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Saturday, 16 September 2017

Thoughts on 1968 movie HANG 'EM HIGH

Watched the Clint Eastwood Western Hang ’Em High (1968) last night – only the second time I’ve seen it. The first time, some decades back, I was sorely disappointed; I think I was expecting something more like the Dollar films, or High Plains Drifter, while this offering is more traditional (although I’ve seen it described as revisionist, which I’d dispute). I thought I’d be fair and give it another go.

It’s not as bad as I remember it – but it’s a long way from good. With an almost 2 hour (sometimes too leisurely) running time it could benefit with at least half an hour snipped off. The mass hanging scene, especially, feels interminable. I appreciate the director wanting to convey some of the inappropriate carnival atmosphere such an event would have generated, but it could have been conveyed just as well – or maybe better – with the judicious application of scissors. The story line meanders too, and feels unfocused.

There’s a parade of familiar and famous faces – such as Dennis Hopper, Alan Hale Jr., Bruce Dern, James MacArthur and Ben Johnson – but too often they’re little more than extended cameos or filler material; their characters flitting across the screen in the service of Eastwood’s, then discarded as though the writer/director had grown bored with them. All Hopper is given to do is escape from a holding cell and get shot down in the street for his trouble – not exactly stretching his talents. And Johnson’s Marshal Bliss – after cutting down Eastwood's hanged but still living Jed Cooper and delivering him to Pat Hingle’s Judge Fenton – is written off in a couple of lines of dialogue (killed in a gun down, off-screen). Alan Hale Jr. fares little better. And the inevitable love interest, in the shape of Inger Stevens, feels just as incidental, her own tragedy denied any type of closure.

The film was, of course, an attempt to cash in on Eastwood’s rising star and, since he’d come to fame in an Italian Western trilogy, what better than to cast him in an American Western. At the time, Variety described it as “a poor American-made imitation of a poor Italian-made imitation of an American-made Western.” Which is a bit harsh (many Americans felt the Italian cinema was trampling all over a beloved art form and only the US should be allowed to make Westerns), but close to the truth. For a while Hollywood, recognising the box office appeal of so-called Spaghetti Westerns, tried to copy their style, with little success. It occurred to me that the film has a slightly unfinished feel to it, as though rushed out to capitalise on Eastwood’s name (after all, they probably weren’t to know he’d still be a major earner almost half a century later: movies and their audiences are fickle things). Judicious editing and overall tightening would make a better film – although still not a great one. Those were still in the future.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

MY FANTASYCON 2017 SCHEDULE

Somehow, I find myself on three panels in this year's convention. And all on Saturday. What did I - and you, dear attendee - do to deserve that?

OCCULT DETECTIVES
Saturday 12 Noon (Panel Room 1)
With Dave Brzeski (mod), Mike Chinn, John Linwood Grant, Chico Kidd, Autumn Barlow, A. K. Benedict, Ben Aaronovitch.
Arthur Conan Doyle popularised the concept of the series character in detective fiction with Sherlock Holmes. It wasn’t long before authors of supernatural fiction swiped the idea and invented their own investigators, who didn’t share the Great Detective’s disdain for all things paranormal. There are now as many variant types of these ghost-breakers and monster hunters as there are ab-natural threats (as Hodgson’s Carnacki would have put it) for them to protect humanity from. Our panel discusses these variations and their experiences. Join us for an enlightening conversation.

PLAYING WITH THE REAL
Saturday 1.30pm (Panel Room 3)
With ​Peter Coleborn (mod), Andrew Hook, Tej Turner, Mike Chinn, Tracy Fahey, Jacey Bedford.
Weaving memories, true life experiences and human responses into the fantastic, the monstrous and the alien can really bring life to strange characters. Join us to explore examples of how strange characters can relate to us through human experience and how real life can be a source of inspiration for genre fiction.

UNRULY AUTHORS: THE PERILS OF BEING AN EDITOR
Saturday 5pm (Panel Room 1)
With Juliet  Mushens (mod), Tim Major, Colleen Anderson, Mike Chinn, Rose Drew
The relationship between an editor and a writer is intimate and essential. Our panel of editors will discuss some of the difficulties that can arise during this relationship, without breaching any doctor/patient confidentiality! Along the way, you may find some tips on how to best manage your part in a writer/editor relationship.

Monday, 26 June 2017

THE RETURN OF THE PALADIN - PART TWO

Back in 2009 I wrote in this ’ere blog about it being over ten years since THE PALADIN MANDATES was published by The Alchemy Press, and how a review of same in THEAKER'S QUARTERLY DIGEST provoked me into writing a sparkly fresh Paladin story: “Sailors of the Skies” for DARK HORIZONS #55 (The British Fantasy Society, 2009).
Paladin himself had been born many years earlier, in “Death Wish Mandate” published in KADATH #5, by Francesco Cova. He’d had a long gestation.

