About alexcoxfilms

film director, writer, actor

ITALIAN WESTERNS IN TUCSON, ARIZONA

If you find yourself in the American Southwest during the month of August, please feel free to visit The Loft Cinema in Tucson, any Sunday. You’ll find me there, deosa volenti, introducing four of what I think are the best of these films, and hawking copies of my book, 10,000 Ways To Die – about Italian Westerns.

The films are FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, screening on Sunday 5 August; Lizzani’s REQUIESCANT, screening the following Sunday; Questi’s SE SEI VIVO SPARA / DJANGO KILL! on 19 August, and Corbucci’s IL GRANDE SILENZIO / THE BIG SILENCE on the 26th.

IL GRANDE SILENZIO is a new HD transfer and looks very nice: it’s Corbucci’s masterpiece, and one of a bleak handful of Westerns-in-the-Snow. You’ve perhaps seen DJANGO KILL! on DVD or even VHS, but the experience of watching this insane and brilliant picture in the theatre cannot be beat. REQUIESCANT is almost as demented, with a fabulous cast of villains and a Pier Paolo Pasolini in a supporting role, as a revolutionary priest.

If you’re in Tucson, come on by!

Cox and Lizzani, 1984(The illustrative image, by the way, is of my younger self shaking hands with Carlo Lizzani, director of REQUIESCANT. He was directing a play in Rome. I had just made REPO MAN, my first film. Perhaps you can see my Jesse Jackson for President badge… Lizzani was a very gracious man to waste time shaking hands with such a bozo when he had his play to attend.)

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A GREAT VICTORY … AND TWO GOODBYES

A wonderful thing has happened in Europe. The European Parliament has voted to reject a draconian extension of copyright law, favoured by big content owners and the European Commission. The EFF reports:

“… with the support of nearly a million Europeans, MEPs voted earlier this month to reject the EU’s proposed copyright reform—including controversial proposals to create a new “snippet” right for news publishers, and mandatory copyright filters for sites that published user-uploaded content.”

Sometimes people are surprised when I say that I am against any extension of copyright law, and think that copyright and patent periods should be rolled back, not extended. After all, I am a ‘creative’ and must therefore benefit when the Hollywood studios and music industry get longer rights ownership/more power and money, right?

Not really. One thing the last ten years have shown us is that while the mega-rich get richer and richer, the rest of us do not. Copyright law extensions (via the Sonny Bono Act, the Berne Convention, the TTP and other scams) benefit multinational rights-holding  corporations and their owners. Criterion may bring out a beautiful blu-ray edition of SID & NANCY but neither I nor my co-author Abbe Wool will see a penny from it. Nor will Peter McCarthy, the producer. We all made SID & NANCY for a proper, ethical British company, Zenith. But Zenith is no more, and in the US our film is now owned by MGM, and sub-distributed by Fox, Murdoch’s company. Too bad for us…

A decade or two ago, Margaret Matheson and I tried to get a British TV series of H.G. Wells’ WAR OF THE WORLDS off the ground. We approached Ardman Animation about doing the special effects. We were counting on the book entering the public domain that same year (it was already out of copyright in the US, but still in copyright in England). Then the Berne Converntion was ammended to extend copyright periods by fifteen more years. We couldn’t convince the British “rights holder” to let us go ahead. So our project didn’t get made.

I don’t mean to complain – only to point out that anecdotes like these are the tip of a very large iceberg in which ‘creatives’ are frozen out of profit-sharing and the right to adapt other creative works. Copyright law – and extensions thereof – don’t benefit most creators in any meaningful way. Whereas creators would benefit if Copyright periods were much shorter and all creative works entered the public domain sooner. Then I could make my long-planned epic, GODZILLA VERSUS MARS ATTACKS MEETS CITIZEN KANE.

Meanwhile, sad news from the diaspora of REPO MAN. Robby Muller, the cinematographer, and Martin Turner, the stills photographer, both died last week. Robby’s passing was noted by the MSM, and he was rightly celebrated for some of the wonderful work he did. Our hiring him for REPO MAN was strictly fortuitous: Michael Nesmith, our executive producer, had rejected my first choice of cameraperson. Peter McCarthy told me, “Take this as an opportunity. Now you can ask for anyone you want!” Having been awestruck by his work on THE AMERICAN FRIEND, I asked for Robby Muller. Nesmith was all in favour, and we got him. It was his second American film.

