old punks web zine
Movies and Video, Part I
A Dirty Shame to End Of The Century: The Story Of The Ramones
BAD DIALOGUE ALERT! Chasing Amy has some of the most over-written, amateurish dialogue ever written, like a really bad off-off-Skid Row play. It's Shakespearean in the Ed Wood sense. Here's Ben Affleck's big speech-o-professed love fans find so beautiful. As I listened to it I thought of at least 12 good writers doing pinwheels in their graves, or at least the funny speech in Plan 9 From Outer Space where Dudley Manlove as Eros emotes "You see? You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!":
I love you. And not in a friendly way, although I think we're great friends. And not in a misplaced affection, puppy-dog way, although I'm sure that's what you'll call it. And it's not because you're unattainable. I love you. Very simple, very truly. You're the epitome of every attribute and quality I've ever looked for in another person. I know you think of me as just a friend, and crossing that line is the furthest thing from an option you'd ever consider. But I had to say it. I can't take this anymore. I can't stand next to you without wanting to hold you. I can't look into your eyes without feeling that longing you only read about in trashy romance novels. I can't talk to you without wanting to express my love for everything you are. I know this will probably queer our friendship -no pun intended- but I had to say it, because I've never felt this before, and I like who I am because of it. And if bringing it to light means we can't hang out anymore, then that hurts me. But I couldn't allow another day to go by without getting it out there, regardless of the outcome, which by the look on your face is to be the inevitable shoot-down. And I'll accept that. But I know some part of you is hesitating for a moment, and if there is a moment of hesitation, that means you feel something too. All I ask is that you not dismiss that -at least for ten seconds- and try to dwell in it. Alyssa, there isn't another soul on this fugging planet who's ever made me half the person I am when I'm with you, and I would risk this friendship for the chance to take it to the next plateau. Because it's there between you and me. You can't deny that. And even if we never speak again after tonight, please know that I'm forever changed because of who you are and what you've meant to me, which -while I do appreciate it- I'd never need a painting of birds bought at a diner to remind me of.
Dirty Shame (DVD review):
When John Waters lost
Divine an era of great bad filmmaking came to an end. The Woody Allen of
Baltimore, Waters manages to scrape together funds every few years to make a
film that will most probably suck, yet still must be watched out of
A Dirty Shame is his best film since
Serial Mom and a hundred times better than the career depths of Pecker and
Cecil B. Demented, but the party ended years ago for the shock value of John
Water's bad taste.
Waters has a bizarro-puritan streak that comes out in his mostly faux-shocked amazement at what people do for pleasure. He's a reserved voyeur in the cultures he embraces, and I'd say he's more like his parents than he'd admit, but he's always admitted to being a closet upper middle class square. A collector of sexual phraseology, Waters waters A Dirt Shame with every nugget he could find, and while on one level it's funny it's also less of a script than a laundry list. The best perv tidbit in the film is the "Upper Decker", rivaling "Tea Bagging" in my heart as the funniest thing in the universe.
A Dirt Shame is shocking, I guess, but not to anyone I hang around with. It's true to its camp vision but the lesson of it is known before the film even starts, so it just plays itself out and then ends. Thematically it's a lot like Hairspray but I don't envision a Broadway run for this. Does the world really need another John Water's counter-morality play?
Technically A Dirty Shame is Water's Citizen Kane. The lighting is perfect, the acting good across the board, and the endless reaction shots from extras finally achieve correct timing. Nobody mangles Water's stilted dialogue, which makes me miss Edith Massey that much more.
This film proves once again that most people look good in layers and layers of clothes. Patti Hearst is either addicted to botox or face lifts. David Hasselhoff makes a weird cameo in the same year he made a strange cameo in The Spongebob Squarepants movie.
Here's some funny trivia on this NC-17 film:
"When the MPAA were asked what would needed to be cut to obtain an R rating, they replied that if everything the MPAA objected to were to be removed, the movie would only be 10 minutes long."
Alternative TV – Live Splitting In Two (dvd review): This thing kind of just exists, or equally as descriptive just sits there on the shelf or in your dvd player. Live Splitting In Two suffers from a whole lotta the same things happening musically on stage as Mark Perry and his reformed Alternative TV play shows in 1996 and 1997. They formed in 1976. In my mind they should have stuck to their best early hits as their catalog is overly-representative of their lesser work. There’s nothing odder than a band starting something that might be great only to downshift into mundane for the rest of their career.
Mark Perry co-founded the first UK punk zine, Sniffin’ Glue, and in the interview portion of the dvd you’ll never encounter a more pleasant, honest and easy-going person. Live he becomes more serious but never angry. The four shows presented are in small venues with average sound and video quality. The opening number, “Viva La Rock n Roll” built up some energy but most of the other tracks lack a layer or two of whatever might make them worth hearing. “Action Time Vision” closes the disc and as it’s hard to ruin it came across well.
Here’s the set list. Sorry to say this wasn’t better than it was, even just as a fond wish for Mark Perry: Viva la Rock'n'Roll / Why Dont'cha Do Me Right / Alternative TG / Life / Splitting In 2 (From 'Hits - Blackpool 1996) / The Force Is Blind / Alternative Punk Life (From 'Chats Palace - 20/9/97') / Nasty Little Lonely / How Much Longer / You Bastard (From 'Dublin Castle - 08/11/97') / Still Life / In Control / Communication Failure / Total Switch Off / Love Lies Limp / Action Time Vision (From '100 Club - 19/12/01')
American Hardcore (DVD review): [5-10-08: Edited and lengthened for your pleasure] American Hardcore, based on the 2001 book, does a more than decent job packing in as much as it can while arranging everything in an easily digested story-line. Complaints that it doesn't cover enough are nonsense. All the big names are included, if not interviewed, and many of the rest are at least name-checked. American Hardcore covers a four year period from the beginnings of The Bad Brains to the genre's decline into metal and literal battle fatigue. It's genre specific to the brand of suburban cretinism referred to at one time by Exene Cervenka, the Stevie Nicks of her degeneration, as the "O.C. Reich", the rich-kid idiots who destroyed the original arts-based L.A. punk scene.
I never read the book, probably because I was told it was heavily agenda-driven, and tried to be anthropological in its assertion that hardcore is a new kind of aboriginal tribe. The movie does a little of that too, at least as a set-up, but thankfully director Paul Rachman allows the interviews to veer the film into a story that tells itself. Mythologizing and anthropologizing hardcore fails as it's little more than what it was - a few smart and interesting people and a lot of dumb and useless idiots attending shows, playing shows, recording music and plucking the occasional success out the diarrheic ass of well-deserved failure. There was nothing wholly original about putting out your own records or staging your own shows, points beaten to death anyway in every UK '77 punk documentary. In retrospect everyone is a genius and everything was a smaller part of a greater whole. Brilliant.
American Hardcore basically says the 1980 American punk scene was an updated yet nearly exact counterpart to the '77 UK scene. UK Decay wasn't the same as US Prep School Malaise, but it might have seemed that way when you're young, dumb and full of fun. It's a story I've heard too many times, and I lived through it too. Every person is a unique and special individual, just like everyone else. The original UK Sex Pistols - Clash scene lasted eighteen months. The original USHC scene lasted four years.
The film's put together well and there's a load of decent archival footage and show flyer mayhem. The interviews are short, sweet and mostly on the money. Vic Bondi is the only pissed-off and didactic interview of the bunch, which makes Henry Rollin's thoughtful introspection that much more surprising, as I've never known him to miss an opportunity to tell it like he says it was.
What comes across front and center in American Hardcore is a celebration of violence, usually of the blind-side and mini-gang variety. I've never understood it myself in either music or sports. If you want to fight, then fight, otherwise enjoy the show or play a fun game of hockey or basketball. Hitting people when they're not looking is social insanity. That's the idea of fun for a lot of people, and that's one reason why I avoid a lot of people. I live in SoCal, surrounded by more kinds of senseless scumbaggery than I can count. I'm also against sex scenes in general release films. It's gratuitous and wastes time. Films should be either PG at worst or the kind of porn that would make even a sailor puke.
American Hardcore is worth seeing, for newbies and the elderly alike. Keep in mind that hardcore punk was more different than new. It was the next step after what came before it, and it was replaced by what came after. Sadly, that after was speed metal. Also take what anyone says about it with a boulder of salt. Looking at it dispassionately I can't think of a genre of music more exactly what it appeared to be on its surface. Mythologizing hardcore punk seems incongruous at best.
Was The Middle Class the first hardcore band? Or was it The Bad Brains? Hmmmmm.
Tori Amos - Live From NY (video review) (Warner): When I get the itch to see what Kate Bush is up to I rent a new Tori Amos Video. I don't own any Tori Amos records but there are a few songs of hers I like. A few years ago in Las Vegas I was handed a free ticket to a Tori Amos concert and enjoyed most of it. What I remember most was; how odd it was to have a so many stuffed animals wedged amongst the speakers and instruments; that Tori strung too many slow, similar songs together, and how the crowd of mostly teen and college women reacted to every nuance of her singing and facial expressions with shrieks of ecstasy. Pretentiousness isn't a crime, and maybe Tori Amos really does speak directly to the tormented inner sanctums of intelligent, sensitive young women. Still, it's funny to see it in action.
Live From NY is a taping of her only show of 1997, a benefit for an organization she helped found, RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network). Tori is a victim of rape, or she may just sing about rape - not even her fans agree. I hope she wasn't, and if she was I hope the guy’s dead now. That's that on that. What I do know is Tori Amos is weird, distant and the victim of something. A co-worker tells me she’s a complete loon in interviews. Live From NY spends most of its 100 minutes zoomed in on her face and either she has a problem with depth perception or she's staring into another dimension. Her eyes cross like Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. Tori appears to be possessed by her own music yet still slightly disconnected from everything and everyone. It's all eccentric in a quaint and (I guess) harmless way.
Tori talks between songs and for the life of me I have no idea what she's getting at. There's a difference between mysterious and incoherent. Her speech pattern would be a mumble if I wasn’t able to understand each word. The female fans in the audience are shown to be either frozen in awe or reacting in joyous panic. The boyfriends look like they're making mental lists of future favors owed, and they all involve sex.
The frequent groupings of slow songs begin to sound the same. A guitarist comes out after four songs, and I'm thinking eventually it'll be an entire band like when I saw her, but, that's it and the set plods on. The only highlight for me was "Cornflake Girl". Any of the slower songs might have worked in isolation but not in an endless barrage of sameness. The oddest and funniest part of the tape was the time she left the piano to attempt dance and movement and the edge of the stage. Any more stiff and she'd be dead. I didn't expect such a total lack of coordination. All I could think of was Kate Bush spinning in her grave. Oh, Kate's not dead? Well, if she were dead she'd be twirling.
The show could have been paced better with more lively songs. That's all I found lacking. A $1.50 rental and something to review. That's my excuse.
Anarchist Cookbook (DVD review):
Any film referencing anarchy that's not unequivocally insulting and mocking is a
bad one, because this brand of youth idiocy and adult cretinism shouldn't be
The Anarchist Cookbook is a bad but not that bad film with decent
performances but uneven writing filled with situations beyond improbable to
truly impossible. I’m not the type to not like a joke because I know a dog can’t
drive a car, but some of the whimsical scene endings and coincidences contrived
by writer/director Jordan Susman fall so flat they should end with the sound
effect “Wa wa wa waaaaaaaaaaa!”
Anarchy is about Being Against for its own sake. It’s not pro-anything because Bad Is Good overrides all their slogans and rationalizations. Anarchists always smile when they say what they’re “for” because they know they're lying. My question is this: if anarchists declare war against society, why can’t society fight back? Is it because most of them are little rich kids? Is it because people who claim to obey no laws would sue in a heartbeat if their rights were infringed? It’s funny when it’s not sad.
Puck is the central character of a film inspired by SLC Punk, Fight Club, Trainspotting and Suburbia. He’s supposed to represent the conscience of the film but all in all he’s too much of an asshole to be likeable. The film takes such a dim view of people who actually work for a living they show Puck and his rasta-Stimpy pal Double D stealing from a poor and obviously physically handicapped street vendor. This passes for wacky fun. They show yuppies from 1983 or so throughout the movie. Odd.
John (No Reasonable Offer Refused) Savage is good as a hippie but the diary thing was badly conceived. Dylan (Don't Call Me Angel) Bruno is also good as a pathological nihilist. All the major players are good, but some of the speaking and all the non-speaking extras are below amateur.
The Anarchist Cookbook annoyed me in the beginning because it presented idiot anarchist dogma as fact, spewed in excited voiceovers. It settled into a workable pattern of humanistic discourse broken up by acts of stupidity and bad storytelling. The ending sure pissed off the anarchy kids! Wa wa wa waaaaaaaaaaa!
For some real laughs read the user comments at the IMDB. Here's one now from Sammy: "I guess my missive is directed at the other people who have seen it and at the other people who DARE TO WATCH IT WITH AN OPEN MIND (a cardinal sin in this day and age)." He titled his review "Too smart for today's dumb audiences". To Sammy, and to all the kids, I say this: Smash the state/before you graduate/then you gotta get a job/and it's too late!!
Angelic Upstarts Live: Solidarity (dvd review): I never found the Angelic Upstarts too pleasing and at the wrong time of my formative years I picked up a single by them that was reggae. Like, I know, right? I keep ten songs on my 'puter and as I listen to them again I wonder why I even have those. They were (and I guess still are) second-wave street punk with skinhead influences whose concerts were slugfests rivaling Sham 69 shows and they received most of their press for their hard left politics sweetened by a hatred of Nazis – a big plus in my book. Anyhoo, as we all know, both sides of the issue were filled with violent people and the inevitable ensued. Nobody won but I hope the Nazis got it worse than they gave.
Solidarity was recorded in 1997, the middle of nowhere as far as punk years go, at the now demolished Morecambe Dome. The film quality is ok but there’s multiple cameras and decent sound. Mensi, the singer, speechifies about politics between songs and the crowd gets into every one even though they generally hit the same stride. A punk girlie dancer comes out during the third number to bump, grind and generally freak out for a while. She’s wearing a fishnet top with no support if you know what I mean, and I think you do. I saw things. Back to the show, Mensi screams and curses repeatedly that the government should give people jobs and then pay them. This brings on the expected cheers but if he yelled “Everybody on the dole and give them all the money they want!” the front five rows would have ripped off their own heads and tossed them on stage in tribute. The rest would have commenced masturbating.
Angry Samoans - True Documentary (video review) (Triple XXX): Let's be honest. Nobody cares what the Angry Samoans recorded after 1982's Back From Samoa. Angry Samoans fans put on "They Saved Hitler's Cock" and "Lights Out", not the psychedelic- hippie "Staring At The Sun" or "STP Not LSD". Released in 1995, True Documentary shows the band with original members Mike Saunders, Gregg Turner and Bill Vockeroth, mixed with videos of various side projects and a revolving door of backing members. For years Turner and Saunders were at each other's throats and for a time there were two bands calling themselves the Angry Samoans. Turner eventually gave it up for life as a college professor but his bitterness towards Metal Mike is still evident. Once you know how much bad blood there is between the two, seeing them together on the same tape can be a bit unpleasant.
Old music videos are mixed with interviews and a late rperiod show in Los Angeles. No coherent band history is given and no master outline was followed putting this together. Metal Mike talks about sleeping in his car after L.A. gigs and Turner rambles about math theory in one of the comedy sketches filmed for the tape. The story of the Angry Samoans is more interesting than this lets on, and one day I hope it's given the treatment it deserves. It's a story of rock critics who formed a band as homage to The Dictators and then went about alienating everyone with clever yet vicious critiques of their own scene. The hole they dug for themselves with "Get Off The Air", a brutal putdown of DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, is worthy of a lot more consideration. The infighting, eventual dissolution into two bands with the same name, and Turner's hateful obsession with Metal Mike is all great material for more study. VH1 would do a good job but we don't live in a punk world.
True Documentary is decent for what it is. What the world really needs is an old live show with everything off Back From Samoa.
The Angry Samoans 1996-1997 (video review): I bought this for five samolians directly from Metal Mike Saunders at an Angry Samoans show. He bought 99 cent blank videotapes and made copies of this twenty song collection of songs from various shows over a two year period. The cover is a typed song list secured with scotch tape. To call this hodgepodge would be like saying a crusty punk's underwear is stained. That the production values rival Mexican snuff films wouldn't be such a big deal if the contents weren't so disjointed and at times deathly dull.
The Angry Samoans were, along with Fear, hardcore’s finest early ambassadors of confrontation with vicious yet intelligent wit. Where bands before them were punk snotty The Samoans and Fear took crowd baiting and lyrical troublemaking to new highs and lows. Along with the cretin anthems of "They Saved Hitler's Cock" and "Steak Knife" were barbed insults at Rodney Bingenheimer and Posh Boy, two important figures in the early L.A. scene. Needless to say the Angry Samoans made very few friends. What had to frustrate their enemies was the greatness of the material. 1982's Back From Samoa is one of the top five hardcore albums.
Years of infighting led to Turner exiting the band, at which point Metal Mike took ownership of the Angry Samoans name. He’s stopped releasing material under the band name Metal Mike and reverted to calling himself the Angry Samoans.
When you see the Samoans live you'll see Metal Mike on guitar (and for a while on drums), original drummer Bill Vockeroth and a few recent additions. This video has scenes with Metal Mike band members playing as the Angry Samoans. Metal Mike, who looks like Radar from M.A.S.H., baits the audience and invites having small stuffed animals thrown at him. The set I saw a few months ago is the same damn set from 1996. It’s as old as vaudeville, from "The Star Spangled Banner" to the "Tequila" dance contest. It's less a concert than a small punk musical revue. You'd expect some variety in the cover songs since Mike's an expert on music history, but this tape shows that "Little Black Egg" and "Knowledge" are crazy glued onto their set list.
Mike's no Lee Ving, being small and cuddly, so when you see him baiting the crowd you want to tell him to be quiet and play another song already. In his signature sleeveless t-shirt and backwards baseball cap you might also want to call him Wally. The songs are great but the gaps in between go on forever. They really need to tighten their set and play the hits
The tape was shot with a hand held video camera by whomever was there that particular night. Edited using two home video machines, there's no production value and the picture quality is what you'd expect from a third generation copy. A number of shows are cut together so at least it's not just some yutz taping from fifty feet back at one gig. For fans only.
Another State Of Mind (video review) (Time Bomb Filmworks): I saw this in a theater in 1983 so I'm more punk than you'll ever be. Living in DC I always think of this as the movie with Minor Threat, which runs along the same line with how in Hong Kong the Green Hornet TV series was called The Kato Show even though Bruce Lee wasn't the lead.
This 78 minute videotaped movie tries to be more than your standard slice-of-life-on-the-road concert film but it comes no way near Penelope Spheeris' The Decline Of Western Civilization, punk's best documentation to date. Maybe filmmakers Peter Stuart and Adam Small missed out by traveling in their own rented truck instead of riding with the bands in their dingy school bus. The sights, the sounds, the smells! Interviews with local punk kids are decent but lack that dramatic sense of social nihilism. The poor sound also makes certain segments hard to follow.
The film's premise is a DIY tour by L.A.'s Better Youth Organization (BYO) record label, placing Youth Brigade, Social Distortion and assorted roadies into an old school bus as they play 30 to 35 shows in five weeks. Cities featured are San Francisco, Seattle, Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Washington DC and Baltimore. As the tour drags on and eleven people exist on $10 each a day tempers flare and friendships are tested. Promoters screw the bands, the bus breaks down and once again, what odors must have fermented in that bus. In Detroit two roadies call it quits. By the time the bus gives up the ghost for good in DC, everyone in Social D. except Mike Ness skips town in disgust over Mike’s alcoholism and the general lack of money and food. Like a dysfunctional family on Geraldo they detail Mike's problems for the camera and the world. Lacking a band, Ness heads home and the three Stern brothers of Youth Brigade ride back to California in the filmmaker's truck.
Some highlights: In Calgary the bands must sneak into a club through a back fire escape because fat, punk hating rednecks are waiting in front to beat them up. In Montreal we meet Marcel, who is pretty smashed up after a car crash. He says he's going to kill himself in two years because life is not worth living. I thought GG Allin owned the rights to the distant future death wish. Thee kids in Los Angeles practice stage diving in a nice backyard pool, which serves as a reminder how middle class punk is. In New York there's a religious service put on at the P.U.N.X. House. A minister says, "As far as the punk rock music, I'm not really that familiar with it. My own opinion would be that it does not bring God much glory." The scene seems rigged on both sides. The punks at the sermon don't seem too sincere and the minister doesn't have a clue about the punk culture he's preaching to. In Chicago, Brian gives a lesson on the various forms of slam dancing. Since the bus breaks down for good in DC we see Minor Threat practice in the cramped basement of the Dischord House, a bit of concert action in Baltimore and an action shot of Ian scooping ice cream at his joe job. As a side note, the man who owned that shop had a massive right forearm from scooping. His left forearm was regular size.
The film's major point appears to be that slam dancing is an artful form of expression and a healthy release of pent up personal issues. Slamming is the dumbest thing ever, right up there with graffiti. This point about how your friends are there to pick you up, and that it's really not about hatred is such crap The slow motion close-ups of the slammer's faces proves this to be a full wet diaper. All you see is caveman stomping and the deliberate use of elbows to hurt someone - anyone. You can see the hatred in eyes as lips tighten around clenched teeth.
The other major theme is that government/religion/family/school/society failed these kids. There may be some validity to this but as an issue it’s been done before, and maybe these kids fail themselves too.
On a DIY scale I rate Another State Of Mind two thumbs up. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who isn’t into punk already because Another State Of Mind makes us look pretty inept.
Anything Boys Can Do.. - (video review) (1996): While not a definitive documentary on the riot grrrl movement of the mid-nineties this is a nicely done survey of nine female-fronted New York City bands and assorted local scenesters. The question of how women fit into the heavily male oriented rock scene has been addressed before. This time it's from the exclusive perspective of the NY punk scene. The answers are what you'd expect: some find sexism rampant, others don't; the skinhead chicks act like they don't notice or care. Of course when you're talking to the uber-dyke band Tribe 8, who pine to castrate men, the politics have a more radical component than even heavy metal.
At the beginning of the film the stereotyped female band is described as "folk music and victim wails". The remaining 70 minutes (of course) prove this wrong. The following bands are interviewed and filmed in concert: Thrust (bad stage theatrics), VitaPup (two guys & one girl beating the hell out of the drums), Sexpod (very intelligent, sounds like Fugazi), Homer Erotic (poetry sung over (mostly) world beat percussion), the Maul Girls, Tribe 8 (hint: they don't like boys), The Voluptuos Horror of Karen Black, Sisters Grimm (glam), and my favorites, The Wives, who are hardcore meets X.
Also interviewed is a spoken word artist who takes herself way too seriously. She talks about the reactions she gets, and based on her work here I'd say it’s along the lines of "what the hell?" Spoken word is a type of performance where you spout random opinions and stories in a manner that seems like poetry but isn't. She opens for punk shows! I remember how in the ‘70s comedians would open for rock bands and the fans threw things and screamed curses. In the PC punk 90s that's not supposed to happen but the unspoken reaction might still be the same.
