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.

Music of the World: What's in Your Ipod?

The most interesting discoveries made in the last few years have been made while listening to music from all over the world. Best of all is tying together the similarities between ethnological songs from different countries that are nowhere near each other. For instance how music from Spain sounds like slowed down Moroccan tunes. How Klezmer can be traced to Greek music and especially how Mariachi songs move to a polka beat. How jazz came from gospel and plantation traditionals. How the blues originated in Africa and how booty bass music still retains a lot of tribal bump. Russian-Asian zither music can be heard in African kalimba music.
Music comes from inside of us, no matter what part of the world we're in. Much in the same way that our religious mythologies evolve out of our subconscious mind, the music arrives much in the same way as if by a genetic universal communication device. What is the magic that is rock music that ties in to ancient ragas? Were the Master Musicians of Jajouka magicians? Hear what's in my Ipod...

How about the primordial sounds of a 2,000 year old rock band?

Anoushka Shankar

Zakir Hussein

Music for 18 Musicians

Tortoise, Remixed:

Tinariwen BBC Folk Festival 2005