follow us in feedly
The lost ‘Fast Times At Ridgemont High’ TV series that was actually totally awesome
07:54 am

Pop Culture

Cameron Crowe

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is one of those special films that manages to capture the zeitgeist—at least from an American youth culture perspective—of an entire decade. Amy Heckerling’s 1982 film is as much a time-capsule of the fashion, music, speech, and cultural climate of the 1980s as her 1995 film Clueless is of the 1990s.

Future generations studying teenage culture in the second half of the 20th Century would be well-served in absorbing the gist by putting those two movies on a playlist with Rebel Without a Cause, American Graffiti, To Sir With Love, Animal House, and Dazed and Confused.

That just about covers the ‘80s.
The importance of Fast Times At Ridgemont High as a document should not be understated, but it’s the characters that make it truly memorable. The characters are all based on real teenagers observed by Cameron Crowe while freelance reporting for Rolling Stone.

With the cooperation of the school’s administration, Crowe spent a year at Clairemont High School in San Diego, California, as a “student,” gathering material for his 1981 book Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which was produced the following year as Amy Heckerling’s film of the same name. The film resonated with audiences because of its honest and non-exploitative explorations into teenage drug use, sexuality, and social milieu, with relatable characters and just enough comedic flourishes to keep it entertaining without being screwball.

What a lot of fans of the film are unaware of is the fact that it was spun-off four years later into a CBS television show called Fast Times.

Oh yeah, and here’s the thing: the show was actually pretty damn good.

Fast Times was a mid-season replacement show that only lasted for seven episodes before cancellation. It debuted on March 5th, 1986 and ran through April 23rd, 1986. Cameron Crowe was a creative consultant for the show and was on set during the filming of the show’s pilot, which was broadcast as the second episode. Amy Heckerling was a supervising producer of the short-lived series and served as director for three episodes (“Pilot,” “What is Life,” and “The Last Laugh”).

All of the major characters from the film appear in the show, with the addition of a new-agey female teacher, Ms. Mellon, who may have been based on Mrs. George from Cameron Crowe’s original book.

Ray Walston and Vincent Schiavelli reprise their roles from the original film as Mr. Hand and Mr. Vargas. The other characters are played by new actors, some of whom are sort of second-rate versions of the stars from the original film. Grey’s Anatomy‘s Patrick Dempsey plays the Mike Damone character, but is a bit too nerdy to fill slickster Robert Romanus’ shoes (though he was honestly more age-appropriate for the role). James Nadini’s Brad Hamilton (played in the film by Judge Reinhold) comes off as a bit too wimpy for the “big man on campus” character (particularly in scenes where he needs to appear intimidating to Damone). Dean Cameron, perhaps best known as “Chainsaw” from Summer School does an adequate job of filling the Vans of Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli character, perhaps adding a bit of sympathy to the stoner. The real stars here are Back To The Future‘s Claudia Wells as Linda Barrett (played by 80s mega-crush Phoebe Cates in the original film), and Courtney Thorne-Smith (Melrose Place, Ally McBeal) as Stacey Hamilton. Thorne-Smith’s excellent performance rivals that of Jennifer Jason-Leigh in the original film.

Dean “Chainsaw” Cameron as Jeff Spicoli
What’s most remarkable about Fast Times is how watchable it is today compared to most mid-80s situation comedies. It does a fine job of capturing the vibe of the 1982 film. Many of the cut-away shots used in some of the episodes look like they could have been out-takes from the original motion picture. The writing is impressive, there’s no obtrusive laugh-track, the situations are believable and are logical extensions of the world created in Heckerling’s original film, and, most importantly, it’s entertaining.

One can’t help but watch Fast Times and imagine the scenes in the show as performed by the original film’s actors. Perhaps if the show had debuted in 1983 instead of 1986, it could have been a hit. The entire series run is highly worth watching. Or, if you’re like Jeff Spicoli, worth watching highly. 

