Monday, 29 June 2015

It's About Nicolas Roeg

Just watched BBC's Nicolas Roeg documentary It's About Time, and it's very good, if just a little too short at 60mins. I won't reveal too much for anyone who has yet to see it, but the documentary provides a fine analysis of Roeg's films and their preoccupations, mostly by Roeg's collaborators and admirers, although the best stuff comes from the director himself as he ponders on the strange, hidden connections in life (relating a wonderful anecdote of meeting Stephen Hawking on a flight to Los Angeles) and I enjoyed Roeg reading W.H. Auden ("At Last the Secret is Out") and delighting in his poetry's cinematic quality - "I think somehow, it's like a film plot...there's a dozen there. It's terrific"...


Watching documentary I was interested in something director Bernard Rose mentioned - that Roeg was fired as DP off Doctor Zhivago which I had forgotten about, so I went to Kevin Brownlow's 1996 biography of David Lean for more info... Roeg was Lean's second choice for the film after Freddie Young, but by the time Lean was ready to go on Zhivago, Young was booked to shoot the historical epic Khartoum, so Roeg was drafted. Roeg in an interview for the book recalls that from the outset the Zhivago set was tense. Roeg had to work with much of Freddie Young's crew and he felt he was something of a "Judas" for stepping in for Young. As the shoot progressed, Lean and Roeg clashed on the cameraman's methods, Roeg's remembers lighting one particular shot of Omar Sharif: "Zhivago was sitting huddled with his cap on and I lit him so he looked like a skull, so that his eyes were black, with the tiniest pinprick in his black eyes. David hated it. "You've lost his beautiful eyes" he said. I realized I was on the wrong planet". Lean later commented: "It was a terrible thing asking him to go. But he behaved impeccably and we're good friends now, we meet and talk and there are no hard feelings that I'm aware of". Roeg went on to shoot Far From the Madding Crowd and Freddie Young, released from Khartoum when filming was delayed by seven months joined David Lean in Spain to photograph Doctor Zhivago.


One last musing... The music used to open the documentary, The Subterraneans by David Bowie made me smile as this track is said to have contained some DNA of Bowie's abandoned soundtrack for The Man Who Fell To Earth, specifically the reverse bass motif heard in the song. Surely not a coincidence that it appears in the Roeg documentary ?

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Graham Greene

I'm in between books at the moment, and have so many disparate things jostling for attention, I'm not sure what to read next, but am gravitating towards something by Graham Greene. This is on the back of two Greene documentaries I've watched in the last week or so - Dangerous Edge: A Life of Graham Greene, currently doing the rounds on Sky Arts, and Graham Greene: The Hunted Man which came as one of the supplements on Criterion's Third Man DVD. Dangerous Edge, from 2013 serves as a fine, well-rounded introduction to Greene's work and is salted with some of the more insalubrious aspects of the author's life - his shadowy work as a British Intelligence agent in West Africa, his extramarital affairs and his battles with depression.


By contrast, Graham Greene: The Hunted Man, originally made in 1968 for BBC's Omnibus arts series takes a more sober if unconventional approach to its subject - Greene consented to be interviewed for the documentary on the proviso that his voice alone be used, so the documentary is augmented with travelogue montages and short dramatic stagings from Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, and The Heart of the Matter. Over the course of the interview sessions, taped on board the Orient Express en route from Paris to Istanbul, Greene speaks candidly and quite brilliantly about his life, his deeply felt religious sensibility, his need for travel and the nuts and bolts of his writing - when asked about planning the framework of his books, Greene reveals: "I generally have the beginning clear, the end clear, a mountain range between the two and then hope for surprises". I'm not entirely sure if I have an urge to read Greene or read about Greene such was his extraordinary life so for now I'm reaching towards The Heart of the Matter or The Quiet American for their biographical aspects.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Revisiting Tetsuo

