Category Archives: Cross of Iron

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Pan’s Labyrinth – #357/365


Not long to go now before I complete my 365 things for which I am grateful.

If you’re a newcomer to this blog, at the beginning of 2014 I decided to embark on a project that highlighted just how lucky we, in the ‘West’, are in comparison to many other people around the world. And how much we take for granted – such as running water, a roof over our heads or food in our bellies.

Today’s offering is a magical movie directed by Guillermo del Toro, called Pan’s Labyrinth.

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It’s the story of Ofelia who travels with her pregnant mother to meet her sadistic step-father, the brutal Captain Vidal, at his base in the north of Spain where he is fighting the post-civil war rebels.

Once there, she is befriended by a maid by the name of Mercedes who is helping the rebels with medical supplies, information and such.

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One night, a fairy comes to Ofelia and takes her to meet a faun in a secret labyrinth. Now, when I say, ‘fairy’, don’t be thinking of Tinkerbell or some pretty, pink fluffy thing with wings. This fairy bears more of a resemblance to a flying stick insect than a Winx Club. (Which prods us to wonder if this is all just in Ofelia’s imagination to help her through the violence and misery of her surroundings.)

Once in the bowels of the Earth, the faun tells her that she is the princess of a long-forgotten kingdom and, if she is to meet her real father – the king – ever again, she must complete three grizzly tasks to prove her loyalty.

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Of course, Ofelia is well up for it and goes about her task with such vim that an I’m a Celebrity contestant would only balk in horror at.

Meanwhile, her mother is a sickly lass and has taken to her bed. The vile Captain Vidal has his hands full torturing and butchering rebels and has no time for Ofelia.

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It all comes to a head when Ofelia kidnaps her newborn baby brother to protect him from his evil father. Unfortunately, Captain Vidal, who only has eyes for his son and heir, has other plans for Ofelia…

And, you know what the spooky thing is? It’s all true.

"A little off the top?"

“A little off the top?”

Pan’s Labyrinth is spine-tingling  fairytale for adults.

Exquisitely filmed and beautifully acted, the film is both horrific and enchanting. And, I for one, am grateful that I got the opportunity to see it. Several times.

Here’s the trailer, but you can actually watch the entire film on YouTube if you like. Don’t know what the quality’s like, mind.

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Things for which I’m grateful #356 – Advertising.


Yes, advertising. Nike,1990s,UK It’s hard to think of an industry more vilified by the general public than advertising. With the possible exceptions of bankers and estate agents. Oh, and insurance companies. We’re all wankers in the public’s eyes. It’s true that I’ve met quite a few charlatans in my time but I’ve also met lots of lovely people whom I admire, respect and have maintained long-lasting friendships. Advertising has given me many happy years coming up with ideas for stuff. Then having them bludgeoned to death by account handlers and clients. I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with some fantastically talented directors, photographers, illustrators, writers and art directors. I’ve also had the good fortune to have gone on the odd exotic TV shoot. come-along-gentelman In my 30 years in the ad industry I reckon I’ve only had three decent jobs out of about – actually, I genuinely can’t remember how many jobs I’ve had. The three best agencies I’ve worked for were BRAHM in Leeds, Owens DDB and Chemistry, (both in Dublin). They probably account for about 10 out of my 30 years in advertising. That’s a long time spent working in crap agencies. Of course, young hipsters will think someone like me is past it. I’ve heard a few digital johnnies bleating on about how traditional advertising doesn’t engage in a dialogue with consumers like online media can. Bollocks. As soon as you get a customer thinking about your ad you are engaging in dialogue. Whether that’s via the medium of television, press or on a billboard. Think_Different_poster_billbernbach Just because you have the capacity for a customer to literally respond to your message on social media doesn’t mean you’ve entered into a dialogue with them. In fact, judging by the mass majority of offer/promotion-based ads on social media, I would argue that this is monologue, not dialogue. The key to a successful engagement with a customer is to have an idea that resonates with what’s going on in their life. Without an idea, you have nothing. And, what digital johnnies lack is the ability and experience to come up with big advertising ideas. Of course, there have been one or two great online campaigns. (Old Spice springs to mind.) But not enough. And ad agencies today need to go back to the old ways of doing things but with today’s media and technology. Is it just me, or is there a dearth of good advertising around? interbrew-sheep-small-51151 Advertising is very simple: A great idea should contain two things: An insight into your target audience and a brand/product truth that will match the consumer insight. For example: If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen.

