Sunday, 28 June 2015

Granite City Comic Con pt3. Interview with Comic writing legend, Alan Grant.

There are some who were probably wondering if my articles on Granite City Comic Con 2015 were ever going to end. I can imagine numerous vigils in even the most secluded corners of the world where people are praying for me to stop, not necessarily praying for a stop to my musing over GCCC, they're just hoping that I'll just..........well, stop. 

The problem is that I simply cannot stop. It's not that I think that I'm any good at this blogging lark, perish the thought. No, the thing is that 5D. The Fifth Dimension just keeps on providing me with the privilege of getting to meet people whose work I've admired for many year, some of whome have had a profound affect on my life. Once again, GCCC provided me with the opportunity to indulge another of my obsessions.

I've made it no secret that perhaps the most potent early influence on my love of Scifi was the comic, 2000AD. As a young boy in the late 1970's I was slowly coming ever more under the influence of scifi and fantasy, I just needed one final push to send me well and truly into the world of nerdom and geeksvile. By 1977 the genre of Science fiction was moving away from the niche market that it had always inhabited to becoming part of mainstream culture - and as we all know, we're talking big time mainstream of monstrous proportions! The success of a certain Star Wars movie, together with some Close Encounters et al meant that a huge science fiction Tsunami seemed to be taking all in its wake. You couldn't turn on a television without seeing a light sabre, droid or an alien of any type. The timing was perfect. 2000AD was a comic that tapped into this cultural explosion and not only that, it was edgy, it took chances, it was intense and at times it was shocking.

The first copy, and the ones that followed each week were intensely seductive in their mixture of futuristic offerings which at times pulled few punches when it came to mixing in a little horror and gore. It was to me, and many other pre-adolescent boys, the punk rock of comics - it tested the boundaries of taste and daring and simply went places where the mainstream comics dared not tread. I distinctly remember my dad one day picking up one of the early editions and exclaiming that the blood and guts in one of the story lines was far too much for a boy of my age - I sulked for a week until he finally relented. For the next few years the characters and stories were my constant weekly companions - my already existing interest in science fiction now became an obsession.

The comic has now passed its 35th year of production and going on nearly 2000 editions, a testament to its enduring and endearing quality. A quality that has been brought to us from what reads like a who's who of literary and graphic British talent, many of whom have crossed over into Graphic novel, literary novels, television, cinema and the wider American comic market.  Peter Milligan (Tank Girl), Grant Morrison (Batman: Arkham Asylum), Neil Gaiman (Sandman), Alan Grant, Dave Gibbons, Mark Millar, Garth Ennis, Brian Talbot, Brian Bolland and Alan Moore have all become synonymous in many other areas. Indeed, many others that initially cut their teeth on 2000AD went on to succeed in America, with huge influences in the Marvel and DC universes. 

Judge Dredd is without doubt the single most iconic creation to come out of the comic, having crossed over into the wider social consciousness in everything from pop art to feature films . One of the movie adaptations is terrible, the other, much much better…….sit down Mr Stallone and just say nothing. Dredd didn't actually appear until the 2nd edition of 2000AD, though he has appeared in every single edition since then. His character was allegedly inspired by the movie cop'  Dirty Harry' played by Clint Eastwood, a tough, unrelenting San Fransisco policeman who was more than prepared to kill the bad guy first than waste time going through the annoying bureaucracy of the justice system. 

Judge Dredd is entrusted with the ability not only to enforce the law, but also to instantly select the appropriate level of extreme justice on the spot – often this means execution. Initially set in 2099, he fights his crime in Mega-City One, a huge dystopian monstrosity of a city which stretches down the entirety of the U.S. eastern seaboard. The huge sprawling stories such as The Cursed earth and The Robot wars took the reader into story arcs of complex and thought provoking beauty that had hitherto to that point been rarely explored by other comic creations.

One of the writers synonymous with Dredd is Alan Grant and someone who also inextricably linked with a fellow Mega-City One Judge, the quite wonderful story arc of Judge Anderson. I must admit here and now that the character of Dredd didn't remain my absolute favourite of the comic. I'm not sure why, possibly his character over the years lost some of the dry humour and all too often fell into the realms of caricature. Over the years I have actually developed more of an affection for the character and story arc of Judge Anderson, if truth be told.

