Sid And Nancy to Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture
Sid And Nancy - (video) (1986): What has eight arms and kills its girlfriend? Squid Vicious! Get it?! That joke kills every time. Zing!! Seriously, punks have a soft spot for dead losers whose only talents were public stupidity and self-destruction. The big three are GG Allin, Darby Crash, and the Elvis of punk idiocy -- Sid Vicious. Writer/Director Alex Cox (Repo Man) filmed this "tragic, brutal love story" about Sid & his American pin-cushion Nancy Spungen, and in many ways this is a great film. I am turned off by any attempt to turn these two pathetics into tragic heroes.
Sid Vicious was considered retarded even by his friends. He was a violent alcoholic. He couldn't play bass and was in the Sex Pistols only for shock value. He almost single-handedly gave early UK punk its violent reputation. He loved to throw glasses and utensils at people's heads. He also may have invented pogo dancing. Nancy Spungen as a heroin addict and a groupie. She was so annoying everyone hated her. She did to The Pistols what Yoko Ono did to The Beatles.
On the plus side this is truly a major motion picture. The acting by the two leads is amazing! Gary Oldman as Sid gives the kind of brain-dead performance that usually wins Oscars. Chloe Web is even better, completely over the top without chewing the scenery. It’s method acting at its best. The cinematography and set design are also first rate. The scene where Nancy pleads with her parents for drug money must be rewound and seen again. Her transition from manipulative liar to panicked, screaming junkie is right there. I've ever been a junkie, but it scared the hell out of me to watch it.
On the minus side, supporting actors were poorly cast. I've heard rednecks do a better English accent than the bloke playing Johnny Rotten. He's also too plump. The guy playing Paul Cook looks about fourteen years old. Malcolm McLaren's character is more subdued, which means only 1/2 way to a full Johnny Rotten imitation. Characters and situations have to be established quickly so there's a rush of punk clichés that make punks look dumb as bricks. Maybe it has to be that way to quickly establish a mood, but punks haven't looked this stupid since the punk episode of "Quincy".
Sid And Nancy exists somewhere between 1945's The Lost Weekend and the more recent Leaving Las Vegas. Sid & Nancy are portrayed as doomed lovers spiraling down life's drain, paddling along with the current. I didn't see beauty, just two morons who found each other and helped pull the other down that much faster. Sid is laughingly portrayed as an innocent soul. In reality he was a violent cretin. Nancy is the hurt little girl. If Nancy ever got in touch with her "inner child" she'd sell it into prostitution for drug money. The Malcolm character says of Sid, "Sidney's more than a mere bass player. He's a fabulous disaster. He's a symbol, metaphor. He embodies the dementia of a nihilistic generation. He's a fugging star!" I think McLaren let Sid into the Pistols because he expected the band to have the same shelf life as his trendy line of clothing.
The second half of the film runs out of steam once it veers from the Sex Pistols history it worked so hard to recreate. The portrayal of real punk scenesters isn't great but it's better than watching Sid & Nancy die slowly inside and out. The Circles Jerks and Iggy Pop are listed in the credits but I don't remember seeing them in the film. Joe Strummer of The Clash contributed soundtrack music and sings the movie's theme song (and original title) "Love Kills". Joe and Sid were good friends till the end, and I wonder what he thought of the film. Johnny Rotten hated Sid & Nancy, and if I was him I'd feel the same way. The guy who plays him looks more like Danny Bonaduce than Mr. Green-Teeth himself. Courtney Love is here too, playing a junkie (!) and mumbling her way toward a SAG union card. Do I like this movie? To be honest, I have no idea.
Sin City is the dumbest movie I've
seen in a good long while. It's Sado-Noir. Oooo, I just made that up. Now I'll
scat for you: skeep bop boop, a flopity snoop.. Yeah!!!!!
Style is not substance when it's made up entirely of cliché. Comic books are for kids and the harder you try to prove they're not the more it's proven they are. I own 12,000 of them, that's right, twelve thousand, so craps, boxcars and big bennies!
Robert Rodriguez and co-director/comic book dude Frank Miller channel one-scene "special guest director" Quentin Tarantino and his scumbagio aesthetic into a digital world where men are psychotic and women are whores, where what's real is the worst of what's possible, because that's the real reality, man!
Harry Potter is Hannibal Lecter and Freddy Krueger. Bruce Willis is good. It's nice to see Rutger Hauer work, and it was brave of Mickey Rourke to appear sans makeup and prosthetics. I kid, I kid. I kid because I love. He's the best part of the movie.
Do you want bad dialogue? Well, do ya?
It's going to be blood for blood and by the gallon. These are the old days, the bad days, the all-or-nothing days. They're back!
I already have killed you, you jerk! Wise up! But even though it feels like Niagara Falls down there, you'll be a damn long time dying and I can make it quick, or I can make it worse.
My warrior woman. My Valkyrie. You'll always be mine, always and never. Never. The Fire, baby. It'll burn us both. It'll kill us both. there's no place in this world for our kind of fire. Always and never. If I have to die for you tonight, I will.
I wish someone would make a movie using stories from The Spirit comic books. The lead character is secondary to the stories and mood. Now there's violent noir with grace, humor and style. Skeep bop boop, indeed.
Siouxsie And The Banshees: Seven Year Itch (video review): I’m a fairly disinterested party in this review. I like Siouxsie’s old hits but haven’t put her music on in ages. I’m not a follower of hypnotic goth tribal pounding I’ve seen hundreds of people dance to by standing next to mirrors while checking themselves out moving like they’re hypnotized by a snake charmer. I know people who worship her, so, uh, I'm happy for their happiness. I worked security for a show of hers around 1982. The Professionals and 999 were also on the bill. She was an amazon, at least in height and bone structure. Someone told me she’s known to be tiny, so she must be skinny because she’s tall and has big bones. Either that or she wore platform shoes and I didn’t notice.
Seven Year Itch is from their 2002 tour, and it’s loved and disliked by Siouxsie fans. Based on customer reviews you either drank her Kool-Aid or were sadly let down by her limited singing range (she may have been sick that night) and how the show was staged. The singing sounded decent enough, but I had no expectations of certain notes being hit out of the park. The show was professionally filmed but edited to create nausea. I had to look away a few times to avoid a seizure. I want to feel like I’m watching a performance from interesting angles. The last thing I want is the sensation I’m being catapulted across the venue while performing the Triple Lindy. The way this was filmed also removed most of the live feel of a show. Even though the images were clear it was like looking into another dimension. I felt the same way watching Bowie’s Reality Tour. Siouxsie is dressed smartly in a pinstripe suit and tie, and throughout the show she takes off her jacket and shirt, leaving her in a bra attacked by a rabid Bedazzler.
The show opens with the drummer slowly pounding with mallets while the guitarist plays notes that sound pretty much like “Three Blind Mice”. The entire song sounds like “Three Blind Mice”. The set is filled with mid-paced material, some from b-sides. There’s usually a reason why things end up on a b-side, but I digress. I did get to hear “Happy House”, “Christine” and “Spellbound”, performed like they’ve played it 10,000 times before. Rote yet professional. Even if this were a greatest hits tour I’d probably lose interest soon enough. It’s professional musicians going through their paces, filmed annoyingly. For Siouxsie fans though, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.
SLC Punk (video) (Columbia/TriStar/Sony Picture Classics): Is this really a major motion picture? It has a budget over 47 dollars and name actors including Annabeth Gish and Matthew Lillard as Stevo, the narrator and lead of the story. It's hard to believe this came out of a major studio since it explores punk rock in depths usually reserved for public access TV. It has more than enough flash and gusto to appeal to a wider audience, but the themes and dialogue can be as esoteric as Lyndon LaDouche's theories on economic policy. On the other hand, maybe punk's anarchy and poser shtick are now universal themes. The film works on a few levels and I vacillate on how I really feel about it. I give it three out of four blue mohawks since it does a number of things well, but I can and will gripe about that missed fourth mohawk until you ask unkindly that I stop.
SLC Punk is a Coming Of Age film, where a young person (or persons) makes the painful transition from childhood to adulthood via a series of angst ridden bouts with Reality. SLC Punk, while a comedy, is more nonchalantly nihilistic than you'd expect. It's a bizarro combination of A Clockwork Orange and "Clarissa Explains It All". The film opens with Stevo's narration on how he hates rednecks. Before you know it, he and his pal Heroin Bob are giddily pummeling two unsuspecting rednecks with pipes. A number of scenes present the main characters as sociopaths. If the intent is to show relatively decent, normal, troubled yet likeable and vulnerable kids struggling to cope with their screwy surroundings, SLC Punk fails repeatedly.
It's obvious SLC Punk is director/screenwriter James Merendino's personal views on punk, the evolution of personal philosophy, and growing up in Salt Lake City. His arguments are direct, thought out and complete. Also apparent is how he wrote this movie from an outline of lists made of every major punk issue, every SLC punk issue, every SLC repressive Mormon issue and every personality type he's come across in his days as a punk. I'll bet the house Stevo is Merendino.
SLC Punk has many thorough yet slightly overly scripted scenes that relate to scenarios faced by punks. On the subject of American punks who pretend to be British, Stevo comments directly to the camera, "To me, England was nothing more than a big, fugging, American state, like North Dakota or Canada." Stevo/Merendino also tackles punk fashion, posers, punk's origins, and all 4,000 implications of the word anarchy. He wrestles with anarchy as the peaceful, workable philosophy its followers like to think it is, and the self-destructive and violent ways it's actually applied in real life.
Stevo is an honors student with rich, new age parents who encourage his freedom but are also a little concerned. Will he get over his punk phase of rebellion against his parents and repressive society, go to law school and become part of the evil system? Will he grow up or forever dwell in punk's self-delusional utopia of anarchy? Will he learn valuable lessons from constantly analyzing his own life and watching his peers screw up royally? Well, Duh?!
Summer Phoenix puts Stevo in his place by pointing out "You want to be an individual, right? You look like you're wearing a uniform. I mean, you look like a ‘punk’. That's not rebellion, that's fashion". This sounds like every fifth letter to punk zines. I'm not giving anything away by saying Stevo decides to drop the anarchy pose and go to law school. It's up to the viewer to decide if it's a rationalization or a higher truth when he concludes "There's no future in anarchy" and "You can do a hell of a lot more damage inside the system than outside of it." Is Stevo a poser? I believe if you want to squat, that's fine, just don't bitch you have neither money nor prospects. Nobody owes you diddly if you insist on constantly pooping your own pants. Punk's not a political party or religion; it's a form of music. If you think punk demands you to drop out of society, that's your problem. The conclusions of SLC Punk are substantiated by the fact that your average punk fan for at least the last two decades is fifteen years old.
The production values of SLC Punk are high and the soundtrack is the best I've seen. Songs by The Specials, The English Beat, Fear, D.I., The Ramones, Minor Threat, The Dead Kennedys, Blondie, Generation X, Iggy Pop, The Velvet Underground, Adam Ant, and more! The jokes are funny, the acting effective, it never gets dull, it switches styles and perspectives seamlessly, and the insights are profound. Not that I agree with everything the film says. The dialogue reads well but it may be a tad too clever (at least it's not The Velvet Goldmine). The film takes place in 1985, a fairly dull year for punk. Stevo bitches about his small, boring scene, but many big city scenes suck royally while a lot of small scenes are great no matter how much people feel it has to be better elsewhere. SLC Punk proves that punk is Everything or Nothing, depending on your perspective.
The Slog Movie!: L.A. Hardcore Archives '81 (video) (WGP):
3/16/2007 Update: I wrote this review maybe eight years ago, and David Markey finally got around to finding it and writing me an e-mail. As you can see he wasn’t pleased with me. His e-mail follows. I wrote back without anger and now we’ve agreed to disagree on what I think of his old films. Reviewing is fun but it isn’t pleasant when the subject of your negative review writes to lower your self-esteem. Dave has a cool website and the man sure does keep busy. No matter what I think of his early films I wish him no ill will and hope he makes a decent living in the punk and music film biz. Here’s his e-mail to me:
What gives you the inkling you are a film critic? Because you are "Old"? Because you are a "Punk"? So you don't like my work. Fine, have a great day. I appreciate criticism. If you actually had something to say it would be one thing, other than posting all out slags which seem based in a bitter "Old Punk" (YAWN) personal vendetta. I was doing 'zines almost 30 years ago, but guess what? I moved on. The only thing your poorly written and horrible looking webzine proves is any asshole can post a website. I make a living off my work, you
can't say the same.
-David J. Markey
David Markey is the same man who directed the Teenage Lovedoll movies and 1991: The Year Punk Broke, featuring Sonic Youth. Desperate Teenage Lovedolls and its $2.47 sequel are two of the worst films ever made, bar none. Markey couldn't direct himself out of a parking lot. Just because a movie is bad doesn't automatically make it a cult classic. It has to have some camp, comic or interesting qualities. David Markey is a hack with a cheap camera and friends in the punk business. Not to take away from what he's done in the areas of zines and music, but as a director the man both sucks and blows. His last credited film work is listed as a 1997 documentary of Shonen Knife. I'd have to see it to be sure, but I can say with almost complete confidence that Helen Keller would have made a better film director.
So, fine, David had a cheap camera and no access to good sound equipment. His glossy 1991: The Year Punk Broke shows a lack of editing, directorial and comedic skills. If you're going to simply turn on the camera and let your subjects improvise, you have to then edit out anything that serves no purpose whatsoever. Thurston Moore and the rest of Sonic Youth are given enough celluloid rope to hang themselves, and hang themselves they do, but that wasn't the intention of the film. With the camera constantly staring at him, demanding he do something worthy, Moore screams, flails and desperately tries to be funny. Sadly, he's not, and it's embarrassing to watch. Here's a rule of comedy: there’s no correlation between being funny with your friends and being funny on stage or film. When Penelope Spheeris films her documentaries you can be sure for every five minutes of usable interview footage there's an hour of worthless crap. David Markey either only has crap to work with or doesn't know what crap is. I doubt he could direct an episode of the Emergency Broadcast Signal.
The Slog Movie! is a jumble of interview, concert and "comedy" snippets filmed on Markey's cheap camera as he went about his life as a pioneer in the early ‘80s L.A. scene. He was the original drummer for Sin 34, whose road trip to S.F. is included here. The good news about this film is the bands: Red Cross, The Circle Jerks, Circle One, Wasted Youth, The Chiefs, Sin 34, TSOL, Fear and Black Flag. The bad news is that the interviews suck, the soundtrack aspires to be mono, the film is murky and dark, the editing stinks and sometimes only parts of live songs are shown. The constant camera movements are annoying because it blurs and goes out of focus. It's like turning your head with your eyes frozen straight ahead. What's wrong with Slog! has nothing to do with a lack of adequate equipment. There's no talent of any kind on display, even at the conception stage.
Now a word on the California punk scene: the state I now live in has its own brand of punk mentality that defies one simple description. It's a lack of conscience wrapped in a goofy smile. It's politics and social statement as quasi-sincere pose. It's looking for trouble and always finding it - and then being surprised you're not as mellow about it as they are. It's surfer as inconsiderate asshole, hippie as anarchist, and jock as fascist thug. Watch Slog! and come up with your own pathologies that can help differentiate the L.A. punk scene from the rest of reality.
Patti Smith – Dream Of Life (dvd review): I made it through the first ten minutes of Dream Of Life before skimming through other sections of this 109 minute arty artiste artfart celebration. The first ten minutes might be the best because Patti’s opening monologue/poem/narration is concise and informative, but I imagine any random ten minutes would have gotten the film’s point across nearly as well. Dream Of Life isn’t bad, it’s just surreally laborious.
Produced in 2009 in cooperation with NY public television, it’s a ten year project whose length was most likely inflated to reflect that long road. My guess is there’s thirty minutes worth of attraction. It’s visually nebulous and lingers way too much on peripheral voyeurism, and Patti Smith talks at you, not to you, and it hit me that every sentence out of her mouth is either a poem or desperately wants to be thoughtful beyond mere pedestrian words.
She’s a bit off, and by that I mean distracted and focused at the same time, so it doesn’t bother me that she’s consumed by the idea of “ART” and that every word and action must serve “ART”. Patti’s the kookie cow who produces art milk with every moo so most everyone wins, but what keeps her from being absofugglutely pretentious is that hers is a positive personality and she’s more than paid her dues by caring for Fred “Sonic” Smith during his slow and painful decline. Her name-dropping comes off not as bragging but as statements of experience. I held my breath until she made her first reference to Arthur Rimbaud. Patti came through almost immediately.
Much of the film has a grainy black & white sheen, and it fades in and out randomly, replicating how in a movie the protagonist’s been drugged and you see through their eyes, including the lids opening and closing. Dream of Life is more mundane than it is boring, and the artistic editing is more of an interesting idea than something you’d want to look at for more than ten minutes. There’s some old interview and concert footage mixed in, which helps, but during scenes like where she visits her elderly parents I felt like I was stuck visiting a friend’s grandparents and slowly melted into their plastic couch covers.
For fans only, and even then, just enough to get the point.
Smithereens (video) (First Run): Two Arts terms can be applied to this movie: 1) Slice Of Life -- the real lives of real people are examined through real dialogue, real situations and real human interactions in real settings, all of which are real depressing and not real interesting except in a dysfunctional, voyeuristic sense; and 2) Character Study -- by becoming so convincingly real as characters through real dialogue and real situations, you won't notice there's no real plot or real dramatic tension. Slice Of Life and Character Studies are a method actor's dream because they don’t follow standard rules of drama which dictate openings, middles, endings, antagonist, protagonist, etc., allowing the actor to literally "become" the character they're portraying. Real life isn't like the movies. Real life is mostly dull. The trap these works often fall into is that, by keeping it "real", the work is about exciting as watching your neighbors eating dinner through a window. These genres work better as short scenes because the goal is to show immersion into character, place and situation. Smithereens is a real labor to watch and not worth the time.
I've read a few quick reviews of Smithereens and it's as if nobody bothered watching it. The All Movie Guide describes the film as "A young woman from the poor part of town claws, shoves and hustles her way into becoming a major figure on the New York punk rock club circuit." The video box synopsis fertilizes the same garden while assigning it an engrossing plot (that defies you to stay awake). The front of the box trumpets this blurb from The Boston Globe, "A Rock 'N' Roll Movie!" What the McNuggets does that mean? It’s like a bag of pretzels labeled "It's A Snack Food!!"
Smithereens co-stars Richard Hell but he doesn't sing, it contains a grand total of four minutes shot in New York's Peppermint Lounge, and Wren, the female lead, bulls--ts everyone that she wants to put a band together and be famous. The film is an endless series of scenes where people express their miserable lives, loves and hates in dialogue that does nothing but add noise to the celluloid as it progresses frame by frame. The independent film movement is a good thing but a higher standard needs to be applied than just saying it's the opposite of a Hollywood movie.
Wren is a petty thief, a user of people, a pathological liar, lazy, unpleasant, not too bright, none too nice and a loser who not only burns her bridges - she nukes them. Her story is not a descent into madness or oblivion, but the day-to-day failures of a low-level asshole who hates the world for her shortcomings and does nothing to earn anyone's sympathy or understanding. She's not independent or a survivor or a plucky non-conformist. She’s just an asshole.
Richard Hell basically plays himself, and I give him credit for not chomping on the scenery. He has the look of the NYC rock junkie putz down pat, and as a matter of fact he probably invented it. He speaks his lines, doesn't embarrass himself, and that's all you can ask. Cookie Mueller of John Waters fame has a small part, and X-Sessive, lead singer of the Nitecaps, not only sings a tune but also gets to mumble some dialogue. Music is provided by The Feelies but it's only snippets from their first album used to no real effect. You can also hear some of Richard Hell's "The Kid With The Replaceable Head". The sound editing is generally poor.
Smithereens was an entry for best film at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. I imagine the bar for indie films back then was so low you couldn't even trip over it. Director Susan Seidelman later directed Desperately Seeking Susan and the Roseanne Barr clunker She-Devil. Richard Hell's next film role was in Geek Maggot Bingo.
Sore Losers (video): This 1997 underground film won first place at a film festival. It's actually good considering the tiny budget and a plot as weird as it is convoluted. Sore Losers stars lo-fi greaser punks Jack Oblivion (the poor man's John Doe), Mike Maker (the dead broke man's Nick Cave) and all three of Guitar Wolf (God-zee-la!), along with performance artist Kerine Elkins and old-time exploitation film director David F. Friedman. It's John Waters meets Russ Meyer meets Kenneth Anger in Memphis, TN.
Director/writer/producer John Michael McCarthy, comic book artist and director of other movies that never made it far past Memphis' remaining drive-in theaters, describes the film-making process this way, "I am an auteur-savant. I have an abstract vision of what I have an abstract vision of what I want my film to be. Then as that big-budget dream crumbles, a new one based in lo-fi takes shape. This becomes the final memory as the old script is filed away. It's the same with every movie. I'm only as good as the crew I get or the talent who are told to check their art at the door. Actors are going to change their lines to suit their natural style or not even bother reading the script as I found out on The Sore Losers. I retain as much as our time and budget will allow. A script is a lonely little item once the footage rolls in. But hey, film is a visual medium. The most incredible life experience comes from taking a crash course in putting your trust in strangers who become your best friends in a very short, intense time. Suddenly all my compromised figments are there on screen."
Jack Oblivion doesn't trip over his lines, Mike Maker thinks he's some kind of style legend, Guitar Wolf are just really cool, like the Ramones of Japan, and Kerine Elkins chews every piece of scenery as the script and her own nuttiness demand. The many secondary actors are well cast, and that's a real plus. The effects are great, especially the zombie mother. The plot of Sore Losers is a jumble of stuff involving juvenile delinquent aliens, an old alien who might be God, dead beatniks, and hippies,, men in black, a naked angel, a zombie, crazed naked Betty Page stripper chicks who don't work the night Rev. Horton Heat plays, EC comics, 50’s cars, and The Apocalypse. I'd try to explain it but I'm sober and you're not stoned. Needless to say there's enough surreal hep-cat madness to keep it interesting even when you're scratching your ass wondering what's going on. My favorite line is this definition of a hippie: "Imagine someone who doesn't believe in war, the death penalty, or taking a bath". There's also this hippie joke: "What's the difference between an onion and a hippie? You don't cry as much when you cut an onion."
Here's a list of some teen exploitation movies from the golden era of 1954-1969. Imagine what each is like and that's what Sore Losers is about. It's a lot of fun and much better than the budget and swiss-cheese plot might lead you to believe: Riot In Juvenile Hall, Speed Crazy, Teenage Wolfpack, The Rebel Set, Teenage Bad Girl, Young and Wild, Live Fast Die Young, I Was A Teenage Frankenstein, Juvenile Jungle, Hot Rod Rumble, The Cool and the Crazy, Girls In Prison, Daddy-O, and Teenage Crime Wave.
