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On location with ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’

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At the end of April 1974, the Monty Python team arrived in Ballachulish, Scotland, for a month’s filming on their second feature Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

After more than a year of careful planning, writing and lengthy negotiations, the Pythons (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin) hoped to make a “really good comedy film” that could stand alone and wouldn’t rely on the success of their TV series.

In his diary, Michael Palin detailed the film’s progress from initial idea to finished product.

Monday, March 5th [1973]

A Python meeting at Terry’s. The first time since the third LP in September that we have all contributed to a creative enterprise—in this case the second Python film. It was in many ways like a typical Python working day. Graham arrived late, and Terry made the coffee—and there was the usual indecision over whether to have a small lunch in, or a blow-out at one of Camberwell’s few restaurants…

But for me, the most heartening thing of all was the quality and quantity of the writing that Python has done over the last week… Today we proved that Python can still be as fresh as three years ago, and more prolific.

 
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The team were also working on a stage show, a new book, another TV series (this time without Cleese) and their own projects. In amongst all this, each Python had to find time to work on the film script.

Tuesday, November 27th [1973]

Worked at Terry [Jones’] in the morning. A very poor session. We both wrote 75% tripe, and seemed unable to summon up excitement or concentration about the film. The most I could manage was a sketch about Galahad having smelly breath.

 
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Tuesday, January 15th, London [1974]

Python meeting at T. Gilliam’s… There was some fairly bitter debate over timing of the film and rewriting. In the end, after the personal differences had been aired, we got down to some fast and efficient business, dates were agreed and there was a very useful hour’s discussion of the film. An idea I had for the gradual and increasing involvement of the present day in this otherwise historical film was adopted as a new and better way of ending it…

 
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With the script finished, casting and locations chosen, the filming was scheduled to commence in the spring with Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam co-directing.

Tuesday, April 30th, Ballachulish

First day of filming. Woken at 6.45. Sunshine streaming through the curtains. Into chainmail and red-cross tabard. A difficult day today—the Bridge of Death scene where Eric and I die and Lancelot is arrested by the police…

Camera broke midway through first shot.

The day is hastily rearranged and, from having been busy, but organised, it is now busy and disorganised… Graham as King Arthur got vertigo and couldn’t go across the bridge. He spent the day unhappily cold and shaking. Eric and I and John sat around listening to stories from the Mountain Rescue boys about how many people perish on these spectacular mountains each year. Five or six deaths usually.

Terry J comes up to me in the afternoon and says he’s ‘a bit worried about Terry G’s priorities in choice of shots’—we run two and a quarter hours overtime, until nearly 8.00. Everyone in the young unit seems happy enough.

 
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Wednesday, May 1st, Ballachulish

Lunch with Mark [Forstater, producer], Eric and John, who is trying to read a book of philosophy and is constantly rather cross—but quite fun. He continually goes on about the ‘bovine incompetence’ of the waitresses—who are no Einsteins, but good-hearted Scottish mums.

 
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Thursday, May 2nd, Ballachulish

Eric and I have another lazy day at the rest home for officers, while Graham and Terry are finding the Castle Aaargh! We go to the location about 2.00, and they still haven’t had a lunch break.

Graham is getting shit poured all over him. He’s taking a great deal of punishment in these first few days of filming.

Friday, May 3rd, Killin

A slow day’s filming, it seems. Rather a lot of worried faces when we run into overtime again…

Julian [Doyle] took me aside after filming today as we walked down the hillside and said he was worried that the way things were being shot this week was putting a big strain on the budget (almost the entire £1,000 allowed for overtime was spent in this first week) and there would have to be some compromises by the Terrys somewhere along the line.

 
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Saturday, May 4th, Killin

A good day’s filming at last. Even John and Eric aren’t grumbling, even tho’ we go into overtime again.

Monday, May 6th, Killin

John and I talked about life. I sympathise quite a lot with his urge to be free of the obligations and responsibilities of the Python group—but I feel that John is still tense and unrelaxed with people, which compounds his problems. He has more defences than Fort Knox.

 
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Tuesday, May 7th

Today we shoot the Camelot musical sequence. A long and busy day for 50 seconds’ worth of film…

We pass the afternoon with a game of football. Despite the chainmail, some quite good moves.

