Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Bruegel snow

It’s snowing in this part of the world this morning, something of a rarity these days with Ireland’s Goldilocks weather (not too hot, not too cold). And gazing out the office window at the white-coated rooftops, I’m reminded of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1565 painting The Hunters in the Snow; that vague sense of dissatisfaction that hovers over me this morning (I could be home watching the snow-bound Day of the Outlaw, or The Thing, or gosh, Quintet !) shared by the weary, empty handed hunters in Bruegel’s painting, trudging back to their village after an unsuccessful hunt. Still, looking at The Hunters in the Snow, my thoughts happily turn to Solaris, which introduced me to this great work, the painting hangs in one of the rooms of the Prometheus space station. In those days before Wikipedia’s huge high res scans, Tarkovsky very helpfully panned his camera across the painting to reveal some of those incredible details – I especially like the activity on the frozen lake, the three children skating in formation, or one less skillful villager lying in a heap. As ever, the Wiki page is well worth a visit, or why not give Tarkovsky’s film another watch…


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Film Quarterly

An old external hard drive I had stashed away in a drawer yielded some unexpected treasure last night in the shape of 256 scanned pdf issues of Film Quarterly magazine, spanning the years 1946 to 2011. I downloaded these from a share site many years ago and promptly forgot about them, but I’ve been skimming thru some issues this morning and I must devise a reading plan. I’ve been gravitating towards the older issues, the 70’s especially, and it’s always nice to read a contemporary review of a film without the weight of cultural baggage – in the Summer 1976 issue Michael Dempsey takes Taxi Driver to task for its “slippery plotting” and Dempsey’s legitimate compliant that Travis Bickle’s bizarrely misjudged date with Betsy at the porno cinema (or “stroke house” as Dempsey calls it) was simply a way for Paul Schrader to elbow her character out of the picture to make way for the violent finale... For this post I’ve snagged a selection of Film Quarterly covers (sadly the entire archive is in b/w) but it gives a good sense of the journal’s scope…







Browsing thru the older issues, it’s nice to come across ads for film rentals – fascinating to see what was available to the film connoisseur in the pre-VHS days. I especially like this striking advert for a quartet of John Cassavetes films, found in the Autumn 1976 issue...

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Tuning in to the early Beatles

I read somewhere last week that Mark Lewisohn’s second volume of Beatles history will be with us later this year and it was enough to motivate me last night to finally start Tune In which covers the Liverpool and Hamburg years. I usually find the biography’s genealogical preamble a chore to get thru but it’s good to be reminded that 3 of 4 Beatles had Irish routes and Lewisohn is particularly engaging on Liverpool, evocatively painting a picture of a grimy, polluted city that took a beating from the German Luftwaffe but remained resilient throughout. A tough town to grow up in which no doubt stood the Beatles in good stead for their hard-working days and nights on the Hamburg club circuit. This first volume doesn’t cover much recorded Beatles music, chronologically speaking – the debut single, and early sessions for the Please Please Me album, so I’m dipping into the Tony Sheridan recordings, the December 1962 Star Club show and a collection of tracks over on youtube called the “Home Recordings, July 1960”. I’m usually weary of these things when they don’t come annotated - the recording date suggests the tracks are also known elsewhere as the Forthlin Road Tapes but the youtube tracklist differs somewhat – but my leap of faith is at least paying off with some terrific embryonic rock n ’roll, the ultra lo-fi recording quality lend the guitars a real muscular shronk!, and some of the extended bluesy jams (audible fluffs and all) sound fabulous to these ears… Incidentally, I had a dream last night that my 16-month daughter was climbing up a ladder (she’s in a climbing phase at the moment) and it reminded me of John Lennon’s famous first meeting with Yoko Ono at the Indica Bookshop in November ‘66, where Lennon climbed up a ladder that was part of one of Yoko’s installation pieces – a happy bit of serendipity to kick off the book I think.


