Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Streetcleaner at 30

I must not let the day go by without mentioning another anniversary. 30 years ago today, Earache unleashed Godflesh's debut long-player Streetcleaner and the world was never the same again. Actually I didn't catch up with the album until 1991 after hearing the title track on Earache's Grindcrusher compilation and I immediately sought out the album (on cassette if my memory serves me right). Streetcleaner is often spoken about as a landmark metal album, but at the time, it didn't sound like any kind of metal I had heard, with its abrasive, screeching guitars, thudding bass and the clean, mechanical precision of the computer-programmed drum beats. Godflesh was evolving fast: by the time Streetcleaner was cut, the band had shaken off the Swans influences heard on the eponymous 6-track EP recorded the year earlier, and the group would move even further out with the subsequent Slavestate recordings. In many ways Godflesh heralded the beginning of the end of my teenage metal years - the music of John Zorn's Painkiller, and Mick Harris' post Napalm Death excursions into isolationism and dub seemed far more interesting than the next Morbid Angel and Deicide albums. When Godflesh's 1992 album Pure came out Justin Broadrick was talking about the influence of hip-hop and Eric B. & Rakim's Paid in Full on the music and it sent me down new avenues of investigation that no longer seemed compatible with death metal. And astonishingly Broadrick was just 20 years old when Streetcleaner was recorded.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Andrei Rublev - the Japanese laserdisc

One last Andrei Rublev post... I recently picked up the 1990 Japanese laserdisc, purely as an objet 'art, and it is rather lovely. Surprisingly simple in its art direction, (for a Japanese laser) and keeping with Pioneer's Soviet Film Collection line (which also includes Tarkovsky's 1961 film The Steamroller and the Violin, and Donatella Baglivo's 1984 documentary Andrei Tarkovsky: A Poet in the Cinema), the spare design - a simple gatefold with stills and Japanese text, matches well the austerity of the film. And for the record the 4 sides house the 182min version.




The Mysteries of Rublev

Last week my mother presented me with the 1974-1975 annual Film Review book, once part of my film book collection until it mysteriously disappeared never to be seen again. It was found quite by accident, stashed away on top of a wardrobe at her home, where it had accumulated the dust of the ages. Reading the capsule film reviews of the year covered, I chanced upon an entry for Andrei Rublev, which had some interesting devil in the detail. I knew the film had taken several years to emerge out of the Soviet Union, but I was surprised to learn that the film’s first non-festival playdate in the UK was as late as 1973.


My initial thought was that the Film Reviewer had seen the film in rep, but not so - according to BBFC records, the film was first examined and certified in August 1973, and was issued an AA cert with cuts. The Film Review entry notes the film was screening the following month at Camden’s Bloomsbury Cinema (now the Curzon Bloomsbury), but I was less than sure - turning to Sight and Sound magazine from the same era, I could find no mention of the film’s release, although the film’s unavailability was mentioned in the Spring 1973 issue, where Ivor Montagu, in his Tarkovsky retrospective lamented: "Who has it here and what, if anything they intend eventually to do with it has not yet transpired. Our loss". Fortunately, the October 1973 issue of Films and Filming put the matter to rest, when that issue carried an ad for the film’s London run (photographed from my copy below).


Interesting too, that this version of the film distributed by Columbia-Warner ran 145mins, well short of the 182min international version. BBFC cuts aside, I was curious to know how this truncated version of the film was prepared, whether some editor shorted or eliminated sequences considered longueurs, or perhaps were episodes within the film simply removed a la the original theatrical release of Kwaidan. Perhaps a clue can be found in Margaret Tarratt’s’s lengthy and thoughtful review of the film in the November 1973 issue of Films and Filming: “It is in many ways complex and difficult to follow although something of this may be due to the cuts that have apparently been made”. The next appearance of the film in BBFC records comes in 1991 where the 182min was passed uncut for theatrical and home video distribution by Artificial Eye, which would suggest that Tarkovsky’s preferred version of the film, was only finally unveiled to UK audiences, some 25 years after the film was completed. But chatting with film writer and DVD producer Michael Brooke on Facebook earlier, it seems the 182min version did do the rounds of rep houses in the 80's, while the film had two known TV screenings on BBC - one in 1976 (length unknown), and a second airing in 1987. Abel Ferrara biographer Brad Stevens confirmed to me that the 1987 screening contained the complete shot of the horse falling down the staircase which was eliminated from all BBFC-sanctioned editions of the film, so I'm wondering if the BBC had access to the 205min version ?

