Monday, 31 December 2012

Ooh Magneto!

Following on from yesterday's post about the Carry On films, here's British comic artist Chris Weston's brilliant poster for a film that never was ...

Then there's Paul Garner's Carry on Zombie, which I'm sure would have happened ...
Carry On Zombie
If the Carry Ons did still exist I wonder what other films, franchises and/or people and institutions they'd have lampooned? Carry On Prime Minister perhaps? They never did do a good political spoof. Carry On Trekking? With Sid as Captain Berk and Kenny Williams as Mr Spunk?  Or Star Wars ... I can see Bernie Bresslaw as Chewbacca and Babs as Leia. Mind you, Mel Brooks did already do that with Spaceballs. Harry Potter perhaps?
Oh dear lord ... 50 Shades of Carry On ...

Sunday, 30 December 2012

What's a Carry On?

It being the Christmas holidays, there is a surfeit of classic Carry On on the television. In the past couple of decades, these films have become synonymous with Bank Holidays and there's always one or two playing. Yesterday I found myself watching one of my favourites - Carry On Screaming - and a sudden thought struck me ... what makes a Carry On film a Carry On film?

I'm sure if I asked the average Jamal or Janet in the street they'd say 'the cast'. But is it? Carry On Screaming is a case in point; there's no Kenneth Connor, no Sid James, no Barbara Windsor, no Hattie Jacques. Charles Hawtrey's role as a cloakroom attendant lasts all of four minutes and Bernard Bresslaw's Socket the butler gets even less screen time. Joan Sims only gets about 10 minutes on film, a third of which is spent as a waxwork. The stars of the film are Harry H Corbett (in his only Carry On role), Fenella Fielding (two appearances in Screaming and Regardless), and Jim Dale (appeared in 11) with Peter Butterworth (16) and Kenneth Williams (26). Yet it is still undeniably a Carry On.

I would imagine that most of us have an idea of who we consider to be the 'Carry On Crew'. But, interestingly, some people on your list made very few appearances across the 31 films in the series. Barbara Windsor only made nine Carry On films plus the 'clip Show' - That's Carry On! Terry Scott made just seven and Leslie Phillips made four. And yet Patsy Rowlands made nine, Peter Gilmore made 11 and Michael Nightingale appeared in 13. Would you have included them in your list? Could you even say you know what Michael Nightingale looks like? Here he is:

Marianne Stone made nine, Billy Cornelius made eight - you may not know their faces either -  Julian Holloway also made eight and Valerie Leon and Margaret Nolan made six. Joan Hickson made five, as did David Lodge and Bill Maynard. Interestingly, two Doctor Whos have been in the Carry Ons too - William Hartnell appeared once (Sergeant) and Jon Pertwee appeared in four. Then, of course, there's Carry on Columbus, made in 1992, long after most of the original Carry On crew had died or retired ... but is still considered part of the canon.

So, if it isn't the cast, maybe it's the people behind the films?

That might be true but it doesn't explain films like The Big Job (1965) which featured Sid James, Joan Sims and Jim Dale, among others, and was directed by Gerald Thomas, who directed the Carry On films. It was produced by Peter Rogers, who produced the Carry On films, scored by Eric Rogers who scored the Carry On films, and scripted by Talbot Rothwell ... who scripted the majority of the Carry On films. So it's a Carry On in all but name (and was briefly re-badged as What a Carry On) but isn't considered one of the series. And it isn't alone; there's Watch your Stern (1961) which, despite being directed by Gerald Thomas, produced by Peter Rogers, and starring Kenneth Connor, Sid James, Hattie Jacques and Leslie Phillips also isn't a Carry On. And nor are Please Turn Over (1959), No Kidding (1960), Raising the Wind (1961), Twice Round the Daffodils (1962) and Nurse on Wheels (1963), which all share Carry On cast and production teams. To confuse matters still further, there's also a Carry On Admiral (1957), which stars Joan Sims, and a Carry On London (1937) starring future Carry On performer Eric Barker ... and neither have any connection to the Carry On franchise whatsoever.