Anything Boys Can Do is loosely organized around topics like nudity (plenty of it here), dykes (lots of those too), feminism (evenly rejected and accepted) and what it's like to be female in the (cock)-rock world. The Continental club puts on "PMS" nights where female bands play, and they're told that's the only night available. Guys are amazed women can play and express it in sexist terms. As a solution/reaction to this, the riot-grrrl movement is both the best and worst thing to happen. It's good to rally around a cause, put on shows, start record labels and publish zines, but when the riot-grrrl movement goes so far out of its way to alienate and exclude men not only are they setting themselves up for obsolescence, they’re being as bad as sexist men. Punk has limited appeal to start with. The number of women into punk is a fraction of that small fraction. Feminists can turn to other outlets to express riot-grrrl themes. In the film they talk about how guys could only go to Riot-Grrrl meetings if they wore a dress. What some guys will do to get laid.
The editing, sound, and cinematography are great, and the style is interesting without resorting to MTV gimmicks. I don't know, but I'd guess this was made as a film school project to be shown on NY's cable TV.
Athens, GA – Inside/Out (video review): This 1987 film by screenwriter and director Tony Gayton is fun, eccentric and well edited, especially in sound, but it’s also too random and long. When dealing with a local music scene you’re bound to get detractors like this internet comment:
“I lived in Athens, GA for more than 10 years, but had never seen this video. This documentary just grazed the surface of the TOTAL Athens music scene. It was choppy, never really being able to connect all the players in the film with the influence of the city of Athens. MTV did an awesome documentary in the 90's on the very same subject and it was much better.”
So, when making a film that, even inadvertently, sums up a local scene, you either acknowledge those left behind or make it known up front your focus is on a particular sub-set. The investor hook for Athens, GA – Inside/Out is the success of R.E.M and The B-52’s, in that order. The Bar-B-Q Killers, Time Toy, Flat Duo Jets, Dreams So Real, Love Tractor, Kilkenny Cats, and Squalls are shown playing live and in interviews. Cindy Wilson and Keith Strickland of The B-52’s are interviewed in a coffee shop, R.E.M.’s Peter Buck gives a tour of his house in his pajamas, and two members of Pylon are interviewed separately. Proto-legends Limbo District is given their due with still photos. At the time I remember Athens being famous for the obvious ones plus Love Tractor and Flat Duo Jets. Squalls formed in 1981 and most of the rest around 1984. It’s valid to ask if they made it into the film because they were important or because they knew the director or were available for live footage and interviews. The Bar-B-Q Killers seem most out of place, with lead singer Laura Carter the most androgynous person I’ve ever seen. She drank herself to death in 2002. The length problem of the film, only 81 minutes to begin with, revolves around showing lesser bands playing more than one song and lingering on their interviews. There’s a correct proportion of attention you give to various elements of a documentary, and this one’s a little off.
Athens GA - Inside/Out opens strong with shots of offbeat Athens street scenes and a southern multi-cultural mix of characters. Then a disheveled oddball named J.J. Orf stands under a dim bulb in a shack and the narrative ball starts rolling, with zigs and zags between local artists, poets, bands, interviews and assorted nuttiness. The story about the man who could smell ants and the Popeye The Sailor dance were cute in a bad way. For me the best parts of the film were two outsider artists – The Rev. Howard Finster and The Rev. John D. Ruth, who both turned their homes and land into museums of wonderful strangeness. That and Walter of Walters Barbeque. The bands became secondary because I’ve seen soooo many music films one dayI’m gonna go FedExtal (I swear).
There’s the Athens, GA college town and the Athens, GA of the New South, and they're not that far removed from each other. Michael Stipe and more than half of The B-52’s were born in Georgia, so they’re locals. The transplants and college students who stayed adopted the local ways seamlessly, and a natural thrift store aesthetic prevails. Their scene seems less hipster and more organic.
The Pylon interviews were odd because it’s not often you hear of a band dissolving out of a pronounced lack of ambition. They could have toured nationally with U2 and taken a shot at the big leagues. They didn’t want to get involved, which is neither her nor there, but Singer Vanessa Hay seems lost in a fog, working in a copy shop and remembering Pylon like it happened to someone else. Bassist Michael Lachowski is not that much better off managing a bike shop. Since then he’s gone all corporate. Good for him. Poverty is for the poor.
The “scene” is alluded to more than it is defined, which I assume is on purpose, but it’s also vague. The "a little of everything" approach works for a while but doesn’t add up to as much as it could have. There’s a lot to like about Athens GA – Inside/Out, but I can’t help but wish it was more about something and less about the art of whimsy and the whimsy of art.
Bad Manners– Don’t Knock The Bald Heads (dvd review): You could say I was disappointed by this live set – and you’d be correct! It looked like they were playing the Copacabana Room on a discount cruise ship making port of call for a Jimmy Buffet concert in the Bahamas. I mean that literally. Half the band’s wearing Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts! 2004’s Don’t Knock The Bald Heads will make you nostalgic for a time that may not have existed in a place you’ve probably never been. I was hoping for Dance Craze and instead got a local polka revival with ska instead of oompa. They open with Glenn Miller’s 1939 Big Band hit “In The Mood” and lucky #13 is a 1967 charter for Frankie Valli. And what, no “Lorraine” or “Inner London Violence”? The first scans of the audience, a sparse bunch, focused on some old squares who looked like they wandered in expecting a limbo dance contest. Oi….
The show is a slight diversion and neither here nor there. The thirty minute interview with Douglas Trendle (Buster Bloodvessel) is worth it as he’s a pleasant, soft-spoken, friendly man lacking negativity or an agenda. He once started a run for mayor of London based on a standard Labour Party platform but with extras like free tampons for all women and creating a series of one-way roads to help traffic flow. The thirty McDonalds hamburgers in one day wager is another good story.
For-like-ever I thought Buster also went by the name Fatty Lipbuster, but it seems I made that one up.
Here’s the set list: 1. In The Mood 2. Echo 4 + 2 3. This Is Ska 4. My Girl Lollipop 5. Fatty Fatty 6. Black Night 7. Feel Like Jumping 8. Walking In The Sunshine 9. Skaville U.K. 10. King Ska-Fa 11. Pipeline 12. Red River Ska 13. Too Good To Be True (Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You) 14. Just A Feeling 15. You Fat Bastard 16. Skinhead Girl 17. El Pussycat 18. Ne-Ne Na-Na Na-Na Nu-Nu 19. Don’t You Be Angry 20. Woolly Bully 21. Special Brew 22. Don’t Knock The Baldheads 23. England Football Medley: - Tom Hark - March Of The Mods - The Great Escape - Come On Eileen 24. Lip Up Fatty 25. Can Can.
Bad Religion: The Riot (video review): Never has a product borne out of false advertising delivered so little. The back of the box reads “Now you can see it live and uncut in its entirety”, but what’s inside is 55 minutes of the following: thirty minutes of amateur camcorder footage (with almost no discernable vocals) of an old Bad Religion show, followed by the midway break of a Dec. 29, 1990 Pennywise/Bad Religion show that only made it that far because the Fire Marshall shut it down for overcrowding. Then there’s random footage of the aftermath of the “riot” followed by more camcorder concert footage. The thing calls itself “The Riot” yet it delivers everything BUT the riot. What a riot.
The riot section begins with a stage announcer explaining that, as ordered by the fire marshall, the aisles must be cleared and all must be seated in the old row seats of the historic El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, CA. He then apologizes for the show being cancelled and offers everyone either a full refund or a free ticket to a make-up show the next night. The cameraman is behind on stage filming the audience reaction, which can barely be made out because of the sub-VHS film quality. I don’t know why the show couldn’t continue with the legal number of occupants, but what do I know about marshalling fire?
The next cut is on the street well after the inside of the theatre has been trashed to the tune of $25,000, with glass broken and seats ripped out. There’s almost no police but a gaggle of firefighters. One fan is cut up and possibly beaten, but there’s no follow-up, and there’s a hundred or so disgruntled middle-class white youth way across the street, raising their balled-up fists and a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ about smashing authority or something. The only State Sponsored Terrorism © you actually see is a fireman in the distance hosing the kids down with to get them to disburse. The krusty kids © run screaming like vampires being doused in holy water. The end. You don’t even see most of the hosing as it’s blocked by a city bus. Then there’s more bad footage of an earlier Bad Religion show. Then, The End for real.
A Netflix reviewer lived to tell the tale: “I was at this riot when I was a young punk rocker. There were people trying to set the theater on fire, the curtains, and kicking out the movie theater seats. We weren't sure what to do; outside there were people throwing bottles, and breaking windows, and there were helicopters and police everywhere. So we stayed inside for a while, then decided to make a break for it to our friend's car. We ran outside, and I remember bottles being thrown overhead, and glass everywhere. There was also some overturned cars. Anyway, this documentary doesn't do the riot justice at all. The police pretty much started this riot by shutting down the show for no reason.” That's right, punk kids are like the Amish until pushed over the edge.
As usual, the fake 5-Star reviews at Amazon are hilarious.
Bad Religion - Along The Way (video review): I'm so happy this was a concert film and not a disguised Gnome Crapsky lecture. The tape was filmed during a series of 1989 concerts in Germany to promote Suffer, which at the time rejuvenated the punk genre and set the tone for a few more great albums (No Control and Against The Grain), which were then followed by a number of repetitive dullards and, all media hype aside, a slide into musical irrelevance. Having started a thriving record label of their own, Bad Religion signed with Atlantic in 1993 and was rightly branded as sell-outs. Epitaph is now a leading kiddie punk label run by political pedophiles, and as we speak the guys may be on the road supporting Blink-182. Yes, Blink-182, the enemas of the state.
What makes this so laughable is that Brett Gurewitz (booze and crack fiend no longer in the band) and Greg Graffin (messiah) are full of their own DIY righteous indignation. They write dogmatic songs and lecture on the evils of government, big business, school, religion, authority and maybe even the "cross at the green, not in between" safety campaign. Ian McKaye may have regretted opening the Pandora’s Box of straight-edge, but at least he didn't end up an alcoholic, dope-addled putz who exposes his putz on the internet. Here's some promo jizz from the Atlantic Records site:
Bad Religion has spent almost two decades questioning and challenging the tacit, dogmatic structure of our society. Our methods have been non-traditional in that we have used the avenues of pop-culture and the media. But since we have always promoted questioning instead of professing to know all the answers, our process has been fundamentally scientific. Through our works, we have advanced many testable hypotheses about the world we live in.
Oh, I get it, they're destroying The System by becoming The System. Henry “Neck’ Rollins operates under the same personal exemption. I didn't realize touring with Blink-182 was that subversive. To be honest, I detest their politics but like some of their records. I stopped buying their records a long time ago. That they've become a laughing stock is not my concern. Start the revolution without me, kids.
Along The Way was filmed in fourteen cities, and for all I know each song involves edits from all fourteen shows. Possibly only one static camera was used. It's disorienting at first because it looks like there's eight guitarists and four singers with the same face and voice but different clothing. The drummer never changes because he never wears a shirt. Which reminds me, is it uncool for a band to wear their own logo t-shirts on stage? The synch editing is decent, which keeps the reality of it not being one concert not so detaching. The songs are good because Suffer is a great album. Since the crowd reaction is nil, either the German kids understood no English or they didn't care what Brett’s saying.
The interview segments are interesting, if only because they show how full of crap these guys are. Brett rationalizes his crack addiction for-ever and Greg admits "The music is the vehicle for the words." He talks about the transforming power of his own lyrics like he’s the new Moses. How egotistical to think you can dictate public policy because you sing. I'd hate to think anyone got an idea in their head because of something I wrote. I do this for poops and giggles. Bad Religion think they're secular gods and I will mock them until their fans realize how unqualified millionaire rock stars are to promote agendas. But who am I kidding. If Michael Jordan made commercials saying he only wipes his tushy with Charmin, 100 million more trees will die to help fulfill the demand for his choice of poop squeegee. To borrow a phrase from Stan Lee, "Nuff Said!"
Berlin: Intimate (DVD review): When I first watched this I thought it was Kelly Ripa up there and not Terri Nunn. Singer, actress and sex columnist, Terri Nunn put this DVD together to promote 2002's Voyeur, the first Berlin album in sixteen years. Filmed in a tiny studio with a small SRO audience seemingly seeded with models, Berlin: Intimate is as spontaneous as an infomercial, alternating between pre-recorded song intros and live performance,yet it succeeds because of her band and Terri’s winning personality, strong voice and towering stage presence. She’s professional, likeable and milfy.
Waaay back when I wasn’t a Berlin fan and didn’t even consider them new wave because of their disco-annoying “Sex (I’m A…)”, which soured me some to the two Berlin songs I did like, “No More Words” and “Metro”. I'd also dropped them into the singer showcase category (read: not a real band) when they were referred to as “Terri Nunn and Berlin”. When two female dancers came out periodically to dance, bump and grind in assorted costumes I thought Berlin: Intimate was a promo reel for prospective Las Vegas shows. All that aside, it's not all my cuppa tea but I realize it’s a decent show for what it is.
My two Berlin hits are played perfectly, a crunchy and abrasive guitar for “Metro” and Terri’s voice pitch-perfect and gruff for “No More Words”. I must ask what’s up with the pound of body glitter she rolled around in, but she looks good, I mean, real good, and her perfect white teeth reflected light with a pulsating magnetic hum. Terri worked the stage and the crowd like a champ, and the interview segments were intelligent, honest, and open. Terri’s so clear in her thoughts there’s nary a pause or extraneous word. She’s good.
Berlin: Intimate is an odd duck but it works.
Better Living Through Circuitry (video review): 1999’s Better Living Through Circuitry is probably outdated by eleventy generations since the rave scene prides itself on always being three steps ahead of itself, both physically impossible and a load of crap since without drugs much of it sounds the same. My favorite bits from the coming-of-age rave film Groove are when the new DJ succeeds by making his first song sound exactly like the song before it, only thumpier, and the zen overload of The Nod:
Guy: Why do you do this to yourself? Don't even get paid, risk getting arrested, for what? Ernie: You don't know? Guy: No. Ernie: The Nod. Guy: The Nod? Ernie: Happens to me at least once every party. Some guy comes up to me and says "Thank you for making this happen... I needed this. This really meant something to me." And they nod... and I nod back. Guy: [scoffs] ... That's it? Ernie: That's it.
The Nod. Dude. I watched an hour of this because it repeats itself and I should receive combat pay for having to listen to music I despise with a genocidal fury. I know people who like raves and rave music, and god bless their pointy little heads, but that scene is a cocktail of the worst utopian, drugged up hippie shite and the horrors of the disco era. That’s my version of hell. I keep my mouth shut, but my typing hands won't keep quiet.
If you’re looking for a fast-moving, loud, colorful, informative and positive overview of rave you won’t be disappointed by Better Living Through Circuitry. I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest. I try not to piss on other people’s fun as long as it’s ultimately harmless, and if all I had against rave was music I don’t like and the annoying exuberance of the young, dumb and full of fun, I’d give it as much consideration as I do Swedish Death Metal. It’s not that simple. I’m not a fan of addictive drug use with harmful long-term effects, or of creating a positive culture around it. The film's title is a riff on Better Living Through Chemistry. It’s the 60s all over again, with Timothy Leary taking the Magic Bus to a beautiful future of love, peace and sugary drinks. That works out well as long as the welfare and trust fund checks keep rolling in. History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. If you want to fry your brains, fine, but if you do please do the right thing and don't burden the system with your long term care needs. Cliffs exist for a reason.
Genesis P-Orridge, the strangest person this side of Venus, appears throughout to make definitive statements like “The origins of punk… there was an enthusiasm for taking back the means of production. I think with techno, we’re actually, we’re seizing the means of perception.” GP is way too impressed with his/herself. Just like with hippies and rich white anarchists, ravers talk of the threat of their scene to the police and the existing power elites. Their freedom, happiness and love threaten the status quo, and that’s why the cops shut down raves. It’s not the drug dealing, rapes, ambulance parades or ecstacy-induced car fatalities. No, it’s the feelings of family and everybody wanting to be your friend. It’s that everyone is a participant. The hugging. The fun. The love. Why do pigs hate love? Oh, If I had a penny for every person who thinks they’re being targeted by The Man because they make people think. Ah, life lived as theory......
Big Black- Pig Pile - (Video review) (Touch and Go Video): I’ve seen two bootleg concert videos of Chicago's Big Black. They both stink. This one is Official Product and serves as a live greatest hits collection. When I saw them they played all the album tracks they could, which meant they played the filler and left out the meat. I didn’t stay long.
Pig Pile is great. Two or three cameras were used and the sound quality is excellent. The back of the removable video box cover sheet is filled with liner notes from Steve Albini, with notes and comments familiar to anyone who owns the album notes. The comment on "Pavement Saw" reads, "The male-female relationship, as a subject for song, is thoroughly bankrupt. This attempt is noteworthy mainly for preposterously drawn-out introduction and Santiago's hummingbird-like solo at the end."
Filmed in the summer of 1987 at London’s The Hammersmith Clarendon during Big Black's last tour, this tape is a great example of what industrial punk meant before the pissed-off-white-guy disco of NIN and Prodigy. You can just smell the evil rising off "Kerosene", "Bad Penny" and "Jordan, Minnesota". Albini claims in the notes his lyrics were not part of any aesthetic plan. Since I think he’s 100% amoral to begin with this may be true. He writes, "Anybody who thinks we overstepped the playground perimeter of lyrical decency (or that the public has any right to demand ‘social responsibility’ from a goddamn punk rock band) is a pure natural dolt, and should step forward and put his tongue up my ass."
Live songs are interspersed with clips of fireworks and people setting their clothing on fire. During the show Albini's white Die Kreuzen t-shirt gets covered with his own blood, most likely from a hand injury. Guitarist Santiago Durango prowls a two foot square area while bass player Dave Riley looks off blankly into space. Roland (the drum machine) doesn't move at all.
This is an excellent concert tape and well worth seeking out. My copy came with a clear plastic 5" single with the same song on both sides, a re-make of the bad mid-‘80s disco pop tune "In My House". Why this song, and why twice, remain two of life's great mysteries.
Big Black - The Last Blast (video review) (Black Label): This show, their last, was recorded at the Georgetown Steamplant in Chicago, a fit setting for punk's best industrial band. Most industrial is disco, and while you can argue Big Black played a morose funk, Big Black was first and foremost a heavy hardcore outfit who used a drum machine to create bludgeons, not dance tracks. While not as good as Pig Pile, The Last Blast is a sturdy collection of hits from a band that preferred not to play them live.
Steve Albini's recurring theme during the set is "I thought I told you to shut up". It's amazing how many fans look like Albini, from the pencil neck to the thick glasses. One of the most e-vile bands around, Big Black looked life's worst horrors straight in the eyes, chomped on popcorn and sometimes cracked a smile while humanity ripped itself to shreds. Big Black sang about evil that masquerades as everyday life - from racism to child swapping. The tale of Jordan, Minnesota ended up being a recovered memory scam, but as fiction the song works well. If death came in only two varieties - quick, painful, loud and bloody; or slow, deliberate, unblinking and bloody - Big Black was obsessed with the latter.
Big Black were great. Don't get me wrong. The Last Blast catches them at their best. Too bad the crowd is better amplified than the band. Here's the set list in no order: "Hammer of Love", "The Model", "Bad Penny", "Cables", "Kerosene", "Jordan, Minnesota", "Fish Fry", "Deep Six", "Big Money" and "Dead Billy". After the last song the three guitarists smash their instruments into toothpicks, an emphatic statement that both symbolizes the end of Big Black as a band and a final "12FU" to the audience that there won’t be an encore. As the band leaves a pile of firecrackers are lit at the foot of the stage. If someone lost an eye Albini would have shrugged and smirked "That's life".
The Birthday Party: Pleasure Heads Must Burn (dvd review): I’ll be the first and third to admit there’s bands I don’t get to where I know I’m not qualified to say if they’re even good or bad. There’s entire genres alien to me, such as free form jazz, death metal and 98% of no wave. This differs from styles I can’t stand, like disco and heavy metal. Those I’ll say suck bird excretions, disco always and metal if pushed. The Birthday Party is anti-music and if they float your boat, good for you, but I don’t get it and thankfully for my psychological profile never will. I lack or need the head injury required to get into this band that deliberately broke all rules of how sounds are usually grouped together to form a recognizable whole. I like The Resident’s Mark Of The Mole and The Shaggs so I know I have weirdness in my veins, but here I’m scratching my head. Watching The Birthday Party: Pleasure Heads Must Burn my mind wanders toward the excellent “Shreds” video series on Youtube, and seriously, I'll give you one internet monies if there's a difference between these two videos:
The Birthday Party - "Deep In The Woods"
Pleasure Heads must Burn is sixty minutes of live music, a video and tv appearances from the 82-83 era. I skipped through it looking for something I could hang my musical hat on but nothing stuck. They were trying so hard to not do anything a normal listener would expect from musicians I thought of sports team that deliberately tanks at the end of the season so they’ll finish in last place and get the #1 draft pick next year. That and Judas Priest shredding.
Black Flag (live video review) (Jettisoundz): I consider Black Flag a hard rock band first and a hardcore band second, so this review is written in that light. This 55 minute live tape was released in 1984 in support of My War, whose cover art adorns the tape box. Kira Rossler is on bass and Henry in all his short-shorts glory is vocalist. Greg Ginn, minor deity rock god guitarist, stands way out front, and I think Bill Stevenson of The Descendents is on drums.
This is a hard rock show, and not a very interesting one at that. The few audience members you see stand like lumps with their arms folded. Henry, in the band for a few years by this time, is so tone-deaf and off-time it's a marvel he's even considered a singer. He's trying to be Charles Manson doing Iggy Pop, with a few Milo (The Descendents) phrasings thrown in. I have no idea what he sounds like now, so maybe he's improved, but here he's a spectacle of ineptness. "Nervous Breakdown" and "Six Pack" are punk standards but the rest are slow hard rock jams with Henry screaming with both hands gripping the microphone like it weighed 90 lbs. Ginn's banging his head and playing hard rock as fast as he can without the buzzsaw effect of thrash-metal. On this tape Black Flag is closer to Flipper than the Bad Brains in total sound and appeal.
At the close of the tape Henry says "As much fun as you two guys make fun of us and everything, you still don't make me feel bad about myself, you know, you make... I, I still feel alright... there ain't nothing wrong with me. There's ain't nothing wrong with me. You make fun of me, you're just making fun of you, and that's OK." That he held back tears was the bravest act I’ve ever witnessed.
To the press, Henry is twice the Renaissance man Jello Biafra is only because he's so darn handsome. Henry Rollins has a romanticized view of himself and his minute by minute self-chronicled life. Many rock stars mythologize themselves. Henry's stance of tough world-weariness, though, quickly grows old. I have nothing against the guy personally since he’s a harmless speck on the landscape but I wish he could see there's more to being the real thing than just clenching your massive jaw and looking deadly serious.
