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‘Regarding Susan Sontag’: America’s last great intellectual rock star
01:45 pm

Pop Culture

Susan Sontag

From Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” (1964):

56. Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of “character.” … Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “a camp,” they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.

I won’t beat around the bush about Nancy Kates’ new documentary Regarding Susan Sontag because I loved every minute of it. For one, I’ve always been fascinated by Sontag herself, but beyond that, this is a very fine film, made with great flair, economy, and emotion. There’s not a single wasted frame. It’s the Susan Sontag movie that needed to be made.

Susan Sontag was a “social critic,” filmmaker, novelist, and political activist, although she is mostly referred to as an “intellectual,” a sort of rock star writer who emerged in the early ‘60s pontificating on a dizzying variety of subjects that no one had ever really thought of taking seriously before her. Sontag offered the readers of her essays opinions on “camp,” the hidden cultural meanings behind low-budget sci-fi films, photography as an unlikely impediment to understanding history, Pop art, warfare, the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard and much, much more. There was seemingly nothing that didn’t fascinate her, and this unceasing, insatiable search for novelty and new experiences is what fueled Sontag’s life on practically every level, including her personal relationships, which often didn’t run very smoothly.

What other 20th century intellectual giant was photographed as much as Susan Sontag was?
Although she often came across in her interviews as brash, even imperious, Sontag was someone who privately felt that she was a bit of an underachiever, always writing about artists and culture, but not taken as seriously as an artist herself for her own films and novels. Gore Vidal famously trashed her talent at writing fiction, which apparently wounded Sontag deeply.

Obviously it was Sontag’s right to have held this rather morose opinion of her life’s work, but it seems so cosmically unfair considering the literary gifts she left behind her. “Susan Sontag’s brilliance”—in a nice turn of phrase I’m pulling straight out of the press release—“gave form to the intangible.” No minor achievement, it is for this that she will be best remembered.

Filmmaker Nancy Kates is best known for her film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, about the gay African-American civil rights leader. If you ever get the chance to see this film, do take it. Kates will be screening Regarding Susan Sontag at the Sheffield Doc Fest on June 10 with a Q&A session afterwards. HBO will will airing the film in the fall of 2014.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Marilyn Monroe in a potato sack
08:44 am

Pop Culture

Marilyn Monroe

The story behind this 1951 photoshoot appears to be contested. Some say it was a response to a journalist who criticized Monroe’s less-than-modest clothing, calling her “cheap” and “vulgar,” and saying she’d be better suited to a potato sack. Another, more complimentary version says the pictures were inspired by a comment that Monroe could make even a potato sack look good. Either way, it’s an endearingly defiant move on her part—eschewing her obvious bombshell typecasting to do something funny and kind of trashy. I can’t help but think John Waters would approve.

The pictures inspired an Idaho potato farmer to send her a whole sack of precious spuds, but Monroe never got to enjoy them, saying “There was a potato shortage on then, and the boys in publicity stole them all. I never saw one. It just goes to show why I always ask, ‘Can you trust a publicity man or can’t you?’ ”

Lines like that remind me of Monroe’s underappreciated wit and natural comedic talent, so I threw in an art-imitates-life clip from her role in the 1950 Bette Davis classic, All About Eve. It was a brief but memorable part very early in her career. She plays an aspiring actress—a wily girl with an ingenue’s disarming mannerisms—and she gets in some perfect one-liners on the self-importance of actors and boorishness of the industry.








H/T: Messy Nessy Chic

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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DM interviews Alex van Warmerdam, director of the surreal thriller ‘Borgman’
01:03 pm


Alex van Warmerdam

With his latest movie Borgman, award-winning Dutch filmmaker Alex van Warmerdam has created a dark, comic, incredibly thrilling, and haunting tale that holds the attention long after the final frame.

The film opens with a caption that reads like a quote from the Old Testament:

“And they descended upon the earth to strengthen their ranks.”

