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Friday 28 August 2009

Stephen Volk

Screenwriter, Noirmeister and all-round Good Guy Stephen Volk has a newly-launched web presence and you can find the new site here.

Stephen Volk is the creator of Afterlife and writer of the notorious Ghostwatch, the Halloween 'live' investigation of a haunting that scared the crap out of a nation and set the template for an entire genre of far less artful imitations. His theatrical screenplays include Gothic, directed by Ken Russell, and The Guardian, directed by William Friedkin.

(That's two famously batshit crazy directors to begin with... we can only hope that the Volkster will add a blog to the site, get drunk some night, weave his way to the keyboard, and spill the beans!)

Wednesday 26 August 2009

The Forgotten

We have a promo online, though I'm told that for the moment it won't play outside the US; if anyone comes across a live international link, please let me know.

UPDATE: With thanks to Hoppy Uniatz, I've replaced the link with one that should play worldwide.

The previous version, which offers higher resolution, is still available here.

The Dodgers, Christian Slater, and Me (2)

One thing I noticed at the ballgame.

Before the gates there are big signs listing all the things you're prohibited from bringing in. They include alcohol and weapons and there's a bag search to check for them.

As soon as you're inside, they'll sell you beer and a baseball bat!

Tuesday 25 August 2009

The Dodgers, Christian Slater, and Me

On Sunday I went to my first-ever ball game. The Dodgers vs the Chicago Cubs. Christian Slater was the day's celebrity first-ball pitcher, and he'd invited the cast and crew of The Forgotten to attend the game as his guests.

I dithered a bit, I admit... I'm not really a sports event kinda guy. But I'm so glad I went - it made a good break from deadlines and I had a really good time. I still know bugger-all about baseball and didn't even watch that much of the action, but the stadium atmosphere was great. Loads of kids and families and just a big, big buzz. It's like the game is just something to hang it on. Christian had bought VIP seats behind third base for all - we weren't all sitting together but nobody stays in one place for any length of time anyway. After I'd bought my Super Dodger Dog (all beef) I discovered that my ticket included complimentary food in the VIP suite.

I'd set out early thinking that traffic and parking would be a problem but the traffic was light and the parking lot so enormous that I just sailed in ahead of the crowds... though the rows weren't numbered by any system that I could make out, so I made myself a map as I went to be sure I'd be able to find the car again. Amongst all the stuff they put on the big TV before the game, they played trailers for the show.

The VIP boxes were right down at ground level and out in the brutal sunshine (I'd remembered to slap on the sunblock before I set out), so when I felt I'd endured being a VIP for long enough I went up to the middle of the tier to watch from the back in the shade, and from there on bumped into various co-workers including all our cast. I was sitting having a beer and catching up on stuff with with one of our executive producers, and I swear Adam Baldwin walked past.

The Dodgers lost the game. But they'd beaten the Cubs in the other games in the series during the week, so they still came out the overall winners. I left before the end to get out ahead of the traffic, and again got away with no problems. Drove back along Sunset Boulevard and through Beverly Hills. Flopped on the bed for an hour to sleep off the sun and the super dodger dog and to reset the brain for some work.

And hey. I'm a Dodgers fan now. I've got a hat to prove it.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

The Autry

I got to the Autry National Center of the American West in Griffith Park yesterday - looked as if there might not be much to it at first but it was good fun. Like a pocket version of the Cody museum in Wyoming. Even has a Buffalo Bill section, and a series of rooms dedicated to early western movies with an emphasis on B-movie cowboys. There was a corner of a case with Ken Maynard memorabilia - my dad's childhood hero. Felt like coming full circle.

One of the galleries houses an exhibition called Sparkle and Twang, a collection of Country Music memorabilia accumulated by Marty Stuart throughtout his career. Not a name I was familiar with. He started as a teenaged mandolin player with Lester Flatt's band (Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs played The Beverly Hillbillies theme and on the Bonnie and Clyde soundtrack) and played backing for Johnny Cash before he went solo. I wasn't expecting much but the collection's great - loads of gaudy and ludicrous stage clothes worn by various big names, handwritten lyrics by Hank Williams, Cash's first 'man in black' suit and an explanation of how he landed on the style, and various videos of just the right length.

It'll be worth another visit. I wanted to go in the bookshop but I was in the museum right up until closing time. Only just managed to see everything. The entrance to the LA Zoo is directly opposite.