The Blank Generation (video review) (Video Arts Music): From 1976, and it might be the first punk rock documentary. Well, it is a document of the NYC scene at the time but since there are no interviews or spoken dialogue it's more like random concert footage. But since there's no correlation between the demo, album and live song fragments that accompany the bands, The Blank Generation is then more an art school concept film. The camera speed and some of the band's antics are like The Monkees but the lighting and looks on people's faces is out of The Night Of The Living Dead. Whatever the hell this is, it goes on way too long. Andy Warhol was probably the direct inspiration.
There's a beatnik feel to The Blank Generation, as if co-directors Amos Poe and Ivan Kral expect the audience to snap their fingers instead of clap their hands. Each frame has the look of an old photograph where only a blinding flash illuminates what was once a dark room. The moving picture effect is neat for about six minutes. After that I found myself fast-forwarding through most of the rest. It's nice to see The Ramones, Television, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Wayne County, Blondie and The Heartbreakers back in 1976, but this glorified home movie is distracting and annoying. Sure, the filmmaker's budget was zilch and there's guerrilla artiness to it, but 80% of any interested audience might walk out after a bit. The rest would fall asleep.
The best use of this is as a silent film on a bar's TV screens. Then people can glance up and see Wayne County dressed in garbage and Dee Dee Ramone when he was still handsome enough to join The Monkees. The soundtrack contains rare demos and live tracks. The best of those would make a nice CD. The other bands in the film are Harry Toledo, Tuff Darts and The Marbles. They leave no impression at all. Blondie was a retro girl group. Patti Smith loved the Doors and the Stones. Wayne County played campy cabaret. The rest worshipped either the Stones or the Velvet Underground. Of all the NYC bands around of that time, the Ramones , The Talking Heads and Suicide were the only ones doing something new and interesting.
Blank Generation (DVD review) (Anchor Bay): This 1979 film is neither the 1976 collection of home movies of the same nor the 2001 film of mostly the same name. Why Anchor Bay put this out is beyond me since Richard Hell isn't famous and the movie is as watchable as Phyllis Diller in a thong bikini. I've seen worse, but nothing comes to mind - just a dull sense of dread. I watched Blank Generation in ten minute increments because it worked along like a fungus.
The film was directed by uber-hack Uli Lommel, whose claim to fame was having once worked under legendary film-cranker-outer Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The real title of the film should have been Waiting For Andy Warhol, because his short appearance is built up for a long time, and for the film's Warholian construct of alienating human interaction by constantly viewing it through the unblinking eye of a camera lens.
I found the following plot synopsis on the internet, and I reprint it here because I'm shocked anyone found the film interesting enough to present a plot as if it actually existed: "Nada, a beautiful French journalist on assignment in New York, records the life and work of an up and coming punk rock star, Billy. Soon she enters into a volatile relationship with him and must decide whether to continue with it, or return to her lover, a fellow journalist trying to track down the elusive Andy Warhol."
The star is Carole Bouquet, whose next film found her as a Bond Girl in For Your Eyes Only. Since then she's appeared in a gaggle of French films, was a Chanel spokesmodel in the 1990s, and married Gerard Depardieu. Her character in Blank Generation is flighty, PMS-driven and all around neurotic. Richard Hell puts up with it both because she's beautiful and he has the backbone of a tofu brick. Hell can't act beyond raising his eyebrows like Groucho Marx so it's hard to tell really what's going on with his character. He looks like a skinny Andrew Dice Clay with a bloated drug face and he moves it like Howie Mandel.
Richard Hell plays himself really, and his band is his real band at the time, The Voidoids. "Blank Generation" and "New Pleasure" are played endlessly throughout the soundtrack, and it’s what Hell himself puts on at the corner bar jukebox. "Love Comes In Spurts" also rears its little pink head. The use of music in this film is pathetic. It also doesn't help that The Voidoids sounded as if they never played together before. Their timing was always off, even more than usual in the punk genre.
Why is the manager crying? Why is the sink running? Why does the German guy click the lights on and off? These and many other questions will go unanswered if you watch Blank Generation, a film too inept to even feint a move toward some kind of recognizable style of filmmaking. In 1998 Lommel directed a stinker by the name of Bloodsuckers. One of its working titles was Nothing Generation. That's really bizarre because it somehow implies that Blank Generation was the director's crowing achievement. That can't be good...
Blitzkrieg Bop (video review) (Ivy): At first I thought this was a cut & paste scam job of a few poorly recorded live songs from The Dead Boys, Blondie and the Ramones, but instead it's a poor quality copy of what might have been a real TV documentary from 1977 about the emerging "Punk Rock Cult" centering around CBGBs. What makes it interesting, besides the early footage, is how the commentary reflects tabloid-inspired fears about this horrible new menace on the cultural horizon. Thankfully it's not as stridently anti-punk as it could have been, and everyone gets a chance to either present their case well or hang themselves with their own words. The only ones who do are from the Dead Boys, a bunch not known for having two brain cells to rub together.
The narration is hysterical because the narrator’s voice is Rod Serling meets Joe Friday. If the Twilight Zone/Dragnet effect is intentional, it’s brilliant. There's great shots of CBGBs (located in "Skid Row!"), band members, managers, owner Hilly Kristal and a gaggle of long-haired music journalists brought together in a conference room to discuss this new music on the pretext of free sandwiches and beer. Robert Cristgau is nuts when he says of punk, "It is very dangerous. It could lead to fascism. All of that is really true. You laugh, all of that is really true. Yes, there is an extraordinarily dangerous energy that these people are trying to unleash..." He then saves the day by opining that in such a crappy society, "Damn right it's productive."
Everyone interviewed makes great efforts to promote punk as another phase in a long line of rock history starting with Elvis and the Beatles, which is true and to their credit. The sex and violence angle is shrugged off as being reflective of Real Life. Yes, real if you're a scumbag. Stiv Bators says it's better to vent anger in a club than on the street, so why not break bottles inside CBGBs to blow a little steam? Brilliant. Blondie is implied to be the next big thing, which they did become, but it's quaint today to hear how they went from earning $25 a show to a whopping $8,000!
Most of the 52 minutes is taken up with concert footage. The Ramones play five, Blondie two and the Dead Boys three. I knew this tape was vintage when I saw Tommy Ramone on drums. The sound quality is two tin cans and a string, and the colors bleed into each other, which shows it was recorded from the TV. At one point the horizontal hold skips. As a child I fought many ongoing battles with the horizontal hold knob involving cursing, body language and the intuitive feel of a master safe cracker.
I doubt this was titled Blitzkrieg Bop when it was produced over twenty years ago. Maybe it was called "Seduction Of The Innocent, Part II" (obscure comic book reference). Worth a view if you find the idea of opening a time capsule more fun than sex.
Blondie – The Best Of Musikladen (dvd review): In 1978 Blondie were in top form as they performed on the German music TV show Musikladen. Sadly their set list wasn’t worth much as far as listening to it goes. The first five songs are from 1976’s Blondie and the remaining six from 1977’s Plastic Letters, the latter an album of filler that didn’t make the final cut of the campy cabaret girl-group debut that wasn’t so great either. “X Offender” is a hit and it’s played first, so at least there’s that.
The band on hand are Deborah Harry, Chris Stein, Nigel Harrison, Clement Burke, Frank Freak and James Destri. Debbie’s the center of attention with her bra-free tank top, shorts and go-go boots that rise to her knees. She’s at the peak of her youth and beauty, and on top of that she’s also charismatic and having fun. Her voice is strong and confident. The band has a strong power-pop group vibe working. Everyone’s giving their all but the material doesn’t hold up, especially the guitar solos and prog-rock approach to power pop.
For fans of early Blondie only. The set list is: “X-Offender”, “Little Girl Lies”, “Look Good In Blue”, “Man Overboard”, “In The Flesh”, “I’m On E”, “Love At The Pier”, “I Didn’t Have The Nerve To Say No”, “Bermuda Triangle Blues Flight 45”, “Kidnapper”, “Youth Nabbed As Sniper”.
Blondie – Blondie Live (dvd review): It’s hard to work up a strong opinion either way for this one. Blondie Live is from a 1999 show filmed for VH-1, the channel that used to be MTV for your parents. Filmed at the Town Hall performing arts center in NYC, Debbie Harry and her band play the hits and promote their comeback album, No Exit. I pick and choose what I can tolerate from their catalog so they’ll never have my full support on any tour. The problem I had with this show generally was that they sounded like professionals who hadn’t played for a while and were surprised at how good they sounded all things considered. The guys had smiles on their faces like “Look at me, I can ride a bike! I’m riding!!” Debbie’s singing may have lost some overt power but her voice is distinctive and is always worth a listen.
The crowd looked like it was peppered with VH-1 interns while the sound quality sounded somehow less than live – like removing everything from your apartment and putting it all back exactly as you remember it... possibly for spring cleaning purposes like on The Beverly Hillbillies. This show is as an exercise in nostalgia that succeeds as long as you don’t expect more than the cross-country casino tour it could easily be.
Border Radio (video review) (Pacific Arts): A home movie that dares you to keep watching, Border Radio is the most powerful sleep aid you can buy without a prescription. With three screenwriters you think there’d be more plot or dialogue, but no, this is a grainy black & white Waiting For Godot, except there's no subtext. Allison Ander, Kurt Voss and Dean Lent directed. The film ends after the first ten minutes. Starring Chris D. of the Flesheaters, John Doe of X, Dave Alvin of The Blasters and Texacala Jones of Tex and the Horseheads, fans of the early L.A. scene will be able to pick out locales and personalities. The rest of the world can only wonder how this ever made it out of the can.
There's a plot about something or other about drugs, bands, and a tough, independent woman surrounded by whimpering idiot men. John Doe gives the worst acting performance of being drunk, and at one point he says three guys beat him up at his place when the movie actually opens with him getting beaten up at an abandoned drive-in. Everyone makes it up as they go along but at least they don't reach Doe’s Pauley Shore plateau of bad acting. The credits read "Additional dialogue and scenarios by THE CAST." If only they knew how to convincingly improv scratching their asses. The credits also read "Many curses to THOSE WHO TRIED TO THWART US". Thwart? Thwart is what Batman does to evildoer's nefarious schemes. Border Radio is neither bad nor good, it just is, in a numbing way. Watching it is like sitting in an empty room for ninety minutes with nothing to read, listen to or look at. At least I got to hear a Lazy Cowgirls song in the background. Yee-haw!
I turned it off at some point, I think when one guy was hitting another guy really softly because they can't do stunts, then a woman throws a guy like he weighs five pounds, and then they smiled a little and stood there because nobody knew what scenario or dialogue to conjure up. The box says Border Radio was reviewed as "One of the best movies ever made about rock and roll." That must be out of context or written by a friend of the... no, that has to be a fabrication. They're also trying to compare it to Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise. Sure, and there's also such a thing as a consenting barnyard animal.
David Bowie - The Video Collection (video review) (Ryko): Ryko could have been as big as rival Rhino Records if their prices weren't so damn high. Granted, they do a nice job packaging whatever they put out. This collection of 25 music videos runs from 1972's “Space Oddity” to “Fame 90”. Anyone who says “Space Oddity” is from 1969 can eat my poop because they know why I reference it as '72. Watching this all the way through I can say the argument for Bowie's reputation as a pioneering visual music artist can't be based on his music videos. I only found three videos to be effective and creative in the fashion Bowie is always given credit.
I'm prejudiced because in general I hate music videos. They were once cute promotional tools and for a while it was neat to see my favorite singers moving in pictures, but thanks to MTV the music took a back seat to visuals of all things pretty and poetic. Videos are to music what movies are to books.
David Bowie has always been visual. He studied mime and incorporated it into his work. His striking androgynous look paved the way for glam, new wave, new romance and goth. He created Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs as staged theatrical productions. He changed his persona and sound on a regular basis. I think Bowie's rep as visual genius was proven in his 12-15-79 appearance on Saturday Night Live. His renditions of "The Man Who Sold The World", "Boys Keep Swinging" and "TVC15" are legend but may have owed their bite to co-performer Klaus Nomi, a true space oddity.
Bowie's best videos are "Heroes", "Boys Keep Swinging" and "Ashes To Ashes". "Heroes" marks the end of his first video period, when he stood there with a guitar, lip-synching and seducing the camera. Sometimes The Spiders play behind him but it was always the Ziggy or Duke show (or maybe Angela Bowie). "Heroes" has Bowie standing alone, lit by a single rear spotlight, but it captures the Nietzschian (yet strangely uplifting, or is it fascistic) elements of the song. "Boys Keep Swinging" was his first real video in terms of production values, and it takes his legendary bisexuality to the next level by having Bowie in drag as Betty Davis, Veronica Lake and what looks like Cher with a beehive hairdoo. His Sinatra suave meets Elvis swagger is also cool to watch. Wayne County says Bowie stole the ending from a Berlin transsexual stage show, whose owner/manager Bowie was said to be in love with. "Ashes To Ashes" is his triumph, visually and conceptually. It makes an artistic yet clear statement about what he's singing about, qualities achingly lacking in most of his other video work.
Bowie's third video period begins with "Fashion". Bowie in exotic locales, Bowie surrounded by dancers and models doing whatever it is dancers and models do, Bowie playing guitar and singing at the camera. There's no theme, nothing that combines its parts into a more meaningful whole. It's sets, costumes, a few ideas and then roll tape. It also doesn't help that the music Bowie made with "Let's Dance" and beyond has been uneven. I love the guy but he should have quit while he was on top of his game and not just a legendary performer with personal wealth approaching a billion dollars.
Here's how a Bowie web site described his groundbreaking SNL appearance: "On December 15, 1979, Bowie was the featured musical performed on NBC's Saturday Night Live show in the USA. If viewers were expecting a typical Saturday Night Live performance of Bowie and a band playing as if at a concert, they were in for a rude shock. Instead, Bowie gave an extremely unusual performance, accompanied by two "drag" performers, Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias. Three songs were performed, “The Man Who Sold The World”, with Bowie carried to the front of the stage by Nomi and Arias, while wearing a man's evening dress and a large bow tie (emulating the poet Tristan Tzara). Next was “Boys Keep Swinging”. For this Bowie emulated a puppet trick (with the help of television) he had seen in German fairs. A small puppet's trunk and limbs were situated just beneath Bowie's head, giving the appearance of a marionette with a huge human head. In a trick he sneaked past the censors, the puppet took a look down Bowie's trousers right at the end of the song. Finally, for “TVC15”, Bowie wore a uniform that gave the impression of a Chinese airline stewardesses outfit. In addition, stage designer Mark Ravitz created a pink poodle with a small TV monitor in its mouth, broadcasting the song as it was performed."
David Bowie: Origins Of A Starman (dvd review): Netflix reviews for Origins Of A Starman tear it a third anus but I loved this cheapie production from Chrome Dreams, who also put out the useful Under Review dvds. I have no idea what malcontents expect from what are intended to be impulse purchase items for fans of whatever band is being covered. This is the first one I’ve seen that states up front “This biography contains no original music by David Bowie. It is not authorized by his record company or his management.” Random Ziggy-sounding guitar strums introduce each section, but otherwise it’s all interviews, photo stills of Bowie early in his career and snippets from Bowie-related public domain footage. If you need to hear David Bowie tunes, turn on your stupid stereo, stupid. If you want rare footage of Bowie performing “Space Oddity” live at the Slaughtered Swine Pub in Northumptonshire, go find that thing. But if you want to see the most even-handed and accurate analysis of Bowie’s career up until Aladdin Sane you’ll ever see, David Bowie: Origins Of A Star Man will be the best hour of your life.
I was lip-synching Bowie albums as early as 1974 so I’ve forgotten more about David Bowie than most of his active fans have remembered. Starman’s female narrator reads from a script that’s over the top, and nobody has anything bad to say about Bowie by any means, but the commentary on the first part of David Jones’ career is accurate to a fault and expressed so clearly yet casually I can only describe it as “Matter Of Factual”. Two of his schoolmates recall Bowie as a friendly lad who loved music and worked towards a successful future from the start. A few musicians who worked with him in the early days recount those interesting times, and for freaking sake John Peel, the Pope of modern music, appears a few times to class up the joint.
When Daryl Easlea appeared and was listed as a “Music Journalist” and “Record Collector” my eyes rolled as I groaned “Record Collector? Is that a job title?” In a way, yes. Turns out he’s published books and is a former deputy director for Record Collector, the bible of record collecting. I’ve watched many music films and I’ve never heard knowledge and commentary flow out of anyone as casually and naturally as it does with Mr. Easlea. Golf claps all around for him. Everyone on the dvd speaks naturally and offers fond memories and dead-on commentary on what worked and what didn’t. There’s no gossip or insults. The clarity and lack of BS in this production is breathtaking.
I’ll forgo my usually synopsis since if you’ve read this far you’re probably someone who knows his or her Bowie pretty well. But did you know his eyes are all weird and of different colors? That's freaky. David Bowie: Origins Of A Star Man is not what it never intended to be. What it sets out to do it does so brilliantly.
David Bowie: The Plastic Soul Review (dvd review): I didn’t realize until a few minutes in that this was one of the generally excellent Under Review series. Considering the low budget they manage to gather a variety of applicable visuals, sound clips and a respectable group of authors, critics and direct participants in the subject’s work. This one focuses on Bowie’s mid-70's fascination with Philly Soul and the albums that came from it: David Live, Young Americans, and Station To Station. They provide some build-up and some aftermath, but the bulk is a groaningly detailed examination of what some claim is the direct inspiration for “80s music”. Thanks for New Romance, Mr. Jones.
On hand to comment are Leee John (that’s right, 3 E’s), who sang on “Fascination”; Andy Newmark, drummer for Sly and the Family Stone and Young Americans; Mike Garson, Pianist on Diamond Dogs and Young Americans; Visage’s Steve Strange; and writers Kris Needs, Robert Elms, Chris Robest, Andrew Mueller, David Stubbs and Paolo Hewitt, all of whom know their Bowie. In 1974 David Live was the first album I became a fanatic for, and I often grabbed a brush and lip-synched to it. It’s an odd album in that the tour started as a Diamond Dogs theatrical thing and morphed into a soul revue. It’s not often given high marks but it’s my sentimental favorite Bowie album. I have no funk in me so this period was hit-or-miss, but when it did hit, like with “Fascination” or “Station To Station”, that was the best. Then there’s “Fame”, only worsted in Bowie’s career by his cover of “Across The Universe” (John Lennon played rhythm guitar on that track for Bowie) and “Let’s Dance” (or as I refer to it, “Fame 2”).
They do a nice job defining what “Plastic Soul” meant, even referencing The Average White Band. The politics or lack thereof in Young Americans is debated, and there’s a clip of a Bowie interview where he seems to be holding back rage at being asked the question. Living in America and taking too many drugs created the cold character of Station To Station’s Thin White Duke, while his lauded yet still amateurish acting in The Man Who Fell To Earth was a role he was born to play. Here’s a piece of sweet trivia – “Golden Years” was first offered to Elvis Presley. Ponder the implications a moment.
If you’re not a Bowie fanatic you’ll find this minutia numbingly esoteric. Even I felt I should have earned college credit for watching it. It’s generally pro-Bowie, and why make it and try to sell it if it wasn’t, but nobody’s afraid to say what they didn’t like or what they thought was a false assumption. If you want this era defined and dissected until you choke on it, definitely rent this. I give the makers credit for creating a dense 61 minutes on the subject.
David Bowie - Glass Spider (concert video review) (MPI): In 1987, as Bowie's creative career hit the skids he hit the road with the Glass Spider tour in support of Never Let Me Down, whose best track was a cover of Iggy Pop's "Bang Bang”. While not a bad set there's still things to pick on. What is great as usual is Bowie's singing and the sheer joy on his face as he performs. The man's a great crooner.
What the hell is Bowie trying to do here? The stage is topped by a huge, silly spider while the stage is cramped and nondescript. What looks like the cast of Fame prances around dance-acting to some of the songs when they're not lip-synching to dialogue that doesn't make sense. Bowie is a genius with a short attention span, and whatever effort went into the story and theme completely ignored continuity. Toni Basil of "Hey Mickey you're so fine" fame helped choreograph the dancing. Maybe campy visualization won out over coherence. The set list is a basic career retrospective, so there's no way to tell a theatrical story like they try to do here.
Musically I would call this a lite concert. Too many musicians, too many studio pros and too over-rehearsed. Peter Frampton provides guitar theatrics and everybody plays it safe. The set list includes "China Girl", "Young Americans", "Rebel Rebel", "Modern Love", "Fame", "Let's Dance", "Fashion", "Time" and the standard Iggy/Reed set of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and "White Light/White Heat". The tour may have been a low point creatively for Bowie but it's always a joy to see him perform. He always looks so damn happy to be out there.
David Bowie: Spiders From Mars Interviews (video review): As usual, this review contains spoilers out the wazoo. For Bowiephiles only, this cheapie 100 minute collection of UK interviews and a press conference for Outside is informative and funny, thanks to Bowie’s playful sense of humor and clear lines of thought. It’s nice to know his public personality’s been consistent over the decades, so it’s not that hard to see the real (if not real-ish) Bowie at his best. Unless you’re a psychopath the private person is the public one without always being on your best behavior, so since he’s known to be a likeable sort it’s a lie to say nobody knows the “real” David Bowie. On the other hand I was taken aback by an interview where he stated a “Buddhist” moral indifference to the suffering of innocents, and I pictured Ayn Rand smiling up from Hell. I’ve encountered that artistic nihilism before and it's egocentrically evil. On his early search for fame he says “The person who craves a lot of affection actually isn’t terribly good at giving it.” That’s quite an admission.
The Bowie we see is a lifelong optimist with a short attention span. He collects accents, ideas and personalities, loses interest in tours quickly and his teeth goes from decrepit to straight. Did he wear braces or were they all replaced? That’s the mystery. Between segments a cartoon of a skateboarding squirrel wearing a porkpie hat and sunglasses appears on screen, titled “Secret Squirrel Enterprises”. Ok then…
The tape opens with a segment from a 1975 BBC documentary titled Cracked Actor, dripping with malicious contempt for both Bowie and his screaming fans like honey from the navel of a dead prostitute. The offended British narrator snorts “This is the face the public wants”, soon followed by “The first superstar of pop to wear shortie dresses on stage.” Confronting groupies waiting outside his dressing room, the reporter asks “Isn’t it degrading standing outside his door?” This I found this highly entertaining.
1964 BBC footage is shown of Bowie leading a group named “The Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Long Haired Men” No context is given. My heart sunk a bit when promoting the sell-out of “Let’s Dance” he said “I got to a stage two years ago where I found the experimenting that I was doing was eradicating a lot of the subject matter of my writing.” Low, Heroes and Scary Monsters eradicated the subject matter that lead to “Let’s Dance”? Where to even begin…
He says Tonight and Never Let Me Down were non-creative exercises of commercial laziness, in what he calls his “Phil Collins years.” On the idea of being knighted like Mick Jagger he says “I would suggest that they give it to somebody who would give a damn… I don’t know how it would enhance my life.” He won me back on that one. His earliest work was influenced by Anthony Newley and the Angry Young Men. Where the hell did The Laughing Gnome come from? Reviewing his own talents he offers up “I’m not actually a very good writer, but my choices are very good. That’s my strength.” Bowie was a great songwriter, but he also borrowed well in the 70s and made what he took better than what it was. He surrounded himself with talented people and collaborated with Brian Eno – the other contender for the most important figure in modern music history. Up until “Let’s Dance” he was ahead of the curve, then he went for the payday and fell behind until he finally woke up and tried to be new - which failed only in that a) in the digital age there's nothing new anymore, and b) being ahead of the curve in modern music is almost by definition a crappy curve. He had a very good run, so no shame there.
