Monday, 31 August 2015

Wes Craven (1939 - 2015)

Waking up this morning to the awful news that Wes Craven has died at the age of 76 having lost his fight with cancer. I can't claim to be a huge Craven enthusiast - of all major directors of horror to emerge in the late 60's and 70's - Romero, Hooper, Cronenberg, Carpenter; Wes Craven was the most variable of the lot, but still I cherish Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Swamp Thing, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Serpent and the Rainbow... Elm Street in particular - it was the first adult Horror film to make an impact on me when I first saw it at the age of 11 or 12, and was instrumental in setting me down a particular path. It still remains one of my most favourite films, Horror or otherwise. And I always liked the fact that we shared first names...

For all the violence and exploitative elements of his films, Craven always presented an extremely intelligent, erudite face of Horror Cinema, and was a most engaging and fascinating interviewee - I'm thinking of his contributions to the 2000 documentary, The American Nightmare: "I think there is something about the "American Dream", the sort of Disneyesque dream if you will of the beautifully trimmed front lawn, the white picket fence, mom and dad and their happy children, god fearing and doing good whenever they can; that sort of expectation, and the flipside of it, the kind of anger and the sense of outrage that comes from discovering that that's not the truth of the matter, I think that gives American horror films in some ways kind of an additional rage..."

The Bridge

Currently listening to Thomas Leer & Robert Rental's 1979 album The Bridge... I chanced upon the video for Laurie Anderson's O Superman last night and made a mental note to listen to some minimal electronics today, so I pulled out one of my favorites. Thomas Leer & Robert Rental's one-off collaboration takes its cue from Bowie's Low, the 1st side contains a set of excellent, catchy electro-pop numbers (including the fabulously infectious Monochrome Day), while the flipside is reserved for more abstract, instrumental experiments. The liner notes comes with thanks to Throbbing Gristle for the loan of recording equipment and support and advises: "All blips and unseemly noises were generated by refrigerators & other domestic appliances & are intrinsic to the music" Industrial Records originally put this out and I'm guessing the moody cover image, a late evening shot of London's Albert bridge was the work of Peter Christopherson. It reminds me of the similarly atmospheric image of the Golden Gate bridge for the Mission of Dead Souls LP.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Revisiting The Long Good Friday

Pierce Brosnan as an IRA gunman, proving that the best laid plans... Just watched Arrow's magnificent looking Blu-Ray edition of The Long Good Friday and it feels like I've seen the film for the first time, so much so that I got a jolt when the IRA was mentioned by name - most likely I was remembering another film where the movement were discreetly known as the Organization or some such thing, perhaps Odd Man Out or A Fistful of Dynamite, I can't remember which... My screening of The Long Good Friday was fortuitous I think, on foot of my recent revisiting of the Sex Pistols documentary The Filth and the Fury - the implosion of the Pistols and the original punk rock scene dovetails nicely with The Long Good Friday's heralding of a new decade of entrepreneurship and clean, good-looking, apolitical pop, John Mackenzie’s film even opens with confident, synthesizer driven theme music. "It's important that the right people mastermind the new London" Harold Shand says at one point, and I don't suppose he had Malcolm McLaren or Johnny Rotten in mind...

Saturday, 29 August 2015

The Filth & the Fury

I'm in between books at the moment and one candidate for my next read was Jon Savage's England's Dreaming. This would have been my third, possibly my fourth read of this book, so instead I scratched that itch with a screening yesterday evening of The Filth & the Fury, Julien Temple's excellent 2000 documentary on the Sex Pistols. Despite the group's well documented history, Temple's film manages to rejuvenate all those shopworn stories from their extraordinary 26 month existence with a combination of incredible archive footage of the band and revelatory interviews past and present with all five Pistols. John Lydon in particular is in tremendous form, with a laser-like wit (“It was like a Harold Pinter play, it shouldn’t have worked, but it did”) and abrasive as ever – his reflections on the botched tour of America and Malcolm McLaren’s schemes to oust him from the group dovetail perfectly with footage from the Winterland show, where the exhausted, disillusioned looking front man declares “Oh bollocks, why should I carry on”. And there’s another great moment where Lydon briefly loses his steely composure as he rakes over the ashes of Sid Vicious' death.

