Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Gene Wilder (1933 - 2016)

I’m seeing lots of great clips from Gene Wilder films this morning (Gene as a soul brother in Silver Streak a particular favorite) but what a shame no footage is available of Wilder’s turn in the 1963 Broadway production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, playing the vulnerable Billy Bibbit opposite Kirk Douglas’ McMurphy. Brad Dourif's brilliant scene-stealing performance immediately comes to mind when one thinks of the character but you can readily imagine Wilder slotting into the role. I'm sure he was just as spellbinding... If Wilder wasn’t a familiar face in my film collection (he appears in just one film of mine, Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), he was at least a familiar voice of my record collection, appearing on the Aphex Twin track (via Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory) We Are The Music Makers

Monday, 29 August 2016

The One That Got Away

Detail from the cover of Tom Waits' 1976 album Small Change featuring the Mistress of the Dark, Cassandra Peterson. Or does it ? I'm listening to Tom Waits' fantastic album this evening and I'm reminded of that rumor that the stripper on the album cover is none other than Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson. Except no one is quite sure it seems, even Peterson herself who thinks it might be her but has no memory of that particular shoot, such were the joyous hedonism of the 70's. Perhaps more interestingly, Tom name checks Chesty Morgan in the song Pasties and a G-String (At the Two O'Clock Club), and it's fun to speculate whether Tom knew Chesty socially at the time. There's no mention of her in Barney Hoskyns' 2009 biography but I suspect Waits would have known of her as an exotic dancer on the burlesque circuit.

Gimme Shelter

I plan to pick up the 15-disc Rolling Stones In Mono boxset set for release in September and with that in mind I revisited Gimme Shelter yesterday. Four decades on, the free concert at the Altamont speedway track still inspires interest and morbid fascination. I was fact-checking something earlier and found myself in a thread that was 39-pages deep, the discussion eventually descending into a fierce debate about who was to blame for the violence and disorder. Interestingly I read an interview with Keith Richards from a few years ago and he had little sympathy for the slain audience member Meredith Hunter. And yet, even when one scrapes away all the layers of mythology surrounding the Altamont show, Gimmer Shelter remains a shocking film. Notwithstanding the actual murder (mercifully captured in almost imperceptible, abstract detail), watching the concert deteriorate throughout the day makes for genuinely disturbing viewing. The scenes where the Angels dish out savage beatings with pool sticks while the crowd suffers the unpredictable effects of toxic LSD is like watching a car accident in slow motion.

Hell’s Angel Bob Roberts looking decidedly unimpressed by Mick Jagger’s posturing

By the time the Stones take to the stage, the film is verging on the surreal. At one point an Alsatian ambles across the edge of the stage, while the crowd in the front rows stumble over parked motorcycles to the wrath of the Angels. The scene where the Stones are airlifted out of the speedway resembles the footage of the evacuation of the American embassy during the fall of Saigon, complete with members of the entourage clawing for a spot on the helicopter. On the accompanying commentary track, Albert Maysles’ offers a chilling post-script to the film: when the concert concluded, the Angels lit a huge bonfire to which the hippies were inexorably drawn to, and the beatings and violence continued throughout the night.

Friday, 26 August 2016


One last cameo, one last film... My Hitchcock season drew to a close this afternoon with screenings of the Master's final two films. The season began in mid-June with The Lodger and 2 months later, and 50 years worth of film-making, I bow out with the breezy and brilliant Family Plot. Notorious, Rope, Dial M For Murder, Rear Window, Psycho, Frenzy are old friends but there were plenty of surprises too - the re-discovery of Vertigo, and two new favourites step out of the filmography - the stark, disturbing noir The Wrong Man, and the thrilling Cold War film Torn Curtain - both first time screenings too. Perhaps the most enjoyable films were the bookends. Hitch's Silent pictures proved hugely impressive (he was obviously taking notes during his stint at UFA), and I really enjoyed Hitch's final decade which contain some of his more overlooked films, like the terrific globe-trotting espionage thriller Topaz, which can at least boast having a black actor - Roscoe Lee Browne, in a small but key role - apart from Canada Lee in Lifeboat, black actors are unfortunately a rarity within Hitchcock's filmography. Despite the season suffering a few unavoidable omissions along the way (Under Capricorn, and most glaringly To Catch A Thief), I'm in good shape to pick up Hitchcock/Truffaut, Patrick McGilligan's 2003 biography and Peter Cowie's Hitchcock Murders...

