[APAK logo] Issue #71, December 13th, 1996

Fannish Memory Syndrome
by Steve Green

There are worse cinematic experiences than watching a bad movie: one that isn't quite bad enough, for a start, a category which undeniably includes Dark Horse's adaptation of its own comic-book series Barb Wire. Mounted as a PVC-upholstered vehicle for the buxom Pamela Anderson Lee, the current UK video release even includes a nine-and-a-half-minute appendix during which the former Motley Crüe groupie swings on a chain and thrusts her cleavage at the camera, presumably to scotch rumours that stunt nipples were drafted in for the more demanding sequences.

I have to admit to considerable bemusement at the erstwhile Playboy pin-up's rise from the supporting cast of Baywatch to the ranks of those who are pretty much famous merely for being famous. True, cosmetic surgery has allowed her to become the living embodiment of the Barbie doll, but she's scarcely unique in that achievement; The Playmate Book even dubs her "the single most popular blonde on the planet," a conclusion presumably founded in Madonna Ciccone's status as a natural brunette and (credited) author Hugh Hefner's belief that Marilyn Monroe was abducted by aliens.

But even more surprising was Barb Wire itself, which most UK reviewers had described as Mad Max in a corset. Finally getting around to viewing the damn thing myself, its true identity was swiftly revealed as a gender-reversed remake of one of my favourite movies. Let's weigh up the evidence: a mercenary bar-owner operating in an intrigue-drenched port evades fascist stormtroopers to provide her former lover and his new spouse -- a political fugitive -- with a guaranteed escape route to safety, aided by a corrupt cop who comes good at the end. Grief, all they needed to do was stick Pammy in a trenchcoat and have her walk off into the fog, muttering about beautiful relationships.

The fact that none of the British journos appeared to pick up on the Casablanca theme is pretty depressing, but hardly unexpected; critics such as Anno Dracula author Kim Newman, who actually cares about films made further back than last week (and gets to unearth vintage genre junk on BBC1's occasional late-night showcase Dr. Terror Presents), are an increasingly rare commodity. The situation is even bleaker for British cinephiles attempting to track down older or more obscure movies, given the prohibitive cost of certification (unlike the US, unrated videos are illegal here, as is the sale of secondhand material released before classification was introduced in 1984) and the reluctance of video retailers to stray outside the current box office top twenty.

Meanwhile, Barb Wire offers us Wham Bamm Pam as a top-heavy Humphrey Bogart, Steve Railsback as a vertically-challenged Conrad Veidt and Clint Howard in a performance even Peter Lorre would have rejected as excessively twitchy. Studio logistics may thankfully have denied us the spectacle of Ronald Reagan as Rick Blaine, but now we get to see the role essayed by a silicone-padded, collagen-enhanced British Columbian. Hey, who dares say Hollywood magic is a thing of the past?

And now, some good news for a change. Thanks to the astounding generosity of the 280-plus members of Novacon 26, not to mention levels of extortion displayed by the United Fan Funds team which wouldn't have looked out of place in Mario Puzo's next Godfather screenplay, around half the #2,700 believed to be missing from the British TAFF reserves has been replaced (and yes, that is slightly higher than the figure given in the initial announcement). Further auctions are certain to be held at Attitude in mid-February and at Intervention, the 1997 Eastercon, in late March. Hooray for us.

As I told Gary Farber in the early hours of Novacon Sunday, whilst sympathizing fully with the anger expressed by Victor in his APAK #69 commentary "Fancy That," I remain convinced that administrators Martin Tudor and Dan Steffan were entirely justified in keeping Abi Frost's actions clear of the fannish grapevine until Martin's return to these shores. It's worth pointing out that a press release was readied prior to his departure, for distribution should the story break during the Worldcon; that it wasn't finally released immediately afterwards, due to Martin's post-trip illness (which also soured his relationship with the office he was due to join that week) was unfortunate, but hardly the stuff of conspiracy theories. It's not like this is TAFFgate, despite the impression given by Gary and his lengthy (albeit sincere) interrogation.

Even before our worst fears were confirmed, I'd begun to harbour serious concerns as to Frost's state of mind and/or trustworthiness, and began work in late September on an edition of this very column in which I would address both; that would have appeared, Andy and Victor willing, in APAK #63 (4 July), effectively blowing the situation wide open a full six issues earlier. My decision to pull the column, hours before it was e-mailed to Seattle, came after Martin phoned me to report Frost's third-hand confession (via Roger Robinson, who'd in turn heard from John Clute), during which I concurred completely with his reasoning. It was still not a decision I made lightly, or now regret.

Ironically, if cabals and conspiracies were the order of the day, all of this could have been avoided. Had Pam Wells reversed just one vote in the 1993 TAFF ballot in favour of our mutual friend Tony Berry, she'd've assured his victory; Tony would have proven a far better ambassador for UK fandom by far and could also have been counted on completely during his term as administrator. Maybe, in some alternative universe, Tony did just that and my column this issue is totally devoted to the (well) hidden joys of shite cinema; but, hey, that sounds like pure science fiction.

I've found I enjoyed every Dutch person I've met.

[APAK logo] Issue #71, December 13th, 1996

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