Archive for March, 2010

Krypton Factor for movie geeks

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

The next #VHSMovieClub is at ScooterCaffe on Monday 5th April. If you’re interested in coming this post ought to answer most of your questions. If it doesn’t you can always @VHSMovieClub on Twitter to find out more.


Photo by Emily Webber

It’s 7.30pm last Monday, at the ScooterCaffe in Waterloo.

About twenty people have gathered downstairs in the stylish basement bar we’ve borrowed for the night. Some of them I know, some are complete strangers. All have answered the call of the first open-invitation #VHSMovieClub.

And all are now sitting patiently, having watched me fuck around with cables for the last forty-five minutes, working my way steadily towards the end of my tether. I can’t get the VHS player to work.

Somebody’s on their way with a copy of John Carpenter’s The Thing on DVD. We’re screening The Thing because it was my cousin Max’s favourite movie. He passed away in his sleep in November, aged just twenty-nine.

The day I heard he had died, in a state of alcohol-addled shock, I became obsessed with finding a copy of Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic on VHS. Four pints, five charity shops and several hundred cassettes later, I found it. Virtually the last tape, on the last shelf, in the last of my not-for-profit last-chance saloons.

And now we can’t watch the bastard thing. Not unless I can get this VCR and that projector to start to tango in the next two minutes. Not unless… hang on. What’s that little button. Haven’t pressed that yet. It’s marked ‘Super P’.

What the fuck is ‘Super P’?

You little beauty.

* * *

This a short excerpt from an article I’ve recently written about #VHSMovieClub. It’s for a friend of a friend, who’s putting together a journal about all things defunct. I’m hoping it captures the moment of abject terror I experienced at the prospect of having to resort to DVD at our last #VHSMovieClub – and the heavenly surge of relief as The Creature from the Black Lagoon first flickered into view, heralding the start of Max’s memorial double bill.

It was a great way to watch a classic creature double-feature, but it felt strange to have so many good people in one place and not to get to say more than the odd word to any of them – two movies pretty much monopolises a Monday evening, unless, like one or two reprobates, you’re prepared to stick around afterwards for shots on a school night.

With that in mind, we have something a bit different in mind for the next event, happening at the same venue, ScooterCaffe, from 7pm this coming Monday – that’s April 5th. It’s called #VHSMovieQuiz.

The format, as with all things #VHSMovieClub, is charmingly redundant. We’re basically talking pub quiz, sandwiching a movie screening. Except better, because pretty much every round is ‘Movies from the 80s and early 90s’. Oh, plus some sort of observation round. Think Krypton Factor for movie geeks.

And movie geeks we have, not least because Miss Geeky’s Movie Geeks of London appear ready to join forces to make this one of the moviest, geekiest comings-together ever staged. Should they put in an appearance, going on previous #VHSMovieClub events, attendance may even enter double figures. Enough for two small quiz teams at the very least, and all the excuse we need to temporarily appoint ourselves the Justice League of VHS Movie Geeks of London.

As for the main feature, it’s time to get back to basics. #VHSMovieClub only started because, returning from a trip to the local charity shop and finding myself incapable of deciding which movie to watch, I resorted to straw polling Twitter. With that in mind, anybody coming along on Monday is invited to bring along a movie of their own, and we’ll do it much the same way. Could be a bit of a lottery I know, but I guess we just wing it and hope that Stephen Fry doesn’t turn up with a copy of Peter’s Friends.

So there it is. We’ve set up an event on Yahoo! Upcoming and the usual Twtvite, both of which seem like perfectly serviceable ways to indicate that you might turn up. Coming as part of a fully-formed quiz team is even better, although any one team probably shouldn’t have more than four or five members.

Ah, and the prize. No idea. It’ll probably be pretty crap though, that’s how #VHSMovieClub rolls. If it’s prizes you’re after, best head for the bingo.


Location location location

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

I was back up in Inshriach recently for a stag weekend, a highlight of which was the walk to the pub on Friday afternoon, taking us through four hours of spectacular Cairngorm countryside. 

