Saturday, 5 October 2019

Not now Pink !

Below, the Pink Floyd in happier times... Earlier today, I finished reading Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd, my second read of Mark Blake’s excellent biography, and evidently I had forgotten how depressing the second half of the book is, when the band hit the ‘80’s, and suffered a dictatorial songwriter, an inevitable breakup, and a re-emergence as a dreary AOR outfit with all the rough edges that once made the group so special, thoroughly sanded away. The shots fired between Roger Waters and Floyd Mark III (Gilmour, Mason, Wright and a supporting cast of session players) makes for genuinely painful reading, not to mention the plight of Syd Barrett and his ailing mental health, which never stopped fans and the press intruding upon his life. I’ve always felt the Floyd did their finest work up to Dark Side of the Moon, and everything that followed was superfluous. When I picked up Mark Blake’s book, I was seriously considering buying the Discovery boxset, to upgrade my 1967-1973 CDs and finally add Wish You Were Here, Animals, The Wall, and subsequent albums to the collection, but upon completion of the book, that plan is no more...

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Der Golem

With growing anticipation of Masters of Cinema's forthcoming Blu-Ray of Der Golem (due November), I dug out my old Kino DVD on Monday night to see how the disc still holds up. Back in the early noughties, it was incredibly exciting to finally catch up with the great masterworks of early German Cinema in the best presentations home video technology of the day would allow. Nevertheless, the arrival of the MOC Blu-Ray will be most welcome. The image on the Kino disc has had most of its detail scrubbed out by the excessively bright tinting and the source prints used are heavily speckled with debris and damage. I wasn't expecting the Kino DVD to be so redundant (in fairness, it's 15 years old!) but it makes the Blu-Ray edition all the more exciting. The film of course is marvelous and eerily prophetic - I was especially struck by the placing of the Star of David on the Golem to give it life - something that the Nazis would essentially reverse with the Yellow Star as a symbol of humiliation and ultimately, a death sentence. This was not a new idea introduced by the Third Reich, it had been used as far back as medieval times to mark out Jewish communities, but with Der Golem being a German film, the image of the Yellow Star is loaded with significance. The film has many parallels with Universal’s Frankenstein film, but weirdly, I thought of Jess Franco’s Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, during a brief close-up of Paul Wegener, whose make up appears, at least on the monochrome image, as silver colored, as per Fernando Bilbao’s memorable silver-sprayed monster in Franco’s film…

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Piper at the Gates of Dawn

“Jennifer Gentle you're a witch. You're the left side, He’s the right side. Oh, no!”

I’ve been listening to Piper at the Gates of Dawn this evening, rotating the mono and stereo mixes, packaged together for the album's 40th anniversary, and despite the general consensus by Pink Floyd fans that the mono mix is superior, I find the stereo far more satisfying; the separation between instruments lends the album a scale and grandeur the mono lacks (Flaming, the best song on the album feels like black and white in the mono version to the stereo’s Technicolor), and there’s a greater depth to the “little instruments” scattered throughout the album. Still, there are moments when the mono mix surges ahead - Rick Wright’s organ is far more present on the mono Interstellar Overdrive, and there’s far more bite and attack to Syd Barrett’s guitar and Nick Mason’s drums. On my second pass of the mono version, I actually turned the volume up past my own comfort level, and the album felt genuinely abrasive, perhaps an approximation of what the band sounded like when it was playing small club dates at deafening levels. Listening to the album again this evening, the level of invention for a debut is outrageous and there’s the excitement of hearing a new language being forged (which found its greatest expression in the German avant-rock bands that followed). I’m not sure if Piper at the Gates of Dawn is a better record than Sgt. Pepper, probably not - The Scarecrow and Bike are too whimsical for their own good, but either way, stereo or mono, it’s an astonishing album...


