Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Bridges-Go-Round

More bridges... My previous post about Sonny Rollins and the Williamsburg Bridge reminded me of Shirley Clarke's 1958 film Bridges-Go-Round which features 4mins of tinted shots of Manhattan's bridges superimposed on top of one another and meshing with the city skyline to create new and unreal landscapes. Visuals aside the film features an interesting musical soundtrack(s) - two of the them in fact - originally the film was accompanied by an electronic score by Louis and Bebe Barron, which sounds awfully like a cue from Forbidden Planet. The film was also issued with a jazz flavored score by the great composer and producer Teo Macero (possibly to avoid a law suit by MGM I suspect). The film can be found on the 2-disc anthology Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film, 1947-1986 (with the option to watch the film with either score), or can be watched on youtube where some thoughtful soul has uploaded both editions of the film back to back with their individual scores.


The Bridge

Listening to Sonny Rollins’ 1962 album The Bridge… I’m in a New York state of mind this morning, prompted by Rollins’ great album which is irrevocably tied to one of the best stories in the annals of jazz. Around 1959 Rollins turned his back on a successful recording career and took a 2-year sabbatical to practice his tenor. Unable to play his horn in his Lower East Side apartment for fear of disturbing his neighbors, Rollins found a spot on the Williamsburg Bridge, and there, looming 135 feet above the East River, with a panoramic view of the city, honed his skills. “I would be up there 15 or 16 hours at a time spring, summer, fall and winter”. February of 1962 saw Rollins return to the studio to cut some tunes that would be released later that year as The Bridge, named in honor of Rollins’ 2-year solo session.


My copy of the album is the 2010 Columbia edition which sounds fantastic but is disappointing in one respect – contrary to Columbia’s usual practice of augmenting their jazz releases with excellent liner notes, the booklet contains nothing of Rollins’ extraordinary journey to The Bridge. In fact I wasn’t aware of Rollins’ stint on the Williamsburg Bridge before I saw the excellent Beyond the Notes documentary on the great man just last year. Thinking about Rollins on the bridge, I wish there was a recording of him playing accompanied by the roar of the city, his tenor meshing with the sounds of traffic from passing cars, subway trains and boats. Perhaps one day when New York summons me back, I shall take a walk over the Williamsburg Bridge with Sonny Rollins’ album on the ipod…

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Electric Druillet

Another fantastic piece of Philippe Druillet artwork... Rather ironic that Druillet's design for Electric Ladyland dispenses with David Montgomery's famous nude photograph and instead features a neon-splashed Hendrix in action. This cover adorns the French edition of the album, on the Barclay label and a VG++ copy of the album will lighten your wallet to the tune of €200 or thereabouts. A large scan of the cover can be found here...


Vampire Nouveau

For the past few days I've been clicking my way thru a fantastic online archive of scans from the German Art Nouveau magazine Jugend. The text of the magazine is in German but it's so heavily illustrated with Jugendstil artwork (the German name for Art Nouveau), it's a feast for the eyes. Looking at these Art Nouveau designs, with their long flowing curves and decorative swirls put in mind French artist Philippe Druillet‘s trio of beautiful posters for Jean Rollin‘s Le Viol du Vampire, La Vampire Nue and Le Frisson des Vampires. I considered sending these posters to the color printer to hang on my office wall but they're perhaps a little too racy for the workplace. No surprise to discover that Druillet was a founding member of Heavy Metal, and a little digging reveals that the artist submitted designs for the trucks in Sorcerer, which were ultimately rejected for being too far out, better suited to the Mad Max sequels than Freidkin's film. Check those out here. High quality scans of Druillet‘s Rollin posters can be downloaded for your office cube here