Robby was a genius of lighting, and of composition. He didn’t like closeups, preferring wider shots which celebrated the performances of all the actors in the frame. He wasn’t much interested in camera movement when we worked together. On his other American film he’d been given a Steadicam. He and his crew took it out of the boxes, marvelled at how heavy it was, put it back in the boxes, and used them to sit on.

Robby was a great artist – as was Martin Turner, though he’s perhaps known to fewer people. “Stills photographer” doesn’t do justice to his work on REPO MAN, as he was also a supporting actor and – together with Jonathan Wacks – came up with the concept for the film’s finale. I met Martin at film school – what was then the Radio, Film and TV Studies course at Bristol. He and David Hutt made a highly ambitious student film called NEARLY WIDE AWAKE, based on Knut Hamsen’s “Hunger.” (We paid no attention to things like Copyright! We were students!) I acted in it.

Martin worked for Lindsay Anderson in the art department on THE OLD CROWD and BRITANNIA HOSPITAL. He was responsible for the slide show which the guests in THE OLD CROWD enjoy, and which causes the death of “Tottie.” THE OLD CROWD greatly offended the London critical fraternity, and is rarely seen. I don’t know if a DVD exists. [Update — THE OLD CROWD does exist on DVD! A friend has found it in a set of TV Dramas by Alan Bennett, available on the Network label: Network clearly have good taste since they also distribute THE PRISONER.] But it is a wonderful film – perhaps Anderson’s best work of all, part Buñuel, part Brecht – and Martin had a lot to do with its insane inventiveness.

Back in the days of a government quango called “British Screen” Martin wrote two very good feature screenplays: THE BATTLE OF TORREMOLINOS and INTO A DESERT PLACE (the latter was an adaptation of Graham Mackintosh’s book about travelling Baja California on foot; I was to direct it). I thought them great scripts. But times were increasingly conservative, money was said to be scarce, and if you didn’t have a TV personality from The Young Ones or The Comic Strip pre-cast, it was hard to get a British film going. Too bad! Because they were great stories – especially TORREMOLINOS, an original script in which Martin pitted the English hooligan class against itself, and everything else, in a Spanish seaside tower block.

Martin was also a painter and sculptor. He painted a number of canvases depicting dreadful scenes from THE BATTLE OF TORREMOLINOS, and received a commission to display them at the Torremolinos Festival of Comedy, some years later. Martin and our mutual friend Karl Braun hung all the artwork, and went around the corner for a beer. In their absence the President of the Festival arrived, saw Martin’s art works, and ordered the building locked until the offending paintings could be removed.

Somehow Martin’s stories seemed to end that way: a great idea, a great piece of creative art somehow uncreated, or unseen, or banned, or – in the case of THE OLD CROWD – completed then mercilessly disparaged by clowns. No matter! Martin did his work. in the footsteps of Derek Jarman he moved to Dungeness, where he bought a lighthouse and renovated it, with his own hands. His wonderful partner, Brenda Morris, died a few years ago. Martin died at the lighthouse, at the end of last week. He’s survived by an ace daughter, Kathryn.

CACTUS DISASTER IN SPAIN

About a week ago I went to Almeria in the south of Spain to visit my pal, Rafa. He picked me up at night, and so I didn’t see what had happened until the next morning. Then I set out for a walk up the hill to the old ruined Moorish castle, as you do. And I encountered this:

Nopal_Disaster_1 copyYou’re looking at a forest of dead nopal cactus. What the gringos call prickly pear, and the Spanish call la chumbera. Fried to dessicated chunks of black or brown. It’s as if a wildfire had torn up the hillside, and burned only the cactus.

Years ago, when I lived in Tabernas, Malcolm McLaren came to visit: he and his wife were staying in the beautiful hotel in the Alhambra, and Charley Braun and I had driven over to meet him and extol the virtues of the Tabernas desert, where we had a little office supposedly dedicated to the production of feature films. We took McLaren on a tour, which included a scramble up the side of that hill, back when it was thickly garlanded by clusters of spine-covered nopales.