Throughout the film Temple brilliantly contextualizes the Pistols history with footage of Britain in the fag-end of the 70’s, stricken with national strikes and power outages, civic disorder and race riots. Watching The Filth & the Fury again I wondered was the film Julien Temple’s act of contrition for making The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle ? Certainly the deck is stacked against Malcolm McLaren who emerges as little more than a cheap smut peddler who took his shot and blew it. I haven’t listened to Temple’s audio commentary but I imagine if relations between himself and McLaren weren’t sour before the film, they surely must have been afterwards…

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The Gorgon

I made good on my promise to watch The Gorgon last night after it earned a few mentions on Facebook earlier this week, and what a bewitching film it turned out to be. This was my first time seeing Terence Fisher's film, and while I had certain expectations given the personnel involved I was quite surprised by how different this particular Hammer Horror played in comparison with fellow stable mates from this era. I think it was Tim Lucas who detected a certain Lewtonesque flavor to the film and more than a few times I thought of Cat People (both films feature heroines suffering identity crises). The film looks terrific as well, with vivid, crisp photography by Michael Reed - his lighting in particular of the Gorgon, in all her emerald finery is worthy of Jack Cardiff, and a handsome looking production as well - the sound stages at Bray can occasionally induce deja vu but I found the sets imaginatively realized and detailed - there's one particularly striking moment where a window reveals a setting sun, a subtle yet atmospheric piece of scenic art.

As for the Gorgon herself, she makes for a wonderful apparition, and Fisher handles her with customary skill and restraint - her first appearance in the film, standing half silhouetted on a staircase pleasantly recalls Christopher Lee's introductory shot in Dracula. If there's one point of exception I took with the film, was a moment where Barbara Shelley recounts the details of Professor Heitz's letter and which describes the hapless victims of the monster as being "gorgonized" - which made me cringe - a rare slip in John Gilling's otherwise excellent screenplay...

Post-script: Gorgonized is in fact a legitimate word !

Definition of GORGONIZE
transitive verb
: to have a paralyzing or mesmerizing effect on

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

HWY: An American Pastoral

I've been listening to The Doors for the last few days, prompted by a scathing review of the American Prayer album in an old Q magazine, included as part of a 50 Rock Follies list. Undeserved of course, but no matter, the article has me revisiting the albums, and from there I took a slight detour to catch HWY: An American Pastoral, from 1969, a 35mm experimental film directed by Jim Morrison and some friends and starring Morrison himself as a hitchhiker who emerges out of the wilderness around Palm Springs and Joshua Tree and makes his way into downtown Los Angeles, where he rings a friend (poet Michael McClure) and confesses to killing the driver of the car he drove earlier in the film...

HWY is not quite an hour of magic, at 52mins it contains far too many longueurs as if co-director Paul Ferrara was too much in love with his footage to discard any of it, (in fairness, all accounts suggest the film was a demonstration piece to raise funds for a more substantial work), but there is at least one great moment, when Morrison comes across a fatally injured coyote on the highway and later lets out a scream of pain and rage in sympathy with the stricken animal's final death throes. It's interesting to speculate on whether HWY: An American Pastoral was some attempt to shrug off his rock star image, and slip into acting, the film features no music by The Doors and instead has a very decent number by Paul Ferrara and his then wife entitled Bald Mountain and there's some effective tape manipulations and a musique concrète collage of tribal music, gamelan music, snatches of Sinatra, a preacher in full flight and some film dialogue. The film is currently unavailable thru officially channels, but a lo-fi timecoded copy of the film is on youtube. Portions of the film appeared in Tom DiCillo's documentary When You're Strange, in stellar quality no less so hopefully the film might be granted a fitting release one of the days. For now, hitch a lift here

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Creepy Images

I promised the guys at Creepy Images magazine a plug after my most recent order which completes my collection, pictured below - 15 issues and all square with the house. For the uninitiated, Creepy Images specializes in showcasing rare and hard to find horror and cult film memorabilia from the 60s thru to the late 80s. Each issue comes packed with international posters and ultra-rare lobby cards from the halcyon days of exploitation exhibition, beautifully reproduced on high quality glossy paper. In addition the Creepy Images team are lifelong collectors and experts - every issue comes with detailed notes (in English and German) for fellow collectors and casual enthusiasts, so serious eye-candy. Head over to the Creepy Images website for more info (including a very good Summer Sale offer), and while you're there be sure to check out the Creepy Images book Muchas Gracia Senor Lobo, a hefty and stunningly beautiful tome dedicated to memorabilia from the films of the great Paul Naschy - I posted some pics of this book back in 2012 - check them out here

