Friday, 29 May 2015

Can Outtakes

My morning listening is laid out for me... I'm near completion of the first disc of an unoffcial 4CD Can Outtakes collection which surfaced around 2005 or thereabouts. I usually don't care for bootlegs but was listening to Mute's Can Live - 1971-1977 over the w/end and the time seemed right to delve in. There's been nothing terribly revelatory so far but interesting nonetheless - a version of Outside My Door lacks the energy and crunch of the Monster Movie cut, and there's a more rockabilly take of Man Named Joe. Wandering folk singer Tim Hardin is credited with an unlikely cameo appearance on one track (unceremoniously titled Rehearsal), although to my ears it sounds like him supplying the bluesy vocals on a second track as well (the Future Days flavored Soundcheck). At this point, Can were operating a revolving door policy when it came to vocalists so I can't say for certain. Anyone know for sure ? The best stuff are the band cutting loose on some trancey jams with Jaki Liebezeit in particular in hypnotic form. Onward to the Damo Suzuki era stuff !


Thursday, 28 May 2015

Fallen Angels

A chance mention of the 2002 film Hero last week sent me back to Wong Kar Wai’s 1995 film Fallen Angels yesterday (the connection being cameraman Christopher Doyle) and was very glad of the revisit - it’s a great amphetamine-fueled rush of a film, audacious and exhilarating, and featuring a cast that is impossibly cool, stylish and beautiful (and endlessly smoking) as they go about their nights of being wild on the wet neon-lit streets of Hong Kong. I especially loved Michelle Reis’ forlorn fixer, her scenes where she enjoys some “reveries” set my pulse racing, and she’s gorgeous enough to endure Wong Kar Wai’s penchant for ultra-wide lenses. My only regret is that I didn't precede the film with a screening of Chunking Express which Fallen Angels riffs on. Film also has the best Most Delightfully Unexpected Use of a Song I've heard since Harmony Korine’s appropriation of Brittney Spears for Spring Breakers, with The Flying Pickets’ a cappella re-write of Yazoo’s Only You


Wednesday, 27 May 2015

John Coltrane

Just listened to a very good hour-long audio interview with John Coltrane recorded in November 1966. It's funny, for all the years I've been listening to Coltrane this may be the first time I've heard the man in conversation, and everything I've read about him - his shyness, his humility, his generosity of spirit is validated over the course of the interview. Coltrane is a little frosty at first, responding to Frank Kofsky's probing questions with clipped answers, but soon enough finds his stride and clearly enjoys discussing music. I won't give anything away for anyone who wants to listen, but I did enjoy Coltrane neatly side-stepping Kofsky's attempt to tease out some controversy about a well-known jazz musician. And there's a poignant moment near the conclusion of the interview where Coltrane looks forward to making a practice room at his home, little knowing he had less than a year of his extraordinary life to live. The interview comes with one minor caveat - it sounds like it was recorded outdoors so there are a few instances of ambient noise to contend with but fortunately these are fleeting moments, and are entirely ignorable. Listen here


Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Michelle, ma belle...

One last thought, related to my screening of Godard's Weekend - does anyone know what happened to Michèle Breton after she appeared in Performance ? I had read something a few years ago to the effect that upon completion of the film she rapidly descended into the Paris heroin underworld. A google search reveals conflicting testimony that she's alive and well and living in Germany, while another account suggests she had taken her own life. The only solid evidence of her in later years comes in the introduction of the Umlands' Donald Cammell biography which reveals that Performance writer Mick Brown managed to track her down for his 1999 book (which I don't have a copy of!). Considering she appears in two of my favourite films and then seemingly vanishes, I'd love to know what happened to her...


Le Funky Drummer

I wanna give the drummer some of this funky soul... I caught Weekend earlier, my first and favourite Godard film above all else. Watching the final act of the film when Jean Yanne and Mireille Darc fall foul of the hippie revolutionaries I couldn't help but be reminded of that moment in the The Bronx Warriors when a gang summit is called under the Brooklyn Bridge, the tenuous link being that both films feature drummers belting it out in the most unusual of places. I wonder did Enzo Castellari include his drummer as a nod to Godard's film ?


