My lawyer wants me to write this as an exercise. I don’t see the point. The verdict has come in, and everyone wants me to go away. I want to go away. No more attention, please. No more idiots shoving microphones in my face, asking if I’m sorry.
Yes, I’m sorry. Very sorry! I’d do it again. I’d do it a hundred times. I’d do worse. But I’m sorry. Do you feel better now?
I’ll write a little, because it beats staring at the wall.
I was born forty two years ago in Brisbane, or so I’m told. I don’t have a birth certificate. I don’t seem to have ended up with the usual accessory of a father, either. I can remember a man picking me up when I was very small, so maybe that was him.
I was raised by my mother, and then by the council when my home situation deteriorated. I hotwired a car at thirteen, and squatted in an abandoned apartment when I was seventeen. I never had a problem with stealing, never thought it made me a bad kid. Now I’m on the hook for a crime to make all the rest look small, so I might as well speak my mind.
The part of my youth I want to tell you about happened when I was nine years old. I don’t remember where mum and I were, but I remember what we did.
We went to see a man.
In one of his books Neil Strauss says something about male psychology. You can take literally any task in the world, give it grades, rankings, and scores, and men will become obsessed with it. What’s the point of martial arts? To learn how to defend yourself? Probably. Most of the guys at your local McDojo are there to attain a higher belt level.
Donkey Kong is an arcade game released in 1981. It has runs on a 3MHz CPU, a 224×256 resolution, and the game mostly involves dodging barrels thrown by a gorilla. But because there’s a world record at stake, grown men play it obsessively.
This documentary covers the war to set the top score in Donkey Kong. For many years, the highest score was held by a hot sauce entrepreneur called Billy Mitchell. Then, in 2007, an unemployed schlub called Steve Wiebe set a new record, causing a scandal in the community.
I mistrust King of Kong as a documentary. Its events seems too perfect, too movie-like, too different to real life. But it’s interesting. Lots of battling egos. I liked the way it captures the exhaustion of extended gaming marathons, with the players’ brains grinding themselves to mush. It’s not barrels or fireballs that kill the players at this level, it’s their own fatiguing mental circuits.
Wheels spin within wheels. How do you verify a high score in a videogame? Is a videotape enough, or do you need to perform it live at a “meet”? Is it possible that Steve Wiebe is playing on a “fixed” board that makes it easier to score? Is he being shafted by Twin Galaxies, the organisation that verifies videogame scores?
This movie could cause a psychoanalyst to start climbing the walls. Billy Mitchell in particular seems to have missed his true calling as a cult leader. He’s creepy, charismatic. He doesn’t speak, he asserts. Steve Wiebe seems much more down to earth, but his obsession with the game is only slightly less odd. There’s other memorable characters, like Walter Day, the incongruous head of Twin Galaxies, and Brian Kuh, a weird yes-man in Billy Mitchell’s corner. He doesn’t seem like a guy who has ever spoken to a girl, although he might not be a virgin if you take my meaning.
Probably the most bizarre person in this movie is Roy Schilt, “Captain Awesome”, who talks about his world record in Missile Command like it’s the Pulitzer Prize, and wonders why he hasn’t appeared on any TV shows yet.
And it does seem like a peculiarly male obsession. What’s one of the most popular games among women? The Sims, which has no goals, no scores, no competition. You win when you decide you’ve won. But men seem to need an element of contest in their games. Put them in suburban homes, put them in suits, give them haircuts (a poor one, in Billy’s case), and it doesn’t matter. Only the dead have seen the end of war.
In 1925 Edogawa Rampo wrote one of Japan’s creepiest horror stories. “The Human Chair” was the literary equivalent of pleasantries from the mouth of an leering pervert – the events were tame, even funny at the end, but its subtext of sickness and depravity made it hard to forget.