Friday, 1 November 2019

Essentials

Well sadly I didn't get to watch any Horror films last night, but no matter, there will be time enough - as far as I'm concerned Halloween ripples across the whole month of Samhain (November). But had I time and the mental fortitude, I might have spent the entire day watching this desert island selection - no wildcards, no pretensions, just ten beloved films that have been with me since adolescence...

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Drones, atmospheres and a touch of depravity - A Halloween playlist

I may not get to watch any Horror films today so instead I'm lining up as many scary records as I can. A Halloween playlist of sorts, and we're starting with a huge slab of kosmiche weirdness courtesy of Tangerine Dream's 1972 album Zeit. It's not my favourite TD album, but it's certainly the scariest - 4 sides of unnerving atmospheres and drones, the album subtitled "A Largo in Four Movements", perhaps a nod to the album's classical undertones. All the usual spacey cliches come to the fore with Zeit, but the sci-fi trappings soon peel away with those long abrasive Ligetti-like cello lines that open the album. This is music heard in the cold empty wastes of endless space, or the abandoned alien city of Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. It's a long grueling 75min trek and if you can make it to the end, you have my complements.


****

This next selection is very much the Horror-film-by-proxy. I won’t get to see The Shining, or The Exorcist this evening but I can certainly listen to them, and this collection of Krzysztof Penderecki works contains selections from those films (and INLAND EMPIRE). Across this double CD, the Polish composer turns the traditional orchestra into an avant-garde labyrinth of woozy strings, brooding rumbles, ominous silences and disruptive percussive effects. It’s good to listen to this collection again, and hear those pieces so familiar from The Shining in their entirety, rather than the fragments Kubrick selected, judiciously so it must be said. As well as the titles listed above, James Horner's score for Aliens is strongly reminiscent of Penderecki's work especially the 1976 piece The Dream Of Jacob, included in this collection (and one of the pieces heard in The Shining)


****

Carrion for Worm, the 1991 long-player from Arizona’s Nuclear Death is quite possibly the most unnerving album that emerged from the first wave of Death Metal. Deicide waged war on Christianity, and Cannibal Corpse and Autopsy drenched their albums in outrageous splatter but Nuclear Death were genuinely out on a limb, and lyrically their songs read like extracts from the diaries of Se7en’s John Doe.

Little boy with little penis
plays his organ in the dark;
his lust will forever be
with the feces of his homosexual lovers;
the boy will forever dine
on the feces of his homosexual lovers;
Little boy, perverted boy
don't grow up, just die...

Indeed. Carrion for Worm is a fantastic sounding album, with churning distorted guitars, grindcore velocity blast beats, and the demonic howl of vocalist Lori Bravo, a rare case of a woman fronting an extreme metal group. It's a shame the band never clawed its way out of the underground. Last year I read Choosing Death, a very good account of the early Death Metal scene and the author mentioned the mighty Bolt Thrower and their female bass player - a singular case of a woman in a death metal band. Evidently the author never heard of Nuclear Death.

Samhain

Dr. Sam Loomis explains a cryptic message left behind in Halloween 2... It's a favourite scene for many in Rick Rosenthal's enjoyable sequel, but I always cringe at Donald Pleasance's skewed pronunciation of the Gaelic word Samhain - which should have sounded phonetically speaking as "sow (as in the word for a female pig, sounds like south) in". Perhaps John Carpenter thought Samhain would sound too weird for American audiences, but Loomis, and Englishman supposedly well versed in Celtic mythology should have known better. I say supposedly because Samhain is not "the end of summer", but the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter - the Irish word for November is in fact Samhain, and here today in Ireland we are celebrating Oíche Shamhna (pronounced eee-ha how-na). Thankfully, that good Wexford man Dan O'Herlihy got it right in Season of the Witch...

