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Game Theory/Loud Family’s Scott Miller honored with posthumous reissues and biography
09.02.2015
07:36 am

Topics:
Books
Music

Tags:
Game Theory
Scott Miller
Loud Family


 
Though the extraordinarily gifted musician Scott Miller died almost two and a half years ago, the idea that there will never be another Loud Family album, or that the Game Theory reunion he was readying will never happen, remains very hard to take.

Should those dropped names mean nothing to you, you’ve got some listening to do. Game Theory was Miller’s luminous and utterly stunning ‘80s pop band, and though they earned gushing critical raves and practically ruled the college radio roost in their day, they’re largely forgotten now. They never grabbed the corporate-label brass ring, and so slipped into obscurity just before that key ‘90s moment when “college rock” became “alternative rock” and there was finally a growing audience for such indie strivers. Miller was quite a figure—he sported a HUGE mop of red hair and sang in an improbably high-pitched voice, purveying a hyper-literate guitar rock that drew from jangle-pop and the Paisley Underground—though as they were variously based in Davis and San Francisco, Game Theory were never really an actual part of that particular L.A. scene, Miller was pals and sometime writing partners with the Three O’Clock’s Michael Quercio, who even joined a later version of the band. They hit a stride mid-decade with the 1986 LP The Big Shot Chronicles and the sprawling, experimental and flat-out ASTOUNDING 1987 2XLP Lolita Nation, my copy of which has been with me since its release and will leave my shelves when I’m dead. They followed that with the straightforwardly rock Two Steps from the Middle Ages before the band’s lineup fractured. For three years, no subsequent version of Game Theory would make an album, and the best-of compilation Tinker to Evers to Chance would serve as the band’s tombstone.
 

 

 
In 1991, in deference to those whom he thought might be weary of him naming yet another group of musicians “Game Theory,” Miller renamed his band the Loud Family, and pursued a more musically headstrong power-pop direction, though his unbeatable lyrical IQ remained a signature feature of his songwriting. The Loud Family would release music on the independent Alias label through the quite fine 2006 collaborative album with Anton Barbeau, What If it Works? Miller continued to write until his passing in 2103, but declined to release anything. His unexpected passing came just months before an intended Game Theory reunion that could have brought him some of the recognition that was criminally overdue to him.

At the time of Miller’s death, everything by Game Theory was out of print. In a move that I will always remember as one of the coolest ever, Miller’s family posted free MP3s of everything the band ever released upon his death, so fans and the curious could hear it without getting hosed by the preposterous pricing spike in the vinyl aftermarket that invariably seems to accompany a cult artist’s death. Those MP3s are offline now, as the reissue label Omnivore is bit by bit reissuing all the band’s work, in order. So far they’re up to 1985’s Real Nighttime, and The Big Shot Chronicles is due this year. A Riverfront Times piece published yesterday hinted at unreleased material (I’d loooooooove to hear what got left off of Lolita Nation), and told about Don’t All Thank Me At Once: The Lost Genius of Scott Miller, a forthcoming Miller biography, named for a Loud Family song and penned by Boston music writer Brett Milano.

[Don’t All Thank Me At Once] promises to tell not only Miller’s story, but more generally, “the story of the college and indie-rock explosion of the 1980s and 1990s, when everything seemed possible but some of the flagship artists still managed to fall through the cracks.” Milano managed to track down and interview almost every member of Miller’s three main bands (no small feat: this includes at least two dozen people). He’s also interviewed Mitch Easter, who produced many of Game Theory and the Loud Family’s recordings, Aimee Mann, with whom he had planned to collaborate, and others from Miller’s life and career.

 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Andy Warhol, children’s book illustrator
08.26.2015
10:12 am

Topics:
Art
Books

Tags:
Andy Warhol
children's books


 
It’s well known that before Andy Warhol became the most famous artist in New York—if not the world—he worked for several years as a commercial illustrator. For instance, he did a bunch of album covers in the mid- to late 1950s, a couple of which are quite familiar to anyone who follows jazz—even if they’re not familiar “as Warhol covers.”