Monday, 24 August 2015

From The Bogs Of Aughiska

My great friend and great film maker John Mulvaney's latest set of notes from the Irish Music Underground is released today and it's truly a thing of beauty, showcasing the music of From The Bogs Of Aughiska, an excellent dark ambient, experimental black metal unit that has its spiritual roots in the foreboding rugged landscapes of Western Ireland. It's the starting point for John's film, part of the ongoing Fractured series, and from there catches up with the band in a performance that recalls the confrontational look of The New Blockaders. Essential viewing for anyone into experimental music. Previous episodes from the Fractured series are available here - be sure to bookmark the page for the new additions.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Mad Dog Hopper

One last post about Mad Dog Morgan... Below, Dennis Hopper on set reading the Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Terry Southern penned screenplay of Easy Rider... Hopper is interviewed for the making-of film They Shoot a Mad Dog and appears lucid, intelligent and charming but leafing thru my copy of the 2014 biography Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel, Hopper is described as a "cornucopia of craziness" whilst making the film - Philippe Mora recalls one morning discovering Hopper guzzling Old Spice after the production ran out of beer. Mora remembers Hopper completely immersing himself in character - Hopper didn't wash, spoke off camera in that godawful Irish accent and apparently affected a mortal terror of fellow actor Frank Thring (perhaps better known as Bartertown's greasy administrator in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome). Watching the film earlier, seeing Hopper dressed in black and sporting a mess of a beard, I thought of Alejandro Jodorowsky's black-clad gunslinger in El Topo, and wondered if Hopper has borrowed his look from the Chilean director - they were certainly good friends at the time...

Mad Dog Morgan

I heard an item on the radio yesterday morning about Ned Kelly, and it put in mind Philippe Mora's 1976 Australian western Mad Dog Morgan which I watched earlier... It's been a while since I last saw the film and had forgotten the surreal nightmare sequence where a man in flames emerges from the waters at the bottom of a gorge, and scales a huge cliff wall to engulf Dennis Hopper's titular character. It's an extraordinary moment in the film (the still below does it little justice), courtesy of a simple reverse shot, but an incredible Cocteauesque vision all the same. Exploring the supplements on the Umbrella DVD, footage of the filming of the stunt is included in the 23min documentary They Shoot a Mad Dog: The Making of Mad Dog Morgan, and watching stuntman Grant Page being set on fire and back-flipping off a huge cliff into the the rock-strewn waters below remains a jaw-dropping bit of daredevilry. The stunt proved as dangerous as it looked, Page received some serious burns when his crew failed to quench his burning body fast enough, and it must have weighed heavy on the film's 26 year old director - the look of anxiety on his face as Page discusses the logistics of the shot is palpable. Afterwards Page cheerfully shrugs off the injury - "As long as the shot looks good mate, that's all that matters"

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Doublevision Present: Cabaret Voltaire

I spent much of this week revisiting my Cabaret Voltaire records, mostly Mix-Up thru to 2x45, an extraordinary run of albums from the late 70's that nowadays sound like transmissions from another planet. So this afternoon, I grabbed some time to catch the Cabs' 1982 video Doublevision Present: Cabaret Voltaire, an 86min cut-up of found footage showcasing various Cabaret Voltaire obsessions - newsreel footage of civic disorder, 50's B-movies, Third Reich propaganda films, gory surgical films, wildlife footage, mondo travelogues and all of it filmed by a VHS camcorder filming a TV screen which lends the footage a heavy abrasive visual texture, with monitor refresh lines, tracking noise, video glitches and crude video mixing effects enthusiastically included. Watching the film today (on DVD!) I remembered a line in Videodrome, where Max Renn cautions: "In Brazil, Central America, those kinds of places, making underground videos is considered a subversive act". The Doublevision was certainly underground - it was one of the very first independently produced long-form music videos, at a time when the major labels showed little interest in this emerging format. And subversive too - when I first saw the video in the early 90's, I was astonished to see that some snippets of hardcore pornography had been snuck in, albeit obscured somewhat under a blizzard of video noise.

The 1990 reissue of the tape was in fact granted an E rating, or exempt from a BBFC age classification which boggles the mind. Another exciting thing about the tape was at one point the two members of Cabaret Voltaire are seen standing before a projection of A Clockwork Orange - Kubrick's film was at that time virtually impossible to see in the UK and Ireland, so it was something of a treat. Various snippets of the Doublevision video are available to watch on youtube of course, but if you feel inclined the DVD is still in print. For a truly psychotic night's viewing, one could pair it up with Detroit avant-rockers Destroy All Monsters' Grow Live Monsters DVD, a compilation of surreal super 8 and 16mm home movies, concert footage and other wacky stuff...