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Advice to fellow bloggers

I'm getting increasingly fed up by the amount of blogs that carry advertising. Just this morning, the content of two blogs I landed on was so interwoven with loud, dynamic advertising that I soon tired of both and went elsewhere. Which was a shame because both blogs looked so enticing – the first was an impressive trainspotter’s Beatles blog, while the second, was a blog post which examined the differences between the longer and shorter versions of Andrei Rublev. The latter was especially regretful – the author had clearly put some effort into the work, illustrating his text with screen grabs from the different versions, but disastrously, every second or third screenshot was interspersed with an ad, ruining what was a perfectly good post. For the humble blog with a small readership, ads are a bad strategy. Next to nothing will be made in revenue for the smaller, more personal journals, and no matter how well written and designed a blog is, the function of the ad is to draw readers attention away from content the author might have spent some time crafting. Ads look sleazy, and if I understand Adsense correctly, blog owners have little control over what they appear to be endorsing – was the Beatles blogger really recommending I buy a blood sugar meter ? Annoying…

Monday, 21 October 2019

Toys Are Not for Children

Marcia Forbes playing a young woman who’s never heard the old adage of be careful what you wish for, in Toys Are Not for Children


I had a belated second screening of this 1972 film last night, some 16 years (!) after I first picked up the Something Weird DVD (double-featured with the 1971 sexploitation fantasia The Toy Box), and very much enjoyed it. Prior to last night’s screening, I had but a sketchy memory of the film and much of the nuance was long forgotten. Mondo Digital's Nathaniel Thompson called the film a cross between Andy Milligan and Joe Sarno, and I might have included early John Waters as well inasmuch as the film clearly has an intelligence and ambition that elevates it above the usual grungy Harry Novak-produced fare. I particularly enjoyed the film’s editing style which frequently disrupts the narrative’s timeline, and there are some fine performances in the film, chiefly Marcia Forbes, a rather lovely and enigmatic beauty who lends her character a compelling childlike naivete that elicits one's sympathies. It looks like Toys was her only appearance on celluloid which is a shame. I liked too actor Luis Arroyo, here playing a tough-talking pimp, and I could easily imagine him as a peripheral character on the side lines of Mean Streets. If the film’s main talking point is the climactic scene, and one character’s dreadful misunderstanding of the situation, I couldn’t help but feel even more unnerved by the repetition of shots of the 6-year old daughter and the father. Still, I’m very pleased Arrow have brought this singular film back into circulation (and in fine style too), and I’ll definitely upgrade the tatty looking Something Weird edition…

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Up the stream without a... Blu-Ray

I've had Netflix (Ireland) for several months now but it was only at the weekend that I finally sat down to watch Roma. I thought the film was absolutely magnificent, unquestionably one of the best films of the century, but after watching the film the gulf between streaming film and collecting film was thrown into sharp focus. While I enjoy Netflix and Prime, the experience of watching film on both platforms remains completely ephemeral, much like catching a film on broadcast television. Quite often a TV screening or stream is used as a sort of audition for adding a film to my collection. So Talking Pictures on Sky has become a good source for Indicator titles - it matters little that Talking Pictures' quality control is often mediocre - films are invariably soft looking and often shown squeezed, but these presentations serve well enough as "run-throughs" - the main event comes not with this initial introduction but with the Blu-Ray purchased afterwards. I felt the same way seeing Once Upon a Time In Hollywood recently. Despite seeing it on a large IMAX screen, the experience was entirely transitory - what I truly savored in the days that followed the screening was the thought of re-watching the film again (and again!) at home on BR on the 55" LG.

