Friday, 14 April 2017

The Bird with the Stunning Artwork

I'm loving Candice Tripp's fantastic painting for Arrow's forthcoming The Bird with the Crystal Plumage Blu-Ray, coming this June. More of her extraordinary artwork can be enjoyed here


I’m thinking about artwork for previous home video releases of Argento’s film and two editions readily come to mind, both playing on a psycho-sexual angle. Vampix’s 1983 tape came with a highly visceral sleeve, with its slashed up image and  the suggestion that Suzy Kendall might well be the film’s demented killer. Incidentally, the back sleeve features a short and thoughtful synopsis of the film which I believe was penned by Argento scholar Alan Jones. Issued a few year later, Stable Cane’s edition gives the game away ever so slightly with a pointed reference to the gender of the killer, but it’s a striking piece of artwork all the same, and one that I’m fond of, having owned this edition for several years.





Wednesday, 12 April 2017

A mean pinball

I’ve been listening to The Who these past few days (in between bouts of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters LP and the 1st African Head Charge album), and leafing thru a Who magazine I stumbled across the 1972 curio Tommy Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra & Chamber Choir. This particular Tommy doesn’t hold much interest for me (I’m listening to some samples now on youtube and it’s rather corny), but the Tom Wilkes’ album design is truly fantastic – the smooth metallic, reflective surface of the pinball feels incredibly sensual. I used to see the album in second-hand records stores throughout the 90’s, the LP box almost always falling asunder and missing the inserts. If I was a bigger Who fan, I would seek out a copy for Wilkes’ design work alone, but Discogs scratches that particular itch with some nice scans of the inner contents. The idea of the all-seeing pinball popping up in various locations has me racking my brains to where I’ve seen this motif before – perhaps I’m thinking of the strange phallic ornament that appears in the photographs on Zep’s Presence album, or the megaphone seen in various locations on Depeche Mode’s Music for the Masses. I like Wilkes’ cover enough to think it superior to the Dark Side of the Moon’s prism, and casting commercial concerns aside, it would have made a terrific Phantasm poster…


Friday, 7 April 2017

Favourite Hong Kong Films

The Big Boss is probably no one's favourite Hong Kong film but it was the first Hong Kong film I saw and was my passport into a strange new world of Asian Cinema, of flying fists, righteous revenge and dubbing that left characters mouths flapping like stranded fish. It's primitive, even by later Bruce Lee vehicles, and the plot of the film holds Lee back from fighting for over an hour, making it all the more sweeter when the Little Dragon uncoils into a weapon of mass destruction...



If The Big Boss was a personal first, then so too was Hardboiled, John Woo's 1991 film, my first introduction to the so-called "Heroic Bloodshed" genre. Woo may have made better films but in many ways Hardboiled is the director's slickest, most streamlined film and not surprisingly Hardboiled was instrumental in introducing the West to Hong Kong's revolutionary gun operas, the dazzling choreography, death before dishonor, and ammo clips that never run dry...



Stylish, intelligent and complex enough to demand multiple viewings, Mad Detective, Johnny To and Wai Ka-Fai's 2007 film, the newest arrival on my list has in it's short life become an instant classic. For the few reading this who haven’t yet seen the film, it's best to go in knowing as little as possible - The Sixth Sense and Fight Club toyed with a similar plot device but Mad Detective avoids the join-the-dots approach to story-telling and makes its audience do its own detective work but once you surrender yourself to the film's hallucinatory weirdness you'll begin to wonder why all films aren't made like this...



A Hong Kong film about two gay men living in Argentina is notable for that alone, but Happy Together, Wong Kar-Wai's 1996 film, a mockingly-titled meditation on the impossibility of relationships is one of the great masterpieces of World Cinema. Impossibly stylish, and shot with an arsenal of different film stocks and lighting and improv-style cutting the film drew comparisons with Jean-Luc Godard's most vital work, but Happy Together is more like a piece of free jazz - joyous, spontaneous, inventive, hypnotic, and mesmerizing...



Legendary for popularizing Martial Arts films in America (only previously seen in a few isolated Chinatown districts), Five Fingers of Death is likely to topple under the weight of history, but Chang-Hwa Jeong's film still remains a touchstone of the genre. Aside from the thrill of the action set-pieces, the story is dramatically satisfying, the performances, at least in the Mandarin version have depth and weight, and in contrast to the exquisite Shaw Brothers sets and photography the violence is surprisingly grisly. Seminal stuff...



