Friday 21 December 2012

Eschatological problems

The suicidal, new-agers and Gozer worshippers alike, try not to be too downhearted. It's galling, I know, to still be alive and having now somehow survived the dual threat of both the year 2000 and 11.11 a.m. on December 21st 2012. Common sense dictates that at least one of them must have brought about the end of the world, surely? Does the planet not know what day it is? Nevertheless, be of good cheer: remember that all the governments of the world possess enough weapons of mass destruction to carry out the complete destruction of the planet hundreds of times over any time they fancied. And you might get hit by a bus while crossing the road. Nearer my God to thee, indeed.

However, for those of you having an existential crisis at the prospect of living out the next tens of thousands days of your life without any prospect of end times, I have provided a series of alternative dates and scenarios for those amongst us whose sole ambition is to die screaming to cling on to, like a pissy blanket. This is a free service and, as ever, you are most welcome.

24th December 2018
Father Christmas finds out the truth about his own existence during his annual delivery run, causing a terminal rift in the space-time continuum.

18th June 2026
The amount of cow farts in the atmosphere reaches critical mass as a friesian called Jessop cuts a particularly thick one and all the air on Earth boils.

2nd February 2029
Mars Attacks.

11th October 2037
The planet Earth is discovered to in fact to be subject to the same laws of physics as were depicted in Roadrunner cartoons with catastrophic, if hilarious, consequences.

30th November 2040

1st January 2050
A robot Judith Hann arrives from space to reveal that we should have heeded all her warnings from the prophetic Tomorrow's World, which is in fact revealed to have fallen under the remit of religious broadcasting.

16th September 2062
The sun tires of the continual repeats of some programmes but not others on ITV3 and decides to find another galaxy with better telly.

30th July 2066
Everybody in England kills themselves due to the horror of having not won any major international football competitions for exactly 100 years and everything else on Earth dies of grief at the loss.

5th July 2075
Everything just goes to tits.

14th April 2080
My 100th birthday.

20th April 2089
Adolf Hitler reappears from hiding in Argentina on his 200th birthday to fuck us all right up.

Now one of those has got to cover it.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

A child's Christmas ruined by marital infidelity

It's Christmas and so everyone's new favourite pastime is engaging in a ceaselessly circular and completely insoluble debate regarding the identity of the best Christmas film (it's It's A Wonderful Life). Fortunately, music has spared itself this fate by the release of A Christmas Gift For You in 1963. On 22nd November 1963 to be precise, the day of the Kennedy assassination. It is, was and ever shall be the ultimate festive selection and anybody who says otherwise is mistaken. It's as simple as that, for once.

Which is not to say that it is not without fault or should be immune from further analysis. For a start, the album's auteur is of course Phil Spector, one of the human race's most unassailable gitcaptains. A genuinely nasty piece of work, a hateful and spiteful man and one for whom pointing out he's a mole-faced bald-headed twat seems oddly unsatisfying when one considers all the deeper personality flaws that could be picked on instead.

Secondly, it is an album filled with songs which have unfortunately inviting lyrics for dirty minded people. Phil Spector's output is full of these. The Crystals' And Then He Kissed Me would be incomplete without the addition of "... on the tits", but drawing us in on a celebration of Christmas is particularly unseemly and unfortunate.

In fact, the worst offender is the song which I want to talk about in more detail. Thirdly and most damningly is the inconsistencies that run rife through I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus by The Ronettes. Let's get it out of the way early: it is a particularly filthy song. I saw mommy sucking Santa off, underneath the mistletoe last night. I saw mommy tickle Santa's balls. I could go on. But these are small potatoes when compared to the bigger picture.

The song itself was not written by The Ronettes or Phil Spector but by Tommie Connor, a British songwriter who was operational during the middle of the 20th Century. The original recording of it was by Jimmy Boyd in 1952. Boyd was 13 years old at the time, and therein lies the whole problem with the song. It is a song written from the child's perspective. An excited child on Christmas Eve sneaks out of bed and down onto the stairs to see if they can catch a peek at some of the magic of the season happening. What he sees, of course, is made clear by the title of the song.