Van Warmerdam has described this as a “perfect summation” of what is to come. But his explanation may quickly be forgotten as the audience is drawn into a tale that is by turns fable, comedy, drama, and horror, leading up to its chilling and inevitable denouement.

Once the caption has gone, we are thrown into a sequence where we witness a priest and two hunters seeking out the mysterious central character Borgman and his two accomplices, who lie sleeping in a giant underground burrow. It is like a dream, a nightmare, where the trio hunt out their quarry by plunging long metal rods into the ground. Nothing is explained (who are these strange men? what have they done?), and we are quickly and cleverly brought straight into the story, pulled along by this thrilling opening.

Watching it, I couldn’t help but think of childhood tales of trolls, or Stoker’s vampires buried with their earth, or even Satan being cast out by the Archangel Michael. These associations may seem intentional and it is easy to connect van Warmerdam’s film with a variety of religious and literary themes, but as he explained to me via email:

“No, that was not my intention. But if you start with [what sounds like] a Bible quote and you immediately show at the beginning a priest who hunts a man under the ground then you should not be surprised if people have these kind of associations.”

Adding by way of explanation:

“I was raised a Catholic, was an altar boy, that is an attractive source to draw from.”

Religious parables can offer inspiration, but there is also another influence at work here, as Van Warmerdam, who writes, directs and stars in his own films, is also an artist—he has been painting since he was a child—and it is this painterly quality (as can be seen most obviously in the reference to Henry Fuseli’s “The Nightmare”) that adds to the quality of van Warmerdam’s cinematic vision.
From his first movie, the tragicomedy Abel (1986), which examined the strange relationship between a father and son, to his next, The Northerners (1992), a wonderfully surreal black comedy set on one street, up to Waiter (2006), van Warmerdam has developed a delightfully dark, often brutally funny, and absurd vision of the world.

When I asked him, who or what had influenced his directing style, van Warmerdam replied, “Jean Pierre Melville, Buñuel, Hitchcock, Laurel and Hardy.” This could be an almost perfect definition of what to expect from an Alex van Warmerdam movie.

All those elements are present in his latest film Borgman. Van Warmerdam has created an utterly fantastic, brilliant, unsettling thriller that examines the insidious nature of evil. It revolves around the eponymous Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) who inveigles his way into one middle class family’s life (Hadewych Minis and Jeroen Perceval) with horrifying results. The film suggests that every action, every ill-considered desire, has an inevitable cost—which here is often fatal. On the one hand, the film is like a modern parable, a mix of demonic, domestic satire and violent thriller, as seen through the prism of van Warmerdam’s imagination.

The casting and acting throughout are superb, in particular Bijvoet’s chilling performance, as well as those from Minis and Perceval, and Tom Dewispelaere and van Warmerdam as the accomplices.
How would you descibe the character Borgman?

Alex van Warmerdam: He is an evil version of myself. He does what I would do If I were him.

What was your inspiration for writing the film Borgman’?

AvW: I read an interview with Buñuel in which he tells about one of his great inspirations, the Marquis de Sade. Buñuel: “de Sade commited his crimes only in his imagination as a way to free himself from his criminal tendencies. The imagination can afford all the liberties. It’s something different if you committed these crimes in real life. The imagination is free, man is not.”

In a way this opened my eyes. So I start writing with a bigger feeling of freedom then ever before. I really felt the need to descend into parts of my brain I had never been.

If you see my movie it’s not all that bad. I guess I have nevertheless limits of taste and morality. I have read de Sade, sometimes it’s really disgusting. Compared to him, I am a toddler.

Anyway, the understanding that the imagination can afford all the liberties was a great help during the writing.

What do you hope an audience will take away from your movie?

AvW: I’m not a messenger. It is sufficient for me if they have a good time. Even better is if they are still working on it afterwards.
What are you working on next?

