Yes, it’s been a while since we’ve posted. The reason? Clive and I have been working hard on the Speakeasy. Here’s the first fruit of our labours.
As a bit of a departure from our usual fare, The Speakeasy is proud to present its first foray into radio drama. With help from friends and contributors, Rob and Clive have put together a tribute and/or parody to classic 1930s horse operas. Please to enjoy the pantomimic stylings of the Speakeasy Players in…
THE ADVENTURES OF WHIP CRACKAWAY AND HONCHO THE INDIAN BOY.
Ask nicely, and we’ll never do it again.
The Speakeasy Players:
Clive Ashenden As Whip Crackaway
Rob Wickings as Honcho The Indian Boy
Simon Aitken as Hector Villianous
Alice H. DeVenns as Kitty Carmichael
Rick Bowsing as Pa
with special appearances from Graham Williams as Timmy
and Chris Rogers as The Voice Of Caversham Cigarettes.
The narrator is Kyle Eddley, who appears with the kind permission of Keith Eyles.
The show was written and directed by Rob Wickings, with production and sound design from our friends at All Hallows Post in Reading–‘the finest sound available anywhere’.
I have a good example of a film-maker who has, without question, destroyed every scrap of credibility he once had. The writer and director of some of the greatest horror films ever made, his output in the last 20 years has lurched from barely competant to outright laughable.
Stomm! Rob and Clive are joined by long-time friend of the Speakeasy Chris Rogers to talk about one of the most iconic British comic characters of all time: Judge Dredd. We pick apart one of his most iconic tales, The Day The Law Died, and see how that story is a distillation of everything that makes the man who IS The Law so great.
Geekery and comics. It doesn’t get much more Speakeasy than that!
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 Under amendments to the outdated Obscene Publications Act, which have already passed the Lords and become law on December 1st, there's about to be a major clampdown on the legality of extreme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!
Clive and Rob are joined again by film-makers Maria Thomas and Simon Aitken as we revisit our May Summer Movie preview. Did we see the films we said we’d watch? Did we like the films we said we’d watch? Did we watch films we didn’t say we’d watch? Did we film watches we didn’t have the time for?
From the game-changing Guardians Of The Galaxy to the tender, insightful Frank, we’ve got the whole gamut of the summer movie experience–summed up.
Who doesn’t like a good book? Well, if you don’t, you’re in the wrong place this month!
Rob and Clive share the works of literary merit that have tickled their fancy recently, in a podcast that’s sure to appeal to those of you that enjoy slightly drunken rambling from two opinionated old geezers.
Pop your slippers on, pour yourself a sherry and join us as we crack open a volume or two…
As the weather starts to draw in, and you start to think about digging jumpers and coats out of the wardrobe, you might think it's time to pack the barbecue away. Although it's probably past the time of year for you to be standing in front of a blazing grill in your shorts and “Kiss The Chef” apron, you might still get a bit of traction out of that unused bag of charcoal yet.
Readership, you may recall that I have been playing around with the notion of smoking my food. Certainly, our recent trip to Seahouses and the beautiful kippers and smoked prawns that they served up sharpened my appetite for all things hot-cured. Let's not forget, autumn is a time of bonfires and woodsmoke. Why not use that to our advantage?
Now, my slightly cobbled together smoker is a testament to what can be done with an unassuming starting point–to whit, a lidded barbie from B&Q that we picked up half price a few years back. It's never really done the job, sadly, somehow managing to take ages to come up to heat. I'm an impatient man when dinner time is near, and it's very tempting to just slap that steak on my cast iron griddle, especially if I'm just cooking for the two of us.
But really, a lidded barbecue is all you need to start smoking. WIth the addition of a thermometer that gives you the optimum temperature for cooking with smoke, you're away.
Now, I mentioned that I'm not a patient man, but this method of cooking will teach you how important that virtue is. There are no shortcuts when you're smoking food. When you're cooking ribs or a pork shoulder, you need to be thinking in terms of 12 hours or so, 8 at a bare minimum. Fish or chicken won't take as long. Maybe six hours. The serious players in the US barbecue scene put their meat on overnight. The really dedicated guys sleep with their ovens, all the better to tweak the temperature or wood mix.
Slow and low, that is the tempo. The Beastie Boys said that, and who are we to argue? Do not allow your coals to go over 225 degrees (farenheit, that's about 110 celcius). I find it's best to just use one of those little bags of self-lighting coals, which will heat up and cool quickly, but hold enough residual heat to keep things ticking over nicely. If I need to change over, It's just a case of covering the meat in foil while I dump another bag in.
You'll need wood in there as well, of course, soaked for an hour or so beforehand so they'll smoke rather than burn. Some barbies have a tray in which you can spread the chippings. If not, just form a rough bowl out of a couple of sheets of foil and pop the wood in that, next to the meat or fish. A sturdy jug of water will help to keep the atmosphere in the oven nice and moist too, helping the smoke to permeate deeper into your dinner.
The choice of wood is yours, and most garden centres have a reasonable selection (or, of course, there are online resources). Oak's better for fish and chicken, the more robust flavours of mesquite work brilliantly with beef and pork. Play around, see what works.
