Tuesday, 20 February 2018

1/2 Mensch

I was lucky to score this nice clean copy of Einstürzende Neubauten’s 1985 film 1/2 Mensch from Discogs last week, with the 2005 Potomak DVD now out of print, it was time to cash in my old VHS rip for the real deal. The Potomak DVD comes with an Authorized by the Band label at the foot of the cover, and it’s an important distinction from the disastrous (and unauthorized) Cherry Red DVD released the same year (and still in circulation sporting the same cover!) The Neubauten-sanctioned DVD still has the characteristic softness of a VHS transfer but what sets the disc apart from previous editions is the audio which sounds truly incredible even on my rudimentary set-up. The film itself is marvelous, director Sogo Ishii had shot some concert footage of the band on their Japanese tour, but expanded the film to include Neubauten performing in a dilapidated Tokyo ironworks which was due for demolition. This portion of the film feels like an Industrial re-write of Pink Floyd’s Pompeii film, and there are interesting parallels between both films, not least of all the emphasis on music-making gadgetry – those tracking shots snaking around Pink Floyd’s bank of electronic and amplification equipment, Dave Gilmour extracting as much unconventional sound from his guitar as possible during Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, are echoed by similar shots of Neubauten’s bewildering arsenal of noise-making devices, with Einheit and Unruh harnessing percussive and textural sounds from drills, jackhammers, metal grinders, a close-miked-shopping trolley, a large gas cylinder, and at one point an unwieldy aluminum air duct. Interspersed amongst the factory footage are videos of tracks from the Halber Mensch album, including a striking sequence featuring the avant-garde Byakko-sha dance group, appearing as bio-mechanical zombies with a taste for metal fetishism – a startling vision which must have left an impression on Shinya Tsukamoto. The DVD comes with no extras – a Blixa Bargeld commentary would have been ideal, but the set comes with a CD of the music performed at the ironworks.

Friday, 16 February 2018

David Shire's Apocalypse Now

Currently listening to David Shire's unused score for Apocalypse Now which was recently released on CD by La-La Land Records... I'd consider myself something of an Apocalypse Now scholar but I must admit Shire's score passed right under my radar, so this is a wonderful surprise, and a fascinating piece of Apocalypse Now lore. Unlike Alex North's unused music for 2001 (which I could never integrate into Kubrick's film), Shire's all-electronic score is not that far removed from Carmine Coppola's soundtrack - it's perhaps a little too dynamic for the pace of the film (think Tangerine Dream's music for Sorcerer), but there are a few uncanny moments where Shire's score anticipates the music the Coppolas' composed for the Kurtz compound sequences - this may well be owing to a similarity in synthesizer equipment but it lifts Shire's music to a level beyond a mere rejected score. Fascinating too to imagine what kind of a film Shire was writing for considering the score frequently sounds like it strayed from something more phantasmagorical, and there are sections of music that reminded me of The Fog and Escape from New York, and at one point Christopher Young's Hellraiser ! La-La Land's CD is augmented with an excellent 25 page thick booklet packed with notes on the score, and apparently this release has a limited run of 2000 units so get your copy as soon as you can...

Monday, 5 February 2018

Another 100...

My top 100 Favourite films list posted recently generated some interesting discussion when I posted it on Facebook (prompting one person to ask in earnest where was Burial Ground, gasp!) so I thought a 100-200 list would be fun, and with no stubborn, immovable feasts to worry about (Apocalypse Now et al), the selection of films is far more fruitier and eclectic. This came together very quickly so it will be interesting to see if it holds up in a week's time - but I've scanned thru the list a few times and it feels rights... Honorable mentions go to Dead Ringers, The Cars That Ate Paris, Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me, The Carny and Gummo - all would have had a place on the list had I seen them within the last decade...

