The Shards [Book Review]

I recently finished reading The Shards – a new novel by Bret Easton Ellis.
Before now, I’d only read his first novel, Less Than Zero, and his infamous American Psycho. Both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I read both of these books several years ago, and since then I have always intended to read more of his work but never really got around to it until the American author released this new work of auto-fiction. It took me a while to read, not just because it’s rather long, but because I wanted to savour the atmosphere and feeling that Ellis sustains throughout the story.

In The Shards – Bret Ellis – now in his mid fifties- reflects on events that have haunted him since his senior year at Buckley High School.
The story is set in 1981; the young Bret Ellis and his friends are the sons and daughters of LA’s social elite. They live a lifestyle of wealth and excess. They wear designer clothes, drive expensive cars, frequently attend parties, and have easy access to drugs at all times.
The city of Los Angeles is being prayed upon by The Trawler, a sadistic serial killer who stalks his victims, breaking into their homes and stealing their pets before kidnapping and, of course, killing them. As well as a hippie cult that emerges from the mountains to embark on a campaign of harassment and vandalism.
At the start of the new school year, Robert Mallory transfers to Buckley High and quickly infiltrates Bret’s tightly knit social circle.
Bret quickly becomes suspicious of Robert – rightly believing that he’s not exactly who he seems to be – and begins to investigate his new class mate. 
Bret, however, is hiding secrets of his own. His girlfriend, The popular Debbi Schaffer, has no idea that he’s actually gay and having affairs with two male classmates.
These are secrets he can’t let anyone else know. He can’t disrupt the social norms of life at Buckley High – something that does eventually becomes disrupted as Bret slowly learns the truth about Robert. 

Ellis manages to paint a vivid picture of the era and the city of Los Angeles as he lists the familiar names of streets, bars, and restaurants. As I previously stated, he manages to maintain a certain atmosphere throughout the fairly long book—a wild cocktail of desire, detachment, paranoia, jealousy, and suspicion—which occasionally verges on psychedelic, like a bad trip with an 80s soundtrack.
The Shards is a coming of age story from hell.

Only Ever Freedom [Book Review]

A few months ago I posted my article The Nomads Journey in which I briefly analysed the writings of James Ellis – best known for his work on the Hermitix podcast.
Since then, Ellis has published another book, Only Ever Freedom, in which he systematises the ideas put forward in Exiting Modernity and critiques modernist attitudes toward education, credentialism, careerism, money,  normality and more. Here Ellis hopes to provide the reader with an inward sense of disconnection – allowing them to move away from the negative influence of modernism and onto the path of internal freedom.
I think this is his best book yet and I found my self frequently agreeing with the text. I think Ellis has an interesting ability to describe deep down how many feel about the modern world. Only someone already, on some level, dissident of the modern world would be attracted to such a text. If this book does not serve you as a guide to freedom, as Ellis intended, then it will paint an accurate and honest portrait of our culture.

M.A.S.H at 50: Looking Back on Tragedy, Comedy and the Korean War.

September 17th will mark the 50th anniversary of the TV show MASH, first broadcast in 1972. The show was a hit and ran until 1983. It’s something before my time, but I’ve seen it through frequent reruns. I once read that an episode of MASH airs somewhere in the world once every hour.

MASH was a situational dark comedy following the lives and work of several surgeons, nurses and other personnel stationed at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital three miles away from the front lines of the Korean War.

It was broadcast nineteen years after the conflict it portrayed and while the war in Vietnam still raged, which made its dramatic scenes of injured soldiers and life-saving doctors powerfully resonated with the American public.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary I’d like to explore what made the show and what made it hit so hard. I hope I do it justice.
But before I discuss the show, I’d like to briefly explore its origins.
In 1951, shortly after graduating medical school, a man named Hienster Richard Hornberger was drafted into the US army. Soon after, he was stationed at the 8055th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) – one of seven improvised hospitals located only a few miles from the 38th parallel.
While there, he would go against strict army regulations regarding arterial repair. In doing so, he saved many men from undergoing unnecessary amputations and also became a pioneer in the field of arterial repair in the process. Interestingly, these methods would later become a plot point in the show.
Years latter he would write: “the surgeons in the MASH hospitals were exposed to extreme if handwork, leisure, tension, boredom heat, cold, satisfaction and frustration that most of them had never faced before. Their reaction, individually snd collectively, was to cope with the situation and get the job done. The various stresses, however, produced behaviour in many of them that, superficially at least, seemed inconsistent with their earlier, civilian behaviour patterns. A few flipped their lids, but mist of them just raised hell, in a variety of ways and degrees.”
After eighteen months’ service, he returned to his native Maine. He settled down into a civilian medical career and began working on a novel based on his own war time experiences with characters based those he served with.

After a productive collaboration with war correspondent W.C. Heinz the novel MASH was eventually published in 1968 under the pseudonym Richard Hooker.

Horberger then went on to sell the film rights for a few hundred dollars – something he would latter regret.