Another of his gigs lasted about four years, that being occasional illustrations for children’s stories in the “Best In Children’s Books” series published by Nelson Doubleday. He illustrated six stories between 1957 and 1960—since there were 33 volumes in the series at a minimum, we can be sure that the series was pretty popular. Every volume had roughly ten stories in it, and each story featured art by a different illustrator. So Warhol’s output in this series was a tiny fraction of the art contained therein. One of the other artists who did illustrations in the same series was Richard Scarry.
 

The cover of vol. 27 (art not by Warhol)
 
It’s so funny to think of the mind behind “Race Riot” (1963), “Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times” (1963), and “Sixteen Jackies” (1964) also illustrating “Card Games Are Fun,” “Magic Porridge Pot,” and “Funny Words and Riddles” just a few years earlier. (Actually, here’s a good book focusing on Warhol’s violent works from the 1962-1964 period.)

There are plenty of pictures of these drawings on the Internet, but alas, many of them come from Etsy and eBay listings, so the images aren’t always so great.

In 1983 Warhol actually did put out a children’s book of his own that was more in keeping with his well-known style, but that’s another subject.
 
“Funny Words and Riddles” by Alice Salaff, vol. 5 (1957):
 

 
“Homemade Orchestra” by Joseph Leeming, vol. 7 (1958):
 

 

 
Many more Warhol illustrations after the jump…..
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Animator of twisted Lewis Carroll reboot ‘Malice in Wonderland’ has done a bizarre ‘Wizard of Oz’


 
Experimental animator Vince Collins is best known for his his psychedelic nightmare Malice in Wonderland, a 1982 reboot of Alice in Wonderland that manages to completely warp its source material in four fascinating, horrifying minutes. Collins actually acknowledged in a VICE interview that the short was intended as a pornographic send-off to the psychedelic era (for example, at one point, our grotesque nod to “Alice” recedes into her own vagina, which earned him serious backlash from a few feminists). Luckily for us, Collins continues to make us uncomfortable with depraved renditions of children’s cultural touchstones!

In 2013 Collins made “Lizard of Oz,” a 3D re-imagining of Dorothy and her friends’ journey down the Yellow Brick Road. The violent, techy aesthetic equips Dorothy with an automatic weapon and the Wicked Witch of the West with a high tech drone operation—the whole thing looks cool as hell. The cartoon was apparently so controversial that it was quickly been banned by YouTube, although it was soon restored with an age warning. So enjoy, but beware—this is not Judy Garland!
 

 
Via Network Awesome

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening tells the story of The Residents, 1979
07.15.2015
12:01 pm

Topics:
Books
Music

Tags:
The Residents
Matt Groening


The Residents, 1972
 
The Residents’ first fan club, W.E.I.R.D. (We Endorse Immediate Residents Deification), was founded in 1978, and one of its charter members was Life in Hell and Simpsons creator Matt Groening. As a member of the Residents’ second fan club, UWEB, I am bound by the most solemn oaths never to discuss any of the secret handshakes, passwords, ciphers, rituals, buttons, bumper stickers or T-shirts of the inner sanctum, but I can point seekers to this exoteric document: Groening’s “The True Story of the Residents.” This phantasmagoric bio of the group, first published in 1979’s The Official W.E.I.R.D. Book of the Residents and reprinted in 1993’s Uncle Willie’s Highly Opinionated Guide to the Residents, gives a wild yet relatively concise account of the band’s founding myth.
 

The Official W.E.I.R.D. Book of the Residents (cover by Gary Panter)
 
You’ll notice that most of the fun facts in this true story are lies; for instance, I tend to doubt that “Six Things to a Cycle” originated as a “lengthy ballet” that “was canceled when The Residents were rumored to be selling experimental monkey depressants to grade school children.” But Groening weaves the Residents, the Mysterious N. Senada, Philip “Snakefinger” Lithman, the Cryptic Corporation, and “a squealing Boston terrier on acid flung into a barrel of live albino sand eels” into a tale that will make tears stream from your eyes and snot run from your nose. Look how he gets the band from Louisiana to its early base of operations in San Mateo:

