Prepare yourself for a little bit of gore, but make sure you don’t miss this one. Clocking in at under six minutes long, Martin Scorsese’s 1967 experimental short, The Big Shave is an amazing little film. Set to the sentimental jazz notes of Bunny Berigan’s 1937 rendition of “I Can’t Get Started” (a Ziegfeld Follies number with Gershwin lyrics), a young man enters the bathroom for a shave, only to nonchalantly gouge at his skin with progressively violent strokes of the razor. The resulting imagery is hypnotic.
Scorsese wrote the piece in the depths of a depression when he had difficulty shaving himself, and while it’s a simple enough concept, it was written as a fairly explicit political statement. Alternately titled Viet ‘67, the film was produced as a metaphorical protest against the Vietnam War—part of a weeklong production, “The Angry Arts Against the War.”
The subversive metaphor and captivating depiction of self-mutilation won The Big Shave Le Prix de L’Age d’Or at the 1968 Festival of Experimental Cinema in Belgium.
Kevin Smith is a productive stoner. He learned the trait from Seth Rogen, and it is most evident if you have ever listened to his weekly smodcast where you can often hear the pull of a joint mixed in with endless ideas and frequent laughter. On one such episode, Smodcast #259 “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” Smith created—from what turned out to be a fabricated British rental listing—the entire plot and premise for his daring new film Tusk, out in theaters September 19th.
Billed as a “transformational tale” where a man is involuntarily changed into a Walrus, Tusk gets about as far out of the normal as possible for a marketable motion picture. And the marketing department took that wildness as inspiration when developing their plan for Tusk, creating a side-project called Toke N’ Tusk which includes the first-ever marijuana tie-in for a movie. Two strains of “Tusk-inspired” weed, “Mr. Tusk” and “White Walrus,” are being packaged and sold in contrasting canisters at Buds & Roses in Los Angeles, California through September 26th. The idea for this promotion being that sometimes seeing a film through a different lens can produce dramatic results.
Starring Justin Long as Wallace Bryton, a rising star in the podcast world who heads off on his own to Canada to interview an overnight YouTube sensation, Tusk begins as a bright and comedic movie. In the opening minutes you’re momentarily convinced into thinking that you are watching a classic Kevin Smith film. The laughter is brief however, and the tale quickly turns dark after unforeseen circumstances require Bryton to change his plans, salvaging his journey to the Great White North by following a promising lead deep into the heart of Manitoba. It is there inside a grand house tucked away in the woods, that the audience is introduced to the curious and uncomfortable world of Howard Howe, brilliantly played by Michael Parks.
Over the course of an evening and a long cup of tea, Bryton is regaled with stories from this old seasoned traveler, who he learns he had lived alone on an island for three years with only a walrus who saved his life to keep him company. Affectionately referred to as “Mr. Tusk,” this walrus had quite an impact on Howe, and he yearns to be reunited with his old friend. Eventually Bryton passes out due to a heavy drugging from Howard Howe, and upon finally waking up becomes a clueless hostage in misery. This moment is when real story begins. With an awesome surprise performance by Johnny Depp as Inspector Guy LaPointe, and generous support by the striking Genesis Rodriguez and grown-up Haley Joel Osment, Tusk crosses the line between horror and comedy again and again. Similar to the effects of a very strong strain of pot that one perceived as weak, Tusk leaves its viewer unsure as to whether they should lean back and laugh or just sit slightly forward in shock, uncomfortable in their seat. This up-down trajectory is what makes Kevin Smith’s return to film outstanding. It’s totally unexpected.
The good people at Horror Decor have a line of printed pillows that are absolutely fabulous. The square ones come in small and large and cost $14 and $20, respectively; not all pillows come in both sizes. The rectangular ones cost $16.
The customized Captain America chopper Peter Fonda rode in “Easy Rider” has come to symbolize the counterculture of the 1960s. Now it’s for sale.
The auction house Profiles in History told The Associated Press that it estimates the Harley-Davidson will bring $1 million to $1.2 million at its Oct. 18 sale being held online and at its galleries in Calabasas, California.
The seller is Michael Eisenberg, a California businessman who once co-owned a Los Angeles motorcycle-themed restaurant with Fonda and “Easy Rider” co-star Dennis Hopper. Eisenberg bought it last year from Dan Haggerty, perhaps best known for his roles in the “Grizzly Adams” TV show and movies, who was in charge of keeping the custom-designed bike humming during the 1969 movie’s filming.
Four motorcycles were created for the movie, but only one is known to have survived. It was used in the climactic crash scene in which Fonda is thrown off the bike.
After the film was finished, Hopper told Haggerty to keep it. Haggerty rode it often, an experience he likened to “going out with Marilyn Monroe.” Parting with it was like having a “child finally getting married and moving away and starting a new life on their own.”
The film, of course, remains a must-see even today, as its themes of seeking fulfillment outside the system, the death of idealism, and the paradoxes of freedom resonate well beyond the social context of the late ‘60s, and its soundtrack is packed with classic songs.
Now its central symbol can be a trinket for some extravagantly overpaid fund manager dickweed with seven figures to burn on an adolescent fantasy. AMERICA FUCK YEAH!
“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.