‘What did you do in the 1980s, Daddy?’ For those who want to know what it was like to be young(ish) and middle class in Britain during the 1980s, then take a look at the Pet Shop Boys in their one-and-only feature film, It Couldn’t Happen Here. Originally planned as an hour long pop promo to accompany the release of their third album Actually, It Couldn’t Happen Here captures the style, the pretensions, the cultural obsessions and some of the most popular music of that decade.
The Pet Shop Boys are a hugely under-rated band, whose compelling, beautiful and catchy music by Chris Lowe, can often disguise the power and passion of Neil Tennant’s lyrics. For you see, despite what the music press claims (that means you NME), or the modes by which the band present themselves (daft hats and outfits), there is really nothing ironic about the Pet Shop Boys at all. They mean everything they do. Which is why It Couldn’t Happen Here is so frustrating. It could have been like The Monkees Head for the 1980s, with a hard, political edge, but it wanders without any sense of direction through a series of segments that revolve too literally around the songs.
That said, for a pop film it’s not all that bad, and the quality of the songs, and some of the eye-catching performances (Joss Ackland, Gareth Hunt, Barbara Windsor) make it almost passable. If only Derek Jarman (who collaborated on a stage show, and directed the promo for “It’s A Sin”) or Lindsay Anderson (the director of If… and O, Lucky Man! who would had directed the concert film of Wham, yes, Wham, in China) had been asked to direct rather than Jack Bond, then things might have been different. Even so, Bond made it look sumptuous and Neil Tennant found out he couldn’t act.
Would you believe me if I told you that a film involving ESP, serial murder, LSD experiments, a disfigured ladies man who is strongly clairvoyant, a fairytale witch and a strong undercurrent of nihilism, actually exists? Well, believe, nonbelievers, because it does, all in the form of the 1967 Herschell Gordon Lewis film, Something Weird. Nothing, maybe not even my description above, can adequately prepare you for this film.
The film opens up with a woman walking in a deserted looking cement alleyway, the kind you would need a razor to scrape clean. The camera is angled where we initially only see her legs, but think less sexy and more ominous. The sparse Jazz soundtrack, pregnant like a storm cloud, underscores the impending sense of doom. Sure enough, another pair of legs come into the picture, black-slack clad and belonging to a man, who immediately starts to give chase. There’s a struggle and then a collapse, with the woman’s whole form slumping into frame, blank eyed, bloodied and frozen with the trauma that is death. It might be simple in set up, but this is one of the ugliest cinematic death scenes period. It actually shocked me the first time around, especially since I was mentally prepared and outright anticipating the Grand Guignol on strychnine violence that has earned Lewis the nickname, “The Godfather of Gore.” I was not, however, prepared for the stark ugliness and restrained violence, giving the former an even stronger impact. The audio only adds to this, depriving the audience of expected sounds, like screaming, footsteps and threatening words. Instead, it’s just the disjointed harsh imagery and one woeful jazz bass line.
Like a cupful of cold water to your face, there’s an immediate cut to two men practicing karate, complete with an overly loud yell. After an impressive demonstration, the film pinballs to an electrician, getting hit by a broken power line cable and then falling down to the ground, right to his death. Another man, Cronin “Mitch” Mitchell (Tony McCabe), gets hit in the face with the same cable. Unlike the fellow before him, Mitch lives but part of his face ends up horribly disfigured. The once boyish man is now reduced to borderline accosting his nurse and weeping in the bathroom, looking horrified at what his face has become. However, some curses beget gifts, and Mitch has now mysteriously attained extraordinarily strong powers of clairvoyance.
Despite his new gift, Mitch spends his time with his face mostly swathed in thin black fabric and dark sunglasses, working as a dime-store psychic. (Well, more accurately, a $2 one.) But life has more twists in store for our unlikely hero, which soon come in the form of a cackling, decrepit old woman. Turns out that the old biddy is actually a witch (Mudite Arums, yes that is how she is billed), as in any generic fairy tale or one of the more subdued Sid & Marty Krofft efforts. (Proof, there is a pouty red mouth painted on one of her knees, for no discernible reason.)
