Tag Archives: moviedrome



Self-publicity time. Shouts to Nike and Not Actual Size for letting me write this Nike Free A-Z. Nice to get to work on a project that’s based on contemporary runners and technologies, plus it takes me back to reading the old Crooked Tongues Tobie Hatfield feature from 2004 and thinking that I’d quite like to write something along those lines one day. The downside? Because it’s 2013, it’s one of those new-fangled digital book simulations. My mum won’t believe that kind of thing constitutes real work because it’s “the internet.” Only tangible, tactile evidence that I do anything will ever suffice. Anyway, go flick through that as proof that not everything I write is full of cowardly subliminal shots and poorly punctuated anger. Apparently there was a launch for the campaign the other day and Steve Cram was there — somebody should have made him some black and yellow Cram Windrunners with a Free sole specially for his appearance. I now know more about the science of shoe technologies than I did in January of this year. It’s nice to work on projects relating to products I can safely say I mess with without sounding like a corporate stooge. Maybe a childhood spent memorising old Nike ads — while other kids were actually doing sports that the shoes were intended for — wasn’t entirely squandered.

As an antidote to the nausea of self-promotion, Criterion‘s YouTube channel has been uploading some nice videos for the 40th anniversary DVD and Blu-ray release of Badlands, including the first four minutes of the movie, just to remind you how flawless that use of a narration is. Martin Sheen’s Kit is the coolest serial killer in film history and Malick’s direction and Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography are a perfect partnership. This disturbing and poetic true-crime (though the names were changed) classic proves that you don’t need gimmicks to make a movie with style. And because this is a period piece, Badlands never dates – plus it inspired Bruuuuuce to record Nebraska. I’ll always be in debt to Alex Cox for putting me onto this film as a double bill with 1951’s The Prowler (James Ellroy’s favorite film) on BBC2’s Moviedrome – a meanness in this world portrayed with unsurpassed elegance. I can watch this time and time again – the rumoured 6-hour cut of Tree of Life? I’ll pass, thanks.

Stüssy are putting out a twice-yearly publication called Stüssy Biannual. Given their sheer volume of projects, global tribe connects and emphasis on photography, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner. For years I hoarded infrequent Stüssy mook releases from Japan, but an English language equivalent would be very welcome. Dropping on Friday, Stüssy Biannual #1 features contributions from Kenneth Cappello, Shaniqwa Jarvis and plenty of other talented people. Now, how about a hardcover Stüssy book, covering the brand’s history?

I wanted to see a Mo’ Wax book of some kind too, but seeing as I’m still waiting for the MWA Glen E. Friedman poster to drop, I gave up hope of anything like that happening. But Urban Archaeology is an impending book and exhibition to celebrate Mo’ Wax’s 21st anniversary that’s going to be Kickstarter funded. My interest in this project outweighs the grim realisation of how many years have passed since 1992. There’s a new site too — www.mowax21.com. They should put a bulletin board on there and weird animated launch page with Major Force West on repeat to resurrect the Beggars Group online era for the label.


I like using holiday time to catch up on the pile of DVDs that I never mustered the inclination to watch since they were impulse purchased. It’s not that I never had time — rather that I knew I’d be disappointed on a repeat viewing of each film. 1987’s ‘Straight to Hell’ is a perfect example of a film I want to like. I really, really, really want to like it. I remember the murmurings around it on its release and I recall the critical savaging it got. For every extremely negative critical reaction there’s a cult following in the making.

Surely a western that boasts a cast that includes Joe Strummer, Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones and Shane MacGowan and Jim Jarmusch must be an under-appreciated gem? There’s certain seafood I try to will myself to enjoy. It’s not quite disgusting, but they make for a joyless anti-feast. I feel I should like it. Other people enjoy it, so why don’t I?

I don’t want to spit it out, much as I didn’t hit eject when I put the new ‘Straight to Hell’ redux, ‘Straight to Hell Returns’ in the player. Just as I find myself chewing the fishy offering into a joyless mush that dries out and won’t disappear, this remastered edition’s 90 minute duration feels at least 300% longer than other films. That episodic, willingly madcap narrative is oddly paced enough to evoke one of director Alex Cox’s old favourites, ‘Django, Kill,’ and just as all the king’s horses can’t put that film into an entirely comprehensible cut, the extra CGI blood, wandering skeletons and frugal handful of extra running time still leaves me cold.