All seven episodes are up, for now at least, on YouTube. Watch ‘em after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
‘It’s not cranberry sauce!’: Thanksgiving-themed ‘80s slasher film is gory good fun

Blood Rage
As Dangerous Minds readers surely know, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez incorporated fake movie trailers into their brilliant 2007 collaboration, Grindhouse. These previews for exploitation films that didn’t exist were made to resemble the type seen at grindhouse cinemas in the 1960s-1980s. One of the trailers was made by actor/director Eli Roth, most famous for the violent and controversial Hostel films, which have been labeled by some critics as “torture porn.” For his Grindhouse trailer, Roth came up with the delightfully deranged, Thanksgiving, which both celebrated and poked fun at the crop of holiday-themed slasher films that arrived after the major success of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978).

My friend Jeff, who plays the killer pilgrim [in Thanksgiving]—we grew up in Massachusetts, we were huge slasher movie fans and every November we were waiting for the Thanksgiving slasher movie. We had the whole movie worked out: A kid who’s in love with a turkey and then his father killed it and then he killed his family and went away to a mental institution and came back and took revenge on the town.

As it turns out, there were at least two ‘80s horror films based around Thanksgiving, 1981’s Home Sweet Home, and 1987’s Nightmare at Shadow Woods (a/k/a Blood Rage). The latter has been given the deluxe, Blu-ray treatment, and will be released by Arrow Films on December 15th.
Blood Rage
The film opens at a drive-in in 1974. Eight-year-old twin boys, Terry and Todd, witness a teenage couple having sex in a car. While Todd is content to leer at the teens, Terry pushes his brother aside so he can bludgeon the two with an ax.
Ouch! The carnage in ‘Blood Rage’ is just beginning. 

Terry blames it all on Todd, who’s understandably in shock and can’t defend himself. Fast forward ten years, and we are informed via an awkward voice-over (I initially thought the commentary track had accidentally been engaged) that Todd has been institutionalized. Terry, on the other hand, has been going about a normal life.

Louise Lasser, star of iconic ‘70s TV series, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, plays Maddy, Todd and Terry’s loving mother. As the family is sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, Maddy is informed that Todd has escaped from the mental institution. From this point on, it’s both alarming and amusing to watch Lasser’s character go progressively bonkers, as Maddy hits the bottle and becomes increasingly unglued. 
Need a hand?
Need a hand? Maddy loses her shit.

As for Terry, Todd’s escape has stirred the wild beast in him, and he goes on a joyous killing spree, mutilating friends and neighbors in the process.
It's not cranberry sauce
“It’s not cranberry sauce.”

Naturally, everyone thinks Todd is responsible. Meanwhile, man child Todd has indeed returned home, and the two brothers face off in a totally disturbing (yet still kinda funny) finale, which also involves Lasser’s Maddy and her shattered mental state.

Little-known actress Julie Gordon plays Terry’s girlfriend, Karen. Gordon’s only appeared in a handful of films, so it was a cool surprise to see her onscreen here (she’s the female lead in one of my all-time favorite ‘80s movies, Super Fuzz). In Blood Rage, she has the coveted role of “Final Girl.”
Julie Gordon
The production wrapped in 1983, but the film didn’t see wide release until 1987 when it came out under the title, Nightmare at Shadow Woods. The violence was toned-down for the theatrical release, with some additional footage added. For the Blu-ray, Arrow Video has included three versions of the film: the restored, uncensored cut of Blood Rage, which was released on VHS; a restored Nightmare at Shadow Woods; plus a new composite edit.
Nightmare at Shadow Woods
In addition to the holiday theme, like many horror flicks from the period, it borrows liberally from Halloween. But even John Carpenter had his influences, and was surely swayed by the groundbreaking holiday slasher that preceded Halloween, Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974).
Black Christmas
Though Blood Rage is low on fright (we know who the killer is early on and almost always see him coming), the film more than makes up for it with heavy doses of gleeful butchery.
He lost his head
If you like your ‘80s horror movies goofy and able to induce flashbacks from the era—the hair, the fashion, the video games—you’ll dig Blood Rage.
Good times
It’s really too bad Eli Roth didn’t see this one back in the day. He surely would’ve enjoyed this silly slice of slasher cinema.
Bloody popcorn
Of course it’s never too late for Roth or anyone else to check out film—and there’s no time like the present. You can pre-order the Blood Rage Blu-ray/DVD combo, which includes tons of extras, on MVD or Amazon. In the meantime, check out the NSFW preview below.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Happy Thanksgiving

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Leave a comment
Kenneth Anger launches official ‘Lucifer Rising’ baseball jacket in time for the holidays
10:40 am


Kenneth Anger

The headline above came straight from the press release because it made me laugh. Can’t think of what to buy your favorite magus for Christmas? [Or Noel Fielding, wait, he’s already got one.] Yes that’s right, Kenneth Anger, avant garde underground filmmaker is now in the fashion business. Back in September Kenneth Anger “signature” tees went on sale, and now you can keep warm this winter with an “official” Lucifer Rising baseball jacket available only at his website.