So when the names of GCCC's guests were originally announced, the name of Alan Grant was the one that I dearly wanted to speak to, perhaps more than any other person there. 

For the uneitiated, according to comicbookdb.com......

"Alan Grant first entered the comics industry in 1967 when he became an editor for DC Thompson before moving to London from Dundee in 1970. After going back to college Grant found himself back in Dundee and living on social security. It was here that he met John Wagner and a writing partnership was forged. Together they penned hundreds of Judge Dredd’s weekly adventures in the graphic comic ‘2000AD’. Grant has been writing for ‘2000AD’ for more than 25 years now, and many of the predictions made in his SF stories have come to pass in the real world. He is internationally acclaimed for stories featuring heroes like Batman, Robocop and Terminator (based on the blockbuster Arnold Schwartzenegger movies). He is also the co-author of ‘The Bogie Man’, Scotland’s best-selling independent comic, and the recent comic incarnation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped’. "


The Interview bit..........


Q) I’ve been big fan since you took over Judge Dredd in the early 1980’s. I know you’ve probably been asked a thousand times, but just what is about him that makes him so popular. After all, he’s essentially a bad guy.

A) Oh I honestly don’t know……but I remember back in the early days John, John Wagner and I got 2000AD to put in a questionnaire page asking what do you like most about Dredd? Why is Dredd your favourite? Do you want to see Dredd being harder or do you want to soften his image?


Q) I bet most people wanted it harder?

A) Yeah, most people wanted it harder and most people, something like 8 out of 10, when they were asked what they liked most about Dredd they replied “The leather costume!” (Laughs)…….there must be something in that (laughs)


Q) I’ve always been a bigger fan myself of Judge Anderson, who for me is more ‘human’. Was that a deliberate intention to counteract the harshness of Dredd?

A) Yeah, I figured that as she was a woman there was no point turning her into a hard version like Dredd .

Q) How did you like her as she was depicted in the movie, Dredd?

A) It was ok, I didn’t have any complaints about it.


Q) I quite liked the movie, a huge improvement on the Stallone thing

A) On the Stallone one, definitely! (chuckles)


Q) Why were you not asked to have any part in it, some input? Its bonkers.

A) I don’t know, it’s the way movies work. There are plenty of people in the movie business who don’t want to share the money!

Q) I must admit that what I didn’t quite like about the Dredd film was the depiction of the ‘rogue Judges’. It didn’t quite fit.

A) Yep, that’s where it fell down for mw. We had done stories about rogue Judges but they were few and far between and when they happened you made a big point of it, you didn’t suddenly say “Aw here’s four judges who’ve been bought off with a million credits each” That was the big stumbling block in the Dredd movie for me.


Q) What do think of events like this (Comic Con’s). Crazy, overwhelming?

A) I think it’s fantastic. I have never understood the pleasure that people get from dressing up (laughs) but it’s unbelievable, I love it.


Q) Do the younger kids know your work?

A) No, no no…..but unless their fathers have introduced them! (laughs)


Q) So when did you join 2000AD?

A) Erm, 1980…editorially for a couple of years before I left to go freelance.


Q) 2000AD ‘got away’ with a lot of stuff in terms of violence at the time that they would now. Do you agree?

A) Yeah it did….but I think the humour in Dredd was a big thing to start with but now I don’t think that the humour seems to count for much. Sometimes I look at Dredd stories and think, well, you know, that could have been anybody….it didn’t need to be Judge Dredd, it could have been anybody at all.


Q) So what are you working on thesedays?

A) I’m working on a new Anderson story……..

Q) Nice, nice……anything that you could share with me about that?

A) No, no…..nothing I could give away (laughs)……but I wanna kill Anderson off!


Q) You’ve done that before though, with your characters!

A) Well I did it with Johnny Alpha - but they brought him back to life! (laughs)


Q) But why kill Anderson off??!!

A) Well they probably won’t let me do it! And even if I did do it they would probably bring in someone else and bring her back to life! (laughs). Characters like that make too much money for the publishers for them ever to allow them to be killed off.


Q) With all the new technology now and fomats, are traditional comics still viable?

A)  Yeah, it’s still the core, comics are still the core but there is much more peripheral stuff for people to buy. But I’m old-fashioned, I was brought up in the old days (laughs) I still like to hold the comic!


