Stephen King - The Stand (Unabridged Version)

It's funny reading reviews of Stephen King books on Amazon. Each one seems to have a cumulative four-and-a-half star rating. This is the result of over 200 five-star reviews countered by seldom less than ten one-star reviews.

Every single five-star review proclaims the book to be a masterpiece and King to be a genius. Each one-star review talks about how they've never read King before “and certainly won't again!” Comments are made on the book's length (always excessive) and, if they're really in the mood for trolling, they hint at how their tastes are too highbrow for King and express no surprise that something so asinine should be so popular.

The real tasty meat, though, is in the comments that accompany these one-star reviews. The best ones attempt to shame King's detractors into submission by hinting that only people who have written novels may criticise them. Most of them, though, sarcastically recommend that the reviewer try something a little more suited to their tastes next time. Enid Blyton was a particularly good recommendation from one disgruntled King fan. Ho, does he have his fans. And his detractors!

Which is why, as most people are surely aware by now, the only reviews of any value on Amazon are those with two and three-stars. They may still have an axe to grind, and they may still be unforgivably snarky, but at least they're a bit more balanced. I prefer “I liked it, but...” to both “OMG MASTERPIECE” and “BURN IN HELL KING”. Acknowledgement of flaws with appreciation of saving graces – that's good criticism. Anything else is tedious and laughable. Just as it's quite impossible for anything to be perfect, it's surely more ridiculous to suggest that something can be so completely devoid of merit.

And that's where I fall when it comes to King. By virtue of his prolific output alone, I do happen to think he's a genius. His imagination seems limitless, his characters often feel like exactly the sort of people with whom you'd enjoy sharing a beer and a natter, and every book of his I've read has been so engaging that I'm tempted to use the old “unputdownable” nugget.

Admittedly, in the landmass of fiction he's crafted I've not even begun to scratch the surface, but still: this year alone I've read over 2,100 pages of his work. I think I may already have graduated from “newcomer”.

2009's Under The Dome formed a large part of this summer's holiday reading. That I really enjoyed, but was bemused by the amount of one-star reviews on Amazon which appeared to have been written by his fans. Ho! They all said that Under The Dome was little more than a lesser version of The Stand.

So I went and read The Stand.

In a way, those who criticised Under The Dome are right: It is a lesser version of The Stand. Under The Dome details the experiences of ordinary people placed in extraordinary circumstances. The Stand does the same, but on a much larger scale. That is, an entire continent as opposed to the small town trapped Under The Dome.

Both novels can, to a point, be classed as “experimental” in the Zola sense of the word. A cast of characters is devised to whom pressure is applied. King then explores, almost organically, the ways these people react. At times, it's almost as if he's asking himself – what would happen?

The Stand is a plague novel in which most people die. A lot of the time, even those who survive die. I wasn't surprised to find that it was inspired by George R. Stewart's Earth Abides, which focuses upon the attempts to rebuild society in the wake of apocalypse.

Earth Abides, though, is gentle, elegiac, hopeful. The Stand is brutal. Don't get too attached to anyone, kids. Most of them are going to die, and Stephen's going to do his best to ensure that they die in the worst way possible.

The apocalypse in Earth Abides was neat, almost graceful. All those afflicted with the humanity-negating pandemic were polite enough to die sequestered together.

In The Stand, though, the end of the world feels like the end of the world. Order is lost almost immediately, yet those at the top continue to try, with grim desperation, to cover up the fact that the holocaust was their fault. The results are predictably horrific, and the chapters which detail the downfall of humanity would be gruelling and nauseating were it not obvious that King is taking such delight in telling us about it.

After the plague and the apocalypse comes no small amount of wandering aimlessly in the wilderness and a massive amount of sociological discussion and town planning. It was here that the similarities to Earth Abides were really felt. But, again, King's pandemic had a lot less manners. There're fires, violence, alcoholism, rage, jealousy, terrorism, scandal, intrigue, solipsism and bodies – lots and lots of bodies. The post-apocalyptic landscape in Earth Abides was surprisingly empty in that respect.

