Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Driftworks

Listening to the dark ritualistic music of Keiji Haino and Nijiumu this evening as part of the Driftworks boxset... Last week I found a seller on Discogs who was offering a NM (near-mint) copy of the Driftworks set, a 4CD collection of experimental soundscapes housed in a very stylish slipcase. Originally issued in 1997, good copies of the Driftworks set are increasingly hard to find, so I'm glad to report my copy which arrived today looks excellent (I've been picking it up all evening like some fetishistic objet d'art, the low-light pic I took doesn't do it any justice). Over 4 hours of music, with superb contributions from Thomas Köner, Pauline Oliveros, and Paul Schütze, but it's the Keiji Haino album that I keep returning to, I'm on my third pass as I type this. Like most Nijiumu recordings information is sketchy, save to say it's a live performance, probably from the early 90's, and sounds like an intersection between Toru Takemitsu's eerie score for Kwaidan, and the proto-Industrial music of Kluster. 9mins worth of the performance was included on the Isolationism compilation, which can be heard here. Worth bearing in mind that this music was most likely performed in the dark...



Repackaging Ballard

A friend of mine is currently reading Crash and following a conversation about the book over lunch yesterday I took a quick stock take of my Ballard collection and was dismayed to discover I don’t have a copy of The Drowned World. A quick check at Amazon, reveals that The Drowned World and other key Ballard novels have been re-issued by Harper Collins imprint Fourth Estate with bright, attractive artwork and stylish typefaces. This has me musing on the presentation of past English-language editions of The Drowned World and lining them up together, it appears the novel’s tropical lagoon motif has captured the imagination of most of the book’s publishers, with an iguana appearing on no less than five of the covers. My favorite of these is Dick French’s artwork for the 1981 Dragon's Dream hardback edition (top row, far right) depicting two high-rises under attack from marauding flora and fauna. Another common theme is the sunken city, with St Paul's Cathedral, Big Ben and a pop art Chrysler Building disappearing beneath the rising flood waters. I think the ethereal Fourth Estate cover (bottom row far right) is the best among these. But my favorite Drowned World cover is Penguin’s 1965 paperback (top row, far left) which borrowed Yves Tanguy’s 1942 painting The Palace of Window Rocks (which is horizontally flipped for the paperback). Ballard loved and was greatly influenced by the Surrealists so I’d like to think he was pleased by Penguin’s selection. It was remiss of me not to properly credit these editions of The Drowned World, so I would encourage anyone interested to check out the excellent Terminal Collection of Ballard covers here:


Tuesday, 1 March 2016

THX-1138 music

Currently listening to the Film Score Monthly edition of THX-1138 which collects all the music Lalo Schifrin recorded for the film. I generally don't listen to soundtracks as stand alone albums but the Film Score CD is one of those exceptions as it contains a hefty chunk of music omitted from the film. And for good reason - some of the Schifrin's jazzy, Latin flavoured cues would have drastically altered the tone of the film. Still, they're fascinating to hear in context - Jeff Bond and Lukas Kendall's detailed liner notes map out where the lost cues would have appeared in the film, and much like an expansive novelization, conjure up an alternative version of the film. One interesting factoid revealed in the liners, and I don't recall hearing it mentioned on George Lucas' DVD commentary, was that the original theatrical version of THX-1138 opened with 1 minutes' worth of footage from the 1936 film Things To Come, rather than the familiar Buck Rogers prologue seen on subsequent editions... By the way, whilst googling for the image below, I found a page which examines the differences the old UK Blue Dolphin VHS tape and the Warners DVD, the revisions more extensive than I realized...


Footprints

Following the disappointment of Argento's Opera on Friday, I felt Italian Cult Cinema was in need of a champion to re-instate its good reputation, and this morning I found an unlikely one in the 1975 film Footprints, an enigmatic mystery about a woman trying to piece together her fractured memory. Director Luigi Bazzoni pitches his film somewhere between Last Year at Marienbad and L'Immortelle, and while it's not quite as accomplished as Resnais or Robbe-Grillet's films, Footprints is nonetheless remarkable for its compulsive interest in architecture and interior design. Throughout the film we see characters framed against, and sometimes dwarfed by large eye-catching buildings. In the film's first act we see a shot of Florinda Bolkan strategically filmed from a low-angle against two looming International Style towers, and later when the film relocates to Turkey there are numerous shots of Islamic and Ottoman buildings with their distinctive domes and spires. It's a pity that the transfer on the Shameless DVD is so underwhelming because Pier Luigi Pizzi's production design is quite marvelous, from Florinda Bolkan's Bauhaus flavoured apartment to the ornate splendor of the Garma hotel with its wide flowing staircases and lobby, and Art Nouveau stained glass panels (beautifully lit by Vitorio Storaro). For such an aesthetically adventurous film, a bump up to Blu-Ray would be most welcome...






