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…


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.


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..

Two Danny’s : Things you won’t believe are possible on a bike…

October 19, 2016 Leave a comment

First up, some seriously impressive tricks from Danny MacAskill.. wending his way homewards to see his old dad somewhere up in a very picturesque Scotland.

I’ve posted Danny’s amazing videos before, and he just seems to get more and more inventive. Someone on Facebook has noted that some of these tricks took more than 300 takes, which perhaps isn’t really surprising, but I don’t think detracts from the crazy skills on show…

And the second Danny, this time Atherton. I can hardly watch this one…

How on earth you learn to land these jumps and stunts without going through a serious amount of pain, or know instinctively that you’ve got the skill and confidence to pull them off is totally beyond me…

The two jumps at about 2.3o mins in followed by the slaloming though the trees and the series of banked turns, and the scary rocky bit after the wooden slatted jump… There must be 100 easy things to get badly wrong on that descent, and he gets them all spot on. Outstanding…

I’ve been “proper” mountain biking a few times in Wales with friends. It was fantastic fun and I think we all felt at times like we were showing a few MTB skills… But believe me its was like riding around on the local football pitch with stabilisers compared to this… 

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…..














A Freestyle No. 1: Kungs vs Cookin’ on 3 Burners

June 17, 2016 Leave a comment

My very good friend Dan told me last night that a reworked version of a tune by a band called Cookin’ on 3 Burners from his Freestyle Records label had reached the midweek number 1 slot in the UK.. the first time in his more than 25 years of trading that he’s achieved such a thing..

With a wry smile on his face, he pointed me towards Spotify where the tune, This Girl by Kungs vs Cookin’ on 3 Burners (which has already hit the top spot in Germany, Belgium and somewhere else in Euroland) has racked up nearly 39 million hits.. There’s a similar story on YouTube where the current total is in excess of 23 million views….

So here it is.. Apparently Kungs is a protege of David Guetta who has obviously taught him a thing or two about boiling a tune down to 2 or 3 key elements, upping the tempo and adding in a drop and/ or synth stab to get the kids going…

And here’s the original version as found on Freestyle Records, as laid back and soulful as you’d expect…

So huge congrats to Danny. I know the revenue payments from these streaming giants can be pretty derisory, but by my reckoning, any share of more than 60 million of anything, no matter how small, is likely to keep the smile on his face for many weeks to come.

George Shaw – My Back to Nature

May 30, 2016 Leave a comment

A trip to the National Gallery (NG) yesterday to see the work of one of my favorite artists…

In a show entitled “My Back to Nature”, George Shaw’s new work has moved on from the seemingly humdrum Coventry urban scenes that earned him the Turner Prize nomination, and he now seems to be using his trademark Humbrol enamels to paint trees…

Lots and lots and lots of trees.

George Shaw

After his two year studio residency at the NG as an Associate Artist supported by the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation, Shaw has produced a series of paintings, sketches and studies that take inspiration from other works held within the collection.

As he walked through the galleries every day on his way to the studio, Shaw noticed that trees and woodland played a large part in many of the pieces that he liked, echoing his own fascination with those often forgotten, neglected and sometimes dodgy places he remembered from his youth.


Nicolas Poussin especially seemed to include trees in many of his paintings either as allegory (three trees in a painting will ALWAYS refer to the crosses at Calvary) or simply as a backdrop. There’s a very enlightenin video that accompanies the show in which Shaw refers to the painting below in particular, as embodying the essence of what he was trying to capture.


Poussin’s The Triumph of Pan from 1636 depicts satyrs, nymphs and animals indulging in all sorts of debauchery and naughtiness. Shaw suggests imagining the scene once all the action has finished and the characters have all shuffled out of view… What remains would be all the rubbish and detritus, the left over stuff that no one wanted, but that at some point in the earlier proceedings had seemed important enough to bring along.

