As punk rock was throbbing in the clubs downtown, Manhattan cable TV was experiencing its own kind of anarchy. D.I.Y programs from cats like Efrom Allen were offering some demented and surreal stuff to get us energized before hitting the clubs or to soften the crash as we wound down from a night on the Bowery. The coaxial pipeline was sending signals into our decrepit little apartments that were raw, spontaneous and often exhilarating, punk rock’s cathode equivalent.
In this episode of The Efrom Allen Show (1978?), a 12-year-old Brooke Shields does a fashion shoot with Stiv Bators while discussing her career with the wisdom of an ancient soul. Stiv seems to enjoy just going along for the ride.
Efrom, a Realtor these days, should try to clean this video up and release it, along with his footage of The Ramones and Marilyn Chambers, on DVD. This is pop culture history and there’s so little of Manhattan cable programming available for viewing. Someone should do a book on this wild era when the TV eye was bloodshot and beautiful.
Ken Russell had thought about making a film on Debussy for some time. He was ‘hovering on the feature film fringe,’ having just made his first movie French Dressing, in 1964. But it had sadly flopped and he had returned to work as a producer and director for the BBC’s arts series Monitor.
Making a feature film had encouraged Russell’s ambitions, and he now had a revolutionary idea for a new kind of documentary arts film, but he wasn’t quite sure how best to achieve it. This was when Russell met Melvyn Bragg, a young Northern writer, who was also working in the Monitor office.
At twenty, Bragg had decided to become a writer, but thought ‘quite rightly as it turned out,’ that he wouldn’t be able to make a living from it. So, he got a job, to support his literary ambitions.
‘I got a BBC traineeship when I was twenty-one,’ Bragg told me in 1984. ‘Went into radio, which I liked an awful lot. Worked in Newcastle. Worked in the World Service, Bush House. Then I worked in Broadcasting House, in the Features Department. I was going to stay there—I didn’t like television, except for Monitor—and I said I’d only go into television if I could get an attachment onto Monitor. Eventually, one came up, and I got it.’
Russell wanted to share his idea with Bragg. He met him in a cafe, and told Bragg about Debussy and his plan for a new kind of arts documentary—a film-within-a-film. Together they wrote a script, and Bragg turned it into a screenplay.
‘When I did Debussy, Ken’s first talkie on television, nobody had done that before I did that as a screenplay as a way to make it work. The real problem you’ve got with biopics about people is that there is no structured drama in anybody’s life. You’ve got to make it.
‘What you’ve got are pits, which are very good, all over the fucking shop, and you’ve got to have that bit because [they’re] terrific, and you’ve got to have that bit because there’s hardly any relationship between them. Where, if you write a play, or write a book, there is a relationship because you’ve written it like that. But in people’s lives, something happens there, and 7 years later, something else happens. This enables us to dip in-and-out.’
It was a lunchtime in May, and I was interviewing Bragg in his office, at London Weekend Television, where he worked as editor and presenter of the (now legendary) arts series, The South Bank Show. Bragg sat behind his desk, dressed as usual in a suit (‘Another way to get people to forget about me and concentrate on the person that I am talking to’), eating an apple for his lunch.
Bragg said he thought Russell ‘a very brilliant, eccentric and erratic talent, he can be marvelous.’
The Debussy Film was the first of several highly successful collaborations between Russell and Bragg—as director and writer. A partnership that lasted until The Music Lovers (‘I had a big row with [Ken] on that which is fairly public. I hated it.’) The pair later worked together again on several documentaries for The South Bank Show .
It was also Russell’s first collaboration with actor Oliver Reed, who later described the director as:
Jesus is not Christ, only Russell.
Reed was a rare talent, who had been slightly over-looked by film producers because of a scar on his face, which he had received on a drunken night out. But Reed was more than just a feared Hell-raiser, he was a brilliant actor who brought an incredibly complex and emotional depth to the role of Debussy.
‘Debussy was an ambiguous character,’ Russell told one of his biographers, John Baxter in 1973.
