Thursday, 3 December 2009

A silent Sci-Fi classic

Discovered in the archives of the BBC, the original Star Wars directed by Cecil B. DeMille, that cad George Lucas has been passing it as one of his own for years, well the cats out of the bag now.
I'm sure this will go down in history as one of the great movies of the silver screen, and incredibly the whole film is actually 01.15 seconds. Just how it should be.

Turn down the lights and enjoy,

Roll film,

Lord Monty.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Moon over Oxford Street

So the clocks go back and the nights grow colder over the ancient cobbled lanes of Spitelfields. Its during this time that London draws itself together and its true persona emerges. This time of the year brings back fond childhood memories of watching old films showing London under a dark winter sky on a portable black and white TV set. My home town of Sheffield felt like a million miles away from the streets of London, and on my first visit to 'The Smoke' I half expected to see horse drawn carriages and pick pockets on every corner. I was right about the pick pockets.

This back drop has always been a breeding ground for tales of horror and with Halloween around the corner ( I wrote this bit a few weeks back sorry) we will once again be able to see the city portrayed on the silver screen in a re-make of the 1941 Lon Chaney, Jr classic The wolf man. This time set in Victorian England rather than Wales. London is painstakingly re-made as was in Sweeney Todd and From Hell. I hope this time the lovely street ladies look slightly grubbier, they always seem to get this wrong , its as if our soft dispositions would be offended by a pair of wooden teeth.

The funny thing is that this film is also set in my home town of Sheffield. Well not exactly Sheffield ( where hairy snarling ripped shirt fellows are common sight on a Saturday night ) but Chatsworth house, a stately home set in the peak district outside of Sheffield. A place I hold fondly in my heart, as it was the location of the first film I made as a young man. Well 'film' is not the correct word more like home video. Shot on a High 8 camera and involving a bunch of friends, some in drag. We re-enacted the battle of Agincourt, but instead what was created was more like a small disturbance involving men in dresses . We scared the tourist and was asked to leave the grounds. An award winning film it was not. Be we did have the for-sight to see the benefits of the location long before the likes of Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins did for the wolfman.

I digress.
Of course this is not the first time that London and the wolfman have howled under the same night skies. How can we forget the wonderful “An American Werewolf in London” Directed by John Landis with the brilliant brightly lit transformation sequence and the carnage that occurs in Piccadilly circus. Since watching this film I've never felt quite as safe catching the last train on the Northern line to High Barnet, but now rather than fearing the hound of hell I fear the blight of Amy Winehouse should she be prowling the platform at Camden Town post last orders.

London has always been a hunting ground for many a man-beasts. Take the wonderfully named 'Spring heeled jack' said to have existed during the
Victorian era and able to jump extraordinarily high. The first accounts of Spring Heeled Jack were made in London in 1837 and the last reported sighting is said to have been made in Liverpool in 1904, that was one hell of a leap.

Spring Heeled Jack was described by people claiming to have seen him as having a terrifying and frightful appearance, with diabolical physiognomy, clawed hands, and eyes that "resembled red balls of fire". One report claimed that, beneath a black cloak, he wore a helmet and a tight-fitting white garment like an "oilskin". Many stories also mention a "Devil-like" aspect. Spring Heeled Jack was said to be tall and thin, with the appearance of a gentlemen, and capable of making great leaps. Several reports mention that he could breathe out blue and white flames and that he wore sharp metallic claws at his fingertips. At least two people claimed that he was able to speak comprehensible English. In October 1837, a girl by the name of Mary Stevens was walking to Lavender Hill, where she was working as a servant, after visiting her parents in Battersea. On her way through Clapham Common, according to her later statements, a strange figure leapt at her from a dark alley. After immobilising her with a tight grip of his arms, he began to kiss her face, while ripping her clothes and touching her flesh with his claws, which were, according to her deposition, "cold and clammy as those of a corpse". In panic, the girl screamed, making the attacker quickly flee from the scene. The commotion brought several residents who immediately launched a search for the aggressor, who could not be found. The swine.

I should like to shed more light on Mr Spring Heeled Jack in a future blog as he has always been a favorite London villain of mine. In the mean time I leave you with the trailer for the forth-coming move 'The wolfman'

Rap up worm ,Toodle-pip

Lord Monty

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Holmes is that you ?

