Saturday, 25 June 2016

Dispatches

"...you could also hear the other, some young soldier speaking in all bloody innocence, saying, 'All that's just a load, man. We're here to kill gooks. Period.' Which wasn't at all true of me. I was there to watch.”
Currently reading the Vietnam War memoir Dispatches to mark the passing of its author Michael Herr who died on June 23rd. The book is filled with extraordinary accounts of life during wartime and I was particularly taken with the passages depicting superstitious combatants. Such was the omnipresent contact with death and injury, soldiers experienced bad vibes everywhere. Air Cav gunners felt the presence of dead soldiers in their choppers, long after the bodies had been airlifted out of combat zones. Even the toughest fighting hombres were easily spooked. One marine nicknamed Day Tripper so disliked the nighttime he would volunteer for the most dangerous day patrols to stay in after dark. Marines carried talismans into battle and stuck close to members of their platoons considered indestructible, soldiers who emerged completely unscathed from the fiercest fighting seem to offer a supernatural protection - one marine was awarded this status after he vowed to survive the war and return to Tennessee to kill his unfaithful wife. When Herr penned the narration for Apocalypse Now, he included this line about Colonel Kilgore: "He was one of those guys that had that weird light around him. You just knew he wasn't gonna get so much as a scratch here."


Throughout Michael Herr’s memoir there are scenes and dialogue that would later re-appear in Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. One interesting passage had me thinking not of Vietnam films but of Joe Dante's 1978 film Piranha
"Once I met a colonel," writes Herr, "who had a plan to shorten the war by dropping piranha into the paddies of the North. He was talking fish but his dreamy eyes were full of mega-death." 
I had to wonder if this eccentric notion had found its way into Richard Robinson's original story or John Sayles successive drafts ? Dispatches was first published in 1977 so the timing is perhaps too tight. I don't own a copy of Piranha on DVD, but does anyone know if the story's Vietnam angle is mentioned on the DVD supplements ? Incidentally, in 1965 US Marines and South Vietnamese forces launched Operation Piranha, which had nothing to do with killer fish but worth noting for the sake of full disclosure...

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Scientist Wins The World Cup

I’m not a sports guy at all but I can appreciate a momentous win when I see one, and Ireland’s triumphant advancement to the knock-out stages of Euro 2016 has inspired this morning’s listening - one of Dub’s greatest engineers, Scientist and his 1982 collection Scientist Wins The World Cup - “Ten dangerous matches played by The Roots Radics Squad with Referee Junjo. Rhythm tracks laid at Channel One. Mixed at King Tubby's by Scientist”. First half kicks off here. I love the LP artwork by the Greensleeves label’s in-house designer and Oldham Athletic fan Tony McDermott, which has, in the best tradition of the Roy of the Rovers annual, the Jamaican team beating England 6-0. A nice blow-up of the artwork can be viewed here. Tony McDermott sounds like he has a bit of Irish in him somewhere, I wonder is he available for a kick-around on Sunday ?


Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The lost voice of Anny Ondra

One more Hitchcock post for today… A short screen test shot during the production of Blackmail featuring Hitch and actress Anny Ondra speaking with her own voice. Ondra’s Teutonic tones were the first casualty of talking pictures, when Blackmail was reconfigured for sound, Ondra who plays the daughter of a Cockney newsagent, was re-voiced by an actress standing offscreen. Ondra’s lip movements are actually quite synchronous with the disembodied voice although her pantomime gestures don’t quite gel. Anny Ondra appeared in two Hitchcock pictures – before Blackmail, she appeared as a sultry temptress in The Manxman, and should be considered Hitchcock’s first great blonde. Her brief stint in English Cinema ended with the demise of Silent pictures but she continued to appear in European productions up to the mid-40’s. Glancing at her filmography I see she made a film in 1928 called Suzy Saxophone, a great film title and one that would not sound out of place as a sexy female spy caper as directed by Jess Franco.




Early Hitchcock

I finished off the first stage of my Hitchcock season yesterday evening with the completion of Studio Canal’s 2007 Early Hitchcock Collection boxset which contains 9 films made between 1927 and 1932, a whirlwind period of activity which saw Hitchcock make the transition from Silent to Sound and direct some of his most uncharacteristic films. Among them the genuinely bizarre and delightful 1931 sound film Rich and Strange (pictured below), a picaresque tale about a bored married couple who take a sea voyage from Marseilles to Singapore and encounter exotic strangers, Chinese pirates, and cat stew. What’s more, the film includes ill-matched stock footage, jolting jump cuts, and witty intertitles (Jean-Luc Godard was probably an admirer).


