Monday, 30 November 2015

Performance Music

Mad Cyril redecorating Joey Maddocks' bookies in Performance... I'm currently reading Old Gods Almost Dead: The 40-Year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones, and a recurring street name that figures in the early part of the Stones' saga has me musing on yet another clandestine reference found in Cammell and Roeg's film. In the latter half of the 60's, Rolling Stones business was conducted from an office at Maddox Street in Westminster, and what's more the office was numbered 46a. Hmm...


Speaking of music and Performance I was listening to the soundtrack recently and augmented the session with a track from the CD In a Persian Garden - The Santur by Iranian musician Nasser Rastegar-Nejad, issued by the World Music label Lyricord. The track in question, Dashti, played on hammered dulcimer would be better known to Performance fans as the music that plays during the scene where Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg make love. It's a beautiful and hypnotic piece of music and it's omission from the Warners CD soundtrack is a shame. Fortunately, In a Persian Garden - The Santur is still in print on CD and available for download from Amazon so fans could easily make their own Performance OST should they wish...


Sunday, 29 November 2015

American Movie & Demon Lover Diary

Just fresh from a screening of the 1999 documentary American Movie and for any independent film makers out there reading this, your courage, dedication and sacrifice is duly noted and appreciated. Chris Smith's film chronicles Wisconsin film maker Mark Borchardt's herculean, sometimes agonizing task of completing his short film Coven ("It's pronounced "COE-ven", man") to raise finance for his feature length debut, Northwestern, and along the way the documentary ponders the big question that all struggling artists must confront at one point or another: to doggedly pursue the dream or to move on in a new direction. A quick check of the Internet Movie Database suggests that Borchardt, 16 years after completing Coven (and a music video in 2007) is still chasing the white whale that is The Great American Movie - a 90min Horror film entitled Scare Me is currently in the works. For his determination alone (and on the strength of Coven, some considerable talent it must be said) I sincerely wish him all the best.


Watching American Movie put in mind the 1980 film Demon Lover Diary, a feature length fly-on-the-wall documentary about the making of 1977 Horror film The Demon Lover... Predating American Movie by two decades (and in some respects This Is Spinal Tap and Living In Oblivion), Joel DeMott's film is a smart, funny, sad and tragic account of The Demon Lover's doomed production which was hamstrung by a disorganized shooting schedule, two pompous yet clueless co-directors, irritable actors, and of course perilous financing - one of the film's directors was mortgaged to the hilt, while the other was using compensation money he received for losing a few fingers in an industrial “accident”. During the course of the documentary tensions mount, tempers flare, and friendships are stretched well past breaking point - the film concludes with the Diary's author Joel DeMott and her boyfriend Jeff Kreines (The Demon Lover's besieged cameraman) quitting the production in fear of their lives as the frustrated co-directors discharge some guns borrowed from their friend Ted Nugent (?) Elsewhere, DeMott tempers the bitterness of the shoot with the occasional moment of levity, like the make-up artist explaining his impossibly convoluted love-life, and at one point DeMott steals a lovely moment of romance between a young starlet and a crew member during yet another production stoppage... To the best of my knowledge Demon Lover Diary is not available thru official channels, but a rather rough-looking, lo-fi copy was once available on youtube, and given the film's rarity, was entirely watchable but it's since been taken down. As for The Demon Lover, the film against all odds was finished, complete with a cameo appearance from Gunnar Hansen (unpaid apparently), but this truly dreadful film is best avoided...

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Pastoral Hide-and-Seek

Revisiting Pastoral Hide-and-Seek, Shûji Terayama's second feature from 1974, and another one of the director's extraordinary meditations on youth, memory, and the revisiting and reinventing of one's own past. In the film, a director recreates his childhood on celluloid, albeit in a highly stylized form, his younger 15-year old self fantasizing about escaping from his nagging over-protective mother and running away with the beautiful madonna next door, or perhaps joining the oddball family from the nearby circus... A sleeker, more graceful film than Terayama's debut feature, Throw Away Your Books Let's Go Out Into the Streets, Pastoral Hide-and-Seek is one of the most poetic post-War Japanese films I've seen, the film is brimming over with astonishing surreal visuals - from gloomy Beckett-style landscapes to hallucinatory, acid-tinged carny life. And there's the director's fondness for cinematic trickery - including a wonderful disorienting break in the film around the 40min mark, as well as the ingenious final shot. The film also comes with terrific music by the great J.A. Seazer, who makes a brief appearance in the film...