Clearly, what makes a film a Carry On isn't just the choice of director, producer, writer, composer and/or cast. There's something else at play here. Maybe it's the movie company that funded them? It is true that the first 12 films (Sergeant to Screaming) were put out by Anglo-Amalgamated before the franchise moved to the Rank Organisation for the next 17 films. But when Rank cut their ties, Emmanuelle was funded by Hemdale Pictures and Columbus by Island World (part of 20th Century Fox). Meanwhile, The Big Job was made by Anglo-Amalgamated. So was Watch your Stern.

So what is it? What makes a Carry on?

I think the answer lies in satire. Now, while you may not immediately think of the Carry Ons as satirical films, they do all share one thing in common; they lampoon tradition and aspects of British life, whether it's the army, the NHS, camping holidays, seaside beauty contests, the unions, the Royal Navy or package holidays. They also spoof popular films such as Burton and Taylor's Cleopatra, Lawrence of Arabia, Beau Geste, The Scarlet Pimpernel, the James Bond films, Westerns, and the Hammer Horror movies. Even the Carry Ons that didn't get made, for whatever reason, fit this pattern. Among them were Carry on Smoking (Fire Service), Carry On Escaping (Colditz and various POW films) and Carry On Dallas. By contrast, The Big Job was a simple crime caper in the mould of films like Two Way Stretch, Too Many Crooks and The Lavender Hill Mob. And Mind your Stern wasn't taking the mickey out of the Navy; rather it was a 'man in wrong place at the wrong time' type scenario, like you'd find in some Norman Wisdom films and classics like The Mouse that Roared or Arsenic and Old Lace.

So maybe the reason that Carry On Columbus didn't really work, despite a great cast of comedians, was that it wasn't a satire; it was a string of predictable jokes clumsily built around modern politically-correct sensibilities and loosely attached to the fact that it was the 500th anniversary of Columbus's 'discovery' of the Americas.

So, is there a future for the Carry On franchise? There have been a couple of worthy attempts to make a new film in the recent past and they were in the satirical tradition; Carry On London was a 2003 project helmed first by Peter Richardson and later Ed Bye and starred people like Keith Allen, Vinnie Jones, Shane Ritchie and Daniella Westbrook. It told the story of a limousine company - Lenny's Limos - hired to take actors to the Herberts, a British spoof of the Oscars. It re-appeared in 2009 with the alternative title of Carry On Bananas with Charlie Higson rumoured as director and names like Paul O'Grady, Meera Syal, Liza Tarbuck, Frank Skinner, Lenny Henry and Jennifer Ellison attached ... but nothing came of it. And, in 2010, there was talk of a movie called Carry On To The Next Round, a kind of X-Factor/Pop Idol type spoof, with Russell Brand being lined up to play a Simon Cowell type character who becomes bsotted with a contestant played by Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding. It also has failed to appear. At least not yet. And I'm not sure they ever will.

Carry On London

You see ... satire has moved on and I do wonder whether a new Carry On film could ever hold its own against things like Yes Prime Minister, The Thick Of It, The Day Today or Drop the Dead Donkey.

Secondly, there is the fact that the Carry Ons thrived on stereotypes: the saucy 'dolly bird', the frumpy secretary, the big thick bloke, the dirty old man, the battleaxe wife, the camp effete, the innocent unworldly young man, the henpecked husband, the matronly larger woman. These days we frown upon such stereotypes even though they will always be there and it is in our nature to recognise them. Sexual politics have changed. So too has the diversity of people in the UK. In the era of the classic Carry Ons, it was acceptable for Bernard Bresslaw to 'black up' as a native African bearer or an Arab tribesman and for Kenneth Williams to put on the accent of an Indian potentate. Rightly or wrongly, this was part of the films' humour. The few well-known black actors of the time, like Kenny Lynch or Rudolph Walker, were relegated to support roles. These days that would be completely unacceptable. The Carry On franchise was built upon white working class seaside postcard humour of a kind that has all but disappeared.

Which is why I think that maybe it's better to say ... Carry On no more.

The Carry On films are still great fun ... at least to people of my generation. But my kids - all in their 20s - are utterly bemused by them. They were firmly of their time. So why try to recreate them? And why bother? I remember hearing someone say once that, 'People don't really want The Beatles to reform ... they just want to feel young again.' I heard similar sentiments when the Star Wars prequels came out; the adults all derided them but kids loved them - even Jar Jar Binks. I saw the original Star Wars when I was 16 and it was magical and brilliant. No matter how much money or skill George Lucas threw at The Phantom Menace, he could never have made me feel like that again because time had moved on ... and so had I.

