Monday, April 18, 2011

Bryant & May

I was invigilating the other day along with a colleague from the Geology department. Jason was about half way through a book called The 13th Element: The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorus by John Emsley, so I flipped through it as I covered for him during a bathroom break for one of the students.

As you can see in the image above, I was immediately drawn to the “Bryant & May” text near the top of page 114. Upon noticing it, though, I realized that I really need to get a new hobby because I’m seeing Queen references everywhere these days.

The book itself was puzzling at first glance. It wasn’t clear whether it was a work of historical fiction, a non-fiction title for the chemistry buffs (like my colleague), or something else I missed. What was it about? Who were Bryant & May? So I photocopied page 114, took it home, and did a bit of research.  

Bryant & May were early pioneers in the development of matches. Not just any garden variety matches but the kind that were waterproof and guaranteed to ignite even in high winds — not a small feat given the technology available in the mid-1800s. Their success, however, came at a high price because many of the factory workers (mainly women) developed a nasty disease called phossy jaw which, if left untreated (i.e., amputation) caused their gums to glow in the dark and their lower jaws would — to put it bluntly — rot away at the same time their internal organs were shutting down. To their credit, Bryant & May were also pioneers in addressing the disease and helping the victims.

Many of the original matchbooks and matchboxes that B&M produced are now valuable collector’s items with most being acquired by museums in Britain and elsewhere. To the right are two samples of such matchboxes that have tenuous but intriguing Brian May connotations to them due to the coincidental text and visuals (i.e., medals = six pence; “fire” =  “The Fireplace”).

It would be very bizarre if Brian had collected Bryant & May boxes as a boy instead of his obsession with stereographic images he recently published in A Village Lost and Found

One final bit of Bryant & May/Brian May strangeness . . .

Wikipedia has this to say about B&M: “Bryant and May survived as an independent company for over seventy years, but went through a series of mergers with other match companies and later with consumer products companies; and were taken over. The registered trade name Bryant and May still exists and it is owned by Swedish Match; as are many of the other registered trade names of the other, formerly independent, companies within the Bryant and May group.”1

So the trademark for Bryant & May apparently still exists, but there’s a British author named Christopher Fowler who’s written eight detective novels using characters named Bryant and May. Most likely, crime fighting is in a different ware category than matchbooks and toy models so Mr. Fowler is free to use the name combination for his sleuthing stories and he isn’t infringing on any copyright laws. 

So if he can take creative license with B&M, so will I . . . here’s what I propose the next Fowler mystery should be called: Brian May – On the Loose. Actually, that would be funny if he did indeed write a novel about Brian May being on the loose. I’d buy it. The other collector’s item that would be cool if produced would be these Bryant & May Red Special matches. There’s an obvious marketing angle if I’ve ever seen one, eh? 


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pointe Blank Pressure

Media Moment: Grosse Pointe Blank
Queen-related: Under Pressure

I remember when this movie came out in 1997, the trailer featured Under Pressure and I made a mental note to myself that I should watch it when I get a chance to see if the song is actually used in the movie or relegated to trailerdom.

To my good fortune, it was on TV last week so I recorded it for a later viewing, which I got around to doing last night. As an aside, this John Cusack movie wasn’t as engaging as his films usually are for me. To be embarrassingly honest, Serendipity is still one of my favourite movies.

Here, Cusack plays a hitman who stumbles upon his own 10-year reunion for his alma mater, Grosse Pointe South High School in Michigan. A change of career has been brewing and getting reconnected with his family and old friends offers a fresh perspective on the important things in life. 

The moment at which Under Pressure begins to make an appearance is when Cusask is at his reunion and he meets up with an old acquaintance who has brought her infant child along. The song fades in as he meets the mother and she then promptly leaves the baby with him for a moment while she tends to another matter.

Consequently, he is left alone with an innocent child and begins to rethink his decade-long career. At this pointe, the camera zooms in on Cusack and then cuts to the baby’s face . . . all the while David Bowie begins to sing “. . . love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the light . . .” and we make the connection that he’s become conflicted about life (and death, I suppose).

One of my first reactions to hearing the song at this moment in the film was that it was a plot device meant to establish the date of his original high school graduation. But since the film was released in 1997, that would put his graduation at 1987 which is not quite early enough for Under Pressure’s presumable peak of popularity. Besides, I don’t recall seeing any other establishing dates at the start of the film, so I’m assuming, then, that the song was meant to underscore his state of mind at the moment of being with the infant.

Whatever the case, the use of the song in this scene did add to the mood of the film and was well chosen to personify his inner turmoil.

As pointe of interest, the end credits lists the song as being by “David Bowie (with Queen).” For me, this is the first time I’ve ever seen the song credited in such a fashion. Usually it’s Queen and David Bowie, or just Queen. But for whatever reason, Bowie got top billing here.

I never did finish watching the entire movie, though.