Tag Archives: Alien

Comic performer John Henry Falle on being an alien and an aspiring wizard

The Beta Males with John Henry Falle (left) (Photograph by Steve Ullathorne)

The Beta Males comedy troupe with John Henry Falle (left) (Photograph by Steve Ullathorne)

Yesterday, my blog was about the rise of storytelling nights in the UK – I was talking to comedians Matt Price/Michael Kossew at Soho Theatre in London. About two minutes after they left, John Henry Falle wandered past. He is a quarter of The Beta Males comedy group and 100% of The Story Beast.

My first words were:

“We should have a chat.”

And then:

“You are always taking your clothes off.”

“That did come up in your blog at some point.” said John Henry and then, apparently jokingly, “It’s possibly a way of… eh… dealing with any body dysmorphia I might ever have had.”

“The Beta Males are still going strong,” I said.

“Yes, we’re all doing little bits and pieces. We did half an hour each at the Edinburgh Fringe and I was doing my character The Story Beast, which is modern-day bardolatry. I tell the old stories in new ways and new stories in old ways. I want it to be three things. A cross between Ziggy Stardust, Tom Baker as Doctor Who and John Hurt as The Storyteller. They were all big influences on me.”

“I was talking earlier,” I said, “to Matt Price and Michael Kossew about their evenings at the Camden Head.”

“That’s where I first got naked,” said John Henry. “Well, in public.”

“They do storytelling,” I said.

“It’s the oldest art form,” said John Henry, “and it does appear to be having a bit of a resurgence at the moment. There are fewer gag merchants around and more storytellers.”

“The Story Beast tells new stories in old ways?” I asked.

“At the moment,” said John Henry, “I’m writing a load of poems about internet memes and YouTube videos, but in a heightened mock-heroic style.”

“And,” I asked, “you tell old stories in new ways?”

Beowulf is all told in gibberish.”

“Well,” I said. No change there.”

“But,” added John Henry, “there are references to Ray Winstone and the Beowulf film.

“I think,” I said, “I saw you at Jorik Mol’s Comedian’s Bookshelf evening doing… was it Beowulf?”

John Henry as The Story Beast

John Henry is The Story Beast but not the Son of Beowulf

“That’s my showpiece at the moment for The Story Beast,” said John Henry. “I failed Beowulf and, indeed, the whole of Old English as a language in my first year at university, but I always loved the story of Beowulf, even if I didn’t have a hang of the language.”

“You have a good voice for telling heroic sagas,” I suggested.

“It’s all about the resonance,” explained John Henry. “My dad was a… you call it a barrister here. He is an advocate in Jersey. So he taught me to project my voice.”

“Heavens!” I told him, relieved. “When you said ‘you call it a barrister here’ I thought you were going to reveal you were an alien from Mars.”

“That’s the way I do see myself as a Jerseyman,” replied John Henry. “I’m very much an alien in this country.”

“Years ago,” I told him, “I interviewed Nigel Kneale, who wrote Quatermass. He was from the Isle of Man and he thought it had made him a better writer, because he was ‘British’ but, at the same time, was not British, so he could view things simultaneously as an outsider and an insider.”

John Henry perked up at talk of Nigel Neale.

“In the three Quatermasses,” he said, “Nigel Kneale wrote the three basic types of science fiction… We go to them… They come to us… and They’ve been here all along. You can almost pop every sci-fi story into that.”

“You like sci-fi?” I asked.

“Science fiction and fantasy. I was a big Doctor Who fan.”

“Who was your Doctor?” I asked.

JohnHenryFalle2

John Henry, suspiciously alien-like, at Soho Theatre this week

“I was in the dead space,” said John Henry. “It wasn’t on TV.

“Someone who must have hated me gave me, when I was seven, a Doctor Who video – Time and The Rani, which is a terrible story.

“It’s the one where Sylvester McCoy regenerates after falling off an exercise bike. It’s really bad, but I fell unconditionally in love with it.”

“You must like the superhero films,” I suggested.

“Oh the Marvel films, certainly,” said John Henry, “once they became this on-going serial.”

“So you sat in Jersey…” I prompted.

“… believing I was some sort of wizard,” said John Henry. “Growing up with Harry Potter.”

“You could still become a wizard even now,” I said. “You have a beard.”

“Some. It was my girlfriend’s birthday recently and I decided I would cut off most of my beard and most of my hair and try to look a bit presentable for her dad.”

“What does she do?”

“She teaches English Literature.”

Beowulf and Old English?”

“No. She did her PhD on English travel literature from EM Forster to the present. Stories about Britishness abroad. Ideas of the Englishman as an alien.”