Q) Well as I said, I’ve been a long time admirer of your work, Alan. It’s been a pleasure to meet you, a thrill.


A) Ok cheers, you’re very welcome.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Starspawn - The Kickstarter campaign for this H.P Lovecraft inspired film + interview with director, Travis Bain

It was my genuine pleasure some time ago to watch and review a fine Aussie film, Throwback (2015) which features their version of the fabled Sasquatch and Yeti, the Yowie. If you have a few stolen or lost moments to spare you could check out my musings on the film RIGHT HERE. However, if you quite rightly have far more important things to do, like watching paint dry, then I'll just say this; Throwback is a visually stunning film that, while never taking itself overly seriously, nevertheless succeeds in producing more than enough thrills and chills to satisfy those of us who love a damn good monster movie - and this is a damn good monster movie. It may not be perfect, however what imperfections there are may well be due more to a combination of the original budgetary constraints and unexpected cast and filming problems than to any lack of talent on the filmmakers part.

I did wonder what the director, Travis Bain and his team, would produce if indeed they did have the opportunity to make a film that employed a far bigger budget. Well it seems that I might get my answer in the form of the press release I received from Travis himself this week;


Australian filmmakers launch Kickstarter campaign for H.P. Lovecraft-inspired feature "Starspawn"

The makers of recent Australian horror feature Throwback have launched a Kickstarter campaign for their new feature Starspawn. The sci-fi/horror thriller from Queensland writer/producer/director Travis Bain is about a TV current affairs journalist who uncovers evidence of an imminent alien invasion whilst on assignment to interview some Outback survivalists.

The 40-day "all or nothing" crowdfunding campaign is aimed at raising $30,000 to allow the filmmakers to commission alien puppets and costumes and shoot a proof-of-concept excerpt from the full feature in Northwestern Queensland. Vernon Wells from Mad Max 2, Commando and Bain's previous feature Throwback has signed on to play a key role, and other name actors are said to be “circling” the project. 

Filmmaker Travis Bain says he drew inspiration for Starspawn from the films of John Carpenter and the works of cult horror author H.P. Lovecraft.

“I've been a huge Lovecraft fan since I was a teenager in the '80s,” Bain says, “but I've always found it hard to find satisfying film versions adapted from—or inspired by—his mythos, so I decided to try to make one myself. Starspawn will be a film made by Lovecraft fans for Lovecraft fans, and we're hoping to put some of his most iconic monsters on screen in a way they've never been seen before, using old-school practical effects.”
     
Bain’s previous feature Throwback screened at eleven international film festivals and was released by Monster Pictures on DVD in Australia, the UK, New Zealand and Turkey earlier this year. Throwback is due for DVD release in the US on July 21st. A third and final trailer for the film has been unveiled to support the US release: http://youtu.be/BDm2fFnUrtY

The Starspawn Kickstarter campaign will conclude on 19 July 2015. For more information, please visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/starspawn/starspawn-an-hp-lovecraft-inspired-sci-fi-horror-f/description


The official Facebook: www.facebook.com/starspawnmovie

Official website: www.sapphirepictures.com.au


Well you should know me by now, dear reader person. I'm not one for just lazily cutting and pasting a press release onto my own blog. For a start it doesn't really enable me to fully explore the depth of self-indulgence for the 'me, me, me - it's all about me' flavour that most of my articles convey with apparent ease. So in an effort to get some more of 'me' into this article I decided to include a chat that I recently had with the director himself, Travis Bain. In between the talking about me, I also manage to let him pass on some details too about him and his work. I'm all heart.


Interview with Starspawn writer and director, Travis Bain.



5D) I can't tell you how excited I am about the concept for this movie. What news can you divulge to my loyal reader?

Travis) We appreciate your support. Are you a Lovecraft fan yourself? I have been since I was a teenager back in the late 80s, and I think the fans are crying out for a decent Lovecraft-inspired movie. A lot of them have been disappointments. And it could be years before we get to see Del Toro's "At the Mountains of Madness." I want to make the Lovecraft film the fans like myself have been waiting for. It's a big challenge, but I'm up for it. After all, I tackled an Australian Bigfoot movie with Vernon Wells for only $4,000!


