Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Career Plan 9 From Outer Space

You have to feel a bit sorry for this guy. Gregory Walcott, who died recently at 87, was an actor who is pretty much only known for his role in the so-called worst movie of all time.

Walcott was in a few other movies, some of which you’ll (also) have heard of, and worked with some top directors, but on his way up, he reluctantly took one job that was to haunt him for the rest of his days. Normally when that happens the movie in question is porn or nazi propaganda or, worse still, both. But in this case it was neither, it was just another B-movie. Tons of such cheaply-put-together movies were made during the fifties. They still are being made to some extent. These are what used to be straight-to-DVD. Now they are probably straight-to-YouTube.

This is definitely a classic of the genre of terrible B-Movie. It is poorly written, badly acted, its production values are definitely shoddy, and it was made on the kind of budget you find down the back of a sofa. But what sets it a little bit apart is that it was the last movie of Bela Lugosi, who went from a top actor and heartthrob in Hungary to being king of terrible, cheap movies. In fact, this film is quite special in that Bela Lugosi was billed as the star even though he was dead before it came to be made. In fact the the movie was made around some footage shot for a different project before he died.

But let’s be honest, this isn’t really the worst movie ever made. It might be the most entertaining bad movie ever made, but there are worse movies. Basically because it isn’t boring. It has a zeal, which is one of the reasons it’s badness shines. It’s zeal comes because the director considered he was making a great epic picture. So much so, that the details of things such as wobbly sets and unconvincing dialogue could be glossed over. The greatness of the story is all.

There are movies I have switched off after no time at all because they are boring, I care about nobody and there is no entertainment value whatsoever. These terrible movies can still have high production values.

What is different about Gregory Walcott, is that it seems that most of the stars of an Ed Wood movie were on the way down on their career trajectory, but he was on his way up.

I think it’s a big fear for many performers to be remembered for the one thing you are not proud of. You see it often with musicians who are haunted by a big cheesy hit that is misrepresentative of them as performers. It haunts them. People demand they play it whenever they perform live. It’s the song that brings them the most riches, yet they resent it more and more each year.

Gregory Walcott certainly didn’t get rich from being in Plan 9 From Outer Space. He was talked into doing it and presumed it would disappear like so many other such movies. But it hasn’t. And it probably won’t. It’s one of my favourite movies in one of my favourite genres. Bad, 50s sci-fi B-movies were the movies I would sneak up late at night to watch, back in the days when you had to watch stuff when it was broadcast. Later I’d video them. Nowadays, I just search on YouTube - most of them are there.

I think the lesson here might be to be careful which projects you hang your name on, but that’s not always so easy to know. There are plenty of movies that looked like they would be great on paper, but the results were anything other. And any of those could become infamous. No, the lesson is more like, as Mr Walcott also acknowledged, that you have to be prepared that sometimes things outside of your control can take on a life of their own. You can only accept it. It’s a lesson the also recently departed Leonard Nimoy learnt over time with regarding his forever being identified as Spock. And at least the idolatry of Spock is nearly all positive; Plan 9 From Outer Space will not easily be beaten as the worlds most entertaining bad movie.

Anyway that’s what I think happened. In the words of Criswell, Plan 9’s narrator and psychic, “Can you prove it didn’t happen?” Yes, you probably can.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Travel Sweden Feb 2015 part 2: More on Uppsala and Television

It used to be, in the old days, you wouldn't leave the hotel for fear of hostile natives. Now you don't leave the hotel because you don't want to lose wifi. It's called progress. 
Uppsala is a small town dominated by a university and a cathedral.

University building: 4 people in this picture are statues.
Maths ball on top of university building.
Whilst the cathedral is big and impressive, the university has many buildings and some are quite intriguing. I’m not sure if the university and the cathedral have some sort of rivalry. It’s easy to imagine they do as they kind of represent opposing forces. Although they are both about receiving knowledge, how this knowledge is discovered is wildly different.
Something pink poking out of the undergrowth.
Also competing for dominance of the town is a large castle (or slott, as the very satisfying Swedish word for it is). It sits on a hill and tries to look all buff, but it's a bit too pink and phallic to be taken seriously. And not phallic in an imposing way, more of a comical way. It’s possibly a bit too short and squat to really do that dominance thing. How the castle really exerts is authority is by having six old cannons all trained on the church. It clearly isn’t worried about the university.
"Your move, God!"

Uppsala also has some theatres. But its rare for a city’s theatres to be the dominant force. The theatre I was there to play in (see my impro blog later for more details) was the Regina Theatre which is apparently famous (in part) because a well-known actor once died on stage there. I had always thought given the general state and intensity of most actors, that every stage everywhere had had some actor of note keel over on it at some point. Maybe it happens less than I expect. (As ever, Wikipedia already has a list of these things)

This relationship is clearly not working.
I think it seems a big thing for me because some big names in comedy history from my own country have died on stage or in front of the camera. Most notably Sid James, Tommy Cooper and Marty Feldman. If you don’t know who they are then I don’t know what they are teaching in schools these days.
Early attempt to create android.
From the theatre, one moves easily up or down (depending on your leanings) to the television. Sweden is like the Netherlands in that all foreign shows are subtitled rather than dubbed. It’s probably one of the reasons why Swedes speak English more good that what many of us does.