AvW: I start shooting a new film coming in July. It’s called Schneider vs. Bax. It’s a story about a contract killer who has to kill a writer in a little house on a lake. It seems like a simple job, but it appears to be a misconception.

Nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival ‘Borgman’ is an incredible film, which goes on release from Drafthouse Films in America from June 6th.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Listen to some lesser-known Pink Floyd gems from their soundtrack to ‘More’
07:52 am


Pink Floyd
Barbet Schroeder

For one of the top-selling rock groups of all time, there are several albums by Pink Floyd that are virtually unknown to the vast majority of people who would call themselves “big” Pink Floyd fans (but who only actually own The Wall and The Dark Side Of The Moon).

One such album is their 1969 soundtrack album for French/Swiss director Barbet Schroeder’s More, an English language film about heroin addicts in Ibiza modeled on the Icarus myth. I think it’s one of the very best Pink Floyd albums, or at least it has a handful of some of their very best songs.

As Roger Waters said of the working on More:

“His [Barbet Schroeder’s] feeling about music for movies was, in those days, that he didn’t want a soundtrack to go behind the movie. All he wanted was, literally, if the radio was switched on in the car, for example, he wanted something to come out of the car. Or someone goes and switches the TV on, or whatever it is. He wanted the soundtrack to relate exactly to what was happening in the movie, rather than a film score backing the visuals.”

Speaking of visuals, More was shot by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Nestor Almendros (Days of Heaven).

It might be hard to imagine “The Nile Song,” which is undoubtedly the heaviest song in the entire Pink Floyd discography, taking a backseat to what’s going on onscreen (see last clip):

The gorgeous “Cymbaline,” sung by David Gilmour, is only heard in the film on someone’s record player as a couple roll and smoke a joint and predict it will be legal in five years. This slower live performance was filmed in the Abbaye De Royaumont, 18 miles north of Paris, in 1971. This would have been one of the final live performances of this song, as they would soon drop it from their concert repertoire in favor of the material that would become The Dark Side of the Moon.

A performance of “Green is the Colour” from Belgian television:

More from ‘More’ after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Get your very own Lebowski doodle pad, complete with sketch of ... you know what
06:38 am


The Big Lebowski

Treehorn doodle pad
From the good people at Lebowski Fest, the Treehorn Doodle Pad! Only five bucks. Anyone who is a fan of the Coen brothers’ mastepiece The Big Lebowski will have no trouble summoning to mind what scene the Treehorn doodle pad appears in, and what rude message Jackie Treehorn (producer of Logjammin’) writes on a page that we never actually get to see…...

The 13th annual Lebowski Fest takes place in Louisville, Kentucky, on July 11-12, 2014 if you’d like to attend.

Thanks to Carol Schumacher Yachanin for the tip!

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Frank Zappa & The Mothers live in London, 1968: The Rejected Mexican Pope Leaves the Stage

Painting of The Mothers of Invention by the great Cal Schenkel
This is the footage that matches much of the Ahead of Their Time live album that came out in 1993. It’s essentially a comedy “play” featuring Zappa as “The Imaginary Director” with Mothers Don Preston, Jimmy Carl Black, Bunk Gardner, Roy Estrada, Ian Underwood, Euclid James “Motorhead” Sherwood, Arthur Dyer Tripp III and various members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Filmed on October 25th, 1968. Part of the long out-of-print Uncle Meat VHS release from 1987.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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‘The Flicker’: The legendary (and potentially) mind blowing underground film where nothing happens
11:40 am


The Flicker
Tony Conrad

Since he was both a Harvard math major and a member (along with John Cale and Angus Maclise from the Velvet Underground) of LaMonte Young’s drone ensemble the Theatre of Eternal Music (aka “The Dream Syndicate”) it makes sense that artist/musician Tony Conrad would produce a hypnotic film that combined his studies in mathematics and structure with his interest in the psychoactive effects of repetitive or prolonged intervals of pure sound.