The Boys - Sick On You (dvd review): This humungous collection of 37 old and new live tunes was a steal since I stole it. Just kidding, I picked it up used for $11.99 worth of store credit. It has a show from 1980 when The Boys opened for The Ramones and a 2001 German gig with an encore as The Yobs, their foul-mouthed Christmas music alter-egos.
I think it's great but only averagely so in that they recorded consistently engaging songs that bled into each other if you're not a power pop aficionado. I am but only for a song or two at a (power) pop. The Boys were The Jam of punky power pop, a punk band more by association than practice no matter how much they jumped around. Having a keyboard player probably didn't help their punk cause either. The Vibrators hoed a similar row.
The 1980 show was shot from a single camera in the back of the hall and if the sound is stereo it's of a primitive kind. The boys fellows look kinda like preppy jocks. The 2001 gig has them appearing as successful working guys in the prime of their middle age getting the band back together on weekends to kick out the jams and give the wives some "me" time. They do look like they're having fun though, no more so when they switch singers and curse a blue streak as The Yobs - their Pistols-ready alter egos. The crowd really gets into The Yobs as the seasonal party band they were.
Am I the only one who can't simply enjoy a concert video all the way through because I'm always wondering what they're going to play next? I'm like that at live shows too. I need to relax more and enjoy the moment. Pills might help, or maybe alcohol.
Braid: Killing A Camera (dvd review): I wouldn’t challenge anyone into Braid or this concert documentary but to me it was tuneless and dull, not in any oh-dis-be-crap way but more of a dis-sho-ain’t-fo-me thing. Their peers in the 90s were more interesting (The Promise Ring, Seven Storey Mountain, Sense Field) but latter-day Dischord bands had large followings too and I just figured I lacked the genes to enjoy bands like Braid. You get a lot of bang for your buck with three features on the disc, so if you’re a Braid fan you should enjoy this.
The main feature contains interview and concert clips from their last five shows in 1999. The band members are conversational but not dynamic enough to draw or maintain your interest unless you’re reeeeeeeally interested. The second feature gets the boys together in 2004 to talk about the 1999 shows, and the meta-perspective made it that much less interesting the second time around. Then, to take the meta theme to an absurd height they recorded a commentary track for the original film that hovered on the level of “Dude, what was that hat you were wearing?” I’m thinking you’d have to have the colors on your Braid tattoo re-colored every few years to want to hop that hayride. Did I skim this dvd? Boy howdy, but I gave it many chances to prove my original opinions on them wrong, which didn’t happen.
Breaking Glass - (video review) (1980): Breaking Glass is a British new wave musical starring Hazel O'Connor, a Toyah Wilcox clone with bits of Nina Hagen and Lene Lovich tossed in. It’s a standard rise to the top and the top isn’t so hot story, riddled with half-realized clichés like anarchy, 1984, police hassles, skinhead violence, drug use, censorship, selling out and greedy music executives. They even dub in "Bollocks!" with the same frequency a decent cartoon offers up "boi-oi-oi-oing!!" Credit must be given though for wearing a costume that foreshadowed TRON by two years. Hazel is decent - like Bette Midler without the obvious charisma. She's always snarling, which (of course, silly) means she's punk, but at the beginning she makes it a point that her music is neither new wave nor punk. It's inspired by punk, but "It's better". Ouch. The soundtrack is stupendously average. I love movies like this where record executives and fans hear a new song and they all go nuts with joy. Meanwhile, the song's bad, but I guess that's why they call it acting. Between takes they’re all probably laughing about how little they’re being given to work with.
Breaking Glass is packed with stereotypes but I wasn't as annoyed as I thought I'd be, maybe because I can't imagine anyone watching it taking it seriously enough to think these people actually exist. The script is filled with grand statements like "People don't stand still - neither does music." Breaking Glass is a small film that's more poorly written than poser-pretentious. Twenty minutes in I started looking for things to do, like ironing shirts. After ironing, I stuffed loose change into bankrolls.
People made a big deal about Breaking Glass when it was released, I assume because it was about new wave music. It's not all bad, but if you don't know anything about the issues the film deals with you'll think the movie is about lowlife insanity, and if you do know what's going on you'll laugh at how poorly the material is handled. Even the BlockBuster Video box, normally apoplectic in its hype, describes it as a "New Wave version of the standard old rock-an-roll plot". Oh, that's gotta hurt!
The Brothers Quay Collection: Ten Astonishing Short Films (video review) (Kino): I guarantee you'll never find anything more nightmarishly beautiful than a Brothers Quay film. I can't sum it up any better than this promo blurb: "The extraordinary Brothers Quay are two of the most original filmmakers to have emerged in the past decade. These identical twins were born in Pennsylvania, but live in London in publicity-shy seclusion, making their unique and innovative animated films under the aegis of Koninck Studios. Devotees of the Czech animation maestro Jan Svankmajer, the Quays display a great passion for detail, a breathtaking command of color and texture, and a deft use of focus and camera movement. They are masters of miniaturization and on their tiny sets have created an unforgettable world, suggestive of a landscape of long-repressed childhood dreams."
Masters of stop-motion animation to say the least, their absurd and often surreal visual commentary comes directly from the works of a number of Eastern European artists, the most widely known being Franz Kafka. I mostly have no idea what Stephen and Timothy Quay are getting at but I think their work is not of horror and nightmare as much as the mendacity of politics, civil society and love.
You've probably seen the Brothers Quay’s work as they directed music videos for His Name is Alive, Michael Penn, 16 Horsepower and Peter Gabriel (creating the chicken and fruit segments for "Sledgehammer"), along with commercials for the Partnership for a Drug Free America, Coca Cola, MTV, Nikon and 7 Eleven. The videos for Tool's "Sober" and "Prison Sex" were directed by the late Fred Stuhr, who rips off the Quays' style in total.
Quay trademarks are many: weathered doll heads lopped off at odd angles; rusty screws, nails and antique engineering tools that move as if alive; miniature sets as much Dali as Esher; camera movement as unpredictable as the images they capture; long pauses of either confusion or malaise; periodic bursts of ultra-violence that seem to represent bureaucracy at work more than malicious intent; dripping meat stuffed into objects; feathers fastened to death-head puppets; unwashed glass panes and bright lighting that only intensifies the darkness and decay of what's illuminated. This isn't The Nightmare Before Christmas but children’s tv in the world of Eraserhead.
Quay puppets don't display much human personality. They move and act as if newly born into a world of senselessness. Only the screws and flying scissors seem to know exactly what they're doing.
Most of their work was paid for by England's television Channel Four. In 1995 they made one live film, The Institute Benjamenta. On one level it's hard to not sound pretentious trying to explain the art and influences of The Brothers Quay, but you can't just sum them up as weird or nightmarish. Quay animation can drag at times, and that's intentional. More than telling the occasional story they convey the moods of meaningless, helplessness and existential nothingness.
A few collections of Brothers Quay material exist, this one being the best. Rent this when your mind is open and clear. A few cups of coffee might also help.
Burn To Shine 01: Washington DC 01.14.2004 (dvd review): Never in the history of understated, self-important filmmaking has an understated, self-important film like Burn To Shine 01 elevated our lives by capturing the fleeting nature of existence via filming bands play one song each in a decrepit old suburban house about to be demolished. The first in a series that includes bands performing in wrecking-ball ready spaces in Chicago, Portland, Seattle, and Louisville, it’s the brainchild of DC drummer Brendan Canty and filmmaker Christof Green. Green ‘splains it all here. If you’re inclined to see the potential for art in everything around you this will be a clever exercise in an aesthetic I can imagine having something to do with what’s the best way to mark the end of a long life and the beginning of a new one then by having bands figuratively burn down the house before it’s literally burned down by the fire department in a training exercise.
I don’t see art in everything because if everything is art than nothing is art. Art requires talent and effort – not conceptual masturbation just as easily seen as random. The difference between this and booking bands at the bar down the street is that in Burn To Shine the gig’s at an old house at the end of its utility and every mundane aspect of it is vital to the concept. From Wikipedia; “In one day they shoot all of the selected bands giving each band an hour to set up and perform with no overdubs or corrections. They document the house's history and subsequent demolition, creating bookends for the performances on the DVD.” Wow, what can't art theory do?
The concept is weak and underwhelming (or maybe it’s simplistic and obvious), but the music isn’t bad and the video and sound qualities are top shelf. The bands are Q And Not U, Medications, Garland Of Hours, French Toast, Ted Leo (solo), Weird War, The Evens, and Bob Mould (solo). The disc clocks in at 34 minutes or so, not the hour listed. My guess is that included the extra feature of still photographs. Q And Not U reminded me of Trenchmouth meets The Minutemen. I couldn’t hear the keyboards. Medications were Gang Of Four meets Mission Of Burma. Garland Of Hours weren’t bad but they did an awkward shift midway into something weird, and the female singer didn’t hit certain notes correctly. French Toast had two guys, one on bass and other guitar, and they both played keyboards at various points. They had a mild hipster lounge ambient groove thing going. Ted Leo is the modern Billy Bragg. Weird War’s band members wore ugly clothes that made me think they were from a small Midwestern city with a thriving Salvation Army thrift store scene. They played like Talking Heads but with less white soul. The second singer sounded like The Bee Gees. The Evens churned out a dogmatic political diatribe with all the subtlety of a Brecht play. Amy Farina on drums appeared to be so humorless her face looked dead. Bob Mould played a spirited version of “Hoover Dam”. If you’ve never seen the Hoover Dam you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s Art Deco on a scale that reminds you you're an ant. I couldn’t believe fellow ants were able to create something this large and imposing.
Yup, Burn To Shine. It’s pretty good but it’s neither art nor an artistic statement. It’s a bunch of bands playing one song each at an old house. Reach out and be burned by the cleansing fire of ethereal nothingness.... (place self-aware sigh here)
Burning Britain: The History Of UK Punk 1980 – 1984 THE DVD (review): It's a shame this random collection of videos and concert performances was given the same name as Ian Glasper's excellent book Burning Britain: The History of UK Punk 1980-1984. The source material would have made a great outline for a documentary on the era but instead you get live and video footage of (mostly) album tracks that bleed into each other, along with film and sound quality left for dead. The set-list was picked by Glasper but he never should have tarnished the title by curating a reel of mostly crappy looking and sounding B-list material from the bottomless pit that is the vault at Cherry Red.
I own the book and have read much of it in bits and pieces on the terlit. Eye issues make book readin’ uncomfortable but I do what I can. Glasper was part of that scene and he completed a ton of research to write a smooth-flowing, opinionated and informative summary of the regional UK punk bands of the second wave. Many punk books are compendiums of quotes via cutting and pasting. Ian’s book was actually written by him!
Here’s a set list. There’s not much to comment on except that you’re enjoyment of these clips will depend on your threshold for fuzzy archival material: GBH – “Diplomatic Immunity”, Discharge – “Ain’t No Feeble Bastard”, Peter and the Test Tube Babies – “Busy Doin’ Nothin’”, Destructors – “Electronic Church”, Chaos UK – “No Security”, One Way System – “Jerusalem”, ABH – “Don’t Mess With The SAS”, Exploited – “UK 82”, Varukers – “Murder”, Abrasive Wheels – “Burn ‘Em Down”, Broken Bones – “Annihilation No. 3”, Skeptix – “Death Run”, Vice Squad – “Out f Reach”, Ad Nauseum – “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”, Newtown Neurotics – “Kick Out The Tories”, Business – “Out In The Cold”, Anti-Nowhere League – “Woman”, Disroder – “Life”, External Menace – “We Wanna Know”, Toy Dolls – “Geordie’s Gone To Jail”, Dead Mans Shadow – “Danger UXB”, Mau Maus – “Run With The Pack”, UK Subs – “CID”, English Dogs – “The Fall Of Max”, Special Duties – “Colchester Counsil”, Drongos For Europe – “Lie To Us”, Major Accident: “Worst Enemy”, Chron Gen – “Mindless Few”, Action Pact – “Johnny Fontaine”.
Kate Bush - The Single File (video review) (PMI): This collection came out around 1983. The Dreaming came out in 1982 and the last great Kate album, Hounds Of Love, was from 1985. As a child, Kate displayed a precocious musical talent, which was brought to the attention of Punk Floyd's David Gilmour. She was signed to EMI at the age of 16. Thinking long term, they had her study dance, mime and singing for a year. In 1977 her "Wuthering Heights", complete with an inhumanly high vocal register that drives dogs insane, rose to #1 in the UK. The Kick Inside from 1978 was and is a phenomenal debut from a young talent. Lionheart came next and the material was lacking. 1980's Never For Ever was Kate's first step toward the grand theatricality that would define her ‘80s work. The Dreaming is full of drama and eccentric studio wizardry. 1985's Hounds Of Love, her best and most commercially successful work, might have been written just to prove she could score on the charts if pushed. She then drifted off into babooshka music for The Sensual World, and her last was the highly stylized The Red Shoes in ‘93.
The Single File starts with "Wuthering Heights" and ends with "There Goes A Tenner" from The Dreaming. Production values rise as years go by, but what's always constant with Kate Bush is her roots in mime and interpretive dance. The result is often a kind of silent-movie overacting that's fun to watch. The dancing is stage-bound and for the most part not very well conceived. Kate paved the way for Madonna's stage shows, but with Kate it comes off a bit like a fancy school production. Kate's talents are in the studio and in her voice, not in the visuals. I love Kate Bush, but come on.
"The Man With The Child In His Eyes", which she wrote at the age of thirteen, is performed in the same gold leotard she wore on Saturday Night Live, a hard to find piece of video if there ever was one. "Army Dreamers" is a great video because the visuals are clear, Kate's not chewing the scenery, there's stunts and stuff blows up. "Sat In Your Lap", a great speedy single, is her most effective video in terms of blending music, dance and costume. Most of her videos use male dancers from the Bob Fosse school of exaggeration. "There Goes A Tenner" is nicely underdone and the sets are sweet.
Kate Bush: Hounds Of Love: A Classic Album Under Review (dvd review): My third dip in the waters of the Under Review series, Under Review puts together an impressive array of commentators for a simple yet well-produced exploration of Kate’s career up to her landmark 1985 album Hounds Of Love. The only thing that brings it down is a disorienting lack of original recordings as background music, using substituted notes that hint at the songs but didn’t trigger licensing fees. You hear the original music in the many Kate Bush videos they sample, probably utilized in ways that also sidestep royalties. You’ll never get Kate Bush to participate in something like this, so you might as well fault a JD Salinger video for not sitting down with him either.
On hand are Kris Needs (former Zig-Zag editor and early interviewer of Kate in tapes used in the video), Len Brown (NME writer 83-90), Chris Ingham (“musicologist” and piano player who diagrams compositions in technical detail), author Lucy O’Brien, Bush biographer Ron May, and last but not least session drummer Charlie Morgan, who worked on Hounds Of Love and shows on a drum kit how a number of sounds came about. His input is invaluable. Does Kate remind you of Katy Segal and Janine Turner? She does to me.
Kate Bush is a beloved, mystical (read eccentric) and enigmatic figure with a rabid following. As far as I can tell she’s led a cloistered life of comfort, family, and connections, with an artistic mind that rarely ventured outside that world. She wrote the beautiful “The Man With The Child In His Eyes” at thirteen, exhibiting a literary precociousness I find a tad creepy in someone so young. It’s all part of her oddball charm championed by theatre nerds the world over. Her career reflects a life most likely lived in an artistic bubble, well-researched yet incomplete. The execution’s often interesting though, so hooray for cloistered bubbles.
Under Review works best when it gets technical about the making of Hounds Of Love in Kate’s state of the art studio (built in her barn), and her embrace of the Fairlight CMI sampling synthesizer, which allowed her to develop ideas at her own pace. Peter Gabriel’s assistance and influence are brought up early but then dropped, possibly to give Kate most of the credit for the hits that populate side one of the album. Kate came up with most of the final product, and she’s a genius in my book, but the template for Hounds Of Love comes directly from the success and influence of the first four Peter Gabriel albums, the last released in 1982.
Each album track is given its due and sometimes the technical explanations hurt my brain, but I love the album so I found it interesting even if it came across as rocket science. The second side, a concept piece about drowning, death and out-of-body experiences, is all well and good but it gets a boost by its proximity to the hits on side one. In other words, without side one side two would be mostly side three of The Dreaming, which didn’t sell well. I enjoyed it. Side two’s “Jig Of Life” is thematically of that side but sonically belongs to side one. I admit it sometimes freaks me out, especially when she says “I put this moment…here.” Don’t ask me why.
Side one is influenced by family, old movies and starring at the sky. The drowning theme is speculated to come from British WWII movies with sailors abandoning sinking ships to await their fate in freezing waters. “Cloudbusting” is based on a book by the son of Wilhelm Reich. Under Review asserts Kate’s singing at the riotous end of “The Big Sky” is descended from Yoko Ono’s metal-bending screeching, and they show an old Yoko clip that proves this true. “Hounds Of Love” is inspired directly from the 1950 film “Gone To Earth”, and I snorted happily when they showed the “It’s in the trees, it’s coming!” scene from 1957’s horror-cheese-fest “The Night Of The Demon”.
Kate Bush: Hounds Of Love: Under Review is worthwhile for Kate Bush fans not expecting it to be more than it is or can be. Kate’s a known unknowable quantity, so fact and guesswork battle it out and the end results can still leave you feeling unresolved.
Kate Bush Live at the Hammersmith Odeon (video review) (EMI): Kate Bush is still around somewhere, but she made her mark twenty years ago as the UK prog rock alternative to Stevie Nicks. A true prodigy in every sense, by age fifteen she had written over 100 songs. At thirteen she wrote "The Man With The Child In His Eyes", still her most beautiful song. This concert is from her one real tour in 1979, The Tour Of Life, featuring seventeen costume changes, two dancers, one guy for "illusions, magic and mime", a large band and elaborate stage & lighting sets. The tape captures only half of full show. The tour had no choice but to lose money and proved so draining Kate never toured again.
Since then Kate concentrated on studio and video work, making rare public appearances to support charitable causes. Her attention to overlaying tracks in her home studio is possibly bested only by Enya. Her singing on Peter Gabriel’s "Games Without Frontiers" and (especially) "Don't Give Up" are astonishing. Kate's best album is Hounds Of Love, followed by The Kick Inside, Never Forever and The Dreaming. Her albums come out rarely but her fan base is as unshakable in their faith as a death cult.
Kate's ideas on presentation come off as high school theatrics that feature either simple interpretive movement or elaborate dance and pantomime acting. The precociousness of two dancers dressed in home-made violin costumes for the then-unreleased "Violin" made me wince the wince of the slightly embarrassed, so for a while I pondered that Kate looked like a cross between Peg Bundy and Laraine Newman. The three-penny opera of "James And The Cold Gun" made me hit the fast-forward button and it never seemed to end. She’s more effective on "Them Heavy People" where her simple grace is allowed to express itself at the same level as the music. "Wow" was much better live than on record, and the credits rolled over her encore of "Wuthering Heights", her most famous song. Why it was treated as a throwaway is a mystery. On the greatest hits disc you'll notice she re-recorded her vocal track on that, which I like better but I'm sure the fan club was pissed. To me the original sounded like Carol Kane as the Good Witch of the East.
Kate Bush Live is an eccentric show from an eccentric time in history.
Kate Bush – Under Review (dvd review): This comprehensive history of Kate Bush’s life and career is decent but gets lost having a random assortment of quote unquote experts give surface interpretations of her poetically cryptic lyrics. It’s hypothetical about the theoretical when it should be factual and authoritative, which maybe it can't be given the subject and her gawking fans. It’s also hyperbolic in praise and therefore comes across as ass-kissing instead of honest, which isn’t necessary as she’s had a great career and anything less than being effusive wouldn't to rip her to shreds.
Under Review opens with this 1978 quote from Melody Maker: “The Enigma That Is Kate Bush… It Confuses Us All”. She’s a private person who gives interviews like a veteran athlete – she appears to answer the whats but the whys are carefully worded and guarded. She might have been an enigma in 1978 but definitely not now, and this 2006 production shouldn’t pretend Kate’s still The Wizard Of Oz and not the woman behind the curtain. Kate Bush fans are elderly and no longer believe she’s mystical. Lord I hope not. I’ve always called her the British Stevie Nicks for a reason. Depending on the year she looks like either Katy Segal or Janine Turner.
There’s nothing you’re going to learn in the video that you can’t get here, so I’ll start from there. Kate grew up in the middle of provincial England, given all the benefits of money, family and artistic development. Her childhood was cloistered and her adult life lived under the restrictions and opportunities of music royalty. As a teenager, on the dime of a development deal with EMI, she studied dance and mime with Lindsay Kemp, who famously taught David Bowie the skills he later utilized on Broadway as the Elephant Man. This proved to be a mixed blessing for Kate as her early videos are dated by their bizarre Bob Fosse movements and Kate mugging for the camera like a silent movie actress ensuring those in the 300th row could read her lips. She figured it out by 1985 and Hounds Of Love.
As a precocious teenager she composed songs on the piano, and 78’s The Kick Inside and Lionheart were orchestrated versions of this kind of songwriting influenced by Elton John and Carole King. What she brought to it was her love of the arts, playful singing and youthful exuberance. Never For Ever and The Dreaming were intricately planned studio albums informed by her love of cinema and English Music Hall traditions. By this time she bought an early model of the Fairlight CMI music sampling synth, allowing her to develop studio songs on her own. Hounds Of Love was her landmark album and owed a huge debt to Peter Gabriel’s instrumentation, success and take on world music. The Sensual World was good but veered nto the esoterica of the Bulgarian Babushka Choir (my name for them), The Red Shoes didn’t progress her work and her 2006 comeback record Aerial got my hopes up with the teasing single “King Of The Mountain” then put me to sleep with meandering songs about birds and washing machines. Nobody’s done more for making housework mystical than Kate Bush.
Kate Bush – Under Review is like having a bunch of fans sitting around a table talking about why they love Kate Bush. Thankfully there’s also a goodly amount of Kate interviews and music video clips. They didn’t get the rights to the original recordings, so that’s a major limitation to this being of much value. Still, if you’re a Kate Bush fan it’s rather nice it exists.
Buttcrack (video review) (Troma): If you want Troma to distribute your cheap horror comedy it helps to have decent zombie effects and meaty body part prosthetics. Buttcrack has both plus Mojo Nixon as Preacher Bob. There's no gratuitous T&A but enough buttcrack joke silliness to satisfy the average Troma fan, who often looks something like Wade, a.k.a. Buttcrack. Wade is fugly, dumb, oblivious, harmless and friendly yet socially retarded. I worked with a guy like Wade, so I know people like him exist.