Anton LaVey - Speak Of The
Devil (video review):
Speak Of the Devil came out in 1993 but uses so much old and
beat up footage it looks like something from 1967. The title cards and effects
are cheap enough to evoke grindhouse films of yore. This 89 minute
self-promotion reel from
Church Of Satan founder
Anton LaVey is interesting mostly as a study of what his
Zeena describes as "a notorious figure of
the 1960s' subculture of social experiment". It's a cult of personality where
the leader is goofy beyond belief, and you can't watch this and not think Anton
himself knows he's a light-hearted scam artist of middling success.
On the other hand, Zeena and her husband with the obvious fake name of Nikolas Schreck run their own Satan-based group, which claims her father's take on it was insincere and carny. There are also accusations of animal cruelty, domestic violence and sexual perversion that for all I know may have touched Zeena in more ways than one. It's obvious she thinks her father was evil, and not the good kind of evil either.
If Hollywood made a film on the life of Anton LaVey it might have the same vibe as Ed Wood. Here's a shlub fascinated with cheap novelty gags and carnivals who created a persona for himself that's too campy and cheap to be taken seriously. He chose "Satan" as a hook but what he was really about seems to be Paganism, Ayn Rand's Objectivism, 60's free love and a geek love of noir campiness.
If Zeena's stories are true I have no sympathy for Anton, but in Speak Of The Devil he comes across sincerely as a lovable, lonely, introverted, animal loving nerd who builds his own mannequins to sit in the bar area of his home, which he calls his "Den Of Iniquity", and loves nothing more than sitting at the pipe organ playing midway tunes. A surprisingly halting and boring speaker, he waxes semi-poetic on his love of the sea and of jobs he may or may not have actually held. The Johnson Smith gag catalogs of his youth may have been the turning point in his life that led him to create Satanism.
What to make of his invocation to Satan for "civility, understanding, tranquility, compassion, vengeance, sensuality, love and triumph", or when he says "Death is not a flattering thing." He comes across as the last guy you'd consider evil. He looks like he needs a hug. The film contains interviews with two young priests in the Church Of Satan, and they come across as angry and hateful. Anton, on the other hand, is more like an adult child.
Anton Szandor LaVey was born Harold Stanton Levey in 1930. He died in 1997. He named his children Karla Maritza, Zeena Galatea and Satan Xerxes Carnacki LaVey.
Spectacle: Elvis Costello With…Disc 2 (dvd review): Declan Patrick MacManus has a chat show on the Sundance Channel. That’s what they call talk shows in Britain and I consider myself a worldly a-hole, so chat it is. Taped at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, Elvis gets together with an impressive roster of famous folk for a partly scripted and partly improvised (read heavily edited) evening of chat and song. I only watched the interviews with Lou Reed and The Police as I’m not interested in learning about new and fascinating people. I’m too old to grow.
As an interviewer Elvis is deferential, friendly, and knowledgeable, also equally interested in what a casual viewer might find esoteric, as when he spends an inordinate amount of time talking to Lou Reed about Doc Pomus. Questions about Pickwick Records and the true chord progression of “Sweet Jane” are accompanied by ones like “Is there a Lou Reed novel in a drawer?” The show started with Elvis singing a Lou Reed song and Lou sings “Femme Fatale” backed by Elvis’ band on electric guitar, accordion, stand-up bass, mandolin, and acoustic guitar. Later on he sings “Perfect Day” and I think Lou and Elvis sang a duet that triggered my narcolepsy.
Elvis opens the Police interview with a nice rendition of “Every Breath You Take” and then The Police walk out stage right and exit stage left. Knees are slapped. Each band member is interviewed separately and later come on as a band to join Elvis’ band to – oh my freakin’ holy god - back Elvis on “Watching The Detectives”. Good thing I was already wearing an adult diaper. There’s two drummers, two bass players, two guitarists, keyboards, etc. and one could say the sound was full. They followed with “Walking On The Moon” and, of all things, Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love”, which I always confuse with Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Godda-Da-Vida”.
Elvis is looser and friendlier in these interviews, at least compared to how he walked on eggshells around Lou Reed, legendary for his reflexive douchy anger. Andy Summers talks about his love of Charles Mingus and this and that. Stewart Copeland is goofy and silly, a little too much so, looking and acting like a combination of Weird Al and Andy Dick. Copeland says his idiosyncratic drumming style came from Arabic music dropping on the 3rd beat. Elvis recounts listening to the first Clash album for 36 hours and then writing “Watching The Detectives”. Sting has a douchy reputation but I’ve only seen that come across in music videos and generically from some of his celebrity musings. In every interview I’ve seen he’s soft-spoken, friendly and humble. He says Elvis’ “Alison” gave him the courage to present “Roxanne” to The Police. It was conceived as a Bossa Nova tune, which Sting demonstrates on guitar.
Spectacle: Elvis Costello With… is a decent show. I’d like to see more screaming, face punching and false accusations, but it’s a small show on basic cable.
Spizzenergi: Where’s Captain Kirk? (dvd review): Cherry Red bought the rights to footage from the first UK Holidays In The Sun festival in 1996 for eleventeen dollars, and I’ve seen clips in their various releases. A new set by The Boys was pretty decent but the rest so far seem ill-rehearsed and not too exciting, as is this one from lingering 70’s oddball Spizz (Kenneth Spiers) and his ever-changing roster of band names and members. My favorite will always be Athletico Spizz ‘80 for no other reason than the name and graphics made me think they were from Italy, wore ugly cycling spandex and were possibly their version of The Dickies.
Where’s Captain Kirk is a middling affair of nostalgic noodling with the aged Spizz backed by the old and young, plus two female backup singers. When this was recorded in 1996 Spizz had the face of old etchings of The Mad Hatter. He seems game enough but the show’s rote and long after the fact. Tracks include "6000 Crazy," "Mega City 3," "No Room," "Soldier Soldier," "We Want the World," "Central Park," "Red and Black," "Energy Crisis," "Spock's Missing," "Where's Captain Kirk?" and "The Model." “Where’s Captain Kirk?” will always raise a smile and I did enjoy “6000 Crazy” and “Soldier”, but the set only had me thinking “Isn’t that nice that they’re playing these songs. How nice for them, and for me for that matter.” I can't say anything was played particularly well. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to catch a live show (dvd would be great) from the newly reformed Department S and then I’ll know if I have any tolerance for bands of this ilk reforming to play live.
Starstruck (video) (Fox Lorber): How's this for odd. There are two movies titled Starstruck, one from ‘81 and the other, which I just rented, from ‘82. They’re both from Australia and both feature Jo Kennedy and Ross O'Donovan. The earlier film, starring Trini Alvarado, was an hour long ABC television "After School Special" that might have been up for an Emmy. I assume the feature film was either an extension of the TV production or what the makers had in mind in the first place.
The feature bumps actress/singer Kennedy from a supporting role to what I guess was Alvarado's part. O'Donovan reprises his geeky kid character with P.T. Barnum's flair for showmanship. Directed by Gillian Armstrong, who bookended this with My Brilliant Career and Mrs. Soffel, Starstruck is a whimsical musical filled with sweet eccentric characters and situations found mostly in old Andy Hardy movies. There's no bad guys and never a moment of doubt our heroine will win the song contest and save the family business. Kooky music numbers and even kookier adventures fill up 102 minutes of light entertainment.
Set in a faded yet still quaint seaside resort town, Jackie is a twenty-ish cross between Bernadette Peters and Cyndi Lauper. She yearns to be a star. Her fourteen year old cousin Angus acts as her manager, and the kid is unstoppable in his ideas and determination. To get the attention of the media he calls the press to announce a naked lady will be walking a tightrope high above the business district. Jackie's actually wearing a shirt with huge boobs sewn on but from below it looks like she's topless. Jackie loses her balance and is rescued by the fire department, but the stunt works and Jackie appears on a local TV music show. There's some ups and downs and blah blah blah, but by the end of the movie the family doesn't have to move, she's a national sensation, Angus is rolling around on the concrete with a hot babe and the corpse of Stalin rises from the earth and dances the Hully Gully. That last part I made up but it might as well have happened. Reality leaves the building the second the opening credits roll, but there's a lot to like about this movie and it doesn't make a difference what happens by way of plot.
The bar owned by Jackie's mom is filled with rich local characters, from the cat lady to the old guy with the tropical bird on his shoulder. The grandmother, who looks like one of the Fat Ladies from the British TV cooking show, is incredibly funny without being cute or hip. The group Jackie hooks up with is the real band The Swingers, featuring ex-Split Enz member Phil Judd. Tim Finn has a small role and helped write some of the music. Geoffrey Rush makes his second film appearance as the blink-or-you'll-miss-him "Floor Manager". The musical numbers sound like they came from the Split Enz members who wrote them. It’s slightly more commercial and a bit more tailored for film use. The music scenes are choreographed, some more than others, and some dancers are more talented than others. Starstruck is a pure new wave movie, contrary to some punk references I've read in the past.
Starstruck didn't always keep my interest but the characters are endearing and fully developed. Whimsical and quaint are two qualities that often lead to film disaster. Here it works like a charm. It’s light fare but still probably the best new wave movie of the bunch.
Stop Making Sense (video) (Columbia): Did this really come out in 1984, fifteen years ago? (audible sobbing) Where did the years go? Where did my hair go?! Oh, God..... (two hours later) Oh God!!...
This is the second best concert film of all time, close behind 1978's "The Last Waltz", directed by Martin Scorsese. Stop Making Sense, from Jonathan Demme, is a staged multi-media performance filmed in front of an audience, conceived by chief Head David Byrne, who helped usher in the age of pretentious video in the early days of MTV. I wouldn’t call Byrne or his ideas pretentious, since Byrne is sincerely the weirdest alien to ever land on this planet.
I recently rented and reviewed R.E.M.'s Tourfilm, which attempts to recreate this film's magic but fails on every count. It’s a music video pretending to be a concert film. Stop Making Sense is a live concert filmed by a great director. A major difference is that R.E.M. is a creation of the MTV age, with their stage shows filled with rapid-fire backdrop videos and a detached self-awareness that defines shoe-gazing. The Talking Heads come out of the 70’s CBGBs punk scene, and they were often billed with the Ramones. Even though Byrne looked beyond the music itself to other media, concerts were still rooted in the joys of live performance as a thrill for both the audience and the band. In Stop Making Sense there's a large camera planted in front of the stage for part of the concert, so the audience isn't relating to the performers like they normally would, but once it is removed they get to experience a great stage show and music performance.
The film opens with Byrne's sneakered feet walking onto a bare stage. He places a boom box next to him and sings "Psycho Killer". The Talking Heads was his band, and he proves this by bringing out one band member at a time with each new song. Tina Weymouth and Co. get to perform as The Tom Tom Club during the film, but this is a small payback while Byrne is backstage getting into his big suit costume. The concert itself is in two parts - the first the building of both the band and set by a large crew of stagehands as each song progresses, and the second an exploration of indirect lighting and static backdrop images. Byrne, while never appearing to be the same room as the rest of us, puts on quite a performance and works up a real sweat. To fill time even runs a few laps around the massive stage. Byrne likes to: A) stick his neck out like a chicken, B) run in place, and C) pretend he's just been hit in the face. His clumsy-act with a six foot floor lamp is right out of great silent film.
Some of the songs are: "Once In A Lifetime", "Take Me To The River", "Burning Down The House", "Life During Wartime" and my favorite, "Heaven". The backup singers and musicians earn their pay, adding texture and cheerleading excitement to what is in essence a minimalist white funk band. I admit I forwarded through some of the more African flavored numbers, but David Byrne is a genius. This film is great. Case closed.
Straight To Hell (video) (Island): The first draft of this review went straight to hell too. It disappeared from my computer. The Corel Web Designer would have been worth every penny - if it was free. One random keystroke and you lose who knows what. Here's the basics on what you need to know about one of the worst movies you'll hopefully never see. Just because a film stinks doesn't make it a cult classic. A good midnight movie has to be campy or express the clear, coherent vision of a lunatic. This just stinks
This follow-up to Sid & Nancy gives the impression the last one only succeeded due to the excellent acting of the two lead actors. It’s as if Cox rounded up the barflys at the Where Are They Now Saloon, yelled "Hey, kids, let's put on a show!", and then gave each the assignment of creating their own wacky character and dialogue. Characters range from moron to cretin. There's no connection between anybody in this film as they take turns chewing scenery. Cast notables include Grace Jones, Dennis Hopper, Elvis Costello, The Pogues, Edward Tenpole-Tudor, Jim Jarmusch (whose style Cox fails to copy well), Joe "Woody" Strummer and Courtney Love, who does a straight Nancy Spungen imitation that's as annoying as you’d imagine.
Supposedly a satire of spaghetti westerns, the plot has something to do with three inept thieves/contract killers who hide out in a tiny Meh-Hee-Kin town run by a bunch of loco gringo banditos who, get this, love gourmet coffee! Isn’t that nutty? Besides the line "Let's make that wiener kid sing his song" being used as the title of a music compilation, Straight To Hell might have been an influence on Quentin Tarantino, who takes the Sy Richardson character and splits it between John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction. He also probably borrowed some of this for From Dusk Till Dawn.
The only redeeming quality of this film is that it eventually ends. It's also something to have on while ironing shirts or cleaning the house. The end of the movie claims there was going to be a sequel, "Back From Hell". I haven't felt this threatened since the follow-up to Desperate Teenage Lovedolls was announced. Those guys had the extra $7 to make that one. Thankfully Alex Cox didn't.
Street Trash (video) (Lightning): Straddling the line between horror-comedy and exploitation, Street Trash is a hard to find trash classic that’s not only the best of its kind, it’s probably the only film of its kind. [2007 update: it’s been on DVD for a few years and a special 2-disc set came out that is worth its weight in gelatinous goo.]
Street Trash depicts rape, murder, alcoholism, homelessness, random violence and a general sense of depravity regurgitated through both the hyper-realism of exploitation and cartoonishness of horror-comedy. On the surface it’s a scattershot affair involving bums and a cheap wine called “Viper” that turns people into lumps of jelly in funny yet horrifying ways. A strong undercurrent of practical nihilism permeates the air, making this more disturbing than anything from Troma (The Toxic Avenger, Tromeo & Juliet), which releases movies of similar quality. Street Trash is for all intents and purposes a Troma film, but it was released by Lightning Video, who in 1987 released a handfull of b-movies before folding. The Troma guys hate Street Trash director Jim Munro for some reason.
The simple answer as to what the film is about can be summed up as (spoilers all!): bums and scums operating out of an automobile graveyard in Queens, NY live out their low rent lives while the local skid row liquor store sells old bottles of Viper for a buck. Anyone who drinks it dies by having their insides turned into a gelatinous acid. A shell-shocked Vietnam vet terrorizes the neighborhood and his small crew of dirty hobos, while a violent cop is determined to wipe out any troublemakers on his turf. The girlfriend of a mob boss is raped and murdered by derelicts, and when he’s not sending out a hit-man to off the homeless guy last seen with her, he’s threatening the life of his goofy doorman who has a smart mouth and no common sense. Events (and Viper) take their toll and while there is no total resolution, the worst of the bad guys gets his in spectacular fashion. The only likeable male character walks off with his girl to a future I can’t say will be happy, but at least she has a job.
The humor is as dark as you’ll ever see, as when the obese junkyard owner finds a dead woman on his lot, and in a comic fashion not unlike Oliver Hardy, sizes up his opportunity to have his way with it. There are seven deaths by Viper, each overwhelming yet funny like in Evil Dead II and Dead Alive. The horror effects are by Jennifer Aspinall, who later worked on the Toxic Avenger. Considering the budget, her skill and creativity are amazing. She creates spectacular, surrealistic moving landscapes of human liquefaction, and her use of bright melting colors is inspired and grotesquely beautiful.
What separates Street Trash from your standard Troma fare, and what makes it a truly disturbing film, is its exploitation aspects. Exploitation films date back before Reefer Madness and hit their peak in the ‘50s and ‘60s with shockers on juvenile delinquency and that damn rock and roll music. The ‘70s saw a proliferation of black Mac Daddy/Pimp/Private Dick/Gangster films like Superfly and Shaft. Since then, pure exploitation has taken a back seat to dramas with a “message”. For all the overt silliness in the genre, the best exploitation films involved real personalities and issues of the day, be it the pimp daddy hero of the urban jungle or the homeless bums in Street Trash. For every exaggerated performance there’s also enough truth in others to make the film as much a series of character studies as it is a cheap horror film. If you’ve led a sheltered life you may not think characters like this exist, but even my own limited experiences have shown me they do.
First time director Jim Muro does a marvelous job behind the camera. He shoots from below, above, inside the back of a garbage truck, sets the camera on a ferris wheel for one shot, and moves over and around objects in a style similar to Sami Raimi. Street Trash was filmed at the same time (if not prior to) Evil Dead II so I can’t say if there was inspiration involved or just a coincidence of style. The first death scene, which takes place in the bathroom of a crumbling tenement, is as well planned and executed as Hitchcock's shower scene in Psycho. I kid you not. Muro never directed another feature film but he’s a highly paid Steadicam operator who worked on both Terminator II and Titanic.
James Lorinz is great as the loudmouth doorman, and word has it Martin Scorsese was so impressed with Tony Darrow’s performance as the mob boss that he cast him as “Sonny” in Goodfellas, which led to a long career playing mobsters. My two favorite lines from the film are “Were you born stupid or did you study?” and “I read like old people f—k”. Street Trash should be seen in a room full of both idiots & geniuses, cretins & moralists, cultural dimwits & snobs, and the tasteless along with the tasteful. Just to see what different people think because once you get past the shock points there's much to consider. I think it’s an all-time classic for kids of all ages, but the voices in my head constantly argue about my capacity to make such judgments.
Suburbia - (Video) (1983): Writer and director Penelopee Spheeris followed up The Decline Of Western Civilization with this parable about homeless punk kids living as a family in a neglected suburb of Los Angeles. The film was produced by Roger Corman, the man who gave us Rock'N'Roll High School. Roger wanted that film to be about disco, but that's another story. God only knows what he expected this film to be about. Part expose, part comedy, but mostly cheap exploitation, Suburbia continues Spheeris' love/hate relationship with her subject matter evident in the Decline Of Western Civilization films. Suburbia focuses on about a dozen kids who squat in an abandoned tract home in L.A. They call themselves "TR" - The Rejected. They've been rejected by family, society and even themselves. One's dad sexually molested her, one lost his dad in Vietnam and doesn't like his black cop step-dad (who is actually cool), two ran away from an abusive, alcoholic mom, while another can't stand his gay dad and his lover. It’s a film about punks who accept each other for who they are, yet they seemingly have no problem with racism and gay-bashing.
The symbolism and social commentary are laid on thick and heavy. To stay at the T.R. house you have to brand the initials into your arm for life. Get it? Kids scarred by life scar themselves for life. The TV is always on and they watch in a zombie-like trance. In one scene they steal fresh sod and lay it out at a mall in front of an electronics store with TVs stacked up like a wall. They watch the TVs like it's a picnic. Catch the metaphor? When one girl reads a bedtime story to the little boy with the mohawk (aw, he’s cute), two girls run in to hear the story too. Get it? They're little girls inside the makeup, torn clothing and punky 'tude. Suburbia as a place is described as "slums of the future". Packs of abandoned dogs run wild and sometimes turn vicious - just like the kids of the TR house. This is level 101 writing.
The TR gang are basically "good kids" who can't catch a break, but they also steal and vandalize for food and fun. The bad guys are various ill-defined punk-haters, two of whom are gun-luvin' out of work auto plant workers. When you first see them they're shooting wild dogs for yuks, and it's easy to hate them, but later you learn they're frustrated, laid-off factory workers with homes and families to support. Wow, what a vicious cycle! After a fun-filled afternoon of stealing food from people's homes, the TR kids pull up to a garage sale where the film's major bad guys are desperately trying to sell their belongings to keep their lives together. The lead punk asks to buy the wife's dildos, which infuriates the husbands and makes the inevitable sad conclusion that much more inevitable. At this point I can't blame them for wanting to crack some punk heads. Someone says something like that to my girlfriend and I’m not stopping until something important on their face is shattered. Unless you're a total dick, who would have any sympathy for these kids? Yeah, yeah, yeah, everybody's a victim of society, so nobody's responsible for their actions. Boo fugging hoo.
Being the redundency of a Roger Corman production and a teen exploitation film there's gratuitous nude scenes (the one with a fat old stripper is an appetite suppressant) and the standard parents meeting where the kids are reviled and explained. (Citizen arguing with Cop) "I get the feeling you're not doing your job!", "And I get the feeling you're using innocent people as scapegoats", "Scapegoats? We're talking about a bunch of sickos, of mental rejects running wild in our streets.", "We're talking about kids - kids like your and mine!", "Well, I'm damn sure they aren't my kids." If you didn't know from the start the most innocent of the innocent will die, you don't know squat about exploitation films. At times Suburbia tries to be funny, as when the punk club chases out the kidz by playing muzak and they retreat like vampires from sunlight. See Repo Man if you want to laugh for real.
The writing is goofy, the direction OK, and the actors are very good. Time-filling concert footage is of D.I., T.S.O.L. and The Vandals. With their puffy pirate shirts and cabaret leanings I see where Tesco Vee of the Meatmen came up with "TSOL Are Sissies". This is a punk movie that's fondly remembered for good and bad reasons.
Suckdog: Drugs Are Nice – A Suckumentary 1988 – 2005 (dvd review): I discovered after I’d returned this that there’s an additional thirty minutes of footage hidden on the DVD, but as it could only be similar to the original sixty minutes I’d felt I’d already seen it. Released in cahoots with the excellent read Drugs Are Nice: A Post-Punk Memoir, Lisa Crystal Carver’s insane (in a middling good way) and poetic biography, Suckdog: Drugs Are Nice should have been taped to the inside back cover of the book as a fun addendum. As a stand-alone item it’s a handful of low-rent WTF.
If you haven’t read the book or are not aware of the performance art group Suckdog this dvd might well be a nearly unwatchable collection of old footage of strangers screaming and tearing at each other, newer home movies made by Lisa and her friends in Dover, NH, and interview footage of Lisa and others created especially for the dvd. I enjoyed it because I wanted to see what these nutjobs look and sound like, especially Lisa, who seemed to have her life together at the end of the book but in reality could be a bag lady. She looks good, especially considering her life story. My guesstimation of Suckdog’s sound and vision were on the mark as loud, abrasive, shapeless, violent, silly, dumb, and surprisingly not improvised after huffing glue in the parking lot. The home movies from that era are equally free of talent. The new stuff with her friends is sweet and endearing, especially the surfer boy piece, followed by a skit with Lisa dressed like a man and her friend Scott Munroe gussied up as a woman cheating with the postman. I’m glad Lisa’s life’s appears to have leveled out and she’s surrounded by friends.
Lisa’s a talented writer and a big deal for creating and steering the zine Rollerderby. I bought a copy of the compilation book directly from Lisa on EBay. She has her own store and sells everything from found items to copies of her books and this dvd. I wrote to her that I was renting the Suckumentary dvd and she responded with “I didn’t even know they carried the beast!”
