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Adele Bertei: ‘Adventures In The Town Of Empty’
06.03.2012
04:14 pm

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Dance
Literature
Music
Punk

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Power trio: Lydia Lunch, Bertei and Anya Phillips.
 
If you lived in downtown New York City during the late 1970s and were a fan of new music, the odds are you encountered Adele Bertei. She was a member of seminal No Wave band The Contortions and could be seen performing and hanging out at the Mudd Club, Pep Lounge and CBGB’s, along with a formidable number of musicians and artists that made those clubs their second homes.

Petite and powerful, Bertei is a renaissance woman, much like her hero Patti Smith, who can operate within the worlds of music, literature, dance and film with a fine-tuned ferocity and grace. Moving from the unhinged funk of The Contortions to dance floor hits produced by Jelly Bean Benitez, Arthur Baker and Thomas Dolby weren’t no big thang for the mercurial Bertei. The transition from No Wave to New Wave and disco may have had a commercial design but Bertei did it all without selling her soul. Along with a number of downtown bands (Blondie, Talking Heads) she expanded her range, infiltrating the discotheques with bohemian raps riding big beats. Even her slicker stuff had a knowing quality that said “I can do this stuff too. So, why not.” The walls between uptown and downtown were crumbling, along with the bridges, subways and ghettos.

Bertei is working on a memoir, No New York: Adventures in the Town of Empty, which will chronicle her experiences in New York City from 1977 to the late-1980’s. Those were amazing years to be in Manhattan and if anyone can get at the heart of what made it such a wildly creative time, Bertei is the person to do it. She’s developed into a very fine writer - precise, heartfelt, tough and delicate. Her life story is the story of a city in flux and the people who rode the crest of a very tumultuous pop culture wave. Her early years alone include a stint as Brian Eno’s personal assistant through the Contortions and her all-girl band The Bloods to being a major label artist and collaborator with musicians as diverse as Matthew Sweet, Lydia Lunch, John Lurie, Scritti Politti and Sparks. If you’re interested in learning more about No New York: Adventures in the Town of Empty check this out.

My own experiences of Bertei were the several occasions on which I saw the Contortions and The Bloods. Uncompromising as hell, both bands took traditional funk and rock styles and played them with an aggressively manic edge that mirrored the vibes of a city hovering between decay and resurrection while also serving as a kind of curative - a headshot to the zombies that lurked at the edges of night.

It is arguable that artists and musicians did far more to exorcise the dark spirits embedded in New York City of the Seventies than the useless politicians helplessly choking on clots of meaningless rhetoric and the cops randomly arresting harmless panhandlers while heroin dealers ruled the Lower East Side with impunity. In clubs like CBGB’s, we gathered to re-fuel our engines before returning to the garbage-strewn streets, with their wall-to-wall carpeting of glassine bags, dessicated condoms and dog shit, to look the dead-eyed rat of reality straight in its big fucking smirk of a face. Within this doomsday scenario, we chose to contort ourselves into shapes that hieroglyphed our inner urgency to drown out, with the beat of drums and clang of metal, the grim wails of sirens that tore through the dank poisonous air like sonic razorblades. We had come to make a bigger noise. We weren’t going to take the shit of civilization lying down. We were going out fighting or at least fucking things up. As it is, some of us made art that cooled the jets of the degenerate culture of death. While Rome burned, we did more than fiddle. We rocked.

The videos I’ve included here give testimony to Bertei’s range and musical spirit. Stiff Records’ motto “fuck art, let’s dance” was good to be sure. But in Adele Bertei’s world, you can create art while dancing because they’re the same fucking thing. I know Stiff was trying to make a point about pretentiousness in music, and No Wave was an easy target for that argument, but when the Mudd Club (co-founded by Anya Phillips, Contortionist James Chance’s lover) opened its doors in 1978 and punkers had a dance club they could call their own it was amazing how quickly we went from cretin hopping to eventually burning down the house. The demonization of disco seemed like a waste of time. And segueing from “Le Freak” to “I Wanna Be Sedated” was as smooth as the seats on the L train.

“Jackie is a punk, Judy is a runt
They went down to the Mudd Club
And they both got drunk
Oh-yeah” 
The Ramones

As many times as you may tell your story, it is true that it will never be the same as you are never the same. Memory is flux as is life, although some people may tell you you never change. Stay away from those people. Weed the snakes from your garden. Navigate always toward the love. No matter how much they tell you we are born alone and die alone, it doesn’t make the need for love any less necessary to the in-between.” A. Bertei.