101 - American Friend, The
102 - Bad Timing
103 - Barry Lyndon 
104 - Beyond, The
105 - Big Trouble In Little China
106 - Black Sabbath 
107 - Boiling Point (Kitano)
108 - Boot, Das
109 - Brazil 
110 - Curse of the Cat People
111 - Citizen Kane 
112 - City of God
113 - Cockfighter
114 - Coming Home
115 - Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover, The
116 - Cool Hand Luke 
117 - Cruising
118 - Dances With Wolves
119 - Dead Zone, The
120 - Deep Red 
121 - Deer Hunter, The 
122 - Diva
123 - Dune 
124 - Eaten Alive (Tobe Hooper)
125 - El Topo
126 - Empire of Passion
127 - Enigma of Kasper Hauser, The
128 - Europa
129 - Evil Dead, The
130 - Filth & The Fury
131 - Forbidden Planet
132 - Frankenstein Must Be Destoyed
133 - Full Metal Jacket 
134 - Ganja & Hess
135 - Gimme Shelter
136 - Glengarry Glen Ross
137 - Godfather Part 2, The
138 - Gospel According To St. Matthew, The
139 - Haine, La
140 - Happy Together 
141 - Hidden Fortress
142 - Hired Hand, The
143 - Hour of The Wolf
144 - if…
145 - In The Mood For Love
146 - Iron Rose, The 
147 - Ivan's Childhood 
148 - Jackie Brown
149 - JFK 
150 - Killing, The
151 - Last Tango In Paris
152 - Lawrence of Arabia 
153 - Lemora
154 - Macbeth (Welles)
155 - Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome
156 - Man Bites Dog
157 - Manhunter
158 - Mean Streets
159 - Medium Cool
160 - Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
161 - Monsieur Verdoux
162 - Mystery Train 
163 - Nashville
164 - Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens
165 - Nostalghia
166 - Offence, The
167 - On the Waterfront 
168 - Onibaba
169 - Paths of Glory 
170 - Picnic At Hanging Rock
171 - Pink Flamingos
172 - Pink Narcissus
173 - Planet of The Vampires
174 - Poor White Trash (Part II)
175 - Pusher 3
176 - Querelle 
177 - Re-Animator
178 - Red Desert
179 - Red River
180 - Repo Man
181 - Repulsion
182 - Return of The Living Dead, The
183 - Robocop
184 - Route One USA
185 - Santa Sangre
186 - Searchers, The
187 - Seventh Seal, The
188 - Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors
189 - Shining, The 
190 - Shooting, The
191 - Short Cuts
192 - Slacker 
193 - Summer of Sam
194 - Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song 
195 - Tempest, The (Derek Jarman)
196 - Throne of Blood
197 - Touch of Evil
198 - Vanishing Point 
199 - Werckmeister Harmonies
200 - What Have They Done To Your Daughters ?

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Laserdisc Collecting: The Thing (Japan, 1985, CIC)

Presenting the 1985 CIC Japanese laserdisc of The Thing. I’m afraid my copy didn’t photograph all that well but you get the idea. The Thing has been on my mind lately. I finally managed to watch my copy of the Arrow Blu a few weekends ago and was thrilled with the presentation. I hadn’t expected the transfer to be that much of a leg-up from the previous Blu, but I found the Arrow a much richer viewing experience, especially the final act which I’ve always thought something of a damp squib, but on this screening I thoroughly enjoyed the marriage of John Lloyd’s terrific subterranean production design and Dean Cundey’s fantastic lighting. But back on topic: last night I chanced upon the 2013 documentary Drew: The Man Behind The Poster, profiling the career of American film poster artist Drew Struzan, and in the segment I caught, Struzan was discussing his artwork for The Thing (the iconic painting of the shards of light emanating from the hooded figure). I was wondering if Struzan was responsible for the artwork on the Japanese laserdisc, which shows the shape-shifting alien in all its surreal gloopiness, but the credit goes to British artist Les Edwards whose original painting the laserdisc sleeve was derived from. Looking at the back sleeve, I was reminded of the still of Childs and Palmer, a scene which isn't featured in the film or found in the deleted scenes that come with the home video editions...

Thursday, 1 February 2018

100 Favourite Films

This blog has been on a hiatus these past few months, I've been busy at work and any free time at home is spent running around after my 2 year old daughter. So for this first post back, I thought it might be a fun to publish something I was doodling with last year. Compiling your favourite-anythings is always a tricky business, but back in October I set myself a challenge one idle afternoon to compile my 100 all-time favorite films. Initially it seemed like a straight forward task – and the first 50 came quickly enough, but the second batch proved much more difficult - trying to keep the selection as honest as possible meant throwing out an awful lot of good stuff – case in point: Dead Ringers, one of Cronenberg’s finest pictures, couldn’t be considered because I haven't seen the film in 20 years. Upon completion the list was squirreled away to be dug up again at some later date for further contemplation, and now a few months later, looking at the list again, the experiment seems to have worked: when I dug out the list yesterday, I didn't feel like any revisions were necessary. A list of 100 films, but more than that, it represents 100 adventures, 100 seismic shocks, 100 fantastic memories from those formative film-watching years - it's being blindsided by Performance on Moviedrome on a Sunday night, it's seeing Weekend and realizing that French art cinema could be as psychotronic as any exploitation film, it's seeking out the music of Stockhausen after hearing it in the opening scene of Walkabout, it's discovering that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was as frightening as Horror films seemed to be when you were too young to see them...