  1. A) ‘If only everything in life…’ = Life is full of ups and downs (consumer insight).
  2. B) ‘…was as reliable as a Volkswagen’. = If all else fails, you can rely on your Volkswagen. (Product benefit).

A + B =     Ta-dah! (Told you it was simple.) It’s often overcomplicated by people using big words to make themselves look more intelligent who try to portray it as a science. Great ideas come from great propositions. Here are a few straplines from yesteryear, when advertising was great. See how many you can match to their brand. (And they’d all translate brilliantly to online media.)

  1. Probably the best lager in the world.
  2. The world’s favourite airline.
  3. Think different.
  4. I bet he drinks…
  5. Good food costs less at…
  6. It is. Are you?
  7. …refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach.
  8. Australians would give a … for anything else.
  9. Beanz meanz …
  10. The Ultimate Driving Machine.
  11. Just do it.
  12. Vorsprung durch technic
  13. Reassuringly expensive
  14. It’s a new toy every day.
  15. We try harder.
  16. Happiness is a cigar called…
  17. The cream of Manchester.
  18. Hello Tosh, got a…
  19. You know, when you’ve been…
  20. I smoke ‘em, cos my name’s on ‘em.

That doesn’t mean that every ad campaign needs a strapline. (The Economist being a good case in point.) What a great strapline does is encapsulate the client’s strategy, which each individual concept/execution has to fit into for consistency of message. cream-of-manchester   So my advice to any young whippersnappers out there thinking of a career as an art director or writer is, whatever you do, don’t rock the boat. Tip the fucking thing over. There are too many safe-sailor-suits and bland-brand-bosuns as it is. N.B. None of the examples of great work I’ve shown here are mine.

Addendum:

Of the places of work I have really enjoyed working, I would have included TBWA Manchester – a really great team of people and a cracking account to work on. But, as I was only there a wet weekend, it seemed a bit of a stretch to include it. For the all too brief period of time I was there, I enjoyed every minute of it.

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Things for which I am grateful #36/365


The poet Wilfred Owen.

Please note, this post contains graphic and harrowing images of war.

In the year when many are ‘celebrating’ the centenary of the First World War, it is worth sparing a thought for those, such as Owen and Sassoon, who spoke out against its horrors and our government’s mishandling and inept military tactics. Particularly at a time when such things were unheard of.

I’m a lover of poetry and history. And it sickens me to to the core to see how many men’s lives were sacrificed needlessly due to incompetence and profiteering.

I went to the Somme once on holiday. (Ibiza isn’t really my cup of tea.) The thing that struck me most was that one minute I would be strolling through the undulating, idyllic French countryside on a summer’s afternoon and, the next, I was confronted by tens of thousands of white marble headstones.

Inscribed on one gargantuan monument I saw in Arras are the names of 75,000 men and women. They don’t have any headstones. Because nothing was ever found of their bodies. They were vapourised by shelling. Ponder that for a moment. Vapourised. Their atoms scattered to the winds.

‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ roughly translates as: ‘It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.’

Remember, this poem was written at a time when most poets romanticised or glorified war. And also a time when governments could censor and suppress what the public read or saw.

Dulce Et Decorum Est

by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

N.B. Wilfred Owen was killed in action one week before the end of the First World War.

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Revelon, gefallener Deutscher

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So, on the one hundredth anniversary of the War to End all Wars, spare a thought for all the victims, whichever side they fought for.

I know it doesn’t seem like something which I should be grateful for, but pioneers like Wilfred Owen, paved the way for the rest of us to dissent against irresponsible governments. For that, I am truly grateful.

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War can be good.