Friday, 21 August 2015

Collector Woes - The Sequel

All this week I've spent my evenings re-sorting my film collection stashed away in my space-age bachelor pad (ie. the attic). Much time was wasted trying to find a system - in the past my DVDs were sorted by country - European Cinema, Russian, Asian, American Cinema and so on (see previous post!), but after breaking up the collection to add a flotilla of recent additions, I couldn't put the collection back the way it was. After much unsuccessful experimentation, I conceded defeat and everything went back on the shelf in alphabetical order, something I've always resisted but now that the Great Work is complete, I must tip my hat to the A-to-Zeders out there. The collection now looks like one giant nebula of cinema but scanning the shelves I am finding some enjoyable juxtapositions and the occasional bit of strange synchronicity, like Lindsay Anderson's if... dovetailing quite nicely, title-wise at least, with Kinji Fukasaku's If You Were Young: Rage, while Irreversible is well positioned alongside I Spit on Your Grave. Anyway, job done and now some pics...

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Holger Czukay

Listening to Holger Czukay & Rolf Dammers' 1968 album Canaxis... I posted something about this album back in February and bemoaned the fact that I hadn't picked up the Spoon/Mute edition from the 90's, now long out of print. But earlier this week, I bit the bullet and bought a copy of the album off discogs, which appears to be an unauthorized facsimile of the Spoon edition, right down to the same barcode on the back cover. The only difference is the the matrix inscription on the data side of the CD disc - the Spoon edition reads: SPOONCD15 DACD AUSTRIA, the facsimile: holger czukay & rolf dammers 'canaxis' So, if you're seeking this album out, be aware of that. Happily though, the sound quality of my CD, even on my tired equipment is fantastic, this is no needle-dropping bootleg I'm glad to say... Incidentally I was searching for info on Rolf Dammers earlier and I drew a blank. He's credited on the album as "co-producer, general support" but Canaxis is Holger Czukay's show no doubt and the credit to Dammers (his name appears on every pressing of the album and early LP editions featured his photograph) is a generous one...

I must mention another Czukay CD that arrived thru my letterbox this week, more coincidence than design I might add. Looking at a David Sylvian 2CD compilation on Amazon I chanced upon a third party seller offering a used CD copy of Sylvian's 1988 collaboration with Czukay, Plight and Premonition which contains two side long pieces of evocative ambient drift. It's a warmer record than the more austere Canaxis, but still an occasionally eerie sounding album (one track enigmatically titled The Spiralling of Winter Ghosts), with various disembodied German and Russian voices drifting thru the soundscape of spectral piano chimes, treated guitar, idiosyncratic found sounds, snatches of captured chamber music and something called Infra Sound, credited on the album sleeve to Jaki Liebezeit. The CD finally replaces my crackling, jumpy vinyl copy although the LP remains one to savor if only for the stunning photograph which graces the cover. This all reminds me that I must check out the second Czukay/Sylvian album Flux + Mutability at some point...

Monday, 17 August 2015

Fairy Tales on Film

I've just spent a very enjoyable 2 and a half hours watching the BFI DVD, Fairy Tales: Early Colour Stencil films from Pathe, a compilation of 29 hand-colored silent shorts. Collected from the first decade of the 20th century, these fantasies are wonderfully enchanting curios, dazzling the eye with their otherworldly coloring (in some cases so extensive as to render them psychedelic extravaganzas) and still capable of astonishing the viewer a century later with trick photography, clever dissolves, jump cuts, and reverse shots. There's dancing devils, demons, magicians, charlatans, alchemists and ethereal nymphs and a one point some lavishly customized automobiles.

There's an unmistakable exuberance to these films, a delight in the medium and in some cases a desire to push the form ahead - some of the films utilize panning shots and rudimentary editing, cutting time and space, while other films move beyond the proscenium arch and feature outdoor photography, surely some of the earliest examples of location work in dramatic cinema. Kudos to the BFI for forgoing a conventional Silent score for an experimental flavoured soundtrack, with artists from the sound-art label Touch contributing the musical selections - although one Amazon reviewer was less than impressed with the "annoying noises". Should you feel likewise, a helping of Satie or Debussy would sound fine I think. The BFI DVD comes equipped with an excellent booklet containing context-setting essays and notes on the individual films which help with some of the more eccentric scenarios...

