An interesting cinematic footnote to the Clash’s time spent in New York City in the early 1980s—while they recorded their sprawling three-record Sandinista album—is their “blink and you missed ‘em” appearance in Martin Scorsese’s dark classic The King of Comedy.
Apparently both Scorsese and Robert De Niro were huge Clash fans and saw them during their famous series of seventeen concerts at Bonds International Casino in Times Square during May and June of 1981. Aside from the band going out to bars a few times with the director and actor, it’s mentioned in several Clash biographies—and several about Scorsese, too—that Gangs of New York was originally something he envisioned for the group!
Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon and some of their cohorts—sometime manager Kosmo Vinyl, singers Ellen Foley and Pearl Harbour and filmmaker Don Letts are credited in The King of Comedy as “Street Scum.”
Pauline Boty was an artist, activist, actress and model. She was one of the leading figures of the British Pop art movement during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Her contemporaries were Peter Blake, Derek Boshier and David Hockney. But when Boty tragically died at the height of her fame in 1966, her work mysteriously disappeared. Not one of her paintings was exhibited again until 1993.
Boty was all but forgotten by the time a cache of her paintings was rediscovered on a farm in the English countryside in the early 1990s. The paintings had been stored in an old barn for safe-keeping by her brother. Their rediscovery placed Boty firmly back into the center of the Pop art boy’s club.
Throughout her life, Boty kicked against the men who tried to hold her back. Born into a Catholic family in 1938, her father (a by-the-book accountant) wanted his daughter to marry someone respectable and raise a family. Instead she chose to study art to her father’s great displeasure. In 1954, Boty won a scholarship to Wimbledon School of Art.
At college, Boty was dubbed the “Wimbledon Bridget Bardot” because of her blonde hair and film star looks. She went onto study lithography and stained glass design. However, her desire was to study painting. When she applied to the Royal College of Art in 1958, it was suggested by the male tutors that she would be more suited studying stained glass design as there were so few women painters. Though Boty enrolled in the design course she continued with her ambitions to paint.
Encouraged by the original Pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi, Boty began painting at her apartment. Her makeshift studio soon became a meeting point for her friends (Derek Marlowe, Celia Birtwell) and contemporaries (Blake, Boshier, Hockney and co) to meet, talk and work. Boty started exhibiting her collages and paintings alongside these artists and her career as a painter commenced.
In 1962, Boty was featured in a documentary about young British pop artists Pop Goes the Easel alongside Peter Blake, Derek Boshier and Peter Phillips. The film was directed by Ken Russell who created an incredibly imaginative and memorable portrait of the four artists. Each was given the opportunity to discuss their work—only Boty did not. Instead she collaborated with Russell on a very prescient dream sequence.
It opens with Boty laying out her paintings and drawings on the floor of a long circular corridor—actually the old BBC TV Center. As she examines her work a group of young women appear behind her. These women walk all over her artwork. Then from out of an office door, a nightmarish figure in a wheelchair appears and chases Boty along the seemingly endless twisting corridors. Boty eventually escapes into an elevator—only to find the ominous figure waiting inside.
Her performance in Russell’s film led to further acting roles—in Alfie with Michael Caine, with James Fox on the stage, Stanley Baxter on television and again with Russell in a small role opposite Oliver Reed in Dante’s Inferno. Boty was photographed by David Bailey, modeled for Vogue, regularly appeared as an audience dancer on Ready, Steady, Go!, and held legendary parties at her studio to which everyone who was anyone attended—from the Stones to Bob Dylan. Boty was the bright flame to whom everyone was attracted.
She was a feminist icon—living her life, doing what she wanted to do, and not letting men from hold her back. But the sixties were not always the liberated decade many Boomers would have us believe. Boty’s critics nastily dismissed her as the Pop art pin-up girl. The left-wing party girl. A dumb blonde. Of course, they were wrong—but shit unfortunately sticks.
Boty’s work became more politically nuanced. She criticised America’s foreign policy in Vietnam; dissected the unacknowledged sexism of everyday life; and celebrated female sexuality. She had a long affair with the director Philip Saville—which allegedly inspired Joseph Losey’s film Darling with Dirk Bogarde and Julie Christie. Then after a ten day “whirlwind romance” Boty married Clive Goodwin—a literary agent and activist. She claimed he was the only man who was interested in her mind.
In 1965, Boty was nearing the top of her field when she found she was pregnant. During a routine prenatal examination, doctors discovered a malignant tumor. Boty refused an abortion. She also refused chemotherapy as she did not want to damage the fetus. In February 1966, Boty gave birth to a daughter—Boty Goodwin. Five months later in July 1966, Pauline Boty died. Her last painting was a commission for Kenneth Tynan’s nude revue Oh! Calcutta! called “BUM.”