Ring Lardner Jr then adapted the story into a screen play. Robert Altman directed. Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland were cast in the leading roles of  Capt. “Trapper” John and Capt. “Hawkeye” Pierce – the latter character Horberger had loosely based on himself. The film – not an entirely faithful adaptation – was a critical and commercial success.

Plans were then made to adapt MASH into a TV series.
The producers of which would visit Korea and interviewed several US Army doctors, Soldiers and veterans to make the show as accurate as possible.
The show featured a new line up with only Gary Burghoff and G. Wood being the only actors who also featured in the film. Burghoff played company clerk “Radar” O’Riley, one of the main characters, while Wood returned as Brig. Gen. Charlie Hammond in only a few early episodes.

Episodes of MASH were highly character and/or plot driven. Many episodes would focus on a specific character. Some would take the form of a letter home narrated by its writer – this was just one of the many ways MASH would explore the feelings and experiences of its characters. Because of this, I think its best to explore MASH through its characters.

The show would mainly focus on Hawkeye (charismatically played by Alan Alda) – a highly skilled surgeon drafted into the US Army. He would work tirelessly in O.R doing whatever he could for the soldiers. After excruciatingly long shifts, he would retire to “The Swamp,” his tent containing an improvised still in which he would make home-made gin and drink to relive the stress.
Hawkeye has a strong moral stance. Having seen the consequences of war first hand, and was strongly opposed to violence. When ordered he refused to carry a gun: “I’ll carry your books, I’ll carry a torch, I’ll carry a tune, I’ll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash-and-carry, carry me back to Old Virginie, I’ll even ‘hari-kari’ if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun.”
He was also strongly antiauthoritarian and would rail against military red tape when it got in the way of his doing his job. Despite desperately wanting to leave Korea, Hawkeye was deeply dedicated to saving lives. 
Interestingly, Horberger disliked Alan Alda’s portrayal of Hawkeye, which he seen as too liberal. Horberger was a Republican and, although not pro-war, did not agree with the show’s anti-war attitude which was neither in the book or the film.

Hawkeye would drink with his good friend and fellow surgeon “Trapper” John (Wayne Rogers). They two would often form a sort of double act at times. He held a similar, although much looser, moral stance to Hawkeye. He was quite the womaniser, despite having a wife and kids at home. One scene I’ll always remember is in an episode called Radars Report. The doctors try to help an injured POW, who attempts to escape and in the process splashes foreign matter into the still open wounds of Trappers patient. The patient then suffers an infection which later kills him. Upon hearing the news, Trapper is furious and we see Trapper standing over the POW with anger in his eyes. Hawkeye enters and quietly says “Trap? Thats not what we’re about.” Without saying a word, he turns around and leaves.

Reluctantly inhabiting the Swamp with the two drunken doctors is Major Frank Burns – who in many ways was the villain of the show. Despite his superior rank and smug attitude, he’s an inferior surgeon. He frequently looses patients. In one episode, Frank decides to remove a soldier’s damaged kidney until Trapper points out he only has one to begin with. It’s latter revealed that Frank failed his medical exams twice and only succeeded after he cheated. 
Burns wasn’t just incompetent but also mean, neurotic, greedy, smug and hypocritical. 
Actor Larry Linville played the role perfectly and would occasionally receive a few hate mail expressing hatred for the character he played.

While in Korea, Frank is having an affair with head nurse Major Margret “Hotlips” Houlihan (Loretta Swit). The two both hold a stern military attitude and are frequently at odds with Trapper and Hawkeye.

After her affair with Burns ends, writers made Margret a more likeable, relatable character. She would often feel lonely in her position of command.
She broke up with Frank Burns unexpectedly after a seemingly spontaneous engagement to Lieutenant Colonel Donald Penobscott. Margret and Donald would get married and then divorced – the relationship being another casualty of war.
The camp was ran by Lt. Colonel Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson), a great doctor and reluctant leader. He had a laid back attitude and didn’t like to assert his authority and was lenient with the two maverick doctors and the target of criticism by Burns and Houlihan. Blake would serve as a father figure to Radar – the company clerk who kept the camp afloat.
Actor Garry Burghoff shaped the character of Radar – whom he made into an innocent and naive farm boy. Burghoff decided to leave the show to spend time with his family. His final episode was called “Goodbye Radar” and was part of the show’s eighth season. Radar is given a hardship discharge after his Uncle Ed dies, leaving his mother and family farm in need of care. He is reluctant to leave and eventually realises the camp will go on without him. Before his leaving the party, the doctors are suddenly rushed into surgery. In a touching scene, Radar walks around the mess tent where the party would have been and alone gazes up at the banners reading “We Love You Radar” and “Good Luck Radar.” When he left Korea he wasn’t a naive farm boy anymore.

