Monday 30 April 2018

A Message for a Young Game Writer

This was originally posted 28th May 2017, the day after the Swansea Comics and Gaming Convention last year. This year's is happening this coming Saturday (5th May), where I'm going to be giving the panel on Finding Your Identity in RPGs. I never found out if this message reached its recipient. 

Yesterday I was once again fortunate enough to be present at the Swansea Comics and Gaming Convention. It was a lovely, friendly event, and Simon, Adam and Ricky ran a supportive, active and helpful team. Well done, guys. As I had last year, I gave a panel (inasmuch as it counts as a panel when you're the only one doing it) about first principles of rpg design. It was well attended and full of people who wanted to engage and participate. Afterwards, I got to have a lot of conversations with people who had really exciting ideas and got to sell a bunch of books too, which was nice.

Some time afterwards, though, as the event wound down, a young man approached me and handed me a note. He explained that his friend was at my panel and had wanted to ask some questions, but lacked the confidence to ask me face to face, and he asked me if I would write some answers for his friend. It was a lovely note and the questions were thoughtful, so I briefly dashed off a reply, but of course you never answer the way you want to, and some of the questions my anonymous audience member asked deserved better, fuller answers. I was moved by the note I received, and if you read on, you might understand why.

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Your Move, Darwin #5: Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

(Before I start, once more I owe a vote of thanks to Mark Talbot-Butler, who as before very generously furnished me with a copy of the extended version of today's film. It's much appreciated.)

Let's not pretend that people had stopped caring about the Planet of the Apes by this point. The toys were still being made, the comic books were selling just fine (and displaying a level of crazed invention all of their own, from the little I've seen) and people liked these films. They wanted more. We'd have a TV show, two in fact. But Hollywood worked differently back then: the idea that you might make a sequel bigger and more expensive, or commit to making about fifty-eleven superhero films in the sure knowledge that they're all going to be colossal critic-proof international hits, with a massive crossover at the head of it that isn't even the end of the line, no one in the industry forty-five years ago would have taken that seriously.

They stopped making Planet of the Apes films, as much as anything, because it was time to stop making them. It didn't set the box office on fire, but it wasn't a bomb. Sure, there were other reasons, of course there were, but there was the sense that as far as cinema was concerned, this was the end of the road.

And clearly every intention that informs Battle for the Planet of the Apes is for it to be a graceful finish, that you can look back and feel that the circle has been closed and the narrative is for all intents and purposes complete. It aims for a dramatically satisfying ending.

Does it supply a dramatically satisfying ending?

Friday 20 April 2018

Chariot II

So, once the book versions of We Don't Go Back, On a Thousand Walls and Cult Cinema are finished, I'm going to do a second edition of Chariot.

Funny thing about Chariot. I wrote it nearly three years ago now, I crowdfunded it, I laid it out, and I played it with my friends for a while, and then I put it away and did some other stuff. And you do, that's what you do, isn't it? You put it to one side.

And about eighteen months after I last looked at it, I looked at it again. And it's full of typos, which it would be, because no matter how good you are at proofreading, you don't proofread your own work; and some of the art I'm still happy with, in an outsider art sort of way, and some of it I'm less happy with; and some of the rules need to be explained more clearly and given better examples. I came up with a better way to do the card mechanics.

But for all that, I read this, and I thought, by God, this is good.

Thursday 19 April 2018

Cult Cinema, Appendix: God only knows what you're missing

See the Beginning Stages of... The Polyphonic Spree (2004)

1. So over the last week or two I've written about Tetsuo, Salò, Eyes Without a Face and The Skin I Live In. It's time to have a close watch of something that isn't traumatic, something easier, at least in some ways. Let's find something more affirming.

2. I know that I said I wasn't going to do documentary films in Cult Cinema. And I'm not. But a concert film, that's a slightly different matter, and this concert film in particular, that's different, too. Go with me here.

Monday 16 April 2018

The Question in Bodies #11: Still Ill, Part Two

The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito) (2011)

(Warnings: discussion of sexual assault, discussion of transphobia. Also, all the spoilers – the twists of this film are profound and strange, and in order to talk about the meaning of this film, I'm giving them all away.)

At the beginning of Les Yeux Sans Visage, Professor Genessier stands before an august assembly in the Paris of 1960 and delivers a lecture where he explains the difficulties facing anyone attempting a face transplant, and the constant danger of rejection, and the inadequacies of the present solutions. At the opening of The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito, and I'm using the English title here because – actually I don't know. I just am), Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) will stand before a similar gathering, now in the Toledo of 2012, and he will talk about the wonders of face transplants, and how he's done three himself, and what the future of the process might be.