She notes what a pretty face he had before the accident and offers him a deal; get his old, flaw-free visage back and become her lover. Naturally, Mitch is aghast at the suggestion but is forced to rethink his reaction when, almost like a free sample, she magically removes all of the scar and tissue damage. It’s not long before he gets to test it out, coming to the rescue of a pretty, blue-eyed and potentially Quaaluded out damsel at a swanky restaurant. After he manages to shake one (fantastically) drunk harasser from her table, and then sweet talks her into coming home with him. As he swoops in for the seductive kill, the lovely Ellen (Elizabeth Lee) transforms into the Witch, who finds the whole thing hilarious, laughing even as she beckons him to fulfill his end of the bargain, which he does.
Meanwhile, there is a killer still on the loose, getting his next victim by murdering her with a primitive but effective flame thrower. (All in that same ugly, bombed out looking cement alley.) The police, with nary a lead in sight, get both Mitchell and Dr. Jordan (William Brooker), a Federal agent, on the case. Everyone is skeptical of Mitch, whose psychic prowess has now gained him national TV exposure. A small demonstration at the station, however, quells all but Jordan, prompting the Chief to invite Mitch and his companion/secretary, Ellen, to a shindig he is throwing at his house. The party’s a hit, with a skeptical Jordan zeroing in on Ellen, while Mitch starts to make some friendly talk with the Chief’s raven haired wife.
It’s only a matter of time that the party goers want to see a display of Mitch’s powers. In lieu of the usual psychic parlor tricks, the crowd, and the Chief’s wife in particular, request that he communes with the dead. (Yeah, that always seems like a good idea for a party!) Needless to say, it doesn’t go well, with Mitch levitating and then momentarily passing out. Turns out, his powers are a little too good, with the session unleashing a ghost, a serene looking bride, who is nevertheless scaring the parishioners at a local church. After being begged by the Reverend to at least check it out, Mitch agrees, purely on the grounds that no one mentions it to Ellen.
The ghost indeed shows up, grabbing his hand as they smile at each other before she completely disappears. Potential foreshadowing? You will soon be the judge and jury.
While Mitch is helping the living and the dead, Dr. Jordan continues his wooing of Ellen, with semi-results in that he is able to meet her for drinks and even defend the both of them from some local (and suspiciously clean-cut) thugs, best utilizing his chop-suey skills. Jordan, however, loses major points for coming about * this * close to sexually assaulting Ellen. At this point Mitch is canoodling with the Chief’s wife but psychically senses that his secret Hag is needing him. All of this results in one of the silliest bordering on surreal scenes in the whole film, with Jordan being attacked by his very own blanket! Whatever image is running in your head right at this very second is undoubtedly and eerily close to the reality. For better or worse, though, Jordan wins the fight of man versus textile fabric.
It’s only going to get even more strange, as Mitch decides to test out some government grade LSD that Jordan had given him earlier in the film. His red-soaked vision at first takes him through a desolate landscape, chasing Ellen who transforms into the cackling witch. He is able to track down the killer, in the same cement hell-alley that the women had been slaughtered in. The murderer bellows “I cannot be stopped!” before shooting Mitch in the head and our hero collapses to the ground, with the look of sad loss and defeat in his waning eyes. Believing the killer to be Detective Maddox after his vision, Mitch calls the department, putting the officers and Jordan on alert.
It’s a sunny afternoon and Mitchell is walking down the street. Before he can even finish ogling a curvy redhead, he gets hit with a sniper bullet, to the head, and our protagonist, our hero, is murdered before us. Jordan, taking his sweet time, finally catches up to Maddox, whom we’re never a 100% sure is the real killer, and murders him before the police can catch him. He is questioned on why he didn’t get to Mitchell sooner and potentially save his life. Jordan hollowly defends himself, only to break down later in the evening to Ellen, claiming that he loves her and wanted her all to himself. This prompts a delighted Ellen to reveal her true self, forcing the la ronde effect to come into play, with Jordan becoming disfigured with the Hag behind him, laughing knowingly.
Something Weird is truly something else, marking a truly layered note in the career of Herschell Gordon Lewis. For your cult film lovers, undoubtedly you’re nodding your head with recognition, perhaps even admiration, at the name of one HG Lewis. Rightfully dubbed “The Godfather of Gore,” Lewis helped usher in a new age of gooey horror, starting way back in the early 1960’s. A lot of his films, ranging from the game changer Blood Feast to The Gore Gore Girls, often played out like Grand Guignol on amphetamines. Despite the fact that the man also made biker films (the incredible She Devils on Wheels), kids films (Jimmy, The Boy Wonder) and sexploitation films (Suburban Roulette), the gore factor to this day is often the first thing that people in the know think of when they hear the name of HG Lewis.