The Studio Canal set has some omissions from this 5 year run of films - the 1928 Silent, Easy Virtue, the 1931 German language version of Murder! (re-titled Mary), and 1929’s Juno and the Paycock, a very early sound adaptation of Sean O'Casey's great Dublin play. I’m particularly interested in seeing Juno and the Paycock, not the most fondly regarded film of the director’s British years, but the long takes that Hitchcock devised for his run of play adaptations makes the film as near a record of what the play might have been like on the Abbey stage in the mid-twenties. There’s several public domain DVDs to choose from but all reports suggest the film looks and sounds like it was taken from a ragged 16mm print. The next Hitchcock on the list is the original 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, where the Master finds his mojo…

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Chris and Cosey and favourite films

Connections real and imagined... Last month I posted about Throbbing Gristle’s final concert in San Francisco in May 1981 and made reference to Apocalypse Now. And earlier I stumbled upon another TG-Apocalypse Now link - Chris Carter:

We saw the original 70mm print in 1979 in San Francisco, at The Northpoint Theatre, I think. It was one of Throbbing Gristle’s many regular film outings. From the first surround sounds of the helicopter and strains of The Doors’ ‘The End’, we all kept looking over at each other while the movie was playing and we were like… WTF! Monte Cazazza was with us, Vale from Research, there were about 10 of us. It was one of those unforgettable ‘shared experiences’, like when you drop acid with friends. We were all a bit speechless afterwards”.

You can read more of Chris and Cosey on their favourite films here


Vacating The West Wing

After 156 episodes and 9 months of devotional watching, Sky Atlantic’s marathon re-run of The West Wing wrapped up yesterday evening, and how I wished the series has done an FDR and ran for another term. The final episode to my relief avoided a big show of sentimentality in favor of a quiet and dignified finale. I resolved to keep my emotions in check, but in the scene where President Bartlet said his goodbyes to Charlie Young, the dam inevitably broke. The series exists now as one nebulous whole, and it's difficult to pick out favourite episodes, but some highlights along the way: Season’s 2’s “In The Shadow Of Two Gunmen” when Bartlet and Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lymon were fighting for their lives after an assassination attempt; the “Two Cathedrals” episode where Bartlet rails against God, in Latin no less, following the funeral service of his secretary; John Goodman’s bullish Speaker of the House stepping in as acting President in Season 4 episode “Twenty Five”; the Middle East peace summit of Season 6 episode “The Birnam Wood” in which Chief of Staff Leo McGarry is iced out of the inner circle and suffers a heart attack. So many hours of electrifying television. Incidentally, I never cared for Snuffy Walden’s bouncy West Wing end credit theme music so I rounded out last night’s screening with something fittingly majestic, from the soundtrack of Michael Mann’s Heat


Monday, 20 June 2016

A Journey To Avebury

Today marks the 2016 Summer solstice and I expect folks will be gathering at Stonehenge and Avebury for pagan celebrations. And with that in mind, I put 10mins aside earlier to revisit Derek Jarman’s 1971 short film A Journey To Avebury which consists of static shots of the Wiltshire landscape in all its summer finery - picturesque meadows, gentle country lanes and finally those iconic standing stones. This version found on youtube, comes with a late-90’s era soundtrack by Coil, not a vital piece by any means but pleasant and unobtrusive for the purists who insist on experiencing the film silent as originally produced. What’s immediately striking about Jarman’s film is strange and unnatural color of the images which seem to be bathed in a sulfuric hue. I’m not sure if this effect was achieved by a filter or if the color was a idiosyncrasy of the Super8 film stock but it lends the film an otherworldliness that is most pleasing. Seeing the stones under such alien skies reminds me of the photograph taken at the Viking 1 lander site on Mars in 1978, depicting a large boulder which scientists christened Big Joe. Incidentally Jarman’s film includes a shot of some children cheerfully lazing about, and it’s a happy coincidence that at the weekend I was nosing around the 1976 TV serial Children of the Stones (my interest piqued by Simon Reynolds’ liner notes for the compilation In A Moment…Ghost Box, which I’ve been listening to these past few days). Watching some clips online I’m almost sure I’ve seen Children of the Stones when I was a youngster (considering HTV was beamed into Irish homes throughout the 80’s), but to seal the deal I shall pick up the Network DVD…