...and I always let the character of the person or his work dictate the way a film goes. Also, one was a bit critical of artists like Debussy and I thought the time had come to ask questions, and the natural way for me to ask questions was to have a film director [Vladek Sheybal] talking to an actor [Oliver Reed], because an actor always asks questions about the character he’s playing and the director usually had to answer them, or try to, often to keep him happy. And when I found Debussy was friendly with an intellectual named Pierre Louys from whom he derived a lot, it seemed an analogous relationship to that of a film director and an actor. There are some points in the film, I think, where it doesn’t matter if it’s the director talking to the actor or Louys talking to Debussy—passages of intentional ambiguity.
Born in his music and his life, Debussy was a great sensualist. There’s a line of his in the film: “Music should express things that can’t be said,” which simply means to me that music is something which, the moment you talk about it, disintegrates and becomes meaningless. That’s what I mean by sensuality—something that’s felt rather than reasoned.
Ken Russell directing ‘The Debussy Film’ (1965)
While The Debussy Film may at first appear a film that is “felt rather than reasoned,” it has to be understood that every element of it is based on fact, taken from letters and personal details of the main characters. Also, by presenting inter-linking narratives, Russell was able to question, examine and comment on Debussy’s creative life, and the damage it caused him to those he loved.
With Debussy I felt it was important to say something about his music and attitudes to it as well as relevant facts of his life. A good example of this is his relationship with his mistress Gaby, and her inability to understand either him or his art. There’s a scene where the actor playing Debussy goes to a party with his girlfriend (playing Gaby) and puts on a record of Danse Sacre et Danse Profane. He wants to listen to it, to be immersed completely; he sees in it images of art nouveau. But everyone else in the room, instead of carrying on talking, or dancing to it, or giving it half an ear, all become silent and listen to the music with a mixture of duty and piety, which is all too often the case. His girlfriend, who just sees him as being perverse, does a strip-tease to it and ridicules both the man and his music. People are very wary of the heightening of experience, and want to knock it down. It’s fear as much as anything that makes her do the strip dance, fear of something she doesn’t understand and so can only get level with by ridiculing. A lot of people still do that, not just with art but with life.
I wasn’t totally on Debussy’s side; in a sense he had no right to disrupt the party. But artists are dogmatic and pig-headed, and they over-ride people. Most of the people I’ve dealt with in films have quite dispassionately sacrificed someone in their way who understood them. It’s not nice but that’s how it works. The end of the film, the music from his unfinished opera The Fall of the House of Usher, with Debussy alone in the castle and his ghostly mistress—whom he drove to attempted suicide—rising up, was an analogy of the lost romantic ideal he had destroyed by his disregard for people. You can be an egomaniac up to a point but in the end it can destroy you, or your work, or both.
The Debussy Film is Russell developing the style and technique that would make him internationally recognized as one of the greatest directors of the twentieth century. His approach was revolutionary and brilliant, and The Debussy Film changed television and cinematic biography for good. It also revealed another side to Oliver Reed (who is quite brilliant) and Vladek Sheybal, who was usually typecast as KGB agents. The film also contains cameos form artists Duggie Fields and Pauline Boty.
Apparently it took THREE police officers to help free an allegedly intoxicated man who managed to get stuck in a baby seat at a Cork, Ireland McDonald’s franchise.
Huffington Post UK reports the man appeared to be dining solo, or perhaps “his friends left him after his practical joke went wrong”?
There also appears to be no shortage of seats to explain why he chose to sit in the seat for babies.
Either way, it’s gotta suck to be him ‘cause the ridiculous photo went viral on Facebook and Twitter. Even McDonald’s is having some fun it with by releasing this statement: “children don’t use the high-chair without adult supervision.”
By now, I’m sure you’ve all read about the “controversial” 1991 painting “Bea Arthur Naked” by artist John Currin that sold for $1.9 million at Christie’s yesterday. It’s been all over the blogsphere.
Well, if you linked to Currin’s now infamous image on your Facebook page and featured Bea Arthur’s naked breasts, for all to see, you might have received a notice from Facebook implementing a 24-hour ban from posting on your page.
