Saturday, 27 October 2012

Five Thousand Blog Views

Well folks - My blog has been viewed five thousand times since I started it in February!


My new year's resolution was to do one blog entry a week for a year. I believe this one is my 36th, so I'm well on track. I can't remember what the purpose was when I started, but I think it had something to do with sharing my unique vision with the world. Now that I lead a hermit-like existence I am no-longer able to chew people's ears off at the pub with my relentless yabbering, so I now consider this to be my primary pointless-conversation outlet. It's probably a useful mental-health activity, too. It can't be healthy keeping this amount of bullshit to yourself!

In hindsight, it might have been a good idea to find out what a blog was before I started. I'm still not sure. I don't really read other people's blogs unless I stumble across them or else I'm personally directed to them by the author. I know enough about blogs to be relatively sure that five thousand views in nine months is not a particularly good strike-rate. I think it averages out to about one hundred and forty views per week.

I normally attack new projects with an unbridled enthusiasm coupled with unrealistic expectations - and my blog is no exception. Surely there would be an incremental amount of views every week as my fan base sky-rocketed? I naively thought that every one of my blogs would receive views every week, so by this reckoning I should now be celebrating a readership in the millions... Sadly, this has not been the case.

Those that know me well are aware that I'm prone to daydreaming and in my best-case scenario at the beginning of this project I expected by now to be some sort of internet-sensation with perhaps a book deal in the works, a weekly agony-aunt column in a major metropolitan newspaper and the likes of Rupert Murdoch and James Packer knocking down my door; desperate to secure my services to help them steer their media empires into profitability in the new millenium. I would smile and wave my hand casually dismissing Packer and Murdoch saying 'no deal - I'm an artist, not a businessman' - and they would skulk away dejectedly with their shoulders hunched.

Honestly, I think this integrity may have prevented my blog being more successful. One of my most popular blogs on a week-to-week basis was called 'The Tree - Gorillas in the Midst' which was about the invisible hierarchy that existed at my high-school. It wasn't a particularly great piece of writing, but when checking my statistics I noticed that a search for 'Silverback Gorillas' had brought people to my page. The story only has a passing mention of gorillas and a picture. I thought this wasn't fair to all the gorilla enthusiasts out there, so I deleted it.

My most popular blog by far has been about The Kinks and revolves around my love for the relatively obscure but excellent album 'The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society'. The Kinks' website 'Kinda Kinks' posted a link to my article which increased my readership about tenfold (for that week, anyway). If I was clever I would have just written about The Kinks every week, but this would have been against my different-story-every-week mandate.

Which is not to say I'm completely without a commercial sensibility. I've reviewed other albums such as 'Talking Heads '77', 'Modern Lovers: Live!' and 'Aaron Freeman's Marvelous Clouds' to relatively successful ends. In other instances I've even left in references to such obscure things as The Salvador Dali Museum, Bob Dylan, Tuxedo t-shirts and Party Zone Pinball because they lead readers to my page even though the blogs are ostensibly not about these subjects at all.

I must admit to writing about 'populist' subjects on several occasions just to see how it would affect the traffic to my site and while '500 Episodes of The Simpsons' was quite popular, other populist attempts such as 'My Thoughts on Prometheus' and the Star Wars-referencing 'Parents Against Light Sabres' proved less-so. It made me consider that a subject can be so popular that any writings about it can be simply lost in the deluge of internet garbage. Writing about subjects with a small but dedicated fan-base seems to produce better results unless you're a big-name writer or writing for a popular website.

Some of my favourite blogs have involved re-posting some of my stories I wrote as a child, such as 'The Beginning of Life on The Moon' and 'The Tin City'. I was literally in tears of laughter re-reading some of these, but I think some of the tears may have involved lamenting that my story-telling abilities have actually decreased since I was ten years old. I think I managed to successfully channel the spirit of the young Trevor in blogs such as 'A Portrait of The Artist', 'Thanks for the Advice, Gina' and 'Omega Man', which involved fictionally extrapolating real life scenarios. At least it seems I haven't lost my passion for science fiction and flights of ridiculous fantasy.

While statistics can be encouraging, they can also be frustrating, because you don't know exactly who those readers are. I often mention that I write a blog to friends to see how they react and am usually greeted by blank stares. This could be taken a number of ways:

1. They haven't read it.
2. They have read it and think it's awful.
3. They are dumb-struck by my genius.
4. There is a secret pact between my family and friends to stage an 'intervention' any day now to stop me from continuing this ridiculous and destructive pursuit.