Saturday, 26 September 2015

Revisiting The Tempest

"These, our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air..." (The Tempest Act 4, scene 1)
October sees the release of James Shapiro's new book, The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606, the follow-up to his brilliant 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare and with that in mind I revisited Derek Jarman's 1979 adaptation of The Tempest earlier today... I've always enjoyed this film for its rich occult atmosphere, with Prospero absorbed in his grimoires and surrounded by magical talismans, and cabalistic writings and symbols. It's widely believed that Shakespeare based Prospero on the English magus John Dee, a notion that Jarman validates by having his Prospero wield a magic wand in the shape of John Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica symbol. The film is infused with a visual magic too thanks to Peter Middleton's chiaroscuro lighting, lending a dreamlike quality to the proceedings, and there's a bold use of costumes - if Shakespeare vaguely set his play during the Italian Renaissance of the 14th century, Jarman is even less specific, as various ages casually mesh together, Caliban appearing like a tawdry Edwardian butler, Miranda as a punk princess, her gown perpetually falling apart, and Ariel dressed all in white, anticipating the New Romantics of the 80's. And I like that the film furthers the connection between Derek Jarman and Throbbing Gristle - Elizabeth Welsh's rendition of Stormy Weather for the film's finale was issued as a 7" single by Industrial Records. Interestingly, a flick thru Tony Peake's biography in preparation for this post reveals that Jarman originally envisioned Brian Eno scoring the film and David Bowie singing Ariel's songs... "Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not..."


Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Welles

I generally don’t watch films on weeknights but last night I secured an hour and a half of the TV to watch Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles, recorded off Sky Arts at the w/end. I’d been looking forward to this 2014 film for the past few days but it turned out to be a major disappointment, being little more than a competent assembly of film clips and talking head interviews. At 90mins the documentary is simply too short, and there’s a sense of getting the whole damn thing over with as quickly as possible, with surgically cut and pasted interviews and the occasional skating over of key films – Mr. Arkadin and The Immortal Story are dismissed with a few seconds of footage, clips from The V.I.P.s and A Man for All Seasons go uncredited and more infuriating, the film wastes precious time with excerpts from RKO 281, Cradle Will Rock, Me and Orson Welles, and Ed Wood, and at one point a celebrity chef (!) talking about Welles’ love of food – hardly essential stuff. Still, there are positives - Simon Callow and Peter Bogdanovich are present to provide their usual expert testimony and it’s a treat to see films like The Stranger and Journey Into Fear in such stellar quality. Ultimately the film makes for a good foot-in-the-door introduction to world of Welles but seasoned fans will find little new here. If you’re in the UK and Ireland, Sky Arts will no doubt have this on rotation for the next few weeks and I would recommend catching it there rather than investing in the BFI DVD...


Monday, 21 September 2015

Discovering Penda's Fen

I'm listening to Current 93's Thunder Perfect Mind album as I compose this post and it seems an appropriate accompaniment... Following a screening of Baal back in June, I explored an earlier Alan Clarke television production, the 1974 film Penda's Fen, a film I’ve wanted to see for a while now after reading enthusiastic eulogies from the blogosphere and a warm mention of the film in the pages of Rob Young’s British folk music book Electric Eden. One initial screening precludes me from saying anything profound about this very mysterious film save to say it's worth suffering thru the lo-fi VHS-transferred copy currently up on youtube. Ostensibly, a rural drama about a bookish teenager who experiences a number of personal and spiritual awakenings regarding his parentage, religion and sexuality, the film is steeped in arcane symbolism and metaphor, the pastoral landscape of Worcestershire a continuum of Britain’s mystical, pagan past driven underground by Christianity. The film is remarkable too for its unexpected supernatural touches (which I won’t spoil), poetic dialogue and its study of Elgar’s 1900 work The Dream of Gerontius. The film would make a terrific Flipside title, but apparently the BBC are demanding a king’s ransom to license the film. For now, that youtube upload


Sunday, 20 September 2015

New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments

Listening to Max Eastley and David Toop’s album New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments, originally released on Brian Eno’s Obscure Records in 1975... Both composers take a side each on the original LP but I find Eastley’s four contributions the most compelling, his customized musical instruments using the natural environment – wind, water, to generate the sounds heard on the album. The first track Hydrophone named after a device which interacts with water, produces a very eerie lament that could pass for the sound of wolves whining across a valley, while the metallic-sounding Centriphone might have been lifted from an early Z’Ev album. Truly extraordinary stuff. What’s more, Eastley’s instruments can be enjoyed as works of sculpture, like the Metal Wind Flute pictured below...