Hollywood, CA November 23, 2015 – The story behind Kenneth Anger’s undisputed masterpiece, Lucifer Rising, is as exciting and bizarre as the film itself. Featuring such pop icons as Jimmy Page, Marianne Faithfull, Donald Cammell (co-director of the film Performance) and Bobby Beausoleil (member of the Charles Manson family and convicted murderer), the production was plagued with bizarre coincidences and sinister backlashes. After thirteen years of filming Kenneth Anger was determined to complete the film despite the almost surreal obstacles that materialized every step of the way.

A recognized master of avant garde film, Kenneth Anger’s influence can be seen in filmmakers as diverse as Martin Scorsese (who calls him “without a doubt, one of our greatest artists”), Roger Corman, George Lucas, Gus Van Sant, Guy Maddin, and David Lynch, not to mention the pop art of Andy Warhol, and almost every music video. He also gained notoriety as the author of the bestseller, Hollywood Babylon, a tell-all book revealing scandals and controversies in Hollywood among the rich and famous. The interest in Anger’s work shows no sign of abating in 21st century. The objects seen in his films, such as Anger’s custom made ‘Lucifer’ and Scorpio Rising jackets have now become cult icons in themselves.

I’ve been told that the Lucifer Rising jackets are already selling like the proverbial hotcakes and they aren’t planning a second run of these puppies, so if you want one you might not want to hesitate. The production run was described to me as “just a handful.”

In addition, there’s a second newly listed Lucifer Rising item for sale on, a signed reproduction of “The Magick Lantern Cycle” poster, as originally painted by Page Wood.

Each poster will be signed in the area with the negative space by Kenneth Anger personally. Can an official Scorpio Rising motorcycle jacket be far behind?

Below, a clip from Brian Butler’s Raising Lucifer documentary:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘Horror Express’: Extraterrestrial ‘spirit of pure evil’ wreaks havoc in campy cult classic
04:13 pm


Peter Cushing
Christopher Lee
horror films

Playing almost like a particularly claustrophobic Dario Argento film produced by Roger Corman, but starring Hammer’s two most notable leading men, the gory low-budget—but totally wonderful—Horror Express is one of those films that we of a certain age saw repeatedly on “Chiller Theater” type TV shows in the mid-to-late 70s. When I was a ten-year-old kid, this film absolutely scared the shit out of me.

In Horror Express, which is almost a horror comedy, a supposed “missing link” is discovered in Siberia, but the frozen creature is merely the vessel for an extraterrestrial “spirit of pure evil” that can hop from victim to victim turning them into zombies that bleed from their eyes. It stars Christoper Lee and Peter Cushing as two competitive archaeologists. Telly Savalas has a great supporting role as a brutal Cossack officer who’s a nasty piece of work and there is even a weird Rasputin character milling about.  It was written by Arnaud d’Usseau and Julian Zimet, the same (one-time blacklisted) screenwriters who penned the “undead biker” cult classic Psychomania. It was directed by Eugenio Martín. Like many European films of the time, this Spanish production was shot without sound and the actors dubbed their voices in later so it’s got that loopy sort of feel.

Horror Express has been in the public domain for years and crappy quasi-bootleg copies have been making the rounds at 99 Cents Only stores and the like for a while now (I have one that has the film reels out of order). In 2011, Horror Express fans were treated to a deluxe 2-disc dual DVD/Blu-ray release from cult meisters extraordinaire, Severin Films. Created using the original camera negative, the DVD extras include a recording of an extensive 1973 interview with Peter Cushing. (Cushing’s wife died right before filming on Horror Express commenced. He almost backed out of the film entirely).

