Thursday, 30 April 2015

Star Gazing

Earlier today I caught Paul Morrissey's 1971 film Women In Revolt and was instantly smitten by Candy Darling. That she was a transgender person hardly matters, she's an enchanting, lovely beauty all the same. Candy is perhaps best known as the Candy in Walk on the Wild Side, immortalized in the song's most famous verse:
Candy came from out on the island,
In the backroom she was everybody's darling,
But she never lost her head
Even when she was giving head
She was also Lou Reed's muse on an earlier song, Candy Says, from the third VU album, a far more delicate song about Candy's dilemma of being a man living as a woman, and all the doubt, guilt and confusion that brings. Reed's line "What do you think I'd see, If I could walk away from me" is especially touching. Elsewhere Candy is one of the cover stars of The Smiths' discography, her image (a stylized still from Women In Revolt) was used for the 1987 single Sheila Take A Bow. Candy also appeared in films beyond the Factory, she's shares a tiny moment with Jane Fonda in Klute, and perhaps stranger still, she appears in Silent Night, Bloody Night (which also includes two other Warhol alumni Mary Woronov and Ondine). The film would be Candy's final screen appearance, after contracting leukemia she passed away in March 1974 aged 29.


Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Violent Four

Just watched Carlo Lizzani's The Violent Four, an excellent hard-nosed Italian crime film about the exploits of a crew bank robbers and the police hunt that follows their latest score. Emerging in 1968, Lizzani's film is slightly ahead of the curve of poliziotteschi films of the 70's, the story itself is fairly rudimentary - apparently based on real-life events, but Lizzani galvanizes the material with a pseudo-documentary style and a relentless pace - the centerpiece of the film, a bank robbery that spills out onto the streets of Milan, is quite breathtaking with the actors hanging out of speeding cars, all guns blazing. I suspect Lizzani intended his film to call attention to the increasing levels of violent crime that were encroaching on Italian life - at one point the director uses a novel device of introducing some minor characters who are fated to be killed in the aftermath of the robbery - lest one imagines there was any honor among these thieves. Cast is headed up by the great Gian Maria Volonté as the erratic head of the gang, and squaring off against him is Tomas Milian, slightly too young to be playing a police commissioner but effective nonetheless. And bringing up the rear is a fresh-faced Ray Lovelock as the young whipper-snapper in the gang. My thanks to my good friend Martin, who introduced me to this film, which surprisingly has not yet received an official English-language release on DVD/BR. In the meantime, there's an excellent fan rip doing the rounds which combines the original Italian soundtrack with a very good looking German print (Die Banditen von Mailand) and it's well worth seeking out...


Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Abbey in the Oakwood

I finally opened my Vincent Price in Six Gothic Tales boxset last night and have cleared the proposed w/end viewing to hopefully catch all 6 films (and the substantial book that accompanies the set). Last night I watched The Fall of the House of Usher and I had seemingly forgotten much of it since my last pass at the Midnite Movies DVD edition, which made the Cocteau-ish dream sequence all the more startling. Watching the final shot of the film, the Usher house sinking into the malignant earth, I was reminded of the German landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich's 1810 painting The Abbey in the Oakwood, in which the old ruins of a church have become a cemetery for the monks who perhaps, Usher-like were cloistered there...


Monday, 27 April 2015

Violent City

Watched Sergio Sollima's 1970 film Violent City last night (it was going to be a Carl Dreyer, but at the 11th hour...). Not quite the equal of The Big Gundown or Revolver but an enjoyable, compelling crime film all the same, splicing the infernal affairs of Build My Gallows High with the avant-gardism of Point Blank. The title of the film led me to expect a muscular urban action film, but Sollima almost deliberately steers clear of the streets of New Orleans, where the film is set, and instead relocates the action to the city's grubby hinterlands which lends the film a certain sobriety in comparison with some of the more outrageous examples of the Italian Crime genre. Film is surprisingly rough around the edges as well with a number of technical imperfections - inconsistent lighting, and some clumsy aerial shots, but the film is bookended with two stand-out sequences - a wordless car chase around the increasingly claustrophobic streets of St. Thomas island, and a stunning assassination scene that plays out in near complete silence. In a decade which saw him appear in a string of forgettable films, Violent City remains a Charles Bronson picture to savor...


