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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.