The Daily Beast is reporting this happened to them and so are a few other websites and journalists.
According to The Daily Beast when they contacted Facebook they were told by a spokesperson, “Our policy prohibits photos of actual nude people, not paintings or sculptures.”
The spokesperson laid the blame on the company’s “dedicated User Operations Team,” and reviewers in “several offices around the globe,” who look at “millions of pieces of this content a day.”
“As you might expect,” she concluded, “occasionally, we make a mistake and block a piece of content we shouldn’t have.” She said Facebook has an appeals process in place for anyone who thinks they’ve been wrongly banned, and directed me here.
The Daily Beast’s Facebook page was back to normal as of 2pm Tuesday.
I think it’s safe to say that the music composed (and performed alone) by Jimmy Page and intended for Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising, but not used, was/is among the very most sought after Led Zeppelin, or in this case Zep-related, bootleg recordings.
The story has long been a foundation of the Led Zeppelin mythos: Page and the mercurial Magus of Cinema had a falling out, then Anger did his patented “curse” routine very publicly going so far as accusing Page of being a mere “dabbler” in the occult and a rich, lazy junkie. Rock journalists began to wonder if Anger’s curse had worked when a succession of tragic events saw Robert Plant badly injured in a 1975 car accident, Plant’s five-year-old son Karac dying suddenly in 1977 and the death of John Bonham in 1980 that instantly ended Led Zeppelin’s reign as the world’s biggest rock group.
There are always two sides to every story and Page maintains that he had given the project financial support, put Ken up in one of his homes (Aleister Crowley’s Boleskine House in Scotland, no less) and lent him film editing equipment. Moreover, he’d given Anger 23 minutes of amazing music. Anger needed an additional five minutes from Page to complete Lucifer Rising, but it was slow arriving and after a shouting match with Page’s wife, he threw a major hissy, “firing” Page and viciously denouncing him—for years—in the media:
“He’s a multi-millionaire miser. He and Charlotte, that horrible vampire girl – the druggie that got him on heroin – they’re both junkies. They had so many servants, yet they would never offer me a cup of tea or a sandwich. Which is such a mistake on their part because I put the curse of king Midas on them. If you’re greedy and just amass gold you’ll get an illness. So I did turn her and Jimmy Page into statues of gold because they’ve both lost their minds. He can’t write songs anymore.”
It’s not like Jimmy Page wasn’t busy back then (the time period in question roughly corresponds to the time Led Zeppelin IV was being recorded), plus Uncle Ken can go from sweet and utterly charming to homicidal in like two seconds flat. (I’ve met Jimmy Page, as well. He was super-friendly, easygoing. An old school gentleman, informing me as he shook my hand that he had been gifted with not one, but two copies of my Book of Lies occult anthology. I know which side of this tale I come down on: Jimmy’s! Look, I admire and revere the films of Kenneth Anger. I think he’s a truly great artist, touched by genius, even, but he’s fucking nuts...)
Eventually Page’s music escaped in 1981—probably sourced from the magnetic track from an early 23-minute-long “to be continued” print of Lucifer Rising that Anger showed potential investors (I’ve seen this, it’s pretty incredible)—when it hit the bootleg market as “Solo Performances by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant,” a limited edition LP with a green wax seal (I have one of these, it sounds like frying dogshit). Another blue vinyl version was released in a “Kabbalistically numbered limited edition.” Better quality digital versions started making the rounds on torrent trackers around 2005 and last year Jimmy Page released the music he’d composed for Anger’s film via his website on very limited edition red vinyl that sold out instantly.
The music itself is wonderfully perverse: a languid but steadily building Middle Eastern-sounding drone, festooned with evil chanting, tabla, screaming mellotron, a sonically shifting low frequency foreboding ambiance and shimmering 12-string guitar work. It’s a mad, diabolical symphony of beautiful evil; a fascinating piece of unconventional aggressively avant garde music from one of the rock era’s most mysterious living legends.