Monday, 25 May 2015

Regarding Susan Sontag

Just watched the 2014 HBO documentary Regarding Susan Sontag, a fine introduction to the life and work of the great American writer, thinker, essayist, philosopher and occasional film maker. With contributions from family, friends, former lovers and contemporary writers, as well as a fine selection of archive interviews of Sontag in conversation (or posing for Andy Warhol), what emerges from the film is a woman of immense complexity and contradiction, a cultural commentator with a laser-guided intellect who wrote in grandiose stokes about B-movies and the aesthetics of camp; a determined non-conformist who was guarded about her homosexuality, a romantic who left behind a string of intense but messy love affairs. Sontag's appetite for life was voracious, the documentary explores her time in Paris, hanging out with ex-pat Beat writers and cameoing in an early French new wave film. She had a huge ego could be fearless - once challenging Norman Mailer at a roundtable discussion on Women’s Liberation in 1971 (immortalized in DA Pennebaker's film Town Bloody Hall), she staged a production of Waiting For Godot in Sarajevo as bullets and bombs rained down on the beleaguered city and successfully faced down cancer on two occasions, never once considering she might die. My own experience of Susan Sontag up to now rests solely on her 1977 book On Photography but thanks to this excellent documentary, I now have much more to explore...


Saturday, 23 May 2015

Prospective 21e Siècle

The miraculous image of sound” as John Balance might have said… I’m leafing thru discogs’ page dedicated to the Philips experimental electronic series Prospective 21e Siècle which launched in 1967 to showcase the emerging electronic, experimental music scene. The series was a perfect symbiosis of design and music – the work of composers like Bernard Parmegiani, Luc Ferrari, Iannis Xenakis and Pierre Henry, as well as wellsprings of avant-garde music around the world, came packaged in the distinctive Prospective style, all abstract metallic-looking patterns and textures. Given the niche audience and the elaborate sleeve designs, Prospective issues were pressed in limited amounts, which makes the series incredibly collectible nowadays. More info here


Friday, 22 May 2015

Drums Of Death

I’m feeling a little lazy this morning and to snap me out of this inertia and get into work-mode, I’m listening to Drums of Death: Field Recordings in Ghana, a John Zorn curated compilation of traditional religious ceremonial drumming recorded in Ghana in 1996. I had a plan to listen to this album at some stage this week - last Sunday I caught about an hour of Plague of the Zombies on TV and the slightly cringe-inducing scenes of African bushmen thumping on their drums put the album in mind. The music itself is absolutely first rate with the drummers beating out incredibly complex, hypnotic, interlocking rhythms, and the recordings are pleasingly earthy with chants, calls, invocations and exhalations occasionally straying into the sound field...



Comus

My good FB friend Kat Ellinger shared a link to a very interesting BBC radio documentary yesterday on British Occultism and its brief 15mins of fame in the early 70’s. Recommended listening. And from there it seemed appropriate enough to dig out First Utterance, the dark, paganistic 1971 debut album by the British folk-rock collective Comus. First Utterance is a remarkable work, melding pastoral lyrical folk and edgy progressive rock, as if an unhinged Incredible String Band had handfasted with a Nursery Cryme-era Genesis; while the more quieter passages on the album sound strangely contemporary - one would be forgiven for mistaking them with the music of godspeed you black emperor. Much of the album's reputation of being some sort of acid-folk satanic liturgy rests on Roger Wootton's lyrics which deal with murder, execution, insanity and on two songs, defilement - the track Song To Comus describes the stalking and rape of a young girl in the woods "Comus rape, Comus break, sweet young virgin's virtue take. Naked flesh, flowing hair, her terror screams they cut the air". Evidently, something really was in the air - around the time First Utterance was released, Wes Craven was filming the rape and murder in the woods of Mari Collingwood in Last House on the Left... The final word goes to the artwork (spectacularly spread across the gatefold cover of the LP), depicting a horribly contorted primitive man. The artist was Roger Wootton and interestingly his artwork also graces the 1970 album Tone Float, the sole outing by the proto-Kraftwerk group Organisation, the artwork simply credited to "Comus"


Thursday, 21 May 2015

Hunky Dory

Listening to Hunky Dory and thinking about the various people Bowie name checks on the album - Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Frank Sinatra (obliquely mentioned on the back sleeve), as well as the cast of Quicksand - Aleister Crowley, Heinrich Himmler, Winston Churchill, and Greta Garbo. Interestingly, there's a school of thought that Garbo is not the famous Swedish actress but the infamous WWII double-agent Joan Pujol Garcia, known to the British by the codename Garbo. The lyrics to Quicksand are quite impenetrable so who can say ? But considering the company - Himmler, Churchill, and Crowley who is believed to have worked as an Allied spy, the Garbo spook theory is entirely plausible. Still Greta Garbo gets a nod of sorts by way of Brian Ward's album cover photo...