Sunday, 26 April 2015

Jon Hassell

Variations on a theme... After dusting off Eno's Neroli on Friday, I’m listening to his collaborator Jon Hassell and his 1977 debut album Vernal Equinox. The timing of Hassell’s album seems appropriate, the album emerged during Miles Davis’ lost years, as if to fill the void left by the trumpeter's departure. I wonder what Miles thought of this record ? Hassell was most definitely ploughing similar ground with his own music – his heavily processed trumpet sounds are something Miles was working towards with albums like On the Corner and Get Up With It, although Hassell’s music is more minimalist and spacey in comparison, with instruments and environmental sounds given lots of room to breathe. I very much like Hassell’s theory of Fourth World Music - the reshaping of ethnic music and instruments thru modern recording technology. Listening to Vernal Equinox I see visions of tall, clean skyscrapers rising harmoniously from a rainforest, or in some of the more dreamier passages, I can imagine William Burroughs trekking thru the Amazon in search of ingredients to make the psychedelic concoction yage. It’s a shame that Vernal Equinox is currently out-of-print, but I’m hoping a re-issue might be on the cards at some point considering we've had recent re-issues of Fourth World Vol. 1 - Possible Musics and City: Works Of Fiction. In the meantime, the album’s 22min title track and centre piece can be heard here


Saturday, 25 April 2015

Francis Bacon

It was a rather slow day at work yesterday so I managed to steal an hour to watch a South Bank Show documentary from 1985 devoted to painter Francis Bacon. Sky Arts showed an abbreviated 25min version of this some months ago, but fortunately the entire 55min programme has been preserved at the ever essential Ubu Web film archive. The documentary finds Bacon in fine form - interviewed by Melvyn Bragg, Bacon is chatty, lucid, articulate (even after too much wine), and open and frank about his life, his homosexuality, his fondness for the drink (at one point the programme relocates to a boisterous Soho drinking den) and his great love of gambling. Bacon’s honesty when it comes to his work - his successes and failures - extends to other painters work, and in one amusing moment he gives his impressions of Jackson Pollack (“To me they look like bits of old laces”) and Mark Rothko (“They’re the most dreary paintings that have ever been made”). Better still, the programme serves as an excellent primer on Bacon's work, his theme of the mutability of flesh and his desire to remake/remodel the human form which renders the figures in his paintings unmade, unfinished, de-evolved, nightmarish. This excellent documentary can be viewed here


Friday, 24 April 2015

Neroli

I’m currently listening to the 1993 album Neroli, one of Brian Eno’s most austere and minimalist works, the entire album consisting of just one single 57min glacial soundscape. It’s a quiet recording too, and perhaps not best suited to the noisy office where I work, the sounds of voices and ringtones straying into the sound field - no doubt something Eno would approve of. My revisiting of Neroli, an album that doesn't get much plays (in contrast with the extraordinary Thursday Afternoon) was prompted by the recent clutch of Eno re-issues, which includes a second pass at Neroli, augmented by an extra disc of previously unreleased drone music. Perhaps the most significant thing about Neroli, at least for me is that it marks the end of a near faultless run of Eno albums that began with No Pussyfooting. I’ve found it very hard to connect with his post-millennium work - the door is not closed by any means on albums like Small Craft on a Milk Sea, Another Day on Earth and Lux - but so far, I've found this music remote and unengaging… Incidentally I recently came across an interesting Eno documentary online entitled Imaginary Landscapes, a 39min piece from 1989 featuring the great man discussing music and art in his own illuminating and stimulating style. Aside from shots of Eno at his mixing board, the visuals are strictly stock-ambient, so this might be best experienced as an audio piece if you’re busy looking at something else. You can find it here


Thursday, 23 April 2015

Pasolini

Currently reading Pasolini’s 1956 novel Ragazzi di Vita, a neorealist account of a group of street urchins growing up in the slums of Rome, whose lives are shaped by poverty, boredom, crime and violence. Ragazzi di Vita is not an easy read, the narrative feels as aimless as its teenage protagonists, and the book’s documentary style is taxing - Pasolini’s attention to detail when it comes to places and place names is such that one could almost construct a map from the book of this less frequented side of The Eternal City. And yet the novel is fascinating in the light of Pasolini’s early films, his observations on slum life are echoed in Accattone, and Mamma Roma and his screenplay for Bertolucci’s La Commare Secca. All this Pasolini business was prompted by Abel Ferrara’s biopic which I’m looking forward to seeing at some stage. It’s not good to ruminate on a film that I'm perhaps months away from seeing, most likely on Blu-Ray (I wonder will the film be held back until November to tie in with the 40th anniversary of Pasolini’s death), but if the striking image of Willem Dafoe, wearing Pasolini’s trademark horn rimmed glasses is anything to go by, I’m hugely excited for the film. Be sure to check out the excellent trailer (nsfw) which uses appropriately enough “Erbarme dich, mein Gott” from Bach’s St Matthew Passion...


