Monday, October 31, 2005

The Missouri Breaks (1976)

So Heimat's over, we dry our tears and try to get on with our lives.

We've got a backlog. And to celebrate our clock going back, we put the extra hour to good use and watch a Western. I love a good Western, and this is a good Western.

It has Jack Nicholson doing a Jack Nicholson so much more convincingly than Christian Slater does. Jack's the leader of the gang, he is, he is. He looks like a horse thief and he is, too. Real rugged, like. And there's his sidekick, Wild Billy Childish, played by Harry Dean Stanton.

The local rancher has hired regulator Marlon Brando to make sure no more of his stock of horses git stolled. So Marlon is the murderous nutter with right on his side. There's Method in his madness as he hunts down the horse thieves. Like all good Westerns, there's revenge, revenge, a bit of love, more revenge, and more revenge. And in the end, Jack's the last man standing.

Unusually for a Western, we're taken over the border to Canada where Harry Dean Childish and his fellow rustlers rustle up a heck of a lot of Mounties' horses while the hunky chaps are singing their Sunday hymns in church. The Mounties are so God fearing that they leave their stock of horses completely unguarded.

Sadly, several horses were injured in the making of this film, and one drowned. And one hare either died or was a bloody good actor.

But as any huntsman knows, you can't make a cheese omelette without grating some cheese. Can you?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Heimat 3 - 6/6: Goodbye to Schabbach 1999 - 2000

Slade say goodbye to Jane. I say goodbye to Schabbach.

The turn of the century. An anticlimax. Where once we thought it would be Prince, it ends up Robbie Williams. The excitement of everybody's got a bomb, we could all die, we might as well just becomes a shit Bond theme pastiche.

1999 is also the year of the solar eclipse. Another anticlimax. In London it's "Wow, it's really dark". Wow.

In Germany, though it's a different matter. Thousands of people flock the streets of Munich to watch the eclipse. And here's blond Gunnar, squinting into the sun, on his way to prison to serve a six month sentence for drunk driving.

Remember Gunnar? The man who lost his blonde family to a man who is rich and has nose bleeds? Well, Gunnar thinks fondly of the days when he first left East Germany for the West to help build Hermann and Clarissa's house. And since he's made a fortune on the stock market, he now wants to celebrate the millennium by paying for a massive party at the house in Schabbach. There's just the little matter of his jail sentence to negotiate. Otherwise he won't make the party.

Gunnar turns up at his estranged family's home. And while the other adults are out, after three bottles of wine, wearing only his red y-fronts, he bonds with his two daughters. But the next morning, the condemned man has to leave. And off he goes to jail to share a cell with a neo-nazi fitness fanatic. Gunnar reads Harry Potter and plans the reunion party. The neo-nazi does press-ups.

So poor Gunnar pays for the party, and of course he doesn't get let out of jail early for good behaviour.

The party itself is not one I'd wish to attend. The electronics/computer whizz plays his saxophone? clarinet? Can't remember, but it isn't very good. Clarissa, now healthy, sings "Maybe This Time". She puts her all into it. I wish she wouldn't. A man dressed as a woman turns up with other men dressed as women and says, "It can't be a surprise, you must have all known how I was". I don't know who he is let alone how he was. Hermann and Clarissa go for a romantic walk. She tells him her plan for the future is to "stay healthy".

Someone who isn't staying healthy is an old friend of Lulu's who has Aids. Of course, he is gay. The first gay character in 85 years of Heimat. Lulu visits him on New Year's Eve and tells him she doesn't love the man she is planning to spend her life with.

And all is quiet on New Year's Day. Bono is presumably asleep. And Lulu enters her father's house. The party-goers are asleep. Her young, precociously talented son is playing the piano. And Lulu is sad. She is sad for her dying friend, she is sad for herself, she is sad for her son. Her son has Simon blood and you can be assured that he will live a very affluent, mostly happy life. The tears roll down Lulu's face. They roll down mine, too.

The tears roll down Lulu's face as she looks out of the window. The screen, slowly but surely, turns blue. Lichtblau. Is the telly on the blink?

No, this is Heimat.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Girls and Boys: Sex & British Pop - Love Me Do (The Sixties)

First of all, I feel I should apologise for my last post. It wasn't big and it wasn't clever.

Of course we've got a lot to thank Nelson and Jools for. If it wasn't for Nelson, I'd be eating snails stuffed with frogs' legs in a creamy white wine sauce and I wouldn't have washed my armpits since last Christmas. If it wasn't for Jools, Beverley Knight and Sam Brown would be on the breadline and Tom Jones would be in a home.