There’s no evidence Lisa can hold a note or play an instrument. Her role in Suckdog was to scream, rip off her clothes, simulate sex, urinate and possibly poop on stage, cover herself in chocolate syrup, attack the audience, and be smacked around by her ex-husband Jean-Louis Costes, who I imagine had musical talent but chose not to waste any on an audience. Previously I assumed performance art was how people with no talent pretended they did, but Drugs Are Nice drove home the idea that people with actual talent like to create anti-music and anti-art for a set of pretentious and mentally problematic reasons. Boyd Rice, the villain of the book, isn’t on the dvd. He’s another one who’d rather record discs of emergency broadcast signals. Lisa also knew GG Allin and Psycodrama, another non-artist collective.
There’s nothing else to add, so I’ll stop right about ……no .…………here.
Summer Of Sam (video) (Touchstone): There's so much wrong with this Spike Lee movie I don't know where to start. It only succeeds when it emulates the production values of a 1970’s Martin Scorsese film or the grim colors and mood of David Fincher's Seven. Lee also mixes media and style like Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, if that floats your boat. What would have saved the film from its killer lack of coherency and mind numbing length of 142 minutes is a complete re-edit by someone not involved with the production to begin with. Maybe even Scorsese himself. Throw out the entire plot line of John Leguizamo and Mira Sorvino's failed marriage. Trim down the punk rock aspects to its bare essentials. What makes up a typical Spike Lee film? Biting off more then the director can deliver, anti-white sloganeering, some anti-black sentiment and a love-hate-hate-hate relationship with Italians. How he gets Italians to be in his films is beyond me. Summer Of Sam is a real frigging mess.
The surface plot takes place in the summer of 1977 when David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam serial killer, terrorized New York. The real plot (or plots, to infinity and beyond!) revolves around a bunch of NY Italian goombahs who act out their stereotypical lives as Eye-talian New Yorkers. In a Hitchcock film the surface plot is called the "Red Herring". It becomes less important and gets less attention as the film progresses because he’s only using it as a means of introducing his real interests of betrayal, fear, etc. If he wasn't a master storyteller Hitchcock would be ridiculed for his film’s lack of plot continuity. The only good thing about Summer Of Sam is the Red Herring. Leguizamo and Sorvino are great, but who cares about their personal lives? Adrien Brody steals the show as Ritchie the punk, but he's not the star of the film, nor should he be. Punk, more specifically a fear of people who act different and look dangerous, plays a major role. Still, like everything else in Summer Of Sam, there's too much of it, and it's another reason why it never seems to end.
At most this should have been 100 minutes long. It should have kept a tense pace by constantly focusing on scenes with the Son of Sam. If Lee wanted to include his signature themes he should have tossed them in periodically, and as footnotes. Why the hell is there so much sex in this movie? If I want porn I'll rent a video. Spike remembers 1977 like it was last week and he wants to touch on the disco era, the sexual looseness, the punk explosion, the Yankees in the World Series, the heat wave, the blackout, and the riots that followed. He could have dealt with all this in context and setting, not plot. Or at least not as much plot as he's given it. It could have been done cleverly without being so wastefully tangential.
I would see this again if it was edited down to what it should and could have been. All the film has been shot - it's just been put together all wrong. I'd also use only one quick shot of the "Dead End" street sign, and not have the dog's lips move when he talks.
In punk rock related news: -- Adrien Brody is great as a ‘77 NYC punk, and he does a lot with a character that could have been more one-dimensional. He sometimes fakes a British accent (a rite of passage for many) and projects his pains and insecurities convincingly. When asked if he's ever been to London he replies "No, but it's all in the attitude." In 1977 I was sixteen and lived outside NYC, so I have a sense of what the people portrayed in this film were really like. The actors and screenwriters depict the places, personalities and atmosphere very well. If you want to get a sense of what it was like to look punk in the ‘70s, Summer Of Sam gets it all right. Ritchie's called "Porcupine", children are afraid of him, guys get offended and violent and in general people won't leave him alone.
Two scenes are shot in the Bowery at CBGBs, and L.E.S. Stitches perform part of a live song that sounds as '77 as last week's top-40 countdown, but can you do. Ritchie's band has the name "Late Night Abortion" on their drum kit. He asks a DJ to spin a Dead Boys song. George Tabb plays "Spider" and about seventy lower Manhattan scuzzballs get to dress like they always do and earn some dough in front of the camera. I don't think everyone pierced their tongues and faces back then, but Hollywood wouldn't film it if it wasn’t real!
Jennifer Esposito, who plays Ritchie's girlfriend, sings a song, but since the closing credits are tiny I can't see who wrote it. Ritchie's a punk but he loves The Who, whom he calls the "Godfathers Of Punk". The only non-disco song on the soundtrack is The Who's "Baba O'Riley", which is a centerpiece of the film and quite effective. Pete Townshend also wrote additional music for this film. It's a small world after all.
Synth Britannia (video review): Thanks to Robert, my impotent Frozen North friend I like to call “Canada Dry”, I watched this BBC Four documentary on YouTube. Part Nine doesn’t play but I imagine it’s more of the same of Part Eight. Synth Britannia was first shown in 2009, and while for me it didn’t break any new ground it’s free-flowing, informative and entertaining. It sticks with the big names from the time and place – the UK in the post-punk thru synth-disco eras - so fans of the modern digital underground might find it lacking, but for general consumption it touches on many familiar points and does a nice job tying it all together.
It opens with the following on screen, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” followed by the narrator, “Welcome to a time when there were no guitars and no drums, just synthesizers. It was the 1970’s the place was Britain and our heroes were a maverick bunch of young pioneers obsessed by Kraftkwerk and science fiction.” Sometimes there were drums, but let’s not spoil the mood just yet. The first song played is “New Life” by Depeche Mode”, an interesting choice as it straddles the line between the two periods covered– the early experimental and later commercial phases. The song itself is early period but the band is well known for their later incarnation.
The point is made that the UK synth movement was not a unified effort on the part of the bands. They did their own thing often in isolation. When Gary Numan hit it big first with an appearance on Top Of The Pops the others wondered where the hell did this guy come from? Their artistic inspirations came mainly from Kraftwerk, Wendy Carlos’ contributions to the Clockwork Orange soundtrack, science fiction theme music, author J.G. Ballard, and for the disco lads Giorgio Moroder’s production work on “I Feel Love”. Their inspiration to start bands came from the Sex Pistols and The Clash, whose DIY spirit and peer similarities to their audiences convinced them a perceived lack of talent or practice is no reason to not get up there and just do it. It helped also when the price of synths dropped dramatically.
Part One is called “Alienated Synthesists” and covers the experimental beginnings of the UK synth scene. It opens with the clever line “By the 1970s we were living in the future.” Martyn Ware of The Human League says “We took the attitudes of punk and gave it a different context, i.e., let’s make music that nobody’s heard before.” Phil Oakley talks about the influence of “I Feel Love” on the Human League but it’s hard to hear it in their first few albums. They seemed more anti-disco (sometimes called death disco). The narrator says the Human League were ahead of their time, but that’s not true. Those records were dreary and the rhythms awkward and plodding.
Daniel Miller of Mute, The Normal and the Silicon Teens is a welcome sight throughout, explaining his involvement and how things got done. John Foxx, looking good in his early senior years, is cheerful and easy going. Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphries of OMD both appear, and I’m glad they’re given the credit they’re due in this early period. Their first three albums are excellent and the fourth underrated. Joy Division is mentioned almost in passing and two of Throbbing Gristle sit in a kitchen to say they were exclusively makers of industrial experimental music. Richard H. Kirk of Cabaret Voltaire is too self-serious in my book, and paranoia lines his features.
Gary Numan was the first UK synth superstar, and as they’re showing him on Top Of The Pops singing “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” I remember seeing him on the Cars tour in the US and all I could think was how much a Bowie clone he was, especially in his hand gestures. Numan has enough hits for a worthy greatest hits collection but my money is on that he rose high and fast based on his Bowie look and affectations. The UK was crazy about Bowie. Talking about his rejection of the anti-hero trope and desire for fame, he says “I don’t speak for the masses because I don’t even know them.” This isn’t snobbery as he admits to having Asperger’s Syndrome.
Part Two is called “Construction Time Again”, an odd title for what they’re defining as the commercial synth era. It begins with the narration “As the 80s dawned, the future finally arrived, and it wasn’t going to be alienating.” The initial focus is on Depeche Mode, whose first album was half decent in that about half the album was decent, and also a relic of the earlier period. Visage is included early to make the quick point that highly cosmeticized, limp-wristed dance music repudiated the older scene. Depeche Mode carried their instruments on the train to get to their appearance on Top Of The Pops. The Human League turned their fortunes around with the half decent Dare while discarded member Martyn Ware formed B.E.F. (British Electronic Foundation) and Heaven 17 as a multi-media business conglomerate of some kind, similar to PIL’s original business plan. Yazoo, Soft Cell, The Eurythmics, Ultravox, The Pet Shop Boys and New Order are also discussed, along with Kraftwerk, who scored their first #1 UK hit with “The Model”, an accidental B-side of “Computer World” retrieved from the prior album.
Whoever made this harbors a hatred for Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and the 1980’s “Me Decade”, implying, maybe rightfully so, that the second synth wave was a mindless soundtrack for an id-driven decade. Being anti-socialist (as it's given the world both nazism and communism) I laughed at the assumption that the economic misery of the late 70s in both the US and UK were better times worth continuing.
There may be a third part to Synth Britannia in the blocked YouTube section, and if there was it would be on the decline of the movement around 1983, when it was fully commodified (read boring and old ). Andy McCluskey has a great line where he talks about people saying to him that anyone can make electronic music since the machines do most of the work. He says “Believe me, if there was a button on a synth or a drum machine that said ‘Hit Single’ I would have pressed it as often as anybody else would have.”
Tapeheads (video) (Pacific Arts): From 1989, this funny film stars John Cusack and Tim Robbins as slackers who start a rock video production company, meet wacky people and fall into all kinds of trouble. There's enough shtick, sketches and surreal nonsense to keep you on your toes, and the cameos are great. Michael Nesmith (The Monkees), Stiv Bators and The Lords Of The New Church, Fishbone, Weird Al Yankovic, Don Cornelius (Soul Train), Ted Nugent, Lyle Alzedo and Jello Biafra put in enough screen time to keep their SAG cards active. Jello plays an FBI agent and gets the last line of the film, "Remember what we did to Jello Biafra?" It's made even funnier by the fact that he lisps like Cindy Brady.
Cusack, the most underrated actor of his generation, steals the movie with his dim-witted con-man based on how-to-be-rich infomercials, Dan Ackroyd's greasy pitchman from Saturday Night Liv, and Michael Keaton's manic morgue attendant from Night Shift. Tim Robbins is good as usual, even though his character is limited mostly to numb reactions to Cusack's hyperactivity.
Here's the plot: childhood friends John and Tim are layabouts with boring security guard jobs. Tim has a talent for shooting videos, and John, who's always thinking, decides they'll open their own production company, called Video Aces. They do a rap commercial for Roscoe’s a chicken and waffle joint, which I didn’t know was a real restaurant until I moved to Los Angeles. Then they film a living will and a funeral, hook up with Cornelius for videos "on spec", shoot a video of Stiv's band, and through dumb luck become the hottest video directors in town. The main sub-plots involve a blackmail video tape, a pervo politician and the Video Aces soul singing heroes, the Swanky Modes.
With the exception of the silly, patched together ending, Tapeheads is well written, and there are enough great lines to make this an underground classic. They’re out of context but here's some keepers: "Am I crying?", "There's a bonus for the man that puts it in my hand.", "'You need what I got'… 'Herpes?'", There's only one thing that adds real production value - tits and ass", and "'Are you famous?' 'Sign my butt'… Teach me to read'".
Fishbone provides music and appear in the film as a bizarre country band. A Swedish band fashioned after A Flock Of Seagulls plays Devo's "Baby Doll", recorded by Devo for the film. There's graffiti that reads "Thrasher Mag". Stiv Bators and The New Lords of the New Church are funny in a Spinal Tap kind of way. Jello wears a trenchcoat. Sam Moore and Junior Walker burn up the screen as real-deal Blues Brothers.
This looks like it was shot on video and for a 1989 production it seems more like 1984. Don't let that distract you. Tapeheads is great. It grossed only $200,000 when it came out.
Team America hired Charles, Edward and
Stephen Chiodo of
Killer Klowns From Outer Space to work on
puppets. The Chiodo brothers hired
The Dickies to write Killer Klown's theme
song. The Dickies's last studio album was
All This And Puppet Stew. Yes, my point
Trey Parker and Matt Stone are idiot savants but idiots all the same. Happily they hired talented people and Paramount poured in all the money it took to create a technically staggering film. Working on 1:3 scale (22" string puppets w/computerized facial controls) with all effects in-camera, they've created stunning sets with attention to detail and color you've never seen before. The making-of features are better than the film itself (if you're a geek like me).
The film itself is a mess with some good bits mixed in with the usual adolescent shock value. They take two steps forward, three steps back, one forward, another forward, then one back again. It equals another near miss. My personal take on cursing and obscenity is that regular films should go no higher than PG. Porn should be so obscene it would make a sailor puke.
Much has been written on the politics of Team America. I don't believe anything Parker and Stone say because they talk without thinking, but this is what I did notice: the fictional characters are over the top action genre stereotypes. The real characters are of the left and portrayed as superior, pompous, hypocritical assholes. Parker and Stone are assholes, but I like that they hate with a raw passion assholes who pretend they're not.
PS: I liked that the Spotswood character was based on Phil Hartman. He was the best.
Tears For Fears - In My Mind's Eye: Live At The Hammersmith Odeon (video) (Music Media): Taped between the albums The Hurting and Songs From The Big Chair, this concert provides ample anthropological evidence that the age of parachute pants and skinny guys in cut-off t-shirts extended until at least 1984. Big Brother also watched a pretty bad hair year. In My Mind’s Eye also serves as a demo for every computer assisted video manipulation known at the time, from heavy pixilation to flying video shingles. The visual editor was said to have been murdered for calling everyone over to his computer a hundred times a day by yelling, "Hey, check out THIS effect!"
It's hard to say which is more goofy - taped concerts or video collections. As far as I'm concerned buy the album or see the concert. A taped show is a detached way of enjoying what is designed to be an interactive experience. It's the cousin of "My Parents Went To The Grand Canyon And All I Got Was This T-Shirt". Rock videos went from cute to sad as soon as the novelty wore off, which took about a year. In My Mind's Eye is ok, even in spite of how every band member moves in his own stunted dance step. The only truly annoying visual is the split screen mirror effect, which either makes people look like either twins or horrible genetic mutations.
The songs, pulled mainly from The Hurting, are entertaining and some of the best of a synth pop genre flooded with limp-wristed crap. Every song stays in the same slow, rhythmic two-step groove, but thankfully Tears For Fears never takes the east way out with exaggerated funk beats, and the drummer/percussionist combo work well together to create moods heavily influenced by Peter Gabriel's early, brooding flirtations with world music. Roland Orzabal (say that ten times fast), and Curt Smith write songs with catchy lyrical hooks that invite you to sing along.
Orzabal has a double-jointed jaw which he opens to the size of a cantaloupe when he sings, exposing thirteen more teeth than humans are granted genetically. He also looks a lot like former Selecter singer Pauline Black. He does have a nice, rich voice. Curt Smith is a pretty boy given to fits of falsetto singing.
The thirteen songs on the tape stick close to the studio versions, which works out well. "The Prisoner" is nicely harsh & disorienting. "Ideas As Opiates" had me thinking for a moment it was a cover of Peter Gabriel's "Biko". The inhuman wailing noise in "The Hurting" is also taken from a PG song. The only downside to the concert is that the pace never changes. Not everyone likes to dance under the influence of Nyquil.
Teen Spirit: The Tribute To Kurt Cobain - (Video): Here’s my up front disclaimer: I haven’t listened to music on the radio in years. In my 36 years on the planet I’ve watched MTV about four times. Seattle bands always sounded like hard rock to me, not the punk I grew up with. I didn’t mind “Teen Spirit” when I hear it in passing but it’s not punk to me. It’s PC to say anything you’re into is punk, but still, at first I thought grunge was New Day Rising-era Husker Du played at half-speed. Eventually I agreed with what a local critic wrote, “the secret of any good grunge band - play heavy metal”. If you can bang your head to it, it’s hard rock or heavy metal. When Kurt killed himself I barely took notice. Another rock star bites the dust. News at 11:00. The grunge kids ran around like their world had ended. It’s odd to invest so much of yourself into a rock singer, but I guess you have to believe in something. Maybe I’m worse off not having heroes, only people I admire. I’ve met too many famous people to be impressed anymore. I rented this to mostly see how I’d react. Either I’d scream “loser!” at the TV for sixty minutes or gain a new respect for grunge and Mr. Kurt. Neither happened. This short video release was visually interesting like an MTV video, but shallow in its research and presentation, also like MTV.
I assume this was produced overseas because it opens with “The Producers wish to point out that no Nirvana recordings or music feature in this programme.” There’s numerous quick cuts, cut-out graphics and headache-inducing hand-held camera shots. I know hand-held gives the feeling of cinema verite, but here it’s like you’re drunk and about to fall on your face. The Nirvana appearances come from interviews not filmed for this video. The bulk of the tape consists of interviews with peripheral players in the Seattle music scene. Charles Peterson was a photographer who shot many Seattle bands, and his work is excellent. Grant Alden, former editor of the Seattle Rocket, gets much time, and thankfully he’sliterate and even-handed. Nils Bernstein, “Sub Pop Publicist”, is goofy but tells a few good stories. Ann Powers, a Senior Editor for the Village Voice, provides annoying background on Nirvana and their “meaning”. If she was any more pale you would see through her, and she couldn’t have been more pretentious - the kind of person who dresses in black and cries while reading long poems about her own death. She’s so obsessed with “sex roles” you want to choke her, with your hands.
Historical Nirvana facts periodically roll across the screen like weather advisories: “Kurt discovers music - Aerosmith, Led Zepplin and Kiss”, “He reads about UK punk but has never heard any - he begins to play what he thinks punk is – ‘Three chords and a lot of screaming’”. Someone describes the Seattle sound as the sound of metal and the attitude of punk. Damn, I hate being right all the time!
Nils talks at length about the first time “Teen Spirit” was played in concert. People cried, vomited in rainbow colors and spoke in tongues. Ann boasts that Kurt was anti-sexist and pro-gay, and a lot of bashers stopped their stupidity after listening to Nirvana. If Kurt’s anti-hate messages were new to anyone you have to wonder what rock these losers were hiding under. Fans are given a chance to say something about the band and Kurt. They’re a mixed blessing - they either provide heartfelt insight or they say things so dumb you have to look away (like “dude!, they could really ROCK!!”). Here it’s not too bad, but it’s obvious they pulled random people off the street to say anything that pops into their toasty little heads.
There’s not much to be learned from Teen Spirit, but it’s not a bad production. I still couldn’t care less about Kurt Cobain. He needed to bathe more. His hair was oily.
Throbbing Gristle - Destiny (video): A live performance of unknown vintage, Destiny is interesting not because it's good, which it isn't, but because it provides a glimpse into the origins of industrial music. At one time industrial had zero to do with disco - it was literally the sounds of machinery. Throbbing Gristle (TG) coined the term industrial. A prolific band to say the least, they released on vinyl and cassette just about every sound they ever recorded, both live and in the studio. They’re from the UK but sound like austere, pissed off German. In temperament TG made Krafkwerk seem more like the Beach Boys. The question of how listenable they are is always the big question. It's one thing to make a guerilla artistic statement when you can, but only either drugged or psychotic people can listen to repetitious drones for more than a few minutes at a sitting. The Velvet Underground through John Cale introduced avant-garde droning to the punk world, but I doubt they’d have made it one inch beyond Andy Warhol's little freak show if they could only play 45 minute versions of "Sister Ray". Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music is two albums of raw noise. He did it to get out of is record contract, but there are people who took it as a serious statement. Sheep in berets.
I turned this off about 45 minutes in. I think there were four songs, but it's hard to tell. The lighting sucked and the copy I rented looked third generation. Most of the music was sparse electronic Italian horror movie soundtrack noodling. The musicians walked around stage randomly hitting buttons, playing guitars and beating drums. One guy literally stood there with one fist up to his mouth, touching things on a panel like, "Huh? Wonder what this does?" I did find a discernable pattern in one song, and I’m guessing it was called "Discipline" because it was sung about 300 times.
Eternity is forever. Thanks to TG I know that now. I'm also aware that if I don't get it, it's over my head and I shouldn't pass judgment, but I own enough of this kind of music to know when someone's pulling my chain. I had to turn this off because one more pull and my chain was going to rip off. As there was little to actually watch on screen, I sewed a button on a shirt, ironed seven others, and put more change into bankrolls. If you're into the roots of goth and industrial and ask for nothing from a concert tape, rent this. Otherwise I recommend you watch Eraserhead or The Emergency Broadcast Signal.
Live at Oundle School (video review): An
easier row to hoe than
Live At Oundle School is still more bizarre
mind-fugg experiment than concert film. A student asked them to play and
afterwards I fully expected the lights would come up to reveal the kids suffered
aneurysms and swallowed tongues (theirs and others'). As
this article states though, "The show
finished with the schoolboys carrying singer P-Orridge around the school on
their shoulders." Yes, but how many grew up to become corpse sniffers?
Throbbing Gristle, boy howdy, what can I say. They are to industrial noise what knives are to cuts. Read this. Or start here and read the customer's reviews. The noise people love them and the younger/newer industrial people have no idea what to say when they don't feel cheated. I'd start with 20 Jazzz Funk Greats and wade out from there. If you don't like where there is going, it only gets worse, so stop. The $225 live box set is what's known in serial killer trials as "Exhibit A".
I like Throbbing Gristle songs when they do occur, and this live set has at least four so I didn't feel cheated. I did pause a few times to clean my kitchen floor, take apart my stove to light the pilot and work on some Word files. This happens all the time with me and TG. For me they're "Industrious Music" since I get so much done while dealing with it.
Single camera, bleeding colors, disturbing overlayed images - check. Cosey Fanni Tutti wearing a tight leather mini-skirt - check. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (real name Skippy McHuggncuddle) looking blank and angry - check. The other two guys not looking forward - check. All in all a great show.
Tie-Died: Rock 'N Roll's Most Deadicated Fans (video) (BMG): Here's my disclaimer: I was never a Deadhead but in high school I listened to my brother's Grateful Dead greatest hits album a lot. I even saw The Grateful Dead Movie a few times at midnight (great cartoon in the beginning but I never could stay awake for the second half). Deadheads enjoy a real sense of community, and even though they're flaky as hell they're for the most part harmless, friendly, easygoing people. That said, let's make fun of the smelly hippies, shall we?
This rock-umentary on the most devoted fans in the world, The Manson Family - no! the Deadheads, is interesting after the first thrity minutes only if your name is Earthglow and you're on LSD and communing with Jerry right now. Not that Tie-Died is a bad film, it's not, but after they hit on the same themes for the fifth time you get the feeling they're stalling for time. At 88 minutes this is a major motion picture. At the 44 minutes it should have been it's a nice home movie and coherent enough for the short consciousness span of Deadheads. The Grateful Dead did not allow any Dead tunes to be used, which is a shame, because with some concert footage and real Dead songs this could have been a decent document of the band and their fans.