Watched Tetsuo: The Iron Man last night courtesy of Third Window’s excellent Blu-Ray (UK, B-locked)… Shinya Tsukamoto’s spaltterpunk classic remains as astonishing as ever, even more so with the high-def upgrade, my eyes were poring over details in the image - the incredibly elaborate costumes, the film’s unrelenting grimy textures – the actors perpetually smeared with oil and grease and unspeakable bodily fluids. At 67mins the film is brimming over with more ideas and innovation than a dozen flat-packed Marvel films – the sequences where characters speed around the back-alleys of Tokyo are particularly fantastic, and watching the film last night, I enjoyed seeing shades of other favourite films – Eraserhead, Videodrome, The Fly, The Evil Dead, Sōgo Ishii’s Burst City and his Einstürzende Neubauten film Halber Mensch


As I was searching the Net for a particular still from the film I came across something called Tetsuo: The First Cut – which included the following text:
“This "director's cut" edition of Shinya Tsukamoto's breakthrough film Tetsuo: The Iron Man was released in 2010 as a part of the Perfect Tetsuo boxset to coincide with the Japanese opening of the latest part in the Tetsuo saga, The Bullet Man. Contains about 10 minutes of never-before-seen material”
My initial thought was that some 10mins worth of deleted footage was simply inserted back into the film and was expecting these deleted scenes to be included among the extras on the Third Window Blu, but not so. Has anyone seen this 77min cut of Tetsuo ?

Thursday, 25 June 2015

A Face in the Crowd

I'm looking thru a high-res reproduction of the cover of Sgt. Pepper and thinking what a fantastic photoshoot wrap party it would have been - so many fascinating people to chat with. I'm imagining the cover stars fragmenting into little groups - Bob Dylan and Stockhausen discussing the electrification of music, Aleister Crowley and William Burroughs swapping stories of astral-projection and exotic drugs, W. C. Fields sneaking a few deprecatory asides as Lenny Bruce moans about his legal troubles, Edgar Allan Poe talking with Aubrey Beardsley about collaborating on an illustrated collection of Gothic tales, H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw and Karl Marx hotly debating the pros and cons of Stalinism, and Mae West and Oscar Wilde flirting with Johnny Weissmuller, whose attentions are focused on Diana Dors (unaware that she’s a wax model)…


A Word about Bad Timing

Watching Mark Cousins' terrific Moviedrome introduction to Nicholas Roeg's 1980 masterpiece Bad Timing... I should preface this post with a quick word for my good friend Simon and his Moviedrome project which will see a return of BBC2's cult film program for a new generation of discernible film enthusiasts. Be sure to check out his Moviedrome page for more info and updates... The timing of this post is actually very good - I came across Cousins' introduction (which originally aired 15 February 1998, 11:20pm) in the wake of a discussion I had with my friend David on the schism between Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon, and both our sympathies lay with Garfunkel. Cousins' introduction is less a prelude to the film and more a passionate love letter, and a complete contrast, I seem to remember, to Irvine Welsh's intro to the film when it screened on Film4, back in the early 2000's, with Welsh droning on about how Garfunkel was miscast - Bad Casting I think he called it. Cousins quite rightly praises Garfunkel's performance and points out that the film was perhaps a way for the singer to break from his wholesome image - although his character in Carnal Knowledge from 1971 was not exactly squeaky clean either. I won't spoil anymore of the introduction save to say that Cousins' reveals that Tom Waits' Invitation to the Blues, played over the opening credits is forever synonymous in his mind with the film, but for me it's an extract of music Roeg borrowed from Keith Jarrett's Köln Concert that really brings the film back to me...



Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Trintignant

I made good inroads into my Alain Robbe-Grillet boxset these last few days with screenings of the director’s first three films. What’s most striking about these films is how much my expectations have been confounded in one way or another – case in point, the 1968 film The Man Who Lies which features a wonderful performance by Jean-Louis Trintignant. I’ve always felt a little chilly towards Trintignant – an excellent actor, but I’ve only ever seen him playing intensely serious, sometimes tortured characters, films such as The Great Silence, My Night at Maud's, The Conformist, Desert of the Tartars, Three Colors Red. By contrast, his performance in The Man Who Lies, expertly playing as the title suggests an unreliable narrator has some superb witty, even mischievous touches, like a moment where he absentmindedly picks up a discarded bra and almost leaves the scene with it before realizing…


