Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Force Fed: George Lucas’ Halloween Trick

George Lucas has announced the sale of the Star Wars franchise to Disney – on Halloween no less. New movies are promised, and lots of them.

The timing suggests something of a self-satisfied wink from those involved in the deal. Was this was mocking recognition that for many eye-twitching, obsessive Star Wars fans Lucas has become more a master of horror than of fantasy, a Dr. Frankenstein bent on debasing the power of creation? Disney coupled to Lucasfilm is certainly one hell of a monster.

Many fans are surprised by the deal - when Yoda began flogging Vodaphones (“how strong with them the force must be”) most naturally assumed that the franchise had become an un-dead beast, only to be resurrected as and when Lucas’ voodoo finances demanded it.

Yet here are Disney committing to a new trilogy (7,8 and 9) and then after that, a new movie every few years. According to their press release, Star Wars “…offers a virtually limitless universe of characters and stories” creating “the opportunity to blaze new trails in film, television, interactive media, theme parks, live entertainment, and consumer products.” A dispassionate observer has to ask: is there really an appetite out there for all this stuff? Doesn’t such excess run the risk of bloating fans, like the “greed” victim in David Fincher’s 7even, force fed until he bursts?

Well, reading the press release is instructive: Lucas frames the transaction as handing over the franchise for a new generation, but there is a strong hint that he is simply disgusted by what it has become – witness the image at the top of the release: those eyes speak of a man asking: “what have I created?”

Disney, on the other hand, can barely contain their bloodthirsty glee in acquiring Lucas’ much-deformed child. The release doesn’t say much about the artistic merit of the films, but does openly drool over Star Wars’ $4.4 billion in box office. It also can’t stop saying the word ‘global’: global leader, global growth, global portfolio, global business, global box office, global franchise, global demand, global appeal. Evidently Disney feel the franchise will be a great way of reaching audiences in other countries – like oh, say China – with the vampiric intent it does those in the USA.

The language really is creepy as hell. Listen to them, the children of the night:

“In addition to returning capital to shareholders, we have invested, both organically and through acquisitions, in high quality, branded content that can be seamlessly leveraged across our businesses. Our acquisition of Lucasfilm is entirely consistent with this strategy, and we're incredibly excited by the prospect of building on Lucasfilm's successful legacy to create significant value for our shareholders.”

It’s no real revelation that Disney enjoy making money. In the end, fans old and new will not mind who finances the films as long as they are entertaining. Perhaps some true creatives with a real affection for the characters will get hold of it and take it somewhere we can all enjoy.

George should be wary though. Selling Star Wars doesn’t absolve him of blame if things go wrong. He’s still ‘creative consultant’, still eminently blameable for any prequel-style disasters. Hurt those old fans again and it won’t take Halloween for a fan in a Hockey mask to turn up at his door seeking revenge - “with nothing left, no reason, no conscience, no understanding of good or evil, just a pale, blank face.”

Happy Halloween, George. Here’s hoping this is a treat, not a trick.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

In defence of Paul McCartney...

Since his shambolic Olympic performance 150,000 people have signed a Facebook petition to stop Macca playing at national events.  We mock him at our own peril.

Paul McCartney is not an easy person to like. It is often easy to hate him, mostly as a result of his deep-rooted self-regard and a quite astonishingly deluded belief in his own enduring cool. Whether making the risible claim that Steven Spielberg “really paid attention” to the Beatles’ dreadful Magical Mystery Tour movie, or composing the rancid, stamp-along “Freedom” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Paul seems to get more hideous with every passing year.

This all came to a head at the Olympic opening ceremony, when he mangled “Hey Jude” badly, creating a bone-clenching moment of embarrassment at the end of what, until that point, had been a wondrous event. And so the Facebook campaign to stop him began.

Stepping back for a moment, we should ask ourselves a few questions before putting our name to such a document:

First - why has there been no Facebook campaign to stop other performers, after similar monstrous moments? Why, for instance, has there been no Facebook campaign to prevent Russell Brand from even looking at a microphone again? His butchering of John Lennon’s “I am the Walrus” at the Olympic closing ceremony, shouted through a megaphone while dressed as Bertie Basset, has to be one of the most senseless acts of cultural barbarism ever committed in this country…yet we accept it. At least Macca screwed up his own song  - probably the greatest rock and roll song ever written.