Despite few members of the 4077th being religious, the company chaplain Farther John Mulcahy (William Christopher) played a large part in camp life, helping out the doctors whenever he could and acting as a friend to all stationed there. Despite his strong faith, he often felt powerless in comparison to the life-saving surgeons. He would do what he could to comfort the injured troops and his camp mates during their times of crisis. He’d also do what he could to support the local orphanage.

One of the shows most iconic characters was Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger (Jamie Farr). He was a reluctant draftee who would do anything to get out of the army. He believed that by wearing a dress around camp he would receive a section 8 discharge. Desperate to get back to his native Toledo, he came up with a multitude of elaborate schemes and a multitude of elaborate outfits. I don’t think his desire to leave should be mistaken for cowardice. In one episode, Klinger re-captures an escaped Chinese POW who held the medical staff at knife point. Klinger was the shows first regular character who did not appear in the movie or the book.

Over time, several members of the cast would decide to move on, leading to their characters being written out and replaced. I’ve already covered the departure of Radar, however he was the last of the main cast to leave, departing in the shows eighth season.

The first and most significant departure was that of McLean Stevenson. His exit lead to perhaps the most notable episodes – a story in the third season titled “Abyssinia Henry.”

During surgery Radar enters the O.R and informs Henry that he has received all the Army Service Points needed for a discharge. He’s finally going home.

Hawkeye, Trapper and Radar are happy for Henry, while Frank secretly looks forward to taking his place.

In a touching scene, Henry says farewell to everyone at the 4077th and just before he boards his helicopter to leave, he spots an emotional Radar saluting, whom he embraces in a hug and goes.

Not long after he departs the doctors once again find them self on surgery. Radar enters visibly shaken and says: “I have a message. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake’s plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan. It spun in. There were no survivors.” The staff do their best to retain composure as they work.

The final page of the script had been withheld for the cast and their reaction was genuine.

It was a truly powerful scene that shook America. The studio received several letters in response – some understanding but mostly complaints.

Producer Gene Reynolds would go on to say the following:

“…if we turned on the [television] set we would see fifteen people [killed in Vietnam every night]. They don’t complain about that because it is unfelt violence, it is unfelt trauma. And that’s not good. I think that if there is such a thing as the loss of life there should be some connection. And we did make a connection. It was a surprise, it was somebody they loved. They didn’t expect it but it made the point. People like Henry Blake are lost in war.”

And also

“Not everybody, not every kid gets to go back to Bloomington, Illinois. Fifty thousand – we left fifty thousand boys in Korea – and we realized it was right for the show, because the premise of our show was the wastefulness of the war.”

Thus ended the third season. Wayne Rodgers would have a contractual disagreement with the studio, leading to him departing the show. The fourth season began with an episode titled “Welcome to Korea.” Hawkeye would return to the camp to find it under Franks reign of terror and would soon be informed that Trapper John had received his discharge. Radar is picking up his replacement at the airport and Hawkeye decides to accompany him in the hope that he’ll be able to say goodbye to his friend. Unfortunately, Trapper plane took off ten minutes before they arrived. Radar and Hawkeye would then meet B.J.Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell).

Hunnicutt was another reluctant draftee doctor. During his time at the 4077th he would miss his wife Peg deeply and resent being unable to see his daughter Erin from growing up. B.J would quickly befriend Hawkeye and prove to be a masterful practical joker. For me, some of B.Js most memorable moments were in an episode called “Bombshells.” He and a chopper pilot plan a fishing trip. A few miles from the camp they spot a wounded solder. They land and load him onto a stretcher. As they turned back to the camp they spotted a man with a leg wound trying to flag down the chopper. They are unable to land, so B.J throws a rope to the soldier, but as soon as he takes hold of it they are fired upon by Communists. The pilot tries to take off but can’t with the extra weight and forces B.J to cut the rope. The pilot is impressed by the doctors heroism and recommends him for a Bronze Star. He soon becomes filled with guilt. He’s disgusted for prioritising his own welfare and leaving a man to die. Like his Swampmate, he was strongly opposed to the war and saw himself morally superior to those doing the fighting. “The minute I cut that line they made me a soldier.”