Now Malcolm was a very intelligent and knowledgeable person. He had managed the Sex Pistols, and had just released a wonderful album of his own –Madam Butterfly. But he was not worldly in a desert-oriented sense. As our little party neared the castle walls, I looked back down and saw Malcolm pulling himself up the hill by holding onto the cactus bushes… Mrs. McLaren spent the rest of the afternoon extracting spines from her husband’s hands, as the rest of us marvelled at how many of them there were.

Not any more. The “cactus plague” has blasted all spines and living tissue away.

Nopal_Disaster_2 copyThe disaster began to unfold in Murcia in 2012. Apparently a company making lipstick dyes had imported a large number of cochinilla insects from the Canary Islands; the bugs escaped and immediately swarmed the province’s nopal cactus, planting eggs and killing them. When I visited Tabernas in 2013 the town and the hillside were still verdant with nopales. They are all dead now. Over the last five years the bugs have swept across Andalucia, wiping out nopal populations in Valencia, Albacete, Almeria and Granada.

I saw some stands, sick-looking but surviving, near the coast in Almeria, and from the train north of Guadix. But it is a disaster both ecological and aesthetic. The nopales were an invasive species, brought back by the Conquistadores, but they produced outstanding fruit (and rajas) and were a vision of green beauty in an arid land.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA As you can see, the colour version of this history is even sadder than the infrared.

MORE INFRARED SAGUAROS…

Can’t resist sharing a few more of my Tucson IR Saguaro pictures.

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The camera which shot them was the only mirrorless APSC camera Pentax made — a not-very ergonomic square box camera designed by one “Marc Newsom”. Apparently said Newsom’s trademark was objets coloured bright yellow, something I am very in favour of. But the yellow K-01s were in short supply, and so I got a black one, which a company back east called Digital Silver Imaging converted to infra-red (I think by removing the anti-aliasing filter and putting an IR filter in its place. Thus the sensor records light wavelengths we don’t normally see — such as the brilliant white reflected by chlorophyl.

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For Bill The Galactic Hero DSI converted a Black Magic video camera in the same way – with an 830nm (nanomtetre) IR filter. The numbers determine the amount of regular light versus infrared light passing through the filter.

IMGP8472 copy I have another old Pentax camera – a K10D DSLR – with a 720nm IR filter. This lets more “regular” light through, and can produce some interesting colour effects:

IMGP8599 copy If you were to buy the only black-and-white dedicated digital camera, the Leica Monochrom M, it would set you back about $8,000 (body only, lenses extra). No doubt it is a wonderful camera. But for less than $300 you can buy a used Pentax K-01 (or spend $600 and get the yellow model new). For approx. $200, DSI or another company will install the IR filter of your choice. And for a total spend of around five hundred bucks/four hundred pounds (if you don’t mind doing some post-production work) you will have a very nice monochrome digital still (and video) camera.

IMGP8428 copy (My K-01 survived a brief drowning in the Klamath River. It is not waterproof or water-resistant and after getting wet it died. Patience, a screwdriver, an oven, and a plastic bag of brown rice brought it back to life, but I don’t recommend this experiment. )

Merry Xmas, and a happy new year!

 

IR FROM THE ARIZONA DESERT

While in the desert outside Tucson, AZ, I worked on the Billy the Kid script and took infrared pictures of the vicinity…

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The camera is a Pentax K-01, converted to read infra-red light as well as the light we perceive, by means of a filter. The lens, for the most part, is the 40mm pancake which came with the camera.

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In addition to turning green things white, the IR filter gets the best out of the sky. Even a mediocre cloudy day acquires mystery…

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The above is the frontispiece for the Billy the Kid screenplay. It has a certain antique weirdness, I think.

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Saguaros are irresistible subjects.

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As is Pearl, seen here returning from la chasse.

BILLY THE KID … AND THE PRISONER

Since TOMBSTONE RASHOMON was finished, I’ve been working on a couple of new projects — a book about THE PRISONER, which I think was the best TV show ever made, and a script about Billy the Kid.