Sunday, 19 June 2016

Stripped

Brexit fever is heating up and this morning I'm celebrating the Basildon-Berlin bilateral with Depeche Mode’s monumental 1985 song Stripped, from the 1986 album Black Celebration. Depeche Mode videos took an evolutionary leap when Anton Corbijn came on board in 1986 to handle the group’s visuals, and yet my favourite DM video remains the apocalyptic Stripped directed by Peter Care near the Hansa studios. If I didn’t know better I might have thought Derek Jarman helmed this one, it shares a similar mood with Jarman’s 1988 film The Last of England. Peter Care has had an eclectic career, he’s directed a number of notable REM videos as well as Public Image Ltd's Rise and Belinda Carlisle's Circle In the Sand (which owes something to the Stripped video), and most interestingly, Care made his debut with the 1983 short film Johnny Yesno which was scored by Cabaret Voltaire, and led to a fruitful association.



Friday, 17 June 2016

Hitchcock spotting

My Hitchcock season is underway and I’m looking forward to, among other things, the director cameos which to my surprise began in the Silent era. I was under the impression that Hitchcock’s appearances in his films didn’t begin until The Lady Vanishes, but he can be glimpsed sitting at a desk in the 1927 film The Lodger. I’ll refrain from posting screengrabs of the cameos as they appear, there are plenty of fine websites out there dedicated to that very thing. Still, I couldn't resist mentioning the Master's ingenious cameo, his 1944 film Lifeboat...

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Hitchcock toyed with the idea of appearing in the opening scene as a corpse drifting among the debris of the torpedoed ship, but instead settled for the faux advert which Hitchcock liked to claim resulted in several thousand letters from people inquiring about the miracle weight-loss product. Interestingly, Hitch's original idea for his cameo was revived some 28 years later for the very amusing trailer of Frenzy which opens with a dummy of Hitchcock drifting down the Thames. Worth mentioning too Hitchcock’s cameo in Last Year At Marienbad, or rather his appearance in Resnais’ film. Hitchcock can be glimpsed early on in the film (at the 11:08 to be precise, so your attention won’t be diverted from Marienbad’s puzzle), lurking in the shadows as a cardboard cut out. I'm sure Hitchcock was flattered by the gesture, he was very keen on the auteur films emerging from post-war France and Italy. Hitchcock's unmade film Kaleidoscope was said to be influenced by Antonioni's Red Desert and later Blow-Up


Thursday, 16 June 2016

Bloomsday

My annual Bloomsday post... Given the day that's in it, I took a wander over to eBay to check for those rare expensive editions of Ulysses that impoverished book junkies like me can only dream of owning, and I spotted this very nice 1967 Bodley Head edition which ties-in with Joseph Strick's film - the dust jacket riffing on the novel's more salacious content with an on-set photograph of Joe Lynch as Blazes Boylan and Barbara Jefford as Molly, presumably post-coitus. This would be a fine copy to own, Ulysses covers tend to either feature just the name of the book or unimaginative views of Dublin. Alternatively, if you've deep pockets you could also pick up the Unauthorized First American Edition from 1929, which will set you back a cool $1,999.95...


Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Hitchcock Season

I can attribute this epic undertaking to Kate Bush… I caught the half-hour Sensual World promo film last week and listening to Kate wax lyrical about Alfred Hitchcock has inspired me to revisit the Master’s filmography, kicking off this past weekend with the Silent films, beginning with the 1927 proto-serial killer film The Lodger, thru to The Ring, Downhill, The Farmer's Wife, Champagne and The Manxman. The next film to see is the 1929 feature Blackmail, which I have in both Silent and Sound editions so this is a nice segue way into the Sound era. Apart from The Lodger, this has been my first pass at the Silent films and they have been something of a revelation, seeing Hitchcock’s remarkable command of the medium on such early films as Downhill and The Ring (the best of the Silents). It’s always a treat to watch a director’s early films and draw connections with later work and the Silent films are pleasingly filled with pre-echoes of familiar Hitchcock obsessions. One element in particular I honed in on, given my love for Rope, is the apartment set of The Ring which features a similarly artificial, illuminated citycape beyond the window. The later film features a much more elaborate design and production, but it’s nice to see Hitchcock adding these decorative details to his sets even at this early stage…



Saturday, 11 June 2016

Night of the Living Dead... In Color !!