Wednesday, 22 April 2015

MisinforMation

I suspect it was Peter Strickland's wonderful 5min short Box Hill (found on the Berberian Sound Studio BR/DVD) that inspired me to revisit the British Film Institute's 2012 film MisinforMation, a fascinating experimental compilation of films and fragments culled from the extensive archive of the Central Office of Information, and equipped with a new soundtrack supplied by the elusive electronic outfit Mordant Music. Some of these films will be familiar to a generation of English and Irish people who grew up in the 80's - I remember well the film about home security, a house invaded by thieving magpies - but re-contextualized in this collection, their original narrations replaced by thick, atmospheric drones, serrated electronics, and foggy distortion, the previously hidden experimental quality of these films begins to emerge. My favourite films in the collection are the landscape studies - Looking at Prehistoric Sites, a film about Britain's ancient spaces is transformed into something akin to Derek Jarman's Super 8 film A Journey to Avebury, while the extraordinary Sea in Their Blood, a 1983 short by Peter Greenaway looks less like one of the director's statistical obsessions and more like an alien report on a land shaped both physically and psychologically by the body of water that laps its edges. Hauntological and highly recommended.


Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Berberian Sound Studio

Revisited Berberian Sound Studio earlier and I enjoyed the film much more than my initial screening which left me a little underwhelmed. Now some two years later, the film feels much more substantial and rewarding. Watching the film again, I couldn't help but look for nods to Italian films - the film-within-a-film, The Equestrian Vortex feels like a cross between Black Sunday and Mark of the Devil re-written for the Demons generation, and there are some interesting parallels with Peter Strickland's film and Suspiria. But one film that came to mind was, oddly enough Videodrome, partly due to the shots of the antiquated electronic equipment I suspect, but more than that, I was reminded of something David Cronenberg said about his film which seemed to forge a link to Strickland's: "I wanted to posit the possibility that a man exposed to violent imagery would begin to hallucinate. I wanted to see what it would be like, in fact, if what the censors were saying would happen DID happen. What would it feel like ? What would it lead to ?"


Monday, 20 April 2015

The Road To God Knows Where

Watched Uli M Schüppel's 1990 documentary The Road To God Knows Where, a grainy, dimly-lit b/w record of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' month long tour of North America in 1989. "This is the last song, of the last show of our American tour. Thank God" announces Cave at a gig in LA, and you can't help but sympathize, the band having to contend with dingy venues, bad sound, and the deadening boredom of life on the road. For Cave, the process seems especially tortuous, he's clearly uncomfortable among the strangers at backstage parties, or dealing with journalists and their inane questions. One suspects the band poured all that boredom and frustration into their music and the film includes a number of full-blooded, volcanic performances, the highlight, an incredible impromptu rendition of a stripped-back Mercy Seat at a radio station. Essential viewing.


Sunday, 19 April 2015

Vampyr

Watched Carl Dreyer's Vampyr last night... I can't think of another film that replicates that elusive, intangible feeling that comes with being on the edge of sleep. The weird movement of the actors caused by the under cranked camera, the reverse shots, the milky photography, the strange shadow play, the sudden breaks in continuity all add up to perhaps the most singular vision in Horror Cinema. I've seen the film perhaps 4 or 5 times over the years between the odd TV screening, the UK Redemption video and the Master of Cinema DVD, and still I was looking ahead to the moment in the film where Allan Grey sees dirt shoveled down upon him from the vantage point of inside his own coffin - but of course no such scene exists in the film. I was probably seeing the film thru the prism of later horror films – there are similar moments in The Evil Dead and City of the Living Dead, but it seems oddly appropriate that I would experience this false memory with Dreyer’s dreamlike film…


Burroughs books

Looking thru a fantastic archive of William Burroughs book covers… Fascinating to see how a tricky customer like Burroughs was packaged and sold over the years. Naked Lunch and Soft Machine borrowed Dali paintings for their US Ballantine editions, the first US edition of Cities of the Red Night used Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s apocalyptic painting The Triumph of Death, while a Dutch edition of Naked Lunch, featured Goya’s painting Saturn Devouring His Son. Occasionally publishers would reflect the decadence of Burroughs’ novels – UK paperbacks of Junkie and Dead Fingers Talk featured explicit syringe play, a German edition of Naked Lunch from 1982 came with a fairly explicit still from what looks like a porno, while various naked male torsos were commonly seen on copies of Queer. Burroughs himself was the cover star for many of his books over the years – I particularly like the Chinese film-tie-in edition of Naked Lunch which features Burroughs sitting in the black meat factory set of Cronenberg’s film. All designs mentioned above can be found here


