No sex please, I’m the commissioning editor for drama

A while ago – well, it would be a wheen of months ago now I suppose – Greg Dyke was on the telly asking why British TV can’t make dramas like the Americans do. Greg argued, and I think he was correct in this, that the Brits do love their formulaic hospital dramas, police dramas and soaps, with the occasional costume drama thrown in. This is true – not that there’s anything wrong with TV stations producing this bread-and-butter stuff, but the real question is why the reluctance to produce things other than hospital or police dramas. It’s a good question.

Greg’s star exhibit on the other hand was the US cable outlet HBO. You may not know HBO, but you’ve surely watched some of its product, which spans The Wire, The Sopranos, Sex And The City, The Larry Sanders Show, Deadwood, Six Feet Under and Curb Your Enthusiasm, amongst many others. I know the law of imports applies here – that the best American product is imported and there are oceans of crap on the TV over there that we don’t get to see, but even so, it’s an impressive hit rate. And the thing is that what HBO is known for in the States is that, being a subscription service and not reliant on advertising, it can fill its schedules with nudiness and cuss words that the networks can’t get away with (I will return to this presently), but if you look at the programmes listed, you’re also talking about generally intelligent adult-oriented drama of the sort that has provoked the networks into raising their dramatic game.

Greg was interested to know why the BBC, with far greater resources, couldn’t produce that sort of material on a regular basis. I would guess that it has something to do with the BBC’s funding base, and its requirement to provide something for everyone, which exists in tension with the Reithian idea of giving the public what they don’t yet know they want. You get bits of this in the documentary strands on BBC4, but it’s sobering to think that Beeb bosses think of their more intelligent programming as the expendable bit. On the other hand, if the Tories get in and allow broadcasting to degenerate to the levels of Italy, we may look back on this as a golden age.

But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about the nudiness and cuss words, well, specifically the former.

Apropos of HBO, I’ve lately been enjoying its new series Hung, which you may want to catch if you haven’t already. The show revolves around Ray Drecker (Tom Jane, of The Punisher fame), who works as a high school basketball coach in Detroit. Ray, when we meet him, is a man down on his luck. His wife has left him. His kids have gone to live with his wife. His house has burnt down, and he’s living in a tent. He hates his life, and he has no money. Ray realises that he does have one marketable asset, and it lives in his trousers. So he decides to put his generous male organ to work and goes into business as – let’s not beat around the bush here – a male prostitute.

This is where the show could easily devolve into Deuce Bigalow territory, but really it doesn’t. What it is, is a decent if near-the-knuckle comedy-drama very much like Californication, or that old HBO classic Dream On. The humour is ribald without being crass, and the scripting is surprisingly subtle. The important point is that Ray’s knob is really just a maguffin to hang the story on – the impressive thing about Hung is how character-driven it is. Thanks not least to Tom Jane’s nicely nuanced performance in the lead, we come to care about Ray and his various problems, emotional issues and dilemmas – his self-loathing and hankering after his failed marriage in the first instance. There’s a certain amount of flesh of course, though not as much as might be expected, and if you took the flesh out – which is always a good test – you’d still have a pretty good drama.

This leads me to ponder a question somewhat at a tangent to Greg Dyke’s, which is to ask why British TV drama, with rare exceptions, can’t do sex. I’m not talking about sexual explicitness here, nor about the physical staging[1] but about the portrayal of sex in a dramatic sense. With the notable exception of the late Dennis Potter, it’s hard to think of good examples of sex being integrated into drama in an interesting or intelligent way. And although I’m cautious of cultural essentialist arguments, I have the feeling that this has something to do with inherited Puritan attitudes and particularly the close association of sex and guilt. You don’t get this in French or Italian or Spanish cinema. That old sexist reprobate Tinto Brass doesn’t do guilt, and his films are all the better for it – if they were guilt-ridden, they would be unbearable. Maybe it’s a Mediterranean thing. (In the context of Puritanism, it’s interesting that northern European culture – see Babette’s Feast for example – tends to stereotype Catholic cultures as voluptuous and sensual. I suppose this again shows how Irish Catholicism, with its strong Jansenist influence, is deeply weird in European terms.)