Although Page’s music was not used, the guitarist does make a cameo appearance in Lucifer Rising bearded and staring at a wreathed portrait of Aleister Crowley while holding an Egyptian stele.
Page does not often talk to journalists about his interest in the occult, but in a 2008 Guitar World interview, he did reveal a few fascinating tidbits about his creative process:
Guitar World: There was always a certain amount of speculation about your occult studies. It may have been subtle, but you weren’t really hiding it.
Page: I was living it. That’s all there is to it. It was my life – that fusion of magick and music.
Guitar World: Your use of symbols was very advanced. The sigil on Led Zeppelin IV and the embroidery on your stage clothes from that time period are good examples on how you left your mark on popular culture. It’s something that major corporations are aggressively pursuing these days: using symbols as a form of branding.
Page: You mean talismanic magick? Yes, I knew what I was doing. There’s no point in saying much about it, because the more you discuss it, the more eccentric you appear to be. But the fact is – as far as I was concerned – it was working, so I used it. But it’s really no different than people who wear ribbons around their wrists: it’s a talismanic approach to something.
Well let me amend that: it’s not exactly the same thing, but it is in the same realm. I’ll leave this subject by saying the four musical elements of Led Zeppelin making a fifth is magick into itself. That’s the alchemical process.
In Rolling Stone’s December 2012 cover story “Jimmy Page Looks Back,” Page said “...there was a request, suggesting that Lucifer Rising should come out again with my music on. I ignored it.”
Below, the unused Jimmy Page score for Lucifer Rising:
What was Bradley Manning’s real crime? His real crime was in trusting Adrian Lamo and in not using the TOR network and other anonymity services to leak the information he had extracted from the military network he had access to in Iraq.
Had he, however, dumped his data to something like New Yorker’s Strong Box—a new feature on their website that was developed for sending in anonymous tips by the late web activist Aaron Swartz—he wouldn’t be getting the Gitmo treatment in solitary now. Instead, a sanctioned news agency would be taking the heat and leveraging their plethora of lawyers and spin doctors to fight off government officials embarrassed by the real secret that had been revealed: That our foreign policy and war strategies were foisted upon the US (and the rest of the world, natch) by a small cabal FUCKTOCRACY of arrogant white men who simply refused to believe how stupid they are. (I mean, what else did the Collateral Murder prove but that our GUN-ho soldiers hadn’t been trained to properly identify and select military targets?)
Don’t make the same mistake! By using Strong Box which, in turn, can only be accessed through the TOR network, aspiring leaker, your chances of being tortured or held indefinitely in solitary are greatly reduced, as TOR (properly used!) eliminates the possibility of tracing the origin and destination of traffic sent through the TOR network. Basically, each TOR node collects up lots of traffic, encrypts it, and then sends this whole wad to another TOR node (or “Onion Router”), where it gathers up traffic originating from a bunch of nodes and then encrypts the whole ball again. If anyone has the ability to crack TOR, it is only a handful of governments in the world, and they won’t risk revealing what they can do unless it’s something really important. Go on over to TOR and download a TOR browser and poke around a bit. If you are going to access, say, Dangerous Minds without leaving a trail, make sure the browser is showing https, because TOR doesn’t automatically encrypt your traffic as it enters and exits the TOR network.
TOR itself is fascinating as the basic ideas were developed by Cypherpunks and other anarchically inclined people in the 1990s, and most nodes are run by private individuals on their own time and dime. Through TOR you can also check out Silk Road, an illicit substance marketplace that functions a lot like eBay. Of course, you can’t actually buy anything on Silk Road unless you have learned how to handle Bitcoins (and have an account), but it is fascinating (is it not?) to see a “TOR hidden service” like Silk Road, the physical location of which can’t really be determined (and I mean to tell you, it would be hard for even top-secret government agencies to determine the location of the Silk Road servers).
This, my friend, is freedom, though it’s not what you might have thought freedom was going to look like. But it’s a freedom that was taken through the sheer force of mathematics, and there is probably no government on earth that has the power to stop it.