Saturday, 18 April 2015

Expensive Records

I mentioned The Beatles' Let It Be a few days ago, and I'm just cruising eBay checking prices for a copy of the album that came with the photo-book - a slightly worn edition will set you back a cool $550.00. I hasten to add I could never afford such treasures, but one should have things in mind in the event of an unexpected windfall... Some other nice items currently up for auction on eBay: a copy of Sticky Fingers, with zipper fencing in Joe Dallesandro's bulge goes from $40 to $250, depending on grading... The all-destroying sandpaper packaged Return of the Durutti Column will destroy your wallet at $480... Depending on the level of rust, copies of Public Image Limited's Metal Box are available starting at $150 and up to $295... Paypal donations will be warmly received.


Friday, 17 April 2015

The Zone

I’m currently leafing thru a gallery of pictures taken from within Chernobyl’s Zone of Exclusion, one of the most radioactively contaminated areas in the world. Looking at these pictures of discarded, disintegrating military vehicles; abandoned residential blocks being slowly reclaimed by the wilderness, my thoughts are inevitably drawn to Tarkovsky’s film Stalker and the eerie way the film anticipates life after the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. As per the film, the photographers who took these pictures may well have snuck into the Zone (strict permission is required to pass thru the military checkpoints), and perhaps a guide or a stalker was required to lead them around pockets of radiation - apparently the poisonous radioactive dust that coats the Zone is more prevalent on foliage than asphalt roads. Something else to reflect on was the high number of crew members, including Tarkovsky, who developed cancer in the ensuing years – most probably from working in the poisonous ruins of the Estonian power station where Stalker was filmed. Seeing the film nowadays I can’t help but wince when I see the actors wading thru pools of dirty water (think of the famous shot of Alexander Kaidanovsky dozing in the stream), or negotiating their way thru spaces filthy with toxic dust. Pictures of the Zone of Exclusion can be found here and here


Thursday, 16 April 2015

Let It Be

Watched Let It Be, the Beatles film from 1970… It wasn't quite the scenes-from-a-marriage I was expecting, no doubt the four Beatles had cherry-picked the most appealing footage of their stint at Twickenham Studios rehearsing for the aborted Get Back album. And yet there are painful hints that the band was working towards an inexorable dissolution – one imagines Ringo was wishing he was away on a film set, or George working instead on the songs he had been quietly squirreling away. John simply goes thru the motions (accompanied everywhere by Yoko Ono, wearing a rigid Noh expression throughout her scenes), whilst Paul shows the strain of keeping the fragmenting band together – a shot in the film of a partially devoured green apple on top of McCartney’s piano can help but raise a wry smile. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the film is how ragged The Beatles were sounding - a lot of the music they make in the film dissolves into loose jams, old rock n’ roll standards and comedy routines, but as if by magic, the lethargy is swept away when they convene on the rooftop of Apple HQ on a cold January morning for one last concert, to the delight of lunch-hour shop girls and a few disapproving bobbies who eventually break the whole thing up...


It's a shame that Let It Be can only be seen through unofficial channels, McCartney and Starr have apparently scotched proposed re-issues of the film which is dofficult to fathom considering the final days of The Beatles are well documented. In fact the film is nowhere near as bruising as Peter Doggett's book You Never Give Me Your Money: The Battle For The Soul Of The Beatles but it remains an important, perhaps even essential closing chapter the Fab Four's story.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Movies

Listening to Holger Czukay’s 1979 album Movies… Whenever I dig this album out, it requires a few passes before the weirdness of the album wears off on me. The core of Can appear on this record at various points - Irmin Schmidt, Michael Karoli and Jaki Liebezeit were all drafted in to add a touch of their magic, and it’s probably why the album resembles in places Future Days. But on the whole the album has a far sunnier disposition than Can – there’s none of Tago Mago’s frightening experimentation, in fact the opening track Cool In the Pool could pass for skewed Euro-pop. One significant aspect of the album are the samples peppered throughout – dialogue is lifted from movies (naturally) and there’s a distinct middle eastern texture. Czukay had sampled exotic voices before, on the Canaxis album, but I wonder was the Movies album a more direct influence on Eno and Byrne’s My Life In the Bush of Ghosts (which also pulls dialogue and middle eastern vocals into its mix). Listening to the album, a scene from The Man Who Fell To Earth springs to mind, where Bowie’s character is feverishly channel surfing thru the bank of televisions he has set up – the film’s soundtrack is suddenly swamped by dialogue from old movies, documentaries, adverts, and a Roy Orbison song, creating an extraordinary bricolage of sound…


Book Spotting !