Pauline Boty in her studio holding the painting ‘Scandal’ in 1963.
‘A Big Hand’ (1960).
More of Pauline Boty’s paintings plus Ken Russell’s ‘Pop Goes the Easel,’ after the jump…
At the risk of sounding like a middle-aged white guy character in a Mike Judge film, the improbable soundtrack to my life for the past two weeks has been Schoolly motherfuckin’ D. For whatever reason, I pulled out an old CD of his—maybe for the first time this millennium—to listen to in the car the other day and now I can’t get enough of it. Alone in the car I play “P.S.K. (What Does It Mean?)” at an ear-splitting volume that I’m pretty sure bounces my conservative European automobile like a low-rider with tricked-out suspension. I probably look like an idiot, I grant you, but I don’t really care. This shit is amazing. I appreciated it when it came out—I saw him live—but why it captured my attention so much again thirty years later I couldn’t tell you. It just did.
Probably the original original gangster rapper—even Ice-T admitted in his autobiography that he might’ve taken a bite out of Schoolly D‘s style—the Philadelphia native, on his self-released records at least, perfectly played the role of the scary black gang member/rapper, alluding to, cataloging and boasting about the nefarious activities of the “Park Side Killers,” the local posse of bad boys he ran with. Schoolly—real name Jesse Weaver Jr.—was backed by his DJ Code Money and rapped about violence, guns, raunchy sex, “bitches,” crack and “cheeba”—Salt-n-Pepa or Run DMC were never going to mention such things, or use the “N” word in their raps. Schoolly D shied away from none of these topics or that word.
He told the Philadelphia Citypaper about where his lyrical inspiration came from in a 2004 interview:
“A couple of guys I know, Abdullah, Disco Man and my man Manny, were like, “Why don’t you write a song about us, why don’t you write a song about Parkside Killers?’ It was one of the easiest songs I’d ever written. I wrote it sitting at my mom’s dining-room table, smoking some weed at 3 o’clock in the morning.”
Armed with his newfound inspiration and a large amount of weed, Schoolly hit the studio. Out of necessity he was forced into recording in a studio designed for classical music.
“They had these big plate reverbs, that’s why you got the “PSK’ sound because nobody used the real shit. We did everything live, and if you listen you can hear my fingers programming the drum machine. We just kept getting higher and higher and higher, and smoking and smoking and all of a sudden the song just took on this whole other life because we were just so fucked up. It just made this sucking sound like “boosh, boosh’ and we just looked at each other and were like, “Yeah, do more of that shit.’”
The “boosh” sound is what really made “PSK” stand out as something that, until that time, had never been done. The tweaked-out reverb bass caused a sensation.
“I got home and I put the tape in the tape recorder and I was like, “What the fuck did I do?’ Nobody had ever done something like that before, with all the reverb, nobody. And I was like, “I gotta go back and take some of that reverb out because this shit just sounds kinda crazy.’ But I didn’t know that everyone else was making tapes and passing out copies to everyone in Parkside, so by the time that I wanted to go back to the studio it was already out everywhere, and motherfuckers was going crazy, they was like, “That’s the baddest shit we ever heard in our whole fucking life.’”
The list of movies Ken Russell didn’t make is nearly as impressive as the ones he did.
Russell had plans for a movie version of Hamlet starring David Bowie. He developed a film about Maria Callas which was to star Sophia Loren. He had plans for a film version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Peter O’Toole as the Count, Peter Ustinov as Van Helsing and Oliver Reed as Renfield. Other book adaptations included Graham Greene’s A Burnt Out Case, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth and D. H. Lawrence’s St. Mawr.
He also wanted to make a film based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs and one of Rabelais’ Gargantua—“the man with the biggest prick in the world.” He had a thriller All-American Murder lined up with Christopher Walken, and tried for years to make a film version of Charlie Mingus’ autobiography Beneath the Underdog. He turned down The Rose (to make Valentino with Rudolf Nureyev) and had been a favorite to direct A Clockwork Orange before Stanley Kubrick with Mick Jagger in the lead.
Russell always had a film project on the go—it is only a shame that so few of them made it to the screen.
In 1997, I met Russell for the first time—interviewing him for a documentary I directed about the legendary dancer Nijinsky. I knew he had tried to make a film about Nijinsky but had somehow never managed to find the financial backing. We talked about films and he told me about two scripts he had just written. One was a full-length feature about young vampires—a rollicking romp through youth culture, gangs and the lives of traveling people. The second was a short called Ein Kitten für Hitler—A Kitten for Hitler.