And it's at this point that I became convinced that King has a horrible little voice at the back of his mind which screams at him to lace everything he writes with evil. It was a suspicion which first arose when I read L.T.'s Theory of Pets in Everything's Eventual. That was an amusing short story about the steady decline and evaporation of a relationship. But whilst writing it, King must have remembered that he's supposed to be a horror writer. As a result, a serial killer was inserted for no real reason at all, which meant that what could have been a really memorable piece of writing was utterly derailed.

I got the same impression from the latter half of The Stand. Why, in a novel which kills off 99.4% of the human race, did King still feel the need to include the embodiment of evil himself? To spice things up a little?

Yes, Randall Flagg shows up about a quarter of the way through affairs and threatens to ruin everything. He's the devil; evil incarnate; and he wants nothing more than to destroy the survivors of the Project Blue pandemic because...

...well, who cares about motivation, hey?

As villains go, Randall Flagg is unforgivably lazy. Why bother with exposition and motivation when you can just call your antagonist evil-incarnate and be done with it?

If ever a book didn't need an antagonist – or a supernatural element, for that matter – it's The Stand. It's a completely superfluous embellishment to a story which was already equally as horrifying as it was poignant and affecting.

Without Flagg, this book would likely have been worthy of the “masterpiece” tag. It would have been particularly chilling in that mass genocide would have been effected by little more than human arrogance, paranoia and incompetence. It would have been a realistic, believable and, worst of all, plausible document of apocalypse in real time. The latter half would have come across as a grittier Earth Abides. It would have been brilliant.

Instead, though, we get the devil walking the earth performing deeds so evil they're ridiculous. And when things are ridiculous, they're not scary. Similarly, when a villain is without motivation, he's boring.

I'm not quite sure what happened. My theory is that King was getting quite bored by the whole meticulous minute-taking of the Border Free Zone. Having written himself into the corner, he decided to shake things up a bit. That horrible little voice in the back of his head must have piped in - “you need a villain.”

Well, if he wanted a rude interruption to the whole rebuilding society conceit, he could have retained the disaster that springs from Harold Lauder's superiority and jealousy. That, in fact, would have made for an unforgettably powerful explosion of an ending. There would have been marvellous ambiguity, and what is perhaps the most terrifying vignette a horror writer could ever hope to craft – that no matter what happens, we're all doomed to do unspeakable things to each other until we're here no more.

But no. Instead we get a further 500 pages or so of religious crusading against an implausibly evil villain. Has nobody ever told Stephen that it's fine for books to be shorter than 500 pages?

Ultimately, I much preferred Under The Dome to The Stand. Under The Dome might have operated on a smaller scale, but it was much stronger for it. Though King never quite comes across as being out of his depth in The Stand, with Under The Dome it felt like he was completely in control at all times. The action takes place in a sealed microcosm environment, so you're never left wondering what happens everywhere else. In The Stand, for instance, I often wondered why the ultimate battle between good and evil had to take place in America. Surely it should, logically, have taken place within praying distance of the Holy Land?

And, apart from anything else, Under The Dome's protagonist was so believable as to be greatly disturbing. Jim Rennie, the arrogant small-town demagogue with ideas so far above his station that he'll stop at nothing so long as he gets to feel powerful. The real terror was in the realisation that the world's run by people like that.

Randall Flagg, though, can only really inspire terror if you flog yourself before a crucifix every morning.

I suppose my next step would be to enter The Dark Tower territory. I'm put off, though, having learned that Randall Flagg infects its many, many pages. Hasn't he done enough damage already?

But as if that's going to stop me.


The Masque of the Red Death

A Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe adaptation starring the great Vincent Price and the lovely Hazel Court with unforgettably technicolour cinematography by Nicholas Roeg!

This one's ideally suited for a tired late-night viewing with the sound turned so low that it's mistaken for a lurid dream. It was also perfect, though, for a rainy bank holiday weekend afternoon.

Vincent Price – with his voice like cake so rich you know it's killing you – plays the Satanic prince Prospero. He hosts a series of debauched balls in his opulent castle whilst, outside, peasant and uninvited nobility alike are decimated by a deadly plague – The Red Death.