5D) I'm a big Lovecraft fan - For me, few works from anybody in Gothic horror has ever surpassed 'The Dunwich Horror' - it's  practically perfect. I have to agree with you, many Lovecraft- themed movies have been pretty poor so I'm expecting great things from you - no pressure then! 

Travis) The Dunwich Horror is one creepy story alright. I just re-read it a few months ago. Some Lovecraft fans might wonder how I'm going to transpose his New England-style horror to the outback, but all I can say is I have a cunning plan. 


5D) A cunning plan, eh? Tell me more......you can trust me.......probably.

Travis) Can you keep a secret? We're putting ********** on the screen in this movie. Now are you excited?

(I'm not allowed to say what is under the asterisks - for now it's a secret!)


5D) You bet your life I'm very excited! Of course your secret is safe with me......looking forward to seeing your cunning plan! I do know one thing that I can mention, that the legend himself, Vernon Wells (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Commando) will appear. How exciting is that?

Vernon Wells; in Mad Max 2, Commando & Throwback
Travis) I hope you get to chat with Vernon. He's a top bloke. He'll have a much bigger role than in my previous film, Throwback. He'll be a badass farmer with a large gun collection. But he'll also get to show off his acting chops as I've written some really meaty dramatic stuff for him.


5D) I would love to have the chance to chat with him. What else can you tell me about what we might see in Starspawn?

Travis) Just privately, here's a sample piece of our concept art. Not many people outside our inner circle have seen this, but I feel I can trust you, mate. This is hopefully a glimpse at the sort of creature we've got in store for the movie if we can raise the money for it.

(Once again I must resist passing onto to you, dear reader, a quite wonderful piece of art....but I will say for now that you'll love it when you see it!)


5D) I must say how much I enjoyed your previous film, Throwback - a very enjoyable slice of Aussie Sasquatchploitation!

Travis) Thanks so much, Stu, that is one very cool article, and very supportive, too. My team and I are so thankful you decided to get behind our little movie. Your review was totally fair and spot-on. The production in the rainforest was a real challenge, but I persevered and thankfully, it's turned out OK, got a distribution deal, played some festivals and won some awards .. and earned some cool reviews from people like yourself! 

I have a different tolerance to slow-paced films than most other people. I love slow films like Barry Lyndon and Once Upon a Time in the West. I love stories that take their sweet time, as long as they are making discernible progress. I'm currently reading Dan Simmons' mammoth novel The Abominable, which is ostensibly about the Yeti, and I'm about 300 pages in and the heroes are only just reaching the lower summits of Everest. So far the novel's all been about crampons and goose down jackets and all the minute details of the expedition, but I love that. I jokingly said to my colleagues recently that one day, when I'm old and doddery, I might cut together a four-hour mini-series of Throwback, because I actually have enough footage to do that! But they all shot my idea down in flames. I wonder why? 



5D) So how will that experience influence Starspawn?

Travis) Starspawn will move much quicker. I'm looking at classic alien films like Aliens and Super 8 to take a cue from their pacing. I want Starspawn to absolutely HURTLE at times. There's a great chase scene at the start of Act 2 which no one has ever seen the likes of before. I can't wait for you to see what we're cooking up. I reckon it'll be right up your alley.  If the stars align, we'll have a budget many times greater than Throwback, and with that, I fully intend to make a movie that's many times more impressive. 



5D) So where does the Kickstarter campaign fit into your plans for Starspawn?

The Kickstarter campaign is the cornerstone to it all, at each stage of the project, we'll be able to produce something cool to attract more investors, like some kickass footage. Our first $30k is essential for us to commission some high-quality alien costumes and puppets. We don't want the aliens in this film to look like Halloween-store rejects, we want them to be convincing and scary. 


Howard Phillips Lovecraft - a personal hero of mine



Saturday, 20 June 2015

King Falls AM - Interview with the show's presenters.

During the past few weeks 5D has been extolling the virtues of a small town America radio station. Not only has King Falls been won the vote for "Best small town in America' (voted for by, er, Chamber of Commerce of, er, King Falls), but it also boasts a local institution with its radio station - King Falls AM

The station has had something of revamp in terms of its late-night talk show in the form of new presenter, Sammy Stevens who took over the 2 a.m time-slot from the local institution that was Diamond Dave Alvarez, who recently retired after his 18 year long stint in the shows hot seat. The first four shows have introduced us not only to Sammy, his erstwhile local boy producer, Ben Arnold, but also to the little known reputation that the King Falls area has had in regard to paranormal activity.