So Trafalgar 200 and its finale of Brittania ruling the waves and three cheers for Nelson and his column (about time he got himself a blog), neatly flows into sixties sex and pop.

Of course, they wheel out the obligatory Philip fucking Larkin poem, this time the one about sexual intercourse starting in the sixties, not the fucking one about your mum and dad fucking you up which was in the fucking Darcus Howe documentary last week.

Sex all starts with the sexual explosion that is Elvis. Bill Haley is too pug ugly to get Cilla Black's juices going, but Elvis? What a man!

So "young aspiring Elvises roamed the coffee bars of London" like sexed up zombies . And here is Larry "Mr" Parnes "Shillings and Pence" taking the best looking ones under his wing: Billy Fury. Joe Brown!

And from now on, the sixties is one big shag fest. For musicians and their groupies, that is. The same old stories are regurgitated. Marianne Faithfull and her fictional Mars Bar. Super Groupie, Pamela Des Barnes. The woman who still polishes her plaster cast of Jimi Hendrix's cock. The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Animals, Cynthia, Yoko, Rosie Boycott, blah blah blah. Dusty is a lesbian, shock horror. Drugzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Cream with Eric Clapton. A nice cup of tea with Eric Burdon. The pill revolutionizzzezzzzzzzzzzzzzzz..............sorry, did I fall asleep there?

Best footage is of a 17 year old David Jones (now Bowie) who is self proclaimed chairman of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long Haired Men. Apparently, the cruelty involves members of the public taunting the long-haired men with the word "Darling" and the question "Can I carry your handbag?"

"It just has to stop," says David.

Bring back National Service, I say.

Friday, October 21, 2005

A Very British Olympics

1948 London.

It is a very British Olympics, probably because it is done on the cheap. Athletes stay in PoW camps. PoWs help with building the infrastructure.

It is the first Olympics since the 1936 Berlin Games. 1940 and 1944 were cancelled, politics once again interfering in sport.

An innovation of the Adolf Hitler Games was the transportation by foot of the Olympic Torch from Greece to the city where the fun takes place. In 1948 London, the Olympic authorities are keen to continue this new tradition. And the man who carries the flame into the arena would not have looked out of place twelve years previously. He is tall, blond, gorgeous, with a very upright gait. He is chosen in preference to a skinny, balding, bespectacled little man who happens to be the best British male middle-distance runner of his generation.

The Games themselves are a success. The USA wins most medals and Sweden come second!Great Britain are the first hosts to finish outside the top ten. And the USSR snub the whole event.

The US male swimming team are a curiosity. One of their members has an elephantine member, himself. The other members of the team club together to hire him a prostitute on the prerequisite that they watch the action. The sensible lady refuses to accept such a large package. And probably such a large audience.

Which leaves me wondering. If I had a overly-endowed friend would I want to watch him in flagrante? Or would I hope that he wore a generously cut trouser, and when I went for a piss he wouldn't say, "I'm bursting meself, Geoff"?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Face to Face - Gilbert Harding

Gilbert Harding, Chairman of the Brains Trust, Quizmaster of the Round Britain Quiz, and outspoken What's My Line interviewed/psychoanalysed by John Freeman.

It is 1960.

"Alcoholic, homosexual, and irascible, Gilbert Harding became a household favourite...", begins the introduction.

A housewife in a grocery store in Dartford picks up a packet of Stork margarine and says to her friend, "I do like that Gilbert Harding. He's so irascible."

"I've heard he's an alcoholic and a homosexual," says her friend.

"Yes, so have I. Isn't it wonderful?"

Monday, October 17, 2005

Heimat 3: 5 of 6 - The Heirs

The Hairs? How they get Hermann's hair to go grey/blue and now recede? How they get Clarissa's hair to get more luxuriant, then fall out, then grow back?

No, the heirs. And Clarissa's having chemotherapy. I've always thought she's needed some kind of therapy but this is going a bit too far.

It's 1997. And it's Ernst's turn to die. Yes, they're coming thick and fast now.

Oh, but you've got to laugh. Ernst is feeling broody. Not that he wants a baby, he wants a fully grown heir. (Unlike that on top of his head). And he looks at teenage Matko, the son of his Yugoslav ex-housekeeper who is now living it up in Bosnia. Ernst thinks Matko's a great kid. Matko rides a scooter, he tries to flirt with a grown woman, he wants to be a pilot just like Ernst, he nurses an injured pigeon back to full health. Matko's an annoying twat. But Ernst likes him. He'd love to have a son just like him.