The result is “The Flicker,” a film legendary from being mentioned in dozens upon dozens of books on underground film, “expanded cinema” and the Velvet Underground. Few have seen it since the 1960s.

It begins with a message:

WARNING. The producer, distributor, and exhibitors waive all liability for physical or mental injury possibly caused by the motion picture “The Flicker.” Since this film may induce epileptic seizures or produce mild symptoms of shock treatment in certain persons, you are cautioned to remain in the theatre only at your own risk. A physician should be in attendance.

A frame then reads “Tony Conrad Presents” followed by a stylized quasi-Fluxus looking title card. The screen goes white. The screen goes black. When it starts to speed up, the stroboscopic effects are not just similar to—but in my opinion far superior to—the internal visions created by Brion Gysin’s psychoactive kinetic sculpture, Dreamachine.

Conrad told Hyperreal:

When I made the film “The Flicker” in 1965-66 my principal motivation was to explore the possibilities for harmonic expression using a sensory mode other than sound. The experience of “flicker” - its peculiar entrapment of the central nervous system, by ocular driving - occurs over a frequency range of about 4 to 40 flashes per second (fps). I used film (at 24 fps) as a sort of “tonic,” and devised patterns of frames which would represent combinations of frequencies - heterodyned, or rather multiplexed together. I was interested to see whether there might be combination-frequency effects that would occur with flicker, analogous to the combination-tone effects that are responsible for consonance in musical sound.

I don’t think he was whistling “Dixie” when it came to that warning, btw. If a strobe light can set off an epileptic seizure, surely “The Flicker” could. If I haven’t already scared you off, sit with it long enough and you can get a high that’s similar to bed spins without the nausea (I mean that in a good way!)

Here’s an excerpt from “The Flicker” on YouTube. Although it’s a little ratty-looking, you can still more or less “get” the effect. There is a clean version that you can find floating around on torrent trackers and various blogs. I recommend looking for it, it’s really neat.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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William Shatner speaks Esperanto in oddball cult horror film ‘Incubus’
09:22 am


William Shatner
Leslie Stevens

Just before he signed-up to play Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek, William Shatner made a bizarre, little seen, art-house horror movie called Incubus.

It was little seen because the film’s original negative and nearly all of its prints were thought lost or destroyed not long after its initial screenings at film festivals.

Bizarre, well for two reasons, firstly because the whole movie, though shot in California, was performed in Esperanto, an artificial hotchpotch of a language created in the late 19th century by L. L. Zamenof to encourage peace and understanding between the peoples of different nations.

Incubus was written and directed by Leslie Stevens, creator of The Outer Limits. It came about after The Outer Limits had been canceled. Stevens was looking for a way to kickstart his career and curiously decided that an artsy low budget horror film in a language very few people understood could be the answer. William Shatner who starred as Marc in the film later recalled that Stevens’ script…

“...had a starkness and a simplicity to it - of good and evil, it was kind of Greek in its simplicity and the way that events marched, in the script, to their inevitable conclusion. So I read it and called him back quickly and said, ‘that’s wonderful, I’d love to do it.’”

At this point in his career, Shatner had appeared in numerous episodic television roles (including The Outer Limits episode “Cold Hands, Warm Heart”) and in supporting roles in a few notable features, such as Judgment at Nuremberg and The Outrage. His only leads in a feature at this point were for The Explosive Generation and more provocatively in Roger Corman’s The Intruder, which received very scant distribution.

Shatner said “when [Incubus] was presented to me I was in the throes of some good work and in demand, and this was a small picture, it was something that you might not think of as, in that famous phrase, a ‘career move,’ but it was so intriguing, and I so enjoyed working with Leslie Stevens, that I wanted to be in it.”

Stevens wanted to “put the film in a different place,” so he decided to have the actors speak in Esperanto throughout the movie. Stevens figured Esperanto was strange, exotic and archaic enough to create a mysterious sense of otherness. This was the second feature made in Esperanto, though the language had been used to atmospheric effect as set dressing in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, as Hitler had denounced Esperanto as a Jewish plot to take over the world.