Wade doesn't wear a belt and his pants ride low, exposing his butt crack. This puts the kibosh on his housemates' plans to woo his girl and pop the question. Wade dies by accident and is buried, only to be resurrected after his goth sister casts a spell. If anyone says "Buttcrack" twelve times in one breath Wade will rise from the dead and seek revenge. This never happens and the movie ends very quickly. NO! Of course Beetlejuice, I mean Buttcrack, is repeated twelve times and Carrie's arm, no, I mean Wade's arm, shoots up from the grave.
What makes this movie different, and refreshingly so, is that at this point a benign silliness takes over and it's hard not to like the film even if the acting is blasé and the script written as the cameras rolled. Wade's back from the grave but he's not changed in any way. His goth sister implores him to seek revenge, but Wade is too oblivious to hold a grudge. He's an unstoppable, unflappable geek and being a zombie doesn't change that one bit. Butt, I mean, but, his buttcrack now has the ability to turn anybody who looks at it into a rabid flesh-eating zombie. It does and the effects are well done. It's a comedy and Troma liked it so you know it has a certain charm.
Mojo Nixon, meaty in the jowls, gets to do his fast talking verbal shtick throughout as Preacher Bob. It's obvious his lines are often self-scripted or improvised. He does a funny "God is Everywhere" speech that prompts a listener to ask "Is God in Urine?" Mojo also recorded the soundtrack. Kathy Wittes plays the girlfriend and I only bring her up because she has her own web page where she asks for help in finding a certain type of twisty hairpin she likes. Buttcrack was filmed outside of Washington DC by Desert Dog Films, who are available for weddings and cable access documentaries.
Buzzcocks - Playback (video review) (IRS): This 1992 collection of videos and rare television appearances was put together to help promote the newly reformed Buzzcocks. What could have been a dull compilation is instead a well-made document of the band. The Sex Pistols and The Clash released a series of influential singles, but the Buzzcocks will always be known as punks’ first (and best) singles band. They were a ‘77 band but not a welcome member of Malcolm McClaren’s traveling dimwit jamboree, which made them peers of The Jam, and watching Playback it’s obvious The Buzzcocks were mods who rode the punk train to fame.
Playback contains videos, running commentary from members Pete Shelley & Steve Diggle and enough rare TV footage to satisfy diehard fans. I don’t think the Buzzcocks shot many videos, which helps make Playback better because I.R.S. is forced to fill it out with other, more interesting material. Playback is a promo for the reformed Buzzcocks, not a biscuit for geezers such as myself.
“I Don’t Mind” is performed on Top Of The Pops. A live “Love You More” is from The Electric Circus. From Jukebox Jury is “Harmony In My Head”. The weirdest clip is from a children’s show called Fun Factory. “Are Everything” is lip-synched on a set filled with scrambling kids and costumed characters. Some kids are even banging on the drums during the song. The old video for “What Do I get” is shot on a simple background and nobody in the band looks too happy to be there. This motif runs throughout (except for the live “Autonomy” from the 1989 reunion tour), with the drummer especially looking pissed off and bored. As a whole it’s less punk aggression than forced apathy. Other songs on the tape are “Ever Fallen In Love”, “Promises”, “Lipstick”, “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” and “Why She’s A Girl From A Chainstore”.
Note how many UK punk fans in ‘77 looked like Bay City Rollers fans. Shelley and Dingle provide a lot of good band history and the production values on this are pretty decent. If it had a vibrating attachment it’d be the best thing since…..vibrating attachments!
The Buzzcocks: Hamburg 81 Auf Wiedersehen (dvd review): Concert videos are the most satisfying yet disappointing why-did-I-buy-this-again experiences in the world. When was the last time you sat down and watched one all the way through while sober? Aren’t they also something you have to own when you’re standing in the store staring at it like it’s even better than a record because it has moving pictures? I rented this knowing damn well I wasn’t going to watch every song all the way through. I just wanted to know what The Buzzcocks looked and sounded like back then. They sound really good and they thrash it up nicely for this show.
A true UK ’76 punk band who churned out the catchiest singles of the era, The Buzzcocks appeared on Germany’s famous Rockpalast tv show in a venue much larger than their normal studio. The Buzzcocks broke up shortly after until their 1989 reunion. The crowd’s filled with angry young people making a full effort to be hard a la the media’s depiction of Sex Pistols and their followers. The seventeen tracks don’t include the universal favorite “Orgasm Addict” but does offer “Why She’s A Girl From The Chainstore”, “What Do I Get?”, “Fast Cars”, “Fiction Romance”, “In My Head”, “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays”, “Lipstick”, Ever Fallen In Love”, “Something’s Gone Wrong Again”, “”Airwaves Dream”, “Strange Thing”, “Noise Annoys”, “What Do You Know?”, “I Believe”, “Love Battery”, “Time’s Up” and Boredom”.
David Byrne Live: Between The Teeth (video review) (Warner): Since 1984's Stop Making Sense is one of the best live concert films around I thought I'd check in on David Bryne as a solo act. On this 1992 show he's backed by nine musicians -- long gone the Talking Heads. I must say this is pretty dull. Byrne hired a bunch of middle aged studio pros who may be proficient but they just don't create white funky magic like the old Talking Heads. Old tunes like "Life During Wartime" and "And She Was" lack energy and style. The new songs are uninspired samba and mambo-flavored pop. The band often sounds like they're playing a ‘70s lounge-standard TV drama theme opening.
David Byrne is the weird cousin of Paul Simon, swiping world music riffs for mass pop consumption. They're both pretty good at it, with Simon producing the better material. On this tape Byrne's listed as co-director. If he's performing a live concert, how can he direct?
Cabaret (video review) (Fox): Of course punk created itself from scratch and wasn't influenced by anything.... IDIOT!! Cinema definitely affected the look and feel of early British punk, the most often cited examples being The Road Warrior, A Clockwork Orange, The Damned and Cabaret. Cabaret, directed by Bob Fosse and released in 1972, almost swept the Academy Awards and made stars of Liza Minelli and Joel Grey. At 124 minutes it's too long, and the love story so much less interesting than the scenes at the Cabaret, but the themes and visuals are very much what British pre-punks were seeking for inspiration.
The story opens in Berlin during 1931, as the emerging Nazi party was forging a national reputation as defenders of the Fatherland against the communists (and the Jews as the source of all German problems). The cabaret is where Liza Manelli sings and Joel Grey leads a troupe of vaudevillian performers - some women and others men in drag. The club scenes act as running commentaries on the main plot lines of Liza falling in love with Michael York, their affair with a rich Baron and of the relationship between the daughter of a rich Jewish family and a man who is not a Jew. The nazis cast long shadows over the proceedings but the film spends a surprising amount of time exploring its love story aspects.
So, what's in this for punks? In the mid ‘70s disaffected British youth loved the idea of decadence as an expression of rebellion against the stodgy British class system, with it's facades of manners and civility. Decadence, whose very definition is "decay", was a vital means of expressing disgust with the decaying empire. Dressing up and acting up to offend was to British punks the only way to rebel against a class system that kept many in their place from cradle to grave. In America, dressing weird makes you a weirdo, but in the UK such acts were direct attacks on both Queen and Country. The Sex Pistols were relative nobodies until they cursed on television and became a national scandal. Not to be confused with Camp, the decadence of the cabaret is meant to be the cruise ship entertainment of a country sinking straight to hell.
Liza Minelli's character also had major appeal in that she is a free spirit trying to redefine herself through lies and the talent of showmanship. She asks Michael York if her words and lifestyle shock him. He replies "Not a bit", and with a look of disappointment she says "I don't?" She later chooses an abortion over a boring life in the British countryside with the man who may or may not be the father of her child. She stays in Berlin while Michael York heads back to England and relative safety. Liza shakes his hand, walks away, and doesn't look back. She is, of course, doomed, but she chooses that fate over a life in England that I'm sure the audience related to as dull, boring, and more of the same.
The love story is too long and the scenes in the Cabaret too short. Joel Grey is amazing as a devilish mix of singing and dancing puppet, clown and mime. Liza chews the scenery but you have to admit she gives 120 percent. Not for those with short attention spans like myself, but an important film all the way.
Captain Beefheart: Under Review (dvd review): The dryly witted Brits who produce the Under Review series hit another triple with this two-hour production on Captain Beefheart (real name Don Van Vliet) whose borrowed and blended avant garde bluesy jazz rock influenced the likes of Devo, The Residents, and The Minutemen. I’ve given Safe As Milk (1967) and Trout Mask Replica (1969) a few spins and put them away as not my thing so my interest in the Captain is limited to whatever I might find interesting along the way. Under Review gets technical on recordings and player’s techniques, so that’ll be either a virtue or a vice for ye of the short attention span.
The Magic Band had a healthy turnover during its run from 1964 through 1982, and from that large pool they interviewed bassist Jerry Handley, guitarist Doug Moon, drummer John French, bassist Mark Boston, guitarist Jeff Moris Tepper, guitarist Elliot Ingber and bassist Ira Ingber. Along for the ride are Beefheart recording engineer Gary Marker and writers Alan Clayson, Mike Barnes, Nigel Williamson and Clinton Heylin. Continuing a tradition I find hysterical, interviewees are subjected to strange settings, lighting and camera angles. Handley sits with a huge margarita, Moon sits in the desert, Clayson is in a church with beautiful stained glass windows, Boston sits behind a door in a recording booth, Marker wears a chef’s hat and stands behind a kitchen counter, and best of all John French talks into the receiver of a phone hung onto a tree branch. He does this for a long time and from different angles.
Under Review had access to a lot of Beefheart music and video, and to make points and keep it lively they added footage of Howlin’ Wolf, Van Vliet friend and rival Frank Zappa, The Beatles – even footage from The Creature From The Black Lagoon, which didn’t prove much but was nice to see all the same. The focus is on the albums and how the band changed over the years to fit Van Vliet’s shifting commercial and personal aspirations. I wanted to know more about the Magic Band house but Under Review mostly avoided dirt dishing in favor of generally positive analysis. Here’s a bit of grime for enquiring minds from Wikipedia:
“Van Vliet wanted the whole band to ‘live’ the Trout Mask Replica album. The group rehearsed Van Vliet’s difficult compositions for eight months, living communally in a small rented house in the Woodland Hills suburb of Los Angeles. Van Vliet implemented his vision by asserting complete artistic and emotional domination of his musicians. At various times one or another of the group members was put ‘in the barrel,’ with Van Vliet berating him continually, sometimes for days, until the musician collapsed in tears or in total submission to Van Vliet. Drummer John French described the situation as ‘cultlike’ and a visiting friend said ‘the environment in that house was positively Manson-esque.’ Their material circumstances also were dire. With no income other than welfare and contributions from relatives, the group survived on a bare subsistence diet, and were even arrested for shoplifting food (with Zappa bailing them out). French recounted of living on no more than a small cup of beans a day for a month. A visitor described their appearance as ‘cadaverous’ and said that ‘they all looked in poor health.’ Band members were restricted from leaving the house and practiced for 14 or more hours a day.”
Now that’s a story! Substance abuse was also legendary. Movie soundtrack genius Ry Cooder played on Safe As Milk. The Captain would give his band instructions like “Play a high note like it was a low note.” He sold many more records in Europe than he did in the States, thanks in part to the support of John Peel, The Pope Of Modern Music, whose influence on modern music history is nothing short of monumental. If you have two hours to burn and love late 1960’s freaky music, definitely rent Captain Beefheart: Under Review. If not, The Horseman is a great revenge movie.
The Cars Unlocked (DVD review): I was shocked and awed by how much I enjoyed this 2006 release. Expecting an old concert of The Cars plodding through their hits, I found an energetic and funny pastiche of concert and home video footage, complimented with archive images and bits of the videos that made The Cars the most successful of the original new wave bands. I read Frozen Fire: The Story Of The Cars, and it went out of its way to describe them as boring in concert. I thought it would be Throbbing Gristle in parachute pants and feathered hair, but in footage covering at least eight years the boys move around pretty well and seem to be having a blast.
This 72 minute production moves quickly and cuts from scene to scene with the right amount of ADD (All band-related films should be exactly sixty minutes, but that’s against the Laws Of Marketing.) Visual techniques come and go without being intrusive or self-conscious, and there’s just the right mix of live and other materials. Some complained on Amazon that there weren’t enough full songs, but when you decide to make your film more than a concert reel the inclusion of complete songs can destroy its tone and pacing. I was happy as a dog with two tails to see a number of Cars songs interrupted by backstage tomfoolery. Which leads me to…
I liked The Cars well enough when they came out but never called myself a fan. Part of it was their crossover top-40 appeal, and also that their music just didn’t excite me. They were the Hall & Oates of new wave, writing cookie-cutter hits in their sleep. Years later I picked up the two-cd Just What I Wanted collection and listened to it over and over again until I figured I'd figured them out. They were a 70s power pop band with regimented drumming beating out asexual dance rhythms, and they accomplished a lot within the confines of simple melodies and mid-tempo pacing. “Gimme Some Slack” sounds like Devo, who consciously accentuated robotic stops and starts. The band to really compare The Cars to is New Musik, whose drummer was so accurate it was assumed they used a drum machine. There’s shimmering production value in both band’s recordings and a force of melodic will that makes their catalogs more compelling than their surface shortcomings might dictate.
On stage The Cars are technically flawless and put on a fun yet workmanlike show, but backstage and in interviews they're a hoot, taking everything and everyone as seriously as they deserve, which means not at all. They’re playfully sarcastic yet alarmingly non-threatening. As an interviewer asks Ric Ocasek a series of pretentious questions about world affairs and a musician’s abilities to transform reality, Ric stares ahead with the slightest of smiles and deadpans “I never think about it.” Asked. “What’s your relationship to the other members of the band?” Ocasek shoots back “It’s purely sexual.” Other band members are interviewed by The Denver Post and the guy’s bombarded by comments like “I don’t like granola. Can you swim?” and “A joint is a vegetable!” I knew I’d like The Cars Unlocked when it opened with a radio interview with added cursing and heckling of everything nice said about the band.
Second singer (and bass player) Ben Orr looks like Rutger Hauer early on and ages into Christopher Guest as Nigel Tufnel. He passed away a few years ago. Ocasek is a punk rock god because he produced The Bad Brain’s Rock For Light and Suicide’s second album. His son Eron Otcasek (that’s the original family spelling) directed and edited The Cars Unlocked, which for less than twenty clams also comes with an audio cd, a 28-page lyrics book and an order of fries. It’s put together with dry wit, no grand agenda and no effort to be subliminal, which comes across as trying too hard to be clever. Nicely played, sirs!
The Casualties: Can’t Stop Us (dvd review): Crusty street punk kiddie-punkers The Casualties are on tour as I type this with GWAR (of all things), diverting parental monies into purchases of patches and shirts destined to be ripped up before being worn, also enriching the band as they defeat capitalism by offering hundreds of retail items through Interpunk.com.
2006’s Can’t Stop Us is a mix of choppy concert footage, tour bus numbnuttery and street punk on the street encounters with fans and foes in Japan and Mexico. It’s done with a hand-held video camera and while it moves fast it’s random and repetitious. The Casualties are decent in the studio and have gotten better since their start as far as adding creative touches to their GBH, Exploited and other unwashed second wave UK atomic rooster bands. It has no appeal to me whatsoever as someone over 25 not living secretly in a friend’s parent’s garage. On the video no songs are complete and as is the way with hardcore bands you probably have to know the records exceedingly well to even recognize what they’re playing. The fans go nuts at every show and while they may not look pretty they sure are accessorized. Did you know I can tell a Casualties fan from a mile away? They all have a look and carry themselves a certain way. Oh, shut up, you know exactly what I'm talking about!
Punk From The Bowery (DVD review):
CBs is open even though they have no lease, and if you need a cause to
sacrifice your life for to you can still
CBGB: Punk From the Bowery came out in 2003 and retails for $9.99. All in
all, you get your $9.99 worth. You can't beat it as a cheap stocking stuffer for
that little crumb-bum on your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or There Is No God
Here's the bands. In addition you get CB's owner Hilly Kristal hosting a meandering tour of the club that's so slow I will award six internet monies to anyone who can sit through the whole thing! His wheezing will stupefy and amaze you!
1. Agnostic Front - Something's Gotta Give & Believe 2. Cro-Mags - Malfunction & Hard Times 3. Madball - Lockdown & True to the Game 4. H20 - Faster Than The World & Guilty By Association 5. Poison Idea - Lifestyles & Just Get Away 6. Harley's War - Malfunction & The Regulator 7. UK Subs - I Live in a Car & Emotional Blackmail 8. The Varukers - Murder & Don't Want to be a Victim 9. Chaos UK - Selfish Jew & King For a Day 10. The Vibrators - Pure Mania & Baby Baby Baby 11. Molotov Cocktail - Kop Party & Alcohol 12. Kraut - Unemployed & Kill For Cash 13. Adrenaline OD - Suburbia & Old People Talk Loud 4. Even Worse - Major Headache 15. Furious George - Redrum
Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags and Madball are metal punk bands that call themselves hardcore. Show their clips to a civilian and they'll say they're white power bands. Just pointing that out. These bands also stalk the stage like rappers. Harley's War was straight up metal.
H20, Even Worse and Furious George were ok. Poison Idea were great, and so were the UK Subs, Chaos UK, The Vibrators, Molotov Cocktail, Kraut and Adrenalin OD.
CBGB: Punk From The Bowery is in no way a documentary. Sure Hilly reminisces, but once again, six internet monies will be yours if you can sit through the whole thing! He says punk was first called street rock and the mentally challenged Sid Vicious was an asshole to everyone. Then my head hit the counter from listening to Hilly's voice, which woke me up the first three times but then knocked me unconscious. I dreamt I was a pirate!
The Chameleons – Ascension and Live At The Camden Palace / Arsenal (dvd reviews): The sometimes noisy dream pop band The Chameleons, to be confused with The Chameleons UK, glided onto the scene a little late for new wave in 1983 with Script Of The Bridge, followed by equally strong releases in 1985 and 1988. Let’s call them an atmospheric post-punk band and move along now nothing to see here!
Live At The Camden Palace / Arsenal is from the early 80s and the band looks young and hungry. After opening with “Don’t Fall” the set settles into a few faster tracks (faster being relative) and slower pieces that force the band to play slow even when you can see in their eyes they want to rip apart a couch or something of equal value. There’s an obvious kinship with The Teardrop Explodes. The set was decent but not aggro enough for both me and the band.
Ascension is a 2-dvd monster running 210 minutes long, and it’s as new age as the title implies. In 2002 Singer Mark Burgess has a bit if girth, long girlie hair, and the face of a native American Ray Davies, but that doesn’t stop him from staging a love-in at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. The venue and filming try to compete with the greatest concert film of all time, The Last Waltz, and if you’re laid back and can dig it, it works on a scale above its modest budget. As far as I’m concerned the featured musician was the percussionist playing the bongos, salt shakers, tambourine and whatnot. This was a mellow show that even turned acoustic. All that was missing was the stench of patchouli and unwashed personal areas. Every so often they splice in an interview with Burgess on the beach, where we all came from at one time either a few thousand years ago or a billion, depending on your view of such things. Unless you’re a Raelian, and only god or science knows what’s up with those freaks.
Channel 3: One More For Our True Friends (dvd review): This 2008 release is a pleasant trip down memory lane with a bunch of pleasant guys sharing pleasant memories of being, and still being, in a SoCal punk band. Back in the day I thought of them as a standard Posh Boy band, which I forget exactly what that meant, but it might have been that they signed second-tier bands. Posh Boy was famous for not having their band’s best interests at heart. For another reason now lost in time I also thought they were the west coast equivalent of Kraut. I did like their first two records, especially “What About Me?” and “Catholic Boy” from the classic American Youth Report comp. Enough about me. Why don’t you talk about me for a while?
One More For Our True Friends focuses mainly on main band members Mike Magrann (vocals, guitar) and Kimm Gardner (guitar), whose friendship started in the second grade. Straight outta Cerritos (Auto Square) CA, they had one foot in the OC scene and the other in the LA scene. Theirs is a typical hardcore story: played house parties and moved up to club gigs; toured locally until they worked up the nerve to hit the road for real; lived broke and meal-to-meal at gigs large and nonexistent; felt happy to get any airplay at all. Their pay for one show was a pasta dinner. What’s maybe atypical is that Channel 3 are smart and well-adjusted adults who lived the life but weren’t consumed by it. Recent footage on stage takes up a fair amount of film time, spiced with a few old reels of footage and what Target Video filmed of them in San Francisco. Six minutes of this footage is added as a bonus.
With a running time of 74 minutes it lingers an extraneous fourteen minutes, but besides that One More For Our True Friends is well filmed and edited. I paid most attention to the Posh Boy parts (Robbie Fields contributes memories from a phone interview) and of their stay in Austin, TX with The Big Boys. Minutia and Los Angeles hardcore history trade punches until the end, with band trivia winning in a split decision. A nice little film about a slice of Cerritos (Auto Square) punk history.
Charged G.B.H. On Stage: City Baby Attacked By Rats (dvd review): Hey, a pleasant surprise for once on an old live show, this from 1984, and I’m not even a fan beyond “City Baby Attacked By Rats” and whatever else sounded like it. They became just another punk metal band and I exited stage left. The surprise is the decent filming, sound, performance level and enthusiasm. Clocking in at 110 minutes you’ll pogo till you plotz and question all your preconceptions of hair gel and its holding properties. It’s much more punk than wank-a-doo so it held my attention. Bonus footage of the band doing absolutely nothing on tour buses and backstage is awesome man!
Chelsea: Live At Bier Keller (dvd review): 47 minutes of low quality crap from the sewer in the alley behind Cherry Red, where videotape goes to die. The live set of Rolling Stones-influenced Hollywood Rock as visualized in London is bookended by dressing room shenanigans with the young, dumb, and full of warm beer members of Chelsea, who may or may not have been an odd choice for I.R.S. Records. The only track that stands out is the closer, “Right To Work”, so I’m thinking this is a very early show since the band looks sixteen and they don’t play “Urban Kids”. According to their website they had an upcoming gig fifteen or so months ago. Here’s a band history and keep in mind, Gene October has always championed the underdog, not to be confused with Underdog, who was an actual dog albeit in cartoon form.
The Clash’s London Calling: Rock Milestones: The Clash Years (dvd review): This decent overview of The Clash trips out of the gate due to being packaged incorrectly as an analysis of their third album, 1979’s London Calling. The video itself is titled Rock Milestones: The Clash Years, but the box adds and emphasizes The Clash’s London Calling as being one of “The essential albums of all time”. Netflix offers fifteen of the Rock Milestones series and this one is informative and lively. My standards are probably lower than others because reviewers are incensed there’s no new footage of The Clash and they only appear in old clips and interviews. Boo Effing Hoo.
For what they are these off-label impulse purchase band histories are usually a productive way to waste an hour, and while the best Clash history is Westway To The World you can get the same basic story told efficiently and effectively in either this dvd or The Clash: Tory Crimes And Other Tales. Maybe if this was a VHS tape people wouldn’t expect Citizen Kane where Rosebud is Combat Rock.
On hand to talk all things Clash are Pat Gilbert – MOJO journalist, Don Letts – somehow affiliated with The Clash, Mick Gallagher – Clash keyboardist, John Robb – journalist/musician, Garry Mulholland – music journalist, John Aizelwood – writer/broadcaster, John Giddings – booking agent, Simon Humphrey – music engineer on the first Clash album, and Chris Salewicz – author.
