its supplemental cartoons round a theme depicted on the cover. There’d be a Civil War theme, a Valentines (in a February issue), a Science Fiction theme, a Medieval one, the Rebellion. This didn’t make the technical information any less up-to-date, but the various demonstrations, advice or corrections would be linked by Eisner cartoons casting the idea of Preventative Maintenance as running throughout history as opposed to some new-fangled 1950s notion. And it gave Eisner the chance of some effective fun.
After the first 100, there were only three other issues on the DVD. That for issue 115, from 1963, was little different from those before, though it did have Windy Windsock back after a hundred or so issues, but the leap to issue 182, in 1968, was instructive. PS had grown much more cartoon-oriented, with Eisner and his team working overtime to produce not merely illustrations but short sequences on practically every page. Windy Windsock was (still?) around but Half-Mast had been reduced to very much a minor character and Connie Rodd was the out-and-out star.
And with it now being the late-Sixties, Connie was not spending all her time in Army Uniform and below knee-length tight skirts. Issue 189 had a western theme to the art so she was mainly depicted in tight bucksins and a cowboy hat, with the usual hairstyle given a softer, sleeker look, to go with the softer expressions she wore. This Connie isn’t looking down quite so much at the inadequacies of the privates and men (dreaming of) being under her.
She even displaced Joe’s Dope in this issue, with her maintenance calendar for the forthcoming year.
The final issue was no. 229, from 1971, in which the process of full-scale cartooning had gone even further, and Connie looked even better: hang the preventative maintenance, I’m happy just to look at a full-on, relaxed, self-contained and gorgeous Eisner babe. Pity there weren’t more for this era. But 229 was Eisner’s last issue as Art Director, though Connie and the gang stayed on. According to Wikipedia, she and her African-American equivalent, Bonnie, were redesigned to be more ‘modest and professional’, and not cheesecake at all. I bet that worked…
So PS – Preventative Maintenance Monthly is a curiosity for being what Will Eisner did for years after leaving the comics business. It’s brilliant work, superb cartooning, and a very effective presentation of a serious subject with the ability to save a lot of lives.
But my response to a hundred issues of it is that it’s comics, Jim, but not as we know it. Despite the presence of recurring characters, and once again, I do admit to a fondness for Connie Rodd, there is no narrative, there are no stories. The object is a technical instruction that, no matter how humanised it is made, is only technical instructions, and what’s more instructions in something for which I have neither aptitude nor empathy.
As to the question of whether or not Eisner was utilising his skills in a purpose worthy of them, I have no definitive opinion. What he was doing was assisting an Army to be more efficient in the deployment of the machinery it operated. The purpose of an Army, if reduced to its utter basics, is to kill the enemies of its country. Many have condemned Eisner for facilitating militarism, and the case can’t be avoided. PS was founded at the start of the Korean War, when there was a crying need for it.
On the other hand, an Army is an objective fact. It may be immoral, it may be unwanted, I may not like it, but it is necessary. PS is pitched at saving the lives of Army members, not merely in combat but in depots at home and overseas where careless, ignorant or neglectful handling of equipment can result in damage, mutilation and even death.
It doesn’t make for enthusing reading, however. I’m glad to have satisfied my curiosity, but it’s not all that likely that I’d want my memories refreshing. Though I’d take another hundred issues of Connie Rodd in the Sixties any day…

Lou Grant: s04 e11 – Generations


It’s probably time now to admit that season 4 of Lou Grant is not going very well. Whether it’s that the show is merely having a weak season, or whether it’s the case that it has entered terminal decline can only be seen once I’ve completed the re-watch: I’m past the point where the show had disappeared from UK screens.

‘Generations’ was clearly a case of weak writing on a subject that never took shape. This was all about the plight of the elderly in modern society, spread out over three strands. The lead was Charlie Hume’s father, Rupert (Charles Lane), who comes to live with Charlie and Marian after he’s caught shoplifting wallets.

The old man’s not a kleptomaniac, nor is he suffering from something Alzheimeresque, he’s just sharp as a talk (if garrulous and cantakerous) with nothing to do. In the end, he’s sent in to run a potentially successful small business that’s over-committed and facing bankruptcy, and needs a successful trouble-shooter to make it cost-efficient.

The tertiary strand, involving Billie, was Fred Jenkins (Whitman Mayo)  bus driver and also The Florence Jenkins Foundation. Rather than spend his money on his house or himself, Fred makes awards to people who do good things, $100 at a time. He’s unrealistic, but a figure of genuine good, delighting in encouraging good works in memory of his late wife. He even sends an award to Mrs Pynchon for her tree-planting project, which she feels she can’t accept but does so in the face of Jenkins’ obvious and genuine pleasure.