Ultimately, I do this blog for myself, but I was recently surprised and perturbed to discover my wife doesn't regularly read my blog. She does ask about it, though and encourages me to keep going.

Other sources of encouragement I would like to thank are: Raychel Plath, David Hannah, Michelle Ransom, Karen Ludlow, Mum and Dad, Ben Corbett, Heinz Reigler, Chris Yates, Cameron Collie, Jo Thomasson, Debbie Winther, Cameron Allen, Matt Lobb, Dan Barrett and anyone else that may have re-tweeted or shared a link to this blog.

Finally here's a link to the trailer for 'Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II.' It's a steaming pile of shit, but it might inadvertently attract hapless readers.

I'll see you all next week!


Trev x

Friday, 19 October 2012

Trev's Halloween Horror-Movie Primer

I spend a lot of the day watching children's films with my four-year-old daughter. While I enjoy a lot of the films and even get a bit teary and emotional during some, I still like to spend my adult viewing time watching people be dismembered, possessed, stalked and tortured.

I love horror movies!

When I was a kid, I think I just wanted to watch horror films because I knew it was a taboo. It was also the early 80s and the golden age of VHS and horror films. Even today, nothing beats that grainy picture and warped sound you get from a tape that has been watched hundreds of times. I think it really adds to the macabre movie experience.

The first film I remember being truly terrified by was 'An American Werewolf in London' - especially the iconic practical-effects 'transformation' scene that was later appropriated by Michael Jackson for his 'Thriller' video. After countless horrific nightmares and waking up in cold sweats, it eventually dawned on me that the film was actually a comedy. Even more recently I was watching a re-run of it on TV and noticed that one of the evil townsfolk at the inn on the moors at the beginning of the film was Rik Mayall from 'The Young Ones'!

Our neighbours were a bit older than us and one weekend in the 1980s we spent an afternoon watching horror films at their house. This was a momentous afternoon in my horror education. This is where I first became aware of David Cronenberg's work through the film 'Scanners'. I later became a big fan of Cronenberg, but I will admit that Scanners is not his best film. It was visceral enough to get my attention at the time, though.

Another film we watched that left an impression, but has been almost universally forgotten since was 'Deadly Blessing'. I actually came across a copy recently for five dollars at a newsagent and noticed it was directed by Wes Craven who went on to do the 'Nightmare on Elm Street' films as well as the 'Scream' franchise. I didn't buy it - but in hindsight, it probably would have been worth it for the cover alone! My reasoning at the time was it probably hasn't held up too well and I didn't want to spoil my horrific memories of tiny flying orbs that would dig into your skull and then drill a hole in your brain! Some memories are too precious to taint.

I've never been a big Wes Craven fan, but I increasingly became a fan of David Cronenberg's over the years. It was when his version of  'The Fly' came out when I was in my teens, that the rusty penny in regard to horror films dropped once again. I read a review that stated 'The Fly' was an allegory for the AIDS epidemic and since that point I have re-evaluated a lot of horror films I loved and noticed subtext that I had missed previously. I came to realise that horror films weren't necessarily mindless violence after all!

Of course, horror films are not known for their subtlety and it now seems rather obvious that slasher films such as 'Halloween' and 'Friday the 13th' (which were made in the 1970s) were a reaction to the sexual promiscuity of the 1960s and 1970s. Usually in these films the promiscuous teens would get picked off first, followed by the stoners and various other delinquents until only the 'virtuous' teenage girl survives.

Other films have slightly more subtle messages. John Carpenter's 'They Live' and George Romero's 'Dawn of the Dead' are about rampant consumerism. 'Night of The living Dead' has themes regarding civil rights and a lot of 1950s sci-fi horrors including the excellent 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' concern the cold war. It seems most really good horror films reflect the fears of the time and even James Whale's 'Frankenstein', which is based on Mary Shelley's gothic classic, was updated to reflect the horrors of mutilated soldiers returning from war.

Really great horror films are able to tap into primordial fears, which is probably why a film such as the 1922 silent German expressionist film 'Nosferatu' (which is a thinly-veiled Dracula rip-off) still works so well. The dimly lit, grainy black and white really taps into that caveman-like fear of what is lurking just beyond the camp-fire light.

I suppose the dominant form of horror these days is known as 'torture porn' and I'm not really a great fan because a lot of the subtext is replaced with just a barrage of senseless violence designed to test an audience's threshold. This, in itself can be construed as a comment on the casual violence everybody puts up with from the media on a day-to-day basis, but as a viewer I often need a little more than that.

