Category Archives: Inspiration

Aristotle: The Price of Being Right

TheFactFile.org states that: “Aristotle (384-322 BC) was a famous Greek philosopher born in Macedonian city of Satigara in Greece. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Aristotle was the first genuine scientist in history. His writings include – physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, linguistics, politics and government – and constitute the first comprehensive system of Western philosophy.”

“Aristotle was the first person to study biology systematically,” Wikipedia continues, “he spent two years observing and describing the zoology of Lesbos and the surrounding seas, including in particular the Pyrrha lagoon in the centre of Lesbos. His data is assembled from his own observations, statements given by people with specialised knowledge such as beekeepers and fishermen, and less accurate accounts provided by travellers from overseas.”

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Aristotle came to the conclusion that nature was like a household where everything had its place. He used the ancient Greek word for house “Oikos” and this is where the modern word ecology derives from. He went even further and settled on the ancient Greek word for information to describe nature, the ordering of things, which sounds like a precursor to modern-day genetics. He could not have known how close to the truth he was back then. Others took his conclusions further and did so with astonishing results that appear to reveal new things to us daily.

The main criticism of Aristotle comes from his “spontaneous generation” theory on the origin of some animals. It was not understood at the time how maggots suddenly appeared on rotting meat. Aristotle reasoned that these animals essentially conjured themselves up out of thin air. “In 1668, Francesco Redi challenged the idea that maggots arose spontaneously from rotting meat,” according to Wikipedia, “In the first major experiment to challenge spontaneous generation, he placed meat in a variety of sealed, open, and partially covered containers. Realising that the sealed containers were deprived of air, he used “fine Naples veil”, and observed no worm on the meat, but they appeared on the cloth. Redi used his experiments to support the preexistence theory put forth by the Church at that time, which maintained that living things originated from parents.” Maggots, as we know now, come from eggs laid by flies. With the meat covered, the flies had no access to lay the eggs, without it they did. Aristotle’s theory was in ruins and he gets an incredibly unfair rap from Science today because of it. Could those new theories have been arrived at without his work to react against? I think not.

Newton

We must always approach Aristotle’s observations with a retrospective kindness, appreciation and awe. He was working in a very limited geographical and technical area. He didn’t have microscopes, natural history museums, papers from other scientists to consult or patrons funding his work. His deductions relied on observations, crude dissections of living animals and probably the opinions and hearsay of locals.

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Yes, Aristotle got it wrong, but is that such a shameful thing? A mistake is an experience, choice or concept it is necessary for us to have or make in order to evolve beyond it. All great achievements are the product of absorbing, blending and surpassing one’s influences. Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge the passing of the torch of inspiration from those who have gone before, however flawed they or their theories may be.

Aristotle took the then-logical step of circumventing gaps in knowledge with supposition. Today, with all the resources at our command, that would be scientifically unacceptable but that is a judgement born of our time, not from his 23 centuries ago.

Perfection is an illusion. Yet perfectionists demand it from others while being far from flawless themselves. The margin of error of the human condition is often our greatest area of excellence and discovery,

We must be totally fearless in our pursuit of new knowledge. The prospect of derision must never be a weapon to bludgeon the voyager seeking truth. Even if it is there, it can never be a consideration for the innovator. It is what makes me worried for the modern world with our narrow-minded right-fighters reminding us every second on social media that they, and only they, are correct. How can someone dare to develop new thoughts and ways of thinking in the face of such intellectual Luddites?

All that must be cast aside. You cannot second-guess the reaction to something you have created. You can never please everyone and it is impossible to try.

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© Stewart Stafford, 2018. All rights reserved.

(Check out my epic fantasy vampire novel “The Vorbing.” All donations gratefully accepted here.)

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Hitchcock, Psychological Horror & The Theatre of the Mind

Hitch and Frankenstein
Sir Alfred Hitchcock Meets Mary Shelley’s Creation

In 1964, the great movie director Alfred Hitchcock, The Master of Suspense, was interviewed by Huw Weldon of the BBC. Hitch was asked if he had “ever been tempted to make what is nowadays called a horror film.”

“Are you talking about visual horror like “Frankenstein” and that kind of thing?” Hitch asked, seeking clarification.

Weldon confirmed that was what he meant.

“No, they’re… they’re props. I believe in putting the horror in the mind of the audience and not necessarily on the screen.”

Psycho
Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in “Psycho”

Hitch took the example of his own movie”Psycho.” “Now, this film had a horrible scene at the beginning with a girl being murdered in a shower. Well, I deliberately made that pretty rough, but as the film developed, I put less and less physical horror into it because I was leaving that in the mind of the audience and, as the film went on, there was less and less violence but the tension, in the mind of the viewer, was increased considerably. I was transferring it from the film into their minds. So, towards the end, I had no violence at all. But the audience by this time was screaming in agony.”

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Breakdown of the infamous shower scene in Hitchcock’s “Psycho”

“One’s challenged by the audience. They’re saying to me “show us” and “I know what’s coming next”… and I say, “do you?” And therefore, that’s the avoidance of the cliché — automatically. They’re expecting a cliché and I have to say “we cannot have a cliché here”

So there was a clear differntial in Hitchcock’s mind between “visual horror” like “Frankenstein” and psychological horror like “Psycho” (yes, the dessicated corpse of Mrs Bates is clearly a prop too but only revealed in the last scene and not the basis for most of the horror that preceeded it.) Hitchcock meant that real horror is what you DON’T see, the theatre of the mind, if you will.