Horror Express makes for great campy “Midnight Movie” viewing. If you’ve never seen it before, it’s big fun.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘Don’t f*cking Jimmie me, Jules!’ Foul-mouthed talking ‘Pulp Fiction’ action figures!

Talking Jimmie Dimmick action figure and his
Talking Jimmie Dimmick action figure (from Pulp Fiction) and his “really fucking good” cup of coffee
Toymaker Beeline Creative are the geniuses behind what appears to be the greatest line of action figures ever created - four thirteen-inch likenesses of Jules Winnfield, Vincent Vega, Jimmie Dimmick and Butch Coolidge from the 1994 film Pulp Fiction that are also able to hurl many of the memorable obscenity-laced quotes from the flick whenever the mood strikes you. Oh, I’m sorry… did I break your concentration?
Jules Winnfield talking action figure
Jules Winnfield talking action figure
Vincent Vega talking action figure (from Pulp Fiction)
Vincent Vega talking action figure
All of the figures are poseable and also come with different artifacts specific to their character in the film. For instance, the figure based on Quentin Tarantino’s role as Jimmie Dimmick comes with removable slippers and a cup of “really good fucking coffee,” and Bruce Willis’ character of boxer Butch Coolidge comes with a samurai sword, bloody shirt and his “father’s watch” that was once carried around for safekeeping in “Captain Koon’s” ass (played by Christopher Walken in the film). Each of the figures have the ability to curse you under the table with the push of a button. In other fantastic fucking news, the Vincent Vega figure (pictured above) comes loaded with the most quotes of the four figures, a whopping twelve f-bomb laden lines from the film. Here’s everything that little Vinnie Vega says:

1. All right. Well, you can walk into a movie theater in Amsterdam and buy a beer. And I don’t mean just like in no paper cup, I’m talking about a glass of beer. And in Paris, you can buy a beer at McDonald’s. And you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
2. Nah, man, they got the metric system. They wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.
3. They call it a ‘Royale with cheese.’
4. Play with matches, you get burned.
5. I ain’t saying it’s right, but you’re saying a foot massage don’t mean nothin’ and I’m saying it does. Now look, I’ve given a million ladies a million foot massages and they ALL meant something. Now we act like they don’t but they do, that’s what’s so fuckin’ cool about it. There’s a sensuous thing going on, where even if you don’t talk about it, you know, she knows it. Fuckin’ Marcelus knew it and Antwone should have fuckin’ known better.
6. Chill Jules, this shit happens.
7. Do you wanna continue this theological discussion in the car, or in the jailhouse with the cops?
8. Alright, it was a miracle, can we go now?
9. Aw man! I shot Marvin in the face!
10. Chill out, man! I told you it was an accident! You probably went over a bump.
11. I was washing ‘em. But this shit’s hard to get off. Maybe if you had Lava, I coulda done a better job.
12. I got a threshold, Jules. I got a threshold for the abuse that I will take. Now, right now, I’m a fuckin’ race car, right, and you got me in the red. And I’m just sayin’, I’m just sayin’ that it’s fuckin’ dangerous to have a race car in the fuckin’ red. That’s all. I could blow.

Butch Coolidge talking action figure
Butch Coolidge talking action figure
The figures are out now and will run you about $50 bucks a pop (I’ve included links if you care to purchase any of them in the post) with the exception of Butch Coolidge (above) which appears to have a Spring 2016 release date.

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
William S. Burroughs in ‘Energy and How to Get It’

Robert Frank and Rudy Wurlitzer collaborated on a few movies in the 70s and 80s. Frank, of course, is the photographer behind the book The Americans, the Beat movie Pull My Daisy and the notorious Stones-commissioned, Stones-banned Cocksucker Blues; Wurlitzer is the novelist and screenwriter who wrote the scripts for Two-Lane Blacktop, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and Alex Cox’s Walker.

(Incidentally, Wurlitzer and Cox allege that Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man is a ripoff of Zebulon, an unproduced screenplay Wurlitzer wrote for Sam Peckinpah in the 70s. Several years ago, Wurlitzer refashioned Zebulon as the novel The Drop Edge of Yonder.)