Listening to these self-built musical automata puts in mind the singing statues of J.G. Ballard’s short-story collection Vermillion Sands. New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments is currently out of print but the album can be downloaded at the ever fantastic UbuWeb. Also worth checking out is the 26min documentary Clocks of the Midnight Hours from 1986 which explores Eastley’s music and sculpture (and sees him duetting with Evan Parker) – available to watch on youtube

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Science Fiction

Listening to Ornette Coleman's 1971 album Science Fiction this evening, perhaps my favourite Ornette album, a dazzling salvo of high velocity fire music brimming over with brilliant ideas and memorable hooks. I've always loved the title of this album - one would think it more suited to Herbie Hancock's early 70's albums with their electronic window dressing, but here it lends a much more enigmatic flavor, echoing the futuristic mood of album titles like Tomorrow Is the Question and The Shape of Jazz To Come. Columbia's 2000 remaster of the album, part of the expanded 2-disc Complete Science Fiction Sessions sounds incredible and one to play loud, with James Jordan's spacey production complimenting some terrific performances from Don Cherry, Billy Higgins and in particular Charlie Haden delivering some fantastic angular basslines that wouldn't sound out of place on a moody post-punk album. I love the album sleeve also, an ethereal sunset river vista layered several times to create an exotic, impossible alien landscape. Science fiction indeed !


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Ancient Heavenly Connection...

My previous post mentioned Shirley Clarke’s film The Connection, which culminates with Warren Finnerty’s junkie “looking for an angry fix”, to quote Allen Ginsberg. And with that in mind I listened to a recording of Ginsberg reading from Howl, recorded I believe at Reed College, Portland in 1956 to an audience clearly jazzed by the references to sex and drugs and Ginsberg’s herculean performance. The 26min recording is available here: here Speaking of connections, I made a cursory mention of Roger Corman and The Trip in the last post and as I was preparing this, it jogged a memory of seeing a copy of City Lights’ Howl and Other Poems strategically placed in Bruce Dern’s pad !


The Connection

Listening to Jackie Mclean’s Destination Out! album this morning… The lead feature in this month’s Sight and Sound, 100 Overlooked Films Directed By Women put in mind Shirley Clarke’s 1961 film The Connection which I revisited last night, and features Jackie Mclean as one of the junkie jazz musicians holed up in Warren Finnerty’s roach infested tenement apartment waiting to score. It’s a great tragedy that so little footage of Living Theatre performances exist, The Connection especially - early productions, included Martin Sheen and Cecil Taylor in the cast, but what a high-wire act that play must have been to see, with actors suffering the unpredictable tortures of junk sickness (which many audiences believed were genuine), spontaneous outbursts of bebop jazz, and great street poetry. Shirley Clarke’s film is surprisingly cinematic for an adaptation of a single-set production, the play-within-a-play transposed to a film-within-a-film and includes rough camerawork, sudden jump cuts, narrative breakdowns, and in a sequence where the film’s fictional director experiments with a shot of heroin, the camerawork becomes listless and inattentive, a moment that always makes me think of Roger Corman, ever conscientious, taking LSD in preparation for making The TripThe Connection is available as an excellent luminous looking region-free Blu-Ray, and comes highly recommended.


Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Muscle Up, listen up...

Transmissions from the secret history of gay porn music… October sees the release of Dark Entries’s second volume of Patrick Cowley instrumentals used as soundtrack music for gay porn films School Daze and Muscle Up (both from 1980). Taking its title from the latter film, this latest collection features 75mins of vintage electronica recorded between 1973 and 1980 and is an excellent mix of ambient and cold wave electronics, spacey weirdness and robot funk. Porno music is traditionally music of the cheapest kind, usually lifted from bargain bin library cuts, the musical equivalent to old scratchy WWII stock footage, which makes Cowley’s music all the more remarkable in this context. What’s more, much of the music here is darkly experimental – a track like Uhura from the Muscle Up collection sees Cowley mining similar ground to Throbbing Gristle and Chris Carter. My knowledge of gay porn is almost nil so I’m ever curious to know how Cowley’s music plays in these films - it’s difficult enough to imagine these instrumentals in straight porn. If you’re curious, Dark Entries are previewing the Muscle Up album on their mixcloud page, while the first Patrick Cowley collection, School Daze is still available on CD and LP at the usual places...


