Dynargh dhe'n Blogofrob

Tuesday 31st August 2004

Smug

On today's Evening Standard flysheets: ROONEY SIGNS RECORD DEAL

Personally I think he should stick to football.

53 - posted at 10:17:52
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Tuesday 24th August 2004

Bicycle Clip Time

As sometimes may be evident from the rolling list of films to the right, I often enjoy sitting down to watch the odd 'Horror' film, but the reason I haven't rambled on about this vast genre of film before is that I find it's difficult to accurately analyse it, define the various sub-categories within it, and single out the films within the genre that find me squirming in fear, where, in addition to the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end, those on my face start prickling and a genuine chill runs through me.

A recent, a slightly peculiar study at King's College London seems a good place to start. It uses a mathematical formula to decide that The Shining is the perfect scary movie. The formula concentrates on three main areas: suspense, realism and gore. Although I think The Shining is a brilliantly creepy film, the inadequacy of those three 'key' elements highlights the fact that the genre of Horror gathers together three or four fairly diverse classes of film, meaning that unsettling and frightening films like Rosemary's Baby or The Wicker Man sit in the Horror section of Blockbuster next to vaguely boring novelty films like The Sixth Sense (or would if Blockbuster bothered to stock any films over 5 minutes old).

As far as I can make out there are four loose sub-categories of Horror film - please forgive the slightly random titles for them, as well as the extremely trivial and self-indulgent exercise of describing them.

1. Spooky: These are films which usually involve a supernatural element, and generally terrify through more subtle means than other types of Horror. Fleeting glimpses of things that should remain unseen and discomforting noises provide the fear, rather than gallons of blood/brains/blood and brains. The Shining is in this class. While a complete nutbar chasing his screaming wife and son around a maze with an axe isn't exactly subtle, and the tidal wave of blood that crashes out of the lift contradicts my definition of this type of film, the majority of The Shining, with its oppressive atmosphere of impending disaster, the child's rasping 'Redrum' and the various unexpected beings rattling around in the hotel, sits quite neatly in this sub-category.

A special mention has to go to the BBC's early '90s stab at this genre - the television play Ghostwatch, which scared the hell out of me at the time, provoked a rash of viewer complaints, prompted one suicide and has never been repeated.

2. Terror: It could be argued that this is a catch-all class, but I think it includes those films that, while not being Slasher or Shocker films are too explicit to be merely Spooky. I think most Zombie films, from Night of the Living Dead to 28 Days Later can be included here, as well as most films featuring odd homocidal creatures, such as Aliens (but not Alien, more of a Spooky film) along with the Hammer House of Horror productions and their like. I also think the more gruesome Horror films, often referred to as 'exploitation' films belong here, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Last House on the Left and Cannibal Holocaust - the last of these meriting a name check because it retains the title of The Most Disturbing Film I Have Ever Seen.

3. Slasher: Clearly, the slightly dodgy Jason, Freddie, and Halloween films and all their inferior imitators.

4. Shocker: The twattish little brother of Slasher films, these seem to trade on no more than simply shocking the audience - Final Destination, I Know What You Did Last Summer and so on.

So, after pompously defining the Horror genre, here's a list of, in my opinion, the best Horror films around. They seem to come from the Spooky or Terror categories, which I suppose are the ones I find the most 'shit-yer-pants-scary'. In no particular order:

1. Don't Look Now: Set mostly in gloomy decaying Venice, this film creates a constant understated menace that bubbles under the suface for much of the time and only manifests itself visually at the startling climax. Brilliantly subtle Horror film, with the added bonus of wondering whether Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie really did have sex.

2. The Ju-On films: I've only seen two of these (out of four) but I choose them rather than any of the other dazzlingly terrifying Japanese films because they seem to bring together all the elements of, for example, Ringu and Dark Water, and unremittingly assault the viewer with the result - a steady succession of eldritch images and deeply unnerving sound effects.

3. The Others: Although not as immediately scary as many other films, and despite its slightly gimmicky twist, the brooding mansion enveloped by perpetual fog, the constant unease and tension within that mansion and the vaguely threatening unseen presences make this an accomplished and stylish Horror film.

4. The Eye: Another one from the far east, this time Hong Kong. A blind woman gets a corneal transplant and as a result can see for almost the first time in her life - but naturally she can make out certain things other people, with their home-grown organs, can't. It's enough to make me think that, even if I was close to death on an operating table and the surgeon was about to perform a life-saving transplant operation, I would insist on seeing evidence that my new body part hadn't once belonged to a feared village outcast, or been dug up in a Native American burial ground, before I consented to the procedure.