I watched Interstellar over the w/end (and loved it)… Being a book nerd one memorable aspect of the film were the shots of the bookshelf, which completely took me out of the film momentarily, the plot and characters pushed aside as I scrambled to spot as many titles as possible. I’m sure some eagled-eyed blogger has cobbled together a full list of books, but I couldn't fail to spot a copy of The Stand – and I hope it wasn't one of the books that got pushed off the shelf - the copy featured was an original Doubleday first edition (a facsimile I’m sure), a fine copy of this book can fetch up to three to four hundred dollars ! Another book I caught was James Ellroy’s The Big Nowhere (which made me smile!). One book I might have expected to be there was James Blish’s four-volume interstellar saga Cities In Flight, in which scientists and engineers have solved the problem of gravity and whole cites have uprooted and blasted off for the stars. I actually thought Nolan’s film was heading in this direction, so there’s a sequel that’s just asking to be made !


Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Amazing Mr. Bickford

Just watched the claymation film The Amazing Mr Bickford... I have a few Frank Zappa things to watch in the next few days and this was top of the list, a 51min compilation of claymation sketches by animator-extraordinaire Bruce Bickford made for Zappa in the late 70's/early 80's. The film is scored with cuts from Zappa'a 1984 orchestral work Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger, and the London Symphony Orchestra Vol 1 album, the thunderous music the perfect accompaniment to Bickford's dizzying, perpetually morphing animation, made in the surrealist tradition. His extraordinarily expressive clay players wander through hallucinatory Max Ernst type landscapes, encountering violence, hatred and degradation, and undergoing radical Dali-esque contortions. It's a technical tour de force of hyper kinetic editing and movement, with Bickford's camera swooping and diving after his characters - I suspect creating this incredible micro-cosmos was a Herculean task. Better to leave this wonderful film do the talking, and despite it being unavailable thru official channels, the entire film is available to watch in very good quality over on youtube...



Monday, 13 April 2015

Alan Splet

Listening to Robert Hampson's experimental soundscape project Main… The album I'm currently listening to, Hz, a compilation of limited edition singles comes with a dedication to film sound designer Alan Splet (pictured below with David Lynch and Jack Nance). Splet is perhaps best known for creating with David Lynch, the audio surrealism of Eraserhead. Splet first worked with Lynch on The Grandmother which led to a run of tremendous collaborations – Splet was responsible for the sound of the hissing, clanking machinery in The Elephant Man and Dune, and the extraordinary detailed soundworld of Blue Velvet (whose story begins with the shot of an ear!). Elsewhere Splet's brilliant work can be heard in Days of Heaven, The Black Stallion (which won him a special Academy Award for sound editing), The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Dead Poets Society, and The Mosquito Coast, which incidentally includes another piece of sinister machinery...


Sunday, 12 April 2015

Mr. Arkadin

I've just completed (well, almost completed), Criterion's fabulous Mr. Arkadin box, having now watched all three cuts of Welles' brilliant 1955 film(s)... I had pondered on which order to watch the three films in and finally took the pedantic decision to watch them as placed within the Criterion set - Confidential Report first, followed by Mr. Arkadin (Corinth version) and the so-called Comprehensive Version. Of the three cuts, I think the Comprehensive Version is the best - the revisions are sensitive and well-considered, and the re-sequencing of certain scenes is handled with dutiful deference to Welles' own plan for the film. The Comprehensive Version also rescues a few exclusive snippets here and there from Confidential Report - I say "rescue" like Confidential Report was an unforgivable corruption of Welles' vision - far from it, I think producer Louis Dolivet's dispensing of the flashback structure lends the film a bold narrative thrust which makes few concessions to the audience's comprehension of the film. By the way, I fell head over heels in love with Patricia Medina in the film, her drunken scene with Welles on board a perilously swaying yacht is one of my favourite things in the picture. I very much liked Robert Arden as well, and have scribbled a mental note to look out for him in what I suspect are bit parts in Chaplin's A King In New York, and Omen III. All that's left now is to finish off the set by reading Maurice Bessy's novelization, and Video Watchdog's own forensic investigation of the film and its variants (which I might add appeared in issue 10 from 1992, predating the Criterion set by 14 years).