Another thing that doesn’t help is this tendency in British – or rather English – culture to put on a distanced, ironic, even supercilious air, and to distrust anything done with passion. To digress a little, as bad as Kate Thornton was hosting X Factor, the more accomplished Dermot O’Leary is far worse, because la Thornton was always willing to give it some welly. O’Leary tries to be as hip as he was on BBLB, but just comes across as Mr Insincerity, which is a terrible fit for the pachyderm bombast of X Factor. The lesson is that there are certain things you can’t do in a distanced way – if you’re going to do them at all, you have to do them with commitment.

Which is a roundabout way of coming to the way British drama deals with matters sexual. There is of course the vacillation between the censorious and the gratuitous – the former can be seen in something like The Vice, where those involved in the sex trade are so unremittingly grim and grotty and evil that it just sinks into this misanthropic mire. But there are also the two key dramatic paradigms. The most straightforward is the Bouquet Of Barbed Wire paradigm, which quite obviously draws on issues of guilt and concerns of respectability, and which ends with the moral lesson that the character of loose virtue (which is almost invariably to say, the promiscuous woman) must be punished for upsetting the social mores.[2]

This is why I didn’t like the BBC’s Mistresses, billed as the British Sex And The City. I don’t like SATC much either[3], but the whole point of it was surely the lack of guilt – Samantha shags her way through New York and has a ball doing so; she has her share of heartbreak, but that isn’t set up as a heavy-handed punishment for her promiscuity, and if aspects of her life are empty, then she’s learned to cope with that. On the other hand, Mistresses, although it had an excellent cast (I’ll watch Sarah Parish in just about anything), high production values and decent writing, couldn’t escape suburban moralism. You had these nice, prosperous women with their nice jobs and nice families and nice houses and nice bits on the side – and the whole story revolved around how miserable they were. Thirty seconds of a woman indulging in some illicit rumpo would be followed by twenty minutes of her sitting around with her friends, drinking red wine and moaning about how miserable she was. Maybe there was a female thing I was missing, but unless you’re Dostoyevsky there’s a limit to how much dramatic mileage you can get from people being eaten up by guilt, especially when there’s not all that much to justify the guilt. Sometimes, and by this point my attention may have been wandering, the women seemed to be wallowing in guilt over sins they hadn’t committed, which is taking the Puritanism just a teensy bit too far.

The other dramatic paradigm is of course the Carry On paradigm, which is more widespread than you might think. This isn’t, by the way, incompatible with the guilt scenario. The important thing about the Carry On films and their 1970s offspring was that coitus was permanently interruptus, and much of the humour derived from Sid and the other lecherous old blokes failing to get their leg over. Moreover, a bit of Donald McGill saucy humour can work well as a means of sidestepping (not challenging) a puritanical culture.

So there is of course the direct line of descent from Carry On through the Confessions series and other 1970s sex comedies[4]; to shows like the late lamented Eurotrash, which almost seems like nice clean fun in this age of Babestation; and indeed into modern British porn – Ben Dover’s character is basically Sid James with a camcorder, and the Omar series is essentially constructed in terms of Robin Askwith movies with real shagging[5]. But the influence of the Carry On aesthetic goes well beyond that, even into the realms of costume drama – The Tudors has more than a hint of the classic Carry On Henry about it, and the recent Desperate Romantics partook of the same approach. Even if you take the BBC’s adaptation of Fanny Hill, which had fantastic source material plus the reliable Andrew Davies on script duty, there was a pronounced undertone of Carry On Up The Brothel. ITV, on its occasional breaks from Lynda La Plante police procedurals, sometimes does a “raunchy” drama, usually starring Suranne Jones, and they invariably fall into the Carry On mode.