While the cases of the paranormal have been an important and riveting part of each show,  one of the other highlights has been the presentation from King Falls 'outsider' Sammy and local boy Ben. The information coming from King Falls has been a little sparse when it comes to giving out too much information on the their presenters so I am eternally grateful to the station owners for giving me the opportunity to talk with the two guys themselves.

In addition to the interview, I've also included the links to the four shows that have been released on podcast so far (each lasts approximately 15 minutes) for you to enjoy just in case you haven't had the opportunity to do so.

Sammy Stevens (Find him on Twitter via @KingFallsSammy)

Q) There doesn’t seem to be a lot of information out there so tell us a little about you and your life before you moved to King Falls.

A) Just living the dream! I spent a few years working my way up the radio food chain, producer here, on-air there until I got my break at the BJ & Kazoo Morning Show. I did my time and it just wasn't for me. I prefer real people stories to Kim Kardashian every day of the week. 


Q) So how did you land the gig at King Falls AM? After all, the place isn’t quite the big city life that you’re used to is it?

A) I was in the middle of contract negotiations and I got a random email from Merv, he owns King Falls AM, and it was a serious amount of money to do what I really wanted to do, which was Talk Radio. I'd never even heard of King Falls until then. 


Q) Judging from what I’ve heard on the show, the locals seem to include their fare share of, how can I say, eccentrics. What has the welcome been like from them so far?

A) Ha! There have been a couple of guys who give me the willies but the welcome here has been warm and amazing. It's kinda like living in 1950's post war America here. Everybody knows you and you know them. I've never had a bad interaction with any of the residents when I'm out and about. Good people. 



Q) That Mayor Grisham doesn’t seem to like you. Do you agree?

A) I think ... hmm, how do I put this? I don't think the Mayor is a fan of the show. I don't think he has a problem with me, personally, but I don't think he likes real news being reported in his town. That's an issue. 


Q) What do you think of all the crazy sh*t that is happening in this quaint town?

A) You know, for every weird call we get or crazy situation that happens, we've got hours of radio that is just normal everyday talk. News. Weather. Real people talk and real people problems. I think only the crazy stuff gets publicised. They don't report about us talking to people about Paediatrician recommendations. But that's just the way the news business is. But ... yeah, when it's crazy, it's full on bat s**t isn't it?


Q) What’s it really like to work with Ben?

A) Ben Arnold is the real deal. I've never worked with anyone that is more prepped and knowledgeable than Ben. On top of it, he's a good guy inside and outside of the studio. I honestly couldn't have picked a better partner than Ben. 


Q) Do you really think that you should been made to apologise for what happened over the coverage of the Bass tournament?


A) You know, I'm probably gonna get an inbox full from Merv because of this, but the hell with it. I don't think we should have. I don't think any news outlet should have to apologise for reporting news. Ever. Our feeds were cut. Ben & I were forced off the property. Then a week later, almost two weeks later, we have to apologise on air for reporting the news? That's unheard of. That's some North Korean level politics at work. 


Q) How long will you be staying in King Falls? 

A) As long as they'll have me! Radio is a business and I've signed a contract that will keep me here for a good while regardless, but I like it here. I genuinely like the people and even though I'm not a fan of these "happenings" that go on, I'm also getting a front row seat to report on things that journalists dream of reporting so it's a plus. I don't ever know what to expect when we go to the phone lines and that's not a bad thing. 



Ben Arnold


Q) So King Falls born and bred?

A) 100%! King Falls has been and always will be home for me. 


Q) What’s it really like to work with a big city boy like Sammy?

A) It's fun. Sammy's a real pro. He's got a good way with the listeners I think. I've learnt a lot from him. Even some stuff I didn't want to like the co-host thing, but it's been fun. 


Q) There seemed to be a level of subtext between you and Ron Begley (from Begley’s bait & tackle) on a previous show. What’s the deal there?

A) Uh ... I'm not sure ... subtext? Ron's just a buddy but he's also a very particular type of guy and I was just waiting to see if Sammy would end up riling him up. He did! But Ron's a cool guy. His pop used to let me and my buddies go out on his pontoon boat and go searching for Kingsie during the summers. The Begley's are good people. 