I have Night of the Living Dead on my mind this evening. Earlier this afternoon Eureka posted news of a big announcement next week - "A film that can lay claim to being one of the most important American films ever made will be joining the Masters of Cinema Series". Eureka are inviting readers to submit their dream titles on their Facebook page, and having run thru various potential Paramount and Universal titles, I opted for George Romero's great film. And interestingly, a recent thread over at the Classic Horror Film board was speculating on the film getting a Criterion release augmented by a recently discovered copy of the workprint (under the title Night of the Anibus) and some trimmed footage. It all sounds pie in the sky to me but we live in hope. By the way, I stumbled across some fantastic color pictures from the Night of the Living Dead shoot and it's wonderful too see the cast in full living color.


I regret to say my first introduction to George Romero's great film was courtesy of the colorized version that Polygram put out in the UK and Ireland in the early 90's via the 4Front imprint. Colorization was still an imperfect science in this era and Night of the Living Dead looked especially appalling, the zombie faces given an unnatural and silly looking green pallor. Using one of the color photographs from the shoot, I juxtaposed it with a still from a colorized version of the film over at youtube and one can see where the decisions of the colorists depart from the truth so to speak. In fairness, the colorists were using their best guess in the absence of detailed color photo documentation, but Barbara and Johnny's car looks pretty jazzed up...


Friday, 10 June 2016

Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

The Kino Blu of Curtis Harrington’s 1961 film Night Tide arrived in the post yesterday and the plan is to catch the film (for the first time!) this weekend. To preface the screening, I revisited Kenneth Anger’s 1954 fantasia Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome yesterday evening, the connection being that Curtis Harrington and Night Tide actress Marjorie Cameron appear in Anger's film. Marjorie Cameron was cast as the Scarlet Woman, no doubt for her occult preoccupations, and she looks particular fantastic in the film, her red hair inflamed by Anger’s psychedelic lighting; while Curtis Harrington, appearing as Cesare the Somnambulist is straight out of Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I made two passes of the film, the second accompanied by Anger’s commentary, in which he briefly mentions Night Tide and his admiration for the film, calling it the “nicest thing (Curtis Harrington) done”. Harrington followed Night Tide with a string of B-movies but a closer inspection of his filmography reveals some close associations with Underground Cinema – before Night Tide, Harrington made a number of interesting experimental shorts, including The Wormwood Star (1955), an excellent 10min portrait of Marjorie Cameron. Incidentally Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome includes a few images borrowed from Anger’s earlier film Puce Moment (which always reminds me of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet) and I mention this because Harrington is credited on the imdb and Wikipedia as cinematographer on the film Kennth Anger's film but I can find no evidence of this elsewhere, either in the booklets that accompany the Fantoma and BFI editions or Anger’s commentary track…

Marjorie Cameron as the Scarlet Woman
Curtis Harrington as Cesare the Somnambulist

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Minimal

Enjoying more adventures in minimal synth music this afternoon courtesy of the great Colin Potter and his 1981 album The Where House. If you’re looking for a taste of the independent electro scene, The Where House comes highly recommended, the album features terrific synth textures, vocal manipulations and other experimental sounds and devices. Dave Henderson, in the liner notes for the minimal synth compilation Close to the Noise Floor cites John Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s soundtrack album for Escape From New York as a key influence on the DIY synth scene and several tracks from Potter’s album would sound most at home in Carpenter’s film. Grab it here. In the meantime, whilst searching for a suitable image for this post I chanced upon the fantastic Retro Synth Ads blog devoted to retro synth adverts and shamelessly stealing this appropriately minimalist 1982 ad for the E-mu Emulator keyboard, complete with Arthur C. Clarke quote. More synth porn to swoon over here


Close to the Noise Floor

For the past week I've been listening to Cherry Red's recently released Close to the Noise Floor: Formative UK Electronica 1975-1984, an excellent 4CD compilation of UK minimal electronics. Obsessively listening I might add, effortlessly cycling thru the CDs, such is the high quality of the music. Thanks to the blogosphere, I've discovered a wellspring of terrific music from the DIY electro scene of the early 80's - music that was previously the preserve of ultra limited cassette releases has been resurrected and made available for the digital generation. So it's a real treat to have some of this great music remastered for CD. The tracklisting chosen by Richard Anderson swings from obscure bedroom composers to well-known heavy hitters - there's stuff from an edgy pre-Dare Human League, OMD in its infancy, John Foxx, Throbbing Gristle, Chris and Cosey, Colin Potter, and if there are the some omissions - Cabaret Voltaire, or a sampling from the great Thomas Leer/Robert Rental electro classic The Bridge, would have rounded out what is a near-definitive compilation - it's entirely forgivable. Complementing the music is the excellent packaging, the CDs come in an attractive digi-book which contains 48 pages of terrific context setting liner notes. And if I may add my own note here, Horror fans will enjoy Malcolm Brown's track Sedation Strokes which contains a sample of Teri McMinn's blood-curdling meat hook scream from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which brilliantly mutates into a blast of free jazz...


