Curiosities of my Colombo neighbourhood 2

 

The Ozo Hotel is a recent addition to Colombo’s Indian Ocean-skirting Marine Drive and stands only a few minutes’ walk away from where I live.  Predictably it’s plush and expensive – by Sri Lankan standards, anyway – but I’ve eaten some decent food there and in the evenings its fourteenth-floor ON14 bar is an agreeable venue where you can sip cocktails, or in my unsophisticated case, beer, around a rooftop swimming pool whilst admiring the light-speckled nocturnal cityscape below.

 

The hotel seems to be in love with snappy, to-the-point names incorporating lots of capital letters and numbers.  As well as ON14 there’s a ground-floor eatery called EAT2GO and on the same floor are various facilities billed as SPOT, TALK and CONNECT.  I assume CONNECT refers to the Internet facilities there but heaven knows what SPOT and TALK are.  Maybe they just mean that the lobby is the place to spot people and talk to them.

 

Anyway, all these names are displayed on the hotel’s elevator system.  SPOT, TALK and CONNECT are listed next to the big ‘G’ that represents ‘ground floor’.  SPOT tops the list, right next to the G…

 

Oops.

 

 

So bear this in mind, ladies, if you ever visit the ON14 bar one evening.  Should you meet a guy there who’s talking about locating the G-spot, he may not be proposing a fumbling gynaecological quest for the Gräfenberg spot, that “erogenous area of the vagina that, when stimulated, may lead to strong sexual arousal, powerful orgasms and potential female ejaculation.”  (I’m quoting from Wikipedia here for the sake of biological accuracy, not because I don’t know what the G-spot is.)  Maybe’s he just talking about taking the elevator down 14 floors.

 

Oh God, it’s Rod

 

(c) Rolling Stone

 

I have resisted the temptation to take a peek (or as they say in Scotland, a keek) at footage of the opening ceremony for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, which was held the other day in Glasgow.  This is because, from the snippets about it I’ve read in the news media, it was a bit of a cringe-fest.

 

For example…  Susan Boyle forgetting the lyrics to Mull of Kintyre, a ballad so simplistic I’d always assumed a monkey would manage to knock it out after a couple of days of being shut up in a room with some sheets of paper and a typewriter…  Battalions of wee kids running around, pretending to be Tunnock’s Teacakes…  John Barrowman being, well, John Barrowman…  The Red Arrows dousing the sky with red-white-and-blue smoke, the colours of the Union Jack, and discreetly not omitting the red smoke – because that would leave only white-and-blue smoke, the colours of the Scottish saltire, and with the referendum on Scottish independence just two months away the Ministry of Defence didn’t want to do anything that might encourage Scottish nationalist sentiment.

 

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/uk-defence-secretary-blocked-red-3909504

 

(Oddly, during the Iraq War, the MoD was happy enough to put the saltire on leaflets distributed among the locals southwest of Bagdad when soldiers in Scotland’s Black Watch regiment were stationed there.  This was in the hope that those soldiers might be perceived as being different from unpopular American and ‘British’ forces.  So the MoD’s thinking regarding the saltire seems to be: use in illegal wars mounted by Tony Blair and resulting in 100,000+ deathsGOOD; acknowledging Scotland at a major sports competition, held in Scotland, where Scotland competes as a separate countryBAD.)

 

 (c) BBC

Courtesy, P. Smith

 

To be honest, the uninspiring but tourist-friendly, a-bit-crap-but-cheerful tone that seems to have pervaded the ceremony (again, from the bits I’ve read about it) was as much as I’d hoped for from the powers-that-be in Glasgow, a place that seems to have been under the dominion of the Scottish Labour Party since the late Bronze Age.  My expectations were low because: (1) the Labour city fathers of Glasgow were never going to attempt anything too rousing or imaginative – on the scale, say, of Danny Boyle’s opening for the 2012 Olympics in London – for fear of giving Scottish people ideas above their station and, again, tempting them to vote for independence in the referendum; and (2) with its few remaining ‘big hitters’ like Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander based down in Westminster, the gene pool of the Labour Party in Scotland is pretty shallow these days.  (I mean, have you heard Scottish Labour Party leader Johann Lamont try to construct a coherent sentence, let alone a coherent argument, in TV interviews recently?  Jesus Christ…)

 

Still, I’d have thought that no one involved in organising the ceremony would be so numpty-ish as to wheel on Rod Stewart to sing at it.  But they did.  Rod Stewart.  Rod bloody Stewart!

 

Now I’m not going to go into matters of Rod’s ethnicity and question his right to perform at the biggest sporting event held in Scotland in a generation.  He was born in London and whenever he opens his mouth he sounds like a dodgy geezer involved in a complex heist operation in Bethnal Green in a Guy Ritchie movie.  But his dad was from north of the border.  And even if he had no Scottish ancestry at all, if he wants to call himself Scottish, that’s fine by me.  However, there is the inescapable truth that, for a good long time, his music has been rubbish.  Lowest-common-denominator, soft-rock-singalong rubbish.

 

Sure, he was great between 1969 and 1975 when he was the frontman for the Faces, but there was never any chance of Ronnie Wood, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones joining him onstage in Glasgow for a Faces reunion – especially as one of those guys is now dead.  But since the mid-1970s his career has been woeful in terms of quality, even if he has managed to shift ‘product’ by the lorry-load and made a fortune, which I suppose is what matters to him.  If the masses want endless, raspy wave-your-cigarette-lighters-in-the-air dirges like Sailing or You’re in my Heart, then Rod is the man who’ll happily provide them.  “Rarely has a singer had as full and unique a talent as Rod Stewart, rarely has anyone betrayed his talent so fully,” commented Rolling Stone magazine in 1980, rightly.

 

The nadir came in 1978 with Rod strutting around to a vaguely disco-y beat and singing Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?  The answer to that questioningly-titled song is, of course, an emphatic two-letter word.  The same two-letter word I would fire at Vladimir Putin if he stood up at a karaoke machine and started singing Don’t You Want Me, Baby?  Or at Imelda Marcos if she stood up at one and started singing Let’s Spend the Night Together.

 

That said, although I can’t stand Rod’s rendition of it, Do Ya Think I’m Sexy can’t be that bad a song in itself.  For there is at least one version of it in the world, sung by somebody else, which always brings a smile to my face.  Here it is:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZ-RiV6l_Q8

 

Now why couldn’t they have had him singing at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games?

