Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Penguin Horror

For sale ! Two rare Penguin paperback novelizations from the 70’s, slight wear to covers and pages, stored in a smoke-free house, open to offers…. These are faux-Penguins of course, I whipped these together earlier in MSPaint and will not stand up to close scrutiny, but you get the idea. There are plentiful examples of Penguin fakery on the web, but it was this page which inspired my fabrications...

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Target's Kezar

More Kezar stuff to mark the anniversary of Throbbing Gristle final concert, 35 years old today... The Kezar show was videotaped by Joe Rees of Target Video and later issued in 1983 as Live In San Francisco At Kezar Stadium. The historical significance of the Kezar show aside, the Target video was important as it restored all the cuts that were made to the concert when it was issued as the Mission of Dead Souls album in 1981 by Fetish Records. Still, there was one glaring anomaly on the Target video (and the later TGV edition) - the track Spirits Flying was not part of the film for reasons unknown - perhaps the segment of the film suffered from technical problems or maybe Target vetoed the track due to the presence of some X-rated dialogue in the opening moments. A shame as Spirits Flying features Cosey's most significant contribution to the Kezar concert when she takes up her horn. Despite the Target video getting an upgrade to DVD for the TGV set, the original Target VHS edition is worth savoring, as it features better picture quality, a unique mix of the concert, and includes some shots that are not on the DVD. Fortunately some good soul has uploaded the Target version albeit with sync problems. Incidentally, if you're watching the concert, look out for Jello Biafra in the crowd, seen bobbing along to Looking for the O.T.O

Incidentally, local noise rock group Flipper were the opening act on the night of May 29th 1981, and as per TG's set, Flipper were also videotaped for posterity, and fortunately the footage is available on youtube, finally dispelling the oft-repeated rumor that the band played a 90min version of Subhuman (?) The Flipper set is worth watching for TG fans as it features an impromptu appearance on stage by Genesis P-Orridge (at the 22.30 mark) to loan his bass guitar to Bruce Loose when his short-circuits...

Throbbing Gristle at Kezar Pavilion

"Thank-you and goodnight. That's the end of Throbbing Gristle" 
To mark the 35th anniversary of the dissolution (of sorts) of Throbbing Gristle, I've been listening to the Kezar Pavilion concert which took place on May 29th 1981 in San Francisco. The group's termination date had been predetermined in the weeks before the two US shows, by this point the sense of weariness within the group was palpable - the Los Angeles concert the week before had been one of TG's most shambolic performances, but perhaps recognizing the historical significance of the Kezar date, TG sound focused and cohesive, if understandably melancholic. Evidently the split was on Gen's mind, in his subdued introduction he quietly intones, "It's a strange experience to finish" and on the track Guts on the Floor (whose title reads like a statement on COUM's transgressive actions), Gen is heard singing the line "Ending it all this way, ending it all today". The influence of 20 Jazz Funk Greats is apparent at Kezar - Persuasion is given a humorous US slant ("I remember this story told to me by Jim Jones just before he went to Guyana"), and Circle of Animals and Looking for the O.T.O are essentially re-writes of Tanith and Still Walking. One of the more personally pleasing aspects of the Kezar show is the presence of a sample of dialogue from my favourite film Apocalypse Now, heard during Funeral Rites - "Terminate with extreme prejudice. You understand Captain that this mission does not exist nor will it ever exist", which neatly reflects TG's official statement a month later on the cessation of all activities, which simply read "The Mission is Terminated"

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Welles in Brazil

An idea for a film… Opening sequence. Exterior, day. Low angle shot of an empty hotel plaza, a patch of exotic flowers ripple in the light breeze, the sound of cicadas singing in the midday sun. Shot is held for 40 seconds - an interminable amount of time, before the stillness is suddenly shattered by the crash of furniture and shards of glass onto the pavement, evidently thrown from a great height. Cut to interior shot, hotel room. A tall, powerfully built man dressed in an all-white suit is tearing up the fixtures and fittings in a rage. Once the room has been relieved of its contents, the man gazes out the shattered window frame, pauses, then erupts into deep sonorous laughter. The man is Orson Welles. Cut to POV shot of the sprawling skyline of Rio de Janeiro, cue raucous samba music on the soundtrack, credits begin….