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Banzai! Japanese Cult Movie Posters

Some Japanese posters for your viewing pleasure… Banzai! Japanese Cult Movie Posters, the latest book by Creepy Images, purveyors of rare posters and memorabilia from the halcyon days of Psychotronic Cinema, arrived on my doorstep just before Christmas and what with our big trip to Vietnam in January, I haven’t had much chance to pour over the contents. Fortunately, I found some time at the weekend to take a leisurely browse through the full color, high-quality 296 glossy pages, and managed to grab a few shots just to give you a taste of this deliriously head-spinning collection. The posters are arranged within 5 broad chapters - Bad Girls, Tough Guys, Horror, Mondo, Shocking and Science-Fiction & Fantasy, and include Pinky Violence, Yakuza films, Italian Westerns, Hammer Horror, American Exploitation, European Splatter, eye-watering Shockumentaries, Kaiju jamborees and special effects extravaganzas...

From Bad Girls... (Click on the images for larger resolution)





From Tough Guys...





From Horror...






From Mondo...




From Shocking...




From Science-Fiction & Fantasy...




Japanese poster design is renowned for the riot of photo-montage imagery and large typefaces that yell at punters for attention, but occasionally a designer will swim against the tide of tradition and produce something like the superb poster for Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, where the titular character appears pressed into what looks like a tombstone. A very strange motif, and were it not for the Japanese calligraphy, I might have thought this was a poster from Eastern Europe.



Japanese posters for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre are not especially rare, they’ve been reprinted many times, but this poster featuring the agonized death throes of Teri McMinn captures best the sheer feverish intensity of the film, the over-saturated red in the design makes the onlooker decidedly queasy…



And finally, from the sublime to the horrid, the poster for The Dead Zone, featuring a most unflattering shot of Christopher Walken’s character Johnny Smith in a coma. “What happened?” indeed…



Banzai! Japanese Cult Movie Posters can be ordered direct from Creepy Images and while you're over there, be sure to check out the Creepy Images magazine and the gorgeous Paul Naschy poster book.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Art Thing

Bill Sienkiewic’s haunting artwork based on John Carpenter’s classic The Thing… Some interesting Thing stuff coming our way this year. Arrow is set to put out what will most likely be the definitive Blu-Ray edition of the film later this year, and to tide us over July sees the release of The Thing Artbook, a 400 page hardback compendium of artwork inspired by the film. More details here... Let’s hope the book’s publishers Printed In Blood will get a few copies over to Europe for sale.



All this reminds me of John Higgins' spectacularly gruesome artwork for Dark Horse's 1992 double-header comic sequel which picks up from where the film leaves off for one more battle between MacReady and the alien. I wish I had my two issues at hand right now because Higgins' story artwork is very beautiful. Given the shape-shifting antics of the alien, The Thing is one of those rare gifts that invites artists to let their imagination run riot. I have high hopes for The Thing Artbook...




Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Church

A friend passed me some contraband last week with a link to a very good English-dubbed youtube copy of Michele Soavi’s 1989 film The Church which I finally watched for the first time last night. The best stuff comes in the first half of the picture, the shots of ancient, arcane books, and academics exploring mysterious passageways in the bowls of the Gothic church evoke a pleasing MR Jamesesque atmosphere (strongly recalling James' story The Treasure of Abbot Thomas). But it’s all but squandered in the second half of the film which takes a radical and fatal tone shift to resemble something more akin to Demons but without the fun. Worse still, the two leads are largely relegated to the subs bench in favor of some ill-advised cut-outs whisked in to dress the gore set-pieces, while two potentially striking moments – the much publicized shot of a naked woman embraced by a winged demon, and a grotesque monument of slithering bodies are botched by some clunky mechanical effects. And yet, there are occasional flashes of brilliance that marks The Church as one of the more beguiling late-era Italian Horror films, largely due to Soavi’s strength as a visualist, (more than a few times I was reminded of The Keep), and there’s some particularly fine camerawork to savor - the opening introduction shot of the church is an especially impressive piece of choreography. Incidentally, the film features a purely synthesized version of Phillip Glass’ Floe by former Philip Glass Ensemble member Martin Goldray which to my ear sounds superior the original. This rare version of the piece can only be found on long deleted Italian and Japanese soundtrack editions, so the four appearances of Goldray’s arrangement in the film are much welcomed. As ever Youtube comes to the rescue yet again, the Goldray version can be heard here. Finally, the poster below, depicting a bloody pit of horror from The Church, is the work of good friend and designer-extraordinaire Jeremy Mincer of Silverferox fame. Additional posters for The Church posters (including the memorable image of the winged demon) can be found here and while you’re over there, check out his other excellent designs.


Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Vinyl Decision

To wax or wane, that is the question… I’m currently listening to Colin Potter’s 1980 cassette The Ghost Office, the warm rush of analogue bedroom electronics surging thru my headphones, a musical accompaniment to my deliberating on whether to buy a turntable. The connection here is that Potter’s album is getting an LP release in the next few days, just one of several interesting albums that I read about in The Wire every month getting a vinyl-only release. My preferred format is still the much maligned compact disc but the trend by experimental artists and groups to go the specialist vinyl route is becoming too great to ignore. Right now I’m looking thru discogs for prices on sunnO)))’s Dømkirke LP and Vinyl On Demand’s 8LP Kluster boxset. Just 400 copies of the Colin Potter album will be pressed so I better make my mind up soon !


Update 6th of March

My recent noises about getting a record player didn’t fall on deaf ears it seems and some very good friends picked up for my birthday, a pitiful portable picnic player to play my fuzzy warbles on. Most of my vinyl collection was upgraded to CD over the years but there’s still one or two things that I never managed to track down, so yesterday it was the turn of Ennio Morricone “and his orchestra” and a nice German compilation collecting music from For A Few Dollars More and A Fistful Of Dollars (in that order), and a world away from the scorched plains of Spain, Snowflakes Are Dancing, Tomita’s 1974 Switched-on Debussy album. Both lovely to hear again, although bass frequencies (angel trumpets and devil trombones o my brothers) were reduced to a pitiful moan. Still nice to see those colorful RCA labels spinning around again, and this quickens my resolve to get a proper turntable and re-visit my old Bowie RCA albums and hear how they sound after so many years of listening to the CD mixes…




Creepers

Never underestimate the narcotic rush of nostalgia to get a man to part with his money. May sees the release of Arrow’s new Blu-Ray edition of Phenomena, this new release augmented by the inclusion of Creepers, the much maligned, much shorter version (by 30mins!) cut of the film. Creepers was the second Argento film I discovered back in the early 90's, and despite the bad luck of having to follow Suspiria, I grew to love the film over many viewings of the Palace tape, this affection later cemented into respect when I finally picked up the Italian Medusa DVD which contained the full-length version of the film – ironing out some of the inexplicable tonal shifts of Creepers, as well as the Italian language track which is much easier on the ear. Phenomena is no one’s favourite Argento film and perhaps it’s the reason why I’ve staunchly defended it over the years, and claimed it as one of the canon works - perhaps even the last great Argento film, after a lukewarm revisit to Opera last year. Arrow’s Blu comes with a hefty price tag (5000 units only) and a few years ago I might have been appalled that someone would fork out for the redundant Creepers but I find myself intrigued to see it again, alongside Phenomena. Argento’s film is best viewed as a fairytale and I’m already thinking of what my 16month old daughter might make of it when she turns Jennifer Connelly’s age in the film.


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Throbbing Gristle - Nag's Head, High Wycombe, 11th February, 1977

Listening to Throbbing Gristle's concert at the Nag's Head, High Wycombe, 40 years ago this month...