Moju: The Blind Beast recreates the same atmosphere, but now that subtext is matched with violent and gruesome events more in line with the Hollywood slasher movies it predates by forty years. It has moments of humour, as well as amusing Japanese political incorrectness (Hawaiians are described as “barbarous”, Westerners in general are “disgusting”), but the main impression The Blind Beast leaves is one of destruction and carnage, blood spraying the walls like an artistic fresco.
Singer Mizuki Ranko is being stalked by an blind man of artistic bent who is obsessed with touching the curves and contours of her body. Soon, she finds herself imprisoned in his underground maze, which has walls fitted out with rubber breasts and noses and legs. The man has an obsession with touching things, and craves the stimulus he cannot get from his eyes. He has chosen Ranko to fulfill his desires, and she still might not be enough.
I liked “The Human Chair” more, mostly because it’s more compact and focused, but The Blind Beast is an entertaining read and touches upon many similar themes. Rampo obviously wants to be more sexually explicit, but for whatever reason (fears of censorship or his own prudishness) he tends to imply or insinuate sex rather than outright state it. The effect is rather brilliant, and probably more disturbing for the fact that it isn’t explicit. I’m reminded of how Hollywood’s Golden Age occurred during the period when it laboured under the infamous Production Code.
The book has things to say about art – again, through allegory and inference. The book ends with the blind man conducting an art exhibit, showing a sculpture made from the pieces of various murder victims. A not-so-nice feature, but artists are often not-so-nice people.
The truth is, if The Blind Beast‘s artist goes to hell for his crimes, he might have to wait in line. John Lennon liked to tune up on his wife. So did Elvis Presley. William S Burroughs shot his wife in a drunken game. Allen Ginsberg is a member of NAMBLA. All these guys were members of the vaunted 50s/60s counterculture, back when people thought that art would be the force that saves us from the evil capitalists and what not. A nice idea, but maybe Rampo was right.
Maybe artists, deep down, are the worst people of all.
As in the comic, millions of fish suddenly sprout legs and start migrating inland, causing massive destruction. It’s a silly story, but Ito found a way to make it creepy and compelling, and Ufotable doesn’t deviate far from his plot. All the basic points are touched upon briefly – often too briefly (Brevity is the soul of wit, but it’s the soul of laziness, too), and while a different take on the manga might have been ideal, I’m glad they did this. The few times they take the story in a new direction are nearly enough to ruin the entire movie.
There’s lots of fanservice here. Lots of animated bouncing breasts and heroines tripping over so we can see their panties. This is all wrong – Ito’s comics aren’t about cockteasing T&A crap. It disrupts the atmosphere, and takes things to the level of a western horror film. You start wondering when the guy in the hockey mask will show up.
They switched the genders of the main characters, presumably so they could show a nubile young girl getting molested by a giant octopus. The male character Tadashi is now a fifth wheel. He has no purpose in the story because Kaori is now Princess Peach and Mario rolled into one, simultaneously a damsel in distress and a plucky heroine. They also added some secondary female characters who provide T&A and are generally of no import to the story.
A lot of stuff seems awfully rushed, and things that were lingered on unpleasantly. The two chapters in the circus were my favourite part of Gyo, a trippy interlude that reveals things might actually be worse than anyone could ever imagine. But they come across awkwardly in the movie, and it wouldn’t have hurt if they’d been scrapped. The business with Dr Koyanagi is handled pretty shittily as well, and a dark and interesting character becomes an annoying Dr Phibes.
There’s some effective scenes. Kaori carrying an injured friend up a staircase with a giant walking shark charging up the stairs behind her, with the shark kept out of the frame so that we don’t know how far away it is…that’s a spectacularly effective shot, and my heart rate increases every time I see it. Junji Ito has lamented that you cannot easily control pacing in comics, cannot decide how fast the reader experiences the action, and Takayuki Hirao seems keen to show that he is under no such limitation. The special effects are pretty good, and seeing all those walking fish running around Okinawa was nice.