So, there is a huge swathe of human experience that is habitually treated as either a nail to hang moral lessons, or as an occasion for nudge-nudge wink-wink tomfoolery. This doesn’t leave much space for other interpretations. Maybe it’s me, but I find that an approach of at least moral ambivalence – the way the prostitution in Hung, like the gangsterism in The Sopranos, is not taken as the subject for a treatise but as a window onto our protagonist’s character – works better dramatically. I say this not in a prescriptive way, but in the sense that cliché is the enemy of good character-driven drama.

There are two other points that are worth flagging up. One is an aesthetic point, in that the dominant mode on TV is naturalistic, as exemplified on the soaps. Obviously this is not documentary but a faux naturalism, and is a very stylised aesthetic in itself. And it’s an aesthetic that draws a lot on the theatre, in being very dialogue-heavy and plot-heavy. You can of course get this in the cinema, but cinema is a different medium and different aesthetics work well in it, especially with a heaviness on the visual and a willingness to tolerate periods of silence. Some American TV dramas – Without A Trace comes to mind – are moving towards a more cinematic style, and the HBO phenomenon has encouraged that, but it still hasn’t really filtered across the Atlantic. And the cinema’s visual aspect means it can draw not only on the theatre, but also on the aesthetics of (say) painting, or more often photography.

As you art buffs will know, both painting and its offspring photography deal in large part with the human nude, and this is an aesthetic of form.[6] Apart from a few extreme moral puritans or radical feminists, not many people have a problem with it. But such is the theatrical influence that it still feels odd if that attitude is translated into moving pictures. The cliché is that nudity must not be gratuitous but must be justified by the plot. Let’s say you are a film director and you have Kelly Brook in your cast – how do you justify getting her naked? To stay respectable, you have to use some plot device. Actually, Kelly Brook has been naked in a few films, not very good ones, where some flimsy plot device has been found. But a film director who just said that Kelly Brook looks beautiful naked and he wanted to capture that on screen – that comes across as a bit off, even though it would be perfectly acceptable from a still photographer.

So it goes. Tinto Brass has a reputation as a sleazy old perv, and maybe he is a sleazy old perv, but is what he’s doing essentially all that different from Lucian Freud’s painting? His film Miranda is essentially an extended study of Serena Grandi’s naked form – it’s the fact that it’s in moving pictures and not stills that’s the issue. An analogous example from the Anglophone world would be Nicolas Roeg’s infamous Full Body Massage, which consists of little more than Bryan Brown and Mimi Rogers talking philosophy as Brown rubs oil into Rogers’ breasts. The camera’s lingering on Rogers’ body is an absolutely photographic aesthetic – and it’s no coincidence that Roeg is a cinematographer by background – it’s just not something we’re really used to in film, still less in TV.

Finally, there’s also the question of what you’re trying to say – or if you’re trying to say anything. If you like the commedia all’italiana of the 1960s and 1970s, you’ll know that it’s not just a matter of saucy humour – many of the directors, writers and actors were communists, and had some things they wanted to say about Italian society, bourgeois morality, corruption, religion and so on. To go downmarket, the German B-movie genre of nunsploitation relies on some sort of critique of Catholic morality and sexual repression – well, all right, it’s mostly about actresses in nuns’ habits getting their tits out, but there wouldn’t be much point if it didn’t tap into some social attitudes, if it wasn’t subversive or satirical in some way.

Possibly part of this relates to the consequences of sexual liberation. What used to be transgressive is now commonplace. In the 1970s a drama like Bouquet Of Barbed Wire, centred around extra-marital sex and illegitimacy, could be considered risqué. In times gone by, homosexuality could be used to shock, but now it’s almost totally mainstream. There aren’t many taboos left, and it’s much harder to work in a shock factor. Actually, in strict terms, that may not be a bad thing – if you can’t reach for an easy shock factor, that could create an incentive to write something imaginative. But again, it depends on programme-makers being creative rather than lazy, and on having something to say. American TV drama shows that’s possible – British TV drama is a bit dispiriting at the moment, but it’s hard to imagine that the potential isn’t out there. If only it could be put to some use.