Saturday 15 August 2009

Mystery and Imagination

In the comments section, Good Dog wrote:
...if you’re stuck for something to do next weekend, the Mystery & Imagination Bookshop at 238 N. Brand Blvd in Glendale is having a signing/celebration for Ray Bradbury’s 89th Birthday on Saturday 22nd, August starting at 1:00pm.

When I last stopped by (some years back) they were still in the tiny premises around the corner on East Broadway so I don’t know what the new location – a few blocks down from where Warner Bros Feature Animation used to be - is like. More space for a start, obviously. Still, the owners are really great people. They were certainly happy when I bought a fine hb copy of Harlan’s Strange Wine for $75.
The heads-up info is much appreciated. As it happens I found the M&I on my very first night in LA, which confirms my belief in some kind of supernatural karma-driven radar - Steve Jones had mentioned it to me in an email but I wasn't specifically looking for it, just doing that thing where you've landed and you're tired and wired at the same time, so you go exploring.

My motel was right by the Americana Mall, which has sprung up complete in the past couple of years and isn't a mall in the usual sense - that function's served by the enormous Galleria Mall that all but adjoins it. The Americana is a bizarre open-air retro small-town square, style of Disney, feel of Futurama, with performing fountains and piped Tom Jones and Dean Martin from speakers hidden in the street furniture. Some Angelenos seem to hate it but for me... well, I clearly have debased tastes because I thouight it was fun, not least because of the way that its enormous Barnes & Noble - about six strides from my motel - stayed open until 11pm.

The new M&I premises are maybe a five-minute wander up the street, with stuff to look at along the way. I can't say what the area was like before, but my impression is that North Brand has been given a boost by the development... maybe not a huge boost but it's created that fringe of cheaper-renting premises where the more interesting businesses are always found. And though, for some reason, town planners never get this, it's always those businesses - the stamp shops, the second-hand bookshops, the woman who makes her own jewellery, the bloke who fixes old watches - that make a place a destination.

The frontage looks like something out of a Bradbury or a Wells story. Once you're inside, the stock goes way back deep into the building and there's an upstairs room for readings and talks. And I got recognised! They asked me to add to their signature wall in the stairwell. I found a space and wrote big. I could barely get my ego out through the door afterwards.

I'm reaching a point now where the town feels like it's opening up to me, and instead of seeking out tourist high-spots I'm beginning to find those quirky little pleasures that don't need to feel like a 'day out'. They just call for an hour here and there.

So this afternoon I'm heading for the long flight of steps in Silverlake, up which Laurel and Hardy made repeated attempts to lug a piano in The Music Box. Not only are the steps still there, but some devotee with time on his hands has scrutinised the footage and established from cracks in the concrete that they're still the originals. Gonna walk 'em all, whistling and saying a silent thanks for hours of childhood pleasure.

And speaking of childhood pleasures, and while we're under the Mystery and Imagination banner... Network DVD have released all the surviving episodes of the '60s series of that name. It set an unmatched standard for television treatment of the supernatural and macabre.
This highly acclaimed anthology series presented a selection of Gothic tales by major 19th century writers. Among the adapted works featured in this collection are Robert Louis Stevenson’s nihilistic The Suicide Club, Sheridan le Fanu’s Uncle Silas, Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula and a commendably faithful adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. A distinguished cast includes Ian Holm (Chariots of Fire), Denholm Elliot (Indiana Jones), Patrick Mower (Callan) and Freddie Jones (The Elephant Man), who gives an astonishing performance as the demented barber, Sweeney Todd.
While checking their website for the link I noticed that in September Network will be releasing the Ted Willis-created Sergeant Cork, which I remember as a hugely atmospheric Victorian procedural.

Laurel and Hardy on Bob Monkhouse's Mad Movies, Sergeant Cork, Mystery and Imagination, The Avengers... my God. Is that what ITV Saturday nights used to be like?


Well, I found it. I parked on Sunset Boulevard, just across from what appeared to be a strip club, a one-story windowless building with no name but a neon skunk for a sign. In the dark and with the sign lit, the skunk's tail would be animated and would flicker back and forth. Pepe le Phew, perhaps? I have no idea.