I for one can’t wait to read Adele’s story.
 

 
A multiplicity of Adeles after the jump…

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Nietzsche and Masturbation: Über-clench of the Übermensch
05.30.2012
10:06 am

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Books
History
Kooks
Literature
Sex
Thinkers

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“Can I do it ‘til I need glasses?”

It was odd seeing Nietzche’s face on that pancake yesterday, as I’ve just been reading Gregor Dellin’s Richard Wagner, His Life, His Work, His Century, where I came upon a bizarre perspective on the renowned Wagner-Nietzsche feud – one far less elevated than the philosophical dispute detailed by Nietzsche in his essay “Nietzsche contra Wagner” and elsewhere.

Nietzsche, of course, spent much of his life, prior to his complete physical and mental collapse, struggling with appalling ill-health; attacks of near-blindness, madness and incapacity that ruined his academic career and are nowadays almost unanimously thought to have been the symptoms of advanced syphilis. In 1877, when Wagner and Nietzsche’s friendship was apparently in its pomp, but Nietzsche’s health was moving through an especially rocky patch, Wagner (a bullish individual, to put it mildly) instigated a correspondence with Nietzsche’s then-doctor, evincing a great deal of concern for his younger friend, but an arresting want of tact:

“In assessing Nietzsche’s condition I have long been reminded of identical or very similar experiences with young men of great intellectual ability. Seeing them laid low by similar symptoms, I discovered all too certainly that these were the effects of masturbation [by hiding under their bed, perhaps]. Ever since I observed Nietzsche closely, guided by such experiences, all his traits of temperament and characteristic habits have transformed my fear into a conviction.”

Yes, what Herr Dr. Wagner wants to focus on is the possibility that Nietzsche was, in Wagner’s words, “a confirmed masturbator.” Back then, the world’s foremost pastime was widely considered to be an extremely risky business, as Dr. Balthazar Bekker’s study of 1716 (still influential in Nietzsche and Wagner’s day) details – the following, believe it or not, are just a few of the physical consequences supposed to derive from so-called “self-abuse:”

“Disturbances of the stomach and digestion, loss of appetite or ravenous hunger, vomiting, nausea, weakening of the organs of breathing, coughing, hoarseness, paralysis, weakening of the organ of generation to the point of impotence, lack of libido, back pain, disorders of the eye and ear, total diminution of bodily powers, paleness, thinness, pimples on the face, decline of intellectual powers, loss of memory, attacks of rage, madness, idiocy, epilepsy, fever and finally suicide.”

Which must have spiced up the average wank no end. But spare a thought for young Nietzsche, who already suffered from a decent number of these symptoms and must have regularly entertained the possibility that they were, so to speak, self-inflicted, just as Wagner (indiscreetly) would later allege. Dellin makes a good case that, for Nietzsche—a sexually sensitive man in sexually sensitive times—Wagner’s betrayal of his privacy was, once he learned of the correspondence, impossible to forgive or forget, the unflattering designation made in painful proximity not only to Cossima Wagner (the chick Nietzsche most dug) but also – and worse still – history itself!

But beyond Delin’s suggestion that Nietzsche’s subsequent philosophical feud with Wagner is only a smokescreen to distract history from these rumors and resentments, I couldn’t help entertaining the idea that Nietzsche’s entire later philosophy was an elaborate refutation of the possibility that he was a “confirmed masturbator” –  which Nietzsche could well have imagined his own medical history would suggest to future generations even louder than Wagner’s lay-prognosis.

After all, whichever “moral” worldview Nietzsche attacked – be it Christianity, Buddhism or Socialism – he always did so primarily on the grounds that they were only the symptoms of decadence and that the cultures in which they originated and spread had long since stopped being able to control themselves. As Nietzsche noted in Twilight of the Idols:

“There is a time with all passions when they are merely fatalities, when they drag their victim down with the weight of their folly (...) all the old moral monsters are unanimous that ‘the passions must be killed’.”

Which is to say that you would only preach against the passions if they were fucking you up in the first place! The more moral the philosophy, insisted Nietzsche, the more debauched its adherents; Christianity, then, for whom “the only ‘cure’ is castration” (“if thy eye offend thee, pluck it out”), would therefore find its natural adherents among the most hopelessly degenerate:

“Survey the entire history of priests and philosophers, and that of artists as well: the most virulent utterances against the senses have not come from the impotent, nor from ascetics, but from those who found it impossible to be ascetics, from those who stood in need of being ascetics.”