So Ernst goes to a private detective who specialises in finding the offspring of men who have spread their seed all over Eastern Europe. Ernst hands the dick a photo album of smiling young women. The dick flies away. He'll be back.

In the meantime, Ernst is really hoping the Schabbach authorities will authorise the building of the Ernst Simon Museum. Ernst wants to be the big "I am" and take his works of art from out of his batcave and into the public arena. The council say "no". And Ernst kind of flies aimlessly over the Rhine in his new Cessna light aircraft, the plane loses a bit of power, and Ernst flies into the side of a cliff. Boom.

The dick comes back from Bosnia, claiming that Matko is Ernst's heir. Matko, a simple soul, is more interested in his ailing pigeon. He gets called names at school and stones are thrown through his bedroom window. His pigeon dies. He is dragged for a blood test, runs away, and jumps off a cliff. He really is not made of stern stuff.

Oh God, what else happens?

Clarissa comes back home after her therapy. Her singing hasn't improved.
Hermann's smirking.
Lulu is big friends with Hermann and Clarissa and seemingly in charge of all building work in the Rhineland.
Hartmut has lost everything: His business and the unexplained disappearance of the Russian woman.

And the twist at the end?

The blood test proves that Matko is not Ernst's son.

One more to go, and I don't know about you but I'll be glad when it's over.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Searle's Progress (A Profile of Cartoonist Ronald Searle)

If you'd have asked me last week, these three things I thought would never happen to me:-

1. I never thought I'd like the flipping Bee Gees, but this week I've been luxuriating in their baroque pop.

2. I never thought I'd see a man reading a Tony Parsons novel but this morning, there he was, sitting next to me on the train, bold as brass.

3. I thought I was too old to discover new heroes. No, not Tony Parsons...

Ronald Searle.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Match of the Day - England v Poland

Whenever we play Poland, the commentator without fail mentions 1973. In 1973, England needed to beat Poland at Wembley to qualify for the 1974 World Cup Finals. Before the match, Brian Clough had called the Polish goalkeeper, Jan Tomaszewski, a clown. Of course, Jan went on to play a blinder, the score ended up 1-1, and England were out.

Tonight, we get our revenge...Again.

Every match for England is revenge for something. And every time we've played Poland since 1973 its been revenge for that fateful night. In 1974 and 1982, Poland came third in the World Cup. Which suggests that they may have been a better team than England in both those campaigns. Don't you just love the word "campaign"?

But just as the Germans' most important match of 1990 was the World Cup Final (not the Gazza tears semi against England), I wouldn't have thought the Poles quite remember 1973 as vividly as 1974.

Except of course for Jan Tomaszewski. The clown. Who is here tonight at Old Trafford. Old and bald. And not smiling. Not entertaining children. Not wearing big shoes. No face paint. Not squirting water from a plastic flower into Bobby Charlton's face. But sad, yes. Ah, the tears of a clown when there's no-one around. Just wait till he's back in his hotel room. With nothing but memories of how he kept at bay the English with their flair and their hair and their blood sweating for their country. Nothing but memories of that night. Nothing.

John Motson reminds us of 1973 and the clown.

"The older generation amongst you might remember..."

I remember, alright. Make us a cup of tea, love. I think I'd better give up this bowls lark, soon. My back's killing me. Is it me or is it cold in here?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Very Social Secretary

I suppose I laughed a couple of times. 3 out of 10.

Not tragic enough to be a tragedy.

Not comic enough to be a comedy.

Blunkett's personal life?

Couldn't care less.

Noo Labor? Christian Democrats doing what's "right"?

So? What do you want me to do about it?

There wasn't enough of the dog in it.

I liked the dog.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Heimat 3 : 4 of 6 - Everyone is Doing Well

1995. After 13 years without a girlfriend, I meet the woman I want to be with for the rest of my life. Amazingly, the feeling is reciprocated.

Please don't throw up.

In 1995, blue-grey haired Hermann and black-haired Clarissa are still not really together. He's a rich stay at home failure. She's a rich success, travelling the world, performing to people with shit in their ears. She comes home, he greets her with sunflowers, she says she's off for another 8 months, touring with her fucking awful classical/free jazz ensemble. And of course she has a lover, a weighty, arty so-called jazz singer.

So off she goes on tour, and Hermann is left trapped in the Hunsruck nest. He steps into an animal trap. On his return from hospital, there is a robin in the house. Yes, free-spirited Hermann, a man whose instinct it is to always run away, is like a trapped bird.