Monday, 22 August 2016

The Lost Bowie album

The soundtrack to The Man Who Fell to Earth will be released for the first time next month, as a double-disc CD/LP. This album will not however contain the 5 instrumental pieces Bowie composed for the film at Cherokee Studios in the fall of 1975. RCA planned to release this collection, entitled The Visitor in March 1976 to coincide with the film's UK release but Bowie withdrew his music at the 11th hour for reasons unclear. All that exists of the album is this ultra rare test-pressing.

Or perhaps not... The is my mischievous homage to Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray's book David Bowie: An illustrated Record, which has an entry in the discography section for the mysterious bootleg LP The Visitor containing music Bowie composed for The Man Who Fell To Earth. The album was entirely made up by the book's authors Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray to catch out plagiarists. I imagine Bowie collectors spent years looking for this. Here's the entry from the book.

Friday, 19 August 2016

World Photography Day

Facebook informs me that today is World Photography Day, and to mark the occasion here are some favourites...

Divers, Swimwear by Izod - George Hoyningen-Huene, 1930

The Somnambulist - Ralph Gibson, 1970

Glass Tears - Man Ray, 1932

Dreams of a Tattooed Man - Robert Doisneau, 1952

Dovima with Elephants - Richard Avedon, 1955

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Georgia Peaches

Iggy Pop with Elton John at Richards club, Atlanta, 1973. Two men who probably know a lot about drugs... I've been listening to The Stooges' Atlanta show this evening, formally the Georgia Peaches bootleg, but now reclaimed for the 2nd disc of Columbia's Legacy re-issue of Raw Power. This is a terrific show, and at times a little terrifying - "You want to get your fucking face punched in, little cracker boy?" Pop screams at someone in the crowd. As the group prepares to thrash out Search and Destroy, Iggy requests that the house lights be turned on to "expose a few faces", and considering one eye-witness report claimed that the audience numbered just 20-30 people (and it sounds it!), there's a distinct Theatre of Cruelty atmosphere to the show. The hostility never quite descends into the warfare of the Metallic K.O. album but having such a clean recording of this Raw Power line up, one can better appreciate just how tight the band could sound, and the best moments are when Scott Thurston's honky tonk piano lets the music swing. And I love the LA Woman quotation in Head On...

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Robert Walker Jr.

Robert Walker Jr. photographed by Dennis Hopper in 1964... Robert Walker Jr. has been on my mind lately, mostly due to Strangers on a Train in which his father played one of Hitchcock's most unnerving psychopaths. I was just leafing thru my copy of Taschen's unwieldy book of Dennis Hopper photographs and Walker Jr. features in a few of them, having fun at home in Malibu with his 2nd wife Ellie and friend Peter Fonda. I like this photograph with scraggy anti-establishment beard, which he would also wear for his role as the commune leader in Easy Rider. My favourite Robert Walker Jr. performance is from the 1966 Star Trek episode Charlie X, playing an omnipotent being with a bad case of teenage blues, an older brother of sorts to the little monster in the great Twilight Zone episode It's a Good Life. It's a shame Walker's filmography is not terribly distinguished, apart from Easy Rider, he can be seen in two curios - Larry Hagman's 1972 film Beware ! The Blob ("The Film J.R. shot!") and the eccentric New Testament film The Passover Plot, from 1976...