What might the private life of such a moralist and would-be ascetic look like, then, at its worst? You might envisage (were you alive in the nineteenth century, that is), none other than a chronic masturbator, one (say) whose habit had become such a “fatality” that they risked permanently blinding and paralyzing their mind and body with the “weight of their folly.” 

Quite the opposite, then, of an anti-moralist like Nietzsche, who definitely didn’t have, as Bob Dylan sang, “One hand tied to the tightrope walker/ The other in his pants…”

Posted by Thomas McGrath | Leave a comment
When Harry Met Sammy: Pinter on Beckett
05.29.2012
07:52 pm

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Art
Heroes
Literature

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harold_pinter_samuel_beckett
 
He describes him in short, clipped sentences.

‘He came into the hotel, very quickly indeed. Sharp strides, quick handshake. It was extremely friendly.’

And then he tells you about himself, a slight pride, ‘I’d known his work for many years, of course.’

Of course, as if there would have been any question to otherwise. Then the non sequitur, ‘But it hadn’t led me to believe that he would be such a very fast driver. He drove his little Citreon, from bar-to-bar, throughout the evening. Very quickly, indeed.’

And of course, there are (pauses).

It’s Harold Pinter on Samuel Beckett, recalling an evening spent in his company. A pub crawl in France.

‘We were together for hours, and finally ended up in… (Pause) ...a place in Les Halles, eating onion soup, at about 4 o’clock in the morning. (Longer Pause) And… (Pause) ...I was, by this time, overcome, through, I think, alcohol and tobacco and excitement (Pause) with indigestion and heartburn. So. I lay down on the table, to still see the place. (A Beat) When I looked up he was gone. (Pause) A I say, it was about 4 o’clock in the morning.’

It could be lines from a Pinter play, My Night Out With Samuel, or a comedy, When Harry Met Sammy, but it all progresses beautifully, and menacingly, towards a punchline.

‘I had no idea where he had gone, and he remained away and I thought perhaps this had all been a dream. (Long Pause)  I think I went to sleep on the table and…. (Pause) ...About forty-five minutes later, the table jolted and I looked up and there he was, a package in his hand. A bag.

(Pause)

‘And he said, eh, “I’ve been over the whole of damned Paris to find this. I finally found it.” And he opened the bag and he gave me a tin of bicarbonate of soda. Which indeed worked wonders.’

Pinter then goes on to read from a letter he wrote to a friend in 1954, when he was 24, about Beckett - ‘The farther it goes, the more good it does me’ - before performing an extract from Beckett’s The Unnameable. In total, this short program is seven minutes of sheer brilliance.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Caption This: Win a collectible Allen Ginsberg figurine
05.28.2012
10:30 pm

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Amusing
Art
Literature
Pop Culture

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Create the most “liked” caption, as determined by our readers in the comments, for this photo of Allen Ginsberg, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones and you’ll win a collectible Allen Ginsberg figurine from the fine folks at Aggronautix.

Awesome six inch tall figurine of the king poet of the Beat generation, Allen Ginsberg. Comes with Uncle Sam top hat, glasses, beaded necklace, a groovy coat plus a CD of Allen live at the Knitting Factory in 1995! The CD includes five previously unreleased spoken word pieces. The perfect addition to your shrine to the awesomeness that is the Beats! Figure designed by Archer Prewitt of The Cocktails and The Sea and Cake!

To enter the contest, you must first be following Dangerous Minds on Twitter or Facebook. Post your caption in our comment section and Dangerous Minds’ readers (the most discerning readers on the planet) will pick the winner by clicking the “like” button. The caption that gets the most likes, wins!

The contest will run through Memorial Day weekend and the winner will be announced on Tuesday, May 29. Good luck and have fun.

UPDATE: Bay Area Gooners has the most “liked” caption: “Count ‘em boys, 112 lines and not a goddamn one of them rhymes.  Now, THAT is punk rock!”
 

 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Watch this: ‘Philip K. Dick - The Penultimate Truth’
05.26.2012
05:15 pm

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Drugs
History
Literature
Movies
Science/Tech

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Philip K. Dick - The Penultimate Truth succeeds in shedding some light on the visionary author despite having an unnecessary framing device involving special agents that seem to have wandered into the film from the pages of one of Dick’s short stories. The screenwriter of the documentary, Patricio Vega, is also a writer of detective shows for TV networks in Argentina so I guess he couldn’t help himself. Fortunately, it’s only a mild distraction from an otherwise sturdy documentary directed by Emiliano Larre in 2008.