Friday, 27 November 2015

Alexander Kostetsky

One last art post for today, and sticking with the fantastique theme but of a more cosmic dimension… I can’t supply much information on the late Ukrainian artist Alexander Kostetsky apart from some sketchy biographical information, but the paintings he produced in the 80’s and 90’s are truly wondrous, depicting vast nebulous alien landscapes that seem to hang in the air, and there's a strong current of mysticism flowing through Kostetsky’s work, his paintings often depict robed, priestly figures standing on altars or near pieces of ritualistic furniture. An excellent gallery of Kostetsky’s work can be found here (select the Painting menu). Incidentally, I’m currently listening to Tangerine Dream’s 1972 colossus Zeit and it’s proving to be perfect musical accompaniment for Kostetsky's surreal vistas…


Stephen Mackey

I've posted the work of British artist Stephen Mackey before but I regularly find myself browsing his work with renewed wonder, his paintings set in a ethereal world of animal-headed people and sinister apparitions. Some of my favourite Mackey paintings to follow...





Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Beautiful Darling

A belated post marking Candy Darling's birthday yesterday, and as a tribute I watched the 2010 documentary Beautiful Darling earlier, a superb and affectionate portrait of the gorgeous and talented Warhol superstar who passed away in 1974 aged just 29 following a short illness. What emerges most strongly from the film is Candy's commitment to living her life as a woman, an act of sheer heroism that exacted a heavy price in terms of her romantic relationships (none of her friends remember her with a partner), as well as her health - the toxic transgender medicine she took probably shortened her life. But for the most part the documentary is a celebration rather than a lament, with friends sharing warm memories of this very sweet girl, from Factory survivors like Paul Morrissey and Gerard Malanga to John Waters and Jayne County (who admonishes those who would refer to Candy as a he). Fantastic footage too of Candy appearing in some decidedly off-Broadway productions and more intimate home movies. Final thought comes from Candy herself, in an extract from her diary read by Chloe Sevigny: “I will not cease to be myself for foolish people. For foolish people make harsh judgments on me. You must always be yourself, no matter what the price. It is the highest form of morality.” Words to live by.


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Freaky Folk

My thoughts are focused on all things folky this morning, ahead of the Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies book which I ordered yesterday, I'm listening to a compilation on the Cold Spring label entitled John Barleycorn Reborn: Dark Britannica, a double CD of songs that tap into the rich vein of Albion folk music. It's an eclectic listen with tracks ranging from surprisingly traditional jigs to Sandy Denny style numbers to neo-folk and experimental psych-folk. I tend to lean towards the more apocalyptic flavored folk like Comus or Current 93, neither represented here but the artist behind English Heretic is a good approximation. So not entirely successful but this compilation serves as a good jumping off point and I'm definitely going to check out Tony Wakeford's Sol Invictus. Here's their contribution to John Barleycorn Reborn, the oppressive martial call to arms To Kill All Kings



Listening to the John Barleycorn Reborn album, one of the tracks entitled The Wicker Man jogged a memory, not of Robin Hardy's film but of a Clive Barker story which featured in the second volume of the Tapping The Vein graphic novel from 1989. In the Hills, the Cities originally appearing in the Books of Blood is a surreal rural horror story in which two cities meet in the remote countryside to enact a ritualistic fight to the death. The instruments of war are not the traditional kind, instead the citizens of both cities bind themselves together by ropes to form two huge walking giants. Truly bizarre stuff but brilliantly realized by John Bolton’s stunning artwork…


Monday, 23 November 2015

Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies

Just ordered my copy of Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies, a 500-page collection of essays, interviews and artwork on that particularly British sub-genre, the Folk Horror. The contents page alone makes for impressive reading, with subjects as diverse as Public Information Films, Quatermass II, the 1920 Gothic novel Melmoth the Wanderer and Paul Ferris' music for the Witchfinder General, to name just a few. I'm particularly looking forward to reading Adam Scovell's essay on Brian Eno's album On Land and my friend Kat Ellinger's examination of Czech Folk Horror. I've reprinted the full contents below. The book is available to order here and be sure to use the preview function to get a look at the contents. Just in time for Winter solstice and Natalis Invicti...