Much of the footage is from the punk film DOA, The Punk Rock Movie, the US Festival, Rude Boy, and The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder.
The Clash – Westway To The World (dvd review): Don Lett’s influence on the Spirit Of ’76 punk scene cannot be overstated. He introduced reggae to the UK scene, for better and worse, but he did expand its focus beyond the 1-2-FU that eventually failed to shock. He filmed his first punk Super 8mm documentary, The Punk Rock Movie, in 1978. His last genre film was Punk: Attitude in 2005. 2000’s The Clash – Westway To The World is the best of the lot because it sidesteps the standard swirling vortexes of context to present a methodical timeline of the beginning, middle and end of the career of The Clash, whose Joe Strummer must be vomiting in his grave as the lead news item today is that Converse came out with sneakers commemorating London Calling [wrote this forever ago. They're no longer on sale]. It’s not a dry telling but it’s not until it’s over that you realize it’s about realizing too late the good thing you had you can never have back. It’s old men talking with wistfulness about what they had but don’t have now.
Letts conducted long separate interviews with Joe Strummer, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon against a black backdrop. You can’t imagine them together in any proximity. Added commentary comes from drummers Terry Chimes and Topper Headon, along with journalist Tony Parsons, road crew member Johnny Green, producer Bill Price and photographer Pennie Smith, who took the famous hunchback picture used on the cover of London Calling. I liked that Letts limited the number of talking heads to the core and then a few more. The journey from points A to Z is filled with context, background, and feelings but the pace is quick and there’s no time to beat any single thought into the ground. Westway To The World is even-handed and thorough, refusing to deal in vitriol and gossip. If you want that you can always read a book.
The Clash were constantly being filmed and photographed, even before their first gig, thanks to early (and later) manager Bernie Rhoades, the poor man’s Malcolm McLaren. Letts gained access to these materials and countless other sources, providing a steady stream of visuals for everything being discussed. This is a lively film that moves quickly and always keeps your mind and eyes on their toes.
I quickly grew tired of Joe Strummer’s sound-bites, having heard them for years, like here when he says of his youth “I quickly realized that you either became a power or you were crushed.” I’ve often wondered if he rehearsed whatever came out of his mouth. Over time though, maybe as the result of being filmed for hours by Letts, Joe comes up with enough spontaneous responses that I began to wonder if his phrasings came from a life of unending introspection that led to definitive statements that were both accurate and sounded good. He beautifully sums up the lament of them all when he says of Jones being kicked out of the band after the US Festival gig, doing for The Clash what happened to The Sex Pistols after Glen Matlock was shown the gate, “One of Mick’s talents was not punctuality. He was fairly late most of the time, but then, you know talent’s worth waiting for I think, when all’s said and done.” The humble sadness on his face as he says this is touching, and for Joe incredibly real.
Mick Jones always struck me as a nerd who knows he’s a nerd but plays along until he gets called out for being a nerd. In interviews he's glad to have been asked to participate, and on his face I see a need to be accepted and acknowledged. There’s a beaten down quality to him I can only guess comes from a lifetime of insecurity. He seems likeable enough, if not too willing to please. I couldn’t stop staring at the Tyson-sized gap between Paul Simonon’s two front teeth. He was straightforward and pleasant.
Highlights were: Joe appreciates the irony of singing “Career Opportunities” at Shae Stadium; a bizarre clip of dancers acting out “Bank Robber” on Top Of The Pops when The Clash refuse to appear; Sony execs didn’t want to release “Bank Robber” as a single because “It sounded like David Bowie backwards.”, and Joe calls the early years of gobbing “The Time Of Saliva.”
Westway To The World tells a great story in an engaging chronological fashion. Letts provides the first few layers of the real story of the band, leaving back-stabbing, conspiratorial sniping to others. Part of it might have been an understanding with the band, but either way it works.
The Clash: Tory Crimes And Other Tales (dvd review): Having recently seen Westway To The World it was bad timing to rent The Clash: Tory Crimes And Other Tales as they hit the same points at the same pace and level of inspection. They came out six years apart but time didn’t make Tory Crimes And Other Tales important to see if you’ve already seen the other, and you should see Westway anyway instead. Not that the newer one is bad – it’s actually pretty good – but when I put it on I felt I was watching someone remake Westway and I didn’t want to ride that ride again. The oddest thing about it is that chiropractor extraordinaire and original Clash drummer Terry Chimes is just another talking head in the production where he doesn’t make his first appearance until four or five others have their say. You’d figure he’d host this or it would focus on him and his take on The Clash. But no.
I’m thinking the bigger wheel in this is author and former Clash road manager Johnny Green, who wrote this well-received book on the subject at hand. Terry is a pleasant fellow whose voice tends to drone as he tells a number of procedural stories about how the Clash formed, recorded, and accorded themselves on the road and in the studio. Don Letts provides the usual funny and insightful stories while a parade of musicians, band associates and critics tell you the god’s honest truth as you wonder who they really are and if you should believe anything they say. Scenes from films like Rude Boy, D.O.A., The Punk Rock Movie, and the US festival provide many of the images of the band in their early prime.
I rented disc one, titled “The Punk Years”. There’s a second disc I’ll let pass. I wonder what that one’s called. The Post-Punk Years, The Rock The Cash-Bar Years, The Years Or Regret Years?
The Classic Rock String Quartet: A Classic Rock Tribute To Bowie (dvd review): On a general classy classical level A Classic Rock Tribute To Bowie is impressive but otherwise this cheapie 2004 production falls into trifle, piffle and cheese. The arrangements are for string quartet and grand piano, so that’s upper crust, like when you're alone and you fart and you say “Excuse Me!” Now that’s class.” (thanks Rodney!) Amongst other things the setting is wrong and the muzak imperative cheapens the original appeal. For a minute or two each song is fun to listen to, but this could have been epic. Which it ain’t.
Besides this Bowie disc there’s another for Led Zepplin, which led one commenter to quip “This is what Jimmy Page will probably be stuck listening to in the elevator in Hell.” Bowie’s tribute isn’t elevator music even though it falls into the hole of simulating vocals with violin. Some tracks were arranged for strings and piano to begin with (examples: “Space Oddity”, “On You Pretty Things”, “Life On Mars”) so the transition isn’t that far off except for the lead violinist going full frontal muzak on choppy vocal melodies. The best tracks are the hardest rocking ones like “Jean Genie” and “Rebel Rebel”. Here the transition from rock band to classical music works the gimmick to its best advantage.
The 54 minute set is shot in a small, cramped space, I’m assuming a studio with good acoustics. It should have been recorded on a recital stage. Instead of the muzak violin the songs should have been arranged with flowing melody lines as if the songs had no lyrics – you know, like how songs for string quartets are written in the first place. My last gripe are the constant cuts to images of Bowie and the splicing in of thematically related pieces of public domain film. It’s spray can cheesy.
For Bowie loons only, and even then its novelty and shortcomings will eventually gnaw at your craw like a hedgehog with its head stuck in a paper towel roll.
A Clockwork Orange (video review) (Warner Bros): British punks stole like crazy when they created their original style, and Stanley Kubrick's 1971 A Clockwork Orange was more influential than any other. Mohawks came from The Road Warrior and The Damned fed into a perverted fascination with Nazis but Kubrick's film spoke directly to the then modern day malaise, punkish violence and No Future. Based on the book by Ian Burgess, the author's view of the film's themes were at odds with what general audiences read into it. Is this a dark comedy exploring moral freedom and free will vs. predestination, or is it a violent, amoral fable that only serves to glorify violence?
Burgess elaborates on the title by saying "(Alex) has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (given this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State." Many trees have died to provide the paper for what’s been written on the many underlying themes of A Clockwork Orange, but what about what your average slob sees on the screen? Like the movie poster reads, this "Being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence, and Beethoven", the first fifteen minutes are filled with unblinking acts of violence presented with hipster style. Like Alex our eyes are forced open to look directly at brutality. A Clockwork Orange is not anti-violence. Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer is equally non-judgmental and even more brutal, and you can throw Romper Stomper onto the pile of films that do glorify violence through amoral representations of violence. Literary scholars may see A Clockwork Orange as brilliant satire and commentary but any numbnut looking for glorification of criminal behavior will see this film as a wink and a nod.
I've read that Society made Alex (played brilliantly by Malcolm MCDowell) into a monster, but that's not true. He has normal parents and a nice room in their apartment. Everybody has it tough. Boo freakin’ hoo. Alex is a classic amoral psychopath - he can be polite one minute and rape or murder the next. To him it's all the same. The justice system that treats him is a combination of Kafka and Monty Python yet Alex is so screwed by choice you can't see him as a pure victim at their hands. Maybe A Clockwork Orange is nothing more than Burgess' ruminations on free will but to kids all they see is approval for everything shown on the screen. Alex is the victim and hero of the story, and he finds pleasure in rape and murder. How else can you read this?
Star Trek nerds take note: just like Trekkies teach Vulcan to their children as an alternative to having the word “geek” tattooed on their foreheads, A Clockwork Orange features its own slang known as "Nadsat", mostly Russian slang and childish gibberish. The soundtrack is great, featuring the work of Walter(is now)Wendy Carlos. Cock Sparrer wrote a song about themselves called “Droogs Don’t Run”.
- What You See... Is What You Get (DVD review):
Cock Sparrer,TKO Records and Belgium filmmaker Pollet Yannick collectively
produced this eight hour, two-DVD set featuring concerts, interviews and extras.
The ninety minute documentary is a glorified home movie. It's a bit random and a
bit much at times, and gawd knows the concert footage needs an index, but my
money is my vote for the first and greatest street punk/oi band of all time,
Cock Fricking Sparrer. In a genre where "real" means "real stupid",
Cock Sparrer are really nice people playing real music for real reasons.
What you learn from What You See is that Cock Sparrer are absolutely free of affectation. What they believe is simply how they feel and they don't find themselves heroic. They're quite amazed people still remember them and pay to see their infrequent shows. I still have no idea what a Cock Sparrer is. The name was once Cock Sparrow if that helps.
Cock Sparrer didn't play the UK for years because they didn't want anyone getting hurt, a problem not found elsewhere. To them it wasn't worth the money. Sham 69 wanted it both ways and the crowds they incited bit them on the ass. Sparrer stayed in the pub and shook their heads. Writing on their site about the recently cancelled Wasted USA festival, they note:
It has been suggested that part of this problem has been caused by some bands demanding their money up front. We would like to state for the record that COCK SPARRER have NEVER, and never will ask, for any advance payment for any gig we do - we know how difficult cash flow can be for promoters. Anybody who knows us, or has worked with us will know this to be the case.
Cock Sparrer are working class heroes with an ingrained integrity that's not a political statement. They also look old enough to be The Rolling Stones. Do they have day jobs? I imagine they'd have to. I loved this line from an interview, "'England Belongs To Me' took 10 minutes to write and 25 years to explain."
Where was I... Cock Sparrer, the first and still the best. Bats Out, indeed.
Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind
(Book & Movie Review):
Unknown Comic: Is my fly open?
Chuck Barris: No, it isn't. Unknown Comic: Well, it should be. I'm peein'.
The book Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind is a b-culture classic, one I'll read every few years like I do John Water's Shock Value. It's a companion piece to Lloyd Kaufman's book. Both men tell much more than you want to know about their bowl movements and embarrassing personality defects. All three men manage to be endearing and repulsive in equal measure.
Was the creator of The Gong Show and The Newlywed Game really a CIA hitman? Like the old punk song goes, "who knows, who cares, why bother." Fact, fiction or biomythography, Confessions is hilarious, action packed and if it were an actress its name would be Paige Turner. I didn't mean that, so I'm Joyce Keating.
Once again, a classic.
The movie is a mixed bag. The first time I thought it was ok. After reading the book I watched again and found it paled in comparison. Sam Rockwell does well as Chuck Barris. Director George Clooney clumsily injects politics into a non-political book. Charlie Kaufman's script has its moments but makes unnecessary changes. The last kill scene is confusing, cheap and not as good as in the book. Clooney's demise is colorful so that works. I didn't need to see Rockwell's ass the more than once the film provides. The best added character is Robert John Burke as CIA kill instructor Jenks, whose bit as an FCC agent is the best facial comedy I've seen in ages.
The Confessions Of Robert Crumb
The Confessions Of Robert Crumb is an odd juxtaposition to the superior 1994
Crumb. Written by Crumb, financed by the BBC and logging in at 55 minutes,
it's confessional as usual yet not that revealing since straight the man's too
Freudian and on drugs too hallucinogenic. He doesn't hold back or lie about
himself but there's something missing. He's both a cipher and the most
influential, prolific and screwed up underground artist of all time, which the
latter film revealed much to Crumb's regret.
The Crumb Museum is worth a long visit. My sentimental favorite is A Short History Of America while the juvenile in me will always treasure Tommy Toilet. The guy who flushes himself down the toilet is also nice.
You wouldn't think Crumb would agree to dress up and undress to act in skits about himself, but here he does. That can't be cool in anyone's book. He's a successful failure and a loser whose talent makes him a winner. He's fascinating as a man only to a point because in spite of all his talent and eccentricities he's smaller in life than in his work. The Confessions Of Robert Crumb is a diminishing dog and pony show you'd never think he'd participate in, especially as its creator.
(DVD Review): I liked
Constantine. I liked it a lot. Fans of the long-running comic
Hellblazer dismiss it because it barely resembles the source material. It's
no masterpiece like
Class of Nuke 'Em High 2: Subhumanoid Meltdown but I'll be watching this
Constantine was shot on what looks like 1970s film stock and people are lit like cadavers in a David Fincher film. It looks nice. The effects are scary and the depiction of hell terrifying. Keanu Reeves aside, the acting's great, especially Rachel Weisz, Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare as Satan, who chews the scenery in a most satisfying fashion. He's insane, sadistic and also having way too much fun being Satan.
The story makes little sense and defies its own logic but I enjoyed not having a clue what would happen next. It's thick with mythology of both the religious and comic book kind, adding to the WTF factor, but WTF, it's entertainment. The Spear Of Destiny prop was the same one made for Hellboy, a film I love, and maybe Constantine has a similar appeal. Hey, it runs rings around End Of Days!
Keanu Reeves seems nice enough. He gets more roles than his talent dictates but good for him. He cannot express emotion through his eyes, which in a less pleasant face is creepy. He looks too young for the role of John Constantine. Bruce Willis would have been better (as long as he didn't smirk). Reeves isn't a bad actor but his face is a mask.
Control (DVD review): I’m of two minds about this biopic on the life of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis, but being schizophrenic I’m of two minds all the time. It succeeds as art but huffs to the finish line as entertainment. It’s better upon reflection because of the production values, but the pacing is only a tad peppier than Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law, bested in existential loitering only by Eraserhead and a senior center performance of Waiting For Godot.. My eyes often drifted from the screen, and I found myself yelling “cut” when scenes ended but the cameras kept rolling. On the plus side, the performances are excellent, the actors sing and play Joy Division covers expertly, and eventually it did get to the point where credits roll.
Accomplished photographer and music video director Anton Corbijn mortgaged his house to raise funds for this, his debut motion picture, filmed in color then converted to B&W because B&W film stock was of inferior quality. He directed the video for Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”, and in the commentary he says he was dead set on his first film being about Joy Division. Corbijn does a phenomenal job creating atmospheres of malaise and tedium.
The vivid whites and grays that crowd every shot reveal the cracks and crevices of the dingy dullness that envelopes Curtis’s existence. It’s not a hopeless world but surely a mundane one, and Curtis is portrayed as a listless actor in his own life, making rash decisions early and often. It’s one thing to show him bored in a loveless marriage – partly due to his own apathy – but to then have him decide to have a baby he quickly grows tires of speaks poorly of his adult skills.
A topic for discussion is if we should feel pity over his suicide. Pity as in it was a tragic loss. Control calmly makes the argument Ian ran out of reasons to live and by his own actions was as equally to blame as any outside factor, in his case stemming partly from immaturity. His epileptic seizures were harrowing and worsening, his true drug use is never touched on in the film, and his mood swings never make it to the screen either. The film suggests he didn’t want to take his medications, and maybe to paint him as an innocent soul his personality runs the gamut from polite to withdrawn to apologetic. As I see it he done too much, much too young, he was married with a kid when you could have been having fun with Joy Division. That and the seizures. His death was a shame but not a pity. Their third album would have been one long dirge anyway.
When Curtis died in 1980 some spoke of the correlation between his suicide and the release of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” in hushed tones like it was a DaVinci Code revelation, proof of life on Venus, or Bigfoot. Whatever it was, it helped sales. A suicidal guy wrote a depressing song. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$!
A big golf clap goes to Sam Riley as Ian Curtis, a dead ringer expect he lacks Ian’s black eye circles. His full-on spastic dancing was unnaturally fast for him and he strains to keep up, but otherwise Sam Riley is Ian Curtis in Control, a Anton Corbijn film. The other actors are cast so well you can barely tell the difference when you watch the three real Joy Division videos included on the DVD, requiring additional kudos for lighting, wardrobe and set design.
Control was based on a book by Ian’s wife Deborah, and she also co-produced the film. Some customer reviews rip into her with as much moral authority as Ed Gein, concluding: “Deborah never really seemed to be all that close to Ian”. She was in love with him, married him, had his baby and put up with his nonsense until the day she found him dangling on a rope in their flat. Who knew him better, his mistress? Other members of Joy Division? Rule #3 of music journalism is never believe anything a musician tells you. It’s like asking criminals why they steal.
Is this a good story on its own, a dull story with a good soundtrack, or a dull movie that moves too slowly? Was Ian Curtis too beautiful for this world? Did I actually type that last sentence?! Control is a well-filmed enactment of most of the Wikipedia page on Joy Division and Ian Curtis, and while it’s a fairly interesting story it's also somehow a small one.
Corrupt (video review) (Thorn EMI): Also released as Cop Killers, Copkiller and Order of Death (as in "Does that order of death come with fries?"), this 1983 psychological thriller was John Lydon's only serious film role. Critics generally applauded his muted performance but they might have been overly impressed by him toning down his Johnny Rotten rage to a more respectable Malcolm McDowell contempt. John isn't bad but I can't say he's really acting either. For most of the film he speaks his lines and looks personally and professionally afraid of the man he's playing against, the great Harvey Keitel. Harvey's a serious method actor and a scary physical presence, and I guarantee Lydon figured out instantly that Keitel wasn't going to take crap from a sarcastic skinny man who calls himself Mr. Rotten (update: this was confirmed by someone who just finished a Sex Pistols book). Towards the end John asserts some control over his character but the result is a greatly diluted version of his Sex Pistols persona. Joe Critic might find this to be a finely tuned acting range but I see it as a move from bland non-acting to John being barely able to resist over-acting. John's well cast in the role and he's better than you might expect, but he's no better than Sting (though he is better than Adam Ant).
Corrupt was financed by Italian television and the production credits read like a Sicily phone book. I guess since there's no police corruption in Rome they chose New York City. Filmed in the Rotten Apple, Corrupt has a dated look and is hampered by an obvious effort to make it easier to dub it into other languages, especially in the beginning where dialogue is sparse and the actors turn away from the camera when speaking. Hey, just like the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns. Corrupt was shot in English but it looks and sounds like a foreign film.
Keitel plays a policeman who supplements his income with bribes. Lydon is a spoiled, gay, S&M obsessed, guilt ridden fancy lad with too much free time. The main plot involves a serial killer who slashes the throats of undercover cops. The subtext is the nature of guilt and violence. The relationship between Keitel and Lydon starts with violence and entrapment but shifts to a role reversal that substitutes violence with psychological manipulation. Some reviews play up the gay context of their relationship but you have to be predisposed towards that conclusion to really see it. The way they show Lydon's character is gay is by having copies of The Advocate strewn on his desk. The film's not about sex, it's a psychological thriller centered around good old fashioned Catholic guilt. It’s a post-modern morality play.
Lydon claims he's the cop killer and threatens to expose Keitel's bribe taking. Keitel takes Lydon hostage, slaps him around and makes him eat out of a dog's bowl. Is Lydon really the killer? Gosh, you'll have to see the film to find out. But wow does this go on forever. Masters level chess moves faster. Actors move like they're underwater. Maybe attention spans were longer back then, or maybe Corrupt is just boring. For Johnny Rotten fanatics and insomniacs only.
Elvis Costello Live: A Case For Song (video review) (Warner Reprise): God was this boring. I mean really, really boring. I was thrilled when I read on the back that The Attractions were involved.. And hey, look, "Accidents Will Happen" and "Pump It Up" are right up top of the set list! But no, this turned out to be a PBS-level an-evening-with-singer/songwriter-Elvis-Costello, his generation's Burt Bacharach. I only made it halfway through. The Brodsky Quartet were fun for a while, but could Elvis sing any slower? It's a toss-up as to what I might have missed at the end with "Watching The Detectives". "Pump It Up" wasn't bad, being as it was a restrained Zydeco rendition with accordion instead of organ.
I guess Elvis is now classified as a male vocalist, not unlike Mel Torme. What can you do? The Attractions are held back to playing funeral dirge speed. Damn, it's like watching greyhounds crawl. The eight or fifteen cameras they us to film this gave me a headache. The crane shots defied the laws of physics and the cuts were too fast. I found it a bad way to overcompensate for the snooze-fest on stage.
(VHS review): In 1985, between
Evil Dead and
Evil Dead II, Sam Raimi directed
Crimewave from a script by his friends
Ethan and Joel Coen. It died quickly and it was rumored Raimi and the Coens
pretended Crimewave never existed. I don't know why because it's one funny ass
Raimi's cut was rejected and edited by the studio to make it less extreme and more widely appealing. Raimi rated his cut a C and the final cut a D. Oh, what I'd give to see the director's cut.
Crimewave is Blood Simple meets the Three Stooges in Detroit. The IMDB description sums it up quickly, "A pair of whacked-out cartoon-like exterminator/hitmen kill the owner of a burglar-alarm company, and stalk the partner who hired them, his wife, and a nerd framed for the murder, who tells the story in flashback from the electric chair." If this sounds like your kind of fun you should seek this out.
Bruce Campbell , more god than man, was rejected by the studio for the lead and ended up in a bit part. Reed Birney plays Vic Ajax and I think he's great. I can't imagine Campbell being effective in the part because Vic is a meek, small character. Sheree J. Wilson, a staple on Dallas and Walker Texas Ranger, plays the love interest. Louise Lasser is the biggest name attached to the film and she's very game to go through all the physical abuse.
The true stars of the show are b-movie legend Brion James and man-mountain Paul L. Smith, the exterminators who "kill all sizes". James' voice is a squeak and Smith's is Kermit the Frog as a deep baritone. The cigarrettes in the glove compartment bit should be taught in film schools as a textbook example of sadistic comedy. James laughs in agony while Smith laughs in evil pleasure. The laws of comedy physics dictate it doesn't get any better than that.
(VHS review): Do they still have tv like
Kung Fu Action Double Feature? I spent many Saturday afternoons watching the
worst of the worst Hong Kong martial arts, at or below Ocean Shores quality. In
the 80s Ocean Shores Video flooded the burgeoning American video store market
with cheap and worthless martial arts films, suppressing the desire for and
availability of the good stuff for years. 1982's
Crippled Masters would have been just another crapper if it wasn't also
the most bizarre movie ever!