The film includes interviews with Dick himself as well as with three of his five former wives, his stepdaughter Tandi Ford, writers Ray Nelson, Tim Powers, K. W. Jeter and Dan O’Bannon, his therapist Barry Spatz, and numerous friends from his past.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Jimmy Page and William Burroughs discuss magick and eat burritos, 1975
05.22.2012
04:43 pm

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Heroes
Literature
Music
Occult

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Here’s the back story of the famous William Burroughs/Jimmy Page Crawdaddy magazine cover story of June 1975, excerpted from LZ-‘75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour by Stephen Davis. Read the original article, “Rock Magic: Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin and a search for the elusive Stairway to Heaven” by William Burroughs here.

The long black limousine carrying Jimmy Page to his encounter with William Burroughs made its way down Fifth Avenue in a light snowfall. The car stopped in front of 77 Franklin Street in a dark, shabby neighborhood of vacant or abandoned industrial lofts that were slowly being reclaimed by young artists and urban pioneers. Jimmy was greeted at street level by James Grauerholz, Burroughs’s young assistant, who led Page up four steep flights of stairs to Burroughs’s loft. The sixty-one- year-old writer, dressed in a coat and tie set off by an embroidered Moroccan vest, extended his hand and offered his guest a cup of tea, which Page happily accepted. Also on hand was a photographer to document the interview, and Crawdaddy’s publisher, Josh Feigenbaum, whose idea this meeting had been. Before getting down to business, Burroughs proudly showed Page his orgone accumulator, which looked like a big plywood crate. Sitting in this box, Burroughs explained, concentrated certain energies in a productive and healthful manner according to theories developed by the psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich. Jimmy Page declined Burroughs’s offer to give the orgone box a try.

Burroughs thought he and Jimmy might know people in common since Burroughs had lived in London for most of the past ten years. It turned out to be an interesting list, including film director Donald Camell, who worked on the great Performance; John Michell, an expert on occult matters, especially Stonehenge and UFOs; Mick Jagger and other British rock stars; and Kenneth Anger, auteur of Lucifer Rising. Burroughs told Page about the feelings of energy and exhilaration he experienced sitting in the thirteenth row of a Led Zeppelin concert. These feelings, he told Page, were similar to those he had known while listening to music in Morocco, especially the loud pipes and drums of the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Page somewhat sheepishly admitted that he had yet to visit Morocco but had been to India and Thailand and heard a lot of music there.

Burroughs was interested in getting Page to speak about crowd control, a longtime fascination. “It seems to be that rock stars are juggling fissionable material of the mass unconscious that could blow up at any time,” he pondered.

“You know, Jimmy,” he continued. “The crowd surges forward . . . a heavy piece of equipment falls on the crowd . . . security goes mad, and then . . . a sound like goddamned falling mountains or something.”

Page didn’t bat an eye. “Yes, I’ve thought about that. We all have. The important thing is to maintain a balance. The kids come to get as far out with the music as possible. It’s our job to see that they have a good time and no trouble.”

Burroughs launched into a series of morbid anecdotes he’d collected about fatal crowd stampedes, like the 360 soccer fans crushed to death during a riot in Lima, Peru. Then there was the rock band Storm playing a dance hall in Switzerland. Their pyro effects exploded, but the fire exits had been chained shut. “Thirty-seven people dead, including all the performers,” Burroughs recalled.

He poured two fingers of whiskey for himself and for Page. Burroughs had been informed that these were the first Zeppelin shows to deploy any special effects. “Sure,” Page said. “That’s true. Lights, lasers, dry ice are fine. But I think, again, that you have to have some balance. The show must carry itself and not rely too heavily on special effects, however spectacular. What I really want is laser . . . notes. That’s more what I’m after. Just . . . cut right through!”

Burroughs then wondered if the power of mass concentration experienced by Zeppelin’s audience could be transposed into a kind of magic energy that could materialize an actual stairway to heaven. He added that the moment when the stair- way becomes something physically possible for the audience could be the moment of greatest danger. Page again answered that a performer’s skill involved avoiding these dangers. “You have to be careful [with large audiences],” he said. “It’s rather like driving a load of nitroglycerine.” Page described the fan abuse they had seen in Philadelphia a few days earlier as an ex- ample of a situation that could really crack, but somehow didn’t.