Monday, 22 June 2015

Discovering Alain Robbe-Grillet

I finally began delving into the BFI's Alain Robbe-Grillet: Six Films 1963-1974 boxset this afternoon. The timing seemed right - there was some interesting Facebook conversation yesterday about Robbe-Grillet and earlier this week I read that Brian Aldiss had selected Last Year at Marienbad as one of his all-time favourite science fiction films, which I thought was a fascinating notion. This afternoon I caught the first two Robbe-Grillet films, L'Immortelle (1963) and Trans-Europ-Express (1966). I'm reluctant to say much after one initial pass at these films, but both were highly enjoyable and not the coldly cerebral works I was expecting. My preference was L'Immortelle, a wonderful dreamy romantic mystery and watching the film the title of Jon Hassell's 1990 album, City: Works of Fiction continually came to mind - the film was shot in Istanbul, but the city looks strangely empty throughout the film. The dialogue makes references to "tourist English" (as in the language) but the city feels bereft of visitors, off-season, if such a thing is possible. J.G. Ballard once said that the three pillars of science fiction were space, time and identity and L'Immortelle, essentially about a man who pursues a woman who may or may not exist, inches ever closer to the genre. Dazzling stuff.


Baal

A very kind benefactor passed me a comprehensive fan-complied soundtrack for The Man Who Fell To Earth last week and it's put me back in Bowie mode again. Earlier today I revisited the 1981 BBC production of Brecht's rarely revived play Baal starring Bowie as the titular blackguard minstrel whose brings ruin (and death) to the lives of those who fall for his inexplicable charms. This was my first time proper seeing Baal, the previous attempt to get to grips with this difficult 80-odd minute teleplay was abandoned, but having read some Brecht in the interim has made it more palatable. Bowie is outstanding in the part, dirty and disheveled looking (and sporting some rotten teeth) and skillfully delivers some long and intricate passages of dialogue. Fans who don't give a damn about Brecht, can at least enjoy the Greek chorus of Baal's Hymn which Bowie sings and strums a banjo to at various points of the play, as well as performing a few casual songs in the cafe scenes, and in a fine Cockney voice reminiscent of his Deram days.


Directed by the great Alan Clarke, Baal makes few concessions to casual audiences - the sets are deliberately dull and airless and Clarke dutifully engages some Brechtian techniques to maintain the play's artifice - having Bowie say his lines with an odd lilt; or in a sequence where Baal and his friend trek thru a forest, both actors simply walk across an empty stage towards the camera, the set up repeated a number of times until the scene's conclusion. It's quite incredible to think that this production was shown on BBC1 in the prime time slot - it certainly wouldn't happen today, most likely relegated to one of the niche arts channels. Having said that, I don't believe Baal was ever shown again on television at least not in the 20 odd years I've been listening to Bowie. Fortunately, when I was searching for an image for this post, I discovered Baal is now available on youtube. Investigate with caution but do investigate...

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Earth's gravity

I'm currently pursuing an obsession with Dylan Carlson's Earth, in particular the albums recorded for the Southern Lord label. Earlier I was listening to Earth's 2005 album Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method, whilst poring over Stephen O'Malley's exquisitely designed 20 page CD booklet containing photographs of the Old American West. O'Malley assembled the photographs as he listened to rough mixes of the album, the result, a striking symbiosis of music and visuals, the sparse, desolate guitar-driven instrumentals reflecting the hardness, even savagery of late 19th century American life depicted in the photographs. One image features a mountain of bison skulls, while another features men standing around a mass grave of dead Lakota killed in battle at Wounded Knee Creek. In another image, a group of Native Americans look gloomily into the camera, the buildings behind them suggestive of their removal from their ancestral land. There are images of toil and struggle - farmers scratching out a living in the dead of winter, as well as guarded prosperity - the cover photograph features a barn decorated with Dutch Pennsylvanian Hex symbols as if to ward off misfortune and evil spirits... Images from the Hex album can be seen in more detail here