Monday, 29 February 2016

Ride in the Whirlwind

I watched Monte Hellman's 1965 Western this morning courtesy of Criterion's double-bill with The Shooting, only my second time seeing the film over the years. I picked up a Greek DVD many holidays ago which featured an eye-searing transfer of the film, no better than a pirate VHS tape and quite unwatchable, so this morning's screening was quite auspicious. I won't explore any of the supplements until I watch The Shooting, but I did catch the 6min conversation with Hellman and Roger Corman both recalling that early drafts of the screenplays required more action sequences to beef up interest. It's an interesting admission, especially so regarding Ride in the Whirlwind, a very spartan Western as is - I wonder what that original draft was like to begin with ? I think one of the film's strengths is its sense of space and film's minimalism invites any number of readings. An early line in the film about "human fruit" immediately put in mind the great Billy Holiday song Strange Fruit and I very much had Southern Lynching mobs in mind as the film unfolded. Less weird than its more celebrated stablemate, the film nonetheless stands as one of the best Westerns of the 60's.




Sunday, 28 February 2016

The Green Hell

I've been enjoying an interesting discussion over on Facebook about the Italian Cannibal cycle and it reminded me of an ambition I had in my younger years to write a screenplay about an Italian film crew making a cannibal film - the sketchy outline went something like this: a once great Giallo director down on his luck is hired by a fly-by-night Eurociné-style group to make a cannibal film. The film-within-film is made in a remote stretch jungle but the production is dogged by hellish terrain, bad weather and a difficult leading man refusing to slaughter animals on camera. When financing falls through midway, (film was to be set in the early 80’s as the genre was dying out) the film gets progressively weirder and more hallucinatory. The screenplay was a real mess of different influences – the Italian Cannibal cycle, Apocalypse Now, Aguirre Wrath of God (my diva director was to be along the lines of a tantrum throwing Klaus Kinski), and a bunch of moviemaking-is-hell films The State of Things, Living In Oblivion, Irma Vep, The Last Movie, and all of it overlaid with a Boogie Nights period sweep. It was nothing more than a pipe dream of course, I have no idea about the science of writing a screenplay, a minute per page etc. It was tentatively and terribly titled The Green Hell, lifted from a Misfits song...



Saturday, 27 February 2016

Revisiting Opera

A promise kept to watch Argento's Opera this evening... Not having seen the film in many years I was looking forward to this screening, but my excitement has given way to major disappointment. Evidently something has gone badly wrong in the intervening years and what I once considered the final masterwork in a glorious run of films now looks like the first step towards the dismantling of a great career. Argento's refusal to confront any of the problems posed by his screenplay is genuinely brazen but ultimately ruinous, the film's absurdities stack up as fast as the bodies, and there's the unspeakable dialogue to wrestle with ("A maniac is after me. I need your advice on what to do"). And yet the film is often a treat to watch as a piece of pure cinema with some truly remarkable and inventive camerawork - it's a shame no footage from the production has surfaced, the camera rig that swirls around the opera house must have been some sight judging by the shadow it casts over the audience. Incidentally, having seen the film with English and Italian dubs, I must conclude that the squawking crows turn in the film's best performances, unlike the human cast whose lips are left flapping like stranded fish long after the dialogue has run out...



