Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It Began with Videodrome

While shopping for bargain movies, Moviestop was running a sale on Halloween movies. Spooky DVDs. They had the usual (and I asked, "how many copies of Evil Dead will they rerelease?"), but their sale also extended to box sets of Mario Bava (which I received last year for Christmas) and Dario Argento (two out of four of the films being good I passed it up). My treasured find was the Criterion Edition of Videodrome, David Cronenberg's 1983 film about brain tumors, subliminal terror and horrific hallucinations. Having seen this about ten years ago, I was wanting to reexperience the film on my big TV from this pristine print. The tape I'd watched was the "uncut" video released years ago which I'd bought used from a store in Times Square that is now the TRL studio for MTV. This was a gift for my brother so I never had the chance to revisit it. He was going through his sculpting/special effects phase so the film had intrigued him.

So, here I was revisiting old school Cronenberg. I've always loved his early work because of the cold and clinical, quasi-futuristic ambiance that those older movies had. I love that they were low budget but well made (and in all the years his style has not really changed; the budgets have gotten bigger but the movies still move at the same space). The recurring leitmotifs (i.e. brain tumors, subliminal terror and horrific hallucinations) revealed that Cronenberg may actually be a frustrated science fiction writer. I've never felt his films were out and out horror (even with The Fly). There's more science and speculative themes than there are horrors. Sure, they're filled with venereal goo but it's the speculative ideas that make them more science (fact) than horror. He also prophesied corporate immorality, mad doctors and their obsessive patients (i.e. plastic surgeons and silicone obsessed augmentations; the New Flesh?) and pharmaceutical madness.
But most of all I return to his films because they remind me of the immediate alternate present of J.G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick. It was no wonder he was set to have directed Total Recall (but as the original "We Can Remember it For You Wholesale" story). But it is strange that of all of J.G. Ballard's work he chose to direct Crash. It seems that his early films (Crimes of the Future, Shivers, Rabid and The Brood) riff on scenarios from Ballard stories: crumbling high-rise domiciles, corrupt institutes of questionable medical practices and long stretches of deserted roads like the vacuous pathways of the mind.

In the coming days, being further intrigued and realising I'd never seen Shivers, I decided to catch up with the rest: Stereo, Crimes of the Future, Shivers, Scanners and even Crash and Naked Lunch.

And yes, dammit, it makes me realize how sequential and thematically related they all are, even that they take place in the same universe. Mostly. I would say eXistenZ takes place in the same world as Videodrome; the drug company in Scanners could be the same one from Shivers and Rabid which eventually become the future corporations of Crimes of the Future; Oliver Reed's character from The Brood could be a doctor in that universe as well. But as I see it, it was probably Videodrome that broke Cronenberg of the framework he used before and paved the way (the mental landscape) for everything which followed.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

About Books

So I finished Chuck Palahniuk's Rant, his most satisfying book in a long time. Of course everything he writes has previously been done and possibly better by other writers, but at least this book held me for most of its pages. As usual there is no complete ending, that is to say his books often have non-endings. Some interesting ideas here and there and it's his only other book that reminds me of Fight Club. It was much better than Haunted, a terrible book filled with good short stories.
From Wikipedia:

"Rant is told in the form of an oral biography. When the story begins, the reader discovers that the main character, Buster Landru "Rant" Casey, is already deceased. Throughout the book various people discuss their memories of Buster and the world he lived in, presenting stories in an occasionally conflicting timeline."

At times it reminded me of Don Delillo and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. with more than a nod to J.G. Ballard's Crash. If you haven't read books by these authors or are intimidated by them, I would say Rant is a good place to start. Or finish.

It did inspire me to return to J.G. Ballard. Through various used-books outlets I was able to pick up a few of his books at a bargain. I love collecting old paperbacks, especially if their covers vary.

I also wait my British copy of The Atrocity Exhibition. I will try to provide more updates when there are actually interesting things to write about. But no writing here doesn't mean I'm writing. I have been writing and editing three books at the same time.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Summer '68

Aside from his backing vocals on "Echoes" and "Us and Them", my favorite Rick Wright (RIP) moment is the song "Summer '68" from one of my favorite Pink Floyd albums, Atom Heart Mother.