Ever since he drew SWORD OF SORCERY for DC Comics (1973), I’ve been a fan of Howard Chaykin. In 1975 he wrote and drew the first two issues of THE SCORPION for Atlas/Seaboard Comics. Set in the 1930s, it pitted an apparently immortal character – Moro Frost – against slightly more mundane villains. At the time I didn’t know much about the rich history of masked avengers who had graced the pages of pulp magazines back before the Second World War (with the exception of Doc Savage and the Shadow), so I was pretty ignorant of where Chaykin was coming from. After THE SCORPION ceased publication, he took the idea over to Marvel and created, with a slight change of costume and dropping the immortal bit, Dominic Fortune. Despite my ignorance of history, there was something about both characters that sparked an interest in me. I wanted to do something similar. But what, and how? I couldn’t quite nail it.
It took a phone call from David Sutton to crystallise the idea. He told me that Francesco Cova wanted to do an occult detective issue of KADATH, and there was space left if I wanted to submit. That was all I needed. An occult detective – of course! Set in 1930s New York, and dressed in a style not unlike the Scorpion. Over the following years I wrote a few more Paladin tales – selling a couple – before The Alchemy Press collected them for their first publication in 1998.
The character went into something of a hiatus for over a decade, until his resurrection in DARK HORIZONS. Again it was just the spark I needed. I wrote several more Paladin stories, including: “There’ll Be A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight”, for an expanded Kindle edition of THE PALADIN MANDATES (The Alchemy Press, 2012); a cross-over with Nick Nightmare (co-written with Nick’s creator, Adrian Cole) “Fire All of the Guns At One Time” for the British Fantasy Award winning NICK NIGHTMARE INVESTIGATES (Alchemy Press/Airgedlamh, 2014); and the Christmas-themed “Deck the Halls” in OCCULT DETECTIVE MONSTER HUNTER (Emby Press, 2015).

And finally, in 2017, almost treading on each other’s heels, OCCULT DETECTIVE QUARTERLY #2 included “The Black Tarot” (in which I sneakily introduced the world to a brand new masked vigilante character – having learned a little more of the Pulp tradition in the intervening years), and Pro Se Productions published the eagerly-awaited (well – I was all agog anyway) collection/portmanteau novel, WALKERS IN SHADOW: six new tales of adventure, plus a revised “Sailors of the Skies”).
So what’s next? Well, there are plans to re-issue PALADIN MANDATES in expanded form, and “The Black Tarot” is intended to be the first in a new bunch of adventures for Paladin, Leigh Oswin and his expanding repertory company.

One thing’s for sure: the world shall hear from Damian Paladin again.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Collective Lunacy

Up until three years ago it had never crossed my mind to have a collection of my short fiction published. Over the decades I’ve sold something like sixty-plus short stories, but even my closest friends – at their most charitable – would agree the earlier stuff isn’t worth collecting.

Yet, in a moment of uncharacteristic optimism, I selected eighteen pieces and approached The Alchemy Press. In 2015, GIVE ME THESE MOMENTS BACK was published (a title which, I am told, Alchemy Press supremo Peter Coleborn keeps wanting to correct to something less poetic and more grammatical). The contents were, typically, somewhat – shall we say, eclectic? I’ve always been something of a gadfly: hopping from one genre to another without any obvious plan or direction, and the collection reflected that. I’ve no idea if, from a marketing standpoint, it was a good thing or not.

Then, as 2016 tailed off, it occurred to me that I actually had sufficient material for a more horror (or dark fantasy, if you prefer) based collection. I put together sixteen dark tales – two previously unpublished – and asked David A Riley of Parallel Universe Publications if he’d like to take a look at RADIX OMNIUM MALUM & OTHER INCURSIONS. Next thing you know, I have a sale; and better yet: David A Sutton agreed to write the introduction (to my embarrassment, making me sound like some kind of Renaissance Man). 
However, at some point in the past I think I must have irritated the gods of publishing. When I was editing SWORDS AGAINST THE MILLENNIUM for The Alchemy Press, the signature sheet for the limited edition hardback got lost in the post, delaying publication; a few years later Amazon questioned whether Fringeworks had the rights to publish my Sherlock Holmes steampunk mash-up, VALLIS TIMORIS and held it up; and just as RADIX’s publication was announced, Amazon took that down for some reason. I began to detect a theme.

Luckily the problem was resolved quickly, and the book back on sale in a day or two.

But for now I’m all out of material. The next collection will have to wait until I’m rich and famous. MIKE CHINN: THE FORMATIVE YEARS, and all that early stuff.