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Jane Fonda

I mentioned yesterday on a friend’s FB page, the 1974 book William Peter Blatty on The Exorcist: From Novel to Screen. Looking thru my copy of the book last night I read something interesting to chew over - that back in 1971 Jane Fonda was offered the role of Chris MacNeil, which Fonda turned down, explaining to Blatty "The reason I didn't want to do it is because I don't believe in magic" I'm very fond of Fonda, especially around this time of her career - Klute and Tout Va Bien are two favourites of mine, but I can't imagine anyone replacing Ellen Burstyn in the film - the tough-mindedness and vulnerability she lends the character is integral to the film - that scene where she meets with the neurosurgeons about Regan's deteriorating condition is one of the best scenes in the film...


Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Macumba Sexual

Watched Macumba Sexual, Jess Franco's 1981 film about a young woman who is chosen by a beautiful female sorcerer to be heiress to her bloodline... One of the most satisfying Franco films I've seen in quite some time, Macumba Sexual looks like it was dreamed into existence, the film steeped in magic and ritual and is pleasingly disorientating, seamlessly slipping between reality and dreamstate to powerful effect. The film is something of a visual feast as well, with Franco making terrific use of Canary Island locations, a sleepy seaside town, a gently rippling desert, and the Islamic style home of the sorcerer, all of which looks quite stunning thanks to the 'scope photography. Film has an interesting sound design as well, dialogue often sounds like it's drifting dreamily from an echo chamber, and the score alternates between Franco's own electro-acoustic compositions and more traditional African rhythmic music (which on more than one occasion brought Ganja and Hess to mind). Final word goes to Lina Romay for turning in another committed, fearless performance, in, and mostly out of clothes...


Monday, 18 May 2015

A Wet Dream

I had a dream last night that I was watching the sinking of the Titanic on SKY News, live as the catastrophe was unfolding. I think my subconscious was channeling two events that have been splashed across the news lately - the centenary of the sinking of the Lusitania and the media hype surrounding the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight - disaster drama for the pay-for-view audience. Ray Bradbury explored the idea of time-travel-as-entertainment in his 1952 short story, A Sound of Thunder, about safari trips back to the dinosaur epoch, but in this age of media saturation, it's an intriguing notion that cynical TV corporations would sell cataclysmic events from the past (say the eruption of Vesuvius) to the high-def reality TV audience...


Sunday, 17 May 2015

Riverman

Sunday morning listening - Way to Blue: An Introduction to Nick Drake... I picked up this compilation in the mid-90's and it remains a favourite album of mine. Usually compilations fall by the way side, as you get to grips with a discography, but I still love this Joe Boyd-curated primer, the song selection and sequencing is just superb. As I'm typing this the Five Leaves Left song Riverman has just passed and this song still has the power to stop me in my tracks - the string arrangement by Harry Robertson is astonishing beautiful. I'm just looking into Robertson's career and to my delight he had scored a number of Horror films including The Oblong Box, and some late era Hammers. If you haven't heard the music of Nick Drake, find a quiet space and take a listen to this...



Decasia

I'm currently exploring the BFI's new Bill Morrison Anthology and have just watched Morrison's extraordinary 2002 film Decasia, an 80min montage of decaying and distressed b/w nitrate film footage that Morrison had photographed onto 35mm. If David Cronenberg introduced the notion of body horror, Decasia concerns itself with celluloid horror, the fragments of film - everything from home movies, medical footage, costumed melodramas appear to have succumbed to some terrible disease eroding the very chemistry of the film. But what a transformative experience Decasia is. Landscapes erupt, buildings and bridges buckle and bend, faces warp into strange grotesque contortions. Celluloid damage engulfs a city street scene like a blazing inferno. A fragment of film shows miners being salvaged from a collapsed shaft and one hopes they are rescued not before the mine collapses but before the film finally disintegrates into oblivion. In another extraordinary moment, a boxer is seen throwing punches at a damaged part of the film as if fighting off infection that will inevitably rub out his existence. Intrinsically tied to the visuals is Michael Gordon's magnificent, urgent score, a swirling experimental orchestral work that lends the images a vitality despite their terminal decline. In a word, stunning.