Mrs Bates
Mrs Bates: “Mother’s not feeling herself today.”

Horror works particularly well on radio, the original “theatre of the mind.” The listeners are given prompts by the narrator but have to construct the visuals in their mind. Audiobooks and podcasts would be the modern equivalent. My vampire short story “Nightfall” will be available in audiobook form in August and I’m very much looking forward to hearing the results.

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Let’s take a look at a classic horror movie and its remake – “The Haunting” from 1963 and the Spielberg-backed remake in 1999. The original, directed by Robert Wise, got tremendous scares from the use of sound and suggestion. The remake was an orgy of CGI effects. Most people look on the original as a classic horror movie, few hold the remake in high regard. Why? The remake shows us too much too often. The original keeps its cards close to its chest and the result is the same story told in a much scarier way.

The Haunting

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“The Exorcist” is regarded by many as the most frightening movie of all-time. It is a film where the Demon Pazuzu, the ultimate evil, possesses the body of a young girl, the ultimate symbol of innocence, and speaks and acts through her. You never see the demon itself, there is no easy resolution for the audience of bringing the creature out into the light before it is destroyed as in 1950s monster movies. There isn’t that closure. (My mother was so freaked out seeing “The Exorcist” in the cinema that she claimed she saw a red devil with the horns and the tail and everything. It appears to have been some stress-induced temporary psychosis or something.) There is only the theme of the transference of evil, a constant in the work of its director William Friedkin.

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“Exorcist” director William Friedkin

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Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” benefitted greatly from the malfunctioning prop shark they had. It meant the director couldn’t show the shark early as he had planned to and had to be creative to hint at its presence (the excellent score by John Williams helped.) The result? A freaked-out audience made hyper-aware of the subconscious level of the ocean’s surface and the potential unseen horror lurking beneath it.

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26-year-old Steven Spielberg in Bruce the Shark’s mouth

Fear of the unknown is the key to great horror. We don’t need to know that Dracula is seeking his long-lost love across the centuries. He’s an ancient predator at your window seeking your blood. That’s all that’s necessary to impart to an audience. We don’t need to know that Michael Myers in Halloween had a terrible home life that made him the unstoppable killer we know and fear. He’s an immortal bogeyman and he’s coming after you. Don’t give away your character’s mystique cheaply.

Horror is best when drip-fed in a subtle way and not in a deluge of computer effects dumped on the viewing public.

No matter how convincing CGI is, an audience inherently knows it’s not real and that they’re watching a gimmick. Maybe Hollywood will learn this lesson and we can have a new golden age of psychological horror.

Drac Gif

© Stewart Stafford, 2018. All rights reserved.

If you’re a generous person who believes this writer should be paid for his hard work, you may donate here.

To read more of this author’s work, check out his short story Nightfall and novel The Vorbing.

The War on the Opinions of Others

The opinions of others are important. They are the yardstick by which we measure our perspective on the world. Even if those opinions are profoundly different or even reprehensible to us, we need to hear them so we know where we stand. Opinions clarify our position and give us the full picture of what is happening out there. Hearing others can make us form new opinions and beliefs and even question and/or change our existing ones.

The problem is that differing opinions are being silenced online and in reality. Today’s kids have been dubbed the Snowflake Generation. According to Wikipedia:Generation Snowflake, or Snowflake Generation, is a neologistic term used to characterize the young adults of the 2010s as being more prone to taking offence and less resilient than previous generations, or as being too emotionally vulnerable to cope with views that challenge their own. It must be a problem in their parenting, where they are told that they are the centre of the universe and everything revolves around them. So they develop monstrous egos. They not only have to silence dissenters, they have to go after them, gang up on them, threaten them and, in some cases, financially ruin them by contacting their employers and demanding that they are fired. It even goes as far as digging up dirt on people, spreading malicious gossip and passing it on to their bosses. (Allegations not proof are all it takes to destroy someone’s reputation now. All from the safety of anonymous social media profiles. It is nasty, cowardly stuff).

This is called the “echo chamber effect.” Wikipedia defines it as “In news media, echo chamber is a metaphorical description of a situation in which beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a closed system. … Another emerging term for this echoing and homogenizing effect on the Internet within social communities is cultural tribalism.It demonstrates the deeply conformist nature of today’s young people. Say or do anything outrageous and you will be attacked. This conformity struck me recently when I noticed how many young girls looked like clones of one another. They had the exact same hairdos, clothing and their peers looked identical to them. As I always say, “you don’t get great art by playing it safe.” In fact, you don’t get great anything by playing it safe. You must take chances that go against common beliefs and peer pressure.

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Rebellion is the first step on the path to originality. That’s why geniuses are not normal, if they were, we’d all be one. Genius is controversy personified as it challenges old orders and ideas, breaks new ground and forges its own path. Even if they play the game later on, that moment where they questioned given knowledge brought new thoughts into our world. Where are today’s rebels and their daring new ideas? I see none.