Deadheads come straight out of the 1960's free-love hippie subculture centered in San Francisco, which descended from the Beats which descended from earlier forms of Bohemia and paramecium. Political punk comes directly from this tradition. Peace punks are black leather hippies, and while gutter punks may smell like hippies they eat meat and aren't peaceful. Until Jerry Garcia's death in 1995 there was a van-based gypsy culture that followed the Grateful Dead on tour. For every ten people in the show there was one outside who didn't have a ticket but hung around anyway. It was a carnival in the parking lot, where you could buy t-shirts, bootleg tapes, mushrooms and 42 flavors of pot.
Tie-Died hits a few themes hard and beats them mercilessly. Dead fans are the most devoted in the world. Check. A lot of the year-round road warriors come from broken homes and are attracted to the sense of family found with other Heads. Got it. Minimum sentencing for drug violations was killing the scene. Bummer, Dude! Cops target the Deadheads for arrest and persecution. No! Not all is free love and roses because some posers and violent baddies take advantage of the innocent Deadheads and cause trouble. Darn!
Here's some sad but true facts. 1) Much of these people's mellowness comes from being too fried on downers to be anything else. 90% of those interviewed are so zonked they can barely keep their eyes open, forget about being coherent. 2) Of course there's violence and predatory behavior going on - some of these people have no jobs and are addicted to narcotics. Do the math, Dexter. 3) Drugs are illegal. Cops have jobs and quotas. Deadheads are like ducks in a pond. Once again, do the math.
!Punk Reference! : A pair of street punks appear in the film and one observes "This is the last place I expected to be shunned because of the way I look".
Here's a true story. In the early ‘80s I worked concert security in the DC area. The two worst shows were a rap concert (duh) and Jerry Garcia. The easiest were the punk and new wave shows. For the Garcia Band hundreds of stoners came from all over the country with no tickets, but they expected to get in anyway because their acid trip told them so. The parking lot was like Dawn Of The Dead at the shopping mall. One cretin in the back tried to loudly recruit fellow morons to storm the doors. I told him I was going to turn him over to the P.G. County cops. He ran. DC can still be the Deep South when it wants to be. Only one of the following did not actually happen: 1) the fire and police departments, with dogs, arrived and declared the area a danger zone because so many people were wasted and bottles were being smashed against the building, making the grounds dangerous, 2) fifty stoners refused to leave and kept on twirling and popping up and down, and one yelled, "You may be able to keep us out, man, but you can't keep Jerry in!", and 3) canisters of liquid soap were thrown into the unruly crowd, which acted as Hippie Napalm and reduced them to goo.
Times Square (video) (EMI): When this 1980 film was announced in the late 70s, we thought this would be our Saturday Night Fever - before we knew it the world would go punky new wave and we'd be able to brag we were hip before it was hip to be hip. It didn't happen. Times Square wasn't good and it quickly faded from memory. A completely forgettable film from start to finish, it's as if, in an act of pity, the world decided to pretend it never existed. A highly anticipated "event" movie, many video review books don't even bother mentioning Times Square. The Videohound's Guide, rightly critiquing it as "Unappealing and unrealistic", doesn't even give it a rating, the only theatrical release I could find in the book without one.
There are good movies, bad movies, and movies that are good because they're bad. Times Square just exists. The plot is silly, unbelievable, and often pretentious, but not enough to be taken seriously. Nothing pisses me off more than a stupid film with no redeeming qualities. Times Square is discomforting because as you're watching it you're constantly trailing off with "What the...?, Who the...? Where the...?, but there's nothing to really get worked up about. You can't say this sucks, which it does on every level, maybe because the actors are working with poorly conceived characters and a plot that's going who knows where.
Tim Curry, in the Eric Bognosian role, is a graveyard shift NYC radio deejay who is also the disembodied voice of Times Square, where the hookers, drug dealers, porno and kung-fu theaters, Three-Card Monte, the homeless, ranting street preachers, and horse-meat kabob vendors gather 24 hours a day in a twisted dance of performance art. One minute Curry's an omnipotent teller of truth, the next he's a coward or potential pedophile. I can't tell if he's trying to cover up his English accent or not. It's distracting, though, like when Mel Gibson does his NYC voice. Trini Alvarado, in the Jennifer Beals role, is the introverted, arty teenage daughter of the man trying to gentrify Times Square. She's a thirteen year old acting like she's sixteen. Robin Johnson, in the Joan Jett role, is a street-wise mental case with the voice of Selma Diamond. You could feel sorry for her tough life, I guess, but she's such an asshole it's hard to care if she blows up into puddles of goo.
The story is about a tough street kid who meets a shy rich girl, and they have wacky homeless teenage adventures in NYC, until the rich girl has come out of her shell while the tough girl reaches the abyss of her own self-destruction. Meanwhile the funky energy of Times Square and Curry's radio broadcasts shape and comment on the proceedings. A movie can't be quaint and “real” at the same time, and that's one of the movie's major flaws. The "Sleez Sisters" set up residence in an abandoned warehouse on the docks, and they decorate it with enough found items to make it a gypsy paradise. They roam the streets in total safety. Alvarado gets a job dancing in a strip club - but she doesn't have to take her clothes off. They steal wigs and run from the law giggling. The one thing that really pissed me off about Times Square was the theme of throwing televisions off tall buildings as a form of protest (or something). Maybe this is a statement on freedom in the face of TVs mind-numbing qualities, but to advocate hurling heavy objects from rooftops is irresponsible enough to earn the makers of this film a beating.
Director Allan Moyle didn't direct for another ten years and the bad reviews for his film sent him into such a mental state he developed an illness and lost his hair. Years later he directed Pump Up The Volume, which isn't too far off in theme from this earlier fiasco.
The soundtrack is good and it was the original draw of the film. There's XTC, The Ramones, The Pretenders, Lou Reed, The Cars, Talking Heads, The Ruts, Roxy Music, Patti Smith and Suzi Quatro. Too bad the film couldn't match the music.
The Tomorrow Show – Punk And New Wave (DVD review): (This review is filled with spoilers) Shout! Factory must be in a full-blown race with Rhino to repackage every remaining piece of kooky-culture flotsam and jetsam, and until it bankrupts them both I say hurrah! Wee-hours talk show host Tom Snyder was a one of a kind, bridging the gap between the erudite talk of Dick Cavett and a local cable access show run by the owner’s nephew. Tom was a square Swingin’ 70s chain-smoking goofball either drunk or high, a silly man trying to be serious. Within any given five minutes he’d alternate bluntness with irrelevant tangents, probing questions, leading condescension and strange lines of reasoning, punctuated with guffaws and billowing cigarette smoke. One quick shot of Tom in this collection has him speaking normally while smoke shoots out of his nose and mouth like a dragon. A true WTF moment here in the Ought Decade.
While Tom never knew what to make of these dangerous and mentally deficient punk rockers, and he never stopped asking them why they didn’t normal-up their act, he nonetheless booked them on his show early and often. In New Jersey there was The Uncle Floyd Show, another early punk-promoting pioneer, but to get reception you had to connect your TV to the toaster with tin foil. (Offstage Voice: “Hey Floyd, ya hear about the nurse they thought drowned?” Floyd: “No, what?”, Offstage Voice: “They found her under the Doc!”) This two-disc set would have fit on one if it didn’t include full shows with unrelated guests like Frank Capra and Rick Schroder. The DVD menu lets you see only what you want, but Tom’s fun to watch no matter what.
The first disc opens with a group discussion with Joan Jett, Paul Weller, Bill Graham, Kim Fowley and the LA Times rock critic. Then there’s live songs and couch time with Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop, and Wendy O. Williams. The tension is always high and Tom can’t decide if he should be afraid or dismissive. It makes for great television.
The group discussion must be from the early months of the UK 77’ explosion, when “new wave” and “punk” were still battling it out as what to call the music. It’s so new nobody knows what to make of it, even the musicians. Tom reads from his notes that it started in England, which nobody corrects. Weller, edgy and speeding (if how he chews gum is an indicator), hates “punk” as a media term and goes with new wave, as in the French film movement. Jett looks sixteen and is either tipsy or scared. She speaks well but later phases out and forgets what’s going on. Fowley looks like The Joker as a Bowie fanatic, with pancake makeup an inch thick. Snyder blurts out “You look ridiculous”, to which Fowley replies “I’m an Oxford man posing as a mug.” He has a beautiful mind but he’s also a prick and Svengali, seen in full glory in The Mayor Of The Sunset Strip. Graham says it’s a novelty as opposed to a fad, and he detests the nazi imagery. The LA Times critic is smart and level-headed. Tom’s worried about violence and is told it’s mostly implied. Tom refers to bands as “organizations” and says “There’s no music, just chords, and ranting and raving, and put-downs.” Fowley says punk is a “B-movie on record.” Graham shies away from saying he’ll book punk bands but admits he’d probably do so if demand increases. He wouldn’t be proud of himself though. “Demand” vs. “Talent” is also discussed. Every minute of it is fascinating.
Elvis Costello comes on to support his 1981 release Trust and he’s wearing the same over-sized sunglasses from the cover. He and The Attractions bore with live versions of “New Lace Sleeves” and “Watch Your Step”. Asked why he didn’t get asked to be on talk shows, Elvis stares at the floor and says “We’ve never been asked.” He also explains the SNL “Alison” controversy half defensively and half off-handedly. In the interview he’s funny, withdrawn and short-fused. In typical Tom fashion he talks about Costello’s musician father and asks “Do you love him?” Tom’s well–prepared and keeps it lively.
Iggy Pop appears to promote 1980’s Soldier and sings Stooge-powered versions of “Dog Food”, “Five Foot One” and “TV Eye”. Tom says of Ig’s music “It’s easily heard.” Iggy smiles like a maniac and he’s missing a front tooth. I’m waiting for Tom to ask about it but he must be too afraid because Iggy’s energy is a riot about to break. Iggy slouches in his comfy chair and he wants to curse so much but he fights it like a demonic possession. Talking about stage monitors he says “You can’t hear what I can’t flush in my hotel all the time”. He says he’s inspired by Sun Ra, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller and Howlin’ Wolf, and charms Tom by saying the first time he vomited on stage was out of frustration, and that he cut himself because that was “the truth of the moment.” That's our Iggy! Ya gotta love 'em.
Wendy O. Williams famously blew up a car on Tom’s show, but she didn’t really blow up a car. It was a theatrical explosion and the car separated as designed. Geez, ya think they’d allow a car to be dynamited in front of an audience?! Tom introduces her by saying “Tonight Wendy is back to play two more hits that I know are favorites in your house as they are in mine.” As he introduces the live songs he quips “Well, it’s time for another moment in the history of quality television.” Keep in mind Tom’s beyond amused - he’s giddy. Wendy & The Plasmatics play “Head Ranger” and “Master Plan”, and Wendy truly is the female Iggy Pop. In the interview Tom asks a dumb leading question about how many people don’t have TVs and guitars to destroy on stage, so isn’t it wrong that she do so? Eloquently nuts, Wendy says it’s because the world is out of whack, “It’s normal for rape and murder to go on, but it’s not normal to smash a TV set, and I think things are out of proportion.” Tom’s always asserting that if punks quieted down they’d expand their audience, and he seems curious how people like Wendy wind up being how they are, as if they can become Joe and Jane average if they got a haircut and just stopped it. I cringed when he asked Wendy if she’d kiss a TV on stage instead of smashing it. She smiled. She’d heard this crap her whole life.
Disc two opens with Patti Smith - giddy, patriotic, positive and religious about The Creator – either in the Catholic sense of her upbringing or a more generically spirituality. In her poetry she set herself up as a Christ figure, so it’s hard to say. Her language is peppered with poetic images, saying she took a picture of Johnny Carson’s parking spot with her “polarized memory” and calling herself an “illuminated apprentice” of Carson, whose talent she calls a “human parachute”, always landing on his feet in any situation. She’s a big kid for Tom, who for once doesn’t feel threatened by a punk rocker. She says “Little Richard was a person that was able to focus a certain physical, anarchistic and spiritual energy into a form, which we call Rock N’ Roll”, and “Death is a magical extension of being in love… you feel that you’re not alone.” She cracks up the crew by describing her poetry this way: “I always hope that people will have some kind of orgasm through my work… whether it’s just a sense of relaxation, a sense of release, an illumination … and also a good laugh.” Her slogan for the evening is FTA (Focus Thine Anarchy). Patti doesn’t sing in this segment.
The John Lydon & Keith Levine interview is the big attraction of the DVDs, and it doesn’t disappoint. Ostensibly to promote P.I.L., Lydon is such a monumental prick I’m amazed someone, for the love of Pete anyone, didn’t hop on stage and beat him into a coma with a tire iron. About as threatening as a man weighing 140 pounds can be, John randomly alternates between anger, dismissiveness and insults. He’s angry Tom asks basic interview questions and didn’t know the P.I.L. corporate credo. He’s dismissive of everyone and everything, and he spews insults with run-on sentences that serve as his mantra. Levine, David Spade with no chin, tries to bring some structure to the interview but is stopped repeatedly by Lydon, prompting Tom to say “Excuse me for talking while you were interrupting.” John asks for a smoke and Tom says “I’ll find a way to your heart yet, fella.” Going to a break Tom smiles and says into the camera “We’ll continue, not for long, with this fascinating discussion right after these announcements. Isn’t this fun gang?”
As only he can, Tom asks “P.I.L. What is that? Is it a band, is it a public relations firm? What des it do, and what is it?” John drawls out We ain’t no band. We’re a company. Simple. Nothing to do with Rock and Roll. Do da…” Tom: “Why do you dislike Rock and Roll?” John: “It’s dead, it’s a disease, it’s the plague, it’s been going on for too long, it’s history, it’s vile, it’s not achieving anything, it’s just digression, they play Rock and Roll at airports. That’s about as advanced as it can possibly get. It’s too limited. It is too much like a structure, a church, a religion, a farce.” Tom: “Let me try this. What do you like?” John: “Not very much. Being allowed to get on with it, without record company hassles. We’re not very intellectual. We just do it.” Tom: “It’s unfortunate we’re all out of step except for you.”
The only other person I’ve seen be so unrelentingly douchebaggy without provocation is GG Allin, and John has to realize that without two commercial sell-outs, “This Is Not A Love Song” and “Public Image”, P.I.L. would have gone down in music history as a challenging yet unfortunate side project.
The Jam appear in another segment to sing “Pretty Green” and “Funeral Pyre”, this being Paul Weller’s second time on the show, possibly chewing the same piece of gum as the last time, like a British gangster on uppers. Tom, from another cultural planet, refers to them as “An organization called The Jam.” The sit-down is short and friendly, the major topic being how British bands are commonly compared to The Beatles.
The Ramones feel ripped off that Tom was on vacation when they finally made it to the show. They wanted to argue with Tom “about anything!” Sitting in is journalist Kelly Lange, a friendly and efficient type-A personality who, like a mom, can’t stop brushing Joey’s hair away from his eyes and telling him how dangerous that is. Joey looks down the whole time and all you can see are his nose and chin. The band’s there to promote Pleasant Dreams and sing “We Want The Airwaves” and “The KKK Took My Baby Away”. They sit on a couch scrunched together like Siamese quintuplets, and as usual Johnny does most of the talking. Dee Dee gets a few words in and I’m sure Johnny’s steaming inside. It’s a standard Ramones interview, the only highlight being when Lange asks of the band’s clothes “Isn’t this a uniform?” Johnny tells the lie that it was how they dressed every day, but it's common knowledge now that Joey and Dee Dee weren’t too pleased with it.
I’d recommend watching this by yourself just so you can take it all in and mull it over, or maybe a group setting with crullers and coffee.
Too Tough To Die: A Tribute To Johnny Ramone (DVD review):
If the last part of Too Tough To Die was moved to the beginning I wouldn’t have spent so much time thinking the project was a disingenuous attempt to cash in on a generic Los Angeles Ramones tribute concert. It’s not until the end that the focus shifts to Johnny and you learn he passed away two days after the show he helped set up but was unable to attend, as if he held on only long enough to soldier it through. The narrative works better once you see the last scenes, criminally out of place before the end credits.
For most of the disc you might also wonder if it's weighted toward Johnny at all. It’s like the event was a Johnny Ramones tribute in that he was the last of the major three members (oh stop, Tommy got out early), but in making the dvd they felt they shouldn’t disenfranchise Joey and Dee Dee fans. Marky fans are of course on their own. Better editing would have worked wonders all the way around.
Too Tough To Die offers memories and tributes from the usual (and unusual) characters. Old photos and concert footage provide history and background. Pete Yorn is a Ramones nut who sings at least four covers with the Marky Ramone band, warbling as a singer-songwriter does, but at least he's sincere. Lisa Marie Presley (!) was so close to Johnny she saw his body shortly after he died. Rob Zombie says he was in the room as Johnny passed. There’s also Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Clem Burke, Henry Rollins, Eddie Vedder, The Dickies, Linda Ramone (who broke Joey’s heart and caused the infamous Joey-Johnny rift, played down here), Arturo Vega, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sonic Youth, Joey’s brother Mickey Leigh, Danny Fields, Linda Stein, Seymour Stein, Steve Jones, Daniel Ray, Dicky Barrett, Tommy Ramone, CJ Ramone, Marky Ramone, tour manager Monty Melnick (his book is great), and maybe someone else.
The tribute concert has The Chili Peppers doing covers, The Dickies providing a mixed set, X performing their own songs, then Marky Ramone leads a revolving cast of musicians and singers in a set of covers. Singers include Tim Armstrong from Rancid, Pete Yorn, Henry Rollins, Lawrence Katz of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Joan Jett. Marky Ramone has his name in big block letters on his drum kit. That’s funny in a sad yet sure why not way. The best cover is Pete Yorn singing “I Believe In Miracles” backed by two guitarists and CJ on bass. The best line is from Leonard, who approvingly calls Ramones lyrics “Intuitively Infantile”.
If you like a hybrid of band history and tribute concert, you’ll love Too Tough To Die. It didn’t work well for me because it asked me to constantly switch between my left to right brain - and I’m dizzy enough as it is. The last scenes are worth the rental, as they keep the eyes on the prize and deliver a heartfelt tribute to Mr. John Cummings. At the unveiling of the Johnny Ramone memorial statue, Linda’s dressed all in white, wearing a fur, mini-shirt and tall go-go boots. Ah, youze can’t buy class, youze can only rent it.
Tromeo and Juliet (video review) (Troma): Troma is my favorite movie studio. You know you've seen a Troma film when the effects are gory & cheap, the girls are bimbos, the acting is amateurish and the scripts are haphazard and juvenile. Troma's most popular film is The Toxic Avenger, and other titles you might have seen are The Class of Nuke 'Em High, Surf Nazis Must Die, and Sgt. Kabukiman, N.Y.P.D. Troma releases other people's sorry excuses for dumb sexploitation, so be choosy and be sure to rent their in-house productions and the horror-comedies. They’re on the inter-tubes at www.troma.com.
Troma began 25 years ago as the distributor of Bloodsucking Freaks. Since then they've accumulated a library of over 150 films they've either purchased or produced themselves. The core of Troma are Michael Herz, not the fat guy Lloyd hired to portray him in promos, and Lloyd Kaufman, either a poor man's Soupy Sales or a dead broke guy's Joe Franklin. Troma's aesthetic is a New Jersey not far from John Water's Baltimore, and a quickie exploitation streak not seen since Roger Corman filmed Little Shop of Horrors in 2 1/2 days on a bet. There's movies that are bad and bad movies that are great. Troma films are usually really bad and really great. Tromeo and Juliet came out in 1996 in the wake of the other, higher budget version..
For a Troma film this is fairly classy, with its clever Shakespearean lingo and Lemmy's fancy UK accent. That didn't stop Kaufman from making Juliet a lesbian, showing a nipple being pierced for real, and writing a scene just so the three-foot penis monster could do a cameo. Troma put anything in their movies as long as it's funny and cheap to do. They bastardize The Bard from here to Tromaville, but for Troma it's snazzy. Tromeo plays a video game called "Much Ado About Humping" while Juliet's husband-to-be, an heir to a meat packing fortune, delivers lines like a demented Bob Saget: "It's raisin loaf! It's like olive loaf, but it's not, it's raisin loaf! Why?...because there are raisins in it!" A policeman later declares "Now you f--kers have gone too far. Goddamn heads bouncing off of cars while Long Island families are singing 'Found A Peanut'". Other Troma touches are the Troma posters tacked up all over and the many extras in the background who make up their own hammy business for the camera. The closing credits include the "Guy who got pissed off sitting around all day waiting to do a nude scene and then we cut him out of the film". Did I mention how much I love Troma-directed films?
The soundtrack includes The Meatmen, Sublime, Supernova and Unsane. For a good time rent The Class Of Nuke 'Em High, Part II. That’s a good one.
True Stories (video) (Warner): This 1986 feature was directed and co-written by David Byrne of The Talking Heads. As the creator of some of the Talking Heads videos, Byrne brings his own brand of other-worldly inquisitiveness to this small yet oddly quaint musical. You'll often find this tape in the comedy section, but that's only because it's quirky and deadpan. Byrne is a cultural anthropologist by nature, and when the phrase "Shopping Is A Feeling" flashes on the screen in big block letters, there's no comedy intended. As he later narrates, "The shopping mall has replaced the town square as the center of many American cities. Shopping itself has become the activity that brings people together." You may think he's winking at you, but if you wink back he'd probably ask you what's wrong with your eye.
This is "A film about a bunch of people in Virgil, Texas", but it's really about landscape, architecture, commercialism and the stories (as opposed to lives) of the people who inhabit this world. As he later explored in depth in the Storytelling Giant video collection, Byrne loves the idea of letting anyone tell any story they choose, each person and tale a window into some other layer of consciousness. The Leonard Malton video guide gets it wrong when they call True Stories a "Smarmy, pseudo-hip tour of modern-day Texas. Is there anything easier to satirize than eccentric Lone Star crazies?" There's no contempt here. Even the fashion show in the mall where people are dressed as toaster covers and wear clothes made out of lawn is nothing more than a "Celebration of Specialness". Does John Waters have any contempt for the people in his films? Hell, no, anyone who's even heard of Waters knows these are his kind of people. So too are the citizens of Virgil, TX John Byrne's kind of people - dreamers, lonely hearts, schemers, but mostly average people with stories to tell and lives that by default must be lived.
