Endorsement for Prince and Popular Culture
Out 2020, and here’s what I offered:
Prince Rogers Nelson: that genre-bending, gender-fluid, American retroist and Afrofuturist – to be found at the intersections of Howard Hughes and Jimi Hendrix, Henry Miller and Grandmaster Flash, Keith Haring and Robert Johnson. His life and art encompassed scandals and acclaim, controversies and disappointments – explosively meshing eroticism with, as Miles Davis observed, “that church thing up in what he does.” Prince and Popular Music interrogates how each changed the other, offering a spectrum of approaches to an iconographic and enigmatic presence who graced any number of vibrant culture scenes with 40 years of innovation and invention. The contributors to this book got the music, and they got the look.
Michael Reeves at Abertoir 2019
I’m introducing and then talking about our film this weekend coming, which is screening at Abertoir this year, on Michael Reeves. Other guests include Robin Ince on The Satanic Rites of Dracula, so I’ll be aiming to draw some parallels to the scrabbling about and fall of Hammer, and British horror cinema, in the 1970s in general. I’ll try to avoid saying anything regarding Arnold L Miller as I understand that his daughter has heard from him via a medium (he died 5 years ago), and he’s after money owing to him for the re-releases of his various films. If I could get a message to my friend and his associate, the late Stanley Long, I could probably calm the situation down on the other side, but I suspect they may not both be in the same place.
For the festival: http://www.abertoir.co.uk/
Listing for the film itself: http://www.abertoir.co.uk/2019-festival/films-2019/item/482-the-magnificent-obsession-of-michael-reeves
Line-up with all guests: http://www.abertoir.co.uk/2019-festival/guests-2019
Here’s the audio of my introduction (about 5 mins):
And here’s the Q&A post-screening (about 30 mins), with Gaz Bailey, who programmes and runs Abertoir:
Warhol in Wolverhampton
I’m delivering an “experience” for the AHRC “Being Human” festival, 16 November, in Wolverhampton Art Gallery. I’ll be looking at Empire State (well, some of it), a Campbell’s Tomato Soup print, which the Gallery hold in their collection, and tracking some of the influence of Warhol into proto-postmodern comedy.
Tickets here (but they’re currently sold out): https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/warhol-in-wolverhampton-tickets-67443173347
And my blurb:
Andy Warhol asked provocative questions for our post-industrial age: What is art? What is life? And what’s their connection? By withholding clear answers, Warhol asked his viewer, ‘What do you think?’ Come along to the Wolverhampton Art Gallery (WAG) and accept Warhol’s challenge!
You have the unique opportunity to go behind the scenes and encounter unseen art from the gallery’s extensive pop art collection. You can participate in three interactive workshops where participants do hands-on research on gems from the collection. Dr Gerry Carlin and Dr Mark Jones talk about sixties pop art and their intersections with pop, art, and psychedelia. Professor Sebastian Groes invites creative responses to Warhol, Angela Carter and J. G. Ballard. Dr Benjamin Halligan ends the event with a workshop on Pop Art’s influence on TV, analysing the Batman series (1966-68) and The Mighty Boosh (2004-07). In what ways did first wave Pop Art initiate and energise postmodern popular culture? Find out at this exciting event!
This event is part of the Being Human festival, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, taking place 14–23 November. For further information please see beinghumanfestival.org
Review of David Sanjek’s book
The posthumous volume, co-edited by myself and two other colleagues, has received a warm review in Popular Music (Cambridge University Press) from Dai Griffiths. (Great to see a note too acknowledging our hard work as it was… let’s say, bibliographically challenging to get the MS into a form that could be published):
When David Sanjek died in 2011, still in his fifties, the now-familiar mode of tributes
and memories posted online was swift and heartfelt. (Popular Music 31/2, 2012, carried an obituary by Reebee Garofalo.) Comments emanated principally from Sanjek’sformer colleagues in the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) in the USA, alongside those from IASPM UK: he had died while in employment at the University of Salford. The volume under review reflects Sanjek’s transatlantic connection: concerned with the specifically American music of its title, it is edited by three British colleagues. The editors’ initiative and industry in bringing
the work to publication are generously to be commended, and their helpful introduction indicates that the book was all but complete at Sanjek’s untimely demise (p. xi).