So I suspect that the Carry Ons are no more possible to resurrect than is Monty Python's Flying Circus. Both franchises occupy a place in our hearts and cinema/TV history that simply isn't reproduceable. Monty Python - the Next Generation? I very much hope not. Carry On 21st Century style? I really don't think that it's achieveable.

But who knows? I could be wrong. They've reinvented Doctor Who and James Bond for the 21st century. They may yet pull it off.

Hyuk yuk yuk.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Bad, Bad Sex

Nancy Huston has won the 20th annual Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award for Infrared, a novel whose central character, Rena Greenblatt, is a photographer who enjoys nothing more than taking infrared snaps of her lovers mid-canoodle. The award – established in 1993 by the late Auberon Waugh (son of Evelyn) to draw attention to the “crude, badly written or perfunctory use of passages of sexual description in contemporary novels, and to discourage it” – could hardly have had a more deserving victor than Huston. Here is one of her offending (not to say offensive) passages:

“He runs his tongue and lips over my breasts, the back of my neck, my toes, my stomach, the countless treasures between my legs, oh the sheer ecstasy of lips and tongues on genitals, either simultaneously or in alternation, never will I tire of that silvery fluidity, my sex swimming in joy like a fish in water, my self freed of both self and other, the quivering sensation, the carnal pink palpitation that detaches you from all colour and all flesh, making you see only stars, constellations, milky ways, propelling you bodiless and soulless into undulating space where the undulating skies make your non-body undulate…”

Glorious, eh?

Here are the runners-up:

The Adventuress: The Irresistible Rise of Miss Cath Fox by Nicholas Coleridge:

“In seconds, the duke had lowered his trousers and boxers and positioned himself across a leather steamer trunk, emblazoned with the royal arms of Hohenzollern Castle. ‘Give me no quarter,’ he commanded. ‘Lay it on with all your might.’ Cath did as she was told, swishing the twigs hard onto the royal bottom.”

The Quiddity of Will Self, by Sam Mills:

“ … oh, yes, oh, yes, oh, Will, oh, yes, oh, semen-bedizened blood-pusillanimous bed onanistic quiddity fulcrating pelvic thrusts smoke thick typewriter’s click-clack-click Will Our Cock is Spent screaming loving Will is pleased Will is Saved I have done it I have done I am the Chosen One I am his Chosen One oh Will for ever I am yours for ever I am yours for ever I am.”

The Divine Comedy by Craig Raine:

“And he came. Like a wubbering springboard. His ejaculate jumped the length of her arm. Eight diminishing gouts. The first too high for her to lick. Right on the shoulder.”

Noughties, by Ben Masters:

“We got up from the chair and she led me to her elfin grot, getting amongst the pillows and cool sheets. We trawled each other’s bodies for every inch of history. I dug after what I had always imagined and came up with even more.”

Back to Blood, by Tom Wolfe:

“But then the tips of her breasts became erect on their own, and the flood in her loins washed morals, despair, and all other abstract assessments away in a cloud of some sort of divine cologne of his. Now his big generative jockey was inside her pelvic saddle, riding, riding, riding, and she was eagerly swallowing it swallowing it swallowing it with the saddle’s own lips and maw”

The Yips by Nicola Barker:

“He knows her body now, even tightly sheathed and slippery as it is; a ripe, red plum, its yellow flesh pressing out against the smooth arc of its cool, fragrant skin. He understands the basic groundwork, has visited the orchard like a hungry finch, has gorged on the fruit and rejected the pips, has explored the geography.”

Rare Earth by Paul Mason:

“He switched to some ancient steppe language as he ejaculated, blubbering and incoherent. Chun-li faked an orgasm, keeping her mind focused on an eighth-century lyric of sadness, and her face still as a lake in winter. Kh├╝nbish collapsed below the neck of the horse, where he clung now, like a forlorn circus rider, as the steppe cacophony segued seamlessly into the kind of trickling-stream-plus-birdsong music they play in mental hospitals to calm things down.”

First published in The Independent.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Need to use up that left-over Sellotape?