Tangential to this, there’s an interesting discussion of porn over at AVPS.

[1] There is the perennial problem, experienced by everyone from novelists to pornographers, of how to actually present a sex scene that isn’t hackneyed. As gonzo porn auteur Ben Dover says, at this point in his life he can’t tell whether that last anal scene was any good, because it looks indistinguishable from any one of the last hundred he’s done.

[2] This finds expression in the iron rule of horror movies, that the girl who shows most skin dies first, and the one who keeps her top on survives at the end.

[3] My basic objection to SATC is that it’s shoehorning female characters into a gay male fantasy. But then again, millions of women love it. Go figure.

[4] At this point one recalls veteran pornographer David McGillivray quipping that he started to agree with Mary Whitehouse at that point in the 70s when you couldn’t go to the cinema without seeing Robin Askwith’s naked arse. Mind you, it’s not as if McGillivray raised the tone much himself.

[5] Omar’s faithfulness to the Askwith template is remarkable. The basic plot is that Omar finds himself in a situation, like joining a gym or becoming a door-to-door salesman; he meets a woman and engages in some saucy dialogue; he and the woman shag; immediately after the pop shot, there is a loud banging on the door from the woman’s husband/boyfriend/dad; Omar has to flee, running with his knees up in the air like he’s in a Madness video.

[6] We must emphasise here, the classic approach is to examine the whole form – not some airbrushed beauty, but a whole that incorporates the imperfections.

Hi-ya! Bruce Lee biopics unveiled


If you want a movie icon, you don’t have to look much further than Bruce Lee. The films, to be honest, were variable – although I’ve always loved Fist of Fury – but Bruce himself, in the true manner of the star, rose above the material. There’s something about his physicality – that almost balletic mixture of grace and intensity – that made it impossible to take your eyes off him. After A Fistful of Yen, I thought I would be unable to ever watch Enter the Dragon with a straight face again, but oddly, once I did, it sucked me in once again.

So I’m glad to see, on the 36th anniversary of his death, that Bruce’s siblings have given their blessing to a series of biopics, which they hope will give us an insight into what he was really like:

Producer Manfred Wong said at least three films were planned, with the first focusing on Lee’s teenage years.

Wong added he wanted to focus on the late actor’s personality in the trilogy.

“There will be kung fu, but more importantly, we want to portray the real Bruce Lee. What is the real Bruce Lee like? He was very humorous. He was very obedient to his parents. He was very kind to his family,” he said.

Robert Lee said he wanted to give an authoritative account of his brother’s life saying: “We’ve read many books and seen many movies about Bruce Lee, but there are many inaccuracies in them.”

Phoebe Lee added: “I’m more than 70 years old. I want do something for my younger brother – to promote Bruce Lee’s life story.”

And good luck to them. Bruce the icon is familiar to us all, Bruce the person is more of an enigma. I just hope the movies have the execution they deserve.

And, just to end on a whimsical note, this provides me with a legitimate excuse to use a pic of one of my favourite public monuments, the statue of Bruce Lee in Mostar, Bosnia. The gold-plated bronze statue was unveiled in 2005 as a gesture of reconciliation, after some local artists had been searching for a cultural figure who both the Croats and the Muslims could unite around, and figured that everybody loves Bruce Lee. Now why can’t DCAL splash the cash to get us something like that?

Our man at the movies


You know, I never knew Jeffrey Donaldson was a film buff. I always thought that it was Sir Gerald Kaufman who was the Commons’ answer to Barry Norman.

However, as revealed by the Daily Telegraph, Jeffrey Boy simply can’t get to sleep at night without a good movie:

Mr Donaldson, 46, a married father of two, used his Commons second home allowances to pay for films in his hotel room nearly every time he travelled from Northern Ireland to the capital on parliamentary business.

I like the way they slip in Jeffrey’s marital status. This is what is known in the journalistic trade as innuendo. Now pay attention, because there’ll be more.