Because the source material stretches to little more than five pages in most books, this one actually incorporates elements from two Poe stories. Interwoven with The Masque of the Red Death is the ever-satisfying story of Hop Frog; which, of course, climaxes with the decadent nobility dressed as a gorilla, immolated whilst suspended from a chandelier.

Here, though, Hop Frog is for some reason called Hop Toad. His beloved Tripetena is replaced by the creepy, creepy Esmerelda. Evidently they thought the sight of a female dwarf might upset the audience. Therefore, Esmerelda's played by a child with a dubbed adult voice – easily the most disturbingly uncanny element of the whole film.

I've always been drawn to the Hop Frog story. This might be because it inspired the song which sparked what I know will be a lifelong obsession with the music of Lou Reed:

Price's Prospero is brilliant. He's a complete and utter amoral bastard, but he speaks so passionately and eloquently about his Satanic faith that you can tell that he genuinely believes himself to be doing the right thing. All of his decisions are made based upon a dark and twisted belief system – an unholy code – which makes his performance a lot more cutting and believable than the glut of tedious self-righteous serial killers currently plaguing horror.

Also, he occasionally has moments of weakness. For example, upon slaughtering the last surviving victims of the Red Death, he insists that a child be spared. Despite his guard's protests, he doesn't give a reason – he just insists that she be spared in increasingly strained tones.

Powerful moments like this – where humanity appears to be struggling against staunch Satanic doctrine – ensure that the film and performance alike transcends any possible accusations of campiness.


Scottish Fiction

You know when you're in a different city and you want to do things the way they're done in that city?

When blessed with a two hour window in which I could “do” Glasgow last week, I found myself in an Oxfam Books & Music.

They had a section of the shop set aside for Scottish fiction. This section was further subdivided into “Classics” and “Contemporary”.

Ho, was I determined to get myself some Scottish fiction there and then.

Apart from Zola, Balzac and the few remaining works by Dickens I'm yet to obtain, I've all but stopped buying classics. This is because I've a shameful shelf full of such life-affirming works as purport to contain humanity itself. Many of them are unread. A dent must be made before I can haunt the “literature” sections of shops once more.

But seeing as they can often be devoured in a single coach or train journey, and seeing as I'm so often on the coach or train these days, I can buy as many contemporaries as I want.

Yet nothing jumped out from that dedicated shelf in the Glasgow Oxfam. Many of them had the word “kilt” in the title. Now, I'm no expert when it comes to this sort of thing. Indeed, I haven't got a clue. But something tells me that the content of a book of Scottish fiction with the word “kilt” in the title will be in some way lacking.

I might be wrong, and I almost certainly am. But it just felt too obvious. So that was that. Despite the fact that elsewhere in the store was a pristine gatefold edition of ELP's Brain Salad Surgery and a copy of Thor on DVD, I left-empty handed. Idiot: It was Scottish fiction or nothing. I was in a different city!

So I went to Waterstones.

I once had the opportunity to meet AL Kennedy, but didn't take it. She was hosting a special-guest seminar on my creative writing course. I didn't go. In retrospect, that feels like the academic equivalent of leaving the Glasgow branch of Oxfam Books & Music without having purchased the  pristine gatefold edition of ELP's Brain Salad Surgery. Or Thor, for that matter.

She's wonderful. She really is. Don't believe me? Oh. Well, perhaps you haven't been reading her excellent Guardian Books blogs? Onwards.

Despite having dedicated herself so fully to her art that she may have significantly damaged her health, she still manages to present the act of writing as the most noble and psychotic of all pursuits. Usually, by the end of even the second paragraph of any one of her articles, I'm reminded already of where this burning desire of mine to write comes from.

Beyond her journalistic work, all I've read of her is the mind-bending WW2 identity drama Day. My copy fell victim to a printing error. There were about sixty pages missing, and in their place was a rehash of a few preceding chapters followed by the remaining few hundred.