 

Come on doon, Mr Broon

 

(c) The Guardian

 

With just two months to go until the referendum on whether or not Scotland should become an independent nation, it’s interesting to see what narratives have emerged in the mainstream media.  Or to give it its unofficial title, the pro-Unionist, pro-‘no’-vote media – for only the Glasgow-based Sunday Herald newspaper has so far come out in favour of a ‘yes’ vote.

 

One narrative holds that all the abuse related to the referendum currently flying around the Internet and the Twitter-sphere is being directed by ‘yes’ supporters towards ‘no’ supporters.  That’s because those kindly, peace-loving ‘no’ supporters, whose number includes members of the far-right British National Party and Scottish Defence League, Nigel Farage and his Europhobic, immigrant-phobic chums in UKIP, those bowler-hatted, Pope-fearing gentlemen in the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland and people who take everything in the Daily Mail as gospel truth, would never say a nasty word against anyone.

 

Another narrative holds that Scotland, if it was foolish enough to vote for independence, would be immediately expelled from the European Union and made to wait for decades in a long queue for membership behind more prosperous and stable countries like Kosovo and Albania.  And probably Somalia, South Sudan and North Korea too.  Alright, those last three countries aren’t actually in Europe, but surely the powers-that-be in Brussels would sooner let them into their club than let in the political, social and economic hellhole that an independent Scotland would undoubtedly be.

 

Meanwhile, another narrative has recently emerged.  This one concerns Gordon Brown, son of a Scottish kirk minister, school pupil at Kirkcaldy in Fife, graduate of Edinburgh University and Labour Prime Minister of Britain from 2007 until 2010.  Gordon, it seems, has stepped into the limelight again to take part in the Scottish referendum debate.  Not only that, but he’s galvanising the ‘no’ campaign with bold proposals about how Scotland could remain in the UK, confident and proud, under a federal arrangement that sees all four home countries have a healthy dollop of self-government whist staying ‘British’.  And allegedly people in Scotland are lapping up his words because, unlike in England, where poor Gordon was and still is regarded as a hapless clod, the Scots have massive amounts of respect for him.

 

Writing in the Guardian late last month, columnist Jonathan Freedland opined: “North of the border he is seen as a national heavyweight, the last of a leadership class that included the late Donald Dewar, John Smith and Robin Cook, and is therefore automatically granted a hearing.”  And in the New Statesman just the other day, the Daily Mirror’s associate editor Kevin Maguire gushed about Gordon’s continuing in-tune-ness with the Caledonian mind-set.  Reviewing a new book by the ex-PM about his native land’s constitutional future called My Scotland, Our Britain, Maguire wrote of how “Brown poses one of the greatest threats to the nationalist cause, through his popularity in Scotland and his conviction that his country thrives in partnership with the rest of the nation.”

 

I have to say that all this is news to me.  I’ve lived in Scotland on and off during the time of his premiership and during the four years since David Cameron evicted him from Number 10, Downing Street, and I can’t say I’ve experienced much of the Gordon-love that’s supposed to prevail.  The Scots certainly haven’t spent the post-Brown years humming the mournful Jacobite ditty Will Ye No Come Back Again? whilst tearfully envisioning poor Gordon as a latter-day Bonnie Prince Charlie.

 

Yes, they got annoyed at how, when he was PM, right-wing English newspapers, politicians and rent-a-gobs would sometimes lay into him on account of his Scottishness.  Most notoriously, that petrol-headed Neanderthal Jeremy Clarkson once described him as a ‘one-eyed Scottish idiot’.  And yes, they did prefer him to Tony Blair.  But then again, they’d prefer anyone to Tony Blair.  You could genetically engineer a human being with spliced-together DNA from Robert Mugabe, Simon Cowell, Donald Trump and Darth Vader and he’d be more popular than the smug, smiling, lying, warmongering, mass-murdering Tony Blair.

 

For one thing, I can’t see how anyone in Scotland could be bursting with love and affection for Gordon Brown when, between 2010 and very recently, they’d hardly seen hide or hair of the man.  Although he’s still Member of Parliament for the constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, his attendance record at Westminster has been dire.  By the end of October last year, he’d appeared in the House of Commons to speak just half-a-dozen times.  He even missed last August’s vote on whether or not Britain should intervene militarily in Syria, an event where surely a former PM should have rolled up and pitched in his tuppence-worth.  As his local news website Fife News Online commented at the time, “It is the most basic duty of an MP to turn up and represent his or her constituents when there is a decision on whether or not to go to war.  Unless there was a grave family emergency, Mr Brown, as the most recent ex-Prime Minister and the current MP for Kirkcaldy, had a duty and an obligation to be there.”

 

And then there’s the fact that Gordon’s proposals for Britain being reconstituted as a multinational state with four separate parliaments are, to be honest, a load of flannel.  There isn’t the remotest possibility of federalism being offered by the Conservative or Labour Parties, whichever one of them wins the next British general election, and south of the border there’s little appetite for the setting up of a purely English parliament – which is a shame, as I believe English people are as ill-served as anyone else by the current, centralised, out-of-touch and generally up-its-own-arse system at Westminster.  In fact, would the denizens of the House of Commons, and those well-heeled ones in the House of Lords, ever agree to a new political structure that would greatly reduce their powers?

 

To paraphrase the New Testament: I say unto you, it is easier for Alex Salmond to go through the eye of a needle.  Or for George Osborne to enter into the Kingdom of God.

 

Then there’s another conundrum.  If Gordon believes federalism is such a terrific idea, why on earth didn’t he try to enact some of it when he had the power to do so, as Prime Minister?

 

No, I’m highly sceptical of old Gordon’s motives in this.  I’m afraid I find myself agreeing, for once, with those Hooray Henrys who write for the right-wing Spectator magazine.  One of them sneered at his recent entry into the Scottish-referendum debate and speculated that, since the opinion polls indicate that the ‘no’ side is most probably going to win, Brown was clambering onto the ‘no’ bandwagon at this point as a low-risk way of helping to rehabilitate his reputation.  With a majority of Scots voting to stay within the UK, he could then claim that his late intervention had helped to save the day – even though the vote was going that way anyway.

 

And as for the claim that all Scottish people love Gordon Brown made by Kevin Maguire, a native of South Shields in Northeast England, and by Jonathan Freedland, an out-and-out southerner who was educated in Hampstead and Oxford, I can only put this down to ignorance and overgeneralisation.  Maybe Maguire and Freedland think this is so because Gordon is big, dour and grumpy and looks a bit like Shrek.  And as everyone knows, that’s how they all are up in Scotland – big, dour, grumpy and looking a bit like Shrek.  Including the ladies.