“More aliens,” I said. “But your beard still says ‘wizard’ to me.”

Alan Moore: a man with a fine beard and stick

Alan Moore: a man with a fine beard and staff

“I’m a big Alan Moore fan,” admitted John Henry, “and he walks around with a giant snake-headed staff, worshipping a snake god called Glycon who was revealed to be a sock puppet in the 6th century. The idea is you know magic is all nonsense, but you go after it and you try and make it happen.”

“So,” I said, “when you were a kid in Jersey, did you ever want to be a comedy performer?”

“I wanted to be a Time Lord wizard superhero.”

“With power over people?”

“I was terribly bullied. I don’t know if that fits this profile of the loner child who is in love with science fiction, but… I think kids nowadays are quite lucky in that things like Harry Potter and Doctor Who are in the mainstream. I don’t know what lonely children are like now particularly, but there’s enough room for them on the internet and the culture at large to provide them with something.

“I used to love The Hulk, who was so angry and repressed that he would become this immense creature and I always felt an affinity with him. And I think my dad quite liked him too because my dad was a body builder when he was younger.”

“And then he became a barrister,” I said. “Is there much connection between being a barrister and a wizard?”

“There is a legal spell in Jersey.,” said John Henry. “The Clameur de Haro. If someone is encroaching on your property or on common land, you say to them in front of witnesses: Haro! Haro! Haro! A l’aide, mon Prince, on me fait tort. which means Hear me! Hear me! Hear me! Help me, Duke Rollo! Wrong is being done unto me. And then you recite the Lord’s Prayer in Jersey-Norman French and they have to stop what they’re doing or they go to prison. That’s an interesting spell. A bit of ancient Norman custom which is still there as part of the legal system in Jersey. My dad has brought three of those cases in the past 20 years.”

“What do they speak in Jersey?” I asked. “A sort on Norman-French-Scandinavian? Where were the Normans from anyway? They’re not French.”

“They had close connections to the kings of Norway,” John Henry told me. “So around 1066, when Jersey conquered England, there was a Harold Hardrada who was King of Norway who was also trying to get his greasy mitts on England, but only William had the proper claim and a mass of army. I’m intensely proud of Jersey. I love it deeply.”

“It’s an interesting thing,” I suggested, “like Nigel Kneale having an outsider’s insider view of Britain.”

John Henry or the Pret a Manger cup: which is more alien

John Henry and a Pret a Manger coffee cup sit in the Soho Theatre Bar: which is more alien?

“I do feel a certain alien-ness as a Jewish Jerseyman,” said John Henry. “I’m too Jewish for Jersey and too Jersey to be here and too odd an atheist around my Jewish family in North London.”

John Henry’s mother is Jewish from North London. His father is a Jerseyman.

“But maybe it’s a cultivated alien-ness,” said John Henry. “You choose who you are and I’ve decided to be an alien in London and in Jersey too. Or, looking at it another way, I can choose to be accepted in three communities and can pass for whatever I want to be within those communities. That’s a pleasure.”

“So,” I said, “whither John Henry now?”

“The Story Beast. I’m starting to do some proper YouTube videos and have one already – All The Kings and Queens of England. And I’m in a new Horrible Histories film – shot it in March, coming out next February. It’s called Bill and is a comedy about William Shakespeare. I’m a Spanish assassin: one of a load of Spanish assassins trying to kill Queen Elizabeth. I got a fight sequence with Damian Lewis; I was supposed to get a head butt from him.”

“And after that?” I asked.

“I don’t know what The Story Beast will do. Either I will become incredibly successful or I will go out onto a moor or a barrow somewhere and just freeze to death and be buried with my various accoutrements – my swords and wands.”

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Filed under Comedy, Fantasy, Performance, Science fiction, Writing

Alien lifeforms, empty schools and sexual promiscuity in County Kerry

The people I am staying with on the currently rain-swept Iveragh Peninsula in south west Ireland obviously (despite the weather) have a refrigerator.

On a shelf inside the fridge is a 1,000 kg block of cheese.

On the wrapper are printed the words “EC Aid White Cheese”. The cheese is supplied free to locals by the European Union. You just go along and ask for it and you are given it. No-one knows why, but no-one is going to turn down 1,000 kg of free cheese.

EC Aid is part of the European Community’s Development Programme which stems from the Cotonou Agreement. The central objective of the agreement is “poverty reduction and ultimately its eradication; sustainable development; and progressive integration of 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries into the world economy”. Quite how my two chums living in considerable comfort with two cars and five TV sets in Kerry fit into this no doubt admirable scheme and qualify with all the other locals for 1,000 kg of free cheese, I know not.