Saturday, 16 May 2015

Je t'aime: The Story of French Song

Just watched the latest of BBC4's Friday night music documentaries, one that was slightly outside my comfort zone but was no less interesting for it - Je t'aime: The Story of French Song, a very good 60min primer on the Chanson Française, the uniquely French style of popular song made famous by Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg. What's interesting about the classic chanson française, what differentiates it from the Anglo-American tradition of song, is the emphasis on lyrics, which in many cases was introspective and confessional, sometimes scatological funny, and occasionally transgressive, like Serge Gainsbourg's orgasmic duet with Jane Birkin, "Je t'aime… moi non plus". The best stuff in the documentary are the years covering what one might call the Belle Époque of the Chanson Française, with fantastic archive footage of the aforementioned singers and musicians as well as Juliette Greco, Anna Karina, and Jane Birkin (all of whom are interviewed specifically for the film), although I wished there was more on Françoise Hardy (who receives only a fleeting mention) and the mysterious Barbara, whose harrowing 1968 song "L'Aigle Noir" ("The Black Eagle") was written about her memories of sexual abuse she suffered in her pre-teens by her father ("De son bec, il a touché ma joue" / "With his beak, he touched my cheek"). If you missed the initial screening last night, check the listings over the next few days for a rerun, or if you're in the UK, the documentary is available for a limited time on the BBC iplayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05vnhz1 (or here)


The Magician

Just watched Rex Ingram's 1926 film The Magician... I should have prefaced this screening with a reading of W. Somerset Maugham's 1908 novel but time wouldn't allow. The chief interest in the novel and film nowadays is the character of Oliver Haddo the sinister magician, based on Aleister Crowley, an acquaintance of Maugham when they both lived in Paris. Crowley hated* the novel of course and I presume Ingram's film, but I found it a delight from start to finish, well directed and mounted (including excellent location shooting in Paris and the south of France) and less theatrical than one might expect from a melodrama of this era. The best sequence in the film is when Paul Wegener's magus (pictured below) whisks the heroine off to a tinted garden of unearthly delights (with shades of Häxan) and there's a rousing climax in the Magician's castle as he attempts to harness life from his diabolical laboratory - watching the film one gets the sense that The Magician bridges the gap between the German Expressionism and James Whale's Frankenstein. Interestingly, the film comes with a short bit of comic business by none other than Michael Powell, playing a man who misplaces his hat. Powell actually provides some good information about the film in his autobiography A Life In Movies, and offers a fascinating slant on the film when he opines: "If Crowley himself had played the part it might have been more entertaining".


* Postscript: I presumed wrongly when I claimed Crowley hated the novel. According to Martin Booth's excellent biography A Magick Life, Crowley was pleased that the book played up the sinister aspects of his personality and Crowley, ever the self-promoter bemoaned the fact that Maugham wasn't at the time a widely read author such that Crowley's infamous reputation would be better known.

Friday, 15 May 2015

200 Motels

As I'm approaching my 40's I sometimes worry my love for weird Cinema is starting to wane, like earlier when I sat down to watch Zappa's 1971 film 200 Motels, a film I've long had great affection for - I once stayed up past 3am to catch a screening of the film on the MGM HD channel, but this evening I lasted 50mins before I put my foot thru the TV - figuratively speaking of course. Despite my fondness for Jimmy Carl Black (my favourite Mother), weird just wasn't doing it for me today. Incidentally, the Voiceprint DVD can be picked up quite cheaply on AmazonUK but that's not a recommendation - the transfer feels little better than VHS, and having seen the MGM HD broadcast, the film looks far better and fresher than this pitiful DVD. Hopefully the Zappa estate will put out a superior edition of the film someday.


Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Sheening

I mentioned Stephen King in my previous post and reading thru an early issue of Fangoria last night, King interviewed about the yet to be released film of The Shining, expressed reservations about the casting Jack Nicholson "I always saw Jack Torrance as a tall, dark haired man, not the Nicholson type at all; not flamboyant, almost withdrawn. I had someone like Martin Sheen in mind" It's near impossible to imagine anyone but Jack Nicholson in The Shining but I do like the idea of Martin Sheen in the role. I'm thinking of his portrayal of the disturbed Kit in Badlands, and the cold callous assassin Capt. Willard in Apocalypse Now. I think it might have worked. I expect King was pleased some years later when Sheen was cast as the sinister Greg Stillson in The Dead Zone.


Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Long Live the New Flesh: The Films of David Cronenberg

Just watched the excellent 1986 documentary Long Live the New Flesh: The Films of David Cronenberg… I was hoping this would turn up Arrow’s forthcoming BR of Videodrome, but not so (far), perhaps due to the presence of clips of Scanners, The Dead Zone and The Fly (and at one point Peeping Tom). Fortunately, this 50min documentary is still available on youtube (in 7 parts) and is well worth catching to see a relatively fresh-faced Cronenberg discuss his work in his usual erudite and thought-provoking style (“Most diseases would be very shocked to be considered diseases at all...it's a very negative connotation. For them it’s very positive. When they take over your body and destroy you, it’s a triumph"). Also contributing to the documentary are Martin Scorsese and Stephen King (both admirers) and there’s some dissenting opinion of Cronenberg’s work by critic Robin Wood and reactionary commentary by the British and Canadian censor on the kind of Cinema Cronenberg works in. James Ferman seems particularly pleased with himself when he claims what follows in Videodrome is exactly what his office protects against. Part 1 of Long Live the New Flesh is available here with the remaining 6 parts following on from this page.


Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Skies of America

I had a cluster of Cluster albums to listen to today - that was the plan at least, but following my last post, I wound up at Skyscraper City, an online community engaged in all things urban - architecture, urban planning, transport and so on. Well worth a visit. And as I was poring over fantastic pictures of the Chicago and the Manhattan skylines, I had the idea to dig out Ornette Coleman's 1972 third stream orchestral work Skies of America. The album has long been considered something of a misfire, or at best an oddity - the story goes that Ornette had to make some compromises to the work due to the involvement the London Symphony Orchestra, but I find that neither here nor there - I like the work for what it is, and it moves with a tidal force of power. Some passages remind me of Peter Maxwell Davies' feverish music for The Devils and Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother suite. This was a particularly hot period for Ornette - he had previously cut the Science Fiction record and had done some arrangements on Alice Coltrane's brilliant Universal Consciousness. If you haven't heard this one, be sure to check it out...


Monday, 11 May 2015

50 Years from Now !

I've just discovered a complete copy of the 1930 sci-fi comedy musical Just Imagine, set in the futuristic (and pre-code!) New York City of 1980. (“50 Years from Now” the posters marveled.) I've long wanted to see this film which has languished in relative obscurity compared with Metropolis and Things To Come. As far as I know the film is not available on home video so this youtube upload, which features decent picture and sound quality is something to celebrate. I very much like speculative science fiction, and Just Imagine is wildly speculative, with New Yorkers of 1980 flying around the vast Art-Deco style skyscrapers in their own little airplanes, but interesting nonetheless to compare the cityscape of Just Imagine with a photograph of Manhattan taken in 1983...


Sunday, 10 May 2015

Photographing the Naked City

Now that I have a few things off the table, I’m gearing up for Season 2 of The Naked City, and in preparation for it, I’m checking out the photography of Arthur Fellig aka Weegee whose dispatches from the streets of New York informed the gritty style of The Naked City film and the television series that followed. Weegee also loaned the title Naked City to the film’s producer Mark Hellinger (Naked City was the title of his first book of photographs) and something of the shock and confrontational power of that title can still be felt in his crime photographs, many of which are have colonized popular culture, like the “Corpse With Gun” photograph from 1940 (pictured below) which appropriately enough adorns the cover of John Zorn’s Naked City album, or the 1942 picture “Arrested for Bribing Basketball Players” which was used as the cover of Penguin’s Raymond Chandler collection The Big Sleep and Other Novels. For more Weegee crime photographs, follow this link to Google Images


Saturday, 9 May 2015

Walking the Road

I've just finished a 3 day marathon of Season 5 of The Walking Dead... I actually hadn't planned to watch this latest season anytime soon, but a screening of John Hillcoat's film of The Road put it in mind and from there on I was hooked. There's a moment in Season 5 where Rick Grimes utters the title of the show - a first time I think, when he reflects: "This is how we survive. We tell ourselves that we are the walking dead", and interestingly it echoes a line from Cormac McCarty's novel when the unnamed wife spits "We’re not survivors. We’re the walking dead in a horror film." Despite the astonishing levels of splatter in The Walking Dead, and the writers willingness to kill off the cast, I feel the series doesn't have the hardness of The Road - there's been nothing yet to match the moment in the book (and the film) where the Man and the Boy discover a basement full of naked human livestock - a truly chilling turn of events. With Season 5 behind me, I look forward to the next series and the introduction of the sinister band of hostiles, the Wolves.