But everything you think you know goes out the door with Something Weird. There is little to no gore, it is more sadly bleak, with our hero killed, a serial killer potentially still loose and the same old strange cycle of life just going on and on. But on top of all that, is an absolutely solid performance from Tony McCabe as Mitch. McCabe, who passed away under unknown circumstances only a year after “Something Weird” came out, is genuinely nuanced and likable. Mitch is no saint but that is part of his charm. He’s a bit of a ladies man whose basic core is good. It’s a damn shame that McCabe’s career was cut so short, since he shows incredible potential and charisma here.
Part of the beauty of Something Weird is that this is a film that clamps its fists down and refuses to be categorized. The closest one could come would be to call it a “nihilistic fairy tale,” which would be halfway honest to the spirit of the fairy tale genre pre-Disney. But even that only paints the broadest of pictures. Some will automatically detest it for not being what they expect but the best art is often the type that defies expectations. Boxes are meant to not only be opened but then ripped apart and burned.
Something Weird is available at Amazon and also from the legendary video company that took its name from the film, Something Weird Video.
The Oyster Princess directed by the great silent-era pioneer Ernst Lubitsch, is the 1919 tale of the marriage of a spoiled millionaire’s daughter and a case of mistaken identity. It contains some of the most ridiculous images of obscene wealth and silly rich people ever committed to celluloid. It’s no wonder that the members of Austin’s avant garde quintet, Bee vs. Moth chose this film to re-score when the SXSW FIlm Festival commissioned them to perform a new work at the fest: In many ways it’s the perfect film for the new gilded age of 2012 and kudos to Bee vs. Moth for resurrecting and renewing this nearly 100-year-old classic for modern audiences.
Bee vs. Moth debuted their original score to The Oyster Princess at the 2012 SXSW festival with a live performance to accompany the film. The members of this eclectic ensemble are Sarah Norris (drums, percussion) Philip Moody (electric & upright bass), Aaryn Russell (guitar), Ivo Gruner (trumpet), and Thomas van der Brook (saxophone). Each of the members play in several other Austin bands as well as working together as Bee vs. Moth.
In the clip below, Austin’s Bee vs. Moth offer a taste of what makes them one of the standout groups in a city positively teaming with musicians. Additional performances of Bee vs. Moth’s original score for The Oyster Princess are scheduled for Dallas and Houston in the near future.
Here’s the extended trailer for Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s highly-anticipated prequel (of sorts) to his masterpiece Alien. It looks like Scott’s playing to his strengths on this one: epic, beautifully designed by Arthur Max and with stunning cinematography by Dariusz Wolski.
The film will focus on a mythology within the Alien universe. Set in the late-21st century, Prometheus will explore the advanced civilization of an extraterrestrial race responsible for the origins of modern humans on Earth, as well as the background of the Alien creature which made its first appearance in the 1979 film.
Starring Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender. Released date June 2012.
Sometimes there comes along a director, whose talent is so apparent that you wonder why they’re not more famous. Glenn McQuaid is such a director, and his first feature, I Sell the Dead, in 2008, offered everything I want from a horror film.
It was my brother who tapped me in to Mr. McQuaid’s work. My brother and I had grown-up under the spell of the horror films produced by Universal in the 1930s and 1940s (with Karloff and Lugosi, and Lon Chaney jnr.), and Hammer films (with Cushing and Lee) from the fifties and sixties. Of course there were also the Vincent Price and Roger Corman collaborations, as well as the Milton Subotsky and Max J Rosenberg anthology films of the 1960s and ‘70s.
We also had a love of stories by Dennis Wheatley (in particular his series of classic horror novels published under his Library of the Occult - Stoker, Shelley, ”Carnaki, the Ghost Finder”, and Guy Endore), and the tales of terror penned by Poe, Blackwood and Bloch.
My brother raved about I Sell the Dead, and when I saw it I had to agree. Written and directed by McQuaid, it stars Larry Fessenden, Dominic Monaghan, Ron Perlman and Angus (Phantasm) Scrimm, and is near perfect - a witty, clever and engaging story, presented in the style of the best, classic horror film. I was smitten, the same way I was when Boris Karloff as the Monster first walked backwards into the laboratory; or by Oliver Reed when he turned into a werewolf. McQuaid knows his genre and its cinematic traditions.
