English Beat In Concert to The Little Shop Of Horrors
The English Beat - In Concert At The Royal Festival Hall (DVD review): I'm sad to report this twenty song live set is a minor disappointment. While perfectly rendered it's somehow dull and slightly off-kilter. The English Beat are out of this world fantastic, but this thing does little more than exist.
English Beat - In Concert at the Royal Festival Hall was taped on February
7, 2003 and everyone's old.
Dave Wakeling looks like
Burt Ward playing with the Beach Boys.
Ranking Roger is thin but healthy, his energy level AARP-tastic! Saxa's
still on sax, which is great for him but find me three people who thinks he's
It's hard to tell there's even an audience. You can see them out there somewhere, but while people are dancing thirty yards away you also get the sense many are waiting for the main act, Quiet Riot, to come on already. Roger's constantly provoking them to get involved but it appears he's being ignored.
This would have worked better in a hot, packed club on a tiny stage -- like the olde days. There's nothing wrong with the band. It's the venue. I have the same problem with Devo - Live.
Epitaph's Wilder Kingdom #5 (comp video collection review) (Epitaph): If I cared about music videos I might rant and rave about how much I hate them and how stupid, shallow and pretentious they are. But, I’m old, tired and would rather eat some cake right now. Punk labels like Epitaph figure videos will give their bands exposure. Woop-tee-do.
This thirteen song video compilation was distributed to record stores for in-store play. How many punk stores have TVs and VCRs set up to play something like this? Would they play them if they did? Do major chain stores play this? Is Epitaph going through the motions by putting this out or is there real promotional value in videos? Is Epitaph a major label? Am I asking too many questions?
Videos that annoy me the most focus exclusively on fashion and attitude. Second are bands who make socio-political statements. If you have to go through the indignity of making a video, have some fun with it and don't take yourself too seriously.
Here's the bands, songs, and some quick comments: Rancid - "Bloodclot": for the price of this video an indie label could operate for years. Slick and professional. All attitude and style. Yeah, have a guy wear a derby and wave a baseball bat for punctuation. Encourage kids to be violent cretins. Pennywise - "Society": childishly clever montage of newsreel footage of war, famine, urban violence, etc. If I was twelve I might be impressed. Powerful but not original. Voodoo Glow Skulls - "Left For Dead": cool looking Mexican "Day Of The Dead" props. Dropkick Murphys - "Barroom Heroes": great song but the tough drunk stance is a pose when presented in a lip-synched music video. Hepcat - "No Worries": these cats gots it right! Fun, simple, bright colors, bring in your friends and let them bop around. Bouncing Souls - "Eastside Mags": are they seventeen years old trying to impress fourteen year olds? Everything about this is d.u.m.b. Everything. Humpers - "Plastique Valentine": fun, simple, funny, invite your friends, drink beer. Great stuff. All - "World's On Heroin": neutral score on this one. The Cramps - "Like A Bad Girl Should": short,sweet and simple. Ta da! The Pietasters - "Out All Night": so, like, they've been partying so much all night they look dead, so like the band pretends they're zombies and this one guy bounces on a trampoline. H20 - "Everready": the Sons of Dag Nasty hire 300 extras and make a video. Nice hooded sweatshirt, nice big "X" on the back of the hand. Nice holding the microphone like Kevin Seconds. Nice view of your back teeth. Did I leave out any straight-edge stereotypes? Down By Law - "Question Marks and Periods": The band's matured nicely. I'm surprised. The song and video remind me of good early Elvis Costello. Gas Huffer - "Rotten Egg": good Ramones sound. Nice use of simple pastel colors that bleed into each other. Not bad.
David Lynch is
Rainman with a movie camera and a large vocabulary. He's nucking futs but
seemingly harmless - plus he's a great filmmaker. For years he was the only
source for an Eraserhead DVD, and it sold for $40! Damn you capitalism!! For
some reason probably not fully understood even by Lynch himself you can now walk
into (your local retailer here) and buy it for $20. Sure it doesn't come in the
8"x8" box with a 20 page booklet, but life is about choices.
Eraserhead came out in 1977. I saw it a number of times as a midnight show at the Mini Cinema on Long Island. I always managed to stay awake somehow, and at the time it made little sense because I never dared consider it might have an actual plot. It was just a series of weird events I experienced at the face value of its strangeness. Looking at it now it's really a simple story expressed weirdly. After decades of watching strange and senseless movies the WTF factor is gone, and the symbolism of Eraserhead is easy to figure to the extent any simple Freudian theory is pretty much as good as another. Lynch claims nobody has interpreted the film exactly as he envisioned it, but the guy's so out there if he did explain it you'd think he was lying.
The feature length video of Lynch talking about Eraserhead is a treat. A slight wind sound blows in the background. Lynch wanders from thought to thought and I finally understood why he's never recorded a commentary track. You might as well have Edith Massey discussing Desperate Living. Hearing Lynch explain his fascination with dissecting a dead cat I can fully believe the internet rumor that the baby was a puppeteered cow fetus. The baby is great.
Eraserhead was shortened twenty minutes after a test screening, and it did need it. Why he didn't keep most of the extra film is a mystery even to Lynch. His mother's reaction to the film was "Oh, I wouldn't want to have a dream like that." In Eraserhead, everything is fine.
Evil Dead II (video review) (Anchor Bay): This is one of my top three favorite films of all time. I own it in both VHS and the "Limited Edition DVD Tin", which wasn't worth the extra ten smackers for a reprinted Fangora article, an oversized Altoids box and a comically small postcard replica of the UK movie poster. Just as I was about to moan that my life won't be complete until a book is written on the Evil Dead trilogy, I see one just came out in January. Well, cut off my legs and call me Shorty... [update: It’s not that good].
The DVD is worth it just for the commentary track with star/producer Bruce Campbell, writer-director Sam Raimi, co-writer Scott Spiegel and make-up effects artist Greg Nicotero. At first I was pissed they’re all on one audio track, since the DVD for the first Evil Dead had two. Also, the marketing material for the tin made it seem as if it had at least one more commentary than the standard DVD. I think this was intentional. I'm over it now because 1) that was a while ago, and b) the track plays out like an episode of MST3000. They make fun of the movie and each other, imitating voices and offering snide commentary on the implausibilities and technical errors in the film. They go way back and their shared joy of creativity on the cheap is evident. Every aspect of the film is covered, from small technical details to hilarious personal stories. It's the rare DVD commentary you can appreciate without the movie playing.
For FX geeks there's a promotional featurette called "The Gore The Merrier", with behind the scenes videotape and the only existing footage of Evil Ed with his head partly sheared off. Rounding out the DVD are stills, the theatrical trailer, talent bios (CD ROM-era infotainment lives!) and a shameless Video Game preview.
Evil Dead II is the best and purest horror-comedy ever made. The Evil Dead kicked off a new Golden Age of horror-comedy in 1983, soon followed by Re-Animator, the later Basket Case movies and the best from Team Troma. The first wave of horror-comedy hit in the late 1940s with five Abbott and Costello "Meet" films (Frankenstein, Boris Karloff, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, and The Mummy). These were classic vaudeville comedies with only enough frights to scare children too young to sleep with the lights off. In 1959, Roger Corman's beatnik Bucket Of Blood begat its re-written cousin of 1960, The Little Shop Of Horrors. That would be the second great wave. Some say 1968's Night Of The Living Dead is funny, but it's not a horror-comedy. Neither are The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Halloween (1978) or anything from Herschell Gordon Lewis. What passes euphemistically as dark humor isn’t horror-comedy, and don't get me started on the adolescent Nightmare On Elm Street series or the simple-minded irony of Scream. The best horror-comedy of the 1990's was Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (1992), the director's homage to Evil Dead II.
Evil Dead II is not a sequel to the first Evil Dead. I’m amazed there are people who wonder why Ash goes back to the same cabin. The second movie is a re-working of the first one, this time with a higher budget, better effects (from stop motion to full body prosthetics) and an emphasis on howling comedy and power hoses filled with blood. It's Sam Raimi's love of The Three Stooges and another opportunity to physically abuse Bruce Campbell. The two films have as much in common as the Corman films mentioned above. Please people, read the tea leaves. They say you're an idiot.
I was scared to death the first time I saw this film. Then again I don’t have the stomach for a lot of straight horror. Even though I was told it was a comedy I shrieked like a leetle skool gurl. It took me two more viewings to settle down enough to see the perfect balance of horror and comedy. After twenty viewings I see Evil Dead II mostly as a comedy, but I know if it was the first time again I'd cry for my mommy. This keeps me humble.
The camera work is innovative. There's the famous "Shakey-Cam" (camera mounted on a board with someone on each end holding ropes as they run through the forest), the "Sam-O-Cam" (camera mounted on a motorcycle that Sam crashes through the house, breaking Bruce's jaw on the last day of shooting), the "Bruce-Cam" (camera taped to his chest as he crashes to the earthen floor of the cellar) and the "Ram-O-Cam" (camera encased within a heavy steel beam, shoved through a cabin window and the front and back of Ash's car). I would love to know how they did the shot that spirals up after Ash wakes up in the puddle just before sundown.
The foley and other sound effects are amazing, and in the commentary you learn many of the techniques. The phrases I've taken from the film and use in everyday life for no apparent reason are "You bastards. Give me back my hand", "Someone's in my fruit cellar. Someone with a fresh soul", "Who's laughing now?", "I'll swallow your soul, I'll swallow your soul... Swallow this!" and the oddly timed "Work shed".
Is Evil Dead II the greatest film of all time as implied in High Fidelity? Nah, but it rules the horror-comedy wasteland.
Ex Drummer (video review): 2007's Ex Drummer from the Dutch/Holland/Netherlands region can be discussed for a very long time as it's a hell of a lot of whatever the hell it is. It's equally as good as it is bad, so much of what I feel will come with qualifiers. The dvd box comes with the review quip "An underground classic of punk overkill" - fairly accurate if you accept the film on its own terms. I have problems with anything that calls itself "punk" meaning only one negative stereotype, the film's structure (or lack thereof), and the surreal, nonsensical nihilism that earns style points but little else. Definitely see Ex Drummer, but do so with your BS Meter shoved out in front of your body like a cross during Vampire Weekend.
Ex Drummer is structured closely and obviously to Trainspotting but it substitutes that film's artful subtlety with worst-case scenario human interactions, which might evoke early John Waters films if Ex Drummer offered even a crumb of humor. It's considered a Black Comedy but I don't see humor or satire anywhere. Absurdity, stupidity and excessive cruelty are not in themselves comedy. Even the scenes with Big Dick that try to be funny come off as easy-out dada and, frankly, dickish. There's a cinema verite quality to how these losers are presented, and the many style elements imposed by former music video director Koen Mortier are too self-aware to contribute to any humor element that would make this a black comedy. Ex Drummer is a stylized exercise in nihilistic drain-circling too extreme for drama, too cold for comedy, and possibly too recognizable for experimental film. Like I say it's equally good and bad and I give it credit for going balls out to the nth degree.
As a dumb American I'm used to films
having a beginning, middle and end, and also watching characters do things for
reasons that make sense or are at least recognizable. Foreign films, especially
ones from cultures where competing nihilistic philosophies pass for
intellectualism, toss conformity out the window for better or worse, and
this one does so at a 50/50 split. The only disconnected scene I'll mention is
when the lead and his girlfriend appear together with other main characters like
The lead actors are all very good with the exception of the main character, a famous writer and ex-drummer named Dries. He's average and detached amongst a group of actors invested elbow deep in the backside of method acting. I also don't accept Dries as the toughest guy in any room he's in. Picture Dustin Hoffman as The Terminator. One actor projectile vomits for real and somewhere James Lipton is smiling. The music is very good, including a punked up version of Devo's "Mongoloid" and the song the band plays near the end at a battle of the bands. The soundtrack is great.
Oh yeah, the plot. Three losers ask a former drummer to perform with them on stage for one night, then they'll break up. The writer/drummer takes a walk on the lowlife side for poopies and grins. Everyone is then on their worst behavior in a Dutch pre-apocalyptic Mortville and no gutter is left unlicked. Degenerate scumbaggery ensues both artistically and artlessly in a limbo contest of depravity. Jeepers, I wonder how it ends. Visually the film is a mixed bag of inspired, overworked and too much like a music video. The opening title sequence is excellent, a slow motion reverse of the three numbnuts peddling their way to Diers' apartment with title credits shown as window lettering and various signs and labels. That goes on long enough, and then immediately it's a sequence with the serial rapist/murderer skinhead singer walking on his ceiling, and the fear is that Ex Drummer is a 140 minute music video. Happily it settles into a more settled pattern of unpredictable art film shenanigans.
Overkill is the operant word to describe Ex Drummer, and if you're not squeamish you should check it out. It's flawed but riveting, and everything everyone had to give was left on the screen. Lazy this film ain't. And, oh yeah, there's a few seconds of hardcore porn and minutes of Dries walking around his flat naked. Enjoy your lunch!
The Fall - Perverted By Language / Live At Leeds (dvd review): The Fall is not only a cult band, they're a cult. They're the Grateful Dead of post-punk, with fans who should be on watch lists for something or other. This two hour mix of this and that will bewilder non-fans but send followers into the bathroom for a little "me" time. Not that there's any quality in the tapings or recordings, but it's The Fall so even crumbs are steak.
The focal point is 1983 and the release of Perverted By Language, featuring the debut of former Mark E. Smith spouse Brix Smith, the beauty to his beast. In this era Smith can be played in a movie by DJ Qualls. A few years later possibly by David Spade after a decade of misadventure. The dvd is a mix of live, video and interview footage. Mark has no interest in making music videos, and it shows. The live stuff is fun for as long as that lasts, which for me averages twenty minutes. It's always nice to hear "Totally Wired", twice. The Fall catalog is a marathon that requires patience, dedication and perseverance. There's a lot of great songs but also a hefty share of filler.
The best bit of the interview is when Smith defends himself against accusations of his songs sounding the same by half saying, half implying that songs that don't sound alike are "Novelty Songs". Perverted By Language isn't the place to start for non-fans. Definitely not. Have a friend make a mix tape of hits that sound the least alike. That's the way to fall into The Fall. If you trip over The Fall you might hurt yourself.
Family Guy Presents Stewie
Griffin - The Untold Story (DVD review):
Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane descended into a hate-spiral that's
ruined his show. Whatever charm there was in the old series has been replaced
with open hostility. Only 1/3 of the new season is worth seeing, and only 1/3 of
this (string of three episodes)
film is worth watching. I read raves about the new product, along with
sorrowful laments from old fans. I can say with great surety that, if you love
this film and most of the new episodes, you're either a child or a scumbag.
Something similar happened to John Kricfalusi, creator of Ren & Stimpy. On disc 3 of the DVD for seasons 1 & 2 there's "Out West", a non-stop mockery of Southerners with no jokes. The cartoon opens with one redneck saying "We're ignorant" and the other saying "And proud of it." It ends with one singing "I'm ignorant", the other "And I'm ugly", and then Stimpy chimes in "That you are boys." In the Family Guy movie there's a flashback to Condoleezza Rice in college. She's depicted as a crack whore screaming in a dorm room. No jokes, no nuthin' but depicting her as a skank. MacFarlane is one bitter fugg.
Alex Borstein (Lois) wrote the middle episode, and she thankfully gave it
some heart and soul. The first and last chapters are crap, the third featuring a
wife for grown-up Chris who curses non-stop. That would be hysterical if I was
fourteen. Jeez. The payoff on "Like the time I..." setups have also diminished
in direct proportion to the increase of their frequency. It's only funny now
when they break up the pattern of obvious setups and punchlines.
The only good bits in the film are: calling Quagmire "Captain Syphilis", Peter advising his daughter "Shave a man's back and he'll purr like a walrus" and re: the Book The Joy Of Sex, "Evidently the razor wasn't invented till the late ‘80s". That's all folks. Nothing to see here. Move along now.
Fear Of A Punk Planet (dvd review): I accepted these three “episodes” of bullfighter and entertainment lawyer Joe Escalante’s Fear Of A Punk Planet for what they must have been – a goof. All things considered it was legitimately funny, well acted and nicely edited. In no way is it good by most people’s standards but somehow the available talent shines through, and it was produced as webisodes from the bust dot.com era, so it was filler from the word go.
The setup is Joe runs an all-ages punk club in Mullet, CA called the “Club Baby Seal”, shut down during a NOFX show by the hysterical Kyle Gass as the sarcastic local Fire Dept. Safety Inspector, who says of the crowd “Isn’t this precious, a world ruled by apes.” Coming together to save the punk day are an Asian punk girlie with day-glo hair, a Jersey HC guido, a local brain dead surf-skater, and a homeless anarcho-crusty chickie-poo. They sit around a lot and talk about how they’re going to DIY and git r done, a mix of Saved By The Bell and the Power Rangers when they’re out of costume. They turn the club non-profit, put on a secret show to spite The Man, and book their own show with their fave bands. Keeping things extra light is Warren Fitzgerald of The Vandals as Dogboy, the brain-addled club maintenance man, who’s given opportunities to improvise inspired pieces of silliness.
Rainbow Borden as the Guido has had a decent career and Jennie Kwan consistently rises above the material and shines in every scene. Scott Aukerman of Mr. Show appears as Gass’ oblivious sidekick. I’ve read scalding reviews of this but under the circumstances the acting is professional and the timing correct. If you want to see bad acting, start with Scumrock. My movie review pages are littered with horribly acted films. Whatever Fear Of A Punk Planet suffers from it’s not bad acting. Joe Escalante is the least talented actor of the group and he wisely appears sparingly.
The script is kiddie punk intensive and it helps to know The Punk Rock well to keep up. Guido boy insults anarchy girl by saying “It’s living laundry. I thought The Crass broke up”, which leads to a correction that it’s just “Crass”. Indubitably. One scene has them coming up with club rules fashioned exactly after the famous sign at Gilman Street. Nothing rises above simplistic as far as plot and dialogue go, but Escalante adds a decent amount of funny lines.
The DVD has full concert songs by the following bands: NOFX (7), The Bouncing Souls (2), Sick Of It All (3), Good Riddance (3), and The Ataris (2). The concert footage is integrated nicely with the filmed acting – no small accomplishment considering the room’s full of screaming hardcore fans.
I can’t say I’d recommend this, but I will defend it against its worst criticisms.
The Filth & The Fury (video review) (New Line): The world needs a new Sex Pistols documentary like I need a fourth nipple, but here it is, and it's very good. As an elderly gent I forget that recent generations have an ever-decreasing curiosity about the past, so new films are the only way to explain to kids that what they wear and listen to didn't just magically appear on the shelves as overpriced retail items.
Footage for this recent theatrical release comes primarily from what ended up on the cutting room floor from director Julien Temple’s own 1980 film The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle. That was told mainly from the perspective of band manager Malcolm McLaren, a cultural carny whose only talent may have been his entrepreneurial spirit. Like any good consultant he had the balls to claim expertise even when he had no clue. Malcolm was a horrible manager, the worst example being the venues he chose for the Pistol's ill-fated American tour. Redneck bars in The South – brilliant! Maybe Malcolm was trying to destroy the band. He let in Sid Vicious, worthless friend of love/hate object Johnny Rotten. This only shows Malcolm was either incompetent or self-destructive.
I don't know if Temple made The Filth & The Fury at the behest of band members or to avenge how Malcolm snowed him twenty years back into releasing a self-serving set of lies and half-truths under the guise of a documentary. Part of the new film comes from the old release, part from hundreds of extra hours of film, and new footage of Rotten, Cook and Jones speaking in darkness, which works well because to show them older and wider would only distract from what is a strict focus on an era long gone.
The Filth & The Fury is the band's version of the story, but the presentation is even-handed, or at least it allows the open-minded the chance to decide on their own. Richard Bedford, who also edited the original, does an amazing job, never allowing the images to become heavy-handed. BBC comedy shows (Benny Hill!), TV ads, concert footage, newscasts, cartoons, other documentaries and old movies (especially Richard III as allegory) are blended perfectly. 108 minutes flew by for me, a rarity with documentaries.
There’s no need to rehash the history of the Sex Pistols in this review. You can get that anywhere. The Filth And The Fury does great job encapsulating the main points. Rotten has a good line, no matter how long he's rehearsed it -- "Words are weapons. Violence is not something I'm not very good at. I don't think you can explain how things happen other than sometimes they just should. And the Sex Pistols should have happened and did."
Fishbone: Critical Times – The Hen House Sessions (video review): Old timers remember Fishbone as the ska band that recorded “Party At Ground Zero” and appeared as a crazy country band in Tapeheads. They’ve been around for thirty years, which in music years is 7.5 generations of fans coming, going and sometimes staying.
Critical Times is a 74 minute DVD, released in 2004, of a 2001 recording session at Los Angeles’ Hen House Studios, where they allow bands to record for free as long as they allow themselves to be filmed in the process. There has to be more to it than that, and somebody dropped the ball somewhere because Fishbone felt ripped off having their new songs streamed out over the internet by Hen House, making this unauthorized in the minds of Fishbone. They didn’t use the recordings and ask fans not to buy it. Fight The Power!
Critical Times gets better as it goes along and is informative if you want to know what it’s like to record multiple studio tracks. Once you get a feel for that, boredom can and does set in. It begins with simple camcorder footage of various members of Fishbone cramped into a small rickety room; talking, playing and thinking about it for a while. Here’s where you think it’s going to be tedious, but soon enough they mix it up with interviews with the two remaining original members, scenes of Los Angeles and a tour of charismatic lead singer Angelo Moore’s home – the voodoo version of Pee Wee’s Playhouse. It’s done on the cheap but the DVD is decently put together.
It took a while for my short attention span to adjust to the stoner pacing of stoners being stoned in the studio. Fishbone must be a 4:20 party band now, and I guess it was Hen House’s idea to use a pot leaf graphic zoom in and out and spin around throughout like the Bat Signal.
The songs they recorded in this session are complicated and intricate, and Fishbone are pros who know their material inside and out and know what results they’re looking. They integrate ska, punk, funk, metal and who knows what else into their songs as an organic mix, creating a Big Sound many bands can’t even conceive, forget about create. That’s not to say I’m a fan of this, as I don’t like metal or funk, but I do respect their talents. I thought of it as Hard Rock Oingo-Boingo.
Generally interesting, intermittently boring and sometimes fascinating (like when Angelo gets in the zone and works a theramin), Critical Times is worth watching, even if you don’t feel that way while you’re actually watching it.
The Best Of Flipside Video #1 (video review) (Flipside): Flipside is now long out of print. In the ‘80s Flipside, along with Target Video, put out a large assortment of average looking and sounding concert tapes. In 1993 Flipside compiled three bands each into a series of Best Of tapes, along with a monster DVD of Bad Religion, The Weirdos, The Dickies, and The Circle Jerks. This 1993 VHS has five by Agent Orange, ten from Bad Religion, and the Circle Jerks provide seventeen tracks. The shows were recorded between ‘83-‘84 in the Los Angeles area. I spent most of the time watching this not caring about the music per say but thinking about the bands and their fans.
I was impressed by Agent Orange, a band I knew from only one song ("Bloodstains") and their first LP, which I’veheld in my hands at various stores a dozen times. Everyone calls them a surf punk band but on this tape they're America's answer to the Jam, with the same energy and creative flair. "So Strange" sound slike Translator's "Sleeping Snakes”. The set is filmed on video with a lens that distorts like a bubble. It wasn’t that weird except when the camera moved. Then I felt like vomiting.
I can't stand Bad Religion as a concept, but I like four of their albums. The band you thought would never sell out sold out the hardest, making every preachy statement on their part an act of hypocrisy. I also never forgave them for championing Gnome Crapsky. Their set is generic and the slammers who get on stage are idiots. These future accountants, insurance adjusters and smog check monkeys all sport a dumb "Look at me while I make wacky faces and skank in spastic yet codified dance steps. Now I’ll jump onto that guy’s head while he’s not looking." I forwarded though most of it.
The Circle Jerks were great for a while. Keith Morris had an old man's face on a young man's body. He looks like and was probably as nutty as Alan Vega of Suicide. Watching this the first thing that comes to mind was how important it is for a band to record in a studio. Live, hardcore sounds like mush. Often it takes me a while to figure out what I'm hearing, even if I know the song by heart. In one shot Keith picks his nose and sucks his thumb at the same time, which is clever in a retarded way. The Circle Jerks had probably the fastest drummer around, and the bass player looks like Andre The Giant.
I've never gotten much excitement from taped concerts, and while this one is better than most I'd rather listen to a record. I find these to be more like snapshots than actual events. To save trees I also wipe my tush with both sides of a piece of toilet. Why I threw that in I'll never know.
The Best of Flipside Video #2: Minor Threat & Minutemen (video review) (Flipside): This long-running video series has been around at least ten years, and you could order them (with better sound and editing) through Flipside magazine, until they stopped printing (duh). They were as cheap to buy as the production values that went into them. White lines of electrical interference distort most of the Minutemen's set, and only one video camera captures both bands. Minor Threat & The Minutemen make sense on the same tape because they both preferred to start and finish as quickly as possible.
The Minutemen rip through 22 songs faster than D. Boon could bankrupt a buffet. Boon's death in 1985 tore a hole in the heart of the punk scene. He must have been truly loved because his memory is granted deference akin to Mother Teresa's. The Minutemen were hardcore's answer to The Gang Of Four, mixing free form jazz, funk and punk to create short blasts of kinetic mayhem. Just when you thought you could dance to a funky Minutemen rhythm they would crash the instruments, leaving you no choice but to crash with them. Sometimes they remind me of Frank Zappa if he was a black socialist. Don't ask me what that means. I love the Minutemen in small doses. They were truly different in a genre infamous for generics, but after a few songs I get the point and want to move on. Maybe if the picture and sound quality were better....
Popeye, I mean Ian MacKaye, leads Minor Threat through a typically sweaty set by Dischord Records' flagship band. Here a five piece, with Brian Baker switching from bass to lead guitar. It's too packed to slam, so the lemmings crawl up on stage to skank and stage dive. It gets so packed during "Screaming At A Wall" the microphone breaks, forcing Ian to lead the kids in a sing-a-long as he did in the film Another State of Mind. Minor Threat were great. The whole straight-edge thing is a mixed blessing which I can equally defend and deride. Here's a philosophical question: What does "12XU", a homophobic song, and "Guilty Of Being White", a racial song, say about the politics of straight edge?
Flogging Molly – Whiskey On A Sunday (dvd review): I never paid attention to Flogging Molly because their name came up around 1997 and I’d already had my fill of whatever it was The Pogues and The Dropkick Murphys were doing with punk and traditional Irish music. Flogging Molly were marketed and labeled as a kiddie punk band, which this 2006 documentary disproves with the band’s sincere representation of Irish music and proves mostly by the age and trendy posturing of their fans. Whiskey On A Sunday is well made but it hits the same points in a cycle that quickly grows tiresome if you don’t hang on every word of the band members, who curse frequently and stand defiant to all naysayers real and imagined.
Dublin born singer Dave King is my age, and all kidding aside that’s elderly. On his band opening for major acts he says “We all believe in each other. You know, we believe in our music, and therefore we fear nobody.” That’s oddly defiant considering who the hell brought up fear? He also says “Punk. That label means nothing to me”, also defensive for its own sake, and ironically punk as fugg!!! They’re more than fine musicians but I don’t think Flogging Molly is worthy of a 106 minute documentary that focuses on what members of a moderately successful rock band have to say as if they’re imparting crucial wisdom unto the world.