Saturday, 20 June 2015

The Blue Note Look

BBC4 offered up a late evening Jazz treat yesterday with the feature length 1997 documentary Blue Note - A Story of Modern Jazz, in honor of the late Bruce Lundvall. In addition to exploring Blue Note's rich history and the label's extraordinary roster of artists (I'm listening to Dexter Gordon as I type this) the documentary acknowledges the contributions of graphic designer Reid Miles and photographer Francis Wolff in establishing the unique Blue Note look, an exuberant, energetic ensemble of Wolff's urban, sometimes noirish photography and Reid's imaginative and playful use of type. As one of the contributors to the documentary admits "Sometimes I get out my Blue Note records just to look at the covers". The best of Reid and Wolff's work can be explored on this page. Meanwhile, here are four of my favorites...


Ivan the Terrible

Whilst reading the Strugatski's Hard To Be A God yesterday I was looking for something to give me a visual reference - Marketa Lazarová was an obvious one, but I felt I something Russian was required, and it came down to a choice between Andrei Rublev and Ivan the Terrible Parts I and II, and I went with Eisenstein's less familiar diptych (which I will refer to as one film). I had actually seen Ivan the Terrible on TV some years ago, but the memory was all but wiped from my mind, so much so I was quite surprised by the campness of the film (certainly how camp it feels nowadays) with its highly theatrical performances (none more so than Nikolai Cherkasov's wide-eyed Ivan) which might as well have been plucked from the Silent era. At one point Part II switches from b/w to blazing color for an extraordinary song n' dance routine. Watching Ivan the Terrible, Orson Welles' Shakespeare films came to mind on a few occasions - the incredible shots of faces in close-up, the cavernous low-ceiling sets, the endless long shadows; but flicking thru This Is Orson Welles, I see that Welles was none too impressed with the film at the time, and wrote a very lukewarm review in his newspaper column. Still, I thought the film was marvelously operatic.



Friday, 19 June 2015

Hard To Be A God

Just finished reading Arkadi and Boris Strugatski's 1964 novel Hard To Be A God, in lieu of the 2013 film adaptation which I have yet to see. I'm wondering how faithful the film will be to the book, considering all the trailers I've seen so far (including the opening 17mins currently up on youtube) suggest the film is closer to the fever dream of Marketa Lazarová than the Strugatski's narrative-driven novel, but we shall see. One thing I found quite starting was the unlikely link the book has with Star Trek, more specifically the Star Trek concept of the Prime Directive, a code of non-interference in the affairs of alien civilizations, which is a core philosophical dilemma of the book (the title in fact hinges on it). Incidentally, the first film adaptation of the book was made in 1989, a German-Russian production (which includes an appearance by Werner Herzog), and is available to watch in it's entirety over at youtube (English subs can be activated using the caption button)


Thursday, 18 June 2015

Visions of Dune

Listening to Faust’s Nosferatu this morning I began thinking of other music that sought inspiration from films and that notion led me to French electronic composer Bernard Szajner and his 1979 album, Visions of Dune which was inspired by Frank Herbert’s novel. This is a terrific album of bubbly analogue electronica, the 12 short tracks segue into one another to create two side long pieces and are all named after elements of Herbert’s novel such as Shai-Hulud, the Fremen name for the giant sandworms found on Arrakis or Sardaukar, the name of the Emperor’s fearsome storm troopers. The obvious comparison Szajner’s music would be Tangerine Dream, and ironically I read huge chunks of Dune to a soundtrack of Zeit, Phaedra, Rubycon and Alpha Centauri - this was long before I discovered the Visions of Dune album. Should I make a return journey to Arrakis, I’ll bring Szajner’s music along with me… Visions of Dune was re-issued last year and augmented with two excellent bonus tracks that didn’t make the original album. Check it out here