 

(c) Dreamworks

 

Detours into dystopia

 

(c) Warner Brothers

 

A little while ago I read The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s troubling 1985 novel about a near-future USA where the religious right rule the roost.  Society is militarised, elitist, patriarchal and supposedly puritanical.  The majority of women are either kept as domestic servants or kept as ‘handmaids’, i.e. veiled and isolated receptacles into which the male members of the elite pour their seed during brutal sex rituals in a desperate effort to propagate the species – the ladies of the elite are too old and / or too genetically damaged to reproduce healthily themselves.  Late on in the book, we learn too that some women are kept as hostesses / prostitutes in gaudy out-of-the-way brothels because the elite’s menfolk, no matter how Christian, Bible-quoting and sanctimonious they are, still have certain needs, urges and desires to satisfy.  Because they’re still blokes, after all.

 

I have mixed feelings about the ‘academic’ epilogue that Ms Atwood tags on at the end of the book but overall I found it an impressive, if depressing, piece of work.  When I finally set it aside, I decided it was good enough – and spiritually bad enough – to feature among the best pieces of dystopian fiction I’ve ever read.  And that set me thinking.  If I had to name my favourite dystopian novels, what would they be?  What books would make my top dystopian dozen?

 

(c) Vintage

 

Firstly, though, I will define my terms.  By dystopian fiction I mean a story set in a society that’s gone seriously off the rails – either because of hellish political oppression of some fashion, or because of a natural or man-made cataclysm that’s suddenly turned life into a frantic scramble for survival.  It has to be set at least a little way into the future, not in the present.  Otherwise, Graham Greene – whose novels were commonly set in totalitarian or failing states (or in a combination of both, as in The Comedians) – would be king of the dystopian hill.

 

There’s also the issue of location.  The horribleness described in a proper dystopian story, for me, has to be widespread, if not global.  Therefore, books like William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies or J.G. Ballard’s High Rise, where the societal breakdown takes place respectively on an island and in a tower block, don’t qualify because they’re too localised in scale.

 

I will disqualify novels where the setting for the story is pretty grim, but that’s all the dystopian element is, a setting.  It’s a backdrop against which a character-filled, twisting-and-turning plot takes place.  We gets glimpses of bad stuff in the background, but we’re more interested in the narrative and in the psychology of the characters who populate it.  So for that reason I will exclude William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  In a proper dystopian story, the world is in an awful state and that state has to be at the forefront.  The setting has to be so vivid that it becomes an important character itself in the story, if not the most important character.

 

And finally, I will leave out novels where, yes, present-day society has met its nemesis and collapsed, presumably bloodily and destructively; but where the narratives take place so far in the future that they feel like fantasy or fairy stories.  The settings are so distant and fantastic that there’s little or no link with our own world, and the reader isn’t really disturbed by the thought of what happened to civilisation between now and then.  So that means H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and Brian Aldiss’s Hothouse are both out.

 

Anyway, here are my literary-dystopia top twelve:

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.

The Death of Grass by John Christopher.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

The Iron Heel by Jack London.

I am Legend by Richard Matheson.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

1984 by George Orwell.

Fugue for a Darkening Island by Christopher Priest.

Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham.

 

A few books that are regarded as classics of dystopian writing aren’t on the list because, simply, I haven’t read them yet.  These include P.D. James’s Children of Men, Doris Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor and another Atwood novel, Oryx and Crake.  I’ve seen the film version of Children of Men, however, and thought it was pretty darned good – despite Clive Owen being in it, acting on autopilot.

 

Another novel I haven’t read that might have been a contender is Harry Harrison’s meditation on the threat of human overpopulation, Make Room! Make Room!  This was also made into a film, the 1973 Hollywood production Soylent Green, which added mass cannibalism to Harrison’s story.  I remember one critic making an interesting observation about Soylent Green.  He noted that the American filmmakers seemed not to realise that the crowded, impoverished world they were showing was actually real life (apart from the cannibalism) for many people living on the planet in the 20th century.  Hence, the film didn’t really reflect American fears about the end of the world.  It reflected American fears about the USA becoming just another, bog-standard poor country.

 

But to the list itself.  Some of my inclusions are predictable – Orwell, Huxley, Burgess, McCarthy.  A number of J.G. Ballard’s novels could easily have made the list, like The Drought and The Crystal World, but I’ve chosen The Drowned World because it’s the first and perhaps most famous of that sub-genre of surreal, psychological and hallucinogenic post-disaster novels that Ballard pioneered and made his own.  Many people would argue that Richard Matheson’s I am Legend is really a horror novel, a vampire one, but the apocalyptic plague Matheson describes is given a scientific rationale; so it could happen, just about.

 

(c) Penguin

 

Nowadays it’s fashionable to knock Day of the Triffids because of the middle-class cosiness of its characters – their personalities manage to remain decent, upstanding and Radio 4-ish even after 99% of the population have been blinded and giant, mobile, flesh-eating plants have invaded the streets.  And even some of Wyndham’s admirers might argue that The Chrysalids and The Kraken Wakes, both of which feature dystopias of their own, are better books.  But I think Day of the Triffids deserves its place in the list because of its impact on popular culture.  The word ‘triffid’ has entered the English language.  I’ve heard it used to describe everything from a tangled, noxious-looking weed in someone’s garden to the condition of Helena Bonham-Carter’s hair.

 

On the other hand, I’ve picked John Christopher’s The Death of Grass and Christopher Priest’s Fugue for a Darkening Island because they offer an antidote to Wyndham’s cosiness.  Both books have characters who start out as respectable middle-class English types, but whose personalities undergo a breakdown as violent and frightening as that wrought on the societies around them.  Fugue, which was written in 1972 and which is probably regarded as a minor book in Priest’s canon, seems particularly chilling in 2014.  It sees Britain go to hell after a nuclear war breaks out in the developing world and the country gets swamped by desperate refugees.  In the 21st century, if climate change — as most scientists warn — wreaks environmental and economic havoc on certain parts of the globe, there could be a lot of refugees on the move very soon.