I’m surprised a number of customer reviews for Whiskey On A Sunday state they’d watched the thing repeatedly and learned something new each time. All I found was standard-issue rock band sound bites easily processed the first time. Not that anyone was stupid, and King is a thoughtful guy, but if a band I truly lurved was given the same treatment I’d still lose interest in what they had to say about every god damned thing.
The editing and filming are nice, and if you hang on each word from Flogging Molly’s collective mouth I guess this is be a phenomenal documentary. Whiskey On a Sunday isn’t about anything per say beyond touring and talking, so once I got a feel for it there was no reason to not fast forward to check for something new and different. I may have missed a part where the drummer talks about his feelings on mayo or mustard on take-out sandwiches (or something like that), so send me a correction and retraction if you feel so inclined.
Foetus - (live video review) (Atavistic): I think this 1992 live show was called “MAN!”. If you want to see who brought berserk power and thunder to electronic music, Jim Thurwell is your psycho. All techno/industrial that claims to be Evil comes directly from Jim Foetus' womb. Clint Ruin, Foetus, J.G. Thurwell - they're all the same person, just as You've Got Foetus On Your Breath, Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel, Industrial Foetus, Foetus Inc., etc. are all his bands, often with Jim creating all the music himself in the studio. He may add swing, surf or classical violin to the mix, but a Foetus tune is guaranteed to crush your senses. Much of his work is overblown but you have to admire the depths of his sonic nightmares. Underneath the noise damage is enough complexity to warrant comparisons to Thelonius Monk. In comparison, Nine Inch Nails is The Spice Girls.
Raised in Melbourne, Australia, Jim moved to London in the late ‘70s and worked in the noise/no wave scene along with Throbbing Gristle and SPK. In the early ‘80s he relocated to New York at the tail end of the no wave movement. Word has it he's released 32 recordings under 19 band names. He's also remixed songs for bands from Megadeth to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who know Foetus can take any receording and transform it into a whole other monster.
I saw Foetus live around 1981 at Danceteria in NYC. Singing to a tape, Jim had a case of Perrier at his feet. He'd open a bottle, swing it around while singing, then open up another bottle once he realized he just emptied it all over himself and the stage. This more recent live tape has Jim backed by a large band of long haired speed-core musicians. The recording is panicked and as intentionally grainy as an Iowa wheat field, so it's hard to see much, but maybe it matches the music itself and the whole point is panic and delusion.
I'm not a follower of industrial so I didn't watch for too long. He has an old song I've been trying to track down called something like "Dyin' With My Boots On". It's hard because Foetus albums don't list song titles. Bastards!
The Forbidden Zone (video review) (Media): The box says 1980 but I remember seeing this earlier as a midnight movie at the Mini Cinema on Long Island. Or did I? The easy take on The Forbidden Zone is that it was a cheapie made to cash in on the bizarre b&w aesthetics of Eraserhead, but that wasn’t the case. The list I made of the film's influences runs both deep and wide. In approximate order they are: Yiddish theatre, Fleischer Bros. cartoons (esp. Betty Boop), Spike Jones, Alice In Wonderland, Ralph Bakshi, the Marx Brothers, Fellini, The Little Rascals, Eraserhead, Rocky Horror and Dada. The total effect isn't the sum of its parts, but The Forbidden Zone has aged nicely and should interest B-movie cretins all over.
The name Elfman is all over The Forbidden Zone. Richard Elfman directed, Marie-Pascale Elfman stars (she also created the sets) and Danny Elfman & his "Mystic Knights Of The Oingo Boingo" make what may their first appearance. Danny also appears as "Satan" and his musical contributions to the soundtrack are firmly rooted in his trademark funhouse style. Herve Villechaize, the tall midget from Fantasy Island, stars as the King of the 6th Dimension, where, uh, a man in a tuxedo wears a big paper-mache frog's head, the Queen is fashioned after Divine, performance artists The Kipper Kids box each other while make funny faces, and....... Let's just say that if you're into comedic dry-humping The Forbidden Zone is your Citizen Kane. (As a side note, the Kipper Kids' act once involved them literally beating each other senseless as "boxers". If that's Art, so are my used Kleenex.)
There’s a great amount of goofy racial stereotyping involved, but the cultural sources and intentions are obviously benign even if they aren’t PC. Nothing's sacred and the absurdity of every minute of this 75 minute film is more of a head-scratcher than an exercise in bad taste.
While not a great film, the more you know about obscure film and culture the more you'll appreciate what's being attempted. I didn't have too many good memories of this one but now that I own it I watch bits and pieces of it and have a few good laughs. The alphabet song was swiped from The Three Stooges.
The Foreigner (dvd review): You know a dvd is an afterthought when there’s not even an options menu. Plug and play, like an 8-track tape. The Foreigner was Amos Poe’s 4th film, released in October of 1977 and filmed partially in CBGBs with a stage performance by The Cramps and a one minute set-piece with Debbie Harry bumming a cigarette in an alley and paying it back by singing in French. The scene makes up most of the trailer, so there ‘ya go marketing majors:
I was hoping the trailer would provide clues to the film’s plot, as the movie fails to do so on its own, but there’s only the intro flight into JFK, the lead character getting beaten up but good, and then the alley scene. The Foreigner isn’t about anything anyway, no matter what Poe said back in 1982:
"A year later I made The Foreigner, a film about a European coming to New York. In this case Max Menace (Eric Mitchell from Triple Bogey), a German terrorist who is trying to find a place to hide. But you can't hide in jungleland! He is terrorized, and ripped to bits. This is the story of the other side of the American dream; the foreigner who doesn't make it. A nightmare film in an existential philosophical context, a world where less is more."
I’m thinkin' the Cinema Of Transgression movement is mostly and mainly an arty deflection and set of excuses for what is basically nonsensical, random, and mostly improvised filmmaking by poor, underground hipsters whose lives were less motivated by “ART” then their sociopathic personalities, substance abuse, and laundry lists of personal failings that would choke a rhino. Of the bunch, Richard Kern wasted your time the least [remember kids, the first backhanded compliment is free!]
The first thing we learn in The Foreigner is that an alcoholic should not be allowed to hold a hand-held camera. Sure you feel like you’re right there, but also that an epileptic seizure is on its way. The second lesson is that if you dump the contents of a vacuum cleaner onto a reel of film it will look like the print used to make this dvd. The third lesson is that a six-shooter can fire ten rounds.
The plot carcass is that a blonde guy from overseas who looks literally like a Ken doll comes to New York and meets only beautiful losers and ugly losers, who alternate between tormenting and attacking him. That’s all folks. What’s really going on is Poe walked up to various people and said “I’m making a movie and you simply must be in it!” Then as it went along he made up scenes as locations and actors availed themselves. There must have been a thousand “OK, now just lie there and look bored”, “Keep on walking”, “Stare into the camera and don’t blink”, and “I don’t know, just do something” yelled by Poe from behind the rolling camera. There’s violence for its own sake but it’s also something exciting to film and it replaces dialogue as a way to keep your attention. It’s the visual equivalent of the stand-up comedy dictum of that if you can’t be funny, curse!
Shots crawl along endlessly not only to fill up time but to justify scene and camera setups. The surreal quality of how long everything takes is less art than laziness. As a film The Foreigner is an endurance test, and as usual I eventually gave up, forwarding through to see if anything of note happens. Here’s a guy who not only sat through it all but actually enjoyed himself. I bet he snaps his fingers instead of applauding. The Debbie Harry minute is actually classic, and hearing The Cramps sing “No Fun” on stage at CBGBs is a time-capsule find. The soundtrack is excellent and I wish I knew more about it. I could look it up, but, you know...
The Foreigner – playing in a DVD machine near you. [Do not use if operating heavy machinery. Black beret optional].
(Director's Cut) (DVD review): I felt
compelled to pick this up because the theatrical cut of
The Frighteners seemed to be missing something, and after the director's
Leon: The Professional blew me away with its extra fifteen minutes I figured
Peter Jackson wouldn't let me down. He sorta did because the film is still a
confused mess - one I see once every few years only because I love
The making-of documentary is four hours long. This edition provides the first Peter Jackson commentary, and once a deluxe Dead Alive DVD comes out with all deleted footage, a making of, commentary and a hat with this guy on top, I'll be able to die with a smile on my face.
On the plus side, the cast is great, especially Jeffrey Combs, whose extra scenes should never have been cut. Jackson is great at filming action, and he knows just how far or close to shoot a scene. The interplay of live and "ghost" actors looks great considering the complexity of making it work.
On the downside the script veers away from sense, and some of the CGI shots don't work. After seeing this and Hellboy (ten times) I'm convinced CGI should mix with by never replace live actors in scenes with live actors. In an obvious sizing error The Reaper goes from taller than normal human size to what must be twenty feet tall. Frighteners has a scene where the police shoot wildly in a crowded room, which they'd never do. The worst script error is the scene where three babies fly around a room, and when Michael J. Fox comes in to save the day he's exposed as a con artist in a newspaper article. But what about the freaking flying babies!??!!*&%^#!!
I like this movie but they shouldn't have written it as it was being filmed, ya know what I'm sayin'? I understand Jackson was restricted by the PG-13 rating imposed on him at the onset, but he should have still delivered a standard Peter Jackson film.
Frog-g-g is an unwatchable b-movie and it took two sittings and a liberal
use of the fast-forward button to finish it. I waded through to catch a fleeting
glimpse of Miss Togar,
Mary Woronov, who holds the mutant frog baby at the end and looks appalled.
It wasn't worth it.
MST3K fans know that the process of choosing selections to mock involved sitting through screenings of mind-warpingly unwatchable films, many with not barely enogh setups for good punchlines. Frog-g-g is one of those films. During this fiasco all I could do was imagine James Lipton walking in every eight seconds, saying softly to the actors "....and...begin".
There's good bad movies and bad good movies. In both can be found true b-movie classics. Then there's films that do and are nothing. Frog-g-g is a bronzed version of that. The only thing I liked was the actor in the frog suit dancing to the right of the closing credits.
Director Cody Jarrett was in a band called China White and now has a band called Teen Machine. His China White (there was more than one) might be the 1981 Huntington Beach beach-punk band.
Fugazi: INSTRUMENT (video review) (Dischord): I had no intention of turning this off, honest. It wouldn't end, no matter how long I pressed fast forward. It's a good movie shot and edited with flair and grace, but the subject isn't worth 115 minutes. No band warrants this much celluloid, even Fugazi, them doin’ it for the kids these thirteen years and counting. The problem with Instrument is that it makes its points and then repeats them over and over enough times to turn a short film into a feature length documentary. Maybe filmmaker Jem Cohen sorted through hundreds of hours of film, shot over a ten year period, and couldn't face the truth only sixty minutes was usable. Whatever impact the film generates in the beginning is diluted by an end that never seems to come.
Instrument is more than a concert film. It's an artistic document of a band and the culture that surrounds it. Instrument should be judged in terms of how non-fans, like the selection committee of a film festival, might see it. Instrument fails as both art and statement because it lacks coherency. It's one thing to have a loose structure and another to repeat a loose structure ad nauseam. I doubt Cohen's goal was surrealism.
Over a ten year period Fugazi is shown on stage, in the studio, in cheap hotels and collecting money after shows. They travel to Hawaii, Alaska, Japan and hundreds of U.S. cities large and small. The overriding image is of a working band with intensity, integrity and both financial and artistic success. The live clips show the blinding intensity of Fuguzai on stage, especially Guy Picciotto, who works it like Iggy Pop in search of a jar of peanut butter and some broken glass. Fugazi connects with their own music like no other.
Cohen uses an old Andy Warhol technique to peer into the souls of Fugazi fans. On line before a concert, the camera and fans conduct a staring contest, which the camera always wins. The subject's facade breaks down and you glimpse the real person behind the mask. Most people eventually smile while a few retain their detached, blank expressions. Maybe they're truly lost souls.
Ian says he’s compelled to explain Fugazi because if he doesn't others will. He's aware that when you talk about yourself like that it comes across as propaganda. Ian’s looking more and more like Sean Penn. Straight Edge was an idea he never meant to blow up into the monster it became. It's one thing to explain your personal politics in an interview and a whole other thing to preach it from a podium like Bad Religion. Ian’s a political pedophile like Bad Religion, but I find him must less offensive.
There's a great line in the film where Ian's berating some thugs for slamming violently. Someone else, probably Guy, cuts them down a peg by saying he saw them eating ice cream before the show, like little boys. He yells "I saw you eating ice cream, pal, oh don't you deny it. You were eating an ice cream cone... ice cream eating motherfuggers." Over shots of the band enjoying the majesty of Alaska as winter turns to spring, Ian is heard saying "We're no longer sitting at home waiting for moments to come to you, we're out going to the moments." There's not a trace of preciousness in that statement. It's true.
If anything, Instrument is a film about a group of talented friends doing what they love most on their own terms. I wish the film was shortened by better editing to get this, and other points, across better.
The Future Is Unfinished (dvd review): More accurately The Future Is Unfocused (snort!), Julien Temple’s 2007 post-mortem tribute to ’77 punk’s Woody Guthrie unwittingly portrays Joe Strummer as an amiable Machiavellian sociopath with horrific teeth spouting clichéd intellectual insights that escape involuntarily from his mouth to then trail off as improv. I also can’t call this a documentary, because while it’s linear to a fault and provides more than enough visual and verbal context, not a single point of history is introduced, explained or finalized. No speakers are identified directly. It’s as if Temple filmed a standard documentary and then edited out everything a non-Clash death cultist would need to know about what’s going on. It’s also very disorienting not knowing what was real film and artifacts from the era or what was recreated or borrowed from a generic film library. It’s like perpetually walking in on a conversation two minutes in. Temple knows how to create visually exciting films so I stuck with it for 90 of its 123 minute length. I skimmed the ending, the usual accolades of Joe’s eternal cultural effervescence.
The film starts from the beginning of Joe’s life with home movies and pictures from the family’s collection. His real name was John Graham Mellor and in his full-blown hippie days he demanded to be called Woody, only to be angry when called that by friends once he was asked to join The Clash by Bernie Rhodes, the poor man’s Malcolm McLaren. It's thirty minutes before the first Clash reference, where we learn Joe’s diplomat father was a die-hard socialist and the family moved regularly until he and his brother were dumped at a boarding school. Joe quickly learned its survival strategies and became a bully. In 1968 he turned hardcore hippie and both squatted and kerouac’d his way around the UK, by his own admission never brushing his teeth.
Once in The Clash the story is grossly familiar even with Temple jettisoning exposition. What The Future Is Unfinished makes clear is that the band, Strummer especially, took themselves very seriously and willingly created and participated in their punky boy-band image. First wave UK punk was a solid 50% about fashion, and if The Clash had their own SEX Boutique the scene would have been littered with over-priced paint-splattered and slogan stenciled clothing. As they became more popular and their sound broadened The Clash became smug and aesthetically desperate while their fans turned towards jocks with mullets who liked to dance disco to “Rock The Casbah” as much as they did to Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” and the proto-death disco of “We Will Rock You”. The holy grail of the simple message was lost and it all fell to poop with Joe pretending everything new yet not improved was bigger, better, and more real than before. In this section Joe doesn’t come across well.
The third part of the film chronicles Joe's limited musical output and limited acting skills in such films as Straight To Hell, Walker, and Mystery Train, turning around with his touring with The Pogues and the realization of his potential with The Mescaleros. This is a movie about the self-actualization of the post-modern era’s Woody Guthrie. The Clash was only a rest stop on a voyage through time (a rest stop). Listening to the testimonials I presume his destiny was to lead the reformation of the secular church of higher alt.culture purpose (or something else that cements the tragic loss of the now).
Temple establishes a few set pieces and central visual themes, which by film length alone are beaten to death. Groups of multi-generational and multi-cultural peoples sit at night around bonfires in the figurative shadows of cities of power – Washington, DC, NYC, and what I presume is London – while celebrities, rock stars, old bandmates and friends all things consider Joe. It’s designed somewhere between a beach campfire and an outdoor homeless campground, so as a representation of the downtrodden smiled upon by Saint Joe it’s ridiculous and phony. John Cusack, Johnny Depp, Martin Scorsese, Matt Dillon, Steve Buscemi and Jim Jarmusch represent Hollywood while the music biz shows up in Don Letts, Bono, Steve Jones, Terry Chimes, Topper Headon, Mick Jones (the poor guy’s devolved into Riff Raff from Rocky Horror), Bernie Rhodes, John Cooper Clarke, Joe Ely and Flea. Nobody is identified so who says what for what reason is a mystery unless you know or can put together clues handed out like Scrooge's Xmas bonuses.
Strummer provides narration but I don’t know if it’s from interviews with Julien Temple or from secondary sources. Audio clips from his BBC radio program “London Calling” entertain and inspire the campfire kidz, made flesh by shots of a studio microphone and boomboxes dispensing his medicine of truth. As a famous music video director Temple is expert at integrating old media clips, and while it adds to the confusion of what’s real or not it’s still fun to watch. The sound quality fluctuates from a whisper to a scream.
Joe famously said of The Clash, “It was very much being, like in a 24 hour gang. We only had each other.” The first part of The Future Is Unwritten proves this to be a load of crap. I thought of The Sphinx in Mystery Men (“We are number one. All others are number two, or lower.”) when Joe says “I think too much, or not enough.” The saddest image of the film is of a banner hung behind them at a stadium show near the end. It reads ”Sex Style Subversion – Clash Not For Sale!”, and it stinks of Bernie Rhode’s apprenticeship under Malcolm McLaren.
The Future Is Unwritten is better than I make it sound yet worse than you can imagine. If such a thing is possible.
The Gate To The Mind's Eye: A Computer Animation Odyssey (video review) (Miramar/BMG): Hey new wavers! Remember Thomas Dolby? He wrote "Lucky Number" for Lene Lovich and had a hit with "She Blinded Me With Science." He also looked like a 1920’s-era nerd. Well, he provided the soundtrack to this seamlessly edited collection of random computer animation segments, and WOW is the music as dull as the visuals are exciting. It’s new age electro-crap for computer-age stoners.
Dolby's career is similar to Warren Zevon's. Both created one album of note but kept busy producing, writing and playing for other bands (in Dolby's case Lovich, George Clinton, The Thompson Twins, Foreigner (?), and Joan Armatrading). Dolby's fifteen minutes of fame can be found on the all-around excellent The Golden Age of Wireless. Here, though, he's not even scoring a film. This is a collection of short works created by some of the world's small computer animation houses. The first segment looks like a violent video game because it was created for Sega. Other pieces were commissioned by the National Air & Space museum or by large corporations for promotional use. The effects are spectacular to say the least. I'd say there's no visual effect these people can't create.
In the olde days there was a genre of cinema known as the "stoner film". You watched these at midnight at some tiny old art theater after a night of serious partying. Classics of the form include "Reefer Madness", "Eraserhead", "The Grateful Dead Movie", "Fritz The Cat", "Heavy Traffic"and "Heavy Metal". If The Gate To The Mind's Eye came out twenty years ago people would have freaked out from the hallucinations being projected on the screen. LSD sales would have shot up 400%.
I'd recommend this to anyone into computer animation. The lame music detracts from the experience, but I guess Dolby was paid, and he’s not Satan or anything.
GG Allin: Savage South: Best Of 1992 Tour (video review): Part of me was sad this wasn’t shot in hi-def with THX surround sound, but then I realized it was GG Allin, so a VHS-mono musical snuff-film was all one can ask for. In a world littered with GG Allin material this might even rank near the top as far as quality goes. Consisting of pieces from three shows, you get to see GG do his GG Allin imitation once more than twice. On section features two sleazy strippers from Atlanta’s Clermont Lounge who smoke and grind, and another has him ripping pages out of a bible with his teeth and bleeding onto a framed picture of Jesus (I was expecting a poop job myself). The best lit and sounding footage comes in the first segment, which plays out like a GG Allin drinking game where everyone’s in a booze coma within twenty minutes. The music is generically decent mid-paced, four-chord sloppy punk, but it’s meaningless and secondary to the GG Show, where the walking pathology called GG Allin is observed in his natural environment. It ain’t pretty but I laughed like a hyena through most of it.
Say what you will about GG being an impotent terror and possessing a baby carrot-sized willie, but even with all the drugs, booze and plastic-wrapped foods he retained the intuitive timing of his days as a drummer. No matter what kind of riot he’s involved in on stage or in the audience he’s always in time when it comes to singing. I’ll give him that.
In the first set it takes a whole minute for him to get popped on the jaw by one of his fans. I'd put Fan in quotes but the irony of it would collapse the universe. This happens a few times and GG swings like a madman to no effect, but he’s also impervious to pain. Either nobody’s trying or nobody knows how to fight. No matter what though the band keeps playing. The fifteen minute show must go on! For those with scorecards, GG eats his own poop at 6:00 and is naked at 10:00. In the second set he keeps on his droopy bikini underwear and in the third set he’s naked fairly quickly.
I watched this on Netflix for free, but if you get the DVD and find the “easter egg”, you’ll be treated to watching GG give his stripper girlfriend Tasha a beer and ketchup enema. (use this space to add your preferred method of puking in revulsion)
(A Tale Of Two Johns) (DVD review): I like
They Might Be Giants. I like them a lot actually, but at this point (and
especially in 2002) I don't think they warrant a feature length film.
Gigantic (A Tale Of Two Johns) is an hour-long appreciation stretched to
avoid short film status. The same can be said for the
Gigantic is a love letter to a band that deserves a few hugs. It’s a 60 Minutes segment that lasts 102 minutes. Celebs sing the band's praises and speak song lyrics, Senator Paul Simon gives a lecture on President Lincoln, videos prove their cleverness, John and John participate fully, and Joe Franklin, a god of NY kitsch, speaks of them with great emotion, which for him is like a rock crying. Ira Glass and Sarah Vowell appear often, and it hits me that TMBG are the perfect NPR band.
The history of the band is interesting but I wonder if anyone would come away from it thinking TMBG has been innovative in ways never seen before. Maybe that’s true in the context of alternative music of the mid-to-late ‘80s, but definitely not before that. The new wave era is littered with clever bands with clever gimmicks. TMBG rate highly on the clever-meter but they didn't invent that wheel. That's just the old guy in me telling you kids you don't know nuthin'.
Here and there I got the impression the filmmakers were trying for the same eccentric vibe as True Stories, with the East Village of NY standing in for Texas. My favorite factoid from the film is that many of their early songs didn't have long, sustained notes because they tended to shut off or rewind the thrift store answering machine they used for their free Dial-A-Song service. 718-387-6962 just keeps ringing but they have a website now.
There's no story arc, just a story. There's no tension, no conflict and no tragedy to be overcome. It's a nice movie about nice people who record nice music. Wheeeeeeeee!
The Gits (video review): Never having heard of The Gits except in passing, and not being a fan and seeing no reason to become one, I watched director Kerri O’Kane’s emphatic 2005 documentary The Gits with a detachment that said “I’ll take your word for it!” The trailer gives you a sense of how important The Gits were according to the makers of this 81 minute film, but the intro is so over the top in saying they were one of the most important bands in rock history it made the next scenes look like a mockumentary. Well made and earnest, it’s a story about an important band in the history of Seattle’s early 90s parallel, less well-known non-grunge scene. It was probably the alpha and beta for those involved, but like I say I’m mostly indifferent. It was as much rock as it was punk – the kind of rock that’s hard to describe but everyone knows it’s rock. “Second Skin” is a toe-tapper.
Fronted by charismatic lead singer
Mia Zapata, in some ways the Janis Joplin of her scene, The Gits formed in
1986 at Ohio’s Antioch College. They relocated to Seattle a few years later and
moved into a cheap dwelling they dubbed the “Rat House”, where they played
often, built a following, attracted the attention of Atlantic Records and
inspired the formation of the more popular 7 Year Bitch. Zapata is lauded for
her lyrics of honest, straightforward empowerment, but from the songs in the
film I felt they were didactic statements of facts with all the subtlety of
Minor Threat. I would have preferred something closer to Exene Cervenka, but
once again I wasn't asked for my
In the early hours of July 7, 1993, on the way home from a favorite local Seattle watering hole, Zapata was kidnapped, raped, murdered and left in the street. This begins the second part of the film and the reason it was made in the first place. In the aftermath a non-profit group was formed called Home Alive, teaching both non-violence and self-defense classes, which might sound as contradictory to you as it does to me, but I’m glad they exist and I hope they non-violently castrate as many rapists as they can find. Ten years later the case was solved through the national law enforcement DNA database, so hooray for science! A college friend of mine’s murder was recently solved with DNA, so I know this story firsthand.
The film shifts from band history to police procedural, a first in my experience, but I loves me my Law & Order shows so I was happy when it did as I was getting bored with hearing how The Gits were a revolution of sounds and ideas.
O’Kane gathered a load of material to put together her film, even acquiring the rights to the Monty Python Sketch about Gits that inspired the band’s name. She had access to band members, scene friends, Mia’s dad, Joan Jett and Kathleen Hanna, along with old home movies, news reports and concert footage from Hype!, the definitive Seattle music film. Equal parts social agenda and Gits band history, The Gits will float your boat if you enjoy either. OK, now git, y'all!
Give ‘Em The Boot (DVD review): 2005’s Give “Em The Boot is a decent representation of Tim Armstrong’s Hellcat Records and a loving tribute to Joe Strummer. The filming is fast-paced without being annoying but the overuse of the effect of a digitized black and white etching grows tiresome and annoying. Rancid gets the bulk of the attention, as they should, but besides that there’s not much else I have to add. Your opinion on this will depend on your opinion of the bands but at least director Tim Armstrong tossed enough people and money at Give “Em The Boot to make it professional and not a glorified home movie.
Here’s the program:
Rancid - Ruby Soho
Tiger Army - Never Die
F-Minus - Light At The End
Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros - Rudie Can't Fail
Rancid - Roots Radicals (acoustic)
Rancid - Maxwell Murder
Nekromantix - Gargoyles Over Copenhagen
U.S. Boms - U.S. Bombs
Transplants - One Seventeen
Rancid - As Wicked
Rancid - Old Friend
Rancid and Iggy Pop - No Fun (acoustic)
The Slackers - And I Wonder
Horrorprops - Julia
Roger Miret and The Disasters – Crucified
Dropkick Murphy - Good Rats
Rancid - Red Hot Moon
Rancid - Rate In The Hallway
Rancid - Bloodclot
Lars Frederiksen and The Bastards – Skunx
Nerve Agents - Evil
Joe Stummer tribute
Tim and Davey Havok - Knowledge
Rancid - Radio
Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros - Minstrel Boy
Glenn Tilbrook: One For The Road (video review): This labor of love from lifetime fan, former 80s cable access host and modern day videographer Amy Pickard kept me grinning and laughing for its entire seventy minutes. I wouldn’t blame anyone for finding this meandering and trivial, but as a Squeeze fan, Glenn had me at the first crack of his good-natured smile. It aspires to be nothing more than a travelogue of Tilbrook’s 2001 acoustic tour of the U.S. in a used 1988 Cruise Master RV, and as such it succeeds spectacularly. Glenn doesn’t bare the depths of his soul and there’s no problems that can’t be solved with patience and good cheer. As far removed from reality TV as you can get without a prescription, One For The Road is the most pleasant experience you’ll have watching a screen with your pants on.
