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The Bizzare Captain EO….

October 31, 2016 Leave a comment

Michael-Jackson-Captain-EO-Back-3D-DisneylandI came across a 30 year old story recently involving three of the biggest names in music and film that I didn’t have the faintest idea about… So on the assumption that you might not have heard of it either and have a spare couple of minutes to read this and 16 minutes to watch the film, it goes something like this…

In August 1985 George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola announced that along with a certain Michael Jackson they were working on “the ultimate movie experience”.

Originally known as the “International Music Man” the production now known as Captain EO (from the Greek eos or dawn) was a Disney generated idea for a themed park ride. Disneyland was struggling around the mid 1980’s and saw the idea of a big production with even bigger names, as a way of reversing the fortunes of the theme park. Accompanying the ride would be a short film that would be exclusive to the park and would not go on general release, so (they hoped) ensuring people would drive to the park to see the new attraction…

Captain EO was the tale of an emissary of light, a messiah if you will, travelling the universe saving its denizens through the gifts of song and love. There would be spaceships, space battles, assorted alien creatures and unsurprisingly with MJ on board, unfeasible amounts of dancing…

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One of the first films made with the then nascent 3D technology, it was also described by Disney as the worlds first 4D production. As it was only shown in specially modified cinemas at Disneyland, the on screen effects were supplemented with lasers, smells, smoke and flying asteroids filling the cinema auditorium itself.

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Like so many things involving MJ at the height of his fame, budget was seemingly not a major consideration and as a consequence the film ended up being the most expensive production ever made up to that time, supposedly almost $1 million per minute and with more effects per minute than Star Wars.

Time however was a limiting factor with both Ford Coppolla and Lucas having other projects already lined up, so once the story had been finalised, principal photography was wrapped up in less than two weeks…

eop220092LARGEBy all accounts the first edited version seen without many of the state of the art effects, was lamentably poor, allegedly it was even hidden from senior Disney executives for a while, it was so underwhelming. Jackson was no lead actor and the Muppet’s in Space appearance didn’t give the production much in the way of credibility or gravitas…

Additional filming and further editing got the film to a more acceptable state (although you can make your own mind up about that) despite one of the principle muppet characters having been lost and replaced by a painted ballcock and Angelica Houston’s role as the principle baddie being significantly reduced (possibly at her own request…)

The end result is a very strange thing. Even allowing for the now 30 year old effects, it seems unbelievably ropey given the money, talent and staus of the key players involved. A hybrid of ideas stolen from Star Wars, Alien (Houston’s Spider Queen), MJ’s Thiller video, Frank Oz’s The Dark Crystal and all points in between. Even the songs seem halfhearted and unconvincingly delivered when compared to Thriller from 2 years earlier and Bad from two years later.

Perhaps its not surprising then that even after all these years and despite a huge demand for it to be made available after Michael’s death in 2009, it can still only be seen in very poor quality versions like the one below..

There’s a detailed account of the films history here if  you’re interested..

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Star Wars Record Sleeves

October 16, 2016 Leave a comment

This has probably been a thing for some time now, but surprisingly its only just caught my eye…

Doesn’t need much explanation. Instantly recognisable classic album sleeves re-imagined with instantly recognisable characters from Star Wars….

What a genius idea…..

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Simon Stålenhag

November 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Another find by my good friend Mr. Wong in the form of some rather fine paintings by the Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag.

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Wong emailed the link below saying you’ll like these, and he was not wrong. We both agreed that the juxtaposition of the achingly familiar (landscapes, cars, kids, junk yards) with more, other worldly entities was a winning formula, bringing a sense of the humdrum to what should in all normal respects, be life changing events…

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Im also a fan of the style in which Stålenhag paints these images, not hyper real or neon coloured, but low key, with an almost sketchy quality that only adds to the feeling that these could be real happenings that the artist has somehow managed to capture…

In a similar vein (but this might just be me) I can see echoes of the Ladybird book illustrations that meant so much to me in my childhood, illustrations that made the mundane and everyday, seem somehow more special.

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More of these wonderful images can be found here

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John Twelve Hawks on Bedrock Records

August 29, 2014 2 comments

J12H-logo-e1401823232878An intriguing little item today…

John Twelve Hawks is the pseudonym of an unknown authour who takes the issue of secretive Government surveillance and monitoring very seriously and treasures his anonymity to such a degree that he not only lives “off the grid” but also conducts phone calls on an untraceable satellite phone with voice a scrambler in full effect, sends stand-ins to book signings and has (alledgedly) never met his publisher…

JXIIH (the accepted format for his name apparently) is best known for a series of science fiction books known as The Fourth Realm Trilogy. Published between 2004 and 2009 they detail life in a society whose members are so accustomed to being watched and monitored, that it no longer matters if they are or not, and as such fall easily into line. I have to admit I’d not heard of the books despite being a bit of a Sci-Fi fan, something I think I’ll have to redress shortly…

Anyway the reason he’s come to my attention now is that he’s just made a record with John Digweed and his right hand man Nick Muir. Apparently whilst writing the novels, JXIIH listened almost constantly to Digweed mix CD’s and his online Transitions radio shows..  An exchange of emails ensued and after several years, some false starts and clandestine meetings to recording the man reading excerpts from his books, the resulting collabaration is now imminent. A more detailed version of the story is here if you’re interested…

My little And (without doubt one of Digger’s biggest fans) has just ordered the rather eye catching CD and vinyl package and we’re both looking forward to hearing the results….

