Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Game of Death/The Crow

In 1972 Bruce Lee started filming ‘Game of Death.’
100 minutes of footage was recorded, including a fight scene with NBA All Star Kareem Abdul- Jabbar who was a former student of Lee’s.
Production was halted when Lee received an offer from Warner Brothers to star in ‘Enter the Dragon’, a co-production between Warner Brothers and Golden Harvest which Lee believed would bring him international stardom.
He went off to make ‘Enter the Dragon’ intending to return to ‘Game of Death’ immediately afterwards. However, a few months after completing ‘Enter the Dragon’ and six days before it’s theatrical release Lee died of cerebral edema.
Following Lee’s death Robert Clouse, the director of ‘Enter the Dragon’, was hired to complete ‘Game of Death’ using the previously filmed footage and newly assembled shots. Unfortunately of the 100 minutes of footage that had been shot and printed only 15 minutes worth was deemed useable.
In the original film ‘Game of Death’ was designed as a showcase for Lee’s own martial art form Jeet Kune Do. Lee’s character would be forced to fight his way through a pagoda facing masters of various martial arts on his way through the building. Lee would win each battle with his dialogue outlining the deficiencies in his opponents form.
In Clouse’s 1978 version the plot was adjusted to accommodate the use of other actors to replace Lee in key scenes.
Now, Lee would play a martial arts movie star who refuses to be intimidated by a racketeering syndicate. The syndicate attempted to assassinate Lee’s character by having a henchman sneak onto the set of his new film and shoot him. Lee’s character survives but requires plastic surgery which alters the features on his face and uses the opportunity to fake his own death.
Clouse was criticised for using actual footage of Lee’s funeral in these scenes.
He then goes after the syndicate with the final scene taking place in the upper floors of a restaurant the villains are using as a base and the fight scenes from the original production feature heavily.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar refused to take part in the re-shoot so a stand-in was used for him.
Chuck Norris is also credited as appearing in the film although all the footage that features him was originally shot for ‘Way of the Dragon.’
Generally the film was well received despite scenes such as a shot of a stand-in looking at ‘himself’ in a mirror which has an obvious cardboard cut out of Lee’s face stuck on it.
Clouse went on to make ‘Game of Death II’ which also featured footage from Lee’s early films but his character is killed off early on to allow his character’s brother to complete the story.
In 1993 Brandon Lee, Bruce’s son, was completing production on ‘The Crow.’
Lee was shooting a scene where his character was facing a gang of thugs and is shot in the stomach. The gun was loaded with blank cartridges but a dummy round was lodged in the barrel and fired out when the trigger was pulled.
Lee was shot in the abdomen and the round lodged in his spine. He died 12 hours later.
Again, the decision was made to complete the film using stand-ins and existing footage and
‘The Crow’ was released on May 13th 1994.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Black Room by The KLF

The performance of the KLF and Extreme Noise Terror at the BRIT Awards in 1992 should have been a great deal messier.
A dead sheep and 8 gallons of blood had been purchased from an abattoir in Northanpton earlier that day and the dismemberment of the animal was due to form the central act of the show.
The animal parts were to be thrown into the crowd of music business executives who occupied the front row of the show and the blood was going to be following.
In the end the protestations of Extreme Noise Terror, strict vegans who vandalised butchers shops, meant that the KLF agreed to not use the sheep or blood during the show.
Instead Bill Drummond opened fire on the crowd with a machine gun loaded with blanks...
Later that night the sheep was dumped on the forecourt of the hotel where the official BRIT’s aftershow party was taking place. There was a sign hung around it’s neck that read:
‘I died for ewe-bon appetit.’
At the end of their performance a voice boomed out over the crowd:
‘The KLF have left the music business.’
No one believed it. The KLF were a hugely successful act. Following their incarnation as the Timelords and their Number One hit ‘Doctorin’ The Tardis’ the KLF had followed up with another six Top Ten singles and another Number One with ‘3 am Eternal’.
Their first album ‘The White Room’ was designed to form the soundtrack for a film that was never actually made. It was a blend of ‘Stadium House’, downtempo tracks and electropop confections and the follow up album ‘The Black Room’ was conceived as a complementary piece that would merge dance beats with industrial metal.
Extreme Noise Terror and the KLF had recorded some tracks and work was supposed to continue on the album after the BRITs.
Before the performance Jonathan King, one of the organisers of the BRITs, had warned the group from anything too controversial.
In the aftermath Piers Morgan described the act as ‘sick’ and the group as ‘pop’s biggest wallies.’
Jonathan King then made a statement backing the group and their actions.
A spokesman for the band described this as ‘the real low point.’
Shortly after the KLF announced their official retirement from the music business.
Never ones for half measures, they deleted the group’s entire back catalogue and all plans for ‘The Black Room’ were shelved.
You can’t help feeling that if Jonathan King had just agreed with Piers Morgan we would have got one more album out of them...

