Saturday, November 26, 2022


Angel & Omar

There is nothing like getting yourself to watch a DVD copy of a film you haven’t watched yet, by telling yourself you are going to write about it.

“Rock & Rule”, a 1983 Canadian animated film that mixes a post-apocalyptic landscape, pop music and dog-like mutant humanoids, while being targeted at a more grown-up audience, has been covered as thoroughly online as another film I have talked about, “Animalympics” [link], creating enough furries from its audience for that term not to need inverted commas anymore. I am not a furry, but I love animated films, as apparently do the Germans – both DVDs I own of “Rock & Rule” and “Animalympics” are from Germany, having no UK release beyond VHS, although the BBFC gives “Rock & Rule” a PG rating, advising it “contains mild language and sex references”.

The plot involves a rock star supervillain, Mok, who retires to Ohmtown, a ravaged place whose power plant could help him secure immortality. From the opening crawl, “high in the hills above Ohmtown, Mok’s computers work at deciphering an ancient satanic code which could unlock a doorway between his world and a darker dimension while Mok himself searches for the last crucial component – a very special voice.” 


The correct voice will have just the right frequency for the plan to work, much like Ella Fitzgerald breaking a glass in the ads for Memorex tapes [link], but by this point, we have already been told the film features the voices of Cheap Trick, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Earth Wind & Fire... and Debbie Harry of Blondie. Unless they surprise me and Maurice White’s voice fits the plan, it will be Debbie Harry.

As it turns out, the voice is found in an Ohmtown band featuring Angel, their keyboard player, and Omar, its lead singer and guitarist. Angel’s voice is identified by an audition, leading to Mok kidnapping Angel and taking her to Nuke York by airship. Omar mistakes this for ambition being placed over their relationship, until he gets caught up in Mok’s machinations and sent home – by this point, it has become clear that another voice could disrupt Mok’s plan, but there is also no one that can be found to fit that description, until Omar makes his way back.

Unfortunately for me, the mutated humanoids – the film’s American release explained that humanity had been destroyed and replaced war – border on obnoxious most of the time. Angel, as the heroine, is spirited but bland in a “damsel in distress” manner, until she sings, and the English-accented Mok approaches a Disney-type villain, but many supporting characters are noisy and abrasive, and even Omar begins as such, making the film feel longer than its hour and twenty minutes.

The art direction, however, is impeccable. The ruined cityscape and street level grime are reminiscent of “Blade Runner”, not yet a classic, but far away from the run-down, unsafe 1980s New York – it is both fanciful and lived-in, with suitably muted colours. If rotoscoping was not used to exact the characters’ movements, I will be surprised.

Ohmtown, at night

Despite this, you may be here for the music more than the story. Just as with the soundtrack by 10cc’s Graham Gouldman on “Animalympics”, the songs in “Rock & Rule” were written by the performers, like Mok’s grandstanding numbers “My Name is Mok” by Lou Reed, and “Pain & Suffering” by Iggy Pop, just as Debbie Harry’s songs as Angel were co-written with Chris Stein of Blondie - both of Mok's songs are the highlights, of course, and are perfect examples of each artist's qualities being infused into one villain. Earth Wind & Fire’s “Dance Dance Dance”, essentially the background to a nightclub scene, was also written and recorded for the film. However, with the recording artists being signed to different labels, no soundtrack album was released, and only a few tracks have surfaced commercially, with the version of “Pain & Suffering” not being released until 2019.

“Rock & Rule” was produced by Nelvana, the studio that made a big splash by animating the introduction of Boba Fett in the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special”, later producing the series “Droids” and “Ewoks”. The failure of “Rock & Rule” at the box office, released on few screens with little publicity, nearly bankrupted Nelvana, but their subsequent concentration on children’s shows, most notably the “Care Bears” film series they instigated, built the company into the major force it remains today, although nothing as adult as “Rock & Rule” appears to have been attempted since then, which is a shame when considering the attention it has received since.