1977 was Jubilee year for the United Kingdom so it's fitting that Throbbing Gristle's first concert of '77 opened with a little throwaway number for Her Majesty, ("Prince Phillip licked her cunt"). TG's show at the Nag's Head is noteworthy for being the group's first show outside of an art happening, the venue was a dyed in the wool rock club which had recently embraced punk, and between TG's noisy experimentation and the Nag's Head faithful (who gobbed and pogoed to the Sex Pistols and the Clash a few months earlier), the battle lines were well and truly drawn. TG's set remained largely the same as their previous concert but the focus and cohesion the group had at the ICA was replaced by disorder and frustration. According to one eye-witness at the show, TG were plagued with technical problems and glitches from the outset, the group were 20mins late going on which was enough to invoke the wrath of the crowd, their hostility was matched by 53mins of ugly, serrated soundscapes and the occasional provocation by Genesis P-Orridge, ("If you think you're escaping you are just stupid cock-sucking cunts anyway").

Still, there are some highlights – a wayward rendition of  Very Friendly with a fantastic spacey violin coda, a long instrumental passage of harsh electronics and a montage of sampled news reports (including an item about the execution of Gary Gilmour, a particular obsession of P-Orridge's at the time). Following an eerie take on Slug Bait, the mood of the show becomes increasingly combative, with P-Orridge ad-libbing some nonsense much to the annoyance of the crowd, while the group struggled with unruly equipment. When the band get going again, the punks' demands for some two-chord thrash is met with a particularly aggressive version of Zyklon B Zombie which climaxes with an audience member joining in the vocal. "I'll never have them back here," Nag's Head landlord Mick Fitzgibbon told one local newspaper.


Monday, 20 February 2017

Yen

First post in ages it seems… I normally restrict my postings to interests and hobbies, but just this once I’ll break that rule, to present my 16-month daughter Yen, pictured below putting on her best grin for the camera. At the beginning of January we traveled to Vietnam to adopt this beautiful little girl. We’re back home in Ireland now and Yen is settling in great, loves her new life (not so much the dreary weather) and is full of fun and mischief. Spending three weeks in Saigon was a huge, unforgettable adventure. Vietnam, which to most Westerners is more a war than a country, is an extraordinary psychedelic melting pot of color, noise, heat and unspeakable traffic, as well as some of the kindest, friendliest, good-natured people we’ve ever met. I’m back at work today, slowly wading into the old routine although I still haven’t found the time to sit down and watch a film or grab an hours’ worth of reading. No matter, I’m loving the time with Yen (and missing her terribly this morning) and it’s been a joy to watch her discover the world around her and get to know her new family.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The Alternative Ummagumma

I’ve been obsessively listening to Pink Floyd these past few days, prompted I suspect by the colossal Floyd boxset released earlier this week. Needless to say I could never afford such an luxury (and besides, the underwhelming packaging has nixed any such extravagant notions), so I’m making do with my modest collection of CDs. Speaking of CDs (and formats), last week I ripped my Ummagumma CD to mp3 and re-sequenced the entire double album to follow the 1971 8-Track Cartridge track-listing, which dispenses with the Live and Studio sides, and mixes the solo contributions with the songs recorded at Birmingham & Manchester - so Rick Wright’s "Sysyphus" flows into "Astronomy Domine" which is followed by Roger Waters’ Grantchester Meadows and so on. This is not so much a fan-edit on my part, more like an alternative Ummagumma experience and I find myself enjoying the album as a complete work – in the past I’ve been guilty of neglecting the Studio side, apart from "Grantchester Meadows" and Dave Gilmour’s "The Narrow Way" (which is one of the best things on any Floyd record), all too often skipping over the brooding and austere Sysyphus and Nick Mason’s treated drum track "The Grand Vizier's Garden Party". The jury remains out (for several years now) on "Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict", which I tend to lump in with Meddle’s "Seamus" as one of those Pink Floyd duck eggs, although with repeated listening to it these last few days, I’ve come to re-evaluate it as a sort of proto-Nurse With Wound piece. And interestingly, the bawling Scottish burr heard on the track is performed by Ron Geesin, who appears on the Nurse With Wound List…