 
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Thursday, May 9th

Amazing how much eating one does on filming. If you get up at 7.15 it is nice to have a cup of coffee at least before going to over to the Doune Rural Hall (headquarters of the WI [Women’s Institute]) and, with a full breakfast menu available, I am quite often tempted to a kipper or even a piece of toast. Then, at 10.30 on set, there is more coffee and soft, delicious bap rolls with sausages and scrambled egg. Ron Hellard supplies a gargantuan lunch with much pastry and potato, which is also hard to resist. At around 4.00 tea/coffee and cakes (v. good home-made currant buns) and, after a drink back at the hall at the end of the day, and a look at the rushes (shown extraordinarily enough, in the Silver Chalice Bar!), there is a four-course set meal at the hotel. Consumption is about double what one eats at home.

Saturday, May 11th

John is doing the Taunter on some artificial battlements at the back of the castle. He’s getting very irritated by TG’s direction of his acting. TG tends to communicate by instinct, gesture and feeling, whereas John prefers precise verbal instructions. So TJ has to take over and soothe John down.

Monday, May 13th

The day of the Mud-Eater. Clad in rags, crawling through filthy mud repeatedly and doggedly, in a scene which makes the flagellation scene from Seventh Seal look like Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

 
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Friday, May 24th

...filming is an appalling process for reducing an actor to the role of machine.

In the Knights of Ni, for instance, I was to do close-ups first. directly in front of me are a group of anoraked people squatting down, far more preoccupied with their equipment than me. Someone reads the lines off in a flat voice, which gives you little encouragement. An eyeline keeps you looking at no one at all. Two huge white polystyrene reflectors enclose me on either side—it feels like acting in a sandwich.

Wednesday, May 29th

John, dressed as a magician, spent much of the morning on the narrow top of an extremely impressive pinnacle of slate, across the quarry from us.

Twice the cameras turned. Twice John, towering above the green and pleasant vistas of the Trossachs, gave the signal to summon forth mighty explosions. Twice the explosions failed, and John was left on this striking but lonely pinnacle. He kept in good form, reciting his old cabaret monologues across the quarry, but it was a hard start to the day for him—and he was cold and subdued by the time he came back.

Friday, May 31st

The long and wordy Constitutional Peasants scene. Feel heavy dull and uninspired—wanting above all else for it to be the end of the day…

Terry Bedford [camera] is angry because Mark [Forstater, producer] has been trying to economise by buying old film-stock. Some of the film which has arrived today is six years old. Terry will not use it—in fact he threw a can into a nearby moorland stream—so we have 1,000 feet on which to do this entire scene…

I’m almost too tired to enjoy fully the elation at the end of the day, when the filming, or my part of it anyway, is finally completed. Want to jump up and down, but can’t. So I just stand there looking out over the Scottish hills, all grey and dusky as evening falls, and feel wonderfully free.

Extracted from Michael Palin’s Diaries: 1969-1979 The Python Years.
 
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Monty Python and the Holy Grail was released in April 1975 and proved incredibly successful, hailed as one of the greatest comedies ever made, making millions in profit, and spawning Eric Idle’s multi-award-winning musical Monty Python’s Spamalot.
 

 
H/T Vintage Everyday
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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‘Reefer Madness,’ ‘Rashomon,’ and Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’... edited to be five minutes long


 
The 90to5 Editing Challenge is a fascinating concept for a film competition. Instead of creating entirely new material, participants are challenged to take a feature-length public domain film and edit it down to five minutes, while still retaining the story arc of the original film. Whether you consider this cinematic sampling or Cliff’s Notes sacrilege is up to you, but they’re really fun to watch. Of the entries from previous years (2014 will be the third year running), I highly recommend Reefer Madness and Rashomon.

My absolute favorite though, is the edit below, of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, which was originally a whopping two hours and 43 minutes long. The 1979 Soviet classic follows three men, a “Stalker” (who guides the other two), a writer, and a professor, after they leave a dilapidated city in search of a room where dreams come true—though sometimes with unforeseen consequences. To get there they must travel through the Zone, a strange and dangerous place patrolled by armed guards where the laws of physics are merely suggestions. The movie is intensely spiritual and supernatural—the visually arresting nature of Tarkovsky’s films made him a favorite of both Kurosawa and Bergman. The edit is bafflingly consolidated, and though I certainly miss what was cut, it actually covered a lot of the story! (Stalker is available in its entirety online for free, as well. Check it out.)