Sunday, 21 March 2010

The Gran Cavallo by Leonardo da Vinci

Ludovico il Moro, the Duke of Milan, commissioned Leonardo in 1482 to create the greatest equestrian statue in the world.
Conceived as a tribute to his father Francesco, Ludovico wanted Leonardo to surpass the largest equestrian monuments of the time, Donatello’s statue of Gattemelata in Padua and Verrocchio’s Bartolomeo Colleoni in Venice.
Seventy tons of bronze were immediately set aside for the casting of the statue but Leonardo didn’t make any progress on the project for a number of years.
In 1492 a clay model of the horse was completed which was larger than the two statues that Leonardo had been set as his benchmark. The model became known as the ‘Gran Cavallo’ and Leonardo began to make detailed plans for it’s casting in bronze.
By 1494 Milan was under the threat of invasion by Charles VIII of France.
Although known as ‘The Affable’, Charles was militarily and imperially ambitious.
He had bought the neutrality of Austria and Britain and had ambitions to conquer Italy.
Charles entered Italy in 1494 and quickly took Naples and Florence.
The advance of the French terrified the other Italian rulers, including the Pope and Ludovico, who formed an anti-French alliance called the League of Venice.
One of Ludovico’s first acts was to take the bronze set aside for the ‘Gran Cavallo’ to be used to make cannons to see off the invaders.
Charles was eventually seen off but Louis XII of France invaded again in 1499.
This time French troops used the clay model for target practice and it was destroyed.
In 1977 Charles Dent, an American pilot and artist, decided that, as a tribute to the Renaissance generally and Leonardo specifically, construction of the horse should be completed with the statue being presented to the city of Milan.
The cost of the statue was $2.5 million and it was unveiled in 1999.
Charles Dent had however passed away in 1994.
A sculpture by Nina Amaku called ‘The American Horse’ was commissioned by Frederik Meijer, a retail magnate, for inclusion in his Gardens and Sculpture Park in Michigan.
The sculpture is 24 feet tall and is based on Leonardo’s design.
When Michaelangelo saw the clay model for the ‘Gran Cavello’ he expressed doubts that Leonardo would actually be able to cast it.
As it turns out the vagaries of fate took that dilemma out of Leonardo’s hands...

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Winchester House, San Jose, California

In 1881 Sarah Winchester, distraught at the loss of her husband at a young age and still grieving a daughter that she had lost previously, visited a medium to try and find some comfort.
The medium informed Sarah that the Winchester family, heirs to the inventors of the Winchester Repeating Rifle, were cursed because the guns that they had made had taken so many lives.
Sarah was told that the only way to escape the wrath of the spirits would be to build a house.
But she could never stop building the house. If building work on the house was ever finished or stopped then Sarah would die and the spirits would have their vengeance.
The fortune of the Winchester family at this point stood at around $20 million and Sarah’s shares in the Winchester Company gave her an income of $1,000 a day.
This gave Sarah the funds she needed for the house and work began in 1884.
Because of the scope of the project there was no blueprint or overall design.
Instead, the House was built from the ground up and the interior composed of a labyrinthine series of twists and turns that Sarah hoped would baffle any spirits that hoped to find her.
Sarah also believed that the number 13 would help to ward off evil spirits and incorporated this into various features of the House. She also made use of the huge building by never sleeping in the same bedroom on consecutive nights.
The nature of the project meant that Sarah had work on the House continuing around the clock, however the workmen were paid double their normal daily rate so there was never a shortage of labour.
By 1906 the House was seven storeys tall but an earthquake caused massive damage.
It is possible that Sarah saw this as something of a blessing.
Sarah Winchester died in 1922 and her estate fell to her niece Marion Merriman Marriott.
The House and grounds didn’t fall under the terms of the legacy but the household goods and furnishings did so Marion auctioned them off.
It took six trucks working for six weeks to clear the House.
Currently the House has four floors. There are 160 rooms including 40 bedrooms and two ballrooms. There are 47 fireplaces, 47 stairways, 10,000 window panes, 2,000 doors, 17 chimneys, 13 bathrooms, 6 kitchens and 2 basements.
It is still only partly constructed...

Sunday, 14 March 2010

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) is most famous for his use of heteronyms, a series of imaginary characters that he used to write in a variety of styles.
Pessoa employed dozens of these throughout his life including:
Alberto Caeiro, a shepherd, Pastoral poet and Pessoa's 'Master'.
Ricardo Reis, a Doctor and Neoclassical poet.
Alvaro de Campos, a decadent student of Naval Engineering in Glasgow and Futurist poet.
Rafael Baldaya, an astrologer and author.
Charles Robert Anon, a poet and philosopher.
A.A. Crosse, a puzzle expert and author.

Bernado Soares was the heteronym that Pessoa created for 'The Book of Disquiet.'
According to Pessoa he first met Soares when they were both dining at a restaurant in Lisbon.
A fist fight broke out on the street outside and both men went to the window to see what was happening. They began to chat as the fracas subsided and a friendship developed.
Soares was an admirer of Pessoa's work and eventually showed him some writing he had been doing himself. Pessoa took this writing and planned to arrange to have it published under the title 'The Book of Disquiet.'
In actual fact 'The Book of Disquiet' was never published in Pessoa's lifetime.
Over the course of his life Pessoa was published in a number of literary journals in Lisbon, self published some of his poems in English and , the year before he died, his epic patriotic work 'Message' won second prize in a national competition and was published in Portugal.
'The Book of Disquiet' was a project that Pessoa worked on throughout his life but never managed to compile a definitive edition.
He described his work on it as '...fragments, fragments, fragments...' and '...broken, disconnected pieces...'
After his death his papers revealed a vast quantity of work. There are 25,000 pages of his unedited manuscripts in the National Library of Portugal.
Some of this was marked 'Book of Disquiet' or 'BD'. Others had the same marks but with a question mark next to it or a slash and another potential use or 'author' for the work.
Pessoa was undecided whether the book should consist entirely of prose or should include poetry and even considered sharing the 'credit' for the work between Soares and another heteronym, Vicente Guedes.
Arguably, 'The Book of Disquiet' can never truly be completed.
Various editors have put together editions using pieces that Pessoa had marked out for this work but the definitive edition died with Pessoa.
We are left with fragments...