The problem is the lines, "oh what a laugh it would have been/ if Daddy had only seen/ Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night". I presume that these were put in as a knowing reference for any parents listening. Of course we all know that it is daddy dressed up as Santa Claus. Ho ho ho. However, it doesn't so much break the fourth wall as drive a reindeer-pulled sleigh through it. The child doesn't know this. What he sees is Father Christmas in flagrante with his mother, the filthy whore. So quite why he would think it would be such a big laugh I do not know. Had this happened to me during my childhood, it would have ruined my Christmas completely. Oh no, my parents are going to get a divorce. I'm going to be one of those children with a single parent and then spend the weekends with the other one walking round a goose park being told how much I'm loved. Fuck's sake.

Maybe he thinks it's a step in the right direction? Maybe his father is a rather staid and boring man, an office drone. Maybe he thinks having Father Christmas be his new dad would be a much more exciting and fulfilling life? Of course, it could be that his father is an abuser. Take that, dad! Mommy is kissing Santa Claus!

The other possibility is that the child hates Father Christmas and has secretly always wanted to watched him get decked. This child's bedroom is full of mouse traps and crossbows on a hair trigger. One way or another, Father Christmas is going to get fucked up tonight. He's not leaving this house in one piece, that's for damn sure. Whichever is the correct reading of it, what is undeniable is that this child is either deeply psychologically disturbed, or is about to be. Is that really what we want to be dwelling on at the festive season?

Father Christmas: who is your mother to resist, eh? The filthy harlot

Friday 14 December 2012

Music as oatmeal

I'm sorry to be the bringer of bad news but modern music is shit. It's the time of year when television channels are full of those adverts for the new albums of the year's TOP BEAT COMBOS, presumably with a view to seeing thousands of units sold to prop up Christmas trees up and down the land. You know the ones:

JO WHILEY (V/O): Mercury Prize nominees Atomic Lightsabre's monumental new album The Electronic Confusion is out now, featuring the singles Poetry and Balloons...


(V/O)... Intestate Death Race...


(V/O)... and the brilliant new single Biliary Tree


I couldn't tell you for sure if I've heard any songs by any band from the last 15 years. They have all become one amorphous porridge of autotuning, neat perfection and identical sentiment. Whatever the genre, whatever the critical response, it's just cookie cutter. This is why I find myself turning increasingly to Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. For better or worse, whether you like it or hate it, there's no way you could not know whether you'd ever heard it or not.

There's not enough new things like that any more. Obviously, all the old stuff is still around too, which should be enough. But there's just this creeping feeling within me that it isn't.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Disaster recognition protocols

The other day I wrote a post here about my favourite disaster movies and in the distance there was a faint sound of howling. It turned out that this was my friend 5olly, esteemed film blogger and vegetablist. For some time he'd been planning to make the top 100 disaster movies his next film blog project and was worried that I was about to ruin everything. I was, of course, but not in the way he'd expected. As ever, my plans for ruining everything were more broad.

The key problem, he explained, was that unlike many other shitter genres of films, it's very hard to come by a definitive list of the best disaster movies. Indeed, opinion is divided as to exactly what constitutes a disaster movie and what doesn't. In order to help society, then, we decided to try and come up with a definitive list of the criteria required for a movie to be a disaster. This is essentially the minutes of that meeting, only with less swearing. Or more. Who knows?

1. A disaster must happen in your disaster movie

This may seem fairly self-evident but it rules a lot of wannabe movies out. Post-apocalyptic films where the key is survival, for instance, fall at this first hurdle, unless there are a series of subsequent disasters depicted in the plot. Having a disaster is pretty much essential for a disaster movie, and the bigger the better. It's also best to not be too coy about your disaster. A bit of build-up adds to the dramatic tension but it's always a mistake to wait too long, because:

2. The disaster must be the only reason for making your movie into a movie

Life's mundanity must be to the fore in the early stages of your disaster movie. There should be no reason whatsoever for turning the stories we see unfold into a movie, other than a disaster happening. You shouldn't make an intriguing espionage thriller and then put a tornado in it, essentially.

3. In another set of circumstances, your disaster may not have happened

By this I mean that it is important that things could have gone another way. That plane could have landed and a merry Christmas been had by all. The tsunami could have missed your farmyard and not played havoc with your insurance premiums. The tantalising prospect of what might have been must hang heavily over your story. If possible, at least one of your characters should have been only days away from retirement.