Tuesday, 15 November 2016

C.H.U.D

Just reading Nathaniel Thompson’s Blu-Ray review of C.H.U.D over at Mondo Digital, and I’m pleased to see Arrow have turned in another fine job. I caught the film again a few weeks ago courtesy of the 2001 Anchor Bay DVD (which still looks pretty good!), and the film remains a smart, witty and fast-paced monster romp. Watching the film again, I was particular struck by one sequence which anticipates Aliens – when a search and destroy team descends into the sewers, complete with flame-throwers and helmet cameras relaying their progress back to a monitoring station. Inevitably the mission goes awry. I’m not suggesting James Cameron was taking notes, but it’s a nice bit of serendipity all the same. C.H.U.D is notable for being Kim Greist’s film debut and she’s very good too, landing one of the film’s most memorable moments and I had to wonder why such a talented actress didn’t become a big 80’s star – at least she’s in two of the decade’s finest films, Brazil and Manhunter.


If my Aliens connection seemed tenuous, my ear caught two music references spoken by Daniel Stern – at one point he shrugs off Christopher Curry’s police captain with “It's a Buck Dancer's Choice, my friend” (a line from The Grateful Dead’s song Uncle John’s Band) and later upon entering the sewers, Stern warns “This ain’t no disco” (a line from Talking Heads' Life During Wartime). I went back and listened to the commentary during these scenes but nothing was confirmed in the riotous chatter between the Stern, John Heard and director Douglas Cheek… Incidentally, the excellent UK quad poster above was sourced from the very impressive Film On Paper site which I stumbled across preparing this post. Be sure to pay it a visit.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Clive Barker's Hellraiser

I mentioned Clive Barker’s Hellbound Heart in my last post and at the weekend I took some time to reacquaint my myself with my collection of Hellraiser comics picked up in the early 90’s. The series ran for 20 issues from 1989 to 1993 and I was fortunate enough to pick up most installments (not so easy in the pre-Internet days). I was quite an avid reader of Clive Barker’s early excursions into the world of mature Horror comics (or graphic novels as I stringently referred to them back in the day). By the early 90’s Barker had relinquished control of Hellraiser and was inching ever closer to full blown fantasia with the epic novel Imajica and The Thief of Always, a book written for young adults. The dark and perverse horror of the Books of Blood and the two Hellraiser films seemed increasingly remote. Fortunately, Barker found an outlet for the darker side of his imagination with comics like Tapping the Vein (1989-1992), Son of Celluloid (1991), Revelations (1992), and Dread (1992). The Hellraiser series which Barker occasionally contributed to was not based on the films, but instead built upon the Hellraiser mythos, as characters in various time-lines and locations (the Middle Ages, Silent-era Hollywood, the Vietnam War) invoke the Cenobites by meddling with the Lament configurations.



Revisiting the comic again, I was a tad disappointed by the writing, which seems squarely aimed at teenagers looking for lashings of gore flavored with a little sex and nudity – which was fine by this 14 year old reader in search of illicit thrills upon graduating from 2000AD. The story artwork is rather variable at best (apart from exceptional work by John Bolton, Bill Koeb, John Van Fleet, and Scott Hampton) but my attention was drawn to the full page illustrations which bookended each of the 4 or 5 stories contained within each issue. I’ve gathered together some of the more striking illustrations that appeared throughout the series…

Issue 1 - Artwork by Kent Williams

Issue 1 - Artwork by Kent Williams

Issue 4 - Artwork by Bill Sienkiewicz

Issue 5 - Artwork by John Van Fleet

Issue 10 - Artwork by Mark Evans

Issue 11 - Artwork by John Van Fleet

Issue 19 - Artwork by Chris Titus

Issue 20 - Artwork by George Pratt


Friday, 4 November 2016

The 120 Days of Sodom

More p0rn to prise you away from your favourite dens of iniquity... Penguin's recently published edition of the 120 Days of Sodom is currently an Amazon UK bestseller, and I'm rather pleased that such an unhinged work of debauched imagination has joined the cannon of classics. I read the bulk of the 120 Days in my early teens, courtesy of  Arrow Books' 1990 edition, the novel, along with Naked Lunch, Crash and Last Exit to Brooklyn, was one of those transgressive works I was eager to investigate. But enthusiasm soon gave way to boredom, and the book’s wayward plotting, unrelenting repetition and Sade’s penchant for exhaustive detail eventually led to my abandoning the book after some 500 pages.