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Rogue music

Nicolas Roeg celebrates his birthday today, the great man is 87 years old, quite an incredible age. I was thinking of Roeg recently - I stumbled across something about his 2007 folk-horror Puffball and discovered that the film includes music by experimental outfits Coil and Nurse With Wound, which immediately made me want to see the film. Roeg has never been a celebrated record-raider like Scorsese or Tarantino but throughout his career he has used existing music (often leftfield) to dazzling effect - Stockhausen (Walkabout), Stomu Yamashta (The Man Who Fell To Earth), Keith Jarrett and Tom Waits (Bad Timing), Wagner (Eureka), Kate Bush (Castaway) John Lennon (Track 29)... I put Performance aside because I suspect Cammell and Jagger had a greater hand in the music for the film, but elsewhere Roeg intersects with the world of music in many interesting ways - he photographed The Grateful Dead for Petulia, he filmed a number of acts for the 1971 Glastonbury Fayre documentary (ironically, he missed Bowie's dawn slot!) and Roeg's name is listed in the acknowledgements note on the Hounds of Love album. Happy Birthday, Nic, pleasant listening...

TV Drome

Currently exploring the excellent supplements on Arrow's Videodrome Blu... When Arrow first announced their plan to issue Cronenberg's film, I was disappointed the set would not include Videodrome's near mythical TV version and now having watched the 25mins or so of scenes that were added for the TV version, I'm thankful for its absence. Arrow's assemblage of the deleted scenes, in chronological order and prefigured with scene setting title cards gives a good approximation of the what the TV version might have played like, effectively reducing Videodrome to a muddled second rate hi-tech thriller. Perhaps the biggest act of sabotage is done to the characters - in this version Max Renn is much too naive; Nicki Brand, irritatingly frivolous and Barry Convex has less of a sinister edge to him. If their are any gains, we get to see more of Debbie Harry (at the height of her beauty I think), and a few extra shots of Carol Speir's fantastic derelict boat set...

Friday, 14 August 2015

Throbbing Gristle in conversation

I’ve just spent a pleasant couple of hours listening to the two interview tapes that originally came with Throbbing Gristle’s 24 Hours cassette box… I have no recording notes on hand but I believe the group was interviewed shortly after the release of the D.o.A album which would place it in and around 1978, before some knotty interpersonal relationships led to the mission being terminated. But no such drama can be found here, the group sounds remarkably united and congenial, and the conversation is engaging and illuminating. The first tape opens with Genesis P. Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti discussing the fallout from the Prostitution exhibition at the ICA. Chris Carter chimes in shortly afterwards and the conversation switches to electronic music and Chris’ interest in generating unusual sounds, mentioning a particular sound effect heard in The Night Porter that impressed him. From there the interview shifts gears for an interesting track-by-track analysis of the D.o.A album – my favorite moment, Chris Carter’s reluctance to discuss his solo contribution AB/7A, which is covertly layered with ABBA songs…

The conversation is looser on the second tape, among the topics discussed are the group’s interest in the effects of sounds on the nervous system, the founding the group’s name (which Chris admits he initially hated), the work of William Burroughs (Genesis tells an amusing anecdote about Monte Cazzaza falling out of favor with Burroughs), the difficulty of faithfully transposing TG’s music to vinyl, and the violence that marred the London Film Maker’s Co-op concert. The conversation is cut with snatches of TG music and selections by Donna Summer, The Velvet Underground, Burroughs reading from The Ticket That Exploded, Kraftwerk, Beefheart, Eno and John Cooper Clarke (?). Both tapes are of course required listening for TG fans, and both are available at the excellent D.I.Y or Die blog

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Tuxedomoon’s Pink Narcissus

Currently listening to Tuxedomoon’s alternative score for James Bidgood’s underground gay classic Pink Narcissus... The 53min suite of instrumental music was written and performed at the French film festival L'Etrange Festival in 2011 (the group performing in front of a projection of the film) and it ranks as one of Tuxedomoon’s finest efforts, no small thing for a band in its 34th year. The music itself is best appreciated at a late hour, with its spectral piano chimes, mournful violin, laptop electronics, and smokey jazz courtesy of some Badalamentiesque horns - in fact portions of the score would fit quite nicely into another color-coded film, Blue Velvet. Some nice angular post-punk rhythms as well recalling Tuxedomoon’s early days. I’d like to sync this soundtrack up with my BFI copy of Pink Narcissus but sadly the score falls about 10 minutes short of the actual film, but still it might be an interesting experiment… In the meantime, I was searching for a good still from Pink Narcissus and I found this pic of Bobby Kendall, which I assume is an on-set photograph taken by James Bidgood. It's remarkable what an extraordinary psychedelic wonderland he was able to create within his cramped Hell’s Kitchen apartment…

