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One of the biggest clichés in the Horror genre, outside of lusting teenagers getting intimate in a secluded and uninhabited area at midnight, is that of unnecessary sequels. You can’t find many Horror film series that didn’t overstay their welcome by at least 3 or 4 films before vanishing into utter absurdity. There are many examples of this; There were 5 official sequels in the Nightmare of Elm Street, Friday the 13th had 9 sequels. This is also not counting the cross-overs, television series and remakes. Both of the original films were considered landmarks of the Horror genre and brought about a rabid desire in the 1980s for a slew of slasher films to follow suit. Over time, the original films were forgotten and the genre was diluted to the point where the original films were unrecognisable. This is unfortunately the fall of the Horror genre as a whole.

Maybe one of the more inappropriate and perplexing Horror sequels (aside from Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan) was the third Halloween film of the original 8 entitled “Halloween III: Season of the Witch”.

Maybe one of the more confusing things about this film is the deviation from the winning formula put in place by John Carpenter, namely the unstoppable antagonist Michael Myers. Season of the Witch removed Myers from the equation and essentially belongs in a world where the previous Halloween films are just films and works of fiction. The film centres around a shady toy company Silver Shamrock and their fiendish plans to KILL MILLIONS OF CHILDREN ON HALLOWEEN.

Oh, and there army of android killers that keep popping up. You always need androids. 

As a kid, I watched this on Channel 5 on a Friday evening and was mainly intrigued to watch one of the Michael Myers films. I was surprised to find no trace of the Shatner mask wearing psychopath outside of a brief clip of a trailer for the original film in a bar scene. There were a few moments that creeped me out, namely the Silver Shamrock adverts and the scene where a young Pumpkin mask wearing child has his head disintegrated to snakes and locusts. However, watching it back now, I find the whole deal corny in a typical 80s Horror film way.

It's Only a Movie: Films For All Hallow's Eve

The idea of removing the series cash cow and replacing him with a narrative revolving around the theft of Stone Henge and mass child murder may seem like a terrible idea. Well, I guess the scathing reviews it received and negative fan reactions it invokes to this day is all the explanation required as to why the series returned to the Michael Myers cannon. Then again, it’s not like those sequels were of a higher quality of film as the series pretty much followed the same pattern of it’s Elm Street and 13th counterparts.

All of that aside, there is no better viewing material on Halloween than a campy, unnecessary Horror sequel. This film fits that bill.


Pulp Fiction (1994. dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Pulp Fiction was released 20 years ago today in America. That’s an insane sentence to write seeing as the film does not appear to have aged a bit since it’s initial release. Every scene is still massively quotable and despite several pastiches and parodies, the iconic scenes do not lose any of their appeal. With not a single ounce of hyperbole intended, it is quite easy to argue the point that Pulp Fiction is the best film of the past 20 years.

It’s really hard to pick a scene or two from the film as potential stand outs as they’re really all on an equal playing field. I was considering the opening diner scene, the Vincent and Jules scenes that crop up or the watch saga but opted for the Jack Rabbit Slim’s scene.

Everything about the scene itself is perfect; it shows off Tarantino’s flair for dialogue as the character interaction is genuinely interesting. Every line is sharp and well delivered by Thurman and Travolta (who play off of each other so well) and the conversation comes across as organic. Beyond the discussions surrounded failed tv pilots and Tony Rocky Horror’s ill-fated fall from grace, there’s also that dance scene which is often imitated and never truly duplicated. It works so well in this portion of the film, playing off the obvious chemistry between Mia and Vincent and is the precursor for one of the more tense turn of events. It’s also an excellent display of twisting which is something far less prevalent in this; the Age of Twerking.

And also, it has a great Chuck Berry song playing in the background. Any excuse to feature a scene with Chuck Berry playing in the background is good with me.

Gah, YouTube is adhering to “copyright laws” and doesn’t feature the entire scene. Jesus YouTube, don’t be a…

One of my earliest posts on this here blog was a Halloween post. It was pretty much a compilation of shows/films I thought would make ideal Halloween viewing and it’s still one of the more popular posts I made based on the views it still gets in 2014. I’m doing the same thing again this year, devoting individual posts to each entry. It’ll be fun, honest. 

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Chris Morris is, without question, my favourite comedian of all time. I still have vivid memories of watching the original 2001 broadcast of Brass Eye’s Paedophilia special at the age of 11 and being equally astounded and confused as to what I had just encountered. I’d never seen comedy so abrasive, controversial and gloriously unapologetic. After witnessing that 2001 special, I watched the whole show and it’s predecessor “The Day Today” which was equally as hilarious, if a little more tame with the constraints of the BBC. And then, I heard nothing for some time. Many years later, I heard something about another show Morris had created that I never even knew existed. It was called Jam.

Jam is the bleakest and most disturbing comedy series ever broadcast on mainstream British television. It was Morris unleashed and at his most abstract from both a production and humour standpoint. Using mostly audio from the radio version dubbed, episodes were 20 minutes long, featured no ad-breaks or credits, no overarching narratives and a surrealist editing style (aided by a brilliant Trip-Hop soundtrack) which created a truly unsettling atmosphere to the show.