Sunday, November 20, 2022


Considering how often I have written here about the virtues of home media, and owning copies of films, music and TV and radio shows, I should have had much to say about the abrupt removal of shows and films from the HBO Max streaming service, plus the cancellation of upcoming projects. The reason I had not done so, apart from HBO Max not being available in the UK, was because I had already covered similar ground back in 2018 [link], when Netflix took down the 1978 film version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” - this led me to buy a Blu-ray copy, which has a higher-quality picture than the variable bit-rate of online streaming often delivers.

What has changed since then is that online streaming has slowly become the norm. HBO Max, Discovery+, Apple TV+, Paramount + and Peacock are among the services that launched since 2018, and Tesco and Sainsbury’s are among the supermarkets that have stopped selling DVDs.

Worse for me, films I have watched at the cinema have not yet become available on a physical home video release in the UK, namely Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch”, originally released in October 2021, and the Daniels’ “Everything Everywhere All At Once”, from April 2022. I have been so used to a 13-16 week between a cinema and home video release that I am seriously considering buying the German issue of “Everything Everywhere All At Once” over having to buy a download of it from Amazon Prime, which is subjected to digital rights management avoided by having a physical copy to use as you wish. Meanwhile, I could watch “The French Dispatch” by subscribing to Disney+, but I have already once chosen to buy a box set of a Disney TV show over subscribing to Disney+ - that show was “Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers”.

I have no answer to these problems, except that if physical home video is to become a niche pursuit, available for purchase through specialist stores or online, that having the ability to buy a physical release must become as easy as possible. The Warner Archive Collection has been a North American success I wish they would replicate in the UK, being an operation that produces DVD and Blu-ray copies of films on demand. If it means they need to have the money upfront before making a DVD of, for example, the 1931 pre-Hollywood Code release of “The Maltese Falcon”, it guarantees the availability of films for which there is less viability in producing a wider commercial release.

Likewise, it has been customary for other distributors to licence TV shows and films to release themselves. In the UK, I have Network Distributing Ltd to thank for releasing brilliant sitcoms like “Whoops Apocalypse” and “Hot Metal” on DVD, shows that broadcaster ITV, who own the rights, have not released themselves, like they did with “Inspector Morse” or “A Touch of Frost”. 

“The Strange World of Gurney Slade”, a surreal 1961 sitcom starring Anthony Newley that plays with reality in ways next seen in “The Prisoner”, was released by Network in 2011, which I bought on the back of knowing it was a major influence on David Bowie, before realising he could only have seen it at age 12 on its original airing, or on its single repeat run in 1963. TV used to be ephemeral until the advent of home video, but the shift to online streaming puts all the power back in the hands of rights holder to display or withdraw content as they wish – you can no longer grab a copy out of the air in the way that a VHS or DVD recorder provided to you.

If I return to this subject in another four years from now, I can only expect that the situation will have become worse – “home video” as a concept may be dead by then, and even The Criterion Collection may be online-only. Keep your DVDs.

Sunday, November 13, 2022


Rhodes MK8 with optional effects unit

It absolutely makes sense that I would covet an electric piano that costs from eight thousand pounds to buy. As much as the opening theme I composed for my YouTube channel, and my song “Nostalgia’s Gonna Get You” [link] both use synth chords recreating the “E Piano 1” sound of the Yamaha DX7, what that sound is itself recreating is a kind of electric instrument holy grail – and one that no longer has to be bought second-hand.

Ray Manzarek’s piano line on The Doors’ song “Riders on the Storm” proves that “Rhodes” is an electric piano brand that evokes a certain mellow tone, almost like an electrified glockenspiel, especially on higher notes. Like a standard piano, Rhodes pianos are mechanical, its keys connected to hammers that hit thin metal rods connected to tuning-fork-shaped bars, the vibrations feeding to electric pick-ups. Used by The Doors, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock among many others, the Rhodes sound is highly prized, but with the original Rhodes factory having closed in 1987, outside of a short-run production in 2007, the older units have been kept running continuously, meaning few have experienced hearing one that hasn’t been “broken in” through years of use.