It's definitely more a testament to my general lack of intelligence than anything else that I didn't notice until it was too late. I was just thinking – hey! Modernism. But it probably also says something about her style, doesn't it? Doesn't it? It does. I think. Disjointed. Freewheeling. Busy. Stunning.

Ali Smith's There but for me I chose because

a) It too can be classed as Scottish fiction (I was in a different city!)
b) I really liked The Stranger and Other Stories and Other Stories
c) It was in a buy-one-get-one-half-price offer.

I've not started either book yet. I've still got about 400 pages of Stephen King's The Stand to go.

I've already read 832 pages. It's quite long.

Yes, I write about books now, too. Don't look at me that way. This was always coming.


Glasgow Smile

I'm in Glasgow. It's great to be sitting in a hotel room in the only country in the world in which Coca-Cola is not the best-selling soft drink. This morning a group of Italians gathered around the coffee machine. It wasn't going to happen, so I enjoyed a can of the national beverage in lieu. Irn Bru is increasingly hard to find in England, and I'd forgotten all about that strange eggy aftertaste.

As you know, I'm tedium itself. As a result, I listened to Belle & Sebastian and The Delgados on the way. You know: To get myself in the mood. This was followed by some Mogwai, but I was getting so bored I had to stop.

Because I'm here on business, I've not had much time to have a proper look around. I wanted to go to the Kelvingrove, but with the time it would have taken to get there, I'd have been looking at a window of around six minutes in which to have my horizons expanded. So instead, I went to the GOMA.

The Gallery of Modern Art claims to host a collection of works which belong to the people of Glasgow. It being free to get in, I can sort of see what they're getting at. However, had I tried to purloin Peter Fischli's rubber sculpture of a vinyl, I'm sure that no false defence of “I live here” would have worked in my favour.

The main gallery is dominated by a unique video installation by Fiona Tan. Entitled Disorient, it features two high definition films projected on facing screens. One screen shows a series of slow pans across a sort of depot filled with various Oriental artefacts. Incense, spices, statues, picked pig foetuses – the sort of space in which anyone of a curious nature could happily spend the best part of the day.

The other screen shows a disjointed montage of library footage detailing life, work, war and misery – is this the real “Orient”?

The two films were silent, but a constant soundtrack lilted through the room of readings from Marco Polo by a guy who sounded just like Liam Neeson. Marco Polo, of course, quite likely fabricated much of his travels. This narrow-minded misinformation, coupled with the fact that it was impossible to take in both screens at once, was the whole point: Your perception of culture, history and people is skewed. There's no way to get the full picture without having lived in a place since birth, and all that you can possibly learn is prejudice by either stereotype, prejudice or a cynical desire for ratings.

Hey, readers: Does the fact that the film was projected on two screens entail that it can count as two entries in my 2012 Film Challenge? No? No. Just one then.

But I did see two films. Upstairs I found myself enthralled by Peter Fischli's The Way Things Go. The most elaborate Rube Goldberg I've ever seen, this should be required viewing for anybody who's ever moaned about 'elf and safety. Such alarming disregard for self preservation is demonstrated that at times you genuinely fear for the cameraman's life.

There are grounds for calling shenanigan. It probably doesn't count as a “proper” Rube Goldberg machine as it wasn't a continuous shot; there were a few obvious scene changes. However, I've never seen such an orchestrated ballet of cause and effect to use so many lethal chemical reactions. Events were triggered by various caustic substances and fire; lots and lots of fire, which burned in every colour it's possible for fire to burn.

As a bunch of fireworks attached to a tyre sit in a pile of combustible powder towards which a trail of sparks is making inexorable process, there's nail-biting tension of which Hitchcock could only ever have dreamed.

Traditionally, Rube Goldberg sequences have a punchline – the whole thing having been engineered to fulfil some trivial task. Not so here. The picture simply faded out. Perhaps the cameraman died? Still, I'm not complaining. No film in which a Catherine Wheel is dropped into a bucket of phosphorous can ever be described as “ultimately disappointing”, as what could possibly live up to that?