What's the film about? On a shallow top layer it's about a small Texas town, but there's not much plot going on and that's not the point. It's an opportunity to explore Byrne's thoughts and visions of the physical and cultural landscape. On one level the film works like Waiting For Godot, with dialogue like "I have something to say about the difference between American, and European cities...... but I forgot what it is....... I have it written down at home somewhere." Some of the characters fall into categories like the lazy woman, the cute lady, the liar, the businessman (played by Spalding Gray, a master of monologue), and the lonely man who wants only to be married and loved. Played by John Goodman, this character is reason alone to see True Stories more than once. He's great - sweet, vulnerable, lonely, hopeful - you want to give the Dancing Bear a big hug. After this, catch Goodman's performance as the unstoppable psychopath Charlie Meadows in Barton Fink. He's a national treasure, up there with Harry Dean Stanton. Byrne himself narrates the film and interacts with the characters. Who he is and how these people know him is a mystery – he’s like a Spirit whom everyone trusts and knows on site without the need for introduction. As a director, Bryne's style is minimal with a love of bright primary colors. There's a great shot where the camera runs parallel to cookie-cutter suburban tract homes at the same pace as loose newspaper pages blowing across the lawns. It follows the pages until they are caught in the shrubs of the vacant lot at the end of the street, the wild landscape stretching into the horizon. Fans of directors Jim Jarmusch (Down By Law) and Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho) should appreciate this film.
On the musical front there are multiple soundtracks related to True Stories. There's a collection of incidental music and the Talking Heads album, True Stories, which carries the disclaimer, "This is not the soundtrack to the movie. Rather, this album contains Talking Heads' versions of songs from the film. In the movie, most of the songs are sung by the actors, and will be available on separate recordings. Additionally, the musical score is available..." That pretty much says it all. The actors do only a fair job as singers - the David Byrne versions are way better. Even Pops Staples of the legendary Staple Singers doesn't know what to do with "Papa Legba". If you've ever seen The Last Waltz you'd remember The Staple Singers from "The Weight". When Pops steps up to the mike you know you're about to be bowled over. I love these songs. The album wasn't given its due by the critics. "Love For Sale", "Puzzlin' Evidence", "Radio Head" and "Wild Wild Life" are excellent, the last one the happiest karaoke video of all time. True Stories is a nice, simple movie with a great soundtrack. The end and ta da.
Tune-In, Lookout! (dvd review): A few seconds after I put this on I
remembered I generally don’t like music videos. What I generally mean by don’t like is
they annoy me until my gums bleed. Here goes. I didn’t mind the Pretty Girls
Make Graves video because the stop motion effect was pretty neat and the song is
great. Bratmobile’s video was fun because they mixed in Japanese sci-fi movie
scenes. It’s nice to see author and raconteur Dr. Frank goof around with The Mr.
T Experience as he’s a swell fellow. Did they really have to make a video for
“Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba”? I guess they did. I’ll admit to liking The Donnas’ self-titled
cd but their jailbait-Runaways routine got old, and fast. Watching two
we’re-hot-stuff-rock-and-roll-chicks-from-the-dirtball-70s videos was two more
than I could handle. There’s a third cartoon one, easier to experience. The Servotron video gave me a seizure. I expected the Pansy Division videos to be
both gay-themed and gay as hell, but The Pattern out-gayed them with theirs. The
only thing missing was a fake-oak paneled basement photo shoot. Pansy Division’s
video for “Bad Boyfriend” consisted of two stuffed animals being shaken about on
a couch with a record cover between them. Now THAT’S
This 2003 thingie was adapted from a 1998 VHS tape, which as extras on the dvd include a neat little tour of Lookout! By Nardwar The Human Serviette and a Smugglers Japan tour diary. Here’s the bands and songs: Pretty Girls Make Graves – “Speakers Push The Air”; Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone”; The Donnas – “Do You Wanna Hit It” , “40 Boys In 40 Nights”, “Skintight”; The Pattern – “Fragile Awareness”; “Nothing Of Value”; The Oranges Band – “OK Apartment”; Bratmobile – “Eating Toothpaste”; The Mr. T Experience – “I Fell For You”, “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba”, “And I Will Be With You”; The Smugglers – “Especially You”; The Queers – “Punk Rock Girls”, “Don’t Back Down”; Servotron – “People Mover”; The Hi-Fives – “I’d Be So Pleased”; Squirtgun – “Mary Ann”.
Party: The Documentary
(dvd review): As I
remember it, when NYC cable tv started up in the 1970s the licensing was
contingent on them providing a channel for citizens to put on their own shows,
using cable tv studios, equipment and staff. The most infamous ones were
Robin Byrd's show and Al Goldstein’s
Midnight Blue. Seems there was also
TV Party, run by Andy Warhol associate
Glenn O’Brien with assistance from Blondie’s Christ Stein. An extension of
Mudd Club scene, from 1978 to 1982 it was a weekly hangout for lower
Manhattan hipsters to take drugs and hang out in public to an audience that must
have numbered into the tens of
thousands tens, attracting angry calls
from local cable channel changers hoping to see Byrd or Goldstein talk to whores
about their scabs and bruises. I loved the one caller who yells “You suck pud”.
“Pud” is a great word, up there with “goo”.
There’s seven dvds dedicated to the show, this one a documentary. It’s directed by Danny Vinik, whose name I only mention because he produced something called Pornstar Pets, described as “… a feature length documentary that dissects Adult Entertainment. We explore the lives of 22 Adult Stars through their interaction with various family pets.” A number of people are interviewed but their names are not provided until the end, which never works as the viewer is kept in the dark as to who they are and why should I care about what they have to say. I recognized Chris Stein and Debbie Harry and have at least heard of Tav Falco and Arto Lindsay, but there’s also Amos Poe, Robert Aaron, Tim Wright, Edo Bertoglio, Lenny Ferrari, Kate Simon, Lisa Rosen, and Walter Steding.
TV Party: The Documentary is a failure – I’ll explain later, but the show and this documentary are non-events really outside of being peripherally archival. Jean-Michel Basquiat hangs around, as does Debbie Harry, and George Clinton drops by, making his first tv appearance, calling the show “Anarchy Howdy Doody”. In this reel Klaus Nomi sings so that’s a plus. Debbie does a lame yet cute routine about the origins of the pogo dance. On the whole it adds up to a whole lot of nothing if you’re not dazzled by what was then the underground art and music worlds of lower Manhattan. The participants in this documentary surely are, and maybe if Vinik detailed how each was involved with the show and what they got out of it the 70 minutes would have gone by more satisfactorily. Debbie Harry sums it up succinctly when she deadpans "TV Party changed my life. I'll never be the same." She was there a lot and even she knows it's at best a cultural footnote.
There’s a site for the film that’s much more cohesive and enlightening. Click on “The TV Party Story” and right there is the entire outline of what this film should have been. The show clips would have been better off as filler for what’s an amazing story on the page. It’s a big story made tiny by Vinik’s myopic focus on crappy old footage of new wave beatniks mostly making it up as they went along. Sadly there’s no way to recall TV Party: The Documentary and do it right the next time.
24 Hour Party People
(DVD review: It’s hard not to equate
24 Hour Party People with
Hedwig And The Angry Inch. They’re
inventive, witty and fun films, and they both die in the last act. Hedwig heads
south when Heddy longs for love while 24 Hour Party People withers on the rave
The story of Manchester, UK’s Factory Records and its founder, lovable fop Tony Wilson, 24 Hour Party People is front-loaded with whimsical scenes, nonlinear story-telling and neat effects. Steve Coogan is wonderful as Wilson, an erudite putz who builds a thriving music scene for art’s sake alone. Real clips of The Sex Pistols, Iggy, Siouxie, The Jam and The Stranglers help visualize the revolution in music that gave birth to the Manchester scene of The Buzzcocks and Joy Division. Real and Memorex Sex Pistols mix to recreate the show that launched a thousand Mancunian ships (as it were).
Sean Harris looks a lot like Ian Curtis even though he does have a chin. I was expecting an immediate epileptic seizure but it took 37 minutes to get to the Ian Curtis money shot.
At 117 minutes the film is a long 27 minutes too long. If you watch this up to the demise of Joy Division you’ll have a great time and nobody gets hurt. When rave rears its trippy head the film loses its charm and becomes a lesson in exponential stupidity.
Many music scenes have drug cultures attached to them. A few drug cultures have their own music scenes. Reggae’s what happened to Ska when pot slowed down the mind and reflexes. I like Reggae. Ecstasy brought with it rave which allowed horrid bands like The Happy Mondays to record white soul dance crap. I like when Ravers drive off cliffs.
Rave provides the last euphoric high and catatonic low of Factory Records, and the demise is laid out like a police procedural. Wilson reveals himself to be both impotent and morally indifferent, a quasi-Buddhist approach big with intellectuals (Bowie comes to mind).
The first half of 24 Hour Party People is great. The second half pretends the slide to oblivion was fun while it lasted. If you like rave you might agree. I don’t.
200 Cigarettes (video) (Paramount): Shhh, I've managed to sneak away to write this review. I'm tapping very softly on the computer keys because I don't want this celluloid abomination to realize I've escaped. I guess I could turn it off, but I'm afraid it'll come back later to complete its mission of wasting my time. Christina Ricci is tawkin like dis and dat because she's from, ya know, Lawn Guylind. Specifically Ronkonkoma, a small town of little note chosen because it's a funny word like "pickle" and "goo".
First time director Risa Bramon Garcia calls in favors from her continuing career as a casting director to get the likes of Janeane Garofalo, Ben and Casey Affleck, Courtney Love, Dave Chappelle, Gaby Hoffman, Martha Plimpton and Jay Mohr to act in what has to be one of the most meandering, pointless, unfunny movies you'll ever see. It's a Robert Altman-type affair of a zillion story lines that somehow intermingle and come together at the end -- an "actor's movie". All 200 Cigarettes lacks is a usable script. The actors are talented but it's like watching improv drama exercises. I can't even think of a lame excuse to see this. It's not good bad and it's too dull to be bad bad.
Set in NYC in 1981, there's many new wave sounds on the soundtrack but it could just easily be about Madonna fans or disco kids. There's a scene at a punk club and punks were hired as extras. Lower Manhattan is filled with people who look like movie extras so I doubt the makeup and costuming budgets were dented. Uh oh, Courtney Love is yelling at Paul Rudd, who's kinda like Ben Stiller. Thankfully she stopped. Now they're playing a Ramones song. Elvis Costello appears in an Alfred Hitchcock cameo and some Costello album covers adorn a party loft. He's an unseen recurring character throughout. Why, I don’t know. Before I forget, the plot has something to do with a New Year's Eve party. Smoking is also big, but the cigs are just there. It's not like they serve any purpose. Maybe the film adds up to 200 actual smoked cigarettes. Wouldn't that be something. Quick, duck, I think the film's looking this way! Hooo, that was a close one.
Devo spuds Mark and Robert Mothersbaugh are credited as scoring the music. I don't hear anything in the way of scoring. Ben Affleck asks some chickies if they like Devo. Is this product placement? MTV Films helped produce this, like I needed one more reason to hate MTV. Is 200 Cigarettes only 101 minutes long? It feels like it's already next Tuesday. Now they're blasting "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love And Understanding". As if that'll make up for everything else. Nice try. Is it just me, or is Christina Ricci's face and body getting rounder and rounder? All she needs is a tan and she'll be a full-color circular. Hooray for esoteric humor!
Just when you think (and I hope) the film should logically end, it keeps on going. Oh, thank God it's ending now. The credit says David Johansen played a bartender. Huh. It also says Elvis was a "Special Music Consultant". Betsey Johnson provided clothes. Yeah, well, you need her if you want to dress like Cyndi Lauper. It's over. Finally. If I hit myself on the temple with this frying pan maybe I'll forget the last 101 minutes of 200 Cigarettes. Ouch!... Ah, sweet sweet head trauma.... A much, much, much better movie about how kookie NYC can be in the wee hours is 1985's After Hours. Martin Scorsese directed and both Dick Miller and Terri Garr appear in it. New York is the city so nice they named a movie about escaping from it.
Tuxeedomoon - Four Major Events (video) (Target): With the exception of two songs this live performance is fairly dull, plus the video effects are way out of hand in how they try to mirror the obtuse complexity of the music. Tuxeedomoon released a fair amount of single-worthy material along with endless atmospheric mush. I rented this because the box listed a set of songs I like. Too bad they all weren't on the tape.
A collective of San Francisco artists and musicians, Tuxeedomoon formed in 1977. They were pioneers of modern theatrical electronics, mixing mime, guitar, drums, bass, sax, violin and an array of electronics worthy of Throbbing Gristle. They adopted the romanticism of Roxy Music and infused into it avant-garde jazz and no wave noise damage. Always to be thought of as a Ralph Records band, they released most of their recordings on their own label. By 1982 they moved to Rotterdam, where they thought their art would be better appreciated. Many band members came and went until their last album in 1987.
Four Major Events finds the camera crew using every special effect in the manual instead of simply showing the band perform live. One tune doesn't look live at all. I would have loved to hear "No Tears", but instead there's much standing around while one of them turns a nob on his synth and then stands back to see what happens. I saw them in concert at around this time (mid ‘80s) and there was a lot going on visually. This video shows you very little and jettisons detail for static, blurredness and slow motion. Which is too bad. A collection of their hits is worth finding. This video tape is worth leaving.
Two Moon July (video) (Pacific Arts): A PBS- financed production from 1986, the 80 minute Two Moon July brings together a healthy number of no wave, minimalist and multi-media artists to promote the work of The Kitchen, a venerable art and performance space in lower Manhattan. To quote from their website, "The Kitchen is an interdisciplinary laboratory for visionary emerging and established artists. In the coming millennium, The Kitchen will remain a nurturing space for artists to collaborate across disciplines and push the boundaries of their fields, and will support the artistic exploration and application of new technologies that help connect artists and audiences from around the world. The first institution to focus exclusively on multi-disciplinary work, The Kitchen is preserving an archive of performance work, which is of great historical significance." It’s the usual hyperbole but The Kitchen has lived up to it with aggressive programming and a hardcore group of supporters that include Laurie Anderson and Philip Glass, both of whom appear on this tape.
Now that I've trumpeted the virtues of The Kitchen, I must say this tape stinks. It has no idea what it wants to be, and the small attempts at running two simultaneous plot lines lead to nothing. You have periodic banter between the two audio/sound people that's supposed to give a behind-the-scenes feel, and a running gag with an agent handing out promo tapes and making excuses for a performer who doesn't make it to the show as promised. The original idea might have been to have Two Moon July be an eclectic evening of performance with other distractions added, but there’s no audience and no ongoing show, so the result is a mishmash with no continuity.
This should have been a straight taping of performances from the live and multi-media artists on hand. The viewer should sense the excitement of the audience and of a gathering of prodigious talents as Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, David Byrne, Arto Lindsay and John Lurie. You should watch this and wish to god you were there. Instead, everyone performs alone for the camera and there's no connection between what you see now and ten minutes from now. The short films are dull and the two dancers basically improv their pieces while you both marvel at their dexterity and wonder what if anything their movements mean. The only highlight is David Byrne, who performs something called "Report From L.A.", where he walks and then runs around the studio while reciting a poem and leafing through a glossy magazine. It's typical Byrne but Byrne at his best.
There's no need to rent this, so instead bake some cookies, floss your toes or scream back at the crazy guy on the bus. Or, you can always ponder if Laurie Anderson ran out ideas after "O Superman".
UK/DK: A Film About Punks and Skinheads (video) (Cleopatra): In 1994 Cleopatra re-released this 1983 film for the latest generation of spikey-tops to enjoy. When I first rented it I thought the 55 minutes running time was weak for anything calling itself a film, but for a number of reasons this works out to be more than enough to get its points across. I enjoyed it, but another ten minutes and I would have turned it off.
UK/DK is a document of the second wave British punk movement, consisting mainly of oi and street punk bands. It followed a number of similar films about the first wave of the Sex Pistols, Clash, etc. UK/DK doesn't have anything really new to say - it's mostly an update on UK punk in the aftermath of its initial explosion. It's more bands and fans explaining what they like about punk, why they're punk and what punk means to the world at large. The only notable statement this film makes is that punk was still going strong after the death of the Sex Pistols and subsequent belief by the larger culture that punk was dead. Some punks present punk as a valid means of expression while others are C.H.U.D. with mohawks. Some want to change the world for the better while others are lazy slobs content to live on welfare. There's much generic philosophizing and a few good points too. This should all be new and exciting to, uh, probably nobody.
The following bands are interviewed and/or shown lip-synching along to their records: The Exploited, Vice Squad, Adicts, The Damned (here to show continuity from the '77 scene), Blitz, The Business, Varukers, Chaos UK, and Disorder. It's a conscious decision to not have the bands recorded live, especially considering how odd it is to see a live show being used to film a punk band basically miming their own music. The intent had to be a desire for professional presentation of a genre infamous for its sloppy live shows. Or maybe it was cheaper. The songs in the film sound the same and do nothing to show the true variety of sounds found in the early ‘80s. The quality of UK/DK is generally very high. My copy had bad sound quality but I'm sure it was defective.
Professional critics Gary Bushell of Sounds magazine (famous in oi circles) and Carol Clerk of Melody Maker give running commentary on the continuing punk movement, which gives the exercise more credibility than simply having punks rationalize their existence. As with the first punk wave, these journalists are using their enthusiasm for the genre as a means of establishing themselves in the mainstream press.
I've seen and reviewed too many documentaries to get all worked up in my analysis of DK/UK. It's well made and worth your time if you're into the bands. No new ground is broken and nothing special is revealed, so there’s no need to rent one less porno just to see this, unless it's your first time -- seeing a British punk movie I mean.
The Story Of The Undertones (DVD Review): The Undertones were a deceptively great band, but that can't be right because there was no deception. Maybe their songs were deceptively simple, which might be right, but that's not giving them enough credit. The Undertones were a great band because their songs are great, and if more people don't know it because their songs are deceptively simple, that's their lose. More songs for me. The Undertones managed to be The Buzzcocks, the Ramones, the Split Enz and The Kinks of their time and place, the time from 1978 through 1983, and the place Derry, Northern Ireland. The Undertones were a revved up yet pure power pop band, and what they accomplished is more than noteworthy. I write of them in the past tense because while they're still around they'll always be remembered with Feargal Sharkey as their singer. As is the injustice of the band system, he wrote none of their music but is widely thought of as the group's alpha and beta. The Story Of The Undertones - Teenage Kicks is well put together and thankfully short, a loving tribute to a band whose music is more interesting than their story - humble beginnings, a rise to a level of glory, the inevitable decline and breakup, and the mandatory reunion tours, except in this case without Feargal.
The first thing an Undertones fan learns is that legendary John Peel, a hugely influential figure in modern alternative music, considered "Teenage Kicks" his favorite song. Peel appears first and probably last in the film, interviewing the band and speaking of his own appreciation for The Undertones. The Undertones themselves (Feargal excepted but not by much) are unassuming to the point of mundanity, as if what they said or did couldn't have amounted to much coming from such ordinary men. Yet, that's what they were, no different than their friends and audiences except they wrote and performed songs almost unerringly perfect in melody, intensity and execution. The story of The Undertones is a simple one that could have been told in a segment of 60 Minutes. The main film is about sixty minutes long, probably made for Irish television. The DVD contains extras that could easily be added to the main piece, but there's no real call to do so. Theirs is a short story at best.
The Troubles are discussed, but the band mostly went out of their way to be non-political, as most other aspects of their days were divisive politics made flesh. Music was for them escapism, and their philosophy is nicely described as a "revolt against anger". Here in the US politics plays almost no role in most kids' lives, so they create fictitious worlds of paranoia for themselves in music and culture. Music therefore focuses on the political, some of it imagined and most of it unrelated to their actual experience, making otherwise ordinary lives a life-and-death struggle that's really important to be taken seriously.
Old 8mm film is used to great effect, and the band captured enough of their early days to make the film look authoritative and complete. Many of the interviews drag because the guys are humble, pleasant, polite, and they tend to speak slowly. Sharkey is surprisingly honest and open, and you probably learn the most about what happened through him. He never appears with the others on camera. That chapter probably closed for good when he left in 1983.
1979's The Undertones is almost their version of the first Ramones album, who were so influential to The Undertones that in the film one of the O'Neill brothers stammers and stutters because he can't find to words to describe just how important they were to the creation and direction of the band. 1980's Hypnotised was their Leave Home - more of the same, and why the hell not? 1981's Positive Touch saw the band run out of speed, figuratively and maybe literally. If you like slow ballads this would be the album for you, you puffy shirt wearing new romance crooning something or other.
As an hour long TV show this does the job well enough. I was thinking going in there might have been more to the story. Not that there has to be. Maybe the "more" of the story is there in front of me, but all I can see and hear are average men telling an average story in a pleasant way. The picture on the cover is mesmerizing. It's the exact frame of the moment that captures it perfectly. Above are three Undertones songs and three songs by other artists that remind me of these songs. Enjoy! Or not!
Up In Smoke (video) (Paramount): You wouldn’t have a film like Dumb And Dumber if not for this 1978 marijuana classic, starring Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, the Abbott and Costello of pot humor. Dumb and Dumber differs in that Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are dopes high on obliviousness as opposed to high, oblivious dopers. Most of Up In Smoke, Cheech and Chong’s first and best picture, is a loosely structured series of sight gags and expanded stand-up routines. The ending is a punk rock extravaganza that gave ‘70s Los Angeles punks the chance to appear in a real live movie!
Up In Smoke is a movie about pot smoking, and even though there’s some good lines, mostly what you have are “funny” drug situations that dopers find funny because anything to do with pot makes them laugh. Any reference to smoking a bowl is a guaranteed chuckle, and “the munchies” is a high concept that sends potheads into hysterics of deeper understanding, because not only is it funny, it’s true! Everything revolves around pot smoking, there’s a truck made out of pot that lights on fire, Stacey Keach (that's Mike Hammer to you, punk), the pot hating cop, gets the munchies, the van rocks back and forth, everyone thinks Chong’s getting some love action and…dude… I forgot the rest (hahahahahaha…huh?)
The last scenes take place at the Roxy in Los Angeles. They also show the Rainbow club. Cheech and Chong enter a “Rock Fight Of The Century” contest where they scare up a band and call themselves “Alice Bowie”. Cheech plays guitar and wears Mickey Mouse ears, pink tights and a pink tutu (inspired by The Plasmatics?). You can catch a few seconds of the Berlin Brats, The Dills and The Whores playing live as part of the contest. Cheech plays his own “I Don’t Wanna” song and wows the crowd of Roxy regulars, who gamely waste an evening listening to bands and waiting around during between shots.
Lou Adler directed this after producing 1975’s Rocky Horror Picture Show. In 1981 he directed Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. Last week he took his car in for a new muffler. Stay tuned for updates as they happen.
URGH! A Music War(1981) (Video): This is the ultimate new wave concert film. It harkens back to an interesting time. The great old new wave bands were in their prime, punk was running through its second generation and the emerging hardcore bands were making themselves known outside their small scenes. Back then new wave and punk were interchangeable, unless you were a punk purist. Under the banner of new wave were diverse musical styles - punk, new wave, no wave, ska, reggae, electronic, rockabilly, pub rock, hardcore and power pop. On any given night at a new wave club you could hear and dance to all of these. I would say 1980 was the Golden Year for fans of new wave and punk. Today new wave is a nostalgic joke and punks choose one or two styles and close themselves off to the rest of the world. I suggest anyone not around in 1980 should study Urgh! like it was a finals project. Once you find what ties together Klaus Nomi, The Cramps, Devo and The Dead Kennedys (or any other band combo), only then can you say you know punk history.