Some reviews knock the professionalism of it but for a mom & pop operation they bang a buck until there’s only a nickel left. The editing is seamless. Clips from various shows are integrated into single songs, and graphics are playful and rare. Snippets of old Squeeze videos are tossed in for history. In an interview Pickard admitted that 85% of what she shot was worthless – either a normal average or making the final film that much more impressive. People, it’s a glorified home video production, not Stop Making Sense.
As the singer for Squeeze (he wrote the music and Chris Difford the lyrics), Glenn Tilbrook traveled the world, sold out Madison Square Garden twice and is guaranteed royalty checks into perpetuity, allowing him the leisure to putz around the US in a used RV playing wherever and whenever. Difford and Tilbrook were the Lennon-McCartney of new wave, a win-lose scenario in that while it’s intended as a compliment, some new wavers wanted nothing to do with their parent’s favorite band, and diehard Beatles fans probably resented any comparison out of hand. The Knack were called the New Beatles, which pleased the universe even less. Their few hits were too cute for their own good and singer Doug Fieger’s smug smile invited resentment. Squeeze never died, and they tour periodically. They rode the new wave until it petered out, and they can proudly say they weren't forced into retirement from running out of good ideas.
The basic story of One For The Road is Glenn and his girlfriend/manager fly to Buffalo, NY to buy a used RV and, with Pickard and cameraman Hans Fritz in tow, they hit the open road. The original RV deal falls through so they do a few stops in a rented minivan, the generator gives out near the lot once they do buy the Cruise Master, at various times the salesman’s ghostly warning “Something always goes wrong with RVs” haunts them, and near the end of the tour the engine dies completely. Besides that every day is a gift. If anything fazes Glenn you sure don’t see it here. Glenn plays acoustic sets to adoring fans in small clubs and, of all places, the food court of NYC’s Grand Central Station. He’s a great guitarist, rendering a tricky acoustic guitar version of Jimmy Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” with ease. Glenn’s fond of taking his audience out into the street, jogging around the block like the pied piper of thirty-somethings. On one stop a woman says her house is nearby so they all go over and Glenn plays in her kitchen. The funniest bit has Glenn playing while lying down in the street outside The Casbah in San Diego. The next thing you see is Glenn on the hood of a police car with its lights going, playing, singing and rolling around. Who knows if the cop was a Squeeze fan, but seeing fifty PTA members singing in the street probably didn’t make him reach for his revolver.
If Glenn is anything other than a loveable, generous and happy man you don’t get any proof of it. His road experiences are fun and endearing. He’s being filmed so sometimes he has to explain who he is to people like the lady at the RV campground. He quietly says he’s a musician, expecting nobody to be impressed. When he says he was in Squeeze he expects nobody to know who they were. In my favorite scene they’re in a Texas campground and Glenn’s face lights up as he sees another used Cruise Master. He runs over and shoots the Cruise Master poop, only to be introduced to another Cruise Maser owner. Sitting around a picnic table it comes up that Glenn was in a band called Squeeze, and every adult’s face lights up. Hell, one has the greatest hits cd in their RV. These are halfway to good-ol-boys Texans! At the agriculture inspection stop in the California desert Glenn pretends he’s from Texas. He has a laugh being on a local TV news show billed before the “Pet Of The Week” segment, featuring that day Mr. Mittens. As the engine slowly dies in Santa Ana, CA, behind the wheel Glenn bounces back and forth to help the RV along, and someone yells “We Rock!”
The film ends with the RV broken, but it’s noted that after repairs Glenn completed six tours, drove 32,000 miles, and visited 27 repair shops along the way. Now that’s hardcore!
God Bless Bloc Party
(DVD review): Warning: there’s a very bad
pun at end of this review.
God Bless Bloc Party is a bit of a gip because half the listed songs are seen in the documentary and not much in the concert section. The concert portion of the DVD ends just as it's warming up. Show's over folks, drive safe (lights flicker off). I'm going to trade this back for credit.
Bloc Party are a great band and Silent Alarm a treasure if you like The Cure, Joy Division and Gang OF Four condensed like milk. I watched about fifteen minutes of the documentary because Bloc Party aren't that interesting, and whoever put this together took random, mundane footage and combined it with concert clips blender-fashion using every visual effect on hand. No offense, but most bands are not worthy of a documentary, and if I want to watch a skinny, shirtless Asian kid who looks like both a Jewish accountant and Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite eat a lot of food I'd join the fetish site.
Singer and guitarist Kele Okereke has personality and is fun to watch. Matt Tong on drums eats and doesn't like talking about influences. Gordon Moakes (bass) and Russell Lissack (guitar) are from that planet of skinny, pale guys who seem personality free but friends swear they're wild nce you get to know them.
The concert footage is so disconnected and artificially flavored it doesn't seem live at all.
If Bloc Party were anarchist vegetarians the hidden message might be to Smash The Steak.
Goldfinger - Live At The House Of Blues (dvd review): I'm showing my middle age by saying this 2004 release is ska-punk for children - or your much younger brother - or childish adults who confuse stupid with clever. I realize that more than half of all punk since the beginning of the hardcore era has been aimed squarely at teenagers but by the 90s punk had long kissed goodbye its lo-fi, DIY kidz-doin'-it-fer-da-kidz mission statement. Professional musicians cranked out professionally produced slabs of market-tested teen anthems for kids who think punk, metal, and rap are basically the same and exist mainly as background noise in extreme sports video games. I watched Live At The House Of Blues thinking "Hey, here's another average, generic third wave ska-punk tune. Maybe it sounds better on cd." The fans are into it though, but their enthusiasm rarely wavers so you wonder if a sugar, Red Bull, beer and a "I'm having a great time having a great time" mindset is also at work. Haven't we all seen people at shows whose over-the-top fun-time excitement seemed almost completely unrelated to what was happening on stage?
Goldfinger were in the center of third wave ska - which tried too hard to be authentic (first wave is even more authentic) or punk (second wave please). Whatever it was, it had little appeal to me, who always loved second wave and came to love (if not deeply respect) first wave. I can't say I don't like Goldfinger's music. For what it is I'm sure it's quite good. It simply does nothing for me.
The show opens with Goldfinger's young, shirtless, tattooed road manager prepping the crowd by cursing repeatedly. Then a random hairy guy wearing only a banana hammock runs out and shakes his booty for a bit. The band then comes on and act all ska-punk nutty for the entire show. Then the show ends and the kids file out to be picked up by their parents in the parking lot. Or drive home in their first car, used to say the least.
Gothic Industrial Alternative Visuals (video comp review) (Cleopatra): Having just this week visited a full-blown goth club for the first time I thought I'd drop 99 cents on a goth video collection. In the early ‘80s you’d hear Bauhaus and Joy Division at new wave nights. Now new wave is dead and goth clubs pack 'em in. Go figure.
Either this tape is old or goth hasn't progressed much in the last fifteen years. Leaether Strip's "Evil Speaks" turns the drum rhythm of the Stray Cat's "Rock This Town" into a techno number. Penal Colony recycles ancient Kraftkwerk beats, and Rosetta Stone steal from both the Beatles and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Nik Turner, the Klaus Nomi of Death Rock, puts in a D.I.Y. new wave performance I haven't seen since the I.R.S. Record days of ‘80-‘81. Spahn Ranch here sound like Depeche Mode.
Something tells me the real innovation in this genre has been the influence of speedy techno industrial bands like Nine Inch Nails, who figured how to bring the death disco of Ministry and Skinny Puppy fully into the video game age. NIN is disco for pissed off, bi-curious white guys. New Wave was dance music for nerds. Goth, at least as represented here, is dance music for both high school drama club women with strong attachments to their Emily Dickinson, and pale guys who masturbate to comic book images of death.
The fascination with serial killers and vampires may be real, but the unsmiling, dangerous looks of these bands are chuckle-worthy. Show me a goth and I'll show you an educated geek who can quote the atomic weight and gaming capacities of a Troll. I've worked out since high school and have been to my fair share of martial arts schools. Truly dangerous people carry themselves in certain ways that denote training or at least cocky meanness. Punks try to intimidate through an aggressive style and attitude. Goths do it through an unsmiling look of cinematic evil. This is not to say goths are all wimps, I know a few who aren’t. I don't think violence is a real concern in that scene, compared to other punk subcultures..
These videos all look cheap, as if the bands shot them that day as an incentive for signing with Cleopatra. Scenes are improvised and shots are used only because they look innovative. The budgets are tiny. The earliest new wave videos had bands like Elvis Costello and The Attractions playing on the beach or in a studio. They're laughing constantly because pretending to play is just goofy. These videos lack that humor and come off all the more pretentious for it.
The Great Rock'N'Roll Swindle(1980) (Video review): This movie is strange. On one hand it's nice that England's most popular punk band made a movie, and on the other it’s so dumb you wish it never saw the light of day.
Designed to be a shockumentary, The Great Rock’N’Roll Swindle is a little of everything and a lot of nothing: it's a sarcastic history lesson on the Sex Pistols and how they suckered the press and the kids into making the Pistols a cultural scandal. It's a detective story. It's a joke-fest. It's a concert film. Mostly it's a failed effort by band manager Malcolm McLaren to take credit for everything Johnny Rotten contributed to the band.
Johnny wasn't even involved with this. He was either fired, or quit, before filming began. Malcolm mimics Johnny in the film, spewing out his "lessons" to a punk midget - like he's a god. Then there's a teenage girl he turns into a punk slave. What that's about I'd like to remain a complete mystery. Please.
Then there's the lessons themselves - the film's plot points. "Lesson Four: Do not play. Don't give the game away", "Lesson 3: Sell The Swindle", "Lesson 2: Establish the Name Sex Pistols". Malcolm transforms the Sex Pistols into a pre-fabricated concoction like the Monkees orBanana Splits. This is not entirely true, if true at all, since Malcolm had no master plan until after the fact, but McLaren must do this if he wants to take credit for everything. He imagines himself a naughty and witty puppetmaster. What absolute bull, but this is his film and Johnny was out, so history was rewritten. The lessons might make sense for a punk band, but it sure didn't happen that way for the Sex Pistols!
The Sex Pistols had little control over their destiny. Scandal brought them fame, but a marked inability to control their fate (and themselves) destroyed them. By simply owning a retail store Malcolm had more business sense than the blockheads who frequented his shop. He was the one the kids turned to manage their bands, yet Malcolm was no visionary, and he wasn't a good manager. He fell back on saying he was into CHAOS when it was obvious he hadn’t a clue. At the time Steve Jones and Paul Cook may have thought he was a genius, but between the two of them they were still shy half a brain. Malcolm wanted to do was sell more clothes and make more money. All his Machiavellian claims of manipulation and control are lies, and while watching The Great Rock'N'Roll Swindle you can't but scream "poser!" over and over again while banging your head against the screen. At least that's what I did.
The film cleverly mixes old concert, video and newsreel footage with new set-pieces to create a full-length motion picture. You can't even tell Johnny was gone by that time. The old footage is excellent while the new footage stinks. The worst is a sub-plot where Steve Jones plays a hard-boiled detective in search of Malcolm and his "Swindle". Damn that Swindle - it's always just..out..of..his..reach. The dialogue in the beginning sounds like it was recorded in a toilet stall. Sid Vicious looks like crap and acts like an ass. Nancy looks even worse. Sid's referred to as "The John Travolta of Punk" and is listed in the credits as "The Gimmick". Catch the irony? Sid was a gimmick and they're admitting it right on the screen. Brilliant!
The Great Rock’N’Roll Swindle was partly financed by Ronnie Biggs, the infamous British train robber who skipped with the cash to Brazil. There's film of Cook and Jones hanging out on the beach with Biggs, and the financier even gets to sing. He can't. Who cares. The soundtrack album is a double-wide and contains new tunes along with old demos and novelties. The new Pistols songs, without John, mostly drag. Sid does a decent enough job on "My Way”. Ten Pole Tudor is brought in to sing "Who Killed Bambi" and "Rock Around The Clock". To say he chews the scenery is an understatement in line with "That Elvis, he sure loved his mama and his fried foods."
Whoever edited this should have won an award. The great old footage is mixed so well with the crappy new stuff that the crap doesn't stink as much. Malcolm McLaren's big point in making this film was to say the Sex Pistols were a joke, and the joke was on you. This fatalistic cynicism was a slap in the face. On one level it's only music, but to the UK punks music was a release and a possible way out. If you think it's cool that what you believe in is a joke, your problems go deeper than listening to anti-social music. If you have even a shred of self-respect you have to walk away from The Great Rock’N’Roll Swindle convinced Malcolm is the biggest asshole in the world.
Groove (video review) (Sony Picture Classics): This is the video with the cover shot of a techno-mandroid lovingly caressing his swollen metal disco ball.... Ah yes, to be young, dumb, and full of Methyl-dioxy-meth-amphetamine. That's the fancy-pants term for Ecstacy, and according to Groove the world would be paradise if we all took hits, danced to techno, hugged each other and were there for each other when the walls morphed into day-glo snakes and, like, freaked us out. One of three recent films on this laughable manifestation of the hippie zeitgeist, Groove supposedly gets it all right when it comes to the rave scene, the players involved, and especially the sense of community that’s somehow supposed to gloss over the fact it's a big excuse to drop acid. That's just super, but please don't expect me to be impressed or care when things go wrong. When carloads of ravers fly off cliffs - now that's entertainment!
Drugs and alcohol have long greased the wheels of popular music, yet the rave scene is the only one to exist exclusively for the drug experience. The music itself is secondary if not irrelevant. Groove features a number of real rave DJs, and great care is given to show how DJ ScoobySnack takes over for DJ SoftScrub by lining up a record and then pushing a knob, changing The Beat That Never Changes ever so slightly and sending the amped dancers into an even more manic frenzy (which to quell would require injections of morphine directly into a neck vain).
The Grateful Dead wrote actual songs you don't have to be stoned to appreciate. Rave music is the same beat, scientifically determined to match the energy level of the drugs being used. I can see the skill involved in hip-hop scratching and real time sampling. In Groove the only talent involved is buying the latest 12” singles and then making sure every "song" blends into each other for eight hours. I don’t think rave can be called music. It's an effect for an effect, like muzak.
Oh, yes, this is a movie review. Groove, for all of its naive stupidity, is a nice little film about nice little people with nice little problems and dreams. The rave scene is by and for rich, smart, techno-savvy white kids. The one black person in this film is an oreo, and there must be a term for the Asian DJ who's as white as Dan Rather. The Asian woman is "white" but also dressed up like a Martian. Maybe I've seen one too many Godzilla films, but when I think of Martian women I think of Japanese women dressed like her.
Groove was written and directed by Greg Harrison, who has a burning passion for the material. He sees Ecstacy as a misunderstood gift from the gods (or that cute little E.T.) and laments how outsiders ruin the vibe by taking "bad" drugs. Ecstacy is acid and speed combined, and Groove is a love letter to this compound in the form of an episodic story that does no more than detail how to find the parties and drugs, how to take the drugs, what to do once you're high, and how in the end everything is just super. The plot is light, simple and not without unintentional laffs, as when someone says of the upcoming rave, "I hope they don't play any of that happy house crap." It's all crap, my orange juice swigging, body-painting, cat-in-the-hat hat wearing, pacifier-sucking teddy bear hugging friend. The fascination with childhood totems is also a scream because it's falsely presented as a positive manifestation of the innocence and purity of childhood. What you really have is a group of 20-something rich kids who don't want to be adults or to be held accountable to their actions.
The best line of the film is when a cop says "Keep on spreading the love, right on out the door." He knows these are Good Kids with rich parents whose lawyers would go nuts if their offspring were charged as common dopers. The moral lesson of Groove is that it's all fun and games until it's really time to grow up. There's nothing wrong with having fun, even if the most painful non-music ever conceived is involved. I find very little gets accomplished when I talk to a pot smoker because the stuff creates a mental disconnect that's more distracting than alcohol. You're relatively helpless and useless when you're on acid, and I have no pity for anyone who willingly takes the risk and then screws up. It's sad that so much money is spent to clean up after the screwups of middle and upper class people with too much time, money and stupidity on their hands.
The Gun Club: Fire of Love (dvd review): Here’s a crappy set of shows from a band I generally find crappy. I gave their debut album a decent review but only kept “Sex Beat” on my computer jukebox. Live, according to what this Cherry Red dumpster diving relic from the mid-80s reveals, they’re barely cohesive or coherent, making every song the same hike through psychobilly swampwater. Lead singer Jeffrey Lee Pierce is either filled with repressed energy or he’s a zombie – either one works. He looks like a gentile Jon Lovitz so I take him a little less seriously than maybe I should. The sound and visual qualities keep pace. I’ve been to shows as bad as this and have seen people respond like it’s the greatest show on earth, which makes me wonder if the quality control portion of their brain has been deactivated either chemically, physically, or mentally. Or if it's just me, which we all know is impossible.
The Gun Is Loaded (video review) (Mystic Fire): Lydia Lunch's gimmick is a million times better but not that different than G.G. Allins' - they're both damaged goods out to destroy the world with their words, music and bodies. With this 1988 video she mirrors G.G.'s one-liner of his body being a gun, his words the bullets and the audience the victims. The only difference is that G.G. was a hapless nobody while Lydia is a major player in New York's cultural underground. She hit the scene in 1979 with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and since has been involved with an endless parade of bands and projects. She acts, sings, writes, performs spoken word and runs her own label. Her talent is uneven and can be grating in its single note of intense bitterness, but in small doses she's a lot of fun.
She began her spoken word career in 1984, before Jello Biafra and her friend "Neck" Rollins realized people were dumb enough to pay to hear them talk, no matter what they said, be it Jello's nonsensical paranoia or Henry's bad stand-up routine. Lydia is by far the best of the three, her rantings well thought out and delivered in consistently professional and confrontational tones. She operates at only one speed, so it's best to watch this tape in small doses. She dispenses heavy attitude and dialogue that requires effort to keep up with. For the most part it's worth it, but she beats the same horse too often for long viewings.
What follows is not from the tape but her website. From this you'll get the idea of what Lydia Lunch is all about: "New York City did not corrupt me... I was drawn into it because I was already corrupted. By the age of six, my sexual horizon was over-stimulated by a father who had no control of his fantasies, natural tendencies or criminal urges. Like father like daughter. Before my teenage years I had already experimented with mescaline, THC, pot, acid, Quaaludes, tuinals, valium and angel dust. I was already an experienced pickpocket, shoplifter, short shift hustler. New York is a giant candy store, meat market, insane asylum, performance stage. Surrounded by five million other junkies, addicts, alcoholics, rip-off artists, dreamers, schemers, and unsuspecting marks, New Yorkafforded me the luxury of anonymity. The devil's playground."
Lunch's performance style can sound like a sermon, but generally it’s beatnik in pacing, image and tone. You can always tell by a test of my own creation I call the Scat Test. If you can add lines of scat to a piece and it sounds normal, it’s beatnik. Read the paragraph above like a Beat (pre-hippie coffee house intellectual) and throw in random scat lines like "Skeet Bop Pow Skeedle Do Wa!" and "Skoodle Da Peep Pop Poop Pee Yeah!". Oh, it works.
The Gun Is Loaded is multimedia and the mix of spoken word, film, video, words printed on the screen and background music (provided by old pal Jim Foetus) adds to but never detracts from what is basically a one-woman show. Lydia performs on a stage, in a diner filled with riends, walks through the worst parts of NYC and stands under the Brooklyn Bridge. She's eloquent in her sarcasm but you might find her hyper-bitterness a bit contrived, since someone with that level of bitterness could not exist as a real person and not be homeless or institutionalized. G.G. was like that all the time and look how broke and truly friendless he was.
Lydia's topics are politics, family dysfunction, how society screws you over, and other themes I lost track of both because her tone is unrelenting and her use of the English language is so heavy it dares you to keep up. She talks about herself as if she's the center of controversy and a raging cult of personality. She makes it sound like most people want her dead and gone, but she's tougher than that and screw you for underestimating her. It's the same tone as gangsta crap and I have no idea why she thinks anyone care’s about her feud with West Coast performance artists (I made that last part up, but my point is that Lydia Lunch should not refer to herself as an Icon).
Lydia Lunch is fun to watch because she looks like a cross between Joan Jett and Roseanne, both on a super pissy day. She talks like Roseanne too. She's going to be a fun old lady because she'll be in movies as the grandmother who curses like a sailor. The Gun Is Loaded is a good piece of performance art. How much you can take of it at one sitting is the only variable.
GWAR - Phallus In Wonderland (video review) (Metalblade Video): Gwar spews in the tradition of Grand Gignol, everything from blood, guts, spit to sperm. If it's a gooey substance Gwar will spew it like the Monty Python sketch "Tennis, Anyone?", the Evil Dead series Peter Jackson’s horror-comedies, every decent film from Troma, Street Trash, and, but of course, Spewey the alien from Chris Elliot's "Get A Life" ("I brought Spewey to meet my old high school buddy, the Pope"). Spew, spew, spew - a great word that sounds more filthy each time you say it.
Gwar is a comic heavy metal band who sometimes play thrash not unlike Tesco Vee in recent years. The singer can yell in the same operatic tones as Fear's Lee Ving. Otherwise the music and lyrics are standard slow heavy metal, and I have no stomach for it. It makes me want to spew. Originally college students from Richmond, VA, Gwar's gimmick is that they're spawns of aliens stranded in Antarctica. It’s kinda like Scientology. They dress in bulky foam rubber and paper mache costumes, and sing about their own mythology while acting out scenes of the grotesque on stage. Then there's the gallons of spew. There are about eight members in Gwar, with names like The Sexecutioner, Gusher Jizmax and Beefcake The Mighty.
Gwar put out a few scripted videos. This one from 1992 is so well made I watched in awe even as the intermittent heavy metal songs made me lunge for the mute button. Funny? You got it. Great special effects for the budget? Yes indeedy! Professional acting from a large cast of unknowns? Ye-es! The plot made little sense but endless cool images and great gore made that irrelevant. Whoever wrote this is a genius. Each scene is a self-contained gem of comic weirdness. The set and costume designs also win kudos. Every fan of cheap horror and oddball independent film should rent this, if not now, then when they have the chance.
Half-Cocked (dvd review): Besides for a few non-failures in the realm of low-budget black and white cinematography, 1994’s micro-indie film Half-Cocked is as engaging as watching organic waste composting. It gets the same rave customer reviews as other $712.76 productions of similar interest which makes me think there are two camps of people who support these endeavors: the friends of those involved and the no-budget indie film industry that has to pretend turds are diamonds in the rough in order to not give up all hope on their own futures. Half-Cocked is fairly unwatchable but at least director Suki Hawley uses a tripod whenever possible and the camera doesn’t shake like it’s being held by a junkie.
What made me slump over and repeat “Really? ….really?....Really?…” was reading the film is a parody of the white, post-industrial urban decay indie rock hipster zeitgeist of the early 1990s, and a hilarious one at that. There’s not a single joke in the script and if situations were set up as parody they sure didn’t come across as anything more than one more numb, senseless scene piled on top of the last. The plot doesn’t start until the mid-point and by then, if you’ve made it this far, you’ll have little left but the desire for it to end. At first it seems to be about Louisville, KY slacker do-nothin's doin’ stuff and sayin’ stuff like Jim Jarmusch might if he lost the use of half his brain in a tragic tightrope walking accident. Then the real plot kicks in when Rhoda and her flophouse-mates steal her brother’s van and pretend to be a band with the equipment within as they drive a loop of the region, meeting all kinds of loser-esting people and getting into an assortment of jams and jellies.
The non-actors aren’t all that horrible
but what they do and say add up to not much. The film has some semi-famous folks
in it, so there’s that, and the soundtrack was a hit with the indie grunge kidz.
Tara Jane O’Neill is Rhoda and she seems creatively accomplished.
James Canty, Steve Gamboa and
Ian Svenonius (Nation Of
Islam Ulysses) are in it, and Ian’s the best character
in the film – a driven, self-obsessed, Lou Reed-esque nobody with dreams of fab
glory. Four members of
The Grifters also star. Do not watch Half-Cocked while standing or operating
Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King (video review) (Facets): This obscure 1993 documentary on the obscure rock-blues-folk-noise band Half Japanese (HJ) has just been re-released on DVD with a director’s commentary track and the whole 23 skidoo. The marketing and appeal seem to be based on surface comparisons to This Is Spinal Tap, a film some dim-watts still think is a documentary. Spinal Tap did tour a few times, so that muddied the waters. The Band That Would Be King isn’t a put-on… or is it? The line “the greatest band of all time” Half Japanese fans throw around is an in-joke of cruelly ironic proportions. HJ fans are as a group intelligent and well-versed in all kinds of music, as are Zappa freaks. They know HJ is at best a cult band. They know friends and loved ones exit stage left whenever a needle hits a HJ record. Still, it’s a grand act of musical eccentricity to champion bands like HJ, and the participants in The Band That Would Be King run with it. The results are sincere fandom and improv silliness. Another film that comes to mind is 1999’s American Movie, a documentary that explores the ups and downs of obsessive American geek optimism.
HJ’s David and Jad Fair are quaint misfits from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and their DIY career and trueness to their own vision are immeasurably instructive and inspiring. It’s also funny because they’re humorous by nature and design. David’s explanation of the science of guitar playing is deadpan genius – with truth and humor assuming equal roles. The film opens with the words “Jad and David Fair start the band Half Japanese in their bedroom. Though neither can play a single note on any instrument, they go on to record one of the greatest albums of all time. This is their story.” This is hype since, until you learn how, nobody knows how to play an instrument. Even The Shaggs knew, in a sense, how to play their instruments. The D.I.Y. lesson of HJ, and of The Stooges and MC5 who inspired them, is that it’s not important how well you play, only that you have good ideas and play.
Director Jeff Feuerzeig couldn’t have known beforehand his film would be this funny. The Fair Brothers might have been a safe bet for kookiness, and Penn Jillette never fails to entertain, but when David and Jad’s sweet, polite, conservative mom talks about her suburban house being called the birthplace of punk rock, and isn’t that really exciting, you can’t help but think you’re watching Waiting For Guffman. Other touches also point to parody, like David signing his first record contract in print letters, how David is not seen again on film after it’s noted he left the band in 1986 to get married, HJ’s filmed gig at a senior citizens’ center, Jad’s Harry Potter look and Church Lady voice, how at one time Jad wrote only love songs and monster songs, and even how their first record came out as a three LP box set. Adding to the suspicion is that so much of their past has been filmed. It’s one thing to talk about a pick-up gig at an old folks home – it’s another to bring along a movie camera.
Like too many other documentaries, The Band That Would Be King stretches out to feature film length by keeping in fifteen minutes of boring filler. What starts and ends as a great feel weird - I mean feel good film - is mired down in the middle with nasty rants about the sorry state of indie music and corporate manipulation. The tone shifts to a dark cloud of doom and bitterness, and it feels out of place.