I’m currently ensconced in the 2nd volume of Simon Callow’s Orson Welles biography and reading the chapter on Welles’ anarchic 1942 trip to Brazil to make his ambitious Pan-American film, I couldn’t help but think it would make for a rollicking great film. Welles discarding the shooting script to improvise scenes at the carnival and the favelas much to the chagrin of RKO, and the embittered film unit laid up for days on end as Welles soaks up Brazilian culture, bullfighting and women. Throw into the plot a villain by the name of Lynn Shores, an RKO stooge with a personal dislike for Welles (a kind of Marlowe to Welles’ Kurtz) trying to sabotage the project with lies and intrigue, and a subplot about the death by a thousand cuts of The Magnificent Ambersons at the hands of an unsympathetic studio. Fishing around for titles, I’ve settled upon Welles' radio sign-off Obediently Yours… The kickstarter fund begins here !

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Lost Alien

When is an Alien film not an Alien film ? Just finished reading John Fasano’s first draft screenplay of Alien 3, based on a story by Vincent Ward & John Fasano. David Hughes devotes a chapter to Ward’s treatment in his 2002 book The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made, and while I agree it might have made a great, visually stunning film, I’m not so sure it would have made a great Alien film. Right away I should sound a note of caution by saying Fasano’s screenplay went thru numerous drafts but based on this first effort, dated March 29, 1990, I must conclude that Fox made a wise choice to rein in the story’s development and fuse its best elements with Walter Hill and David Giler’s final shooting script. Vincent Ward gives a good account of the story in the 13min Alien Quadrilogy featurette Tales of the Wooden Planet: Vincent Ward's Vision, but in a nutshell, the screenplay has Ripley crash-landing on a man-made planetoid home to a colony of techno-phobic medieval monks which the alien quickly wreaks havoc upon. I won’t reveal any more for anyone interested in reading the screenplay, but certain ideas, like the alien taking on the physiology of its host (see the production sketch below). At one point, a hybrid incorporating a sheep, tends to dilute the idea that it’s an Alien film. Interestingly some ideas in the screenplay permeate Alien Resurrection - the hybrid alien, the swimming alien, but the fourth film’s bizarre take on the Alien concept ultimately ran the series into the ground. After reading John Fasano’s screenplay I’m more appreciative of David Fincher’s film. The screenplay can be viewed/downloaded here

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The Art of War

An add-on to yesterday's War of the Worlds post... Looking thru a gallery of covers devoted to H.G. Well’s book, two images caught my eye – a French edition from 1973, illustrated by Philippe Druillet who also designed the trio of beautiful Art Nouveau posters for Jean Rollin‘s Le Viol du Vampire, La Vampire Nue and Le Frisson des Vampires. I like the bio-mechanical look of Druillet’s tripod, the alien tentacles oozing out of the machine’s exoskeleton. If the Martian death ray doesn't obliterate you, those heavy tripod legs surely will....

The striking cover of the 1968 Fawcett Premier edition illustrated by Paul Lehr has a particularly interesting depiction of the tripods, their spikey design feels genuinely not of this world and I love the toxic, blood red apocalyptic color. Lehr was also responsible for the similarly feverish cover for the 1964 Berkley Highland edition of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Be sure to check out this stunning piece of art here

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

F For Fake

Before I make a start on volume 2 of Simon Callow’s Orson Welles biography, I’m currently reading the 2015 book Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles' War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News, A Brad Schwartz’s excellent and engrossing account of the “Panic Broadcast” and crucially, the ensuing wave of terror that swept the country. Or perhaps not. In his forensic investigation of the event, Schwartz draws on some 2,000 letters sent by listeners to CBS and the Federal Communications Commission in the wake of the broadcast, the majority, complimentary of the dramatization, while others were critical of the misuse of radio to confuse and in some cases frighten listeners. But this relatively small strata of negative opinion was hardly representative of stories of apocalyptic evacuations or people arming themselves to shoot at marauding tripods. Schwartz makes a compelling case that the press had greatly amplified a few stories of genuine panic to kick-start a slow news day, and more insidiously to score points against the newspaper’s most threatening rival, radio. Elsewhere Schwartz delivers an illuminating early history of the medium thru the prism of the War of the Worlds broadcast, taking in the March of Time series, and influential radio productions like the 1926 BBC show Broadcasting the Barricades, and the 1938 show Air Raid which also married artifice with verisimilitude. Recommended reading.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Psychick Ajanta

