Of Interest to 4AD Fans of Olden Times

Back in the late 80s/early 90s, I was a huge 4AD fan and did many fannish things, like running VHS tape chains of 4AD-related video clips and the like.

It’s a bit difficult to remember at this remove just what was so important about watching video clips and interviews with these bands now, but this obsession led me to, among many other things, to record quite a bit of stuff from MTV onto VHS.

And then I rediscovered a cardboard box full of VHS tapes this autumn.

There were about 30 of them, and I thought that this was surely the time to get organisised, digitise them and upload the interesting snips (FSVO) to Youtube.

So I got started.

It turned out that there was about fifteen minutes worth of stuff of interest on each tape. Uploading music videos isn’t necessary, since they’re already all there, in better quality and from official sources. So that leaves only live footage and interviews.

I did upload some music videos if those made sense in the flow of an interview. If they’re saying “and let’s look at that video now”, it would be kinda awkward to cut it out, so I left them in and wondered what the Youtube copyright system would do: Give me copyright infringement warnings, block the account, or what?

It turns out that it’s less dramatic than that: For the vast majority of the snippets, Youtube notified me that the videos are copyrighted, and that I can’t monetise my uploads because of that. Which is fine, because I wouldn’t do that anyway.

The only problem was videos owned by Warner Music Group: They would block anything that contained “their” videos. So I had to re-edit a handful of interviews, but a couple I basically gave up on and just put on my own server:

Hey! I was there in London at that festival!

It’s taken some time to get all the tapes processes. Not because it’s a lot of work; it’s not: I just push play on the VHS and then four hours later (i.e., when I get back from work) there’s a .mov file that I can then cut snippets out of with Lightworks, and doing the editing takes, like, five minutes or so per tape.

But I forget to start the recording process, so things drag out…

Anyway, here’s the list of snippets I’ve uploaded. If you’re a 4AD fan, there might be some amusement to be found here… And there’s also some other non-4AD odds and ends sprinkled between. And there’s some duplicates, I’m sure, since MTV tended to do re-runs.

Enjoy.

ACW1979: Elvis

Apparently Fritz the Cat was huge in Tupelo in the 40s.

Elvis. 1979.

I didn’t know what to expect. John Carpenter doing a TV documentary about Elvis? Presley? Starring Kurt Russell!?

But John Carpenter is no David Cronenberg. I had somehow gotten them slightly confused in my brain: They’re both people starting in the 70s who’s done their share of horror and sci-fi films. But while Cronenberg is a Canadian film directory with a very particular style and point of view, Carpenter is an American director who just seems enthralled by the very idea of making a movie, any movie.

At least so far in this re-watch blog series.

I’m no Elvis connoisseur, but I don’t think they used Elvis’ vocals much when Kurt Russell is performing? And that’s just plain weird when it comes to a film about Elvis: No Elvis music. Didn’t they have the money to license the original recordings?

Russell is pretty fab as Elvis. I kinda doubt the historical veracity of the film, but it’s fun to watch.

It gets a bit boring around the two hour mark.

In other news, this is Priscilla Presley in 2014.

This post is part of the A Carpenter Winter series.

ACW1978: Someone’s Watching Me!

Someone’s Watching Me!. 1978.

This film was made before Halloween, but released after it, apparently. I thought it kinda strange that Carpenter would go from a smash hit like Halloween to making films for TV (it was shown on NBC), but that chronology makes more sense.

The version I watched is in 16:9, which is kinda odd for a TV film. Had is been chopped and cut? It looks good, though. So perhaps it was shown letterboxed originally?

(I forgot to order this film when I got all the other Carpenter films, so I’m watching this copy from illicit sources. But the DVD is on its way! Honest!)

Lauren Hutton stars as a very quirky woman (who talks to herself a lot, which is helpful in a film like this) being spied upon. Adrienne Barbeau plays the friend, so you’ve got me there already. It’s way better than you’d expect.

I think you can see a continuity in Carpenter’s competent heroines in the three last films: Laurie Zimmer in Assault on Precinct 13, Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween, and Lauren Hutton in this one: They’re all smart, funny and kick ass (although usually from the position of sitting on the floor).

As with previous films, the cinematography is indifferent. But the characters are more clearly defined and the threat seems way more real (even if it’s kinda on the “oh really” side cumulatively).

It’s initially a really enjoyable film to watch, but it starts dragging around the one hour mark.

This post is part of the A Carpenter Winter series.

ACW1978: Halloween

Halloween. 1978.

As with most of these films, I’ve only seen them on VHS before. Man, the blu-ray transfers look fine. (And all of John Carpenter’s films seem to be available on blu-ray, which is pretty impressive (commercially) for a director.) The movie may have had a small budget, but Carpenter didn’t skimp on the film stock quality.

Aaaanyway. This is the film that started the slasher movie genre, I guess? All the tropes are here in the ur-text: If you have sex, you die; the unkillable semi-supernatural monster; the girl who survives. And the boobs, of course.