In total, Mr Donaldson submitted second home claim forms, including receipts, relating to 68 pay-to-view movies.

Hotel sources confirmed that films he put on his expenses during 2004 and 2005 were in the highest price category offered to guests, covering the latest blockbusters and adult movies.

Note that it’s the category that’s being discussed here. In contradistinction to Jacqui Smith’s other half, there is no evidence to say exactly what films Jeffrey was watching in his hotel room. The Telegraph can only note that they were in the high-priced bracket, and speculate as to what that might cover:

At present, the films on offer which would fall into the highest price category at the Marriott are Sexy Scenes 2009, series 2, series 5 and series 7, Hotel For Dogs, Friday the 13th, Role Models and Death Race.

There are some titles there that aren’t familiar to me, but then I’m not as avid a moviegoer as Jeffrey. What’s important is that Jeffrey is insistent that he wasn’t watching any porn. I certainly don’t have any evidence that Jeffrey was watching Knockin’ Nurses 4, so I’m perfectly prepared to take Jeffrey’s word for it.

Mind you, even Hollywood blockbusters can be a tricky proposition in the Calvinist moral world of the DUP. These are the guys who like nothing better than to lead demonstrations against productions of Jesus Christ Superstar, so, all things considered, one hopes Jeffrey was watching nothing more risqué than Lassie Come Home.

And get a load of this wholehearted defence from Jeffrey’s party leader:

Peter Robinson, its leader, said: “Mr Donaldson has been asked to pay back any expenses which have not been properly incurred and I understand that he intends to do so.

“In the light of his categorical denials, Mr Donaldson is clearly entitled to a presumption of innocence. If any evidence to substantiate the allegations can be provided we would of course wish to consider it.”

Peter is of course aware of what can happen when DUP representatives indulge in hotel-based entertainment – that’s why the party had to give rising star Paul Berry the bum’s rush after his close encounter with a masseur of the homosexual persuasion. Not to mention various other skeletons lurking in party members’ closets. But Jeffrey’s moral conservatism is well known, and I do think Peter could have been a bit more forthright on this matter.

After all, Jeffrey is a valued colleague, and Peter has full confidence in him and wouldn’t give any succour to those who would undermine him. Isn’t that right?

Jings! Stormount Semmlie man scundered at porn in Ulster Scotch


From today’s Tele:

An event combining Ulster-Scots with pornography which is due to be screened at the Belfast Film Festival has caused a furore among local politicians.

A proposed screening of the 1974 soft porn film Flesh Gordon — an erotic spoof on Flash Gordon — on April 2 will be accompanied by a live translation in Ulster-Scots from three local comedians.

Jaipers! An’ ah always thocht sex wis thon big begs ye put yer coal in.

Entitled Shockin’ly Spaiked O’er Smot (Badly Dubbed Porn) Live, the so-called “evening of titillation” has raised objections in certain quarters over funding.

One MLA has said that money should not have been handed over to support the event at The Menagerie, Belfast — even if it is designed to highlight the beauty of a fast-shrinking dialect.

In fect, yon Davie McNarry his tuk the heid-staggers an’ is richt leppin’ aboot the hale thing.

“Porn is porn is porn is porn — and whether it is done Ulster-Scots-style, well, it really doesn’t come into it,” Stormont culture, arts and leisure committee member, David McNarry, told the BBC.

“This event has presumably been given funding and all this kind of thing does is make people look all the harder at an application the next time it comes round.

“The committee wasn’t aware of this but the department must have been.”

But the fillum festival fowk be unrepentant:

A Belfast film festival spokeswoman said the use of Flesh Gordon might “seem at first a peculiar choice of film”, but insisted it was “almost logical”.

“Contrasting Ulster-Scots against such a coarse and roguish piece of film such as Flesh Gordon will optimally highlight the extent of the detachment between the culture of the tongue and the culture of the film,” she said.

Ah hiv a feelin’ yer wee woman may be takin’ the han’…

Fer mair wittins, gae til 1690 an’ All Thon.