But the other lead is the tragic one, with horrific consequences. This was where there were no comic aspects, and it should have been where the efforts were concentrated, to maximum effect. Lou’s opposite neighbour, the elderly Harvey Shelton (Arthur Space), is being hassled by neighbourhood kids. It’s teasing, pranks, the sort of stuff it’s easy to see as non-malicious, but the problem is that even as we discover it, it’s already reached a level of genuine harrassment. The kids ride their bikes round and round his front garden space, destroy his roses, shout and swoop. It’s already nasty, for all the show tries to pretend it’s mostly high-spiritedness on the kids’ part. And Harvey is vulnerable, a guy in his seventies with a sick wife, who wants nothing more than peace and quiet.

And nobody does anything abut it. It’s reached the level of persecution but the show wants to have its cake and eat it too by having everyone act as if it’s completely innocuous. You can see the story arc from San Francisco.

It starts with the accident: Harvey puts on a spray to water the garden just as some of the kids cycle by, and soaks them. They, of course, see it as deliberate and decide to retaliate, at night, just as Harvey’s learned his sick wife has slipped into a coma. They ride round the house, shouting and screaming, knock things over, break a window, stick a loud transistor through the hole, yell at him. It’s too much for Harvey to bear, he’s overwhelmed and who wouldn’t be at that age, but he has a gun, for protection, and he fires it blindly through the window, to scare them off. But he hits one of the kids, a good kid as represented throughout the episode, and kills him.

And it means very little. It has no impact at all, in part because the show, in demonstrating the escalated behaviour of the kids that drives Harvey to this frightened extreme, has already gone past the point where intervention should and would have taken place, and where the kids’ stupid and vicious behaviour, moivated only by Harvey being a ‘grouch’, robbed at least one viewer of sympathy for the 14 year old life cut short. I don’t like deliberately inflicted terror, especially when practiced against someone elderly: I’m getting to be that way myself.

Incidentally, the role of Mike, the kid who gets killed, was a first television credit for Matthew Broderick, the future Ferris Bueller.

It’s a minor point though I’ll mention it anyway. The appearance of Rupert Hume contradicts the show’s continuity, Charlie having mentioned, two seasons back, that his father was dead at the age of 86: Rupert is 76 and very much alive.

 

A Lycanthrope in Wolfe’s Clothing: Gene Wolfe’s ‘The Sorcerer’s House’


A note of apology: this review was written and should have been posted in January 2019 but I completely overlooked it, going straight from An Evil Guest to Home Fires. Thanks to Nigel Price for pointing out this slip.