Scanning down thru the titles, I can see the vast majority of films were discovered in the VHS era, which accounts for some glaring omissions – there’s almost no Eastern European cinema here, no Bavas, no Bergmans – the only explanation I can offer is that I came to appreciate these films much later in the DVD era. I’m disappointed also the list doesn’t reflect the amount of foreign language films I have in my wider collection, and apart from a Ford and a Hitchcock, there are no classic studio-era films to show off. Still, I’m happy there are a few we’re-not-worthy titles in there - Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, Drugstore Cowboy, The Hitcher, Rumble Fish, THX-1138 – films I will fiercely defend to the death. So without further ado, deep breath…

001 - 2001: A Space Odyssey
002 - Aguirre Wrath of God
003 - Alien
004 - Aliens
005 - All The Presidents Men
006 - Andrei Rublev
007 - Annie Hall
008 - Apocalypse Now
009 - Blade Runner (The Final Cut)
010 - Blue Velvet
011 - Boogie Nights
012 - Bram Stoker's Dracula
013 - Burning, The
014 - Cannibal Holocaust
015 - Carlito's Way
016 - Chelsea Girls, The
017 - Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things
018 - Clockwork Orange, A
019 - Dawn of the Dead
020 - Day of the Dead
021 - Deliverance
022 - Deranged
023 - Devils, The
024 - Dial M For Murder
025 - Do The Right Thing
026 - Drugstore Cowboy
027 - Easy Rider
028 - Eraserhead
029 - Exorcist, The
030 - Falls, The
031 - Fellini Sayricon
032 - First Blood
033 - Fog, The
034 - French Connection, The
035 - Frenzy
036 - Godfather, The
037 - Good, the Bad & the Ugly, The
038 - Goodfellas
039 - Heat (Michael Mann)
040 - Heaven's Gate
041 - Hitcher, The
042 - Inferno (Argento)
043 - I Walked With A Zombie
044 - Jaws
045 - Koyaanisqatsi
046 - Kwaidan
047 - Last Waltz, The
048 - Lethal Weapon
049 - Long Good Friday, The
050 - Macbeth (Polanski)
051 - Mad Max II: The Road Warrior
052 - Man Who Fell To Earth, The
053 - Manhattan
054 - Martin
055 - MASH
056 - Mirror
057 - My Darling Clementine
058 - Natural Born Killers
059 - Night of The Living Dead
060 - Nightmare On Elm Street, A
061 - No Direction Home
062 - Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht
063 - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
064 - Paris Texas
065 - Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid
066 - Performance
067 - Phenomena
068 - Psycho
069 - Pulp Fiction
070 - Ran
071 - Reservoir Dogs
072 - Rumble Fish
073 - Schindler’s List
074 - Seven Samurai
075 - Shoah
076 - Solaris
077 - Sorcerer
078 - Stalker
079 - Straw Dogs
080 - Suspiria
081 - Taxi Driver
082 - Tenebrae
083 - Terminator, The
084 - Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The
085 - Thief
086 - Thin Red Line, The
087 - Thing, The
088 - THX 1138
089 - To Live And Die In LA
090 - Touch of Zen, A
091 - Traffic
092 - Two-Lane Blacktop
093 - Valerie & Her Week of Wonders
094 - Videodrome
095 - Walkabout
096 - Weekend (Jean-Luc Godard)
097 - When Harry Met Sally
098 - Wicker Man, The
099 - Wings of Desire
100 - Zombie Flesh Eaters

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Forest of Equilibrium

I’m listening to Cathedral’s brilliant album Forest of Equilibrium this morning, and the record collector-completist in me is always frustrated by bands that turn in one great record and fill the rest of their discography with duck eggs and while Cathedral disciples will balk at that comment (nine more albums followed), the band never did make anything near essential as their 1991 debut. I’ve raided songs from their later albums on youtube before posting this and it’s surprising how uncompromising this early Forest of Equilibrium incarnation of the band was, with those sluggish monolithic, low-end riffs suggestive of a lumbering piece of heavy machinery running out of gas. Apart from the NWOBHM-boogie of the track Soul Sacrifice, one might imagine the band recording the album in a vat of molasses. I was just looking thru the CD booklet and on the Thanks & Acknowledgements page there are mentions for Black Sabbath and Pentagram (naturally), but also for Comus, Diamanda Galas, Goblin and Dead Can Dance, which may account for the album’s disorientating beauty – the pastoral flute refrain that ushers in the huge opening riff of Commiserating the Celebration, the eerie synthesizer textures of the album closer, Reaching Happiness, Touching Pain; and perhaps the highlight of the record, the long coda of the title track in which the roar of distorted guitars fades out to be replaced by the chimes of a music box which might have strayed from one of Hellraiser’s Lemarchand's boxes. Lee Dorrian retains the hoarse voice of his Napalm Death days but the indecipherable growl heard on From Enslavement to Obliteration has retreated into a sorrowful, pleading lamination, And worth mentioning too, Dave Patchett’s stunning Bosch-inspired artwork (which looked especially spectacular on the gatefold LP) which seems to have taken its cue from the strange, unsettling tangle of inhuman voices that closes The Serpent Eve