Over margaritas at the nearby Mexican Gardens restaurant, Burroughs asked about Page’s house on the shores of Loch Ness in Scotland, which had once belonged to Aleister Crowley. Was it really haunted? Page said he was sure it was. Does the Loch Ness monster exist? Page said he thought it did. Skeptical, Burroughs wondered how the monster could get enough to eat. The conversation continued over enchiladas. Burroughs talked about infrasound, pitched below the level of human hearing, which had supposedly been developed as a weapon by the French military. Then on to interspecies communication, talking to dolphins via sonar waves. Burroughs said he thought a remarkable synthesis could be achieved if rock music returned to its ancient roots in ceremony and folklore, and brought in some of the trance music one heard in Morocco.

Jimmy Page was receptive. “Well, music which involves [repeating] riffs, anyway, will have a trancelike effect, and it’s really like a mantra. And, you know, we’ve been attacked for that.”

They parted company on the icy sidewalk outside the restaurant, with many thanks and good-byes. Jimmy Page’s limo, which had been waiting for him, whisked him back to the Plaza Hotel. William Burroughs, James Grauerholz, and Josh Feigenbaum walked back to Burroughs’s loft to listen to the tape that Josh had recorded of the conversation.

Speaking of Jimmy Page and magick, here’s the maestro’s seldom-heard abandoned score for Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising: Part II is here.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal’s infamous televised feud: Anatomy of a Dick Cavett classic
05.21.2012
09:30 am

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Literature
Television

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I had already seen the famous footage of a drunk, clumsy and obnoxious Norman Mailer feuding with Gore Vidal on The Dick Cavett Show (see below), registering it as a glimpse of a great character at their worst, but have just been enjoying Mailer’s own account, both of the occurrence itself, and the preceding controversy, in the essay “Of a Small and Modest Malignancy” (which can be found in his Pieces and Pontifications).

Shortly before their appearance on the show, Vidal had written a piece attacking Mailer for misogyny and equating him with Henry Miller and Charles Manson (the three male attendees of my ideal dinner party scenario, as it happens), referring throughout to these three personalities with the moniker “M3.” Mailer had already retaliated with the following tacitly spiteful letter:

Sirs:

It has come to my attention that Gore Vidal has been speaking in your pages of my hatred if women. Let me present the following items.

Number of times married: Mailer 5 Vidal 0

Number of children: Mailer 7 Vidal 0

Number of daughters: Mailer 5 Vidal 0

Of course, Mailer arguably omits the most significant scoreline: “Women stabbed: Mailer 1 Vidal 0.”

Regardless, after including this letter in his essay, Mailer goes on to detail the following tête à tête with Vidal in the Dick Cavett dressing room shortly before filming began.

At this moment, alone in the Green Room, he [Mailer himself, who tended to write such accounts in the third person] felt a tender and caressing hand on the back of his neck. It was Vidal. Vidal had never touched him before, but now had the tender smile of a man who would claim, “It doesn’t matter, old sport, what we say about each other – it’s just pleasant to see an old friend.” Mailer answered with an open-handed tap across the cheek. It was not a slap, neither was it a punch, just a stiff tap. To his amazement, Vidal slapped him back. Norman smiled. He leaned forward and looked pleasantly at Gore. He put his hand to the back of Gore’s neck. Then he butted him hard on the head.

Stormin’ Norman goes on to watch Vidal manage his solo interview with Cavett with begrudging admiration – the only sign Vidal betrays of having been very recently head-butted being his hand occasionally drifting up to the point of contact. As such, Mailer (who had been drinking cocktails earlier that evening, somewhat unsurprisingly), enters the fray feeling he still had a point to prove. Which hardly ends up working in his favor.

Vidal’s pained and slightly nervous expression, meanwhile, makes especial sense when you keep in mind the swift and unexpected head-butt he’d only quite recently received…
 

Posted by Thomas McGrath | Leave a comment
80 lovely minutes of Patti Smith reading her poetry at the Strand bookstore
05.18.2012
11:07 pm

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Literature
Music
Punk

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New Directions recently re-issued Patti Smith’s book of poems Woolgathering, which has been out-of-print for almost 20 years. The new edition contains a previously unpublished autobiographical short story called “Two Worlds.”

Woolgathering is an evocation of Smith’s childhood and early days in New York City delivered in sensuous prose that flutters at the edge of consciousness like the iridescent wings of a Luna moth. The writing is vivid, intoxicating and haunted.

