Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Ghost Hunters.

In 1926 the young Sarah Corey's career choice takes an unlikely turn from model to become the assistant to Harry Price Ghost Hunter, author and exposer of spiritualist fraudsters. Price had dedicated his life and fortune to discovering the truth of spiritualism whilst also exposing fraudlent mediums who cruelly  exploit the broken-hearted.hoping for some re-connection to lost loved ones.
Up to a point this has been a relatively straight path of experiences on which his instincts and ghost busting methods have served him well until that path leads to Borley Rectory.
There is a particularly English feel to the haunting of Borley Rectory .It does not have the modern notions of paranormal activity with its demonic edges and targeted evil. More your almost terribly British bell ringing and table rapping approach to terror. a more mannered expression for a haunting. Mind you there is always the confused otherworldly writing which appears on the walls and the spectrsl nun or abbey sister who seems to glide through the grounds of an evening. Frightening trespassers and nosey locals. 
Neil Sprng unfolds his tale through Sarah Coreys eyes and in doing so brings an unsettling degree of suspect narration. I found myself thinking at times that we are seeing and hearing what she wants and needs to see rather than what was actually happening in front of her eyes. It is not deliberate on her part. This is the world Harry Price navigates through and himself at times becomes the most questionable of narrators. Yet the affection and respect this vivacious young woman feels for her new mentor begs for an honorable reward for her faith and trust. This is the world of The Prestige where things are rarely what they appear to be with genius fraudsters plying the sleightest of hands. 
I was saddened to read now that previous residents of the house not only exaggerated aspects of the famous haunting(Harry Price actually wrote two books on the subject. Something of a personal Everest for him and his methodology.)but actually colluded in in fraudulent behavior faking the haunting. A depressing notion for those who believed the rectory to be the source of true paranormal disturbances. The fact is there are people who want to believe in another life beyond this one and who remain optimistic in the face of much cynicism and scorn, easily mocked and targets for those who would exploit their needs.
It all comes so easil to those like me who were raised as Catholics in a war zone.
We see bloody ghosts everywhere.

Oh Jack We Thought We Knew You.

Enter the bewildering and disconcerting labyrinth of  1888 Whitechapel London in the company of forty very different writers and take a true walk on the wild side. People imagine the relative ease with which they could do such a thing but I wonder if modern sensibilities are capable of surviving a dander on the unforgiving cobbles of the Victorian era. Especially the fecal miasma that would greet the finer tuned sense of smell of generations who have grown with the benefit and dignity of functioning indoor plumbing. The reek alone would undo a fellow.
Not to mention the ferocity of the crimes committed by a criminal who has haunted the dark imaginings of generations yet has gained a certain immortality by virtue not just of the ferocity of his crimes but they way he has managed to remain a fiend without a face. Here we have forty tales of terror based on the events of that Autumn of Terror of 1888. Forty twisted tales that each in their way adds to the nightmare of an ident-kit fit; building a pathology if not a face. Some succeed better than others in putting together a believable pathology behind the mind that spilt crimson on the streets of Whitechapel. Although "believability" is hardly a bench mark when it comes to the truth of the ripper.
                No one knew then and no one knows now.
The levels of poverty in London at this time were heart breaking and just staggering. So many people from so many ethnic, cultural and religious differences all caught in a life trap few would ever break free from. People who literally lived hour to hour not knowing where the next crust of bread would come from. in the most desperate situations selling the only commodity they had; themselves. Immigrants from every corner of the world flooding in desperation to the largest capital city in the world.  Some seeking a new life and employment or fleeing the effects of religious pograms or ethnic persecution. Not so different from today after all although one cannot measure the standards of those days by the lack of standards of our own. They did what they had to do to stay alive. So many women forced to take to the dark, dangerous and unforgiving streets What makes a prostitute; the needs of others or the money they are prepared to pay to satisfy those needs? The rippers chosen victims were already victims of a terrible grinding poverty that would not let them go. This unseen predator strangled and then butchered their fallen forms even when life had already crushed their spirits and degraded their humanity. It is hard to imagine a harder or more pitiless existance. Their names are remembered because of they way they were torn from his world and their killer has achieved an immortality that could not be less deserved.
              It is a dark and shared morbidity that keeps the memory of these crimes alive. Most of the great achievements of this age have been forgotten whilst the history of this Autumn Of Terror in Whitechapel lingers like an unwanted dark shade at the wake of the Victorian Era. Every now and then bold claims are made, wild theories abound, and Spring Heeled Jack always remains in the shadows.His terrible work done but like all monsters of his ilk returning again and again to the scene of his crimes in our own imaginations.
               One of he most recent and most searing re-examinations of his character is to be found in the words of the song Jack by The Tiger Lillies. Martin Jaques is an incredible word smith and a brilliant deliverer of tragic tales of broken humanity. Towards the end of his opera Lulu A Murder Ballad he sings of his heroines fatal encounter with Jack and peels back the mask of history to give us a glimpse of naked devilry. It is disturbing and brilliant and is enough to make one feel ashamed of ones prurient interest n these atrocious crimes. Well truthfully until the next theory to the killers identity and motives for the crimes comes suttling out of another dark place.
               We know what you were, Jack.
               We just do not know who you were.