Faust Wakes Nosferatu

Listening to Faust’s 1997 album Faust Wakes Nosferatu, a record of the group performing live to Murnau’s film. The group actually recorded two sets for the film, both recordings were issued separately, one on CD, the other on vinyl (my copy is the CD). This is not music to sync to your copy of Nosferatu, the CD contains 70-odd minutes worth of music, running well short of current 94min BR/DVDs, but fortunately, the album stands alone as a brilliant piece of experimental improvisation, the music ebbs and flows from ambient textures to Industrial clanging, expressionist guitar licks and dirty electronics. And not to completely disregard Murnau’s film, the group often settle into long eerie silences where the funereal sound of a metal object being struck signals grim tidings. Faust have since re-staged the Nosferatu set a number of times and I imagine it would have been something to see - the vinyl edition contains photographs from the original concert, the group bathed in otherworldly colors from the glow of Murnau’s tints, their arsenal of equipment (which includes everything from flutes to angle grinders) strewn with cobwebs and other Gothic trimmings…


Mogwai

I was one of the lucky chosen few last night to witness the huge tower of power that was Mogwai, the band put down a brilliant near two-hour set of songs spanning their 20 years of activity, effortlessly shifting from beautiful subtle melodies to massive walls of jet engine guitar noise, especially when Barry Burns left his station at the synth and added a third guitar to the mix. Among the highlights was a hypnotic version of Superheroes of BMX and a thunderous My Father My King which closed out the first set. Support on the night was by RM Hubbert and he sounded great. We met him afterwards and my friend Dave bought two of his LPs – a good guy, and someone to check out.



Mogwai set list, Cork Opera House 17 June 2015:

Black Spider / Summer / I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead
Take Me Somewhere Nice / Stanley Kubrick / Superheroes of BMX
Mexican Grand Prix / Rano Pano / How to Be a Werewolf
Remurdered / George Square Thatcher Death Party / My Father, My King
Encore:
I Know You Are But What Am I ? / Tracy / Glasgow Mega-Snake

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Treasures of Satan

Ireland's recent approval of the same-sex marriage bill has prompted some interesting commentary from overseas, mostly complimentary, but some, decidedly negative. One high ranking Vatican official declared it a "defeat for humanity" while some of the more puritanical Christian sects in the US have predicted the country is bound for Hell. But which Hell ? If I have a choice I'd like to sink to the infernal coral reef depicted in Jean Delville's 1895 painting Les Trésors de Satan. The painting depicts Satan presiding over his treasures - the voluptuous bodies of some damned souls slumbering on a seabed of pearls and jewels. Delville's Satan cuts a striking figure, not some Dantean horned god, but a beautifully formed man with an incredible shock of red fiery hair dancing gracefully among the drowsy bodies, as serpents coil around him. The Treasures of Satan remains a key work for me, I first discovered the painting in my teens when it graced the cover of Morbid Angel's 1991 album Blessed Are the Sick and it gave me an appreciation for art history. The painting can be seen at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels. A larger copy of the painting can be viewed here


Happy Birthday Lucio Fulci !

Today marks what would have been the 88th birthday of Lucio Fulci, just a few days after the passing of Richard Johnson. It’s appropriate enough in my case that these two points on the calendar are close together, Zombie Flesh Eaters remains my favourite Fulci film – it’s full of delicious directorial flourishes like the memorable head shot of the zombie framed against the backdrop of Manhattan in the opening sequence, the sudden camera jerk when Menard’s wife realizes a sinister presence has entered the house, and a fabulous camera arc around a wandering zombie. And there’s Richard Johnson looking suitably grizzled, brow and beard perpetually bathed in tropical sweat. But more than that, Zombie Flesh Eaters is a hugely important film in my life, it was my jumping off point into European Cult Cinema in that heady summer of 1992. (I cringe when I think what might have happened if it had been Franco’s Devil Hunter!) So, grazie e buon compleanno Maestro.