You can get tips on editing and submitting your own cut here—the 2014 competition just started!
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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Watch Jean-Luc Godard’s lovelorn post-nuke short film, ‘The New World’
06.18.2014
06:45 am

Topics:
Movies

Tags:
nuclear war
Jean-Luc Godard


 
Godard fans usually swoon over Alphaville, his 1965 dystopic sci-fi romance noir, but not everyone knows about The New World, its 20-minute predecessor released two years earlier. The New World was one of four films from Ro.Go.Pa.G., an all-star collection of shorts featuring, Godard (the only Frenchman) and Italian directors Ugo Gregoretti, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Roberto Rossellini (the title is a combination of their names). Honestly, all of the shorts are great—Pasolini’s La Ricotta has Orson Welles playing a director reminiscent of Pasolini himself—but Godard’s is arguably the strangest and most lovely, with its non sequitur post-nuclear romance.

The plot is a little more cerebral than your average fallout dystopia: An atomic bomb explodes above Paris, but the city is left unharmed—or so it seems. Our protagonist begins to notice changes in his beloved Alessandra. She is flip, confused, and forgetful, as are other Parisians. What he first assumes are spurned affections turns out to be rapid changes in personality brought on by the bomb. Noticing the changes in himself as well, he attempts to chronicle this strange new world beset by a quiet disaster. 

Part 2 is here.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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Why are these ‘Hellraiser’ VHS tapes being left at bus stop on London’s Old Kent Road?
06.17.2014
03:16 pm

Topics:
Amusing
Movies

Tags:
Hellraiser
Clive Barker
Tom Wateracre

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Three years ago, a VHS cassette copy of Clive Barker’s 1980’s horror film Hellraiser appeared on the top of a bus shelter on London’s Old Kent Road. When it was first spotted by Tom Wateracre, it led to his speculation that perhaps the film’s “antique puzzle box” (as discovered by Frank Cotton in Morocco) actually looked like this:
 
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Was it possible?

Had Tom really uncovered the portal to the world of the Cenobites, a hell where pain and pleasure is indivisible?

It’s a ghoulish thought, right?

But Tom wasn’t the only one to notice the Hellraiser video cassette…or its significance…
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Some suggested it was a calling card for drug dealers, while others asked had anyone dared to retrieve the box, open it and view its contents?

If anyone had…they never replied…

The tape was becoming bleached and weather worn, but then one day…
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
But no, for Tom had uncovered a secret community…
 
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Strangely…that twitter account no longer exists…

And so the legend of Hellraiser on the Old Kent Road continues…

Read the Tom’s story here.
 

 
Via Time Out London

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Dali and Warhol’s Ultra Violet light goes out. R.I.P Superstar Ultra Violet
06.16.2014
01:08 pm

Topics:
Art
Movies
Music

Tags:
Andy Warhol
Salvador Dali
Ultra Violet


 
Born Isabelle Collin Dufresne on September 6th 1935, but later but rechristened by Andy Warhol, Ultra Violet passed away Saturday after a long battle with cancer. She was brought up in a strictly religious upper-middle-class family, but she rebelled at an early age, and was supposedly exorcised at the insistence of her parents. Isabelle studied art in France and then ran to New York to live with her older sister.

After meeting Salvador Dali in the early 1950s she became his assistant, pupil and muse. Ten years later Dali introduced Isabelle to Andy Warhol and things would never the same.
 

 
When she was asked once for a short autobiography, she wrote this:

1935 - I was born a mystical child.
1940 - I was raised in France at the Sacred Heart Catholic convent where I became rebellious.
1950 - I was exorcised at age 15.
1951 - I was sent to a correction home at the age of 16.
1968 - I burned my bra as a sign of rebellion.
1972 - I questioned the masculinity imbued in religion and scriptures.
1998 - I had absorbed and accepted the gender differences.
Present - I believe Jesus Christ to be the Messiah and the Savior of the world.

 

 
At Warhol’s suggestion she changed her name to Ultra Violet as her hair was violet colored much of the time. Ultra Violet was one of Andy’s early Superstars and appeared in several of his underground films including I, a Man, The Life of Juanita Castro and Fuck aka ****. She was also in quite a few really good, weird, but more “above ground” exploitation or B films including The Telephone Book, Midnight Cowboy, Simon, King of the Witches, The Phynx, Cleopatra, Savages and Curse of the Headless Horseman.
 