Another obsessive round of Throbbing Gristle listening, and today it’s the turn of TG’s date at the Ajanta Cinema in Derby in April 1979. Illuminated Records put the entire concert out as Thee Psychick Sacrifice in 1982 and it was a good selection – not only were the group in fine form on the night but the Ajanta date is notable for the first public airing of Convincing People, and there are very early versions of Persuasion and What A Day (which the Industrial tape simply calls Day Song), all months away from being hammered out at the 20 Jazz Funk Greats sessions. If Ajanta looks ahead to the third album there’s some backward glances to D.o.A - Hamburger Lady ("An old favourite we hope you'll enjoy"), unfolds with incredible menace and on this particular night the sluggish air-raid siren sounds remarkably like Thomas Bangalter’s music for Irréversible. Elsewhere the squally noise of D.o.A.’s title track is heard spliced with what sounds like one of Chris Carter’s electro-pop confections, and the voice of the male prostitute on Valley of the Shadow of Death makes an appearance for the intro to What A Day. Flyers for the Ajanta show promised a screening of After Cease To Exist but the plan was nixed when the group discovered the theatre’s projector was being repaired. Incidentally, the Ajanta show features a nice little TG in-joke with the inclusion of some sampled dialogue belonging to pornographer John Lindsey, who directed Cosey Fanni Tutti in the 1976 hardcore short Sex Angle.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

The Lady in the Lake

Brace yourself for a sock on the jaw – below, actor Dick Simmons delivers a sucker punch in the 1947 film The Lady in the Lake... I'm currently reading Simon Callow's Road to Xanadu and matters have turned to Orson Welles' proposed film adaptation of Heart of Darkness which was to be filmed from the viewpoint of the main character Charles Marlow. Fascinating to ponder what Welles might have conjured up and with that in mind I dug out my copy of Robert Montgomery’s Lady in the Lake, an adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel seen thru the eyes of another Marlow, private eye Philip, on the trail of a missing dame. Chandler called the film "a cheap Hollywood trick" and I can appreciate his misgivings, the plot turns are ultimately undone by the distractions of the subjective camera - cigarette smoke wafts out from the bottom of the frame, Audrey Totter moves in unnervingly close for a smooch and everyone speaks directly to the screen (to rather eerie effect). Evidently MGM were not about to get bogged down by the enormous technical complexities that defeated Heart of Darkness, and the Lady in the Lake experiment feels awfully contained - almost completely studio-bound, and forgoing long takes for shorter cuts joined by whip pans, the subterfuge is however unconvincing. One unexpected point of interest for me was the striking choral score by Maurice Goldman which dare I say has a touch of Lux Aeterna about it, several years before Ligeti conceived the piece. The Warners DVD comes with a commentary track which I must delve into to hear more about this interesting curio.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Love is a battlefield

Arthur Hill and Uta Hagen in the original 1962 production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? at the Billy Rose Theatre... The Gate Theatre in Dublin is currently staging a revival of Edward Albee’s masterpiece and with that in mind I re-read my copy of the play last night. No substitution of course for seeing the play in a theatre but Albee’s text remains as funny, provocative and disturbing as ever. I’ve read the play perhaps three times over the years (more times than I’ve seen the Mike Nichols film) and the final act revelation of the fantasy that George and Martha have constructed to prop up their burnt out relationship still feels unnerving with every read. Throughout the play I kept on thinking of Fassbinder's quote about marriage being the most insidious trap mankind has ever devised for itself, and while I don't agree in general, it certainly suits these poor fools. One powerful and unexpected side effect of reading the play last night was that I found myself being a little bit catty towards my wife afterwards, and I wonder did Albee delight in sending audiences home with all those long unspoken frustrations, disappointments and petty betrayals bubbling to the surface.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Sans Sous-titres