At one point, the deadly sequence even creates a temporary tin society of phuttering zeppelins and sauntering robot tight-rope walkers, and I demand a lifetime supply of whatever red powder burns with magical glowing sparks which resemble terrible sci-fi SFX.

If the criteria for “favourite film” is determined by the sort of visuals which you could happily take in on a permanent loop for the rest of your days, I think we have a new winner.

The video above, it must be noted, is not complete. It can be watched here in its entirety, but it does have a "bonus" Aphex Twin soundtrack. That's not a problem for me, but if might be for you.

I like Glasgow. Their central subway line is known affectionately as The Clockwork Orange.


2012 Film Challenge #64 - London: The Modern Babylon

Having never seen The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, Absolute Beginners, The Filth & The Fury or Earth Girls Are Easy, my introduction to Julien Temple came in the form of his 2006 Glastonbury documentary.

Halfway through my initial viewing of said documentary, it had already become one of my favourite films. It captures perfectly the life-affirming wonder that is a weekend at Worthy Farm. It's hard to put into words as to quite why Glastonbury is unlike and superior to any other festival, but somehow that film nails it in one long montage of disjointed archive footage set to the best possible soundtrack. Every time I watch it these days, within seconds I yearn for the Brigadoon which has for me become almost as important an annual experience as Christmas.

I suppose total sensory overload is the only way you can contain so many strong and disparate themes and emotions in one manageable running-time. Not only is each image worth a thousand words, but each is also liable to be interpreted in a completely different way by any given person. Through being presented with what is, quite possibly, far too much information, you're free to thread your own narrative, tell your own stories and to will the film to be whatever you want it to be.

Well, he's done it again. And this time he's tackled a theme so impossibly sprawling that he's made his success with Glastonbury look amateur by comparison.

Glastonbury remains one of my favourite films simply because I feel that the festival itself is such a big part of me. But even though Temple achieved the impossible in capturing something as elusive as the feel of a music festival, you have to consider the relative parameters. The festival itself has only been taking place for about four decades, and when it does take place it does so for less than a week each year.

The subject of London: The Modern Babylon is a dense metropolis of liquid culture and monumental history which has been in a state of continuous existence for millenia.

With Glastonbury, Temple could, at the very least, structure his film in the same way as the festival itself: You start with people arriving on the Wednesday and you end with people leaving on the Monday. Indeed, it struck me on repeat viewings how the “narrative” progresses from morning to night over the course of three days. Simple, when you think about it.

But how do you even begin to approach the throbbing orb of humanity and gravity that is a city like London?

I suppose we must start like Temple doubtlessly started – by assessing as to what he actually wanted to achieve. I believe that, like with Glastonbury, he wanted to capture the feel of the city– to ask why so many people are so drawn there – why it occupies not just such a large land-mass, but also such a large part of our shared thoughts and histories. I mean, how many degrees of separation are there between London and anyone in the world who you could possibly care to mention?

Temple doesn't start at the very beginning, as that would be insane. Rather, he starts with the invention of film. I suppose he had to; otherwise his film would open with a series of static rostrum camera shots of engravings and paintings.

Instead, then, it begins with shaky, hand-cranked silent images to which have been set a soundtrack which alternates between then-contemporary and now-contemporary. This footage – presumably shot to capture existence for the sake of posterity – are already filled to the brim with life. Incredibly though, they're painted in even broader colours with interviews with people who were actually alive back then.

One such woman, 107 years old, has an absolutely astonishing memory. She speaks of things like they happened a decade ago rather than a century. And when she speaks, she does so in a halting weariness behind which you can feel every single one of those hundred-plus years. It's powerful stuff.

The film progresses from this shaky starting point through following affairs on a loosely decade-by-decade basis. As a historical essay, without a doubt it's of the cultural history school. The emphasis is very much upon how events effected the lives of people on a daily basis.

And throughout we're therefore struck with just how resourceful people are. We progress through decades of war, unrest, urban-renewal, immigration and depression, yet the one recurring theme seems to be humanity's ability to live through anything. No matter what happens, we're shown time and again that people still have lives. They still work and they still have fun.