Friday, 20 November 2015

Tartan Attractions

Flashback Friday… As ever I am indebted to the nostalgia attic that is youtube, and for my latest scrounge thru the dusty boxes of stored memories I uncovered this great artifact from the VHS days - originally located on the 1995 UK VHS tape of Hardboiled, Tartan’s 5min promo reel showcasing the label’s wares. Some wonderful stuff here, and some films I haven’t thought about in a long time, like Alan Rudolph’s eccentric noir Trouble In Mind and Alain Resnais’ mind-bending Providence. Be sure to watch it to the end for that great moment from Cinema Paradiso where the little boy experiences the magic of film projection – a scene that can coax tears in an instant.


Watching this promo reel again, especially those great lifts from Hal Hartley’s films reminds me how exciting the early 90’s was for American Independent Cinema, with films like Mystery Train, Metropolitan, Slacker, Reservoir Dogs, Swoon seemingly emerging every other week. I had hoped that someone might have uploaded the excellent 1993 Channel 4 documentary Cinefile: Made in the USA but so far it hasn’t shown up at the usual haunts. Incidentally, the terrific music accompanying the images is a track called Foolish Harp/Waerera by Zimbabwe’s Bhundu Boys

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Diamanda Galas

Listening to Diamanda Galas raising Hell on The Litanies of Satan... This month's edition of The Wire features sunnO))) and Mayhem vocalist Attila Csihar discussing the formative influence Galas's 1982 debut had on him and with that in mind I dug out my copy, not having heard it in some time. Still an astonishing recording, Diamanda's exploratory vocal improvisations put her alongside Coltrane. The title track is especially extraordinary with some genuinely unnerving electronic effects and what sounds like an infernal choir of demons. Galas has loaned her voice to number of different music and film projects over the years and listening to the Litanies again, I was sure her vocals featured on the soundtrack of The Last Temptation of Christ (on the track It Is Accomplished) but it wasn't the case. The Litanies of Satan is the proverbial room-clearer but if you're curious, take the left hand path...


Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Synapse

More vintage magazine scans for your time-travelling pleasure… Currently clicking thru issues of US electronic music magazine Synapse which ran for 14 issues from 1976 to 1979. The magazine features a mix of electronic music news, equipment reviews and schematics, album and performance reviews, and articles on some major electronic artists of the day. Heady stuff for the synth enthusiast but there is much to enjoy for the casual listener with interesting interviews with Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Eno, Stockhausen, Zappa and Robert Fripp. Some excellent contemporary album reviews too - on Fripp & Eno’s Evening Star – “A good album for spacing out and losing oneself in the drone zone”; Pere Ubu’s Modern Dance (“Easily eclipses most of the arty residue washed up by the New Wave”), and my favorite, the Suicide LP (“Suicide creates dark. Play this record in a brightly lighted room and before long all the light will be sucked into it”). 12 of the 14 issues are available to download here


Saturday, 14 November 2015

Knight of Cups

Just fresh from the Irish premiere of Terence Malick's latest film Knight of Cups, screened as part of the Cork Film Festival... America's artiest director serves up another visually stunning meditation on life, love and the whole damn thing. Very much cut from the same cloth as Malick's previous films Tree of Life and To the Wonder - all minimal dialogue, whispered narration and Emmanuel Lubezki's exquisite images of water water everywhere. Malick's most puzzling and fragmented film to date with Christian Bale's Hollywood type wandering like an ethereal observer through the memories of his life...perhaps, for Malick offers no clues, but one thing's for sure, the film features one of the most breathtaking visions of Los Angeles in some time, surreal and dreamlike and strangely clean and empty. If there was one point of distraction from the beautiful visuals it was the soundtrack which raids selections from a number of modern composers like Arvo Part and Gorecki as well as contemporary electronic artists like Explosions in the Sky, Burial and significantly Biosphere - stunning, of course but frequently throughout the screening my brain was addled trying to put a name to a familiar piece of music. I must re-acquaint myself with Biosphere's Substrata over the weekend...