New blog post: John Henry Newman and “Intellectual Peace”
10 Sept 2019: “In this blog post, Dr Benjamin Halligan, Director of the Doctoral College, considers some of the ideas of the Venerable John Henry Newman regarding universities – finding in his writing anticipations of interdisciplinarity, the “two cultures” and “vocational education” debates, and useful guidance for doctoral students in respect to their time at university.”
I’ll put the text in the blog section of my website, but it’s been published by the University of Wolverhampton, at: https://www.wlv.ac.uk/staff/news/september-2019/intellectual-peace-four-lessons-from-newmans-the-idea-of-a-university.php
The Magnificent Obsession of Michael Reeves released
The documentary had its premier at Frightfest today (25 August 2019) in London (Odeon Leicester Square). I was Technical Consultant (further to my book on Reeves) and sort of narrate about half of it, as well as appearing in it. I’ll be at further screenings over the rest of this year to talk about Reeves, his films, his legacy, and his colourful associates; details to follow.
The great Kim Newman was good enough to offer a review, and some kind comments around my work: https://johnnyalucard.com/2019/08/25/frightfest-review-the-magnificent-obsession-of-michael-reeves/
Endorsement: Why We Remake
Just been reading the proofs of Lauren Rosewarne’s (of the University of Melbourne) 11th (I think) book, Why We Remake: The Politics, Economics and Emotions of Remaking. (Her previous, Sex and Sexuality in Modern Screen Remakes, drew a bit on my writing on Battlestar Galactica, tracking the transition from disco to neoliberal concerns). She’s charting new territory in this one, and it will be a go-to book for many film students and enthusiasts navigating through the bewildering remake machine that Hollywood seems to have become. Here’s the endorsement for her book that I was delighted to be invited to offer:
That once critically dismissed minority phenomena of remaking movies, Rosewarne convincingly argues, has expanded to engulf, and so characterise, mainstream film production. Sharp originality is dissolved into warming nostalgia, and excoriating film classics are defanged and gentrified. Just try finding something genuinely new at your local multiplex! So in Why We Remake, Rosewarne deftly delineates remake tendencies and categories, situating each in industrial, political and cultural contexts, and exploring their counterintuitive appeal and popularity. This is a pivotal intervention into any discussion of the lineaments of contemporary popular culture, in the context of postmodernity, and beyond.
Check our Lauren’s work via www.laurenrosewarne.com
Kathryn Bigelow paper:
Audio of the paper I gave at the University of Wolverhampton conference, 12 July 2019 (“White Imperialist Feminism: Bigelow’s Eco-Eschatology”): https://t.co/kojc1ME5N6?amp=1 (The films referenced the end, but not actually said aloud: Birth of a Nation and Dumbo).
I’m speaking at —
- Forty Years of Thatcherism? (The Thatcher Network / University of Derby, 6-7 June 2019). Abstract:
Tory Erotica: Social Aspiration in late 1970s British Pornography
Across the 1970s, the Conservative Party retained two positions on the “Permissive Society”: libertarian and patrician. Margaret Thatcher seems to have shifted from the former (in relation to, for example, abortion rights) to the latter (looking to the “moral majority”). This shift culminated in the idea of a declared return to “Victorian values” at the point of the first few years in power, and consequently a new censoriousness in relation to cultural matters.
Thatcher’s base was understood to include, crucially, the non-aligned “Essex man” – as representing that strata of the newly wealthy who ditched traditional working class allegiance to Labour in favour of voting Conservative in 1979. This paper seeks to understand the aspirations of this figure, in terms of how someone of limited education sought to tap into the pleasures on offer in a secular society, through a consideration of pornographic films from this time. Mary Millington’s True Blue Confessions and Paul Raymond’s Erotica lend themselves to readings as Thatcherite visions of a free Britain for the 1980s.
