“Magick is action. Mysticism is a withdrawal from action”
If you’re a Kenneth Anger fan, be prepared to be seriously blown away by this astonishing German television documentary from 1970 that shows the master at work on Lucifer Rising. It’s fun to ponder, as you watch, what the average German must have thought about this film, which doesn’t flinch from presenting some of the most outrageous ideas and imagery ever to be broadcast to an entire (unsuspecting) nation. It’s magnificently freaky stuff.
Not only would this have been the first look the world would get of Anger’s magnum opus (which he is seen shooting Méliès-style in a tiny space) there are substantial excerpts from Fireworks, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Rabbit’s Moon, Puce Moment, and Invocation of My Demon Brother, which showed hash smoking (and cocks!) on TV. It’s impossible to imagine something like this ever getting on television in America 44 years ago, but I don’t think the BBC would have touched something this insane at the time, either.
As filmmaker Reinhold E. Thiel admits in his voiceover, it was Anger directing himself that they got on film. As he states, Anger really wasn’t that into allowing them to film him in the first place, but when he did relent it was on his terms. Anger’s interview segments were shot as he sat behind a makeshift altar, lit in magenta and inside of the magical “war gods” circle seen at the end of the film.
Of special note is we see Anger flipping through his “Puce Women” sketchbook (he’s an excellent illustrator) of his unmade tribute to the female archetypes of Hollywood’s golden era and the architecture of movie star homes (This notebook was on display at the Anger exhibit at MOCA in Los Angeles). Anger is also seen here shooting scenes with his Lucifer, Leslie Huggins (both interior shots in Anger’s makeshift studio and among the stones at Avebury) and with the adept in the war gods circle. Oddly, we can hear what the adept is saying (“Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?”) whereas in the final film he just seems to be muttering something mysterious when Lucifer appears.
Anger discusses his Aleister Crowley-inspired theories of art: How he views his camera like a wand and how he casts his films, preferring to consider his actors, not human beings but as elemental spirits. In fact, he reveals that he goes so far as to use astrology when making these choices.
This is as direct an explanation of Anger’s cinemagical modus operandi as I have ever heard him articulate anywhere. It’s a must see for anyone interested in his work and showcases the Magus of cinema at the very height of his artistic powers. Fascinating.
20,000 Days On Earth combines documentary footage with scripted scenes to chronicle 24 hours in the fascinating life of modern renaissance man Nick Cave. Directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard and co-written by Cave, the film has great energy and Cave comes off as one would suspect: mysterious, devious and hugely charismatic. What might come as a surprise to some viewers is Cave’s self-deprecating humor and the deeply spiritual yearning that pulses in the heart of his art. Cave is a man who utilizes the forces of his creativity, particularly rock and roll, as a means to connect to human energy and to transcend it.
At a recent concert in Austin, I saw a side of Cave I hadn’t seen before, a certain humility and need that manifested in an almost vampiric hunger for flesh to flesh contact with his audience. He literally bared his heart before his audience, asking them to place their hands upon his naked chest. The fire and brimstone preacher was displaying a supplicant’s self-immolation at the feet of his worshipers. The tables had turned, the wax was dripping up the candle. This aching need to be part of the world at large, to expand beyond the ordinary while maintaining his teeth in the tissue of the meat upon which he thrives results in a tension between the sacred and profane. 20,000 Days On Earth makes clear that the balance between dark and light is stabilizing in Cave’s life and the fearless provocateur is taking on some of the mellowness of a wise elder. The film is a lovely meditation on the risks and epiphanies involved when an artist puts himself as far out as they can go while still keeping time in the dance of life.
Here’s some recollections of Nick Cave and The Birthday Party’s first appearances in New York City. I think I got most of the details right.
When The Birthday Party first came to New York City in late September/early October of 1981 they were booked into several venues. The first was a shitty disco on Union Square called The Underground. I have no idea who was responsible for the booking but it was like hiring Aleister Crowley to do stand-up at a Catskills Hotel. The band plowed though three songs (“Big-Jesus-Trash-Can,” “Zoo-Music Girl,” “King Ink”) in front of a confused and hostile audience who were there to dance to a deejay spinning records by Donna Summer and The Village People. During “King Ink”, Nick leaped into the crowd and wrapped his microphone’s cord around a woman’s neck. The club owners immediately pulled the plug and the show ended.