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Amazingly, you can watch The Life of Juanita Castro in its entirety via YouTube:

 
Ultra Violet narrated a very controversial “lost” film called Hot Parts, a compilation of hardcore porn scenes from vintage smokers and loops dating as far back as the turn of the century. It even had a soundtrack album released available here. The film was allowed to play as the police rushed in and busted it at its initial showing at the First Annual New York Erotic Film Festival. Still being talked about three years after the incident, this is from an article in Man to Man magazine from 1974:
 
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Not too long after this, Ultra Violet made an LP for Capital Records. It was not promoted and had little to no publicity. Every known copy has a cut out hole, meaning it went directly to sale record bins, and usually sold for 99 cents. Today it sells on eBay for up to $5,200! Some tracks are actually pretty good. Ultra Violet really sounds like her friend Yoko Ono on this track, “Cool Mac Daddy.” The entire album is available on iTunes.
 

 

 
In 1973, a near-death experience launched Ultra Violet on a spiritual quest, culminating in her baptism in 1981, bringing her full circle back to her upbringing. From 1981 until her death, she was a practicing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Oddly enough one year before this Ultra Violet did her own version of The Last Supper.

“The Last Supper,” a performance and film—a re-enactment of the Last Supper—was conceived for the Kitchen by Ultra Violet in 1972 and performed by New York-based female artists. Recently it was shown at a Miami Beach Cinematheque screening for Art Basel in 2007 and is included in the collection of Centre Pompidou, Paris.
 
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Ultra Violet never showed her work until much later in life when she devoted herself to her art and mounted celebrated shows the world over. She was also the author of the books, Famous for 15 minutes, Ultra Violet: Andy Warhol, Superstar and Ultra Violet: L’Ultratique. Her first book, Famous for 15 Minutes was made into an opera called Famous! with music by David Conte and a libretto by John Stirling Walker. That is something I’d really like to see. There’s a website with some video here.
 
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Here’s a pretty in depth interview with Ultra Violet:
 

Posted by Howie Pyro | Discussion
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The Making of an Underground Film: Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol and a ‘topless’ Velvet Underground


 
There is simply too much pork for the fork in this wild CBS Evening News report on the then-new phenomenon of “underground films” from New Year’s Eve of 1965/66.

Seen here are Piero Heliczer filming the Velvet Underground, along with testimony from Jonas Mekas, Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol, a gorgeous young Edie Sedgwick, Al Aronowitz (the rock journo who introduced The Beatles to Dylan—and pot), Willard Van Dyke of the Museum of Modern Art, Chuck Wein, even shirtless and bodypainted Lou Reed and John Cale. Angus MacLise, who was still in the group when this was shot makes an appearance as well.

I think it’s safe to say that this is probably the first and so far at least, only time an excerpt from a Stan Brakhage film was ever shown on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.
 

 
Thank you Michael Simmons!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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A slightly bombed Dennis Hopper bemoans the fate of his feature ‘The Last Movie’
06.12.2014
09:14 am

Topics:
Movies
Television

Tags:
Dennis Hopper
The Last Movie

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Sometimes Dennis Hopper was a whiner who played the James Dean role of angsty misunderstood outsider, blaming his woes on “the man,” or those philistines in Hollywood who didn’t appreciate his art. He had a point, but in his younger days, he was often infuriatingly naive about how life and Hollywood worked. Sure, he had talent, he had ambition, but he also had (by his own admission) a big mouth and no power—which can be a major drawback to those who seek to change the world.

After the success of Easy Rider, Hollywood thought they could exploit Hopper’s success by hiring him to make another movie, a kind of Easy Rider 2. They didn’t care what it was about so long as it made them money, lots of money. But when rumors about Hopper’s drug-addled unreliability spread through Tinsel Town, and certain studios withdrew their offers of finance damned fast. Even his gun-toting music producer friend Phil Spector walked away from stumping up dollars for Dennis after he was reminded about the actor/director’s incredible appetite for drugs. It was therefore a surprise when Universal (home of Frankenstein and Dracula) gave Hopper a million to make The Last Movie.
 

 
Hopper planned to make his movie-within-a-movie 14,000 feet up the Peruvian Andes, in a tiny village called Chinchero, which should have made the accountants nervous, not just because of the logistics involved in transporting crew, actors, and film gear to this faraway location, but because Peru was one of the world’s leading producers of cocaine. But as Hopper had signed up for a small salary and a share of the profits, Universal agreed. However, a hint of what was to come during the filming was witnessed by some of the press, who accompanied cast and crew on the flight out, as Hopper and co. started passing round the inordinately large supply of in-flight drugs.