Seeing Roma at the weekend, the exhilaration of discovering this extraordinary film was tempered by the fact that I can’t buy a physical copy of the film, in an optimum presentation, with supplements and artwork. Beyond that, I can’t even display this incredible film on my shelf (where it would sit alongside Fellini’s 1972 twin-in-name film). Some might say that it’s the film itself that counts, that all the rest is window dressing, but for me physical media and all the rituals that come with it still matters. I think I’m finally making peace with the idea that films on boutique labels like Second Run and Indicator (two labels whose labours of love rarely dip below the £10 ceiling) are simply worth that extra bit of money.

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…

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Zardoz

Music from the opening titles of Zardoz, which is scored to the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, the Allegretto, arranged by David Munrow of the Early Music Consort Of London. Zardoz was Munrow's second film credit - he also contributed some Early Music to compliment Peter Maxwell Davies' score for The Devils. This extraordinary vocal recording of the Allegretto does not appear to have had a release beyond the minute or so heard in John Boorman's film, which is a terrible shame, I would love to hear the famous crescendo in this form. David Munrow is in my thoughts again after reading about him last night in Rob Young's Electric Eden book. By all accounts he was one of the great pioneers of Early Music and his manic energy levels resulted in over 50 albums before his untimely death by suicide in 1976. This is a body of work worth investigating further I think...


Friday, 3 May 2019

Back to the Future (Sound of London)

I’m pursuing a Future Sound of London obsession at the moment, and not an insignificant one either. I lost track of Brian Dougans and Garry Cobain’s activities in the mid-90’s after the Dead Cities album and their 4-year long hibernation. Truthfully, I went through a long period of disliking the group, I had consigned the albums to the scrapheap of history, the Dead Cities LP was one of the few albums I didn’t replace on CD after my turntable died, and the Lifeforms album was left to collect dust on the shelf. In fact I had revisited Lifeforms a few times in the intervening years and I never ventured far into the album (a double no less), it always sounded so impossibly stuck in 1994. And then a casual listen to the album a few weeks ago turned out to be a revelation, the sprawling electronic rainforest suddenly sounded extraordinary (it would make an excellent soundtrack companion to J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World), and ever since I’ve been plunging into FSOL’s weighty catalogue, mining the excellent Environments and Archives series. Right now, I’m in the grip of the brilliant Dead Cities, the newly acquired CD is wearing a hole in my player with compulsive listening. Worth noting that the last time I pored over the album’s production credits, the name Max Richter meant nothing to me, until years later and the release of Richter's monumental Sleep. Future sounds indeed…


Away from the albums and collections, I've also been digging the first of three sessions FSOL recorded for Pete Tong's Essential Mix series on BBC Radio 1. This first session, broadcast in December 1993 is particularly pleasing for me as scattered throughout the near-2-hour mix, are dialogue samples from Apocalypse Now (my favourite film!) and at one point, a heavily treated sample of Throbbing Gristle's Hometime is heard sandwiched between Mountain Goat (the best track on the Tales Of Ephidrina album), and the Lifeforms track Cerebral...

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Ripper Territory

I’m thinking of the title of the George Harrison song, Beware of Darkness… I’m currently reading Michael Bilton’s 2003 book Wicked Beyond Belief: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, and am finding it a harrowing but compelling read. I should add upfront, that this is not a subject I’m entirely comfortable with, I find true crime books too sensationalist, or too disturbing to enjoy, and for the most part I find their attraction as mystifying as say Mondo films. That said, I picked up Bilton’s book on a whim, just to sample the first few pages, but was immediately drawn into a world that I recognized from Sidney Lumet’s film The Offense - gray, damp, depressed, Industrial. Chronologically, I’m 5 murders into Peter Sutcliffe’s reign of terror, and the only thing more excruciating than the missed leads and mishandled information are the murders themselves, and the volcanic rage that fueled the extraordinary violence that was inflicted upon these poor women. So I have much ground yet to cover, but I’m already looking ahead to David Peace’s Red Riding novels and the 2009 C4 series. Incidentally there’s plenty of Industrial Music out there to serve as a musical companion for a book about Peter Sutcliffe, and I must say I did think of Kevin Tomkins’s power electronics outfit Sutcliffe Jugend, and the 10-cassette collection We Spit On Their Graves, from 1982, which takes its inspiration from the Sutcliffe case. I have an mp3 copy of the entire 10-hour run (Christ!) and while I initially thought of sampling a little, a quick visit to the Discogs page reminded me that all 20-sides of the tapes were named after Sutcliffe’s victims, which I find rather distasteful right now. Evidently Cold Spring did as well – their single CD digest edition dispenses with the names altogether on the disc’s artwork...