With sketches focusing on an ex-husband’s bloody present to his ex-wife (hint: it includes a woodchipper), an unethical sale of a homes that involved repeated sexual encounters with the buyers and a plumber performing unnecessary ‘repairs’ to a baby, the laughs are not as immediate or as obvious as they are in Brass Eye and The Day Today. At points, you wouldn’t be alone if you didn’t suspect that you were watching an especially abstract David Lynch film from the 90s and not a comedy sketch show.

Unrelenting dark whilst worryingly hilarious at points, Jam is well worth a look in this festive Halloween period.

Stop Making Sense (1984, dir. Jonathan Demme)

Home – is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home she lifted up her wings
I Guess that this must be the place
I can’t tell one from the other
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time Before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be . . . where I’ll be

There have been some great concert films over time; The Last Waltz that  followed the last ever show from The Band, Gimme Shelter that documented the tragic events of The Rolling Stones free concert at Altamont and the empowering Wattstax that covered the 1972 Stax concert in Watts (that features some excellent performances and also THAT Jesse Jackson speech). More often than not, these films would be time capsules for an important event in musical or history as a whole (with music being a tie in) that add some form of context to the film.

Despite lacking in historical significance or even a documenting a monumental gig (like LCD Soundsystem’s “Shut Up and Play the Hits” did for their last ever show), Jonathan Demme’s “Stop Making Sense” is without a doubt, the greatest Rock concert film ever made, even if (and lord knows why) you’re not a fan of Talking Heads.

The format and concept of the film is a thing of beauty. The show begins with lead singer David Byrne taking to a stark stage with a guitar and a cassette tape playing a click drum. As the show progresses and as each song passes, the show starts to come together; the rest of the band and backing band take the stage individually and the set is put together over time. It’s stunning to see these developments take place in front of your eyes as we’re accustom to an entire band taking to a stage together. Instead, we’re getting a progression and further layers of sound added over time.

Stop Making Sense is presented very much as a film. The footage is incredibly crisp and the choice of shots more focused on creating an enjoyable watch than you would expect. Take David Byrne’s freak-out near the end of “Psycho Killer” as it looks like stock footage from a film as opposed to something occurring in the middle of a live performance. Credit for that has to go to Demme and his quality of direction, something missing from the majority of concert films released.

What’s equally as interesting is the lack of crowd noise. Unlike many live recordings or concert films, there is very little audible crowd noise. Interestingly, it was David Byrne’s decision to mute the crowd noise as much as possible to allow the viewer/listener to make their own judgements on the performance and not to be swayed by the applause of a live crowd. Tied in with this is the severe lack of crowd shots of any kind with the cameras facing the band face on. Still, in place of relentless crowd shots, you get amazing close ups on the backing band at points, my favourite being the emphasis on the backing vocalists during “Slippery People” as they appear to be having the most amount of fun possible.

As innovative and visually stunning as the film is, what essentially matters is the music. Whilst not my favourite Talking Heads live performance (their other live compilation “The Name of this Band is Talking Heads” which is an absolute must have if you dig the band), the choice of mostly hit singles and a joyous appearance from Talking Heads side-project Tom Tom Club make it a really easy watch or listen. Even the songs you are less familiar with are still great, mainly due to the tremendous backing band, visuals and Byrne wearing a humongous suit at some point.

You also get a healthy dose of jamming and deviation from the original version of the songs performed. One of my absolute pet peeves of live music is hearing the song exactly as it was performed on record as it feels like it was a waste of money hearing a song you enjoyed performed just as you heard it. The band’s best remembered song “Once in a Lifetime” is far more enjoyable in this film with the backing vocals and wavy synths throughout. Another example is the outtake from the original film of “Big Business” and “I Zimbra” which are way more free-flowing live and way more experimental than the original recordings.

It’s thirty years old this summer and honestly, nothing has come quite close to it. Stop Making Sense is still the greatest Rock concert movie ever made and it will be some time before another film comes close.

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The concept of a close up shot music video isn’t anything new.

One of the more famous examples of a close up take video is Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” which could arguably be one of the more famous videos of all time. In that video, the shot everyone remembers is when O’Connor sings a line that alludes her troubled relationship with her mother (trivia note: it was a slight change from Prince’s original version) and a single tear rolls down from her eye to her cheek. Whatever your opinions on O’Connor are, it’s still a powerful image born out of simplicity and emotion. It’s an often parodied and replicated shot.

Whilst Miley Cyrus’ video for “Wrecking Ball” replicated the O’Connor video (interspersed with Cyrus looking like a spectacular goof naked on a fucking wrecking ball), the intensity and humanising aspects of the video were pretty much lost. Probably a better example of how to use the close up shot effectively in this day and age can be found in the video for Janelle Monae’s “Cold War”.

For the uninitiated, Janelle Monae is a unique musician who seems to have inherited the dancing ability and stage presence of James Brown. She’s a rarity in modern music; a female musician who wholly rejects sexualisation and who has a clear desire to be respected as a musician above all else. She stepped into prominence with “The ArchAndroid” which was a concept album about an android who falls in love with a human in a futuristic world. It’s an album that knows no boundaries when it comes to genre; one minute it’s soul, the next it’s classical then it’s full blown 60s psychedelia. Her live performances are also genuinely worth going out of your way to see, too.