Dangerous Encounter - 1st Kind is a hand grenade of a film, set in a decidedly grimy and unglamorous Hong Kong rife with overcrowding, vicious triad gangsters and teenagers who get their kicks from urban guerrilla warfare and torturing small animals. I first saw the film in 2011 and was so utterly astonished I wrote "So volatile a mix, the celluloid itself seems in danger of catching fire as it runs through the projector gate". If this very unique film has a spiritual heir it might well be Takashi Miike's unhinged City of Lost Souls and his Dead or Alive films, and appropriately enough Tsui Hark's great outlaw film includes illicit snatches of Goblin's Dawn of the Dead score and Jean-Michel Jarre's Oxygène (?)



John Woo's 1990 film Bullet In the Head doesn't have the tight framework of The Killer or Hardboiled, it's story of three lifelong friends trying to make their fortune is altogether more expansive moving out of the turbulent streets of Hong Kong and into the maelstrom of the Vietnam War. The film is nothing less than an epic, and Woo shows tremendous style and maturity in his approach to the material. Unlike the balletic action of his gangster films, the violence in Bullet In the Head is ugly and harrowing, so much so the British Censor was once reluctant to give the film a certificate. A John Woo film to savor, if only because Bullet In the Head is one of his last great films before a regrettable move to Hollywood and the string of mediocre American films that followed...



Quite possibly the sexiest PG-rated film you are ever likely to see, In the Mood For Love, Wong Kar-Wai's millennium follow-up to Happy Together is a far more delicate affair, with career best performances from Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. No surprise that it's ended up in many people's lists, the film is a cinematic tour de force of direction, editing, costumes, music (Yumeji's Theme once heard is never forgotten), Christopher Doyle's extraordinarily sensual photography and that wonderful strange and dreamlike ending among the ruins of Angkor Wat...



Sunday, 26 March 2017

Throbbing Gristle - Brighton Polytechnic, March 26th 1977

Throbbing Gristle's show at the Brighton Polytechnic (the first of two visits by the group, a second followed in 1978), was staged at the campus' Sallis Benney Theatre, a dingy cavernous space that served as a locus for all sorts of idiosyncratic art happenings. Invited by the students from the art and design faculty, the group might have expected a more receptive audience than the sneering punks at the previous show at the Nag's Head in High Wycombe, but TG managed 50min of their 1-hour set before a hail of jeers and bottles flung by drunk, abusive punters brought things to a close. As TG concerts go, the Brighton '77 show is one of the group's finest, and despite the antagonism on the night, the group were pleased enough to include a few excerpts from the show on Second Annual Report. The Brighton show opens with a particularly strong Zyklon B Zombie, and it's curious that TG all but retired the song after the concert, dropped from the set-list, with the studio version only making a belated appearance a year later as the flipside of the United single. Ominous bass rumblings, eerie drones and garbled walkie-talkie sounds usher in the urban paranoia of Last Exit, (the title, one presumes, a nod to the Hubert Selby Jr. novel), which builds to a chugging mechanical crunch accompanied by a surreal Genesis P-Orridge vocal about being smashed in the face with a brick and suffering disturbing visions of the British Queen being sodomized by her husband. The lengthy instrumental passage that follows is one of the great TG jams, an astonishing free form torrent of noise and mangled voice sample cut-ups, including the dispassionate confession of a teenage murderer, surely one of Sleazy's most effective dialogue lifts. Genesis returns to the mike for Mary Jane / Record Contract with an improvised vocal that is silly, witty, embarrassing, and ultimately fascinating, the long rambling monologue that eventually mutates into a rant against rock star posturing and record company prostitution, the Sex Pistols in particular the focus of Genesis' scorn. Despite the Pistols burning through contracts with EMI and A&M, (and pocketing the severance pay), Genesis clearly valued TG's independence over Malcolm McLaren's cash from chaos strategies.


Perhaps the biggest talking point of the Brighton '77 show (or the concert recording at least) is the coda tacked on to the end of the Industrial tape where the house DJ berates the audience for their hostility towards TG, sarcastically blasting out The Stooges' Down on the Street on the PA. The group, ever mischievous included a few seconds of the exchange to close out one side of Second Annual Report, (a companion of sorts to D.o.A.'s Death Threats) and it's worth noting that this short snippet is the only place where one can hear (albeit a few seconds only) of the Funhouse opener; the Stooges airbrushed entirely from the TG24 CD edition of the Brighton show. And while the concert never descends into the violence of the Film Makers Co-Op show, the mood sounds edgy and tense - at one point Genesis can be heard saying "make sure everything is safe" presumably referring to TG's equipment. In the years following TG's split individual members would recall weariness at the increasing adulation they were seeing at later shows, a sharp contrast to the sense of disillusionment at the Brighton performance. No breakthrough in grey room it seems...

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. At the beginning of January we traveled to Vietnam to adopt our beautiful little daughter. 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…