Clint

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John Cleese

John Cleese has a theory that there is very little creativity out there now because of constant interruptions from smart phones. It certainly fragments the creative process and the mind itself. “The very essence of playfulness is an openness to anything that may happen,” Cleese said, “The feeling that whatever happens, it’s OK. So you cannot be playful if you’re frightened that moving in some direction will be “wrong”—something you “shouldn’t have done”… You’ve got to risk saying things that are silly and illogical and wrong.” It’s the very antithesis to the echo chamber effect and political correctness.

Fake news and misinformation are also distorting the viewpoints of young people online. Nearly two-thirds of our youth get their news from social media which can just be the tip of the distorted online iceberg. So the opinions they are savagely reinforcing may be entirely inaccurate and false to begin with. The Matrix is alive and well, folks. Our kids are living in it and not questioning what they are being fed. It is all they have ever known, so they are unable to fight for a reality they have never had. What is reality now? Does anyone know?

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WOODWARD BERNSTEIN
Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

Then there is pressure exerted through social media. It’s been said that the Watergate investigation by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post newspaper would have collapsed from social media pressure had it existed in the early 1970s. There was a point in the story when Woodward and Bernstein published some facts that were incorrect. The howls of derision would have been deafening from social media and the pressure on The Washington Post to halt the investigation enormous. In all probability, today, they would give in and the story would grind to a halt. US President Richard Nixon would receive a free pass to continue spying on his political opponents instead of being forced to resign. Imagine the devastating consequences that social media pressure could have on world history and, even scarier, the future of our world. That’s the world we are living in right now. Is it really that important to prove yourself right all the time?

Privacy is thought of now as a historical concept. It doesn’t exist anymore. Freedom of expression, debate and discussion seem to be going the same way. The amazing communications tool that is the internet is being used as a weapon to bludgeon us all into stunned silence and isolation. It’s time to fight back while we still have time. Or is that opinion upsetting you? Hmm, think about it.

© Stewart Stafford, 2018. All rights reserved.

If you’re a generous person who believes this writer should be paid for his hard work, you may donate here.

To read more of this author’s work, check out his short story Nightfall and novel The Vorbing.

Queen – One Of A Kind of Magic

On June 3rd, 1986, “A Kind Of Magic”, the twelfth studio album from Queen was released. The European Magic Tour supporting the album began four days later at the Rasunda Stadium in Stockholm, Sweden.

Magic Tour Inflatable
A cartoon figure from the “A Kind of Magic” cover inflates on The Magic Tour

It was the first Queen album I’d purchased as a Queen fan, the others being purchased after Live Aid and after this album (by early ’87, I had all Queen’s albums on vinyl and still do.)

Highlander Poster

With Queen contributing many songs from this album to epic fantasy film Highlander, there was a sort of return to thematic elements of Queen’s early albums minus the quirky, Tolkienesque lyrics about ogres, titans and fairy fellers. This was Queen doing a concept album 80s-style with syths and Highlander’s immortality theme playing into the tragic reality about to engulf Freddie and the band.

Highlander star Christopher Lambert explains how Queen’s involvement grew:

 “Highlander coming out was a very exciting time for me. What was also very interesting is that Queen were meant to do only one track – it was the opening credits, ‘Princes Of The Universe’, that was the deal. So they sat down for a private screening for them in a movie theatre and Freddie Mercury when he came out, he said all excited: “I’m doing the whole fucking album! This movie is too fucking great!”. They went and wrote the songs in four weeks and went into the studio and it was one of the biggest selling albums of their career. So you know it’s strange, it’s like nobody ever thought that Highlander was gonna be, thirty years later, still a cult movie, music included. About Freddie… there are many good singers, but to be really great it’s not enough just to sing correctly. You have to do it with the heart and he is the best at it.”

Although it was hard to imagine during Queen’s post-Live Aid second wind, “A Kind of Magic” would be the end of an era for them in many ways. It would be the final album before Freddie’s HIV diagnosis in April 1987 (“Innuendo” would be recorded under time constraints and Freddie’s increasing availability issues due to illness). The Magic Tour would be Freddie’s last with the band.

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Queen with producer Reinhold Mack

It was also the last time they worked with German producer Reinhold Mack. Mack first worked with Queen on “The Game” album in 1979 at Musicland Studios in Munich. He had produced some of Queen’s biggest hits including “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “Another One Bites The Dust”, “Under Pressure”, “Radio Ga Ga”, “I Want To Break Free” and “One Vision.” Brian May said that Mack had been “quite a find” for the band. He was responsible for a different, stripped-back Queen sound, the antithesis of the elaborate, complex sound of previous Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker. With Baker, Queen played every track in the studio until the take was perfect. Mack said they didn’t have to do that and that he could drop in snippets of different takes. This surprised the band and saved them a lot of time. Mack even persuaded Brian to drop his Red Special and play a Fender Stratocaster belonging to Roger on “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”

Mack Today
The great Mr Mack today

“A Kind of Magic” would also be the last time Queen would do several songs for a movie (here’s hoping the James Bond producers giver Queen + Adam Lambert a shot at the next theme tune).