But this odd circumstance is, of course, not a solitary example of a wee taste of the bizarre here in Kerry.

The local newspaper The Kerryman (established 1904) carries a headline:

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‘ALIEN’ INVADER WASHED UP ON VENTRY STRAND

PHRONIMAS, deep-sea creatures that inspired the Alien movies because of their practice of burrowing into their victims, were discovered on Ventry Beach last week.

The discovery is believed to be the first time creatures of this kind have been found in Kerry and, according to head aquarist at Dingle Oceanworld Katie O’dwyer:

“Phronimas are a type of amphipod, related to crustaceans, such as crab and lobster and they live in very deep oceanic waters,” she told The Kerryman. “They find a Salp, a type of Tunicate or Sea-squirt, and they carve them out to create a ‘barrel’ which they then live in.

“However, scientific studies have found that the bits of the Salp that are left when the Phronima is living in them, are actually still alive.”

The Phronima still has to swim around but uses the barrel like a little dwelling; as the food and water comes through it.

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The Kerryman’s editorial then rages at:

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BIZARRE SITUATION OF TEACHER IN SCHOOL WITH NO PUPILS

While the east Kerry Scoil Mhuire National School in Clonkeen has no pupils and is due to be shut down in the near future, a ludicrous regulation set down by officials at the Department of Education meant that for the last three months the school’s principal still had report for work every day at a completely empty school.

Since September this teacher, who was willing and waiting to be transferred to another school, was forced to fill his days compiling logs and rolls for a deserted school and wandering the empty classrooms and halls.

That this situation was allowed to continue, and was arguably ignored altogether by officials at the Department of Education, while schools the length and breadth of Kerry cry for additional teachers is nothing short of scandalous.

It’s a damning indictment of the culture of spin that exists and our government and the officials involved in this whole outrageous fiasco should hang their heads in shame.

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and, in even more personal social news, The Kerryman reports:

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KERRY’S LOVE CHEATS IN A RUSH TO LOG ON FOR AFFAIRS

Infidelity is on the rise in Kerry. According to figures published by website ashleymadison.com, which is designed to accommodate people who want to cheat on their partners, there are a huge number of people in Kerry seeking to play away from home.

The site, which was launched in Ireland in 2009, now has 3,692 members in Kerry. This is one of the highest figures in the country outside of the major cities. According to the site about a third of these users are women.

Users of the site, described as attached people by the website, can use it to flirt with other people who are married or in a relationship through online chat services and message boards.

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The AshleyMadison site’s slogan is:

LIFE IS SHORT. HAVE AN AFFAIR.

Perhaps my blog yesterday about the “feckin” nuns cavorting on a local beach during their summer holidays was not as odd as I thought.

Life in Kerry is never dull and often unexpected.

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Filed under Education, Ireland, Politics, Science, Sex

The very worst visual horrors of life – from Jaffa Cakes to nipples

Last night, I went to a very belated birthday party thrown for Scots comedian Janey Godley by a central London private members’ club whose name, much like Lord Voldemort, cannot be spoken out loud. By “very belated” I mean that Janey’s birthday was actually in January.

There are always interesting conversations to be had at the ‘Voldemort Club’.

Last night, it started with Jaffa Cakes.

Janey’s new agent Triona Adams, a former nun, told me that actor Ian Richardson’s father had created the Jaffa Cake when he was working for McVitie’s in the 1920s.

There was then talk of people laying Jaffa Cakes on graves because artificial flowers turned white, which I did not quite follow.

And I mentioned I used to work with someone at a Soho facilities house who claimed she was terrified of Jaffa Cakes, which I took to be a joke or a mild eccentricity until, many months later, someone actually brought a plate of Jaffa Cakes into the room and she had to leave in quite considerable emotional distress.

She told me afterwards, still upset: “It’s the texture. They’re dark and it’s the way the light reflects off the dark curves of the chocolate.”

Comedian Meryl O’Rourke – who annoyingly told me she has the ability to eat loads yet stay thin – something I miserably fail to do – was able to top this story last night with the tale of an ex-boyfriend who was frightened of buttons.

Not Cadbury’s Chocolate Buttons but the ones on clothing.

Quite how he managed to function in everyday life I cannot imagine.

Apparently he developed the idea as a child that babies came out of the belly-button and I can only imagine as an adult he had visions of a straining button on a shirt suddenly exploding into a new-born baby, much like the chest-buster scene in Alien.

It got worse because he found the visual appearance of women’s nipples reminded him of buttons and, the first time Meryl took her clothes off in front of him, he vomited.

Surprisingly, the relationship carried on for a while and Meryl has now been happily married for twelve years (obviously not to that boyfriend), though her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show is titled Bad Mother.