After high school, the gang (which numbered five) split up and went their various ways—college, grunt jobs, draft evasion. They kept in touch with each other’s progress, however, and soon found themselves hopping like rabid Rhesus monkeys to rhythm and blues—particularly James Brown and Bo Diddley. James Brown’s Live At The Apollo is an album which makes them quiver to this day. But they soon found that they needed each other, and re-grouped to plot strategy. They didn’t know what the hell they were doing, but they knew James Brown made their butts twitch, and some how it would all work out. In 1966 or so, after a couple of them had made it almost all the way through college, they decided to escape the slimy Southern scourge of George Wallace. So they loaded up their truck and headed straight for San Francisco, where they had heard all the go-go mod action was goin’ down. As fate would have it, their truck broke down in a quiet suburban town called San Mateo, some 25 miles south of the big city. Behind them they left a few loyal, more balanced acquaintances who would later follow to start The Cryptic Corporation. In California they saw the minds around them already beginning to break down. Youngsters everywhere were growing their hair out and joining the “bushhead” movement. Beach boys frolicked with trained wild seals on the sand, and local cretins began electrocuting themselves with guitars on-stage while thousands chanted, “You endorse our mindless lives,” in unified spontaneity. Charles Manson pierced his nipple with a Love button while on acid, and the Psychedelic Revolution was born. The Residents began licking their lips.

 

 
To read “The True Story of the Residents” in full, go to this page in the “Historical section” of residents.com and click “Matt Groening’s TRUE STORY.” Below, Groening talks about connecting with W.E.I.R.D. and writing his “fanciful” bio in a clip from the upcoming documentary about the Residents, Theory of Obscurity.
 

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
‘The Nose’: Brother Theodore voices this brilliant animated adaptation of surreal Gogol short story


 
Darkly comic performance artist Brother Theodore’s trademark manic, impassioned delivery made him an obvious choice for cartoon voice work. Although he was one of the more frequent guests on 80s David Letterman shows, I actually first heard him as a kid incessantly watching the 1982 animated feature, The Last Unicorn (he perfectly voiced an evil hunchback). He also made a great Gollum in the really underrated 1980 cartoon of The Hobbit—again, perfect casting. However, Theodore really shined at monologue, which is why this 1966 animated adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s satirical short story “The Nose” is so strong; he does every voice—the narrator, our tragic protagonist (Nathan Naspicker), the cruel and unfeeling police, and even the rogue nose itself.

“A Nose” is obviously slightly reworked for a light cartoon audience. Rather than Gogol’s 1830’s St. Petersburg, director Mordi Gerstein chose to set the story “in the Year of our Lord 1305, on the 25th of March in the city of Pittsburgh.” Poor Nathan Naspicker finds that his nose has abandoned him and started a life of its own. As Naspicker attempts to track down his roving schnozz, he begins to despair. There is no moral, it’s just pure madness, but it has a happy ending (kind of?)! The format of the film is actually quite experimental as well—partially animated, partially live action. It’s a cute cartoon for kids, but it’s definitely pure Brother Theodore in all his mad glory.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Punk Elegies’: Riveting late 70’s punk memoir set in the City of Angel Dust
07.01.2015
12:52 pm

Topics:
Books
Punk

Tags:
Allan MacDonell
Punk Elegies

MacDonell's Punk Elegies Cover Art a Go-Go
 
Memoir is a smooth sounding word that can often deliver either salacious insight or NPR-friendly whisper-soft introspection. In the hands of a writer like Allan MacDonell, you will get something that flirts with both approaches and yet ultimately is something entirely its own creation. Hence, you get a gem like Punk Elegies in your hot little hands. MacDonell, whose resume boasts writing for the seminal early punk zine, Slash to being a renaissance man/editor at Hustler, an experience that he documented in his excellent 2006 book, Prisoner of X: 20 Years in the Hole at Hustler.