Thursday, 19 September 2019

Dario and David

David Bowie and Dario Argento photographed for the May 1995 issue of Italian culture magazine Sette... This momentous meeting of two great icons took place in London during promotion tours for the Outside album and The Stendhal Syndrome. I don't have my 3 or 4 Bowie biographies at hand right now, but I don't recall Argento earning a mention in any of them, so I wonder will this great summit (and indeed Bowie and Argento's first meeting over in Berlin in 1978 at a dinner with Fassbinder) feature in the forthcoming English-language edition of Argento's 2014 autobiography Paura ? I was initially tempted to pre-order the book when it was first announced, but I've read a few awkwardly translated Italian reviews of the book and they suggest there's nothing terribly revelatory for seasoned Argento scholars. We'll wait and see...


Monday, 16 September 2019

The Dead Pit

That sinking feeling when a film favourite from the past no longer cuts it... Not that it was ever a favourite even when I first saw this on VHS back in the early 90's, but I did once have great affection for Brett Leonard's 1989 debut The Dead Pit. I decided to revisit the film at the weekend courtesy of Code Red's 2008 DVD. Perhaps it was the lateness of the hour when it finally went on (well after midnight, never a good time), but I found the film a bit of a slog to get thru, at 100mins, it's far too long, and despite some enthusiastic gore (including a brain-tweeking pre-Hannibal lobotomy), the film features some of the most laughably spastic zombies I've seen in a long time, hamming it up to absurd levels. Cheryl Lawson isn't quite up to the task of playing a character in near constant hysteria but at least she looks gorgeous running around in a skimpy vest and cotton panties (?) I've always felt the film had something of a European sensibility, perhaps a dash of Lucio Fulci here, a pinch of Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue there, but on this viewing, the film might be better enjoyed alongside Zombi 3 and After Death. Code Red's DVD badly needs an overhaul as well, the transfer looks just a little too soft in this day and age. It would make a fine addition to Vinegar Syndrome's roster of remastered late 80's Horrors, and perhaps then it might warrant another viewing...


Thursday, 12 September 2019

Hills Have Eyes Italian style

Italian poster art at its most visceral courtesy of The Hills Have Eyes (one of two versions created by distributor Titanus)... I've seen many examples of outrageous Italian poster art over the years (one of the posters for Bruno Mattei's 1977 Nazi exploiter SS Girls is jaw droppingly sleazy) but this poster recently caught my attention for its sheer brutality. I've yet to discover the artist responsible, but it's interesting to see the different approach Titanus was taking in selling the film to Italian audiences, as if it were a Western about a family travelling in a covered wagon who are set upon by marauding cutthroats. This is a genuinely disturbing piece of art, you can almost feel the violation of the gun forcibly stuffed into the mouth, and it's worth remembering that it was this scene that the British censors took exception to when the film was classified for video in the latter half of the 80's...


Monday, 2 September 2019

Music of the Spheres

#nowlistening Starting off the morning with one of the finest albums of the 70's, Fripp and Eno's second collaboration, Evening Star. I'm on my second pass of the album now, and I can't help thinking that the perfect music for Al Reinert's film was already put down some 8 years before the Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks album, with Evening Star's side-long piece An Index of Metals. Listening to Robert Fripp's eerie, elongated guitar lines, it seems the perfect music to accompany the sequences of the Eagle descending to the strange, pot-marked lunar surface...


Saturday, 31 August 2019

We Want Miles

Some early Miles for the weekend... The Dark Magus is never far from the stereo these days but I feel another round of obsessive listening is imminent, ahead of the forthcoming Miles documentary. For now, I’m concentrating on the pre-Columbia years when Miles was recording for Prestige.

There’s a kind of received wisdom that these sessions are inessential in comparison with his later records, something I’ve bought into myself. Not helping matters either that the Prestige albums were not terribly packaged (none of the stylish art direction you would find on Blue Note, or even Columbia), and the CDs themselves come with perfunctory liner notes. There’s also the matter of Miles’ heroin habit during this era which has been blamed for some uninspired performances on these albums. Perhaps my critical ears are not so finely tuned, but I’ve been discovering some tremendous music throughout these albums and I look forward to picking up the last remaining albums to complete the collection...