These two reviews will give you all you need to know: wak! bam! There's also one called Crippled Avengers but it doesn't feature a real paraplegic and a man born with no right arm and a small left flipper/hand. Oh no, it don't!
Crippled Masters has all the social cruelty, training sadism and misplaced maniacal laughter you expect, and it's definitely an unblinking exploitation of the handicapped, but these two men are also super handi-capable and working instead of feeling sorry for themselves.
When you see the one running with his hands you can't but think of Freaks, which brings up another point. Freak Shows (here's another) from the 1840s to 1950s were a travesty of cruelty but also the only way these people could both make a living and not be alone. When do-gooders shut down the shows for the sake of the performers they also took away their lives.
Crippled Masters features good fighting of the 1 stop, 2 stop, 3 stop school, which allows you to digest the techniques, and the armless guy is really good twirling a bamboo staff. The dubbing is good and nobody has an old west gunslinger accent. One villain looks like Yul Brenner and Tor Johnson and the evil master has an iron hump for a back and a rubber burn scar on his face.
The film opens with the one eventual hero getting his arms chopped off. It seems to hurt him for about twelve seconds. Don't you quickly die from a loss of blood? The other one gets his legs burned with acid. Since there were no wheelchairs (I guess) the actor had crossed his tiny legs to get them out of the way so he could walk with his arms. The scene of him choking a man with his leg is unnerving.
The best line was "You again? Hmmm. Well, you don't seem to like living very much."
In 1992 The Residents produced a major work called Freak Show, and this line applies to a film like Crippled Masters, a film you see only once and you don't know what you should be feeling while you do:
Everyone comes to the Freak Show/ To laugh at the Freaks and the Geeks/ Everyone comes to the Freak Show/ But nobody laughs when they leave.
The Cure: Rock Case Studies (dvd review): This is so god-awful I shouldn’t review it, as to do so only proves its existence. If Joy Division: Under Review is the Citizen Kane of a band tribute done on the cheap, The Cure: Rock Case Studies is Freddie Got Fingered. The other titles in the series are for Bon Jovi, Guns N Roses, Led Zepplin and Lynyrd Skynyrd, whose name I didn’t realize was numbingly dumb until I just now spelled it out.
The “critics” on hand to kiss Robert Smith’s pale white tooshy are Natasha Scharf (a music journalist whose name doesn’t come up on Google), Marcus Pollard (concert promoter), Jerry Ewing of Classic Rock Magazine, metal dude Tony Dolan, radio DJ Neil Morrison, Hugh Wright (a musician also hidden from Google), and John McKenzie, a “session musician” who talks like he was in the band but his name doesn’t come up on a search. None are qualified or unqualified to offer their opinions so there’s nothing authoritative about anything they say, or for that matter anything at all in this production. It’s pro-The Cure to the nth degree but the band isn’t presented as dynamic and important beyond strangers telling you their fans really like them or that song X was like their best ever, until the next song that was even better. The Netflix reviews are brutal, and they’re written by fans who’d piss themselves over anything slightly above average.
It was released in 2007 but only covers The Cure up until 1989’s Disintegration, which makes me think it was cooked up a long time ago for some nefarious purpose. A few songs from the British TV show The Tube are shown, ad nauseum, along with old interview snippets of Smith being passive in interviews to the point of his straightforward answers sounding noncommittal. What makes this video disorientating and the crème of the worst is that you never know when you’re hearing a real Cure song or ones by a cover band that litter this like empty bottles of Night Train on Skid Row. Without the originals why even bother. They’re not bad covers but it’s cheap, inaccurate and a bit dishonest.
Goth is bandied about as both what The Cure are and are not. Their slower songs are gothic and The Cure were surely responsible for its rising popularity, but they were first and foremost a pop band whose success was founded on new wave/post-punk hits like “Friday I’m In Love” (playing in a supermarket near you) and “Boys Don’t Cry”m (playing at my gym). I thought myself clever when I heckled the dvd with “Mall Goth maybe!” but 31,500 others had beat me to it. Damn you, other people! My take on slow Cure songs are that they’re the soundtrack to self-pitying suicide spirals that rarely lead to death but always involve rivers of tear-soaked mascara… and that’s just for the guys! Women cut at their wrists until they get what they want from their parents.
Smith in an interview says “I think we slipped through the net of goth”, so he thought it was a trap. A critic says their music was “A tortured scream coming up from the bottom of a deep, dark well,” Jeez, lighten up, Man In Black, The Cure are a classic rock band. There’s a rumor Smith developed his Skinny Joker / Fat Joker look one night while high on hallucinogenics, the favored drugs on his periodic downward spirals. At concerts Cure fans think the band’s playing just for them, which I think also happened for every teenage girl who saw the Beatles at Shea Stadium. Seriously, only children and the mentally fragile feel this way. Someone says the band imploded in 1982 partly because playing songs from the upcoming album Pornography on the Faith Tour was too intense. Now THAT'S mentally fragile.
The Cure: Case Rock Studies is the imperfect gift for that child or friend you don’t really know much about, one that will make them loath you even more for taking a video crap in their mouths.
The Cure - Staring At The Sea - The Images (video review) (Elektra): This video collection came out in 1986 and covers as far back as 1979. Lead singer Robert Smith formed his first band, the Easy Cure, in 1976. As ‘77 punk evolved into post-punk and new wave rose in popularity, the Cure fit nicely into both camps. The early hits, found conveniently on the Boys Don't Cry LP, show a talented three-piece combining moodiness and edgy guitar pop with great results. "Boys Don't Cry”, "Killing An Arab" (the title, taken from a novel, got them in trouble) and "Jumping Someone Else's Train" were new wave dance hits at a time before the genre devolved into top-40 dance crap. The Cure later recorded pap themselves but still never completely lost their ties to better times.
Robert Smith is a less self-absorbed version of Morrissey (which may not be saying much) and he looks like he lost every hair gel fight. Would someone please show him how to apply lipstick? His mouth has that "I just earned twenty bucks the hard way" look. He’s never changed his look and he might never. The Cure always did well with people who wore excessive makeup and took themselves too dramatically and artistically serious. At new wave clubs fans of the Cure would be the ones staring at themselves in the mirrors while they danced. The Cure's moodier songs and face painting antics helped usher in goth rock, and though hardcore goths might say The Cure wasn't influential, non-goth bands like The Damned, Siouxsie And The Banshees and The Cure brought the stylings to the public's attention.
I'm no expert on their catalog, because frankly I lost interest when their music became more popular and less interesting. Their early (and best) work is driven by minimalist yet choppy guitar, simple Cars-like backbeat drumming and excellent bass lines that drive the music. Listening to these seventeen songs The Cure remind me of The Cars, The Psychedelic Furs and in the worst cases a moodier Thompson Twins.
Staring At The Sea serves as a greatest hits package so songs that had no original videos are given them at minimal involvement and expense. "Killing An Arab" is basically unrelated footage of an old guy walking around doing nothing. "Jumping Someone Else's Train" is a sped up segment of film shot from the front of a train. As with all video collections from bands that started in the ‘70s, the videos move from the cheap to the expensive, the early videos mostly involving the band in the studio pretending to perform. The later videos are full blown production numbers and you have to wonder if in the MTV era a band can write music without wondering how it will translate to video. The one video that sticks out is "Boys Don't Cry", where three kids play instruments in the foreground while the band's directly behind, backlit against fabric so that it appears they're the children's shadows.
This is a decent selection from an all-around decent band. If you have no tolerance for generic Cure you can still get plenty of enjoyment out of their earliest work as one of the best pure new wave bands of the era.
The Damned - Live 79 (video review) (Target): In the early ‘80s Target Video released many punk related videos. Now they're hard to find, and while the production values weren't great they were one of only a few sources for this material. This forty minute concert is from July, 1979 at the Club Waldorf in San Francisco, and it once again proves The Damned were not great live and didn't have great depth beyond hits like "Neat Neat Neat", "Love Song" and "New Rose", the best single to come out of the '77 UK punk era.
Inspired by the chaos of the Sex Pistols, The Damned formed early and played gigs with the Pistols, the Clash and The Buzzcocks. There was little scene unity in ‘70s Britain, and The Damned were kept at arms length. "New Rose" was the first UK punk 7", Damned Damned Damned, the first album, and they were also the first to tour the United States. Consisting of Dave Vanian (who brought goth face painting to punk), Brian James, Rat Scabies (who auditioned for the Sex Pistols) and disco boy Captain Sensible, The Damned dished out trash and audience contempt in equal doses. They've reformed constantly over the years and don't be surprised if they play your town real soon.
This show being from ‘79, the slow to catch on Americans are expecting the anarchy and danger of the ‘77 scene, and The Damned don't disappoint. Opening with a homophobic rant by the Captain, they run through "Jet Boy, Jet Girl" so they can scream "he gave me head". Delicate Dave mostly keeps his mouth shut, but Sensible and Scabies constantly taunt the crowd, the drummer leaving his kit to yell abuse into the microphones. They even call The Jam "middle class assholes". After an encore of the Pistols' "Pretty Vacant" and Iggy Pop's "No Fun" Rat rips apart his own drum kit and repeatedly throws pieces into the amp stacks. The music itself is a mess and the poor sound quality doesn't help. Like I said, The Damned are only as good as their greatest hits collection. These live songs go on too long and are interrupted by endless guitar god solos.
In typical Target fashion, unrelated stock footage like screaming teeny-bopper fans and Jimmy Carter on the telephone are sliced in. Buy a greatest hits collection (not the big boxed set) and skip this video.
Dance Craze (video review) (Oasis Firms): The rights to this 1979 2-Tone Ska classic must be in dispute because it’s very hard to find. Used VHS copies sell for up to $250 (if there are any buyers at this price is unknown). I can't believe this hasn't been released as a legit video. The market has to be there. Presently most punk dollars are spent on ska and I'm sure The Kids would line up around the block and dress up like it's a mod Rocky Horror Picture Show. If you can find this at all it's a tv bootleg where the colors are too bright and they bleed into each other. The tape box says "Shot entirely on location", then "Sound re-recorded at EMI..." and finally, "A live LP is available..." All three are completely different! The live album is easy enough but did the bands actually re-record the tracks "live" in the studio to compensate for the inability to capture it right in the clubs? It would seem so. It's a decent job but weird nonetheless.
I saw this concert movie in 1980 at an old movie house in Richmond, VA, and the Good Guys played a set before the film. We were literally dancing in the aisles. All the great second wave ska bands are here, The Specials (5 songs), Madness (6), The Bodysnatchers (3), The Selector (4), The English Beat (5), and Bad Manners (4). They're all at their peak and the fans are packed in tighter than Dirk Diggler's jock strap.
With the exception of The English Beat the band’s follow-up albums didn't amount to much. I was especially let down by More Specials. In the film the action switches from one band to the next and the lack of segues keeps the energy flowing. Bad Manner's Fatty Buster Bloodvessel, the man with the mutant cow's tongue, steals the show with his massive bulk, facial ticks and classic skinhead attire. The other bands lean toward the mod look of smart suits and shiny shoes.
All the hits are here, including "Three Minute Hero", "Inner City Violence", "Mirror In The Bathroom", "Too Much Too Young", "Concrete Jungle" and "On My Radio". The fight scene during "Too Much Pressure" was staged by The Selector. I heard this personally from The English Beat.
I'm not going to write a history of ska, but I will say the 1960s movement was a great combination of American R&B and local Caribbean dance hall styles, the late ‘70s revival political and punk and the third wave a combination of both with a heaping dollop of youth-silliness thrown in for attitude. Madness were trend-hoppers and ska's frat boy party band, The English Beat were a lot more politically serious than they're given credit for, The Specials were the most intense, The Selector a slightly lite-er version of The Specials, The Bodysnatchers was ska's answer to The Go-Gos and Bad Manners was ska's version of The Dickies.
Dance Craze is a must-see and the best existing document of that time and place. Even as a bootleg it's worth the rental - if you can find it. I just noticed each band has their own cute little cartoon character logo. Ska-tastic.
The Day The Country Died (dvd review): The only thing I take seriously about punk anarchists are their capacity for violence – in the name of a greater peace. The rest is childish utopianism turned angry and nihilistic. Needless to say I watched 2006’s The Day The Country Died with a heapin’ helpin’ of bemused contempt. Strangely enough this ninety minute film by the vocalist for the Belfast anarcho-punk band Toxic Waste finds a number of participants who say the movement wasn’t that big of a deal and the music wasn’t that great either. The general and unintended message of the film is that a lot of things happened but few are certain what it was and in retrospect it didn’t accomplish much or make much sense. But weren’t the graphics really cool?
The focal point of the UK anarcho-punk scene was Crass, and on hand is Penny Rimbaud (be sure to check him out taking a nude public dump into a “composting toilet”). He, along with many of the film’s subjects, talks in a monotone and says a lot of vague things. I assume in certain circles this denotes depth. Dick Lucas from The Subhumans appears a few times and is in the talkative stage of his drinking binge. Ian Glasper, who did a commendable job writing a fully researched book on the 80-84 UK punk scene, appears throughout. Extra odd is the way Glasper talks about anarcho-punk you’d think he was downplaying it as being not that stand-alone.
Other people appeared in the film and then were gone from my life forever. Something called a “Zilla Minx” jumped out and scared the you-know-what out of my pre-composting area. The only person who aged well is Colin Jerwood from Conflict. Bandmate Paco wouldn’t concede an ounce to Pig Champion. Goodbye feet, hello fat and carbs! Kate Wimpress of the Warzone Collective made me smile by recounting how the collective failed at the practical level of not being a hypocritical, dangerous mess. MAN is this film filled with old hippies.
The structure of the film alternates music and video clips with interview segments, which screams filler. At ninety minutes it’s long by about thirty. Even at sixty minutes the slow, unfocused mumblings would seem to be ninety. For A DIY production it’s not unprofessional.
Ok, here’s my obsession. I always wonder how people get the money it takes to live their lives. I work all day, Mon – Fri and make enough to rent my small apartment and live like a college student while better than breaking even. I see a big house and wonder what they do to afford that. The same with the slackers and idjits I meet. I’m curious how ends are met. I don’t care much what they do in particular, but I like to know if a person is cheating the system, living off a trust fund, or working their way through life. It’s like wanting to know where someone comes from. It seems to answer questions. How this all relates to anarcho-punk is that I refuse to listen to anyone’s grand thoughts on society if they’re moochers. The Crass commune – wasn’t that paid for by the welfare state? Didn’t the Crassers live off government assistance? They were paid by working people to not work. Dazzle me with your ability to earn an honest living, or at least not detest the system that rewards you for being useless.
Dead Alive (video review) (Vidmark): "I kick ass for the lord!" So says Father McGruder before proceeding, in bathrobe and slippers, to disembody a pack of zombie greasers in a very not-turn-the-other-cheek fashion a la Jackie Chan meets Monty Python. This is my favorite line of my favorite scene in what is by far the most over the top comedy gorefest ever. Director Peter Jackson had two other films of this ilk under his belt before releasing Dead Alive in 1992 (original title Braindead), and his purported goal was to make a film with more blood and guts than Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II. He surely succeeded, and while Evil Dead II is historically the earlier and more important film, nothing in horror comedy competes with the last act of Dead Alive. Clever gags, unforeseen turns and relentless waves of blood and gore rush at you like patrons from a burning theater, each bit topped by the next for what seems like a forever, only to be bested by the scene on the roof where Lionel is forced back into the womb by his giant, fat, naked undead mother.
What separates Dead Alive from most other horror comedies is how well it conforms to the rules of polite filmmaking while at the same time flushing them down the toilet. The film is a mature comedy of manners that never lowers itself to parody. It's a high-minded farce that just so happens to get one of its biggest laughs from a visible fart coming out of the anus of the still very much alive internal organs of the greaser zombie Void, whose other various body parts are still trying to kill the living.
Where the comedy in the Evil Dead films is rooted in the American tradition of The Three Stooges and Tex Avery cartoons, Peter Jackson gets most of his inspiration from Monty Python. Their TV series ("Tennis anyone?") and 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail are examples of the kind of grand gignol as comedy that infects every frame of Dead Alive like a bite from a stop-motion monkey rat.
No matter how grotesque or bizarre, Dead Alive is a traditional film with no limits to its outrageousness. It's often brutal, gory and just not right, but it's also funny, creative and beautifully executed. It's horror and comedy in exact 50/50 measure, an accomplishment as hard to imagine as it is execute. Other films you can see in this are Night Of The Living Dead, Gremlins and any Troma film involving cheap gore effects. A few shots are direct references to Evil Dead II, as when Void pops up out of nowhere and Uncle Les' head is perched high up on his spine. That last part makes no sense if you haven't seen Dead Alive, but it's a nice touch in a film that must have at least 100.
I've seen this film nine times and am waiting for a DVD version complete with commentary track. A worthless R-rated version exists while longer unrated versions float around the world. The film is set in 1957, which was remembered by Jackson as a time when New Zealand was quaint and serene. There's no reason to set the film in 1957, and as an American not paying much attention I thought it took place in modern times in a foreign, quaintly backwards locale. That uncle Les was a Teddy Boy never struck me as odd. I figured he just never left that phase of his life and all of his friends were retro. Void and his pals are greasers but there's a lot of that nonsense still going on today.
Here's some other great lines you have to experience in context: "Your mother ate my dog", "They're not dead exactly. They're just sort of rotting" and "No one will ever love you like your mother". Dead Alive is the perfect midnight movie, not to be acted out but to be yelled at, like when Lionel mows the lawn and there's a nice low shot of the spinning blades, I yell "Flymo", which is the name they gave the lawnmower prop built to pump out five gallons of blood per second. During shots of Lionel's memories of drowning, the thing to do is scream "Your mother is drowning your father!" The point is to say exactly what things are and what will happen, because no matter what you know there's still no way to remember every piece of mayhem on the screen. It's too much and it's all good. I also yell the following when they appear on screen: "Bloody Custard", "Babyface", "Lightbulb Lady", "Lawnmower Lionel", "Gnomehead", "Gutboy", "Wringer Zombie" and "Baby Frying Pan Impression". Why I do this I’m not exactly sure.
I've never seen so many crazy ideas thrown together into one movie. The Void effects are the greatest, and the half-head that can only gaze longingly should have its own tv series.
The Dead Boys: Return Of The Living Dead Boys: Halloween Night (dvd review): 50 minutes from 1986 at NY’s The Ritz, filmed way from the back with bad technology. Did I mention everything’s dark too? These days cell phones shoot better video. Stiv Bators, Cheetah Chrome, Jimmy Zero, Jeff Magnum and Johnny Blitz hit the stage for 17 songs, and two are the same one. Can you guess which one? Joey Ramone intros the band. They play for 50 minutes. Did I mention the image is dark?
As a bonus on Return Of The Living Dead Boys there’s a wobbly VHS-archive clip from Stiv Bators 1980 appearance on “Good Morning Youngstown”. Bators was born there in 1949. Cheap wood paneling and poofy hair fill the screen, and Stiv manages not to sneeze and then consume a booger, so good for him. Did I mention... ah, forget it.
The sound quality is mono and the picture quality varies from film to line-obscured tv monitor, but there’s a number of cameras at work and they come up with a number of nicely unexpected camera angles and focused action scenes. The dvd extras are decent, including the commercial and interviews with Hilly and various band members. Director Rod Swenson adds a more recent two minute voiceover on some details of the shoot.
As a document of the band at their early best, Dead Boys: Live At CBGBs 1977 is pretty exciting. One song and my mind exited stage right, but that’s just me. I can’t blame a fan for eating this up like hot snot on a cold cut.
Dead Can Dance: Toward The Within (dvd review):
"Dead can dance if we want to / We can leave your dead friends behind / Cause' your dead don't dance, and if the dead don't dance, well they're no dead friends of mine // Dead can dance, dead can dance, everything's under control / Dead can dance, dead can dance, doin' it pole to pole / Dead can dance, dead can dance, everybody look at your hands / Dead can dance, dead can dance, everybody's takin' the chance/ oooo a oooo oooo Dead can dance / Oh, dead can dance / Yes dead can dance".
I wasn't expecting a PBS pledge week new age concert but that's what I got with Toward The Within. Allmusic sums up Dead Can Dance succinctly with "Dead Can Dance combine elements of European folk music -- particularly music from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance -- with ambient pop and worldbeat flourishes. Their songs are of lost beauty, regret and sorrow, inspiration and nobility, and of the everlasting human goal of attaining a meaningful existence." I underlined the last part because it's empty and vague in that special hippie formulation of advanced understanding, and also why the stench of unwashed bodies seasoned with layers of patchouli, cast iron skillet style, radiates off the screen.
Toward The Within was lovely in a precious way but I wasn't in the mood. I was expecting something darker and more pounding based on what I thought they sounded like and their status in the gothic community. I would have been more impressed seeing it live because whatever sounds they look to create they do so very well. Maybe I'd have been more patient if I was glued to the couch at 2:00 AM but not tired enough to sleep yet.
Singer/guitarist Brendan Perry looked like a red-haired sea captain wearing a
hemp pullover that must have itched like a brillo pad, while singer/dulcimer playing Lisa
Gerrard wears a white, new age priestess gown with her hair up in a Swiss
Miss configuration. There's two keyboardists, a dancing new age mallet drummer
and two bongo players. Other instruments like the Spanish guitar, tambourine and
finger cymbals help fill out the cathedral sound. Musically I felt like I was in
an Indian restaurant located inside a Catholic church in Ireland. Gerrard is an
interesting singer in that she can replicate an entire choir by herself, and she
sometimes yodels, which is impressive yet always somehow comical.
I might have gotten into the show if there weren't so many interruptions for interviews. Gerrard equates live performance to opening a wound and Perry talks like his Third Eye is engaged in a staring contest with you. Because of all the breaks I'd have to say this is for fans only. There's a huge difference between hearing a band and learning about fascinating people I don't know, and at least today I wasn't ready for both.
The Dead Kennedys: The Early Years Live (DVD review) (Decay Music): This is the DVD making punk headlines because Jello Biafra did not approve its release. The band sued Jello for rights and royalties, he sued back claiming at one point there never was a band called The Dead Kennedys, Jello lost, and now Dead Kennedy DVDs and CDs flood the market under the "Decay Music" nameplate. Jello put out a press release lamenting the poor quality of the new product. This DVD is a re-release of a 1987 Target Video VHS comp of earlier Target Video tapes. Did Jello cry over the quality of the 1987 tape? How self serving can you get? The DVD is about the same retail price as the old video. The quality is exactly as it was on the source materials. This is a non-event all the way around.
There's nine songs on the DVD mixed with movie snippets and a TV news segment on Jello's bid for mayor of San Francisco. The tunes are: “California Uber Alles”, “Kill the Poor”, “Drug Me”, “The Man with the Dogs”, “Insight”, “Let's Lynch the Landlord”, “Bleed for Me”, “Holiday in Cambodia” and “Viva Las Vegas”. The running time is a measly thirty minutes. Clips are from 1978-1981, most in color and enhanced mono. The set-up is either one of two cameras and the visual mix is decent. The DKs play live in a manner closely matching the records.