But this was only the start, as on arrival Hopper pissed off the Peruvian government and the Catholic church by proselytizing about the joys of marijuana and speaking out in support of homosexuality. Of course, he was right on both counts, but it meant he had two major enemies determined to have this “hippie revolutionary” kicked out of their country. Government spies were sent into Chinchero to watch the filming in the hope of finding evidence to deport Hopper. Understandably, this did not help the already paranoid auteur.

As described in Robert Sellers’ book Hollywood Hellraisers, drugs were cheap in Peru, and “within hours of arriving a crew hand managed to score some cocaine, seven dollars for a packet that cost ten times that in the States. By the first evening some thirty members of the crew were sniffing the stuff, or smoking grass or dropping acid.”
 

There were wild parties a plenty…. One actor chained a girl to a post because she looked like Joan of Arc and he wanted to re-enact the saint’s immolation. There was also a rumor that another actor almost died when he took too many peyote buds at once.

 
Hopper managed to get a priest defrocked after involving him in a drug-fueled mass for James Dean, while the locals stripped a horse clean of its meat after it was killed in a riding accident. Filmmaker Kit Carson described the filming:
 

That whole shoot, that was one of the most out-of-control situations I’ve ever seen.

 
But Hopper was professional, and finished filming on time and under budget—it was the editing that was to cause his biggest problem. Hopper moved to Taos, New Mexico, to put the whole film together. This was when Universal started seriously worrying about what they had actually paid for. Major arguments ensued, and Hopper went slowly mad in Taos under the influence of drugs and drink. Remarkably he did finish and deliver The Last Movie, which says much for his tenacity, but still, Universal were horrified.

One executive said to Dennis, ‘Great, so you made an artistic film. What are we supposed to do, kill you? Only a dead artist makes money. We’ll only make money on this picture if you die.’ Dennis was livid. ‘Don’t talk to me like that. You’re talking to a paranoiac.’ And he wasn’t joking.

Hopper had made a million-dollar European art house movie for a company who mainly made mass entertainment. His close buddy, Jack Nicholson, was supportive of Hopper, but thought he gone about the whole thing the wrong way:

You don’t take someone’s bread and then walk across the street and say “Fuck you.”

The Last Movie won the Critics Prize at the Venice Film Festival, but bombed in America with both audiences and critics. Though it’s an indulgent movie, with a rather simplistic message, I’m still glad Hopper made it, as it pushed the boundaries of what could be made in Hollywood. Unfortunately, it ended Hopper’s career for the next ten years.

So that’s the back story to this little clip of a slightly bombed Hopper, who having won his award still knows what Universal and the critics think of his film, as he discusses The Last Movie with baseball player Willie Mays, actors James Brolin and Diane Baker, on The Merv Griffin Show from 1971.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets
06.09.2014
11:41 pm

Topics:
Movies
Music

Tags:
Jarvis Cocker
Pulp


 
Greetings from the super fun Sheffield Doc/Fest!

After spending a delightful two days in Glasgow, where Tara and I met our friend and longtime DM ally Paul Gallagher in the flesh for the first time (and where we saw the Necropolis, the University of Glasgow and the beautiful West End district, plus ate some insanely good curries), we arrived in Sheffield shortly before the big hometown premiere of New Zealand-born director Florian Habicht’s Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets.

Habicht’s film is as much about the city of Sheffield as it is about the group it spawned. In the few hours before the screening began, I walked about the city center for a while to soak up, you know, the local atmosphere and found myself very charmed by the city and her residents. Young people out and about, laughing and having a good time, families with little children and plenty of old people milling around too (there are lots of older fellows, the type who wear wool caps and call you “guv’nor,” sitting on benches bullshitting all over Sheffield). The Kiwi filmmaker had parachuted into the city in a similar manner—he’d never been here before he started filming—but when he went around looking for local color (and finding it in spades!) he took along a film crew. The results, I thought, were magical, but I’ll get to why in a moment.

When the box office opened, there were probably a good 2,000 people milling around in front of Sheffield City Hall waiting to get in. You could tell that a situation was brewing whereby the whole town basically wanted to be involved. People from all walks of life were queuing up and there was—truly—a “special” feeling in the air. I was excited myself. I’ve been a huge Pulp fan for over twenty years, but sadly I was never in the same city as they were when they played America (which was almost never). When I got back to the hotel to collect my wife, I saw Jarvis Cocker and several of his family members in the lobby getting ready to walk over to the venue (where the band members greeted friends and fans alike on the steps outside City Hall).

Inside the venue, with both balconies packed to the gills, a palpable feeling of excitement was in the air. A huge neon PULP sign topped the screen. When the film started, everyone in that room seemed totally psyched. I know I was.

Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets did not disappoint. It’s not, strictly speaking, a “rockumentary.” It’s close to being one, but it expands on the form so much that the term becomes kind of meaningless to describe it. What it is is an affectionate portrait of a city and of a band that are that city’s favorite sons and daughter. Nominally “about” Pulp’s final hometown show, many of Sheffield’s quirkier denizens get as much screen time as the band. When the film ended, the locals in the movie were asked to stand up and take a bow, and nearly all of them had been sitting in the section we were sitting in. I felt that the film was a triumph—moving, funny, sweet, eccentric—and the reaction from the audience, well, it’s the kind of thing that makes you feel like you are smiling with your heart. Two people who I spoke with were moved to tears. How many rock docs can you say that about?

Well, you can say it about Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets, that’s for sure. There was a mediocre review of the film in The Guardian last week that complained about Habicht’s film that “you can’t help thinking he’s missed the point of Pulp. Their music denigrated the people [of Sheffield] as much as it celebrated them.”

BULLSHIT! Try telling this to anyone in the audience in Sheffield on Saturday night. Introducing “Common People” onstage in the film, Jarvis tells the hometown audience that although the song isn’t about Sheffield and doesn’t take place in Sheffield, it could only have been written by someone who is from Sheffield. I think it was The Guardian that missed the point. Entirely. Would that the reviewer had seen Terry, the newspaper seller who makes a few appearances in the film being treated like he was a celebrity at the afterparty, he might’ve had a different opinion.

PS: After writing this, but before posting it, I ran into director Florian Habicht in the hotel lobby, introduced myself and basically said everything to him in person that I have written above. 
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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‘Super Duper Alice Cooper’: Welcome to his nightmare….
06.09.2014
09:12 am

Topics:
Movies
Music

Tags:
Alice Cooper


 
I approached the news of Super Duper Alice Cooper with some trepidation. That story has been told to death, hasn’t it? I feel like I’ve seen a gazillion VH1 shows about the rise and fall of Vincent Furnier, misfit preacher’s son from Phoenix who became the most outrageous rock star of the era… or maybe it was just the same one over and over again?

The dramatic arc of fame and fortune followed by Cooper’s debilitating drinking problem and his subsequent comeback as the “godfather of heavy metal” oldies act and happy family man is one we’re all familiar with. Still, there is much to love about Super Duper Alice Cooper, which I enjoyed much more than I expected I would.

The filmmakers, Scott McFadyen and Sam Dunn, call their project a “doc opera” and it’s a nicely textured mosaic of archival footage, live performance, TV talk show appearances and the like. What we don’t see are any contemporary interviews with any out-of-shape old rockers—and that includes Alice Cooper himself, who is in great shape at 66—as is now the fad with music documentaries. The interviews are audio only and frankly, I prefer it when rock docs are made this way. You want to see rock stars in their prime, when they’re old it’s just an annoying reminder that you’re getting old too, I suppose, but it really does elevate productions like this to a higher level. There’s an (effective) framing device of the Dr. Jekyll vs. Mr. Hyde element to the singer’s personality that was clever, but not too clever. Overall I liked it quite a bit and give Super Duper Alice Cooper high marks.

I watched with my wife and there’s one part that shows the media of the time seeming kind of confused about what Alice Cooper stood for. She laughed about the notion of parents thinking this stuff was in any way dangerous and I was like, “Hey, wait a minute, they put out three albums’ worth of songs celebrating death and dead babies and all kinds of morbid things with a pretty straight face. Naturally it came off like some kind of freaky death cult to parents just a few short years after ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’!”

The biggest revelation in the film is that Alice Cooper had a major coke problem, a habit that he indulged in quite heavily in the early 1980s (long after he’d dried out from booze) hanging around with lyricist Bernie Taupin (who only agreed to be interviewed for the film on the condition that Alice’s coke problem be addressed). Everybody knows Alice Cooper was a drunk, but even when he was looking fucking insane (if not literally moments away from death) when Tom Snyder interviewed him, who ever heard of Alice Cooper freebasing cocaine? They kept the lid pretty tight on that, but it all comes out in Super Duper Alice Cooper.

WHEN is someone going to post the full “Levity Ball” clip on YouTube?
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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‘Regarding Susan Sontag’: America’s last great intellectual rock star
06.08.2014
01:45 pm

Topics:
Books
Movies
Pop Culture
Thinkers

Tags:
Susan Sontag


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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