Monday, 14 September 2015

Patti and Sam

Reading a magazine article about photographer David Gahr and his celebrated b/w pictures of folk and rock royalty. A World War II veteran Gahr had a reputation of being "mean enough to handle any band. They know I won't take shit". Two of his photographs will be instantly recognizable from your record collection - a shot of Miles Davis in action graces the cover of the Jack Johnson album, and an introspective looking Bruce Springsteen was captured for the The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle album. My personal favourite David Gahr picture is of Patti Smith and Sam Shepard. Gahr said of the photograph: "I stopped in on the poet Patti Smith during 1972 at the Chelsea Hotel to bring her some proof sheets of herself, Eric Anderson and Viva. Sam Shepard was there - Patti was in a play of his at the time - and I asked them out on the balcony where I took their image. God, they looked good together".


The Cramps Live at Napa State Mental Hospital

Somebody told me you people are crazy, but I’m not sure about that…you seem to be alright to me”… I’ve been nursing a Cramps obsession for the last few days, and yesterday revisited Target Video’s The Cramps Live at Napa State Mental Hospital, from 1978 - perhaps the single greatest live album title in rock music. I’ll have to consult Dick Porter’s 2015 biography Journey to the Centre of the Cramps to find out the whys and wherefores of the band playing before an audience of psychiatric patients, but a late afternoon’s worth of rockabilly seems to have done them no harm. “We’re The Cramps and we’re from New York city… and we drove 3,000 miles to play for you people” announces Lux Interior before belting thru a 20min set of supercharged chugging rhythms, slashed guitar noise and voodoo hillbilly vocals. The show was filmed in b/w on rudimentary video equipment (Andrew Bujalski of Computer Chess fame eat your heart out) and despite the muddy visuals and some rough editing (some stretches of footage are clearly repeated), it’s a fantastic document of early Cramps. As for the audience, it appears a handful of punks were present but hard to tell them apart from the patients, the setup frequently descends into anarchy with spectators bumping against the cameraman, invading the stage and taking over vocal duties before Lux wrests control back. For a full derangement of the senses, watch this one alongside Titicut Follies



Sunday, 13 September 2015

The Karnstein Trilogy Resurrected

Just a quick word for my good friend Kat Ellinger whose excellent Hammer article The Karnstein Trilogy Resurrected appears in the latest issue (#32) of UK horror magazine Scream. I've had this issue on ice for the past week, I wanted to freshen my memory of the three films, which I duly did, before reading Kat's retrospective. I should add that Kat has very thoughtfully left her piece spoiler-free so a knowledge of the films is by no means required. Kat covers the background of the films, their development at Hammer, the personnel involved on both sides of the camera, and for anyone like myself who's been scrimping on their 19th century Gothic lit, there's a useful catch-up on Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla, the source material for the trilogy. Elsewhere, Kat sweetens the article which lots of interesting vivid factoids, like a paternal Roy Ward Baker removing some insensitive executives from the set of Vampire Lovers, and reveals that Peter Cushing was dealing with some very tragic personal circumstances during the filming of Twins of Evil, which in retrospect adds an additional dimension to his performance. And there's a daring case made for Lust for a Vampire, widely considered the weakest film in the trilogy, but here given a reprieve in the face of some challenging conditions the production had to contend with. The Karnstein Trilogy Resurrected is substantial, meaty stuff so be sure to sink your teeth into the latest issue of Scream, available now at select newstands and instant access on the usual platforms. For more info and a short preview of the current issue, step this way...