The PRISONER book is titled I AM (NOT) A NUMBER, and is published by Kamera Books in the UK. They’ve published three other books by me – my Spaghetti Western history, my Kennedy/Oswald chronology, and, most recently, my Intro to Film. Kamera are a great company, in my estimation, and I recommend checking out their entire catalogue – much of it film-related, and Noir fiction under the Oldcastle imprint. I won’t go into my PRISONER analysis here, since the tome is now available both in hard copy (a limited edition with some very cool and expensive-to-print black pages between the chapters!) and as an e-book. Suffice it to say that in the book I analyse the episodes in the order in which they were filmed – something which has not been done before. At the outset, I don’t think anyone involved knew who ran The Village, who or what Number 1 was, or even how many episodes there would be. THE PRISONER was an organic masterpiece, which developed over eighteen months of shooting. At the outset, it seemed to be a project shared between Patrick McGoohan and George Markstein, the script editor, who had quite different ideas about who Number 6 was, and where the series was going. By the start of the curtailed second season, THE PRISONER was McGoohan’s, and McGoohan’s alone.

I’ve posted a short video about the series and its meaning here.

Since the book was done I’ve been working on a script about Billy the Kid, entitled THE THUNDERER, to be shot in the vicinity of Tucson, AZ. There seems to be less published material about the Kid than there was in the case of the OK Corral incident, but there are still a couple of good books. Walter Noble Burns (of Tombstone Iliad fame) wrote a particularly florid one, Ashton Upson ghost-wrote a biography of Billy for Pat Garrett; and Robert M. Utley wrote a nice, complete history of the Kid, A Short and Violent Life.

Rudy Wurlitzer (who wrote the difinitive script, PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, and WALKER, and much more besides) sent me a link to an article which recently appeared in that notorious purveyor of Fake News, the New York Times. The headline is “A Photo of Billy the Kid Bought for $10 At A Flea Market May Be Worth Millions.”

BTK_NYT_Photo_PicMaybe so, but perhaps not this particular photograph, which can be compared in the original article with the “historic” picture of the Kid with his rifle. Apart from a prominent adam’s apple, I don’t think the two faces have anything in common. Even less likely is the author’s claim that the picture includes both Billy the Kid and his executioner, Pat Garrett. Garrett and the Kid may have known each other, during Garrett’s days as a Lincoln County bartender. But Garrett was famously tall – six foot four, or more – and the Kid was diminutive: around five foot, nine inches. The individuals in the New York Times photograph are all seated, so one can only judge their body height, but the one identified, by an “expert”, as Garrett appears to be average in height, while the one claimed to be the Kid looks about three inches taller.

Right now I’m Tucson for an acting assignment. Once that is done I’ll have more to report, I hope, on THE THUNDERER.

DODGING THE BULLET IX: NUCLEAR WEAPONS OUTLAWED

The United Nations did a fine thing last week, as the majority of its members – the nations of the planet – voted to approve a Treaty which outlaws nuclear weapons. The final draft treaty, distributed on 6 July, had benefited from considerable input and is quite different from the draft convention of 22 May, which was less definite and clear. It seems an excellent document.

What is the use of it? The cynic or world-weary may enquire. The nuclear weapons states — the US, Russia, China, perfidious Albion, France, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea — refused to participate in the discussions. One country, Holland, which illegally houses American nuclear weapons on its soil, voted against the treaty. Singapore abstained. 122 countries voted to outlaw nukes. But so what? None of them have any!

It may all seem pointless, and symbolic. But only a few years back, the US and Russia and England all proudly developed biological weapons, and stockpiled poison gas, and manufactured landmines, and cluster bombs. Determined campaigns against them, and international outrage at the horrible things, led to the United Nations treaties outlawing them. Biological weapons were banned in 1972; chemical weapons in 1993; landmines in 1997; and cluster bombs in 2008. Today, while many landmines and cluster bombs still scatter the homelands of our allies and enemies, their manufacture is now internationally banned. The major nations have destroyed their stockpiles of poison and nerve gases.