Well, we’ve done Romance. And we’ve done Sci-Fi. So how’s about my top ten war films of all time? Obviously, no laughing matter. But neither are Sci-Fi films if you live in my head. (They’re all true, you know.) Here are mine – I’d love to hear yours: Stalingrad_film Stalingrad: As told from the Germans’ point of view. Something we don’t see an awful lot of in this country. Soldiers on the edge of the abyss. Truly horrific and heart-wrenching to see how the common soldier suffers and endures. (And my grandad fought there too. On t’other side, mind. He was a P.O.W. in a Nazi concentration camp.) The-Deer-Hunter-1978-movie-wallpaper The Deer Hunter. War has a lasting impression. A deep, psychological impression. But the bond of kinship is stronger. Pittsburgh steelworkers go to Vietnam and are so traumatised by their experience one of them stays to be a Russian Roulette ‘celebrity’. His ‘buddy’, who has designs on his wife, returns to rescue him from his psychosis. MV5BMTcyMzQ5NDM4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODUwNDg3OA@@._V1_SY317_CR12,0,214,317_ Who could forget, Colonel Kurtz? A fucked-up soldier in a fucked-up war. Vietnam/Cambodia. A US colonel goes renegade/insane due to the horrors he has witnessed/enacted. And Martin Sheen is on his case as the US assassin to cover up his atrocities. “The horror.” abridgetoofar1977 Okay, a bit of a Hollywood epic. Still a great movie for its grasp of the complete and utter failure of a mission. Not just a failure of the mission, but the ineptitude of allied commanders and politicians. And a true story. 220px-Hamburger_hill Hamburger Hill. Not a classic by any stretch of the imagination. But what I like about this film is the absolute futility of war. It’s like watching dominoes being knocked over. But they aren’t dominoes. They are human beings who bleed and die. It was this or Kubrik’s Full Metal Jacket. (Or Paintlater’s Three Kings.) MV5BNjczODkxNTAxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTcwNjUxMw@@._V1_SY317_CR9,0,214,317_ Probably one of the best war stories ever told. A squad of Rangers are sent out to rescue a para, whose two brothers have also been recently killed, from behind D-Day enemy lines. (It’s a PR exercise by the US govt.) How many should die to save one man? Could’ve done without the ‘book-ends’ in my book. platoon-movie-poster You didn’t think I’d forget Platoon, did you? As usual, the only people to get screwed are those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. A masterpiece in social microcosm. 9th-company It’s the Russian version of Hamburger Hill/Stalingrad. A forlorn company tries to hold out against a horde of Afghan liberators. And when I say ‘horde’, we’re talking ‘Zulu’ territory. cross of iron Another one from Germany’s point of view. But this time made in Hollywood. James Coburn shows his commanding officer just what it takes to win the coveted Cross of Iron. His C.O. wants the medal but also likes to lead from the back. Not in Coburn’s book. MV5BMTk0MjIyNTA1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwOTM3MzU5._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_ And … the Oscar goes to … my all-time favourite: The Thin Red Line. An absolute masterpiece of poetry and war by Terence Malick. How nature, life, love and war de-harmonise in the Pacific. Not exhaustive by any stretch. And I’m sure I’ve forgotten loads. ‘All quiet on the western front’ might get a few votes. Feel free to suggest your faves.

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Perfection


To achieve perfection takes trial and error.

If others are involved in your task, they may see your experimentation as indecision.

Ignore that gnawing urge to placate them for an easier life, and press on with your goal.

Only then, will you hope to attain something that you can be 85 – 90% satisfied with.

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The stars come out for teenage cancer @3hundredand65


I thought I’d give all you lovely people an update about project 365 [3hundredand65] in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust.

It was the brainchild of illustrator, Dave Kirkwood.

Basically, it’s an online tweet story. Every day, a new author pens 140 characters to move the story forwards. (I was January 21st.)

Then, Mr Kirkwood illustrates said tweet in his inimitable style. Every single day!

The man deserves a knighthood.

Not only for embarking on such a philanthropic project, but for his tireless devotion to the cause.

He’s also managed to get quite a few illustrious names to contribute too, such as; Stephen Fry, Jonathan Ross, Bill Bailey, Minnie Driver, Jennifer Saunders, Charlie Higson, Chris Addison, Alison Moyet, Tracey Thorn, David Baddiel, Tim Dowling, Rufus Hound, Irvine Welsh, Clare Balding and Lauren Laverne, to name a few.

Incredibly, there are still a few dates open if you want to contribute. Just click on the links and drop them a line.

And, if you don’t feel like expressing yourself in 140 characters, you could always throw a few quid their way. I’m sure the kids who are suffering from the big C would greatly appreciate it.

Here are just a selection of tweets and illustrations, by Dave Kirkwood.

If you want to see the entire story so far, just click on the images and it will take you to the 3hundredand65 site. Enjoy.

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Andy Warhol in the soup again


Campbell’s Soup are celebrating fifty years since Andy Warhol immortalised their can of tomato soup by bringing out a range of limited edition labels.

If you’re in The States you can pick up one of these collectibles for a paltry 75 cents. (Bet they’ll be going for a damn sight more than on Ebay in years to come.)

Campbell’s own design team, in collaboration with The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, created the cans which will be on sale later this month.

50 years of Campbell’s.

The original Tomato Soup can, 1962. By Andy Warhol.

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