There are exceptions to the rule, of course and I think the film 'Hostel' is quite clever in the scene where sadistic rich people bid for the right to kill an American tourist. The tourist buys enough time to escape by saying something to his captor in his native German, which makes the captor hesitate. There are no subtitles and the onus is turned back on the audience (who are most likely westerners that speak only english) to consider that if they were in the same situation they would most probably die.

Although it is considered more of an 'art' film Michael Haneke's 'Funny Games' also toys with audience  culpability. The story concerns a home invasion by two psychotic youths. They perform various acts of torture and violence toward the family. There is one shot where one of the youths breaks the fourth wall and says something along the lines of 'this isn't going to end well' directly to the audience. He's basically daring you to keep watching, even though you know nobody is going to survive. I have to confess here that I only watched a further twenty minutes of the film. I couldn't see the point in taking the dare if you knew what the outcome would be. I'll try and watch the whole thing one-day, but I appreciate the film as a social comment.

Haneke actually made two versions of 'Funny Games' - one in his native Austria and a more recent Hollywood version. I must confess - I've only seen the Hollywood version. This is usually the case with me and even during the brief explosion of Japanese Horror, I really only managed to see the American version of 'The Ring'. My defence for not seeing the original is simple - I thought the remake was pretty good! Perhaps a lot of the defenders of Japanese horror are being overly precious, but I must admit to scoffing at the thought of seeing the Hollywood remake of the Swedish film 'Let The Right One In' because I think the original is a modern classic and shouldn't be tampered with. I admit to a double standard here.

Takashi Miike's 'Audition' is also quite an interesting 'torture porn' film. It's unusual because the first three quarters of the film are almost a gentle-romance, where a lonely businessman 'auditions' women for a film part that does not exist in the hope of finding a girlfriend, only to be excruciatingly tortured at length by the object of his affections during a the final 20 minutes of the film. Surely, this could be seen as a pay-back to all those 70s slasher films that dared to pass judgement on women's promiscuity?

Luckily, there seems to be a trend to more 'classic' storytelling in modern times and I quite like the recent films of director Ti West who made 'House of the Devil' and 'The Innkeepers'. West's films are almost a throwback to classic 1970s and 1980s horrors but probably with more of an emphasis of character development. I think he appreciates that you need to understand and care for a character, so it matters later in the film whether they live or die.

Another director I quite like is Guillermo Del Toro. His early horror film Cronos, which concerns a wind-up brooch that offers eternal life but turns the owner into a blood-sucking monster, is certainly unique, and while he went off the boil a bit when he made the Hollywood film 'Mimic', he certainly returned to horror-form with 'The Devil's Backbone' and, of course 'Pan's Labyrinth'. 'Pan's Labyrinth' is great because it can be taken as a fairy story, an escapist fantasy or a film about the brutalites of war. It's this blurring of the lines between what is real and imagined that I quite like, which is further explored in two Spanish films that Del Toro produced for directors JA Bayona 'The Orphange' and Guillem Morales 'Julia's Eyes'.

Perhaps Del Toro understands the link between fairy tales and horror. Surely, fairy stories, like horror stories, are designed to help audiences deal with and confront hidden fears. They may even help people  hide from the horrors of the real world. With this in mind, I reckon my daughter and I do not have such different tastes in movies after all.


Sunday, 14 October 2012

Here We Go!

I travelled to my spiritual home of Brisbane this weekend. The flight up and the return flight were both ridiculously early in the morning, so I abstained from partaking in my usual in-flight nerve-calming routine of downing a red wine, playing a sudoko and zoning out to my iPod due to societal pressure. In fact, I pretty much just fell asleep straight after take-off and didn't wake up until just before landing. It made me wonder if I had actually gotten over my irrational fear of flying.

I did, however, scan the faces of the flight attendants to try and detect any traces of fear behind the painted-on smiles. I also weighed-up the other passengers to see if I could defeat them in a fist-fight and scramble over their incapacitated bodies to the emergency escape hatches if the need arose. I never pay much attention to the safety demonstrations, but I assume they say something along the lines of 'every man for himself'.

My mind is usually drawn to the same morbid questions when I fly. 'Should I get life insurance?', 'Will my superannuation cover the lavish cost of my funeral?' and 'Will the person next to me be some dim-witted bore who insists on telling me their life story?' I do marvel at the wonders of flight - but I do so in the same way as comedian Steven Wright does. He said something along the lines of 'I don't think it's amazing that airplanes can fly through the air, I think it's amazing that you can sit there at 30 thousand feet and order a coke.' We have taken all the romance and wonder out of flying and simply turned it into a below-average dining experience.