Millington was, in various films, associated with a (fanciful) stockbroker-belt lifestyle: models, Jacuzzis, erotic dancers, and shame-free sexual possibilities. This pornographic vista seemed to suggest both the horizon of possibility, and an education –for the Essex man – in how to spend money. This vista, I argue, was that of the bounty of deregulation and of the meritocratic society, awaiting and motivating those vulgar entrepreneurs who had capitalised on the opportunities afforded by Thatcher.
- at the University of Wolverhampton Annual Research Conference (panel discussion: “1969 at 50”, 17-18 June 2019). Abstract:
1969 at Fifty: Societal Challenges after the Revolution –
Liberation Theology in the Long Sixties
The 1968 conference of the Latin American Episcopal Council in Columbia was marked by an extraordinary intervention into systems of Catholic belief: a theological reorientation through which a “new church awareness began to grow, recognizing a new way of living the faith on the part of those who were committed to the poor and their liberation … a milestone in the recent history of the Latin American church [which] snaps the century in two like a dry twig.” (Oliveros, 1993, 15) This intervention occurred in part through the breaking free of Eurocentric paradigms of theological thought. On the other side of the split century was the “preferential option for the poor” – the fundamental basis of liberation, as envisaged, with the preference understood to be on the part of God.
In Liberation Theology, material poverty was understood both as an oppression of the body and the soul, which was then dispatched before its time. Such premature deaths, as a perversion of nature, were intolerable then for God and, by extension, God’s church. The new preferential option for the poor, for Gutiérrez in his seminal 1971 text A Theology of Liberation, “is the way to show the presence of the kingdom of God in Latin American history”, which can be understood as, no less, ushering in an entirely new era of the world church.
Such a body of thought projected radicalism a la 1968, well into the 1970s, and fired a radical and farreaching critique of the Catholic church. The eventual fate of Liberation Theology (in its suppression by the Vatican in the 1980s) can be read as an aspect of the contested legacies of the late 1960s.
- and at Catholicism, Literature and the Arts II: Legacies and Revivals, University of Durham (8-10 July 2019), on Daniel Berrigan SJ.
- at Kathryn Bigelow: A Visionary Director, as University of Wolverhampton, 11 July. Abstract:
White Imperialist Feminism: Bigelow’s Eco-Eschatology
In a 2013 public letter to Bigelow, which concerned Zero Dark Thirty, Naomi Wolf wrote: “Like Riefenstahl, you are a great artist. But now you will be remembered forever as torture’s handmaiden.”
This paper will expand on this condemnatory Riefenstahl/Bigelow association – but not through a straight likening of Riefenstahl’s exaltation of the Nazi Party in Triumph of the Will to Bigelow’s apologetics for torture in the “War on Terror”. Rather, the concern will be that of aesthetics in relation to landscapes and ecology: that is – the parallel is to Riefenstahl of her earlier “Mountain Films” period. Bigelow at times reaches for a feminised, New Age-y mysticism, through which her characters are momentarily lifted out of their mundane earthly concerns to commune with the wider universe. And it is this wider universe which seems the ultimate arbitrator of their actions, rather than any (Geneva-based) concerns around human rights. Thus different paths to psychic fulfilment seem to determine Point Break, or the idea of the restless spirit against the failings of the Repressive State Apparatus in Zero Dark Thirty, or soul against the system in Detroit. And thus, and most tellingly, in Last Days of Ivory, Bigelow advocates for military action against African tribal people in the name of conservation, on the grounds (soon revealed to be highly questionable) that the illegal ivory trade funds Al-Shabaab. The crudity of Bigelow’s propaganda in Last Days of Ivory, which chimed with Hillary Clinton’s position on the same (a greenwashed liberal interventionism) is lent the approval of elephants, and of the wider ecology, in Bigelow’s film.
In the same way that Riefenstahl once repurposed German Romanticism for a sequence of Hitler descending from the clouds as the saviour of Germany from its enemies, Bigelow reworks such Romanticism in the name of the “white woman’s burden”: the Western imperial feminist speaks out on the part of the oppressed, and summons the ecosphere as her witness.
- and at the University of Chester on REF preparation matters; 1 July 2019.
- and also in this documentary (for which I was also Technical Consultant) — out in Autumn, and doing the round of film festivals, for which I’ll be doing some Q&A too.