You don’t need to be a Half Japanese fan to like this film. With tighter editing in the middle it might qualify as a midnight movie classic, to be shown after the 1984 HBO movie The Last Polka, starring Eugene Levy and John Candy as Yoshe and Stan Schmenge (“Ladies and gentlemen, The Shemke Brothers”… “Schmenge!!!!!”)
NoMeansNo/Hanson Brothers - Would We Be...Live? (DVD review): Weighing in at three hours, these two 2002 london shows are a bargain at $19.95 retail. Punkervision uses a video editing board that's always in sync and deploy enough cameras to catch everything. It also sounds great on my mono tv! Heh heh eh...uh. A steal if you stole it or your money's worth if you buy it.
NoMeansNo have been around for 28 years or so, recording a schizophrenic
catalog of various punk, hard rock and jazz-influenced music too challenging for
most but rewarding for those so inclined. That's an obtuse yet objective
statement. They're like
The Big Boys in that they both switch between styles that usually didn't
appeal to the same audience. They both also have one great Ska song in their
Brothers Rob Wright (bass) and John Wright (drums) are the tightest rhythm section going, bar none. Rob plays bass like a lead and John is (I swear) Buddy Rich sitting in with Killing Joke. Their best songs are pounding, unpredictable and manic. Their worst songs never end and are overly dramatic via hard rock histrionics. I have no metal blood in me at all but even I know I'm right about the song length issue. This DVD finds them playing mostly in the NoMeansNo style I like.
"The River" is a true classic. You must seek it out. Other keepers include "I Have A Gun", "I'm An Asshole", "Dark Ages", "Body Bag" and "Oh No! Bruno!"
The Hanson Brothers are NoMeansNo with John singing and, in the case of this DVD, Ernie on drums. They perform in character: Tommy is a drooling moron, Rob a dimwitted Jason in a goalie mask, Ernie licks his chin like a cow and John chews gun and is in total control. Some shots of Tommy drooling are not for the weak. I love, Love, LOVE the Hanson Brothers. They apply the power and precision of NoMeansNo to the Ramones' sound. I'm loathe to say anyone rules, but the Hanson Brothers rule the wasteland.
"Jackoff" has the greatest piece of concert footage I've ever seen. John starts singing the first chorus when Tommy kicks at someone grabbing at him in the audience. He kicks, points, stops playing, steps back and puts his hands behind his back. John looks over and without missing a beat on his gum or changing his facial expression he walks over, grabs the offender like a ragdoll, tosses him around a bit, probably says to him "Don't make me angry, you wouldn't like me when I'm angry", steps back to the mike, Tommy steps up and they HIT the right note on a dime like nothing happened. I've looked at this twenty times by now. Man that's cool.
Hardcore, Vol I, The Films Of Richard Kern (video review) (Film Threat): This collection of short films and rock videos by NYC photographer Richard Kern has nothing to do with hardcore punk and little to do with hardcore porn. There is plenty of frontal nudity, simulated sex and Lydia Lunch graphically tooting a happy tune on the meat flute, but the title is mostly a reference to how the denizens of Kern's world live the fabled NYC junkie/alcoholic/rock'n'roll/degenerate/artist lifestyle to the fullest (or lowest). It’s low budget but some of these shorts are effective and overcome their inherent faults with creative shots and enough weirdness to tweak the interest of even the most jaded b-movie nut.
Born in 1954 in North Carolina, Richard Kern, a self-proclaimed hick, was introduced to photography and voyeurism by his father, the editor of the local newspaper. He didn't move to NYC until 1979, but when he did he fit in perfectly with the artists and musicians who shared the lower east side with junkies, winos and $10 hookers. The major difference between the two groups was a belief their lives were exercises in artistic expression as opposed to a hellish daily punishment.
In 1983 he purchased a $5 Super-8 movie camera and filmed his friends acting out what Kern calls "statements" in a genre of his own coining called the "Cinema Of Transgression". Lydia Lunch, Henry “Neck” Rollins, Karen Finley, Nick Zedd, Sonic Youth, Clint Ruin and others appeared in a series of home movies from ‘84-’87. Then Kern burned out, sold off his belongings and moved to San Francisco. He soon returned to NY to make a few cheap rock videos and then settle into his present gig as master photographer of NYC kink, with shows all over the world and premium prices paid. His work involves a lot of lite bondage, NYC "realism", and nods to the kind of ‘70s Times Square sleaze fondly remembered by some as a kind of perverse vaudeville. I lived through that era and have mixed feelings. Overall I’m glad the Times Square sleaze era is over. His successful New York Girls is one of those large format Taschen books that repackages retro-kink as art.
Kern's best film work is in ultra grainy black & white, and combines elements of Kenneth Anger, David Lynch's Eraserhead and George Romero's Night Of The Living Dead. These films range in length from a few minutes to about 22 minutes. Acted out as silent films (music and sparse dialog were added later and seems to have been recorded in a tenement hallway), Kern's films work just as well with the sound off. Home movies that elevate themselves to the zenith of b-movie cult status, Kern's films are worth checking out. John Waters did the same thing much earlier but Kern is more graphic and his depiction of NYC is as vivid as Water's Baltimore. It also helps that he always maintains a healthy respect for the comically absurd. The video box quotes Kern as saying "I've tried it all: crime thrills, drug thrills, sex thrills, but nowadays I get most of my thrills by offending people with my films."
Much of the music is provided by Foetus, along with the The Dream Syndicate, Sonic Youth and The Butthole Surfers. Lydia Lunch, the Betty Boop of anger, appears a few times and rubs herself all over while making "sexy" faces. That's when she's not giving a graphic hummer to a skinny rock/junkie type.
My favorite scene in this collection is of the man who commits suicide by loading up a hollow weight bar with what must be 65 lbs of plastic weights (filled with concrete lumps), more than double of what he used a few minutes before, and then letting it crush his windpipe. Most guys over 98 lbs. warm up with twice that weight so on film the scene just looks funny. Is 65 lbs. a lot of weight if you're a NY junkie rockstar? Maybe so. Or maybe I'm so damn macho I've lost all perspective.
Hard Core Logo (video review) (Miramax): This 1996 film barely made it to a theatrical release, and then it languished on the shelf for years. It's now a catalog item in Quentin Tarantino's vanity distribution company, Rolling Thunder Pictures, like Troma but more indie in appeal. Lead actor Hugh Dillon auditioned for a part in Tarantino's Jackie Brown, so there might be a personal connection involved in the deal.
Every review I tripped over compares Hard Core Logo to Spinal Tap, annoying because it's both wrong and lazy. Hard Core Logo is not a mockumentary, it's a rock'n'roll road diary drama. It's trying to be Real. The last thing it is is funny. It's the least funny thing I've seen in a long time. Just about every movie ever made has something funny in it, or has at least one clever visual, line or piece of action that can make a person involuntarily smile. The "I'm invisible" bit in the bar was cute and I laughed at that. The line "Welcome to the old days" was clever, and Joe Dirt's crowd insult of "You don't know s--t from good chocolate" was hysterical, but that doesn't make this a comedy. If Noel S. Baker wrote this as a comedy, he's failed miserably. If director Bruce McDonald filmed this as a comedy, he also failed.
The production values of Hard Core Logo are surprisingly top shelf. It’s a visual achievement for the director and his crew. The cinematography, editing, lighting, sound, effects and locations are all killer. I would hire Bruce McDonald in a heartbeat to direct a major Hollywood motion picture. The acting is also excellent all the way around. Hugh Dillon, who sings in a real band called The Headstones, is a little bit Lee Ving and a lot Bruce Willis in the lead as Joe Dirt. Callum Keith Rennie, who gets a decent amount of indie film work, is perfect as the band's lead guitarist and resident pretty boy eager to make the jump to a more famous band and a regular paycheck. Joey Ramone makes a cameo as himself and he's on the edge of laughing out loud as he talks up the imaginary band Hard Core Logo. Can such an odd looking person be any more lovable?
The script is consistently underwhelming. It's not exactly boring or riddled with cliché, but it moves from frame to frame without leaving an impression. It plays like improv where everyone speaks and acts correctly but nothing worth keeping happens. It's a story about a once famous Canadian punk band on the road for one more tour. There's drama, humor, action, betrayal, trust, reconciliation, warmth, sadness, honesty, friendship, anger, violence, insanity, disappointment, pathos and anything else a good story can have to help it on its way. Still, the script just sits there begging to be punched up by a pro. It does cover all the bases, and that's the best thing I can say about the writing.
The soundtrack is nice, and while the punk concert scenes help limit this film's appeal to a tiny segment of a tiny genre to begin with, the use of The Ramones' late career, largely unknown "Touring" is brilliant. It's played over a slo-mo shot of the band walking along is if on a death march.
If you made it through 1998's Still Crazy, Hard Core Logo may hold your interest. If you're expecting another Spinal Tap, you'll be sadly disappointed. What you will come away with is fine acting and great production values. It's not enough, but at least it's something.
The Harder They Come (video review) (International Films): I rented The Harder They Come because I thought it was a porno, but it turned out to be a reggae movie instead. Starring Jimmy Cliff and featuring an appearance by the legendary Prince Buster, the reggae soundtrack to The Harder They Come was immensely popular and also an inspiration to the UK punk scene who took some of its political posturing of the oppressed masses directly from the Rasta movement. Credit in this regard must be given to DJ and filmmaker Don Letts for spreading the word. Taking place in the Shanty Towns of Jamaica, it's a gangster story about a country boy (Cliff) who comes to the city after the farm is sold, gets his belongings ripped off, can't find work, records a hit song for a sleazy record producer for $20, turns to dope dealing and then becomes a cop-killer hero until he's gunned down. I can give away the plot because Cliff is a tragic hero and they never life long enough to read the credits.
The police are corrupt, the record producer is corrupt ("I make the hits, not the public"), city people are corrupt, religious men are corrupt - Cliff's character never really has a chance. The cover art is a copy of American black exploitation films and the story follows similar plot lines of the tough hero protecting what's his from both the good and the bad guys. In a class system where most people are poor, heroes tend to be those who break the law and get away with it. The poverty is tangible in The Harder They Come, especially the scene where adults and children rummage in the city dump. I doubt these were actors.
How many movies have you seen where a character's song becomes a hit and the truth is the song stinks, and you think the actors deserve an Oscar for pretending it doesn't stink. "The Harder They Come" is an classic for the ages and better than the film surrounding it. It's a cheap movie, the acting is fair and the subtitled Rasta-to-English gets a little annoying, but my god what an excellent soundtrack. Seeing Toots perform "Sweet & Dandy" was enough to make me fall over, and I can't imagine anyone in the theater not wanting to dance when Jimmy Cliff is shown recording a studio take of the title track.
If you don't own the soundtrack to The Harder They Come – uh, well, you should. The Harder They Come is not a great film while you're watching it ,but it gets better as you think back on it. Maybe it's just that great soundtrack playing tricks on me.
HATED: GG Allin and The Murder Junkies (Video review) (Film Threat): "GG Allin is an entertainer with a message to a sick society. He makes us look at it for what we really are. The human is just another animal, who is able to speak out freely, to express himself clearly. Make no mistake about it, behind what he does is a brain" -- John Wayne Gacy.
This quote opens the film and says all you need to know about serial killers like Gacy and serial singers like GG Allin. People actually worship sociopaths like Gacy and Allin, and they try to intellectualize it by talking about reflections of a sick society and events of rage almost warranted by the human condition. Please, if you like Gacy it's because you’re a sick scumbag, and if you like GG Allin it's because your mind is on holiday. Merle Allin, GG's brother and the brains of the operation, appeared on a TV talk show to defend Gacy. He switched back and forth between claiming Gacy didn't do it to pronouncing Gacy’s victims were killed because the earth is full of scum who deserve to die. It's like nazis who deny The Holocaust as a hoax but then brag how they're going to kill six million more when they get the chance. Admiration of serial killers is a pathology, not a hobby.
Hated was a labor of love from director Todd Phillips, who paid for GG's bus ticket to NY for concerts and interviews. Contrary to everyone’s intentions, Hated actually diminishes GG's reputation as the King Of Depravity. Don't get me wrong - you'll see GG vomit on his own face after drinking shots of hot piss, only to drink some more; you'll also see GG crap on the floor, lick it, rub it on his face and toss what's left at the audience - but in every aspect he comes across as small and an absolute zero with few fans and nothing to show for his life but the clothes on his back, missing teeth, a body odor Gacy himself described as worse than a wino's, endless streams of empty hat slogans ("My mind is a machine gun, my body's the bullets, the audience is the target") and laughable claims of personal freedom. For a guy who got into so many fights he punched like a girl, and with a penis that tiny you could barely call his nakedness "Indecent Exposure".
A number of people who saw his concerts were their only to see GG either kill himself, or beat him up. Since many of his concerts only lasted ten minutes anyway, nobody went for the music. He played drums and guitar, and made it a point to sing on cue when he wasn't getting beaten up by his fans. You couldn't say the same for Darby Crash or Sid Vicious, the other two stars in punk’s Cavalcade of Losers.
When GG wears his hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses he looks exactly like the police sketch of the Unibomber. When he's bloated he looks more like El Duce of the Mentors. At least El Duce was good for a few laughs.
The secondary characters in Hated are fairly interesting. Merle Allin, bass player for The Murder Junkies, sports a Hitler mustache and was probably the driving force behind his brother GG. GG's stupidity and hatred had little focus, and I wager it was Merle who set him up in bands for fun and profit. Hell, he still peddles GG Allin tapes and videos for a living. The drummer, Dino, drums naked and was arrested for flashing a little girl. He's probably legally insane. While on camera he tries hard to pretend the fifteen voices in his head aren't screaming at him all at once. He says of GG, "He's also a serious social comment on the problems of violence in the human race." Yes, Dino, and rape is how shy fellows show affection.
Unk, a NY GG fan, gets a lot of film time. He's a meek, hateful coward in Klark Kent glasses who lives vicariously through GG and visits to Gacy in prison, so I'm sure the FBI has quite a profile worked up on him guy by now. He says of a GG Allin concert, "It's kinda like going to see the most bizarre freak show you'd ever want to see in your life." Here's the difference between intellectual curiosity and mental illness: if you look into it once in a while you can never claim ignorance, but if you seek it out over and over again to the point where it defines you, you're more than a little touched in the head.
Each year toward the end of his life GG threatened to shoot his brains out on stage on Halloween night. He never did it. I always thought if he did kill himself he would be showing a twisted integrity I couldn't hold against him. He instead chickened out and instead overdosed on heroin. Darn.
The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (video review): Don't let the title fool you. His name was Ed Wood. The full name retro-respected thing just doesn't cut it. That aside, it's an accepted, unwritten law in underground culture that you have to love bad movies. Cheap exploitation flicks, horror comedies with bad special effects, anything by John Waters or Troma, intentionally campy and trashy films, but especially any film made with complete seriousness and artistic pretensions soooo poorly done you can't help but roll over with laughter and amazement at the obliviousness of all involved. Ed Wood was the king of this kind of film. There are dozens of films of even lower quality than 1956's Plan 9 From Outer Space (The Creeping Terror and Robot Monster come to mind), but Ed Wood was a nice allegory for an America where a talentless yet charismatic hack could achieve some level of fame and recognition through sheer force of will and blind gumption. Ed Wood combined optimism and corny dementia in a fashion that partly defines America.
The Ed Wood revival started years ago with the release of the Golden Turkey Awards around 1980, basically a way for two young critics to make a name for themselves, just as Blackwell draws attention to himself each year with his list of fashion casualties. They chose Plan 9 as the worst film of all time and the rest is history. The choice was a bit arbitrary but they couldn't have chosen a more interesting subject.
Ed was a war hero, transvestite, womanizer, writer of cheap porn novels, alcoholic and last employer of Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi. Rumor has it Bela drank formaldehyde because straight booze didn't provide the old kick anymore. This co-dependent relationship was the basis of the 1994 biopic Ed Wood. Even more interesting was Ed's transvestism, which he turned into the autobiographical 1953 film Glen or Glenda (Also released as He Or She, I Changed My Sex, I led Two Lives, and Transvestite). It’s a melodramatic rationalization and plea for acceptance on the part of Ed Wood. He liked to wear men's clothes but he wasn't gay. Ed was a man's man, but not a man’s man, if you know what I mean. He was said to be a notorious womanizer. His mother wanted a girl and she dressed Ed in girl's clothes for years, the infamous Angora fabric his favorite trigger to a happier, safer time. Ed looked like a poor man's Walt Disney. At age 17 he won a medal from President Roosevelt for being the fastest typist in New York State. And they say Ed had no talent. The fools!
The Haunted World Of Edward D. Wood, Jr. is a great made-for-video documentary, much better than the other cheepies released at the time of the Johnny Depp film. Ads put this in the same league as Crumb, but it's not. Crumb was a major motion picture while this is a well done video in line with the subject matter and his films.
Many of the old Ed Wood players give testimonials on surreal stage sets that often make no sense yet somehow fit. Vampira, looking like Anne Rice at Ruth Gordon's age, is the most interesting because she looks back with mild scorn. She fell in with Ed because she hit Hollywood's bottom and Ed's offer was her only work. Her rap that Ed was below her talents is a joke on her she’s not getting. On a cheesier level she’s Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd.
Dolores Fuller, Ed's former Angora-wearing girlfriend and co-star of Glen or Glenda, is a bit oblivious herself. She claims she didn't know Ed was a transvestite, even during filming, and only left him after she found out the truth. She went on to write songs sung by Elvis in his films. Bela Lugosi's son says "To me, Ed Wood was a loser and a user". Of course he's going to say that. Ed Wood was the only person giving Bela a job. He loved the guy. Bela had no chance elsewhere, with his addictions and thick Hungarian accent that typecast him forever as Dracula.
Ed didn't use anybody. He was a charismatic, optimistic man who desperately wanted to make motion pictures. His troupe consisted of actors on the way up, the way down and the never had a chance. Steve Reeves, Tor Johnson, Vampira, Criswell, Bela Lugosi - this kind of casting is John Water's bread and butter! Vampira describes Ed as "pretty, but ineffectual and tragic". Many others loved the man for his friendship and enthusiasm. He died of a heart attack, a broke alcoholic and author of cheap pornographic novels, some of which have been reprinted. His transvestism filled him with guilt and self-loathing some say was the root of his drinking problem. His lack of success didn't help either. Did Ed know he was a crappy filmmaker? Probably not, otherwise he would have stopped earlier. If spirit were talent Ed would have been bigger than his idol Orson Wells.
Here are some of my favorite bad films of all time: The Little Shop Of Horrors, Evil Dead II, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Dead Alive, Street Trash, Class of Nuke 'Em High II, Bucket of Blood, Pink Flamingo, C.H.U.D., The Creeping Terror, The Bone Yard, and Basket Case parts II & III.
Joe Jackson: Steppin’ Out – The Videos (dvd review): I rented this out of nostalgia and mostly to make the point that as one of new wave’s original Angry Young Men (w/ E. Costello and G. Parker) he tore it up pretty well on Look Sharp!, I’m The Man, and Beat Crazy, spanning the years I like to call 1979 – 1980. In 1981 there was the swing music diversion of Jumpin’ Jive, which reminds me that every time I hear “Zoot Suit Riot” at the gym I simultaneously retch and imagine even mo’ money going into the pockets of Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ Steve Perry as he laughs at my crappy car and day job. 1982’s Night And Day was Joe’s last hurrah before turning mundane, yielding nice songs like “Cancer”, “Breaking Us In Two” and “Steppin’ Out”, which along with Devo’s 1981 single “Beautiful World” were original new wave’s last pure hits. After that Joe recorded some stuff and I guess some people liked it enough to buy a copy.
This collection has twelve music videos and some aren’t even videos but bits from concerts. The young and punk Joe Jackson shows up for “I’m The Man”, “It’s Different For Girls” and “Mad At You”. Twice Joe trots out his pork-pie-hat-sleazeball character and it’s entertaining and juvenile in a good way. “Is She Really Going Out With Him” is from a later concert sung a capella, and it’s impressive in the same way five plates can be spun or juggled. “Steppin’ Out” is garish and tells a vague story about rich people. The quality looks like they found the original tape MTV played 2,327 times. There’s other songs with titles like “Down To London” and “Nineteen Forever”, but they might as well be coming from the lounge of a cruise ship for all I cared or noticed. Joe sings and plays but there’s not much to recommend it.
The internet’s soiled with old Joe Jackson concerts free for download. They’re all great and things really cook when he covers Jimmy Spliff’s “The Harder They Come”.
Johnny Thunders And The Heartbreakers: Dead Or Alive (dvd review): This is easy to review because it’s unrelentingly bad. Its only redeeming quality is that the dvd didn’t blow up an orphanage. A horrific mess of a production, Dead Or Alive is a haphazard series of interviews, solo strumming by Johnny, re-recorded concert clip montages, and parts of what had to have been a motion picture about The Heartbreakers traveling overseas to spread the American junkie word to Europe. Even in this mini-film Johnny plays a junkie. On stage at the concert in Paris he’s full-on trashed on something mostly likely delivered by a syringe, and his slurred words are the ramblings of a penniless adict. He lived as a junkie and died like one. It never helped that he resembled a rodent. Hooray for reality and all it represents.
I know he has a following but I’ve never seen his appeal. The solo material I’ve heard has either been boring ballads or C-level Dolls slop-glam. Personality-wise he lacked Stiv Bators’ insane charisma and treated others in the egomaniacal, selfish junk-addicted fashion he helped define. Death was the best thing to happen to his career.
Here’s the concert track list. Some of the songs are compiled from more than one show, and even then it’s re-recorded so that what you see is not what you get. Even for fans this must be an abomination: “Chines Rocks”, “Pipeline”, Personality Crisis”, “One Track Mind”, “Too Much Junkie Business”, “Born To Lose”, “Hurt Me”, You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory”, Eve Of Destruction / Like A Rolling Stone”, “In Cold Blood”, Seven Day Weekend”, “So Alone”, “Just Because I’m White”, “Baby Talk”, Do You Love Me”, “Sad Vacation”.
The Monkees - Head (video review) (Rhino): Here's why a lot of nostalgia is a kind of pose. Many Monkees fans weren't alive in the late ‘60s when they were popular. Watching reruns doesn’t disqualify you from being sincere, but ever since camp became cool and irony our cultural barometer for deeper understanding, “found" nostalgia is often little more than a goldmine for corporations who dictate what's cool (not the other way around).
Growing up in New York we had extra TV channels that ran old movies, reruns, local news and sports - even Bowling For Dollars, where people won nine dollars. They ran anything that was cheap to get, like The Monkees, The Munsters and Mr. Ed. Today's corny nostalgia comes from the cheap programming of Baby Boomer's youth, who now run MTV, Nick at Night and the rest. They take clunkers like My Mother The Car and through spiffy promos convince kids this is retro-cool of the first order, and of course the kids go nuts for it because everything they believe (even their nonconformity) is dictated to them by corporations and the media.
Was The Monkees a good series? The shows may be cute but they've aged as well as Ford Pintos. They were four adorable psychedelic hippies for the Tiger Beat set, as Beatles Lite as you can imagine. They were each talented as musicians but they were as packaged as the Spice Girls. Who were they competing against, The Banana Splits? A few cool songs were written for them, like the "Monkee's Theme", "Last Train To Clarksville", "Daydream Believer", "I'm A Believer", "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and one of punk's greatest influences, "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone".
Head was their attempt in 1968 to break free from their TV image. The plan was to destroy their past with self-ridicule and emerge as a real band in touch with a public old enough to shave. Sadly, Head failed them on every level. Desperate, confusing, endless, and with only one decent tune, "Porpoise Song", this is a big mess.
Written by Jack Nicolson and director Bob Rafelson, Head took the series' episodic plot-lines and dips them in acid (of the drug variety). The Monkees protest the Vietnam War and their own non-identity crisis. Fans call this film "unconventional", "dreamlike" and "stream of consciousness" - the deluded fan's code words for weird, poorly written and mindless. There's cameos from Victor Mature, Annette Funicello, Terri Garr, Sonny Liston, Frank Zappa and a young Jack Nicolson. None are effective.
I like The Monkees but this film stinks. It failed when it came out twenty years ago and its only value today is to sit on the video store shelf waiting to disappoint the next sucker who picks it up and exclaims "Wow, the Monkees! They're so cooool! I saw an original lunch box selling for $150.00 on e-Bay!!"
Hedwig and The Angry Itch (DVD review) (Fine Line): The first half or so of this screen adaptation of the off-Broadway musical is as fierce and creative a piece of acting and filmmaking as you'll ever see. John Cameron Mitchell, reprising the role he wrote and originated on stage, dominates the screen with every movement and expression. His face reminded me at various times of David Spade, Dana Carvey, Iggy Pop and Jennifer Aniston, which I found distracting, but Mitchell is a great talent and far and away the best actor of his facial type. He has a commanding focus and intensity.
The second half or so, beginning when the Tommy Gnosis character makes his entrance, abruptly skids on its heels to a stop and then saunters home. Rage, fast pacing and brilliant comic energy is replaced by Hedwig's sadness and absorption with the endless search for his "other half". This is seemingly important to the sensibilities of the play's primary audience, the gay community, which I accept at face value. I'm sure Hedwig nailed the sexual existential crisis down cold. As someone just watching the film for hetero yucks and punk rock stuff, all I could think of was how slow it started moving, and how the end reminded me of the end of both Rocky Horror and Ziggy Stardust. The running time is listed at 95 minutes but it seems like it could have been covered in 85.
The direct musical inspirations for the work are The Rocky Horror Show (a general sense of madcap fun), Cabaret (Joel Grey one liners and audience participation on the voyage of the damned) and Tommy (how the songs tell the story as directly as the text). From a rock and roll perspective, songwriter Stephen Trask took inspiration from Lou Reed, David Bowie and Iggy Pop for what he wrote as a stage musical. The easy thing to do would be to say Wayne/Jayne County was a direct inspiration, but his name doesn't come up once in the movie or 83 minute documentary that appears on the DVD, and between these two everyone but the Pope is given credit for inspiring the filmmakers.
The integration of brightly colored charcoal illustrations is beautifully handled, and for a while there's enough visual surprises and leaps of logic and faith to make Hedwig and the Angry Inch a major accomplishment. My favorite one-liner is "It's a car wash, ladies and gentlemen", and Hedwig as a little boy dancing on his bed to music is hysterically spazztastic. The song "Angry Inch" is great, like Jerry Lee Lewis brutalizing "Saturday Night Is Alright For Fighting". The line "Six inches forward and five inches back...I've got an angry inch!" is pretty damn funny.
The DVD documentary is worth watching if you want to get a sense of the creative process from vague concept to finished product. There's much more work, hassle and disappointment involved than most people suspect.
Hey Is Dee
Dee Home? (DVD review):
Hey Is Dee Dee Home is mandatory if you want to see Dee Dee Ramone talk
for an hour about Johnny Thunders and his own tattoos. Released to cash in on
the death by heroin overdose of Gummy The Stabbing Hobo the year before, it's an
interview of Dee Dee by director Lech Kowalski for an unfinished
Johnny Thunders documentary, whose other finished work is
Story Of A Junkie. There's a theme with this guy.