But the soul of Gyo went missing in the transfer. There’s none of the comic’s sense of the absurd made palpable and real. The movie feels campy and trite, and not very scary. The comic had a dense atmosphere. Ultimately the Gyo Anime serves as an exercise in how to adapt a comic almost flawlessly – and yet, somehow, not truly adapt any of it at all.
Chyna’s autobiography is part of one of publishing’s more inexplicable trends: the sudden rush of pro-wrestling tell-all books. In the late 90s it seemed that everyone who stepped inside the WWF offices short of the pizza delivery guy was suddenly writing a book about it. The Rock published an autobiography…in 2000. Imagine that, writing your autobiography when you’re 27. It’s like if Steven Spielberg wrote his career retrospective after making Jaws in 1975.
As a general rule, wrestlers should not write tell-all books unless they’re about five years removed from the sport (and McMahon’s chequebook). Otherwise, you get weak, not-very-shocking accounts by people who promise to spill the beans and dish the dirt…but not all the beans, and not very much of the dirt. They’ve got to stay in the WWF/WWE’s good books because, hey, McMahon still might call and offer them another payday.
Chyna breaks the rule, with this book being written just one year after winning the WWF Intercontinental Championship, but it’s fairly interesting as these books go. We learn about her early life, beauty pageants, various odd jobs, how she got discovered, her quest to find breast implants that won’t rupture in the ring, and her shitty dad. If you want bitterness and bad-mouthing, there’s a lot of it here. If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of a hundred bridges burning. Wrestlers are usually all too willing to sling mud at each other, just so long as they don’t insult the federation.
There’s lots of photos, and some stories contributed by Triple H and Mick Foley. Mostly the book hits all the expected spots for a sports tell-all book, and it’s (ghost)written well. This is coming from someone who’s not a super huge fan of pro wrestling. I follow it like I follow the UFC – that is, I only follow the freaks and the misfits. It’s a credit to this book that it remains accessible to someone like me, sitting in the cheap seats.
It has one big weakness, and it’s the same thing you could say about Dwayne Johnson’s book – it came too too soon. Obviously there was a cash cow to milk, but what would this book have looked like if it was published 10 years later? It would cover the termination of her contract, her sex tape, her substance abuse problems, her adult entertainment career – a story or two there, no? But that’s getting a bit too sordid, and the book would end on a depressing note. It is difficult to sell a story about female empowerment when you’ve starred in a movie called Backdoor to Chyna.
But if you want to get picky, Chyna’s porn career officially started with Chyna Fitness in 2000, which has Chyna doing circuit training while the camera zooms in on her cleavage. Towards the end I became convinced that it was a porn video masquerading as a workout tape, and my view hasn’t changed since then. Seriously, if you have a market of muscle fetishists to exploit and you don’t want to look too obviously sleazy, what do you do? It’s like Japan’s “Soaplands”, where women oil you up and molest you, and the business skirts legal arbitration by claiming it’s a massage parlour.
This comic is a series of 4-10 page shorts, re-telling Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen fairytales with disturbing guro violence. I was surprised to learn which side of the Sea of Japan it comes from. China has never been known for grotesque horror and transgression – their art normally seeks edification and austerity.
I haven’t read the full thing and I probably never will, because the group scanlating this thing abandoned it. But I’ve seen enough to know what it’s like, and I highly recommend it to environmentalists on the grounds that 99% of it is recycled. Junji Ito’s one-shot manga get copied a lot. “Christmas Special” features dead bodies hanging from Christmas trees, like in “Army of One”. “Golden Girl” repeats “Glyceride’s” pus-squeezing gross-out. “Doll’s Funeral” abandons any attempt at skirting plagiarism and just redraws “Hell Doll’s Funeral” panel for panel.