The Conet Project

Some weekend listening… I spent a pleasant (and unnerving) few hours yesterday afternoon listening to Iridal Discs’ 1997 compilation The Conet Project: Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations, a massive 5-disc compilation of recordings of voices reciting numbers and phonetic code words in a seemingly random order, frequently accompanied by little jingles or electronic tones and chimes. These mysterious transmissions are said to be a phenomenon of “numbers stations”, a left over from the Cold War era, when shadowy government agencies broadcast encrypted messages to undercover operatives over the shortwave band. If that wasn’t sinister enough, these static-filled recordings are fabulously spooky pieces of sound art - the multilingual voices range from warm and seductive to cold and artificial; sometimes relaxed, on other occasions urgent, even frantic, and all of them layered with bleeps, drones, distortions and ghostly interference.

Listening to the set yesterday put in mind William Burroughs’ tape archive compilation Nothing Here Now But the Recordings which features similarly hauntological soundscapes, and one might well imagine Interzone agents navigating thru the blizzard of static in search of these number station transmissions. If you’ve ever been bewitched by the strange poetry of the BBC's Shipping Forecast, or experienced a frisson listening to Electronic Voice Phenomena recordings, The Conet Project is highly recommended

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Reading Martin

"The young man seemed normal to him, but he particularly noticed his pallor and his greenish hazel eyes. “The eyes gave him away,” Tati Cuda thought. They were not the vibrant, dancing eyes of youth, but those of a tired old man"...
I've just spent a pleasant couple of hours reading George Romero and Susan Sparrow's 1977 novelization of Martin. Not quite the missing link between Romero's great film and the lost 3-hour cut that's mentioned on the DVD commentary, the novel more or less follows the same trajectory as the film with a little loosening of the belt here and there. The opening sequence, set on the sleeper train is extended to include an awkward encounter between Martin and a fellow passenger alarmed by Martin's withdrawal symptoms from lack of blood. Elsewhere there are some interesting tweaks to Martin's character - in the home invasion scene, Martin repeatedly punches his lady victim in the face, enraged by the unexpected presence of her illicit lover - a shocking bit of violence that doesn't quite chime with John Amplas' sensitive portrayal of the troubled young man. Ultimately, the novelization is no great remake/remodel but an enjoyable read all the same...

A dream of dark and troubling things

"You're my second chance, Judy, you're my second chance.."

My Hitchcock season continues with Vertigo, and I came back to the film this morning like a prodigal son. Despite its status as a canonical work, I've never cared much for the film, but this latest screening, the first in over a decade, was something of a revelation, evidently maturity brings a greater appreciation for the dark currents that flow thru the film - the sequence where an addled James Stewart outfits Kim Novak in her predecessor's clothes is genuinely excruciating to watch. This is surely one of Hitchcock's most misanthropic films - exploitation, murder, manipulation - at least Henry Fonda's Wrong Man was given a last minute reprieve from his shattered life, but no mercy is afforded to Stewart's character who ends the film literally staring into the abyss...

Incidentally, I spotted a nice visual reference in the scene where Stewart tracks Novak to the Empire Hotel. Alongside the hotel, one can see a sign for a bar that reads "Twelfth Knight", presumably, a sly pun on the Twelfth Night, Shakespeare's riotous comedy about a set of twins and mistaken identity...

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Ascension

I was asked to post a favourite album sleeve earlier today on Facebook and among the short list was the cover of Glenn Branca's 1981 album The Ascension, which features Robert Longo's fantastic charcoal drawing of a man dragging, one presumes, the dead body of another man. The untitled drawing is part of Robert Longo's Men in the Cities series which features well dressed professionals, men and women in strange and contorted poses. Interestingly an associated illustration of the one featured on the cover of The Ascension identifies the upright man as Glenn Branca. All this musing on Longo's drawing has me listening to The Ascension right now, and with the house to myself I'm enjoying a rare treat of playing it loud ! The DNA of Swans, godspeed you black emperor! and of course Sonic Youth can be heard on this album - Lee Ranaldo was part of The Ascension's sextet and I love this line he wrote for the CD's liner notes: "The album that you hold in your hand - the city in which this music was made no longer exists on the face of the earth"