The Dee Dee who sits for this might be the drug-free one he claims to be, but who knows. He's president of the good posture club for sure, and the way his body and face moves reminds me of Charles Nelson Reilly. Dee Dee was always fun to read, look at or listen to -- in a sadistic way since he was always only moments away from some kind of insanity. Recounting a domestic dispute, his psychotic girlfriend Connie pulled a butcher knife from her purse and Dee Dee was lucky enough to bat it out of her hand with a broom handle. Then, as the maestro tells it, "I went to go cop. I thought I'd make her happy.. and I got stabbed that day. I came home all bloody. Then we made up." He then gives the standard Dee Dee look of extreme innocence, a gentle soul stranded in a crazy world.
If I had a nickel for every time he uses the word "cop", as in buying drugs, I'd have $1.25. Buying drugs seemed to be his full-time job. He tells how Thunders demanded he cop drugs to earn the right to hang out with him. I don't know, Thunders looked like a small, strung-out ferret to me, so I take Dee Dee's side. Dee Dee also wrote better songs, including "Chinese Rocks", which Thunders stole.
Dee Dee was clinically nuts and on a Psych 101 level you can enjoy this as an exercise in mental pathology. There’s Dee Dee the reluctant heroin addict. Dee Dee who can't be within a mile of H without falling off the wagon. Dee Dee the passive-aggressive knife nut. He never portrays himself as pro-active, it's always Dee Dee taking abuse until he can't take it no more. Then there’s the "good person" Dee Dee whose revenge fantasies might shock even Jack The Ripper. Oh yeah, he talks about himself in the third person, as in saying the shirt he's wearing is "Very Dee Dee-ish".
Hey Is Dee Dee Home is a chore to get through even at an hour but it ages well in the mind. His two autobiographies are definitely worth reading.
The History of Rock and Roll Volume 8 - The 70s: Have A Nice Decade (video review) (Warner Home Video): This is an excellent video from an excellent series. Interviews and narration are seamlessly edited around music, concert footage and videos to paint a picture of the ‘70s - ten short years that produced the best and worst in modern popular music. Volume 9 of the series is about punk and also covers the ‘70s. This tape is a non-punk overview of a period defined by variety, experimentation and excess. I feel weird calling this a "non-punk overview", but you all wear your punk-colored glasses pretty tight.
I began my own teen years in 1974. I never knew of the Stooges or the MC5. I liked Bowie, The Who, Jethro Tull, Yes, ELP, Steely Dan and The Rolling Stones. I never liked heavy metal, which to me is just hairy, alcoholic hippies playing hard r&b. On this tape Pete Townshend says of Led Zepplin, "I haven't liked a single thing that they've done. I hate the fact that... I'm even slightly compared to them. I've just never, ever liked them." Pete tries not to sound mean-spirited when he says this, but right on Pete! It’s mods vs. rockers all over again. When punk bands turned metal in the early ‘80s they lost something vital.
In the ‘70s all kinds of music became widely accessible and American radio was no longer driven by Top-40 singles. The ‘90s saw the trend reverse itself. Reggae, Motown, glam, hard rock, southern rock, new wave, punk - they all had a chance to be recorded and either succeed or fail in the marketplace. Early new wave was a microcosm of this spirit, with everything from Buddy Holly to The Sex Pistols to ska getting its turn in clubs. You'll hear that punk was a reaction to the excesses of ‘70s rock and a return to basics - which is true and false. Iggy and the CBGBs bands may have sneered at Led Zepplin's private jets and faux- glamorous lifestyles, but punks damn sure wouldn't have said no to the money these dinosaur rockers were making. They did as many drugs though!
The ‘70s was a decade of bigger-than-life rock stars, overproduced concept albums and the dreaded, unholy, evil plague of disco. They show wonderful footage of disco albums being blown up while a stadium full of long-hair rockers riot like mad dogs. Disco star Gloria Gaynor explains that disco is simple r&b for white people who can't follow the more intricate rhythms of funk and soul. Disco nostalgia is screwed. Only two groups are into it - kids who think it's cute, and fat, bald old guys who haven't been laid since the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack dropped off the charts. Bruce Springsteen is shown to be the savior of rock over disco. I was never into The Boss myself but I agree 100%. He snatched rock music away from the Zepps, Aerosmiths and disco ducks and brought it back into the bars where average folks drink and dance. Joe Strummer of The Clash was influenced by Springsteen. British pub rock, UK punk's (and especially oi's) breeding ground, came from the same tradition.
The tape ends with a great sight gag. Gerald Ford is shown in a speech saying, "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over". Then there's Springsteen leaving the stage after one of his exhausting five hour concerts, with a quick cut to the Bee Gees from the film Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, in a scene where they're in a concert audience and they stand up and applaud wildly. Then it's another cut to Springsteen and the tape ends. Bee-yoot-e-full !!
The History of Rock and Roll Volume 9 - Punk (video review) (Warner Home Video): Part of an ambitious overview of modern American music, Volume 9 does an admirable job of laying out the basics of punk history. It mixes interviews with artists, journalists and producers of ‘70s era punk with concert and TV footage. Punk history is subjective at best, but except for a few bone-headed assertions Punk accurately lays out the beginnings of American punk in relation to the UK juggernauts of the Sex Pistols and The Clash.
Iggy Pop and the Stooges are rightly acknowledged as the first punk band. The Velvet Underground was an art band and the MC5 played psychedelic hard rock. It was Iggy who defined the punk sound, image and attitude. CBGBs is also given its due as the defining home of America's punk movement. Richard Hell, Joey Ramone and Legs McNeil provide good insight on these times. John Doe and Exene Cervenka cover the period when hardcore first took hold in L.A. Hardcore is seen as a violent, mindless departure from the more artistic days of isolated local scenes. Hardcore did overwhelm the early punk ethos - I'd say 50% for the better and 50% for the worse.
The 1976 UK punk explosion is remembered by Malcolm McLaren, Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer and sell-out Billy Idol. McLaren defines the British punk scene as a clothing accessory. Joe Strummer still waves around the flag of The Clash as a great political movement. When he says success killed the band, I screamed back "No, bad songs killed The Clash!"
Elvis Costello is a major subject of Punk, but it's hard to tell if he's being presented as a punk, a new waver (new wave here is considered a disease) or an overrated putz. Crybaby whiner Gerald Casale of Devo comments on the hypocrisy of acting like a rebel when you're on a major label, then they cut to Elvis on Saturday Night Live when he stops the band during "Alison" to rip into "Radio Radio". How dishonest. I'm sure Casale didn’t make this comment with Costello in mind. Also, most punk bands were on major labels. The goal of every punk band was to be on a major label. The anti-label bias started with ‘80s hardcore, with kids who still lived at home. Disparaging Elvis like this is cheap character assassination, and I'm sure whoever did this knew it was a false comparison. A bad point poorly made.
Punk skips over the hardcore ‘80s to finish with Green Day, Nirvana and grand statements on how this big kooky mess we call punk fits into the bigger picture of rock and roll. Of all people to quote, Robert Plant says that with bands like Nirvana, in 1991 America finally got its own punk. Please excuse whilst I hurl. Punk started in America in the early 1970s. This is common knowledge. Who the hell is Robert Plant anyway? No punk claims Led Zepplin as an influence. Kiss gets mentioned daily. Cheap Trick every other week. But never, never Led Zepplin. Led Zepplin was a pretentious hard rock band for stoners not redneck enough for Lynard Skynard. Oh, god, I'm gonna be sick again....
The History of Rock and Roll Vol. 10: Up From The Underground (video review) (Warner Home Video): The last tape in this generally fine series, this one deals with MTV, rap, alternative and where music might be headed. Half the tape focuses on rap, a style you can call black punk if you’re so inclined, but I can’t figure it out, and like all white folks I have no funky soul in me whatsoever. They show The Beastie Boys as the first successful white rappers. Remember when they were a hardcore band and had a fourth, female member? Well, I do.
MTV was a mixed blessing with many curses. It allowed artists to be seen and creative in a visual context that often built on the music to create moods and tell stories. Record sales went through the roof. The first video shown on MTV was The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star” and that’s the problem with MTV - it took the focus away from music and set standards based on appearance and the creativity of the video director. Pretty rock stars have always been popular but with MTV that’s all that matters. If TV is eye candy, MTV is an amphetamine attack on the brain. Records, like books and the radio, require you to create mental images. All MTV asks you to do is watch, and watch, buy some product, then watch some more. MTV sucks! Of course it does, but it succeeds because people ask for it. Are people sheep? Baaaaahhhhhhh!!!! I mean, Nah.
Lallapalooza is here too, the traveling Woodstock for Generation X as spontaneous and free-spirited as a presidential inauguration. There’s a reference to rock on the internet, but if you’re reading this you already know the technology is too slow and expensive to make it a reliable resource [2007 update: boy this isn’t true anymore!]. Music on the net is still a novelty, and until the record companies figure out how to profit from it the selection will stay anemic. Bono from U2 gives his opinions on this and that. Every time I see him I wish he and Sting would fight a death-match where each one screams the words to “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story until one or hopefully both of their heads explodes.
The question is asked, “Can music change the world?” Lumpy Gerald Casale from Devo says “One nice thing it does is it brings people that feel disenfranchised and lonely together.” Pete Townsend says “Music changes the way that you live in the world, it changes the way you see it, but it doesn’t change the world itself.”
On the subject of the future of rock, Joe “Woody” Strummer says “The underground is always ten steps ahead of the lawyers and accountants, and so, there will always be rock and roll.” A rare quote from a man obsessed with the legacy of his old band and bewildered why they lost popularity near the end. Bitter Gerald Casale closes the tape with “The future of rock and roll – more surprises, both hideous and wonderful.” How vague, but how true.
Holiday In Dirt: 14 Short films from the music of Stan Ridgway (dvd review): I’m a big fan of Stan Ridgway from way back and to the right. His porridge of the romanticized modern noir American West can run thin but at least on the conceptual level he’s always worth checking out. He wrote his best material for Wall Of Voodoo and kept it up for his first two solo albums, The Big Heat (1986) and Mosquitos (1989). Subsequent albums were middling affairs but his creativity picked up for Snakebite (2004) and Barbeque Babylon (2005). His niche being storytelling you might think they’d make engaging little films, but Holiday In Dirt is mostly a series of loosely structured video productions taken either literally or figuratively from songs on Stan’s 2002 Odds-n-ends collection of the same name, another middling affair with a few standouts.
Stan’s solo work is a showcase for Stan’s tale-weaving, and in the right intimate setting it's effective. As the stage gets bigger you’re back to the expectations of a rock band, and Stan’s words take an equal footing with music and musicians. His bandmates in WOV took a back seat to nobody, especially Marc Moreland on lead guitar. This competition to stand out made that band the wholly original force it became. In 1991 Stan sang “I Wanna Be A Boss”, and he was one, uncontested, for better or worse. The worse for Stan are a number of songs that musically don’t do much while not going anyplace important.
The best tracks on Holiday In Dirt are “Beloved Movie Star”, “End Of The Line”, “Garage Band ‘69” and a corny cover of Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors”. The best videos are “Operator Help Me” (by Resident’s collaborator Jim Ludtke), “End Of The Line” (about writer’s block), “Garage Band ‘69”, “Brand New Special And Unique”, “Whatever Happened To You” (video surveillance footage of wackiness in and on a car), “Beloved Movie Star Redux” (a silent movie era thing with dialogue cards), and “Behind Closed Doors”, involving a ventriloquist dummy in a setting straight outta David Lynch.
T'would appear to be a good average but on the whole it’s not. The other videos are a combination of improvised, random, literal and unrelated, which supported slow songs with lyrics lacking strong story hooks. I wished I was doing anything else but watching them. The last thing they needed were artistic visual interpretation. The smaller the song the smaller the venue Stan would need to perform them to make them work. The ultimate best setting for Stan would be him sitting on a stool on a small, dark, smoky stage lit only by a single spotlight. The small band performs in the dark while Stan talks and sings his way through his menagerie of luckless losers and bottom-feeders. As a wise man once said, that would be the ticket.
The House Of The Rising Punk (dvd review): Cristoph Dreher produced this sixty minute, 1998 documentary on the NY-centric punk scene of the mid-to-late 1970s for German television under the series name Pop Odyssee. This was #2. #1 was called Die Beach Boys und der Satan, which means either Die Beach Boys Under Satan or The Beach Boys And Satan. I’d love to know if was made to cater to some kind of hipster Deutschland demographic or if Dreher was in his mind creating something new and interesting. The film pounds home clichés and doesn’t challenge the rote storyline told by the participants. Not that it has to, but before I die I’d like to hear a living legend of the punk scene challenged on the grand statements they make, even just to see their jaw drop.
The House Of The Rising Punk is unfocused and goes down alleys dictated by the participants and the gods of comprehensive inclusiveness, but somewhere in there is the basic story of the examined lives (a Socrates reference kids!) of lower Manhattan Bohemian hipsters in the early to mid 1970s, a lawless time in a place that made Europeans feel better as it could look like neighborhoods were bombed into submission and left that way for its forgotten civilians. The iconic locations Dreher lingers on are CGBGs and The Hotel Chelsea. The participants are top notch, including Richard Hell, Tom Verlaine, Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, Hilly Kristal, Legs McNeil, Roberta Bayley, Jim Jarmusch, Danny Fields, Dee Dee Ramone, Amos Poe, Alan Vega and Thurston Moore.
The film opens with what sounds like Lee Ving singing the first note of “I Love Livin’ In The City” which then becomes Hell’s “Blank Generation”. It’s actually a snippet from a live Suicide song, so as the kids say, “My not good.” I’d detail the assertions of the film except this would be the 39th time I’ve encountered the same conceptual selling points of that scene. I can’t say that if you don’t know them by now you never will, because every book, film and charcoal rendering of the early NY scene tells the same story. The only thing that changes is who’s most important and which arts theory is the perspective prism du jour.
I’m fairly sure the old, disjointed footage of bands like Television and Blondie come from Amos Poe, who says his camera lacked the capacity to sync sound. There’s no logic as to when they add German subtitles, and also who they name with subtitles. The personnel are there for a great film, and what they say is interesting, but unless it’s new to you as a budding punk historian, The House Of The Rising Punk will give you a contagious case of déjà vu. The only two bits worth mentioning, as they never grow old, are 1) Dinah Shore asks Iggy Pop “Do you feel you’ve influenced anybody?” and cheerfully gets back “I think I helped wipe out the 60s” and 2) Dee Dee Ramone (aka Gummy The Stabbing Hobo) admits “I didn’t really know what a verse or a chorus was until 1983 or 4.” Oh Gummy.
The Human League: Live At The Dome (DVD review): 2003’s Live At The Dome is a nicely recorded show by The Human League, but the disc also contains a long interview with the three remaining original members that’s interesting as hell and more entertaining than the gig itself. Here’s a hyperbolic summary of every moment of the DVD that’s funny in its brown-nosed breathlessness.
The concert is a corporate set (think the B-52’s) in that they play the hits with an ear for the widest possible audience, which works out for the best because they avoid the disco-remix sellout mentality that can turn simple synth-pop into techno nightmares. They open solidly with a curtained and dark stage while drones from “Hard Times” fill the hall. Segments of the curtain rise to reveal band members and by the end of the song everyone is accounted for and the lighting comes up for good. Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall take their places far from each other stage right and left, while Phil Oakey appears with sunglasses, a nearly shaved head (dictated by pattern baldness) and a glittery silver Uncle Fester overcoat. Oakey soon reduces his outfit to pants and shirt while the women change their clothes a few times during the evening. A dull sameness settles in mostly due to Sulley and Catherall endlessly hip-shaking and clapping their hands above their heads. Oakey works the wide stage as best he can but he sings in a monotone baritone and the songs are mostly mid-paced. Being the end of their tour his voice is also strained. The four-piece backup band is professional and they seem to be having fun, which helps. At the end of the day it’s sterile yet lighthearted, and it gets the job done. I let out a triumphant snort during the DVD extras segment on their US tour when it showed them playing one of the Station casinos in Las Vegas, since from minute one I saw their stage show as Vegas-ready.
I skipped through most of the set because I was never a fan of most of their material, and in 1981 I detested “Don’t You Want Me” for all the right reasons. The songs I do like (“Seconds”, “Sound Of The Crowd”, “Things That Dreams Are Made Of”, “I Am The Law”, “Being Boiled” and “The Black Hit Of Space”) I love a lot and wouldn’t pass up a chance to hear them. The set includes "Hard Times", "Love Action (I Believe in Love)", "Mirror Man", "Louise", "The Snake", "Heart like a Wheel, "Darkness", "All I Ever Wanted", "Open Your Heart", "The Lebanon", "One Man in My Heart", "Human", "Things That Dreams Are Made Of", "Love Me Madly?", "(Keep Feeling) Fascination", "Tell Me When", "Don't You Want Me","Empire State Human", "Together In Electric Dreams" and "The Sound of the Crowd".
The interviews are great because the questions are researched and probing while the answers are honest and open. Oakey, Sulley and Catherall sit on a couch without airs or an agenda. I remember Oakey being full of himself and full of crap back in the day (Rip It Up And Start Again offers examples of the arrogance of Oakey and his peers), but decades of beatings by the reality stick of his place in the universe seem to have made a humble and likeable man out of Mr. Oakey. He considers The Human League a “bleepy synth band” and they put the heady fame period of Dare into the proper perspective of low-rent thrills, little money and being too busy to know exactly who they were or where they were heading. It’s rare I see interview that succeed as well as these do.
Live At The Dome was put together by the band itself to capitalize on the success of the 2002 Virgin Records DVD release of their greatest hits videos. They come out and admit their long-term goal is to be maybe more but no less than a working band, and I cheer their initiative. I wouldn’t want to go from having the #1 single in the world to being the cashier in aisle #1 of Wal-Mart. On a tangential note it broke my heart to learn Molly Harvey worked odd jobs while performing with The Residents.
Their 2003 schedule took them to Australia for two weeks in a package tour and the US for four weeks as headliners. They rehearsed 2 ½ hours of material but played only thirty minutes in Australia, where they toured with the likes of Kim Wilde, Belinda Carlisle and Paul Young. Some performers played three songs with a house band, which must be like Clem from Buffy The Vampire Slayer appearing at a Sci-Fi show at the Boise Holiday Inn to sign autographs.
The Humans - Happy Hour With The Humans (video review) (Pacific Arts): I can't believe this even exists. Mr. Peabody and his faithful boy Sherman must have hit a lot of wrong buttons on the Way Back Machine to come back with this one. Do you remember The Humans? Do The Humans remember The Humans? They had one song of note, "I Live In The City", found on their 7" and the I.R.S. Records Greatest Hits Vol. II & III. The single had a gatefold sleeve and a booklet filled with self-generated hype like "The Humans have combined all the good elements of the protest rock of the early 60s with the 70s awareness of a mechanized society encroaching on our freedoms - which I predict will become the music of the 80s. Really, this is what it's all about: living with such intensity that in spite of all the traps of modern society, we can still be HUMANS." Right arm, man! Right arm!!
The four songs on the 7" were decent enough but the full length and this video are a disappointment. "Tracy" reminds me of Elvis Costello, "I Live In The City" has its charms, and their cover of the surf classic "Pipeline" is well done, but the songs that followed were instantly forgettable. The Humans have been forgotten.
With shtick like Alienation and Human-ity you'd think they were plowing the same weird fields as Devo, but Happy Hour With The Humans is forty minutes of songs literally acted out to the best of the $57 budget's ability. There's random plot points that tie it together but it's vague and the dialogue is minimal. Their slant on new wave was off-off Broadway theatrical. It’s generic pop with a new wave drum beat and themes of alienation. The messages got lost amongst the blandness. Hey, remember when Capezio shoes were popular and those big red owlish Ferruci glasses were all the rage? No? I do…
It appears the band rounded up friends and relatives and made themselves a little movie. It's not pretentious - just creatively improvised on a tight budget. It's weird that I found this. Next thing you know I'll trip over a gangster movie starring the Hawaiian Pups. If you remember those guys, my god you need to get out more often. My god. I need to get out more often.
Hype! (video review) (Republic Pictures): Hype! is one of the best documentaries you’ll ever see. Everything about it is excellent - the research, the film and sound editing, the filmmaker’s access to many of the players in the Seattle scene - it’s all there and all flawless. You know a documentary is great when it provides this much information without even a hint of personal agenda. Nirvana isn’t even mentioned until 45 minutes in. The director, Doug Pray, is a genius. I couldn’t care less about grunge but Hype! nicely lays out the history of the Seattle punk scene and the effect the media-hyped grunge phenomena had on the city. Equal parts scene history and pop culture case study, Hype! is journalism and filmmaking at its best.
The film opens with a 1992 quote from Spin magazine: “Seattle… is currently to the rock’n’roll world what Bethlehem was to Christianity”. It closes with the ominous warning “YOUR TOWN IS NEXT”. The film plays up the drama of how media and cultural exploitation chews up and spits out a small city’s comfy music scene, but thankfully there’s little heavy-handed commentary. For most, fame is a bright flame that burns hot and dies quickly. The local scenesters moan about how media hype and big labels inevitably destroy a good thing like the Seattle scene, but you have to be a naïve child not to know what happens once your little thing becomes the Next Big Thing.
Did media hype kill the Seattle scene? Yes, no and it's not a valid question. Seattle has had a decent music scene since the late ‘70s (The Fastbacks, The Wipers), built up a more than respectable local scene in the ‘80s and then exploded as a world power in the mid ‘90s. Grunge is dead but Seattle is still huge with (according to this 1996 film) over 1000 active bands. It’s all peaks and valleys. True fans pay no mind to the media - all they want are good bands, good albums and good shows in good clubs. They treat trend-hoppers like the locals do tourists in Las Vegas, “Thanks for coming. Now shut up, spend all your money, then go home… and come again soon!”
The film makes excellent use of newspaper and magazine clippings, music videos, TV broadcasts (Highlights: a Jeopardy question, Larry Bud Melman as a grunge dude, and an Andy Rooney commentary), interviews and beautiful set shots of Seattle to tell the story of a sleepy little fishing village in the American Northwest. It’s a tale of how some successful local musicians attracted the attention of conglomerate giants of capitalism, who then pillaged the village and left only ruin in their wake. I loved the muzak version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. A newspaper headline reads “Mass Culture Embraces The Style Of Seattle”. Grunge is co-opted as high fashion, just like punk was with The Sex Pistols. NY, LA, DC, and SF have all had scenes that drew their share of media attention, but Nirvana and Pearl Jam exploded like nothing before them. The Seattle story is one of scale only.
Hype! features a home video of the first ever live performance of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and an interview with Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. Many bands are featured in interviews and live performance: Gass Huffer, The Posies, Young Fresh Fellows, Some Velvet Sidewalk, Dead Moon, Crackerbush, The Monomen, The Fastbacks, Screaming Trees, Tad, Flop, The Phantom Surfers, Supersuckers, The Melvins, Green River, Blood Circus, The U-Men, Soundgarden, Coffin Break, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, 7 Year Bitch, The Gits, Zipgun, and Hammerbox. Grunge owed as much to Led Zepplin as it did punk (cough).
The Sub Pop label is noted for its hyping of the Seattle sound, as if they destroyed the scene by making grunge a trend to be eaten whole and crapped out. Sub Pop did the right thing: they generated interest and ran with it while it lasted. Seattle still has a punk scene. Nothing was destroyed except the illusion of a few bands and their dedicated fans feeding off each other. Some kid says how he hates it when a band he likes gets popular because they were his. Oh, grow up, half-pint. Another bitches that Seattle has all kinds of bands, not just of the grunge variety, and it’s not fair that grunge gets all the attention. Please. Grow up. Everyone. I thank you in advance for your new found maturity.
Once again, Hype! is a great film. Even if you think like I do that grunge is mostly hard rock crap, you’ll learn a lot and love every minute of it. Rent it now... dude!?
I Need That Record! (video review): The full title of this 2008 college project film is I Need That Record: The Death (Or Possible Survival) Of The Independent Record Store. Brendan Toller traveled around the country, interviewed the famous and the not so much so, and spent two years putting together this hot mess of a documentary that doesn’t look bad or flow poorly, but it has no idea what it’s talking about or what it wants to be when it grows up. Ostensibly about indie record stores and the reasons why 3,000 have closed in recent years, it defaults to a tiresome Power Point presentation of random statistics about units sold, major record label consolidations, and ominous conspiracies about how evil corporations strangle indie record stores because of greed and stupidity. You’re not alone to watch this and mumble every eight minutes “Wait, what is this about again?”
At the end of the day I Need That Record is anti-capitalism political activism, so many of the glowing reviews you’ll read are graded on the curve of leftist groupthink conformity, where all that matters is it’s about something important. Toller interviews Jewish Holocaust denier Noam Chomsky, who rambles like Grandpa Simpson about how supermarkets forced mom and pop grocers out of business in the 1930s. Crapsky know nothing about indie record stores but assumes there’s probably a correlation between today and a memory from seventy years ago. To ensure an “A” from his teacher he tosses in this narration about iTunes, “Even an idiot could figure it out”, followed by George Bush explaining in an interview how it works and what kind of music he likes. Bush knows how to work it but Toller lingers on him so the audience can boo and hiss while screaming “Bushitler!” How this agenda most directly affects the film adversely is that Toller keeps bullet-pointing the evils of large corporations when they have almost nothing to do with the decline of indie record stores. I’ll repeat that. Almost nothing.
The film doesn’t even define what an independent record store is. I know what it is, and I’m sure you do too, but shouldn’t a documentary on the sub-culture of indie record stores make an effort define it and delineate the different kinds? In I Need That Record indie record stores are mostly low-rent storefronts run by slackers and filled with junky old records with funny covers. That’s it. There’s no mention of punk indie stores, a major specialty, the variety of items sold at a typical indie store, or the logistics of how stores get their inventories and who they sell them to. What you get is the mantra of how these stores create communities, and of course the generalized hipster hatred of all things commercial (so why do they need or care about major labels again?)
The film hints at the correct reasons why indies fail yet doesn’t put it together coherently because it’s too busy posting statistics like this one in big block letters: “To this day iTunes carries less than 1% of the available music catalog in the world. Somewhere about 50% of all recordings have never even made it to CD.” The narrator is shock and offended, but really. Wikipoop says iTunes offers 13 million songs. Is it their, or the People’s Government maybe, responsibility to offer 130 million songs in the name of music justice? Should the evil record labels be forced to release the other fifty percent of albums that never made it to cd, in the name of equal access? As far as outside factors go, Indies fail because of free downloads and other media that have replaced it, like cell phones, video games and Facebook. The only valid point the film makes is that majors should have priced their discs at $10 to compete with digital downloads, offering the extras and art many might find attractive. The film never gets into which indie stores even carry major label releases and to what extent they rely on them, but I Need That Record seldom fails to disappoint.
Toller interviews Mike Dreese, co-founder of the successful chain Newbury Comics, who has interesting things to say about the industry and how keeping one step ahead has kept them in business, but the heart of the film is with the lovable losers (I mean that kindly) of the mom and pop music shop. Trash American Style is forced out by the expansion of their neighbor, a storefront franchise print shop. Do they re-open elsewhere? No, and that’s never addressed. Another guy, a lovable shlub, speaks of his new unemployment in euphemisms of keeping his options open and dreams realized, but thankfully he ends up at Trader Joe’s, which pays well and is a fun place to put in an honest day’s work.