Shintaro Kago is another obvious “influence”, particularly his fussy art style and slapstick black comedy. Pretty sure having your body becoming filled with insects is a central idea to one of his comics but I couldn’t give you a name. Dare I say it, but there’s some Suehiro Maruo in this series too, especially the outrageous tearjerker “Waiting”, which takes Bambi-esque emotional manipulation and all but makes it into a science.
DaShu Jiang uses the artistic five finger discount more than she should, but the comic isn’t bad. She seems to have a Ito/Ballard-esque talent for turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse, and making the familiar seem striking and new. Some of the art in the stories is really good, and often the ideas are good enough to match. “Growing Old” features a baby growing to adulthood then dotage…and then beyond. A fine example of how to tell a quirky and interesting story in eight pages.
It’s not straight horror like Ito, and the camp factor is pretty high (“Little Red Riding Hood” features the little girl slashing the wolf’s stomach open to get her grandmother back, and then selling the wolf’s fur coat). The comic is sprinkled with lots of anime cheese, and the result is odd and pleasant – violent kawaii?
It’s hard to go wrong with this sort of thing. The comics are so short and so satisfying that it isn’t hard to read another one, then another, and then you’re fifty pages in. The formula is obvious, but the comics still pack an effective shock – strangely, predictability doesn’t really hurt Collapse. You get to enjoy the buildup to the final panel, even though you often have a fair idea of what’s coming. Someone once said that limericks are not funny because they end with a dirty word but because they cannot end with anything but a dirty word, and the same principle holds true here.
As far as I know this series is still going on. It’s odd, and doesn’t fit really well into a category, but it’s worth checking out if you like Ito and so forth. Or you can check out the half that’s been translated, at least. The world may be collapsing but one thing will never change: scanlation groups will continue to be run by unstable lunatics.
In 2012 I read Will Self for the first time – a free online story called “The Rock of Crack As Big as the Ritz”. This “free” story ended up costing me $10.95AUD, as I had to get the full collection immediately to find out how it ended.
It was a taut, exciting story about a black ex-serviceman who is trying to stay straight and instead spirals into a life of crime like a spider down a plughole. It was impossible and surreal but gritty and naturalistic. It broke all sorts of rules about showing-and-not-telling, but that only helped accelerate the story’s pace. The main character, Danny, is unlikeable, and yet I like him – no contradiction there. “Rock of Crack” is an a pulse-pounding page-turner, a non-stop thrill-ride, an [insert gratuitously hyphenated compound words here], and its sequel in this collection, “The Nonce Prize”, is nearly as good.
The other stories are more diverting than fascinating, although I liked “Flytopia”, which is about a man who can communicate with insects in his house. Very much like a Paul Jennings story for grown-ups, with the surreal, pillowy quality of a dream five minutes before the alarm rings. The others are one-idea jokes – entertaining, but they don’t stay with you. “A Story for Europe” brings back the 80s fad of body-swap stories, but in a realistic and semi-serious way. “Design Faults in the Volvo 760 Turbo” is an amusing take on car fetishism.
Some of the stories don’t work – “Dave Too” is dull and obscurantist, for example. Will Self is a talented writer but I think he makes the common mistake of thinking that uninteresting stories will magically become interesting because he’s the one writing them. Not so. It’s the jokes that get the laughs, not the comedian.
“The Nonce Prize” brings back Danny and friends – sort of. The central conceit of “Rock of Crack” is missing (Self offhandedly writes it out of the story in a few sentences), and the characters’ personalities seem to have changed. But it does give Danny a shot at redemption, as he is framed for a brutal crime by a Yardie drug lord and railroaded to prison.
Away from drugs, and trying to avoid the usual fate of paedophiles behind bars, Danny takes a creative writing class and discovers that he has talent at something other than cutting crack. When he learns of a intraprison writing contest, he decides to enter. People looking for an uplifting Hollywood ending should keep looking, but the ending has a ray of hope for Danny, and is even inspirational after a fashion. A man stuck in mud has often won just by not allowing himself to be pulled down any further.