The US, Russia and England already have obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (which they signed in 1968) not to export nukes to other countries, nor to assist or encourage other nations to acquire them. The US has been a persistant violator of the NPT, aiding India, Pakistan and Israel in the acquisition of nuclear weapons, and continually deploying its nuclear weapons abroad. In 2017, American nuclear bombs are stored at Aviano and Ghedi in Italy, Buchel in Germany, Incirlik in Turkey, Kleine Brogel in Belgium and Volkel in Holland. All three countries possess nuclear weapons submarine fleets, whose travels routinely violate the NPT.

The NPT also contains a commitment by all signatories “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” General disarmament! Not just nuclear! So England, Russia and the US are already committed by treaty obligation to “pursue negotiations in good faith” with and end to the arms race and disarmament as a goal.

Are they doing this? No. Does this mean that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is just more worthless symbolism? Not necessarily.

The nuclear powers stand on extremely shakey ground. Their mechanical war-making infrastructure  was conceived, and in some cases built, half a century ago. It depends on incredibly expensive, very dangerous technology with a limited life expectancy, and a legacy of highly toxic radioactive and chemical garbage which must be guarded and somehow safely disposed of. Obama commited a trillion dollars to the US Nuclear Weapons upgrade, partially as a traditional taxpayer give-away to weapons corps like Boeing and Raytheon, partially because of Americans’ ongoing fascination for the shiny and the new, and partially because — at least in the case of the land-based Minutemen missiles — the nuclear weapons infrastructure is falling apart.

Now Presidents Trump and Putin have met, and as a Russian writer observed, it is quite funny and shocking to see the liberal media excoriating both of them, with the New York Times, the Bezos Post, The Guardian and Rachel Maddow all united in their condemnation of the boorish, orange-tinted bozo and the James Bond super-cyber-villain. Liberals worry about climate change, which they think of as global warming. Conservatives don’t believe in climate change. Yet one way to guarantee climate change – in the form of a nuclear winter provoking worldwide famine – is to start a nuclear war. Presidents Trump and Putin, as commanders-in-chief of the greatest arsenals of mass destruction the world has ever known, are our number one protections against nuclear war between the US and Russia.

Think about that. We rely on those two gentlemen to get along, and not to be provoked into detesting each other, or into provocative “shows of credibility.” In such circumstances, the UN Treaty keeps up an admirable pressure on the two of them, and on all nuclear-weapons states. Obviously, a lot more money is being made from nuclear weapons than was made from nerve gas, or cluster bombs. But each diabolical weapon had a powerful constituency; and in each case it was defeated. No country can “afford” a nuclear war. Not even the one percent can escape its consequences.

The fact that the US, UK and France issued a joint press release condemning the treaty, blaming North Korea for the world’s perilous nuclear imbalance, and reaffirming their commitment to the NPT, which requires them to disarm, and which they continue to ignore, is a good sign. They came over like silly billies, babbling nonsense in the face of an increasingly impatient world. The fact that Russia and China didn’t condem the treaty outright, may be a good sign too.

Don’t count on the mainstream media to get the word out about the Treaty, though. Silence prevails, as usual, or else outright misinformation, as when NPR’s “Democracy Now” host reported that the UN had banned the “use” of nuclear weapons. The Treaty bans the possession and distribution of nuclear weapons. (I have a friend who works as a bud-trimmer during pot season here in Oregon. She and her colleagues operate in Victorian working conditions, grooming buds of pot for hours on end for minimum wage. I had assumed they would be listening to Bob Marley. But no! The cruel dope grower boss has the radio permanently switched to NPR. I consider that an oppressive work environment.)

I just had to add one more link — to the story about the apparent “long time Clinton family ally” Paul Begala. No idea who this bazooka is but yesterday, on CNN, he called for a debate in the United States as to “whether we should blow up the KGB, GSU, or GRU.” As the DNC/Clinton faction grows increasingly McCarthyite, its push for a confrontation with Russia – not just in Syria or Ukraine – appears to have elscalated. The United States routinely meddles in other countries’ elections — via CIA, NED, straightforward military coups, and “visits” from US Senators bringing oppostion leaders scads of bribe money in diplomatic bags. Now Russia is accused, by anonymous CIA sources, of doing the same thing. The Clinton camp’s response? Bomb Russia. As the Daily Beast remarked, “What could go wrong?”