Archive for opinion

Authors: Adulation or Appreciation?

Posted in General Musings with tags , , , , , , on November 27, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

(What follows is nothing more than personal opinion, about a subject that I find fascinating, incomprehensible and uncomfortably disturbing in roughly equal measure – ultimately, there is no right or wrong here, just differences of opinion and expression. This is just me ranting on a Saturday afternoon….)

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We all have public figures or celebrities that we admire to one degree or another, people who have attained some kind of status for what they do or whose work touches us in some way. For the most part, it amounts to just a grand appreciation for their art, or their charitable work, or whatever it is they do, an appreciation that they have brought pleasure into our lives in some way or that they’re doing something to change the lives of others in a positive way. We’d like to meet  or contact them, yes, just to let them know how much their work means to us, perhaps, or to show them how they’ve inspired us, or just thank them for doing what they do. Sometimes we take a piece of them away with us in the form of a photograph posing with them, or getting their autographs. Sometimes, however, some people appear to take that appreciation to beyond a norm, bordering on the sycophantic.

Maybe it’s just me, but I actually find it vaguely disturbing when people start effusing in public about how ‘awesome’ and ‘brilliant’ their hero/heroine is (when it goes beyond the norm, that is), how everything their favourite personality says or does is of paramount importance and value, and that said personality can do no wrong. I’d expect it of teens or young people, that’s a natural part of growing up and exploring their (and their values’) relationship to the world around them. But when it comes from adults, it just seems to be wrong.

Lately, I have seen a few people make gushing remarks about JK Rowling on various networking sites. Certainly, whatever you think of her writing, whether good or bad, she has done a great many meritorious things: created a bestselling book franchise, all of which have been turned into equally successful films, raised the profile of women writers, earned stratospheric amounts of money while doing so and then simultaneously putting that money where her mouth is by using some of those earnings (£10m) to fund the establishment of a centre to help in the search for a cure for Multiple Sclerosis, for instance. Plus, by all accounts, she has stuck to the ideals and convictions she had before she became famous and fabulously wealthy. Worthy things all. But, does it mean that we should practically worship the ground she walks on?

The bottom line is that she’s human, just like the rest of us; she’s one of the very lucky few who are not only doing something they love, but have also risen spectacularly to the top in doing so. I’ve never read any of her work (and, quite frankly, I’m not really that interested in doing so), nevertheless I have quite a bit of admiration for her for grabbing every opportunity that came her way and also for having the persistence and strength of conviction to pursue her dream. It takes a certain type of person to do that and, quite plainly, her hard work and belief in herself has reaped massive rewards. It’s merely what all of us as writers/artists would like to happen to us as a result of the hard work we put in, but some are luckier than others.

However, when it comes to adults gushing profusely on a public forum, it becomes embarrassing and slightly disturbing, in my view. Don’t mistake me, I’d love to meet Clive Barker, the writer solely responsible for getting me interested in the horror and contemporary fantasy genres back in the 80s and inspiring me to have a go at writing myself (somewhat unsuccessfully back then, it has to be said). I’d like to sit down with him over a beer and just talk to him about his work, like I did with Brian Lumley many years ago.  Just a chance to natter about writing and the creative process with the man – ultimately, he’s just a guy who’s been lucky enough to earn a living from his work and become well-known in the process. Not everything he’s written has appealed to me. He’s human, so am I – none of us are perfect. Some ideas work, others don’t.

(Of course, I say the above from the safety of my living room – if Mr. Barker was to  knock on my front door now, I’d probably blush and faint in his presence and all that rubbishy malarky)

To look at your favourite writer’s work, and judge it uncritically, is, in some ways, doing them a disfavour. All authors want their work to be judged on its own merits and not just because it’s been written by them. They want what they do to be appreciated. I like HR Giger’s work immensely, but some paintings of his speak to me louder than others, while some I positively dislike. It might be that being a reviewer helps, inasmuch as I have to be objective as far as is humanly possible to do my job properly. If I think a favourite author’s work is not up to standard, then I’ll say so. Honesty is always more helpful than dishonesty.

When I was younger, a friend of mine and I used to have a minor disagreement over who was ‘the best band in the world’ (a silly concept in itself): he said Oasis, I championed The Young Gods. But ultimately it’s a pointless exercise – taste is a subjective thing. I didn’t like Oasis, and he thought they were better than The Young Gods. And that’s all it was. The same applies to any other field of human creative endeavour – it’s merely the application of subjective criteria that lead us to favour one author/artist/band over another. When you strip everything away, however, those celebrities we ‘idolise’ are exactly the same as us – flesh, bone, blood, sinew and mucous. It’s just that they’re the lucky ones.

I think that’s why I get chills when I hear sycophantic remarks or compliments about certain people, posted where everyone can see them. There’s a slightly distasteful tang of insecurity about people saying them, especially adults. Praise where it’s due is certainly appreciated – but if your hero disappoints then don’t be afraid of expressing that disappointment. It’s a recognition that they are, after all, the same as us. And whilst I am glad that some may have found something of worth in their lives, something that they feel the need to tell everyone about, not all of us feel the same way. Generally speaking, I can easily ignore the over-the-top statements about personalities, because I also believe that it is peoples’ right to express themselves thusly, but just occasionally I feel a little shiver go through me when I read an overly-gushy comment. Like I say, I feel there’s something slightly distasteful and disturbing about it….

On the other hand, it could be that I am getting to be a cantankerous, curmedgeonly and cynical old sod as I get older (which is inherently more likely)…. =D

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….