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Larking about shooting the “One Vision” video

“A Kind of Magic” is a very listenable album. I can listen to it all the way through unlike some of the late seventies albums which were a smattering of big hits and filler. As with Queen’s concerts on The Magic Tour, the album kicks off with the extended version of “One Vision” which teases out the intro superbly until Freddie’s ethereal vocal cry echoes across the synths just before Brian’s euphoric riff kicks in. “A Kind of Magic” the single follows.

One Year of Love

A John Deacon song “One Year of Love is next and it’s the kind of classy, smoky ballad that Sade did so well at the time (saxophone courtesy of the guy who played on “Careless Whisper.”) “Pain Is So Close To Pleasure” is a rare sojourn into Motown stylings for Freddie Mercury (“Cool Cat” on “Hot Space” and B-side “Soul Brother” would probably be the closest tracks to this).

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“Friends Will Be Friends” ends side one. Even though it’s a self-conscious attempt to repeat “We Are The Champions” and didn’t make the UK top ten, I still like it as a song.

WWTLF Shoot
Who wants to live forever? photo shoot

Brian’s “Who Wants To Live Forever” starts side two and, from here on in, it’s all songs from the Highlander soundtrack. Seal and Ronan Keating said this song made them cry the first time they heard it and it is a very beautiful song with lush orchestral accompaniment. It worked well live on The Magic Tour too, although it was still “a new song” as Freddie said and hadn’t found its place among their other hits with the audience yet.

Oh well

Brian Blessed’s Vulcan says “who wants to live forever?” in the battle scene near the end of “Flash Gordon,” Queen’s last big fantasy soundtrack outing. It’s possible Brian unconsciously remembered that line from the previous film but it’s a perfect iteration of Highlander’s themes.

Brian May Flying V
Brian May playing a flying V guitar – a Washburn RR-V

Brian’s rip-snorting “Gimme The Prize” erupts with a cascading Brian May solo, it reaches a crescendo and a sound clip from the film Highlander kicks in (a news reporter comments on one of the many decapitated bodies in the film: “A head, which at this time, has no name.” Clancy Brown’s Kurgen responds with “I KNOW HIS NAME!”). “Here I am!” Freddie declares, “I’m the master of your destiny” (one reviewer at the time compared him to Alice Cooper on this).

Roger’s unsurprisingly drum-heavy “Don’t Lose Your Head” pounds in. It began life as the B-side to the single “A Kind of Magic” under the working title “A Dozen Red Roses For My Darling.” Some thought this was filler (black singer Joan Armatrading pops up to say “Don’t Lose Your Head” over and over for no apparent reason, maybe an attempt by the band to counter negative publicity over their Sun City shows in Apartheid-era South Africa around that time.) It does get a little repetitive but I don’t hate it.

Queen with Christoper Lambert
Queen with Christopher Lambert at the video shoot for “Princes of the Universe”

Then we come to the final track on the album – “Princes of the Universe.” It’s Freddie’s only solo writing credit on the album (almost hard to believe considering he wrote most of Queen’s early albums single-handedly). The title is outrageously camp but the song builds up an incredible head of steam. With Princes, “One Vision” and “Gimme The Prize”, “A Kind of Magic” is probably the closest version to a heavy metal version of Queen we ever got. The single of “Princes of the Universe” was released in America and the video featured Highlander star Christopher Lambert crossing swords and sawn-off microphone stand with Freddie.

Lambert Versus Freddie
The Highander Vs The Messenger of The Gods

It would be three years before the next Queen album was released, the longest gap there had ever been between albums up to that point. There followed a frenzied period of activity to get new Queen material out before Freddie’s inevitable demise. So “A Kind of Magic” is a demarcation point between what went before and the beginning of the end of Queen Mach 1 (two more would follow with Paul Rodgers and now with Adam Lambert.)

© Stewart Stafford, 2018. All rights reserved.

If you’re a generous person who believes this writer should be paid for his hard work, you may donate here.

To read more of this author’s work, check out his short story Nightfall and novel The Vorbing.

 

Bohemian Rhapsody – The Parody

I’ve come up with some parody lyrics for Queen’s classic song (and soon to be movie of the same name) “Bohemian Rhapsody.” See what you think.

Bohemian Bap-seedy by Stewart Stafford

Is this just food hype?
Is this a granary?
Come on this snack ride,
No escape from the culinary

Open your eyes,
Look at what’s baked with me,
I should avoid carbs, this is what’s wrong with me,
My weight is easy come, easy go,
Blood sugar high, blood sugar low,
Non-food sales at Waitrose, don’t really matter to me, to me.

Mama, bought a sliced pan,
Got the knife just like she said,
Put the butter on the bread.
Mama, you had one cream bun,
But now I’ve gone and scoffed it all away.

Mama, ooh,
Didn’t mean to be so sly,
I’ll get you another one by this time tomorrow,
And if not, and if not, well I guess it doesn’t matter.

Too late, my hunger has come,
Was going to order food online,
Stomach’s rumbling all the time.
Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got some dough,
Gotta leave you all behind and bake some bread.

Mama, ooh (anywhere your wind blows),
I don’t want diabetes,
I sometimes wish I had a gastric band and all.

I see a little cornetto/choc-au-pain,
Swiss rolls, Swiss rolls, will you get me Focaccia?
Vienna rolls with piping,
Very, very frightening me.
(Petit Gateau) Petit Gateau,
(Petit Gateau) Petit Gateau,
Petit Gateau and Fig rolls
Bon Appe-t-i-i-t.