After An Evil Guest, Gene Wolfe, not for the first time, chose to write a book that is in many ways a complete opposite. Where the one was, in structure and tone, a hard-boiled crime drama shot through with fantastic SF elements, The Sorcerer’s House is an incredulous fantasy gateway story told in that most old-fashioned of forms, the epistolary novel. By which, for those who have never come across the term, I mean a novel written wholly in letters.
Wolfe has, of course, come very close to this form this century, with The Wizard Knight and Pirate Freedom both being told as supposedly a single long letter. But The Sorcerer’s House is a succession of letters, mainly by protagonist Baxter Dunn to his estranged twin brother George, but including letters by Dunn to other parties, and letters received in response to some of his missives.
Baxter, or Bax as he prefers to be called, is a scholar, holding two Ph.Ds and other distinction, but his story begins shortly after his release from prison, after serving a sentence for what we understand as fraud, perpetrated against several parties at or around his last academic institution, many if not all of them friends and associates of his brother George.
Later, we infer, from George’s accusations when he arrives in town, that Baxter has on at least one occasion posed as George. And he admits to having legally cheated George out of a substantial inheritance, left to the Baxter twins for educational purposes: Bax remained in continual education until the entire fund had been drained, paying his fees.
Until he appears, George will have nothing to do with Bax, which hardly seems surprising, but this state of affairs appears to have existed for some time before Bax’s transgressions.
In Bax’s first letter, he is writing from a hostel where he is staying. He has no money or assets, although he is awaiting an allowance cheque which comes at intervals (not until the book’s very end do we learn this to be an allowance made by the Dunns’ adoptive mother). He says he’s not writing to ask for a loan from George, but does frame it as an investment opportunity.
The letters are not dated, so the reader has to infer from internal evidence how long the gap is from one to the next, but by then Bax has moved into the titular house (Wolfe, as ‘compiler’, claims to have presented the letters in a logical order but not necessarily the correct one). It’s old, dilapidated and empty, and whilst the word isn’t used, he’s there as a squatter. He’s left the hostel after its manager tried to forge his allowance cheque, he’s taken the house, without power or water, for a roof over his head, and is planning to offer himself to its owner as a tenant who will carry out repairs and refurbishments (bought with the owner’s money) in return for rent-free occupation.
That’s the last point at which things appear to be normal. The book then starts to develop along parallel strands, the one directly fantastic, the other in the everyday world but with its own improbable mysteries.
Bax’s house, which we come to learn is known as the Black House, both for its forbidding and spooky reputation and because its last owner was a Mr Black, appears to be some form of crossing place between realities. Bax bumps into a strangely dressed teenage boy, who drops an unusual brass device with concentric wheels and a candle that is later described as a longlight and which appears to distribute some sort of magical force called numen.
The triannular is a wishing tool, and when used the longlight needs to be lit and stay lit until the wish, which comes in threes, has been achieved. This Bax learns from the boy, who first beats him, then is beaten by him, though apparently these are different twins: Emlyn, who is the innocent one and the victim, Ieuan, the evil one.
And Bax finds himself being adopted by Winkle, a kind of talking (albeit lisping) fox, who also turns into a small, nicely-curved Japanese girl who invades his bed (rather a mattress) at night and has sex with him.
Oh yes, the mattress is stuffed full of money, and there are mysterious and unrecognisable gold coins in an upstairs drawer.
But this is, as I’ve indicated, but part of the story. Bax finds a local, independent realtor, a Martha Murrey, and from her progresses to another realtor, an attractive widow named Doris Griffin, who has been looking for him. The Black House belongs to him, deeded to him years before, by Mr Black. Baxter has no recollection of ever having met Mr Black.
Doris is very enthusiastic about Baxter. Lots of the women in this book are. Doris presses him to wear the wedding ring formerly belonging to her late husband Ted. She takes him to bed, makes it plain she’d marry him. She even produces for him a piece of valuable riverfront land, the Skotos Strip, three miles of undeveloped land currently worth three million dollars, left to him by one Alexander Skotos, who died three years ago and, yes, Bax doesn’t remember him either.
But Bax and Doris’s romantic progression is interrupted by a series of murders in Medicine Bend, women accosted alone after dark on the street and literally dismembered. The predator(s) is/are a werewolf/werewolves. Bax and Doris are attacked by a pack of them, returning from a dinner date, and Bax kills one with a silver bullet (the man is prepared), although this is excluded from any of his letters, and comes in late on in a letter to him from his interested spectator, Millie, his sister-in-law.
Without going into further detail, this is a tale of strange goings-on, and of the fantastic spilling out into the otherwise mundane. The Black House is a gateway between Medicine Bend and faerie, and Mr Black is a sorceror, and father of twins, only not just of Emlyn and Ieuan. And what other pair of twins are there in this book?
One of this pair is also a sorceror, though he doesn’t know it, and another character in the book, who remains on the sidelines for most of the tale’s duration, is his birth mother.
I’m deliberately not going into detail on so many aspects of this story, because there are so many convolutions, and for reasons I will shortly come to. The ending of the book tries to account for all of these, or as many as we need, but does so at great haste and in little space, leaving the finale rushed and as telegraphed a twist as any in any Wolfe book. There is no need for careful and thoughtful reading and re-reading to determine this one, it shouts into your face with the subtlety of an “As you know…” exposition.
But I must go back and account for George Dunn’s role in this book. After several letters setting out fantastic and implausible events, whilst constantly alluding to how George hates Baxter and derides and condemns him, George turns up in a lawyer’s office, as mad as hell, full of accusations and unprovoked violence that gets him arrested for assaulting first a secretary, then a woman cop. And he’s claiming he’s the real George Dunn at a point where no-one, least of all Bax, is suggesting Bax is anyone other than Bax.
George acts like a madman from the start, a paranoid who may have good past cause for paranoia but who, in a story told by Baxter, has no grounds for his behaviour. Once he gets bailed out of jail, he turns up once more and promptly disappears inside the Black House, having interfered where he has no business to unleash a vampire, never to be seen again.
All that remains of him is a challenge to a duel with duelling pistols, survivor takes all, and a final letter from George to his wife Millie, telling her Bax has disappeared into faerie after reconciling with George, who has turned over a new leaf and will henceforth treat his once unloved and much put-upon wife with tenderness, care, respect and love, not to mention letters that sound like Baxter wrote them. It couldn’t be more blatant under a thirty foot neon sign.
Which is why I find it hard to go any deeper into the details of this story. Because all of this, all these goings on, are things for which we only have one witness, and that is Baxter Dunn. Brother George very clearly doesn’t believe a word of it, castigates him as a liar, and as mad, and certainly if this weren’t a Gene Wolfe novel, we might think exactly the same.
And how much of what Bax writes is actually ‘real’? We have nothing but Bax’s word that any of this has happened, and he’s a self-confessed fraudster. Given that these accounts of impossible goings on, which recall the mixture of mundane and fantastic words that underpinned Castleview, draw an infuriated George to town to ‘protect his interests’ (and indulge his fury at his twin brother), how much of it is a lure to give Bax the chance to trade his life as an ex-con with that of his brother, a long-standing successful businessman?
Indeed, is any of it real at all? I confess that I believe none of it, that it is all made up, and not in the sense that all fiction is ‘made up’. It’s an entertaining and easy enough read, but it lacks my conviction and there is a lot of critical opinion that finds it unsatisfactory as well. I wish it thought better of it.