Shot in England and the U.S. (CBGBs, The Whisky, The Ritz), over thirty bands are filmed in concert. The Police open and close the show, not surprising since they were the most popular band at the time and the film was produced by Miles and Ian Copeland. Groups are shown in quick succession, which helps since the film is over two hours long. Quick routines set up Wall Of Voodoo and The Go Gos, but for the most part it's straight concert footage of the bands with only a small amount of fan reaction – which is how it should be. What I picked up on most is the influence of reggae, how synthesizers are used by new wave and punk bands alike, and how young and skinny everybody was then. Here's some notes on some of the performances:
The Police: Before Sting fell in love with himself The Police earned their popularity. Stewart Copeland plays the biggest drum kit this side of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Wall of Voodoo: The Devo of minimilistic c&w existentialism. Stan looks like John Cusack. Toyah Wilcox: Cyndi Lauper meets Gary Numan. She’s much cooler than I remembered. Liquid Sky face painting and clothing. John Cooper Clarke: imagine John Sayles as a poetry-spewing giant elf. OMD: a lightweight art-school version of Joy Division, but very good. A real drummer and nobody dances with a bass guitar like Andy McCluskey. Chelsea: A poor man's Stiff Little Fingers. Oingo Boingo: Most frenetic of the wavers, you can tell Danny Elfman is a demented genius songwiter. Same vocal stylings as XTC's Andy Partridge. Jools Holland: Plays a little number on the keyboard "airport lounge" style. Where's the big cognac glass filled with dollar bills? XTC: They should have chosen another song besides "Respectable Street" to highlight Andy's quirky singing style. You can’t tell from this he suffered from horrible stage fright. Klaus Nomi: decadent cabaret. The only man weird enough to work with Bowie during his Berlin period. Athletico Spizz 80: David Spade fronts a fun UK punk band. The Go-Gos: Girls just want to have fun. Discover what makes them a great band for punk bands to cover. Dead Kennedys: When Jello improvises he makes very little sense. Could have chosen a better song than "Bleed For Me". Steel Pulse: a great reminder of how important reggae was to ther styles. Gary Numan: sings "Down In The Park" sitting in a cubic car that moves around a massive stage set. Eye liner and Bowie. Joan Jett: very Ramones sounding "Bad Reputation". Top notch. Surf Punks: A gimmicky little punk band I'm happy are long gone. The Members: an all white reggae band. Something strange about that... Au Pairs: early Gang of Four sound (mostly "Damaged Goods") with agitated female singer. The Cramps: Best performance of the night! Will Lux Interior's rubber pants slide off his hips?! Looks and sings like a zombie Elvis from beyond the grave. Pere Ubu: David Byrne ten times weirder. The fat man is in control. Pure fugging genius. Devo: It's all here - power synthesizers, live instruments, the flower-pot hat gimmick, hardcore nerds. Devo at their peak on "Uncontrollable Urge". John Ottway: Ian Dury meets Ray Davies. Gang of Four: Socialism you can dance to. Before they became a disco-funk band. Jarring yet minimalistic. 999: when all is said and done, a one-hit-wonder band, but what a song! X: Billy Zoom for President and Bill Paxton on guitar. Skafish: Oscar to Murray the Cop: "I'd break your nose, but I only have two hands!" What a nose! My god, you could stick your whole thumb up there and not hit the sides. A stiff sideways wind and he'll snap his neck!
I forwarded through four songs, which makes this a great tape as far as I'm concerned. A two-record soundtrack was released at the same time.
US Festival 1983: Opening Day (video review): This is an odd keepsake from an odd series of concerts in 1982 and 1983, imagined and paid for by Apple founder Steve Wozniak, who invested (lost) twenty million dollars on a whim to create a modern Woodstock in the burning desert of Riverside County, CA, Los Angeles’ version of Arkansas. There’s no heart to it or a reason why it should exist, except it was probably expected by Mr. Woznaik as part of the original business proposal.
The US Festival attracted hundreds of thousands of people, most on this day looking like they were waiting for the next day’s heavy metal bands. Was there such a thing as a new wave mullet? “US” stood for “Unite Us In Song”, making it the USIS Festival? A huge stage was built, forcing each band spread out and become distant from each other and the audience, penned behind a wide, waterless security moat. The collective body odors warped light and created a cloud of organic tear gas that caused all engines to seize in a ten mile radius. The concert saw the first use of Jumbotron screens and had a satellite hook-up to Russia, to teach them commies the evils of capitalism.
The tape shows most of the bands from the first day of the 1983 shows, and all but the last three are one song and gone. There’s INXS, The Divinyls, Oingo Boingo, The English Beat, Missing Persons, The Stray Cats, Men At Work and The Clash. Such a large stage and venue makes the band members each small and alone, and even though everyone tries it’s like having moveable action figures putting on a show. It’s not as bad as that, but the best place to see bands is a boxcar like CBGBs, not the Grand Canyon.
MTV’s nice enough Mark Goodman narrates the event via snippets of a taped interview. The Divinyls’ lead singer Christina Amphlett is a crazed Australian female version of Alfalfa from The Little Rascals. Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons was the Wendy O. Williams of new wave. The way some of these bands dressed, like INXS, was New Romance as imagined by Tom Petty. The oddest thing about this thing is that some bands don’t even have a hit song featured. The English Beat play “Jeannette” from their third album. Do you remember that song? Oingo Boingo, who I find over-rated in general, play another generic song from their catalog.
I watched this for free as a member of Netflix. In the real world there must be a dump filled with VHS tapes of the US(IS) Festival. If the original boxes don't have day-glow pastel colors all over them I’ll give each of you an internet dollar.
Valley Girl (Video) (Vestron): This small, quaint film from 1983 is a cult classic. It has good writing and nicely underplayed acting, but I think today's affection for it comes from how silly it makes new wave look. Real new wave died around 1982. You don't even have to know or care about music to find Nicolas Cage's futuristic Annie Hall look (with the tall frazzled hair) funny, and forget about the Valley Prep Boys with their feathered hair, pastel polo shirts with upturned collars, and arms like toothpicks. It helps to have a few gratuitous teenage boobie scenes thrown in as insurance.
This was Cage's second film, after Rumble Fish. He looks like the Road Runner and Droopy made flesh, but here he also takes on the near silent qualities of Stan Laurel. And dig that chest hair! It's a throw rug in the shape of a concave triangle. Also try not to linger on his eyebrows, which resemble two caterpillars wearing fur coats.
Oh yeah, the movie - Valley Girl is a Romeo and Juliet love story involving a nice rich girl from the San Fernando Valley and a street-wise yet huggable working class boy from Hollywood, a poorer and run down valley. Cage crashes a party, they see each other for the first time, and love sparks! -- but! -- the Valley Girl social order conspires to keep them apart until love triumphs in time for the end credits. The third act is so pat and silly they should have played the Bennie Hill theme over it (there's a food fight at the prom for Christ's sake!), but most of Valley Girl is worth watching for its endearing performances and sweet-natured nostalgia.
The dialogue contains life-lessons but it's not overly preachy. It helps that the actors are likeable and the script is filled of nice human touches - when it doesn't resort to teen sex and slapstick. You'd think Roger Corman was popping his head in every fifteen minutes. Having Cage toot a sad little song on an orange wax harmonica was a touch of mad genius. I found some good midnight-movie dialogue here, like "We were young once -- your mother still is", "Hey Harv, I thought you were gonna get the mohawk!" and "When they attack the car, save the radio".
Back in the day there were two basic ways to dance to new wave; free-style and the new wave two-step. Everybody does the two-step in this movie and it's proof it did exist. Oh, I’ve been mocked good on this contention. It's a swing-your-left-arm-swing-your-right-arm jig that's as easy to do as fall off a toilet at two in the morning. In ‘81 I laughed watching posers do it because often they'd have a look of total concentration and seriousness that belied how simple and unoriginal the dance really was.
Amongst other songs on the soundtrack, The Psychedelic Fur's "Love My Way" is heard twice on the radio, along with "Electric Avenue", "I'll Melt With You" and others too embarrassing to mention. The Plimsouls appear on stage at Cage's favorite Hollywood hangout and twice play "A Million Miles Away", then later Josie Cotton and her band play the prom and everyone gets out of the way while she belts out "Johnny, Are You Queer?". There's a Devo poster taped up in a bedroom and a Circle Jerks flyer on a bathroom wall.
I lived through that era and have fond memories of my own involvement in that scene. But hey, that's my problem. I miss the sweet, eccentric characters who populated that time. Today eccentricity has been replaced by raw attitude, and since that so rarely comes from within it's mostly a pose dictated by advertising and the peer pressure of dimwits. Was that time better? That answer is always yes and no, but I do think people had more layers to their personalities than they do now. Kids grow up too fast these days and adulthood is less nuanced than childhood. It's like everyone is being tossed into the Major Leagues while the Farm Leagues get their budgets cut more each year. But enough of my yappin'. Valley Girl: you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll say it wasn't as funny as Fast Times At Ridgemont High, cause that one had drug humor and this one doesn't.
Velvet Goldmine (video) (Miramax): Sometimes the difference between an artistic film and a pretentiousness one is a matter of running time. At 123 minutes, Velvet Goldmine runs thirty minutes too long. The film has other problems, but director Todd Haynes could have cut scenes where actors longingly stare at each other with a palpable sense of doom. Goth owes its proverbial lunch money to the glam movement.
This movie came out last year and was notable because it revolved around the early ‘70s UK glam era. It's about that too, but Velvet Goldmine is actually a movie about gay life that just so happens to involve the glam era. The story opens in the 1800s with Oscar Wilde as an infant left at the doorstep of strangers, moves to a young boy by the name of Jack Fairy discovering he's gay, then moves to the ‘70s when a Bowie-derived character called Brian Slade fakes his own death, then meets and seduces Iggy Pop-flavored dude Curt Wild. Here the story switches to the present where a reporter is assigned to discover what became of Slade, in the process flashing back (think Citizen Kane) to his youth when he was discovering his own gay orientation as a fan of the glamsters.
I'll review Velvet Goldmine in three parts; what's good about it, what's bad, and how the real musical figures are represented in this work of half-fiction:
For the first thirty minutes Velvet Goldmine is fun to look at. The fashions, the sets and especially the unwashed oily hairstyles of the era are accurate. Space Age Hippies, that's what they were. Various film styles are mixed to keep the eye on notice, and for a while the story-line switches around enough to keep the mind busy too. That's the good.
As far as the bad goes, where to begin..... the dialogue is an endless series of clichés out of the mouths of glam's version of Andy Warhol's Factory scene. The beautiful people in the film spew jewels like "You live in terror of not being misunderstood" and "We set out to change the world... and ended up just changing ourselves." The only people in real life who talk like this are art, poetry and music geeks who view other people as mirrors that reflect only themselves. These are the kinds of lines dipwads use to rationalize the screwed up lives they lead and inflict on others.
The surrealism and symbolism get annoying, especially when they have two children provide voice-over to an emotional scene using two Ken dolls instead of actors. The use of a piece of antique jewelry, seen in the opening on the infant Oscar Wilde, is also too cute to be taken seriously. I'd like to say the acting is bad but they're not given much to do beyond looking hurt, horny, self-obsessed and self-destructive. There's way too much staring at each other and off into space. The story is convoluted and involves too many major story lines. The reporter-relives-his-own-sexuality aspect should have been cut for time and plot considerations. The Jack Fairy character is superfluous to say the least. I know what he represents to the plot but it's another waste of time and focus.
On the music and history front, you know you're in trouble when there's a disclaimer at the beginning which states what you are about to see is a work of fiction. Then you easily recognize people and events are being ripped off and butchered. The Brian Slade character is David Bowie. He has a look-alike wife who's Angela Bowie, puts on a Ziggy Stardust-type tour, and many years later re-creates himself. There's an obvious Mick Ronson character in his band. He meets Curt Wild (Iggy as played by Ewan McGregor who couldn't look more like Kurt Cobain) and produces his career for a while, etc. The name Slade comes from the glam band Slade. Slade's backup band is called Venus In Furs - a tip of the hat to Lou Reed who was also in Bowie's circle. Here's something annoying - there's a bar scene where a female-fronted band is singing "Personality Crisis". Why not have a bunch of guys dressed as the NY Dolls? The inaccuracy of it is obvious and it makes the film look stupid.
The soundtrack features songs by Roxy Music, Lou Reed, Gary Glitter, and The Stooges, sung by new bands for some strange reason, with the exception of "Satellite Of Love". I'd recognize Lou Reed's tone-deaf warble anywhere.
The Velvet Underground: Under Review (dvd review): While not as good as the Joy Division entry of the Under Review series, The Velvet Underground: Under Review is serviceable when it could have been excellent. Billed as “An Independent Critical Analysis”, they recruit an impressive line-up of band members, associates, writers and others with direct involvement in the band’s history. Moe Tucker and Doug Yule are given ample screen time while Lou Reed and John Cale are absent, neither here nor there since this isn’t a definitive documentary and never claims to be. What it lacks is a strong narrative structure, leaving it vague, wishy-washy and worst of all incomplete.
Besides drummer Maureen Tucker and bassist Doug Yule, major contributors are Factory legend Billy Name, author Clinton Heylin, mega-critic Robert Christgau, first album producer Norman Dolph, authors Joe Harvard and Malcolm Dome, Boston Tea Party Manager Steve Nelson, and one Sal Mercuri, listed as a fairly meaningless in itself “Velvets Expert”. He gets handfuls of screen time so you might ask yourself “Why am I listening to this schlub with bad hair plugs?” It’s not until you peek at the dvd extras that you find he wrote a Velvets fanzine for three years, published a book of Yule’s VU photographs and co-produced/consulted on most of the expanded editions of the VU catalog. It would have been helpful to know this up front.
The Velvet Underground: Under Review is fairly devoid of gossip and hsrd-hitting commentary. Lou Reed leaves the band after the release of Loaded, before a set at their Max’s Kansas City residence, and no solid reason is given while Moe says she didn’t ask because she figured Lou would tell her if he wanted to. My guess is Moe doesn’t want to piss off her gravy train (Reed and Cale), and Doug Yule is the band’s scapegoat/doormat. Slices of the real story of the Velvet Underground were left on the cutting room floor if not delved into on purpose, and it riddles the piece with holes. It’s criminal not to peek into the exploits of Nico The Drug Sponge or Lou Reed’s famed bouts of assholeishness.
Lacking a strong editorial narrative VU Under Revue recounts history as if in passing. In the extras we learn Cale and Reed met after Lou recorded the novelty song “The Ostrich” in 1964 while working at Pickwick Records. Recruited to play in a touring promo band, Cale liked that Reed tuned all of his guitar strings to D on the song, and soon enough a partnership formed. I don’t know why this was left out of the main part which needed as much solid history as it could muster.
As a generic overview of the band it works well enough. Here’s a written history if you feel so inclined. Little footage exists of the band and most of that is disjointed, so you can’t fault the filmmakers for the choppy old footage. Christgau says of Tucker, “Moe was a great drummer, in a minimalist, limited, autodidactic way that I think changed musical history. I think she’s where the punk notion of how the beat works begins.” Moe didn’t play on Loaded and without intending to brag she says “There were a few songs that needed me.” She picks “Ocean” as an example, but that came from the album before it.
Here’s my Velvet Underground experience: In the mid-70s I carried pictures of Lou Reed and David Bowie in my wallet. Wallets had plastic inserts for pictures. I knew Lou’s solo work before I heard The Velvet Underground and preferred what I heard on Rock and Roll Animal to the originals. I still do. I’m not a drone guy and my attention span usually doesn’t run past five minutes. I don’t get hypnotized, I don’t drop acid, and the beautiful losers can go you-know-what themselves. Loaded is my favorite VU album. I saw Lou live at My Father’s Place in 1979 and he led his band like a conductor for much of it. If anyone deserves credit for opening the punk rock door for non-singing singers, it’s Lou Reed. He has a horrible singing voice and I’m bewildered by anyone who thinks otherwise. I wore out my 8-Track cut-out tapes Sally Can’t Dance and Coney Island Baby. I loved 78’s Live: Take No Prisoners and stuck with him until Growing Up In Public. This doesn’t add up to much, but neither does The Velvet Underground: Under Review - a shame because all that’s missing is a firm and steady hand at the wheel.
The Velvet Underground and Nico - A Symphony Of Sound (video review): I watched this last night. More specifically, the most I could handle was ten minutes. What I remember is retained like a dream - a slow moving, senseless, melodically noisy yet tuneless dream. It's in the collection of the Museum Of Modern Art Film Library. Somewhere way in the back.
Paul Morrissey, who filmed Chelsea Girls, Flesh, Trash and other movies people think were directed by Andy Warhol, displays the talent of an eight year old on hashish. He zooms in and out, focuses and unfocuses, moves the camera up to the ceiling then down to the floor, and films the spaces between people. There's also a thousand edit cuts that create endless annoying time skips. It's hard not to think of both Fritz Lang and David Lynch. It's art because an artist says it is. I understand that much.
The jam they're playing is about 54 minutes long, and drugs would definitely help for both musicians and viewers. The sound may or may not be synched, but I can say for sure it sounds like it's coming from a heat vent in a tenement.
After the band stops playing the camera keeping rolling while people mill around. A policeman shows up and Andy Warhol walks around. Lou Reed stands next to Nico, The Drug Sponge, and other people stand around for a while. I don't remember much because it was a dream I had, I think.
Vice Squad: Last Rockers (dvd review): Cherry Red Records once again digs into their large dumpster of VHS tapes to create product that’ll probably sell enough copies for it to have not been a horrible idea in the first place. Gathering the original male members of Vice Squad, one of UK punk's most average second wave bands, they mix old and new material in a way that by narrow definition makes it a documentary and not just a cut & paste quickie. I turned it off half way as I felt I more than got the point.
Vice Squad intentionally sought the gimmick of a female lead singer and they lucked out in finding Beki Bondage, who in the linked interview and ye olde interview footage in Last Rockers speaks well and gives measured opinions. For her at least it’s too bad the songs weren’t memorable, and at least half of the dvd consists of 1981 – 1982 concert footage that’s as shapeless as it is mono and badly filmed. Along with period interview snippets is a sit-down with the original band members sans Beki, gathered around a table drinking beers and smoking smokes. Punk rocking being a dot in the rear view mirrors of their lives they leisurely recount the origins and travails of Vice Squad, which is all well and good except I felt if I was drinking with them my attention span would have lasted longer.
The dvd allows you to watch raw concert footage and access audio for four songs. Andy Warhol ("War-hole, like holes. Andy War-hole.") famously said “In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes”. As far as the punk rock goes, the future is now, pretty much every band had a music film made about them, and fame has nothing to do with it.
Way USA (video): For a short time Tesco Vee of The Meatmen had his own TV show on MTV. I don't know how many episodes he made or how the hell he wound up on the cable station he mocked mercilessly, but I found a tape with two complete episodes and a promo for the first episode that might run as long as the show itself. If you have the Meatmen CD-ROM you'll recognize some of this footage.
Tesco Vee – co-founder of Touch & Go, leader of The Meatmen and the Hate Police, former school teacher, ABBA fanatic, toy collector, family man and quick witted comic genius. Meatmen songs are as politically correct as date rape, but underneath the jokes Tesco takes too far for his own good lies the heart of a sleazy yet harmless stand-up comic. Listen to enough Meatmen recordings and you'll find a load of sketch comedy in addition to the music. In 1988, for a set of reasons that defy all logic, MTV paid Tesco and Peter Lauer to write and film (on a Super 8 camera) thirty minute episodes of crazy comedy disguised as a travel show.
Tesco, who looks like Sean Penn, Leo Gorcey and Frank Gorshen, and talks like a sleazy strip club DJ, interviews the locals, performs a parade of comedy bits and changes costumes more times than Liberace. The episodes I caught took place in Baltimore and Niagara Falls. Tesco never insults anyone directly, and he thrives on having the people he talks to join him in comedy pieces as he works the Tesco charm. The whole time he’s making himself look like an idiot on purpose. Tesco doesn't visit strip clubs with ugly dancers and grade Z lounge acts at cheap hotel bars because he thinks they're losers - he cherishes these things as natural treasures. It's no accident he visits Baltimore's own John Waters, who made glorifying the beauty of ugliness his road to fame.
In Baltimore, Tesco visits a greasy spoon diner that serves as many eggs as you can eat with their daily special. Tesco orders two dozen eggs on top of every pig-based breakfast meat and warns "If my heart stops, kick me in the chest." 445 lb. Jean Hill, a Water's discovery, talks about her modeling career while whipping Tesco, who is wearing a leather mask and playing Twister on the floor. Waters talks about his home town and says "Dogs make me nervous when their lips touch my flesh." Vee visits a tattoo parlor that also serves chili, talks to a crime reporter from the old Baltimore Sun newspaper, and throws wadded dollar bills into the costume of an ancient, grotesque stripper working a bar on The Block. The cuts are quick and silly sound effects are thrown in. You honestly never know what will happen next.
Tesco turns the Niagara Falls episode into an excuse to bash Canadians. In typical Tesco fashion he says "The schlepping tundra schmucks of the Great White North have a sleeper hold on their retarded sister city to the south." He interviews a local who discusses the suicides that jump from the falls, then visits a pet cemetery, Love Canal, a bingo parlor and a nudist colony. The end credits close with "Please don't sue."
The shows are funny, cheap and loosely structured. Tesco is great. You'd think he'd be mocking and baiting the locals, but instead he charms everyone into playing along and they get to act some lines and see themselves on the Tee Vee later on. It's a look at sleaze and lower class livin' that's not condescending or mean, and it's what Tesco calls heaven on earth.
We Got Power Films Presents: Some S--t (video):
3/16/2007 Update: I wrote this review maybe seven years ago, and David Markey finally got around to finding it and writing me an e-mail. As you can see he wasn’t pleased with me. His e-mail follows. I wrote back without anger and now we’ve agreed to disagree on what I think of his old films. Reviewing is fun but it isn’t pleasant when the subject of your negative review writes to lower your self-esteem. Dave has a cool website and the man sure does keep busy. No matter what I think of his early films I wish him no ill will and hope he makes a decent living in the punk and music film biz. Here’s his e-mail to me:
What gives you the inkling you are a film critic? Because you are "Old"? Because you are a "Punk"? So you don't like my work. Fine, have a great day. I appreciate criticism. If you actually had something to say it would be one thing, other than posting all out slags which seem based in a bitter "Old Punk" (YAWN) personal vendetta. I was doing 'zines almost 30 years ago, but guess what? I moved on. The only thing your poorly written and horrible looking webzine proves is any asshole can post a website. I make a living off my work, you
can't say the same.