Russell told me A Kitten for Hitler was inspired by a discussion about censorship with his friend and one-time collaborator (The Music Lovers, The Debussy Film) Melvyn Bragg—the author, broadcaster and editor of legendary arts series The South Bank Show. Russell had suggested there were some films that shouldn’t be made—as he later explained in the Times newspaper in 2007:
Ten years ago, Melvyn Bragg and I had a heated discussion on the pros and cons of film censorship. Broadly speaking, Melvyn was against it, while I, much to his surprise, was absolutely for it. He then dared me to write a script that I thought should be banned. I accepted the challenge and a month or so later sent him a short subject entitled A Kitten for Hitler.
‘Ken,’ he said, ‘if ever you make this film and it is shown, you will be lynched’.
I read both of Ken’s scripts and liked them. Russell gave me his blessing to see if I could raise funding or find a suitable production company who would be interested in making his films.
I pitched the scripts to producers, production company execs and a whole host of bland minions who were all at first excited by the name “Ken Russell” but scared of making any form of commitment. While these bods liked the vampire movie—they balked at A Kitten for Hitler. It was “sick,” “twisted,” “not suitable for viewing” and something they were “not interested in pursuing at this time.” Having already experienced years of smug, barely pubescent TV execs shitting on good ideas, I found the rejection of Russell’s scripts galling. This wasn’t some unknown film director or some hip young punk whose only claim to fame was working in a Blockbuster—this was Ken Russell. One of the greatest film directors of the second half of the twentieth century. The man who had made The Billion Dollar Brain, Women in Love, The Music Lovers, The Boyfriend, The Devils, Savage Messiah, Tommy, Altered States, Lair of the White Worm, Salome’s Last Danceand so on and so on.
While I didn’t get anywhere with these projects, Russell thankfully did. He did manage to make A Kitten for Hitler through the auspices of Comedy Box in 2007. It varies ever so slightly from the script I’d read—but the story’s the same and still as uncompromisingly offensive. Unable to cast a child actor as the boy Lenny, Russell cast Rusty Goffe. Ken’s wife Lisi Tribble plays Lenny’s Mom, Rufus Graham plays Harry S. Truman, Rosey Thewlis plays Eva Braun, and Paul Pritchard is Hitler. Ken Russell himself appears as Santa Claus.
Watch Ken Russell’s ‘A Kitten for Hitler’ after the jump…
Klaus Kinski had the look of man of a man possessed—a cross between Iggy Pop and a comic book psychopath. It was a look that could convince the unwary he had just escaped from Arkham asylum and was now out for bloody revenge. It was a look earned by painful experience which hid the deeply troubled and sensitive artist underneath.
In truth, Kinski’s mental health was an issue. In the 1950s, he spent three days in a psychiatric hospital where the preliminary diagnosis was schizophrenia—the “conclusion psychopathy.”
He attempted suicide first with an overdose of morphine tablets and then a few days later with an overdose of sleeping pills. One doctor wrote that Kinski was “a danger to the public”:
His speech is violent. In this, his self-centred and incorrigible personality is evident as one that can’t blend in civil circumstances. He remains consistent to his egocentric world view and declares all others prejudiced [...] The patient hasn’t had a job in one year, but still speaks confidently of the new film in which he will star.
Another doctor concluded the young actor showed “signs of severe mental illness.” After a series of insulin treatments, Kinski was released. He believed he was being persecuted which made him all the more determined to make a success of his life.
A few years later, Kinski established himself as an up-and-coming actor in Vienna. But his volatile personality—the anger, the passion that fueled his performances—caused him to be labeled as too difficult. To compensate, and keep a roof over his head, he performed one-man shows reciting Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Francois Villon.
He found some financial security as a bit player in movies—most notably the spaghetti western For a Few Dollars More and war films such as A Time to Love and a Time to Die and The Counterfeit Traitor. But Kinski had a talent and an ego that inspired him to hold bolder, greater, more personal ambitions.
In 1971, Kinski hired the Deutschlandhalle to perform his own 30-page interpretation of the life of Jesus Christ—Jesus Christus Erlöser (“Jesus Christ Saviour”). It was no ordinary show. It attracted an audience of diametrically opposed fans—radical students, religious followers and those intrigued to just see the “madman Kinski” did next.