Feeling Low.

Nothing ever sounded quite like it to me. It is one of those things that might never occur to someone who listens to David Bowie's older stuff and just thinks of them as "old stuff." rather than remembering what it was like to wait for these albums to come out and to hear them for the first time.
My teenage brain was like a sponge ready to absorb new things, new sounds and experiences.  Low I loved. Heroes I liked a lot. Lodger I found hard work at the time but now serves to conjure memories of an awkward awareness that adulthood was going to elude me for a while. They are a remarkable trilogy of albums. Bowie's Berlin days or whatever.I used to play Low on my ma's old box stereogram. It had a muffled bass quality to it. The way I mostly hear the world now.
              Maybe that is why the Where Are You Now made me so emotional when I heard it. The much older Bowie's voice had a fragile quality to it that made me feel so melancholy.
               It was like hearing sounds again you never expected to hear again in your life.
               New and yet familiar. Like so much of this great man's work.

Scary Monsters And Super Creeps.

The December madness of hysterical shopping overwhelmed me as I tried to browse for something special in the movie and music store Head (Great store with good stock and people who seem to enjoy what they sell.) and as I was leaving I chanced upon the most recent issue of Mojo and felt as though some-one had literally thrown me a lifeline. A stunning Bowie cover with a shot from the photo session for Ashes to Ashes along with sizeable article on the Album Scary Monsters And Super Creeps as well as the new album Blackstar. Boy has that song haunted me the last couple of weeks along with that mesmerising video . The Blackstar music video is one of my favorite short films of 2015.
It has been decades since I picked up my copy of Scary Monsters in Caroline music.It seems like an age and is indeed for some a lifetime but it was an electrifying album for myself. It felt like the end of something old and also the beginning of something new. Apart from the glittering thing of beauty that is Ashes To Ashes I had a particular fondness for the title track itself with its demented opening. It was around this time I got into a scrap with a drunken pal who drew black heads onto Bowie's nose on my copy of Low. What an act of vandalism. One that struck at my very heart. My revenge was to stuff dairy lee cheese triangles into his Oxford Brogues. Cheesy feet. Yes, I know that is cold, even savage but such was the brutal world we moved through. Bowie would understand.

"Ashes to Ashes flunk to flunky. We know Bowies hung like a donkey.", the words of my old school song
(Saint Sabastiannes For The Hopelessly Mercurial.) Major Tom has fallen from the heavens, fallen to an earth that is not Earth. His sparkling bejewelled bones are the subject of a new religion. Alien and mysterious, as all religions are. The song is genius and the visuals are startling. A couple of Saturdays  past I watched Doctor Who Heaven Sent and The video for Blackstar back to back. Just about two of the most mentally exciting set pieces I have had the pleasure to enjoy this year. One about the trials and nightmares of a much loved imaginary being and a man who dares to imagine being someone other than who he is. Big finish studios have released a PaulMcGann adventure that features a time lord whose previous incarnations occupy his head at the same time. He is off course a bit of a nightmare. imagine how many of Bowie's previous incarnations still exist inside his current persona. That is one crowded room.

Pub Meets Past.

Sketch Jam indeed, in our prime we were thickly cut Marmalade Jam! I was reminded of this Belfast pub meet in The Garrick by my chum Adrian L who gave me a copy of an old issue of ImagineFX magazine which did a regular feature on pockets of comic book enthusiasts through out the UK who would get together to discuss comics and bounce ideas off each other. It is cover dated august 2010, five years ago, and that handsome devil Stephen Downey has not aged a day since! He may well have a touch of Dorian Grey about him but I am more your Rip Van Winkle emerging from his cave. Comics have such a high profile in the shared cultural zeitgeist it is hard to imagine a wee group like this were thought of as the "comic people in the corner." In a nice way off course that old pub felt welcoming. Time moves so fast, things change so quickly.
                The group still meets.Seek them out. Thems good folks.
                It is nice sometimes to just slow things down, take it easy, nice and slow, rest and hear the daises grow...
                Wow, what a boring old fart am I.

Bah Humbug.