-David J. Markey
Don't call your video Some S--t if it truly is some s--t. Alternate titles could have been “Thar This Blows”, “The Horror”, and “Dude, Someone Made Sucky Videos And Is Trying To Sell It For $10 Postpaid On His Web Site”. I knew this would reek, and I let it rot on the store shelf as long as I could, but I have to fill this space somehow. And I am! Gawd help us all.
Dave Markey has done so much and so little for the world. Among other things, he directed Desperate Teenage Lovedolls, a film fondly remembered for its title; the even worse sequel Lovedolls Superstar; 1991: The Year Punk Broke, a half decent film on his pals Sonic Youth that should have been edited down, down down; and other lowlight reels of an early career that truly stunk. He's also directed a Shonen Knife thing I've yet to see, in 2001 he put together a DVD for At The Drive In. Maybe he's gotten better....
You might say Dave Markey is Los Angeles’ answer to New York's Richard Kern, whose not dissimilar yet superior short films are packaged under the title Hardcore. They both share an association with Sonic Youth, and while Markey had a lock on the McDonald Brothers of Redd Kross fame, Kern had Lydia Lunch. Kern is now a famous photographer of generic looking, naked NYC degenerate-girl-next-door types. He puts on gallery exhibitions and has been honored with Taschen art books. It's all in the marketing and I'm amazed he gets away with it.
Back to Dave Markey. It's neat he has friends who like putting on dime store masks and chewing the scenery in mime when someone yells "action!", but is it necessary for anyone to see these nonsensical home movies? Nope. Edith Massey is a better actor than The McDonald brothers, and films should not be based on a few found props and the improv work of stoners and dimwits. I think Some S—t consists of five films along with the coming attractions for the Lovedolls movies. Only one, "Stoner Park", has dialogue, which is a hoot because background music is provided by a boombox. The rest have soundtracks recorded directly from a home stereo turntable. Besides the McDonald Brothers, "Astro Turf" stars Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, and it's funny watching her crack up over some silly piece of business going on outside a window she's in front of.
"Popcorn" is redeemed only by the use of the great old casio song called, huh, "Popcorn". "Puppetears" has a plot (I guess) based on the audio track of the Shaggs' "Shaggs' Own Thing". Performance artist Ann Magnusun appears in "Macaroni & Me" and "Plasticland" is probably a music video. It's hard to tell since the thing dares you to keep your eyes open.
Please avoid this tape at all costs. You really really really should have something better to do with your time.
We Jam Econo - The Story Of The Minutemen (DVD Review): We Jam Econo - The Story Of The Minutemen is a phenomenal band documentary, jamming everything it needs to show, interviewing everyone it needs to hear from, and thankfully avoiding agendas, all in an econo ninety minutes. Nineteen deleted scenes extras (thank Gaia), along with a full interview and extra disc of three live shows. It serves as a humanizing counterpoint to their music, which I spent a maddening week with before viewing this today. The music and film explain a ton in intriguing ways which connect and divert almost as willy-nilly as their music.
Everyone reminds me of someone else, often a celebrity. Here bassist Mike Watt plays the same role as Wayne Kramer in MC5: A True Testimonial, driving around the old neighborhood (in this case, San Pedro, CA) visiting old scenes of the crimes. Where Kramer is likeable enough even with a self-serving agenda, Watt is eminently likeable and devoid of pretense. Guitarist D. Boon passed away in 1985, and when he's seen in interviews he's mostly quiet and reserved. He was a beloved figure in the hardcore scene and made friends easily. Being a fan of the E! Hollywood Story I see more than one parallel between Boon and John Candy. Drummer George Hurley as a youth looks like Tesco Vee meets Jeff Spicoli. As a middle age man he looks like a younger "Classy" Freddie Blassie. It must be the hair. Re: hair, in 1984 Hurley has the same long perm in front as members of Our Daughter's Wedding, which he swings around for the same effect.
The Minutemen's influences aren't that hard to figure out. That they were so different from their contemporaries in the emerging U.S. hardcore scene is the source of their monumental uniqueness. The most direct connections are Wire and The Urinals. The Minutemen forty second cover of "Ack Ack Ack Ack" is twenty seconds shorter than the original. If you watch Wire: Live On The Box 1979 you can see The Minutemen followed Wire's determined approach to music as an attitude and set of ideas. With both Wire and The Minutemen the driving force is the drums. Wire's Robert Gotobed played almost evasively as a percussionist. Hurley pounds away like Buddy Rich as the Incredible Hulk. Sonically Hurley can be half the band, if not at least a third (ka-zing!). Another take to their sound was that early on they added a little funk to free jazz and fed it through a hardcore blender via bass, drums and guitar. Later on they diversified and the funk came up more in the mix. The Minutemen wrote jams and songs, and I greatly prefer the songs to the jams.
The politics of their lyrics are barely touched upon. Boon's political lyrics often bogged down into standard U.S. working class (read Middle Class) kid with too-much-time-on-my-hands unlived marxist political nut-scratching. From "The Big Stick":
Now over there in Managua Square / With American made bombs
falling everywhere / They kill women and children and animals too / These bombs
are made by people like me and you / And we're told that we hold a big stick
over them / But I know from what I've read that peace is in our hands
Now over there in Guatamala my friend / We're making mistakes there once again / Uncle Sam supports a fascist regime / That doesn't represent the people over there / We learn and believe there is justice for us all / And we lie to ourselves with a big stick up our ass
Now if we stand and yell it out / That war isn't what we're all about / Then someone will come and bring us back / To get the peace train back on it's tracks
This is what I'm singing about / The race war that America supports / Indians will never die / They'll do just fine if we let them try / Though we hold, we're never told that peace is in our hands / If we stop there is time to heal the scars we've caused / To heal the scars we've caused...
Politically The Minutemen might be U.S. hardcore's Gang Of Four. The issue is dealt with here mostly by mentioning it in passing as if nobody knew why or where the politics came from. It's odd that people seek political insights from musicians. How is a guitarist any more qualified to know about the world than a truck driver, and how is writing lyrics any more of a skill than building furniture or baking a wedding cake? It isn't.
The band name was originally intended to mean they were of small stature, the adjective definition of "minute" sounded as "my-noot". When Boon and Watt first started playing they didn't even know there was such a thing as tuning - they thought players chose between tight and loose strings. Reminiscing about his first meeting with Boon as a child, Watt trails off by saying he was "smitten by him", an endearing thing to say.
This is a great tribute to The Minutemen, a band I respect and admire more than I actually like. I like them, but I never listen to them intentionally. I'm mostly a melody guy with little use for funk or Coltrane. You can't dance to The Minutemen, but it's the perfect soundtrack for an epileptic seizure.
Weird Tales Of The Ramones
(CD and DVD review): Why spend $64.95 (or
this collection of three CDs, one DVD and a
comic book? If you're obsessive-compulsive like Joey I can see it, or if this X-Mas
you want to dazzle someone who's not familiar with Forest Hills' creme de la
scum might do it. Otherwise I'm at a loss to explain the need of another hits
package. Johnny Ramone selected the tracks and as a conservative I'm sure he did
it only for filthy lucre. Now he's dead and the state is open for smashing by
the lumpy proletariat.
The DVD is "Lifestyles Of The Ramones", which came out on VHS years ago. The 3-D comic book is a comic book. I listened to the three CD, 86 track set to get a sense of the ebbs and flows of their career as dictated by Johnny. I own every Ramones CD but only really listen to the first five. There's some alternate takes (listed here) but for collectors there's nothing brand new that I know of.
The first four albums comprise their golden years, and the rest, from 1980 to 1995, a series of ups, downs, sideways and verticals. What sticks out most in the latter period are Dee Dee's stabs at hardcore punk, "Warthog" an almost desperate attempt for respect in a HC scene that owed them much but whooshed past many bloody mosh pits ago. Dee Dee's singing, which improved later on, is like an angry, cancer-throated midget's (as I imagine it). I'm surprised I liked CJ's songs as much as I did, and I'm shocked, shocked, that "Touring" from Mondo Bizarro didn't make it.
The Ramones are the single most important band in punk history. And that's that.
We're All Devo (Video) (Rhino): Good old Rhino, once again making life livable and affordable. This 1983 collection was put together by Devo and consists of thirteen videos strung together with filmed scenes of Booji Boy, General Boy (played by Mark Mothersbaugh's father), Timothy Leary as basically himself, Laraine Newman as Donut Rooter (get the sex reference?) and Craig Allen Rothwell as "Spazz Attack", whose Gong Show-quality claim to fame was spazzing out during "Satisfaction". None of it makes much sense, like Devo themselves. I love Devo but the de-evolution thing never went too far beyond Gerry and Mark’s inside joke they took too seriously. The bit on concert etiquette is great, but the rest is stilted and worthy of a fast-forward. I think in ‘76 Devo produced another promo film, but this isn't it.
The videos are from ‘76 to ‘83, when videos were cheaply made and not taken seriously. In many ways they're quaint and naive. While Elvis Costello was always going to be basically standing there with his band, Devo threw in whatever weirdness they could afford and used all props available, even if they had nothing to do with the songs themselves. Explain "Jocko Homo" to me and win a prize.
Some video notes: "Satisfaction" - same radiation gear and routine they used on Saturday Night Live, an appearance that made them huge. "The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprise" - from the under-rated Duty Now For The Future, best known for the cartoon of the potato playing a hippo's tooth like a xylophone. "Whip It" - the video forces you to repeatedly ask, "what does that mean?". An album track from a great record that became top 40 only because of the title's sexual connotation. "Girl U Want" - break dancers doing The Robot, a fat kid eating a milkshake on an exercise machine and a bleacher full of Akron's finest teenage beauties (plus one guy in a red sweater!). A Freudian jackpot and tons-o-fun. "Beautiful World" - a collage of archival footage of models, technology, sports, war, hatred, starvation and nuclear holocaust. Their best video for their best song. Well conceived and executed, and without the weird in-jokes that litter the other videos. Translator did it a little better in their video for "Sleeping Snakes", but that one will never see the light of day again, so forget I mentioned it. OK? "Peek-A-Boo" - why are they wearing toilet bowls around their necks?
We’re All Devo is a time-capsule of a place that no longer exists, when new wave was fun and different. These videos make Devo look more cute than they really were.
In the mid ‘70s Devo was the most subversive band around this side of The Residents.
Willis' Joy Rides (dvd review):
2008's Wesley Willis's Joy Rides is an amazing film about a giant schizophrenic
idiot savant artist and musician who made his mark in the 90's hipster scene of
Chicago (and eventually beyond) through novelty and force of will. Comparisons
with Daniel Johnston are valid but Wesley took it up a few notches by being a
raving semi-homeless guy screaming and punching at the demon voices in his head
who told him to do things. Johnston comes across as harmless and surprisingly
outgoing while Willis was said to be six and half feet tall and over 300 pounds,
and he used his size, wild personality swings and friendly, outgoing personality
to manipulate people into giving him what he wanted. They show him being this
way in various situations all in one segment toward the end, which doesn't
exactly contradict the generally supportive vibe of the entire film but does
introduce the idea that the element of danger with him came not only from his
mental illness but also his "rational" mind.
First time filmmaker Chris Bagley did an excellent job putting everything together. Wesley Willis's Joyride is professional to the core and its 77 minutes fly by. The disc has more footage but adding it would have only extended the length without adding anything important. For not diluting the final product Bagley is my hero. He had access to Willis before his death from leukemia at the age of forty (and his family after), traveling with him and speaking to friends and supporters in both the art and music communities. His art was architectural in both subject and style. He used a blue ballpoint pen to sketch because that's the color of blueprints, and he'd often use another pen as a ruler to draw straight lines. His music was a combination of talking and sing-talking, played with either the band called The Wesley Willis Fiasco or by himself with a programmable keyboard. The lyrics are crazed and funny, and they all look and sound pretty much like this one:
Once upon a time, I was cursing in Morning Star Baptist Church
I called the evangelist a stupid crucif-ck
Reverend Richard Price preached about my vulgar language
He told the congregation in the sanctuary that I got a nasty filthy mouth
Don't curse in God's house
Don't curse in God's house
Don't curse in God's house
Don't curse in God's house
At this time, I told the preacher to fuck off
I told Reverend Richard Price to suck a male camel's d--k
Suddenly, he ordered one of the deacons to throw me out of church
He then escorted me to the door
Don't curse in God's house
Don't curse in God's house
Don't curse in God's house
Don't curse in God's house
When I went to church that same Sunday, I picked up a beating stick
I went up to the pulpit and clocked Reverend Richard Price in the head
He fell to the floor
Suddenly, the police was chasing me out of church after I called the preacher an asshole
Don't curse in God's house
Don't curse in God's house
Don't curse in God's house
Don't curse in God's house
Hardees, we're out to win you over
His early life was horrific and I wouldn't be surprised if his skanky mother drank, smoked and took drugs while pregnant with him. At least one other brother in his large family is mentally challenged. I call his mother skanky because she later took up with a monster by the name of Roger Carpenter, a violent alcoholic (so was she) whose abuse triggered the demon voices of Wesley's schizophrenia. Willis hated Chicago's south side project slums and stayed in the north side.
Willis would have been homeless if not for the largesse of white Chicago hipsters, which brings up the question of if the audience was laughing at or with him. There's a number of concert scenes where I'm not sure. Can it be both at the same time? Hipsters did see his shows and bought his endless discography of cds, so the ten to twenty thousands of dollars he was said to carry with him on tour was as his exploitation of them too.
Ever the huckster, Willis sells his art and music with great furvor. He introduces himself to strangers with "I'm a rock star" and wins over most people either by crazy charm or by turning any meeting into a potentially dangerous situation that thankfully ends well. Maybe you have to see the scene on the plane to know what I mean. Willis is a savant with numbers, but he's no Rain Man. He knew how much a candy bar costs and negotiated deals like a shark. He had good visual recall but was no Stephen Wiltshire.
Wesley Willis died from leukemia only because while touring he stopped taking his medication. For years he was also on various anti-psychotic drugs. Left to his own devices he forgot to brush his teeth and change his clothes. They didn't bring up bathing and neither will I. The issue of forced institutionalization comes up and at times he was enough of a threat to himself and others to be better off there. Or not, if you believe he was happier and society was better off with him drawing and singing. He liked people too much and was driven to create. He obviously wanted to get better and did make efforts to stay on his meds. The films mentions his violent outbursts but doesn't say if anyone was ever hurt. That's the fine line here.
The film's title comes from Wesley's use of the terms Joy Ride and Hell Ride - the good and bad episodes of his life. I'd love to know if the film was protective of him and didn't fully vent the demon side of his personality. Either way, Wesley Willis's Joy Ride is a joy to watch great film.
What About Me? (video) (Provisional): Do you want to see Richard Hell, Nick Zedd, Dee Dee Ramone, Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan, Judy Carne (from Laugh-In) and an actor named Rockets Redglare in the same glorified b&w big-budget home movie starring, written, produced and directed by Rachel Amodeo? Well, this might be one of your better chances. For a teeny, tiny little film this isn't bad, and well worth it for the chance to see a gaggle of old punk figures in the same movie, all giving decent performances and for a change not looking like junkies.
The tape box has a copyright date of 1997, the film itself says 1993, but Thunders died in 1991, so who really knows when this was filmed. Director Amodeo must have been connected to get all these people together for her movie. Taking place mostly in lower Manhattan, where the winos run free, the film lacks coherence and structure, but let's just say it's about bad luck and even worse karma in a city populated by not only homeless vets, rapists, thieves, butch dykes, mobsters and local-flavor character study types, but also decent people just trying to get by.
Actually, this film is a more coherent than it could have been. While a lot of it doesn't fit together, and scenes and characters are attached as if improvised, talent shines through on the part of Amodeo, who looks like the daughter of immigrant Bulgarian peasants. The introduction is a head-scratcher, with her riding a bicycle through a Catholic cemetery, then over a cliff by accident (?), then coming back as a little baby who cries and is then herself again.
Dee Dee Ramone plays a homeless Vietnam vet wino who rambles about the terrors of the foxholes. It’s hard to tell if he's acting or just being himself. Richard Hell, Nick Zedd and Johnny Thunders have small parts where all they're asked to do is read their lines and appear non-threatening. While not really acting they do this well so I give them a lot of credit. Jerry Nolan plays the victim of a mob hit and gets to perform the ever difficult death scene, involving lots of squinting, lip curling and spitting up blood just before giving up the ghost.
What About Me has well done character studies of life and underground culture in lower Manhattan, with an even share of likeable, unlikable and neutral characters. Watching it wasn't the best time of my life, but its simple pleasures and attained small goals make this an interesting film. The score is by Johnny Thunders, who shows off his solo-career fondness for acoustic guitar ballads.
What Poor Gods We Do Make - The Story And Music Behind Naked Raygun (DVD Review): My first irrelevant thought while watching this was being a tad disappointed it was shot on video instead of film. On film it's a movie, while on video it's a video. In my mind Naked Raygun is worthy of film stock. As the documentary ended my first relevant thought was about how it had a lamentful (not a real word) and almost desperate tone to it, as if Raygun woulda-coulda-shoulda ruled the wasteland of popular music. As I pondered this later at my gym (L.A. Crapness) the piped-in music played a song so close to commercial Bad Religion I winced. Could the Naked Raygun sound ever be commercially popular? Do you want it to be popular with every other fuggwad in Stupidtown? I hope not for your sake, and I pray not for Naked Raygun's legacy. They're American hardcore punk gods, not also-rans from the era of Nirvana, a band whose lineage goes back to Led Zepplin, not the Bad Brains.
My only other complaint is that What Poor Gods We Do Make hits its closing credits at 1:41:48. John Water's 90 minute rule applies to band documentaries exponentially more than it does to theatrical films, and 11:48 of the repeated assertions of Naked Raygun's greatness and legacy could have been easily exorcised. Jeez, was this made for Naked Raygun fans or some bored kid at a video store who picked it up because he thought it was porn in the music section?
Now that my spleen's been vented, Naked Raygun are like really, really super, and without them life might still be worth living but the suckitude of it would suck that much more. I took notes but there's not that much to discuss. Raygun got together like most bands do, played clubs and toured like many, unified their scene like some, and are legends as only few can ever be. Their last two records aren't the best, but the best of their catalog easily matches the best of any punk band in the world. To know Naked Raygun is to love Naked Raygun, and if you know Naked Raygun yet don't love them, you're as punk as Avril Lavigne.
The documentary mixes new and old concert and video footage with interviews of the band, music critics and Chicago bands both contemporaries and followers. All praise Naked Raygun, which they should, but whoever put this together lays it on thick. You show people why a band is great, not just beat the idea into their heads with surreal repetition. The only snark is directed at former guitarist John Haggerty by singer Jeff Pezzati, who seems to be wading through a sea of Nyquil. Says Pezz, "It was sad to see him go, but, you know, he went on and did his own thing... I guess." I guess? That "thing" was Pegboy, who kicked ass like Raygun did in their prime. Bitter much?
The DVD comes with a 22 track CD of live material from their 2006 reunion shows, which they reenacted well when I saw them in January. The geezer treat of both the DVD and CD is Jake Burns coming in a fraction of a second late on the opening of his own "Suspect Device". This is a steal at the list price of $19.98. As a Raygun fanatic there was no way I wasn't going to own this, but I wouldn't suggest it right away to Duh Kidz. It's filled with (otherwise) boring inside-baseball stuff and it pushes the band's legacy to a new generation with slight whiffs of insecurity and desperation, not from the band itself but by others, and how the whole shebang's edited together. For the kids you put together a compilation of their best studio work and send them off with the one piece of information that what they'll hear is among the best punk rock the world's ever had to offer. That comp should contain "I Lie", "I Don't Know", "Metastasis", "Peacemaker", "The Strip" and "Home Of The Brave". That's all I'm sayin'...
What The Punk?!
(DVD review): More like what the hell IS
this crap?! A large distributor, MVD, slapped 49 minutes of
randomness on a dvd and sold it for $7.95.
There's a Vol. 2 in the works so for a cheap gift for that pun crocker in your
life you can do worse. Maybe not.
There's VHS quality live and video tracks from Bad Religion, Johnny Thunders, the Dead Kennedys, Sublime, Sleater-Kinney, Christian Death, The Genitorturers, TSOL, Debbie Harry, GG Allin, Psychic TV, the Ramones, Horace Pinker, The Hives, The Offspring, the Cramps, the Butthole Surfers and Ivan Kral. There are also short films from Richard Kern and one of his contemporaries.
Kral's piece is credited to Patti Smith but it's only photographs, and it's also the closing credits of his video. TSOL is from a promo for the film Rage. GG Allin's bit is the opening credits to Hated. The Offspring track is a song played over snowboarding. Why would anyone want to look at film credits to hear a song?
Watching Jello Biafra again I remember he should play The Riddler in a Batman movie. The only real treat is an old piece of film where a young Debbie Harry sits backwards in a chair and sings a torch song a capella. She has a nice voice.
I can't stress enough how even as a free sampler this is a time waster.
What We Do Is Secret (DVD review): 2007’s Darby Crash biopic What We Do Is Secret is an accomplishment on some levels and a failure in others. First-time Director/Writer/Producer Rodger Grossman spent fifteen years formulating his film and shot it in three segments over three-plus years as money dried up and more was canoodled from anyone, god, please, anyone. Based on the intertubes you either love or hate this. I’m somewhere in the middle.
First, the negatives. In an unnecessary and possibly counter-productive effort to win the cooperation and approval of everyone involved with The Germs, Darby is canonized, and while most of the events on screen might be "accurate" they probably sweep a lot under the rug and therefore, at least to me, don’t come across as realistic and honest.
The script is clichéd, forced, and oddly enough tame (ex: Darby’s sexuality), jammed with bullet points of events, quotes, name-checking, and even the posing of Darby lying on stage as pictured on the cover of The Decline Of Western Civilization. Everyone’s laundry list of Darby memories is packed in, stilting the script with declarations of meaning in all its forms, useless information and the unintentionally funniest bit of the film, a concert scene where the first thing Darby does before singing is smash a break-away beer bottle over his head into 3,000 shards of sugar with no apparent effect. I guess it had to go in there somewhere.
The portrayal of Darby as a person, place and thing is all over the map, a result of the conflicting interests of personal agendas and moviemaking as an art and business. Shane West does a commendable job as Crash, impressing original Germ members enough to take him along as singer on their reunion tour. In the film Darby’s a little of everything “Darby Crash” yet ultimately a lot of nothing to grasp as a whole. Was Darby smart because he had “deep” thoughts, or was he an idiot because of the words that came out of his mouth? Was he a sensitive creature or a cretin? Did he have talent or did he fake it in a genre that often spits on it? The film fails spectacularly on this level. Take fifty people who’ve never heard of Darby Crash and make them write a personality profile on Crash based on this film. I guarantee no more than five people will have the same take.
What We Do Is Secret is a small film about a small “i” interesting character in a small regional music scene, but as a film it still has to make sense to people unaware of a thing called a Germs. The characters have to get from point A to Z in interesting ways that make sense and seem real. Pat Smear’s character goes from consistently passive to ultra-violent with no transitory event, so who knows what unfilmed scene was left on the cutting room floor. Bijou Phillips as Lorna Doom is consistently sweet like a member of the Go-Go’s who never moved on. Drummer Don Bolles is portrayed as a putz and a doormat, along with Masque owner Brendan Mullen. It’s as if they got a young Emo Phillips to play Rodney On The ROQ Bingenheimer, a choice I can't figure out. As a last negative comment, the many wigs used are horrible!