Person of Interest: s04 e13 – M.I.A.


The Mayhem Twins

Very recently, and in the context of Person of Interest itself, I discovered the term ‘schmuck-bait’. It refers to television episodes that threaten the life of a permanent member of the cast. It’s termed schmuck-bait because only a schmuck would feel genuinely threatened by the prospect of a star character being killed: I mean, it’s just not going to happen, is it?

I bring this up in the context of this episode of PoI  because the whole episode is a prime example of what the term means. Two episodes ago, Sameen Shaw sacrificed herself to save the rest of the team. Is she still alive? Is she dead? Don’t be silly, she’s a star of the show, her name’s in the opening credits… Well, actually it’s not.

The episode divides itself into two strands. Reese and Root have trailed a refrigerated truck to the upstate small town of Maple. Maple’s a nice town, a happy town, a lucky town. It’s the epitome of small town America, couldn’t be more apple pie and Mom’s cookies. six months ago, it was broken: it’s only industry collapsed, everyone was going to be out of a job, but a new Company, Carrow, took the plant over and everybody prospered. Maple is also a puppet town, with people shuffled into jobs and roles that most suit them. Everyone loves it. Maple is also an omelette. A few people don’t fit. A few people get broken, like eggs, and like eggs, once broken they don’t get up and walk around.

Reese and Root don’t care. They’re here for one thing only and that’s Shaw. She isn’t dead. But she is Schrodinger’s Cat, in that until Finch and Co get an answer, she is both alive and dead and neither. And we know from last week that Finch believes the worse. Root is ultra-positive: this cat can’t be killed. But Root is positive because she has to be. She can’t let herself entertain the least doubt. Where is Shaw? The truck arrived in Maple but it never left.

But even as the Mayhem Twins rampage upstate, back in New York the Numbers keep coming, in this instance a real sad sack of a guy, Albert Weiss (Mason Pettit). Finch takes the folder to Fusco, at his desk in the precinct, his ears ringing, just stewing. Fusco’s as badly hurt as the rest: he wants a Number to give him something to do, to alleviate his feelings.

Weiss is a nothing, a sap, a mouse. But he’s also being watched by a former Number, Dani Silva, a welcome repeat for Adriana Arjona.  The pair team-up to check out Weiss, who may look completely innocuous, but who, every time he visits the Big Apple, there’s a Missing Persons report. Someone with gang connections. The sappy exterior is a clever cover for a freelance assassin.

Whilst things are hotting up in Maple, this half of the story looks to be cleverly made but uninvolving. Things don’t go well for this ill-matched pair, Weiss is too smart for them, especially Fusco. And Fusco’s being protective, paternal and patronising in exactly the way Dani is going to hate. Some of it is Fusco’s not overly developed but still present chauvinism, but most of it is his quiet line, ‘I couldn’t stand to lose somebody else today’.

It boils down to a nice little twist. Dani breaks into Weiss’s New Jersey home, discovers a Kill Room, escapes being shot when Fusco intervenes. Fusco discovers that another cop who spotted the pattern between Weiss’s killings went to sleep in his garage with the car engine on. Dani goes home, wanders through a deserted apartment not really turning lights on, goes into her bathroom, strips off her t-shirt revealing her black bra. Only then does she shut the door behind her. Weiss steps out of the shadows, holding a rope by which a cop will commit suicide. But when he opens the bathroom door, Dani’s facing him with her gun in his face. And Fusco’s behind him.

Weiss isn’t done. He slams the bathroom door shut, tackles Fusco, gets his gun, is about to shoot him when Dani emerges from the bedroom, having taken the time to put her t-shirt back on (I get the modesty angle, but is this the best time, girl?) and shoots Weiss twice in the chest.

Apart from Fusco telling her she reminds him of a friend, that’s it for this part of the episode, having climbed to a higher height than at one time I expected.

Manwhile, back upstate, the Mayhem Twins discover that to pursue the trail of Shaw, they need to learn everything they can about Maple, which involves kidnapping and torturing – over Finch’s frantic pleas – the town’s public face, Leslie Thompson (Maddie Corman).

Though they have only one goal, Reese and Root can’t help but learn how thoroughly Samaritan has taken over Maple, and manipulated its people, first to happiness and now to see what happens when you take that happiness away. Maple is Samaritan’s petri dish, though the show uses the metaphor of an ant farm: it’s the microcosm that is embedded in the macrocosm.

Through Leslie, they gain access to the Carrow factory, even though Thompson will be killed for this betrayal. They shoot and blast their way in, they find that the factory is manufacturing transponders, microdots and neural implants, designed to be fitted to the whole population to enable Samaritan to observe and manipulate every human, they find the woman who was carried in the truck from the Stock Exchange. She’s got dark brown hair… but she’s not Shaw. Her name is Delia Jones and she was a secretary at the Stock Exchange. Everything, the only lead they have, was wrong. What’s that about schmuck-bait now?