I’m just a foodie, nobody loves me.
He’s just a foodie from a foodie family,
Spare him his life from this pomposity.

Tell me yes, tell me no, who made the dough?

The miller! No, he did not make the dough. (Make the dough!)
The miller! He crushed the wheat like so. (Crushed it so!)
Vanilla! We love that flavoured dough. (Flavoured dough!)
Love that flavoured dough. (Flavoured dough!)
Never eat that dough (Never, never, never, never eat that dough!)
Paninis?
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
Oh, Ciabatta, Ciabatta (Ciabatta’s running low.)
The baker man has some goodies set aside for me, for free, for free.

So you think you can bribe me with slices of Rye?
So you think I’ll forsake bread and eat up some pie?
Oh, baby, this is never a maybe,
Just go and get out, just go and get right outta here.

(Ooooh, ooh yeah, ooh yeah)

The oven needs some batter,
That’s all I can see,
The oven needs some batter,
The oven needs some batter for me.

Anywhere your wind goes.

© Stewart Stafford, 2018. All rights reserved.

If you’re a generous person who believes this writer should be paid for his hard work, you may donate here.

To read more of this author’s work, check out his short story Nightfall and novel The Vorbing.

The Shape of Water: Beneath the Waves

Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” is a continuation of the monstrous themes Del Toro has pursued in his previous films like Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone, Cronos, Blade II and both Hellboy movies. The story concerns a mute cleaning woman (Sally Hawkins) who works at a secret US government facility where she meets and develops feelings for an aquatic creature that has been captured in South America and brought there for research.

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It’s another Beauty and the Beast tale in the style of The Phantom of the Opera, King Kong and The Hunchback of Notre Dame that Hollywood is so fond of.

If there is one central, recurring theme in American movies, I believe it is this: individual righteousness is more important than the group ethic. “The Shape of Water” is set before America has put a man on the moon. It is mentioned that the structure of the creature’s lungs could be used as a model for a prototype breathing system for an astronaut in space. They try to x-ray the creature, but its density prevents anything being seen. So, it’s proposed to end its life and perform an autopsy to study it properly. Now if she was following the group ethic, she would say that the creature must die for the common good, but she chooses not to do that. Her individual righteousness supersedes the group ethic and she decides to rescue him from certain death. You see this theme in everything from “Serpico” to the Jason Bourne movies and “Dances with Wolves” to “Avatar.” Is it any wonder that whistleblowing is so widespread when the whisteblowers themselves are consciously or subconsciously absorbing this theme from the time they watch their first American movie?

Return of the King

“The Shape of Water” is only the second fantasy film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, the other being “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” If you’re doing fantasy correctly, you can have all the fantastical surface elements but get in some subtle social commentary underneath and this movie does it beautifully.

The heroes are all minority underdogs; the creature is being tortured and experimented on because of the way he was born, the heroine is has a disability and can’t speak, she’s friends with a black woman and there’s a scene showing the civil rights struggle on an old black and white TV, the heroine is also friends with a gay man and he is going through his own struggles. It even plays into the whole #MeToo thing with a scene of sexual harassment. The film is set in the 1960s, but it is made for an audience of today and cleverly comments on issues of equality and diversity that we’re still struggling with now.

del toro

Guillermo del Toro won the Best Director Oscar at the 2018 Academy Awards, but his victory was clouded in controversy after claims that “The Shape of Water” was plagiarised from another work.

Let Me Hear You Whisper

The backlash first began on social media with some people tweeting about glaring similarities between “The Shape of Water” and a 1969 one-act play titled “Let Me Hear You Whisper” by the late Paul Zindel. Then the comparisons really began and it was alleged that there were 61 similarities between the play and the film. Paul Zindel’s family became aware of the allegations and filed a lawsuit. “We are shocked that a major studio could make a film so obviously derived from my late father’s work without anyone recognizing it and coming to us for the rights,” David Zindel, the author’s son said.

Del Toro has denied all claims of plagiarism directed towards his film, but the film did lose out at the Writer’s Guild Awards and didn’t get the Oscar for Best Screenplay, probably due to the negative publicity.

“I have been at this 25 years and have an unimpeachable reputation,” the director said in his defence.

Dark Universe

Universal Studios own the rights to “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and they’ve recently tried to reboot their horror characters (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Invisible Man) in something called The Dark Universe. Their stated goal was to make their remakes as big as Marvel is, unfortunately there’s no great demand for these old characters at the box office. The first film in the Dark Universe, “The Mummy” with Tom Cruise, flopped badly and it looks like the other planned films have been shelved for now. Del Toro actually pitched “The Shape of Water” to Universal as a remake of “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” They were initially interested until Del Toro said that the girl was mute and Universal thought it was a crazy idea and passed. So Del Toro took his idea to Fox Searchlight, had a huge, Oscar-winning and the rest is history. Universal must have been kicking themselves that they passed on it. The rest is history while the while lawsuits rumble on.

© Stewart Stafford, 2018. All rights reserved.

The Snow Must Go On!