Frank’s time in command would be short-lived. In the closing scene of “Welcome to Korea”, Colonel Sherman T. Potter would arrive at the 4077 to replace the late Henry Blake. Potter was played by Hollywood legend Harry Morgan. Potter was a different kind of commander. He was a career officer not far from retirement. Unlike Blake, he could often dish out stern military discipline, but he was predominately laid back. He understood the need to keep up morale and would occasionally partake in camp hijinks, but he would often put his foot down when things got out of hand.
Larry Linville decided he had taken the character of Frank Burns as far as he could. After Margret married Penobscott, Frank had a break down, leading to him to accost a blonde woman and a general while on leave. He’s then arrested, sent for psychiatric evaluation and then sent stateside. Upon hearing this, B.J said “this reduces the enemy to just North Korea.”
The sudden absence of Burns leaves Potter desperate for a surgeon. Potter calls I Corps, where Lt. Colonel Horace Baldwin decides to send him Charles Emerson Winchester III (David Ogden Stiers) to avoid having to pay him a $600 gambling debt.
Winchester was an incredibly skilled surgeon with an incredible ego. He is from a very wealthy background and despises the low living standards of the 4077th. He annoyed the other doctors with his arrogance and snobbishness. However, unlike his unpleasant predecessor, he does occasionally get along with Hawkeye and B.J. Also, unlike Burns, he could always counter Hawkeyes witty roasts. Despite often playing an adversarial role, he was still a very likeable character. In “Morale Victory”, Winchester operates on an injured solder. When he wakes up, Winchester proudly informs him that he has saved the young man’s legs, of which he will regain total use. However, he will have only limited use of his right hand. Winchester is surprised to find that, upon hearing this, the young man becomes angry and upset. He says he doesn’t care about having use of his legs – before the war he was a concert pianist. Winchester – a lover of classical music – is wracked with guilt with guilt. He does everything he can to raise the young man’s spirit. Winchester sends away for the sheet music to Piano Concerto for the Left Hand and tells him the story of left handed pianist Paul Wittgenstein. Although reluctant at first, the soldier begins to play and Winchester persuades him not to give up on his musical talents. In another episode, “Run for the Money” he treats several army engineers who were injured after a bridge they were building collapsed on them. While in the hospital, they collectively mock a comrade with a stutter and his commanding officer unjustly blames him for what happened. He encourages the young soldier not to listen to their bullying, telling him he should not be treated like he’s stupid for his impediment. He encourages him to live up to his true intellectual potential and gifts him a leather bound copy of Moby Dick. He then returns to the Swamp, where he’s alone and listens to a tape recorded letter sent to him by his sister, who stutters throughout the recording.

The audience fell in love with these characters and really felt for them during their trials and tribulations.
MASH is perhaps my favourite TV show. I enjoyed almost every episode but, of course, some stand out from others, often for different reasons. Sometimes because they’re funny. I always get a good laugh out of 5 O’ Clock Charlie no matter how many times I see it. However, I want to talk about the episodes that stood out because they hit hard.

I’ve already discussed Abyssinia Henry so I’ll go straight onto The Interview – sometimes regarded as the best episode.
This episode is filmed as a newsreel, presented by a war correspondent (Clete Roberts) who interviews many of those stationed at the 4077th. Here the characters put forward their feelings about life in the hospital. There’s something about this episode that feels very genuine and haunting. It feels more real than any of the others.

The episode Point of View was filmed entirely from a first person perspective. It was an impressive technical feat in a time before GoPros or digital handheld cameras and with steady cams being still in their early stages. No one had successfully pulled anything like this before.

The episode is filmed from the perspective of a soldier called Private Rich. It begins with him and his squad on patrol when they suddenly encounter shelling, leaving Rich seriously injured after he is hit in the throat with a shell fragment while his buddy private Ferguson is hit in the leg. Medics franticly perform first aid and the two are airlifted to the nearest MASH unit. We see and hear everything he does while on his road to recovery. It’s interesting to see the 4077th from  a different perspective and  something very powerful about seeing things from the perspective of a mortally wounded solder.
Producer Gene Reynolds had the idea of shooting an episode in real time, knowing that such a premise would result in a tense episode. He knew that such a plot would require exactly the right situation, so he called MASH medical adviser Walter Dishell for ideas. This resulted in a script co-authored by Dishell and Alan Alda with assistance from W.C Heinz, Ring Lardner Jr and Hornberger. 

The product was the season eight episode Life Time.

It starts with several of the main characters playing poker near the chopper pad. A helicopter lands in the compound carrying a critically wounded soldier called George. Hawkeye diagnoses him with a lacerated aorta and uses a pocket knife to crack open his chest further, reach in and press the aorta against his spinal column to stop the bleeding. However, after twenty minutes, lack of blood to the spinal column will likely result in paralysis. A clock is superimposed on the bottom right on the screen counting down the time they have to save George. But they don’t have enough cross-matched blood, they don’t have arterial grafts big enough for a transplant and an ambulance brings more injured soldiers to the compound. The surgeons of the 4077th desperately try to save George against all odds.

It really is a tense episode. I’m willing to say this is perhaps my favourite episode of MASH. I don’t think a brief summery can do it justice. It’s something you have to see for yourself.

I could discuss a dozen more episodes, but I’ll leave it at these three.

I think in my discussion of the characters, the events surrounding them and a select few episodes, you will understand just why MASH was a hard-hitting show. I’ve hardly touched upon the humour here. I think MASH was a perfect combination of comedy and tragedy.

I want to end this article with a quote from an interview with Gary Burghoff.

I’m in a parking lot going into a restaurant in Westconsin. I was doing a theater engagement there and I was going out to dinner and a man approached me in the parking lot. He said: Mr. Burghoff, may I speak with you for a moment? I said sure. He said I was in the trenches in Korea. And I knew enough about the trenches in Korea to know immediately that this was a man who had been through serious trauma because that was a living hell. He said when I came back home in 1952 I was changed and my wife knew that I needed to talk about it and I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it. And he said when your show came on the air many years later it was the first time I could reach over and touch her on the arm and say see honey, that’s the way it was.
That was the greatest compliment we could because we always tried to tie the entertainment value into the reality as much as we possibly could in our small way.