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Laserdisc Collecting: Blade Runner (Japan, 1987, Warner Home Video)

There's been much talk of Blade Runner these past few weeks with the arrival of the sequel, some 35 years after Ridley Scott's signature film was first released, and it seems as good a time as any to present my Japanese laserdisc copy, originally released in 1987. The Japanese were treated to at least 5 distinct laserdisc editions of the film - three of which came with unique photo montage artwork, while the other two editions, the very first laserdisc release from 1985, and fifth edition, the 1992 Director's Cut, simply featured John Alvin's iconic artwork. Of the 3 editions that sport alternative artwork, the 1987 issue is the most lavish, borrowing the Criterion laserdisc's European Theatrical Cut and issued as a heavy two disc-set and housed in a beautiful gatefold sleeve brimming over with Japanese text (which lends a nice Asian connection to a film which takes place in a very Sino-flavored Los Angeles). I particularly like the photo montage on the front, it's stylish and refreshingly uncluttered and coherent, and making fine use of Syd Mead's futurist designs - the  Tyrell building rubbing shoulders against LA's toxic skies, and I like the solar flare effects of the spinners.

Inside gatefold - left side

Inside gatefold - right side

Inside gatefold - bottom right side - list of supplements

Of the supplemental material which has been ported over from the Criterion laser, I'm most intrigued by the Blade Runner Trivia Test which I'd like to take, but haven't been able to find it online !

One-sided insert

Monday, 6 November 2017

Covering King

For the past few days I've been re-reading the excellent 1988 book Bare Bones: Conversations on Terror with Stephen King, which gathers 30-odd interviews with the Elvis Presley of Horror fiction (as editor David G. Hartwell calls him in his introduction to the short-story anthology The Dark Descent). In one of the more interesting chapters in the book, the conversation turns to King's book covers - a subject little explored in most interviews. Not surprisingly, this interview first appeared in Heavy Metal magazine, and while it makes for fascinating reading, I was frustrated that there were no illustrations to accompany the text. Digging out my scanned copy of the February 1980 issue of Heavy Metal, the original interview is also bereft of graphics, so with that in mind, I thought it might be worthwhile to present the entire section of the Heavy Metal piece with the appropriate illustrations.

* * * *

Bhob Stewart: We broke off last issue with a mention of New American Library designer Jim Plumeri's visual concept for King's Night Shift collection: a clever double cover with six eyes peering through die-cut eye slits in the dark blue background. Opening this front cover to page one you discover that the eyes are actually socketed into the palm, thumb and fingers of a half-bandaged hand, a Don Brautigam illustration of King's story I Am the Doorway about an astronaut back from Venus who finds that aliens inside him are metamorphosing his body. Brautigam's skilled use of surrealism techniques earned him a Society of Illustrators award for this airbrush/acrylic painting. Equally effective are Plumeri's other award-winning covers for King titles. "I call them occult solutions" says Plumeri. "When I did Stephen King I was looking for the most unusual solutions I could possibly find. My job is to make people stop and pick the book up. I can't drag them to the cash register. but I can sure as hell make them pick it up."

For the first million copies of the paperback edition of The Shining, Plumeri devised a small, faceless head and had it printed in black on a glistening silver mylar. "I don't have to have that kind of visual now. I can just put "Stephen King". By the time The Shining comes out by Kubrick, with Jack Nicholson in it, I think all I have to do is put a big STEPHEN KING on the cover. The Shining is Kubrick's baby; whatever he has for his advertising visual I will do. In all movie tie-ins the movie usually supplies us with their advertising art and typography. It's a chance where they get extra exposure and we get exposure. One hand washes the other."