Toys/Boys should be viewed as either a good but inconsistent collection, or a very good two-part novella with some bonus stories. “Rock of Crack” and “The Nonce Prize” are both excellent (especially the former), but the others don’t measure up. Lightning might strike twice, but striking three times is a bit much to ask where Will Self is concerned.
It’s not as notorious as “Having Fun with Elvis on Stage” but it’s probably the most famous Elvis bootleg to actually contain music. Released on the “Dog Vomit Sux” label (a subsidiary of “Dead Obese Guy Enterprises”), Elvis’s Greatest Shit kifes shitty b-sides and soundtrack songs and presents them in a lovingly disrespectful package. The goal, apparently, was to remind people that Elvis was human.
Honestly, it compares favourably to Roy Orbison’s efforts at making disco, or Brian Wilson’s rapping, or the more ghoulish Beatles songs such as “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” Greatest Shit isn’t as musically intolerable as you might think or hope. The main reason? It has Elvis singing on it.
As a performer, he’s too good, and he keeps making these bad songs sound better than they have a right to be. “Old McDonald Had A Farm” made me laugh at the start, but then Elvis’s timeless baritone got me under its spell. The songwriting is consistently dreadful, but that doesn’t mean the songs are also consistently dreadful. The end result is often like a skilled poker player winning the river on a bad hand.
Elvis came from the period when albums existed to promote singles. Stab down a turntable needle at random on nearly any late 50s to early 60s LP and you’ll likely hear impaled bad music bleeding and writhing through your speakers. Elvis was no exception – even his some of his supposed classics sound boring and uninspired to me. I don’t believe “Now or Never” have been a hit without the push of the Elvis name behind it.
A lot of these songs come from soundtracks – specifically, films from his flower-necklace-and-hawaiian-guitar days, and obviously they sound odd with no context. And a lot of them are gag songs, with comical lyrics – “(There’s) No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car” takes a courageous stand against dancing inside moving vehicles, and “US Male” (often considered the album’s classic) is full of funny chauvinism.
The packaging’s a hoot, too. The back cover contains images of nonexistent Elvis LPs “Dead on Stage in Las Vegas, Aug 20th 1977″ and a vocal duet with Richard Nixon. The front cover contains the iconic picture of Elvis lying in his coffin – ultimate proof that Elvis was human.
Ballard was either a genius or a near genius, and possessed an incredible imagination. Reading him gets uncomfortable, because my weaker imagination suffers feelings of inadequacy. I feel like a Commodore 64 downloading data from a CRAY supercomputer.
SF has historically come in two branches. The first deals in speculation, the second in reflection. The first deals in “what if” scenarios and whimsies of the imagination, the second deals with apocalypses and dystopias and the real-world consequences of those whimsies. Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke are masters of the first type, Harlan Ellison and John Christopher masters of the second, but JG Ballard did both styles really well. He writes mind-candy that’s also a poison pill – even his unabashed SF efforts are shot through with unease and disquiet, if not outright horror.
The first two stories are pleasant, then we get to “Concentration City” – a stark tale about a man trying to escape a claustrophobic urban jungle that seems to extend to infinity in every direction. Similar themes appear in a later story called “The Enormous Space”, which is about the discovery of a strange space station, about five hundred meters across. Astronauts land on it, and start exploring. The more the station is examined, the bigger it seems to be, until eventually it seems to enclose the entire universe.
And so on. Not all the stories are great, but even the mediocre ones have imagination, inventiveness, and the frisson of discovery. The 98 stories are in roughly chronological order, which breaks up the flow of the original collections but allows the opportunity to watch his style evolve, from his nostalgic golden age SF stories to his surreal, post-modern phase. His best stories contain elements of both periods. Ballard was an ideas man, but also something of a literary bridge-builder.