“Cold War” was one of the highlights from that veritable feast of an album as it featured pure musical jubilation and some incredibly thought-provoking lyrics. The drum pattern has a real “B.O.B” feel to it which makes it and meshes well with Monae’s powerful performance.

Shot in one take, the video is an intimate experience. We follow Monae on an up-close and emotional performance. We see her singing in jubilation, grimacing, laughing before eventually becoming overcome with emotion. The moment when she begins to break down and cry is startling to behold due to the sense of realism it holds. It’s seemingly out of nowhere and is one of those rare instances where you see a musician show raw human emotion in a video. Whilst O’Connor had two tears roll down her face, she continued to sing; Monae stops and momentarily struggles to regain her compose.

“I remember crying during ‘Cold War’ [on the] first take. I didn’t know how that happened but it just did. I was very moved by that. It was really a special moment; then everybody else started to cry.”

 

The emotion on show and the one take video make Cold War. for my money at least, one of the superior close up shot videos. It may not have the ‘iconic’ image from O’Connor’s or the so-called sex appeal from Cyrus’ but it certainly strikes more of a nerve with you. It’s also a great and memorable introduction to one of the more brilliant and ingenious performers of this generation.

One the flip side, there’s the joyous and equally as eye-catching video for the other tremendous single from The ArchAndroid for “Tightrope”. I genuinely hope this fashion sense and dancing style makes a rapid return. I challenge you to not smile at least once when watching it.

A part of me would like to remember listening to Daft Punk’s debut album “Homework” when it first came out in 1997, but deep down I know that that did not happen for many years to come. Looking back on the album and time in which it came out, it can in some ways be considered one of the more influential Electronic albums of all time and the album that really sparked interest in the developing French House scene of the late 90s/early 2000s. However, all of that would’ve eluded me at that point in time as I was probably more interested in the Backstreet Boys and other such dross to pay attention.

What did grab me however was the entrancing video for probably the most famous song from the album “Around the World” that was directed by excellent music video and film (when he wants to be good) directer Michel Gondry. Featuring several groups of characters moving in cyclical motions and nothing more, the video was oddly engrossing to a 7/8 year old version of myself. If my gin-soaked memory serves me well, I believe the first time I saw it was on the long defunct Saturday kid’s TV programme “Live & Kicking” when I was in the twilight of my life. What appealed to me was the absolutely simplicity on the face of what the video is; people moving ‘around the world’ dressed in various costumes.

What I failed to notice at 7 years old was what each group of people represented a different aspect of the song itself. One group will represent the bassline, another the drum pattern, another will only move when the high pitched synth is heard and another will only move when the vocals are playing. It makes the hypnotic nature of the video itself even more engrossing and ingenious and really speaks to the ability of Gondry as a music video director.

From a more technical standpoint, the intrinsic choreography required to make the video a success is stunning to comprehend. The intricacies entailed to make it succeed were something that Gondry strove for, as he had found that choreography was a mistreated factor and utilised as filler in music videos at the time it was released. He and his crew succeeded in making an incredibly influential video that simply used organised dance in a unique fashion.

Daft Punk would have many more great videos that would feature Anthropomorphic Canines, Manga space cartoons and of course, robots. They’ve also now become the renaissance men of 70s Funk music, jamming with Pharrell and Nile Rodgers in glittery outfits . Whilst the music is still great and the videos enjoyable, I’m still mesmerised by this wonder.

There is something to be said about having a great music video for a song. Especially evident when MTV was more prominent and today where YouTube is an everyday task for some, a creative or engrossing music video creates a buzz around a song or musician and it can become something that everybody talks about for a period of time. An example of this is the video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” that was a television event (like a lot of Jackson’s big budget videos) and essentially is more iconic than the song itself. Even in the modern day, Miley Cyrus’ video for “Wrecking Ball” was more (in)famous than the song which for the life of me I cannot recollect. 

This series will look at some of the more intriguing and interest music videos that have been released over the years. It’ll be a mix of really well known ones and others that are less mainstream and a little more left field. 

Metallica – One

From one of the band’s best and more experimental albums “…And Justice For All“, One is a particularly bleak song that’s lyrics are directly inspired by Dalton Trumbo anti-war novel “Johnny Got His Gun“. It’s one of my personal favourite Metallica songs due to the absolutely ferocity of Lars’ drumming and the fact that, lyrically, it’s probably one of the stronger songs they’ve written.

To accompany the song, the music video uses a slew of scenes from the film version of Trumbo’s novel and effectively tells the story of the novel within 7 minutes. The film scenes add an even more disturbing and unsettling feeling to an already downbeat song, especially with Johnny’s monologue playing throughout. The ending with Johnny finally coming to terms with his fate and weakly repeating the line “S.O.S. Help. Me” is difficult to forget.

Metallica had a few other really good videos, in particular the nightmarish video for “Enter Sandman” which may be a little more of an iconic and broader televised Metallica music video. In my opinion, their best video was their first and most haunting.