The Cut – Issue 13

Thirteen weeks of this foolishness! The smart move would be to bail while there’s a scrap of dignity left to wrap around our scrawny thews. But no, that is not how we operate, as well you know. Therefore, o our Readership, the luck is all good for you. Enjoy this week’s slumgullion of linky loveliness.

Come on, we’re all friends now. Say it with me.

Now is the time. Here is the place. This is The Cut.


Continue reading The Cut – Issue 13

The Machinery Of Romance

I consider myself a romantic. As a long-term SF addict, my sense of wonder is sharply honed, and I love my wife with a passion that can reshape continents. But the notion of Valentine's Day, and the industry it supports, has largely passed me by. Continue reading The Machinery Of Romance

Liable To Deprave And Corrupt

The UK Government's attempts to nanny up the images that we are allowed to make and view just took a new and twisted turn. Under amendments to the outdated Obscene Publications Act, which have already passed the Lords and become law on December 1st, there's about to be a major clampdown on the legality of extreme imagery—one that should worry every British film-maker.

I've made my disapproval of state control on the moving image clear in the past. If people want to bring a camera into the bedroom, that's their business. But, in using worries over child porn to pass ever more restrictive legislation, lawmakers have gone too far.

The existing rules are already open to abuse, and cases with laughably thin evidence have already gone to court—thankfully, usually to be thrown out. A recent case featuring an unfortunate young man found to have a beastiality video on his phone hit the headlines when the animal in question turned out to be a bloke in a tiger suit, who finished off with a cheery thumbs up and a Tony The Tiger-style “that's grrrreat!” Hilarious, right? Not for the poor sod in question, who lost his job and suffered two years of approbrium. Turns out the film was sent to him by a mate. I wonder how strong that friendship turned out to be…

The new amendments seek to legalise (gee thanks) the depiction of normal sexual activity on screen. And therein lies the problem, of course, because we now have a government intent in codifying what constitutes normal sexual activity and criminalise anything that isn't—at least, on screen. God help you if you like a bit of bondage and the rules and safe words that you and your partner worked out in advance aren't on there at the beginning as a kind of censor's warning.

So let's look at those amendments, just in case you think I'm over-egging the pudding. The new restrictions make it illegal to show torture with instruments, bondage with no clear sign of consent, realistic depictions of rape, and dismemberment. Which are terms so vaguely drawn that they could describe almost anything. Certainly, most horror movies made in the last 50 years fall into those definitions in one way or another. As does art-house fare like Gaspar Noe's Irreversible and Lars Von Trier's Anti-Christ. As does the work of prominent directors like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese. As does last week's episode of Marvel's Agents Of SHIELD. As do recent episodes of Eastenders. At a rough count, thirteen nominees for the Best Picture Oscar over the last 20 years would be illegal under these new laws, including five winners and the current holder of the award, Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave. In short, any film that shows any gore other than a gunshot squib or a blood-pack stabbing, or any captive tied up against their will will be subject to prosecution under these new laws.

Except, of course, there's a handy little out-clause. Anything with a BBFC certification is exempt from the rules. Hollywood breathes a sigh of relief. But where does that leave the film-makers who choose not to go through the hoops and expense of the Soho Square tango for a short film they made for zero budget in their shed? Where does that leave the horror enthusiasts who show at festivals like Horror-On-Sea or Grimm Up North? Where does that leave talented film-makers like my mate Mike Tack, whose work is based on just the kind of extreme imagery that Westminster wants to ban?

The law as it stands has sent innocent people to jail and ruined their lives for entirely consensual activities. Now that law is tightening its grip on independent film-makers who choose to use rubber and corn syrup, or CGI, to create films that will shock and disturb, but also get us to think about our lives and the frequently fragile grip we have on them. I could talk at length about the importance and history of horror, and how we love to be shaken and stirred by the dark arts. There should be no need.

There should also be no need for legislation to reach this far, or be worded so vaguely that it can be used on nearly anything on which the police care to prosecute. It appears that in fact, police are increasingly using the Act when they can find no other way in which to charge people, as Jane Fae points out in a recent politics.co.uk article (which at least opens up a little hope that this law may be quashed in the court). In the meantime, indie and underground film-makers are on the verge of discovering that their work has made them lawbreakers.

Let's end with a fun game. Take a look at the Charging Practices section of the new Obscene Publications Act, and see how many films you can prosecute!

http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/l_to_o/obscene_publications/

 

 

 

 

 

It’s The End Of The World Again, Almost Definitely This Time, Really, Honest.

Well, I hope you’re all packed and ready. According to Christian radio show host Harold Camping, 3% of the world’s population will be gathered up to Heaven in some sort of holy Hoovering tomorrow morning. The rest of us will then have five months to wait until God draws the curtains and shuts off the lights for good on October 21st. The fact that most churches have scheduled regular services for Sunday shows how seriously Mr Camping is being taken by the religious community at large.

In eschatological circles, Harold is a bit of a pipsqueak. He’s predicted the Rapture four times thus far, giving up (or rather, diving back into the books for a bit more of a considered approach into the numbers) in 1995. This is small potatoes. Fire and brimstone preacher Charles Taylor saw the end coming 12 times between 1972 and 1992. That’s got to put a crimp into your long-term savings plans.

The end-of-the-world racket is a fascinating subject for study, and stuffed to the brim with nutballs, loonbags and conmen of all stripes. It’s surprisingly easy to pick a date for the Four Horsemen to gallop over the horizon and then backtrack when the sun sets when nary a hint of apocolypic hoof beats. For example, Edgar Whisenant wrote a best-selling book 88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988. His prediction: final trump to sound between September 11th and 13th. When those dates turned out to be trumpet-free he pushed the date forward, first to the 15th, then October 3rd. Still nothing. This didn’t deflate Whisenant, though, who released another book the following year, The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989, and would continue to release updates until 1993.