Another more distressing theme is that of fear, distrust, hatred and violence. Like a depressing rite-of-passage, identical suspicion and hostility is directed at successive generations of minority groups as they first come to the city. Never mind man's inhumanity to man: Man's distrust of man is distressing enough.

It ends on a positive note as implied by the title: London is the new Babylon, a place where each and every culture in the world can coexist if not in harmony, than in mutual tolerance – everybody's free to do as they please in London. The city and, by extension, the country is better off as a result. One of the most endearing moments is when one of the veterans interviewed tells of how his grandchildren don't feel like inhabitants of the British Isles. Rather, they feel like members of the human race.

Be that as it may, another strong implication is that fear and loathing between cultures has simply been replaced by fear and distrust between the classes. The gulf between rich and poor is far greater than ever truly was that between black and white. An early theme introduced is that of the London mob, and it's near the end that alarming footage of last year's riots fill the screen. The suggestion seems to be that we had better get used to such carnage. It's always been inevitable, and it's only just starting to break.

Despite this, though, I found the whole viewing experience to be positively life-affirming. Over a century of history and culture was crammed into just over two hours of running-time. In that time, hundreds, if not thousands of stories were told – and every single second is infused with passion, vibrancy, poignancy, energy and the marvellous incandescent glow of human experience.

Of course, having never lived in London, I cannot possibly comment upon whether or not it succeeded in capturing the feel of the place. But in its own right, as a freewheeling open piece of cultural history, it's nothing short of a masterpiece.


My First O.O.B.E

O.O.B.E – Out Of Body Experience.

Have you ever had one? I had one for the very first time today. As I'm sure is always the case initially, it happened quite by accident.

At the moment, it's my job to travel to different parts of the country and help people with their figures. It was on the train to Reading this morning that I had my first O.O.B.E.

Or perhaps it's happened before? Perhaps it was simply my first conscious O.O.B.E.

Last night we went to see Blur in Wolverhampton. We didn't get in before midnight. I had to be up at six. I was tired, but I bought some coffee before I got on the train.

Due to a lack of communication between the department responsible for seats and the department responsible for windows, the windows and seats on trains sometimes don't align. You sometimes get  seats with nothing but the beige space between the windows to look at.

I was sat in such a seat. I didn't have a window. Keep that in mind.

I was phasing in and out of consciousness as the coffee fought a futile battle with my fatigue. The fatigue won, and I drifted off.

Except, I didn't quite. I simply became aware of my own face. It was wobbly and dim, as if I was gazing at my reflection in a grubby window.

Only, there was no window, remember?

Also, my eyes were shut.

I was having a  lucid vision of my own sleeping face. It was such a strange thing to see that I almost immediately woke up.

Or did I simply re-enter my body?

Either way, my first bleary thoughts were that it was a strange thing indeed to be able to look at your reflection in a window with closed eyes.

Then reason sunk in, and I realised the impossibility of what had just seemingly happened.

There was no reflection, as there was no window.

And even had there been, how would I have been able to see myself if my eyes were closed?

No. The only possible explanation is that I enjoyed my first ever O.O.B.E.

Of course I'd like to try it again. But that, obviously, is easier said than done.

What am I going to do? Replicate the exact conditions in which it occurred?

The state of mind was a strange one. I'm frequently tired, and I drink so much coffee that I'm probably going to die the Balzac way. But there's a question of balance: How will I ever meet the same balance of caffeine and fatigue again so as to induce another O.O.B.E?

And what of the external influences? Was the train journey important? The time of day? Monday mornings are never to be trusted. Was the specific seat in which I was sat important? The specific seat in the specific carriage in the specific train on that specific journey to Reading?

Will it only ever happen within 12 hours of a Blur show in Wolverhampton? Is it necessary to have read the four pages of Asimov I managed before drifting off?

Head to far down this road and you wind up like Mel Gibson in What Women Want: Applying the same cosmetics in the same quantities and engineering an identical fall into a bathtub to induce an identical electric shock in order to give himself the ability to hear what women are really thinking.

That way madness lies.

But as arcane metaphysical abilities go, this is one I'd like to master.

