A film privately produced by the Ministry of Defence to illustrate the horrors of brainwashing in the Korean War is an unusual period piece. This is propaganda directed at shoring up beliefs rather than inculcating new ones. The simple tale of prisoners subjected to extensive physical and psychological torture in order to convert them to the Communist cause is interesting for two reasons. Firstly it illustrates some of the techniques a soldier might deploy in order to survive with his sense of self intact. Secondly every torture that the Koreans are depicted as using has been employed by the West subsequently under the moniker of enhanced interrogation. An almost identical film might be made today with a suspected terrorist in the lead role.
Saddened to read of the death of film critic Barry Norman. He was my childhood introduction to criticism way back when. Before Barry Norman I either enjoyed films or I didn’t and the processes involved in manufacturing that sensation were occult and unknown to me. He made me think about the invisible hand of the director, and the mechanics of cinema and introduced me to a whole new way of thinking about films. Anyone who has been to the cinema with me and experienced one of the hectoring diatribes that reliably follows will have seen the influence that Barry Norman had on my way of thinking. Criticism can be an art form in its own right and Barry Norman had certainly mastered it.
That LRH was a con-man who became rich based on a sci-fi religion he extemporised out of whole cloth is common knowledge. That he was grandiose, paranoid, and vindictive is also well attested, not least in the character of the church that he founded. What struck me reading this book was that the vast wealth he accrued in middle age precipitated a complete mental breakdown. Money and power, far from making him happy, enabled him to live out a fantasy of persecution and misery in total seclusion from the real world. Essentially he lived his later years in a succession of luxury prisons of his own devising. He died alienated, fearful, and alone. I never expected to feel sorry for L Ron Hubbard.
Once upon a time there was a family of maggots who lived in the hollowed out chest cavity of a dead human. They were a friendly family of maggots and they were grateful for the rich bounty of rotting tissue that the morbidly obese cadaver provided for them. They didn’t know that this was the last human being to have ever lived, all of the others having killed themselves in sheer embarrassment at the state of things. The corpse that the maggots lived in would have killed himself too but he had keeled over when his heart exploded under the strain of clambering onto a chair to put his head through the noose. It was a simple time. It was a happy time.
Paranoias of the past often feel hopelessly optimistic to the future and so it is with Moorcock’s The Fireclown. A crazed harlequin preaches a doctrine of consciousness in opposition to intellect, seeking the dissolution of all human society. His activities expose seismic fault lines in a carefully managed future government. Old lusts for power are still there even in a world without war. How delightful! In the 21st century we have abandoned consciousness and intellect in favour of a species of sneering ignorance that makes the Fireclown’s apocalyptic dogma seem like benevolent humanism. We will all choke to death on the thanatotic effluent spewing from our leaders who cut capers out of a Punch & Judy show with a straight face and smeared greasepaint.
The experience of live noise is primal. Shuddering bass tones cascade through the body, more felt than heard. Shrieking feedback fills the air obliterating all conscious thought. With Merzbow and Balazs Pandi another layer is added, the frenetic pounding of drums battering almost ceaselessly beneath the textures of howling electronics. Sometimes a groove emerges for a while but it’s only a brief interlude, it soon dissolves away into more abstract snatches of blast beats and frenzied cymbal abuse. The shattering loudness engulfs and surrounds you, though there are hundreds of other people there the sonics are curiously alienating. This for me is a positive experience. Human connections are impossible... Kudos to the hammered lady grooving exotically to a beat only she could hear.
People with psychic powers don’t often make for great cinema. Telepathy is ephemeral, silent, invisible, all things hard to represent on celluloid. Leave it to David Cronenberg to infuse it with a sense of visceral physicality. Bodies shudder and tremble with the exertion of mental effort. Faces contort into grotesque grimaces of violation. Blood seeps from orifices, flames erupt from nowhere, and of course heads explode in a shower of vibrant gore. Patrick McGoohan lends an appropriate sense of paranoia to proceedings, stunt casting at its finest; but it’s Michael Ironside who steals the show as the deranged villain with suitably grandiose plans for this newly created species. Ugly, strange, uncomfortable viewing in which the intangible is made gruesomely manifest with voyeuristic glee.