Down in the mouth

Sometimes, extraneous factors have a habit of imposing themselves on your lifestyle choices. For example, I could never be a vegetarian, for the simple reason that I don’t like vegetables — no matter how subtly they’re cooked, it still can’t make up for the lack of a central nervous system. And similarly, while there are some facets of the S/M scene which appeal, I’m limited by the fact that I have absolutely no tolerance for pain and suffering at all. Which is also why this Tuesday was a day ringed in the calendar with black ink, since it marked my first visit to the dentist in the best part of a decade.

This lackadaisical approach was not, it has to be said, entirely of my own making. My previous dentist, C.K.White of Forres, went and died on me, and signing up for another torturer was never exactly high on my list of priorities. Such things tend to be done on a needs-must basis: I’ve been in Tulse Hill for seven years now, and I still haven’t got a doctor, despite there being one approximately fifty yards up the road. As long as my teeth didn’t bother me, I wouldn’t bother them, and having encountered no problems in coping with medium-rare steak, I was inclined to leave well alone.

However, the planned departure for pastures foreign would remove me from the tender mercies of the NHS and abandon me to the rapacious private health sector – “one filling? That’ll be $27,500”. Poor people in America frequently have all their children’s teeth extracted at once, purely for financial reasons, y’know… It thus made sense to get something back for ten years of National Insurance payments, while I still had the chance, and so I registed with the “Gloria Dental Centre”, conveniently located near Tulse Hill Station. Not too sure about the name (I’d have preferred something brutally honest, such as ‘Tortures R Us’), but it’s apparently tough enough to find anyone happy to acquire NHS patients. Paranoia suggested this willingness was due to a rash of sudden, inexplicable deaths on their current patient roster…

Having made an appointment, I then had to suffer the traditional week of hypochondria and psychosomatic concern. Every mouthful of food was analysed — was that crunching sound my teeth falling out, or merely a particularly crispy piece of pork pie? Tooth brushing took on an almost religious significance – I flayed my gums until they bled – and flossed, rinsed and gargled like a student indulging in last-minute cramming, hoping to make up for years of benign neglect. The day dawned and, after one last polish, I entered the chamber of horrors…

Of course, the actual event proved to be something of an anti-climax. Had an X-Ray (I was tempted to ask if they did enlargements, or could make it into coasters), discovered my old fillings were a bit worn, I need to floss more, and I’ve got to go back next week for cleaning. Not quite the sewing-up of my mouth, with a “This Property is Condemned” sticker placed over my lips, which I’d feared. I was impressed by the technological advances: C.K.White was an old-school dentist, who largely worked with pliers and his knee on your chest; the surgery here had a chair that tilted back so far I could feel the blood rushing to my head, and even had a television set playing music videos to distract you. Mind you, I now associate Britney Spears with having things stuck in my mouth, a reversal of most guys’ Britney-inspired thoughts.

But I’ve learned my lesson: no more shirking my toothsome responsibilities. I hereby vow to make regular trips to the dentist from now on. Every seven years. Whether I need to or not…

commitment n. an obligation to be undertaken

Maybe it’s a result of my Scottish Protestant upbringing, but when it comes to manners, I am terribly old-fashioned. For exaample, you should always say please and thank you — even when addressing those who are inflicting pain on you. Indeed, especially so then, since the last thing you want is a peeved dentist wielding power tools in your mouth [An issue currently close to my heart since next Tuesday sees me in the chair for the first time in…er…a while. I shall be exruciatingly polite, to the point of subservience.]

I mention the above, in preparation for an “It Makes Me Mad…” rant, since it appears that commitment, as defined above, is a term which seems more than a little unfamiliar to some people. In the past four days alone, I’ve had the following:

  1. Friend X was supposed to be coming round on Sunday afternoon; I got a phone call at 4pm saying he couldn’t make it, largely because he’d now got some bird in tow.
  2. Friend Y should have come round last night, but phoned to say he was “too tired” after a book-buying trip
  3. We played five-a-side football today at 1215. Colleague Z announced at 1100 that he was going to a noon meeting instead.

None of the above is the slightest bit life-threatening, admittedly, but all were variably irksome in their own ways. I’m not really a formal guy, but if you’re going to break arrangements with me, there are things you need to remember, and they are nicely illustrated by the above. Firstly, try and have a good reason — “I found something better to do” is not, as far as I’m concerned, sufficient justification. Now, I remember well the days when I would cheerfully have sold my own grandmother for a shag, but I never did — admittedly partly because the market for grandmothers was sluggish in my part of the world. However, I will let Friend X off, because, having gone out and bought beer ‘n’ stuff, the fridge is pleasingly well-stocked. His loss is my alcohol-induced stupor.

The second occasion was perhaps the most understandable, but fell into disfavour because of the lack of notice. That very afternoon, another friend had invited me out for Chinese. “Thanks, but…”, I said, and explained my prior engagement. Having blown that out, getting a call that night left me high ‘n’ dry. You may not have anything else in your empty little lives, but mine is a hectic social whirl. Or rather, I’d quite like it to be, if people would stop faffing around at the last bloody minute!!!! Thank you.