I’m looking thru Lucio Fulci’s cannon of films and it’s as knotty and difficult a filmography as I’ve ever seen. I might have been watching his films for 20 odd years but I’ve only scratched the surface with his signature films. I usually think of 1966’s Massacre Time as ground-zero in the Fulci filmography, and Murder Rock from 1983 as the out-door - I’m not so enthused about the comedies and youth pictures Fulci cut prior to 1966, or the diminishing returns of the late-era films dogged by the director’s ill-health. Still there’s a bunch of films I have yet to see, even within my narrow confines - the aforementioned Massacre Time and Silver Saddle, Perversion Story and The Psychic (both sit on my shelf unopened to my eternal shame), Young Dracula, The Black Cat, Rome 2072: The Fighter Centurions and the late-entry exception Nightmare Concert. One film I have seen and am eager to revisit is 1973’s White Fang starring Franco Nero and Fernando Rey. Ostensibly a family film, but it sports enough rough n' tumble action and a few moments of surprisingly vicious violence to make this a minor Fulci classic…


Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Ulysses 31

One last Ulysses post for Bloomsday, although I'm cheating slightly, this one has nothing to do with James Joyce... Remembering my favourite cartoon growing up, Ulysses 31, a Japanese-French production which was a staple of childrens' television throughout most of the 80's. The concept of the series was rather ingenious, mixing Greek mythology with sci-fi action and adventure, as Ulysses and his companions - his son Telemachus, Yumi, a humanoid alien girl rescued in the first episode, and Nono, a nuts n' bolts eating robot, wander the spaceways in their ocular-shaped ship The Odyssey in search of a route back to Earth. Ulysses 31 is often lumped in with other cartoons of the 80's - M.A.S.K, Jacye and the Wheeled Warriors, Inspector Gadget, but the series was much more ambitious in scope and storytelling, and plots could be surprisingly sophisticated and dark for its young audience. In addition, the series featured a fantastic eclectic soundtrack which encompassed hard rock, expressionist guitar licks, Vangelis-style synthesizer, experimental soundscapes, and Blaxploitation boogie, as well as the incredibly infectious theme song. The current English-language DVDs of Ulysses 31 are hard to find these days, but fortunately all 26 episodes are available to view in good quality on this youtube page


Joyce and Dali

If I was asked to pick out Martin Scorsese’s most Joycean film, I would immediately point to After Hours, but Scorsese paid a more direct homage to the author in his 2011 film Hugo. Joyce can be briefly spotted sitting at a table with Salvador Dali in the sequence where Hugo is being chased by Inspector Gustave and his Doberman. Joyce can be spotted around the 1:08 mark in this youtube clip


Bloomsday

Sylvia Beach and James Joyce at Beach’s bookshop, Shakespeare and Company in 1922. Celebrating Bloomsday, 16th of June.


Monday, 15 June 2015

Greenaway

Yesterday I had the pleasure of watching Goltzius and the Pelican Company, Peter Greenaway’s 2014 film which I thoroughly enjoyed. I'm already looking forward to my second viewing of the film - when it comes to Greenaway's films, that initial sit-down with the film always feels like a meet and greet - it's only on the second pass that I begin to look beyond the layers the digital imagery and copious male and female nudity, and get to grips with the intricate wordplay, Chinese box plotting, and meticulously constructed canvases. In addition to the pin-sharp looking main feature, the Axiom Blu-Ray, includes a very substantial 58min conversation with Greenaway unraveling the history of Dutch artist Hendrik Goltzius, as well as reflecting on his own past (acknowledging Night Watching as a return to form after the determinedly obscure Tulse Luper Suitcases trilogy) and future, revealing details of his forthcoming biopics of Hieronymus Bosch (which will complete a trilogy of films about Dutch artists) and Russian film maker Sergei Eisenstein, Greenaway's own favourite director. Elsewhere he discusses art, religion, Cinema, music, Michael Nyman, the vagaries of international co-productions, his peculiar choice of having an English-shot film presented with English subtitles (the subs on the BR default to on but are entirely optional) and gives his considered opinion on pubic hair in Renaissance painting and life. Essential viewing.