Friday, 26 February 2016

Moon inscriptions

Listening to the limited edition bonus disc that came with Coil’s Moon's Milk (In Four Phases) set. The music is fantastic of course, three long tracks of beautiful sustained bell tones and drones, a psychedelic synth workout, and a text by Angus MacLise, read by Jhon Balance. But it’s the sleeve art I’m currently obsessing over. Each of the 333 discs that were issued came in a cardboard sleeve adorned with a unique hand-painted Stan Brakhage-style burst of abstract color, accompanied by a surreal inscription. I wasn’t lucky enough to grab the Moon’s Milk supplement disc but Brainwashed’s Coil archive has cataloged the inscriptions and they make for evocative reading. Like Oblique Strategies or Cut-ups, I find the list can work as a powerful agent for unlocking creativity, and among my favorites are the Lovecraftian entry “The City Had Completely Disappeared”, the eerie “Procession Of Possessed Mothers And Infants” and the fever Beat dream, “Ploughed Fields Of Benzedrine”. Check out the list here: here:



The Bigger picture

I spent much of this morning making my way through Stockhausen’s Aus den Sieben Tagen (From the Seven Days), a huge electro-acoustic work that spans 7 CDs. This was prompted by some disparaging remarks I read yesterday by Klaus Schulze about Stockhausen and with my back up, I made a plan to listen to the great German composer today. The reason for selecting a lengthy work like Aus den Sieben Tagen was to do with my increasing enjoyment of long-form art - work that’s created on a large scale, whether it be something like Béla Tarr’s film Sátántangó or Rembrandt’s Night Watch (which I stood in the thrall of at the Rijksmuseum in 2013). Digital technology is so intent on squashing space and time, immersing oneself in a slow pace or a large canvas seems more vital than ever. This interest was further energized by my recent screening(s) of Jacques Rivette’s 12hr masterpiece Out 1 and there are a number of similar things I’m looking to at the moment - Masaki Kobayashi's epic trilogy The Human Condition (a BR from Arrow is due in May), Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's 7-hour magnum opus Hitler: A Film from Germany, and returning to music, composer Max Richter’s 8-hour hypnagogic work Sleep...



Thursday, 25 February 2016

Hungary Posters

Below, the striking Hungarian poster for Alien, whose title I believe translates as “The 8th passenger is Death”… I have film posters on my mind at the moment, I spent a very pleasant evening leafing thru the hefty 500 page Art of the Modern Movie Poster: International Postwar Style and Design, which gathers together some 1,500 posters of every stripe organized around nationality, from the darkly surreal style of the Polish school to the skewed framing and wild juxtapositions of the Japanese style and so on. I’m particularly keen on the unsung posters of Hungary which frequently employed a beguiling mix of artwork, photomontage and speculative design. Some memorable examples can be found here: here:



Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Opera Music

Listening to some Opera courtesy of ENO… Not the English National Opera, I hasten to add but Brian Eno’s music for Argento’s 1987 film. A friend posted a still from the film yesterday on Facebook and I immediately made a plan to dig out the Arrow DVD at the weekend, not having seen it in some years. By a happy coincidence, I was listening to Discreet Music earlier and it sparked a memory of Eno’s unlikely contribution to the film, the 4min dark ambient fog From the Beginning. This particular piece of music to my knowledge is available only as part of the 1988 Cinevox soundtrack album, and interestingly the track entitled Theme For "Opera", found on Music For Films III does not appear on the soundtrack or in the film, but instead can be heard in the Apollo missions documentary For All Mankind. Perhaps Theme For "Opera" was mislabeled at some point but it does sound to my ear like a variation on another cue found on the Opera soundtrack entitled White Darkness, composed by brother Roger Eno, Brian’s collaborator on the score for the NASA film. And worth pointing out that Theme For "Opera" should not be confused with the soundtrack’s opening number, Opera Theme credited to Bill Wyman and Terry Taylor. Confusing, no ?



Monday, 22 February 2016

The Flipside

A leftover thought from my previous post… One aspect of vinyl that I miss is the LP’s organization of music into different sides. It matters little for a standard 10-track album but for more progressively minded music the division of sides was ideal for demarcating a side-long composition like Kraftwerk’s Autobahn from the four shorter cuts on the flipside. Listening to Kraftwerk’s album on CD, the implicit ritual of flipping the record over and taking a momentary stop in the hard shoulder before embarking in a new direction is entirely lost to the CD’s continuous play. This aspect of the long-player wasn’t just the reserve of prog rock bands like Genesis or Yes, it served well for albums with two distinct halves like Neu! 75, Hounds of Love and perhaps most famously, Low which separated the short conventional songs from the longer, more abstract instrumentals. Old habits die hard, and I still refer to “Side Two” when talking about Low, and if asked what my favorite track off Metal Machine Music is, my instant answer is
Side 4…