 

(c) Panther

 

Incidentally, my brother, who works in the building industry, once told me that while he was attending a health-and-safety seminar about the dangers of asbestos, the speaker mentioned Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  He said that in 1953, as a publicity gimmick, the publisher Ballantine produced 200 numbered and signed copies of Fahrenheit 451 that were bound in asbestos – the joke being that, in a future society where are books had to be burned, these 200 copies of the novel couldn’t be burned.  Obviously, at the time, people were unaware of the links between asbestos and lung cancer.  Now that sounds like a truly dystopian book – one that tells a story about a totalitarian future society whilst having the power to induce a dystopian-style breakdown inside the reader’s body.

 

http://io9.com/5988144/limited-edition-of-fahrenheit-451-was-bound-in-asbestos-so-it-wouldnt-burn

 

Time waits for no Ramone

 

From cutoutandkeep.net

 

When I read today of the death of Tommy Ramone, original drummer with that great, no-nonsense New York punk band the Ramones, my first thought was, “God, is that another one of them gone?”

 

Time waits for no man, or woman, of course.  And one of the most dispiriting things about becoming middle-aged is that you start to notice how the musical icons of your youth – folk like Joe Strummer, Stuart Adamson and Ronnie James Dio, who didn’t seem that much older than you were when, as a kid in the 1970s, you saw them on TV on Top of the Pops or in the pages of Sounds or the New Musical Express – are dying off in ever-increasing numbers.  But even compared to other bands of the era with unusually high death-rates among their members, like the New York Dolls or the Pretenders, the Grim Reaper has been particular merciless with the Ramones.  Joey Ramone expired in 2001, Dee Dee Ramone in 2002 and Johnny Ramone in 2004.

 

When I saw Motorhead play a gig in Newcastle-upon-Tyne ten or eleven years ago, the band included a cover of a Ramones song in its set.  Singer Lemmy introduced the song in a disgruntled tone of voice: “We keep saying we’re never going to play another Ramones song again.  But then another of the bastards goes and dies on us, so we have to do another Ramones song, as a tribute.”  (Although Motorhead are a heavy metal band, and the Ramones were a punk band, the two outfits were very similar in that they always served up a hard, fast, no-frills sound that was exactly what their fans wanted.)  I suppose that when Motorhead play Crocus City Hall in Moscow on the 25th of this month, Lemmy will be, reluctantly, leading the band into yet another Ramones cover – Pinhead or Blitzkrieg Bop or whatever – this time as a tribute to poor old Tommy.

 

Actually, with Tommy Ramone’s passing, that’s the entire original line-up of the band now dead.  All its founding members are no more.  There are, however, four other Ramones still on the go, all of whom joined the band at later points in its history: Marky Ramone, Richie Ramone, C.J. Ramone and Elvis Ramone – Elvis Ramone being Clem Burke, the drummer with Blondie, who played as an emergency-substitute drummer at two Ramones gigs in August 1987.  That’s a tenuous link, but in my book it’s still good enough for Burke to have Ramone status.

 

I got to see the Ramones once, during their Adios Amigos tour in 1995, which was billed as their farewell tour.  The gig took place at a venue called Xanadu in the Japanese city of Sapporo on Wednesday, 25th October, and it was a superb and rather moving occasion – at the end of the final encore, when Joey Ramone said, “Adios amigos!” and walked offstage, a number of thirty-something Japanese guys with long hair, dark glasses, black leather jackets and skinny jeans promptly burst into tears.  At the time, I didn’t really believe it was their farewell tour – surely, like nearly every other band in the world, a few years after they’d supposedly disbanded, they’d get back together again because they’d have tax bills, divorce settlements, etc., to pay off?  But of course that didn’t happen – Joey himself was dead six years later.  So I’m bloody glad I took the opportunity to see the band when I did.

 

 

Incidentally, if you’re a lover of 1970s punk rock music and you’re ever in Berlin, you should pay a visit to the city’s Ramones Museum.  Yes, that’s how cool Berlin is – it has a museum dedicated to the Ramones.  This is possibly due to the fact that Dee Dee Ramone was the son of an American soldier and he spent part of his boyhood in Berlin, where his father was stationed for a time.  And punk generally was big in Germany in the 1970s, especially in East Germany, despite it being frowned upon by the authorities there.  (Punks in Great Britain only had to deal with the hostility of Mary Whitehouse, a few excitable tabloids and the occasional, violent Teddy boy.  In East Germany, they had to deal with the hostility of the Stasi.)

 

Among the many exhibits in the museum are this poster for the Adios Amigos tour of Japan – yes, that’s how I was able to identify the precise day and date that I saw the band in Sapporo.  There’s also a front page from the 19th August, 1976 edition of the local Glasgow newspaper, the Evening Times, which featured a shock-horror report about the band’s song Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.  The Evening Times announced it was backing a campaign by Scottish Labour MP James Dempsey to have the song and the LP it appeared on banned, in case it encouraged youngsters to abuse solvents.  (Read about the controversy here: http://rippedandtorn.co.uk/punk-rock-news/now-i-wanna-sniff-some-glue/.)

 

 

Among many other things, the Ramones appeared in the 1979 Roger Corman movie Rock ‘n’ Roll High School – although this was made shortly after Tommy had left the band and been replaced as drummer by Marky Ramone.  If you’re in the right frame of mind, this is possibly the greatest rock-and-roll movie ever made.  You can’t not like a movie that has the Ramones, P.J. Soles and Dick Miller in it.

 

(c) New World Pictures

 

Near the end, when the Ramones perform the title song and the school gets blown to pieces, Miller (playing the local police chief) says despairingly of the band, “They’re ugly, ugly people!”  But they weren’t ugly, of course.  They were beautiful.

 

 

Kingsley goes green: book review / The Green Man, by Kingsley Amis

 

(c) Penguin

 

I can claim to be neither an expert on nor a fan of Kingsley Amis.  While I’ve enthusiastically worked my way through the fiction of several of his contemporaries – Anthony Burgess, William Golding, Graham Greene – until recently I’d read only a couple of Amis’s short stories and one of his books, Lucky Jim.  The latter was an early (1954) example of the literary sub-genre now known as the ‘campus novel’ and I have to say I found it pretty dated and unfunny.

 

I suspect the main reason for my aversion to Kingsley Amis, though, is the persona he projected when he was alive.  He didn’t seem like a nice piece of work and so I rarely felt an urge to dip into his writing.  In the 1950s he trumpeted his support for the Labour Party but by the 1980s he’d become an enthusiastic fan of Mrs Thatcher.  He seemed to me pretty typical of major figures in Britain’s arts and media establishments whose politics undergo a severe rightward turn during their lifetimes.  Socialist egalitarianism and liberal permissiveness are great things when you have youth (and a lack of material possessions) on your side.  But when you reach a point in your life when you’re too old, and too moneyed, to benefit from them  any longer, and when a younger, upstart generation arrives on the scene with their own ideas about how to do things, it’s time to change into reactionary old fart and deny those freedoms you once enjoyed to anyone else.