Saturday, 11 April 2015

Revisiting Sunset Boulevard

Just watched Sunset Boulevard, a film that looks more astonishing with each passing year... There are moments in the film when Gloria Swanson, not hamming it up as Salome, retains some of that beauty of her younger self seen in the clip of von Stroheim's Queen Kelly - after all, William Holden takes her to bed at one point, and perhaps it's my age, but I think the film generates a palpable frisson of dark eroticism. I love the sequence where Swanson makes her triumphant return to that Paramount lot and there's a lovely moment where C.B. DeMille gently kisses Swanson goodbye on the forehead and Swanson momentarily closes her eyes like a loving daughter. Wonderful stuff. It's a shame the film's original, more macabre opening of Holden beginning his story from a mortuary slab was rejected after unfavorable test screenings, but fortunately the brilliant notion of a dead man narrating the film was kept: in fact, for Holden's last bit of voice-over I half-expected him to sign-off with "Life, which can be strangely merciful, had taken pity on Norma Desmond. The dream she had clung to so desperately had finally enfolded her...in the Twilight Zone." (I was perhaps thinking of the 1959 TZ episode. "The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine" which leans heavily on Sunset Boulevard).


Friday, 10 April 2015

Kosmos - Soundtracks Of Eastern Germany's Adventures In Space

First album of the day... Kosmos - Soundtracks Of Eastern Germany's Adventures In Space, a 2002 compilation which collects together various themes (and dialogue) from a clutch of sci-fi films made at the East German DEFA studio - Der Schweigende Stern (First Spaceship on Venus, 1960), Signale - Ein Weltraumabenteuer (Signals: A Space Adventure, 1970), Im Staub der Sterne (In the Dust of the Stars, 1976), and Eolomea (1972). There's less weird electronics on this than I expected, the music swings in the style of Martin Denny and Les Baxter, with occasional jazz licks, celestial choruses, and the odd burst of prog rock (one track in particular sounds like a cast-off from Tangerine Dream's Cyclone album). Still, it's an enjoyable listen, and it's given me the urge to investigate these Eastern Bloc space operas...


Thursday, 9 April 2015

Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon

Earlier this afternoon, I read Stanley Kubrick's screenplay for Napoleon... This particular draft is dated September 29, 1969, and comes with fascinating production notes concerning the film's budget, actors, filming locations, sets, costumes and research material. I'm not sure how advanced this particular draft of the screenplay was but it makes for interesting reading on what might have been, had Kubrick made the film. The screenplay spans Napoleon's entire life, opening with a scene where a 4-year old Napoleon is read a bedtime story, to his rise to power, his triumphant campaigns and battles, his coronation as Emperor of France, through to his fall after a disastrous war with Russia, and his exile and death on the remote Atlantic island St. Helena. And all of it within 3 hours. The screenplay includes copious amounts of narration (which I read with the voice of Michael Hordern in mind) providing expository information and filling in gaps in the narrative. The battle sequences make for the most exciting parts of the screenplay, with shots planned to include men by the thousands, but Kubrick deftly adds some small touches which delight - when the film briefly relocates to Egypt, there's a shot of French soldiers inspecting a tomb, and a young drummer boy scrawling "Long Live the Republic" over some hieroglyphic writing. Elsewhere, a key moment like the French naval defeat at Trafalgar is summed up in one single striking shot of a wrecked French ship at the bottom of the ocean, the body of its drowned captain drifting around the cabin along with his books and papers. But there are problems too. Kubrick's writing is less skillful when the film indulges in court intrigue, Napoleon's womanizing, and tempestuous relationship with Josephine are dull. A scene where Napoleon breaks away from a dinner to conquer the wife of a guest feels clumsily staged. One thing I did struggle with reading the screenplay was whom to visualize in the part of Napoleon. Jack Nicholson has long been associated with the role, but the Napoleon, as Kubrick writes him, seems a little to austere for Nicholson. I was thinking... Dustin Hoffman perhaps ? A copy of the screenplay is available here...


Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Einstein on the Beach: The Changing Image of Opera

Following my last post on Philip Glass, I was reaching for my copy of Einstein on the Beach but instead I watched Einstein on the Beach: The Changing Image of Opera, an excellent 1985 documentary about Robert Wilson and Philip Glass' magnum opus. What's terrific about this 58min film is that it gives a window into the visual aspect of an opera that comparatively few people will experience, with footage of the rehearsals of The Brooklyn Academy of Music production of the opera for the Next Wave Festival in 1984. Good contributions too from Wilson and Glass. The film is available on youtube, and for streaming and download at the Ubu Archive


A Glass Book

Just reading a warm review of Philip Glass' new memoir Words Without Music (Faber, pp416) in The Sunday Times' Culture supplement. "Reading this memoir will not make converts one way or another, but it should at least put paid to the idea that Glass is facile or vacuous, for he explains the aesthetic behind his music interestingly and clearly. And whichever side you sit, there is no denying the intrinsic interest of his story and what it has to say about the cultural politics of our times - and especially those ever shifting categories of avant-garde and mainstream". I remember one time I was on a bus touring around Chicago, and passing the University of Chicago, the tour guide listed some famous former students which included Philip Glass. Asked for a show of hands for those who knew of Philip Glass, I was the sole contributor which was slightly disappointing. My fellow travelers were far more enthusiastic when the conversation turned to the fortunes of the Cubs as we passed Wrigley Field...


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Coming Soon from Arrow...

I'm very pleased to see Arrow plans to put out Tobe Hooper's 1977 film Eaten Alive on Blu-Ray. This title has been on DVD for as long as I've been collecting - I've seen numerous editions of the film, good, bad and ugly released on both sides of the Atlantic, from fly-by-night cheapskates like Diamond and VIPCO, to more respectful editions by Elite and later Dark Sky. So, it's very gratifying to see Arrow's enthusiasm for this great, underrated film. I last visited with the film in 2013 and was impressed as ever (see link below). It will be really interesting to see what Arrow's production team will do transfer-wise, the film's visual scheme, all murky browns and thick, soupy reds will prove a formidable challenge for HD. If Arrow follows their tradition of offering alternative cover art, there will a bounty of material to choose from - the film at various points was distributed as Eaten Alive, Death Trap, Horror Hotel, Starlight Slaughter (my favourite!), Legend of the Bayou, and apparently Brutes and Savages, although I've never seen any admats or posters for the film under this title... Arrow's Eaten Alive is due for release in the UK and US in July


Monday, 6 April 2015

Visions of Clair

Just watched the 1977 art-porno Visions of Clair. My thanks yet again to Brad Stevens for introducing me to this utterly bewitching film. I feel one initial screening disqualifies me from saying anything meaningful about the film - Annette Haven's titular heroine, a beautiful model who conjures obsession, lust and jealously in the characters who orbit around her - explores ideas about identity, gender and dualism. I'm not entirely sure if Claire was actually a real person, or simply a projection of the other characters' own preoccupations (even the title of the film misspells her film - surely no accident?). I suspect a second or third screening is required for the film to give up its secrets. Still there was much to enjoy on this first pass of the film - director Zachary Youngblood lends the visuals a striking experimental flavour, the sexual grapplings are often layered together transforming bodies into surreal liquid flesh. Annette Haven is very good too, clearly the best player in the film, and is a rather delicate, ethereal beauty (and it some ways reminded me of Lynn Lowry). But perhaps my favourite aspect of the film was the brilliant electro-acoustic score by the delightfully named Ohm's Law, who appropriately enough, I can't find any info about!


Saturday, 4 April 2015

The Man Who Came Back From the Dead

Lots of Bowie stuff on the Web today in the wake of news of Bowie's participation in Lazarus, a theatre production inspired by Walter Tevis' 1963 novel The Man Who Fell To Earth. It pleases me too that Bowie's collaborator is Irish playwright Enda Walsh... It's always a treat to see The Man Who Fell To Earth film being revived. I'm seeing some great Facebook posts on the film this morning, and it remains a tremendous, integral piece of the Bowie mythology, made during Bowie's infamous sojourn in LA when he was up to his neck in coke, occultism and eccentric dieting. Later when filming began on The Man Who Fell To Earth, he developed an interest in UFOolgy - Bowie's total immersion in Roeg's film apparently had him keenly watching the skies of New Mexico for interstellar visitors. When filming was completed Bowie barely paused for breath before rushing back to LA to record what is arguably his finest album Station To Station. Still, The Man Who Fell To Earth continued a cast a shadow over Bowie, the cover of his 1977 album Low featured artwork based on the film, while Low's final track, Subterraneans used a reverse bass, an idea Bowie originally conceived for the abandoned soundtrack for The Man Who Fell To Earth.