Q) Which leads me onto the lovely Librarian, Emily Potter she seems to have gained much admiring remarks?…… Tell me about her.

A) Somebody is admiring Emily? Who? I wanna know ... I mean, Emily and I are just friends. Strictly friends. Did Sammy ask you to ask this? He's just stirring the pot, man! I've been checking out books twice a week from the King Falls library for YEARS! He's trying to act like I've got a crush on her or something. He's crazy. We're just friends. But she is terrific though, right?


Q) Just what is the deal with all the crazy stuff going on in and around Kings Falls?

A) Crazy stuff? You'd have to give me an example, I'm not sure what you mean. 


Q) Crazy stuff. Mysterious lights. Alien Abductions. Ghosts --

A) Apparitions. 


Q) Right, Apparitions. Werewolves. Lake Monsters. You have to admit, that's not your average run-of-the-mill news items. 

A) See, I wouldn't call that crazy. It's just things that happen. Do they happen more in King Falls? Maybe so. But every town has it's little "paranormal" events. I think we're lucky to get so much of it, if anything. You learn about this stuff as kids but you don't always get to see it. I mean, don't get me wrong. I'm as worried as anybody when it comes to Tim Jensen being missing or werewolves bothering townsfolk. I'm not trivialising it. But if Sammy and I reporting on it raises awareness or helps the folks listening then it's all worth it. 


https://soundcloud.com/king-falls-am/episode-four-wolves-gone-wild
Q) What are your plans for the future? There is a big wide world outside King Falls you know!

A) Oh,  I know. And there's plenty I'd like to see out there. But leaving King Falls? I just can't see it. This is home. I can see buying a little house and settling down with the right girl. Raising a family. That's the plan, I think. One day. 


Q) A girl like Emily Potter?

A) I could definitely see Emily and ... alright! Where's Sammy? I know he put you up to this.




I would like to say a big thank you to Sammy and Ben for sparing some of their time to chat with 5D.


You can find the Facebook page for King Falls AM RIGHT HERE

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Planet Jimbot. 'Amongst the Stars' nominated for an award


‘Aliens have nightmares too. Us!’

An alien race reaches out to planet Earth, but only with its collective mind. But for the aliens, too late, mentally it proves a crippling experience, where Earth drags them down to a level they don’t want to go and cannot escape from. They are trapped in something akin to a horror movie.

Everyone on Earth remains blissfully unaware of this alien intervention, or do they? Can we somehow help save them? It’s in the back of our minds.


Following on from the success of GoodCopBadCop at last summer's True Believers/Eagles awards, I'm delighted to say that 'Amongst the Stars' has made the Scottish Independent Comic Book Alliance (SICBA) shortlist for Best Graphic Novel 2015.

The 64-page trade is written by Jim Alexander (Metal Hurlant, Star Trek Manga) and drawn by Mike Perkins (Stephen King's The Stand, Astonishing X-Men, Deathlok). This includes the superbly creepy back-up tale ‘Growing Pains’ by Jim Alexander and Will Pickering (Savant, Burke and Hare).
Amongst the Stars is a uniquely ethereal and philosophical take on the sci-fi genre, with the concept and storytelling in particular receiving a whole raft of positive reviews since it's initial release.

To celebrate Planet Jimbot have put together an ickle PDF sampler of the book, which features 5 pages of the story and has been made available for me to share as I see fit. So employing what semblance of personal power that I have (just humour me), I've used my legendary tech skills (I'm the copy and past king) to put the pages below in all their glory.

Also,the book is on sale at the Planet Jimbot online shop for a special SICBA price of £5.50 plus P&P which can be reached at :https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/PlanetJimbot

I would also urge you to vote for the novel itself. Voting is a public vote and the winners will be announced at the SICBA award ceremony at CCA: Glasgow on Sat 4th July as part of Glasgow Comic Con. Details can be found on the SICBA website: SICBA site:http://www.sicba.org.uk/

There are a number of categories, including Best Graphic Novel. Best of luck to all.......but especially to Amongst the Stars...... Here are the nominations.