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Gravity all nonsense now...

I saw an item on TV last night, about alien invasion movies, and among the films featured was Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Douglas Trumbull recalled that the look of the mothership was based on the idea of a spacecraft as floating cityscape, complete with skyscrapers and other urban architecture, and that notion put in mind the various illustrations used for the quartet of James Blish novels better known in their omnibus form as Cities In Flight. The individual books, published between 1955 and 1962, posited a future where whole cities blast off for the stars to wander interstellar space like economic migrants in search of more prosperous living conditions. When the American science fiction journal Analog serialized the third novel of the quartet, A Life for the Stars in the September/October 1962 issues, artist George Solonevich depicted a city, still moored to the earthen rock it was built on drifting through space, and it's this concept which seems to have inspired subsequent designs. Solonevich's idea was not without precedent - the 1955 US first edition of Earthman, Come Home also depicts a city as celestial vessel, but Solonevich's painting is far more striking. I wonder was Solonevich influenced by Magritte's 1959 painting The Castle of the Pyrenees which depicts a citadel sitting on top of a enormous floating rock, and I wonder too had Steven Spielberg been influenced by Solonevich's painting, which a 16 year old Spielberg might have discovered on the newsstand in the summer of 1962.



In 1970 US publisher Avon sensibly anthologized the four novels in one single volume as Cities In Flight, and for the cover of their paperback, cleverly incorporated the intergalactic itinerant cities into the book’s title. In 1974 UK publisher Arrow Books issued their own edition of Cities in Flight, as well as the four books in stand-alone editions. For the cover designs, Arrow commissioned the great sci-fi futurist Chris Foss who indulges his love for impossibly enormous constructions and practical industrial design. In fact the covers for They Shall Have Stars and Earthman, Come Home bear a striking resemblance to the look of the huge refinery that the Nostromo starfreighter is towing back to Earth in Alien. a film Chris Foss contributed design ideas to.










Speaking of Chris Foss and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I was leafing thru the excellent 2011 compendium Hardware: The Definitive SF Works of Chris Foss, and I was reminded of Foss' artwork for the 1977 Panther paperback edition of J.G. Ballards's novel The Drought, and its similarity to that famous shot in the Spielberg film of the SS Cotopaxi cargo ship marooned in the Gobi Desert. Rick McGrath, collector extraordinaire of Ballard first editions was dismissive of Foss' artwork for Panther's late 70's editions of High-Rise, Low-Flying Aircraft and Crash and while I agree that Foss' designs are an ill-fit for the complexities of Ballard's work, I do think his artwork for The Drought is a good match. It's worth noting that Gobi desert sequence was not part of the original Close Encounters cut, but was film in 1979 for what became known as the Special Edition, and I did wonder if Spielberg chanced upon The Drought paperback, but a quick check of Michael Klastorin's superb 2017 book Close Encounters of the Third Kind The Ultimate Visual History reveals that Spielberg included the ship-in-the-desert sequence in the second draft of the screenplay dated September 1975.



Friday, 8 March 2019

Throbbing Gristle - Scala Cinema, London 29th February 1980

Red hot funksters Throbbing Gristle at the Scala Cinema, from left to right, Chris Carter (just visible at the edge of the frame), Cosey Fanni Tutti, Genesis P-Orridge, and sitting behind him, Sleazy... 