Saturday, 12 September 2015

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Carmilla

The exceptionally gorgeous Yutte Stensgaard from Lust For A Vampire - that's one way of focusing your attention. I revisited this film yesterday and found myself much less kind to it than I have been in the past - a terrible ill-judged song propping up Yutte Stensgaard's big love scene, and Christopher Lee stand-in Mike Raven, twice appearing out of nowhere to utter "a heart attack" effectively robs the film of its last vestiges of dignity. However, I did make one happy discovery relating to my hometown of Cork here in Ireland. In the scene where Michael Johnson's character Richard Lestrange, introduces himself to Ralph Bates, Bates remarks "Are these the Lestranges from Cork ?" What's more, this is the second time I've heard Cork referenced in, rather astonishingly, a vampire film, and in similar circumstances too, with Andy Milligan's The Body Beneath made the previous year !


The Mask of Fu Manchu

Pictured below, Boris Karloff as the Lord of Strange Deaths... I rounded off my reading of The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu with a screening of MGM's 1932 film The Mask of Fu Manchu, a most politically incorrect relic from the Pre-Code era which sees the criminal mastermind plotting terror against the West with the aid of Genghis Kahn's sword and mask... A brisk and enjoyable 68mins of pulp hokum, the film sells the diabolical doctor a little cheap compared to the arch villain I've been reading about this past week, but Karloff delivers some fine devilry under the grotesque makeup, sending his victims to ever inventive deaths (pressed inside a spiked cabinet, a slow descent into a crocodile pit) and in the film's most sinister sequence donning a surgeon's apron to administer a mind control serum. The film looks spectacular with lavish production design, in some instances anticipating Ken Adam's work on the Bond series and features some surprisingly fluid camerawork for an early sound film. It would be remiss of me not to mention the film's rampant xenophobia, the picture was produced by Cosmopolitan Productions, a William Randolph Hearst company (and rather ironically named in this instance) which furthered Hearst's own theory of the Yellow Peril and what he considered the "threatening and tremendous assault of the Asiatic and the Slav upon the religion, the institutions and the civilization of us Caucasians". Africans fare no better than Asians in the film, given short shrift in the role of Fu Manchu's mindless disposable slaves. Still such antiquated attitudes are tempered by the presence of zapping death rays, a rich vain of homo-eroticism and a performance by the film's leading lady pitched at near hysterical levels...

Friday, 11 September 2015

Charles McCrann

Given the day that's in it, I'm remembering Charles McCrann killed on September 11th 2001, while he was working in his office at the World Trade Center... In happier times, Charles McCrann wrote, directed, and played the lead role (resembling a side-burned Warren Beatty) in the 1980 rural zombie film Forest of Fear (aka The Bloodeaters aka Toxic Zombies), the quintessential example of a terminally obscure nondescript horror film that was damned to fame by its inclusion on the Video Nasties list. Following the 9/11 disaster, the firm Charles McCrann worked for paid tribute to their employee on their website and reading some of the comments left by friends (and fans) McCrann remained proud of his one and only film...


Thursday, 10 September 2015

Live Tangerine Dream

Another day another Tangerine Dream post... this seems appropriate after this morning's Can post, but yesterday I stumbled upon news of a forthcoming 4CD Tangerine Dream live set, featuring two concerts from the mid-70's. Both concerts, Reims Cathedral from 1974, and Mannheim, 1976 are well known to Tangerine Dream collectors, forming part of the fan curated Tangerine Tree live series (Trees 30 and 13 in the series). I've been revisiting both concerts and both are excellent representations of the group's live work, featuring music not heard on their studio albums. The Reims show, one of the group's fabled Cathedral Concerts, is an 85min set of nebulous improvised themes reminiscent of Phaedra and Rubycon, while Mannheim is more structured and rhythmic, sounding like the official live album Ricochet, the studio album Stratosfear and anticipates the music the band cut for Sorcerer. The second movement of the Mannheim show is especially interesting, as it sounds like the band is performing a live rendition of the Celestial Voices section of the Pink Floyd song A Saucerful of Secrets...