Next night at The Ritz, Nick smashed his head into the snare drum, drew blood, and a panicked Ritz management killed the power to the stage. Big mistake. Those of us who gave a shit about such things, felt this confirmed that unless you were a major label act The Ritz was not an artist-friendly venue. The following night’s Birthday Party booking at The Ritz was cancelled.
Other NYC gigs included two at Chase Park, a former bank (I think) with a lousy stage set-up and bad sound. The first night at Chase Park was cancelled when only one person showed up. The band’s second booking at the club was not much better than the first. The band played to an audience of a couple of dozen adventurous souls, including Lydia Lunch. The vibe was nasty and the band seemed like they couldn’t wait to get the fuck outta there.
At this point, you had to wonder who was booking The Birthday Party into these godforsaken nightclubs when CBGB and Max’s (on its last legs) were just around the corner? In the case of The Underground, it was Rudolf Pieper and Jim Fouratt expanding their reach beyond their legendary venue Danceteria. One night a week they booked The Underground with a New Romantic theme. But alas, The Birthday Party was to Duran Duran and Modern English what moonshine is to mimosas.
It wasn’t until their performance at The Peppermint Lounge on Oct. 4 (a Sunday night) that The Birthday Party played an entire set in a venue that was suited to their music. Yet even the Pep didn’t seem to know who the fuck Nick and the his posse were (check the ad below).But despite a small crowd, the band were explosive and I was there to experience it. The power, intensity, humor and theatricality of The Birthday Party was simply jaw-dropping and forever made me an admirer of the group, particularly the young Mr. Cave. While the entire band were extraordinary (I was particularly fond of bass player Tracy Pew, R.I.P.) it was Cave that shone brightest (or perhaps darkest) - brilliant, possessed, a madman out on the edge not looking back. Even in ‘81 at the young age of 24, Nick was drawing down some serious voodoo, scraping the shit of the marvelous off the bottom of his shiny black shoes.
What’s up with the question marks?
Later, after the show, Cave sat alone at the bar slouched over a drink. I joined him and we talked. He looked younger than his years, was soft-spoken, welcoming, and unassuming. We spoke about writers we liked - Rimbaud, Burroughs, Bukowski - the usual suspects. For the short time we chatted, I felt that this was a man that I could grow to like a lot. And I have. Like all great artists I love, Cave has kind of entered my DNA. He’s one of those rare creative people who continues to surprise and amaze me, who challenges me and compels me to dig deeper into that dark rich soil where art grows, where visions sprout and and bears seeds - both good and Bad. Long live Nick Cave.
20,000 Days On Earth works as a cinematic diary that flows in and out of dream. Late-night scenes of Cave driving around his home of Brighton have the cold, doomy clarity of a J.G Ballard literary riff echoing off the concrete urban desolation of a Wim Wenders’ film. But the chill is broken by whimsical flights of magic realism like when Cave visits collaborator Warren Ellis in Ellis’s Hobbit-like cottage overlooking the white cliffs of Dover. And the sudden, almost ghost-like, appearances of Kylie Minogue, Ray Winstone, and Blixa Bargeld. The movie gracefully bends time and memory into something like a living moment where all points come back to Cave’s sensing himself in the ever-present everythingness of now. Does it matter what is real or not? This is not a strict memoir. It is the person coming into being through his own creation.
Nick Cave has done something quite remarkable in the this day and age of rock bands that disappear as quickly as ice on a hotplate or those that have lingered far too long only to embarrass themselves in their utter irrelevance - he has stayed interesting. Through all of his permutations, experiments and chance-taking, Cave has, like the title of his song, pushed the sky away, not allowing even the heavens to bear down on him.
20,000 days on Earth? Who cares about time when the moment is so filled with wonder? Who cares about linear abstractions when every non-existent nano-second is laced with memory and desire? Cave has not mistaken the face of the clock for fact. He sees it for what it is. A circle. It’s not real, it’s a reel. Like film. Like your eye. Like that circular mark on your neck: that blood-red spot, that memory of a mouth, of love, of death.