IIt may sound perverse after you've got up at six in the morning and spent all day watching a barbecue puttering away, but it's really nice to char your meat a little on a grill once it's smoked. It's the double cooking that makes the end result so mind-blowing. We had some pork ribs recently that, after 8 hours smoking, I drenched in Sweet Baby Ray's (the one and only barbecue sauce, accept no substitute) and blasted on a hot griddle. The end result was full of smoky flavour, absurdly rich and unctuous. Even TLC, who normally won't go near a rib, had three or four.
It's early days for me with this technique, and I'm absolutely guaranteed to have messed something up (all advice, hints and tips welcome, drop 'em in the comments if you would be so kind). I haven't even touched on the complex subject of wet and dry rubs, marinades and sauces. Again, any suggestions are very welcome.
But I'm eyeing up the bag of chicken in the freezer, thinking about a big bag of prawns, maybe a side of salmon. And considering how nice the sharp autumnal air in my back garden is going to smell with the sharp tang of woodsmoke in it.
And we're back. After a long hot summer, in which the last thing on my mind is sitting in X&HTower's screening theatre (plush and opulent though it may be), the weather has turned appropriately autumnal. Time to close the blinds, fire up the projector and dig into the teetering pile that is the Unwrapped archive.
Today's choice was informed by the fact that Peter Strickland's The Duke Of Burgundy has lit up the Toronto Film Festival. Time to look at the movie that brought his name to the public eye: Berberian Sound Studio.
Plot dump approaching, topped with the red flag that is the Spoiler Alert.
Gilderoy (played with twitchy reserve by Toby Jones) is a renowned dubbing mixer, who is hired by an Italian sound studio to help rescue an Argento-like horror film that has run into problems. He quickly finds that the environment, people and material are hugely different to the world of pastoral documentaries and children's programmes that he knows, and quietly begins to lose his mind…
Shot on a tiny budget on location at Three Mills Studio in East London, Berberian Sound Studio is a prime example of a film-maker getting the most out of his environment. There's no questioning the authenticity of the production design, and the attention to period detail is astonishing. If you're a fan of old film gear, be prepared to fangasm now. I was especially pleased to recognise an Albrecht sound follower: a piece of kit that I still use on a near-daily basis.
The action is kept completely indoors. There isn't an exterior shot in the film, adding immeasurably to the airless, claustrophobic atmosphere. It's all artificial light, pools of darkness, empty corridors.
The word that kept springing to mind while watching the film was Kafkaesque. Gilderoy is an outsider, floundering in an environment in which he doesn't understand the rules, where he keeps making the wrong impressions. His efforts to reclaim expenses are thwarted as the accounts department claim there's no record of him flying to Italy in the first place. As his work in sound-designing the film starts to become an ordeal, the walls and dark rooms of the Berberian Sound Studio start to look ever more like those of a prison—or an asylum.
Let's make one thing clear, directly from the lips of Santini, the maestro behind The Equestrian Vortex, the movie on which Gilderoy labours. This is not a horror film. Sure it takes plenty of cues from the mise en scêne of giallo. Just look at the black gloves of the never-seen projectionist, the pumping, Goblin-like soundtrack from Broadcast. The film is full of attractive Italian voiceover girls, of just the kind that would find a horrible end in yer typical Eurohorror. But if you're looking for gore, best keep looking. The only things to see the edge of a blade in this movie are the fruit and veg that Gilderoy attacks to provide the sound effects for Santini. We don't even see a single frame of the film itself that the diminutive sound engineer reacts so strongly against. That being said, the sight of a witch being vaginally violated with a red-hot poker, the scene that causes Gilderoy the most problems, is one that I could do without.
Strickland's refusal to bow to expectations as to what Berberian Sound Studio is or how events in the film pan out have led many to view the film as a frustrating experience. I understand that. The film is deliberately slippery, dodging away from genre tropes and formula story beats. Santini isn't an anagram for Satan, however hard you try to make it so.
The trouble with slippery things is, of course, that they're hard to grab hold of, and Berberian Sound Studio remains opaque, asks far more questions than it answers. How much of it is real? Are we, as is suggested at the end, simply watching a film within a film? There's no definitive answer, and loose ends aplenty. It famously divided opinion right down the middle when it was screened at Frightfest in 2011. Even now, synopses of the film differ wildly and are mostly inaccurate, pitching the movie as proto-giallo when it's nothing of the sort.
Which brings us to the 64,000 lire question—was Berberian Sound Studios worth Unwrapping?
Yes, it was. Difficult but tought-provoking, it's at once a treatise on the craft and sheer hard work involved in getting a film made, and a warning of the cost that the process can exact on you. The people that Gilderoy encounters are, for the most part, monstrous. One of the ADR actors even goes by the nickname 'The Goblin'. Gilderoy, the very image of the innocent abroad, has no chance amongst these creatures.
As a stylistic exercise Berberian Sound Studio is a storming triumph, and there's enough going on to keep you watching, and guessing, until the end. And indeed after. Enter without expectations, and you just might find yourself ensnared.