Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Mindwebs: Short Stories from the Worlds of Speculative Fiction

Last night I finished Penguin's The Call of Cthulhu the anthology of H.P. Lovecraft stories I mentioned a few posts back, and for one final bit of cosmic weirdness before I break from Lovecraft I took a listen to Mindweb's radio production of his 1919 story Beyond the Wall of Sleep a tale of extra-terrestrial possession from another dimension... Running from 1975-1984, and broadcast weekly out of WHA Radio in Wisconsin, Mindwebs was a sort of halfway house between sci-fi radio dramatizations like Dimension X and X-Minus One and "a book at bedtime" program.

Each 30min episode of Mindwebs features the relaxed easy-going voice of Michael Hanson reading from the short stories of science fiction and fantasy heavyweights like Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke and Philip K. Dick among others. Accompanying Hanson's voice is an eclectic selection of music - from Samuel Barber to Tangerine Dream - and a battery of sound effects (or technical operations as Hanson credits them in each episode's sign-off). Of the 169 episodes, 135 are available to stream or download at the Internet Archive. The sound quality of these recordings is generally very good, but shouldn't be judged against official audio books - there are some occasional sound drop outs, tape hiss and other anomalies but given the rarity of these shows, this is a minor complaint. Sadly, given the amount of copyrighted music there's little chance that the Mindwebs archive will be remastered for an official release, so grab this extraordinary collection while its available. (The Dimension X and X Minus One collections are highly recommended also)

Monday, 27 May 2013

Films and Filming magazine

During the second half of 2012, I obsessively collected issues of British film magazine Films and Filming which ran in its original incarnation from 1954-1980. The bulk of my collection is composed of a near unbroken run of Films and Filming from the 70's, a dozen or so issues from the 60's and a prized copy of Films and Filming #1 from October 1954 (pictured left). The magazine was pitched somewhere between the Hollywood glamour of Picturegoer (1913-1960) and the more scholarly Sight and Sound (1934-) and contained an eclectic mix of reviews, articles and interviews (Ken Russell was a favorite it seems),with excellent coverage on World Cinema (Eastern European Cinema especially), film festival screenings and a regular column about films playing on the London club circuit (did you know that Fando & Lis played in London as Tar Babies?). Interestingly the magazine had something of a gay bent (no pun intended) - in the early years the magazine's classifieds section functioned as a meeting point for the closeted gay community. It also ran gay-interest adverts, gave coverage to Gay Cinema (more about that later) and featured plentiful male nudity among its pages and occasionally on the cover. The following is my own humble tribute to this very unique magazine which I hope will give a flavor of what the magazine was like to read - right away I must add a disclaimer about the screenshots below, taken quick and dirty with my camera so any distortions, warping and skewed angles are down to my amateur fumblings...

One of Films and Filming's primary features was the preview section of forthcoming or new releases, usually a double-page spread of stills from a particular film. Given the magazine's penchant for nudity, quite a lot of cult and exploitation films were given exposure, like Jacopetti and Prosperi's slave trade mondo Farewell Uncle Tom from the September 1970 issue

Films and Filming had an official star-rated film review section in addition to capsule reviews found in the Documentary and Club columns. What's most valuable about the reviews is their lack of cultural baggage that comes with reviewing vintage films today. The Exorcist was famously panned, The Devils received a shrug of the shoulders while lavish praise was bestowed upon Performance. A good example of this is the December 1970 review of Night of the Living Dead which imparts some of the experience of seeing Romero's film with virgin eyes back in the day.

One of the pleasures of browsing through the magazine are the vintage film advertisements. From the July 1971 issue a rare ABC Cinema ad for The Baby Maker, a late sixties time capsule starring Barbara Hershey as a free spirited surrogate mother, coupled however unlikely with Dario Argento's early masterpiece The Cat O'Nine Tails. I could be wrong but I haven't seen this unusual ad reproduced in the various Argento books.

Among the more well known contributors to Films and Filming were the great film historian Kevin Brownlow (who wrote articles on the silent Ben Hur, and the films of Abel Gance), as well as regular staffers like House of Whipcord and Frightmare writer David McGillivray, and Michael Armstrong, director of David Bowie short The Image and more famously Mark of the Devil. Among Armstrong's best work for the magazine was a three part series which ran from March/April/May 1971 entitled Some Like It Chilled which examined some of the major motifs in Horror films.

Films and Filming's Letters page makes for especially insightful reading. Anyone with an interest in the film-going habits and attitudes of the British public during the 70's would find the views and opinions of readers quite fascinating. The tide of increasingly violent films that swept through cinemas during the tenure of British censor Stephen Murphy saw much debate in the Letters page. Films such as The Devils, Straw Dogs, Clockwork Orange, Soldier Blue generated a considerable amount of commentary which raged on and off for two years. The two letters below from the May 1972 issue are typical of the passions these films aroused.

From its inception Films and Filming catered to a gay readership in the absence of any dedicated gay magazines. The magazine was a champion of the Basil Dearden and Dirk Bogarde film Victim and as the 60's gave way to the 70's the magazine became increasingly brazen in its choice of covers - the September 1968 cover featured a male interracial kiss (from the film Two Gentlemen Sharing), and covers showing men in various states of undress would be a regular fixtures throughout the 70's. Inside the magazine there was coverage of Underground Gay Cinema, with retrospectives on Warhol and the magazine gave exposure to obscure gay films like Pink Narcissus and the films of Derek Jarman who scored covers with Sebastiane (November 1976 issue) and Jubilee (March 1978) 

Other marginal film makers who appeared in the magazine included David Cronenberg, interviewed in the October 1982 issue whilst promoting Scanners, the June 1974 issue featured a Norman McLaren career overview, and below, from the August 1971 issue, a report on American Underground film makers Curtis Harrington, director of the avant-garde Horror film Night Tide, and Conrad Rooks who made the psychedelic experimental film Chappaqua.