I’ve been delving into Potemkine’s epic Eric Rohmer boxset over the weekend, and despite knowing I was forfeiting extras for luminous HD transfers, I can’t help but feel annoyed at the wealth of intriguing French-only supplements on offer. The La Boulangère de Monceau disc has two particularly valuable short films – the charming 11min Présentation ou Charlotte et son Steak, starring a rather dashing Jean-Luc Godard, and more substantially, the 22min Edgar Allen Poe adaptation Berenice which was photographed by Jacques Rivette and features a memorably intense performance by Rohmer himself as a man with a peculiar obsession that leads to a genuinely disturbing denouement. The film is so visually expressive (and inventive) one can appreciate the film without a lick of French but the presence of substantial unsubbed narration is frustrating ! Fortunately, Tim Lucas has penned a helpful synopsis of the film on his blog. The two teabags that come with the set are probably the most useful extras, but so far I’ve resisted the urge to indulge…

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Sayōnara Tomita

The killing fields of 2016 claims another much loved artist… Isao Tomita, the Japanese composer died on May 5th and this morning I’ve been listening to Tomita’s 1974 album Snowflakes Are Dancing. I can’t profess to being a huge fan, Tomita’s music sounded a little too close to muzak for my tastes (it would have sounded very appropriate coming from the PA of the futuristic subterranean city in THX-1138) but nevertheless I’m very fond of the Debussy album. For a taster, check out the beautiful rendition of Clair de Lune. My copy of Snowflakes Are Dancing is an original RCA Red Seal pressing, not in the least rare or valuable but I prize it for David Hecht’s stunning artwork and the great shot of Tomita at his moog on the flipside. It’s maddening that subsequent CD issues have tampered with the artwork either by obscuring it within an ugly frame or reducing it to small quadrant to make room for a silly High Fidelity blurb. I mentioned THX-1138 a moment ago and Tomita connects with another favoutrite film of mine, Apocalypse Now. Francis Ford Coppola approached Tomita to synthesize his father Carmine’s score, but Tomita bowed out due to time constraints. Interestingly, on the Workprint version of the film, during a montage of helicopter shots that precedes the air strike on the village, the temp music sounds very much like a Tomita piece. Still, what’s heard in Apocalypse Now is a very close approximation of the Tomita sound - the cue heard as Willard reads Kurtz's letter (just before the sampan massacre) sounds remarkably like Tomita's version of Mars, The Bringer of War. I like to think that some of his DNA is in the film...

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Hellbound details

A sequel of sorts to my earlier post... Chris Herzog's warm appraisal of Arrow's Hellraiser boxset in the latest issue of Video Watchdog has me regretting my decision to make-do with my old Anchor Bay set. Chris is especially complimentary about the transfers, particularly Hellbound which I'm most keen to see in HD. I've always been fond of spotting cultural references tucked away in the corners of the frame, say a book or a record casually placed within the camera's field of vision by a director or set designer. Hellbound includes a few sequences set inside Dr. Channard's study which is littered with all sorts of esoteric lore - spectral photographs, prints of pentagrams and sigils, Enochian symbols and so on. The limitations of DVD doesn't permit much scrutiny, but one can easily make out the famous 1912 photo of Aleister Crowley in his magician’s robes hanging on the wall, or when the camera fleetingly gazes upon Channard's preserved specimens, a copy of David Barash's renowned book The Whisperings Within: Evolution and the Origin of Human Nature sits nearby. In a later scene when Kirsty grabs the photograph of Captain Elliot Spencer, one can briefly glimpse a book entitled The Internal Inferno, which I believe is a mock-up, but nevertheless a nice little addition by the set designer Michael Buchanan that 99% of the audience will pay no attention to. Perhaps, the increased clarity Hellbound Blu will reveal more interesting curios...

A Symphony of Symbols

Following on from my screening of Herzog’s Nosferatu at the weekend, I watched Murnau’s film yesterday evening - the chance to view both films in close succession seemed too good to pass up. Watching the film again I was particularly mindful of producer Albin Grau’s contributions within the film – the set design and most significantly, Count Orlok's grotesque appearance. Grau’s occult preoccupations finds expression in the document the real estate agent is seen reading early on in the film – a coded message from Orlok which looks more like a page from a grimoire. Some additional cabalistic symbols can be spotted in the film, in the book Hutter is given about vampires, but Grau’s biggest graphical contributions to the film are the several posters he designed to promote the film. Murnau’s film is often erroneously referred to an expressionist film, an impression which may be due to Grau’s memorable promotional artwork which depicts the Count (and the town of Wisborg) in all sorts of strange and unlikely proportions.