Best Graphic Novel:

Amongst The Stars (published by Planet Jimbot)

And Then Emily Was Gone (published by ComixTribe)

Boat vol. 1 (Self published)

IDP:2043 (published by Freight Books)

Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter (published by Renegade Arts Entertainment
)














Tuesday, 16 June 2015

A 5D love letter to Jaws


Forty years - bloody hell. If you say it quick enough it doesn't sound that bad. Actually it doesn't matter one jot how quickly you say it. Forty years - bloody hell.

I was a mere 9 years old when it was first released in my home town in early 1976. Yes I know I've said it before, but generally the 1970's were rather crap when it came to the UK having to wait its turn for the big releases.There were none of the near-simultaneous releases around the world that we enjoy these days. In those dim and distant days films in the US were often released sometimes many months before they came over here to the UK. Jaws was no exception, having been released in the States in the previous summer and then becoming a monster (see what I did there? Sorry, I’ll get my coat.) of a money accumulator as it single-handedly invented the summer blockbuster. All we could do here in Europe was twiddle our fingers as we watched and heard about the excitement that was taking place across the pond. I suppose though in a way it did help to provide a continuous building up of excitement through the months because by the time it came to the initial release at the end of December here in the UK - the anticipation was barely controllable. In January 1976, everything over here just went Great White Shark crazy as British cinemas felt the onslaught of the movie going public. It seemed that everyone but everyone in the country was trying to see the film.

Well except for me..........

The problem was that I wasn't allowed to go and see what had the most anticipated cinematic event at that point in the decade. It was all my parents fault. The problem was that they too had heard the kafuffle that the film was causing and deemed the content far too violent for my seemingly delicate 10 year old sensitivities. Even then my parents didn’t know me. No matter how much I begged, sulked or threatened to go on an immediate hunger strike the answer was still no. Even when I showed them that it was a mere ‘A’ certificate which meant it was more than ok for a boy of my age to see, the answer was no. Even when I told them that my best friend Paul had asked his parents and they said that he could go, the answer was still a resounding no. I hated them and I hated my life. They still said no.

Now my parents have never been ones to fully embrace the idea of logical thinking, and this particular episode was a prime example of that. My sulking must have exceeded even my own quite spectacular heights of moodiness at feeling that life was simply not worth living (I had yet to discover Star Wars, of course). I knew this because my Dad decided that if I couldn’t go and watch the film I could at least read the novel that it was based upon.

What they obviously hadn’t done was check the book first – forget the far more descriptive accounts of violent death it contained, forget the immensely unlikable characters that inhabit the literary version or that the film adaptation (like many films do) quite radically deviated and jettisoned many of the book’s sub-plots thereby possible ruining any appreciation of when I would actually get to see the film. The way things were going it felt that I would probably not get to see the film until I was about 30. They obviously hadn’t proof-read the book to realise that it also contained a couple of rather graphic sex scenes (well they were for the age I was at the time) from the adulterous affair between Hooper and Brody’s wife. Every cloud and all that, I suppose……

When Jaws began its second run in our town about a year later my parents finally relented and agreed that now I was a working man of means (Newspaper delivery boy, extraordinaire!) I could now go.  Either that or I had eventually worn them down with my incessant sulking. To be Frank, the past year had been hell with most of my friends (yes I did have some) having been to see it on numerous occasions. Of course, being my friends and considerate of my feelings they would regularly rub my nose in it and by referring to me as the ‘Jaws Virgin’. Bastards.

I went to see it a grand total of 8 and a half times in the first month - the half a time was due to me sneaking into the screening from another film so bad that I had left halfway through, for the life of me I can’t remember what the film was. I snook into a spare seat just in time for me to see the Orca leaving Amity harbour to take on the beast. 

I have no doubt that there are many other filmgoers that could testify to watching Jaws more times than me, in all honesty I've lost count on just how many times over the years I may have indeed seen it. The number must be in the many hundreds by now. In those early days I quickly learnt to enjoy a new game, which essentially involved me watching the audience reactions in those key "holy shit!!!!" moments. My favourite one was the scene where Ben Gardner’s head would come bobbing out from the bottom of his boat. Just before the moment arrived I would steal a glance at the unsuspecting member of the audience who had never seen the film and wait in anticipation for their predictable reaction. It was always worthwhile and while I'm not too sure what this says about me as a person, but I enjoyed it immensely every single time.