 

But far worse than Amis’s Conservatism was the fact that in later years he seemed unashamedly anti-Semitic, racist and misogynistic.  I’ve read an interview with his long-suffering second wife Elizabeth Jane Howard (who died at the beginning of this year) in which she, rather gallantly, blamed much of that nastiness not on Amis but on his fondness for alcohol.  In other words, his odiousness was really just the drink speaking.  However, I can’t help thinking of an old saying they have in Northern Ireland: “If it’s not in you when you’re sober, it won’t come out of you when you’re drunk.”

 

Still, I have one reason for liking Amis, and that’s because unlike nearly everyone else in Britain’s snobbish literary establishment at the time, he didn’t look down his nose at genre writing – he was openly supportive of it and dabbled in it himself.  For example, Amis was one of Ian Fleming’s most heavyweight admirers and it’s fitting that, after Fleming’s passing, he was the first person to write a non-Fleming James Bond novel, Colonel Sun (which he published in 1968 under the pseudonym Robert Markham).

 

Amis was also a big fan of science fiction and in 1960 he wrote a critique of the genre, New Maps of Hell.  As J.G. Ballard noted, New Maps of Hell was important for science fiction’s development because Amis “threw open the gates of the ghetto, and ushered in a new audience which he almost singlehandedly recruited from those intelligent readers of general fiction who until then had considered science fiction on par with horror comics and pulp westerns.”  Predictably, though, the curmudgeonly Amis went off science fiction in the 1960s when younger sci-fi writers like Ballard, Brian Aldiss, Michael Moorcock, Roger Zelazny, Harlan Ellison and Thomas M. Disch started going all experimental and New Wave-y on him.  Before long he was raging at how those whippersnappers had contaminated his beloved science fiction with horrible things like “pop music, hippie clothes and hairdos, pornography, reefers” and “tricks with typography, one-line chapters, strained metaphors, obscurities, obscenities, drugs, Oriental religions and left-wing politics.”

 

Amis seemed too to be interested in supernatural stories and in 1969 he tried his hand at writing one, a novel called The Green Man.  This has long been a neglected entry in Amis’s oeuvre, overshadowed by more prestigious books like Jake’s Thing (1978) and The Old Devils (1986), out of print and near impossible to find in bookshops.  It was, however, adapted into a three-part drama serial by the BBC in 1990, with the script written by none other than Malcolm Bradbury, an author whose own books like Eating People is Wrong (1959) and The History Man (1975) were examples of the campus novel that Amis had helped pioneer with Lucky Jim.  The TV version of The Green Man starred the splendid Albert Finney and it began with a memorable and grisly sequence that didn’t evoke Kingsley Amis, or Malcolm Bradbury, so much as it evoked Sam Raimi’s 1981 classic schlock-horror movie The Evil Dead.

 

(c) BBC 

 

Unfortunately, when The Green Man was televised, I was in the middle of moving from London to Essex and I didn’t get a chance to see its second or third episodes.  However, I was impressed enough by the first episode to make a mental note to set aside my prejudices against Amis and hunt down the original novel of The Green Man sometime.

 

Recently, nearly a quarter-century later, I noticed a new edition of The Green Man sitting on a shelf in a bookshop, bought it and finally got around to reading it.  So here are my thoughts about this particular foray by Kingsley Amis into the realms of the paranormal and macabre.

 

The Green Man is narrated by the fifty-something Maurice Allington – the character played by Albert Finney in its TV adaptation – who owns and runs an inn of some antiquity, the titular Green Man, on the way from London to Cambridge.  Living on the premises with his second wife Joyce (his junior by a number of years), his teenage daughter Amy and his ailing father, Allington is unnerved when the hoary old ghost stories associated with the inn over the centuries start to intrude on reality.  In particular, he has several encounters with the ghost of Thomas Underhill, a supposed sorcerer who lived in the building in the 17th century; and he senses the presence of a more monstrous apparition, a demonic creature that Underhill once summoned up from the local woods to destroy his antagonists.  The inn’s name is a clue to this demon’s constitution.

 

Allington eventually realises he’s become enmeshed in a scheme that Underhill has devised to transcend his own death.  However, his attempts to outwit the ghostly sorcerer are hampered by his own failings: his ill-health, his liking for the bottle – to which, of course, his family and friends attribute his strange visions – and the distractions posed by his carnal appetites.  Not only is the lusty Allington engaged in an affair with another younger woman, Diana, who’s the wife of the local doctor, but he’s devised a less-than-noble scheme of his own.  He wants to persuade both Joyce and Diana to participate with him in a ménage à trois.

 

I hadn’t got far into The Green Man before I’d realised that both the book’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness are its characterisations.  Amis does an excellent job of sketching Allington, with his many vices and virtues.  He’s annoyingly conceited, intellectually as well as socially.  Talking about his book collection, he says sniffily: “I have no novelists, finding theirs a puny and piffling art, one that, even at its best, can render truthfully no more than a few minor parts of the total world it pretends to take as its field of reference.  A man has only to feel some emotion, any emotion, anything differentiated at all, and spend a minute speculating how this would be rendered in a novel… to grasp the pitiful inadequacy of all prose fiction to the task it sets itself.”  Allington, in fact, is a poetry snob.  “By comparison… verse – lyric verse, at least – is equidistant from fiction and life, and is autonomous.”

 

(Actually, his love for the poetic and his disdain for the more mechanical medium of prose remind me slightly of the late 19th century / early 20th century occult writer Arthur Machen, who speculated in his fiction that supernatural phenomena are best perceived by people with receptive intellects and imaginations – the very young, the insane and the poetically-inclined.  Perhaps that’s why, of all the people living, dining and drinking in the Green Man, the verse-loving Allington is the one with whom the supernatural intelligence of Thomas Underhill makes contact.)

 

Meanwhile, feminist readers will no doubt feel like strangling Allington on account of his baser musings.  “Ejaculation,” he comments at one point, “as all good mistresses know, is a great agent of change of mind and mood.”