The show is about Meryl’s relationship to her daughter and to her own mother. Apparently her mother, whose first memory was being beaten by a Nazi officer (she was a German Jew), used to stalk minor British showbiz celebrities with young Meryl in tow. I heard some of the stories last night. The show itself should be a cracker.

Perhaps appropriately, Bad Mother is going to be in the Underbelly.

You certainly meet interesting people at the ‘Voldemort Club’.

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It’s Special. Why did I almost cry at this low-budget movie which everyone else seems to see as a comedy?

So this is the movie’s plot, right?

A man takes a pill. He believes it has given him limitless superhuman powers.

The movie is this year’s release Limitless. Right?… Wrong.

An ordinary person tries to become a superhero with mixed consequences.

The movie is last year’s release Kick-Ass. Right?… Wrong.

Now let’s bring in the Marx Brothers

When I was a kid, I used to see Marx Brothers movies on TV and I didn’t think they were particularly funny. But, when I later saw them in a cinema, with an audience, they were very very very funny indeed.

As I mentioned last week I received a DVD in the post from mad inventor John Ward who, in a previous incarnation was a cinema projectionist and therefore has an interest in movies.

The 2006 movie he sent me was Special – Specioprin Hyrdrochloride.

I only got round to watching it last night alone in the dark in a living room with a friend. We expected a quirky comedy.

Quirky it was. A comedy it was not.

Yet UK distributors Revolver sell the movie as “a comedy spectacular” and have a review quote on the back cover saying it is “hilarious”.

When I went to look at the reviews on IMDB, they were 100% positive and they kept saying it is a funny film.

I did not find it funny at all.

It was visibly low-budget and shot in documentary-style washed-out colours.

The film I saw was not a comedy.

Yet everyone else I have read seems to think it is. Maybe it is another Marx Brothers film: you have to see it with an audience to get the full comic effect. Or maybe I am odd and have just missed something.

I do not like Robert Altman films. Except for one: Images.

It is about schizophrenic delusions and the editing between reality and fantasy is exceptional.

Special is better.

The plot involves a (very) ordinary man who takes part in the clinical trials of a drug called ‘Special’. He believes the drug has given him superhero powers. It has not. He dresses as a superhero and decides to fight crime. The result is a moving, mesmerisingly-gripping, sad and immensely humane film about madness and delusion which includes sparse and understated but astonishingly good special effects for a such cheap film.

According to IMDB, Special cost about $1 million to make and grossed $6,387 in the US. Normally, that would not be a good recommendation. What seems to have happened is that Special has been successful on the film festival circuit but not commercially. Admittedly a nightmare to market, it has slipped under the radar.

It has one of the best scripts I have seen in years – and it is one of the few movies to actually use film editing to its full potential, interweaving reality and fantasy. Plus it has top-notch acting by an entire cast of (to me) unknowns; and spot-on direction. It is a wonderful jewel of a little film (77 minutes).

It was written and directed by Hal Haberman & Jeremy Passmore, a pair of recent graduates from USC.

I saw Dark Star at the Edinburgh Film Festival in the 1970s. It was directed by the then unknown John Carpenter and co-written by him and the then unknown Dan O’Bannon. They, too, were USC students. Dark Star screamed rough talent. And so does Special.

John Carpenter went on to direct movies like Halloween, The Fog and Escape From New York. O’Bannon’s later scripts included Alien and Total Recall.

Special’s Jeremy Passmore is one of the credited screenwriters on the upcoming re-make of John MiliusRed Dawn.

Having seen Special, that can only bode well for Red Dawn.

I did not laugh when I watched Special but lots of others seem to have laughed. So it must be me that’s odd.

I found it sad, touching and bittersweet.

Almost everyone who has seen it seems to agree it’s exceptionally well-made and psychologically gripping.

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How to write the perfect film script: “Die Hard” meets Pixar animated feature “The Incredibles”

This morning, someone asked me about scriptwrtiting. He asked:

“Am I correct in assuming that boy loses girl three quarters of the way though almost every movie?”

This sounds like one of those formulae I don’t believe from one of those people who charge $800 for seminars in which they say Casablanca is the perfect way to write a script – in which case, the perfect way to write a script is to not know the ending while you’re shooting, have a cast of completely flummoxed actors and to write the script virtually day-by-day-by-night as shooting progresses. I have also heard Alien held up as a perfect piece of movie-making and, having met several crew members, I can tell you shooting on that film was an unhappy utter nightmare. So creating a nightmare situation for cast and crew would be the best way to make a film… Not.

