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Friday, 23 August 2013

Twins of Evil

The other day, I got involved in a discussion on an internet forum about unusual, exciting or unexpected stuff that people had seen on television. Some of the contributors recounted surprising tales of nudity, profanity or sexual activity; others mentioned examples that were inspiring, terrifying or sometimes downright bizarre. The conversation brought to mind an incident from my youth.

When I was about 15, I was allowed to stay up late one night to watch an old Hammer horror film called 'Twins of Evil'. Set somewhere in middle Europe in the 19th century, it starred Peter Cushing as the uptight leader of a vigilante group called The Brotherhood, whose self-appointed role seemed to be to root out witches, vampires and other unsavoury types. The legal process must have been a lot speedier in those days, because it looked like The Brotherhood didn’t have to produce much in the way of evidence to get a conviction; I suspect that, if you owned a cat or looked a bit foreign you’d have been more or less bang to rights as far as those blokes were concerned. Once they had snared these undesirables, they’d hang them, burn them, drive a stake through their hearts or do pretty much whatever took their fancy, as long as it involved extreme pain and the grisly demise of the ‘convicted’ sinner.

As I recall, the early part of the film looked to illustrate the relish that the Peter Cushing character brought to his day job of finding, accusing, torturing and then killing weird folk. As the story unfolds, however, his cosy gig with The Brotherhood starts to get somewhat compromised when him and his missus adopt their 19-year old orphaned twin nieces (played by Mary and Madelaine Collinson). You may not be surprised, dear reader, when I tell you that by no stretch of the imagination could anyone have claimed that these girls had been beaten with the ugly stick. As a chap with a sense of familial duty that could almost be described as medieval (to say nothing of his general disposition as an all-round misery guts), Mr Cushing is naturally very keen to keep the twins out of trouble. In addition to protecting them from the ever-present threat of vampires, witches and evil spirits, he is also at pains to make sure that none of the local lads (uneducated scruff, to a man) get so much as a sniff at his buxom charges.

The director of ‘Twins of Evil’ clearly thought it was important for the development of the story to have these charming young ladies lounge around in nightdresses that were all but see-through. In fact, so revealing were these garments that, from time to time, it was obvious that the girls had been instructed to strategically 'bunch up' the material a little so that the censor would not mistake this high-concept art movie for a piece of gratuitous titillation. You may not be surprised to learn that, at various points in the film -in a certain light and viewed from certain angles- the nightdresses managed to reveal rather more flesh than would have been considered appropriate for family viewing.

Much to the chagrin of uncle Peter, one of the nieces gets into a close encounter with the decadent aristocrat Count Karnstein, a thoroughly bad egg who also happens to be a vampire. What with some of his vampire chums having previously been cruelly dispatched by The Brotherhood, it is no surprise that the evil count just can’t resist taking a bite at some forbidden fruit the first opportunity he gets. Hence, Mary (or is it Madelaine?) becomes the 'evil' twin.

So … let’s check the key elements of this story: Shapely identical twins cavorting around in revealing nightdresses. One of them is 'good' and pure, the other one is 'bad' and clearly gagging for it, with vampire teeth and everything.

And that’s about it. It sounds rather flimsy, doesn’t it?

But ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you that it is impossible to exaggerate the impact that a film like this would have on the imagination of a 15-year old boy.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

The Beautiful Game?

On the weekend that a new season kicks off in the Barclays Premier League (a.k.a. ‘the greatest league in the world’), one big question hangs over the world of football. No, it’s not the one about whether Arsenal will ever make a major signing, nor the one about whether David Moyes will be able to fill the shoes of Sir Alex Ferguson. No, this one is even more baffling, namely: Why (oh why, oh why) does the BBC continue to show faith in the punditry skills of Robbie Savage?