The Scala Cinema was the subject of Monday's post, and this afternoon, I've been revisiting Industrial Records' leap day all-nighter at the Scala's old home at 25 Tottenham Street on February 29th 1980. Accompanying TG on the night were Monte Cazazza, and Sweden's Leather Nun, and between sets there were screenings of the films of Kenneth Anger, Antony Balch/William Burroughs and Austrian experimental film maker Kurt Kren. Looking at the official event program it looks like Towers Open Fire was a last minute substitution, perhaps for After Cease To Exist which was conspicuously absent on the night.

February had been a busy month for the group. On the 16th, a small cadre of friends and associates were invited to Industrial Records studio to hear the group perform a new set which adapted and mutated sounds and rhythms heard on the 20 Jazz Funk Greats album. Just over a week later, TG took the freshly minted Heathen Earth session on the road (so to speak) with the first public unveiling at The Fan Club in Leeds. The same set was essentially replicated just five days later at the Scala, but where the Fan Club show can sound tentative and unfocused, the Scala performance in comparison is far more cohesive and refined. Heathen Earth's spoken-word experiment which sounded so inert at the Leeds show was wisely dropped for Scala, and there's a greater emphasis on mood and atmosphere. Another highlight of the show are Chris' rhythm tracks, in particular the robot beat that propels an extraordinary, hypnotic and dubby rendition of Don't Do What You're Told, Do What You Think.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the night was when TG's negative ion generation malfunctioned during their set, unleashing a huge flash of lightning to stunned fans in the front-row, and scrubbing 4mins of the recording with a blizzard of impenetrable static. As was their preference, TG performed first on the night, and in between films and bathroom breaks, Monte Cazazza delivered an abrasive set of violent, squally electronics, while The Leather Nun laid down some primitive garage punk for bleary eyed punters.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Austrian Film Museum Programmes

Monday's Scala post jogged a memory of some cinema programmes I picked up on a visit to the Austrian Film Museum in Vienna in 2012. On my first visit to the museum I picked up just one or two as souvenirs but the following day I went back, and under the watchful eye of the security guard grabbed as many as my pockets would allow. Measuring a petite 10 x 16cm, the programmes are German-only put there are plentiful stills throughout each issue, and each one features a fine selection of interesting American and International Cinema, plus rarely seen Avant-garde and Experimental work. Whilst preparing this post I made the happy discovery that the Film Museum carries an extensive archive of the programmes on their website so if any of the issues in the pictures pique your interest, a copy can be read online on the with some of the text translated into English. If you should find yourself in Vienna, a visit to the museum is highly recommended. And bring some deep pockets.





Monday, 4 March 2019

First look at FAB Press' Scala book

I should have posted this back in November last when FAB Press' long awaited chronicle of the legendary Scala Cinema landed on my desk with a heavy thud. I've only skimmed thru the book so far - the sheer size and weight (over 10 lbs) requires an ergonomic space to enjoy it in, but I can tell from just a few casual passes, that this book is something very special indeed. Author Jane Giles charts a colorful 15 year history of the cinema beginning in 1978 when Palace Pictures co-founder Stephen Woolley launched the Scala film club with an aggressive repertory programme that shoved a finger in the face of an increasingly draconian Thatcher government. The Scala closed its doors in 1993 due to spiraling rent and a scarcity of funds for a long overdue redevelopment, but not before it turned generations of film fans onto the delights of flagship Scala films like Eraserhead, Pink Flamingos and Thundercrack!, plus a steady monthly diet of American Exploitation, European Horror, transgressive Art Cinema and mind-boggling Experimental Film. The genius of the Scala in bringing these seemingly disparate strands of Cinema under one roof is reflected in the Scala's extraordinary monthly programmes, all 178 of them, which are lavishly reproduced in the book.

I've taken a few pictures of the book to give you a flavor of this epic production. I was lucky enough to order an early copy of the book which came in a hard slipcover adorned with beautiful Graham Humphreys artwork. In the final pic in the series, I've strategically placed my Eraserhead DVD and Thundercrack! Blu-Ray alongside the book just to give an idea of the scale. Step over to FAB Press for more info....