But what of the other Simons?

Ernst continues to live the solitary life. His art collection is sealed in vaults in Batman's cave but he has plans to open a gallery in his grounds.

Anton watches his semi-pro football team, FC Schabbach, win another trophy. He has a heart attack and dies at last at the age of 70.

Hartmut, his conscience seemingly clear after killing Lulu's boyfriend, is still with his young Russian woman. He is waiting for his divorce to go through, and he is suing his father over the future of Simon Optik. When Anton dies, Hartmut takes control of the company.

Lulu, ungrateful bitch, is living in a flat with her young child. She is a single mother as the father of the child was murdered by Hartmut. Hartmut gives Lulu money each month, but obviously not enough to free herself from a flat where she's surrounded by drug addicts and unfriendly neighbours. When Hermann visits her to inform her of her half-uncle's death, she says she has changed her name as "Lulu is a prostitute's name." Hermann, with typical self-loathing and consideration for others, walks away without talking to his daughter, and immediately goes to a brothel where he receives a hand-job for 200 marks. How does his mind work?

One last twist...

Hermann arrives home to find Clarissa's bags and then Clarissa crying her eyes out on the marital bed. Apparently she's sick...Oh dear.

And she may never sing again...


BBC Early Evening News - Nick Park

Aardman Animations' warehouse has burnt down. Its entire history has been destroyed.

Nick Park is pictured holding his best loved creations, Wallace and Gromit. All three faces have their usual expression.

The reporter says of Nick, "Characteristically, he's putting a brave face on things."

The spirit of Ronnie Barker lives on.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

What's Going On: The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye

Marvin, in drugs hell in Hawaii, living in a bread van, is saved by an Englishman who brings him back to England to play in front of Princess Margaret.

It's 10.30, Margaret is tired and leaves the auditorium. The rest of the audience follow.

Marvin turns up, out of his head, sits at the piano, and sings to a cleaner.

He leaves England for Ostend, Belgium, where he boxes and plays darts.

What's going on?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Heimat 3: 3 of 6 - The Russians are Coming

1992. I'm a playwright! The fruits of my labours appear at the Mandela Theatre, London. The great man isn't there himself but he doesn't know what he's missing.

It's the last night. The Director is laughing like a drain, desperately trying to get the audience on our side. I'm sitting in the gods, cringing at the hackneyed lines. We all go to the pub afterwards. We have a plot, to leave the Director and his Play Factory. We're going to branch out by ourselves. My play has been a triumph and it's no thanks to the Director who has recently behaved like a spoilt child. We tell him our decision. The Director makes a dramatic exit. As he is about to leave the pub, he collapses on a table, drinks flying everywhere. He has put his all into my play and how do we treat him? With no respect. He made us what we are. He made me what I am...

If only I hadn't started that sketch. Just a sketch with two brothers and a girlfriend. And it all got blown out of proportion. And a play was developed by The Play Factory: The Director and his class of '91. And the play moved on, minute by minute, in the same stifling room. The words were all mine but I didn't know what the play was about, only that the TRUTH was important. And I didn't know what the TRUTH was. I only wanted to write a funny sketch. And the play was written and rewritten and rewritten until I'd used a tree's worth of paper. And we all laughed at the same lines over and over again.

And everbody clubbed together. They gave up their spare time to put on MY play. Backstagers, set designers, actors, REAL actors, and the Director. They all gave up their time. And was I grateful? No, I was confused. I didn't know what the TRUTH was.

"Geoff, love, you've got to find the truth."

I apologise to you all, especially to you, Mr Mandela, for letting you down.

Heimat 1992. "The Russians" are tens of thousands of people of German descent who are leaving the former Soviet Union in search of a homeland. Many of them arrive in the Hunsruck to move into flats which have been vacated by American military personnel. And not a few of the Russians are accompanied by Ernst. Yes, drat!...Ernst is back.

Ernst wasn't shot down by the Soviets. Booo! But he was captured and imprisoned. Hurray! But after two years, the USSR is no more and Ernst is free. Booooo!

And here he is, bringing men and women of good German stock back to their homeland, their Heimat. Ok, they were born in Kazakhstan, can't speak German, but they've got that German blood. And German blood is important to Ernst.

Ernst's first mission when he gets back is to track down Hairy. He finds him working with a nutty land-art artist, suspending cars and horses over a river. He can't convince old Hairy to continue where they left off, ripping off the East for real art, proper paintings. So Hairy stays with his hippy friends and Ernst goes back to his home alone with his tail between his legs.