Holmes is once again to be brought to the screen. Its been quite a while since we have seen this London hero portrayed on film, but this time we see the darker side of Holmes ego. Gone is the deer stalker and cape, though the pipe remains we are left wondering what he is smoking. Plus the new film is supposed to explore Holmes homoerotic undertones. In the original books we find that Holmes has a disdain for woman, he perceives them to be weak of mind.The only woman who impressed Holmes was Irene Adler, who was always referred to by Holmes as "The Woman".To Holmes the only joy he gets from their company (woman) is the problems they bring to him to solve. Again in The Sign of Four, Watson quotes Holmes as saying, "I would not tell them too much. Women are never to be entirely trusted, -- not the best of them."

Maybe this homoerotic theory comes from the meeting of Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde in August 1889. The two met for dinner at the Langham Hotel ( Lovely hotel opposite BBC broadcasting house) at the invitation of American publisher J M Stoddart, who wanted them both to write for him murder mysteries. He commissioned from Arthur Conan Doyle what became the second Sherlock Holmes story, The Sign of Four, and he commissioned from Oscar what became The Picture of Dorian Gray. Allegedly Arthur became good friends with Oscar.

So will we see the cocaine addicted, self centered, cruel, lonely anti-social character of the book. A man who actually hates the human race for being nothing more than street rats, or the sophisticated charismatic character that he is normally portrayed as. The trailer feels like it a bit of both,but he’s also darker. This Holmes can plausibly be imagined as his own Moriarty. He’s a reminder of that other late-Victorian creation who continues to flourish as a popular archetype: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Holmes has been played by many actors all in their own way , the best for me being Basil Rathbone alongside Nigel Bruce as Dr Watson, in fourteen films from 1939-1946, as well as a number of radio plays. But for true Holmes fans Jeremy Brett is generally considered the definitive Holmes of recent times, having played the role in four series of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, for Granada Television. An interesting version of Londons favorite detective can be seen is Billy Wilder's The private life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), as the title suggests, the film is rather more concerned with characterisation than plot, which although entertaining and original, is hardly an adequate stage to show off Holmes' exceptional talents. Instead, Wilder and Diamond start with the premise that "Watson's" stories for Strand Magazine were a little more lurid than the "reality" and use it to develop a more subtle characterisation than the "thinking machine" of the literary Holmes. The film was originally going to be 3 hours long but was cut down by the studios to 2.Even with an hour hacked out by the studio, this film has it all: the last of the great Wilder/Diamond collaborations, terrific acting, beautiful location filming, and one of the most haunting movie soundtracks ever, featuring Miklos Rozsa's Violin Concerto. Not merely a nudge-nudge-wink-wink pastiche, this melancholy film pays homage to the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle source material while taking it to even greater emotional depths. And if that rip-out-your-heart-and-tramp-on-it ending doesn't get to you, nothing ever will. This is one of the great forgotten films of the 1970's, a perfect mixture of mood, character, and wit.

The strangest has to go to Peter Cook's portrayal, with Dudley Moore as Watson in a 1978 version of “Hound of the Baskervilles’’. Highlights include Holmes putting out a help wanted ad for a "runner of errands" and getting only a one-legged man to apply;and Dudley Moores interpretation of Wastson as a high pitched Welshman.To be honest the film is terrible but no worse than Micheal Caines interpretation, can someone please tell me if that man has ever made a descent film. He has to be the most overrated actor in the world after Tom cruise. In this version he of course plays himself. I half expect him to say to Watson, ' I only told you to blow the bloody doors off '

A short History of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and London:

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh in 1859. After leaving school, Doyle studied at medical school in Edinburgh and Plymouth and also undertook exciting voyages to the Arctic and West Africa as a ship's doctor.Whereas Holmes had a distinct mistrust of women and remained a lifelong bachelor, Conan Doyle was always something of a womanizer. In 1885 he married Louise Hawkins, the sister of one of his early patients who would give him two children.

In the early 1890s Doyle and his wife moved to London the city he described in one of his stories as "the great cesspool into which the loungers and the idlers are irresistibly drained" - and immediately set up practice as an ophthalmologist. His first home was in Montague Place, just around the corner from the British Museum, and not by coincidence Holmes' first rooms in London were described as being on nearby Montague Street. Today Montague Street is still a quiet street of whitewashed Georgian terraced houses and small hotels. A delightful pub, the Museum Tavern, which features in one of Doyle's stories The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle still stands across the street from the main entrance to the museum.