 

And yet as a bundle of contradictory traits – stuck-up, sexist, cynical, drunken, cranky, comical, cunning, occasionally courageous and very occasionally principled – Allington is a believable figure in this story.  He might be a hapless mess of vanity, lust and booze, but at the book’s finale, when he rushes out of the inn and into the night to try to save the sleepwalking Amy from the predatory green man, we aren’t surprised that he shows a streak of heroism as well.  Incidentally, with hindsight, it’s easy to see why Albert Finney was ideal for the role in the TV version.

 

But on the other hand, Amis is hopeless at drawing believable female characters here.  Joyce and Diana give little impression of having minds of their own.  They seem like manifestations of Amis’s notion of what women should be like – statuesque, well-bred and utterly pliable to the needs of the local Alpha Male.  “Together,” says Allington, “they made an impressive, rather erectile sight, both of them tall, blonde and full-breasted…  Dull would he be of soul that would pass up the chance of taking the pair of them to bed.”  In their speech, meanwhile, they spout irritating upper-class adverb-adjective couplings: “jolly closed up”, “perfectly awful”, “frightfully exciting”, “damn good”.  Late on in the book, Allington’s devious ménage à trois plan backfires and Joyce and Diana get their revenge on him, but this isn’t enough to convince me that they’re anything more than Kingsley Amis’s idea of desirable posh totty.

 

Elsewhere in the book, predictably, we’re treated to a list of things in the modern world (or at least, the 1960s) that the grumpy, ageing Amis finds appalling.  He sounds off against radical students: “First one whiskered youth in an open frugiferous shirt, then another with long hair like oakum, scanned me closely as they passed, each slowing almost to a stop the better to check me for bodily signs of fascism, oppression by free speech, passive racial violence and the like.”  He rails against popular music: “Amy’s gramophone was playing some farrago of crashes, bumps and yells from her room down the passage…  I listened, or endured hearing it…”  He has a go at trendy vicars: “I found it odd, and oddly unwelcoming too, to meet a clergyman who was turning out to be, doctrinally speaking, rather to the left of a hardened unbeliever like myself.”  Readers will either find this aggravating or endearing.  Now that Amis has been dead for nearly twenty years, and I’m in the process of turning into a grumpy old man myself, I have to confess I found it rather endearing – more so than I would have if I’d read the novel in my youth.

 

Failures in female characterisation aside, I generally enjoyed The Green Man and I had more fun reading it than I had with Lucky Jim.  However, is the novel successful as a ghost story?  In my opinion, for a ghost story to succeed, it needs to convey a degree of believability.  If I can be lulled into thinking, however fleetingly, that this could be happening, I’m more likely to be affected, unsettled, even frightened by it.  On this account, Amis’s book almost succeeds.  For the most part, he convincingly moves the plot from being about a man whose home has some strange old tales attached to it to being about a man who has to deal with the unwelcome, ghostly protagonists of those tales.  To facilitate this jump from the credible to the incredible, Amis adds some persuasive background details.  A section where Allington visits a library at Cambridge University in search of a long-lost journal by Underhill has a scholarly believability that’s worthy of M.R. James.

 

Alas, all is betrayed by a scene near the novel’s climax where Amis goes too far and introduces another supernatural character, the most famous and powerful supernatural character of the lot – guess who it is.  Now any story involving ghosts has implications about the wider scheme of things.  It makes life after death a fact, which raises questions about the design and purpose of the universe and about the intelligence that might be behind it.  However, for the sake of believability, it’s advisable for ghost-story writers to keep things localised and small-scale.  In M.R. James’s celebrated short story Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, my Lad, for example, what’s important is that the hero is being pursued along a beach by a terrifying supernatural entity.  Not that this entity’s existence calls into question our scientific assumptions about the universe – because if it does exist, then scientists are likely wrong and all the priests, magicians and shamans of history were likely right.

 

Amis, unfortunately, can’t resist exploring the universe he’s created in The Green Man further than is necessary and so Allington ends up having an unexpected visit from the Big Man Himself.  Their confrontation resembles something from the classic 1946 Michael Powell / Emeric Pressburger fantasy movie, A Matter of Life and Death.  And that’s what The Green Man promptly becomes, a fantasy rather than a ghost story – a story that’s no longer believable and hence no longer scary.

 

J.G. Ballard once said of Kingsley Amis: “as with so many English novelists he was vaguely suspicious of the power of the imagination: it could be too much of a good thing.  Yet the radical imagination is what we seek in a writer; when we read we want to encounter a very different world that will make sense of our own.”  Ironically, the problem with The Green Man is that in the end, and atypically, Amis lets his own imagination run away with him.  The book would have been more effective if – like those English novelists whom Ballard complains about – he had decided that too much imagination here is a bad thing.

 

By David Smith, from The Guardian

 

You can, by the way, watch Albert Finney strut his glorious stuff in the BBC’s adaptation of The Green Man on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdK93bYG6gE.

 

Colombo’s National Museum

 

 

The National Museum of Colombo – or to give it its more grandiose title, the Sri Lanka National Museum – is not the biggest or most lavish museum I’ve been in, but it’s efficient enough if you’re looking for something in Colombo to occupy you for a few hours and if you want to learn a little about Sri Lanka’s history and culture over the last 3000 years.  Also, it plays an important role in a capital city where museums of any sort are scarce.  As the Colombo leisure and entertainment website www.yamu.lk says of it: “In terms of a functioning museum that actually makes an attempt to convey and display the history of this ancient island, there is only one but, actually, it’s enough.”

 

The National Museum was opened at the beginning of 1877 by Sir William Gregory, the British Governor of what was then Ceylon, after he’d been petitioned for several years by the Royal Asiatic Society.  The museum was, and still is, contained in a large white building that’s more Italian than British-colonial in architectural style.  This was the work of the builder Arasi Marikar Wapchie Marikar, who was responsible for a good number of historic buildings still standing in Colombo, such as the General Post Office, the Galle Face Hotel, the Clock Tower, the Customs Building, the Victoria Arcade and the Old Town Hall in Pettah.  It’s said that Arasi Marikar Wapchie Marikar, who was a Muslim, requested that the museum be closed on Fridays, the Islamic holy day.  The authorities honoured his wish for many years afterwards, although this seems to be no longer the case – according to the museum website it’s now open from 9.00 to 18.00 seven days a week, except on public holidays.

 

The museum building still looks very handsome, although when I wandered a little off-course, away from the displays and into a non-exhibiting part of the structure, I noticed water damage on the outside walls that’d been caused by leakages from the roof.