The acting can occasionally resemble some kind of enforced young offender’s amateur performance (though Sy Richardson is amazing), but I still respect Mr. Cox’s decision to make it over the ‘Three Amigos.’ He even turned down ‘The Running Man’ to make ‘Walker.’

It’s the backstory, from Cox’s passion for the spaghetti western that makes him an authority on the subject to the aborted Nicaragua benefit that led to the excess of musicians in the cast that draws me back to ‘Straight to Hell.’ The documentary — ‘Back to Hell’ and the DVD’s commentary tell that story enough to make it worth picking up. When Alex is talking over it, this is a far, far better film.

It’s also worth noting that Alex Cox is my guru when it comes to films. He (alongside Kim Newman’s ‘Nightmare Movies’ and Danny Peary’s ‘Cult Movies’ trilogy) put me onto a number of under appreciated films as part of his run on BBC2’s ‘Moviedrome’ spot for several summers between 1988 and 1994. Cox presented double bills, dragged moaning from the BBC library, frequently themed, with comprehensive introductions and a genuine passion for the topic.

Post-Tarantino, everything’s a fucking “cult” film, but for weeks on end, sunday nights from 10am, which would now be filled with a ‘Gavin & Stacey’ re-run, or something equally shit, we got ‘Alligator,’ ‘The Great Silence,’ ‘Dead of Night,’ Two-Lane Blacktop,’ ‘The Hill,’ ‘Assault on Precinct 13,’ ‘One From the Heart,’ ‘Rabid,’ ‘The Parallax View,’ ‘Trancers,’ ‘Q – The Winged Serpent,’ ‘Lenny,’ ‘Grim Prairie Tales,’ ‘Day of the Locust,’ ‘Mishima’ and much more.

Each film made a substantial impact on me, supplementing a prolific diet of the era’s costlier productions. What could be perceived as trash cinema was lovingly contextualized to the point where its scheduling in the same slot as more cerebral, established masterpieces made utter sense. America got the Z Channel from 1974 to 1989 (as documented in the terrific ‘Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession’) and Jerry Harvey’s careful curation. We got Alex Cox — and for that reason I was happy to blindly shell out the coins to grab a DVD I knew I probably couldn’t make myself love.

Moviedrome came back in 1997 with Mark Cousins on presentation duties. The selection seemed to be significantly less obscure (though he gets props for screening ‘The Devil Thumbs a Ride’ and ‘Target), and while I enjoy Mark’s writing and critique, his eerie presentation style made me put my hand over my drink, in case he reached out the screen and slipped something into it. Alex was more of an infectiously enthusiastic oddball. I sent my £4 and got one of the lovingly made Moviedrome guides, which I promptly lost. I respected Mr. Cox’s humility in reprinting a particularly scathing ‘Walker’ review.

The fact Alex has upped guides 1 & 2 as PDFs on his site quells the gloom caused by my mislaid pamphlet and still holds up as a strong collection of must-see cinema. There might be some established favourites in the lounge TV festival’s lineups, but ‘To Sleep with Anger’ and ‘Tracks’ remain depressingly obscure and well worthy of revival. These are mediocre times televisually, and Film4 cannot and will never compete with what Moviedrome gave an entire generation on a weekly basis.

Salute the UK’s champion of the cinematic underdog — himself an underdog (albeit one of his own creation). I recommend everything on the ‘Straight to Hell’ DVD, bar the actual film in its unaccompanied form…

Not even the most fleeting mention of ‘The Parallax View’ can pass without including this video.


‘Cult’ is a broad term. It can cover something successful with a rabid fanbase or something more niche, but with disciples willing to die, or at least, exchange crossed words with critics over it. It’s so overused that it’s barely worth using any more. In cinematic terms, post ‘Pulp Fiction’ in 1994, became an epidemic. Contrived quirky dialogue and sudden bursts of violence? Cult. Botched heist? Cult. ending? Cult. Riddled with referential touches? Cult. Cult status can be bestowed in hack poster quotes before the damn thing’s even screened to the public. For the recent Cass Pennant biopic the tie-in book declared it to be “a remarkable British Cult Film” from the get-go. In 2010, unless it’s a bearded guru sanctioning nerve gas subway attacks, there’s no point buying any talk of cultdom. Fuck it. This wasn’t always the case.

Sometimes you’ve got to pay tribute to the teachers. Shoes..apparel…it’s all totally irrelevant compared to films and music. Films in particular are important, but having grown up poring through Halliwell’s Film Guide and Leonard Maltin’s annual tome, those guys dropped the facts, but badmouthed De Palma’s ‘Scarface’. There was a conflict of personal opinions that necessitated a new guru.