Would you like to say something before you leave 
Perhaps you'd care to state exactly how you feel 
We said good-bye before we said hello 
I hardly even like you, I shouldn't care at all 
We met just six hours ago, the music was too loud 
From your bed I gained a day and lost a bloody year 
And I would like to know 
How do you feel, how do you feel, how do you feel? 

Not a single word was said, delights still without fears 
Occasionally you showed a smile but what was the need 
I felt the cold far too soon - the wind of '95 
My friends are lying in the sun, I wish that I was there 
Tomorrow brings another town and another girl like you 
Have you time before you leave to greet another man 
Just you let me know 
How do you feel, how do you feel, how do you feel? 

Good-bye to you 
Charlotte Kringles too 
I've had enough for one day

Of course, Rick Wright having parted will now join Syd Barrett and play "See Emily Play" and "Remember a Day" at the Great Gig in the Sky. The saddest realization is that he passed having suffered from cancer.

  He was the harmonic backbone of Pink Floyd whose gentle piano and voice was an added layer to Syd or David Gilmour vocals. The Dark Side of the Moon benefitted from his ethereal voice and thoughtful keyboard playing. Earlier songs like "Theme from More" and "Sysyphus" (from Ummagumma) pointed to everything that would follow, whether it was the low-budget orchestration in Obscured by Clouds, Dark Side or the synth themes in Wish You Were Here. And let me not forget all of the fantastic playing in the unreleased album Zabriskie Point Sessions (some of which appeared on the soundtrack record of that film), which included "The Violent Theme"; though not used in the film this song became a basis for other themes that Pink Floyd later wrote including "Us and Them".
  Rick Wright, we're sorry to see you go.

This is a clip of Pink Floyd performing "Atom Heart Mother" suite back in the 70's. To me 'Floyd will always be this spacy blues band with albums like More, Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother. Anything else after Obscured By Clouds (beginning with Dark Side) is just the hits. They were good hits, but they had obviously evolved into something else...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Aside from the Usual, What I've Been Listening To or Watching

It's been a while since the last update. Hopefully the other blog has been a stop-gap in between this and that. I was occupied by everything else in my life which can often equal to nothing, but also including my vacation, work, work, writing something or another, spending a modicum of time with close friends and family. It's all a whirlwind.
Lately we've been on a Ben Gazzara kick, a continuing hangover from our previous Marlon Brando/Clive Owen/Robert Mitchum/Lee Marvin hangovers. (Of course The Wild One also stars Lee Marvin so it's like two for one).

This month's kick is Ben Gazzara, known for such films as Killing of Chinese Bookie, Tales of Ordinary Madness and Roadhouse; also Buffalo 66, Capone,

and The Big Lubowski. We viewed Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Tales. Who could imagine Gazzara playing Charles Bukowski? Director Marco Ferreri, that's who...

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie was everything I would want from John Cassavetes: grit, authentic sets, hand-held work, rambling plot. Somewhere there is an attempt at a noir plot, but it comes off very anti-noir, like Gloria, but 110% better. Don't believe anything you hear about The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Just see it for yourself. It may bore you, it may make you laugh, it may make you cry, it may arouse you. It includes some of the most bizarre striptease scenes ever filmed.

So for Robert Mitchum it was Thunder Road, Cape Fear and Night of the Hunter. With Marvin it was Point Blank and Prime Cuts. For Clive Owen it was Chancer, Children of Men, Sin City and Inside Man (which is rumored to have a sequel in the works).
For Marlon Brando it was the usual: On the Waterfront, The Wild One and The Fugitive Kind (my second-favorite after On the Waterfront).

In the mail this week from Greencine: Orson Welles' Don Quixote'. Of course this will start an Orson Welles kick...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Psychedelic Faves

Since the first film I ever saw, Sisters (by Brian DePalma)I have always loved psychedelic films. The swirling colors and music stimulate my brain in such a way that my mind feels relaxed. Everything shuts down and I am just a gorilla on tranquilizers drooling at all the funny colors and sounds. Having had little success with drugs, I suppose I had to turn to other stimuli to carbonate my cranial fluids. It wasn't until recently I realized films were my mescaline.
I'm thinking of films like PetuliaHead, Yellow Submarine, Performance, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Spirits of the Dead,

The Holy Mountain,
Lizard in Woman's Skin, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,

...even 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Films by Mario Bava (I'm looking in the direction of Planet of the Vampires, Diabolik, Blood and Black Lace and Lisa and the Devil to name but a few; I loved Bava's film since childhood because of their colors...):