Because this is the end of the trail. Root goes on a shooting spree, but she and Reese get Delia out. And Carrow pull out of Maple, leaving the town wrecked. Samaritan’s plans have been blocked. But they have no lead, no clue about Shaw. Reese recognises that there is nothing more they can do. Finch talks to the despairing, devastated Root. But she is not convinced, that is, until the Machine sends it’s one and only message, by payphone: Sierra Tango Oscar Pappa. S.T.O.P. Root says ‘Goodbye Harold’ as if it were a final word and walks away.

Shaw is gone. And the audience is treated to a final coda. Greer, in his most sinister-uncle mode, smiles down at a bed. Shaw is cynical: ‘If this is the afterlife, it sucks.’ Greer just smiles more, tells her to rest, she’ll need it.

We know, but they don’t. Schmuck-bait, but of the very highest order.

The Infinite Jukebox: Honeybus’s ‘I Can’t Let Maggie Go’


Though it’s sullied slightly by its latter-day association with a former doctrinaire and divisive Prime Minister (that little turd, Jonathan King, recorded a cover version when the late Mrs Thatcher was forced out of office), Honeybus’ only hit single is still a wonderful piece of light as air pop, delivered in almost formal tones, with one of the late-Sixties’ best simple-but-sweeping chorus lines. Better yet, the song survived a million repetitions throughout the next decade in television commercials promoting Nimble Bread.
Honeybus are a bit of an oddity. Their recorded oeuvre includes songs only aired as live broadcasts on pre-Radio 1 BBC programmes where they’re called The Honeybus by a young and enthusiastic Brian Matthew, there was much confusion over whether they were Honeybus or Honey Bus, and just when they were on the edge of catching on in a way that their delicate, often fragile music deserved but which would have felt alien, their leader quit because he hated live gigs.
‘I can’t let Maggie Go’ was the band’s only hit, although with the frequency that Radio 1 used to play their second single, ‘(Do I still) Figure in your Life?’, as an oldie, you’d have thought that that too was a massive success. Honeybus were a basic four piece guitar/bass/piano/drums outfit, and their music had a distinct Beatle-esque tone, but unlike most bands inspired by the Fab Four, their main source of inspiration was ‘Eleanor Rigby’.
The first thing you notice about ‘Maggie’ is that its intro is played on a clarinet, with the band almost a distant sound beneath its melody, and it’s the clarinet that gets the solo, as well as wandering in and out of the song, adding decoration to the otherwise plain and simple, acoustic based sound. There’s a surprising busyness to the drums, which are mixed forward and frequently vigorous without ever doing more than complementing the music
But like so many other songs of the Sixties or inspired by them, the music is a vehicle for the voice, which carries the melody. Writer, band-leader and singer Pete Dello (sometimes called ‘Psychy-Dello’ according to Brian Matthew on one of those BBC shows) sings smoothly, sweetly. He’s singing about a girl, a fresh and lively girl, who makes him laugh and cry ‘with a twinkle of her eye’. They walk here and there, and people stop and stare (but not at him). The girl is what would then have been called a stunner, and there’s a touch of awe in Dello’s voice as if he can’t believe his luck that she’s with him.
It’s simple, plain and sweet. But beware of simplicity. The minimal verses may depict an idyllic scene, lead you to imagine a summer’s day, a park, the breeze in her hair and the girl alive with life, but that’s to neglect the chorus, on which the band sing in harmony, on one of the best and most uplifting lines of the Sixties. Because She flies like a bird in the sky.
Is it real or is it fantasy? The Nimble Bread ads concretised the the image with a beautiful girl with long dark hair soaring across idyllic country in a big old hot-air balloon, effortless and romantic, like the music. The line in the song comes from Dello’s intense love and awe. The flying is figurative, the girl is lighter than air, she rises above him, like a bird.
And the next line confirms as it confuses: She flies like a bird, and I wish that she was mine. She’s with him, but not with him. They’re friends, perhaps, but he loves her deeply and she doesn’t know. He’s in awe of her: She flies like a bird, oh me, oh my, I see, I sigh, but no real relationship can be based upon awe. Now I know, he says, I can’t let Maggie go.
On the surface this sounds like typical male Sixties chauvinism, but Honeybus aren’t like that, the music is too soft and sweet, too undemanding, and anyway, he can’t insist on keeping her because he hasn’t got her. He never has, and the yearning of that sweet and gorgeous chorus is that deep inside he knows he never will. He’s the best male friend, the one who is faithful and trustworthy but who will never be seen in the light in which he sees her.
The clarinet plays its miniature solo and the song returns to its chorus, unable to say more and only able to celebrate hopelessly the woman who is loved. She flies like a bird in the sky, they sing, again and again, and you could listen to this for hours upon hours, but Dello is canny enough to end as he began. The music winds down, the clarinet decorates the ceasing memory and the band’s final, ‘ooh-ooh-oohs’ and thus it is ended. It’s a sound that typifies 1968, and the spring in which this song reached no. 8. It couldn’t have been recorded at any other time.
‘I can’t let Maggie go’ is undoubtedly a minor song. Honeybus, in turning their sound towards cellos and woodwind, were turning their face away from the slowly increasing heaviness of electric music to the countervailing appeal of baroque pop, which in the end failed to make the impression it should have, because ultimately the baroque was fey and charming, qualities not wanted as the music business began dividing itself between controlled, cabaret pop and the burgeoning underground. Honeybus missed out, especially after Dello left.
Compilation CDs are available, showcasing their entire repertoire, and they are an intriguing delight. But the only visible remnant of Honeybus is ‘I can’t let Maggie go’, and it is a gem of which The Beatles themselves would have been proud, except that John Lennon would have been too strident for this, and Paul McCartney insufficiently nuanced. Pete Dello it had to be. And it’s not a bad legacy to have, is it?