The Cherry Red imprint Reactive/Esoteric is behind this 4CD set and based on their fine track record with previous Tangerine Dream re-issues, I am looking forward to upgrading my CD-Rs to official discs. Due for release in October, more info here

Live Can

Reading another Q magazine from the late 90's this morning over breakfast yielded a two page spread on Can's 1997 CD re-issue program. And a reminder of that obligatory Can factoid that David Niven was once spotted at an early Can show. Back in the pre-Net days, such things were taken on face-value but this morning it gave me cause to roll up my sleeves and get to the bottom of this most unlikely story. Google requires a little finessing when it comes to looking for Can related items but eventually I wound up at Holger Czukay's website which mentions the Niven story in an interview Czukay conducted in 1997, recalling Niven's appearance and furthermore revealing that this particular concert was Damo Suzuki's first show with the band, seemingly plucked off the streets of Munich earlier that day. I'll have to take Holger at his word on this, but one happy outcome of all this was finding an 85min Can performance filmed for German TV in 1970 and from the 30-odd minutes I've seen so far, it's truly fantastic stuff, the band in great exploratory, telepathic form propelled by the clockwork time of Jaki Liebezeit, and playing before an audience of hipsters and squares (and the occasional middle-aged cad). Nice to imagine that some pretty young Fräulein from the Schulmädchen Report series might have ended up a Can concert with her pipe-smoking philosophy student boyfriend...



Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Performing and Performance

One more Performance cover, from the March 1969 issue of Films and Filming... The image of James Fox being flagellated was very much in keeping with the magazine's queer slant and was indicative of Robin Bean's tenure as editor which saw the magazine feature increasing amounts of nudity on the cover, much of it naked male flesh, making it a sort of gay counterpart to the Continental Film Review and earning it the alternative moniker Queer and Queering... The long labor pains Performance suffered is illustrated in the course of Films and Filming, the March 1969 issue features advance stills from the film, but Gordon Gow's review for the film would not appear until April 1971 which is about right - the film was belatedly released in the UK in January 1971. Gow gave it a 3 star review (Not to be Missed) and declared the film "stunning and brilliant"...


Nothing is true, everything is permitted

45 years ago this week the Underground newspaper IT (or International Times) was going to press with issue 87, the front page leading with a story on the yet-to-be-released Performance, feigning outrage at the film's "kaleidoscope of transvestism and sado-masochism", and offering some advice for readers: "Warner Brothers are warning people not to see it while tripping - they could well be right". For more IT check out the archive


Chrome

Currently delving into the back catalogue of Chrome, one of a trio of great experimental outfits to emerge from San Francisco in the late 70’s (Tuxedomoon and Factrix being the other two). It’s regrettable that Chrome still languish in relative obscurity, I rarely see them celebrated like Throbbing Gristle or Cabaret Voltaire (their closest contemporaries) despite mining a similar sound – distorted vocals, squally guitars, loops, cut-ups, dialogue samples, found sounds and various types of tape manipulation. Chrome’s most vital music ran parallel with Industrial Music but they were never fully embraced by the scene - I suspect as result of Chrome’s more rockist leanings which channeled the garage punk of The Stooges spliced with the motorik of Neu! Industrial or not the music Damon Edge and Helios Creed made from 1978 to 1982, on albums like Alien Soundtracks, Half-Machine Lip Moves, Red Exposure and Blood on the Moon remain essential documents from the post-punk years and if you like any of the bands mentioned above, these albums are well worth seeking out…



Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Discovering Fu Manchu

Yesterday I stumbled upon news that Strange Attractor’s latest book, Lord of Strange Deaths, a collection of critical essays about Sax Rohmer is currently being prepped for a mid-September release (after some long delays it seems) and suitably intrigued I sought out The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu, Rohmer’s 1913 novel which introduced the world to the fiendish Chinese bogeyman. It feels a bit premature to post about this – I’m only a third of the way into the book, but I’m enjoying it immensely although I wouldn’t recommend it as bedtime reading. Long after lights out, my mind was racing with diabolical plots, inventive assassination methods and breakneck Feuillade-style action. One pleasing side-effect of discovering Rohmer is that I'm now curious to check out a box set of Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films that has been languishing on my shelf for much too long... My kindle copy of The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu comes under the alternative title The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu, is professionally formatted and is prefaced by some introductory notes – well worth a buck from Amazon. Elsewhere a selection of Sax Rohmer novels are available in various formats from the free archive at Project Gutenberg