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Visions of Moby

I was reading some excerpts from Moby’s memoir Porcelain earlier and I was reminded of Richard Hall’s distant ancestor Herman Melville. I’m reminded too that promises to read Moby Dick have not been kept and during inquiries into the best available edition of the book, I digressed to check out the illustrations used on the covers of past editions. The most common representation of the book is the image of the whale breaching to destroy the Pequod and its crew, while other covers concentrate on the whale itself or Ahab, usually depicted with fearsome intensity. Of the covers that Google fished from the bottomless depths of the web, my two favourite selections take a more subtle approach. The 1972 Penguin edition, on the port side, features a detail from J.M.W. Turner’s 1845 painting Whalers while the 1984 Bantam paperback, on the starboard side simply features a seascape bathed in rich emerald - one can almost taste the brine off it. Another fine edition of the book is the 1930 Random House copy which comes with beautiful illustrations throughout the text by Rockwell Kent, but be prepared to shell out up to $3-400 clams for this one...

Friday, 5 August 2016

"The Planet Where Nightmares Come True"

My Facebook feed is adorned with serious eye-candy this morning, a meme is doing the rounds prompting folks to post their favourite movie posters. I've been asked for my nomination and any reason to indulge in one's obsessions is always welcome. So today, I've chosen the British quad poster for Solaris. Tarkovsky's film has been blessed with several fine posters - Andrzej Bertrandt's austere design for the Polish release, and Renato Casaro's Italian poster which sidesteps the complexities of Tarkovsky's film in favor of a beautifully illustrated Boy's Own Sci-Fi adventure painting. Both good examples of just how differently the same film can be presented by its advertising materials. The British poster is my favourite though, dispensing with artwork entirely and featuring two striking stills from the film nicely overlaid with some barnstorming blurbs: "The Planet Where Nightmares Come True" and The Spectator's erroneous yet irresistible "Russia's answer to 2001". And I like the comment from the contemplative Daily Express critic: "Mindstorming in its implications"

One incidental thought... The tagline on the Solaris poster “The Planet Where Nightmares Come True…” felt oddly familiar to me and it seems I was thinking of the UK quad poster for Eraserhead which had the tagline “Where your nightmares end…” I thought this emphasis on nightmares might be some quaint English thing but a quick search reveals the German Eraserhead poster also features the same line: “Wo die ALPTRAUME enden…” I don’t believe the line is present on any of the original American posters.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach

Just fresh from a screening of the 2016 documentary Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach, which I thought was superb and a very useful primer for someone like myself who has always approached Loach's films with a sense of trepidation, to the point of keeping them at arm's length. For a film maker who has made a career out of telling harsh even angry stores (which it must be said, needed to be told), Ken Loach himself comes across as very nice man, soft spoken, gentle, and I found it particularly moving when Loach discussed the death of his five-year old son in a car accident. That quiet disposition is tempered somewhat though by Gabriel Byrne's sly comment that you crossed Loach at your peril.

Nice to see clips from Kes again, and I must see Hidden Agenda, and make some inquiries about the 6-disc Ken Loach at the BBC collection. One complaint about this otherwise excellent documentary, was the scope framing which necessitated the film clips (which I presume were filmed in more modest ratios) to appear re-framed to the point of ugliness - a bizarre stylistic choice on the behalf of the producers. And one minor quibble right at the end of the documentary, when Alan Parker compares Loach to Marlon Brando in Rebel Without A Cause - a mistake that goes uncorrected. I actually sat thru the credits expecting to see an outtake of Parker correcting himself but not so. Surely Parker could have been offered a second take ?