Sunday, 25 August 2019

Legend of the Witches

I’m pleased to see the BFI are putting Malcolm Leigh's 1970 occult documentary on the Flipside imprint, c/w the 1971 Derek Ford directed short Secret Rites which I’m unfamiliar with. I caught Legend of the Witches earlier this year when it turned up as a late night screening on Talking Pictures, and found it surprisingly watchable despite its reputation as a bit of a bore. I imagine John Trevelyan passed the film as a “white coater” but the ample full frontal female (and male) nudity surely pleased the raincoat crowd, and I believe the film did good business, much to the delight I’m sure of the tireless self-promoter and “King of the Witches” Alex Sanders who appears in the film.

The film is less a sexploiter than I was led to believe, and there are parts of the film that are artfully composed, even lyrical (the film was shot in b/w) which probably helped its passage thru the offices of the BBFC, and by and large, I thought it a sober and serious examination of witchcraft and its rituals (something I know little about, it must be said). Worth mentioning that by odd coincidence I watched the film right after All the Colors of the Dark, and it made for quite a contrasting double-bill. Legend of the Witches is due for release just in time for Halloween…

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

The definitive double album progressive rock saga from which I cannot escape… Peter Gabriel once introduced a live set of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway as “a lump of songs and music”, and earlier I took advantage of a slow Tuesday morning at work to listen to the album in its entirety, something I rarely have the time to do these days. And what a brilliant, beguiling and occasionally maddening lump is it. Listening to the album from beginning to end certainly makes the second, more fractured record much more coherent and satisfactory. One of the many remarkable things about the album is the sense of Genesis re-inventing itself, abandoning the English pastoralism of the previous albums, for something more dark and visceral, and urban - the story set in a phantasmagorical NYC with a razor wielding drug-taking Puerto Rican gang member as its protagonist. It’s a shame that no definitive audio recording of the Lamb live shows has yet emerged but I wonder if these concerts are best left to mythology ? Listening to the audience recordings in circulation, it’s clear the album which is drenched in effects and multi-tracked instruments was complex to reproduce, and for all extraordinary photographs of Gabriel dressed in Rael’s proto-punk uniform, and the outrageous bulbous Slipperman costume, the band admitted that the concerts, which also employed an arsenal of projectors, backdrop slides and lasers, had more than their fair share of Spinal Tap malfunctions.

It's a shame too that a complete visual recording has not surfaced at the time of writing. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is the great lost 35mm 70’s rock film epic, and there is something inherently cinematic about it, the album so rich in film imagery and allusions, real and imagined to film – several times throughout the album I was reminded of the film music of Goblin and at least one of the instrumental passages, "Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats" could have easily strayed from a Popol Vuh album. And I like that the album’s closing track, "it" sounds like it was composed as a play-out song for the album’s end credits. The question I’m left to ponder over now is whether The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway eclipses Dark Side of the Moon



Saturday, 10 August 2019

Blastfighter

Renato Casaro’s painting for Lamberto Bava’s 1984 film Blastfighter… Another recent watch, courtesy of the very nice 88 Films Blu-Ray.