David Sanjek on Dante’s Old South
Stephen Windham, who gave us permission to reproduce his poem in the coda of David Sanjek’s book, talks a bit about our connecting with him, and the book being published, circa minute 36 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCN0Mq_FVbM&feature=youtu.be
Desires for Reality out in paperback (Jan 2019)
And 25% discount with the code HAL867 from here: https://www.berghahnbooks.com/title/HalliganDesires?fbclid=IwAR22KfB1EqfPSJ0cvjmV8kKMEZ4l_yCqF2UXSe3Q9ShcipfTyGFgq8abqUM
(lasts Feb/March 2019)
Filming for a new documentary on Michael Reeves
A gruelling two hour interview for me, filmed in the International Anthony Burgess Foundation — documentary out at some point in 2019, and features Ian Ogilvy too. I’m on camera, and Technical Adviser.
Since I wrote my book on Reeves (published 2003), it’s been illuminating to track the change in perceptions of his life and work. Back then, you might have the odd (very) late night Channel 4 screening of a knackered print of The Sorcerers and Witchfinder General. And Revenge of the Blood Beast only circulated in grey markets copies (mail order, for example, from Sinister Cinema) among diehard Barbara Steele fans. Now Witchfinder at least is regarded as a horror classic, and an essential part of any consideration of British cinema of the late 1960s, and a portrait of Reeves has been bought from a Vogue photographer (Peter Rand) for a forthcoming exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.
Two new pieces from me out Summer 2019
Articles on graffiti and The Libertines, and an interview with Jon Stewart and Louise Wener, of Sleeper, around Louise’s autiobiography. Both in this book from Bloomsbury: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/music-memory-and-memoir-9781501340666/
Stories We Could Tell published
It’s taken a while, but my late friend and colleague David Sanjek’s book has been published, with a little help from me and my fellow co-editors. Info in the “Books (edited collections)” page of this website.
It’s been really important to achieve this; Dave died suddenly and, although he had published widely in terms of articles and book chapters, and updated work written by and then with his late father, he hadn’t managed to see through a monograph in his lifetime — despite plenty of discussion about how he had one (this one) in fine draft. At that point, he and I were about to start editing The Music Documentary, also for Routledge, which I then finished quickly with some friends (REF2014 was pending), and pieced together a chapter from Dave (with response from myself), based on the paper he had delivered at the conference we had co-convened on the same subject, in Summer 2010.
Dave died in 2011, and we recovered the book manuscript from his PC shortly after. The MS had seemingly been left in 2007 and, while it was technically completed, sympathetic editing and corrections, and a painful citation overhaul and verification of quotations, along with indexing, was needed. Permissions from the Estate and the owners of Dave’s papers (University of Salford) were negotiated. Initially Ashgate agreed to publish this, and we had to make the case again to Routledge (who had then acquired Ashgate). The book contains a full introduction by us, which attempts to situate Dave’s writing in its specific timeframe, both in relation to his extraordinary career and talents, and in terms of the evolving levels of access to music archives possible (with which the final third of the book is much concerned). The book is so universal in its scope – a kind of poststructuralist analysis of identified dominant narratives that have determined all writing about American popular music, and how these narratives have coloured streams of that which Raymond Williams referred to as the “Selective Tradition”, with the resultant ideological balance struck around what, very problematically, was/is perceived to be American popular music (particularly in terms of race) – that it represents a major intervention into this academic field. Our task now is to continue to help finesse that intervention by ensuring coverage and reviews (to which end, happy to forward review copies to anyone who asks).
Photo of Dave in the basement of Adelphi Building, on Peru Street in Salford, from about 2008:
Shoegaze at the Wellcome Collection
New article on shoegaze from medical / psychological perspectives, which includes a few quotes from me: https://wellcomecollection.org/articles/Ww1iBCEAAM4AifmS
“Daniel Berrigan in 1970”: University of Wolverhampton Annual Research Conference; 11 June 2018.