Sunday, July 6, 2008

4th of July Capper

This weekend was a work sandwich as I had to be at the office on Saturday for a few hours between being off on Friday and Sunday. Friday was exciting. Part of it spent by the pool, part of it spent watching...The Fugitive Kind, starring Marlon Brando and Joanne Woodward, with a script based on a Tennessee Williams play. There was music and relaxation as well. Some reading, some writing on what threatens to be my next novel. But after a short 30 minute nap I was woken by the sounds of Sonic Youth playing at Battery Park in Manhattan for a free concert they put on for WFMU.
I heard the loud bashing chords of "She is Not Alone" and turned over. By the time they were rocking "Bull and the Heather" I was up and awake, filled with immense excitement and a little nostalgia. Having seen the Youths only once I can attest to their ability to rock as great as they ever did, sometimes better than most contemporary bands. They threw out one great song after another. I was in awe of how many albums they touched on: Daydream Nation, Experimental, Jetset, Trash and No Star, Dirty, etc. also playing lots of songs I never thought I'd hear live.
After a dozen songs they returned two encores later, no "Expressway to Yr Skull" but a surprising "Making the Nature Scene"!

Well, wish I'd been there. But even just listening over the internet I felt transported to that little park at the south east tip of Manhattan. Not even the rain could deter the 7,000 who'd gathered. There will be another WFMU concert in August, also free. Check out the station's website for more info (Extra Golden will play; they're an American/Kenyan band who play some amazing guitar based African music-- New Yorkers, check it out!).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Contraband is Not Italian for Shit

Purely by coincidence we took in two Lucio Fulci films this week: Lizard in Woman's Skin and Contraband. The former being a psychedelic giallo made in 1971, very atmospheric and hallucinogenic jam packed full of lesbian loving and gory murders. It also has one of my favorite Ennio Morricone scores ever.

  Lucio Fulci's Contraband is the kind of gangster film that would make newcomers to the Italian crimi genre (basically police/mafia films) runaway screaming at its ineptness and cheapness. With Fulci's films, many will attest that he's hit or miss. In his lifetime he gave us some great giallos, zombie flicks and one really terrific western (Four of the Apocalypse). Everything else was dampened by budget restrictions, poor scripts and horrendous dubbing (even by Italian film standards).
  Contraband was his late entry into the Italian police genre. Although it points towards Miami Vice and other mobster/police actioners that would dominate the 80's, it falls short on many levels. First off the film itself: the cinematography is dull, apparently shot on cheap stock. The colors are faded and the look of the movie (except for the disco scenes) are gray. Skin tones look faded. Direction is sloppy (as was a Fulci trend) and the fights kind of retarded. The sound mix is terrible which does not help the ridiculous dubbing. The dubbing actors are exaggerated and can't make up their minds what kind of accents they have. The film takes place in Naples but they speak like they're from New Jersey. Huh?
  Fabio Testi is a great actor capable of gaining sympathy from an audience (see Four of the Apocalypse and Revolver). But if he's suppose to be a tough gangster in Contraband, why is he such a wimp? He is very unconvincing as a gangster and seems to get his ass beat every other scene. The best part of the film for me was when the old timers (including a cameo by the director) come out of retirement to put an end to the gang that has been responsible for most of the murders in the movie. And then the movie ended. Then I was really happy. Even the outrageous gore effects (like in all Fulci movies they are the real "guts" of the movie, no pun intended) seemed put on and there for their own sake.
  I would be the last person to ever trash a trashy grindhouse picture, but really, Contraband is the pits. You'd do better seeking other Italian crimi films: Almost Human, Rabid Dogs, Revolver, etc.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What I'm Listening To (This Week)

Lots of great music, old and new, but mostly old. This is what has been playing in my Ipod for a while:

Nova Express, Some Rhythm With Occasional Melody (a CD of my newest songs)

Frank Zappa (various live) and Sheik Yerbouti

Plastic People of the Universe, Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned

Yohimbe Brothers, Front End Lifter

Tom Ze, Com Defeito de Fabricacao

Tar Babies (with Tortoise's Dan Bitney!), Honey Bubble

Love, Peace and Poetry: Turkish Psychedelic Music

Pentangle (first album) and Reflection

Slint, Spiderland

DNA, A Taste of DNA

Death Ambient, live bootleg

Musty Butlers, Live at the Globe (private pressing)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Bogus Pomp Reopens the Ritz