The blurb on the back of the sleeve, by Quentin Tarantino no less, calls this Lamberto Bava’s best film, and while I didn’t think it matched the joyful delirium of Demons, I thought this riff on First Blood and Southern Comfort was pretty terrific stuff all the same. This was a first time screening too. I almost saw this one back in the late 80’s, I remember well the eye catching Medusa VHS sleeve, but most likely that afternoon’s rental money was spent on Fists of Steel. I was pleased to see Lamberto Bava’s warm homage to his father Mario on the opening credits, and while the film has few opportunities to indulge in the kind of dreamlike, baroque style of Bava Sr. – this is after all a tough, muscular outdoors action adventure film, Blastfighter does look terrific thanks to cameraman Gianlorenzo Battaglia who captures, quite beautifully, the damp, decidedly off season atmosphere of the rugged Georgia wilderness. And there’s a touch of the funereal smuggled into the final act when tear gas deployed from the Blastfighter’s considerable arsenal sends great big tendrils of smoke eerily wafting across the screen. I thought the two leads Michael Sopkiw and Valentina Forte were quite fine, and very game, scrambling over some very difficult and dangerous terrain. George Eastman is a tremendous presence as ever even if this is one of his most restrained performances. And did I really see the banjo player from Deliverance in an early scene ?

Monday, 5 August 2019

Bernard Gordon: Screenwriter

I revisited Horror Express at the weekend courtesy of Arrow’s terrific Blu-Ray, and had the rare luxury last night of actually watching the extras before the disc is returned to the shelf. By far the best video supplement on the disc is the 30min conversation with veteran screenwriter and Horror Express producer Bernard Gordon, filmed in 2005.

Much of the talk centers around the difficulties Gordon experienced with HUAC and the blacklist - his leftist politics and pro-union sympathies ended his career as a promising writer at Universal, but after a brief hiatus, Gordon resumed screenwriting under a pseudonym, taking whatever jobs came his way (which included the occasional B-movie like Zombies of Mora Tau). The talk then turns to the era of the international co-production when Gordon found himself working in Spain for film producer Philip Yordan (who often took credit for Gordon’s writing), eventually leading to Horror Express. I won’t say anymore save to say this is a fascinating interview and highly recommended to anyone who might have skipped over it previously (it also appears on Severin's 2011 edition). Gordon was well in his 80’s when David Gregory filmed him and he reminded me of one of those aging New York wiseguys that turn up on the fringes of Goodfellas or Casino – still sharp and still tough.

After watching the Gordon interview, I reached for my copy of Patrick McGilligan’s 1997 book Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist, which devotes a chapter to Gordon (who’s in much more prickly form for the interview in the book), and it’s another illuminating insight into the difficulties of maintaining a writing career after coming to the attention of HUAC, with sad stories of talented screenwriters forced to work for change on underwhelming assignments and frequently relinquishing credit for their work, such was the stigma of the blacklist, a situation cost-cutting producers were all too keen to take advantage of…


Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Vinegar Syndrome Spring Collection

I enjoyed my recent viewing of the Section 3 trailer disc of Nucleus' Video Nasties Part 2, that this week I've been dipping into Vinegar Syndrome's 3-disc Spring 2017 trailer compilation showcasing their considerable catalogue. I’ve taken my eye off the US labels in the last few years, so this is was a good opportunity to catch up.

This is a particularly interesting compilation, unlike the 42nd Street and Grindhouse series, most of the films featured here are relatively obscure, at least to me, and I've been scribbling down things I'd like to see in their entirety - Raw Force, Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff, Sugar Cookies, The Executioner Part 2 to name but a few. There's some absolutely godawful trash on parade as well and I especially enjoyed the trailer for the 1985 film Flesh and Bullets, a sort of Strangers on a Train style thriller made by some porn film makers with a few days off. So inept and dismal looking, the Rudy Ray Moore films presented alongside it look like big studio productions. Somehow, the producers of Flesh and Bullets managed to grab bit parts from Cornel Wilde, Yvonne De Carlo, Cesar Romero and Aldo Ray whom I'm sure would have all been mortified by the finished product had they ever seen it. Actually, the Exploitation/Horror disc is something of a mini-marathon of late era Aldo Ray, I think he turns up in 5 or 6 trailers.