20,000 Days On Earth begins its theatrical run this month. Click here for showtimes.
The term “blaxploitation” was coined by Junius Griffin, head of the Los Angeles National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). One of the aims of blaxploitation movies was to create debate and help advance equality in race relations across America. However, the subject matter of many of these films was considered to be upholding negative stereotypical images of African-Americans rather than progressing any sort of social and cultural equality.
While there is obviously some degree of truth in this, blaxploitation produced enjoyable films that often had a radical edge which most mainstream movies lacked. As for the criticisms over narrative, plot and acting, well these were usually the same problems to be found in all exploitation movies. For me, blaxploitation movies were one of the most enjoyable highlights of 1970s cinema, as they brought this poor white kid from Scotland a sense of a world that was sensational, exciting, entertaining and far more real than the sub-genre of bad comic book pap being pumped out of Hollywood during this decade. Moreover, the soundtracks to many of these films were among the best put on celluloid.
Though by no means a definitive collection, this selection of blaxploitation film posters gives a fairly good idea why these films had such massive appeal.
Back in his Channel 101 days, Dan Harmon learned of the wisdom of Joseph Campbell and would preach the building blocks of storytelling constantly. This eventually led to his famous story wheel, which he uses to break down every story on his shows Community and Rick & Morty. In explaining the importance, indeed ubiquity, of story structure, Harmon cited an interesting-sounding instructional video from the Seventies:
[Rob] Schrab has this video we watch all the time: It’s an orientation video designed to teach mentally retarded girls about their period. The protagonist is a retarded girl. She starts asking questions about periods. She’s led into a bathroom by her older sister, and after a very uncomfortable road of trials, things take a turn for the bizarre. I won’t go into detail. Not only is the protagonist going on a journey, the audience is, too.
I’ve tracked down the movie, and it’s a beaut. It’s about ten-minutes long, and doesn’t have credits but must have as a title “All Women Have Periods.” In it a little girl with Down syndrome named Jill asks her mother, father, and older sister Suzy about what a period is and receives a full-blown tutorial in the bathroom from her sister.
The following must be one of the greatest dialogue exchanges in movie history:
“Suzy? What’s a sanitary pad?”
“Come on, Jill, I’ll show you. I’m having my period now.”
I’ll say this: It’s a testament to the power of repetition—everything in the movie is explained four times. The next time someone asks me what a period is, I’m going to say, “Blood from inside a woman’s body comes outside from an opening between her legs. All women have periods about every four weeks for three or four days…..” I hope no one asks me.
When you listen to Scott Walker, do you think “beach party”? No? Well, long before “The Electrician,” before “The Plague,” even before “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” the Walker Brothers appeared in the drive-in movie Beach Ball (1965), starring Edd “Kookie” Byrnes of 77 Sunset Strip.
Scott Walker sings “Doin’ the Jerk” in Beach Ball
Even by the standards of the beach party genre, Beach Ball is pretty bad, though it’s considerably enlivened by the musical guests. The Supremes, the Four Seasons, the Righteous Brothers, and the surf band the Hondells (whose every song endorsed Hondas) all take higher billing than the Walkers, who had as yet no hits to their name.
The Walkers play one of Scott’s first compositions, “Doin’ the Jerk,” a tribute to the dance craze of 1964. Because their performance at the movie’s climactic rock ‘n’ roll/hot rod festival is intercut with a car chase, “Doin’ the Jerk” stretches over six minutes of film. Scott Walker-loving hodads like me will want to skip directly to 1:06:40, though I wish the best of luck to those brave souls who settle in for the whole thing.
You may remember a post we did a while back on the all-Esperanto art house horror, Incubus, starring the immortal William Shatner. Although the film is beautiful in its ambition, fascinating in its inscrutability and kind of hilarious in its absolute weirdness, it is not my favorite Shatner deep cut. No, that great honor belongs to The Intruder, a weird little anti-racist morality play directed by Roger Corman, the brilliant mind behind the 1960 Little Shop of Horrors, and producer of such classics as Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and Death Race 2000. Oh, and more recently, Sharktopus.