While a number of books and films have been made about various players and aspects of the late 1970’s west coast punk scene, Punk Elegies stands out from the herd. There’s the obvious draw of having the writer/narrator being someone who was there and survived to tell the tale. That’s a given, but MacDonell’s approach, always intelligent, solidly articulate and ballsy enough to paint himself in the most unflattering colors, is the true sturm und drang to snag you and keep it fresh in your mind long after you finished the last page. Klaus Kinski once said that “Virtues can be faked. Depravity is real.” Mercifully for the author, MacDonell’s journey never quite gets to red-level-Kinski’s, but the quote still fits. Nobody comes off worse than the man himself.
 
Darby Crash on Slash cover
 
Punk Elegies also features key peeks into the short-lived but still legendary punk scene in Los Angeles in the late 1970’s. Artists ranging from X to The Screamers to The Go-Go’s to Black Randy & the Metrosquad and more all pop up throughout the tome. All of this adds up to a beautifully written book that is one part punk culture and all parts gut-throat memoir. Allan MacDonell was nice enough to agree to some questions regarding Punk Elegies.

How was it revisiting this part of your life for Punk Elegies? Was it pure reflection or part-exorcism?

First off, there’s not a lot of purity in anything I’ve done, but reflection is one of my great gifts, like it is with any self-loving, self-lacerating narcissist. Long stretches of pond-staring went into mapping out Punk Elegies. I tried to clarify, for myself, what I’d been up to with all this baffling behavior. Unfortunately, none of my demons were exorcised. They’ve all made themselves more at home.

What does LA feel like for you now? Is it still a vibrant hub of artists and misfits or more like a city of ghosts?

For me, L.A. now feels like it’s being overrun by a massive influx of real-estate refugees from Manhattan and Brooklyn. The hilarious rise in cost of housing, the absence of available parking, the increasingly ill-mannered gamesmanship on the locked traffic grid, these are a few surface indications of a deep metaphysical congestion in this city that has choked off the ghosts. I still like it here. They haven’t squeezed me out yet.

Have you gotten any feedback from anyone who was in your inner circle during the time period of Punk Elegies?

Most of the feedback I’ve received has come in the form of silence. Germs drummer Don Bolles, who plays a role in Punk Elegies, gave the book a video endorsement. I only had to pressure Don slightly. The original keyboard player for the Screamers left a nine-paragraph elegy of his own in the comments of a Punk Elegies playlist I put together for Decibel.

Are you still in touch with your first wife, Tommie, who is hugely prominent figure throughout the book?

I’m still in touch with practically no one who is depicted in this book. Inspirational kitten memes tell me there’s no point in wishing things were different, but sometimes I do.
 
Black Randy
 
There are a lot of great stories about Black Randy in Punk Elegies. It’s a safe statement to say that there really was no one like him back then or even now. In a just world, he would have all the cult appeal and fandom of, say Sid Vicious or Darby Crash. What is your take now on the legacy of Randy?

I do presume to speak through Black Randy a lot in Punk Elegies, but I wish he were around to answer this one himself. Somehow, I suspect he would object to being grouped with Sid Vicious and Darby Crash. I’m pretty sure he and Darby liked one another—Darby sang in the Metro Squad chorus at one of Randy’s live shows. But Randy operated in a separate category that included him and almost no one else. He had an acute disdain for herd mentality and smug groupthink and Halloween rebels and for self-proclaimed mavericks living out on the copy-and-paste cutting edge. In the decades since he’s been gone, it seems that fewer and fewer of these teachings of Randy are being passed down and honored. In that sense, it’s like his entire legacy is a vanishing ideal.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Heather Drain | Leave a comment
Book designs for beautiful minds
06.26.2015
07:53 am

Topics:
Books
Design

Tags:
Penguin Books
Pelican Books

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My introduction to political theory and history came through Pelican Books—the non-fiction offshoot of Penguin Books. Pelicans were the high-end, academic books that brought bold, intellectual ideas to the mass public. The first Pelican imprint was George Bernard Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, in which he the renowned author and playwright examined the theories of socialism and Marxism and the problems of capitalism. There then followed an impressive array of texts on art, architecture, psychology, economics and philosophy by writers as diverse as A. J. Ayer, E. P. Thomson and Jacob Bronowski. These paperbacks were mass-produced and sold at a price claimed to be lower than a packet of cigarettes. Allen Lane, who founded Penguin Books, believed there was “a vast reading public for intelligent books at a low price.” He staked his money and reputation on it. Thankfully he was right—the vast reading public did want to read intelligent books and Penguins and Pelicans sold in the thousands.