Plumeri's occult solution for the initial paperback printing of Salem's Lot won an award from the American Institute of Graphic Arts. This was a cover of lustrous solid black - no title, no blurbs, no byline - with a single, tiny drop of red blood at the mouth of an embossed head hardly visible unless held and angled so that the embossing can catch the light. Plumeri chose type designer Pete Gute to handle the illustration because Gute had previously worked with embossed type. A follow up version of this cover added a silver embossed title above the embossed head. In its final form (the one currently in bookstores), the embossed cover was replaced by a photograph of the same head with regular flat printing. "That happened because we ran out of the special black stock." Plumeri explained. "I had photographed the original head see how it would work with dramatic lighting on the raised surface. When we ran into this emergency. I pulled this photograph out and decided that it could be used for art."

The paperback jacket for The Stand has a frightening beauty that goes beyond the merely hypnotic to become a trance-inducing glissade into ethereal evil. It combines a Richard Rossiter type design with a Brautigam airbrush painting based on a Plumeri concept sketch. "I use paint or pastel - whatever is available to give me the effect that I'm trying to portray to the artist" said Plumeri. "The sketches are rough. but they can see the concept without any problem. Don and I work well together. Throughout The Stand the evil character is described with these burning eyes, almost red, and the there is a symbolism of a crow that pops into the book at different parts. Someone sees the red, glaring eyes. and for a second thinks he sees this evil character. At that point I thought of this double image using the black crow and the evil and letting one eye work for both to give it this supernatural quality. "

Where Jim Plumeri's conceptual transpositions of King's writing into innovative paperback covers have been appropriate, relevant and ambiguously intriguing, the Doubleday hardbacks with a yawning indifference to King's fresh slant on contemporary horror fiction, have featured only mundane designs and illustrations so trapped in tradition that they lack any genuine imaginative thrust. Stephen King's own reactions to the art that wraps his words kicks off Part 2 of this serialized interview:

Bhob: The jacket on the hardback Carrie has nothing to do with the book.

Stephen King: Yes, well. it doesn't. My editor and I had a concept on that, but of course, one of the things about Bill Thompson, my editor, was that he was a man with relatively little power at Doubleday and it kept showing up in funny little ways. When I left Doubleday, they canned him. It was kind of like a tantrum: "We'll kill the messenger that brought the bad news." Our concept of the jacket would have been a Grandma Moses-type primitive painting of a New England village that would have gone around in a wrap to the back. But the jacket was done by Alex Gotfryd, who does have a lot of power at Doubleday. What he gave us was a photograph of a New York model who looks like a New York model. She doesn't even look like a teenager.

Bhob: How do you feel about the montage on The Shining hardback?

King: Don't care for that either. It makes the people look too specific. It's almost a Gothic romance jacket. There are some nice things about that jacket - I object to the faces of Jack, Wendy, and the little boy, but I like the concept of having the hedge animals. The hardback Night Shift has a classy jacket of just words, but it looks like a Doubleday-type jacket for a book they didn't expect to sell. There's nothing really exciting about that graphic.

Bhob: The long-distance view of the town on the Salem's Lot hardback doesn't indicate the book's true nature.

King: I think that was intentional. The flap copy on Salem's Lot is a real collaboration: my editor wrote part of it, his secretary wrote part of it, I wrote part of it, and my wife wrote part of it. It was just an effort to say something without saying anything. Of all the Doubleday jackets, I think that I like The Stand the best, but Salem's Lot runs that a close second. I like the idea of the black background with the town inset in the "O" of Lot. You can look into the town, and you see the Marsten house. That's a pretty decent jacket. That was the best produced book by Doubleday: all the way around, that was a good piece of work.

The illustration for the hardback of The Stand was taken from a Goya painting, The Battle Of Good and Evil - it was repainted. I was mad that they didn't give poor old Goya a credit.1 There are a lot of people who are rather literal-minded, kind of nerdy about book jackets, who don't like it because they say that it doesn't look like what the book is about. But it looks like what the spirit of the book is about. New American Library's The Stand cover is super. I think that it's a good one: I like the dark blues and turquoises in it. The paperback covers have always been better because paperback people seem to understand how to market books, how to go about that. Illustrators and designers don't get credit on paperback jackets the way they do on hardcovers.

Bhob: Then there's The Shining in mylar...

King: Except that it was discontinued, as was the dead black cover on Salem's Lot. Both of those were expensive covers. The Salem's Lot cover cost seven cents right off the top of a book that originally sold for $1.95. The mylar was nine cents, and in addition, the mylar cover buffs. It doesn't peel, but the lettering and picture gradually buff off the book. Now they just have a plain paper cover with the same picture: it's not as eye-catching, but it lasts longer.

Bhob: Did it occur to you that the wearing away of fragments of The Shining's cover produces a strange, corrosive effect that some readers might consider an additional horrific bonus?