While The Intruder definitely exhibits Corman’s trademark outrageousness, itt does so in an earnest effort to engage the audience’s humanity. Shatner plays a sneaky white supremacist that rolls into a southern town with the covert mission of sowing racial unrest into the recently integrated community. At the time he was a young Canadian theater actor looking to break in to Hollywood, and the role was pretty juicy and subversive—Shatner later said “I’d have paid him to play that role.”
As far as drama and social analysis of bigotry goes, yeah—it’s pretty heavy-handed and ham-fisted to the modern eye (I mean it’s Roger Corman and William Shatner), but Shatner’s performance is uncharacteristically understated. He’s sleazy and sly and generally threatening as all hell. The picture follows him charming the previously peaceful citizens of Caxton into a a paranoid frenzy, even going so far as to seduce a teenage girl before pressuring her to frame a black man for rape.
The mob violence and virulent hatred is tidied up quite neatly by a level-headed salesman who eventually (basically) just gives Shatner’s character bus fare to leave town. It’s a pretty rosy Hollywood resolution to an obviously complicated and dire subject—racism is treated as an “intruder,” not a part of civic and political fabric. The movie fails to really indict the white citizens of Caxton for their own horrific crimes, nor does it really seek restitution for its black victims.
But you’re not watching The Intruder for critical race theory… you’re watching it for an evil Bill Shatner in a convertible with the KKK.
As immensely enjoyable as the 1986 John Hughes classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is, it is my belief that viewers needed some assurance that Ferris and Cameron weren’t just predestined to live out their lives as carefree, materialistic sociopath and suicidal scion with daddy issues, respectively. The necessary turn comes in the late scene in the Fryes’ garage, where the much-fetishized Ferrari belonging to Cameron’s dad normally resides. Cameron has his sorely needed emotional breakthrough and…. well, you probably know it.
Some genius or geniuses from Sweden going by the name Etzel decided to make a LEGO diorama of the most kinetic moment of that scene. There’s a slight cheat in temporality—check out chapter 4 from Scott McCloud’s brilliant 1993 primer Understanding Comics to see what I mean. McCloud establishes that a single comic frame, far from capturing a single moment, can easily encompass a span of time of as high as thirty seconds. Similarly, here, the car is flying backwards through the air (not stuck in a tree, as you might guess), while Cameron, Ferris, and Sloane gather near the destroyed plate glass window to admire the destruction. In the movie, of course, the car plummets to the surface of the forest, and the teens become a formalized audience a few seconds later.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love it, just as it is.
For the forgetful, here’s the scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off:
Actor Paul Muni so immersed himself in his film roles that he often continued to remain in character long after a scene had been shot. Director Howard Hawks noticed this when Muni played notorious gangster Antonio “Tony” Camonte in the original version of Scarface in 1932. It was said that Muni became possessed by the character and his whole demeanour changed—in particular his eyes seemed utterly deranged. Al Pacino had heard the stories of Muni’s great acting talent and in the early 1980s he attended a screening of Scarface at the Tiffany Theater in Los Angeles. The film and Muni’s performance blew him away, and Pacino contacted his agent, producer Martin Bregman, to suggest they collaborate on a remake of the movie.
Pacino had an idea of keeping the film in period 1930s, but after discussions with first choice director Sidney Lumet it was decided to set the film in the present day and to tell the story of a Cuban exile, Tony Montana, and his rise and fall as a violent drug lord. Lumet wanted to use the film as a political attack on the US government’s involvement in South America, and the reasons for the massive influx of cocaine into the country. Bregman disagreed and Lumet quit the project. Brian De Palma was then chosen to direct the film with Oliver Stone as screenwriter. At that time, Stone was apparently struggling with his own cocaine problems, and chose to write the screenplay in Paris, later explaining:
I don’t think cocaine helps writing. It’s very destructive to the brain cells.
Tell us something we don’t know Oliver Stoned! Solely fixed on writing, Stone delivered a hefty three-hour movie script, which De Palma turned into one of cinema’s greatest gangster movies. When the film was released, not everyone agreed as the majority of movie critics denounced Scarface as being a morally bankrupt, overblown B-movie, and damned the film for its excessive bad language (the word “fuck” was used 226 times) and its gratuitous violence. However, most of this violence, in particular the notorious chainsaw scene, is suggested rather than seen, and while most critics headed for the exits, the likes of Roger Ebert and Vincent Canby praised the film.