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Videodrome listening

Last night I listened to Tim Lucas' brilliant commentary track recorded for Arrow's edition of Videodrome, and what a joy it was to experience the film again with such knowledgeable company. What's particularly unique about this commentary is that Tim actually visited the Videodrome shoot and his memories of his two week stay on the set as Cinefantastique's correspondent are an integral part of the commentary. Tim speaks with great fondness about the warmth and good humor of James Woods (and his aversion to special effects) and shares an amusing anecdote about an elusive Debbie Harry. His updates on the film's Canadian players are particularly welcome - I've been watching these beloved Videodrome characters for over 20 years, yet had little or no clue about the actors playing them. Elsewhere, Tim balances illuminating analyses of ideas and concepts that flow thru the film with interesting factoids for trivia hunters, such as the deliberate color of the Videodrome torture room and the Masha character's referential surname (in case you missed it, I certainly did!). Tim also speaks about Videodrome's rare TV version and the interesting diversions it takes from the film, and talks about the various permutations Cronenberg's screenplay went thru - the collected drafts stand knee high we’re told and are a measure of Cronenberg's ambition very much outrunning the technical limitations of the day. At one point Tim reveals that Cronenberg, in search of an ending for the film asked Tim himself to devise a conclusion but instead Tim got to pull a wire on one of the film's major special effects, a satisfying trade-off I think. All told, this is a comprehensively brilliant commentary and for Videodrome fans is required listening, and if I may add, your's truly gets a mention at one point !

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

First Look at Videodrome

Some brand new flesh arrived today from Arrow. This counts as my third time buying Videodrome (5th if you count two VHS copies!) although I suspect this will be the last. The limited 4-disc set comes housed in a hard sturdy slip case - although my copy has a small wound to its spine, pierced by something sharp by the looks of it (something I thoroughly expect these days sadly), but overall I'm very pleased. Hopefully I'll patch myself into the mixing board sometime this week but in the meantime, some pics...

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Nightmare

Pictured below, Henry Fuseli's 1781 oil painting The Nightmare... Fuseli is name-dropped in Lovecraft's 1926 story Pickman's Model, about a painter of morbid visions, and one could imagine a young Howard Philip Lovecraft gazing with wonder at a print of Fuseli's most famous work. I love the story, apocryphal or not, of Fuseli eating raw pork chops before bed time to invoke dark and unpleasant dreams. The Nightmare has been copied and parodied since its first exhibition at the Royal Academy of London in 1782, and the scene depicted in the painting has colonized much of the Gothic fiction that followed. I remember the first time I saw the painting, I instantly recognized it from Ken Russell's Gothic, and I would wager that Murnau had the painting in mind when Count Orlok enters Ellen's bedroom in Nosferatu. Wikipedia has a good entry on the painting and offers an excellent high-res blow-up


It seems a little premature to post about it, but I’m currently reading HP Lovecraft’s 1927 story The Case of Charles Dexter Ward... Had this been another author I might have completed this novella-length short story in one sitting but Lovecraft’s writing demands concentration and progress has been slow but steady. This is perhaps the most remarkable thing I’ve read by Lovecraft, and the most unnerving - the dry biographical style and Lovecraft’s eye for minutiae makes for such immersive reading, at times I forgot I was inside a work of fiction. In that sense, the story is comparable I think to The Blair Witch Project - the way the film was peppered with those little moments of “truth” that made it such a powerful viewing experience. I look forward to seeing The Haunted Palace (which I've not seen) upon completion of the Lovecraft story...