Film 2020: Expose


You may be surprised to find me selecting a film of this nature for Sunday morning but we are once again travelling down Nostalgia Avenue.

Expose holds a unique place in British film history, being the only British-made film to be included on the Government list of ‘video-nasties’, back when such things were exercising the moral conscience of the country. This was some time after it first appeared, in the late summer – and what a summer – of 1976, the Great Drought Summer.

Back then, I knew it as The House on Straw Hill, a title chosen to allude to Stanley Kubrick’s Straw Dogs, one of Britain’s two most famous banned films alongside A Clockwork Orange. These were the days of Local Authority Film Committees, who were not bound by the BBFC ratings (U, A or X), with the power to veto showings in cinemas subject to their licence. Manchester banned The House on Straw Hill, but Salford didn’t, meaning that my mate Alan and I had to drive about twenty minutes longer to see it one deep, golden Saturday evening.

I don’t know about video-nasty, having never watched any of the many such obvious examples, but Expose was certainly a case of the cheap’n’nasties. It starred Udo Kier, a German actor who did not speak English, Fiona Richmond, a star of multimedia softcore porn activities (including SF novels), who had masses of lovely red hair, big tits and no discernible acting ability, and Linda Hayden, who’d appeared nude in her film debut, Baby Love, at the age of 15 and who’d gotten them out in every other film she’d made up to that point.

The film-makers were not aiming for a high-quality audience.

The story is simple, whilst managing to be simultaneously pretentious and crude. Paul Martin (Kier) is an author whose first novel has been a major success, but who is struggling to meet the deadline on his follow-up. Paranoid and fearful, Paul has rented a remote cottage somewhere in southern England, where he has sex with his girlfriend Suzanne (Richmond) before she leaves, during which he has visions of blood and people breaking in.

In order to work faster, Paul has his publisher hire a typist for him, Linda (Hayden). She’s hassled by two louts at the station on arrival, one of whom is future sitcom and EastEnders star Karl Howman (here credited as Carl): Paul has to knee them in the groins to stop them pushing him around.

After a first dictation scene during which we learn that Paul’s writing is as arty and pretentious as both he and the film are being up to now, Linda goes upstairs to unpack, after looking round Paul’s multi-locked and bolted bedroom. She reveals that she carries two photos one of Paul and one of a man who’s already been seen in two of Paul’s hallucinations, plus a butcher’s knife. Then she strips off and shoves her hand down her knickers whilst staring at the other man’s photos.

After thus refreshing herself, Linda returns to work, though this is now/still (?) a morning session. Instead of lunch, she goes for a walk through the wheatfields before lying down, undoing her dress and touching herself up again.

She is interrupted by the louts – credited as Big Youth and Little Youth – one of whom rapes her in a very perfunctory, not-even-a-flash-of-tit manner whilst the other obligingly holds his shortgun just over her making it easy for her to shoot both of them in an unseen manner. The one on top of her dies instantly, the other (Howman) is merely severely wounded in a manner that lets him hang around in the wheatfield for however many days the story covers without either dying or trying to get help for his wounds.

Linda takes over the household, sending off Mrs Aston, the housekeeper (Patsy Smart muttering her lines in a cutglass accent). When the housekeeper returns at night to sneak around, she gets her throat cut.)

Paul wants to have sex with Linda but gets no further than sticking his hand inside her blouse and squeezing her tit. To get at her (sigh), he phones up Suzanne and gets her to come back, but Linda has to pick her up at the station in a black Morris Minor so old it still had white on black number plates.

I should mention by now the massive great plot-point that Paul’s book is dedicated to the memory of Simon Hindstatt (in thick black capitals and a font-size so large you could see it from the moon, hey, look, get this, admire how subtle we’re being.). Add to this the fact that Linda’s surname has been scrupulously not given and she says she’s been married but isn’t divorced and see how fast you can get here.