That’s a good thing, because although Ballard’s imagination was superhuman, as a writer he was merely adequate. Among other things, Ballard’s prose has a lot of disconnected metaphors – odd, confusing similes that are unrelatable to the object in the sentence. Stephen King gave a funny example in On Writing – “He sat stolidly beside the corpse, waiting for the medical examiner as patiently as a man waiting for a ham sandwich” – and Ballard is nearly as bad sometimes. A few paragraphs into “Prima Belladonna” and I was hit with “When I went up I found them grinning happily like two dogs who had just discovered an interesting tree”…what does that mean? Did they need to use the bathroom? In “The Time Tombs” a character says “after five minutes he drains me like a skull.” Out of all the drainable things in the world – sieves, basins, what have you, why a skull? What’s the illuminating connection there? Ballard’s writing is often good, but it often has a careless, smashed-out-at-120-words-a-minute quality, as if the ideas were too hot to stay inside Ballard’s brain and had to be put on the page as soon as possible.
Given the strength of some of these stories, I can’t blame him. But he’s the kind of writer where you have to ignore the trees and look at the forest – his ideas and imaginings are better than his sentences and his paragraphs. But when Ballard is on point, his ideas and imaginings are better than nearly everyone else. This is an amazing collection and should be sought out ahead of any of his novels.
Rhapsody of Fire recorded together for nearly twenty years, and seemed like they’d last forever. But, as Hewlett-Packard Lovecraft said, even death may die. The band schismed in 2011, with guitarist Luca Turilli and keyboardist Alex Starapoli forming separate versions of Rhapsody. Dark Wings of Steel is the first Luca-less album. Call it a “friendly split”, whatever. We all know there’s a shocking story involving a haddock, a pressurized pump, and the bassist’s mother in there somewhere.
Looks like Nuclear Blast made the right call by going with Turilli’s Rhapsody, because this album is chintzy, cheap-sounding, and unworthy of the Rhapsody of Fire name. The band literally comes up short of Triumph and Agony (rightly regarded as their worst album up to this point). Where to begin? It’s Situation Abnormal, All Fucked Up.
The production is not dense and layered, as in past albums. The symphonics aren’t “real orchestra” so much as “real VST samples on Starapoli’s computer.” Dark Wings has a fake, synthetic quality that I dislike immensely. And what’s with the crappy brutal guitar tone? Rhapsody was never famous for its guitar sound, but at least Turilli’s tone fit with the massive orchestral and symphonic backdrops. New guitarist Roby De Micheli has a dry, midscooped sound reminiscent of a Crate practice amp – annoying and inappropriate. Add in weak-as-fvck drumming that couldn’t knock the froth off a double-latte, and you have the new Rhapsody – an album that’s sure to have elderly neighbours banging on your door, demanding that you turn it up to help facilitate their afternoon nap.
Two good songs – that’s it. Not three, four, or five. Two. The first is “A Tale of Magic”, which has an excellent chorus. The second is “Dark Wings of Steel”, with fast zigzagging rhythms and interesting contrapuntal ideas.
The other songs are like quarantined hospital patients dying of various diseases. Some are poorly written and forgettable, with no catchy parts or good hooks. Others try far too hard to be Rhapsody and provoke laughter – “Silver Lake of Tears” is particularly horrible. Rhapsody’s music is almost parodic already, taking the joke any further is crass. Fabio Leone’s vocals are still powerful, but he’s an overrated singer and he’s really exposed in this new stripped-back format. The shitbox production kills any atmopshere.
Last year Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody released Ascending to Infinity, which got right everything this new Rhapsodomy album gets wrong. It has lush, organic production, great songs, excellent playing, and a cohesive musical style. Ascending didn’t quite match Rhapsody’s best work, but it utterly embarasses Starapoli on this new release.
Are you a fan? Go listen to whatever Luca Turilli is working on, because HE is Rhapsody of Fire. Everyone else was dead weight, and this album proves it.
The good news: Megadeth and Black Sabbath both have new albums out, so this isn’t quite the disappointment of the year