There was a color coding to Penguin books—orange for fiction, olive green for modern literature, black (originally white) for classics and blue for non-fiction. A reader’s taste in books was easily identified by the uniformly colored blocks filling their shelves. While Penguins had generally illustrative covers to a book’s story, Pelicans by the 1960s had a uniformity of design that made the brand instantly recognizable—ranging from abstracts inspired by Op Art to fashionably stylized photographs. The peak of popularity for Pelicans was in the 1960s and early 1970s, when there seemed to be a Pelican title for nearly every imaginable topic—many of which later became the source material for Richard Littler at Scarfolk Council.

Penguin stopped publishing Pelican Books around the mid-1980s, though last year, the imprint was revitalized with a selection of new books and some texts available online. This small collection of vintage covers has been culled from various sites chosen mainly on the basis of being Pelicans I have read in my youth (Anarchism, Drugs, The Young Offender, Self and Others) or covers well-remembered because of their style and originality.
 
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More vintage designs for classic Pelican Books, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The Demon Dog: Filming with James Ellroy in L.A., 1994
06.24.2015
07:21 am

Topics:
Books
Crime
Heroes

Tags:
Nicola Black
James Ellroy

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James Ellroy sits reading Jack Webb’s The Badge in the Clark Gable-Carole Lombard suite of the Alexandria Hotel, downtown LA, in the Fall of 1994. I’m there as interviewer—asking him questions for a documentary on the “Demon Dog of American Literature” called White Jazz. A preliminary Q&A was filmed the day before at a motel off Hollywood where Ellroy gave his pitch (“Woof, woof! Hear the Demon Dog bark…”) and want to find out who’s the man behind this well-rehearsed front.

We talk books: Ellroy’s telling me how his father Lee gave him a copy of The Badge for his eleventh birthday—a book of true tales of LA crime and the LAPD, in amongst which was the “brutally, graphically sexually explicit” story of the unsolved murder of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short, which became known as the Black Dahlia killing.  Ellroy said this explicit ten-page tale had haunted him.

I thought it a strange book to give a kid who was used to reading the Hardy Boys and especially a child whose own mother, Geneva Hilliker, had been strangled with her own stockings and her body dumped in El Monte just a year before in 1958. So, I ask him: Didn’t he think this was a strange book to give a child? Ellroy stops. He says he doesn’t get the question. I think he’s stalling, but ask again. Still he doesn’t get the question—doesn’t seem to understand or want to understand or really want to answer the question.
 
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The Badge is part of Ellroy’s myth—a key to understanding what he wants to be known about himself as it deflects as much as it reveals. It’s the book that pointed his imagination towards writing crime fiction and was the source of his teenage obsessions where he merged the murder of his mother with that of the Black Dahlia—feeding his fantasy of saving Dahlia/Hilliker from person or persons unknown and setting the world to right. Setting the world to right is perhaps why some writers do write—the world they create is containable.
 
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Director Nicola Black, camera Jerry Kelly with James Ellroy, LA 1994.
 
The documentary White Jazz was produced and directed by Nicola Black. It came about after Black had filmed Ellroy (in cold damp Victorian prison cell off the banks of the River Clyde in Scotland) for a previous documentary on the world’s first private detective Allan Pinkerton—a drama-doc which starred Peter Capaldi. Made over one intense week with Ellroy in LA, October ‘94, White Jazz followed the Demon Dog around the sites of his childhood, his criminal youth, and sober years as a writer. The film then opens out to follow Ellroy’s personal investigation into the unsolved murder of his mother, with the help of ex-County Sheriff’s Department Detective Bill Stoner—a calm, lean, genial man, eyes twinkling, full mustache, whose quite demeanour belies the horrors he has seen—he helped solve the Cotton Club killing—picking-up a victim’s exploded, shattered teeth on a desolate hillside. Stoner takes Ellroy through Hilliker’s morgue file—the black and whites of crime scene, body, ligature marks, bruises, and autopsy report—before visiting her last known locations where seen and the suggesting possible suspects. Ellroy’s collaborative investigation with Stoner became his non-fiction book My Dark Places (1996).