When Incubus was premiered at the San Francisco Film Festival in October 1966 and a group of 50-100 Esperantists “screamed and laughed and carried on like maniacs” every time the actors mispronounced the language—Shatner’s Esperanto is considered especially bad as he used a nasal French-sounding manner to enunciate the language. (He was raised in Montreal.)

The movie was further “bizarre” not just for its art house style (kinda Cocteau meets Bergman) but because of the strange incidents associated with a curse supposedly put on the film.


In his commentary for the DVD, William Shatner recalled an incident that occurred when the cast and crew first arrived in Big Sur, California. He remembers a “hippie” man approaching the company, and inquiring into their endeavor. Shatner says that the cast and crew reacted with some hostility to his interest, which angered him in turn. The “hippie” then loudly put a curse on their production, which some people believe came in effect.

The curse was blamed for a series of incidents that occurred within a year of the film’s production. After its initial, limited release the film was considered lost after being destroyed in a fire (or accidentally destroyed by a French film lab, it’s unclear); one of the main actors Milos Milos, who played the Incubus, killed his lover Carolyn Mitchell (estranged wife of Mickey Rooney) and then committed suicide; while actress Ann Atmar who played Shatner’s sister Arndis in the film also killed herself. Even the composer, Dominic Frontiere was convicted and spent some time in prison for scalping literally thousands of Super Bowl tickets in the 1980s

Tragic events and criminal activity aside, a print of Incubus was discovered at the Cinémathèque Française in Paris. A new print was created frame-by-frame, with English subtitles superimposed over the French ones.

So what’s it all about? Well, Incubus tells the story of an ancient Deer Well and the succubus who prey on sinful people who use it. If a corrupt person drinks from the well the water will taste salty, only a person pure of heart can benefit the healing properties of the well. Tired of killing the bunch of sinners who drink from the well, succubus Kia (Allyson Ames) schemes to lure a man pure of heart to the well as a sacrifice to the God of Darkness. Cue William Shatner as Marc, a wounded soldier, who Kia falls in love with, causing her sisterly demon Amael (Eloise Hardt) to raise an Incubus (Milos Milos) to bring revenge on Marc and his sister Arndis (Ann Atmar).

With thanks to Paul D. Brazill

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Chilled Monkey Brains Bowl for your next Indiana Jones-themed dinner party
01:24 pm


Home decor

I find these monkey brain bowls by FireBox amusing, but with a price tag of $58.59 a pop, maybe not enough to purchase. If they were a tad cheaper I’d probably buy a set of four. If you’ve got the extra dough to spend, these would make an excellent conversation piece for sure but you might get sick of eating red jello or cherry cobbler all the time.

Via Boing Boing

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Black female filmmaker gently goes face-to-face with Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis
12:54 pm

Current Events

The Aryans

Mo Asumang, who’s the daughter of a black Ghanaian father and a white German mother, talks to the BBC about her new documentary The Aryans in which she peacefully confronts racists about what makes them tick.

There are some real zingers in this short piece, especially when she confronts a Ku Klux Klan member about his garb.

Filmmaker Mo Asumang embarks on a journey into the abyss of political evil and finds out that the Aryans originally come from an area which now belongs to Iran. ‘The Aryans’ is a personal journey into the madness of racism: Mo Asumang meets German neo-Nazis, America’s most notorious racist Tom Metzger and members of the Ku Klux Klan in the Midwest. When she encounters the true Aryans in Iran, she realizes that they are friendly and cosmopolitan people who lay no claims to being members of a superior race.

What I like about Mo’s interview style is her gentle approach. She’s not confrontational. It’s almost like the KKK members are ashamed or feel shameful of what they’re doing when they speak to her.  That’s a unique talent!

Via reddit

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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