Saturday 14 April 2018

The Question in Bodies #10: Still Ill, Part One

Les Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face) (1960)

So after the double of writing about Salò and Tetsuo, I thought I'd go easy on myself, introduce myself to something a bit easier to cope with, a little lighter, safer even. I know, I thought, I'll write about something older, one of the oldest films I have, because a horror film, even a horror film, from nearly sixty years ago can't be that extreme. Right?

I know, I thought, I'll watch Eyes Without a Face (or, if you want to give it its original French title, Les Yeux Sans Visage).

Those of you who are, unlike me at that point, familiar with Georges Franju’s demented opus, will no doubt be laughing at my deluded innocence. To be honest, I'm laughing at my deluded innocence. I mean 1960 was the year Psycho came out too, and it's not like it's a year of cinematic comfort exactly, so you should take this as a cautionary tale.

Still, 85 minutes of knuckle-gnawing later, 85 minutes of, at times, yelling at the screen OH HOLY CRAP NO, here I am.

Wednesday 11 April 2018

Ways I have been lied to

Ways I have been lied to include but are by no means limited to the following:

Tuesday 10 April 2018

The Question in Bodies #9: Listen. Listen.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

And third time in a row, we're back to Salò. I keep coming back to it, like I'm picking a scab. I have to. But I can't do it directly.

Just, take this away: this is the truth.

Monday 9 April 2018

The Question in Bodies #8: Industrial Penetration

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989); Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992)

(The usual warning: if discussion of extreme sexualised violence and mutilation is likely to disturb you, don't read any further, and don't ever watch Tetsuo.)

Some years ago now, I sat in my friend Jon’s home in East Ham, the now-legendary habitation on Clements Road, where I was staying for a weekend, and we had, as we sometimes do, a film marathon. And that night, we watched Eraserhead and Salò, back to back. The moments when, while watching Pasolini’s brutal anti-adaptation of 120 Days of Sodom, we began to dry-heave in a sort of grotesque balletic unison are engraved on my memory. At the end we agreed that we'd seen a great piece of art, and that neither of us ever, ever wanted to watch it again.

Then we watched Robocop, as a palate cleanser.

It was a great night.

I was reminded of that night while watching Shinya Tsukamoto’s two original Tetsuo movies, Tetsuo: the Iron Man (1989) and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992). Without the part about watching Robocop afterwards, obviously, although watching Robocop after a really difficult movie is a tactic I will always recommend. Like Salò, I found the Tetsuo films – there's a third instalment, Tetsuo: the Bullet Man (2009), but with the best will in the world, I'm stopping here – an endurance test, pieces of cinematic art that I appreciated but which I really didn’t want to see again. I had seen the original Tetsuo a long time ago, as a teenager, when it had been broadcast on Channel 4, who loved broadcasting things no one else wanted to let people see back then. And I recall it having had an effect, and there were scenes that I remembered – one in particular – pretty perfectly from then.

Wednesday 4 April 2018

The Question in Bodies #7: Annihilation (2018)

Sometimes having read the book first can be fatal for having seen the film version. I'm assuming you've seen it too, by the way. If you haven't this post will ruin it.

Monday 2 April 2018

In Search of the Miraculous #15: Atlantis and the Brexit Fantasy Novel

This post is also Atlantis (Popular) Rising #5.

Been a while since the Atlantis research has been a thing I've felt like writing about. I have a stack of material and a whole lot of other things to write about too, but every so often something comes up. Still, Atlantis is in my head, in my mind. It's the central myth of my life, the touchstone. So.

I came across Peter Valentine Timlett’s 1974 novel The Seedbearers quite recently, and picked up a cheap paperback copy because I thought it might be fun. It's the first in a trilogy, heavily influenced by old friends like Dion Fortune and the Inner Light group, and others who I'm aware of but less immediately familiar with like Daphne Vigers, the writer of Atlantis Rising, which is a key text in the “Stonehenge was built by people from Atlantis” tradition. Murry Hope’s writing comes from that same branch of the Atlantean family tree.

The Seedbearers is about what happens when the last remnants of the Atlantean landmass, Ruta and Daiteya [sic], as per the Theosophical version of Atlantis, sink beneath the sea, and who escapes, and how; the Seedbearers of the title are the surviving members of the priesthood, tasked with carrying the ancient wisdom of Atlantis to a new home, and planting that seed among other peoples, so it might grow and survive.