Hyena – Vivid, visceral Cinema

Buckets of claret. Weird, unsettling visuals – a waking nightmare that’s much scarier than horror, as these events are all too plausible. Bitches and Butchery might have made a good title, if Hyena’s Albanian crime overlords had been consulted. They’re not likely to attend a men’s anti-sexism group any time soon. Inevitable reaction to a pair of male cops on their territory; ‘are they lovers?’


The violence was too much for a reviewer on the once reliable Roger Ebert site, who starts by wittering about ‘bobbies’ – only fifty years out of date. ‘…its sheer unpleasantness may be enough to satisfy some viewers..’ Yes. Me, for one. Stand aside, you big girl. And I don’t think it’s ‘unbalanced’, possibly ‘racist’, to portray drug and sex trafficking kingpins as monstrous, murderous brutes. Any Albanians not running international crime empires will despise these vile thugs.
There is of course a lot more than ‘sheer unpleasantness’ to this original, bravura work. First class direction and cinematography, the actors and locations are utterly convincing. Police and victims’ support groups were consulted which shows in the grimly realistic script. Peter Ferdinando as an undercover detective is magnificent, inner turmoil often conveyed without words.


Stephen Graham gives us yet another memorable, intriguing character.

Hyena has a unique visual signature. Time Out review nails it: ‘balletic slo-mo, neon colour washes and giddy tracking shots – all recalling the Hong Kong heyday of John Woo and Ringo Lam.’

Some said it’s not news that cops can be corrupt, but it’s often ignored in unrealistic forensics shows, or polite dross like Midsomer Murders. Not everyone’s seen Bad Lieutenant, indeed it’s six years since the remake. If even the eunuchs at the Guardian liked this, with reservations, it’s obviously worth investigating – if you have a strong stomach.

Avoid if rape or extreme violence is triggering. Bodies are dismembered, the living and the dead. It’s not a barrel of laughs and I’m struggling to find something uplifting for those of us fighting depression. Hang on, I’ve kicked carbs – a rare victory against the forces of darkness. And there’s something to be said for shock therapy. I like a jolt, whether it be strong coffee, raw chillis, or the bleakest, blackest Noir.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4lUnJnwFL0 trailer

One of the party-loving cops – Tony Pitts, brilliant acting throughout – tells an internal affairs guy he wants compensation for his employment-related depression. A pause then the interrogator erupts into incredulous laughter. Mental disorders may be over-diagnosed, perhaps over-medicated. Some compensation payments for public servants can look ridiculous. Yet undercover work is stressful enough to cause clinical depression even without battling ruthless killers. Maybe these cops could have done a little less booze, toot and MDMA? Is this just ‘Post-Nasal Depression’? – as Paul Whitehouse’s rock star says in the excellent Nurse. Well, those who risk their lives regularly often run on heavy fuel. We shouldn’t judge. My depression eased up since the three day parties finished. Not so high any more, but not so low. Getting used to the middle, the bullseye.

The ending – genuinely surprising – takes some getting used to. It’s the right one, though some will disagree for equally valid reasons. It has an echo of Get Carter director Michael Hodges’s I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, another feelbad Noir, which also stays with you. Vivid, visceral cinema. Looking forward to more from director Gerard Johnson and Peter Ferdinando.



Fran Landesman and the Wisdom of Wallace. ‘There’s Something Irresistible In Down.’


“I’m depressed”, I told Simon Wallace, for whom this wouldn’t have been an earth shattering revelation. It would have been as superfluous telling him I was a paranoid manic depressive, an alcoholic drug addict who later scored 18 out of 20 on a test for psychopaths. (I still have empathy and occasional regrets  but I’m working on it.) We were recording a track on an album of new Fran Landesman lyrics sung by Nicki Leighton Thomas, for which Simon, an exceptionally talented pianist and composer, had written the music. Fran Landesman was the legend whose work had been covered by various deities: Miles Davis, Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald – and the merely world famous. As usual I couldn’t see past my problems.
“I’m depressed,” I told him.
“Don’t be,” he replied.