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There’s a little clip here from a track called 3B3 which sounds promising and includes JXIIH’s highly treated and distorted vocals, obviously necessary to maintain the man’s anonimity (although there is speculation here as to who he might actually be…)

One final thing, JXIIH is giving away a free download of a recent publication. Entitled Against Authority: Freedom and the Rise of the Surveillance States, it’s either the paranoid rantings of a madman or an unsettling account of how little privacy we actually enjoy at the beginning of the 21st Century…

Richard M. Powers

July 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Star of Life_RMPThe quite literally, fantastic work of the American illustrator Richard M. Powers is at once dated and timeless, reflecting as it does both the heady, trippy times in which it was made and the infinite possibilities that alternative futures and alien worlds might offer.

Powers (1921-1996) had a very distinctive and singular style that caught the eye of both publishers and the public alike, resulting in his work gracing many science fiction book jackets throughout the 1950’s and 1970’s.

Galactic Diplomat_RMPTaking influences most obviously from the surrealism of Joan Miro and Yves Tanguy, Powers’ organic landscapes were populated by collections of often vague, indistinguishable shapes and suggestions of beings, which in terms of appearance, scale and biology were light years away from the generally held ideas of Venusians, Martians and other Hollywood B Movie space monsters…

Indeed it is a commonly proffered argument that it was Powers and his wonderfully escapist imagery that were one of the key bridges between the stereotypical 1950’s space girls in short skirts being rescued by handsome spacemen with hard wired technology (usually in the form of ray guns) and the wider concept that we were on the edge of a wholly unknown and potentially dangerous universe. We humans could effectively be insignificant, our destiny’s at the whim of beings and civilisations far beyond our wildest dreams…

All of which I think still makes these images hugely powerful and impressive, dated possibly, but with an insight and imagination that only the truly gifted can achieve. Looking at them again now, I can see so many things that must surely have taken their cues from Powers’ work: the lanky aliens in Close Encounters, the gas giant worlds in Iain Bank’s Culture novels, the organic spaceships of H R Geiger and the mind numbing scale of the Matrix…

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Iain M. Banks

June 11, 2013 2 comments

Consider Phlebas_frontI can’t begin to tell you how saddened I am by the recent death of Iain Banks. I can’t believe that The Hydrogen Sonata will be the final word on his most consistent, unparalleled and brilliant of inventions, The Culture, a seemingly futuristic construct that allowed Banks to assess and reassess aspects of our own society’s development and it’s likely outcomes should we continue as we are…

I’ve been a Banksian fan almost from the very beginning. Bank’s first novel The Wasp factory was published in 1984, but it was a year later when I started at Leeds Poly in 1985 that I was told in no uncertain terms by one of my new friends that I just had to read it and that I was obviously from some backwater town for not having done so already (students are like that).

Suffice to say my friend was right (about my birthplace and Iain Banks) and from then on I was hooked. I’ve bought every single one of his books since, even taking time off work to go to bookshops where I’d queue to get whatever his latest book was signed by him and to shake the great man’s hand… (well I did that 3 times anyway)

Iain Banks (and even more so Iain M. Banks, the name he used for his Science Fiction works) was the only author I can think of that I counted down the days to the “release” of his newest book in the same way I did for the new releases of records from bands. It was the seemingly limitless invention of his imagination that amazed me, with each story in whatever style or genre, expanding beyond all expectations to the point where I used to wonder how on earth he was going to follow on from (let alone better) the last one.

Banks’s writing never disappointed, and I would argue that he almost single handedly (along with maybe William Gibson) made Science Fiction cool again in the 1980’s, giving it a more high tech and politically aware aspect that, after the floppy excesses of the Science Fantasy books that washed out most of the decade, was very welcome to a hungry mind like mine.

So it is with an empty heart that I have to accept that there is only one more book to look forward to from one of Britain’s very finest writers. The Quarry will be a story about living with cancer and was rushed forward in the schedules so that Iain could be there to see it published on June 20th.

Sadly this was not to be and the literary world is a lesser place for his loss.

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In praise of the Monorail…

April 9, 2013 13 comments

1964NYI’ve recently completed and submitted (for hopeful publication in a respected arts and culture magazine) a short piece of writing all about the wonders of the monorail, in my opinion, a timeless and much misunderstood mode of transport that deserves far greater support.

The essence of my argument is that the monorail’s almost Pavlovian depiction as THE earthbound transport of the future, has resulted in it being underused and mistrusted as a viable urban commuter option in the large majority of today’s’ Cities..

Evidence, I suggest, can be found in countless imagined future cities in countless films, books, comics and TV programmes of the last 100 years or so:  Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926), Things to Come (1936) Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966), in Mega City One (Judge Dredd’s home in 2000AD) and Logan’s Run, the writings of Arthur C Clark, Philip K Dick and Iain M Banks to name just a few.

Couple this often over exaggerated and/ or improbable Sci-Fi imagery with the monorail’s undeniable association with novelty rides, at things like World Fairs, Disney Land resorts and countless airports and zoo’s the world over, and the character assassination is complete…

Thankfully however, attitudes have been changing over the last couple of decades or so, and successful urban transport systems can be found in Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo and Moscow to name just a few of the forward thinking cities who have recognised the many benefits of electrically operated aerial monorails including reduced land take, reduced emissions and quiet operating volumes.

Due to copyright reasons, it’s difficult to include found and uncredited images with written articles published in proper magazines. On my blog of course no such restrictions apply, so I’ve collected below some of my favorite images, ones that I think best illustrate the idealism, excitement and overall futureness of the monorail…

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