Cut-up Penguins

There's an attention grabbing post title ! I’m currently reading Cut-Ups, Cut-Ins, Cut-Outs: The Art of William S. Burroughs, a wonderful collection of Burroughs’ cut-up art collages, and poring over the pictures put in mind Julian House’s terrific designs for the Penguin Modern Classics’ editions of Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded and Nova Express, improving significantly on previous editions, in particular the Flamingo, Harper Collins, and Fourth Estate editions which I never cared for having on my shelf. I’m quite sure Burroughs himself would have been very pleased. I’ve long been a fan of Julian House’s work, and the chances are you have something in your collection which features one of his designs – perhaps something on the Ghost Box label (which he co-founded), a Stereolab or Broadcast album, or one of Peter Strickland’s films... A fine overview of his work can be found on this flicker page


Friday, 3 June 2016

Zombie Holocaust

Some news landed in my Inbox yesterday announcing Severin's all-singing, all-dancing special edition BR of Zombie Holocaust due at the end of July, and to stave off the temptation to pre-order a copy (the first 5000 copies come with a free vomit bag!) I revisited the film last night courtesy of the 2002 Shriek Show DVD. I knew Fabrizio De Angelis' screenplay owed a debt to Zombie Flesh Eaters (when in doubt, follow the money!) but I'd forgotten to what extent - Zombie Holocaust raids footage, actors and character names from Fulci's film, so much so it occasionally feels like Zombie Flesh Eaters' Peter West has taken one of those alternative yellow brick roads to end up in another version of Zombie Flesh Eaters playing out in the cinematic multiverse. But considering De Angelis produced Fulci's film, one might argue that this was more a case of marshaling resources than plain daylight robbery. Aside from malfunctioning dummies and blinking corpses, the film has two startling moments - the jolting first appearance of the zombies (just as one settles into a cannibal film), and the gruesome surgical procedure on the sassy young reporter, which is genuinely unpleasant, and feels like it's strayed from a Nazi camp exploiter, another Italian subgenre the multi-tasking Zombie Holocaust can add to its repertoire...



Exploring the supplements last night on Shriek Show's DVD of Zombie Holocaust, I enjoyed revisiting Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out, Roy Frumkes' segment of the abandoned anthology film, and despite the rough embryonic state, it's a fine example of what can be accomplished with some rudimentary effects and a visually arresting location (in this case the grounds of a psychiatric hospital). What a strange quirk of fate that this surviving fragment of Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out is forever tied to Zombie Holocaust's alternative cut Doctor Butcher, M.D (some footage that Frumkes' shot for Tales was shoehorned into Zombie Holocaust for its re-tooled stateside release). Fortunately, Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out will also feature on the Severin edition, as will the 6min conversation with Zombie Holocaust's special effects artist, who seems most reluctant to discuss the film to the frustration of the ill-prepared interviewer. I would have elbowed this bit of grim business but in the special editions wars, it seems all extras count...

Thursday, 2 June 2016

if...

I had the pleasure of revisiting Lindsay Anderson's film last night, my first time seeing the film in a very long time. Too long in fact, I had forgotten just how brilliant the film is - Malcolm McDowell's iconoclast, Christine Noonan's enigmatic beauty, those surreal touches - the chaplain in the drawer, the headmaster's wife taking a naked stroll; and the use of b/w, which once irked me for its apparent randomness now feels like a brilliant Brechtian device. Another remarkable aspect of the film was its matter-of-fact depiction of homosexuality which seems completely ahead of its time in an era when gay people were usually portrayed as outrageously camp. Reading up on the film afterwards, I discovered that Lindsay Anderson was a gay man who struggled with his sexuality, so in that sense, the affectionate moment between Wallace and Philips is rather moving.


Seeing the film again last night brought back of wave of nostalgia for the years I spend attending a boarding school, mercifully, as a day boy I might add, where I observed (from the sidelines) those same awful rituals. This was in the early 90's and some things it seems, never change...

One last idle musing on if... In the sequence where the boys are tasked with clearing out a basement, there's a shot of Wallace and Phillips throwing a large crocodile prop onto a bonfire, and it instantly recalled for me a shot from The Devils where Grandier uses a similar beast to defend himself against the enraged father of a jilted lover. I'm not suggesting Ken Russell devised the scene as an homage to if... but there can't be that many films with scenes of discarded stuffed crocodiles, surely !