The Nomads Journey

James Ellis – best known for his work on the Hermitix Podcast – has published three books which collectively make up an autobiography of his own internal life.

Between 2017 and 2021 he wrote a blog under the name “Meta-Nomad.” These writings were collected in a book titled “Exiting Modernity.” Here he critiques education, consumerism, contemporary attitudes and just about everything we see and experience in the modern world.
Unlike other anti-modernist thinkers – Ellis does not write from a grand metaphysical standpoint. Instead he writes from a perspective that’s a lot more personal. This makes the work more relatable and I think this is why the book was such a success.

Ellis also published a work of theory fiction titled: “A Methodology of Possession: On the Philosophy of Nick Land“. In one of the early episodes of the Hermitix podcast Elis interviewed Land on whom he also taught an online course and wrote several essays on. Its clear to see this was a thinker Ellis was deeply fascinated by. In the second chapter of the book the unnamed narrator expresses his dissatisfaction with the modern world – mirroring the views and attitudes that Ellis previously expressed on his blog. However here the expression feels much darker. Its hard to tell if this tone is a genuine expression of his feelings or purely to fit with the gothic themes of the book. The narrator becomes increasingly nihilistic leading him to cut ties with institutions, family, friends and the world as a whole.
Then browsing the internet late one night he comes across the work of Nick Land on a long abandoned message board.  This inspires him to partake in a strange Magick ritual bringing him into an Occult-fuelled psychosis in which he explores Lands philosophy. It is a journey filled with bleak and surreal visions. His situation worsens as he sinks deeper into a grotesque hellscape where he is left to wallow in his Nihilism.

His most recent publication was a short novel called “Be Not Afraid.” It follows an unnamed protagonist – a young man – who works in the basement of a bakery. Every day is the same, time seems to disappear (its interesting that Ellis associates a state of non-time with nihilism). His manager is a rather eccentric figure called Ollneek who is more than happy to share his unsolicited cynical opinions on just about everything.
The young man feels the same sense of emptiness that Ellis has described in his other works. Its a feeling  worsened by Olneek’s frequent ramblings.
Eventually, various guardian angel figures intervene – we see Ollneeks sinister influence for what it really is and the young man finds his way to salvation.

The tail is a sort of parable in which Christianity triumphs over nihilism.

The emptiness of the modern world led Ellis to sink deep into the depths of nihilism – unable to go any further he looked upward and found a sense of meaning in Catholicism.

Collectively his works detail his inner journey – the journey of the Meta-Nomad but where he travels next is something yet to be seen.

Topgun: Maverick [2022]: Film Review

I am perhaps rather late in publishing a review of Top Gun: Maverick as it will soon be leaving cinemas however what I have wrote here is less of a review and more of an analysis of the series. I have tried to keep spoilers for the new film at a minimum. However I will discuss in full the plot of the original film.