Video Watchdog is 25

Happy Birthday to my favourite film journal Video Watchdog, today celebrating 25 years of extraordinary, film writing. I started collecting the magazine just a few years ago and obsessively bought every issue I could (including one found at a record store in Sweden), and today own a complete run. I'm the very proud owner of VW's maiden voyage, from June 1990, pictured below in all its glorious imperfections (a printer mishap, now firmly part of VW lore), and sporting a very mysterious and enchanting Carnival of Souls cover, and taking pride of place with two other number 1's I own, Films and Filming from 1954 and The Wire from 1982.



A reminder of how lucky the whippersnappers of today have it with paypal and eBay... Pictured below, two pages from the Fanzine Focus column of UK magazine The Dark Side. This is from the August 1992 issue and was my first exposure to VW. It was years later when I picked up my first issue, but back in 1992, VW HQ in Cincinnati might as well have been a galaxy away from Ireland... Still better late than never !


Thursday, 11 June 2015

Also Known As...

Just finished reading the lead feature in this month's Wire magazine, an investigation into musicians' use of pseudonyms, aliases and alter-egos à la Sun Ra, Captain Beefheart and so on. All very interesting and philosophically rich stuff, especially so considering I myself use a secret identity for my Facebook account which allows me to move under the radars of FB-equipped friends and family. One thing that came to mind from reading the Wire article was that unique practice employed mainly during the halcyon days of low-budget Italian Cinema, of anglicizing cast, crew and director names to lend them a reassuringly American identity. Seasoned Euro-Cult watchers will be familiar with these pseudonyms but it's interesting to take a closer look at some of the more well known examples... For the export market, Lucio Fulci and Luigi Cozzi both settled for Louis Fuller and Lewis Coates - aliases that at least sounded like their own names, although Fulci's selection, used for the US cut of The Beyond, neatly echoed that film's Louisiana setting... Mario Bava's pseudonym John M. Old was, according to Tim Lucas on his commentary track for The Whip and the Body, in response to producers' request to pick "an old American name" and Bava wryly took them at their word... On international prints of A Fistful of Dollars, Sergio Leone appeared as Bob Robertson in honor of his father (who directed a number of Italian Silents under the name Roberto Roberti)... Bruno Mattei acknowledging the sizable debt Roman film producers owed George Romero, chose Vincent Dawn as an homage to Romero's influential living dead film... And perhaps my favourite of all, Jess Franco indulging his love of jazz, chose as his pseudonym Clifford Brown, a tribute to the virtuoso American trumpet player killed in a car crash in 1956, the year before Franco took his first tentative steps towards a life of film-making.


Credits clockwise from left: John M. Old (Mario Bava, Whip and the Body), Clifford Brown (Jess Franco, Devil Hunter), Louis Fuller (Lucio Fulci, Seven Doors of Death), Bob Robertson (Sergio Leone, A Fistful of Dollars), Vincent Dawn (Bruno Mattei, Zombie Creeping Flesh), Lewis Coates (Luigi Cozzi, Contamination)

Monday, 8 June 2015

Future Shock !

I'm listening to Autechre's 2001 LP Confield, an incredibly dense and knotty album of abstract and abrasive electronica. I'm thinking of Robert Fripp's quip about having tea with Brian Eno in his kitchen while Discreet Music composed itself in another room. It's as if the machines have taken over and Autechre's lab workers Sean Booth and Rob Brown have been absorbed into the data stream. I suspect I'm channeling some kind of trepidation for the kind of computer-automated society outlined in Martin Ford's new book The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of Mass Unemployment, which posits a future where robots will collect the garbage, grade college papers, write programs so intricate that no carbon-based lifeform could handle, and everything in between. The cartoon below which accompanied the book's review in the New York Times Book Review is at first glance amusing, but the more I look at it the more unnerving it becomes. I'm in the computer industry - the proverbial low grade employee from sector G, so I better start brushing up on my skills, or else become one of those Bering Sea crab fishermen. There's good money in it I hear...


Saturday, 6 June 2015

Gaspar in the Void

Last night I made good on my promise to watch Enter the Void and very much enjoyed this belated second pass of the film. One of the things I noticed this time round was Gaspar Noé's cameo in the film, which is first telegraphed with the mention of director's name, in a scene around the 55:02 mark, where Oscar buys coke off a street dealer:

Oscar: Some of my friends said I can come back here and get some stuff to party with
Dealer: Who's that, who's your friend?
Oscar: It doesn't matter
Dealer: It always does matter, who's your friend?
Oscar: Gaspar
Dealer: Alright, thank you... What do you want?