Mr Roarke has left the island


Well, with Patrick McGoohan having already been done, I thought it would be nice to say farewell to the great Ricardo Montalbán. Here’s a funny thing, though. As a young man, he was one of the top stars in the Mexican movie industry, in films I’ve never seen. Not being a great aficionado of 1940s Mexican cinema (who is?), I’ve never seen any of them. But what I find interesting is his career on arriving in Hollywood. He was one of those leading men – Don Ameche would be another – who appeared in dozens of films that I’ve seen but can’t honestly remember the name of. And yet, I remember him. He seemed always to be there. There was a certain type of old film that would get shown on a Saturday afternoon and, if it didn’t have Don Ameche, it would probably have Ricardo Montalbán. He was that kind of a jobbing leading man, and he stood out even when his material didn’t.

What he’ll probably be remembered for – and I think the obits bear this out – is a smallish number of projects he took on later in life. The unforgettable Fantasy Island obviously gets a lot of mentions here, with Ricardo’s performance as a mysterious, possibly godlike, but ultimately benevolent authority figure having elevated the show probably more than it deserved. On the other hand, he did a great villain. Trekkies will fondly recall him in The Wrath of Khan. And don’t say you don’t remember The Colbys. It may have been a big pile of crap – more ludicrously OTT than even its parent Dynasty – but, by God, it was entertaining crap. A lot of that was down to Ricardo as the villain of the piece. Had he had a moustache, he would have twirled it, and his melodramatic villainy made the big pile of crap worth sitting down for. (Well, that and me having a bit of a thing for Stephanie Beacham, but let’s not go there right now.)

And you know what’s tickled me most from the obits? Discovering that, when the young Ricardo came to Hollywood, the studio wanted him to change his name to Ricky Martin. To his credit, he refused to downplay his roots. But they must have kept that one warm for popular Puerto Rican singer Enrique Morales…

And, just to raise the tone a little, it’s Flynt contra Palin

The US Republicans are getting very angry these days, aren’t they? Those McCain rallies are starting to get a bit boisterous whenever the uppity Negro – you know who I mean – gets mentioned. Well, if they were lacking something to get really angry about, they’ve got a good cause now. Yes, it’s your friend and mine, that old sexist reprobate Larry Flynt, who’s releasing a Sarah Palin-themed porno under the Hustler imprint.

We should, of course, have seen this coming a mile off. Larry loves his political satire, as Rev Falwell painfully found out. He’s quite serious about political advocacy, especially around civil liberties issues (check out his book Sex, Lies and Politics for an idea of what makes him tick politically). He hates the religious right, and he really, really hates the moralising hypocrites who are so much in evidence on the religious right. So Palin getting the scabrous Flynt treatment is only natural. Not to mention the Republican base’s outrage at Palin being sneered at by metropolitan elitists, which has some truth behind it – as a born-and-bred hillbilly, Larry is allowed to sneer at her cornpone folksiness all he likes.

So, hitting the video stores soon will be milftastic industry veteran Lisa Ann playing America’s hottest governor. I can’t honestly say I’m familiar with her body of work, although the cognoscenti reckon she’s a reliably filthy performer, as one would hope. You may cast your eye over the image above and say that she doesn’t really bear that striking a resemblance to Governor Palin, but at least she’s in the right age bracket, and you know, the right hairdo and a pair of power specs might work wonders. I’m also intrigued by the casting of socialist porn star Nina Hartley in the role of Hillary Clinton.

But, much as I love Nina, this opus probably isn’t going to make my must-watch list. Although the concept is sound, I confidently expect the execution to be horrible. For one thing, Who’s Nailin’ Paylin is a shockingly lazy title. Larry should be ashamed of himself, especially with a gimme like Drill Baby Drill conveniently to hand. So we probably aren’t talking the height of sophistication here. Anyway, it can’t possibly be as funny as the classic Linda Lovelace for President.