Tom bakers Christmas spirited performance of Dickens's classic is just the perfect listen for this time of year when we find ourselves half way out of the dark. Tom bakers wonderful voice and his love of words and his sheer joy in their performing comes across like the best present at the foot of the tree you could hope for.You get the impression that Mister Baker was having the time of his life in that recording booth at the Big Finish studios when he did this. I can imagine the recording crew of sound engineers and possibly even the catering staff and cleaners all mesmerised by his acting out the second most famous Christmas story of them all. Sensing they are not likely to see anything like it in real time again. There were probably a few unseen Dickensian visitors there as well. If not in the flesh then certainly in spirit. The spirits of the season.  Dicken's story improves with the decades and Tom Bakers voice is just a fine old wine you never want to run out off. Draw the blinds, uncork a favorite tipple and stoke the fire.
             With the screwball and bitter sweet Husbands Of River Song Doctor Who has drawn to an end for another year. Another Bloody Year! Time is out out of joint..Yet the moment has been prepared for, as they say. Just around the corner is another season of Forth Doctor Adventures which we can follow into the heart of 2016. Happy days ahead with some more inspired stuff on the way from Big Finish;The War Doctor,River Song and her Diary,more Doom Coalition and even the return of The Doctor and Donna.Along with the regular and ever exciting main range.
              Iit is an embarrassment of riches. a feast of Tardises..
              Thworp, thworp!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Saucy Jack!

It is a long and winding route from the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean to the choppy dark waters off the coast of Northern Ireland but just look who the wind blew in. The Black Pearl docked in Belfast Harbour( Right next to The Flying Dutchman and just across from the ghostly wreck of The Titanic.) and who should I see dandering down Ann street in a most mercurial fashion leaving a trail of rum ,broken hearts and empty pockets as he staggered along  but saucy Jack himself. At pistol point I asked if he would care to take a look at Noe The Savage boy our own tale of the high seas and the high stakes that come with piracy and its dubious rewards.. He bemoaned the fact of his poor schooling and only suggested I read it to him whilst he gargled a bottle of Captain Morgans ( Whom Jack assured me is a perfidious rascal and ner do well). He kicked back on our staircase and said how much he was looking forward to fun times in Belfast.
              "Aye you will love it here. Belfast is full of craic", I informed him with the air of one who knew. At which point he high tailed it back through the city centre as fast as his legs would carry him. With me hopping after him shouting" Come back Jack! I said Craic not Kraken!"

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Time And A Giggle.

Oh Boy what a joy! The Belfast writer/director Aiden Largey has a new film in post-production called Time And Again. It is the story of a child genius who with the help of his best friend builds a time machine which he hopes to use to escape his distant father and create a bridge between himself and the mother he never knew. It is an amazing looking production with an equally amazing cast of fine talent that includes David Rawle, Ian Beattie and Shaun Blaney. When you have a cast like that and a script to stretch them you end up waving a bottle below the heavens to catch lightning which I know Aiden can do. Science can be fun, science fiction can be funnier.
 And just look what the main character is reading! Good Craic Comics. Well what else would a Belfast born child genius be reading? The story and script sound so poignant yet I know it will also be quite funny. Well thats life is'nt it. A drama with a load of comedy and tragedy in it. A traromcom...
                                                     ..or something.

Aiden is such a good story teller and natural enthusiast for all things human. That is to say he understands the complexity and frailty of the human condition without losing sight of it mostly being shits and giggles, baby.It looks so beautifully shot too. Northern Irish cinema has mostly shied away from things of a fantastical nature seemingly preferring to wallow in the struggle between the orange and the green. Yet where are the Catholic vampires and protestant werewolves? Or the flying black taxis and radioactive soda farls?
                                                             Time And Again; a film
                                                                  set in the possible

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Heavens Above.

In Saturday nights episode The Doctor is trapped in a nightmare that could have sprung from the darkest imaginings of that most respected teller of ghost stories MR James, One impossible to wake up from. A truly cruel and twisted creation touched with an evil genius that only his own race could come up with. Arcane scientific black magic in a confession dial. It was truly terrifying and magnificent at the same time. That fifty five minutes of television on a wet rainy November Saturday will always remain a fixed point for me in my memory. Fifty years on and counting this wonderful show continues to innovate and shine a light in dark places and times. it is Tuesday morning and  I am still trying to bask in the glow of invention and storytelling that went into the make up of Heaven Sent and marvel at the minds that came up with it. That closing montage as the Doctor ascended to barely conceivable levels of determination and heroism displayed a creative team and a lead actor on top of their game in a season that has had more than its fair share of surprises and innovations. A love letter to its continuing and constantly evolving fan base and a reminder to its long term followers why we love this show so much. The bloody knuckles and broken bones that were on show as our hero dragged himself to the place where he would willingly begin his suffering all over again was just heart stopping. the bony coral reef of Doctor skulls was terrifying in scale and seemed to represent an eternity of endless suffering. What a bold concept. What a bold conceit.
              Peter Capaldi you are our Doctor.
And with The Doctor back on Gallifrey at long last(Very,very long last) maybe we could address one of the great mysteries about our hero. His parentage. I have since the Paul McGann movie thought that given his "hybrid" status that he is actually Leela and Andred's son. Part human and part Gallifreyan and to the best of my knowledge Leela is or was the only human on the Doctor's homeworld. It would account for his rebellious streak and could also go some way to explaining the difficulties he may have experienced growing up in a class ridden stuffy "civilization."
              Oh if only this were true and we were about to see the lovely Louise Jameson once more.