Among Frank and Wurlitzer’s collaborations is the 1981 pseudo-documentary short Energy and How to Get It, about real-life Tesla admirer Robert Golka’s experiments with fusion. It includes an entertaining turn by William S. Burroughs as the sinister Energy Czar, whose interests are threatened by Golka’s experiments and who knows how the world is really run:

Prayin’ is for the moron majority. They’re handy, they’re useful, but we don’t go in for that sort of rubbish. No, I mean, if we had to start prayin’, we’d be prayin’ to ourselves. ‘Cause we’re the source. If you want anything, you have to come to us.


Frames from Energy and How to Get It
Earlier this year, about fourteen minutes of the 28-minute short surfaced on YouTube. I’m not sure whether this is just the movie’s first half or if it’s the edited version that was released on Giorno Poetry Systems’ home video It’s Clean, It Just Looks Dirty. In any case, to see the 28-minute cut, you’ll have to track down the out-of-print German DVD Robert Frank: The Complete Film Works Volume 4. Good luck with that. In the meantime, behold this tantalizing glimpse of a future that never was.

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
Behind the scenes of ‘Taxi Driver’

Art by Guy Peellaert

Paul Schrader wrote the screenplay for Taxi Driver in about ten days. He was 26 years old. He wrote continuously, intuitively, from the gut—not like screenwriters today who write for a market, an audience, a paycheck. Schrader had been living in his car, parked at night on off-roads and empty, anonymous LA streets. One day, he was agonizing pain and was admitted to A&E. An ulcer had gone bad. When answering the questions of date, birth, allergies and such asked by a nurse, Schrader realized he hadn’t spoken to anyone in over three weeks. That’s when he got the idea for Taxi Driver:

It really hit me, an image that I was like a taxi driver, floating around in this metal coffin in the city, seemingly in the middle of people, but absolutely, totally alone.

The taxicab was a metaphor for loneliness, and once I had that, it was just a matter of creating a plot: the girl he wants but can’t have, and the one he can have but doesn’t want. He tries to kill the surrogate father of the first and fails, so he kills the surrogate father of the other. I think it took ten days, it may have been twelve – I just wrote continuously. I was staying at an old girlfriend’s house, where the heat and gas were all turned off, and I just wrote. When I stopped, I slept on the couch, then I woke up and I went back to typing.

The script kicked around Hollywood until Martin Scorsese picked it up. Then it was filmed with hardly any of Schrader’s original script being changed—it was only added to by the sheer bloody brilliance of Scorsese’s direction and the perfectly pitched, disturbingly real performance by Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle. I’ve watched Taxi Driver about 50 times—and with each viewing appreciate something new and different about it—it’s one of those very, very rare films that gets better with every viewing. How it didn’t clean up at the Oscars is still one of those great unexplained mysteries, as it was the best American film of the 1970s. In 1980, the trio of Scorsese, De Niro and Schrader reunited to make the greatest American movie of the 1980s Raging Bull—which similarly should have won all eight of its Oscar nominations.
Screenwriter Paul Schrader with Scorsese and De Niro.

Personnel Officer: How’s your driving record? Clean?
Travis Bickle: It’s clean, real clean. Like my conscience.

More photos of Bob, Marty, Cybil, Jodie & Harvey, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘The Inner Scar’: Velvet Underground singer Nico stars in obscure, pretentious French art film, 1972
09:53 am


Philippe Garrel

Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico and French avant-garde film director Philippe Garrel had a decade long romantic relationship between 1969 and 1979. Garrel, acclaimed in his youth as being a sort of cinematic Rimbaud, was much admired by Jean-Luc Godard, but is almost completely unknown in the English-speaking world. Nico appeared in seven of his films and sometimes gave him music for them that has not been heard elsewhere. Stills from Garrel’s films appeared on the covers of her Desertshore and The End albums, which show how interested she was in promoting his work. Garrel made his own clothes at the time and began dressing Nico, encouraging her to dye her hair crimson and cut her bangs. Their most significant and fully-realized collaboration was La Cicatrice Intérieure (or “The Inner Scar”), made in 1972 when Garrel was only 22.