For his next film, McQuaid is one of the directors (alongside David Bruckner, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, and Adam Wingard ) of the soon to be released anthology film, V/H/S, for which he wrote an directed the “unconventional killer-in-the-woods chiller Tuesday The 17th”. When V/H/S previewed at the Sundance Film Festival, it received the kind of exposure of which publicists dream.
At its screening two audience members fled in terror – one fainted, one puked. The last time I recall such a response was for The Exorcist in 1973, where there were reports of fainting, vomiting, and even an alleged possession.
When was shown at SXSW, V/H/S was described as ”an incredibly entertaining film that succeeds in being humorous, sexy, gross and scary as fuck.” While Dead Central gave it 5/5.
Though all the directors have been praised for the quality of their films, the reviews have singled out McQuaid for the excellence and originality of his contribution.
Before all this kicked off, I contacted Glenn McQuaid to organize an interview. Over the following weeks emails went back-and-forth, until the following arrived. The interview covers Mr McQuaid’s background, his influences, early work, The Resurrection Apprentice, working with Larry Fessenden, Ron Perlman and Dominic Monaghan on I Sell the Dead, to V/H/S.
The full interview with Glenn McQuaid, after the jump….
Veteran photographer Bob Gruen is responsible for some of the most iconic images in all of rock and roll history. His instantly recognizable shots of the Sex Pistols, New York Dolls, and John Lennon (to name just three of his subjects) are permanent parts of the pop culture oversoul.
Over his five decade career, Bob Gruen has captured the likes of Madonna, Elvis, Eric Clapton, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Ike and Tina Turner, The Clash, and The Who. His first concert as a “pro” came when he used his camera to talk himself into the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, the concert when Bob Dylan infamously “went electric.”
Gruen was a close friend of Yoko Ono and John Lennon, serving more or less as Lennon’s personal photographer throughout the Seventies. His shot of John Lennon wearing the New York City t-shirt is probably his single most famous image, and the “Mona Lisa” of Big Apple tourist trap tee-shirts, according to the New York Times. Then there’s the one of Sid Vicious with the mustard covered hot dog, Blondie crawling out from under a car wreck, John Lennon in front of the Statue of Liberty. We could go on and on…
A new documentary about Bob Gruen’s life and work, Rock ‘N’ Roll Exposed: The Photography Of Bob Gruen, directed by another of the rock era’s most energetic chroniclers, Grammy award-winning filmmaker/musician/DJ Don Letts, recently premiered at the SXSW Film Festival.
Rock ‘N’ Roll Exposed is an illuminating document full of fascinating historic moments revolving around the time, people and places memorialized in Bob Gruen’s photographs. With his unprecedented access to John Lennon and Yoko Ono he was able to capture their lives on film with a familial intimacy and Zen-like immediacy. Gruen’s photographs tell stories and in the case of John and Yoko those stories get closer to the subjects than most of the dozen or more wordy volumes written about the couple.
With witty and insightful commentary from Gruen, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Legs McNeil, Tommy Ramone, Alice Cooper and more, Rock ‘N’ Roll Exposed is more than a nostalgic look at over several decades of pop music history. It is a testimony to the power of art to not only immortalize the past but to bring it immediately into the moment. Gruen’s photos are vital because they are so alive.
Combining live performance footage with studio sequences and fictionalized scenes, Hasta Que Se Ponga El Sol (rock until sundown) captures an exciting period in Argentina’s rock and roll history, a brief but liberating moment ablaze with creativity and youthful rebellion. Both an aesthetic and political statement, this vital document is social activism with a beat you can dance to.
Filmed in part on September of 1972 in Buenos Aires at the Olympia Theater, Hasta Que Se Ponga El Sol features legendary Argentinian prog rock, psychedelic, folk and blues bands raising their freak flags high at a time when the country was under the de facto military government of Lieutenant General Alejandro Lanusse. The mere fact that a Woodstock-like festival could occur in the country in 1972 is nothing short of miraculous. This all too fleeting escape from harsh reality was attended by thousands of kids who were craving a taste of rock and roll freedom and who were willing to take real chances to experience it. A decade later Lanusse, Peronism and The Dirty War would be consigned to the ash heap of history but rock and roll would remain in all its defiant glory.
Most of the bands featured in Hasta Que Se Ponga El Sol disbanded in the 70s but some re-united in the 1980s to perform for their fans in what might be described as a pop culture declaration of independence.