The classic story, allegedly, is a ‘three act’ screenplay and the classic story is “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl”, but I think those three stages can happen anywhere you feel like in percentage terms.

As far as I’m concerned, there are only two rules of thumb. One is something I was told ages ago…

In the standard US TV movie, the entire basis of the plot and all the central characters at the heart of that plot are introduced in the first three minutes.

The best example I’ve ever seen of this is actually the first Die Hard big-screen movie in which, by the end of the opening credits – before the movie even starts properly – you know that Bruce Willis is a New York cop who has come to LA to see his ex-wife whom he still has affection for and who works for a Japanese multinational company in a large building, it is Christmas and there is a party in the building and (if my memory serves me) you are also introduced to the lead villain who has a team of baddies heading towards the building. All this before the opening credits end. It is a brilliant piece of scriptwriting.

It is done very efficiently by Bruce Willis’ apparently insignificant chit-chat with a taxi driver (whose character also runs through the movie) and by simple intercutting.

Last night, I accidentally saw the beginning of the Pixar animated movie The Incredibles and the central characters, situation and tone of the movie are, just like Die Hard, introduced clearly and concisely before the opening credits. I was interrupted by a phone call so never saw the rest of the movie, but I could tell I wanted to know more and to see more. I was hooked at the very start of the film, which is a big thing…

Because the second movie structure rule-of-thumb is that there has to be a ‘hook’ at the very beginning. If there isn’t a hook at the start of a film, I am never involved either emotionally or intellectually.

Setting up the atmosphere/tone at the start sounds good but doesn’t work.

You have to set up the atmosphere/tone but ALSO introduce the central characters and situation very quickly and succinctly. Another great example of this is the opening of my favourite film The Wild Bunch – everything is set up during the opening credits with dramatic music which sets the atmosphere/tone – you are shown the central characters, the bounty hunters waiting, the start of the opening bank robbery, the physical set-up for an upcoming massacre of the innocents… it is a giant hook of expectation built-up by great music… and even the director’s movie-making philosophy is established.

As the final credit DIRECTED BY SAM PECKINPAH appears on screen, William Holden barks out: “If they move… kill ’em!”

To my mind, the best films and TV episodes and the best novels have this structure… They start with an unresolved problem and end with the resolution of that problem; the plot is the unravelling of the problem and, during the story, you cannot yourself see how it can possibly be resolved so you have to keep watching to find out.

In the case of Die Hard, the unresolved problem is actually that the central character’s marriage has fallen apart plus there is going to be an attack on the skyscraper in which the ex-wife is working/partying. Along the way, bit by bit, there are other little hooks, each of which have to be straightened out. A couple of them are when the wife’s identity is revealed to the ‘terrorists’ and another the point at which the Bruce Willis character (armed) comes face-to-face with the lead ‘terrorist’ (unarmed) who pretends to be a hostage. So the hook running through the movie is Can he save his wife? and Can he save his marriage? And, along the way, there are a succession of little hooks.

I think the best example of this structure of constant hooks throughout a narrative is surprisingly Scots comedian Janey Godley‘s terrifying autobiography Handstands in the Dark – an emotional rollercoaster which makes the Himalayas look like goose bumps – I edited the book but did not write it (she wrote it) and I was therefore the first to be emotionally traumatised by reading it.

At the very beginning, even on the first page, there is a hook; I defy anyone who reads the closing paragraphs of the first chapter not to read the second chapter. And this happens throughout the book. She constantly tells the reader not-quite-enough facts to be satisfied. They have to read on a little more to find the resolution of each particular hook and, by the time they understand what is going on and/or are satisfied with the resolution of that problem, another hook has been set up. The book is also full of page-turning “Jesus fucking Christ almighty!” moments. Thunderbolts come out of the blue without any warning at all. And she intercuts multiple narrative strands throughout – this was nothing to do with me; she did it. It is an extraordinary narrative.

It reminded me, oddly, of Lord of the Rings, where Tolkien separates the central characters, then intercuts between the narrative strands, leaving the story strands dangling so you have to keep reading to find out what happened. Janey doesn’t have separate plot strands in that sense, but she intercuts her narrative. And the ending simultaneously is the biggest cliff-hanger since the climax of  the original Italian Job and also satisfyingly emotionally rounded-off. A neat trick she pulled there.

So my three golden rules for writing a film script (the third one echoes the late Malcolm Hardee‘s Third Golden Rule of Comedy) are:

1) explain the set-up and central characters in the first three minutes
2) structure the narrative with constant unresolved hooks

3) if all else fails, clothes off and knob out!

I should, perhaps, point out I never read any part of the Killer Bitch script until after shooting had finished and have still never actually read the full script…!

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