It took me some years to see the wisdom of this, at the time I thought this was just ‘pull yourself together’, what people who have never been clinically depressed generally say. It was actually closer to the wisdom of a Zen Master. Or perhaps he was channelling some of Fran’s mordant Jewish humour. In any case, ‘poor you’ wouldn’t have helped neither would indulging such a basket case in a talking cure – not unless we’d had some decades to spare. I later drove some therapists nuts picking apart their systems – ‘I don’t think writers should do therapy’ said one eventually, more restrained that I may have deserved. I had the feeling he may have been saying a great deal more to friends or his own therapist, perhaps a priest may have been required. The best cure on offer was the cognitive behaviourial shock of Simon’s ‘Fix it!’. Although I didn’t like it at the time.

There followed therapies, chemicals – some legal, mostly otherwise – philosophical and spiritual dabbling and far too much debauchery. Waving the white flag of Stoicism eventually helped – it’s often not possible to be happy so don’t beat yourself up – but I’ve never been one to put up with reality if there’s an alternative. And you still need a cure for pain.

One solution – temporary, like the others – is to use toxic experience as fuel for stories and music – or just jokes as an instant salve. I never tire of Larry Sanders on the Jewish Mcdonalds menu option: the Never Happy Meal. You can almost see the bickering family.

Fran Landesman Find an Audience
“When the life you’re livin’ don’t make no sense
And the pain it’s givin’ gets too intense
If you’re lookin’ for a sympathetic ear
Never tell your troubles to your near and dear
Find an audience”

Back then I was also editing Fetish Times: Fran was happy for us to include a poem featuring a dominatrix. Mose Allison also liked the mag. We should probably veer off the subject of jazz musicians and fetishism before I mention that Miles Davis was once found by a lover called Susan in some of her clothes. (‘with those skinny little legs he looks just like Minnie Mouse’)  Too late.

She was immortalised in the track Lazy Susan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGQIDNCQWlY


Nicki Leighton-Thomas’s Forbidden Games is available here, CD and download http://www.amazon.co.uk/Forbidden-Games-Nicki-Leighton-Thomas/dp/B00005RT85/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1417230395&sr=1-1&keywords=forbidden+games

I play on ‘Waiter the Check’, a Noir lament, beautifully sung.

Ian Shaw’s deservedly highly acclaimed cd of Landesman lyrics A Ghost In Every Bar includes twelve written with Simon Wallace who accompanies on most tracks. This shows off Ian’s range, both tessitura and tonal quality, without the virtuosity getting in the way of the songs or blurring the words. Soulful and beautiful. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghost-Every-Bar-Ian-Shaw/dp/B008B2IIRG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417232439&sr=8-1&keywords=ian+shaw+a+ghost+in+every+bar There’s a very fine version of ‘Down’ about the perverse attraction of depression.

‘Down has some terrible attractions, featuring some desperate distractions
and that hook of misery sings I’ll never set you free
Down makes some dangerous suggestions, taunts you with those sweet depressing questions.
and you tell yourself to quit but you really must admit there’s something irresistible in Down.’

Finally, who can argue with her ‘Jewish Haiku’?

‘That summer I met a handsome biker on crutches,
everyone has a brick wall waiting for them somewhere, he said, smiling.’

Fran Landesman 1927 – 2011


Ten great Fran Landesman Simon Wallace songs on Sarah Moule’s excellent Songs From the Floating World http://www.sarahmoule.net/?page_id=39

Fran’s Desert Island Discs http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/desert-island-discs/castaway/ed752f26 Includes some of her best songs, fascinating tales of Lenny Bruce and Miles Davis, being lured to London by Peter Cook, open marriage and the Beatnik parenting maxim: ‘Hang loose and lighten up’ – which led to one of her sons moving out for a year, in search of boundaries.

Biographical material from jazz expert Marc Myers. Photos of the young, gorgeous Fran.

Next Time: Kratom. An actual cure for depression, a relaxing, euphoric herb which mimics opoids. Might be habit forming. What could possibly go wrong?