One of his earliest written efforts was written for a Christmas annual and became known as "A Study in Scarlet" the first Holmes story. The character of Sherlock Homes was supposedly based on Dr. Joseph Bell, a surgeon at one of the hospitals in Edinburgh, who was famous for his powers of observation. The name Holmes was probably inspired by the author Oliver Wendell Holmes; the name Sherlock supposedly from a boy who Doyle played cricket with at school.

Throughout his career he frequently complained that Holmes had taken over his life to the extent that his other achievements were overlooked. Doyle became so fed up with Holmes that he killed his character off in one of his stories called "The Final Problem." However, public outcry over the death of Holmes was so great even Queen Victoria was reputedly disappointed that Conan Doyle was forced to resurrect the detective and then plausibly explain himself. His other achievements were impressive indeed he fought in the Boer War, was a staunch advocate of spiritualism and wrote many excellent historical novels.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died from a heart attack in 1930 and was buried alongside his second wife in Minstead churchyard in Hampshire, some 80 miles from London, the city that gave him so much inspiration. The inscription on his grave describes him as a patriot, physician and man of letters. And what of Sherlock Holmes' grave? To thousands of people around the world, Holmes is a historical figure, rather than just a fictional character. Although if Holmes was a real person, the whereabouts of his grave is certainly a mystery equivalent to any he solved.

Forever Yours

Lord Monty

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Bartitsu: The Martial Art of Gentlemen

Its been a funny old year, as the pound in a pocket slowly turns too fluff, we await the rest of the year with anticipation. All around us the world seems to be falling apart, not even the second coming of Christ in the form of Obama can save the day. More people loose their jobs and it looks like we are on the brink of a revolution in the way we think of capitalism. Some where in Highgate cemetery late at night I'm sure that you can here the ghostly voice of Karl Marx saying I told you so.
With the rise of unemployment comes crime, so what better way to introduce you to a long forgotten martial arts that every gentlemen should be proficient in.

Before Randy Couture and the Ultimate Fighting Championship, there was Edward William Barton-Wright and bartitsu. Bartitsu was probably the first instance of what we know today as mixed martial arts. Mr. Barton combined elements of boxing, jujitsu, cane fighting, and french kick boxing in order to create a self defense system that could be used by discerning gentlemen on the mean streets of Edwardian London. It grew to such popularity that even Sherlock Holmes was practicing bartitsu in his mysterious adventures.

While bartitsu died in the early 20th Century, E.W. Barton left a legacy in the field of martial arts. What follows is a brief history of bartitsu as well as a guide to get you started on learning the martial art of gentlemen.

Bartitsu was created by William Barton-Wright, an English railroad engineer. Barton’s work as an engineer took him to Japan for three years where he was introduced to jujitsu. He studied the art at the school of Jigoro Kano. Barton must have been excited about what he learned. When he returned to England, he quit his career in engineering and opened up a martial arts school where he taught jujitsu.

In 1899, Barton wrote an article in the London based publication, Pearson’s Magazine, entitled “A New Art of Self Defense.” In it he set out his system of self defense that he called “bartitsu,” an obvious melding of his name and jujitsu. While bartitsu was based mainly on jujitsu, Barton explained in his article that the system included boxing, kickboxing, and stick fighting.

Barton opened a school called the Bartitsu Club. He brought in some of the best martial arts teachers from around the world to teach at his new school. Among these were Japanese instructors K. Tani, S. Yamamoto, and Yukio Tani as well as Pierre Vigny and Armand Cherpillod. One journalist described the Bartitsu Club as “… a huge subterranean hall, all glittering, white-tiled walls, and electric light, with ‘champions’ prowling around it like tigers.”

The popularity of bartitsu in England was widespread. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle even had Sherlock Holmes practicing “baritsu” (a misspelling of bartitsu) in The Adventure of the Empty House. Because Conan Doyle misspelled bartitsu, scholars of Sherlock Holmes were confused for years by the reference. (Note: Robert Downey, Jr. will be showing off his bartitsu chops in an upcoming Sherlock Holmes film. )

Bartitsu declined in popularity as rapidly as it had ascended. By 1903, the Bartitsu Club closed and most of its instructors established their own self defense schools in London. Barton continued to develop and teach bartitsu until the 1920s. Because of the lack of interest in his martial art, Barton spent the rest of his career as a physical therapist. He died in 1951 at the age of 90.

Bartitsu documentary

Like to thank The art of manliness website where most of the information regarding this long lost art was found. I'm sure they are happy that I'm trying to spread the word of such a manly art form.

Keep Calm
Lord Monty