The stairway begins about a hundred yards or so from Sunset. Where once it ran up a largely open hillside, it's now lttle more than a narrow alley with properties right up against it on either side. First thing I saw was a toilet bowl which had been dumped, along with a pile of ruined old suitcases, just behind where the nursemaid is standing in the picture.

But f*** it. They're the Music Box stairs! A blue civic signpost tells you so, top and bottom, and there's a small plaque let into the lowermost step honouring L&H.

I climbed to the top. The stairs there end at a street of houses that seem to have been built on shifting ground -- the sidewalks are buckling, the driveways are sagging, and perimeter walls are bursting outward under pressure from tree roots.

Of course, when I got up there I had that dorkish feeling. Because there was nothing for it but to check out the view and then turn around and go back down.

At which point I heard it - someone, no more than two or three houses away from the top of the steps - was practising the piano.


I didn't take any shots. But I did find this YouTube video made by someone else.

Thursday 13 August 2009

New Work, and Some Old Places

I'm thinking of going to the Gene Autry Western museum in Griffith Park this weekend. See if there's anything that helps my ideas for the new book.

(That's the new new book; the new book, a big historical in the same vein as The Kingdom of Bones and from the same Random House imprint, is written and wrapped and I'll have a confirmed title and a publication date to give you soon)

I picked up Richard Alleman's Hollywood: The Movie Lovers' Guide earlier this week. Loads of historic Hollywood sites and addresses with the history behind each - not really for your average tourist, who probably doesn't give a crap about where DW Griffiths' Intolerance set once stood, or the house where George 'Superman' Reeves shot himself (not far from where I'm living, it seems), but engrossing for some of us. Apparently the Bob's Big Boy Restaurant that I pass every day on my way to the studio is quite historic. As these things go.

And there's a closed apartment above the carousel on Santa Monica pier that was opened up and rented out to filmmakers in the 1960s, where Curtis Harrington shot NIGHT TIDE - a little B&W indie horror movie that no one's heard of and which took me years to track down, until Stephen Laws steered me to a copy. Dennis Hopper's first lead role and a story about an off-duty sailor who falls for a sideshow performer who may or may not be a real mermaid... if you know The Boat House, you'll know why I was drawn to it.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

PS Publishing Summer Sale

Pete Crowther is currently applying a walloping 60% discount to almost all of his back catalogue titles, which means that the hardcover editions of White Bizango and Out of his Mind can be had for ten quid (or sixteen dollars) each.

The indie presses often have to price their titles on the high side to reflect their high setup-to-volume costs, so this represents a really good deal.

The link for White Bizango is here.

That for Out of his Mind - winner of the BFS Award for best short story collection - can be found here.

Both books have covers by the amazing Chris Moore and Out of his Mind has an introduction by the great Brian Clemens. The White Bizango introduction is by the awesome Joe R Lansdale. According to the PS website, remaining stocks on each title are low - between 11 and 20 copies of each. Once they're gone, that's it.

Go here for the PS Publishing home page.

Go on. Go on.


Blog follower dvikib asked this question in the comments to Rockford Redux, and I thought it worth giving some prominence because it's another opportunity to direct attention to one of the best TV series the UK ever produced:

"I envy you that you were able to see the TV version of Callan. Amazon US recently added Callan: Set 1 (1970) for US DVD players. It's actually the 3rd season April-June 1970. Do you think a yankee would be able to follow the episodes without having seen seasons 1 or 2? I'm not concerned about accents or British slang (which I love) but sometimes it's hard to jump into the middle of a long running series. I realize the film quality might not be the best but I would love to see that character. Any thoughts would be much appreciated!"

When you say "the TV version" I'm inferring from your choice of words that you've maybe seen Callan: the Movie, which is the theatrical feature version of A Magnum for Schneider, which was the TV play from which the Callan series sprang... if you have then the boxed set will make perfect sense, and if you haven't I reckon you'll probably be ok with the boxed set anyway. They're pretty much standalone stories, and their 'world' is fairly self-explanatory.

And if you haven't seen the movie... well, there you go. One for your wish list.

The picture quality of the boxed set is that of old colour videotape -- hardly feature quality, but way better than the low-grade 16mm telerecordings that survive of the earlier series.

I have to say that the image at the top of this post is hardly representative of the show's gritty, downbeat tone, which is far closer to that of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold than to Bond. In fact, if you know the show at all, it's kinda hilarious.