For all the praise I heap upon Lovecraft, I must temper that with Lovecraft’s racism which is evident throughout his work. I don’t have my Lovecraft books on hand now to cite examples, but the author’s notion of racial impurity of African-Americans (he frequently mentions the word “mongrel” in this context) makes for very problematic reading. One might say that such an attitude was emblematic of the times Lovecraft lived in but I can’t leave him off the hook that easily. It is however something that makes me want to tackle S.T. Joshi’s two-volume Lovecraft biography to find out more about the man and the socio-economic conditions that shaped his thinking. This also raises the thorny question of why continue to read Lovecraft (or watch The Birth of a Nation), and in my heart of hearts I will answer that the good outweighs the bad, but it’s a position I’m not entirely comfortable with…

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Collector Woes

I've spend much of this afternoon gardening, although not the outdoor variety, rather weeding and replanting my DVD collection. For years I've had my discs shelved according to a particular system - Horror and Exploitation were corralled in one section, then the films of Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, and Asia-Pacific, followed by American Cinema. But my collection has become so unwieldy lately, it was time for a cabinet reshuffle but now I'm finding it difficult to put back the pieces of the jigsaw. I was going to try an A-Z order, but the sudden juxtapositions would bug me - Elephant Man alongside Emanualle & the Last Cannibals, New York New York with New York Ripper, and perhaps most crass of all, Schindler's List rubbing shoulders with the Schoolgirl Report series. I'll sleep on it, but for now the collection looks like a crime scene, and I'm too beat to clean it up...

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Nuthin' but a 'Swamp Thang

I've been offline most of this week catching up on some reading. I'm almost to the end of the dazzling Murderous Passions (last night's film in discussion, Female Vampire) and elsewhere I've been reading, quite compulsively I might add, The Saga of the Swamp Thing, Alan Moore's stewardship of the DC comic. Comic books have always required a leap of faith on my behalf, sometimes more that I'm prepared to give, but Moore's writing on Swamp Thing is so strong and immersive I've found it very easy to slip into that universe. I particularly enjoyed "Down Amongst The Dead Men" (January 1985) when Swamp Thing journeys to a mind-bending Hell to retrieve the soul of Abigail Cable, the woman he has fallen in love with. Following on from Swamp Thing, I'm planning to revisit Hellblazer (I read the first 70-odd issues in my teens) and explore the world of The Sandman, and a few Batman titles I've picked up (The Killing Joke and The Long Halloween)...

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Body Damage

A world in disintegration... some irrevocable picture damage seen on the BFI's The Body Beneath Blu-Ray. Extraordinarily beautiful images nonetheless...

The Body Beneath

Watched the beguiling Body Beneath earlier... I had an ulterior motive for watching this one - I was tipped off that my hometown of Cork is mentioned in some dialogue - in the opening minutes of the film in fact, when Reverend Ford mentions "About a fortnight ago we arrived from Ireland, county Cork" and then adds rather ambiguously, "It's a lovely place to leave from"... And with that out of the way I settled down to watch the film, which to my great surprise was most enjoyable. Admittedly as soon as the film began a reflex kicked in that had my eyes peeled and ears cocked for technical imperfections and stilted line readings (and perhaps the occasional cross word from Milligan behind the camera), but I soon fell under the spell of the film - the frosty exterior photography, the atmospheric interiors (which at times reminded me of the BBC Christmas Ghost Stories productions), and the wonderful silent vampire brides with their corpse-paint make-up and beautiful flowing gowns.

A very capable cast too, the film has a pair of likable young leads, and a great turn from Gavin Reed as one of Vampire Cinema's most pompous bloodsuckers. I could imagine him making a fine stand-in for Murray Melvin's character in The Devils. I loved the film's final act where the Ford clan gather together for a orgiastic banquet, filmed with what looks like Vaseline coating the edges of the camera lens, the revelers kitted out in costumes that look like they escaped from a Kenneth Anger jumble sale. Curiously this sequence is scored to a piece of music (library sourced I must assume) that sounds like an outtake from Brian Eno's Music For Films...

Saturday, 1 August 2015

A Pure Trash Special

John Waters proudly beams from the cover of the latest issue of Sight and Sound and accompanying the interview with the Pope of Puke, is Tim Lucas' excellent primer on American Trash Cinema. "Sometimes in order to better appreciate the Sistine Chapel ceiling we need to revisit the gutter" Tim writes, getting his hands dirty with a dozen or so anti-classics, among them The Brain That Wouldn't Die, The Gore Gore Girls (which I must arrange a date with soon) and Doris Wishman's atrocity Deadly Weapons, one of the very few films that has left me genuinely depressed afterwards. All this trash talk has sent me sifting thru the dustbin this morning and I've just pulled out The Body Beneath. God help me...