Last night for a laugh, I decided to write some parody lyrics for Queen’s classic song “The Show Must Go On.” This is what I came up with:

THE SNOW MUST GO ON

Frozen spaces, what is this snow all for?

Wintry places, I guess we want a thaw

On and on

Does anybody know what all this snow is for?

Another snowball, another swollen eye

Behind the snowdrift, beneath a polar sky

I’m snow-blind, does anybody know where all the snowploughs are?

The snow must go on

The snow must go on, yeah

Outside my lips are chapping

And there’s old Christmas wrapping

But Santa Claus hasn’t stayed on

 

Whatever happens, I’ll wear thermal underpants

I’ll keep them guessing, lead them a merry dance

On and on, does anybody know about hypothermia?

I guess I’m yearning, to be warmer now

I’ll soon be turning, the heat up full somehow

Outside the ice is breaking, but inside in the dark there’s no big freeze

The snow must go on, yeah, yeah

The snow must go on

Ooh, my snowman’s head is melting

His features took a pelting

But his smile still stays on

Stewart Stafford photo Big Snowman

My hands are numb, but I don’t think they have frostbite

Sled injuries of yesterday will go but never die

I could cry, my friends

The snow must go on (go on, go on, go on) yeah yeah

The snow must go on

I’ll face it with a gin

The Spring can never win

On with the snow

Stewart Stafford photo small snowman

Ooh, atop the hill, my snowman’s killed

I have to find the will to carry on

On with the snow

On with the snow

The snow must go on, go on, go on…

{Song dissolves into “Oh I do like to be beside the icefield.”}

 

Original “The Show Must Go On” lyrics © Queen Music Ltd

“The Snow Must Go On” parody lyrics and photos © Stewart Stafford, 2018.

Meme courtesy of Melina Rose

If you’re a generous person who believes this writer should be paid for his hard work, you may donate here.

To read more of this author’s work, check out his short story Nightfall and novel The Vorbing.

Beautiful Self-Interest: A flaw at the heart of Economics, Mathematics and Conflict Resolution

The Business Dictionary defines self-interest as a “focus on actions or activities that are advantageous to an individual or organization. For a business or individual to survive and grow, a degree of self-interest is necessary. When there is too much focus on self-interest the benefits of the group at large diminishes.”

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Adam Smith

The Scottish economist and philosopher Adam Smith (1723-1790) wrote two books “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759) and “The Wealth of Nations” (1776) (considered “the bible of capitalism”). He proposed a theory that capitalism was essentially fuelled by the self-interest of people: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

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John Forbes Nash Jr.

John Forbes Nash Jr. was an American mathematician whose life story was told in Ron Howard’s 2001 film “A Beautiful Mind” starring Russell Crowe. Nash updated Smith’s theory with some of his own ideas. He reasoned that the individual could get what they wanted yet still benefit the group they belonged to. This film clip of Nash and his classmates in a bar neatly explains Nash’s theory.

Nash won the Nobel Prize in 1994 in Mathematics for his equilibrium theory. John Moriarty of Manchester University describes the theory as “the ability to analyse situations of conflict and co-operation and produce predictions about how people will behave.” He goes on to say that Nash’s equilibrium is “perhaps the most important idea in economic analysis.” So why hasn’t Nash’s equilibrium been adopted more by the mainstream?

aturingFirstly, you can’t quantify human nature. It is not fixed but fluid and unpredictable. It’s not like Cambridge Mathematician Alan Turing’s “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis” where he could explain the markings and patterns on animals with an equation. That was rooted in genetics and evolution is a mighty slow thing. Human nature is extremely fast, just look how it changes day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute on the internet. It can be contradictory and even illogical at times. Applying logic to potentially illogical behaviour is to construct a house on shifting foundations. The structure will inevitably collapse. That’s the first problematic element of Nash’s theory but I propose an even bigger flaw that’s prevented it from being embraced in a wider context.

The human condition is one variable but a bigger one is the group itself. In the film clip with the blonde, Nash’s theory might work when he’s with a group of friends. They presumably know and trust each other and should therefore support one another for the common good. Again, it should work for a family, they too should presumably know and trust each other and have common goals (but human beings are complex creatures and there is no guarantee that the family isn’t dysfunctional and operating in a counter-productive way.) Assuming that these smaller groups want to progress along the same path together, we can expand the theory outwards to a community of people. Here the theory begins to fall apart. A community of people might not know or trust one another or have common goals. That possibility lessens even further when you expand the theory to a city or a country or a conflict between two countries. So the more you expand Nash’s theory outwards, the less chance it has of succeeding.

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Nash with his wife Alicia at the Oscars

Nash was also schizophrenic: “I was disturbed in this way for a very long period of time, like 25 years.” It affected his marriage and he and his wife Alicia divorced in 1962. His condition improved in the 80s and they remarried in 2001. Sadly the couple were killed in May 2015 when the taxi they were passengers in crashed in New Jersey. A sad loss of a great man. Life is not predictable.

© Stewart Stafford, 2017. All rights reserved.

If you’re a generous person who believes this writer should be paid for his hard work, you may donate here.

To read more of this author’s work, check out his short story Nightfall and novel The Vorbing.

Aliens – The Best Sequel Ever Made?