Top Gun became instantly iconic upon its release in 1986. This 80s classic tells the story of United States Naval Aviator: Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise ) and his Radar Intercept Officer, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards).
While stationed on the USS Enterprise in the Indian Ocean and flying an F14A Tomcat – Maverick and Goose have a rare encounter with two enemy MiG-28s ( a fictional aircraft).This dangerous encounter leads to Maverick and Goose being entered into TOPGUN – a school for elite fighter pilots.
Here Maverick demonstrates not only his incredible skill as a pilot but also his defiant attitude.He also begins a fierce rivalry with Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) – a perfectionist pilot and heavy critic of Mavericks dangerous methods. Through the course Maverick continues to compete against Iceman and push his own limits as well as the limits of authority. During the completion for the Topgun trophy Mavericks F-14 flies through Icemans Jet Wash – the plane suffers a flame out – leading to an uncontrollable spin from which our protagonists can not recover.Maverick and Goose jettison from the doomed aircraft but in process of doing so Goose collides headfirst into the jettisoned aircraft canopy and is killed instantly.The scene in which Maverick franticly calls out to Goose and desperately tries to keep him afloat before the rescue team lift his lifeless body into a helicopter is perhaps one of the most tragic scenes in all of cinema. Although a board of inquiry clears Maverick of any wrongdoing he is overwhelmed by guilt and looses his nerve. His comrades on the course try to console him however he considers leaving the course.Unsure what to do Maverick visits his instructor Mike “Viper” Metcalf (Tom Skerritt) for advice. Viper reveals classified information on the death on Mavericks farther – something thats always been a mystery – and tells him that he can be a great pilot if he regains his confidence. The following day Maverick graduates from the program and Iceman is awarded the Top Gun trophy. Celebrations are cut short however and several of the newly gradated pilots are suddenly deployed to the USS Enterprise due to a crisis situation. They are required to provide air support after a disabled communication ship has drifted into hostile waters.The pilots are met with resistance leading to the climax of the film – a tense dogfight between American F14s and several enemy MiG-28s – during which Maverick overcomes his guilt and regains his confidence. Upon their triumphant return Maverick and Iceman share their newfound respect for one another. Then feeling he has moved on – Maverick tosses Goose’s dog tags overboard.
Despite now being thirty six years old the movie is still as fresh and exciting as it was in 1986. Its easy to see it as a camp 80s movie but this is excusable. Its the product of its era and it ages like fine wine. The soundtrack fits perfectly. The film is perfectly directed by Tony Scott – images of F14A Tomcats flying into limitless space channel the Faustian Culture-Spirit. Of course Maverick embraces this spirt more than anyone else – with his need for speed, his love of danger, his defiance, his ability to push against the odds and of course his overcoming. He is Übermensch in a jet fighter. The MiG is a symbol of Faustian mans technology developed and used against him by an unknown but hostile civilisation. Despite these Spenglarian themes the film is optimistic. Maverick and his comrades overcome all and defend civilisation.After many delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic this unexpected sequel arrived in cinemas earlier this year. Over thirty years after the events of the first film – Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is now a Test Pilot for the United States Navy – flying an experimental hypersonic scramjet. As he arrives at the base ready to take flight he is informed that Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain (Ed Harris) is on his way to shut down the scramjet program early in favour of funding more unmanned drones. But since the Rear Admiral has not yet officially shut the program down – Maverick takes flight and pushes the jet beyond its intended limits. This destroys the prototype from which he narrowly manages to escape. We quickly learn that despite being bestowed many honours throughout his career his repeated acts of insubordination have prevented him from reaching any rank higher than captain. His old rival Iceman – now commander of the U.S Pacific Fleet -has repeated protected Maverick from being court martialed or permanently grounded.Hammer chastises Maverick for his reckless actions and tells that soon pilots like him will be extinct. Hammer sees the rise of drone technology that will eventually makes pilots like Maverick obsolete. Technology will eventually surpass man and remove the thrill and danger that Maverick loves. But he knows this time has not yet come. Once again Mavericks career is saved by Iceman who has him stationed at NAS North Island. Once there he is briefed on his new mission. The Navy has been assigned to destroy an unsanctioned uranium enrichment plant situated deep depression of a canyon, defended by Surface-to-air missiles and fifth-generation fighter jets. Once again Faustian man is threatened by the technology he created. However the pseudomorphic enemy threaten to surpass Faustian mans technological ability. It is down to Maverick to devise a plan of attack and train a group of elite Top Gun graduates for the mission. He is shocked to discover that one of his new students is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller) – the son of Goose. The presence of Rooster sends Maverick into a state of internal conflict. Rooster has his own conflicts to overcome regarding Maverick – the death of his father and his own ability as a pilot. Once again, we are presented with characters fighting both internal and external battles while training for the seemingly impossible mission.
The Culture-spirit is once again manifest on cinema screens in the truly epic and fitting sequel. The themes are very similar to that of its predecessor however updated to fit the current era.The high stakes and the struggles of Maverick and Rooster makes the film tense and gripping.It couldn’t have been easy following the footsteps of the late Tony Scott however Joseph Kosinski did an amazing job as director As I’d previously stated the first film managed to pull of several 80s cliches and this film is no different – its filled with the cliches of contemporary cinema but some how makes them work. Its clear to see that both films are the product of their era. I will criticise and say that the sequel has a few to many throwbacks to the original. Its also missing the overtly homoerotic themes that were so heavily present in the 1986 film. I think the Top Gun films are some of the greatest cinematic works ever produced. Rumours circulate that a third film could be added to the franchise. Its possible – after all at one time even Tom Cruise denied the possibility of a Top Gun sequel.
Oswald Spengler once wrote: “One day the last portrait of Rembrandt and the last bar of Mozart will have ceased to be — though possibly a colored canvas and a sheet of notes will remain — because the last eye and the last ear accessible to their message will have gone.”
Top Gun is the product of Faustian Culture-Spirit and once our civilisation fades into ruin there maybe no one left to understand it. But the Top Gun films are optimistic and perhaps like Maverick we can defy the odds.

Jack Grassby: An Obituary of a Philosopher

I recently learnt about the passing of Jack Grassby. Jack died on January 12th 2022 – only a few months before his 97th Birthday. I think it’s difficult to summarise Jack. He was a truly interesting and unique individual

During the Second World War he served in the navy. I don’t know much about his time at sea but I know on at least one occasion his ship was attacked by the Luftwaffe.
He became involved in local Socialist politics and the economic turmoil of the 1970s – something he documented in this book “The Unfinished Revolution: South Tyneside 1969-1976.”
It was also sometime in the 1970s that Jack helped found the annual Westoe Village fair.