Powerpoint for this talk: BerriganPowerPointHalligan
I’m chairing the book launch of Joe Darlington’s new study, “British Terrorist Novels of the 1970s”: International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester, 12 July 2018. Event info via: https://www.facebook.com/events/2071805439734978/ & book info via: https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783319778952
“’90s It Girls: Britpop at the Postfeminist Intermezzo”; “You’re Twisting My Memory, Man” conference, York St John University; 13 July 2018. Event info via: https://blog.yorksj.ac.uk/music-memory/twisting-my-memory/
Powerpoint for this talk: FemaleFrontedPowerPoint (possibly NSFW)
Practices of Verisimilitude in Pop Music Biopics
The article/interview I co-wrote with my esteemed colleagues Jon Stewart and Liam Maloy is now published, open access, on the IASPM journal website. Jon worked on Telstar, and Liam on Control.
It was interesting to talk to Nick Moran after the December 2016 Sleeper gig in the Shepherd’s Bush Empire (that is — after we’d completed this article)… Telstar is a semi-lost classic of British cinema, and Nick assures me that there’s more to come.
The arresting look and feel of two recent British music biopics, Control (directed by Anton Corbijn, 2007) and Telstar: The Joe Meek Story (directed by Nick Moran, 2008), prompts a reconsideration of questions of realism and authenticity – rationales, strategies, practices and constructions – in the historical popular music biopic. The first-hand accounts collated here highlight the ways in which verisimilitude can be compromised by the production process, particularly in relation to budget restrictions and expectations, performance limitations, equipment and props use, contemporary or period dialogue, music copyright, and a myriad other issues and challenges relating to the production of “period” cinema.
Link to article: http://www.iaspmjournal.net/index.php/IASPM_Journal/article/view/841
PDF of article: PopBiopics
David Prothero on Alejandro Jodorowsky
This is the audio from a lecture by David Prothero, on Alejandro Jodorowsky. The lecture was given at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, in the Old College, in early December 1999, and arranged by John Hefin.
David and Tony Whitehead were the programmers of the cinema in Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff. Tony wrote a book on Mike Leigh, published in 2007, and died the following year after a brief illness. David, who had intended a substantial book on Jodorowsky, and to that end had spent some time with him (even staying with him in Paris, as related in part two of the lecture), took his own life in 2001 — a year or so after leaving Chapter for Italy. In the 1990s, after coming down from Oxford, he had produced the fondly-remembered horror cinema fanzine, Bloody Hell!, and written in various places on exploitation cinema, including for the BFI Companion to Horror. They were both regulars at the Welsh International Film Festival, where we all contributed to panel discussions, along with my former neighbour, Sara Sugarman, who had been in Grange Hill, thereafter appeared in a few Alex Cox films, and eventually wound up directing Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, starring Lindsay Lohan, among other feature films.
This is therefore, I believe, the only record of David’s work on Jodorowksy. It’s taken from a second generation video of the lecture – the quality of which is terrible.
In two parts:
John also frequently invited Dave Berry (who spoke on Roger Corman, and his research on Welsh film; his Wales and Cinema had been published in 1994), Kevin Brownlow (on Abel Gance and Napoleon, and on the discovery and restoration of The Life Story of David Lloyd George), and Tony (who spoke on Powell and Pressburger). I’d invited Tom Waller, who spoke on his debut film Monk Dawson (in about 1999), and Peter Brunette (in about 1998), who spoke on art cinema and the idea of a national culture, around Kieslowski’s Three Colours trilogy. In turn, I spoke at Chapter on, as I recall, Kind Hearts and Coronets, and on a panel with Peter Stead (on his book on Dennis Potter) and Stephen Volk (on his work with Ken Russell, for the film Gothic). We tried a few times to arrange for Ken Russell to visit, and eventually succeeded — albeit John talking to him at a conference in Bangor University, in 2000. Mid-interview, Ken had a baby ejected from the auditorium for breaking his concentration, and gave me a self-published erotic novella afterwards.
So many friends and colleagues mentioned here – David, Tony, John, Dave Berry, Peter Brunette and Ken – have since passed on. But they were all part of the rich film culture around the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, in the latter half of the 1990s, and I’m happy to have preserved, here, a fragment of that.