“I had a ruby.  Imperfect, beautiful like faceted blood.  It came from India where they wash up on the shore.  Thousands of them—the beads of sorrow.  Little droplets that somehow became gems gathered by beggars who trade them for rice.  Whenever I stared into its depths I felt overcome, for caught within my little gem was more misery and hope than one could fathom.”

In the video below, Patti reads from Woolgathering and shares memories of growing up in Jersey and New York. She is, as usual, totally charming.

This was shot at my favorite bookstore on the planet, the Strand. For 25 years I lived just a few blocks from the Strand and would spend at least 10 hours a week there hunting and gathering. I have the books to prove it. Thousands of them.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
‘Swear To Tell The Truth’: Excellent documentary on Lenny Bruce


 
Documentarian Richard B. Weide likes to focus on the lives of comedians in his films and in Lenny Bruce he has powerful material to work with. Combining rare archival footage and interviews with Lenny’s mother Sally Marr, ex-wife Honey, daughter Kitty, Paul Krassner, Nat Hentoff and Steve Allen, Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth manages to be both richly informative and emotionally engaging. It’s a terrific movie.

With lean narration by Robert De Niro, Weide digs deep into the life of a comedian prophet driven to an early death by drugs and a government hellbent on shutting his mouth. Bruce was a punk Jesus who railed against hypocrisy and injustice with the low key deadliness of a man armed with the truth and a razor blade tongue.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
The Bacchae in the Age of Aquarius: Brian DePalma’s ‘Dionysus in ‘69’
05.17.2012
11:19 pm

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Art
Literature
Movies

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Dionysus
 
Terms like “interactive theater” may give you visions of cheesy plays, bad magic acts and pretentious performance art. However, if you root around to the modern day origins, with such art constructs as the Theatre of Cruelty, there are rewards to be found. Namely,  Brian DePalma’s Dionysus in ‘69. “Dionysus” is part filmed documentation of a live theater event and part experimental cinema, complete with being shown mostly in split-screen. (Predating 1973’s dual-vision feature Wicked Wicked, starring Tiffany Bolling and Ed “Kookie” Byrnes, by at least three years.)

The final result feels like Antonin Artaud meets Charlie Manson, with a growing sense of witchiness that lays dormant until a little past the half-hour mark. It snakes out and slowly wraps around you until the shocking and darkly funny ending. Adding to the Helter Skelter vibes, intentionally or not, all of the Dionysus devotees could be siblings of Atkins, Fromme, Watson, Beausoleil, Krenwinkle, Van Houten, et al. The only thing missing is a reference to the Beatles’ White Album. (Though if my had my druthers, I would use a Mort Garson album for the score. Though the live soundtrack, ranging from loose music to chants, is quite fine too.)

The first half hour, while good, comes across as what you would expect from a bunch of college students and actors putting on an alternative version of the famous Greek play, “The Bacchae.” It’s all half nudity, smiles, chanting, with the proceedings taking place in a large garage rather than a traditional stage set-up. It’s not until our lead Dionysus (the late, great William Finley) breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the audience, introducing himself as the former William Finley and is now the “reborn” Dionysus. We then get to witness the surrealistic ceremony of squirming bodies and our lead deity born.

The seemingly sweet hedonism quickly has a menacing flower-child in the form of a slight but strong in presence Pentheus (William Shepherd, whom DePalma fans might recognize as the freak-out concert goer in the finale of “Phantom of the Paradise”). Initially lurking around the pseudo-orgiastic goings-on like a bad penny until he makes himself known, revealing his intentions to murder Dionysus. But, it is only a matter of time before Pentheus is seduced by the lanky, golden-curled god. As the seduction happens, the sexuality and vibe in general goes from hippie-free-love to something in the milk ain’t right. At one point, audience members get involved in the breathing-tomb of flesh, while cult-like humming and chanting can be heard in unison for minutes on end in the background. It’s hypnotic and pregnant with ill-will until the inevitable death of Pentheus, as he is ripped apart by Dionysus’s followers.

But that’s not the real end and thanks to the glory of YouTube, you too are privy to the brilliant and dark as dirt finale. Despite the ancient roots of the play, Dionysus in ‘69 is more en point with the cultural and social atmosphere of the late 1960’s. Which is terribly fitting since no one quite did witchy and disturbing like the ancient Greeks. This is a tradition beautifully and faithfully upheld in DePalma’s infant work here. Now, if only more theater pieces were this good, then or now.
 

Posted by Heather Drain | Leave a comment
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