Without an equivalent of the mighty ‘Z’ channel as documented in ‘Z: A Magnificent Obsession’, Alex Cox on ‘Moviedrome’ (that’s a whole ‘nother blog post) screening the likes of ‘Walker’ and Danny Peary’s trilogy of ‘Cult Movies’ books published between 1981 and 1988 were my mentors. Peary introduced this Brit to ‘Over the Edge’, ‘Seconds’,  ‘Massacre At Central High’ and ‘Behind The Green Door’ (RIP Marilyn Chambers) – classics. As relevant to my formative pop cultural education as ‘The Face’, ‘Spraycan Art’ or ‘Rap Attack’, this trio of books still holds an important place in film literature – much of what was covered in the first volume has been elevated in Blu-Ray special editions, but the ensuing chapters still hold some rarities.

Peary created a checklist – a curriculum for students looking for the odd, erotic, violent and offbeat, and he has excellent taste, with writeups (ignore the spoiler synopsis for each film) that can still enlighten an eager viewer. This was my film school. Always bear in mind that here you’re reading the ramblings of someone who spent afternoons as a child cross-referencing his cousin’s ‘Cracked’ and ‘Mad’ parody issues with the corresponding Halliwell reviews. Strange. Very strange.

Why there was never a ‘Cult Movies 4’ is a shame, but post 1988, perhaps the overkill of cult talk proved repellent. Danny’s ‘Guide for the Film Fanatic’ and ‘Alternate Oscars’ were essential too. This was a writer who just seemed to understand that populist wasn’t tantamount to entertainment. Easter is the perfect time to catch up on some films, and seeing as a ‘Clash of the Titans’ remake has fallen flat (without sounding like the anti-synth idiots of the early ’80s, CGI lacks soul – stop motion still wins), revisiting some of Peary’s tips made sense. 1969’s ‘Medium Cool’ and 1979’s ‘Saint Jack’ still capture their respective times, split by a decade, the former with sledgehammer subtlety compared to the latter, but linked by obsessive documentation and controversy.

Haskell Wexler’s ‘Medium Cool’ with a mix of real riot footage, revolutionary talk and fictional anti-apathy subplots, takes on some incendiary topics with regards to media ethics and earned itself an ‘X’. Despite notions of hippie idealism, it stays relevant. Quentin Tarantino was right to re-up Robert Forster’s career on the back of this and grindhouse favourite ‘Vigilante’.

Quentin apparently owns an original print of Peter Bogdanovich’s ‘Saint Jack’ – an adaptation of Paul Theroux’s novel, and Peter’s last great film. Set in Singapore in 1973, it contains one of the decades most overlooked performances alongside Harvey Keitel in ‘Fingers’ from Ben Gazzara as the titular pimp operating in Singapore – the film is one of the only Hollywood films shot there, and despite the Brits and Americans looking like the real villains of the piece, Singapore authorities banned the film until 2006. With a yearly narrative showing Jack in deeper looking more world-weary, it’s a low-key affair, but a forced tattooing at the hands of Triads and the ensuing flowery cover up should prove interesting for the ink fans out there too. Both deserve wider audiences. After DVD releases early last decade, they’re out-of-print now, commanding some heavy prices. Where’s Criterion when you need them?

The background of both films is so interesting that 2001’s ‘Look Out Haskell It’s Real: The Making of Medium Cool’ screened on the BBC just prior to the digital release, and the 2006 book, ‘Kinda Hot: The Making of Saint Jack in Singapore’ are the perfect follow-ups. The book in particular is a product of obsession, but the guile and wranglings required to shoot the film justify 240 pages, but the author, Ben Slater is evidently a man as driven as Peary in putting his passion to paper, and it’s a story rarely told. Slater’s tie-in site is still getting updates, and this site, dedicated entirely to Danny Peary’s listings is worth spending some time with too.

After talk of Cosmo’s greatness in ‘The Killing of a Chinese Bookie’ last month, other Ben Gazzara moments of note (and of many) today are this ‘LIFE’ cover from 1969 too preceding the release of ‘Husbands’ alongside John Cassavetes and Peter Falk, looking sharp, and from a film that even I can’t bring myself to extol the virtues of, despite another great performance as Charles Bukowski from Gazzara, his fine speech on the nature of style from ‘Tales of Ordinary Madness’ – best to stick with ‘Barfly’ or ‘Factotum’ if you want a good motion picture on the pock-marked literary don-dada though.