Every country has TV gems in the department of “what the hairy Jesus was that?” Sweden is no exception. The gem here is “Hasselhoff - en svensk talkshow.” If any of those words need translating, it’s “svensk” which means Swedish. If you need Hasselhoff translating, you have not been paying attention at all in celebrity culture classes, which is not necessarily a bad thing. So this show is exactly what you are thinking it is: a talk show on Swedish television hosted by David Hasselhoff. Now it sounds on paper like it could be a fun, kitsch idea, and its clear that this is what it’s meant to be. Unfortunately with its painfully flat jokes, lame pranks and just all around feeling of awkwardness, it’s not fun. At least based on the half a show I saw. Watch it here: http://davidhasselhoffonline.com/tv/

Not to suggest the Swedes are obsessed with kitch (as it’s me who’s pointing these things out and so that is probably where the problem lies) but the big thing on TV the weekend I was there was the Eurovision Song Contest heats. One of a series of 4 heats to determine which of the nation’s musical talents would go to represent them at the Eurovision Song Contest proper.

The Swedes are almost Eastern European in their appreciation of this event. Even for the heats, there were groups of people walking around town dressed up like British hen parties because they were on their way to a Eurovision party.

In the heat I saw, there was a broad selection: an old-style crooner; a young guy who sang country-infused guitar pop; a singer from the world of musicals; a nightclub soul singer;  a loud, blond woman who sang over the top of some 90s dance track; a band of cheeky, fresh-faced boys; and a man so obsessed with the 80s he could have been the very ghost of Limahl.

Some of them went through to the next round and one of them may have even won and can be seen at the Eurovision final. But as with football and porn, if it’s not happening right there in front of me, I really don’t care.

In case you think Sweden is kitsch and behind the times,
here is a poster I found in the theatre.
Now, I should really get out of this hotel.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Travel: Sweden Feb 2015 part 1: Where did you land? Arlanda in Sweden (and other Marx Brothers routines)

Stockholm's Arlanda airport is located amidst what appears to be a wasteland. Or perhaps any part of the airport land not directly used for airport business is basically neglected or worse still, dumped upon.
The airport is very biased towards people going to Stockholm. Even though it's closer to other places, such as Uppsala which is where I was heading. There are 3 ticket machines in the baggage claim hall of terminal 2, all of which sell tickets to Stockholm and no place else.
In fact it was only recently that you could get the train direct to Uppsala without first going to Stockholm, even though the former is a 3rd of the distance of the latter. It's called Stockholm Syndrome where a piece of land appropriated from one region becomes besotted with the area that appropriated it.

I took the bus to Uppsala. It takes as long as the slow train does to Stockholm, but it goes overground so you can see more trees than you ever thought possible to see in one day. It's also cheaper. It's expensive by worldwide standards, but cheaper than the train. From now on I will only use the comparatives "cheaper than" and "more expensive than." Assume everything is expensive in a general sense unless told otherwise.
Between the trees there are the occasional areas of industrial interest or green fields where crops of old style farmhouses have been planted. Sometimes a few houses pack together to protect themselves from wind and wolves.
There are patches of snow dotted about which I assume aren't permanent, but maybe that are.

The bus calls in at Uppsala Business Park on its way, which is another reason I like buses. They don't skirt the everyday parts of town where tourists don't go or put a gloss on it. Bus journeys of more than 20 minutes seldom leave you with the impression that a town is entirely quaint. Unless that's all a town is, in which case it survives on tourism and crime alone.
The centre of Uppsala is definitely attractive. It's wide but low old buildings and spacious streets give the impression of space. (Space, as in room to move rather than the place where the stars are. And by which I don't mean Hollywood. )
Architectural students will tell you lots about the types and styles of buildings you can see there, all I can say is "nice," and "they make pleasant things to walk around amongst." But I say the same thing about trees and vintage aircraft. Except that 15-year-old me could name every single one of those aircraft. 15-year-old me wasn't the hit with the girls you would have expected.

From memory of a glimpse of Google maps, I managed to find the hostel which impressed me. Uppsala was already easier to find your way around than the airport. I presume the airport takes after Stockholm rather than its closer neighbour (see earlier paragraph). I don't know yet as I haven't been to Stockholm. I'll hopefully let you know later.
The hostel is quite large for a hostel and definitely cheaper than Swedish hotels. But there are places in the world where the comparison between Swedish hostels and local hotels is not so favourable.
The beds in the hostel are some of the narrowest I've encountered. I think it's to stop the old backpacker trick of booking a single room and trying to sleep 2 (or more) people in it. They had better be supermodel thin and not mind waking up with foreign limbs in alien places.
With the rooms so sparse and the bed so small and basic, I knew if I stayed there too long without going out and seeing people, I'd start to love it there in that room and never want to leave. Because that's how Stockholm Syndrome works. Even in Uppsala.