This award-winning documentary is seldom seen online—though pirate copies can switch hands for mucho dinero—and it’s a moving, fascinating and revealing portrait of James Ellroy, in which he takes the viewer on a personal odyssey through his life, his work and his obsessions with the city of Los Angeles—his “smog-bound Fatherland.”

But time moves on, and Ellroy is currently selling his Hollywood Hills residence for $1.39m—if you want to take a peak at his monkish orderly abode check here. He also has a new book out LAPD ‘53, in which he illuminates 85 duotone photographs from the LAPD archive that are “representative of a day in the life of America’s most provocative police agency.”
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Harlan Ellison is revolting: Speculative Fiction and the revolution of the mind

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In every generation there is a moment when some writer, artist, politician or whatever comes forward to announce that their generation is at the start of a revolution—some seismic shift in culture and society that will change everything for the better—forever. It’s rather like the way each generation appears to think it is the first to discover sex or sexuality and flaunts it through clothes, songs or horrendously written books.

A case in point is this roundtable discussion with a young Harlan Ellison from sometime in 1969-70, when the author declared “We’re in the midst of a revolution.”

It’s a revolution of thought, that is as important and as upending as the industrial revolution was—sociologically speaking. We’re coming into a time now when all the old “-isms” and philosophies are dying. They don’t seem to work any more.

All the things Mommy and Daddy told you and told me were true were only true in the house—the minute you get out in the street, they aren’t true any more. The kids in the ghetto have known that all their lives but now the great white middle class is learning it and it’s coming a little difficult to the older folks—which is always the way it is.

We are no longer Kansas or Los Angeles or New York—it’s the whole planet now. They got smog in the Aleutian Islands now; they got smog in Anchorage, Alaska; they got smog at the polar icecaps—can you believe it, smog at the polar icecaps. There is no place you go to hide anymore. So the day of thinking that the Thames or the English Channel or the Rocky Mountains is going to keep you safe from some ding-dong on the other side doesn’t go anymore. A nitwit in Hanoi can blow us all just as dead as a nitwit in Washington.

We’re beginning to think of ourselves not as just an ethnic animal, or a national animal, or a local or family kind of animal—we are now a planetary animal. It’s all the dreams of early science-fiction coming true.

That Ellison could have made this speech in nineties or the noughties, or indeed any decade, only shows how each generation discovers certain truths that are eternally consistent.

Humans, he continues, are now aware of a bigger picture and that by not taking responsibility for our actions—whether thoughtlessly throwing away a cigarette butt or garbage—is “screwing up the ecology.” Which is apposite considering the news of some scientists claiming Earth is on the brink of its sixth extinction.

But Ellison—in sunglasses looking like a Jordanian revolutionary—is only warming up to his theme—the importance of speculative fiction (or that dreaded word “science-fiction”) in imagining (shaping) the future. He has a very valid point—but again one that is made generation to generation-six years before this the writers of previous generations C. S. Lewis, Kingsley Amis and Brian Aldiss held an informal chat on the same subject where they agreed:

...that some science fiction really does deal with issues far more serious than those realistic fiction deals with; real problems about human destiny and so on.

Harlan Ellison is one of those very rare writers who is always inspirational or thought-provoking in everything he writes or says. Like most people, I came to his work through TV before having the greater pleasure of reading him. His seminal episodes of Outer Limits, “Demon with a Glass Hand” and “Soldier” (which James Cameron later used as a basis for Terminator), or his script for Star Trek or “The Sort of Do-It-Yourself Dreadful Affair” and “The Pieces of Fate Affair” on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. stayed with me long after viewing and were cause for my seeking out his fiction. This interview comes from just after Ellison had edited the classic volume of speculative fiction Dangerous Visions, which he hoped might lead to a revolution in the mind of its readers.

It probably did, but the revolution is always moving, changing, evolving.
 