The first thing Paul and Suzanne do when she arrives is fuck, she naked, he keeping his trousers on. Suzanne turns up in the dining room. Linda compliments her on how good she looks (if you like that sort of thing) and sticks her hand down the front of Suzanne’s low-cut frock and squeezes her tit, which sends Suzanne into poorly acted, cliche-defined orgasmic delight.

Paul walks in on this, drags Suzanne up to the bedroom to slap her around, tell her she’s here for him, make her suck him off (still with his pants on). They see Linda watching them in the mirror but then she’s gone. And so’s Paul’s Rolls-Royce. He, forgetting all about Suzanne, who’s wound up in Linda’s bedroom, tears off round the countryside at speeds unfeasible for a Morris Minor that old (the numberplate indicates it was registered pre-1962) until his brakes fail him and he ends up crashing into a river.

Meanwhile, Linda has sneaked back to have full-on lesbian sex with Suzanne before abandioning her. Conveniently, the housekeeper’s body falls out of Linda’s wardrobe at that point, made-up to look like she’s three days dead, but in a hot summer nobody’s noticed the smell… Suzanne tries to call the Police but Linda’s pulled the plug, so Suzanne decides to take a shower except that Linda walks in with the butcher’s knife. There follows a Psycho rip-off in colour, or so the DVD cover says because it’s been edited out completely, as, incidentally, has the bouncer-outside-and-throwing-then-in proclamation that Fiona Richmond does full-frontal in this film, which in my copy she doesn’t.

Paul arrives back to find Linda writing the last page for him. She then produces the knife and tells him he’s a fraud. He didn’t write a word of his big hit novel, he stole it from Simon Hindstatt, who went on to commit suicide. Her surname is Hindstatt and he was her husband. She slashes Paul’s face. not that it seems to hurt him and the blood dries incredibly quickly into an artistic pattern that shows a second, less central slash we don’t see happen.

Paul escapes. This is to be cat-and-mouse stuff. He grabs a shotgun off the wall, runs around frantically outside, goes back in through the back door. Instead of shooting Linda on sight, he drops the gun, grapples with her for the knife, runs outside leaving the shotgun behind for her to pick up, hits the wheatfield and hurls the knife away. He turns round to see Linda with the shotgun, her calf-length dress open enough to see a very long expanse of leg.

She raises the gun to shoot him. It clicks on an empty barrel. Linda looks panicky, Big Youth, who still hasn’t died yet, is crawling through the wheatfield. He finds the flung knife. As Linda struggles with the shotgun to fire the other barrel, Big Youth runs up behind her and sticks the knife in her back, killing her and dying on the instant himself. I can’t resist mentioning that to get behind her, this almost-dead clown has had to squirm a very long way through the wheatfield in a big circle, since she’s facing the direction in which Paul threw the knife a great distance.

Paul lives. Two combine harvesters start grinding the wheat. Cue credits.

Did I call this a simple story? A simple-minded one, perhaps. It’s written by someone who hs a tin ear for how people actually speak, and how they think and act and respond. I’m prepared to forgive the excerpts we get from Paul’s writing on the basis that they’re meant to be pretentious crap, though if they’re that bad, how come the first book sold for half a million dollars?

The film was shot on location in a country cottage rented by the film’s Director, James Kenelm Clarke (why should he get away with it?). It’s not a film set and the lighting is dreadful. Anything that doesn’t take place in sunlight or in the few rooms with proper electric lights is at best too murky to properly see anything.

As for the sex and violence, this version’s a joke. The rape scene, including the two shootings, occupies about fifteen seconds of screen-time, the shower scene is gone but for a genuine Psycho rip-off of the last few traces of blood disappearing down the plughole and of Ms Richmond’s pubes there is no sight, and this at a time when full frontal nudity was a commonplace sight in the Confessions films (in which Linda Hayden starred in the first one). According to Wikipedia, the current Certified DVD has 51 seconds of cuts to the rape and the shower scene: mine is clearly not the current Certified DVD. The film is very difficult and expensive to get hold of, and it’s not worth it for a second.

As my nostalgic memories from 1976, these consisted of the rape scene, every bit as short then as now, the lesbian bit (in an interview with one of the two ladies, I don’t remember which, before the scene started one asked the other if she fancied her at all, was told, ‘not in the slightest’, which the interviewee was very glad to hear: not the most comfortable scene then) and the preposterous death scene. As for video-nasty, we don’t even see the knife go into Linda’s fully-clothed back.

So there’s nothing in this version to indicate why the film was classified in that manner. It’s overwhelming impression is of cheapness and stupidity. Linda Hayden later said this was the only film of her career she regretted making and that it was not the movie she played in, a claim I find very hard to swallow. A film in which, no disrespect, she’s the best actor, has very little going for it.

There are only two scenes in which sex’n’violence of a kind that could repel and horrify could take place. Without them, the film has no interest, and with them I strongly suspect the film would still have no interest. I have certainly seen worse since, and I don’t go for horror or bloody thrillers.

A waste of a Sunday morning. A waste of any time.

