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Growing up Carpenter

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Like many people growing up in the 1980s, a trip to the corner shop for a video on a Saturday night was an integral part of my weekend. Of course it wasn’t me usually doing the renting, which meant a fair old smattering of sci-fi and horror – such was the preference of my Dad. Naturally, I’ve inherited his love for the weird and wonderful, which was why I recently found myself at a concert by the horror master himself, John Carpenter.

For those not in the know, as well as directing his films, Carpenter composed and performed the score for the vast majority of them himself. As far as critical acclaim goes, his crowning achievement is of course Halloween, and, it was this timeless chiller that brought him fame. But as the 80s turned into the 90s, the fickle beast that is Hollywood turned its bristly back on Carpenter, which is why I’m especially glad to see him making such a success with his music.

This isn’t merely a solo show though. Backed by a band of skilled musicians, including his son Cody creating a double synth attack, Carpenter takes to the stage to the strains of Escape from New York. It’s another of his most celebrated creations, and it’s great to hear its soundtrack skillfully fleshed out by a live band, and to see Snake Pliskin’s antics re-writ large on the video screens above Carpenter and co.

Pliskin was so memorably played by Kurt Russell – a regular go-to lead man for Carpenter, who also features in my personal favourite, The Thing. This especially foreboding theme fits the movie perfectly and it’s great to hear the Septuagenarian synth-lover play it, even though it was the work of the great Ennio Morricone – something Carpenter explains to the audience beforehand. Throughout the evening we’re treated to pretty much every Carpenter theme, along with a number of old JC’s stand-alone compositions taken from his lost themes albums. “Be careful driving home, because Christine’s out there”, quips Carpenter, before the soundtrack to every second-hand car buyer’s worst nightmare brings the night to a close.

It’s gratifying to see that Carpenter’s carved out his own creepy niche performing his music in later years and even more so that his recently-released Halloween sequel has received largely positive reviews.

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A Summer of Verne

Jules Verne

I may have been familiar with some of his most popular work thanks to the old film adaptions I watched my childhood, but until this summer, I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never read anything by Jules Verne.

There, I said it. Feels better to get it out in the open. I ‘m still only two books better off, but what an amazing pair of books they are. It’s admittedly a massively overused phrase but 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and its Sequel The Mysterious Island really have stood the test of time as pieces of literature. A good story is a good story and will always trump a work which falls over itself to shoe-horn as many fancy words in as it can. That’s not to say Verne didn’t show literary flair but his emphasis was always on keeping the reader gripped and taking them on a fantastical journey.

All the while I was reading, I was reminding myself that they were translations too, and what skill Verne must’ve had to ensure the many works he wrote in his native French could be enjoyed by everyone. They’re a fascinating time capsule as well, from a time when it wasn’t easy to visit other countries, experience other cultures, or an everyday occurrence to meet someone with a different colour of skin.

In 20,000 Leagues…, Verne not only introduced one of popular culture’s most enduring figures in the enigmatic Captain Nemo, but one of its greatest feats of engineering, his mighty vessel the Nautilus. We take the idea of the submarine for granted now, but in this book, Verne pretty much invented it. The ideas and concepts he introduced in the book surrounding the Nautilus must’ve been nothing short of revolutionary at the time and it’s quite an experience to read about it now, knowing that at the time of publication, no-one had ever heard of such a thing before.

The Mysterious Island has also received the film adaption treatment – twice – but it was of course the original which caught my attention as a child. In it, Verne carefully weaves a stand-alone tale into the continuation of Nemo’s story seamlessly and extremely satisfyingly. In some ways it’s an even more gripping read, and it’s fascinating to behold the ingenuity of its protagonists as they adapt to life on their new-found accidental home.

If you’re a literary stranger to Jules Verne, I’d highly recommend these two great helpings of escapism.

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October 8, 2018 · 8:41 am

What Harper meant to me

harper-lee-tease-today-160219Like many people all over the world, I was saddened to hear the news of Harper Lee’s death recently.

Every time I hear her name I’m transported back to the classroom, which was the place where I was introduced to this remarkable story of courage, prejudice and human nature. Of course, the race message will always be the novel’s strongest voice but we should not forget that it speaks with many. The sense of mystery when I first heard the children talk of Boo Radley was one that I identified with only too well. I think many of us will have memories of ‘that wierd bloke who skulked around the town’ when we were kids, or the neighbourhood recluse next door but three.

I already knew that prejudice was bad when I read the book, but it brought home to me the hypocrisy of people who, on the surface, appear honest and upstanding yet project their paranoia and insecurities so they manifest themselves in disrupting and harmful ways. To Kill a Mockingbird was of course a lesson within an English lesson. One of human nature and the inexorable presence that it is. Above all though, it was and will always be a damned good story, which in the end is the most important thing.

So, thanks Harper Lee for opening all our eyes. Rest in peace.

 

 

 

 

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