Friday, 13 November 2015

The Jonestown Death Tape

Death is a million times preferable to another 10 days of this life” intones the lisping voice of Jim Jones… I’m listening to the so-called The Jonestown Death Tape before a screening of the two-part television film Guyana Tragedy: The Jim Jones Story starring Powers Boothe (pictured below) as the fanatical cult leader who walked 918 people to their death in November 1978. The 44min tape recorded moments before the Jonestown massacre makes for chilling listening, as Jones is heard pleading with his congregation to commit their act of “revolutionary suicide”, spreading fear among reluctant Temple members about reprisals for the murder of Congressman Leo Ryan, (“If You knew what was ahead of you, you would be glad to be stepping over tonight”). At one point a dissenter questions Jones’ rationale but Jones calmly shrugs off her argument while more zealous members scornfully shout her down, willingly embracing their leader’s final edict (“We are ready to go!”). It’s voyeuristic stuff for sure, but the tape is out there so….



For anyone interested in Jim Jones, it's worth taking a listen to a short recording of the late American televangelist, pastor, faith healer Robert W. Schambach speaking about the Jonestown massacre. I have no details on the date of the recording, but can be heard opening the 1984 track Ram by the great experimental electronic outfit :Zoviet*France: Listen here...

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Beyond the final frontier with...

Dan Dare double page spread from 2000AD Prog 1, the spectacular visuals are by Italian artist Massimo Belardinelli… I’m currently in the grip of a 2000AD obsession at the moment, re-reading the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic from its launch into orbit back in 1977. It would take a few years for 2000AD to settle into the comic I loved back in the mid-80’s but the early strips remain a treat - the ultraviolent beat ‘em up Invasion; the time-travelling 23rd century cowboys harvesting dinosaur meat in Flesh; Dan Dare rebooted for the 70’s with a dose of cynicism and Belardinelli’s swirling psychedelic artwork, and of course Judge Dredd who’s been administering justice to Mega-City One since Prog 2, almost 40 years on the beat. I think the fact that we’re inching closer to Christmas is what inspired me to pick up 2000AD again, the Christmas annual was something I eagerly looked forward to every year. I’m glad I had the foresight to hang on to mine…


Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza

Listening to the music of Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza and the Italian collective's 1970 album The Feed-Back, a brisk but brilliant 27min suite of improvised avant-rock featuring Ennio Morricone on trumpet. I often see The Group filed alongside improv units like AMM and fellow Italians, Musica Elettronica Viva but the The Feed-Back sounds more at home with Kosmische music - the abrasive textures of early Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, as well as the propulsive motorik of Neu! come to mind. Well worth seeking out. Incidentally, composing credits on the album are assigned to the Group and I wonder if Tim Gane gave the band a nod with Stereolab's 1993 EP The Groop Played "Space Age Bachelor Pad Music"...


Sunday, 8 November 2015

Zona

Finished reading Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room, Geoff Dyer’s 2013 book about Tarkovsky’s film Stalker. Dyer’s book is not a scholarly study of the film but a scene-by-scene commentary on a film that has fascinated and obsessed the author for the past 30 years. It’s a short, breezy read (the book can easily be digested in one sitting), and while Tarkovsky students might feel frustrated that the book reveals little new about the film, Dyer has left me with at least one notion that I will take to my next screening of the film. With tongue firmly in his cheek Dyer imagines the mysterious black dog, possibly abandoned or separated from its owner in the Zone, has in fact ventured into the Room and has had its heart’s desire – of being adopted by a loving family – granted. Hence his reappearance in the final act of the film, back in the industrial wasteland of the Stalker’s home, happily lapping milk and finding a gentle companion in the Stalker’s daughter. It’s a lovely idea and it’s a measure of the brilliance of Dyer’s short book that it has increased my love of the film even more. Highly recommended reading.


Thursday, 5 November 2015

Laraaji

Listening to the music of Laraaji this morning, courtesy of the recently released triple cassette collection All In One Peace which gathers together various recordings from the late 70's/early 80's. Laraaji was my big discovery of 2013. I had previously known him for his contribution to Eno's Ambient series, the excellent Ambient 3: Day of Radiance album, but in 2013 All Saints re-issued the luminous 1987 drone work Essence/Universe and two fine compilations of recordings. One thing I like about Laraaji's music is how it's challenged my notions of New Age music, a whole swathe of music I would have instantly dismissed before I delved into Laraaji's back catalogue - his music played on electronically treated zither and hammered dulcimer is a little too hectic to be classed as ambient wallpaper but it's a world away from dreary pan-pipe albums seen propping up counters at health shops. Another revelatory album worth checking out is the excellent and beautifully packaged I Am The Center - Private Issue New Age Music In America, 1950-1990...


Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The West Wing

Sky Atlantic have started showing The West Wing from scratch this week, fitting nicely into the 5pm slot. Having missed previous opportunities to follow the White House drama, I'm quite excited to finally catch it, and am eager to jump into another political drama after the superb David Simon series Show Me A Hero. I don't know if Martin Sheen's Jed Bartlet will turn out to be a good president but he surely can't be any worse than presidential candidate Greg Stillson...


Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Magma

I’ve been spending the morning immersing myself in the music of Magma… It’s taken me a while to reach this point, in less enlightened times, I would often dismiss Magma with the usual prog rock prejudice (always at one’s peril I’ve come to believe) but my interest has been piqued by their association with Jodorowsky’s ill-fated Dune film. I’ve amassed quite an extensive chunk of Magma back catalogue on mp3 (call it a try n’ buy) and am journeying thru the first salvo of albums from the early 70’s. This is not easy music to absorb in a few initial fly-bys - the jazz-rock fusion is formidable, the arrangements knotty and complex with ever shifting time changes and tempos, and the vocals, sung in Magma’s own devised language often sound like they’ve strayed from a bombastic symphonic opera. But perseverance yields rewards and I'm particularly enjoying Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh, perhaps the first of Magma’s signature albums. The evolutionary leap from Kobaïa and 1001° Centigrades is apparent, the jazz-rock workouts abandoned in favor of what might be described as inter-galactic gospel music backed by pounding martial rhythms. The extraordinary vocals which range from operatic to freak-out wailing and shrieking sound to my ear like people swearing in Polish. Truly incredible stuff. Listening to this album, I can better appreciate Alejandro Jodorowsky’s idea of using Magma’s music in Dune to represent the brutal forces of the House Harkonnen...



Speaking of Dune... Unmade movies are the opium dreams of film junkies, and with so much pre-production done on Jodorowsky's Dune there's always that threat that one of the major studios will shoehorn it into a hollow effects extravaganza, diluting Jodorowsky and Moebius' more outrageous inventions (the anal staircase entrance into the Emperor's throne room comes to mind!). My dream of Dune is to see it realized as a huge animated film and looking around at some of the Dune art on the web, the potential for such a film seems limitless. I'm particularly fond of concept artist/illustrator Mark Molnar's Dune artwork at his Project Dune page



Monday, 2 November 2015

Revisiting The Element of Crime

Michael Elphick wades thru a drowned world in The Element of Crime… I watched Lars Von Trier's 1984 debut yesterday evening, my third viewing of the film over the years and it remains as frustrating and dazzling as ever. The Red Dragon-style plot never quite works for me and I find myself too easily slipping in and out of the narrative, but the film’s extraordinary visuals always win me over, with Northern Europe re-imagined as a water-logged terminal rubbish dump, everything cast in a sickly rust sepia. Nick James wrote about the film in last month’s Sight & Sound examining the film’s Tarkovskian elements, most notably the influence of Stalker, both films sharing exhausted leading men and tracking shots of submerged flotsam, but watching The Element of Crime again, Eraserhead and Hard to Be A God came to mind - two other films set in a completely immersive environment. And oddly enough I found myself thinking of Derek Jarman’s The Last of England as well…


Pasolini

Remembering Pier Paolo Pasolini on the 40th anniversary of his death on November 2nd 1975. "It is only at the point of death," Pasolini had said in 1967, "that our life, to that point ambiguous, undecipherable, suspended - acquires a meaning."


Sunday, 1 November 2015

The Pied Piper

I've been listening to Donovan these past few weeks, and while I normally don't like my music so saccharine there are always exceptions. And so this afternoon, with an hour and a half to spare I sat down with The Pied Piper, Jacques Demy's 1972 film starring Donovan as the mysterious minstrel with the power of enchantment. Not exactly Horror fare for Halloween weekend but the film has much to enjoy - the stellar cast of British players, Demy's fluid direction, some terrific sets and costumes and a few interesting parallels with The Seventh Seal and more significantly, The Devils, which must have influenced the look of the film if nothing else. I thought it was interesting that the most sinister element of the tale - of the children being spirited away by a vengeful stranger was given a subtle benevolent twist by suggesting the piper was taking the children out of harm's way of the Black Death and John Hurt's character's plan to conscript Hamelin's children as soldiers to fight a war brewing in Italy. Interesting too was the final shot of the piper and the children effectively evaporating into the ether as dawn breaks over a pastoral meadow - a piper at the gates of dawn as it were...