It’s going to take a lot of nostalgia offsetting to make up for this one, but a video of a decent BFI Q&A from James Lavelle’s Meltdown to coincide with their screening of 1988’s Bombin’ is online, with filmmaker Dick Fontaine (who also directed 1984’s Beat This! — a huge influence on a generation who are currently tutting at the culture like their parents tutted at them when they sat down in front of the TV back in the mid 1980s to watch it for the umpteenth time), Lavelle and Goldie in conversation. Obviously the usual Bambaataa/Flash chatter is there but Goldie makes some good points about obtaining objects of clothing that are a Google search away now and the almost otherworldly power they carried, after the quest to hunt them down. It’s worth watching and Bombin’ is always worth watching — having only ever watched it on copies of copies, I never want to see a remastered version. It would take me out my comfort zone, like watching Seinfeld in HD (I revisited Under Siege 2 in HD recently and could see the dust on Eric Bogosian’s PC monitor.) I find the fuzz comforting. These days, we 30-somethings have split into factions — the ones so desperate to remain relevant that they’re feverishly trying to be on any trap slur mix tape thing first, even if it’s no good whatsoever, or the ones stuck in the 1987-1994 loop. I believe that there’s a middle ground. Shouts to archivist, photographer and Goldie’s former manager, Martin Jones for uploading the first hip-hop thing I ever remember seeing on TV — the Supreme Rockers from Birmingham and B-Boys from Wolverhampton (the Midlands seemed like a British Bronx to me back then) on the otherwise terrible Saturday Starship one Saturday morning in late 1984 (so I can thank Bonnie Langford and Tommy Boyd for my love of hip-hop somehow.) If you’re under the age of 30, apologies for the old man talk I’m dropping on you here — I don’t expect you to care.
It’s a film-related blog entry today rather than the usual clothing/shoe/rap babble. As a child of the video rental and regional late night movie selection, Michael Winner has long been a figure of fascination to me. Later in his lifetime, Winner trolled the nation by using his News of the World column to moan about Boots screwing up his negatives while getting a second set of photographs developed, and bragged about his lavish lifestyle with a remorselessness and regularity that was presumably tongue-in-cheek, but his film career had substantial share of moments, despite his reputation for hackery. Winner’s Death Wish trilogy had a huge impact on me, installing a love of the vigilante b-movie that I’ve never quite shaken. While I got my hands on Glickenhaus’ The Executioner and Lustig’s Vigilante (both referenced here a great deal), the first Death Wish eluded me for decades, with only Death Wish 2 screened on UK TV (in which Charlie looks at his most stylish in the beanie and sweatshirt combo) and part 3 being my video store rental of choice for its all out stupidity.
Why a slightly edited Death Wish 2 was deemed acceptable over the other two remains a mystery — with its gratuitous duo of rapes and sleazier atmosphere (Larry Fishburne’s bad guy ‘Cutter’is significantly more vocal than Jeff Goldblum’s ‘Freak #1’ in the first film). The Death Wish films were sheer exploitation, but all my favourite films of the era can be summed up succinctly with those two words. Michael Winner (alongside Frank Henenlotter and seemingly every alleyway scene in every NYC film between 1979 and 1987) had me assuming that on a brief trip to New York, you’d have a switchblade pulled out on you by a garishly dressed, sunglasses, jive talking, ragtag, multiracial gang before you’d even exited JFK. How was I to know that Death Wish 3 wasn’t even filmed in Brownsville? It was shot in London, as Bombin’ would later educate me, with Brim being spoken to by Michael Winner as if he was a toddler halfway through that classic hip-hop documentary. Brim was right about the film’s negative portrayals, but Death Wish 3 is still my flu bed flick of choice — starve a cold, feed a fever and treat both with exposure to Charlie blasting perps via bazookas and Gatling guns.
Beyond Charlie Bronson shooting fleeing perps, Winner’s early works — after a start shooting random documentaries and teen craze cash-ins — with Oliver Reed, like the moddish The System and I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname bear a certain Britishness and mild subversiveness (the latter got into some censor issues for its use of the word “fucking” while the former had Nicolas Roeg on cinematography) shine among the unfunny comedies (which he’d later echo with 1990’s slapstick monstrosity Bullseye!). The Nightcomers with Marlon Brando is nigh-on unwatchable, but as a lead up to The Turn of the Screw it seemed to preempt the wave of horror flick prequels by a few years. Winner evidently had a knack for westerns — Lawman is pleasantly vicious in a post Wild Bunch kind of way and Chato’s Way brings Charles Bronson to the fore for a superior First Blood style revenge scramble.
The Mechanic is a lean, muscular movie that, as the remake proved in its anaemia, has that 1972 grit that comes as standard and is tough to replicate. The Big Sleep with Robert Mitchum in the lead isn’t nearly as bad as its reputation indicates, but Winner’s final non-Bronson standout is 1977’s The Sentinel (which you can watch here) that sits alongside The Omen as a grand, star-studded spectacle that goes further than Tod Browning’s vengeful misfits by casting real life people with deformities as denizens of hell, but has some Christopher Walken and Sarandon weirdness, and genuinely disturbing goings on.
Worthy of mention just for its blend of soap opera style production values and performance with random bursts of phenomenally poor taste, 1984 home invasion thriller Scream For Help (available to watch here) also has John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin (after Jimmy Page, who scored Death Wish 2 couldn’t do it) on soundtrack duties. No matter how much time passes, Winner’s later work like Dirty Weekend and Parting Shots remain unwatchable. He was no Ken Russell, but the eclecticism of his work (some might cruelly call it hackery and argue that it had a constant in its mediocrity) meant Winner’s work is deserving of attention. Even more bizarrely, he was lined up to direct Captain America back when Cannon had the rights in 1984 (which eventually ended up being made by Albert Pyun and released in 1990 with JD Salinger’s son Matt as the lead). This incident, as recounted by Jim Shooter from that period casts a dark shadow on the whole thing though. Still, they don’t make them like Michael any more and, given the tidal wave of appalling January film burials hitting the cinema over the last few weeks, it’s a good time to reevaluate Winner’s contribution to the industry. Right wing, reactionary, sexist and condescending traits are bad things at a dinner party but good when you’re panning for scuzzy b-movie gold.
I’m still waiting to see that Bad Brains documentary, A Band in D.C. (which seems to have annoyed Darryl Jenifer), but in the meantime, the Afro-Punk documentary from 2003 is up on YouTube in its entirety. It’s a solid depiction of racial identity in a realm perceived as whiteboy central.
Because there wasn’t enough imagery in this entry, here’s two ads for tiger stripe camouflage from around 1969, when the Vietnam conflict had somehow sold it to outdoors types as a hunting aid.
I used to be terrified of New York City. Admittedly Just Ice and Kool G Rap’s crime rhymes didn’t help my perceptions, gleefully painting a picture of an urban hell in the ’80s, but the picture above was the true scaremonger for me. I mean look at it – isn’t that some guy being mugged at gunpoint on the subway? And the attacker’s so bolshy in the act that he’s unphased by a photographer snapping away? Now that’s gully. Actually, after years with this brutal image etched into my psyche as a textbook example of how hardcore New Yorkers can be, the reality behind the photo proved a little more benign. Still gritty, but hardly the brazen act that had me shook way back in the day.