During their relationship, the pair became hardcore heroin addicts, resorting to petty thievery from friends and acquaintances to support their habits. According to Richard Witts’ biography, Nico: The Life & Lies of an Icon, their Paris apartment was a “garret” that lacked gas, electricity, hot water, furniture and housed a gargantuan mountain of cigarette butts. The entire apartment was covered in two coats of glossy black enamel paint. Their bed, apparently, was Garrel’s overcoat.

To call Philippe Garrel’s films “tedious” and “self-indulgent” is a bit of an understatement. They’re preposterously tedious and self-indulgent—I believe the Monty Python “French Subtitled Film” sketch was directly inspired by Garrel’s work—but no more so than Matthew Barney’s movies, if you ask me.  About half of her Desertshore album (and one otherwise unreleased song, the mind-blowing “König,” see below) is used as the film’s soundtrack. (This again seems worth comparing to Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint 9, a collaboration with his wife, Bjork, herself a big Nico fan.)

To some, Garrel, who is still making films today, is an underrated visionary genius whose work must be seen in the cinema to be fully appreciated (for years the director refused to release his films on DVD). To them he is revered as some cinephiles worship John Cassavetes. To others, his films (the ones made during his relationship with Nico at least) look like what two junkies with a camera and the financial backing of a French heiress might get up to…

La Cicatrice Intérieure‘s dialogue, mostly made up right before they’d shoot it, by Nico, consists of existential bitching, basically, as the pair walk around in barren, yet gorgeous landscapes shot in Sinai, Death Valley and Iceland. Garrel uses LONG simple linear tracking shots with minimal editing during scenes. Visually, the film is quite stunning—again think Matthew Barney—but the director forbade subtitles so unless you speak French and German, at a few places you’re bound to be confused. (A Japanese DVD with subtitles popped up in 2005).

Nico does most of the speaking in La Cicatrice Intérieure, moaning throughout the film in her humorless, stentorian voice, at times coming off like some sort of prophetess of doom. As the Time Out reviewer said of the film when it was released in 1972: “You need a bloody big spliff to enjoy this. A miserable couple who you would not wish to meet at a party [Garrel, Nico] are joined by a naked weirdo [Pierre Clémenti, best-known for his role as the gangster lover of Catherine Deneuve’s prostitute in Buñuel’s Belle de jour] with a bow and arrow and a desire to set everything on fire. That’s about it, frankly, unless I fell asleep, which is likely.”

Nico described the film like so:

“[It’s] an important film, a great film. It concerns the fragility of life. The film treats the story of a lunatic who starts to kill all of his sheep. It is not clear if he is a shepherd or a prince. He has no identity until I show up [of course!]. I am a queen on a journey. A queen finds a kingdom wherever she goes. There are more songs than dialogue in the film which I think is a good idea [of course!].

In the case of La Cicatrice Intérieure, she’s probably right about that, and although the film does have its perplexing, often gorgeous, merits, as our own Marc Campbell put it, La Cicatrice Intérieure is “a gorgeous looking folly that, despite its abundant tracking shots, is so inert it makes L’Avventura look like The Fast And The Furious.” La Cicatrice Intérieure is now in the public domain and there is even an HD version of it floating around on the torrent trackers that elevates the viewing experience quite a bit and is worth finding (Hint, looky here). Yet another fine example of an absolutely M.I.A. film that you can see today without even getting up from your seat. La Cicatrice Intérieure was once the litmus test for obscure, nearly impossible to see movies, but there’s even a quite good version of the film on YouTube (see last video).

“My Only Child” and “All That Is My Own” are heard in the following two sequences. The child is Nico’s son, Ari Boulogne. Note how the camera moves constantly.

Continues after la jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The Nigerien remake of ‘Purple Rain’ is cinematic magic

“A revolutionary story of guitars, motorcycles, cell phones – and the music of a new generation” is how director Christopher Kirkley describes his West African re-imagining of Purple Rain. Set in the Saharan city of Agadez in Niger, Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai (Akounak for short) is a visually sumptuous and musically thrilling movie that works splendidly with or without the Purple Rain mythos. But riffing on Prince’s tale locates Purple Rain’s universal heartbeat.