Friday, 3 April 2015

The White City

I've just come to the end of Season 1 (1958-59) of The Naked City, and have thoroughly enjoyed the 39-episode run of this police procedural drama. The show's raison d'être was to present New York City warts and all, and much of the series was filmed fast and loose on the streets and neighborhoods around South Bronx and Manhattan. In addition to the principal actors, The Naked City featured an excellent roster of no-nonsense staff directors (including a prolific Stuart Rosenberg and a revolving door of talented players making multiple appearances - part of my enjoyment of the show was seeing an actor playing a villain in one episode reappear as a victim in another. This first season features some well known faces too - Peter Falk, Vic Morrow, Martin Balsam, Roberts Blossom and an incandescent Diane Ladd (looking like her 23 year old Laura Dern). The one reservation I have for the show (and this perhaps this would be indicative of the era), is the absence of black actors. There might have been 8 million stories in the Naked City but none of them were black it seems. I think I counted two appearances by black actors throughout the entire season and both played indentured servants. More galling still, episodes often focused attention on the situation of other minorities living in NYC such as Hispanics or European émigrés... I'm now looking forward to delving into the 2nd season of Naked City, revamped to lose the definite article of the original title, but adding an additional half-hour to each episode.


Thursday, 2 April 2015

Post-Apocalypse All'Italiana

Mad Max fever is currently revving up on the Web, and with the fourth film in the series due for release this summer, I had an idea to check out a more modest vision of the apocalypse courtesy of two Enzo Castellari films, The Bronx Warriors from 1982 and The New Barbarians made the following year..

The Bronx Warriors, or to give it its slightly clumsy full title 1990: The Bronx Warriors is not strictly a post-apocalyptic film, rather it posited a future where whole tracts of urban neighborhoods have slipped into lawlessness and become no-go zones. Looking at the locations where Enzo Castellari and his crew filmed, it appears the future had already arrived, with the action framed against endless blocks of rubble-strewn, abandoned tenements. In the film, Ann, a young runaway and daughter of a wealthy industrialist takes refuge in the Bronx where she hooks up with Trash, the leader of a biker gang called the Riders. Ann's father who has been grooming his daughter to take over his multi-million dollar corporation sends Hammer, a ruthless, sadistic police lieutenant into the Bronx to retrieve Ann by any means necessary... Inventive, energetic and propelled along by a sure-fire confidence, The Bronx Warriors is one of the great Italian action films. Not nearly as grim or ultra-violent as similar films that followed in its wake, Castellari's film often feels like a Western in disguise, in fact the rousing climax has the gangs of the Bronx pitted against heavily armed riot police on horseback. As well as raiding ideas from Escape From New York, the film takes inspiration from The Warriors, with the Bronx kitted out with even more outrageous looking gangs, like the roller skating Zombies or the camp, toe-tappin' high-kickin' Iron Men. Leading man Marco de Gregorio at least looks the part if nothing else, while Fred Williamson playing Bronx kingpin The Ogre, and Vic Morrow, effectively appearing in Lee Van Cleef role bring much class to the picture., not to mention Zombie-leader George Eastman who effortlessly livens up every scene he appears in. An excellent beginning...


The ever industrious Enzo Castellari quickly followed up The Bronx Warriors with another post-apocalyptic film, and this time, it genuinely was, with The New Barbarians set in the nuclear ravaged wasteland of 2019. To say that The New Barbarians leans heavily on Mad Max 2 would be a kind way of putting it, the film a virtually remake of George Miller's film, right down to the customized vehicles and gloomy looking leading man. In the film, a nomadic loner named Scorpion driving a souped up Firebird car defends an isolated community against the Templars, a sadistic religious sect intent of purging the earth of the human race. Putting aside the film's shameless plunder of George Miller's film, The New Barbarians is severely compromised by the production's penny-pinching budget, the entire film taking place in the same damn stone quarry throughout (in some shots, the excavation machinery clearly visible), or the same stretch of abandoned road, all to numbing effect. Even the vehicles look strictly low-rent, a few dune buggies tricked out with spiked fenders, the occasional rotating blade or in the case of Scorpion's car, an impossibly dainty rocket launcher in the booth. And yet, The New Barbarians is strangely compelling, thanks to Castellari's heroic attempt to make something out of nothing - the idea of the Templars cashing in their horses for automobiles is rather good, and there's one particularly out-there moment where the subtle homosexual subtext of The Road Warrior is picked up and ran with - but I will leave that for unsuspecting viewers to discover themselves. Cast wise, Fred Williamson returns to the fold and he's easily the film's biggest asset, as does George Eastman, playing the Templar's leader with disarming intensity. Incidentally, the film comes with a health warning for the inclusion of Giovanni Frezza (or Bob from House by the Cemetery) playing a whiz kid mechanic. You have been warned.