I think my fear of flying comes from the flight resembling an existential allegory for life. Sure you can influence to a certain extent what happens in the cabin on a flight, but ultimately it is up to the captain to decide how long the flight will take and the final destination. I'm a nervous passenger in a car and in a plane I also feel the same lack of control. I, personally, would feel much happier flying the plane, but I think the rest of the passengers would be supremely less-happy.

No passenger wants the story of their flight to end like an episode of 'Air Crash Investigation'. I still remember one episode I watched in which the captain lost control of a massive 747. They played an extract from the black box flight recorder of the captain speaking seconds before the plane crashed - killing everyone on board - and the only three words he said in a relaxed but resigned tone were 'Here we go!' - it still sends chills down my spine.

When I turned 25, I thought it would be a good milestone to try and get a different perspective on the narrative of flight - so I decided to go sky-diving at Byron Bay. I thought it'd make me feel like I'd defeated my fears and gained control of my own destiny, but ultimately all it did was make me feel nauseous and realise that birthdays are really just a perfunctory number with no cosmic significance. Also - my friend John who went on the jump with me and went back to Brisbane first, basked in all the adulation for his bravery - even though I was the one who jumped first!

I wasn't always afraid of flying and I remember as a kid travelling to England when I was about seven. I loved it! I have fond memories of eating ice-cream, visiting the cockpit and receiving many souvenirs and smiles from the hostesses. I probably even wanted to be a pilot for a while, before realising how much attention in school it would require to achieve this goal.

I didn't really fly again until my early twenties. There were economic reasons for this because there was very little competition among airlines in Australia and it was simply too expensive. The major airline has always been Qantas but there were other major players who came and went over the years with the most notable being TAA. This, combined with my incredible poverty, did not eventuate in air travel being available to plebs like me until young guns such as Virgin Blue and Tiger Airways showed their faces on the scene - god bless you capitalism!

A notable and extravagantly expensive flight I remember taking in 1992 was to the first Big Day Out concert in Sydney. I think it was the first flight I had taken since I was a kid! I was hoping to be lavished with the same attention as I had back then, but the flight crew didn't seem to take as kindly to a drunk twenty-somethings who hadn't washed in three days as they had to a cute little seven year-old boy. Instead of ice cream and a visit to the cockpit, flight attendants looked nervous and tactfully asked passengers who were near us if they were interested in changing seats. They all gladly accepted this option.

Unfortunately, this flight seemed to set a precedent for future flights and when I travelled to Europe a few years later, I found myself trying to drink as much as possible. I blame Australia's love-affair with sport for this as The Australian Cricket Team in the 1970s always tried to set a record for how many beers they could drink on the flight to England. For interested readers who are keen to give it a shot - the current record is held by David Boon who drank 52 beers on a 30 hour flight!

I've played in rock bands since the early 1990s and it wasn't until the early 2000s that I found myself in a band popular enough to be able to afford air travel in Australia. This presented a whole new set of problems and life-lessons for me as a flyer. Like Boony before me, I soon came to realise that pacing yourself is very important. Especially if you're playing in several different cities in a very limited time period.

This was probably my most paranoid and pathetic period of air travel. One time after staying up all night in Melbourne, an early flight to Adelaide found me clutching an air-sickness bag for the majority of the journey. I wish I could say I learned something from this, but unfortunately I don't think I did.

Eventually I moved to Melbourne and left this rock and roll hedonism behind me, but as a traveller - and now a parent - I found there were still lessons to be learned. You have never experienced the true abject horrors of air travel until you've traveled with a child! I think parents have some respect from the flight attendants but the realities of dealing with a child in flight are very daunting. Children don't like the change in air pressure on a flight and other passengers are all-too-quick with advice for dealing with a child struggling to cope. This does not translate well to parents whose nerves are usually beyond-frazzled by this point and usually the only thing that stops me from attacking other well-meaning passengers is the embarrassment of being filmed by A Current Affair while being escorted by air marshalls following a mid-air incident.

On the return flight to Melbourne today I think I finally found some closure on my sins as an air traveller. I felt unusually blessed when I found I had a whole row of seats to myself and I was cheerfully looking forward to sitting crumpled in the corner with my sunglasses on listening to Townes Van Zandt. I was so involved with my own thoughts, that I didn't notice a woman had come and sat next to me. She eventually poked me enough times to get my attention and sheepishly asked if her young son could come and sit next to me. I didn't hesitate in saying 'of course!'. I had finally found some empathy for my fellow passengers and in doing so had somehow been forgiven for that Big Day Out flight and innumerable hung-over tours of the nation since.