King: I hadn't thought of it that way - maybe it is. There are people who treasure those copies: some
day maybe those will be worth some money, especially the ones that are in good condition, because on the ones that have been read. the cover wears off very quickly. The mylar was really discontinued not just because it buffed in people's hands, but because it buffed in the boxes when they were shipped. I also like the paperback Night Shift cover: it's a deep. dark. rich blue. Some of the editions are perfect, and on some, the holes are not over the eyes. Again, that was a difficult one to do: there is such a thing as being too clever by half.

Bhob: What was on the Carrie paperback before the movie tie in?

King: That cover has gone totally out of print. The original paperback had no title, no author, no printed material of any kind on the front cover. It simply showed a girl's head floating against this blue backdrop — a pretty girl with very dark hair swept back. It was a painting. a rather nice one(by James Barkley). Inside, there was a second jacket. Originally. it was to have been die-cut down the side in a two-step effect: the title, Carrie, reading vertically down the right-hand margin, was supposed to show and, at the last minute their printer told them that he couldn't do it. Inside there's this town going up in flames, and that is an interesting effect. You reach the end of the book, and there's a photograph on what they call the third cover of the same town crumpled up into nothing but ash. I don't know if that's ever been done before: having another picture inside the back jacket. These were photographs (by Allen Vogel) of flames and a model town that looks as though it was one of these origami things created out of cardboard.

Bhob: The One + One Studio's design for The Dead Zone (Viking) illustrates the repetitive wheel-of-fortune device used throughout the novel.

King: I like that jacket pretty well. I think that, in a large measure, it's been responsible for some of the book's success because it's a very high contrast type, something I think Viking might have lifted from the paperback houses. It comes out at the reader there's so much black. The thing I don't like is the photographic effect: I've never cared for photographed jackets. I can't really even say why, but they seem too realistic to me. I would have liked that jacket better if it had been that same cover design - only painted. By the time you get up to six books, you have mixed feelings. Salem's Lot was the best produced of the Doubleday books. Night Shift would be second, and probably The Shining, third. The Dead Zone is the best produced of all the works. But it's more than just cover. The cover is something that, you hope, entices readers who don't know your work to look. But it probably doesn't mean that much to people who have read you before. If they really turn on to what you're doing, they look for the name, and they'll buy the book on the basis of that. Like this new Led Zeppelin album packaged in brown paper with "Led Zeppelin" stamped on the front - you buy the name. I like books that are nicely made, and with the exception of Salem's Lot and Night Shift, none of the Doubleday books were especially well made. They have a ragged, machine-produced look to them, as though they were built to fall apart. The Stand is worse that way: it looks like a brick. It's this little, tiny, squatty thing that looks much bigger than it is. The Dead Zone is really nicely put together. It's got a nice cloth binding, and it's just a nice product.

Blogger's Note

1. I'm not so sure Goya deserves a credit here. I've long heard about Goya being the inspiration for the painting that adorns this edition of The Stand, but I'm not aware of any Goya painting entitled The Battle Of Good and Evil. I wonder is King referring to Fight with Cudgels, one of Goya's Black Paintings which the Spanish artist painted in the early 1820's.

Picture Credits: All the graphics in this post were sourced from the following locations:
The excellent Too Much Horror Fiction blog, which "collects and reviews vintage horror literature (mostly from the 1960s to the early 1990s) and celebrates its resplendent paperback cover art." Images borrowed too from the terrific, comprehensive Stephen King blog, The Truth Inside the Lie. Other images were lifted from rare-book auction sites.

Friday, 3 November 2017

First look at the Milky Way

It seemed like the longest pre-order of my life, but Roland Kayn's fourteen-hour magnum opus, A Little Electronic Milky Way of Sound has finally arrived ! And very nice it looks too, the 16-discs packed into a sturdy folding cardboard box, with the individual CDs housed in simple card sleeves. The set also comes with a folded one-sheet insert which contains an interview with Kayn from 2003. I was surprised to see that apart from a rudimentary track listing, there is no information about the actual music. I suppose I was expecting some impenetrable notes about the 22 compositions but this is at least offset by Robert Beatty's psychedelic-tinged geometric artwork which I like very much. And I like the bellyband that comes with the box, rounding out a very stylish collection. 750 copies only (so be quick!)

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Apocalypse Music

I’ve been obsessively listening to the Apocalypse Now soundtrack this past week, the single CD, music-only edition, and last night I alternated it with the double CD containing music, dialogue and sound effects. I don’t dig out this particular edition out very often, but it’s good to be reminded that it’s not just a conventional soundtrack but rather a specially prepared sound map of Willard’s mission up the Nung River to exterminate Colonel Kurtz, augmented with subtle stereo and electronic effects not featured in the sound mix of the film. In addition the album features music cues that are not heard in any other version of the film, Redux included, and interesting to note that one of these cues, used for the scene where the dying Chief wrestles with Willard sounds very similar to one of Rick Wakeman’s atmospheric fills in The Burning.