 

At the time that I visited, the upper floor of the sizeable exhibition area behind the entrance lobby was closed for refurbishment, which probably meant there was a lot I didn’t see.  Nonetheless, there was plenty still on view about such important components of Sri Lanka’s history as the Anuradhapura Kingdom (from 377 BC to 1017 AD), the Polonnaruwa Kingdom (from the 8th century to 1310) and the Kingdom of Kandy (from 1469 to 1815); displays of tools, utensils, furniture, weapons, carvings, sculptures, statues and paintings, augmented by written presentations, mock-ups and models.  Mind you, despite the presence of an elaborate working model, I’m still not sure how the Anuradhapura Kingdom’s irrigation system operated.  But maybe that’s just because I’m a bit stupid.

 

As for my favourite things in the museum…  Well, for a start, there are these intricate items carved out of ivory, which are gorgeous to look at so long as you can steer your conscience away from the thought of the elephants sacrificed to make them.

 

 

Then there are these giant bronze Bodhisattva sandals from the 9th century.  If you’re familiar with the legendary Scottish comedian Billy Connolly and you remember the ‘Big Banana Feet’ boots he wore onstage back in the 1970s, you’ll probably – as I did – immediately think of them as ‘Big Buddha Feet’.

 

 

And I was quite taken by this elaborately carved, crescent-shaped slab of stone, which back in antiquity formed the threshold-cum-ornamental-doormat for some grand building.

 

 

Further into the museum, the galleries upstairs were open and there I found a display of paintings.  Unfortunately, my entry into this section coincided with an influx – a seemingly endless influx – of children on a school excursion.  Thus, I wasn’t able to give the artwork my full attention because I was buffeted by what seemed to be an ocean of Sri Lankan school-kids, most of whom were keen to try out their English on me.  I did manage, however, to snap a few pictures of the paintings I particularly liked.  Inevitably, those paintings tended to be the more ghoulish ones.

 

 

Finally, out on one of the verandas is a collection of things I haven’t often seen in a museum.  Their absence from most of the world’s museums is puzzling, considering that they meet a basic human need that everybody succumbs to regularly.  On display here are several historical stone urinals.  And I found it refreshing that the National Museum of Colombo acknowledged that during history, yes, people had to go to the toilet sometimes.

 

 

Finally, the museum stands in some impressive grounds too.  The path leading from the gate to the entrance portico takes you past a humungous, rather mutant-looking banyan tree.  The shade of the tree would make a good place to sit down and read a book – if you feel sure that those dangling tentacle-like vines won’t suddenly grab you and snatch you away.

 

 

People who stunted my development

 

(c) Paramount Pictures

 

When I was a boy, there were no such things as PCs, computer games or the Internet to keep me inside the house.  For amusement, I had to go outside and play in a variety of locations that, thinking about it now, were a little bit dangerous – at roadsides and riversides, in derelict buildings and old sheds, and up on any roof or in any treetop I could manage to climb to.  I imagine most boys in the 1970s played in places like these, but I had an advantage.  I spent my boyhood on a farm, which was full of machinery sheds, hay-sheds, grain stores, slurry pits, silage pits, workshops and outhouses, and which was right next to a river and also right next to a busy road.  Perhaps it was this potential for injury and death in my play-area that prompted me, like most pre-pubescent males in the 1970s, to resolve that when I grew up I was going to be a film stuntman.

 

Appropriately, when I went fishing one day at the age of nine and fell off the riverbank, into the river, the way I recounted the mishap to my school-mates later made it sound like how Paul Newman and Robert Redford had jumped off the cliff and into the river in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).  This feat of derring-do, one of the most famous in cinematic history, had actually been performed by the stuntmen Howard Curtis and Micky Gilbert.  To be honest, the bank I fell off was only two feet above the water, and the water itself was only three feet deep, but in situations like these you’re allowed to use your imagination.

 

With comedic movies, when I became old enough to understand how films actually worked, I found myself less interested in the comic actors and actresses in front of the cameras and more interested in the writers behind them who’d thought up the jokes, sight-gags and funny incidents – people like Buck Henry, Mel Brooks and John Hughes.  (And I had enormous respect for people who both wrote and performed comedy, like the Monty Python team, Woody Allen and Christopher Guest.)  Similarly, I became less enamoured with action-movie stars when it occurred to me that, most of the time, they didn’t perform the breath-taking stunts featured in their films.  Those were done by unsung stuntmen and stuntwomen, who therefore were the people I should admire.  Indeed, I think if I’d been on the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, with my autograph book, I’d have ignored Harrison Ford and made a beeline instead for Vic Armstrong or Terry Richards.

 

Incidentally, that’s a big reason why I despise the 2002 James Bond film Die Another Day, which made heavy use of CGI during its action scenes.  It seemed a betrayal of all the stunt-work that’d distinguished the Bond movies during their previous 40-year history and an insult to all the stunt performers who’d contributed to them.

 

Last month, alas, Terry Richards died at the age of 81.  For any male my age who grew up with an enthusiasm for movies, his CV as a stuntman and bit-player is a roll-call of fond memories – two Indiana Jones movies, one Star Wars movie, two Superman movies, six Bond movies (seven if you include the 1967 swinging-sixties spoof Casino Royale, but God, do you want to?) plus The Dirty Dozen (1967), Where Eagles Dare (1968), Brazil (1985) and The Princess Bride (1987).

 

It must’ve been frustrating for Richards that the role everyone remembers him for, the Arab swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark, is one that didn’t involve much stunt-work.  In the original script, the swordsman had a lengthy battle with Indiana Jones, and so Richards worked for months beforehand on developing his sword-fighting skills.  However, on the day that the fight was to be shot, Harrison Ford was laid low by a severe dose of ‘the shits’.  Ford suggested to director Steven Spielberg that to keep filming brief, they should not have the fight.  Rather, Indiana Jones could just let the swordsman show off for a few moments by twirling his sword around, then whip out his pistol and shoot him.  In other words, one of the most famous sight-gags in the history of adventure cinema was the result of diarrhoea.  At least in the subsequent merchandising bonanza Richards got his own action figure.

 

While I’m on the subject, here are a few more of my favourite stunt-people.

 

(c) United Artists 

 

Born to a US ranching family in 1895, Yakima Canutt became a world-champion rodeo rider and by 1923 was involved in the fledgling motion-picture industry – inevitably playing cowboys in that instantly-popular genre, the Western.  However, he’d had his voice ravaged by flu during a two-year stint with the US Navy and he realised he couldn’t continue as an actor when silent films gave way to the talkies, and so he started to specialise in stunt-work.  Canutt ended up as stunt double for John Wayne, who claimed to have got many of his famous cowboy mannerisms – the strut, the drawl – from him.  As a cowboy, after all, Canutt was the real deal.