A Manchester Expedition


Once upon a time, the idea of writing about a trip to Manchester City Centre, let alone calling it an Expedition, would have seemed ludicrous. But those were inncocent days, before the current pandemic shrank life down to doing everything necessary to prevent or minimise the spread of contagion.

Since then, I’ve only gone out to three places: work, a supermarket and the chemists. The recent re-opening of the launderette doesn’t alter that, they’re only two minuteswalk from Morrisons.

But lockdown is now easing. We’ve won, go back to normal, so what if there are still daily deaths and a second wave is next to inevitable? Now I don’t trust a word this so-called government says, and I never will, but I’m not immune, I am stir crazy, and with hands washed and facemask donned, I’m going to go out.

With typical irony I first set off in the opposite direction. I have an undelivered parcel, an external optical drive, to collect from the Sorting Office in Stockport. I tried to do that yesterday and got very wet for my pains. And the Sorting Office is currently only opening until 11.00 am, and I got there for 11.10am. I’m trying again because I’d like to put it to use this weekend, but it all depends on the connection in Stockport Bus Station.

Unlikely as it may seem, it’s timely.

There is a sicially distanced queue when I arrive but it’s less than half a dozen long and anyway, it’s not raining. They’re operating a One-Out, One-In policy and instead of waiting for your package to be produced from the back,you go round o the side door where it’s waiting for you on a trestle, so things go quickly.

Back to the main road. I want a 42 for Town and one turns up in less than fibe minutes. It’s all going swimmingly well: I get nervous.

The 42 takes me through parts of Manchester I used to be very familiar with but where I rarely go now, even in the freest of times. The route is an exercise in nostalgia and a reminder of how unfree life is without private transport.

Within a stop of getting on, I’m the only person on the bus, downstairs at least. No-one’s getting on or off and we just sail along, disturbed only by the automated voice reciting stops we pass by. Eventually, we stop in the middle of Didsbury Village to let the schedule catch up to us. A querulous bloke in a much-stretched Manchester City shirt complains about the timetables being “up the wall”: just how deeply has he been self-isolating these past three months and more.

Some memories on thi ride are more plesant than others. Some memories I don’t want to remember. We take another stop outside Christie Hospital, where they specialise in cancer.

Once we’re past Withington Village, the stops for travellers become more frequent. Joggers abound. The journey gets slower, stop-and-start, traffic lights perpetually red. We’re not quite at the University when the driver has to stop and count the passengers on board before allowing others to join us.

The nearer we get to Piccadilly Gardens, the slower the driver gets, playing for every red light. But there’s only a finite number of these and he can’t stop us from getting there eventually. No sooner do I alight than a man with an Irish accent and an air of still being drunk from the last time the pubs were open, shouts at me and anyone else within hearing that I/we can wear a hundred masks, a thousand masks, but he can still see us. Yerrsss.

I’ve three objectives in coming into Manchester today, aside from the novelty of course. The first of these crashes and burns almost immediately. I wanted to browse the Oldham Street Oxfam shop for cheap DVDs to supplement the dwindling Film 2020 collection. They’re open… but not until Monday.

Forbidden Planet is sixty seconds walk away on the other side of the street. They’re regulating entry on the same basis as the Post Office but here I’m only third and I’m soon inside.

I’m hoping/expecting to collect three comics and I come out with two, but one of them is a series I’d forgotten I was getting. The last one of the series…According to eBay after I get home, I was premature: the other two aren’t released until next week.

So let’s go see if Pizza Hut‘s open. It is indeed, but only for takeaways. There’s only a limited number of ingredients and when it comes to my two favourite Create-Your-Owns, there’s an ingredient missing from each one. I end up ordering a Sharing Hawaiian, to take home and heat up. It’s like Friday evenings twenty-five years ago, doing that.

So to home. I think I’ve just missed a 203 but I can’t tell through the facemask induced steam on my glasses. The dark clouds that have hung around all day, threatening yet more later, have separated and gone white in places and the sun through the gaps is surprisingly June-like. A not young but gently attractive lady with opaque tights and a foreign accents, asks me if she’s missed the 203?  If we have, one’s very close behind. She sits diagonally in front of me after starting on the other side of the aisle: in those innocent days I mentioned earlier, I might have tried to start a conversation with her (who’s kidding who? no, I wouldn’t. Probably not). She gets off in North Reddish.

One last task: I get off one stop early and go to check if my barber’s has any indication when it may be re-opening, but there’s none, nor any number from which I might book an appointment. I’m a good six to eight weeks past the last point I would have waited to have it cut, it’s longer than any time since the Seventies, and it’s bugging me seriously.

I’m back in before 2.00pm, and I heat up the pizza and Share it with myself. I haven’t had anything from Pizza Hut since the end of February so I’m entitled, ok?

Thus ends my Expedition: still not worthy of the name, especially when I’d originally have been intending to regale you with a Buttermere Expedition in a couple of week’s time, but we make the most of what we have.