More significantly though, is the extra narration not featured in the film. In the scene where the Bunnies are airlifted to safety after the Playboy show, Willard wryly comments:
Only the Americans could build a place like this in the middle of the jungle. Only the Americans would want to.” 
In the scene prior to the san pan massacre, Willard makes an admission:
I didn't belong on this mission anymore because I had begun to doubt it. Kurtz was turning from a target into a goal.”
And there’s one curious substitution of narration. In the film, Willard advises: “Never get out of the boat. Absolutely goddamn right. Unless you were going all the way.” On the soundtrack it’s replaced by
Never get out of the boat, absolutely goddamned right. Not unless you were ready to take it all the way, no matter what happens

Worth mentioning that both CD soundtrack editions come with one glaring omission – the original 2LP pressing of the soundtrack included an insert listing personnel who worked on the score and it’s an interesting who’s who of musicians and players. I mentioned Herbie Hancock’s 1972 album Crossings in my previous post, and I’m pleased to see that Patrick Gleeson who played Moog on that album was the chief synth player on the Apocalypse Now score. Grateful Deadites Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann and Phil Lesh moonlighting as the Rhythm Devils are also listed, as well as Don Preston and Bernie Krause. Here’s the full list…

Friday, 27 October 2017


Like every other youtube user, you’ll find me frantically clicking the skip ad button when there’s a break in continuity, but I’m enjoying the promo for the Herbie Hancock Masterclass featuring the great man sitting at a piano discussing music in his own inimitable warm style. I’ve watched it several times now and this morning it reminded me to dig out Herbie’s 1972 album Crossings, which I’m really enjoying, and on my 3rd pass no less as I write this. The second album of the Mwandishi trilogy, Crossings is one of the great Afro-Futurist records, as funky and out-there as anything I’ve heard by Funkadelic or Sun Ra. The centerpiece of the album is the side-long Sleeping Giant with its furious percussion and muscular jazz funk, brilliantly augmented by great dubby effects, and I love the section of music that sounds uncannily like Little Church from Live-Evil (which Herbie played on, that June day in 1970 at Columbia Studio B) – it’s a fantastic atmosphere. But it’s the final few minutes of Crossings, the closing track Water Torture that I find most tantalizing, as the music slips its moorings and drifts off into deep mellotron space – the group sound like they’ve hooked up with an Alpha Centauri-era Tangerine Dream – what a prospect !

Warners’ CD of Crossings sounds terrific but this one instance I wish I had an LP copy just for Robert Springett’s fantastic, eerie artwork - thankfully, the CD edition of the album contained in the excellent 3-disc Warner Bros Years 1969-1972 replicates the original gatefold LP sleeve featuring some appropriately psychedelic pictures of the group as if they had strayed from Ira Cohen’s 1968 mylar fantasia The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda...

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Viva La Musica!

I was kicking around Discogs earlier when I chanced upon the rare French 7” single used to promote Fernando Arrabal’s 1971 film Viva la Muerte. The real treasure here is the song on the A-side, Ekkoleg, the lovely, playful children’s song heard over the opening credits for Arrabal’s film. This song has always been something of a mystery to me, never quite sure what language the young boy was singing in, and what threw me off was the fact that Fernando Arrabal is Spanish, so I wrongly supposed the song might be in the Basque language or even Portuguese. But after some digging, I’ve discovered the song is in fact Danish, composed by Grethe Agatz and sung by a boy simply known as Morten. Information is rather sketchy but it seems the song was recorded in the late 60’s for an EP entitled Hvem Vil Være Med Til At Synge? Nr. 4 (which Google dryly translates as Who Would be Willing to Sing? No. 4) and one presumes was appropriated sometime afterwards for the film – I wonder what Grethe Agatz thought of her charming song being associated with such a transgressive film ? More investigation pointed to a French blog post which hosts the song along with a version recorded in English, plus three (!) versions of the song in French, including a second single to promote Arrabal’s film in France, the smiling angelic face of child singer Eric Damain on the picture sleeve looks rather incongruous alongside a film title which translates as Long Live Death ! If you haven’t encountered Viva la Muerte investigate with caution (but do investigate!) and should you wish to hear what all this fuss is about step this way...