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Ridley Scott’s Alien was released in 1979 and was a big hit. By 1986, it had faded away into the eerie mists of time somewhat when the sequel Aliens was unleashed by Twentieth Century Fox and writer/director James Cameron.

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Hot off The Terminator, Cameron was just the right guy to take on this sequel. He loved the original and had the sci-fi and technical know-how to push the franchise forward into thrilling new territory. Aliens was a huge hit that summer and earned Sigourney Weaver an Oscar nomination for Best Actress (unheard of for a science fiction movie at the time but indicative of the performance Cameron pulled out of her on set.)

Aliens, like all the best sequels, takes the original concept and expands upon it, deepening the meaning of it. We learn that Ripley’s first name is Ellen and that she had a daughter back on earth who died while she was drifting in space for 57 years (with nothing left for her back on earth, the traumatised Ripley is forced to return to the depths of space and confront her old alien enemy like the Minotaur in the labyrinth of legend.) We learn the name of the Alien species – the Xenomorph (interestingly, both Ridley Scott and Michael Fassbender are using that term to describe the Alien in interviews promoting the new film. James Cameron pulled off a similar trick in Terminator 2, another contender for best sequel of all-time, naming the liquid metal T-!000 a “mimetic poly-alloy.” T2 is making a welcome return in summer 2017 in a new 4k 3D version supervised by Mr Cameron.) The original Alien life cycle was based on an African wasp which lays its eggs under the skin of humans before the hatch out. Cameron expands this concept by making the Alien species a hive organism with a giant queen laying eggs at the apex of the hierarchy. Cameron even names the Alien planet LV-426. (They’re on LV-223 in Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott again paying homage to the superior sequel Aliens.) The weapons and futuristic forklifts the space marines use delighted audiences with their ingenuity.

The film was shot at Pinewood Studios in England and the British crew gave Cameron a hard time as they thought they were making an inferior sequel to a British director’s classic original. They even dubbed Cameron “Grizzly Adams” at one stage. Cameron said: “The Pinewood crew were lazy, insolent and arrogant. We despised them and they despised us. The one thing that kept me going was the certain knowledge that I would drive out of the gate of Pinewood and never come back.” If you’re wondering why Cameron painted the Brits in such a bad light in Titanic, now you know.

 

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It was also a difficult shoot for Sigourney Weaver using flame-throwings, shooting weapons and having to carry two heavy guns strapped together and the child Newt on her hip. Weaver injured her back from it and you can tell from the way she struggles to run from the Alien Queen near the end.

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Jim Cameron was responsible for so many shoot-‘em-up moments in the 80s; The Terminator’s single-handed destruction of a police station, John Rambo’s single-handed destruction of the Viet Cong, the Soviets and the team of Nixonian American mercenaries who double-crossed him and left him for dead. He does it again in the finale of Aliens when Ellen Ripley lets rip with flame thrower, machine gun and grenade launcher to decimate the hated Alien Queen and her precious eggs. (Ripley has lost her daughter and denies the Alien Queen the right to be a mother also, a perfect and clever fusing of character arcs by Cameron.) Strange that by Avatar in 2009, Cameron’s heroes are a blue Smurf-like race worshipping a glowing tree like hippies on another planet. (There are FOUR sequels to Avatar coming in the next decade, folks. So prepare to make more love and not war, man!)

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As with the team of mercenaries in Rambo: First Blood Part II (co-written by Cameron), the team of colonial marines in Aliens are a bunch of arrogant jerks that get taught a lesson later in the film. The late, great Bill Paxton, back with Cameron again after a brief Terminator appearance, adds so much humour and energy to the film, even ad-libbing the line “Game over, man, Game OVER!” (his voice cracking with emotion on that last line brings the house down.) Most actors would try to steal scenes by being macho; Paxton does it by being a hysterical (and hysterically funny) coward. It’s a brilliant performance from a fine actor. RIP, Bill.

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Another Cameron regular, Michael Biehn, is a commanding presence and potential love interest for Ripley. He replaced James Remar not long into shooting and is a welcome addition to the film.

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In 1992, a director’s cut of Aliens appeared adding 17 additional minutes to the running time.

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That was the same year we got the shoddy Alien 3 and those extra 17 minutes were a soothing balm to seething fans of the franchise. All the characters we loved from Aliens were callously and stupidly killed off in the opening minutes of the third film. It immediately threw away any chance of being a worthy follow-up right then.

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Concept art for a possible fifth Alien movie

(Neill Blomkamp has proposed a fifth Alien film which ignored the disappointing third and fourth entries and continues where Aliens left off. James Cameron has approved the concept while Ridley Scott has shot it down saying it will probably never happen. Meanwhile, Ridley continues with his perplexing and unnecessary prequels. Not many people want them, they want the sequel that should have been but it seems as if it will never happen now. Fox need to give the audience what they want instead of forcing them to accept the opposite. Scott is doing what George Lucas did with Star Wars essentially; he directed the original but the sequel is better as with The Empire Strikes Back. Now, decades later, he is unwisely returning to direct a series of unwelcome prequels that only serve to remind us how great the first trilogy was and make us long for it again.)