I have long suspected that Savage must have photos of the Director General of the BBC cavorting naked with a clutch of ladyboys. How else could he have 'earned' his various broadcasting gigs and how on earth does he hold on to them? Most football phone-ins on the radio are bad enough, but Five-Live’s is rendered unlistenable by Savage’s abrasive pub-bore style. Devoid of charm or wit, he’s about as insightful as a pantomime horse and, on a bad day (there are a lot of bad days) he barely achieves coherence. His stock answer to anyone who challenges his view is: have you ever played professional football? It seems to have escaped his notice that a big part of his job is to engage with folk who haven’t played professional football. To dismiss their views because they haven’t makes his show redundant; or at least it should. The fact that he can pick up a wage for sounding like a three-pints-to-the-good taxi-driver talking out of his arse should be enough to force a public inquiry into the validity of the licence fee.

To his credit however, Savage has just offered a revealing glimpse into the ‘spoiled millionaire-throwing-toys-out-of-the-pram’ world of top flight professional football. His article on the BBC website about ‘Tricks to engineer a transfer’ is grimly illuminating and a reminder, as if we needed one, that some of our heroes have feet of clay. Among the various ‘tricks’ listed in the article are: sulking, stirring up trouble, fighting with team mates, being a bad influence, undermining the manager and using the media to promote your personal agenda. There have been so many stories of petulant and greedy footballers that, as I read the piece, I found myself putting names against each of these ‘tricks’.
By far the most interesting remarks occur when Savage speaks about ‘not trying’. It is, perhaps, the one time that you feel that he is not being entirely honest. Here’s what he says:

'It can be hard to do, but one sure way of losing the manager's backing is by not giving 100% in a match. I say it's hard to do because you're not just letting yourself down, you are letting your team-mates, fans and family down. I only did it once and I'm not proud of my actions, but it felt like it was the only avenue left open to me. That was the point at which the manager knew he had lost me and there was nothing he could do to keep me'.

His claim that there was only occasion in his career when he didn’t try has the same kind of hollow ring as someone saying that ‘I only ate one of your chocolates’ or ‘I only visited one pornographic site’ or ‘I only exaggerated one expenses claim.’ And sadly, Robbie Savage is by no means unique. If he is owning up to this stuff, we know for certain that many other footballers will have done the same things, in spades. That’s quite a concept to grasp, that professional players, often on huge salaries, might not be trying when they cross that white line.

Anyone who forks out more than they can sensibly afford on top flight football should weigh up the investment made against the enjoyment gained, offset now by the knowledge that not everyone on the field of play will necessarily be playing the game as we, the audience, think it should be played. But when we suspect, or believe, that not all of the competitors are doing their best, a knife is driven into the heart of competitive sport.

Savage has done us a favour by shining a torchlight into football’s squalid basement. It’s a dank and dismal place full of horrible creepy crawlies, grubbing around in a frenzy of greed, grievance, megalomania, petulance and a bit more greed.

Welcome to the new season.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Song of the Week: 'Low flying kites'

This week’s song is ‘Low-flying Kites’ by Gum, the closing track from the ‘Seven Feeble Alibis’ album.  It’s one of the band’s finest moments, showcasing as it does some of the key elements in their oeuvre: wistful vocals, lush chords and creamy textures, all framed within a delicate atmospheric soundscape. Reviewers often compared Gum to the likes of Morcheeba, Zero 7 and One Dove and it’s not that difficult to spot the common denominators.  

As the unusually glorious Scottish summer starts to drizzle to a close, this seems like an appropriate song of the week, evoking, as it does, images of hilly inner-city parks on hot, windless summer afternoons. It features an optimistic lyric about hanging onto dreams and doing your own thing.  When last I checked, there was no law against doing your own thing, unless your ‘thing’ happens to be a member of the animal kingdom. This was a fine closing track for the album and, teasingly buried in the detail, there are a couple of musical and lyrical quotes for true anoraks to spot.  Membership of the tragic freemasonry of muso geeks awaits anyone who can spot these quotes.       

Gum - Low flying kites