Unless, of course, Larry throws in some unspeakable act involving a moose…

But I suppose this is what you get when you’ve a succession of facile male media pundits who can’t seem to find anything worth saying about Palin except to remark on her sex appeal, or to put it more bluntly her fuckability. This might go some way to explaining why Palin’s polling numbers are a good deal higher among men than women. (I’d also not be surprised if she had developed a lesbian cult following. She has that tomboy-femme thing that lots of gay girls find irresistible.) But really, you’re electing one of the highest offices in the country, and the eye-candy quotient of the running mate becomes one of the major talking points?

And don’t even get me started on Justin Webb…

Oh lordy, he’s at it again

You know, I never liked Sex and the City when it was on TV. Much as I might have appreciated the craft that went into it, it always left me cold. Maybe it’s because it’s a show written by gay men and marketed to a certain kind of aspirational women that it doesn’t tick my boxes. Or maybe it was just the shoe thing.

So I fully intended to ignore the new SATC movie. And I might even have succeeded, had it not been for your friend and mine, George Galloway. After last year’s Kylie’s arse affair, you would think George would have been careful about veering into this kind of territory. But no, he seems determined to make rods for his own back. Not surprisingly, this happened once again in George’s Daily Record column, wherein the great man shares his opinions with a loyal army of Glaswegian barflies. And so George opined thusly:

Journalists sometimes ask which of them would do it for me.

The honest answer is all four of them, but it’s too dangerous to admit that.

There’s the sweet one – great marriage material.

The lawyerly red-head – sexy and motherly. Or the voracious man-eating vamp, ankles behind her ears.

But if I had to choose just one, it would have to be the eponymous Carrie Bradshaw.

She’s not the prettiest, the sexiest or the cleverest. But she would be, quite simply, the most fun.

Why is it that this sort of thing makes me cringe? I think it’s because, while you can’t censor people’s more lascivious thoughts, you don’t really need to go into print with them. Or if you do, it’s easier to justify if you have a point you want to make, or if you can do it with a bit of wit and style. I’ll confess to laughing my head off when that old sexist reprobate, the late Alan Clark, waxed lyrical about Dawn Primarolo having the best arse in Parliament. Of course, it helped that Clark was a funny man, and Primarolo has a well-earned reputation as a humourless puritan.

But George. Dear help us.

Again, this isn’t the worst thing that appears in the tabloids, far from it. The Sun employs a showbiz writer, the satirically named Gordon Smart, who is prone to write columns about his fantasies about gangbanging all five members of Girls Aloud, and even sharing with his readers the exact order he’d like to fuck them in. But Gordon Smart is just a pillock. He isn’t the leader of a progressive movement. George carries the weight of higher expectations, in exactly the way that Gordon doesn’t.

And of course, this sort of thing earns George endless amounts of stick. It’s only a partial defence that much of the criticism is in bad faith. For instance, some of it comes from people who dislike George for his better points, and will seize on any stick to beat a dog. Not to mention vast amounts of hot air from an organisation (which shall remain nameless) which a mere year ago would have defended to the death any word coming out of George’s mouth, and whose own record on gender politics is so appalling as to make George Galloway look like Gloria Steinem.

Actually, George is on rather better form when putting up a defence of himself in today’s column:

FAR-LEFT fanatics in the blogosphere, where it appears this column is widely read, have been going bananas all week about my column last week on Sex and the City, the new movie packing cinemas with working class audiences, mainly women.

This collection of Toytown “revolutionaries”, most of whom have never seen an angry foreman in their lives, and who think Swarfega is a Balearic island, scream sexism whenever anyone discusses, er, sex…

Today’s deluded leftists have morphed into Leninist Wee Frees, staunchly against sex standing up in case it should lead to dancing – which of course would put the proletariat off the revolution.

In principle, there’s something to that. But I do wish George would reflect a little before he feels the urge to start phwoaring in print. I merely put this forward as a suggestion.