 
The conclusion of Harlan Ellison’s talk, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Get Carter’: Michael Caine on location of the classic gangster film, 1971

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Like most good movies, it started with a book: Outside the school gate, waiting for the #31 bus, my classmate and best friend RA, pressed upon me a well-thumbed copy of a novel by Ted Lewis called Carter. RA said it was the greatest crime novel he had ever read, if not the greatest crime novel ever written, which was some recommendation knowing his liking for detective novels, thrillers and the works of Sven Hassel. My eyes were attracted to the color photo on the cover of Michael Caine, with shotgun, in a black Mackintosh walking along a coal-stained beach. Michael Caine was cool. He had played Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer and Harry Palmer was cool—ergo Caine was cool. On the back there was an even more intriguing picture of Caine interrogating a naked woman in a bath. What the hell was this book about? The only clue RA gave was the cryptic “Schoolgirl Wanks.” I borrowed the book and have shamefully kept it ever since—thinking RA was correct—it is the greatest crime novel ever written, and certainly led to (arguably) the greatest British crime film ever made, Get Carter.

This dog-eared paperback Carter, originally titled Jack’s Return Home, had been written by Ted Lewis, a young author who had attended Hull Art School, worked in TV, written one other novel All the Way Home and All the Night Through in 1965, and had worked as an animator on The Beatles’ film Yellow Submarine. In Jack’s Return Home, Lewis told the story of a hardman gangster (Jack Carter) who goes home to find out who killed his brother—a trail that opens up a world of corruption, sex and violence—perhaps surprisingly, the book was loosely based on the true story of a gangland murder in the 1960s.

When Jack’s Return Home was first published in 1970, film producer Michael Klinger sent a copy to TV director Mike Hodges asking if he thought it would make a good movie? Klinger had started his career as film producer making soft-core nudist films with Tony Tenser, before the pair produced Roman Polanski’s early movies Repulsion and Cul-de-Sac. Hodges saw the book’s immediate potential and told Klinger it would make a great movie. The book was optioned, the film financed and cast.

Where the novel is set in Doncaster, Hodges decided to relocate the action to the gritty, monochrome streets of industrial Newcastle—then mired in political and civic corruption over the redevelopment of the city center—a scandal that almost brought down the British government in 1973. Casting a Cockney as a Geordie might seem strange, but Michael Caine made Carter very much his own—-cold, ruthless, dead-eyed and utterly plausible. He stalks the film in his black overcoat like a messenger of death, bringing havoc, violence and murder to those unlucky enough to cross his path.

I was about twelve or thirteen when I first read Carter, and can still vividly recall whole sections of the book from opening line, “The rain rained..” to the near end paragraph about a shotgun, twisted and smoking, a grey curl rising into the morning air and the grim significance of “Schoolgirl Wanks.” Some authors stick with you throughout life, their work is so powerful, visceral, infectiously memorable. I went on to read other books by Ted Lewis (most notably Plender, Billy Rags, and GBH) finding them as good if not better than Jack’s Return Home, and rate him up there with Chandler, Hammett and Ellroy—if not often ahead. Sadly, for such a talented writer, Lewis was never to equal the success of Jack’s Return Home—though he did write two further Carter novels: Jack Carter’s Law(1974) and Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon (1977). His early success and what he feared was apparent failure bit deep and Lewis tragically died from alcohol related illness in 1982. Thankfully, he is now rightly recognized as the father of British noir fiction.

Get Carter the movie had a mixed reception on its release—given shit publicity by the American distributors (who knows why?) and hated by the likes of critics such as the prissy and snobbish Pauline Kael who loathed the film. However, Get Carter held its own until it achieving its classic status with the Loaded generation in the 1990s. Klinger went onto produce another movie with Caine and Hodges, the superb and shamefully overlooked Pulp.

This selection of photographs captures Michael Caine filming Get Carter on location in Newcastle, alongside director Hodges and cast members John Osborne, Ian Hendry, Britt Ekland and George Sewell.
 
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‘Jack’s Return Home’: Michael Caine as Jack Carter returning to his hometown to find his brother’s killer.
 
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Man about town: Caine in Newcastle during filming.
 
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More photos of Michael Caine on location with ‘Get Carter,’ after the jump….

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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