As the years progressed and I developed into the immensely mature and sophisticated man that I am now (shut up) I began to view the movie for a variety of other reasons. I will leave it up to others who are far more eloquent and knowledgeable about the film itself, Spielberg’s direction or the movie business in general to talk about what makes Jaws so technically and emotionally perfect. What I really just want to do is convey my personal level of adoration for a film that, even after countless viewings, never fails to hit the spot in this here bloggers cold, cold heart.

Even after 40 years (say it quickly) my love for this film has never waned, not one single jot. Indeed, if at all possible it has increased. A lot has been said over the years about the tortured and often chaotic production of the movie which meant that the original 55 day target for filming eventually mushroomed into three times the projected length – and with it so mushroomed the budget. Part of the delay was down to the numerous mechanical problems of the Shark model which severely impacted on its appearance during the filming process. The bloody thing simply failed to work when placed in the salt water environment. A lesser director may well have panicked at the thought of the films main focus missing from the screen. However the genius of Spielberg was to use what could have been a catastrophic problem to his advantage by using the time honoured maxim employed by the likes of Hitchcock of the ‘less is more’ approach. By leaving much of the Shark itself to the imagination of the audience the result was to simply rank up the tension from the very first moments as the opening credits appeared. That early scene of the POV of the shark swimming whilst accompanied by the cunningly simple yet highly effective musical score is pure class.

There are numerous other stories surrounding the filming that have now passed into folklore, and whether they're all true is simply immaterial to me. If anything they add to the aura that the film has achieved in the last four decades, and which still continues to do so.
Take for example that due to endless script re-writes and other pre-production problems, the casting of two essential characters, Quint and Hooper had yet to be finalised just none days before filming was due to commence . Even when the roles were sorted and filming began the script was still being constantly revised. If that wasn’t enough, once those roles were filled it quickly became apparent that the relationship between Richard Dreyfuss (Hooper) and Robert Shaw (Quint) was at times tense and at other times simply bordered on nasty. Once again this could have proved to be problematic in terms of getting a finished product together, yet this volatile working relationship between the two actors literally transferred itself to perfectly exemplify the very same on-screen relationship of the characters. If you add to that the brilliance of Roy Scheider’s wonderfully underplayed Chief Brody and the result was perhaps one of the finest ensemble pieces in contemporary cinema.
   
Whether it is folklore or not that Scheider improvised the “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” is by the by. The thought that one of the great lines of dialogue could have come from a spur of the moment piece of actor’s inspiration is enough for me. Genius.

Which brings me onto to my favourite scene from Jaws. No it’s not one of the attacks, the Ben Gardner head shot or the shark chase on the Orca. No, mine is 3 mins 34 secs of Robert Shaw’s account of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. It is 3 mins 34 sec mins of spellbinding and mesmerising storytelling from an actor who (despite, or possibly because of, certain personal negative attributes) was clearly still at the top of his game.  Once again folklore and myth has clouded the origins and final presentation of the dialogue, but it’s safe to say that writers Howard Sackler and John Milius and Robert Shaw himself all contributed to it. What cannot be denied however is that this speech deserves to be included and immortalised in the all-time movie lists. Watch the delivery and listen to the words – once again, genius.


Hooper: You were on the Indianapolis? 
Brody: What happened? 

Quint: Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin' back from the island of Tinian to Leyte... just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in twelve minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen footer. You know, you know that when you're in the water, chief? You tell by lookin' from the dorsal to the tail. 

Well, we didn't know. 'Cause our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent, huh. They didn't even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, chief. The sharks come cruisin'. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know it's... kinda like 'ol squares in battle like uh, you see on a calendar, like the battle of Waterloo. And the idea was, the shark goes to the nearest man and then he'd start poundin' and hollerin' and screamin' and sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes.

You know the thing about a shark, he's got... lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be livin'. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high pitch screamin' and the ocean turns red and spite of all the poundin' and the hollerin' they all come in and rip you to pieces. 

Y'know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men! I don't know how many sharks, maybe a thousand! I don't know how many men, they averaged six an hour. 

On Thursday mornin' chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player, Bosun's Mate. I thought he was asleep, reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up and down in the water, just like a kinda top. Up ended. Well... he'd been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low and he saw us. He's a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper, anyway he saw us and come in low. And three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29, 1945. 

Anyway, we delivered the bomb.


See what I mean?.................Genius.