Friday, 8 May 2015

The Lyric

The time, 1981, the place, the Lyric Theatre on 42nd Street… I was sifting thru some snapshots of Times Square as it was in the halcyon days of Exploitation film exhibition and one can’t help getting caught up in the romance of seeing MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY looming large on a theatre marquee. The Times Square of this era which bumped and grinded to the rhythms of extreme violence and sleazy sex is a sort of Xanadu within the Exploitation headspace, a collection of pleasure domes that sold dreams for the price of a double-feature. But for all my rampant cinephilia, I probably would have given Times Square a wide berth, preferring not to run the gauntlet of pimps, pushers, sex workers and freaks looking to turn out a quick buck from some babe in the woods. What an unnerving experience it would have been to see a late night showing of Maniac at the Lyric, and then having to make a 30min trip home on the subway to one of the boroughs, negotiating the bums and pickpockets and perhaps the odd serial killer working the hole (as William Burroughs called it).


The Lyric theatre which sat right in the middle of Times Square was one of the more salubrious picture houses on the strip, its grand spacious lobby was immortalized in Taxi Driver as the theatre where Travis Bickle takes Betsy on their doomed date. I was reading some memories of the Lyric by people who attended the theatre in the 70’s and there was some interesting speculation on whether Scorsese had the marquee specially dressed for the shoot (displaying the double-bill Sometime Sweet Susan and Swedish Marriage Manual) as the Lyric was not generally known as a porno theatre. That scene in Taxi Driver hinges on Betsy’s disgust for “dirty movies” so perhaps a regular fixture of the Lyric, say Andy Milligan’s Bloodthirsty Butchers, might not have worked so well…

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Black Angel’s Death Song

I've recommenced reading Transformer: The Complete Lou Reed Story after a brief hiatus… I’m just heading into the Velvet Underground era so right now I’m cherry picking some favourite VU songs to set the mood (I’m planning on listening to the 4 albums proper at home later). I remain astonished as ever by The Black Angel’s Death Song off the first album. I seem to remember an article some years ago, in Q magazine I think, where the author singled out certain duck eggs found on classic albums, one of which was The Black Angel’s Death Song (as well as the incredible We Will Fall from The Stooges LP). The song is of course one of the most extraordinary moments in the VU catalogue. I was just reading thru the lyrics over at songmeanings.com and was enjoying the interpretations listeners were offering, from the vague (it’s about meaning of life) to the mundane (it’s about drugs). I’m less interested in what the song is about and more enthused about the song as a piece of Dadaist sound poetry – try saying aloud a few lines from the song
"Shining brightly red-rimmed and red-lined with the time
Infused with the choice of the mind on ice skates scraping chunks
From the bells"
and one can get a sense of what Arthur Rimbaud called the “systematic derangement of the senses” Morrissey selected the song as one his Desert Island Discs for BBC in 2009, and said: “Listening to Lou Reed as a part of The Velvet Underground, we are really listening to the W.H Auden of the modern world…not existing in print poetry but in recorded noise



Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Remembering Welles

May 6th, marks the centenary of Orson Welles’ birth, and there’s lots of stuff online and on FB to celebrate the occasion. I’m currently listening to the Mercury Theatre’s radio production of The Magnificent Ambersons, broadcast October 1939 as part of The Campbell Playhouse series. The recording like most of the existing Mercury radio plays is rather scratchy and lo-fi but it’s an excellent hour’s worth of drama, with Walter Huston playing “queer looking duck” Eugene Morgan and Welles doubling up as narrator and as the arrogant, immature George Amberson. Perhaps most significant though is that the radio play was what RKO used as a guide to shaping The Magnificent Ambersons film in Welles’ absence. Highly recommended listening. The Magnificent Ambersons radio play (and other Mercury radio productions) can be dl’ed here


Tuesday, 5 May 2015

An Art film for Teenagers

I've just listened to Francis Ford Coppola’s audio commentary for Rumble Fish and very much enjoyed the great director ruminating on his vision for the film, ( “an art film for teenagers”), his experiences with the actors and so on. Coppola makes no bones about his love for the film, it’s clearly his favourite picture and at one point he ponders why he didn't devote his career to making small, independently-minded films. It would have been an interesting alternative career trajectory to be sure. Elsewhere Coppola reveals that the look of The Motorcycle Boy was modeled in part on Albert Camus, with accounts for Mickey Rourke’s cool French intellectual style. In an amusing moment Coppola recalls an unhappy week Chris Marker spent on the set, invited to work on the film to pick up some second unit shots but completely uninspired by the location around Tulsa Marker promptly left. Highly recommended listening.