Those who are able to control and apply their O.O.B.E partake in what some call astral projection. They can will their animus to leave their body and just drift.

Can they control the drift, or do they simply will themselves to go with the flow?

Either would be wonderful. Drift to wherever, or flow to wherever. Where will you go? And what, exactly, is causing for you to flow? What strange currents are you following, ethereal jellyfish? Are you bound to this plane, or have you sights on time and space itself?

Who wouldn't want such abilities? But if you require further encouragement, listen to The Moody Blues:

Thinking is the best way to travel.

You need never let the world get you down again. If things get too hard, lie back and drift to somewhere else.

Anywhere will do.


2012 Film Challenge #63 - The Cicerones

Ah, here we go.

I've no idea how they read, but through a combination of poor quality material and wild veers from the remit (such as it is); the past few posts on this blog have felt a bit lacking from my end.

But here we have a short film written and directed by Jeremy Dyson (yes!) starring Mark Gatiss (yes!) based on a short story by Robert Aickman (yes!).

It's one of those film where the less you know about it, the more you're likely to enjoy it.

It's just over ten minutes long, so you have no excuse to not watch it.

The opening seems to be a tribute to that of Eraserhead, and it ends like all Robert Aickman stories so far encountered – with an absolute refusal to answer any of the questions currently screaming through your disquietened brain.

If you don't know who Robert Aickman is, think of him as M.R James gone weird.

If you don't know who M.R James is, think of him as Edgar Allen Poe gone English.

If you don't know who Edgar Allen Poe is, think of him as the thinking man's HP Lovecraft.

If you don't know who HP Lovecraft is, think of him as a man whose terrifying brilliance was unfortunately tainted by racism.

If you don't know what racism is, then it's likely that you and I can be friends.

Unless you're one of those unwitting, blundering racist types.



2012 Film Challenge #62 - The Dark Knight Rises

It occurred to me that I only seem to go to the cinema at all these days to see superhero films.

However, it's also slowly dawned on me that the vast majority of visitors to this site pop in but fleetingly having been drawn in by Google Image Searches for superheroes. Most of them appear to be looking for The Incredible Hulk. Why is that so adorable?

Whilst most visitors to this blog seem to be looking for pictures of “gore”, it seems that the overflow of superhero films is doing wonders for my traffic. Swings and roundabouts?

I'm not complaining about the abundance of capes and masks at the box office, though with another Batman reboot already in the works, they do seem to have already run out of muscular men and busty women to adapt and engritten.

How many sequels and reboots will we have to sit through before those “Hollywood Movie Moguls” discover the Vertigo universe? An entire franchise could be created from proper handling of the work of Neil Gaiman alone; and universal transcendence will, I'm sure, be achieved once Constantine's given the film he deserves. The ideal would be a beautifully faithful adaptation by Christopher Nolan, but that won't happen. Our god's not a loving god.

Do you know what? It is much easier to write about also-ran features of dubious quality than it is to write about films that people actually want to see.

What could I possibly say about The Dark Knight Rises that hasn't already been said?

It has its detractors, but the detraction seems to extend to pointing out plot holes, as if plot holes cannot be found and ridiculed in everything that ever has or ever will be made.

And it's not as though the film's in need of defending anyway. At the time of writing, it's occupying the number 1 spot in the IMDB top whatever. Batman can fight his own fights.

I can't even discuss the (misguided) attestations that the film harbours a disturbingly right-wing anti-Occupy stance, because I'm starting to hope that the entire right-wing may one day simply disappear should we all just choose to ignore it.

It's good. It really is. OK, it takes around an hour to find its feet, but that still leaves about 100 minutes of intrigue and entertainment.

It will be doubtlessly be discussed, reviled, championed, adored, picked-apart and digested by scores of generations of legions of everyone for the remainder of time itself.

And why not? It's a worthy, satisfying end to what must be one of the most engaging trilogies of our times.

Or is it?

That's open to discussion.

Except, not here.

Here we talk about the sort of stuff they show on The Horror Channel on Sunday mornings. Don't we?

I know my place.