I may complain a lot about the city I live in but I am blessed with the fact that Bogus Pomp, a Frank Zappa tribute band, lives and plays locally.
  Last night was the inaugural reopening (of many reopenings) of the Ritz Theatre in Ybor City. This was Ybor's one-time XXX theatre; it was that way when I first came to Tampa when I was 9. Since then it's opened and closed, changed names, closed down on account of drug dealing, opened as the Rubb, closed, opened, became a pool hall and now once again (and let's not fuck it up this time) it is the Ritz once again. Beautifully painted and cleaned, it's come a long way from its heavy metal mosh pit days of the early 90's. I saw Smashing Pumpkins in this theatre (paid $8 for what was historically one of the worst bands I've ever seen, one of the worst concerts I've ever attended); years later I saw Superchunk with Man or Astroman there and then years after, Yo La Tengo.
  Last night's show was not well attended. Don't know if the Bogus Pomp fanbase is mostly in St. Pete (just across the water) but there was about a third of the people that usually show up. Of course the usual faces were there, including ourselves, but it was just a scattering of folks. That's unfortunate since the band played what was one of the best "acoustic" sets I've ever heard them play. Just for the record, I've been seeing Bogus Pomp in concert since 1998. So in ten years, seeing them on average, two or three times a year, I've seen them at least 25 times which makes them the one band I have seen the most in concert.
  The first set was a quiet "acoustic" set of all instrumentals of music mostly from Absolutely Free and We're Only In it for the Money. They were so wonderfully played, so passionately rendered that same as I've felt listening to orchestral work from Frank Zappa I felt the same emotion. They played one of the best versions ever of "Theme from Burnt Weeny Sandwich" and a great "Holiday in Berlin". They closed the first set with a tender version of "Sofa No. 2". Those who would write off Frank Zappa as a "novelty" act because of "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" and "Valley Girl" have never listened the beautiful melodies he was capable of composing. His last album, Civilization: Phase III was his best album ever.
  The "electric" portion of the show was mostly instrumental. No new variations, but still great stuff: "Dog Meat", "Black Napkins", "Zoot Allures". They teased the beginning of "Let's All Move to Cleveland" (which, without the medley portion makes it a little flaccid). Jerry Outlaw dedicated "Watermelon in Easter Hay" to a friend in Japan; when that song plays, everything seems perfect in the world...
 They played a truncated "The Little House I Used To In..." which went smoothly into "King Kong". David Pate, possibly the world's greatest living saxophonist, as always, got the most fan fare.
  By the time the show was over almost everyone had left. Was it something they said?

"Uncle Meat Variations" from Zappaween, a couple of years ago...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Fall

There are too many movies that usually skip this town so I was fortunate when Tarsem's The Fall played at Tampa Theatre. My suggestion would be to ignore most of the reviews. Apparently, knowing how to watch a film and interpret it is not a prerequisite to being a film critic. Brains are often optional. The local birdcage liner said The Fall had images and scenes for their own sake and there was little plot to follow. That's if you're an idiot, of course. The short of the story is that a stuntman is injured while making a silent film (the film takes place around 1910) (or did he attempt suicide?) and while he sits in a hospital recuperating he recalls a fantastical faerie tale to a young immigrant girl who steals medicine for him and in return he tells the story...the lines between reality and fantasy soon blur. Oh and there is a performance of the Ketjak Monkey Chant.

This second film by Tarsem (his follow up to The Cell!) plays out in the imaginary realm of a child's mind, much in the way that Pan's Labyrinth worked. This is a subtle and quieter work than The Cell, with no big name stars to distract from its phantasmagorical substance. Like a film that Derek Jarman never made or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as filmed by Sergei Parajanov (which is the first thing that came to mind when I first saw the trailer), with gorgeous art design and stage-like characterization. The plateaus and scenery (also recalling The Arabian Nights and The Cantebury Tales by Pasolini) are exquisite and warm the eyes and warm the soul with its rich colors. The costumes and the action add to the gorgeous landscapes; this film was shot on location in several different countries: Egypt, South Africa, Romania, China among others. It is haunting but satisfying. Artistic to a fault; this is what an "art film" looks like, so beautiful to look at. Film is art, it should be beautiful.