Archive for nostalgia

Blasts from the Past…

Posted in General Musings, Nostalgia with tags , , , , , on March 9, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

During my enforced rest over the last few months (see previous blog entry for details), to keep myself from total boredom and the creeping onset of ennui, I indulged in watching something that I have been fascinated with since childhood – animated films and serials. Back then I went through the stages of watching series such as Scooby-Doo, Hong Kong Phooey, The Pink Panther, all the Warner Bros cartoon shorts, the slightly obscure DePatie-Freleng version of Dr. Doolittle (does anyone actually remember that?), the various Charlie Brown shows and the full-length ‘classic’ Disney movies. Then I progressed onto longer films like Watership Down, Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings (which, perhaps oddly, I absolutely love, despite its very obvious flaws), the same director’s Fritz the Cat and Fire and Ice, the strange and surreal Fantastic Planet (original title: Le Planete Sauvage) and an obcure little porn cartoon called Jungleburger (classic dialogue: the villainess says at the end “So what if I have six tits?”). Add into the mix other obscure gems which I’ve completely forgotten plus, later in my twenties, my discovery of anime, and I must have seen thousands of ‘cartoons’ and suchlike.

However, during that brief restful sojourn, I revisited a couple of series for which I have a particularly fond attachment – The Mysterious Cities of Gold and Ulysses 31. Both of these were French/Japanese co-productions, and both were screened over here in the eighties. Okay, I admit, I was in my early twenties when I watched these shows, programmes that were resolutely aimed at younger teens, but, to be quite frank, I didn’t care. The two shows exhibited a modicum of imagination severely lacking in mainstream British and American productions of the time, a fact which  inspired me to watch them in the first place. I would avidly sit down every week and be glued to the TV set to follow the respective character’s adventures.

The Mysterious Cities of Gold was a 39 episode adventure series set against an historical background: the Spanish conquest of South America and the avaricious search for gold (and it didn’t stint on the cruelty exhibited by the conquistadores towards the natives in the greedy search for the yellow metal). The plot mainly centres around three children, Esteban, Zia and Tau, and their search for the fabled seven cities of gold, located somewhere in the impenetrable jungle. The show contrasts rather sharply the reasons for the search – the children want to find family or solve the mystery of who they are and their place in the world, while the adults accompanying or chasing them only want the wealth that will inevitably follow on from finding a city completely made from gold. It paints Western culture as avaricious, superficial and greedy – not as inaccurate a picture as all that, judging from the history of the actual conquest.

Ulysses 31, on the other hand, mixes Greek legend with sci-fi action and adventure. It updates the legend of Oddysseus (Ulysses is the Latin variant of the name) but sets the action in space. Ulysses has angered the gods by destroying Cyclops whilst in the act of saving his son Telemachus – and his punishment is to wander through an unknown part of the Cosmos in his spaceship in order to find the Kingdom of Hades, so that he can eventually return to earth. Simultaneously, Zeus, who hands down the sentence, also puts Ulysses’ crew into suspended animation and they will only be returned to life when the Kingdom of Hades is found. Accompanying our hero and his son is Yumi, a tiny blue-skinned girl from the planet Zotria (her brother Numinor is also there, but he’s  in suspended animation along with the rest of the crew) and Nono, a small and very nervous robot. Twenty-six episodes were made, a fairly short number for a Japanese production, but boy did they pack in a lot of action. It’s very typically Japanese fare and, stylistically, is also typical of eighties anime. And of course, there’s that stirring opening theme song… (there are also the tantalising rumours that there will be sequels to the series due in the near future, but who knows…?)

It’s funny how you remember, or not remember, things. I distinctly remember not catching the first episode of either, but coming coming into them with episode two with Cities and three with Ulysses. But, having watched all 39 episodes of the former, I remembered surprisingly little of it, apart from the characters and the Solaris ship and the Golden Condor. I also didn’t remember the short factual films at the end of each show, filling out the historical details of that particular episode. I am only a third through Ulysses and I remember more of that one, but I’ll report back when I’ve seen them all.

Be that as it may, however, what utterly delightful (and thrilling) blasts from the past. Whilst it would be true to say that technically I am more in tune with the anime of today, it was still a hoot watching these shows and reacquainting myself with them after something like thirty years. Back then, of course, I never thought that there’d be any means by which I could see them again, other than the terrestrial channels deigning to rebroadcast them. Which did happen with Cities I think – once. So, I for one say ‘Huzzah for the internet!’…

Now, to make my life complete, I need to find a source for Battle of the Planets or, better still, the original Science Team Gatchaman, which will be miles better than the bastardised Sandy Frank bowdlerisation screened on British TV (7 Zark 7, the robot who ‘starred’ in the linking sequences, was never in the original Japanese version…). Having said that, I’d still watch, if only for the sake of nostalgia…

Old vs New

Posted in Books, Film, General Musings with tags , , , , , , , on October 28, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

A couple of blogs back, in my review of the final episode of BBC4’s A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss, I intimated at the end of the first paragraph that my tastes in horror have changed over the years. Thinking about it since, I have come to realise just how much they’ve actually changed, more so than I thought. Which, I happen to think, is a very good thing.