Other interviewees of note: Chris Frantz makes the obvious connection between record store and comic book store cultures; Mike Watt philosophizes semi-coherently like a hobo; Lenny Kaye tells of how indie store mojo helped him bag Patti Smith; Thurston Moore and Ian MacKaye once again can not say no to being interviewed; Glenn Branca admits he’s an Amazon and eBay junkie because of price and convenience; and Legs McNeil professes first-hand knowledge in exchange for cigarettes.
Other comments: Why does the narrator talk about indie record stores in the past tense? Are they all gone? What does the major labels' short attention span on artist development have to do with indie records? If majors don’t release indie bands, there’s still indie labels and bands can market themselves. DIY, remember kids? Underground culture not caring about the larger culture? The film dwells on payola scandals and station consolidation when it should have bitched about college stations turning more commercial. Another slice of stupid leftist agit-prop: “It’s hard even for the great independent record stores. The capitalist market isn’t exactly a fair one these days.” That’s right, rich white American kid, in socialist countries the government funds all failed private businesses that are too cool to close down.
I used to spend countless hours hunting down and sifting through the inventories of indie record stores, and as a hobby and time-waster it was fun. I didn’t like dealing with half the employees and I’m sure they weren’t too thrilled to talk to me either. Indie record stores are often hipster douche generators and you either jump in and flail away or stay the hell away. I don’t even own a record player anymore and I’ve traded in every cd and record that’s not a collector’s item. Everything’s on my computer now or burned on blanks. The last thing I care about is album art. Did I ever really care? Not really. Ninety percent of what I bought sight-unseen was horrific crap and I’m glad I no longer play that costly game. I was hoping I Need That Record would be nostalgic and whimsical, but instead it was someone’s bitter agenda made flesh. The biggest shame is that maybe the existence of this film will discourage someone else from making the kind of film this could and should have been – a celebration of a glorious past that still exists if you know where to look.
Iggy & The
Stooges Live In Detroit (DVD review):
Brought to you by
Boy Howdy and
Creem Magazine (!), this packed DVD is a treasure trove for fans of Iggy and
The Stooges as a document of their reunion tour of 2003, featuring Mike Watt of
The Minutemen on bass in place of deceased Stooge Dave Alexander.
The Stooges were the best and most punk of the proto-punk bands, They’re The Doors on a real death ride driven by the world's forgotten boy, James Newell Osterberg. Barely eclipsed in numbnuttery by fellow Detroiters The MC5, The Stooges released three incendiary studio albums from ‘69-‘73. Bowie gets the blame for the demise of the Stooges with his thin production of Raw Power, but it's not that bad. Their original run was short, sweet and ran its natural course.
Iggy and the Stooges - Live in Detroit contains two complete concerts: as a full band and with Iggy, Ron and Scott Ashton performing in a NYC record store. For drums Scott bangs plastic buckets and cardboard boxes. Both the plugged and unplugged shows are winners. Why they completely avoid Raw Power must be a licensing issue.
The in-store show was filmed with a single, static camera and the sound is either mono or low-tech stereo. It works. The big show has multiple cameras and full stereo sound. The show wasn't lit for filming but it's good enough. The sound syncs perfectly and the camera catches everything it needs to. No muss, no fuss, no puss. It's a great show taped well.
By 2003 Ron Asheton aged and rotunded into Comic Book Guy. Scott Asheton looks like a behemoth zombie and Iggy is, of course, The Mummy.
Iggy & The Stooges – Escaped Maniacs (dvd review): A teen-packed 2006 show from Belgium finds Iggy Pop still doing his best Iggy Pop imitation while the Ashton brothers play drums & guitar and The Minutemen’s Mike Watt pounds the bass (guitar, not the fish) . Sometimes Steve MacKay plays sax and Maracas. The venue has a long model’s runway attachment extending from center stage, but otherwise the crowd and the band seem far removed from each other. The energy of the set is great and Iggy’s voice as sharp as ever.
Ron Ashton on guitar is Comic Book Guy fat while Scott Ashton is cigarette and hard alcohol thin. Both come across as a bit nuts in the interviews.
I like The Stooges generically but I run when they lapse into hard psychedelic wig-outs, which happens on this DVD as often as it did on their records. The kids in the large crowd seemed to dig it all, man, so Iggy et al. provided a great return on investment for the promoters. Unless there was embezzlement, or ticket counterfeiting, or maybe even payoffs to corrupt local officials. Or a green social justice tax.
The set list was: “Loose”, “Down On The Street”, “1969”, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, “T.V. Eyes”, “Dirt”, “Real Cool Time”, “No Fun”, “1970”, “Fun House”, “Skull Ring”, “Dead Rock Star”, “Little Doll”.
Inside The Smiths (DVD review): I found Inside The Smiths dee-effin-liteful to watch. Fast, fun and frickin’ fantastic compared to most video productions I’ve slept through, producer/director Stephen Petricco creates a mishmash of band history, character study and travelogue, edited energetically with a nutty sense of humor. It focuses on Smiths’ drummer Mike Joyce and bassist Andy Rourke, two of the most pleasant guys you’ll ever meet in a music film. Happy as pigs in slop to have been in The Smiths they revisit old haunts and reminisce about the old days with a visible joy seemingly not diminished by Joyce’s lawsuit against Morrissey and Marr:
In 1996, Joyce took Morrissey and Marr to court, claiming that he had not received his fair share of recording and performance royalties. Morrissey and Marr had claimed the lion's share of The Smiths' recording and performance royalties and allowed ten percent each to Joyce and Rourke. Composition royalties were not an issue, as Rourke and Joyce had never been credited as composers for the band. Morrissey and Marr claimed that the other two members of the band had always agreed to that split of the royalties, but the court found in favour of Joyce and ordered that he be paid over £1 million in back pay and receive twenty-five percent henceforth. As Smiths' royalties had been frozen for two years, Rourke settled for a smaller lump sum to pay off his debts and continued to receive ten percent. While the judge in the case described Morrissey as "devious, truculent and unreliable", he did not state that the singer had been dishonest. Morrissey claimed that he was "... under the scorching spotlight in the dock, being drilled ..." with questions such as " 'How dare you be successful?' 'How dare you move on?'". He stated that "The Smiths were a beautiful thing and Johnny [Marr] left it, and Mike [Joyce] has destroyed it." Morrissey appealed against the verdict, but was not successful.
I don’t find The Smiths magical as do their core fans so I wasn’t put off by a Smiths film that doesn’t include Morrissey and Marr, the band’s creative forces, or their original music for that matter. Familiar chords are hinted at as rights were not granted for their use. The film reeks of implied objectivity and you usually don’t get that from larger-than-life characters anyway. Factually they cover the basics and toss in nuggets of information, but Inside The Smiths isn’t about revelations. For that, read a book. It spends a lot of time with Joyce and Rourke but it’s not so much a film about them either. Inside The Smiths is pretty much a fun way to spend an hour, and it happens to be about these people and that band.
I liked how Petricco lightly mocks the conventions of pretentious video production by having a guitar neck zoom through cities and speakers complete thoughts in different takes in different places. The editing is fast without being jarring, and I never found it annoying. Inside The Smiths appears wacky on the surface but it never plays for laughs and nothing is rushed. There’s also neat cameos by Peter Shelley (Buzzcocks), Mark E. Smith (The Fall), Craig Gannon (Aztec Camera), Peter Hook, Mat Osman (Suede), Ricky Wilson (Kaiser Chiefs). Not only would I recommend this to a friend, I’d want to watch it with them too.
Joyce and Rourke don’t say much directly about Morrissey and Marr, but I gleaned from what they did that Morrissey was a genius, a delicate flower, snobbish, and had others do his dirty work for him. Was he a coward or just weird that way? He also had a master plan from the beginning and didn’t seek approval from within his band (which I read as Joyce and Rourke, but probably not Marr).
Inside The Smiths was great, and maybe only being a fan of a few handfuls of their songs I didn’t turn my nose up to its failings as a death cult love note or visual encyclopedia. Back in the day I wasn’t into them at all, along with their American cousins R.E.M. Part of it was taste and part musical politics. Now I just seek out good melodies and try not to overthink it. Or think at all.
Is It Really So Strange? (dvd review): I made it through 43 minutes of this film theoretically about the Los Angeles area Latino fascination with Steven Patrick Morrissey, or as his friends call him, Steve. There's a gay subtext too but I might have missed that in the later sections. I didn’t mind it until the point where a fan tells how Saint Morrissey washes away all cares and sins, and asks nothing in return but love and devotion. The film had made its point anyway and was sputtering by with even more interviews of everyday people saying why they love Steve. It wasn’t a waste of time and I think director William E. Jones does his best with what’s available, but Is It Really So Strange? falls short on a number of levels. I’ll explain.
Many indie music films fail from the start by not working from a strong outline with an even stronger editorial position. They shoot first and then see what they can make from it. As with any movie, book or tv show you have to draw people in with an interesting premise, set up the situation and characters, then tell an engaging story that leads to some kind of satisfying conclusion. Jones has a solid plan for his film but the micro-esoteric subject matter, bland interview results, limited budget and technical abilities, and a lack of a soundtrack make the “more” of his ambitions come off as pretentious.
The film is narrated in the first person by Jones and is as much about himself and his process as it is his subject. The reach for anthropological gravitas is sometimes comical. He talks about his inability to interest Hispanic Morrissey fans in being interviewed until he pompadours his hair and makes the scene in Los Angeles. He attended these events anyway, and from this came the idea for the film, but once he does to doo he’s more accepted and is able to find people to participate. We even see him getting his hair styled the right way, so it’s like wearing the right face paint and ceremonial vest to take part in an aboriginal ritual. It's not anthropology, it’s just kids into Morrissey. Another funny thing is that there’s a lot of white people interviewed (I stopped counting at seven), even a black woman, so the Latino theme falls by the wayside. He lost me when he presented what was either a Greek word or a math equation on a blackboard and explained the root of something or other.
I watched this because I’d heard of the Latino-Morrissey connection and was curious on its background. Theories are given, such as how Mexicans and Steve are both Catholic, being Irish in London is like being Mexican in the US, and of course the great Marxist “alienation” construct. Maybe it’s addressed better later in the film, but the answer is more in line with what Morrissey does that reminds Latinos of their own culture. Is his crooning similar to their tradition, along with his lyrics? Is he handsome in a Latin way? I’m guessing the answer is yes on both counts. A common theme was also a love of James Dean, so Morrissey is not an aberration but an established type. The dominant LA Latino subculture is Rockabilly, so you see an element of that in these people too. For more on that subject Rebel Beat, whose second half focuses on Latinos.
The budget and resources were low but the intentions were high. Is It Really So Strange? succeeds where it can and falls short where it doesn’t. I think only a Morrissey cultist has the stamina to make through eighty minutes of average folks talking about how much they love Morrissey. I made it to minute 43 for the reason why I do everything – for the kidz!
The Jam - Video Snap! (video) (Media): While watching this it hit me hard that I don't like music videos. This eleven song collection of Jam videos shows the usual progression of most bands of the era - simple lip-synching in studio settings eventually became more elaborate as the demands of the video-age force them to be more visually creative. Thankfully The Jam don't seem interested in wasting either time and money, and Paul Weller's ego is in better check than Sting's on the Police video collection, which matches this in tone and effort.
The videos cover the years 1977-1982. The first video, "In The City", shows a very young mod punk band full of amphetamine energy and dressed to the nines with their thin lapels, skinny ties and designer shoes. They're hopping around like loonies and aching to play faster than the original album track. This energy lasts for a number of songs and then subsides as the band settles into their later phase of faux-funky soul and R&B. Their penchant for sloganeering is seen only in "Town Called Malice", where cartoon style balloons pronounce "Anti Complacency League, Baby!" and "If we ain't getting through to you - you obviously ain't listening!" This comes across as an attempt to copy Malcolm McLaren and Viviene Westwood's success with putting various provocative words on clothing.
The Jam started up at around the same time as The Clash and the Sex Pistols, but they never really fit into that crowd and didn't make headlines until these other bands faltered, therefore making them the kings of punk's second wave. They were huge, topping the charts and continually winning music magazine's readers polls. They supercharged American R&B, The Who, and The Kinks to create catchy punk anthems. The Sex Pistol's "Holidays In The Sun" was a rip-off of The Jam's "In The City". Paul Weller injected politics into his music but mod was more about fashion, dancing, shagging and amphetamines. Skinheads came from the mod/ska tradition, so it didn't shock anyone when the band hinted support for Britain's Conservative Party. Their first five albums (In The City, This Is The Modern World, All Mod Cons, Settings Sons, and Sound Effects), while inconsistent in their mod pretensions, yielded great singles. The Jam and The Buzzcocks were punk's greatest singles bands. Eventually Weller devolved The Jam into an over-produced R&B band with horn sections, female back-up singers and more style than substance. Elvis Costello did a better job of it on Punch The Clock. Weller later formed The Style Council. I'll leave it at that, but in general I give The Jam credit because anyone can scream into a mike and bang at some guitars, but if you can drive the punks wild with hooks and melody, you must be doing something right.
The Jam: Punk Icons (dvd review): This is the worst so far of the cheapie band retrospectives I’ve reviewed, this from the lesser Ultimate Review series, bettered by the Under Review series by another outfit. My expectations are low on these discs but I usually come away with neat video clips and factoids from a rotating staff of music journalists who don’t come off as experts to any extent but are still worth hearing. On The Jam: Punk Icons the script is hackneyed and the commentators seem as informed as their last-minute reading of the band’s Wikipedia page and a listen to a mixed cd on the ride to the recording studio. I learned stuff but didn’t care what these guys thought. The worst part is the narration by tough-guy actor Graham McTavish, who stares a hole into the camera while opening his jeans-encased legs for what MST3K fans fondly remember as “Buffalo Shots”.
The journalists on board are Pat Gilbert, John Robb, Garry Mulholland, Graham Willmott and Peter Gordon. In the past I assumed the narrative was partly shaped by the commentary, but here it seems they were asked specific questions whose sole purpose was to get the right sound bites to support the script, which has The Jam as the greatest band since The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Someone says The Jam were the biggest British rock band of the late 70s and early 80s. I doubt that in terms of importance but maybe sales numbers tell a different story. At one time they had six singles on the charts at the same time - nothing to sneeze at.
The Jam came from the provincial suburbs and wrote from that working class perspective, putting them at odds with overtly leftist groups like The Clash. Proudly influenced by The Who and The Kinks, their fire was lit by the aggressive tidal wave of The Sex Pistols and The Clash. A mod band with punk drive, they were more accessible to a youth audience who liked to dress sharp and fancied themselves smart people who knew what was happening. They had plans. This was the opposite of Pistols/Clash followers who took the low road to Idiot City because there was No Future. The pie was big enough for everyone and from an airplane the differences appeared as ants, but bands like The Jam and The Buzzcocks served a vital function of diversifying the UK punk palette in ways that make the entire movement more substantial and worthy of study and respect.
The only rain on the parade of this gushing career overview is the fact that Paul Weller was a cold prick when he dissolved The Jam to form The Style Council, discarding Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler as both unwanted and unimportant. The Style Council was to The Jam what Fun Boy Three was to The Specials. I’ve also thought in the past Terry Hall looked like Paul Weller. This is all meaningless. Have I hit my word count yet? Band clips come from sources such as “The Marc Bolan Show”, “Rockpalast”, “The Tube”, “D.O.A.”, “The Punk Rock Movie” and “So It Goes”. And... done.
Jayne County and the
Electric Chairs: Man Enough To Be A Woman (dvd review): Oh lordy did
this 2005 release stink up the room. First I noticed this was on Cherry Red,
punk rock's dumpster. Then there was the Holidays In The Sun banner behind the
stage and I knew this was going to reek something awful. The show is from 1996.
With the exception of his/her one hit "If You Don't Want To F--k Me Baby F--k
Off" each song was the same generic exercise of each band member playing notes
at the same time. It's literally "I'm gonna sing and do my thing. You guys just
keep up. It doesn't matter just play something, anything." Jayne/Wayne's looking
like Al Lewis, Edith Massey and Divine all at the same time, and the outrageous
factor hits a solid 1.4 in Amish country. A set of music doesn't get more
nondescript than this.
Jayne's a hoot though, and the book Man Enough To Be A Woman is a personal favorite. Check out Jayne's blog. That's quite a thing, ain't it?
This Netflix reviwer sums it up nicely: "Pretty
much any dvd of 70's-80's punk rock bands playing live shows in the mid-late
2000's is going to be bad. This included. Not a lot of movement or energy from
the band at all. Bland."
Here's the set list so you'll know what you're fast-forwarding through: I Hate Today / Night Time / Wonder Woman / Paranoia Paradise / Bad In Bed / Are You A Boy Or A Girl? / Man Enough To Be A Woman / Rock & Roll Resurrection / If You Don't Want To F--k Me Baby F--k Off / Reprise / 2nd Reprise / Brainwashed.
Jericho's Echo: Punk Rock In The Holy Land (dvd review): Busy Bee Liz Nord shot this film in 2003 for a 2005 release. Jericho's Echo looks at the microcosm of the Israeli punk scene, taking place in a country slightly smaller than New Jersey. It's a scene that seems open to all varieties of punk subgenres, like a community center where all the quote-unquote punks get together and listen to whatever band is playing. Far from being the only deviance from the norm in a land both extremely religious and fiercely secular, the punks are so pretty much by choice and not circumstance. There's everything in Israel from death metal to lounge music to rockabilly. Punk has the most obvious political component, and the film spends the bulk of its time in the socio-political arena.
Jericho's Echo has five sections: it establishes the punk scene, jumps into personal and national politics, explores life in a country with mandatory military service, separates the punks from the religious nature of the country, and then ponders life in a war zone. The punks you meet are mostly young and a mix of Middle Eastern, European, American and Russian Jews, and some talk like they just got off a plane from Oregon. I want to restate that these kids are for the most part not victims of society. They're not capitalists in Cuba or any such thing. They're like kids in Berkeley, CA leading a hippie anarcho-punk lifestyle. Punk seems for some an accessory to their liberal politics - the same ones found in Maximum RockNRoll. They wear the same t-shirts, screw with their hair just like American mall rats, and play the same music in their bands. The film's promoted with "Rebellious Israeli youth take up the arms of punk rock, loud guitars, and mohawks in the most politically charged area of the world. Through interviews, verite´ scenes and live musical footage, we see how these well-spoken and outspoken kids deal with life in their explosive, ancient region", but it's not alien to any all-ages scene in the US.
There's one politically right band shown (they're not religious) and the rest are solidly left, against globalization, media and religious control, the militarization of Israeli society, and genetically modified foods. They're for human and animal rights. They wave banners for Amnesty International and Foods Not Bombs. They blame leaders on both sides for the fighting, bloodshed and occupation, and hold out hope that non-violence is the only answer. The difference between American lefty punks and Israeli lefty punks is that in Israel they know the stated goal of their enemies is for each and every one of them to be slaughtered in a holocaust that would make Hitler look like Mr. Rogers. Arab schools teach children Jews are descended from pigs. Suicide bombers kill as many as they can in cafes and buses. The Israeli punks are not spoiled, angry children like those in America - they know who hates them and what they would do if given the chance. The Israeli punks are hoping for negotiated settlements and finally peace. They're not suicidal like American punks are nihilistically genocidal (in the name of peace, of course).
There's mandatory military service from 18 to 21, and some of get out of it by acting crazy. It's more likely they're seen as untrainable putzes not worthy of the process of whipping them into shape. A lot of time is dedicated to explaining the nuances of what it is to be Jewish and Israeli. It's a culture, a religion and what you are because of what your parents are. It's like a whole other country over there but they try to let you know being Jewish and Israeli is not a big deal in the bigger picture.
Jericho's Echo is a decent example of guerilla filmmaking in the fairly safe danger zone called Israel. There's nothing controversial going on and no police hassles beyond the normal mistrust of the young, dumb and full of fun. The only real lesson of the film is that it's a small world after all.
Here's some famous punky rock scene hebes: Lou Reed, Joey Ramone, Tommy Ramone, Hilly Kristal, Chris Stein, every member of The Dictators (and by the by, so was KISS), Lenny Kaye, Richard Hell, Martin Rev, Alan Vega, Jonathan Richman, Danny Fields, Malcolm McLaren, Bernie Rhodes, Mick Jones, John Zorn, PUNK zine founder John Holmstrom and Warren Zevon. As we say here at oldpunks central, "Be a mensch, not a schmendrick."
Jimmy Eat World: Believe In What You Want (dvd review): I liked their 2001 release Bleed American well enough to rent this early 2000’s giggity giggity gig, and they do a great job recreating highly polished studio album tracks as a standard four-piece emo pop rock punk band. I don’t have patience for sitting down to watch video concerts so I hung around for a few songs before shuffling through the rest of this 52 minute set at the new 9:30 Club in DC. I’ll call it the new club until the day I die and it should be called a hall or something else size appropriate.
The 20-something crowd, more women than men it appears, knew every word and a sweaty good time was had by all. A full array of cameras were used to film this, including either a crane or the camera on wires you see on football games. The sound’s great and the stage seems too big as they’re spread out far apart. The band themselves look and dress like their fans and have not an ounce of rock-star appeal amongst them – which isn’t a bad thing by any means.
Along with the show is a nice documentary on the period they were dropped by Capital Records and regrouped to DIY their next record, Bleed American, picked up by DreamWorks to the financial gratification of all. The guys in the band are pleasant and down to earth, and at least on camera there’s no bad attitudes or drama meltdowns. It’s easy to cheer them on as they believe in their dreams and reach for the stars (did you just vomit a little in your mouth like I did?)
Joe Jackson - Laughter & Lust Live (video review) (AVision): Old timers can't think of Joe Jackson without also thinking about Elvis Costello. For a while they were vying for the title of new wave's Angry Young Man (hey college kids, dig my theatre reference!). You could add Graham Parker to the list but he was a veteran to begin with, and his stab at new wave may have been more calculated than natural. All three had killer backup bands, and they beat the hell out of their instruments within the confines of a simple pop style gone berserk.
Of the three, Elvis made the biggest name for himself while Joe and Graham slightly fell off the earth when new wave died around 1982-1983. What happened to Joe Jackson? After Look Sharp! (1979), I'm The Man (1979) and the sadly underrated Beat Crazy (1980) Joe reinvented himself as a big band jump blues hipster with Jumpin' Jive (1981 - way ahead of its time), then Latin Jazz with both Night and Day (1982) and Body and Soul (1984), plus film work and orchestral compositions. Whereas Elvis entertained his fantasies of being a singer-songwriter of country, blues, and standards, underneath he was still the snide punk who, on Saturday Night Live, stopped his band after a few seconds of "Alison" to rip into "Radio Radio". Joe Jackson simply became a musician of various styles, and the quality of the work didn't warrant much attention from his original followers.
This live show was recorded in 1991 in support of Laughter & Lust. Joe plays some keyboards but he's backed by three other keyboard players, violin, bass guitar, guitar, a percussionist, drums and harmonica. They're a competent pack of studio pros who add no creativity or passion to the music. They offer professionalism, not ingrained cohesion, and that missing quality makes me pine for the old Joe Jackson band. This group could be the backup for any singer in Vegas. They add an almost world-beat quality to the songs, which while full of texture and color, it lacks the passion and force needed to deliver the goods of "I'm The Man" and "Look Sharp!" Joe's voice was made for tales of bitter rejection, not orchestrated contemporary adult rock.
Joe Jackson - Chorus 1980 (video review): I found this vintage 1980 Joe Jackson concert here. The password is probably "password". The nine song set is short yet effective, showcasing what's-his-name and his Joe Jackson Band at the peak of their skills, when I'm The Man melted into Beat Crazy. Joe and the boys are animated to say the least, with Joe leading the way by running in circles, dancing, and mugging his way into a sweaty lather requiring repeat visits to a bath towel hidden in the drum kit. Essentially a 70s power pop group kicked in the arse by the rising punk tide, Joe competed with Elvis Costello and Graham Parker for the title of Angry Young Man with the tightest support. We all won until Elvis and Joe proved their points and settled into their adult career paths of Burt Bacharach groupie and random jazz/classical/standards piano guy. Parker was in the trio as sort of a welcome bandwagon jumper, and soon settled back into his pub rock roots.
The show is a joy to watch and while it appears brief at 37 minutes the flow and energy level are perfect. The set list is "On Your Radio", Kinda Cute", "Pretty Boys", "Friday", "Sunday Papers", "One More Time", "It's Different For Girls", "I'm The Man" and "The Harder They Come". The show was broadcast on French TV in 1980 from the Pavillon Baltard outside of Paris. Bablefish translates the French Wikipedia entry for the concert series thusly: "Chorus is a television program of rock'n'roll presented by Antoine De Caunes and Jacky on Antenne 2 from September 1978 to June 1981. Diffused each week, Chorus is before a a whole emission of “live” music 37 minutes, played on scene in front of a public... Chorus thus incarnate the rock'n'roll, the end of punk and the beginnings of New wave on television French." Joe wears his then customary black suit, skinny black tie and starched with work shirt, and on a few songs he plays piano and a fancy piano horn, readily available now as a cheap plastic toy.
The Joe Jackson band was a bass player's dream, and it comes through well even on what I'm assuming is mono sound. The guitarist runs around a lot and is caught on "It's Different For Girls" making the "O Face" a few times. "Girls" gets the biggest applause and the kids are up on stage at the close dancing to "The Harder They Come", which is the only natural reaction a person can have to that song and Joe's version of it.
I was talking recently with a twenty-something at a bar in Sandy Pee-Dro and he asked me when was the prime of my youth. It was (I said) from about 1977 to somewhere in 1982 when new wave was officially killed off by the parasites of Duran Duran and Culture Club. Music culture-wise that was a pretty good run. Before hardcore came along punk and new wave were cousin genres with a vague wall between them. That's when I thought the music scene was custom made for me, and I rode it hard until it faded away. This 1980 Joe Jackson show is perfect for me because it's exactly what was right about that time and place. The past is dead. Long live the past.
Joy Division – Here Are The Young Men (video review) (Factory): This is a compilation of fifteen live tracks and a promo video for “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. Most of the footage is very dark, either by stage design or limited lighting. Dates range from Oct. 1979 to Jan. 1980. Only one static camera is used, and how you see the band depends on where the guy’s standing on any particular night. The set list is “Decades”, “Dead Souls”, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, “Shadowplay”, “Day Of The Lords”, “Digital”, “Colony”, “New Dawn Fades”, “Autosuggestion”, “Transmission”, “Sound Of Music”, “She’s Lost Control”, “They Walked In Line” and “I Remember Nothing”. It’s an even mix of fast and slow material with the band attacking their instruments with fierce aggression. Being sober and not clinically depressed I wasn’t enthralled by the slower numbers. For all its limitations Here Are The Young Men is a fine example of the band at their best.
Joy Division is sometimes called the first post-punk band, and their goth credentials are also solid. They owe a major debt to Bowie and Eno’s (mostly Eno’s) collaborations on Low and Heroes, both from 1977. When Bernard Albrecht and Peter Hook formed the band in 1977, they took the name Stiff Kittens. With the addition of Ian Curtis they changed their name to Warsaw, after the Low track “Warsawa”. They switched to Joy Divison, a reference to concentration camp prostitution, after a dispute with a punk band called Warsaw Pakt.