Seeing both films again, Herzog’s film is more faithful to Murnau’s than I previously gave it credit for, the remake (which seems like an irreverent term for it), re-stages many shots, both significant (the doomed ship drifting into port) and incidental (the morbid looking cuckoo clock), although two of my favourite moments from the Murnau, the fast-motion arrival of Orlok’s coach and the frenzied stacking of the coffins on the cart, were not, understandably so, replicated by Herzog. On that point I think the Murnau just inches ahead of the Herzog, the phantasmagoria of Silent Cinema seems best suited to this particular story. Brad Stevens on the commentary track found on the MOC edition, suggests that Orlok himself is exerting a strange control over the film with regard to these starling moments of surrealism, a notion I find most agreeable.

Monday, 2 May 2016

The Phantom of the Night

This weekend I've been poring over 4 newly arrived issues of Video Watchdog and I suspect the contents of these issues will strongly influence my viewing choices over the next few weeks. Tim Lucas' illuminating feature on Herzog's Nosferatu (and its various permutations) in #182 inspired me to finally watch my copy of the BFI Blu-Ray. On my last pass of the film, courtesy of Anchor Bay's 2000 DVD I noted a tired looking transfer so the Blu-Ray is a tremendous sight for sore eyes. The shift to HD always wrings out details I might have previously missed, and the BFI disc is particularly strong on skin tones and textures - those extraordinary shots of the slack-jawed mummies in the opening sequence, and Kinski and Isabelle Adjani's makeup, Adjani's especially in the film's climax where she lies on her death bed like a beautiful but lifeless porcelain doll. Seeing the film again, after an absence of a few years, I must conclude that something has gone badly wrong with the film's ending - the slain vampire crumpled up in the corner of the bedroom seems discourteous somehow, and worse still Bruno Ganz's Harker brandishing fangs and setting off (in daylight!) presumably to spread the vampire plague feels like cheap conclusion to an otherwise fine film.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Son of Frankenstein

I treated myself to a rare midnight movie this weekend and what was originally intended to be Dracula's Daughter (to belatedly mark Bram Stoker's anniversary on April 20th) was swapped at the 11th hour for another waif and stray, Son of Frankenstein. This was my first screening of Rowland Lee's film and I was pleasantly surprised by this very worthy followup to the James Whale originals. It was Karloff's last outing as the Monster, and hardly surprising, Wyllis Cooper's screenplay all but reduces him to a mindless brute and it must have been disappointing for the actor to watch from the wings as Basil Rathbone winds up to near hysteric levels and Bela Lugosi steals the entire show as Ygor. Still Cooper's screenplay did raise a smile early on in the film when Rathbone's eponymous heir addresses that age-old misconception "Why, nine out of ten people call that misshapen creature of my father's experiments... Frankenstein"

Boris Karloff checks out the latest newfangled gadget of 1939, the slimline widescreen television

Meanwhile I'm currently re-visiting Simon Callow's Orson Welles biography The Road to Xanadu (in preparation for reading Vol 3) and I was struck by something I read in the passage that describes Bright Lucifer, a play Welles initially wrote in 1932 and returned to throughout the decade before ultimately shelving it with the arrival of War of the Worlds and Citizen Kane. What I found particularly interesting about this Gothic melodrama is that one of the characters is described in Callow's words as a "star of Horror movies". Callow opines that Welles was drawing his characters from life and I wonder did Welles have a particular actor in mind ? The New Yorker, writing about the play in 1938 considered Boris Karloff as Welles' inspiration, while in 2014, Mike Teal over at Wellesnet felt the character was "clearly modeled on John Barrymore". Welles' script is currently unavailable, so it's hard to say either way, but it's interesting to consider that Welles' champion in later life, Peter Bogdanovich also devised a character who was a Horror movie star (albeit one in descent) for his debut feature Targets. Bogdanovich first met Welles in 1968 so it's extremely unlikely he lifted the idea from Welles' unproduced, and as far as I know, unpublished play, so I would consider this a rather delightful coincidence.