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I’ll go see Alien: Covenant, but I’m not holding out much hope for it or the franchise. The prequels seem to be explaining too much about the Alien, robbing it of its mystique. We don’t need to know the xenomorph’s backstory, it’s a slimy monster that’s going to get you. That’s all we need to know. Fear of the unknown is the key to great horror films, but movie studios are determined to squeeze every drop of cash out of a franchise. Let’s hope they see sense and give us the one we really want – Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 5.

© Stewart Stafford, 2017. All rights reserved.

Further Reading

Nightfall by Stewart Stafford

The Vorbing by Stewart Stafford

Stewart Stafford’s Quotes

The Weird and Wonderful World of Richard Matheson

The writer Richard Matheson was born to Norwegian immigrant parents in New Jersey on February 20th, 1926. He had his first story published when he was eight years old. After graduating from high school, he joined the army, serving in the US infantry with the 87th Division in France and Germany during World War II. His experiences of warfare formed the basis of his 1960 novel “The Beardless Warriors.”

After the war, he studied journalism at the University of Missouri and moved to California. Summer 1950 saw Matheson make his first real mark as a writer when his short story “Born of Man and Woman” was published in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and drew attention. It had the kind of frightening science fiction themes that became Matheson’s trademark and was the first of dozens of short stories he would publish over the next two decades.

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“I Am Legend” from 1954 was his first published novel and is probably his masterpiece (it was voted the best vampire novel of the 20th century by the Horror Writers Association in 2012) A daring deconstruction of the vampire legend, it flips the whole narrative on its head by making the last man alive the destructive predator that vampires fear and despise as he systematically wipes them out by day following a futuristic plague.

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It was adapted for film as “The Last Man on Earth” with Vincent Price in 1964, again as “The Omega Man” in 1971 with Charlton Heston and, more recently, in 2007 with Will Smith.

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The book may have been about vampires but its main theme was loneliness and there are few better books about that subject. As the main character Neville is alone most of the time, it’s a difficult story to write but Matheson does a great job of keeping the reader engaged with his solitary hero in his nightmare world. “I Am Legend” also served as the direct inspiration for classic zombie movie “Night of the Living Dead”, giving birth to a whole new genre of film, almost as if the vampire pandemic gave birth to zombies.

He was also a successful television writer, penning episodes of “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” and “Star Trek” as well as numerous western shows.

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His 1956 novel “The Shrinking Man” (filmed in 1957 as “The Incredible Shrinking Man”, which Matheson also wrote the screenplay for) has been ripped off by everything from “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids” to last year’s “Ant Man.” It had its New York premiere 60 years ago this week in February 1957. In 2009, “The Incredible Shrinking Man” was placed in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, this accolade is only given to films that are “aesthetically, historically or culturally significant.”

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“The Twilight Zone” seemed made for Matheson and another famous story of his, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, was filmed for the show among others. It concerned a nervous flyer (played by William Shatner in the 1963 TV show and John Lithgow in the Twilight Zone movie twenty years later) who is convinced a demon is smashing up the wing of the passenger plane he is on during a vicious thunderstorm. No one believes him, even when he saves the lives of everyone on board by trying to kill the creature and forcing it to flee.

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The Simpsons did a parody of this story in one of their Halloween specials where Bart Simpson sees a demon dismantling the wheels of the school bus he’s on. Demonstrating how his stories are so ingrained now in popular culture.

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In 1968, he adapted Dennis Wheatley’s novel “The Devil Rides Out” for Britain’s Hammer Horror films. It is one of the best British horror movies ever made and features Christopher Lee in one of his finest roles as a man battling the forces of darkness.

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His nerve-shredding TV movie script for “Duel” became Steven Spielberg’s first film in 1971.

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Other Matheson novels made into films include “Bid Time Return” which became “Somewhere in Time” starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour (arguably a big influence on “Back To The Future” and “The Terminator”), “What Dreams May Come” with Robin Williams, “Stir of Echoes”, a supernatural horror film starring Kevin Bacon and “Real Steel”, a sci-fi action movie about fighting robots with Hugh Jackman.

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He once said: “I wrote about real people and real circumstances and real neighbourhoods. There was no crypt or castles or H.P. Lovecraft-type environments. They were just about normal people who had something bizarre happening to them in the neighbourhood. I could never write about strange kingdoms. I could never do Harry Potter or anything like that.”

Assessing his career, he said: “I think ‘What Dreams May Come’ is the most important (read effective) book I’ve written. It has caused a number of readers to lose their fear of death, the finest tribute any writer could receive. … Somewhere In Time is my favourite novel.”

His daughter and two sons also became writers.

Richard Matheson died in June 2013. He left behind a significant body of work including dozens of novels, short stories, TV show scripts, TV movies and movies both adapted by him from his own work and adapted by others. Writer Ray Bradbury called him “one of the most important writers of the 20th century.” While Stephen King claimed Matheson was the writer who had influenced him the most. Another writer called Harlan Ellison praised his “supernova lifetime of writing mentioned in the same breath with Poe and Borges.” That is about as good as it gets.

I’ll leave the final word to Mr Matheson: “I hope people are reading my work in the future. I hope I have done more than frightened a couple of generations. I hope I’ve inspired a few people one way or another.” You certainly have, sir, you certainly have.

(“The Vorbing”, my vampire novel inspired by Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend” is available here)
© Stewart Stafford, 2017. All rights reserved.