It included a mile or so along the shores of Loch An Eilean, a fair size loch not far from Walter’s place.  I took a few snaps, if only to post them here, for posterity:

Oh and there’s this one. Sorry it’s so small. It’s a shame as well, because the devil’s in the detail:

Chimps on ice

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Fan Briction: Lego and transmedia storytelling

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

Got one of these sitting on my desk awaiting assembly:

Lego Guggenheim

It’s a Lego Guggenheim. It’s part of the Lego Architecture series, picked it up a couple of weeks back in the midst of one of THE great afternoons, hanging with friend and collaborator Annie Ok in the MET.

I’ve been a complete legohead pretty much my entire life – at some point it became web design, and the shape of the blocks changed slightly, but the upside was someone started paying me to play with it.

These days, with some of the virtual world stuff we do (including, hopefully, imminent forays in Lego Universe) it’s pretty much gone full circle.  If you don’t know what Lego Universe, best thing you can do is watch this:

Toy-wise, Lego got me young, and held me captive.  It was a chance to tell stories and solve problems through exercises in form and function, powered by imaginative energy and intelligent design.

It must have been a busy parent’s dream to hear nothing of me for hours on end, nothing but the reassuring rattle of plastic bricks being shuffled endlessly around a wooden tray, signifying the never-ending search for that final piece.

Skip twenty years, as my Lego lies dormant awaiting a new generation of inquisitive hands, but my affection never really wanes.  Then, somewhere along the long and winding information super-highway I now travel for a living, I found this:

Alien Power Loader

Further investigation revealed that its creator, Larry Lars, is a bit of a legend – some of the stuff he’s creating shows a brilliant eye, and a masterful ingenuity, not to mention the fact that he clearly has one hell of a Lego collection.

In the throes of the resulting nerdgasm, and inspired by his example, I can’t resist rolling back the years.

Retro ALIENS Power-Lifter

I start out thinking I’ll go as close to Larry’s model as I can, armed with substantially fewer bricks.  The switch to blue is a practical choice in that respect, but I quickly find myself rationalising this through the fictional narrative I’m slowly developing in parallel, imagined around and informing the emerging design.

Where the JCB colours of the original ALIENS power lifter were about visibility and hazard-warning, my lifter is designed and coloured for exploration on a planet’s surface, with differently styled arms designed to facilitate a broader spectrum of operations and manouevres.  Developed by it’s own division of Weyland-Yutani, it becomes a different class, a different series,  with a different set of classified documents informing the design.  Suddenly I can feel myself on exactly the same flights of the imagination I went on when I was a kid – almost meditative, head and hands in gentle concert, story-telling through design.

Like I said – nerdgasm.

Larry and I are not alone though.  There are more like us.  In fact, once you start to dig, you realise (if you haven’t already, in which case you’re probably Henry Jenkins) that Lego has extraordinary potential as a form of fan fiction, and it’s starting to find big audiences online. I’ve seen a lot of pretty cool stuff of late, but the example that really hammered this home is this one:

Star Wars Lego is nothing new in itself – on the contrary, its one of the staple entertainment brands Lego have teamed up with to really keep their product relevant over the last decade or so – others include Batman and Indiana Jones, brought to market not only as off-the-shelf Lego sets but also as a series of hugely successful computer games, as playable as they are popular.

The web is already teeming with Lego stop-motion animation – an ongoing attempt to collaboratively swede the entire first Star Wars movie incorporates a large number of scenes and sequences recreated thus.  The difference with a clip like this is not just the sheer technical accomplishment but that it creates something new within the Star Wars universe, invented and engineered by someone like you or I, and realised with a narrative verve and momentum typified by the fact that the bad guy wins. (I actually can’t remember being all that much more excited watching two Jedis and a Sith go at it for fifteen minutes at the end of The Phantom Menace.  I’d love to do a budget comparison on the two.)

The imminent opening of Lego Universe will only add to this, and the machinima will surely follow – the animated shorts powered by the Universe engine, differentiated not just by Lego’s stylish signature aesthetic but by the signature ingenuity of the generations who have grown up with it, and are still waiting for a better medium through which to bring their imaginations to three-dimensional life.