01. Color Humano - Larga Vida Al Sol
02. Color Humano - Coto De Caza(Cosas Rusticas)
03. Leon Gieco - Hombres De Hierro
04. Vox Dei - El Momento En Que Estas (Presente)
05. Vox Dei - Las Guerras
06. Vox Dei - Jeremias Pies de Plomo
07. Gabriela - Campesina Del Sol (with Edelmiro Molinari)
08. Billy Bond Y La Pesada Del Rock & Roll - Tontos
09. Claudio Gabis - Raga (with Isa Portugheis)
10. Orion’s Bethoveen - Nirmanakaya
11. Sui Generis - Cancion Para Mi Muerte
12. Litto Nebbia - El Bohemio (with Domingo Cura)
13. Litto Nebbia - Vamos Negro
14. Opiniones Del Publico (interviews with festival goers)
15. Pappo’s Blues - En Las Vias Del Ferrocarril
16. Pappo’s Blues - El Tren De Las 16
17. Pescado Rabioso - Ya Despiertate Nena
18. Pescado Rabioso - Corto
19. Pescado Rabioso - Post Crucifixion
20. Arco Iris - Hombre
I always preferred Len Deighton’s anonymous spy to Ian Fleming’s James Bond. There was something too glib and unexciting about Bond, like Superman you knew he could never be defeated, which made it all rather pointless. Whereas Deighton’s spy was fallible, awkward, funny and quite often messed things up.
When it came to the films, it was a more difficult choice. Sean Connery made Bond his own, and has never been equalled. But Michael Caine was equally successful with his interpretation of the Deighton’s insubordinate spy (now named) Harry Palmer in a trilogy of brilliant spy films. Of course, he later nearly blew it all by making two sub-standard Palmer films in the 1990s, the less said about which the better.
Here is Michael Caine with a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the second Palmer movie, Funeral in Berlin. The quality of this video is not brilliant, and yes, it does have an irritating text written over it, but there is enough fascinating things going on to make Man on the Wall very watchable.
Aside from the obvious— they were the first all-black punk band— two additional things must be said of the early Bad Brains: they were the most ferocious musical tornado ever unleashed; a frantic, thrashing monster of a group that had absolutely no competitors for the crown of being the most hardcore of all of the hardcore bands in Washington, D.C.
They were also the best, most skilled musicians of any of their compatriots. Sure, they played buzz-saw punk rock music that sounded like a Black Sabbath album spinning at 45rpm, but they actually came from a jazz fusion background (think Return to Forever and Mahavishnu Orchestra!) before the energy of the D.C. hardcore scene turned their attention to punk.
Lead vocalist H.R. was, simply put, one of the greatest frontmen of the punk era, up there with Johnny Rotten or Jello Biafra as a presence so incendiary, so crazed and so utterly unhinged that you wondered if he was possessed. Backed by Dr. Know (guitar), Darryl Jenifer (bass) and H.R.‘s younger brother, Earl Hudson, on drums, the Bad Brains would explode onto the stage like a nail bomb had gone off. If that prospect seemed worrisome, well, stand back!
It wasn’t long before the group found they weren’t able to play shows in their hometown, hence their famous number, “Banned in D.C.” which has been appropriated for the title of the new film about the group, Bad Brains: A Band In D.C. co-directed by Mandy Stein and Ben Logan. The film actually started as an offshoot of another project about CBGBs, but as Stein told us “What director wouldn’t want to tell this story?”
The 30+ years of the Bad Brains’ existence has been fraught with interpersonal conflict— one epic argument was caught on video by the directors— but it’s that tension that makes the band so great that also, perhaps, prevented them from being as big as they might have otherwise been. Band in DC features some fierce archival footage, more recent live performances and interviews with Henry Rollins, The Beastie Boys, Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye, British black punk DJ and filmmaker Don Letts and The Cars’ Ric Ocasek, who produced the band in the studio.
In the clip below, co-director Mandy Stein and Bad Brains singer H.R. discuss the film and the energy of the early Washington, D.C. punk scene.
As you all know, Page was originally asked to write the music for the film by Kenneth Anger, but various difficulties saw their collaboration fall apart. Anger later claimed he could turn the guitarist into a toad or a statue of gold.
While Page’s soundtrack has been available as a bootleg for some years, this is its first official release, which you can purchase via Jimmy Page’s website
This is what the bootleg version sounds like:
And what Kenneth Anger said after being asked just one more question about Jimmy Page.