Watching Ian Curtis “dance” throughout the tape was unsettling since it’s said some came to see him possibly experience an epileptic seizure. A similar mindset of morbid voyeurism ran through the amok minds of GG Allin fans. Curtis’ way of moving and waiving his arms reminds me of Damon Wayans’ “Handi-Man” character on In Living Color. The “romantic” aspect of his suicide, a staple of goth mythology, was that writing “Love Will Tear Us Apart” drove Ian Curtis to kill himself. I’m sure it was a number of things but I bet it was mostly his declining physical and mental health. Clinical depression and uncontrollable illness killed Ian Curtis, not music. To think otherwise is a little too poetically convenient.
Joy Division – Under Review (dvd review): I often read customer reviews before I write my own only because I like to know The People are bitching about. With Joy Division – Under Review the main gripes are no interviews with band members and not enough rare concert footage. If those are your criteria you may not like this much, but otherwise it’s pretty damn decent. One of an extensive series of Under Review titles, it was put together by Chrome Dreams, whose catalog is an improbable combination of professional, even-handed scholarship and public domain grave robbing. Cheerleading Joy Division all the way via marketing decree, it’s still a great history of the band for fans and newbies alike.
The presentation is a timeline history with analysis and opinions offered by critics and scene participants. There’s Pat Gilbert - former Mojo editor, Barney Hoskyns – author & journalist, Mick Middles – music writer, and Lindsay Reade – ex-wife of Tony Curtis and co-author of The Life Of Ian Curtis: Torn Apart. The production’s best feature is that when someone offers an opinion or insight you’re immediately shown proof of its applicability. Clips from 24 Hour Party People are mixed in as reenactments or as proof of how the film changed the facts. When someone says Ian Curtis sang like Frank Sinatra they immediately switch to Frank on stage singing “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me”, then they go back to Ian’s singing, and he’s right! When they discuss Martin Hannett’s nearly single-handed creation of the signature Joy Division sound, Phil Spector’s name comes up as it often does, so they alternate this clip of the Ronette’s “Be My Baby” with the video for Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”, and holy crap it’s true! Live and studio versions of many songs are sampled next to each other so you can hear the difference between how the band saw the song and how Martin Hannett massaged it in the studio. Hannett recorded one musician at a time and then had Curtis sing alone. He thought of musicians as laborers (“overproduced by Martin Hannett, take four”).
Joy Division – Under Review forgoes gossip and sticks with facts and measured opinion. Curtis’ epilepsy and suicide are given full accounting throughout but it’s not sensationalized. Even just as a change of pace I appreciated not hearing directly from anyone in Joy Division. Critics are outsiders but the right ones can be objective, otherwise it’s vendettas and he said/she said reality television nonsense. It’s more than enough to have Tony Wilson’s ex-wife offer her memories.
Everything you need to know about Joy Division is here on this seventy minute dvd. The rest is obsessive minutia.
Joy Division (dvd review): 2006’s
Joy Division is the de facto documentary on the
Manchurian Mancunian (as in Manchester UK) post-punk joyless band
Joy Division. It interviews all the living major players, tells its story
convincingly, and is visually perfect in content, pacing, and editing. Its only
flaw is it goes over the top metaphysically in its adoration of singer Ian
Curtis and in establishing a symbiotic relationship between the city of
Manchester and Joy Division’s body of work. Joy Division were great (and all)
but outside the realm of Our Band Could Be Your Life circle-jerking they were
just a band. Joy Division beatifies Ian and Company when a cheering admiration
is all that’s called for.
The gist of Joy Division is that the sputtering post-industrial city of Manchester birthed the members, sound and raison d’etre of Joy Division. If you have “Tabula Rasa” tattooed on your arm that debate’s been settled, but it’s common knowledge the band formed in the wake of a Sex Pistols tour and tried their hand at the 1,2, F U until they realized they had more to say. Also that eccentric and obsessive producer Martin Hannett created the “Joy Division sound” in the studio. Someone in the film says “It was Joy Division who were the first band to do that – to use the energy and simplicity of punk to express more complex emotions.” Wire begs to differ, for one, but Joy Division created an informed and iconic body of work that’s so pervasive it’s against DJ Law to play “Love Will Tear Us Apart” at a club.
Joy Division hits all the right facts, visits all the relevant locations and talks to all the right people. It flows well and is packed with bootleg concert footage and live television performances. If there was an annual award ceremony for straight-to-dvd music documentaries this would sweep. For comparison and contrast this is a nice companion piece to the film Control.
I don’t buy into the transcendent nature of Ian Curtis so when it’s said he was “kind of a prophet” I’m thinking great, now Mr. Twitchy is Jim Morrison! Changing the subject back quickly, this is as good as it gets even if it sometimes flies over the top.
Jubilee (1977 ) (Video review): This is supposedly the first major motion picture dealing with punk, and I guess being released in ‘77 does make it the first major film to feature British punk fashion and music. I do wish it wasn’t so bad. Thankfully my remote's fast forward button was fully charged and a big cup of coffee was in my other hand. Jubilee is so pretentious you have to be a certified high school theater junkie or Renaissance Week nerd to get into it. The writing is pseudo-Shakespearean and so removed from normal conversation you have to pause the tape every ten seconds to try to make sense of what you just heard.
Characters launch slogans and catch-phrases at each other instead of conversing. "Well, I mean the end's inevitable. It's either now or later. It's what makes the present so vital". "As long as the music's loud enough we won't hear the world fall apart". "My generation's The Blank Generation" (right on! says Richard Hell). "Artists steal the world's energy. But they never get caught." Punk is used as a metaphor for modern UK Decay. It’s not a punk movie as much as a parable using punks as props.
The characters have names like Crabs, Amyl, Chaos, Angel, Lounge Lizard and Bod. Adam Ant plays Kid, and thankfully he’s not called on to act because his other films have shown he can't. Wayne/Jayne County is Lounge Lizard, and he/she lip-synchs like Grandpa Munster meets Fanny Brice. I liked it. The little person from The Great Rock'N'Roll Swindle is here too. The Slits play the "Street Girls". Chelsea, Brian Eno, and Siouxsie round out the soundtrack.
The plot is too silly to even consider. Now that I don't have to watch it anymore, some of the performances are decent. But, man, Jubilee is a snoozer.
Kill Your Idols (video review): The love-hate thing with Kill Your Idols isn’t helped by creator Scott Crary’s baton-passing dialogue editing and an expansive editorial agenda that doesn’t become clear (it’s murky but there) until the end. Some people think it’s a No Wave documentary, which it is, until minute 18:15, when the focus switches to 1982 and Sonic Youth, marking Thurston Moore’s 1,000th speaking appearance on film. At 30:00 this musical platypus skips to 2002 and bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, and Gogol Bordello, the latter the best transplanted Ukrainian punk band in town. The rear is brought up by No Wavers lobbing their two cents about new bands, and… The End.
My take on the film is that Crary is enamored with the NYC urban decay heydays of the mid-70s, when parts of Manhattan looked like they were carpet-bombed and never re-built. Either that or it's the city seen in Escape From New York, The Warriors, and Taxi Driver. Or Detroit today. No Wave was the artiest anti-entertainment of those golden years, when junkies shot up in abandoned apartments and rats the size of cats ran over mountains of garbage in the street. Rents were cheap though, and bars cheaper. It’s then an awkward shift to Sonic Youth and The Swans, who serve as the film’s bridge between No Wave and random indigenous local bands from when Kill Your Idols came out in 2004.The whole time it's hard to tell if the film’s about music or NYC as a decrepit arts cesspool. A better film would have stuck with the original eighteen month rule of No Wave and how it was sparked by the city. You then have newer bands give modern perspective on it all, avoiding bands that have never performed to more than fifty people.
Kill Your Idol opens strong with Martin Rev speaking while Suicide’s “Ghost Rider” plays on the soundtrack. He sums up the era well, pointing out the glam of the NY Dolls was in response to the bloody reality of the Vietnam War. Suicide promoted themselves as a punk band back in 1971, a term Lester Bangs used to describe Iggy Pop. Archival footage is plentiful and artfully arranged in this opening segment. Lydia Lunch appears and gets a lot of attention throughout, looking in new footage like SNL’s Victoria Jackson with red hair. She revels in the olde days of “desperate, dirty, impoverished times.” She got her stage name by being the Dead Boys groupie who showed up to rehearsals with lunch for the band. Arto Lindsay of DNA says he wanted his band to be as different from other music as possible, and someone else says No Wave was “short, brief, aggressive outbursts of anti-music.” Most No Wave was either organized or random noise, and it never had a chance to be bigger than it was as the latest crazy thing in lower Manhattan, where snobs rubbed shoulders with slobs in search of danger and freaky misadventures. You don't need to be on drugs or psychotic to appreciate No Wave, but it certainly don't hoit!
Jim Foetus Thirwell is interviewed, and he now looks like William H. Macy with a curly mop of hair. I took notes on the newer bands, but that segment, sadly half the film, is a leap of faith as far as relevance goes. That’s probably the biggest mistake the film makes, thinking you can mix legends with unknowns and then give the latter most of the attention. A new wrinkle on annoying in my experience, various speakers’ words are cut together as if they’re completing the same sentence, and not only is is visually confusing, original context gets lost in the mix.
You can watch Kill Your Idols for free on Netflix, and the first eighteen minutes are worth your time. The Sonic Youth/Swans/Glenn Branca section is decent if you like those bands, and the last half I’d skip if either there’s something good on the Home Shopping Network or you see a bird outside your window. Tweet tweet, little fella.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space (video review) (Media Home): As a punky person you should be a fan of horror-comedies anyway, but Killer Klowns also sports a great title song by The Dickies, the video appearing after the closing credits. Filmed in 1987, the film has the feel of years earlier when new wave was still the friendlier face of punk. Two walk-on characters are listed as Punk #1 and Punk #2, but the punkiest they get is jewelry around their forearms and gooed-up hair. The lead characters have the oversized poofy hairstyles only achieved with a nuclear blow dryer. It’s muy 1980s.
Sure it's goofy, cheap and poorly written, but what stands out are the great clown costumes and effects. Costumes center on massive, grotesque klown heads given life by intricate mechanics and expert manipulation. 1993's Dead Alive featured similar foam creations to even greater effect. Killer Klown Director Stephen Chiodo never directed again but worked as an effects expert on the 1991 "Land Of The Lost" TV series and a number of Power Rangers projects. Killer Klown collector’s statues exist and are the overpriced joy of a few scattered horror geeks who should never meet in person.
All the clown clichés are represented - pie throwing, a spaceship shaped like a Big Top, guns that shoot cotton candy and popcorn, crazy straws, a Punch and Judy puppet show, and many klowns getting out of a little car. A river of meanness runs through the proceedings, giving an uncomfortable edge to the comedy. Slowly sucking blood through a crazy straw is more than creepy.
The sight gags are clever and the sets hypnotic for a small budget. An all-time classic is the shtick with the klown creating shadow puppets for an enthralled crowd, the last a dinosaur that swallows them whole. The dialogue is midnight movie-grade, like when they're being shot at with guns filled with popcorn, it's "Popcorn, why popcorn?!", "Cause' they're clowns, that's why." My favorite is when a man drives away frantically from a klown and he yells to himself, "Oh, no, Joe, get going!"
I thought Tim Burton possibly stole some ideas for Beetlejuice but they came out the same year. Filmed in Santa Cruz, California for those of you who keep score.
King Of Punk (DVD review): I've never seen a punk documentary with so many important participants in it that added up to almost nothing. Being the 63rd film of its kind, the indie filmmaking team of Kenneth and Julie van Schooten try to make it relevant and different by mixing the old with some new exploits of a no-name femme band from North Carolina and a promoter of neck-tattoo crusty shows in Boston. The target audience for this must be nineteen. Everything is so random it’s a series of meaningless sound bytes. On the plus side is access to members of important bands from Abrasive Wheels to the UK Subs. I’d avoid this at most costs. Its only redeeming qualities are being able to see how old everyone’s gotten, and how Jayne County is now a babooshka Al Lewis.
Here’s the old-timer role call: Cheetah Chrome, Joey Poophead, Jayne County, Sonny Vincent, Jake Burns, Bruce Foxton, Charlie Harper, El Vez, Wattie, Shonne & Dave Ryan, Marky Ramone, Dave Dictor, Ron Posner, Penelope Houston, Dave Parsons, Jack Rabid, and someone named Monkey. 2005’s King Of Punk lacks narrative structure so while everything everyone says makes sense on its own you have no immediate idea what they’re saying or why they’re saying it. If they’re being asked questions it’s edited out, so you feel like you’re constantly walking in on conversations in progress. The general themes are What Is Punk, What Were The Old Days Like, What’s The Punk Scene Like Now, and How Bitter Are You That You’re Broke And Still Playing Dives. As I say it’s the 63rd film of its kind.
The femme band featured is OBGYN, from Fayetteville, NC. They’re young and as worldly as the environs of Cumberland County allows. Basically a bunch of misfit mall rats there’s nothing particularly interesting about them besides the unintentional comedy of their words and exploits. One says “We’re too good to have influences!” Their music is loud and shapeless, making the Tribe 8 documentary seem in comparison more like The Last Waltz.
Showcasing DIY punk entrepreneurship is Boston’s industrious Pat Clement of FNS Productions, who in 2005 promoted shows and put out zines and the occasional record. His net worth seems to be $12.09 but he does what it takes and makes it happen. He has tattoos of bones on the back of his hands and his neck is seemingly where all colorful tattoo designs went to die.
A lot is said in King Of Punk but you have to work hard to remember any of it since it’s presented as blurbs. There’s constant references to Blink-182, as in they’re bad. That much I got. The bridge between old and new collapses onto itself immediately due to bad design and materials. The ever-wonderful Jayne County shills for the film with "King of Punk is a music history lesson. Look and learn! We need more and more music history, especially Punk!!!" King Of Punk is bad. What the world needs is a film about Jayne County, starring both the real Jayne today and an actor for the younger parts, taken directly from Man Enough To Be A Woman. Dat's right!
The Knack: Live from The Rock N Roll Fun House (video review): A few days separated watching and reviewing Rock N Roll Fun House because I wanted to be sure I couldn’t think of anything as ineffectual as this sixty minute promotional film. I imagine a Knack press conference for this where every reporter’s question was “Why?”
Released in 2002 as both a live cd and a promotional video, so much post-production went into the vocals (and possibly the instrumentation) that it’s as live as a Gregg Brady/Johnny Bravo concert. Filmed in a Long Beach film studio on a white set with white pedestals, a few rows of fans on bleachers in the back are a studio audience to what had to have been a long and involved shoot. I wasn’t there but the live concert feel was most likely non-existent. The set list is “Pop Is Dead”, “Baby Talks Dirty”, “Oh Tara”, “Can I Borrow a Kiss”, “Another Lousy Day in Paradise”, “Good Girls Don't”, “One Day at a Time”, “It's Not Me”, “Siamese Twins (The Monkey and Me)”, “Harder on You”, “Sweet Dreams”, “Seven Days of Heaven”, “That's What the Little Girls Do”, “My Sharona”, and “(Havin' a) Rave Up”.
The idea was to recreate the kitsch feel of Shindig! and Hullabaloo, which might have worked for a music video but doesn’t translate to a concert, especially when the musicians are far apart and three of the four are sequestered on pedestals. At one point Berton Averre and Prescott Niles crowd together on one pedestal like they’re breakin’ the rules, but besides professional and money considerations it’s as if the band’s only together because of a court order. The drummer’s a hired gun and as happy as a clam.
The show begins with singer Doug Fieger appearing against a simple backdrop in a long white wig as the host “Jimmy Lemon Jello”, based on Rodney Bingenheimer but looking closer to Cher. The songs are competent yet sterile, thanks in part to the production, finding and keeping The Knack 23 years removed from cultural relevance. They should have played a sweaty set at The Whiskey to reclaim their glory days and prove they still had it. Instead Doug chose to be unfunny and faux-live.
In the icky-poo department we’re reminded by the
filthy fifty year old
Fieger how creepy his lyrics can be, the lowlight his repeatedly singing “no f--kame
f--kame today” (from “(She’s So) Selfish”) like he’s the perp of the week on
Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit.
Poorly conceived and executed, Live From The Rock N Roll Funhouse is best best not seen or hopefully soon forgotten.
The Knack - Getting The Knack (video review): The Knack were a handful-of-hits wonder starting with 1979’s “My Sharona”, an infectious ditty that made them the biggest thing since sliced Beatles, the band they were compared to most as their record label beat that angle into a coma. The creepiness of their pedophilic lyrics, the assaholic smarminess of singer Doug Fieger, the Beatles comparisons and the inevitable backlash against overnight success made them yesterday’s news within a year, after two albums and endless touring. They put out more records, broke up, reformed, recorded again, broke up, reformed, repeat, but only the little girls cared.
2004’s Getting The Knack is a lively 85 minutes of Behind The Music-style dawdling on the band that single-handedly revived American power pop in the late 70s. Operating on the same Los Angeles Sunset Strip as The Wierdos, The Germs, and Glam Metal, The Knack, professional musicians all, tore it up without thrashing out. Believe it or not, Fieger was blown away by The Sex Pistols, and saw similarities in how he and Johnny Rotten dressed and worked the stage. On a relative scale, maybe so. Doug even says “The Knack couldn’t have happened if not for the Sex Pistols.” Really. Huh.
“My Sharona” gets top billing right away, and Sharona Alperin herself appears throughout. Doug admits most of his early songs were about Sharona, a notable exception being “Tara”, about Skafish’s roadie. Any day I can mention Jim Skafish is a gift. Alperin now sells high-end real estate to entertainers in L.A., and guess what song you hear when you visit her web site? How can something be so right and so wrong? Sharona was a Knackette, a group of underage girls from Fairfax High School who allegedly weren’t groupies. I have no proof otherwise, but, yeah. Defining creepy and uncomfortable in the new wave era, Sharona and Fieger were not romantically involved in any way at the time, but they were both in relationships, making Fieger feel sticky and everyone else icky. They started a relationship down the road that lasted for three years.
Ageless Cherie Currie of The Runaways appears throughout and provides sparse narration. Others include Weird Al, Bob Mothersbaugh, Steve Jones (ashamed to admit he loved The Knack while a Sex Pistol), Rick Springfield, all members of The Knack, rock critics, label execs and their studio producer. Doug Fieger initially comes off as contrite and introspective, but he says things that become BS once considered. He says his record label only spent $50,000 promoting the first album. What does that even mean? Fieger claims he started drinking and snorting coke because of low self-esteem, but by all accounts he was a motivated megalomaniac pricktard. His brain, larynx and mouth conspire to create vibrations received by the human eardrums as "Is it hot in here or is just my career?" Eventually he turned to heroin, over the line in the sand between recreational drug use and junkie city. The rest of the band are open, honest and seemingly normal.
The Knack were initially rejected by every major record label, but the Monday after Bruce Springsteen hopped on stage for a few songs they had fourteen offers. Get The Knack sold six million copies and set all kinds of records. As part of the backlash was the “Knuke The Knack” campaign, the brainchild of swap-meet entrepreneur Hugh Brown, who appears to laugh good-naturedly about his shirts, stickers and buttons, bought and worn by The Knack themselves. Doug blames their manager for keeping them on the road and not having them appear at The Grammys or on SNL, which was definitely not a plus. The backlash against The Knack was swift, brutal, and at the time it didn’t bother me one bit. I liked “My Sharona” on the level of it being a catchy power pop song, but they lacked the endearing eccentric sincerity of most other new wave bands. Their pedophile anthems also annoyed me. It’s mentioned their songs were “lust songs, not love songs”, and that they also wrote songs reflecting the horny mindset of fourteen year olds. That adds up to creepy. It doesn’t get any stupider than “Baby Talks Dirty”. Can you watch the video and not wince, Chester? Fieger looks like a cross between Chevy Chase and Eric Idle, and bassist Prescott Niles is fun to watch because he’s dressed and coifed like a capo in the gay mafia. No offense!
Getting The Knack by default plays out like an episode of Behind The Music, but it’s more subtle and doesn't hyperventilate in anticipation of commercial breaks. It’s honest, real and does both the band and history justice. I’ll watch this again, but not any time soon.
Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution is not an authorized history of Kraftwerk, but their music and videos are used freely. Karl Bartos, with the band from 1975 through 1991, provides level-headed and informative commentary. The Kraftwerk book from fellow second-tier member Wolfgang Flur was poorly received. Historians and scene band members tell their stories, many of which go on and on, and often on and on from there. Is it rude to edit people’s comments in that part of the world?
I’m indifferent to Krautrock, so I won’t get into how Kluster wired a kazoo to a car battery and electrocuted band member Klaus Von Shtoopenhauser, to the delight of 3,000 unsmiling hipsters. I did enjoy how Bowie and Eno came in during the mid-70s, when the German scene was stagnant, and gave post-punk a kick-start with Low and Heroes. I don’t like disco, so I’ll mention in passing that Giorgio Moroder stole from Kraftwerk to create the evil anti-Kraftwerk of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” and its hell-spawn. In a slow and laborious transition, Florian Schneider and Ralf Hutter moved from flute-flavored experimental jamming to structured rhythms and lyrics. They created asexual dance music and a healthy portion of new wave, only to have it bastardized into sex music so that funkless white people could put their hands in the air and bump their hips while making the “Ooo I’m naughty” face that made the 70s as embarrassing as the 60s. It's suggested Kraftwerk became dormant after 1981’s Computer World because the sounds and technologies they created were taken to the next level by hip-hop and every form of music that requires hallucinogens to tolerate. I used to think they didn’t want to cheapen their signature sound by dumbing it down, and that’s why their 2004 world tour, documented as Minimum-Maximum, rolls olde skool! But, in 1986 they did release Electric Café, which I shut out of my mind because it’s sad – a bear farting sadness sad.
Kraftwerk were long-haired hippies until they traveled to America to tour off the success of a radio edit for the 22:43 song “Autobahn”, their unintended answer to Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells”. They brought the flute. From then on they created strict visual and conceptual themes for each record, seeing themselves first as retrograde German youth from an idealized, imagined past where there was never a Hitler, ending up as robots from the Man Machine who toured with real robots for Computer World. 1975’s Radio-Activity was there first all-electronic album, followed by their best reviewed work, 1977’s Trans-Europe Express, then the almost as good The Man Machine in 1978 and 1981’s Computer World.
Karl Bartos reminisces that the band thought “The Model” would have been a bigger hit if it had a chorus. I imagine the opposite is true, at least in how the song would have aged. Bartos has no problem with UK synth bands who added indigenous Brit-Pop to the Kraftwerk sound, but he mocks Gary Numan, who brazenly swiped the Man-Machine visual motif. Numan’s mannerisms were pure Bowie. Dave Ball of Soft Cell recounts how he and Marc Walnut recorded their demos, collected as The Bedsit Tapes and worth a listen, as their take on punk rock Kraftwerk. France’s Metal Urbain was the real deal in that regard, but for Soft Cell it was pretty close.
I’ve collected a bazillion songs influenced directly and indirectly by Kraftwerk, and you can download them all for free here. Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution runs long but you’ll learn more than you need to know about German electronic music, which is only a bad thing if it displaces vital information like remembering to flush the toilet the first time you take a monster dump at your girlfriend’s parent’s house.
Kurt & Courtney (video review) (BMG): I'm reviewing this because former Mentors frontman El Duce appears on screen, and local hero Allen Wrench is referred to in passing as Kurt's possible assassin. I know and care little about Kurt Cobain - sensitive, angst-ridden drug pin-cushion; and his lovely bride Courtney Love – a 90's sycophant drug pin-cushion Nancy Spungen. By all accounts Courtney is a psychopath, Kurt grasped onto her as a means of quickening his own self destruction, and now he's dead. Did Kurt kill himself? Did Courtney pay someone, perhaps Allen Wrench, to execute the grungemeister because he was about to leave her? Only Courtney and Allen know for sure, because both Kurt and El Duce are musical de-composers, if you get my drift. (They're dead and rotting. Must I explain everything to you?)
Fearless documentarian Nick Broomfield explores the drug-hazed and image-whoring world of fringe rock and roll. Kurt & Courtney is as much about the director's attempts to get the film made as it is about Kurt and Courtney. His funding was eventually cut off due to music industry pressure, yet he finished the film and it went on to be a hit at the Sundance Film Festival.
There's a lot for Courtney Love to hate about Kurt & Courtney. Her own father wrote two books on Kurt that asserts he was murdered, and numerous times he indirectly implicates his daughter. Tom Grant, a P.I. hired by Love to search for Kurt during the four days between the day he died and when he was found, has devoted his life to promoting the idea Courtney was involved. El Duce (pronounced L. Dooch-ay), without a moment of hesitation, says Courtney offered him $50,000 to murder Cobain. A former boyfriend lays out his own history with her and presents a crazed, violent, controlling monster who would stop at nothing to manipulate others for personal gain. The last Cobain family nanny thinks Kurt was murdered. The list goes on. Courtney literally is Nancy Spungen, but with more talent and ambition. In the film someone says Courtney idolized the Sid & Nancy relationship. Who says movies can't be a blueprint for beautiful living?
Love's dad is a money-grabbing opportunist. Tom Grant vainly grabs for a gold ring that doesn't exist as he falls into bankruptcy in pursuit of the case. The nanny (and others) are seemingly sedated. A "friend" is supposed to supply proof she knew Kurt & Courtney, but that never materializes. Are these people reliable? Are they afraid of Courtney's retribution? It's hard to say, and director Nick Broomfield doesn't know what to make of it either. At one point he starts to believe in the murder theory, but by the end he doubts it was anything but suicide. As he explained in an interview after the film's release, "...not that he was murdered, but that there was just a lack of caring for him. I just think that Courtney had moved on, and he was expendable."
To bring the story into the present, letters in punk rags drum up the idea that Allen Wrench, lead singer of Kill Allen Wrench and the last man to see El Duce alive before he kissed a speeding train, earned the $50,000 hit money and then offed his pal Duce for knowing too much. El Duce says he knows who did the hit, and in the film he says, "I told Allen, I mean, uh, my friend (laughs)...I'll let the FBI catch him..." It’s not exactly ironclad proof but Nirvana fans who believe in the murder angle think Allen Wrench did it. On his band's web page Allen himself is milking it for all it's worth. I'm staying out of it - but I do know Allen can take care of himself. And how. If you want to wind up unconscious in fourteen seconds, call out Allen Wrench. For yuks he competes in Ultimate Fighting matches.
Kurt & Courtney is a small film about small people who just so happen to be famous. It's definitely worth watching, and then watching again so you can look deeper into the faces of the losers who populate the film. Many celebrities, especially Kurt and Courtney, are little more than a combination of human and pathetic - not the stuff of myth and worship by any account.
Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (video review) (Paramount): This is the Holy Grail of American punk movies, in that it's nearly impossible to find. Out of print and most people's memories, the copy I tracked down was a bootleg from VH1, who probably paid $1.47 for the broadcast rights. They only screen it to show Diane Lane, Laura Dern and Christine Lahti early in their careers in a movie they all probably wished never existed. The threat of showing it might have been used by VH1 as blackmail.
