The Ramblings of a Locked Down Blogger

I thought for a minute of changing the title of my whole website to that which you can see above: The Ramblings of a Locked Down Blogger. Maybe even the crazy ramblings! Still, in a few weeks or perhaps months, the lockdown and Coronavirus will just be a bad memory. In fact, my first post lockdown restaurant visit has already been booked and my table and meal are actually only a matter of hours away.

It will be nice to socialise again and also to dress up. I’ve spent the last two months wearing the same small selection of jeans, shorts, tee shirts and sweaters. Will I still be able to fit into my smart shirts and trousers I wonder? Well, I’ll soon find out.

I have been watching a quite inordinate amount of TV during the lockdown. That has not been any hardship on my part, in fact it could be argued that watching TV is my default position. I do love TV but not any TV; I am quite choosy in what I watch. I love films and only a small fraction of the films I love have I seen at the cinema. The other 99% I have seen on my television set with constant supplies of either tea or red wine near at hand.

At my mother’s house where I come to tidy up and keep the garden in order, I have just recently been trying to sort through my vast supplies of VHS video tapes. Any VHS films I have can be just junked as they will be either shown again on TV or are available on DVD.

Documentaries are a different matter. Films are shown time and time again but great documentaries are seldom shown again. It’s the same with made for TV films. A great film I have on VHS is Across the Lake, a made for TV film starring Anthony Hopkins as record breaker Donald Campbell. I have not watched it for ages but it’s a great film, well written and with an excellent performance by Anthony Hopkins documenting Campbell’s last and fatal attempt at the world water speed record. Why the BBC don’t think of showing these outstanding made for TV films again I really don’t know.

You can see the entire film on YouTube but here’s a short clip:

One thing I love in films is originality. There are a thousand films with car chases and shoot outs and murders but it’s great to see something new. One DVD I watched recently is The King of Comedy. Even though it’s directed by Martin Scorcese it’s not a gangster film, it’s something very different. Robert de Niro stars as a wannabe stand up comedian who wants to get on a show hosted by Jerry Lewis. Jerry plays a TV comedian who is pretty much Jerry Lewis himself. He turns in this outstanding performance as a TV host who is kidnapped by De Niro and held hostage in return for De Niro getting a stand up spot on Lewis’ show. De Niro is helped by a Jerry Lewis obsessed fan played by Sandra Bernhard turning in another great performance. This is a film that is funny, dramatic and completely original. Keep a look out for it on your favourite TV film channel.

Another original film I saw lately was Big Eyes. It’s based on a true story of an artist, Margaret Keane, who turns out some popular and charming pictures, all of people with big eyes. Margaret is a woman who can paint but is not so good at selling and marketing her work. She meets future husband Walter who seems to be a bit of a whiz at the promotion lark. He decides to rent space on a local nightclub wall to get attention for both Margaret’s and his paintings. Surprise, surprise, it is Margaret’s paintings of the doe eyed girls that get all the attention but Walter decides to play the part of the artist as some people have mistakenly thought that anyway. Margaret plays along but gradually becomes very unhappy having to constantly deny her own work.

Big Eyes is, incredibly, a true story. Margaret eventually leaves Walter and has to sue to be finally acknowledged for her own talent. Margaret’s paintings are captivating although art critics are divided on her true worth as an artist. It’s worth noting though that Andy Warhol said this about her work: ‘It has to be good. If it were bad, so many people wouldn’t like it.’

I’ve also been editing my own films during the lockdown. My friend Steve and I made a video about Manchester Airport in 1986 and it’s my second most watched film on YouTube with 16,000 viewings. In 2018 I realised that if I took out all the pop music used on the soundtrack the video would be eligible for monetising, that’s YouTube’s word for getting royalties from your video. I added some copyright free music, tidied a few bad cuts in the video and reposted it to YouTube. Rather annoyingly, YouTube decided just then that video producers have to have a minimum of 1000 followers to get royalties and as I only have about 220 that’s another income stream that has been denied to me.

When trolling through my VHS tapes I found another version of that same video. Yes, even 30 years ago I was still tinkering with my videos and re-editing them. Anyway, I took this one and re-made it again adding some sound effects and new music. Could YouTube stand a third version of the same video? I’m not sure but then again, some mainstream directors like to tinker with their own work when the time comes for the DVD version. I’ve got quite a few ‘directors cut’ DVDs in my collection like Aliens and Apocalypse Now to name but two.