The third case combined the worst of both worlds: not enough notice to make alternative arrangements, and a poor excuse. Part of my burden in life is being the dude who has to try and shepherd enough bodies to make up the footie team each week, and it’s a chore of Sisyphean proportions. I am now hardened to getting a steady stream of emails on the day before, from cancelling players: this I can handle, since I just ask the next guy on the list to bring in his kit. But on the day itself, I’m creek-located and paddle-deficient. In addition, when you get a mere sixty minutes notice of a meeting, it is perfectly reasonable to say “Sorry, I can’t make it”. Unless, of course, you’re a sad lap-dog with no social skills for whom work is the centre of life. Mind you, given this guy’s mobile phone plays the theme from Star Wars, it would seem a valid possibility…

Worse still, the meeting ended up being delayed by an hour, so he could have played after all. On the other hand, when it did start, it ended up being The Meeting From Hell, with people notorious for sorting paper-clips by size and colour. It lasted four-and-a-half hours. And this is the moral of the story: learn from this, and remember what happens when you can’t tell the difference between “I’ve found something better to do”, and “I love it when you come on my tits”. Now, that is what I call commitment…

Greenwich Moan Time

It’s not been a good week for British justice. First of all, it looks like we’re going to let General Pinochet go back to Chile, unhampered by any icky notions like his involvement in more missing persons cases than Mulder and Scully. It’s not as if it was even us who were going to try him, all we were being asked to do was ship him to Spain. This was just a bit too much to expect, it seems: after all, we have a long tradition of providing a safe haven for doddery old fools — despite the abolition of the House of Lords. I wonder whether we shall see the same miracle which blessed a certain jailed Guinness executive — diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, let out early on compassionate grounds, and suddenly cured with a completeness which would have impressed Lazarus. Expect to see Pinochet on the team sheet for the next Chile international.

Speaking of compassionate grounds, we’re also letting Mike Tyson into the country, despite a criminal record which would suggest that he believes “compassion” to be what happens when you bang your head. At first, our beloved leaders said it would be left to the immigration authorities to decide, after it was pointed out that, by the rules set out, Tyson should be refused entry. Now, Jack ‘U-turn’ Straw has intervened, supposedly to save all those small businesses who would allegedly have been hit by such a ban. Not just a change of heart, but also lungs, liver and spleen, I am left wondering whether Tyson had threatened to arrive at Heathrow wearing a “Vote for Frank Dobson” T-shirt. But heavyweight boxing and our government are fine bed-fellows, given both rank lower on the credibility scale than professional wrestling, and are run by thoroughly shifty individuals with questionable hairstyles and an astonishing ability to twist the truth. In the blue corner, Don King tries to convince us the first Holyfield-Lewis fight was a great draw, and a fine advertisement for boxing. In the red, Tony Blair claims that the Millennium Dome is a great draw, and a fine advertisement for Britain. Seconds away…

As for the Dome, it seems to be in the great British tradition of entertainment that strives to be educational — or is it education that…? Oh, never mind. Its major problem is that, predictably, for a theme park designed by committee, it appears to contain a lot of stuff that is there solely because someone thought it should be, rather than because it’s fun. I’ve no idea what the “Faith Zone” contains, but it’s unlikely to be a devastating proof of the existence of God. Or anything else worth ś20. Such as a psychopathic demon-hunter. [Sorry, season 3 Buffy joke there. It’s between the Giles and Willow Zones…] No wonder the queues vary so much.

Much has been made of the contradiction between the low crowds going there, and the glowing reports of visitors. Yet there’s no reason why the two are mutually exclusive, especially given the British propensity to make the best of a bad job. “We booked these tickets months ago and spent all that time travelling to Greenwich — we will enjoy ourselves, whether we bloody want to or not.” The English will always have a nice time, but anyone who remembers the dinner party scene from ‘Carry on Up the Khyber’ will already be aware of this…

Here’s a prediction: give it a few months, and the ticket prices will come down. For there’s one advantage that boxing promoters have over Tony Blair — they only have to generate hype for 12 three-minute rounds, not an entire year.

Incredibly Bad Film Show: Paradise

Dir: Stuart Gillard
Star: Phoebe Cates, Willie Aames

This takes almost all the best elements from The Blue Lagoon and Walkabout…and chucks them out of the window. Fortunately, the one that remains is Cates, following the footsteps of Brooke and Jenny into the “guilty pleasure” hall of fame. She teams up with Willie Aames, the straitlaced son of a preacher, as they wander across a desert conveniently supplied with a surprising number of oases, pursued by a feelthy Arab called The Jackal in lacklustre fashion (he seems to forget about them for months on end) who carries a British flag around with him for no readily apparent reason. It’s supposedly set in the 1820’s, but possesses absolutely no period atmosphere at all: going by the frequency with which Cates de-kits, it’s more like the late 1960’s.