Predictions of the end time are born out of intense, numerology-heavy readings of the Bible, and as reactions to ongoing world events. The recent triple-whammy of disaster landing on Japan has, as you’d expect, sent the scene into a tizzy. But events as varied as the Rodney King shooting, the founding of the state of Israel and any manner of celestial objects getting within astronomical spitting distance have all sparked doomy predictions. As for the close-study readings, Camping’s method is an exemplar of clarity and logic compared to some I can mention. Dan Brown’s got a lot to answer for…

None of this would be a bother if it didn’t involve hucksters conning gullible rubes out of their hard-earned, and self-styled prophets setting themselves up as cult leaders. End of the world predictions can mean exactly that. Suicide cults like Heaven’s Gate and the followers of messianic maniacs David Koresh, Jim Jones and Joseph Kibweteere are all evidence that apocalypses can and do happen, and are events that we cannot see coming, and have no way to prepare for.

As for Camping and his Rapture? Well, his past record isn’t encouraging, and frankly his methodology has holes wide enough to steer the Halle-Bopp comet through. I’m not convinced. And anyway, aren’t we supposed to have until December 2012, when the Mayan calendar runs out?

Tell you what, while we’re waiting, let’s have a little dance, shall we?

This post would not have been possible without reference to Chris Nelson’s extraordinary Brief History of The Apocalypse, which is anything but brief and will eat your day if you let it.

Low Blows And Dirty Tricks: X&HT Saw Sucker Punch

I’m grateful. Really, I am. It’s good to have a low water mark against which all else can be judged. It’s good to know that when a friend rags on a film that you can chip in and say, “Yeah, but at least it’s not…”

Let’s put it another way. We have our new Battlefield Earth.

Continue reading Low Blows And Dirty Tricks: X&HT Saw Sucker Punch

A Response To The Chancellor

(I didn’t watch the live Budget broadcast yesterday, for fear that I might throw something at the telly. This is a fairly common occurrence whenever George Osborne is on screen, so I figured probably best not. However, I was following the Twitters, with particular interest shown to tax expert and strident reformist Richard Murphy. He was not impressed. I’ve had a chance to see what was in young Osborne’s little red satchel, and I would like to respond as if I was the Shadow Chancellor (incidentally, isn’t that a great name for a fantasy villain?) – admittedly, with the benefit of hindsight that I don’t think Ed Balls gets.)

The Shadow Chancellor rises, and waits for the applause and jeering to die down. He fixes his opposite number with a hooded glare, and taps impatiently on his lecturn with the eraser end of a pencil.

The House of Commons is, unusually, completely silent as he speaks.

“Is that it? Really? Is that the best you can do? Have you given up so early in the game, George? I mean, this is just derisory. There’s hardly anything here! Alright, let’s see what you’ve managed to do, shall we?

A penny off fuel duty. When you’d raised it by two in the last budget, and a postponement of the next hike until January. Which means you’ve just promised the drivers of the nation two price rises on fuel in 2012. 50p on a packet of fags. Fine, I’m with you on the coffin nails. A sneaky play on alcohol duty though. No rise doesn’t mean you’ve abolished the duty escalator. So that’s a 2% rise above the rate of inflation. 10p on a pint over the next year. You’ve just doomed the rural pub market. Not that people can afford to drive to them in the first place, but that on top of the VAT hike is going to grease the slide on which a lot of these local community businesses are already teetering. Nice work.

“That’s a sweet little drop in corporation tax rates there. And I see you’ve made an attempt to address tax avoidance. Sort of. A bit. A fifty grand payment if you’ve lived in the UK for twelve years. I can see Philip Green quaking in his boots over that one. And you’ve not put a limit on the tax assets that banks are sitting on from the losses they incurred in the 2008 banking crisis. That’s what kept Barclay’s tax bill down to a 1% payment. Nicely done. Keeping your paymasters sweet.

“If you were serious about tax avoidance, you’d give HMRC the cash and staffing it needed to get to grips with the staggering amount of revenue we lose to corporate shenanigans every year. Instead, you’ve provided loopholes in inheritance tax and charitable contributions that will turn this country into a haven for tax abusers. Nicely considered.

And after that, we can still see that growth has slowed for the third successive quarter that you’ve been in charge of the accounts. That’s not the best record, really, is it?

“I suppose we should be grateful that you haven’t done more. After all, the cuts that will begin to bite in the next couple of weeks will be bad enough without you turning the screws any further. Unfortunately, you’ll probably find that your lame duck budget hasn’t fooled any one. I suggest you have a look at the people who will be filling the streets of London this Saturday. The people who will be clearly and directly affected by your politically motivated financial agenda. Is it a coincidence that you’re rushing through your attempt to clear the deficit in time for the elections of 2015, when most economic experts consider that there’s no problem with taking 12 years to do it? And in fact that this country is in significantly better financial shape than you’d have us believe?

“It’s becoming pretty clear to everyone with two brain cells to bang together and a fast internet connection that your policies aren’t working, that your interests are not those of the people you claim to represent, that you’re lying to the electorate in order to push through policies that are based on discredited economic theories dragging us back to the worst excesses of the Thatcher years, that your arrogance and hubris will not allow you to admit that the gamble you’re taking with this country’s future is putting us on a path to disaster. This Budget is pointless, because the damage is already done.

“I’d say thanks for nothing, George, but the sad fact is that you’re going to leave us with less than that.”

The Shadow Chancellor sits, and waits for the inevitable tumult.