During lockdown I’ve also been listening to my favourite podcasts. The BBC Radio 5 Live F1 podcast is a constant disappointment. When F1 races are on, the 5 Live people assume that listeners know what happened in the race. That’s not the case, I usually listen when I’ve missed the Channel Four broadcast on TV so I listen in for a race report not a load of F1 chit chat. When there are no races, like during the lockdown, I actually do want to hear some F1 chit chat, some gossipy stuff about which driver’s contract is about to expire, which designer is moving teams, will Vettel retire or go to the new Aston Martin F1 team? Stuff like that. No, they don’t even bother to do a podcast when there is no racing.

Instead I’ve been listening to my new favourite podcast, The Slowdown, a poetry podcast that usually lasts about 5 minutes, not too long, not too short. The presenter, US poet Tracy K Smith has such a wonderful voice she seems to make any poem sound good. Wonder if I could get her to read one of mine?


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Time Travelling and old Movies

imga0043It may be that you are totally assimilated into the DVD age but it also may be that you are, like me, still with one foot in the VHS video age and also, like me, you may have a huge stack of VHS tapes in big boxes gathering dust and no idea what to do with them.

When I stay at my Mum’s house I’ve got an old TV and VHS player in my bedroom and I sometimes go through my box of VHS tapes and find something to watch.

Here’s one example, take the movie Charlie Bubbles for instance. That may not ring a bell to you as I taped it from channel four way back in the eighties and I’m pretty certain I’ve never seen the film broadcast again, which is a pity as it’s a great movie.

It stars Albert Finney who also makes his directing debut in the film and co-stars Billie Whitelaw, Colin Blakely, and has an unlikely appearance by Liza Minnelli. It’s written by playwright Shelagh Delaney who wrote the play ‘A taste of Honey’, which was also made into a wonderful movie.

Charlie Bubbles is a writer, played by Finney who has a sort of gloomy and despondent view of the world and he returns to Manchester to see his son. It’s great for a Mancunian like me to see Manchester as I remember it growing up. The film goes on to show the clash between Charlie’s working class background and his new life as a writer. In one of my favourite parts of the film Charlie meets a friend of his father who asks “are you still working or just doing the writing?”

Charlie replies thoughtfully that he is ‘just’ doing the writing.

Pixabay.com

Pixabay.com

Another great movie I have on VHS and not often seen on TV is ‘Seven Days In May’. Burt Lancaster plays an army officer who attempts to overthrow the US government in a coup d’état. Kirk Douglas sees that something strange is going on and alerts the President played by that fine former silent movie actor Frederic March. Interestingly, part of the movie was filmed at the Kennedy White House. Perhaps President Kennedy wanted to send a message to his Generals!

What’s quite interesting is that there seem to be movies that are shown time after time on TV, films like Die Hard for instance. (Hey, I love that film but I don’t need to see it every other week! ) Show me some movies I haven’t seen for a while! Some great films I’ve got on VHS are Saturday Night and Sunday Morning again starring Albert Finney, and A Kind Of Loving both films looking at working class life in the sixties (they used to call them kitchen sink dramas.)

Another great movie, just perfect for a wet and windy Saturday afternoon is one I found in that box at my Mum’s the other day, it’s ‘Angels with Dirty faces’ starring James Cagney.

angels-with-dirty-faces-poster2I remember watching this years ago on a Saturday afternoon. I was watching it with my Dad and strangely me and my Dad were brought up on the same movies only I saw them first on TV and he saw them originally on the cinema screen. Like all great movies my Dad was pulled into the film, totally reliving it and right at the end he said:

“Cagney’s going to cry in the gas chamber, they’re going to ask him to cry!”

Yes, my Dad blew the ending of that movie for me but something else I found on a tape was sadly ruined by a complete technology foul up.

Time Tunnel

Lee Meriwether in the Time Tunnel control room. (Picture courtesy Wikipedia)

I found an episode of the Time Tunnel, a sixties sci fi show that I’d not seen for years. It was re run back in the eighties when I was at the height of my TV recording passion. I stopped the tape, nipped downstairs to make a cuppa, got myself settled again and pressed play. I time travelled right back to my childhood watching ‘two American scientists trapped in the swirling maze of past and future ages’ as the TV voice over used to say. James Darren and Robert Colbert were the scientists and Lee Meriwether was the lady back at the control room trying to get the guys back home.

Half an hour later the screen went blank. I’d run out of tape!

Wonder if the Time Tunnel is on DVD?


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