Due to this, we’ll cut her some slack, and say she copes well with a role which would tax no-one’s acting ability. Aames, on the other hand is expected to be heroic, fighting off the Jackal, rescuing his pubescent squeeze and taking care of business. He is utterly unconvincing at any of this, admittedly hampered by direction so limp, you feel nothing at all when his parents are slaughtered (“Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord”, shouts his father – immediately before being kebabed. Oops). Since he also wrote the script, Gillard must also take blame for utterly laughable anachronisms. For example, there’s the totally fabulous house the pair knock up, complete with a verandah and all other mod cons. And if it really is “paradise”, why is no-one else living there – the Jackal and his gang know about it, since they visit repeatedly. There are also the long periods when nothing happens, save for the supposedly comedic antics of a pair of monkeys.

These are particularly irritating, since they’re a waste of perfectly good naked Phoebe time. The lack of head shots and some other strange quirks suggest that a body double was used for some of these. But that’s odd as it’s only some – other sequences are very obviously 100% for real, most notably a shower scene under a conveniently-warm waterfall that is both far too long, and not long enough, if you see what I mean. The scene appears on the sleeve of one British edition, with a little bra and panties painted onto her, which is kinda sweet. [I also don’t recall there being quite so much skin in that version…oh, dear, looks like I’ve just found an excuse to watch the film once more.] Moments like this are what provide the film with a reason for existing, crucial since we are left with no reason to care about the characters in the slightest.

So, where are the perpetrators of this waste of celluloid to be found now? Phoebe, as you should know, had a fine career, and made some 20-odd movies before retiring to becomes Mrs. Kevin Kline. Sadly, she was never again quite as revealing as here, save for one glorious moment in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The director went on to do Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III – presumably, the one in which the turtles throw off their shells and frolic in the surf – while Willie Aames…

Ah, yes, Willie Aames. I was going to say that he vanished into obscurity, reaching the dizzy heights of voicing one of the characters in the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon show. But the story doesn’t end there. After a John Belushi-style binge, he found God, and he can now be seen playing Christian superhero Bibleman in a range of videos (click on the picture on the right for a beautifully straight-faced news story about him), as well as touring the States in a bizarre-sounding live shows designed to brainwash kids into accepting Christ as their Lord and Saviour. There’s something oddly satisfying about the way he has gone from playing the son of a preacher in a weird movie, to being a weird preacher himself.

YouTube video

Incredibly Bad [Culture] Show

Perhaps the word ‘bad’ should have been in inverted commas, because none of the films that’ll be discussed in this spot are films we dislike, or would not enjoy watching. Instead, this is about films that will never win an Oscar, because they have one purpose – to entertain, generally in a trashy manner. Of course, most critics can not tolerate this and so the films are labelled ‘bad’, perhaps justifiably in some cases, but we would still rather watch them than any of Richard Attenborough’s films…

barbwireThose words were written in the very first edition of TC, the legendary (and now hopefully forgotten!) issue 0. But it still largely holds true today, since my fascination for, and interest in, movies which fail for one reason or another remains almost intact. Looking back over the years, it’s apparent that these fall into three categories:

  • films generally regarded as “bad”, which I feel possess qualities largely ignored for some reason e.g. Edge of Sanity,
  • those which even I can’t really defend as art, but that are still huge fun to watch, such as Barb Wire,
  • movies which are enjoyable through their sheer badness, the classic being Plan 9 From Outer Space.

I should point out that the third category, road accidents on the cinematic highway, differ from the second because their appeal to me is in ways the directors, writers and actors never intended. However, for Incredibly Bad Film Show purposes, the two groups are deemed equally valid. On the other hand, stoic defences of the first-mentioned have also been mounted in the pages of TC, but you’ll never convince me that Showgirls is a bad film, so it and its kin will not be found in this section.

Initially, it was only movies which were covered, and this still remains the main focus of the series: however, we have also moved into other areas, as diverse as fiction and dance. For there is absolutely no reason why the cinema should have a monopoly on the field. Indeed, the costs involved could be said to mitigate against it, in comparison to other media. It’s a lot cheaper to, say, publish an Incredibly Bad novel than make – and crucially, distribute widely enough to reach TC’s attention – an Incredibly Bad Film. And, as the Internet shows, when you drop the barriers, you inevitably also drop the lowest common denominator. I might venture to suggest that the success of The Blair Witch Project may well lead to something of a renaissance of badfilm: when any idiot with a camcorder is able to make a film, you can rest assured that plenty of idiots with camcorders will.

And so, in here you will read of both the deliberately poor, and the accidental roadkill on the cinematic highway. Those of us buried in the depths of trash culture can’t afford to be picky about where we get our pleasures, and so we laugh in the face of death, smirk at over-wrought emotion, and head to the kitchen to get a beer during plot exposition. This may seem disrespectful, but I’ll recount a quick story which may convince you otherwise. At the London Film Festival, I was at a Guardian interview with Abel Ferrara. Beforehand, they showed a montage of clips from his movies, but it soon became apparent that someone was laughing loudly at the back. This became hysterical cackling during the rape scene from Ms.45, and everyone wondered who it was being so disrespectful to the director.

When the lights came up, we saw it was Ferrara himself, clearly not taking his own work seriously at all. It’s in the same spirit, that we offer you these reviews and articles.