Jack developed a deep interest in philosophy and became an important figure within local philosophical circles. He would frequently give lectures on behalf of such groups. It was at one of these public lectures that I first met Jack. I believe it was late 2015 and he gave a well informed talk on the philosophy of Nietzsche ironically in a church hall. He was already rather old at this point but despite his age his mind was still sharp. He could speak at length about complex matters such as the thinking of Derrida and Wittgenstein.

Jack’s abilities as a speaker were far surpassed by his abilities as an organiser. I’d seen Jack chair board meetings – maintaining order when rivalries were bitter and emotions ran high. Skills I suspect he perfected during his trade union days. On a few occasions I found myself disagreeing with some of his decisions – sometimes seeing that he was right in retrospect. Unlike other board members Jack was respected by his critics. I think its fair to say that when Jack Grassby spoke everyone stopped to listen.

Jack authored several books on the topics of philosophy and local history. Unfortunately they’re all out of print. A friend and I once found a copy of his “Postmodern Humanism” in a used bookstore in Jesmond. I knew I’d be seeing him the following weekend and brought the book with me.
When I presented it to him he smiled and laughed saying “You know, this is all just student stuff.”
I asked him if he’d sign it and he did. That book is sitting on my shelf only a few feet away from me now as I type this article.

The last time I seen Jack was on a cold December day in 2019. We’d both attended a rather dry public lecture. Afterwards everyone planned to head to a pub across the road for food and drinks.
Jack and I spoke on our way there. We discussed the lecture, my first essay which I’d published a few months earlier, the state of the philosophy scene. Once we got there we’d sat at different tables but before he left he came over to me, said good bye and shook my hand. I’d enjoyed speaking with Jack that afternoon.

He and I exchanged emails for a while after that. By now I’d become rather critical of the philosophy scene and we discussed my criticism via email. Despite my criticism I never had any ill feeling towards Jack – he was one of the few people there I still had any respect for. The last messages we exchanged were in late 2020. I’d told him I was planning to write an essay on Lovecraft and he’d told me of his plans to write an essay on Nietzsche and language.
After that we lost contact. I’ve no idea if he ever finished that essay. I never finished mine on Lovecraft.

I know that Jack remained active in philosophical circles after that and only fully retired in his mid-Nineties shortly before his passing.
I’m disappointed no one I knew from the period informed me. I only found out after bumping into a mutual acquaintance. I discovered that the North East Humanists paid tribute to Jack in their newsletter but I never subscribed to it.
A friend and I had planned to make a short documentary on Jack. We’d pitched the idea to him and he seemed to be willing but due to the lockdowns the project never went ahead. I’m rather sad now to think this documentary was never produced.

Unfortunately Jacks website has now gone down. You can still find partly preserved on the “WayBack Machine.”
Although his books are out of print you can still occasionally find them in used book stores and libraries scattered around North-East England.
I was surprised to hear that Jacks’ artwork was on display at the Customs House art gallery in South Shields. I’d never known that Jack was an artist. I hope to make the trip to the gallery soon.

Despite everything he did and achieved – I think those who knew Jack will remember him for the strength of his character, his integrity and the strong influence he had on those around him.

I know that’s why I’ll remember him.

The Bob’s Burgers Movie [2022]: Film Review

A few months ago – I turned on the T.V – flicked through the channels and landed on Bob’s Burgers.I was surprised to find that I enjoyed it. When the show first appeared on UK screens – I didn’t like it and ignored it for years. I’m glad I gave it a second chance. I often find my self watching it in the evening while drinking or editing photos.
Bob’s Burgers has a kind of niche humour that is rather hard to explain – kind of dry – both semi-realistic and absurd. It was a sort of humour that’s different to many other animated comedy shows like South Park and Family Guy that rely heavily on vulgarity – shock value and pop culture references. It’s a polarising kind of humour – which is probably why the show has such a mixed response from audiences. I think that’s why I didn’t like it at first – I was at the other end of the spectrum.
It’s actually hard to tell who Bobs Burgers is aimed at. It appears to be for a general audience rather than a specific demographic.
Recently the 30-min TV show transitioned into a full-length feature film.

It starts with Bob and Linda asking the bank for an extension on their loan. Unfortunately – they are turned down and given one week to make one months payment or face repossession of all their restaurant equipment. Making matters worse – a huge sink hole opens up right on their doorstep – uncovering the skeleton of a murder victim. Bob and Linda – with the help of Teddy – desperately try to make money while Tina, Gene and Louise begin their own investigation into the murder – all in order to save the business.
The high-stakes plot is quite the contrast to the mundane yet slightly weird situations we’re used to seeing in the series – but it’s the movie – so of course the writers wanted to do something big. I feel the humour of the film toned down from the series – perhaps this was to make it more appealing to a wider audience. Regardless of this – I still think it’s something that will satisfy fans of the show.

I’d like to end by saying, I don’t think it matters whether or not I recommend this film. A polarised audience made up their minds about Bob’s Burgers long ago. The only people interested in seeing it will be the people who like the weird humour of the show. The audience reaction to the film was decided before it came out.