 

His most famous stunt is one he performed in 1939’s Stagecoach, in which he leaps onto a team of horses pulling the titular stagecoach, then falls between them, gets dragged along and then disappears under the stagecoach itself.  (This inspired the sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones is dragged beneath a German truck.)  Canutt later became a second-unit director and staged the chariot race in 1959’s Ben Hur.  And despite sustaining injuries that required plastic surgery on at least two different occasions, he lived to the ripe old age of 90.

 

(c) United Artists

 

Bud Ekins was a champion motorcyclist as well as a stuntman.  It was he – not Steve McQueen, as was believed for a long time – who rode the Triumph TR6 Trophy motorbike near the end of 1963’s The Great Escape, when McQueen’s character, pursued by half the German army, attempts to leap the giant fence that separates him from Switzerland.  (The famously petrol-headed McQueen did ride the motorbike during the preceding chase and was keen to perform the jump himself, but the filmmakers talked him out of it.)  That alone earns Ekins a place in the Ian Smith Stuntmen Hall of Fame, but he went on to do lots of other cool stuff.  He worked with McQueen again in Bullitt (1968), driving that film’s iconic Ford Mustang 390 GT, and he was also involved in Diamonds are Forever (1970), Race with the Devil (1975), Sorcerer (1977) and The Blues Brothers (1980).

 

Every time I’m on board a cable car and see another cable car approaching from the opposite direction, I wonder if I’ll see Alf Joint perform a suicidal leap from the roof of one car onto the roof of the other – for Joint was the stuntman who doubled for Richard Burton in 1967’s Where Eagles Dare when Burton’s character had to hop cable cars close to the fearsome Schloss Adler, the mountaintop stronghold of the SS.  Like many a great British stuntman, Joint’s CV is a roll-call of Bond movies (he made two), Star Wars movies (one) and Superman movies (three).  He doubled for Eric Porter, playing Professor Moriarty in the acclaimed 1980s TV series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, when the character plunged to his doom at the Reichenbach Falls; and for Lee Remick in The Omen (1976), presumably during the sequence when Ms Remick is pushed out of a hospital window and crashes through the roof of an ambulance passing below.

 

(c) MGM

 

I also remember Joint well for being the man who dived off a vertiginously-high cliff, into the sea, during a 1970s’ TV advert for Cadbury’s Milk Tray.  The Milk Tray Man was a Bondian character who’d perform all manner of death-defying feats in order to deliver a box of Milk Tray chocolates to a beautiful lady (with the final payoff: “And all because… the lady loves… Milk Tray.”)  But I always thought it was a bummer that Alf had go through all this just to bring some chocolates to a girl.

 

Also involved in Where Eagles Dare was Eddie Powell, a stuntman who seemed to divide his time between James Bond movies – he made eleven, including 1983’s Never Say Never Again, the ‘rogue’ production with Sean Connery – and Hammer Films, where he was a stunt double for Christopher Lee in movies like The Mummy (1959), Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966) and To the Devil a Daughter (1976).  For that last film, he also did a ‘full body burn’ stunt during a scene where satanic forces cause Anthony Valentine to spontaneously combust inside a church.  In addition, Hammer gave him a few acting credits, predictably eccentric ones, such as the lumbering, bandaged monster in The Mummy’s Shroud (1967) and the half-man, half-beast Goat of Mendes conjured up at a witches’ sabbat in The Devil Rides Out (1968).

 

(c) Hammer Films

 

Later in his career, Powell performed stunts as the titular, drooling, acid-blooded, multi-mouthed beastie in Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986).  He took part, for instance, in the first film’s engine-room scene where the alien lowers itself upon the hapless Harry Dean Stanton.

 

Strictly speaking, I shouldn’t mention William Hobbs here as he’s not exactly a stuntman.  He’s a fight choreographer, more precisely a sword-fight choreographer, and his work has enlivened many a swashbuckler over the years.  He directed the swordplay in The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974) and presumably had the difficult task of restraining Oliver Reed, who from all accounts threw himself into the movies’ fight scenes with the enthusiasm of a blade-wielding Whirling Dervish.  He also worked on Roman Polanski’s Macbeth (1971), Ridley Scott’s The Duellists (1977) and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985), for which he devised the samurai fights.  I generally can’t stand the 1980 Dino De Laurentiis production of Flash Gordon, but the sequence where Sam Jones fights Timothy Dalton on a platform while spikes erupt at random points and at random moments through its floor, again overseen by Hobbs, is one of the film’s few good parts.  I’m pleased to report that his Wikipedia entry says he’s still working today, on TV, arranging fights for Game of Thrones.

 

(c) United Artists

 

And now for a lady, the New Zealand stuntwoman Zoe Bell, who doubled for Lucy Lawless in the Xena: Warrior Princess TV show and for Uma Thurman in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies.  Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004) involved a stunt where a shotgun blast hurled Bell backwards – this did so much damage to her ribs and wrist that she spent months recovering from it.  But there were clearly no hard feelings between Bell and Tarantino because for his next movie, 2007’s Death Proof, he cast her as herself.  She plays a movie stuntwoman – called, yes, Zoe Bell – who turns the tables on Kurt Russell’s car-driving serial killer.  Tarantino shares my disdain for CGI and insisted that all the vehicular action seen in Death Proof was the real deal, including a ‘ship’s mast’ stunt where Bell straddles the hood of a speeding Dodge Challenger R/T with only a couple of straps to hang onto.  Since then, she’s done more gigs for Tarantino, both as a stuntwoman, in Inglourious Basterds (2009) and as an actress, in Django Unchained (2012).

 

(c) Dimension Films

 

Finally, no roundup of favourite stuntmen would be complete without mention of Vic Armstrong, who’s in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s busiest stunt double.  His filmography includes seven Bonds, three Indiana Joneses and three Supermen, plus a Rambo, Terminator, Omen, Conan and Mission Impossible.  Back in his youth, his resemblance to Harrison Ford was so striking that Ford once quipped to him, “If you learn to talk, I’m in deep trouble.”

 

Furthermore, Armstrong’s brother Andy, his wife Wendy, and a half-dozen members of the younger generation of the Armstrong clan all work in the stunt / special-effects business too – meaning that if stunt-people were gangsters, old Vic would probably be Don Corleone.

 

From www.cinemablend.com