My hope for the future is that I can complete the circle. I envison myself as an elderly pensioner wearing a hawaiian shirt and travelling to the moon eating a bowl of ice-cream. The flight attendant comes over to me, smiles and asks if I would like to visit the captain in the cockpit.

"No, That's okay", I will respond.

"I trust him."

Saturday, 6 October 2012

A Message from PALS (Parents Against Light Sabres)

As a parent, I'm concerned about violence in the galaxy and I believe there is no greater threat to the safety of our younglings than the so-called 'elegant weapon from a more civilized time' - the lightsabre.

Well I can tell you this, dear reader - there's nothing civilized about a lightsabre!

Crime statistics show that lightsabre-related maimings account for eighty percent of all known limb losses in this quadrant of the galaxy... and most of these have been inflicted by self-appointed policemen and spiritual leaders - 'The Jedi'.

'The Jedi' are, in fact, so insidious that they exploit not one, but two, archaic amendments to the galactic constitution. They claim, as part of their spiritual beliefs, that they are entrusted by some ill-defined 'Force' to be allowed to wield such weaponry. They also shelter under the second amendment which allows citizens 'the right to bare arms'.

Well, once the Jedi are through with their victims, they usually have no arms to bare!

How can we stop this Jedi scourge?

I'm sure we're all aware of the unfortunate incident in the Mos Eisley Cantina in which an elderly and confused Jedi managed to sever the arm of a young, aspiring starship captain who simply insisted that he didn't like the look of this old man's young friend. Surely we're all entitled to an opinion?

Did you also know that not even half an hour later - in the same cantina - a known associate of this old Jedi - a Mr Han Solo - managed to shoot and kill colourful local character and respected businessman 'Greedo' in cold blood?  Don't be confused by dodgy CCTV footage here, readers - Mr Solo definitely shot first!

The message we can take from this unwarranted bloodshed is that violence begets more violence and following this incident this doddering old Jedi was again briefly spotted duelling with Lord Vader before being fittingly (and mercifully) vaporised!

Unfortunately, one of the great wonders of our age 'The Death Star' was destroyed as a result of this man. He somehow convinced the weak-minded 'Rebel Alliance' to attack an unprotected thermal exhaust port which led to the space-station's destruction. Luckily engineers are working on a new Death Star as I write this.

The point is - if this old man hadn't possessed a lightsabre - then this incident might have been avoided!

Parents Against Light Sabres (PALS) suggests that all lightsabre users be registered. Any elderly users should also undergo a compulsory yearly competency test to ensure they still possess the faculties to use the devices properly. We don't let the elderly drive land-speeders without a yearly test, so why let them use a dangerous weapon?!

I know what you're all thinking - the Jedi are nearly extinct in this part of the galaxy, but I can assure you that their patent brand of civil disobedience and hokey mysticism is popular with certain degenerate members of the youth of Tatooine. We need to legislate lightsabre laws now to stem their use before we are over-run by testosterone-fuelled young men brandishing dangerous weapons.

Here is what PALS proposes to legislate to the Galactic Senate:

1. Make all 'light' emitted from lightsabres a dull grey colour. Studies have shown the bright assortment of colours in which lightsabres are currently available are attractive to a young demographic. We need to remove this appeal.

2. Similarly, the sound emitted from lightsabres has been deemed 'appealing to the ear' and even quite soothing. We need to either remove all sound completely from the devices, or else make sure they emit instead something like a comical 'honking' noise.

3. Make lightsabres non-lethal. There is no reason for any non-military citizens to use lethal force! PALS suggests instead that maybe lightsabres could 'stun' their victims and then maybe send an alert to any nearby stormtroopers or battle droids that can legally deal with the injured party.

4. Have an in-built hand guard. This should be obvious!

PALS needs your support to push these changes through the senate because, as we know, they never seem interested in any laws that don't involve trade tariffs. It has even been suggested that this bill will not go through because the prosthetic-limb lobby have a strong interest in keeping light sabres on the streets. More disturbingly, The Emperor himself and Lord Vader are rumoured to be practitioners of the ancient Jedi religion and are strong advocates for 'The Dark Side'.

God help us if this is true!

We believe that in this era of unprecedented military build up that public safety and the safety of families should be on the galactic agenda. It seems The Empire are so busy building defence infrastructure that they are ignoring public safety.

Worryingly it also seems that military training is not up to scratch and most storm troopers that come out of the academy these days can barely shoot straight and are little more than laser-fodder.

How are these soldiers expected to defend helpless citizens?

It's time to legislate against lightsabres now before it is too late!

Thanks for your support,