Left over Sellotape or Scotch Tape is no problem for photographer Wes Naman. He uses it to make his friends look ... different:

Photographer Wes Naman has created portraits of his friends using rolls of Scotch Tape to distort their features

Photographer Wes Naman has created portraits of his friends using rolls of Scotch Tape to distort their features

Photographer Wes Naman has created portraits of his friends using rolls of Scotch Tape to distort their features

You can see loads more on his website here.

And, as if to prove the old adage that 'great minds think alike', here's Turner Prize winning Douglas Gordon's 1997 piece 'Monster':

GordonMonsterWeb : Douglas Gordon, Monster, 1997 - photographie

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Wood you believe it?

Would you spend $25,000 dollars on this?

Or this maybe?

How about if I tell you that they are sculptures, carved from a single block of wood and meticulously painted? No, really, they are. New York artist Randall Rosenthal starts with a single block of wood and turns it into these amazing sculptures. Here's one he made earlier:

Isn't that extraordinary? Here are a couple more. It's really hard to believe that what you're looking it is a single piece of carved wood isn't it? The quality of his painting is wonderful too.

Want to see more? Visit his site here. He also does amazing wall sculptures and architectural objects. Worth a visit!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The comedy award that many comedians cannot win

I found myself having a tiny tantrum on Twitter today. Alliteration aside, I was venting my spleen about nominations for the British Comedy Awards 2012. I have no issue with the people who have been put forward - I was delighted to see the brilliant Moone Boy up for two awards - but I do have an axe to grind with the organisers.

What decade are you living in?

If these awards are meant to represent the best of Bristish comedy then where are the categories for radio or podcast or other online productions?

If they were called the British Television Comedy Awards then I'd have no issue. But they're not. They purport to be the British Comedy Awards - the best of British comedy. So, to my mind, they should be celebrating comedy across all media not just TV. And, frankly, a lot of the best comedy is not on TV. On radio you'll find shows like Bleak Expectations, now in its fifth series on Radio 4 - a show, incidentally, that tried to transfer to TV and wasn't as funny. Radio has all the best pictures you see. Then there are the perennial favourites (some of which are so popular they've been on air for 40 years!) like The Now Show, The News Quiz, Infinite Monkey Cage, Heresy, I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue, The Museum of Curiosity, The Unbelievable Truth, Just a Minute and the many, many wonderful comedy plays and dramas that appear on the BBC? And let's not forget that radio is also the proving ground for many shows that do eventually transfer to TV successfully. Without radio there would be no Sarah Millican's Support Group, The Thick of It, The League of Gentlemen, Little Britain, Harry Hill, Lee and Herring's Fist of Fun, The Day Today, I'm Alan Partridge, etc.

But lest you think it's all about the BBC, what about all the great stuff that turns up on indie stations like Resonance FM's John Dredge's Nothing to Do wit Anything or Kevin Eldon's Speakers series? Or Frank Skinner's and Dave Gorman's shows on Absolute Radio? Or XFM's Marsha meets ...? Then there are the podcasts like Do the Right Thing, Adam and Joe, David Mitchell's Soapbox, The Ricky Gervais Show, The Onion, The Collings and Herrin Podcast, Helen and Ollie's Answer me this and all of the odd stuff that Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper put out periodically. Just visit the iTunes store and type 'comedy podcast' into the search box and you'll find hundreds of great products, many of them free. And I haven't even touched all the great comedy on YouTube and the many other free video channels.

And, while we're at it, what about books and audiobooks? You can't tell me that Steve Coogan's performance reading I, Partridge isn't one of the best comedy performances of 2012. It absolutely is. And what about theatre?

We live in a brave new world of multimedia. So why don't the British Comedy Awards? Why are they fixated on one form of media? If their argument is that non TV-based comedy is less well known, then they could do a great deal to change that. Exposure during such a prestigious event would create a whole new audience for these wonderful shows. Mind you, I'm pretty sure that some podcasts and radio shows already get more 'viewers' than some TV comedy shows. Like him or loathe him, the record-breaking Ricky Gervais podcasts were downloaded by the millions.

Maybe the British Comedy Awards should just be for TV. Then we can have a proper awards ceremony that celebrates brilliant, innovative, hilarious British comedy in all its various forms and across a myriad of platforms.

I'd rather listen to Pappy's Flatshare Slamdown than watch Kookyville any day of the week. But only one of those would be eligible for a comedy award it seems.

And it isn't the funny one.