A production about Jesus Christ by one of Germany’s most notorious actors was bound to cause confusion and controversy. Some of the audience seemed to think Kinski was evangelizing, rather than interpreting a role. This led to constant heckling from the spectators. The Christians thought he was blaspheming. Those on the Left thought he was a snake oil salesman for Christianity. Kinski was doing none of this. His Christ was part Kinski, part revolutionary, and part troubled soul. As the audience heckled, Kinski responded to the abuse, as Twitch Film notes:
[A]fter someone stated that shouting down people who disagreed with him was unlike Christ, Kinski responded with a different take on how Christ might respond: “No, he didn’t say ‘shut your mouths’, he took a whip and beat them. That’s what he did, you stupid sow!”
He challenged the audience: “can’t you see that when someone lectures thirty typewritten pages of text in this way, that you must shut your mouths? If you can’t see that, please let someone bang it into your brain with a hammer!” The evening’s festivities also turned physical as an audience member is shown getting bounced from the stage by a bodyguard. Someone responds that “Kinski just let his bodyguard push a peaceful guy, who only wanted to have a discussion, down the stairs! That is a fascist statement, Kinski is a fascist, a psychopath!”
Kinski was unbowed:
I’m not the official Church-Christ, who is accepted by policemen, bankers, judges, executioners, officers, church-heads, politicians and other representatives of the powers that be. - I’m not your super-star!
In a filmed interview, Kinski was asked whether in light of the popularity of such shows as Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell if he was merely riding a fashionable wave to win popularity. Kinski replied he’d had the idea of making a play out of Christ’s life for some time.
I originally had this idea twenty years ago. When I was six years old I received my only praise…usually I got punished in school…I got praised because I learnt the New Testament by heart, I didn’t really understand it but I was just good at learning texts by heart. But accusing me of riding a popular wave is just plain stupid—it was already in the papers twelve years ago that I’m going to interpret the New Testament and already twelve years ago people were annoyed with me because of that. And what do you mean by “riding the popular wave”? I’m a good rider, but on a horse.
Kinski thought the church distorted the New Testament “with murderous intent—because the church, as everyone knows, did interpret it to fit their intentions.”
On August 30th, Criterion will release Blu-ray and DVD editions of Orson Welles’ The Immortal Story. This 1968 work was Welles’ first color picture and would also prove to be the last fiction film he completed, as well as his shortest feature at 58 minutes. It was originally produced for French television and ran at just 48 minutes, though the English-language version, which hit U.S. theatres in 1969, is ten minutes longer.
Criterion has produced a newly restored, 4K digital transfer of the English-language cut, but the French-language TV version will be included, as well. Criterion is also readying the restored version of Chimes at Midnight, Orson’s 1966 film, which has recently been making the rounds in art house theatres. Both films star Welles and actress Jeanne Moreau.
Stills of Welles and Moreau in ‘The Immortal Story.’
Last weekend in Cleveland was shit. Utter. Fucking. Shit. We had snow and 30-degree temperatures in mid-May—the weather here has always been deeply uncooperative, but even by Cleveland standards, that was bizarre. For some reason, a complete baseball game transpired in that freezy, wet weather that couldn’t settle on whether it wanted to rain or hail, and naturally, Cleveland lost that game. Whatever, we’re Cleveland, we’re used to it.
But amid all that, a singularly cool thing happened: on Saturday, Willem Dafoe—the outré-but-still-somehow-mainstream actor who rose to prominence as the murderous counterfeiter in the underrated ‘80s-noir crime drama To Live and Die in L.A., and is probably best known today for his turns as Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ, a vigilante-chasing FBI agent in Boondock Saints, and for completely owning one of the only two Spider-Man movies worth discussing—delivered the commencement address to the graduating students of the Cleveland Institute of Art—my alma mater, as it happens.
How did this awesome thing happen?
Dafoe’s first credited film appearance was the lead role in 1981’s The Loveless, an outlaw biker film directed by a young Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, The Hurt Locker) in which Dafoe played the leader of a gang that causes trouble in a small town on its way to Daytona for a race. One of the co-producers of that film was one Grafton Nunes, who since 2010 has served as President of the Cleveland Institute of Art, so perhaps a favor was being returned here.
Dafoe addressed the students about what sustained and inspired him “through 40 years career both above and below ground” and the value of cross-pollination among different art forms, especially with regard to his younger days in avant-garde theater.