Further Reading

Memories of Films and Filming
A decade by decade gallery of Films and Filming covers
Films and Filming for sale at eBay

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Cronenberg on Videodrome

Continuing a series recalling little nuggets heard on film maker commentaries. In this instalment David Cronenberg recalls a moment of protest by his leading man resulted in an impromptu director's cameo...
Jimmy Woods would not put on this helmet. He was worried he would be electrocuted. I thought he was kidding but he was serious. So that’s me in the helmet right now, those are my hands you are seeing, held up in front of the lens and it’s me in this shot because even though Carol Spier my production designer who designed the helmet put the helmet on for him, stood in a pool of water on the Videodrome set and fired up the helmet to show him he wouldn’t be electrocuted, he wouldn’t put on the helmet...
David Cronenberg, Videodrome (Criterion DVD/Blu-Ray, commentary index point 52:01)


Monday, 20 May 2013

Listening In Depth - Keith Fullerton Whitman's "Greatest Hits"

I'm currently listening to a very interesting project over at Soundcloud by experimental musician Keith Fullerton Whitman. Over the last 10 years or so Keith has been taking fragments of pop songs and applying all sorts of effects to them, chiefly slowing them down to half-speed and accentuating previously hidden elements of the music to reveal entirely new sound maps, best described by Whitman himself as “shining a flashlight into the dark corners of each selection, revealing the ghosts lurking within”.

Keith is streaming 100 of these “transformations” in a massive 10-part 12-hour block simply known as “Greatest Hits”. Additionally Whitman is offering listeners to chance to win a handmade, 10-disc set of “Greatest Hits” to the first 10 people to supply a complete list of the original songs used for the project. So far I’ve only been able to identify just a handful of songs - John Mellencamp's Jack and Diane, Edie Brickell's What I Am, Pat Benatar’s Love Is A Battlefield, and Duran Duran’s Save A Prayer. Remarkably much of the music sounds very shoegazey and this collection is required listening for those of you who enjoy the warm dreamy textures of The Cocteau Twins, Slowdive and Belong’s 2011 long-player Common Era

Keith Fullerton Whitman - Greatest Hits (Soundcloud) - sadly no longer available

Saturday, 18 May 2013

H.P. Lovecraft - Rejuvenator

I must apologize for the dreadful punning title of this post but it goes some way in describing the profound effect the stories of Howard Phillips Lovecraft have on me. Whenever I feel my love of Horror is flagging I turn to one of Lovecraft's anthologies to recharge the batteries. I'm currently re-reading Penguin's excellent Lovecraft collection The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories and it's always a case of one-more-story before I'm forced to put the book away and attend to other things. The majority of Lovecraft's work is now almost a century old but he continues to exert a huge influence over writers, film makers, artists, musicians and game designers. Films as disparate as Horror Express, Dead & Buried, The ThingPan's Labyrinth and The Prestige all feature unmistakable echoes of Lovecraft's work. Stephen King who famously described Lovecraft as the "dark and baroque prince" of 20th century Horror paid homage to him with The Mist and The Tommyknockers. And should one desire a musical companion on their journey to the mountains of madness, seek out Lustmord's 1994 album The Place Where Black Stars Hang, a collection of brooding isolationist pieces which perfectly capture the mood of the far flung desolate and alien landscapes found in Lovecraft's stories.

Artist Michael Whelan's Lovecraft's Nightmare, from 1982, partly used for the cover of H.P. Lovecraft anthology The Tomb and Other Tales. The artwork is now more well known as the cover of Obituary's 1990 death metal classic Cause of Death.

Penguin's three Lovecraft books (which also include The Thing on the Doorstep and The Dreams in the Witch House) are highly recommended for Lovecraft beginners, the collections are curated by Lovecraft's finest biographer S. T. Joshi and include near-definitive texts, and excellent, insightful introductions and explanatory notes.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Black God White Devil

Just a quick post... I was surfing earlier and came across to my extreme delight Black God White Devil, smartly jacketed in a Criterion sleeve. I was momentarily stunned that this had been announced under my nose until I realised I was looking at an imposter from the very fine website Fake Criterions... A key film of Brazil's Cinema Novo movement, Glauber Rocha's 1964 film Black God White Devil follows the fortunes of a poor farmer who kills a cattle owner and goes on the run to hook up with a religious maniac and later a revolutionary bandit, all the while followed by hired gunman Antonio das Mortes... A ragged, feverish film Black God White Devil is a heady brew of mysticism, religion and politics played out against some of the driest scorched looking landscapes in Cinema, the story propelled along by a Greek chorus of fantastic Brazilian folk songs. The violence is often surprisingly sadistic - a baby stabbed to death on a sacrificial altar, a bride raped on her wedding day - and the film is outlandish enough to include a startling tip of the hat to Eisenstein's Odessa Steps. Rocha's film sits somewhere between Gospel According to Matthew, A Bullet For the General and El Topo, and if all that sounds intriguing, this is the film for you (and hopefully for Criterion too!)