Wind back about 20 – 25 years ago. Then, I wasn’t much of a horror film fan, although I loved reading horror – Brian Lumley, Ramsey Campbell, TED Klein, HP Lovecraft, and Clive Barker were amongst my favourite authors. I absolutely revelled in the verbal bloodshed. Films, however, were a different matter. I was incredibly squeamish, and always had been. I remember a particular event, when I was around nine or ten, when one of the Sunday colour supplements ran a feature on open-heart surgery, accompanied by photographs of the operation. I distinctly remember feeling dizzy and nauseous after reading it, almost fainting in the process. My parents laughed, obviously thinking it was highly amusing.

Don’t get me wrong – I did watch horror films occasionally, but they were mostly the Universal/RKO Pictures ones. I loved all those oldies, principally because I owned all of the Aurora ‘Monsters’ model kits, with their glow-in-the-dark hands and faces. I was an avid collector of those things, much to the dismay of my parents, I should imagine. Even in my early twenties, my preferred horror-fare was print based, along with those fairly ‘safe’ b&w films.

Then, sometime in my mid-20s, a friend introduced me to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead film, championed by no less a figure than Stephen King himself. That first time I barely made it though the first twenty minutes, in part because of the expectations I’d gained from reading the video cover hyperbole. A couple of months later, I rented it out, and got a little further in this time, but still bailed out way before the end. Third time, some months later still, and I got through it all, and you know what? I loved it.

Then, of course, I wanted more – much more. And the more horror films I saw, the more horror I wanted to see. After a time, simple scares were no longer enough. I started buying Fangoria magazine on a regular basis, and I learnt about all these films that were available over in the US, the stills of which seemed to imply that much bloodiness abounded in them. Some of these films, I discovered, were almost impossible to get over here because of censorship issues, or those that were available were heavily cut. I was adamant that I would only see the uncut versions. Eventually I found a video search service that not only found them for me, but also supplied me with many of the banned films (including the so-called ‘video nasties’).

And so, that was the pattern of my film viewing for years thereafter. I went looking for more and more extreme films, just to push my boundaries. Then, no more than a couple of years ago, I started to tire of it all – in fact, I got to the point where I could barely watch any kind of film ( something which occasionally still happens today). Over the last year especially, my horror reading tastes have also changed – mainly, I think, after having become a book-reviewer, where I’ve come across the more subtle and imaginative takes on what horror can be. Additionally, I’ve started reading older authors (older as in beginning of last century rather than anything to do with a writer’s age) and reading them has given me a greater appreciation of how they were able to imply horror effectively, without recourse to gory pyrotechnics.

I think it’s got something to do with age and growing up, this whole shifting of tastes thing. Don’t get me wrong, I still think there’s a place for the Saw-type films of this world, but I have to say that such things no longer have quite the same appeal for me as they once did. Certainly, in the wake of Mark Gatiss’s recent series, I am inclined to go back to all those old films and watch them again. I think it’s also got a lot to do with the peculiar atmosphere and ambience, qualities that appear to be better created through b&w films than colour (that’s not always the case , of course, and is an entirely subjective opinion). Plus, the cut-away at the very last second in some scenes suggests something more horrific than that which was probably intended. I like having to use my imagination, rather than having it served up on a platter to me.

I’ve no doubt a certain amount of nostalgia for the old-style of film-making plays its part, too. In these days of CGI and ultra-realistic effects, it’s far too easy to make things look so real that it could be a documentary. You know, however, that it’s all done very cleverly with computer trickery, and that knowledge often blunts the enjoyment. It takes the fun out of it. Those b&w films can be genuinely creepy and horrific in a way that’s missing from modern horror.

I realise that today’s horror films reflect current concerns and are extrapolations of them, and therefore most definitely have a place. But I can’t help thinking that, even given that, I get far more enjoyment and a lot more spooky thrills from the old ones. Plus, in some ways, the lack of ‘sophistication’  in those oldies (but only in comparison with modern films – many b&w films of yesteryear were very sophisticated in their own way) lends them a certain charm. Some of them worked very cleverly within the range of the restrictions placed on film studios back then, bypassing them in surprising and innovative ways. I sometimes feel that present-day audiences dismiss them too readily out of hand, simply because a) they’re old, b) they’re shot in b&w and c) they don’t show things explicitly enough. Perhaps modern horror films (or maybe cinema in general) has taken the edge off of our ability to bring something to the viewing experience.

This new-found appreciation of more subtle horror will manifest in ways other than just in my film-watching and reading tastes – I’ll be doing much more than that. If things go to plan, then I’ll be more than just reacting, I’ll be returning the pleasure that stories and films like those old b&w ones have given me. Keep your eye out on this blog for more information as and when it becomes available – good times are ahead….