…for the most part it was untrained people making homemade shows. It was a time where dancers were making films, actors were painting, visual artists were performing, and everybody was making music. There was an amateur do-it-yourself aesthetic that wasn’t pursuing recognition or acceptance outside of a certain social circle. Often, the works were sloppy, incomprehensible, lazy, obtuse, and truly just bad. These people weren’t careerists—there was no career to be had in these forms. The most they could hope for to parlay their success into was to sleep with more attractive people in the downtown scene. But, there was something there in some of the work that exhibited extraordinary personal commitment, emotion, and abandon I had not seen elsewhere. For me, these qualities trumped all training and technique.
Having been one of the kids in one of those seats years ago, I don’t know if that’s exactly what I would have wanted to hear after spending years of my life and tens of thousands of borrowed dollars learning training and technique, but you can’t deny that point! It’s a great and genuinely inspiring speech about the process of making, and you can watch it in its entirety, via cleveland.com after the jump…
In younger days I had a girlfriend who would often ask me to look into her eyes and see how much she cared. Perhaps lacking the imagination—or just that right amount of sensitivity—I only ever saw her eyes staring blankly back at me. Which may explain why we never lasted very long as a couple.
The eyes are said to be the windows of the soul. Or as the Roman philosopher Cicero wisely said:
The face is a picture of the mind with the eyes as its interpreter.
The eyes reflect what we’re thinking or more poetically as Saint Jerome put it “confess the secrets of the heart.” How often has someone said “look me right in the eye and tell me the truth” as if the very truth were evident in those watery orbs for all to see? It is a common belief that our organs of sight do reveal everything—even as far as those detectives who believed photographing the pupils of Jack the Ripper’s victims would reveal the image of their killer. Those detectives were wrong, but in truth our eyes do reveal more than we know.
Last year in Sweden, scientists announced after a study of 428 individuals that every eye is unique—as unique as a fingerprint—and each iris can indicate different individual character traits. Apparently, the more pockets or “crypts” (threads which radiate from the pupil) in the iris, the more a person is supposed to be kind, sympathetic and warm-hearted. The more “furrows” (lines curving around the outer edge) the more neurotic and impulsive.
According to Matt Larsson, the behavioral scientist who led the study at Orebro University:
...people with different iris configurations tend to develop along different trajectories in regards to personality. Differences in the iris can be used as a biomarker that reflects differences between people.
Then it’s true—our eyes do reveal secrets. But we must know how to read them first—and not just see them simply staring blankly back.
Advertisers have been canny to this idea for a long time. A big close-up of an eye on a movie poster tells the public exactly what to expect from a film—fear, terror, violence, alienation, or otherness. It is a well-used trope for horror movies—a vulnerable eye looking out in terror on which we can see the reflection of the killer getting ready to despatch another hapless victim. As can be seen from this small selection of movie posters, this heavily-leaned on semiotic message can sometimes work exceedingly well (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), fail miserably (Blind Eye), explain the whole movie (The Day of the Jackal) or just be plain old weird (The Theatre Bizarre).
“I know what kind of welcome you’re gonna give to JEFF BECK!”
Although it’s widely known—or at least widely known among David Bowie fanatics, MOJO subscribers and guitar otakus—that Jeff Beck was the “special guest” at Ziggy and the Spiders’ send-off show at the Hammersmith Odeon on July 3rd, 1973, Beck’s cameo appearance was cut from D.A Pennebaker’s documentary film of the event, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Beck joined Bowie onstage for a blistering two song encore consisting of “The Jean Genie” and a cover of the Chuck Berry number “Around and Around.” There have been several home video releases of the film over the decades and yet none of them have ever restored the Beck footage or even had it as a DVD extra.
It’s not 100% clear why Beck insisted that his footage be edited out of the film, but it’s most likely to do with him not liking what he was wearing onstage that night. Apparently no one had informed the guitarist that the show was being filmed. Even Mick Ronson, no slouch at the time in the goofy clothes department said of Beck’s outfit:
“I was too busy looking at his flares. Even by our standards, those trousers were excessive!”
By the guitar god’s own admission, though, it might’ve been his shoes. In a 2009 interview with The Sunday Times, Beck revealed that it wasn’t his massive flares, but rather his footwear (“the most disgusting pair of dirty-white stack-heeled shoes you’ve ever seen”) that was the reason. He wouldn’t relent:
“Bowie rang me about 10 times and said, “Look, man, I understand about the shoes, ‘cos I didn’t like what I was wearing either.”
I would personally look like a damned fool trying to pull off these plush slippers fashioned after “The Worm” from Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. But maybe you could, or you know someone who’s a diehard Labyrinth fan who could rock the shit out of these?
Even though it’s getting warmer outside, they’re still perfect for these cold Spring mornings.