Fun fun fun on the Autobahn

Listening to Kraftwerk's Autobahn this evening and it occurred to me that the album came out the same year as J.G. Ballard's novel Concrete Island. The connective tissue between album and novel is the motorway, but it's interesting that both assume diametrically opposed positions - Autobahn's title track presents the motorway as a technological landscape in harmony with nature - the image of clean Bauhaus lines unspooling across the German countryside. Ballard imagined the "elaborately signaled landscape" of the motorway as something far more sinister - a high-speed network of relentless and aggressive 24/7 traffic flow that could not be halted, even if a person's life depended on it, the predicament the protagonist of Concrete Island finds himself in as he swerves off the motorway onto a stretch of disused and forgotten wasteland between interchanges. I wondered had Ballard heard Kraftwerk's album but it's seems unlikely. Ballard doesn't mention Kraftwerk in any interviews and in a 1978 interview Ballard himself admitted "I don’t listen to music. It’s a blind spot." Still I like to imagine Kraftwerk, or Kraftwerk dummies playing electronic music to the guests at Vermillion Sands...



Sunday, 21 February 2016

Repossession

Just fresh from a very belated revisit to Andrzej Zulawski's 1981 film Possession, not having seen it in perhaps 10 years (and I must presume likewise for Bava's Shock, on the flipside of the Anchor Bay disc). There was some trepidation on my part about seeing the film again, I remember it well as an abrasive, exhausting experience, but 10 years later (and 10 years of marriage later), the film remains utterly astonishing. Adjani and Neill's contribution to the film (to call them performances seems inadequate somehow) are truly extraordinary, perhaps even possessed of madness - Neill is so ferocious in the sequence where he charges after Adjani in the restaurant, he almost crashes a chair down upon an extra, and Adjani, in her celebrated scene in the subway, gives of herself perhaps more than any director has the right to ask for - I wonder what cameraman Bruno Nuytten felt as he saw his lover disintegrate before his eyes. One isolated screening doesn't allow me offer any profound insights on the film - multiple viewings are required I suspect to unravel its secrets (some of them unknowable I imagine) but two incidental details to note - one of composer Andrzej Korzyński's cues sounds remarkably like Michael's Theme from The Godfather melded with the Erbarme Dich aria from Bach's St Matthew Passion, and a few lines of dialogue from the film were sampled by the Front Line Assembly side project Noise Unit, appearing on the 1989 track Dry Lungs ("Oh yes, I see... Darkness is easeful. The temptation to let go, promises so much comfort after the pain"), finally solving a mystery that has dogged me for years...



Saturday, 20 February 2016

Nico's Inner Scar

I’ve been listening to Nico’s Desertshore album these past few days and last night I sought out La Cicatrice Intérieure (The Inner Scar), Philippe Garrel’s 1972 film which stars Nico and features 4 songs from Desertshore (and in return gifted Nico’s album with two stills from the film). In this surreal episodic film, comprised of just 20-odd shots, Nico plays an anguished, hysterical woman who wanders through a series of landscapes and encounters a man who may or may not be the Devil, a little boy who leads her on a horse (a shot lifted for the cover of Desertshore), a shepherd tending to his flock, and a naked huntsman. And that’s about it for any semblance of plot, the film’s ritualized images and sparse dialogue, spoken in English, German and French (which should be experienced without subtitles in accordance with the director’s wishes), doesn’t lend itself to easy interpretation but fortunately the film is visually stunning, filmed in the vast elemental landscapes of Death Valley, North Africa and Iceland. Nico herself cuts a striking figure in the film, haunted and haggard looking, she and Philippe Garrel, her lover at the time were in the depths of heroin addiction during the making of the film.


In addition to the 4 songs from Desertshore, the film also features the song König from the same album sessions, and later re-recorded for her 1985 album Camera Obscura. La Cicatrice Intérieure is available on DVD in France (billed with another Garrel film, 1983’s Liberté, la Nuit, sans subtitles of course!) or alternatively the complete 58min film has been uploaded here Highly recommended for fans of esoterica but try to see this one on as large a screen as possible…