5. The Omen: A big budget '70s studio film - and an effortlessly effective Horror film. I once knew someone who watched this when he was 13, and went to bed afterwards, almost paralysed with fear. Waking from a nightmare a few hours later he scrambled out of his bedroom into the long corridor outside, and saw the disembodied head of the impaled priest come floating towards him, prompting him to run screaming around the house. No, it wasn't me - I'd have just thought it was Dr. Who.

52 - posted at 11:06:56
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Thursday 12th August 2004

Post-it Note

A quick one to register that Dave's blog is finally up and running again. Well worth a click for an account of (for example) life in the Scottish film industry and how to deal with the odd charmless fuck one comes across while living that life.

Bye for now...



51 - posted at 10:28:18
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Tuesday 3rd August 2004

First off, I notice that Paul McCartney has devised a new cartoon character, described as a 'cheeky Scouse nut-muncher'. I'm not really sure what else to say, but I thought it needed highlighting.

Secondly, and completely unrelated, there's been a bit of grumbling and indignation as the Home Office continues its thankless task of overhauling charity law. For years private schools and hospitals have enjoyed tax benefits and other perks that charitable status confers, with an article in today's Guardian suggesting that private schools pull in about 100m a year from subsidies as a result of their charitable status. The idea that these places receive such perks is an emotive subject, because no-one likes private hospitals and no-one likes fee-paying schools - at least no-one in the vast swathe of the public that has never and will never enjoy the benefit of instant health treatment on presentation of a fat cheque or of languishing by the boundary with a glass of Pimm's in the company of Bumfluff, Badger, Titch and Strangely-Brown.

And this is what it all comes down to - public benefit. To qualify as a charity the organisation in question has to carry out one of a list of legally defined charitable purposes. Currently, the advancement of education and learning generally is an established charitable purpose, even in the absence of any element of poverty in the class of beneficiaries. But this isn't quite enough - within the advancement of education there must also be a public benefit. Although some might wonder how learning to sing in Latin and throwing up all over small Cornish villages benefits the public, in relation to private schools such a benefit has always been assumed without question. Despite hopes that the reforms would force the institutions to specifically set out the public benefit they served in order to maintain their status, or start benefiting the public in some way, the Home Office's draft bill has instead shied away from the issue. It doesn't even include a definition of 'public benefit', leaving the status of the schools (and hospitals) unchecked. If the bill was passed into law in its current form, the courts would end up having to define public benefit. And somehow, given the make-up of the judiciary (despite its gradual reform) I don't think such a definition would give Eton, Harrow or Hogwarts much to worry about.

Of course private schools (and in that term I include public schools) should account for their charitable status - by failing to address the issue the Government has shown again the lack of courage that has come to define it over the past couple of years.

When the fee-paying school I went to started up, its foundation documents stated that the place was to provide a school for 'forty poor scholars' and a hospital for 'eighty poor men'. The reality behind this was debatable then, and is certainly a load of old bollocks now. So, in the interests of giving something back to the institution that contributed to five long years of my life, in case it should need any help when (with any luck) the bill gets amended and the school has to justify its status, here are a few of the public benefits that private schools provide:

1. Endless tabloid fodder. Over the last few years my venerable seat of learning has provided the red tops with a whore-mongering headmaster, a Mr Gay UK contestant/ French teacher, a transsexual maths teacher and an English teacher who forged his GSCE students' coursework marks. And yes, he taught me English GCSE.

2. Hollywood villains. While it is often remarked upon that Hollywood villains are frequently English, it should be also be noted that they invariably speak with a distinctive English public school accent - for example, Saruman in The Lord of the Rings, the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, Alec Trevelyan in GoldenEye and the Emperor in the Star Wars films. This is also true for the most evil villains in Hollyoaks.

3. The release into the world of a whole class of young men adept at taking a hot crumpet from behind.

4. Honking.

5. The provision of material for uninspired writers of blogs.

Inappropriate as it may be that these institutions can enjoy charitable status without justifying themselves, I can't help feeling that picking on them is a populist move, which helps protect other questionable charities. As I've mentioned, the majority of the public don't really like private schools and hospitals - but ultimately they do very little harm as opposed to religion. Yet, another charitable purpose is the advancement of religion. While recognising the good work done by the admirable and non-discriminatory actions of some religious groups, I can't help but wonder, when I look at the law, why the advancement of religion should be rewarded in such a way, especially when looking at the wording used. The common law reads as follows:

...to advance religion means to promote it, spread its message ever wider among mankind, to take some positive steps to sustain and increase religious belief.

And in the most sinister wording, advancement of religion should involve a 'programme for the persuasion of unbelievers'. The unrelenting divisiveness of religion and the disproportionately influential role it continues to play in this country suggest to me that this area should also be the subject of scrutiny when reviewing charity law. But if the Government can't even bring themselves to adequately address private schools and hospitals there's not a chance of it addressing the even more anachronistic beneficiaries of charitable status.

50 - posted at 09:29:26
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