We also have to ask– why does Paul keep getting booked? Could it be that what we want, at these moments of supposed national unity, is to see something a little special? Could it be that in the absence of Paul, left with the acts we saw at the Queen’s Jubilee concert (JLS, Tom Jones, Robbie Williams, Gary Barlow) we would feel that we could be anywhere, celebrating anything -from the Monarch’s 60th year to the opening of a new supermarket?

The fact is that Paul is something special. Have we all really forgotten the man’s staggering song-writing catalogue? Do we need to be reminded of Lady Madonna, I saw her standing there, Fixing a hole, Yesterday, I’ve just seen a face, Oh Darling, Blackbird, Get Back….? Even the great no-shows of the Olympic closing ceremony, Bowie and Bush, cannot really claim a footprint as large as Macca’s - our children still sing Yellow Submarine in school, while our teenagers still blare Let it Be after being dumped.

Some will undoubtedly say: of course we haven’t forgotten his music – that’s what makes it so tragic. We don’t want to see him butchering our memories in this fashion. Some will say that at least Bowie and Bush know when to quit, when to leave us with our memories and say goodbye.

But really, should we resent the man for celebrating with us, for entertaining us, for being there? Sometimes his eccentric performances even work. When he came on stage at the concert held in memory of George Harrison, you could almost hear the sharp intake of breath. Then he unleashed a simple ukelele rendition of “Something”, and brought the house down.

As dreadful as his Olympic Hey Jude was, it will certainly be an enduring memory, and besides we were certainly never going to get the greatest ever performance of the song. That already happened, on the David Frost show in 1968.

Watch that video. Listen to Paul’s ballsy, rip-roaring vocal. See the place he had at the heart of the greatest band in history. Then ask yourself: Shall I join another poxy Facebook campaign, or shall I listen to some more of this bloke's songs?

Sunday, 18 March 2012


Just a note to say that my article on Cardinal O'Brien's letter is now up on the Gay and Lesbian humanist Association website, as a guest opinion piece...which is nice.

You can visit it here.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Cardinal O'Brien's letter: a fight Christ would never have picked

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, has summed up his opposition to plans for legalised gay marriage. In the letter he calls the idea a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”.

The letter is not much of a read, failing to deliver a coherent argument. The points Keith dusts off here were exhausted a decade ago:

He frets over the fate of teachers, compares gay marriage to polygamy, and claims that the stability and wellbeing provided by a heterosexual relationship cannot be provided by same sex partners. Gay rights activists will have no problem countering these ancient hymns. Keith’s hysterical reference to “homosexual fairy stories” being rolled out in Massachusetts schools (after gay marriage was legalised there in 2003) only serves to hint at something rather ugly.

Yet in one respect the letter is interesting, and that is what it says about the state of Christianity in this country. Following the Church of England’s inglorious response to the “Occupy” movement, the letter powerfully reinforces the impression of religious leaders’ utter dislocation from ordinary lives.

Legalised gay marriage “will redefine society”, says Keith. Can he really believe that? He acknowledges in his own letter that the consultation is being launched at the “behest of a small minority of activists”, failing to note that the counter campaign is, in turn, the domain of a small minority. It’s certainly of great importance to both camps – but not to the majority of British people. While many individuals may well be uncomfortable or even offended by the notion of gay marriage, few will think it an issue that will define the way they live their day-to-day lives.

“Occupy”, on the other hand, presented leaders from all Christian churches with a chance to deliver a unified message on issues with huge implications for our society. Greed and inequality are themes for which Christ provides clear guidance, yet by the time the St Paul’s camp was dismantled, organised Christian religion was left looking impotent, out of touch and divided. This letter makes matters worse.

The Cardinal has complained previously that the Church is being marginalised from “the public square”. If he wants Christianity to play a part in the shaping our society, his church and others must develop a unified voice and pick more crucial battles (Immigration? Poverty? War?) . They must stop raising hell about matters of personal choice like abortion and loving relationships. Of course they must have some position - but choosing to define themselves by these issues pushes the Church further and further to the periphery.

The greatest threat to the Church’s future is not gay marriage – it is having nothing relevant to say.