Snuff Memories: Book Review

Snuff Memories is a rather short experimental work of fiction by David Rodin, an academic philosopher working at the Open University. It’s made up of vaguely connected vignettes that read more like a prose poem than a work of fiction.
Like a sort of cut-up Cronenberg, each segment is filled with body horror and imagery of a grim apocalyptic world. Scattered throughout the text are a few beautifully nightmarish aphorisms: “The universe is composed of windowless monads each locked away and screaming.” However, Snuff Memories quickly and frequently goes from vivid nightmare to hazy dream. Rodens highly stylised experimental style renders the majority of the book incomprehensible, rambling, repetitive and unforgivably dull. I’m unsure if the book is supposed to have some kind of underlining philosophy, if it does, it is completely indecipherable.

The American Astronaut (2001): Film Review

The American Astronaut – as obscure as it is unique. This film has been largely forgotten about and mentioned only on rare occasions in the deepest darkest corners of cinephile forums. Unfortunately the film is not available on any streaming platforms and the DVD is long out of print – pushing it further into the depths of obscurity. The American Astronaut is a musical Space-Western with the aesthetic of a 1950s B-Movie only bleaker.
The story is set in an alternative timeline in which space travel was pioneered by independent roughneck types rather than sophisticated scientists and noble Astronauts.
Here we don’t have any nice Star-Trek style space ships with flashy lights and glowing control panels – we have clapped out amateur space craft that looked like they are held together with tape and made in some ones garage out of whatever junk he could find. It’s a strange aesthetic that belongs in a genre that never came to be. A revision of Retrofuturism similar to now Steam Punk revised Retrofuturism – only this is gritty rather than goofy.
The film was written and directed by Cory McAbee who also plays the lead character Samuel Curtis (and whose band The Billy Nayer Show performed the soundtrack). Curtis is an independent Astronaut drifting from place to place, making deliveries wherever he needs to in order to make some cash. After delivering a cat to a client in a dive bar based on an asteroid – Curtis bumps into his old friend – the renowned fresh fruit smuggler – The Blueberry Pirate (Joshua Taylor) who involves him in a number of shady deals on numerous planets leading to one big score. The only problem being that Curtis is being followed by his old enemy – the murderous Professor Hess.
Despite its absurd story and musical numbers the film is played completely straight – no over the top or comic acting – these parts are played more seriously than those of a Shakespeare play. This crossed with the aesthetic contributes to the films uniqueness and strange feel.
I really enjoyed this one. I think it’s a shame this ones so overlooked. It’s a shame it’s so deeply buried when it has the potential to be a cult classic. The American Astronaut is something I’ll go around recommending to people knowing they may very well never see it.

Modes of Sentience: Book Review

Six years after the publication of Noumenautics (2016) Dr. Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes brings us a new collection of essays, Modes of Sentience, in which he continues his exploration of Psychedelic experience, Metaphysics and Consciousness. Unlike this previous book there is no exploration of Meta-Ethics.

Many of the chapters are deeply complex such as “The Great God Pan is not Dead,” which explores Whiteheads Metaphysics in relation to Psychedelics perception and “Deeper then Depth,” which explores space and sentience. I don’t want to summarise these more complex essays here. Doing so would take up to much space for this to remain a simple review and I do not think a short summary would present such ideas adequately. Instead I will briefly discuss what could be seen as the more “approachable” essays.

“The Concrescence of Dissent” is a fantastic essay exploring the development of Alfred North Whitehead within the Religious and Philosophical context of his time  – showing that Whitehead stood as a heretic amongst his contemporaries. An interesting article for those both new to Whitehead and those already knowledgeable of his work.

The book also contains perhaps one of Sjöstedt-Hughes most significant essays: “The Psychedelic history of Philosophy.” Which gained almost instant popularity after its original publication in Mid-2016. This essay explores the hidden influence of Psychedelics have had on Western Philosophy exploring usage from Plato to Foucault. Here Sjöstedt-Hughes provides us an alternative view of Western Philosophy and discusses figures both well known and obscure.

One such obscure figure is Sir Humphry Davy, who is further discussed in the essay “The First Scientific Psychonaut.” Davy is best remembered for inventing the miners lamp and isolating several elements however he want on to experiment heavily with Nitrous Oxide – inspiring a poetic philosophy of Metaphysics of which Sjöstedt-Hughes explains in detail.

Modes of Sentience is a compelling and complex read. I wish not to discourage or criticise by mentioning its  complexity – I enjoy a challenging read. I don’t think ideas like these can be presented simply and in many ways I feel this book continues on from the writing he presented several years earlier – Modes of Sentience brings us deeper into Sjöstedts Psychonautic voyage. But we have further to travel yet as in the past Dr. Sjöstedt-Hughes has stated that he hopes to combine the metaphysics of Whitehead with the philosophy of Nietzsche.