Shaw felt that this resonated with his own idea that “something out of the ordinary could happen there at any time away from the supervision of adults”…

The Uncovered Cover

I have to admit that at first pass, the work on show didn’t grab me in the same way that his Coventry landscapes had. Being an architect, I don’t know whether it was a subliminal preference for buildings over trees, the urban over the rural, but the pictures were all a bit samey and the style of this new work seemed less focused, the lines less crisp and defined, more an impression of things found, rather than a visual record of them.

The School of Love


But after spending time in the exhibition, watching the accompanying film and then revisiting the work, I left with a feeling of great satisfaction., the work is accomplished, playful and thought provoking all at once. The three large paintings at the end are especially excellent and beautifully made, full of what I imagine are intentionally dark and deliberately ambiguous iconography including rood/ rude screens, porn mags littered in front of dark mysterious openings and red paint/ blood spattered trees…


Whether this work represents a maturing of style or simply a measured response to the NG collection, time will tell, but I like it very much… Fingers crossed George brings this new found confidence to his next series of urban landscapes…

Talking of confidence, Shaw has taken the decision to populate his works, as this self portrait of the artist doing what we’ve all done in the woods at one time or another attests..


Laurent Kronental’s : Remember a Future

February 21, 2016 Leave a comment

Some rather evocative photos today taken by a young French photographer by the name of Laurent Kronental

They illustrate some of the large public housing schemes that went up in and around Paris between about 1960 and the mid 1980’s, showing them in the context of their current, mostly elderly residents.


As an architecture student in the late 80s early 90’s, I remember some of these huge and bizarre “Grande Ensembles” being published. Even then, I got the distinct feeling that they were far more about form than function, style over substance, brought about by the architects desire to show off their paper thin, post modern credentials, than a drive to create human scale environments and sustainable communities (step forward Messers Bofill, Rossi and Botta…)


In the accompanying text to these nameless, descriptionless images, Kronental suggests that as these anachronistic buildings age in parallel with their residents, their “wrinkled faces and cracked walls” convey a mix of resignation and expectation, of skepticism and confidence” and in so doing become living memories of their time, echoes of a younger generation that did not see itself age.


I’m not sure about that, retrospective prose seems somehow misplaced in these gargantuan and ultimately misguided social experiments.

They certainly do make very arresting and interesting images though…






Bill Mitchell’s Wool Secretariat mural receives Nationally Listed Status.

January 24, 2016 1 comment

The listing announced last week of 41 postwar outdoor public sculptures was not only excellent news for the arts in general, but also for my friend Bill Mitchell whose wonderful bas relief “The Story of Wool” was amongst the works deemed worthy of official protection…


And quite right too. I first wrote about this amazing piece back in April 2011 noting at that time how little I could find out about it online, I wasn’t even certain it still existed…

Jump forward 5 years and as the word continues to spread not only about our phenomenally rich post war artistic heritage, but also about the oeuvre of Mr. Mitchell himself, the number of sites and references to his work seems to be increasing at an exponential rate, which is obviously welcome news indeed….

Located in Ilkley, West Yorkshire the new headquarters building for the International Wool Secretariat was designed by local architect Richard Collick and opened in 1968. Bill was commissioned to create a work to wrap around the lecture theater which Collick had placed over the main entrance. Taking the themes of wool and textiles as a starting point, Bill created what is undoubtedly one of his finest works, and certainly one of my most favourites.


Rich in detail and imagination with his trademark, deeply recessed and figured surfaces, it was one of the first sculptures Bill made using bronze-faced glassfibre, a material he was involved in developing during the mid 60’s and which he also used to impressive effect on his entrance doors for Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral completed the year before in 1967.

The large abstracted ram motifs to the front and the stylised microscopic cross sections of wool fibres on the side, are tied together by layers of patterning and texture that take their inspiration from the many forms that knitted wool can be transformed into.

So huge congratulations to Bill, as his work continues to get the recognition it so richly deserves. I for one am very pleased to see his name alongside those of Epstein, Moore and Hepworth, great and gifted artists whose work has quite rightly been recognised as worthy of preserving for the enjoyment of future generations.


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