Released in 1982, this musical drama is a mishmash of Breaking Glass and Times Square, both from 1980. Diane Lane and Laura Dern look all their sixteen jailbait years. In supporting roles are Steve Cook and Paul Jones from the Sex Pistols, Paul Simonon from The Clash and Fee Waybill of The Tubes. Los Angeles' campy Black Randy and the Metro Squad hit the small time and wig out on stage. A few songs from Cook & Jones' band The Professionals are given a good workout ("Conned Again" and "Join The Professionals"), and Lane's character makes herself over to look like Bow Wow Wow's underage sex kitten Annabella Lwin. Lane and Dern's girl band, The Stains, play a few songs but I don't know who's behind that. The first is a primitive number worthy of Beat Happening and the rest could be on the next album by The Donnas. The music is very good and has aged well.
Plot summary, all spoilers: A defensive, street smart orphan girl, her sister and their cousin are in a sub-garage band called The Stains. Lane sees The Looters (think The Professionals) and asks the singer for advice. The Looters are supporting a faded acid rock band called The Metal Corpses (think Spinal Tap) led by wishy-washy loser Waybill (think Dee Snyder). To keep the peace between the two bands the Rasta tour manager hires The Stains sight unseen as a third act. The first night they play, the squares hate The Stains and get a few mouthfuls of vindictiveness tossed back at them from the stage. The Metal Corpses' bass player overdoses and a reporter assumes Lane's character, Third Degree Burns, was the old fart's girlfriend. She lies to get attention and another reporter at the TV station sees this as her own chance for national exposure. She trumpets The Stains as the next big thing amongst rebellious girls, which they quickly become. Scores of fans bleach white lines in their hair, call themselves "skunks", wear shear red blouses with no bra underneath and chant the mantra "We Don't Put Out" (Like Britney Spears!). The Looter's lead singer, Billy, is initially supportive to get some of Lane's jailbait, but turns ugly when The Stains get huge. Well, she's been using him too and steals his best song! The Looters' manager sees the marketing potential for The Stains and makes a killing selling hair dye, blouses and press kits to the legions of new Stains fans. The Looters are now the Stain's opening act and get booed by a sea of Skunk clones. Billy makes a speech about the crowd selling out, and by the time The Stains hit the stage the crowd is against the band they dressed up to see. After the manager says "I don't want to be cruel, but you were just a concept, and now you've blown the concept", it looks like The Stains are left with nothing....but!, in a thirty second fadeout we learn they did make it big on MTV and their records went on to sell a bazillion copies. The...end.
The film is decent enough but it gets increasingly silly as it goes along. At least three screenwriters are credited, and it's as if they added to the work of the last writer by tacking on new, random scenes. The dialogue is generally sharp but the newscaster segments and the media-as-star-maker theme is heavy handed and too obvious. Nice lines like "Everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die" are diminished by others like "Life is to be lived right now, not tomorrow". Billy's speech that turns a crowd of hysterical Stains fans into Stains haters is completely unbelievable. If hundreds of Stains drones spent the last five minutes giving you the finger and yelling for you to get off the stage, telling them they're losers for being manipulated for profit isn't going to win them over. It's a plot necessity played too cheaply and easily.
All in all, Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains is better than Times Square but not as good as Breaking Glass. Not that Breaking Glass was a winner. Cook and Jones have a few lines they don't botch, Simonon keeps his pretty mouth shut and Waybill steals the show as a neurotic old rock star has-been.
- Boat In The Smoke (DVD review): London's
Punkervision does da lawd's work by producing the highest quality punk
concert dvds at the lowest prices. Here they cover two
Leatherface shows from 2001 and 2004. Leatherface is not a great live band -
ok - they might be a great live band but I'm blind to it since it's nothing
compared to their best studio work.
I've been a Leatherface fanatic since I found a used copy of Mush in the mid-‘90s. Before that all you could find was Cherry Knowle, an average UK Subs-ish album of no real import. Mush came out of nowhere, creating a sound and emotional feel so ahead of its time it's still not given it's full due today. Internal issues tore at the band, and the two albums that followed had shining moments but were doomed with filler, knocking the band off the wave they created.
In 1999 BYO Records ensured their place in the next life by pulling Frankie Stubbs & Co. off their arses to record a split with Hot Water music and then Horsebox the next year. Mush, the split CD and Horsebox are perfect albums. What you hear on them has been endlessly copied before and after, and The Kids need to have it tattooed on their foreheads that Leatherface doesn't sound like any band that came after them. These other bands are copying Leatherface. To say otherwise is like insisting ska came from reggae. I'm a member of the Leatherface death cult but I know where they fall short. Mush needs to be remixed and the excellent Dog Disco sounds like it was recorded by a deaf person. Most of my reviews are at the bottom of this page.
I saw Leatherface live around 2000 and the show was horrible. There was only one guitar, which for Leatherface is like swimming with one hand. They were drunk and played every song as trash hardcore to keep The Kids attentive. The two shows on this DVD are better than what I saw, but to fans blown away by how songs like "Sour Grapes" and "Springtime" sound with good headphones the live show without the second lead guitar has to be missing the something that makes Leatherface so important.
Leatherface live is no way to introduce someone to Leatherface. That's only with a good stereo, good headphones and the background info to know that what you're hearing is derived from other sources but original to Leatherface, the best thing to come from Sunderland since...hey, does anything else come from Sunderland?
Lene Lovich: Live From New York At Studio 54 (DVD review): This is the 2007 release of a 1981 show at the legendary disco hell Studio 54, where the best of the worst snorted powders and boogie-oogied the night away. It was most likely a media showcase for the American born, UK-raised Lili-Marlene Premilovich, known to Jerry Lewis as “Hey lady!” and the rest of us as Lene Lovich, the other white meat Nina Hagen. She looks a little like Kate Bush, but recent pictures show she’s aged into a crazed rag-doll babooshka. The tape’s dated yet entertaining.
Lene paid her dues busking on subways and performing at cabarets, where women with a can-can-do attitude were asked back to perform for more spare change. Campy verboten cabaret was for her both a winning gimmick and a built-in limitation (fellow oddity Klaus Nomi's win-lose was campy spaceman opera), but thankfully for Lene her catalog is filled with enough hits to make her career more than a new wave footnote. The show slows down when she performs hyperactive Kurt Weill-inspired numbers, where surreal pop-eyed expressions make her either Marlene Dietrich as Gloria Swanson as Nora Desmond, or once again a less insane Nina Hagen. She’s backed by handsome baldy guitarist/husband Les Chappell and Thomas Dolby on keyboards. He wrote her hit “New Toy”. Toss a bucket of paint on Chappell and he’d be perfect in the Blue Man Group. She’s considered a soprano singer, for what that’s worth. Klaus Nomi sang soprano falsetto.
A few cameras are in use, one on stage, one directly in front and at least one more in the back of the room A few cheesy effects are added, because like it said in the manual for the editing deck, the equipment was made to do it, and more often than needed the colors are saturated like a cheap cassette deck with the needles in the red zone.
In the 54 minute set I liked “Say When”, “Lucky Number” (nice farfisa solo), “New Toy”, “Angels”, “Home” (her best song) and “One In A Million”. She works the stage and crowd well, but her dance moves and flash-frozen facial wackiness wore thin more quickly than I expected. It was that many motions and every quick-freeze expression was made exclusively for flash photography. Lene also plays the saxophone, which is great, but with everything else going on I was thinking she’d end the show by spinning plates. Old new wave 4ever!
I seem to be putting down Lene Lovich, but I’m not. I’m a fan and even have her autograph on the cover for No Man’s Land, which tripped up her career nicely. I kid because I love.
Rock Again! (video review):
Let’s Rock Again! is entertaining and well made but also somewhat dishonest.
Not dishonest on the part of
Joe Strummer, whom I’ve always thought of as pathologically earnest even
when spouting nonsense, but
complicit in the dog and pony show put on by director Dick
You might remember him as Duke in Repo Man:
[Duke has been shot in a botched holdup.]
Duke: The lights are growing dim. I know a life of crime led me to this sorry fate... And yet, I blame society. Society made me what I am.
Otto Maddox: Bulls--t! You're a white suburban punk, just like me!
Duke: But it still hurts!
Otto Maddox: You're gonna be all right. [Duke groans pitifully] Maybe not.
Let’s Rock Again! constructs a relatively false narrative of a simple man long removed from the public eye, trudging his way across Japan and the US with only a song in his heart and his backup band The Mescaleros. He humbly approaches the locked fortress of a NJ radio station asking admission from an unknowing fool on an intercom to promote that night’s show. Later he scribbles homemade flyers and hands them out on the Atlantic City boardwalk to disinterested passersby who’d rather play the slots than see the former lead light of The Clash rip it up on stage. Joe then walks to the ocean and I’m expecting a song from Quadrophenia to swell up. Then there’s Joe giving opinions and answering questions, which he was incapable of not doing, so when he says he doesn’t have opinions my mind’s spit-take is one for the books.
First of all Joe Strummer was a wealthy man with a steady stream of royalties arriving in the post. When he died in 2002 he was worth over a million pounds, then about $1,600,000 + dollars. The film avoids all logistical issues that indicate money and planning. How do they get around, what kind of hotels do they stay in, how big of a crew do they travel with and how much equipment do they haul? I haven’t seen a drum kit that big since the last prog rock convention blew into town. In Let’s Rock Again! Joe only has the clothes on his back and the world’s moved on from his relevance. Time has made him wise and reflective, and his simple positive energy is what keeps him going. To an extent this is true, but it’s also true that Joe formed his new band because he wanted to and had the means to make it happen. There was no need to hide any of this, and it would have made the film, which is still pretty good, that much better. As is I’m not convinced certain scenes weren’t prefabricated for the camera.
The sound quality is excellent and the editing flawless and entertaining. Concert scenes are shot with multiple cameras and the walk-arounds with a hand-held. The songs are mostly what I’ll call World Rock, combining world music and rock, with the occasional diversion into dub reggae. Their touring set included a few Clash songs and a Ramones encore, but the only one they show is “London’s Burning”, nicely done but it’s funny to see a violin player wailing away at it like Charlie Daniels. Seven minutes too long at 67 minutes it doesn’t show full length songs, which keeps the content mix churning. It’s Joe backstage, the band backstage, Joe walking around, Joe interacting with fans, the band plays, Joe sits back and pontificates, repeat. It’s a nice selection but after a few times around the track the points have all been made and now it’s simply clocking overtime.
Joe’s fun to listen to because he reflexively starts speaking and you can tell even he doesn’t know what he thinks until he finishes talking. He’s soft-spoken, sincere, and seemingly devoid of ego, so what he says rarely comes across as anything more than pleasantly interesting. He’ll sign anything, shake every hand, return every hug, pose for pictures with the patience of Buddha, and he talks to all with kindness as a peer. That’s a fine set of qualities and I know it’s real because I was backstage after The Clash played Richmond, VA on their Rock The Cashbar tour, catering to thousands of jocks in camouflage army pants (and their girlfriends in tow). The Clash’s dressing room was filled with kids, and reggae music played as Joe held court and explained the Joe Strummer Method. Here’s some Joe quotes:
“I’m glad I had the full experience from hero to
(on the lobby phone at the radio station) “”I used to be in The Clash, so it’s kinda rock music.”
I’ve played to an empty room. Once you’ve done that then you’re grateful to have one man and a dog in the room.”
“I hate to even think what songs are about, ‘cause you fear they’re about nothing”
I don’t believe that last line. It was obvious he cared very much about words, ideas and causes. Let’s Rock Again! is worth watching but understand it’s a contrived product. The narrative is wrong but it’s still enjoyable.
Lifestyles Of The Ramones (video review) (Warner): This 1990 collection celebrates the Ramones' fifteen year anniversary with interviews and videos. They couldn't afford Robin Leach so they hired a voice actor to do a bad imitation. Thankfully the narration ends quickly. The video opens with Joey Ramone reading the scripted line of "It wasn't always peaches and cream. We had humble beginnings", and you think the tape might be one long skit, but pretty soon it's all testimonials and videos. Early CBGBs scenesters Debbie Harry (funny and deadpan), Seymour Stein, three of four Talking Heads and the Ramones themselves give color commentary while Joey's mom, WNEW's Vin Scelsa and others put in their two cents about the best and most influential band in punk history. Don't get me wrong, not everything they've done has been great but the Ramones are to punk what God is to religion.
Ramones videos are simple and to the point, like the band itself. Only one video ("I Wanna Live") is artsy and serious. Videos mostly have the Ramones either playing their instruments or standing without, often switching back and forth.
Highlights: "Psycho Therapy": our heroes in a psych ward, playing as the Ramones and also stuck there as loonies playing imaginary instruments. Their friends ham it up for the camera. "Something To Believe In": a light-hearted parody of Live-Aid and all other rock star charity gigs. Here it's Ramones Aid. There's actors who look like Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson, but also on hand are Penn & Teller, Spinal Tap, Sparks, Weird Al Yankovic, X, Rodney (on the Rock) and Mary Woronov (Miss Togar from Rock N Roll High School). It looks like they had a fun making this one. "I Wanna Be Sedated": the best Ramones video. Shot in one long take, the Ramones eat cereal at a table in the foreground while 30+ extras in costume run around the wide hallway set doing nutty things. The Ramones move slowly to speed up the action around them, and while the final product doesn't have them moving in real time, the effect is like stop animation and it works well.
The videos on this tape are: "Do You Remember Rock N Roll Radio", "We Want The Airwaves", "Psycho Therapy", "Time Has Come Today", "Howling At The Moon (Sha-La-La)", Something To Believe In", "I Wanna Live", "I Wanna Be Sedated", Pet Sematary", "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight", and "I Believe In Miracles".
Liquid Sky (1983) (Video review): Starring androgynous model Anne Carlisle, Liquid Sky is a new wave, high-fashion drug and sex-addled science fiction fantasy about the seamier side of New York's club scene. It's like Andy Warhol's Factory except everybody's wearing Klaus Nomi fashions and painting their faces in Kabuki. You can tell it's new wave because there's acres of neon and day-glo colors. Everybody's an asshole, and everybody treats everyone else like garbage. For those who say, "Oh, but that's real", I say so is being nice.
The plot revolves around a spaceship the size of a large dinner plate landing on a lower Manhattan penthouse to feed off of a chemical in the brain triggered by heroin. Oddly enough, orgasms produce a similar chemical. [Woody Allen: "I've never had the wrong kind [of orgasm]…My worst one was right on the money."] The penthouse is home to a heroin dealer and her girlfriend Margaret, played by Carlisle, a model of the androgynous alien school. Well, one rape leads to another and guys are dying left and right with a crystal spike in their heads. I could tell you the rest, but why spoil all the, uh, fun?
When Carlisle plays Jimmy she looks like David Bowie. I couldn't stop staring at her frozen upper lip and milky gray teeth. The script makes wild statements about drugs throughout history, sexuality and the meaning of Fashion and Life, in that order. "All of your costumes, they're just participation in some kind of phony theater". And then there's a piece of dialogue that's a tribute to Plan 9 From Outer Space, "You're nothing. You're nobody. You're nothing, you're nothing". The soundtrack reminded me of The Normals' "Warm Leatherette" and other bands on Mute Records.
When this came out everyone made a big deal because it was a new wave film starring an androgynous actress playing both a woman and a man. Wow. The idea that heroin and orgasms produce the same chemical compound became conversation starters at parties. Liquid Sky is now dated and looks cheap. The actors can't act and the characters are mostly dumb cartoons. I guess you have to give Liquid Sky points for originality and weirdness, but that's about it. A little sense of humor would have helped.
If I liked this film I would have said, "It puts the Alien in Alienation!!" It's too late to be quoted in the newspaper ads so I'll just tell you the truth – it’s not very good.
The Little Shop Of Horrors (video review): I've seen this b&w 1960 Roger Corman horror- comedy (the one without the singing) maybe twenty times. Fans like myself go nuts over the actors and digest trivia like Rolaids on Death Row. Few involved agree on details like the budget or how many days of shooting were involved. The making of this film is legendary, but the legend changes constantly.
Word has it Corman, who looks like Hugh Hefner, decided to make a film, any film, on sets left over from another director's movie. Some say he was dared to do it by the other director (possibly his brother Gene), while others insist he simply saw the chance to save a few bucks. I'd go with the latter since Corman could squeeze a quarter till the eagle screamed. From start to finish the production might have taken a week, but Mel Welles claims the actors studied their lines for three weeks. You'll read that Little Shop was filmed in two days, two and a half days, two days and two nights, or two days and four nights. Corman says two days and one night. Jackie Joseph claims the filming was rushed to meet a completion deadline of New Years 1959-60, when new laws on residual payments to actors were to go into effect. Being a quickie there were few retakes, but Corman rolled three cameras at once, the system made famous by Desilu Studios on "I Love Lucy". To ensure a speedy shoot he insisted on experienced stage actors and had them learn the entire script.
Charles B. Griffith wrote the script in four days but it was basically a clever rehash of his 1958 film Bucket Of Blood, the latter with Dick Miller as the nebbish. Corman didn't want another comedy after the box office failure of Bucket Of Blood, and either Griffith lied about his intentions, or at the beginning he really did intend to write a straight police thriller. If that happened, Frank Stoolie and Sgt. Joe Fink would have been the stars instead of a running Dragnet gag.
Griffith plays the role of the burglar, the man who runs screaming from the dentist's office and the voice of Seymour Junior. Griffith's father is the first dental patient and Mel Welles' wife played the prostitute. The derelicts employed as set dressing were real local bums paid ten cents each. They'd walk past the camera, collect their coins, board the "Night Train", then come back later. The scenes at the railroad track were paid for with a bribe of two bottles of scotch. The other outdoor scenes were filmed on the sly.
The Little Shop Of Horrors is a beatnik horror-comedy written in the tradition of Yiddish theater. It's the same humor you find in Warner Brothers cartoons and old vaudeville acts like The Marx Brothers and The Three Stooges. The lady who comes in daily to buy flowers for her dead relatives is Sadie Shiva, Shiva being the Jewish period of mourning. Mel Welles chose a Sephardic accent for Mushnick. Names like Seymour Krelboined (the last name used as an insult on the TV show Malcolm In The Middle) , Gravis Mushnick, Audrey Fulquard, Burson Fouch, Dr. Phoebus Farb and Hortense Feuchtwanger are what you might call Ellis Island jokes. Mushnick's mangling of the English language gets some of the film's biggest laughs. Other character names (Sgt. Joe Fink, Frank Stoolie, and Wilbur Force) are gentile plays on words. Not that I know for sure, but I imagine the old Parkay Margarine ad where the tub says "Butter!" was swiped from Audrey Junior's quick take of "Feed me!" Little Shop of Horrors and Bucket Of Blood are also probably the first modern horror-comedies because they're hip, edgy and intelligent.
Here's info on the starring actors: Jonathan Haze (Seymour) - Appeared in a number of Corman films and worked behind the camera in production and prop-making. Appeared last year in a Corman TV mini-series, The Phantom Eye. In Little Shop he wore loose clothes to cover his muscular build. His cousin was drumming legend Buddy Rich. Jackie Joseph (Audrey) - The quality Corman wanted for her role was, in her words, "sincere innocence", which she nailed perfectly. Married Ken Berry (F Troop, Momma's Family), later divorced and started a support group for divorced spouses of celebrities. On the Board Of Directors of the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA. Long-time animal activist. Among many other TV roles, she appeared on the 1961 Bob Newhart Show, The Munsters, The Brady Bunch, Hogan's Heroes and The Andy Griffith Show. Provided the voice of Melody for Josie And The Pussycats and was a voice actor for Scooby and Scrappy Doo. Last seen on the big screen in Small Soldiers, and fans went nuts in 1984 and 1990 when she and Dick Miller played The Futtermans in Gremlins and Gremlins II. Mel Welles ("Flowers-Fresh-As-The-Springtime" Mushnick, the "Bloom Tycoon") - The man does it all. Visit his web site at www.melwelles.com. Speaks five languages, earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, claims to have dubbed over 700 films (he calls himself the "Godfather of the Dubbing World"), directed twelve movies under the name "Ernst von Theumer", appeared in sixty films, directs orchestras, was on the CBS radio news staff for five years, appeared in 300 TV episodes, provided voice acting for hundreds of radio and TV commercials, animated cartoons, promos and narrations, lived in 28 countries and created and conducted an assortment of seminars and experimental workshops for Fortune 500 Industry executives on "Effectiveness". At the time of Little Shop, Welles was the acknowledged west coast expert on beatnik lingo. He looks old enough to be Jackie Joseph's father, but he's only three years older. Dick Miller (Fouch) - Nearly a religious institution in b-movie circles, he recently passed away. Appeared in over 110 films and a number of TV shows, sometimes given the name "Walter Paisley" in honor of his starring role in Bucket Of Blood. Myrtle Vail (Mrs. Krelboined) - Veteran of Yiddish stage theatre, she steals the movie as an alcohol-loving hypochondriac. Jack Nicholson (Wilbur Force) - Los Angeles Lakers’ groupie. Little Shop was his third film appearance, and damn was he thin then. Then again, so was Sinatra and Brando.
Little Shop of Horrors is available in a badly colorized version, a 3-D version, a fency-schmency quality print and in a variety of poor quality public-domain tapes selling for a few dollars. The scratchy public-domain tapes don't detract much from what was a poorly shot film to begin with. When the 1980 off-Broadway musical was made in to a major motion picture in 1984 the public-domain tapes dried up.
Here are some of my favorite lines from the film (only 70 minutes long), or at least the ones that work as well on paper as they do on the screen:
(Gravis, being asked for a discount) "Look on me, Mrs. Shiva. Vat am I, a philatelist? I sell on Skid Row nothing but cheap carnations, and I should give you a cut rate. I can't even afford water for the flowers. To my own throat I would be giving a cut." (G, after arguing with Dr. Farb on his measly flower order) "Who am I to argue with science?" (G, after Seymour asks if he was being yelled for in the back) "No, I was calling John D. Rockefeller for to make a loan on my Rolls Royce!" (on radio as S enters mother's apartment) "This is Radio KSIK. You've been listening to "Music For Old Invalids". Our next selection is titled "Sick Room Serenade" (S's Mother, giddy upon pulling out bottle from paper bag) "Doctor Slurpsaddle's Famous Tonic. (Reads label) To be taken internally or externally for pain of neuritis, neuralgia, headache... if hit by a truck, call your physician... alcoholic content , 98%!!!! Oh Seymour, you'll never know what this is going to do for me (drinks) Oh, I can feel that surge of warm health going through me already (burps)" (G to S when he hesitates revealing the name he gave the plant) "Vat, you gave it a dirty name you can't even mention it?!" (A) "Don't feel sad Seymour." (S) "Don't waste your pity on me, Audrey. I'm not worth it." (A) "Who says you're not?" (S) "Everybody." (A), "Yeah, I know.... I think you're a fine figurative of a man." (A to S) "Don't worry, You'll be another Luther Glendale". (S, correcting her) "Pasadena". (A) "Burbank". (S to Audrey Jr. upon realizing it feeds on blood) "Who woulda thought it? Well, I guess there's just no accounting for people's tastes." (G, admiring the plant's initial growth) "It grows like a cold sore from the lip." (G, choking up while talking to two high school girls) "You got ta-ta-ta two thousand dollars just for to spend on flowers? Who died, the Chamber Of Commerce?" (G to S when he fantasizes he'll be rich) "Do you see that big sign in the sky? It says 'Gravis Mushnick'... in French!" (G, upon seeing the dying plant) "I can see it all now, We are in the poor house. That big sign in the sky, it's reading 'Seymour Krelboined, R.I.P, in Arabic !!!!" (S to newly talkingA Jr.) "I never been to college and I ain't been around much, but I'd be willing to bet there ain't no such thing as a talking plant... but I'll take your word for it." (G to A in restaurant) "Now dat is what I call a salad. What do you call that salad?" (A) "Caesarean." (Dr. Farb looking in Seymour's mouth) "I'll have this one, and this one, and that one, and I have to have this one Seymour!!!" (S) "It's only one tooth." (F) "Seymour, who's the dentist here, you or me? Are you practicing dentistry without a license?" (Wilbur Force to S as dentist) "Now, no Novocaine. It dulls the senses." (A Jr. to S, carrying a dead body) "Feed Me!!!!" (S) "Aw, take it easy, Dracula. What do ya think I'm carrying here, my dirty laundry?" (G to A Jr.) "Who would you like to have tonight?" (A Jr.) "You look fat enough." (G) "We not only got a talking plant, we have one that makes wit smart cracks. Well, you listen to me, you botanical bum, food you wouldn't get, not from Gravis Mushnick!" (S) "There ain't another cook in the whole world like my ma." (Mother) "That's what your old man said before the louse ran out on me." (Prostitute to S) "How's the rain on the rhubarb?" (Seymour's Mother to police officer Frank Stoolie) "Let me see your tongue.... know what you got? (Stoolie) "Just the facts, maam."
Live From Hurrah’s: Back In The Day (dvd review): This sampler of thirty concert clips from the archives of 70s’ NYC rock disco Hurrah (interchangeable with Hurrah’s) is straightforward and maybe a bit of a wasted opportunity to delve into Hurrah’s as a local institution. Maybe the story of Hurrah’s isn’t much to tell but they catered to a variety of urban bohemians and many arty bands played there. Some were fantastic and few of them are on this disc.
There exists a literal mountain of live concert films and audio recordings we’ll never see or hear because the rights aren’t secured to do so. In my own experience WLIR broadcast weekly concerts (2,200 of them) and the 9:30 Club taped most shows. This must have been going on everywhere and the inventory of shows taped off the board must have approached either infinity or the speed of light. Some very lucky people have access to these materials. There’s a Hurrah’s archive clip site whose purpose is unclear. Check it out.
Live From Hurrah’s often goes out of its way to avoid hits, which might be clever if something deeper is revealed, but here that’s not the case. Does anyone want to hear Lene Lovich perform “Monkey Talk”, or The Monochrome Set play an instrumental? That’s a rhetorical question whose answer is no. The sound quality isn’t great but it is discernable, and while filming is single camera and dark there’s an intimacy to some of it that’s engaging. There’s no lack of energy in the performances and the artist vibe is strong.
My favorite tracks were from The Go-Gos, The Teardrop Explodes, The Au Pairs, The Modettes, Pylon. ODW, Shox Lumania, and The Waitresses. The act I’d never heard of who surprised me with his songwriting talent was Joey Wilson. Here’s the bands: The Go-Gos, The Fleshtones, The Skids, The teardrop Explodes, Snakefinger, The Raybeats, The Del Byzanteens, Buxx & The Flyers, The Bongos, The Au Pairs, Joey Wilson, Lene Lovich, The Piranahs, Action Combo, The Swollen Monkeys, Monochrome Set, The Mo-Dettes, ODW, Ballistic Kisses, Polyrock, Pylon, Shox Lumania, The Method Actors, Defunkt, Liquid Liquid, Magazine, The Public Servants, The Waitresses.
I liked much of Live From Hurrah’s but I’m predisposed to do so. It mostly made me wish I had access to full shows from bands I like. It also made me wish I had a pony (again).
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