This, of course, rules out completely monumental disasters where every single thing on the planet is destroyed. In the cases of films like that, the audience will always be left wondering if they story they'd been watching up to that point was really the most interesting thing happening that you could have showed them. SO:

4. Some characters must survive your disaster

A movie must have a beginning, a middle and an end. A disaster movie must have a beginning, a disaster and an aftermath. This aftermath will struggle to hold the audience's attention unless there are some characters walking around in it. It goes without saying that these characters probably ought to include some that we'd already met. What kind of state they are in is entirely up to you: teeth, no teeth, arms fallen off or fused to a passing cow. Go nuts.

5. Your disaster must be made-up but not fanciful

This is where a lot of aspiring disaster movies fall down. Science fiction walks a very fine line: if the film is based on a disaster which, given all we know, could possibly happen then OK. Asteroid strikes or nuclear wars have not yet afflicted us, at least not since the dawning of Sight and Sound Magazine, however, it is well-established that they could and boffins with lots of furrows on their brow and pens in their pockets have considered their outcomes and effects in serious scientific papers. But ones based on pseudoscience, alien invasions, zombie plagues or monsters are on rather shakier ground. It's not that they could not happen - anything COULD happen, I suppose - but it's hard to see them as anything other than sci-fi monster movies or horror films. Of course, come the day that the dead rise, aliens invade and they are particularly angry, or a load of Godzillas and Mothras make merry all over Tokyo, then generic reclassification will of course be the first order of business.

Case study: 1998, a good year for asteroids

Maybe it was a case of pre-millennium tension but in the years leading up to 2000 the summer blockbuster movie became increasingly fixated with the annihilation of all we hold dear. In 1998 the dish of the day was shit dropping out of space onto middle America's well-manicured lawns. In Armageddon, a rogue asteroid works its way through all the space junk to threaten Earth with inevitable extinction unless a ragtag group of scientists, miners and alcoholics can land a spaceship on the object and blow it to bits. In Deep Impact, meanwhile, a vast comet is discovered by an amateur astronomer and will invariably extinct us all right up unless NASA can pull a fast one. Two films released in the same year, dealing with a very similar problem and an almost identical solution. However, one of them is a disaster film and the other is not. This is not even due to the application of one of my more arcane and absurd points, but because of a more fundamental one. Namely, of the two films only one - Deep Impact - actually has a disaster in it. Armageddon sees the get out of jail card played successfully just in time, thus becoming what can only be described as a near-disaster movie. Which are better for biodiversity but much worse for people trying to make a list of disaster movies.

Which is what I have done. Collaborating with 5olly, we have come up with that rarest of beasts, a top 100 list of disaster movies. The tentative plan is to make this a project for 2013, watching and reviewing all these titles in order to document our twitching collapse into complete paranoid psychosis. And here it is, in order of their rating on - with sequels expunged as far as possible and in the case of movies based on real-life disasters, only the top-rated or best known one is included. Sorry, A Night To Remember. Any suggestions for any we might have missed will be welcome, because we don't want to have to watch Titanic. It is rubbish.

The 5ollymund Official Top 100 Disaster Movies

Special Bulletin
When The Wind Blows
Variola Vera
On The Beach
San Francisco
The Hurricane
The Andromeda Strain
The Day the Earth Caught Fire
Colossus: The Forbin Project
The Poseidon Adventure
By Dawn's Early Light
Perfect Sense
The World, the Flesh and the Devil
The Day After
Miracle Mile
The Towering Inferno
When Worlds Collide
Panic in Year Zero!
Zero Hour!
The Last Voyage
Where Have All the People Gone
The Perfect Storm
The Day After Tomorrow
Back from Eternity
The Devil at 4 O'Clock
The Cassandra Crossing
The Night the Bridge Fell Down
Night of the Comet
Right at Your Door
End of the World
The Hindenburg
Gray Lady Down
The Crowded Sky
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
Crack in the World
No Blade of Grass
St. Helens
Deep Impact
World Trade Center
The Peacemaker
Crash Landing
This Is Not a Test
Dante's Peak
Hard Rain
Tidal Wave
The Night the World Exploded
Japan Sinks
Night of the Twisters
The Big Bus
Chain Reaction
Cold Harvest
The Core
Krakatoa, East of Java
The Happening
Damnation Alley
Countdown: The Sky's on Fire
Atomic Train
When Time Ran Out...
The Day the Sky Exploded
The Swarm
Def-Con 4
A Sound of Thunder
Atomic Twister
The Last Patrol
City on Fire
Doomsday Machine


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