And yet… I find myself intrigued once again by the 120 Days. So much cultural water has passed under the bridge in the intervening years I feel much better placed now to tackle the novel which has been marinated with all sorts of interesting personal connections - I’ve seen the Pasolini film, Peter Brook’s 1966 film Marat/Sade, the Sade-influenced films of Jess Franco, and there are the odd stray references that I enjoy - Peter Cushing possessed by the spirit of the Marquis in the 1966 film The Skull, the cameo appearance of the 120 Days of Sodom in Clive Barker’s Hellbound Heart, as well as the titular reference of the 1981 Nurse With Wound/Whitehouse collaboration album 150 Murderous Passions.



Another interesting connection emerges with this latest edition of the novel, thanks to Penguin’s design team who have selected Man Ray’s 1933 photograph Monument à D.A.F. de Sade for the book cover. Ray’s photograph reflects two of Sade’s obsessions – the anti-Christian sentiment of the inverted crucifix, and Marquis’ predilection for anal sex. The photograph was re-staged for Coil’s 1984 debut album Scatology, which in turn reflected Coil’s interest in the occult and male sexuality. There’s a pleasing symmetry at work here: Coil sampled dialogue from Salò on the Scatology-era track Homage to Sewage, while the album itself contains some Sadean liner notes – a fictional sexual encounter between two men written to accompany the track The Sewage Worker's Birthday Party.


Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Exotic connections

I'm listening to the first two volumes of Martin Denny's Exotica series this morning, courtesy of Scamp's excellent 1996 twofer CD - required listening for any Throbbing Gristle devotee, though I tend to prefer Les Baxter's exotic excursions. This latest round of headphone tourism was inspired by TG's Greatest Hits album which I was poring over at the weekend in search of some elusive information. Greatest Hits was dedicated to Martin Denny (long before the lounge revival of the 90's rekindled interest in the composer) but it was the album's art direction which put Denny in mind, or rather, Liberty Records who issued Denny's early albums in some very attractive sleeves, starring Exotica Girl Sandy Warner. I can't help but think the alluring photograph of Cosey Fanni Tutti on the Greatest Hits album would have made a more effective cover for the 20 Jazz Funk Greats album (such was the propensity of record labels to use glamour girls to sell cut-price compilations) but either way it's an effective way of confounding expectations. TG also borrowed the typeface from the title of the second Exotica album for their own logo, and donned Hawaiian shirts (or in Gen's case, a Yellow Magic Orchestra shirt) for the group photo on the rear sleeve, complete with some amusing props - a mooring rope, a stray crab and Cosey's cornet.




Alternative shot of the Greatest Hits group portrait, courtesy of the 2011 re-issue

The connections between Throbbing Gristle and Martin Denny run deeper than packaging homages. The influence of Denny on TG's music is felt on some of the group's most beautiful songs - 20 Jazz Funk Greats introduced vibes to the TG sound, on tracks like Tanith, Exotica, Hot on the Heels of Love, later reappearing on the final single Distant Dreams (Part 2). The group paid its most explicit tribute to Martin Denny with the Journey Through A Body track Exotic Functions, with its strange animal noises and polyrhythmic percussion. I mentioned the renewed interest in the 90's of vintage exotica, and interestingly there's an overlap here between TG and the belated lounge scene. When Tim Gane of Stereolab was tested for The Wire's Invisible Jukebox feature in issue 164 (October 1997), he recalled first hearing Martin Denny's music on a TG tape: "The first time I heard Martin Denny was on a Throbbing Gristle cassette back in 1979, and I always loved the track. I didn't even know what it was. It was in the middle of a load of stuff - it was a live gig they were playing".