The Russians are here. And don't you know there'll be tragic repurcussions.

For Anton employs a young Russian woman as domestic help. And Anton's 42 year old son, Hartmut, falls in love with her just as his 42 year old wife becomes pregnant. What a man. He even pays for the young woman's husband to have an operation to cure his dodgy shin. So magnanimous.

In the meantime, Hartmut has started a company in direct competition to his father's, with a little help from the increasingly hermit-like Ernst. A family at war, eh? Top hole!

So, fast forward to 1993. Hartmut's baby is born, is baptised Matthias Paul Anton after his great great grandfather, great grandfather, and grandfather (nice man, not so nice man, and not nice man) who we have seen through three series of Heimat. And Anton, by now in very poor health, signs a document in front of the whole family to bequeath all his worldly goods to the new baby when he reaches the age of eighteen, the baby being his only male grandchild 'n' all. A big "fuck you" to the rest of his family, except for the baby's mother who I reckon is shagging Anton anyway, as we see her giving him a foot massage for his fucking heart!

Cue, tragedy...

Clarissa develops tinnitus and buys some ginkgo biloba to cure it. She and Hermann perform a song together, the lyrics of which are the words on the information leaflet that comes with the pills.

NO. That's not tragedy. That's farce. I should know.

Cue, tragedy...

The young Russian woman leaves her husband and his sexist Russian family for Hartmut. They drive off into the night in his sports car, brrrrrrmmmm, happily in love. From another direction, heading towards Hermann's home, comes Hermann's only daughter, Lulu. She is in a taxi with her boyfriend and another male friend.

Of course, the two cars are on collision course. The taxi driver swerves to avoid the sports car, hits a tree head on, and Lulu's boyfriend is brown bread.

And it's all her cousin Hartmut's fault!

The twat!

What will Hermann say?

Will he ever grin again?

Bet you can't wait.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Top of the Pops - Jeremy Bowen

Yes, we still watch TOTP. Just in case we miss something good. It would be simply awful if a good single were to sit there at, waiting for us to come and get it, and us not turning up for the party.

One of the singles of the year is Daddy Yankee's Gasolina. It was on TOTP the day Jeremy Clarkson co-presented. And Jeremy hated it. Jeremy likes the Floyd (post-Syd, presumably), and The Who. He is a middle aged man who knows what he likes.

TOTP is now presented by Fearne Cotton and a middle aged man. The middle aged man changes every week. Fearne just ages.

This week's Jeremy is BBC News Correspondent, Jeremy Bowen. Perfectly pleasant. Listened to Peel as a teenager. Likes Teenage Kicks. Likes Squeeze. I'm sure he must like the obligatory Clash. Would be a perfect guest for Jools' Hootenanny. Maybe drinking a bottle of Becks on a table with Phil Cornwell. Maybe a few nuts. I don't know. You never see what they get to eat.

Like all Jeremys, Jeremy has always wanted to present TOTP. Ever since he was a little Jeremy.

Oh, and TOTP's executive producer is former children's tv presenter Andi 'the guv' Peters.

Someone, somewhere, is taking the piss.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Arena: No Direction Home - Pete Seeger's Dad

It is the Newport Folk Festival. 550,000 quiet, gentle men are crying at songs of social injustice sung by quiet, gentle men playing acoustic instruments with gentle amplification. Pete Seeger's dad turns up his hearing aid to its maximum volume so he can cry along.

Dylan comes onstage carrying an electric guitar. He is accompanied by more young men with electric instruments and a rock drummer. The band play fucking loud.

Pete Seeger's dad is getting distortion. He thinks capitalist aliens have landed and are taking over his mind. Dylan's voice sounds to him like Cadbury's Smash men imploring him to buy their capitalist reconstituted potato.

Gentle Pete turns into a raving avenger. He picks up the axe he uses for chopping his organic firewood and heads for the stage yelling, "I'm gonna cut the motherfucker's cables! Nobody's gonna brainwash my daddy!"

Of course there would've been a simpler solution. Pete's dad could've turned the volume of his hearing aid down to zero. And all those arseholes who later went to see Dylan knowing full well he was going to play rock music but just went along to boo him and call him a traitor when there were presumably real fans of Dylan who couldn't get tickets...

Well, I suppose they're all now in an old folkies' home, hearing aids turned up to 11, huddled round an old gramophone, crying tears of rage.