Given the tiny budget and other limitations of indie filmmaking, technically this is a good looking film with great sound editing and rich color palettes. The concert scenes are beautifully lit and Grossman does the best he can with cramped spaces and partial sets. A more experienced director might have been able to pull off a sparse group of extras pretending to be a club crowd, but Grossman gamely moves the camera and has everyone jump up and down as punks are known to do when agitated. Definitely an A for effort.
My list of negatives is longer than my positives, but all things considered it’s almost a wash. The acting is generally good, putting aside the expedience of having Captain Sensible, Dave Vanian and others shown as insta-cartoons. The film looks and sounds decent. The Germs and their fans seem to be happy with the finished product. What We Do Is Secret could have been better but it could have been a lot worse. Trust me.
I’ve never liked The Germs beyond “Forming” and “Lexicon Devil”, and as with Flipper I find them often a joke at the expense of the audience. Sometimes when Darby sings I think he’s moving his mouth to form the sound “Wah-ooo, Wah-ooo”, while also garbling the lyrics. The live album is unlistenable. I don’t find Darby to be a tragic figure and have little interest in the beautiful minds trapped in the personalities of destructive nimrods. I’ve met a few people who knew Darby Back In The Day ©, even a guy who claimed to be his boyfriend. I always ask, and I’m always told there was an intelligent person underneath all that Darby Crash he had going on. I could shorthand it by saying Darby was America’s Sid Vicious, but Sid was mentally retarded underneath all that mental retardation.
My favorite bad line of the film is “He’s like a Jim Morrison, but for our generation!”. Below is a Youtube from The Decline Of Western Civilization. The random punchline at the end is a classic.
The Who's Tommy: The Amazing Journey (video) (Buena Vista): I found this tape at the dollar store. It's a promotional reel for the Broadway production of Tommy a few years back. It's surprisingly good, with a lot of old footage of The Who at their craziest. I want to throw out some random thoughts on this band.
The Who were a mod band, a major force of the original British Invasion, and also a bit of a hard rock band. Their influence on punk is considered indirect only because their rock operas worked on a grand scale and Roger Daltry became the archetype for the Sammy Hagars and David Lee Roths of the world. The Who were the most dangerous band around in their day. Pete Townsend smashed his guitar long before the punk movement pretended they invented self-imposed bankruptcy. Keith Moon was the most talented rock drummer ever. His episodes of self-destruction rival Iggy Pop's, and involved a lot more money and hysterically funny situations. Moon once ran over himself with his own car. The Sesame Street character "Animal" is based on Keith Moon. Quadrophenia, a rock opera ostensibly about mods and rockers, came out in 1973. Sting starred in that one. They had a good run from 1965 to 1980.
That's all I have to say.
( DVD review):
Wild Zero is the strangest punk rock movie
ever. It's of a kind with
Versus, the other great Japanese zombie
action-comedy. Also don’t miss Battlefield Baseball, whose plot and character
motivations defy all description. Wild Zero is also the bastard child of every
movie in the
Something Weird catalog. The movie stars
Guitar Wolf, the trash rock psychobilly
kings of the far-out east. Listed as Guitar Wolf, Drum Wolf and Bass Wolf,
they're like the Ramones in
Rock N Roll High School except they blow
heads off zombies and Guitar Wolf is a superhero with ninja guitar picks and a
samurai guitar on his back. The soundtrack features Guitar Wolf, The Oblivions
and Bikini Kill. Throughout the film Guitar Wolf wears a "Punk" t-shirt with the
lettering from the old
magazine of the same name.
For plot refer to this. I'd do it myself but it's a nutzoid movie. There's no structure, too many characters and very little internal logic but it's a fun, funny and quite a pleasantly random experience. The zombies move very slowly, if at all, so when someone gets killed you wonder why they didn't just walk away slowly to escape. Alternate titles could be "The Easily Avoidable Dead" and "Moseying Flesh Eaters". The only effects they get right are heads being blown off so you see it a lot. There's also a definite nod to the lawnmower scene in Dead Alive.
Three (3) times in the film Guitar Wolf screams "Lock N Loll !!", which might make me think of "Flied Lice" except that would be racist and wrong.
World Of Skinhead (video review): This classic 1995, 52 minute, 3-part production from the BBC Four floats around as a turd-generation video with mono, blemishes and bleeding colors. All words come from Skins themselves and there’s evidence to back up each viewer’s take on skinhead culture. I’ll give you mine as a start.
I like a fair amount of the second generation UK punk that calls itself Oi, especially Cock Sparrer, The Business, The 4-Skins and Peter and the Test Tube Babies. It’s melodic, mid-paced chord punk with funny to serious lyrics about pub, football and council estate life. It’s an alien world to me as a Nassau County kid and now a SoCal geez but I take it at face value and try not to place bets on reality based on it. Then there’s skinheads and skinhead (sub)culture, which I see as a gang mentality with a strong tradition in other legitimate subcultures. The easy math is to say Oi is skinhead, but it’s a whole other thing. Skin’s run the gamut from benevolent to pure evil but at their core they’re violent and attack in groups when possible. I will never stop scratching my head at non-British skinheads who emulate British culture. Assuming every country has their own underclasses, and they do, there’s no need to pretend you grew up someplace that might as well be Mars. Some UK skins have a fetish for the Droogs from A Clockwork Orange, while the US had a short fascination with The Warriors. The real indigenous US “skin” scene can be found in street punk bands from labels like Outsider Records, DC’s The Suspects, and early on in their careers maybe even bands like The Dropkick Murphys. Skin history is a history of violence, so no matter how many good skins there are it’s still violence as a lifestyle, and can only blame itself for being seen as such. It boils down to semantics, which is what World Of Skinhead is equally about.
The three sections of World Of Skinhead are roughly 1) What is it? 2) Violence as culture, and 3) The left and right compete for skin’s souls. Interviews take place in NYC (and possibly other American cities but I suspect the out-of-town punks were all in NY at the time), the UK, Germany and as I recall Norway. Much of the series consists of film with skins standing around, goofing off, shooting pool, making out and standing around looking hard, all to a running soundtrack of Trojan reggae and the occasional Oi punker. Jamaican ska founder Laurel Aitken is interviewed, with Roddy Moreno of The Oppressed providing a lot of background and nazi-fascist singer Paul London explaining how he doesn’t hate blacks and jews, he just loves white people - the most disgusting piece of hate-is-love rhetoric a sick mind can imagine.
Here’s a history of skinheads. Be sure to also hit the Discussion Tab. World Of Skinhead emphasizes obsessions with fashion and a working class aesthetic that’s either an excuse or a deflection from the powder keg nature of their reflex violence steeped in “pride” and a us vs. them bunker mentality. You get a lot of “It’s not a movement, it’s a way of life” and one gent sums it up as “It’s about having pride in the way I look, it’s about working for my living, earning everything I get. It’s about going to reggae dances and having a good time, about enjoying the most multi-cultural culture in the world!” Sure enough, there’s black skins, Asians skins, female skins and For The Win a jewish, female German skin, whose internal contradictions bubble up to the surface, so either it is multi-cultural or these exceptions are three exits past odd.
The most interesting part is an almost passing reference to skins as Brown Shirts of the left and right. S.H.A.R.P. skins are given much consideration as they’re the forces of good in what the World Of Skinhead shows to be a fight first, ask questions never subculture, yet as everyone knows they’re far removed from peaceful.
This was done on the cheap but as a BBC production it still comes across as authoritative. It’s mandatory viewing for anyone with an opinion either way on Oi and skins.
X - The Unheard Music (video) (Key): Ladies and germs, we have a new champion here. This is probably the best documentary (the box calls it a rockumentary like Spinal Tap) I've ever seen on punk music. It’s at least even with The Decline Of Western Civilization. Five years in the making, this is "part documentary, music video and rock musical". Not since The Last Waltz have I seen a band treated with such depth, beaut, and subtlety. X - Exene Cervenko, John Doe, Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake - will in time be considered the most important band of the modern punk era. After watching this film you'll feel the same way, even if you don't own any of their albums. Home movies, interviews, acted vignettes, live concerts, random movie and TV clips, still photos and show flyers are flawlessly edited to present the band and their era in the most engaging and professional way imaginable.
X - The Unheard Music presents X as legitimate artists with roots in blues, jazz, rock and poetry. A completely different picture of the band is painted here than in The Decline Of Western Civilization, where Exene is depicted as a deranged bag lady. Exene looks like Catherine O'Hara. John Doe is Bill Paxton's doppelganger. Billy Zoom is the grinning stone-faced Liberace of the rockabilly guitar while D.J. Bonebrake is quite the jazz man and a wizard on the xylophone. Each member's talents are shown to contribute to a tight and serious unit of musicians. I like this approach more than the "We're punk, we're losers, we're the product of your crappy society and we don't care about nothing." It’s a nice change indeedy-do.
The non-fatalistic view of this film is also a positive change of pace. A major theme (and the title) of the film is that often great music doesn’t get a chance to be heard by a large audience. X isn't really pissed about it as that is how life works. Hell, they seem pleased as punch just to be the subject of a documentary. Their lives and creativity are shown to be relative success stories in Los Angeles, a weird and eccentric amalgamation of contrived Hollywood glamour and the west's faded glory.
Record industry executives are interviewed, and they talk about how X isn't commercially viable enough to interest their companies. This is shown by clever visual juxtaposition to be unfair, narrow-minded, and all that, but the stuffed shirts are only telling the truth. Large corporations exist to make a profit and that's done by appealing to as wide an audience as possible. Emerging acts have always been signed to major labels but their main purpose is to eventually sell many, many CDs. Thankfully the underground music label scene exists to find, record, distribute and promote bands that will never sell more than a few thousand copies. No one should get mad when major labels don't sign thrash garage bands. That's not their responsibility. Would you prefer there be no underground record labels? Do you honestly believe X would have sold five million records if they opened for Madonna? Are you punk because you want to be different or are you punk because you want to be the same?
Thankfully X - The Unheard Music doesn't beat its points on major label obliviousness into the ground. Jello Biafra's brief appearance makes you wonder how this film would be different had he directed. There would be no subtlety - only a mad bludgeoning of screaming and confusing images of death, suffering and record industry execs smiling as they sign The Backstreet Boys and Loverboy to million dollar contracts. That's my big problem with the rhetoric of Jello and Crass. They assume we are as dumb as how they think governments, religions and corporations see us. They create mind-numbing collages of Big Brother's own propaganda and spew it back at us as if we're fat drooling morons who will only look away from our TVs if they can show us something louder and faster.
X - The Unheard Music is a sweet film and I recommend it to punk scumbags from eight to eighty. As we say in Brooklyn, New York, "It's got f--king class".
X- Live In Los Angeles (dvd review): This Week In Professional Nostalgia features X and their faithful website xtheband.com. I like them well enough and they deserve the accolades they get but I never intentionally put on their music. I appreciate them in passing. I do know that when she hits 65 Exene will be Edith Massey. Place your bets now. John Doe will age like Iggy Pop, Billy Zoom will die with a frozen smile on his face and DJ Bonebrake has an unfortunate name that’s actually real.
X – Live In Los Angeles is 67 minutes of interviews and live performance
from X on their 25th anniversary. The set list is: 1. Your Phone’s
Off The Hook, But You’re Not
2. In This House That I Call Home 3. We’re Desperate 4. Beyond & Back 5. White Girl 6. The Unheard Music 7. Los Angeles 8. True Love 9. I’m Coming Over 10. Blue Spark
11. The New World 12. Nausea 13. Johny Hit And Run Paulene 14. Motel Room In My Bed 15. Sugarlight 16. Because I Do 17. Devil Doll 18. The Hungry Wolf 19. Year 1
20. The World’s A Mess, It’s In My Kiss 21. Soul Kitchen. There’s also two acoustic tracks with John and Exene: “See How We Are” and “True Love”.
X “in retirement” play around a few times here and there and are now on a full tour. It has to be something you do both out of love and financial sanity. John Doe (as an example of how these things work) cranks out highly reviewed albums on a regular basis but do you really think it puts jet fuel into his Lamborghini? I think not. And being Billy Zoom all day is a great thing but it doesn’t keep him ankle deep in the tooth polish and old guitars. I found this show to be professional and fun, but that’s about it. This is from 2005 and it might be L.A.’s The House Of Blues. 1978 at The Masque it ain’t. No band can go back in time so what you have here and in all cases like it is a nostalgia show. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I always larf at reviews of nostalgia shows that tell me the clock is spinning backwards.
XTC - Best Hits (video) (Virgin Video): I paid $80 for this when it came out because it was a Japanese import. Japan had all the good stuff. If you want my opinions on XTC, read my review of their career in the new wave section. What I want to talk about here is music video in general. I never watch them and the sheer pretentiousness of your average MTV offering is matched only by big city poetry slams. With the growth of MTV in the early ‘80s, the industry chucked creativity for its own sake and became mostly concerned with how the movie version of each song would look. The argument that MTV made physical attractiveness more important than talent was only partly a bum rap. Pretty boys and girls have always held the spotlight. What I dislike most about MTV is that they forever mixed popular music with raw consumer culture, which shifted people's expectations from the music itself to visual, mind-numbing efforts to create cults of personality. What does that mean? Music was no longer just music. All rolled into one it became fashion, style, attitude, dance, visual poetry, dramatic statements, and, oh yeah, music. Complete lifestyles for kids to buy and buy into, more than any other generation before it. In the ‘60s kids dropped out and became hippies because they thought that life would make them happy. Now kids spend every penny they have on overpriced consumer goods because MTV tells them they must always be on the cutting edge.
Back in the early days of new wave, if they had a few extra bucks, bands made videos for the hell of it in case a TV show might decide to give it some exposure. Mostly you had bands lip-synching in a studio setting, sometimes acting out lines from their songs. Props were used when available with no rhyme or reason, often because it was on hand or simply weird looking. Almost every old Elvis Costello video stuck to this formula. The Resident's 1980 "One Minute Movies" achieved acclaim as one of the first music videos ever made. Video performances of songs were around a lot earlier than 1980, but The Residents were among the first to conceive of them on a whole other level of creativity, and not just as a straight performance by the band.
These XTC videos are interesting in that you can quickly track the progression of music videos from simple diversions to grand statements of artistic fortitude. The collection covers eleven songs from 1978 to 1982, and within these short four years the band mutates from funny, snotty, goofy kids to serious adults with the weight of the world on their shoulders. The first group, "This Is Pop", "Statue Of Liberty" and "Are You Receiving Me", show a young looking, skinny bunch of brats playing their abrasive pop with force and reckless abandon. On "This Is Pop" you can see the contempt ooze out of Andy Partridge. "Are You Receiving Me" has Andy jumping around like The Joker. The videos were made quickly and only a few clever ideas get in the way of straight filmings of the songs. The second grouping, "Life Begins At the Hop" and "Making Plans For Nigel", sees the filming budget go up by a nickel while the band is riding high on the success of their album Drums and Wires. Now the potential for these videos to sell more records is that much greater. So, what do they do? They hire pretty new-wave models to dance around on "Life Begins At The Hop" and act as nurses in "Making Plans For Nigel", which has Andy in full makeup, literally throwing himself into scenes doing a fun-steam imitation of Caesar Romero as The Joker. The third group, "Towers Of London", "Respectable Street" and "Generals and Majors", are still pretty funny ,and the band, looking much older than they did just two years before, now get sets and extras galore to play with. "Respectable Street" involves next door neighbors who are punk senior citizens. They look like Sid and Nancy but run about like Benny Hill. It's funny. The 4th set, "All Of A Sudden (It's Too Late)", "Ball And Chain" and "Senses Working Overtime", all have big budgets and grand artistic pretensions, and the band looks bored and humorless.
I like old, silly, cheap music videos where there’s no pressure to create something that will either make or break their careers. Videos have dumbed down the populance by being loud, fast, and visually overwhelming. MTV demands that you stare blankly at the screen while images flash by faster than you can take them in. Books, radio, and music (to a lesser extent) require you to use your creativity to bring alive what is being presented. MTV requires no thought at all. It gets in the way of them forcing overt and subliminal consumer commands into kids minds. This may be good for the economy, but it sucks if you're trying to create a society of free-thinkers.
You Weren’t There: A History Of Chicago Punk 1977 – 1984 (video review): Chicago’s had a great punk scene for a long time, but the city suffers from an angry inferiority complex. The phrase “You Weren’t There” could be a whiny complaint or a snobbish brush-off to anyone not involved in whatever original punk scene someone remembers themselves being a major part of. From where I sit the Chi-Town Second Windy City Of Big Shoulders has, as Tony Soprano would say, enough on their plate, and the supposedly great punk scenes of larger cities weren’t that great anyway. The scene in the far away zine isn’t always better than your own, and all it takes to have a great scene is a few bands, decent music, enough fans to make it run, and fun had by many (if not all). Cheer up, Chicago!
You Weren’t There may not be complete, but it sure is crammed, and at 126 minutes it’s 36 minutes too long. It’s just as easy to create a follow-up feature for DVD release. It presents a wide ranging and interesting retrospective on what called itself punk between 1977 and 1984, the beginning and end having little in common. 1977 looked like John Water’s 1972 Pink Flamingos period while 1984 saw dimwit children mixing and matching second wave UK street punk looks from old record covers, flummoxing the early 80s transitional bands who made Chicago America’s #1 quality-over-quantity choice for great music. Stiff upper lip, Chicago!
Chicago had/has great record stores (Sounds Good, Wax Trax) bars (La Mere Vipere, Oz, O’Banion’s), zines like The Coolest Retard and the Gabba Gabba Gazette, and the support of WZRD DJ Terry Nelson. All three of the main punk bars were also gay bars in gay neighborhoods, which probably made for an interesting mix. They also had great bands like Naked Raygun, Big Black, Articles Of Faith and The Effigies. Let’salso thank Chicago for giving us Wazmo Nariz and Skafish’s nose. The film doesn’t cover others like Screeching Weasel, Masters Of The Obvious, Pegboy, The Methadones, Sludgeworth, Breaking Circus, and The Boll Weevils. Repeat after me, Chicago, “I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!”
You Weren’t There interviews, among many others, Steve Albini, Jeff Pezzati, John Haggerty, Cynthia Plaster Caster, Santiago Durango, and Vic Bondi, the latter still in a neck-and-neck race with Steve Albini for assputz of the year. Bondi works himself into a lather of resentment for Albini and calls him out on camera for things said a quarter century ago. It’s like threatening Don Knotts. The consensus is that Albini weighed 75 lbs. Show violence was commonplace, and The Effigies and Articles Of Faith feuded over politics. I laughed approvingly at stage skanking referred to as “The Huntington Beach Strut”.
The film is visually effective, with a solid mix of old footage, archival materials and point-specific interviews. Structurally it confuses the timeline of events by skipping back and forth in time. Like most music films it’s too long as is. They correctly assign Naked Raygun as the most important band in Chicago punk history, with Articles Of Faith, The Effigies and Big Black following. You Weren’t There is a great ninety minute film on the Chicago scene from 1977 to 1984. Your results may vary on those extra 36 minutes.
Young Marble Giants – Live at the Hurrah Club (video review): I’m not sure if the short-lived Young Marble Giants had a style or an aesthetic, or if I even know the difference. If you’re not paying attention you might categorize them as twee pop, but singer Alison Statton and brothers Phil (bass and keyboards) and Stuart (guitar) Moxham recorded the angriest quiet music of the post-punk era. The songs are also really short. With headphones, crank up 1980’s Colossal Youth in a dark, quiet room and you’ll notice the Moxham brothers are struggling to not rip asunder their instruments. There’s a subtle rage underneath the minimalism, while Alison Statton is hauntingly emotive within the confines of her pathological detachment and inability to blink more than halfway shut.
Separated At Birth: Alison Statton and Small Wonder
Live At The Hurrah Club (commonly known as Hurrah’s) is a live set recorded on November 21, 1980. The lighting is dark and shadowy, with the brothers barely visible and Alison stepping out during songs to where you can only see her orange-lit, unblinking face. She only smiles between songs and mostly in the dark. They appeared on the BBC program Something Else on August 26, 1980, on a brightly lit set, and while the BBC set is nicer to look at, the NY show is closer to the sight of their sound.
Unless you’re a big fan you might have to watch this with the same rapt attention as their recordings require. It’s darkly lit and not loud in the traditional sense, but if you focus on it the presentation comes across well, if not just accurately. When I listen to Young Marble Giants I get into them in a big way, but when it’s been a while I tend to forget how much I like them. That’s why to me they’re more an aesthetic than a style.
Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture (1973, 1983) (Video): A documentation of the last Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars concert (July 3, 1973, Hammersmith Odeon), this film was released in 1983, the same year Bowie released "Let's Dance", a crappy sell-out of a disco single that gave the finger to his prior collaborations with Brian Eno. I think he wanted to write another “Fame”. Was this film supposed to appeal to his new top-40 fans? Or the old ones jumping ship after Mr. Jones gave up art for filthy lucre? Either way, this film should have stayed in the hat box it was stored in for ten years.
Let's start with the title - "The Motion Picture"? Adding a few scenes in the dressing room doesn't turn a regulation concert film into Cinema. The filming itself is home movie quality, and the stage show is too dark. The band members are spaced too far apart to be filmed correctly as a band, while an ever-present yellow-red spotlight diffuses all lines and colors. On the plus side, the sound mix comes off the board and is of excellent quality.
The Ziggy Stardust show wasn't even worth taping. The Diamond Dogs tour was more theatrical and better staged. Here we have constant costume changes, requiring ridiculously long guitar solos by Mick Ronson that scream Spinal Tap. Watching Mick Ronson prowl the stage like a transexual glam queen bitch rock god I can see why Bowie broke up the Spiders. Mick's a cross between Rod Stewart and Alice Cooper, and the lark of it is that at first he refused to even consider going uber-glam . A man of Bowie's narcissism couldn't equally share the spotlight with another for too long.
Bowie's constantly changing clothes. Why the hell for? This is a tradition in all kinds of performance I never could figure out. I'm glad hardcore came along to take the fashion runway aspect out of rock. Bowie's costumes don't relate to the songs, they're just window dressing. Next topic, please, before I start to twitch.
The behind-the-scene segments are boring and slow. They're of Bowie getting dressed and being made up by a team of helpers. Nobody says much out of fear of the camera (or something). Angela makes an appearance at the beginning and hams it up, but that's about it. Girls in the audience are shown screaming and crying like it was a Beatles' concert from the ‘60s. Yikes.
The songs themselves are average live versions of standards like "Space Oddity", "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud", Jacques Brel's "My Death" and Lou Reed's "White Light/White Heat", along with a large chunk of Ziggy Stardust, a great album no matter what the context. Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture is for fans only, and only for fans buzzing on Jolt Cola.
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