Golden Oldies: The Return of Captain Invincible

It is the Second World War. The Nazi menace is threatening the world, but fear not! We can always count on Captain Invincible (a sort of amalgam of Superman and Captain America) to swoop in from the skies and defend what’s right against Hitler and his minions.

But then the war ends, and the next thing you know, Captain Invincible is arraigned before HUAC on charges of premature anti-fascism, flying without a licence, and wearing underwear in public (red underwear too, which the Committee finds significant). Cap storms out of the witch-hunt, and disappears from public view.

Fast forward to the early 1980s. Cap surfaces once again, in Sydney of all places. Sad to say, our superhero is now a washed-up alcoholic. And yet what the world needs now is a shining hero. Cap’s old nemesis Mr Midnight has raided a military base and stolen the top-secret Hypno-Ray for use in his latest dastardly scheme. (It’s a real estate scam, as it happens, and suspiciously similar to Lex Luthor’s real estate scam in the recent Superman Returns.) So there’s nothing for it but to find Cap, dry him out, and send him into battle.

This is a very silly movie, but scarcely more silly than most of the superhero movies that do big box office nowadays. And yet, there’s lots to like about it. It’s an affectionate but quite accurate send-up of the Golden Age of comics. It’s also an Australian production, which means lots of vaguely familiar-looking Aussie character actors. (This being the time when there only were about fifteen actors in Australia.) There’s plenty of the dry Antipodean humour that made Starstruck so much fun. There’s also a nice cameo of the US president striding around purposefully, followed by a hilariously grovelling Australian prime minister. Part of the Vietnam hangover?

And the cast doesn’t hurt either. In the lead is an appropriately world-weary Alan Arkin, playing a very Lower East Side superhero of the kind that Jack Kirby would have recognised. And as the villain, Christopher Lee, who’s never been shy about sending up his own image, strutting about in black leather and being generally menacing.

Oh, did I mention it’s a musical? Yes it is, courtesy of Richards Hartley and O’Brien, of Rocky Horror fame. If you like The Wicker Man, and are dying to see more of Christopher Lee in all-singing all-dancing mode, this is the picture for you. Just unplug the old brain first, and go with it.



I’d like to take this opportunity to wish a very happy birthday to Kitten Natividad, star of many mondo movies that I should be thoroughly ashamed of having enjoyed. Kitten is sixty today, and boy does that make me feel my age. Best wishes to a very charming lady.

The assassination of George Galloway by the coward John Rees


You’ll be thrilled as Palme d’Or winner KEN LOACH moves away from his usual kitchen-sink style to bring you a Hollywood extravaganza based on a classic tale of betrayal and revenge from the Old West.

All the troops of the Governor of Missouri (Gordon Brown) have failed to quash the notorious outlaws of the Galloway Gang. While the press denounce him as an enemy of the people, the legendary George Galloway’s sallies against the railroads, the banks and profiteering landlords have made him a folk hero to the oppressed sharecroppers of Bethnal Green. Galloway seems to be invincible. Or is he?

The outlaw leader has not reckoned on the possibility of betrayal from within his gang. Our drama follows gunman John Rees, who has long been a close follower of Galloway and even served in his personal guard. But recently Rees has become disgruntled by Galloway hogging the limelight, and feels he is not getting his fair share of the spoils. The tense psychodrama mounts as Rees wrestles with his better judgement. Will he screw up the courage to gun down his leader in cold blood? And will Galloway be too caught up in his own legend to see the danger coming?

JACK NICHOLSON as George Galloway
SHILPA SHETTY as Salma Yaqoob
KATHY BATES as Lindsey German
SALMAN KHAN as Abjol Miah
DAN AYKROYD as Martin Smith
EUGENE LEVY as Alex Callinicos
JON STEWART as Mark Steel
RAB C NESBITT as Chris Bambery
CHRISTOPHER WALKEN as the Mysterious Man in Dubai

With special guest stars
ALEC BALDWIN as Tommy Sheridan
JACKIE MASON as the late Tony Cliff

You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! You’ll just love the film all the critics are calling the new Blazing Saddles!

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