The director is then seen in the nightclub sequence that follows, but you'll have to be quick to spot him thru the strobe lighting. At the 56:13 mark Noé can be seen buying some tabs from Oscar and popping them into a blonde he's dancing with. Perhaps this is the Gaspar friend Oscar previously mentioned ? How very meta...


Thursday, 4 June 2015

Return to the Void

I saw some news on FB earlier about the tumultuous Cannes screening of Gaspar Noé’s latest film Love, and it’s a welcome relief from the Mad Max 4 orgasms currently choking my Facebook feed. With that in mind, I’m determined to catch Enter the Void this weekend, my first and only screening of the film (courtesy of the German Blu) was way back in May 2011 (that long ??) so I’m more than due a second pass at the film. Why I’ve not seen the film since I can’t say, perhaps it’s the film’s weighty runtime, a leisurely 160mins no less, or it could be something more subconscious than that – I suspect I’m still a little bit fearful of Gaspar Noé after Irreversible, which I found incredibly harrowing. Fortunately Enter the Void is a far more palatable experience, and watching the credit sequence below, I’m genuinely excited to see the film again, for the swirling anchorless camerawork, the drug-induced muli-colored nebulae, the strobe pulsations and the eclectic soundtrack of experimental electronica.



Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Dream Machine

Earlier I posted about Genesis P-Orridge and he/she's present on an album I'm currently listening to: The Hafler Trio & Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth Present Brion Gysin's Dreamachine, an excellent 70 minute collection of oscillating hissing drone music designed as an accompaniment to using the Dream Machine (the correct spelling of the hallucination device is uncertain). The very rare 1989 CD edition of the album came with a thick 72 page booklet which contained blueprints for constructing the Dream Machine cylinder, but fortunately the schematics are now easily available online, and have been modified slightly from Ian Sommerville’s original design for 78rpm speed turntables, which I imagine are very scarce nowadays, to 45rpm speed decks. Alternatively if you don’t have an adult around to help you cut out the required holes in the cylinder, you can buy a professionally cut cylinder online (http://tinyurl.com/3cuv8m9). I’ve long wanted to construct a Dream Machine of my own but my engineering skills are non-existent, and I’ve never figured out how to drop the 100watt light source into the cylinder…


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Electronic Reading

I bought an ipad mini a few weeks ago and its breathing new life into a bunch of pdf files that I had been squirreling away with little or no intention of reading them on my laptop. They look great though on the ipad. The latest book at bedtime...


Monday, 1 June 2015

Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters

I received Peter Greenaway’s 2012 film Goltzius and the Pelican Company in the post today and it reminded me of my visit to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum last year - the connection being Rembrandt’s extraordinary painting The Night Watch (which I stood in the thrall of - it’s quite huge!). Another painting that I was excited to see at the Rijksmuseum, although initially for the wrong reason, was Dutch painter Hendrick Avercamp’s Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters, from 1608 or thereabouts. I mistakenly thought this was the painting seen in Tarkovsky’s Mirror (that would be Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Winter Landscape with Skaters and a Bird Trap but despite my mix-up, I’ve become very fond of Avercamp’s winter scene, teeming with people out on the frozen canal, skating on the ice, playing hockey or simply going about their business. Here Comes Everybody! as Joyce might have said. When you take in the whole painting all at once one can almost hear the cacophony of 17th century life. But it's picking out the small details that I enjoy, microcosmic moments that Avercamp has added, sometimes mischievously to the canvas - a dog and some crows picking at a carcass, a old beggar tapping some finely tailored gentry, a man defecating against a tree, a bucket retrieving water from a hole carved in the ice... Wonderful stuff. The painting can be viewed in considerable detail on the Rijksmuseum's website or better still, if you find yourself in Amsterdam, be sure and pay it a visit.