Monday, 7 September 2015

The Electric Judas

Finished reading Dylan Goes Electric, Elijah Wald’s excellent and sober account of Bob Dylan’s controversial appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 when he stunned and enraged audiences with an 18min electric set. Wald brilliantly chronicles the events of the day, the furor caused by Dylan’s loud (and shambolic performance), as well as the long road leading to Newport, examining the ideological battleground that was the folk revival and the reasons why Dylan’s embrace of amplified rock music was considered in certain quarters as a gross sellout. Another important element of Wald’s book is his appraisal of Pete Seeger, often cast as the villain of the Newport saga, famously roaming around back stage looking for an axe to cut the power cables (Wald offers a fine explanation for this apocryphal story) but here emerges as a man of idealism, integrity, energy, generosity and good sense. The story of Dylan at Newport is the stuff of great theatre, of young gods and old guards, ambition clashing with tradition, and betrayals real or imagined. Highly recommended.


Sunday, 6 September 2015

The Incredible Hi-Def Melting Man

Just spent a pleasant Sunday morning in the company of The Incredible Melting Man, a film I've poured scorn on many times over the years. Nevertheless, the road to Damascus is paved with stunning Arrow HD transfers and the film can at least be enjoyed for Rick Baker's spectacular gloopy make-up effects, beautifully presented here in all their viscera dripping glory. The illuminating supplements on the Arrow disc go some way to explain the film's more obvious flaws like the staccato pacing, and some bizarre editorial choices - director William Sachs reveals that Melting Man's original editor botched the first cut and a second editor was drafted in to salvage what he could (the story is corroborated by Rick Baker). One thing I hoped the extras would shed some light on was the unlikely appearance of Jonathan Demme, but tuning into Sachs' commentary during Demme's fleeting cameo doesn't reveal any nuggets of trivia - the future Silence of the Lambs director is simply described as a friend of the film's producer Sam Gelfman and nothing more. In addition Arrow have include the Super8 version of the film. I've long read about these digest versions (a veritable secret history in the annals of home cinema), and have seen the carton packaging on collector sites, but very nice to finally experience one. And it looks surprisingly good too.



Tuesday, 1 September 2015

It's a Scream !

I had the rare pleasure of a Monday night film last night and it seemed fitting to catch something by Wes Craven... Scream is easily the least revived of my Wes Craven films but I read some affectionate notices for it yesterday on FB and was suitably intrigued. I grew lukewarm on Scream over the years, finding it too slick for comfort, or the cast of Most Likely To Succeed young hopefuls a turn off, but after a decade long estrangement, the glut of post-Scream cleavage-pumping teen horror pics now long forgotten, I found the film surprisingly enjoyable, and the cavalcade of movie references and in-jokes (my favorite, "go down the street to the McKenzie's house") less irritating than I supposed. The film's denouement still seems a little thin but the third act is so busy piling on the carnage it matters little. Despite the mass-marketed visage of the killer, the wailing Edvard Munch face cuts one of the more striking figures in the pantheon of slasher movie maniacs, although the constant pratfalls are a little overdone. Matthew Lillard is the film's ace card and steals the film's funniest line ("My mom and dad are gonna be so mad at me!") and it's a shame he never went on to more substantial things. Incidentally, the film mush have one of the most rudimentary and insipid title cards I've ever seen on a modern Hollywood film.


Watching Scream and its movie in-jokes, jogged a memory of Wes Craven and Sam Raimi's game of tag, which was initiated with Evil Dead - the film featured a torn Hills Have Eyes poster in the cabin cellar - the sly implication that no matter how frightening Craven's film was, the Evil Dead was even more terrifying. Craven responded in A Nightmare on Elm Street when Evil Dead is seen playing a late night slot on TV. Not to be outdone, Raimi included Freddy Krueger's glove in Evil Dead II which can be seen hung up in the tool shed... Did I miss any other Craven/Raimi nods ?