Like the lone, nameless gunslinger in a Sergio Leone western, the central character in Kirkley’s film, musician Mdou Moctar, travels through the desert with a guitar instead of a rifle or Colt 45. And instead of a horse, he rides a motorcycle… a purple one. The gunslinger analogy is apt because guitar players in Agadez and surrounding areas battle among themselves to gain status as the fastest gun in the west, with six strings replacing six bullets. It’s a rivalry that is rooted in a culture where young men still embrace old school notions of masculinity. The whole cowboy thing has been transposed to musicianship. If wars are to be fought then let the bullets be musical notes.

Moctar is a self-taught guitarist who plays in the Tuareg style of artists like Bombino and Tinariwen. Guitar-driven, rhythmic and often wildly psychedelic, Tuareg music taps into something deep within the listener’s body and soul. It resonates on a higher plane. Moctar’s playing has an almost alchemical effect. It puts me in a zone where magic happens. The fact that this magic is stored and shared on cell phones by West African music fans is a fascinating collision of cultures. In an area where personal computers and high speed internet are scarce to non-existent, cellphones have become the medium through which music is collected and broadcast. Fans swap files wirelessly via Bluetooth. High tech crate digging in a desert as old as time.

Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai translates into English as “Rain the Color of Blue With a Little Red in It,” which is a poetic mouthful. For its theatrical release it’s simply titled Akounak.The combination of Moctar’s live performances, the otherworldly beauty of the Sahara, Jeremy Fino’s luminous cinematography and Kirkley’s intimate and supple style of direction make Anounak one of those rare fictional films about music that has the pulse of real life and the resonance of great art. Additionally, it’s a milestone in that it’s the first fiction film shot in the Tuareg language. 

Akounak is the creation of visionaries who are attempting to—in the lyrics of the song “Purple Rain”—“reach out for something new.” In my view, they’ve succeeded. I’ve never seen a movie like Akounak. It’s a revelation.

For more information about Akounak and to purchase the movie’s soundtrack, among many other fabulous West African recordings, visit Sahel Sounds. The site also has Mdou Moctar’s current European touring schedule. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he extends the tour to the USA.

Update: WFMU radio is presenting a screening tonight (Nov. 14) of Akounak. If you live in the Jersey City, NJ area get your tickets here.

Director Christopher Kirkley generously allowed Dangerous Minds to share this clip from Akounak


Photos: Jeremy Fino.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Walker IN YOUR FACE: Behind the scenes of iconic 60s crime drama ‘Point Blank’

In the 1960s, Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson starred in two pivotal gangster movies that dragged American crime cinema out of the shadows of film noir and into the harsh technicolor daylight of the nuclear age. The first was Don Siegel’s The Killers in 1964—a reworking of the Ernest Hemingway short story which had been originally filmed in 1946. The film co-starred Ronald Reagan in perhaps his finest role as a vicious underworld mobster. Siegel brought a brutal, calculating violence to his film which was further developed by John Boorman three years later with Point Blank. Where Siegel’s characters merely lived in their ultra-modern landscape, Boorman’s players were left cold and alienated by the clean, bright and colorful modern world.

Loosely based on pulp novel The Hunter by Donald E. Westlake, Boorman shifted the book’s east coast location to the blue skies and golden beaches of California. He changed the central character from the likeable tough “Parker,” to the hungry, relentless loner “Walker.” In Lee Marvin, Boorman was blessed with the only actor capable of inhabiting this complex role. Boorman has since said that Marvin used his own “brutalizing” experiences as a sniper in the Second World War to bring Walker to life—experiences which had “dehumanized him and left him desperately searching for his humanity.” It is certainly one of Marvin’s greatest performances (his next movie with Boorman Hell in the Pacific is equally as brilliant) and he was superbly supported by Angie Dickinson, Keenan Wynn and John Vernon.

Boorman’s powerfully iconic and artful direction puts Point Blank above any other crime movie of that era, and though lightly praised at the time, it is fair to say with Point Blank there would have been no Bullitt or Dirty Harry or any of the long list of gritty crime thrillers that dominated the 1970s.
Lee Marvin and John Boorman discuss filming a scene.
Lee Marvin as Walker.
More iconic photos from the filming of ‘Point Blank,’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Page 1 of 240  1 2 3 >  Last ›