Monday, 4 May 2015

Waterfall

I had some time to kill earlier this morning and was leafing thru Thames & Hudson’s 'World of Art' book Graphic Design: A Concise History and spotted Japanese photo montage artist Tsunehisa Kimura's signature work "Waterfall" in which torrents of water are literally cascading out of the Manhattan skyline. There was something instantly familiar about Kimura's picture - a little bit of research tells me the image has appeared in various guises - in advertising, on a record sleeve, but what I had in mind was one of the poster designs for Koyaanisqatsi which depicts a cityscape emerging out of Canyonlands National Park. I haven’t been able to find the name of the artist but I wonder was Kimura's Waterfall an influence ?


Sunday, 3 May 2015

Music from The Andromeda Strain

Listening to Gil Mellé's soundtrack for The Andromeda Strain (1971), an incredible 26min suite of glitchy, experimental electronics and alien soundscapes. I'm racking my brains trying to think of another film since Forbidden Planet to utilize a completely electronic score - I'm sure I'm missing an obvious one but right now I'm drawing a blank. It's a shame this important work (at least within the realm of electronic music) is unavailable thru official channels - there was a 2010 CD release on the Intrada label, but its run of 1500 units quickly sold out and this edition commands a small fortune these days. For the seasoned collector though, the album's first issue on Kapp Records is the one to get - issued as a hexagonal-shaped 10" record, with matching fold-out packaging containing stills from the film. Quite a beauty. The soundtrack (indexed) can be listened to in its entirety over at youtube



Saturday, 2 May 2015

Why I Want to Fu*k Ronald Reagan

I'm currently 3/4's way thru a four part PBS documentary about Ronald Reagan but only this evening thought to re-visit J.G. Ballard's 1967 Atrocity Exhibition piece "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan" a short skit written in the cold dispassionate style of a scientific report investigating the sexual appeal of the then Governor of California. It's one of Ballard's finest moments, very funny to read, yet it remains quite shocking:
"The genitalia of the Presidential contender exercised a continuing fascination. A series of imaginary genitalia were constructed using (a) the mouth-parts of Jacqueline Kennedy, (b) a Cadillac rear-exhaust vent, (c) the assembly kit prepuce of President Johnson, and (d) a child-victim of sexual assault. In 89 per cent of cases, the constructed genitalia generated a high incidence of self-induced orgasm."
Ballard said of Reagan that he projected the image of Buick salesman, but in the notes for The Atrocity Exhibition, Ballard felt Reagan was "a figure far closer to the brutal crime boss he played in the 1964 movie The Killers, his last Hollywood role". Ballard's story was enough for Doubleday to destroy their initial print run of US edition of The Atrocity Exhibition, which outraged Ballard, but in an 1982 interview Ballard said: "Afterwards I permitted myself the pleasure of sending a copy to Ronald Reagan complaining about whichever respectable US publisher dared print this smut and filth. Of course I never got any reply but it was worth it for me"


Friday, 1 May 2015

The Duelists

One last w/end screening to log some thoughts about... It was probably my recent reading of Kubrick's screenplay for Napoleon that led to me to revisit The Duelists. Another film I hadn't seen in many years, perhaps I thought it inconsequential in comparison with Alien and Blade Runner, but I now consider it Ridley Scott's most visually splendid film to date. Apart from the central story about two French soldiers locked in a battle seemingly without measure or end, this is a great film about weather, from French fields full of rain to freezing frost bitten Russian steppes. For some reason I had it in my mind that the film was shot by Philip Lathrop but upon checking it up, the cameraman was in fact Frank Tidy. The Duelists was Tidy's first film as a DP but looking thru his filmography, nothing else stands out to match the painterly beauty of Scott's film. By all means see the overblown Exodus: Gods and Kings but if you have a copy of The Duelists lying fallow, the film is ripe for rediscovery...