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Laserdisc Collecting: Crash (Japan, 1997, Herald Films)

I mentioned laserdiscs in a recent post and I thought it might be fun to kick off a series documenting some of the more interesting items in my collection. I should mention from the outset that these posts will not feature any technical information about transfers and so on – I don’t own a laserdisc player and have no interest in picking one up (a functioning machine is prohibitively expensive to get hold of these days), but if I can gleam some relevant information from the smattering of laserdisc review sites still out there, I will include it. What these posts will focus on is the art and design aspects of the laserdisc which is the raison d’être of my collection. And for this inaugural post, I’m going back to the beginning, to the first laserdisc I snagged on eBay, the Japanese edition of Crash. I’ve always been dissatisfied with home video presentations of David Cronenberg’s 1996 masterpiece, my old VHS edition and subsequent R2 DVD were content to use the over-familiar image of Holly Hunter straddling James Spader, indeed, the Criterion used this same image for their 1997 laserdisc. So it was quite a revelation to discover the Japanese edition and what a provocative and brilliant piece of design it is - the shot of Rosanna Arquette’s character seductively clad in fish-net tights and leg braces, and sporting a ravine of a scar captures much of the film’s transgressive sexuality in one single image.

Herald Films produced the Crash laserdisc for the Japanese home video market and it’s one of their more sleeker designs, the rear sleeve has a nice clear layout and features some sexually charged stills from the film (including that ubiquitous Hunter/Spader shot!). And I like the OBI strip which comes in luminous road-sign yellow, rather appropriate I think whether it was intended or not, and far more effective than the sleeve of the UK DVD which features faux road signs warnings - Crash Ahead, No Cuts and Open Soon (?)

The Japanese Crash is thankfully one of the more common titles still in circulation and one can pick this edition up quite cheaply. As ever prices fluctuate among eBay dealers but prepare to pay €20-€25 for this beauty. Incidentally, the Criterion edition remains the definitive laserdisc presentation of the film, transfer wise, but more importantly contains a typically excellent Cronenberg commentary which sadly has never been ported over to later DVD editions. However, if you're curious, the commentary can be downloaded here as an mp3 file...

Monday, 25 September 2017

Diabolus in Musica

Some infernal listening this morning... It's probably the best thing Keith Emerson has done, and while I'm not a fan of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, I do like some progressive rock stuff, so the more overblown excesses of the soundtrack - the Verdi re-write, the choral passages, I can take. I'd like to think Argento saw Emerson doing his famous stage act where he attacked his huge Hammond organ with knives, and thought "That's my man!" Inferno will always stand in the shadow of Suspiria but I find both films work as a terrific double-header. If Suspiria has the thrills and spills (and what incredible spills especially in the opening reel), Inferno is the more sensual of the two, and there are images in the film that profoundly resonates with me, like Irene Miracle's incredibly elegant, almost erotic pen-writing in the opening of the film, the descent into the water-logged basement, or the weird shot of the water rippling as Leigh McCloskey comes round after his fainting fit - images that are forever sketched on the wall of my memory. It's an extraordinary film... One final thought - what a shame Argento never commissioned Tangerine Dream to write a score. The music of Rubycon or Stratosfear combined with Argento's images could have been a match made in Heaven... and Hell.

Friday, 22 September 2017

The Great Crater

The weather in this part of the world has turned rather wintry these past few days, the promise of an Indian summer has been met with a definite chill in the air, so it’s appropriate that Robin Rimbaud’s latest Scanner album, The Great Crater should drop thru my letterbox on Wednesday courtesy of the excellent Italian Glacial Movements label. The Great Crater, a 49min concept album about a mysterious circular formation seen on the Antarctic ice sheet - a side effect of the continent’s rising temperatures, is one of the finest ambient isolationist albums I’ve heard in many years. This is very much a work with an intuitive understanding of its environment, the beautiful electronic textures unfold like huge empty expanses of white desert while thunderous low end vibrations, Penderecki style plucked strings and disquieting percussive effects suggest a subterranean world in disintegration. Listening to the album another great work of frozen ambient drift came to mind, Thomas Köner’s Nuuk but I think I prefer The Great Crater, it feels more panoramic, immense and perhaps appropriately enough, warmer. Glacial Movements have given the album a fine release, the CD’s exquisite art direction was overseen by Rutger Zuydervelt (aka Machinefabriek) and the album’s title is embossed, crater-like, on the front of the fold-out digipak - a very nice touch. Incidentally, I listened to the album last night whilst leafing thru David Wilson’s excellent coffee table book The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott, and the century old vistas of Scott’s trips to Antarctica made for an excellent visual companion…