Disc 2 of the set contains the Adult film titles and I wasn’t expecting to see so much hardcore in the trailers. In fact I was surprised to see some hardcore action in Herschell Gordon Lewis’ 1971 sex ed. film Black Love, (which is included on one of Vinegar Syndrome’s early efforts, The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, a disc I bought when it first came out but never did get around to seeing! Two recent Vinegar Syndrome acquisitions have been Liquid Sky and Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, and they did such a stellar job on both, it made me pine for a Vinegar Syndrome edition of the 1974 Sun Ra film Space Is the Place...


Wednesday, 17 July 2019

In the depths of Hell

Lead Cenobite Doug Bradley peers out from under the skin of the British quad poster of Hellraiser


I’m currently reading Paul Kane's 2006 book The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy, and it’s good to be back in the world of Hellraiser again. I saw the original film on VHS in 1988 and at the time it was far more intense a Horror film than I was used to seeing. Subsequent viewings over the years have diluted some of the film’s power, while Hellbound has improved, and remains my favorite of the series. Stefan Jaworzyn was notoriously cranky about Hellbound in the pages of Shock Xpress, comparing the dusty corridors of Hell to a bad Lucio Fulci set (there’s some truth to that), but I can enjoy the absurdities of Hellbound, and the outrageous gore.

Paul Kane’s book provides some good analysis of the films, enough to make me go back and see the core trilogy again, but if truth be told, I’m skimming thru the chapters devoted to the sequels Bloodline, Inferno, Hellseeker, Deader, Hellworld, Revelations, and Judgement (a roll call of the damned if there was ever one, and none of which I’ve seen), picking out the passages which delve into their productions, all of which seemed plagued with reduced budgets, reduced ideas, and a dearth of talent on both sides of the camera. I don’t know how the Children of the Corn or Puppet Master series have fared, but I can’t think of another Horror film franchise that has fallen from grace in such spectacular trash film style. I’ve read that the penultimate film to date, the universally loathed Revelations was cobbled together over 11 shooting days by Dimension Films to safeguard the film rights which were due to expire. A television series is now in the works, which I have no doubt will be absolutely missable…

Monday, 15 July 2019

Housekeeping...

I had a few hours to spare yesterday and took on the task of liquidating my duplicate DVDs. Well, nothing that drastic sounding, I took the discs from their cases and put them in micron sleeves, while the covers and inserts were flat-packed and filed away for safe-keeping. I should have done this job ages ago considering I had to re-pack well over a hundred discs - the recycle bin is heaving now with alpha cases, and there's still more to go. Upgrading DVDs has always been a necessary evil of collecting. When a DVD of Last House on the Left first appeared in France in 2000, I snapped it up rather than patiently waiting for a US edition, which duly followed 2 years later, making the French DVD instantly obsolete. And that MGM DVD was in turn replaced by the 2008 Metrodome edition, which was then replaced by Arrow’s 2018 BR. Fortunately, these barnacles are mostly restricted to DVD, with just two Blu-Rays in the collection awarded upgrades - the original Universal BR of The Thing which was supplanted by the Arrow edition, and Arrow's 2010 City of the Living Dead which Arrow revisited with a fresh scan for their 2018 BR.

But this got me thinking that perhaps it might be best to forgo 4K, and not get into that headspace where I feel compelled, even required to upgrade my BRs of say 2001 and Alien to 4K editions. I’m watching fewer and fewer contemporary films these days anyhow, and while the likes of Suspiria will look glorious on a 4K disc, the Synapse Blu-Ray simply looks fabulous enough. A few things were granted a stay of execution however - the 1999 3-disc Criterion edition of Brazil, and the 2004 4-disc Anchor Bay edition of Dawn of the Dead - both of which have been bested by their BR equivalents, but I remember well the excitement when I first picked up these two editions, each loaded with a bounty of supplements, and both beautifully packaged, Brazil, in a lovely transparent slipcase, while Dawn of the Dead came housed in a huge fold out digipak. My Swedish DVD copy of The Sacrifice also escaped the culling, the essential companion film Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky is regrettably absent from the Artificial Eye BR, so the 2004 Swedish Film Institute DVD will remain in service…