The negative reviews had little effect on the audiences and the film made a profit. Over the years, the “ayes” were proven right, as in 2008 Scarface was included by the American Film Institute as one of the ten greatest gangster movies ever made.
Director Brian De Palma prepares to shoot a scene with Al Pacino as Tony Montana.
Only the most observant of Kubrick-aholics will even remember the Howard Johnson’s reference in his landmark 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it’s right there, around the 30th minute. Dr. Heywood Floyd, played with purposeful blandness by William Sylvester, finds himself in a veritable barrage of product placement following the legendary Johann Strauss “Blue Danube” slam cut from the apes’ bone to the graceful, silent spacecraft. Dr. Floyd is flying in a Pan Am vehicle, we’re told, and over the next few minutes, at the space station, he walks through a Hilton hotel lobby, places a call to his wife and daughter using a Ma Bell videophone, and yes, walks by a “Howard Johnson’s Earthlight Room.”
As the beneficiary of a truly special promotional opportunity, Howard Johnson’s did their part, releasing a combined comic book/children’s menu depicting a visit to the premiere of the movie by two youngsters—well, the title actually tells it pretty well: “Debbie and Robin Go to a Movie Premiere with Their Parents.” Neat-O! Given that in the movie (SPOILER ALERT) a computer bloodlessly kills off several members of the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery One and that the movie ends in a psychedelic and well-nigh incomprehensible farrago of colorful effects that Mad Magazine insisted was a result of David Bowman (Keir Dullea) crashing into “the brand new 105-story Jupiter Museum of Op Art,” it’s understandable that the comic focuses on the gee-whiz feeling conveyed in the middle chunk of the movie, and glosses over the ending—the two comic panels in which the family emerges from the theater discussing “the way the mystery was solved!” are, given the downbeat goings-on in the movie, perfectly apposite and false in the only way it can be. The synopsis ignores one of the movie’s most noteworthy aspects outright, by which I mean the apes of the opening sequence. But note that the comic’s discussion of the movie—hilariously—does not gloss over Hal’s murders, as evidenced by the above panel.
What we see here is the old Hollywood promotional methods associated with Mary Poppins, perhaps, or Cleopatra attempting to deal with the totally new, technologically sophisticated, and thematically bleak mode of filmmaking. Would you be able to create credibly cute kiddie characters who gush about “The Dawn of Man” and what lies “Beyond the Infinite”? I sure can’t.
More great cartoon panels and a video clip, all after the jump…..
With all the back-to-school talk this time of year, I’m reminded of the dreaded middle school period, when suddenly our own bodies turn on us. Many of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s remember being forced to watch sex education films in health class, and while these little movies had the best intentions—attempting to help us navigate the most-awkward of life’s phases—all they really did was make us giggle. Am I Normal?: A film about male puberty is one such film.
Our hero here is Jimmy, a boy of about thirteen who’s been waking up to sticky sheets and experiencing random boners. Jimmy has lots of questions and goes to just about everyone—his friends, the school librarian, a zookeeper—to help him find the answers. Jimmy just wants to know: “Am I normal?”
Produced by the Boston Family Planning Project and the Department of Health and Hospitals, the film certainly means well, but is hopelessly behind the times in just about every sense and must have looked dated upon arrival in 1979, at least from a fashion sense (the haircuts and outfits scream mid 1970s). The presentation, with its forced, corny dialogue and situations, will surely only look familiar to kids today in parody form.
Though it tries to incorporate humor and is actually relatable at times, it’s most notable for its unintended hilarity. An IMDb reviewer has a slightly different take:
I remember watching Am I Normal? back in the 6th grade. This film is supposed to be a film about male puberty, but it is so dated that it’s hilarious. I can’t even tell if it’s trying to be funny, or this is actually how people of the 1970s acted.
The moment when Jimmy talks to the zookeeper is the strangest moment of accidental, awkward comedy in this short film (it’s also a whole lotta creepy!), with dialogue that must be heard to be believed.