But what surprised me most here was how little I was affected. I scare easily, but long stretches of this I was just sitting here wondering why it’s not more scary. Part of the problem may be the sometimes totally cliched cinematography: The camera slides across the room and stops with the phone in the right-hand corner, and the phone then rings. It’s just kinda boring and “professional”.

This post is part of the A Carpenter Winter series.

ACW1976: Assault on Precinct 13

Assault on Precinct 13. 1976.

John Carpenter’s music is a definite draw. It’s kinda raw and has a vitality to it.

Anyway, I thought I had seen this before, but I think I must have been confusing this film with The Warriors or Fort Apache, The Bronx or something.

Some of the scenes are very stylish, some look like they come straight from 70s TV dramas, and some are just way way out there. It’s a strange mix, but it works.

For such a low-budget film, it has a lot of production value. And despite (or because?) the risible premise, it’s really exciting, with plenty of OH YEA DUDE moments. For better or worse.

It runs out of steam around the one hour mark, though.

This post is part of the A Carpenter Winter series.

Let It Snow

I wanted to make the Carpenter series of posts look ridiculously romantic, so I got the swashiest font I could find.  But it’s not enough: I wanted to make it snow, too.

Now, this blog is on WordPress.com, which adds limitations to what is easy or even possible to do.  I wanted a CSS-only snowing solution that didn’t involve adding any new HTML elements, and that turns out not to be the common thing to do?  There are approximately five hundred thousand blog articles out there about making web pages snow, but they are either snowing in the background, or is a mess of <div> <div> <div>s to make it snow in front of an image.

Looking at this pretty snowing effect, I wanted to do the same, but by just adding a class: snow to the <a> element already surrounding the <img>s in this blog.

Presto:

This, as anybody who’s done CSS knows, took way too long and went down many blind alleys before I got it to work properly.  (So it’s a good thing I did it while I was on holiday.)  Here’s the CSS I ended up with:

.snow {
  display: inline-block;
  position: relative;
}
.snow::after {
  content: '';
  position: absolute;
  display: block;
  top: 0; left: 0;
  width: 100%;
  height: 100%;
  background-image: url('https://larsmagne23.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/pl2.png'), url('https://larsmagne23.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/pm2.png'), url('https://larsmagne23.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/pm2.png'), url('https://larsmagne23.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/ps2.png'), url('https://larsmagne23.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/ps2.png');
  animation: snow-fall 5s linear infinite;
}
@keyframes snow-fall {
  0% { background-position: 0 0, 0 0, 30px 40px, 0 0, 10px 0;}
  33% { background-position: 0 137px, 0 70px, 45px 100px, 0 30px, 20px 30px; }
  66% { background-position: 0 274px, 0 140px, 35px 200px, 0 60px, 20px 60px; }
  100% { background-position: 0 413px, 0 200px, 30px 240px, 0 100px, 10px 100px; }
}

So: What’s going on here is that I’m adding an :after element to the <a> element, and that element has en empty content, but several background images.  (Five of them, to be precise.)  These images are mostly transparent, but has snowflakes of various sizes and blurrinesses.  In the original version, all these “layers” are of the same size but animated in different speeds so that the closest layer is fastest.  That’s not possible with the :after thing, because there can only be one :after, and therefore only one animation speed.

So instead I chopped the different layer images into different sizes, and then I can animate one from 0px to 100px while I animate a closer, faster layer from 0px to 200px, and so on.  The important thing is that the animations have to be the same sizes as the images, because otherwise you’ll get a shuddering effect when the animations restart.

And then you can do any number of things, like adding some slight wobble and windiness to the scene.

The more layers you add, the more CPU intensive the result will be.  Depending on whether the user’s browser uses hardware acceleration for the CSS animation, of course.  But think of it this way: It makes the computer nice and toasty warm: Perfect for winter.

(One complication to getting this to work on this blog is that I had called the animation “snow”, so the CSS read “animation: snow 5s linear infinite”.  WordPress.com helpfully auto-translated this to “animation: #fffafa 5s linear infinite”.  Presumably because “snow” is a colour name.  And that doesn’t work.  Thank you, WordPress.com.)

So when I grow up, my job is definitely going to be for restaurants that specialise in weddings in December.  I’ve already got the CSS and the font!

ACW1974: Dark Star

Dark Star. 1974.

Hey! It’s movie time again!

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this before, but it’s a long long time ago. The context now is very different, because it seems like every other line in the film is familiar from samples in music. I think Meat Beat Manifesto has most of the dialogue on their early-90s albums?

Dark Star is very 70s: Made by hippie nerds for hippie nerds. Which is great! But.

As a sci-fi comedy, it’s more “that sure is wry, man” than “ha ha”. Smoking would probably help, though.

It’s visually very inventive, and probably largely the result of having no money. Plot-wise, it’s probably what some draft dodgers came up with after watching 2001: A Space Odyssey a few too many times.

Yeah, yeah, it’s a cult film. And there are entertaining scenes here. But it’s mainly boring.

This post is part of the A Carpenter Winter series.