This is until the British sound design company Loopmasters bought the rights to the name, producing a new Rhodes MK 8 piano, based on the Mark I stage model introduced in 1970. I have watched a good few videos featuring it being put through detailed musical tests by people who could afford to buy their own, one of which had to remind themselves its keys were firmer than on previous Rhodes pianos because they were brand new.

I am naturally jealous that some people can afford to drop eight thousand pounds on a musical instrument, which approaches ten thousand once you add the extra effects unit with more digital options to shape the analogue sound, and once you want it in a colour other than black. It all depends on what you want, but when a Yamaha baby grand piano – a standard one with strings, not a sample-based electric CLP model – approaches that figure, your only concerns are what sound you want, and how much weight is your floor able to take.

Arguably, I already have the Rhodes sound with my Yamaha reface DX synthesiser, which cost one thirtieth the price of a base Rhodes MK 8, and I am very happy with it, but I know it is a copy of a copy. The original Yamaha DX7 of 1983 was much lighter and more versatile than a Rhodes with the sounds it creates, entirely by digital means that the owner doesn’t have to think about - the rise of similar synthesisers at the time will have hastened the end of their production. 

I guess it may be that you develop a taste for certain sounds over time, and once you have heard one sound being approximated so many times, or reproduced on online plugins that recorded samples from a Rhodes, you want to experience the real thing directly, being in the presence of its particular tonal quality that cannot be emulated owing to its mix of mechanical and electronic machinery. 

I am sure there will be a Rhodes MK 9 by the time I can afford a MK 8, but when it comes, I will take one in pink, thank you.

Sunday, November 6, 2022


You shouldn’t “punch down” if you can help it, but when we are all below Elon Musk, and he has just bought the online home of “punching down”, the rest of us have nowhere to go but up, or away altogether.

I had already decided I was going to write about Twitter’s “blue tick” verification before its new owner started firing half the company’s staff, triggering lawsuits, recriminations and an exodus of both users and advertisers, so whether I decide to take Musk’s offer of a “blue tick” Twitter Blue account, for $7.99 per month, depends if Twitter remains long enough in its current form to be of any use, let alone whether the subscription cost goes on improving the experience of using the site, or paying off debt loaded onto it through Musk’s buyout.

The question that remains for me, in case it remains a proposition on Twitter or elsewhere, is this: if I do not have the influence or following on a social media account to earn a “blue tick” verification, should I just buy one if the opportunity presents itself?

I have Twitter and Instagram accounts using the handle @msleighspence, and both have follower accounts in the tens because I only use them “for work”, posting links to these articles, and re-Tweeting the “CheapShow” podcast and occasional other thinks I like. Right now, using these accounts more would count as “work”, meaning I perhaps do not use them enough to justify any clarification from the sites that I am the person named “Leigh Spence” on them.

Until now, account verification is something awarded when it is earned, in the case of YouTube’s unlocking of features once subscriber thresholds are achieved, or when it is needed: both Instagram and Twitter (up to now) verify accounts featured in various news sources, with the user needing to provide proof demonstrating you are well-known public name that people are willing to seek out, bringing traffic to the site involved. The verification is then in the interest of the site as much as of the individual.

Now, I was thinking that buying a “blue tick” for my Twitter would act as the cheapest form of paid advertising I have come across – yes, I use Twitter and Instagram for advertising, but verifying one account would improve its visibility, and if that increases the number of people viewing these articles, then that is money well spent, so long as that is the only outcome. Increased exposure cuts both ways, and if reducing or eliminating your presence on the site becomes the better option, then being verified that you are yourself, and all the money you spent, is a waste of time – no wonder people like to be anonymous if they can.

I have still to make up my mind about opening a Twitter subscription in order to have a verified account, as Elon Musk’s plans for the site are currently changing like the weather, or whether Stephen King objects to them, his opposition to a $20 per month cost for his “blue tick” prompting Musk to offer $8 instead – all King needs to do now is two write Musk into his next novel as either revenge or as a warning. 

What I am currently anticipating is YouTube introducing social media-like “handles” for its users, at no cost, which may find my videos easier to find, at no cost – when that goes live, I will be at @leighspence there.