Jello comes across as French Stewart with a Sid Vicious hairdo and Cindy Brady lisp. If there's a line between insanity and genius, Jello's standing on one foot in the insane region while dangling a toe over the other. When Jello’s mind snaps for good, and oh yes it will, he'll act almost no differently than he does now.
The DVD opens with the following warning: CAUTION: The following material contains violent imagery taken from actual every day life. This program could be offensive to those individuals who prefer not to deal with reality." It's a good thing I was already puking when I read this, otherwise I would have puked! First off, compared to every punk concert or concert footage I've seen this is free of violence. Second, how freaking pretentious. There's reality we create and reality that's forced upon us. Not all reality is bad. Reality is a mathematical formula of experience and interpretation. How is violence any more real than peace? Why is a junkie’s life any more "real" than a SXE kid's? Slam dancing doesn't go on at all punk shows. Slamming is not real, it's just real stupid. If I was fourteen this message might impress me. To think, an adult wrote this nonsense just to dazzle fourteen year olds. How pathetic.
Dead Kennedy's Live at On The Broadway (Video Review) (Rhino): A show from June 16, 1984, and man is this the perfect opportunity to talk about concerts. First of all, nobody except rabid fans go to concerts to hear unreleased songs. They go to hear their personal parade-o-hits. That's value for the dollar. Recently I read about a concert Sonic Youth did where they played only instrumentals. It said the crowd was "treated" to this. What crap! Who goes to a concert to hear only instrumentals? New Age hippies, not punks. Even Man or Astroman? doesn't do that. I'm sure the Sonic Youth crowd thought it was a joke for the new Candid Camera.
Nothing slows down a concert's momentum like album tracks from a CD not even out yet. If a new song's really great it's nice to hear it first, but this live DKs tape sucks because there's only one hit on it, "Nazi Punks fugg Off". If you think "Police Truck" and "Bleed For Me" are special, you're a biiiiiig fan. If you want to hear "Goons of Hazard" and "A Child and His Lawnmower" instead of "Kill The Poor" and "Chemical Warfare", this tape, buddy, is for you!
(The remainder of this review disappeared in a tragic keystroke accident, so here's a half-assed effort to finish it) The Dead Kennedys put out one of hardcore's first and best albums, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables. It's packed with as many hits as any Buzzcocks compilation. In God We Trust was decent but short. With each release, DK albums became more generic as Jello became more paranoid and less articulate about it. Live at one The Broadway was filmed in San Francisco, the DK's home turf, and surprisingly the crowd appears to be bored. Sure there's slamming, but numbskulls will slam to muzak if you let them. Jello is his usual rambling self, and what he says draws little response. I wish they recorded a much earlier show.
The Dead Kennedys – In God We Trust, Inc.: The Lost Tapes (dvd review): The Lost Tapes DVD is a surprisingly decent package – maybe surprising only in that I didn’t expect the quality of the original tapes to be high and the editing and filming better than third-generation archival. Filmed by either Joe Reese of Target video or one of his minions at in the cramped Subterranean Studios in San Francisco, the songs from the abbreviated follow-up to Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables are captured for basically one take live in the studio. To compare and contrast are also filmed concert versions of each track culled from years of various shows. It’s a neat little package worth watching.
Former Berkeley radio DJ Anthony Bonet appears in a prologue and explains the particulars of the recording and filming. It seems the original audio masters were recorded on defective tape and were therefore useless, so the songs that wound up on the finished record were recorded later that year.
Klaus Flouride and Jello Biafra have microphones so they’re the only ones you hear talking during the session. Generally everyone’s laid back and happy, even Jello. There’s not much to add except these versions are close to the later versions with the exception of “We’ve Got A Bigger Problem Now”, which is more expansive, loungey and maybe even slower. Ted on drums is effortlessly powerful and precise. The live tracks are all decent except for “Nazi Punks F—k Off”, edited to induce seizures.
The Lost Tapes is a nice piece of DK’s history. Here’s my chance to show you the cool logo I made for my imaginary Dead Kennedys cover band – (ladies and gentlemen…)
Picnic Table! (wild applause ensues)
The Dead Milkmen: Philadelphia In Love - Video Compilation (dvd review): I paid no heed to The Dead Milkmen in their day and now they’re a regional funny-punk relic from the dim past. I enjoyed “Bicthin’ Camaro” on the radio but knowing “Punk Rock Girl” was a hit on MTV was enough for me to, you know, walk on by. They weren’t committed to any one sound, which either works or doesn’t, and I’ve been on the fence if their Philadelphia nerd-boy routine was charming or dumb. The videos on this dvd are clever in a good way so their stock has risen on the oldpunksglobalcorp market.
This dvd has sevenish videos, a live set, a local cable TV news segment and some extra content. There’s a commentary track for most of it, part silly and part informative, and thankfully not douchey. My two favorite lines were “We made it through two videos without a groan injury” and “This will be like going to the dentist, and the dentist is drunk”. The videos were made on the cheap but they do many clever things and the people in the background are a hoot. Musically they’re a bit of everything from Mojo Nixon to the Beastie Boys to Camper Van Beethoven to The Angry Samoans (of all things). My favorite video was for “Methodist Coloring Book”. The live set is ok but I’d probably enjoy it more if I’d heard the studio originals.
Would I rent this dvd? I already did, so I guess the next question is should you rent this. I don’t know, should you? Jeez, what am I, the camp director here?
Death In June: Live In Italy 1999 (dvd review): I was at a death rocker party and someone picked up an acoustic guitar and made fun of how every other Death In June song starts the same way. I’m not a fan as I find what I heard to be dreary, slow and deathly serious. Here in Los Angeles I’ve encountered many death rockers and they’re overwhelmingly a fun and socially happy bunch, which is the definition of counter-intuitive. Their love of darkness and doom is more reserved for personal time and god only knows what cloud of dementia overwhelms them then. Their bands crack me up with their seriousness, which I find self-centered and pretentious. They know how the world is a horror show and act and dress accordingly. I laugh. That being said, this sixty minute live show at the T.P.O. in Bologna, Italy is poorly filmed and the sound quality is bad. The stage is generally too dark and colors bleed in bright light. You’d have to be a big fan to tolerate this because there’s not much to recommend it.
Singer Douglas P. performs the first part of the show in camouflage and a white mask most likely inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 film The Seventh Seal. Two other musicians pound drums and play synths. It seemed a lot of the texture in each song came from pre-recorded tapes. The hypnotic sameness of the show did nothing for me and the set-list is itself funny for its insistence on its self-obsessed themes. Cheer up, Doug! You’re a working musician traveling the world making people feel good about feeling bad. The world’s your rotting and disease-infested oyster. Smile. I imagine he’s humorless because that’s how serious people are.
Here’s the set list: “Smashed To Bits (In The Peace Of The Night)”, “Bring In The Night”, “Despair”, “Only Europa Knows”, “The Bunker”, Little Blue Butterfly”, “Frost Flowers”, “Little Black Angel”, “Death Of The West”, “Kameradschaft”, “Giddy Giddy Carousel”, “Ku Ku Ku”, “Runes And Men”, “Rose Clouds Of Holocaust”, “Hullo Angel”, “Fall Apart”, “Fields Of Rape”, “Heaven Street”, “C’est Un Reve”, “Death Of Man”, “The Vision”.
The Decline Of Western Civilization (Video review): This is the most important film in American punk history. Directed by Penelope Spheeris, this does what any good documentary should do: it simply presents the material and lets the participants tell the story that tells itself. The film is as objective a look as you're going to get at the still emerging ‘79-‘80 LA hardcore scene. Sure, Penelope injects subjectivity when she asks direct questions, but she doesn't put answers into anyone's mouth. Everyone has the chance to look good or hang themselves. The punks are mostly alienated, pissed off L.A. street kids from dysfunctional homes, and when you hear them define their lives you either shake your head in disgust or think it's gawd’s honest truth. These interviews are filmed in stark B&W, the lighting and her questions lending the air of a police interrogation or psycho ward analysis. I imagine a number of these kids were screwed up to begin with, and punk is how they choose to act out. The bands come off as only slightly better.
There are lots of great concert segments and band interviews. The major participants are X, Black Flag (w/o Henry), Circle Jerks, Fear, The Germs, Catholic Discipline, and the Alice Bag Band. Interviewed are X, Black Flag, Darby Crash, the Germ's manager and the staff of Slash Magazine. X does a lifestyle of the punk and famous piece from Exene's apartment. It’s free tattoo night and Billy Zoom wiggles his ears at will. Black Flag sits in their graffiti filled room at an old church and prove they slept in closets for sixteen dollars a month. Darby Crash shows himself to be the Sid Vicious of American punk and the masochist cousin of GG Allin. He sings like Ten Pole Tudor, too. There's a running gag where Darby is so wasted he forgets to sing into the microphone. He stumbles around and some guy yells, "Darby, pick up the mike. The mike!" His girlfriend Michelle is not much better. She tells the story of a house painter who died of a heart attack and fell off a roof, and how funny it was that they all took turns being photographed next to the body. Finally Penelope asks her, "Didn't you feel bad that the guy was dead?" "No, not at all, because I hate painters."
Slamming was still called pogo then. The pit is shown to be a very macho, dangerous place. The music is described as "speed--fuzz--monotone vocals—protest-like lyrics". Robert Biggs, founder of Slash, says "Nothing else is going on. It's the only form or revolution left, I think, in the ‘80s." The B&W kids say "I guess I'm an alcoholic", "It's easy to be very detached", "I'm a total rebel" and the classic "Society stinks!" The elderly owner of Club 88 comments "It's an energy outlet. They're nice kids. They just have to do something different. It's a release from their daily tensions, I guess". That's all true, but it's always been that way. Why the hyper-aggression of punk? Maybe it's a reflection of the increased tolerance for violence in society in general. Rage in the ‘80s replaced the ‘70s facade of cool sexiness, which itself replaced the drug-induced mellow ‘60s.
The performances are for the most part excellent. Catholic Discipline sound like an I.R.S. Records band and not hardcore at all, and The Alice Bag band doesn't do much either. The Circle Jerks and Black Flag tear the house down. Of course, the almighty FEAR close the movie and Lee Ving single-handedly gives hardcore its hateful, homophobic rap. With Ving it might only be half serious, but who really knows? FEAR truly elevates crowd-baiting into an art form. Before they even play, Ving's got the crowd so worked up a fight breaks out on stage. "This is 1980. Can't you afford a fugging haircut?"
No wonder Ving got all those acting jobs. He's in total control. The film ends with "Let's Have A War" with its line "the enemy is within". For better or worse, that is the lesson of Decline. On one level punk is only entertainment, but on another it's a screwed up lifestyle for screwed up people. You try to accept it as normal because that's what you're into, but if you forget altogether that punk is not normal then you're no better than Michael, the grinning freak who shaves an "X" into his head and giggles when he talks about how violent and pathetic he is.
The Decline Of Western Civilization, Part III (video review): As a two-bit reviewer I hesitated watching this 1997 documentary by Penelope Spheeris as I feared it would be as dense as a Talmudic guide to The Iliad. [Did I lose you there?] Ok, not that dramatic but I figured I’d take thirty pages of notes and spend a week feeding it into a Cray supercomputer. Ok ok, it wasn’t that either but more like I didn’t want to write a long analytical review and thought this would need one. Happily for me the third installment of Spheeris’ Decline series is a one-note affair of middling accomplishment that probably never made it to theaters and hasn’t been released on DVD two reasons. One being it’s thirty minutes of film clocking in at 86 minutes. The other is 1997 lacked the indie-cinema circuit of 1981, when the first Decline movie came out. Decline III is the story of homeless gutter punks in Los Angeles circa 1996-97, not an interesting time to be either punk or homeless.
I have a cold, hard spot in my heart for psychopaths and sociopaths, and while their life stories may be sad I have no pity for what they do to others. Death Row is overflowing with sad stories. I don’t make exceptions for “punks” because, hey, I like punk music too. That would be hypocritical, and “nuance” means someone’s embraced the hypocritical contradictions of their beliefs. The existential question is: are you punk because you’re an asshole or are you asshole because you’re a punk? I thought 75% of the kids in the film comprised a lost generation of drunks, addicts, and criminals. The rest would either grow out of it, move back to whatever homes they had, or weren’t really homeless in the first place. I saw a lot of straight, white teeth on display - not normal for the hardcore homeless. And hey, how come I never hear about homeless heavy metal kids? What percentage weren't punk but adopted it because it's an obvious group to be a part of?
Decline III assumes the same structure as the first (I forget what II was like as I just laughed at the metal dudes), emphasizing the shared tableau of a bare light bulb hanging down on one side and the interviewee sitting on the other. Between them is dead space acting as moderator. The bands on hand (Final Conflict/Litmus Green/Naked Aggression/The Resistance) read the filming disclaimer to their audiences, adding curses and snark, and Spheeris sits behind the camera tossing out questions like “What made you a punker?”, “What pisses you off the most?”, “Why don’t you get a job”, and “What do your parents think?”
What’s mostly lacking in comparison to Decline I is the bands don’t matter and their scene is musically tuneless and lacks any “Art” beyond being anthropologically a footnote. 1981 in Los Angeles was the intersection of the older “Art Punk” scene and the newer “OC Reich” crew. Exene, Darby, and Mr. Ving made lasting impressions – the newer generation are loud fast rules with an aesthetic ripped off patch slogans like “Everything Sucks” and “I was an abortion that couldn’t get paid for”. Decline III has no energy to it. Nothing is being created. Nothing is being destroyed. It’s gutter kids rutting in squats and sneaking into shows of exceedingly average music. They drink all day when not doing something more aggressive against their own bodies. You can’t find more simpleton didactic messages than those of Naked Aggression, whose singer’s political rants rival Mensi of Angelic Upstarts in rhetoric geared towards the socially parasitic, substance addled, and easily riled.
The best part of the film is when “Photospanging” rears its spiky little head. That’s when crusties hang out in Hollywood and tourists give them money to have their pictures taken with members of a crazy post-apocalypse tribe. It’s mostly Japanese tourists. Keith Morris sits in the back of a moving pickup truck and says kids in ’97 have more reasons to be angry than they did in '81. Flea asserts L.A. is more violent and hostile, and remembers when the art scene took the punk scene under its wing. Then there’s Rick Wilder of the Mau Maus, who looks like Carrot Top in twenty years. He's an animated skeleton with a face constructed of eight pounds of construction putty. It's fascinating watching him because it looks like clumps of his face are being kept on with pancake makeup.
What makes Decline III a thirty minute film is everything and everyone is as you’d expect them to be. Nothing new is said. Every stereotype is proved. It continues on and on and possibly on from there. There’s nothing that stands out about these bands, their music, these people and their situations. Penelope Spheeris directed 1983’s Suburbia, the fictional and romanticized predecessor of Decline III. Maybe she was hoping to generate sympathy for real homeless punks by making this movie. For me it failed. The scenes where the crusties harass and overtly present a violent presence to passersby don't help their case. We need to help those who can and want to be helped take steps to a brighter future. Nothing is owed to parasites, violent sociopaths and self-destructive ship anchors. There were a few redeemable characters in Decline III. The rest are on their own.
I recognize I’ve gotten aggressively hostile towards this film as I’ve written it. It’s not because the film is a pale shadow of the first film. It’s because I’m not sure Spheeris thinks there’s any difference between the best and the worst of these kids as far as a need to help them goes. It’s a kind of moral indifference that wastes time and money. Rumor has it she was making lurve to one of the homeless kids. Hopefully he bathed first and professionally that's not too classy, but hey, a girl's gotts f--k ya know.
A dvd release of the film should include an update on what's become of the original subjects and a quick look at the homeless punk kid scene of the present. This footage should replace the repetitive and meaningless filler of the original cut, making the film closer to the 75 minute running time it would have in a perfect world. I did laugh when a Wilhelm Scream was tossed in during an early sequence on slamdancing.
This review was long after all [insert sound of a bear farting sadness HERE].
- The Complete Truth About De-Evolution (DVD review):
I love Devo. I also think they recorded some crappy albums. The Devo story is
one of context and it's complicated. Take this review in context too.
There's no way to keep this a humane length except to focus on the bitter, insecure and nonsensical Gerald Casale, bass player and co-founder of Devo. The DVD is a transfer of an old laserdisc that's so not complete there should be a lawsuit. It's cheap enough and loads of fun, especially the running commentary by Casale (pronounced "Keh-Sally") and Mark Mothersbaugh (pronounced "Mothers-bah"). If a film about Devo is ever made they'll have to get Dave Thomas to play Casale. Underneath his cowardly rage he might be a nice guy but there must be 4000 topics that set him off into rages of spittle spewing.
My first encounter with Casale the neurotic came in this book. At the time I wrote "It's obvious he was the driving force behind "De-Evolution" and religiously beat a fun gimmick into a tired dogma. He's a smart fellow but his nerdish rage might have tempered his impact. You get the impression he has less to show for his work than he might or should."
This recent interview shows he hasn't mellowed one bit. To think he still talks of de-evolution as real. Listen to the commentary and marvel at how Gerald wants it both ways, how he makes up band history as he goes along and rages against the machine of corporate music he sought and signed with, both eyes wide open. He talks about Devo in the third person like pro athletes do and comes up with pseudo-intellectual run-on sentences when not name dropping artists and philosophers. While the video for "Freedom Of choice" plays Gerald notes "We outfitted the surfers in clothes from The Gap. We always thought at that time that The Gap kind of represented this kind of soft core neo-fascist uniform of American middle class." That's innovative and arty?
He talks of both high art/low culture and commerciality/anti-commerciality as if Devo succeeded in melding these. What a crock. Their sexual references were the most juvenile ever put on video. Skateboarders, breakdancers and roaming packs of dancing kids made their videos silly, dated and ineffectual as political statements. For all the talk of new video technologies their use of blue screen frankly blows, creating visual errors that rank near amateur.
The commentary hits a high of a low point when "Disco Dancer" is discussed. It's a horrible song yet Casale asserts the record company killed it. What a delusional self-image. Remember this exchange from Spinal Tap? It applies to Devo and the trouble they got into with the "Whip It" video:
Ian Faith: They're not gonna release the album... because they have decided that the cover is sexist.
Nigel Tufnel: Well, so what? What's wrong with bein' sexy? I mean there's no...
Ian Faith: Sex-IST!
David St. Hubbins: IST!
Devo is a cute nostalgia act with a great and geeky history that goes back to the very early ‘70s. Some of their catalog is the best of their genre, and yes, Devo was a punk band too. Casale's just blowing smoke out his fat behind when he stamps his feet and flaps his yap about attention that must be paid (my pretentious Death Of A Saleman reference was brought to you by Devo). Devo sold out bigger than anyone. Keep that in mind whenever Devo tells you the story of Devo.
Devo: The Men Who Make The Music (video review) (Warner): Released in 1979 to promote their second album, Duty Now For The Future, this tape is a combination of old videos, plot driven set pieces and live footage from two concerts. Based on the songs and costumes they probably took place just as Duty Now For The Future was being released in the wake of Q: Are We Not Men A: We Are Devo. Devo thought of themselves as a multi-media organization and their philosophy of De-Evolution came off as a bad one-liner strangely conceived and executed.
In order for weirdness to succeed it has to be logical within itself. Devo failed at times because some of their concepts seemed derived from found objects and not grand design. The Residents, one of Devo's inspirations, succeeded in creating their own universe of the bizarre. With Devo, the songs are great but what the hell are they babbling about with their cryptic snippets of techno-jargon and media slogans? Yeah, I know it’s dada - nonsense for it’s own sake. Brilliant. I know Gerald Casale took De-Evolution very seriously, which is sad because his bitterness is both pathological and overblown.
The usual suspects are here - Mark Mothersborough's dad as General Boy (he would have been great in John Waters films), Rod Rooter, Booji Boy and Devo themselves, who all look a little too much like Bill Gates. Devo, along with Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello, comprised new wave's geek contingency. Devo came across the strongest, but the irony is that they made the hardest, dirtiest and meanest music in new wave. Devo were punk, don't make any mistake about that.
The videos are "Jocko Homo", "The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprise", "Satisfaction", "Secret Agent Man" and "Come Back Jonee". "Secret Agent Man" looks like it was made at the time of Are We Not Men and sounds like a much earlier recording from the ‘74-‘77 period covered nicely in the Hardcore Devo CDs. "Come Back Jonee" is not live but taped with a live audience of punks in Los Angeles while Devo and the stage are dressed in full Western gear. There's also stock footage of old guys bowling. What that means is anyone's guess, but I’m sure it proves De-Evolution is real.
The live songs are "Wiggly World", "Uncontrollable Urge", "Jocko Homo", "Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA" and "Red Eye" (here Booji Boy sings like Pee-Wee Herman). This is Devo at their best when they were their best. Duty Now For The Future wasn't well received when it came out, probably because it contained songs from earlier years when Devo was more Captain Beefheart. Duty Now For The Future is underrated and contains some real gems. Rent this tape, scratch your head enjoy the music.
Devo - bootleg tape (video review): Mondo A-Go-Go in Hollywood, CA is to psychotronic video stores what Berlin is to nazi fetish transvestism. Part of their collection is cheaply dubbed blank tapes, and sometimes you don't know what you're getting since the descriptions they provide makes as much sense as Taiwan kung-fu video boxes. This Devo tape had a cut-out cover from New Traditionalists and the date "1978". That's when Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! was released. Some Devo nut took every snippet of Devo footage he could get and copied it onto a VHS tape. A copy of that is what I rented.
It opens with a club show from somewhere between Are We Not Men? and Duty Now For The Future. The set list is evenly split. What you need to know as background is that Devo had been around since 1972 and were very tight and practiced by the time they got their big break on Saturday Night Live. I saw that and it helped make me the misfit I am today. Alan bangs the crap out of the drums and the band's non-linear song constructions are brilliant. The band uniformly moves in spastic robotic motions and it’s all choreographed. The show opens with a Devo film and ends with Mark wearing a Boojie Boy rubber mask, singing a sweet, childishly happy tune called "The Words Get Stuck In My Throat".
Also included are various TV appearances and even Alvin and The Chipmunks singing "Whip It" on their weekly cartoon show, in a segment about baking. Years later Smithers sang a variation on this on The Simpsons ("Crack that whip, a licorice whip!"). Devo's appearance on "The Merv Griffin Show" is great because Merv, a bear of a man, is both amused and disgusted by these skinny nerds, and he gets right in their faces. His head is also so huge he can't put on a plastic Devo pompadour hat (fashioned after JFK, not Reagan).
Jerry Casale is shown repeatedly to be the main spokesman for the band and he comes off as fanatical, unpleasant, cowardly and defensive. I cracked up seeing him visibly back down from Merv Griffin, who could crush him like a grape and looked happy to do so.
During a live French TV appearance Mark comes too close to the fans and someone tries to tear off the pants of his yellow radiation suit. This is during "Uncontrollable Urge", when all but the drummer align into formation at the foot of the stage and move together in synchronized leg kicks. Bob 1 on lead guitar is seen violently kicking at the guy in time to the music. Violence and professionalism!
Devo were a great art rock band, the first true new wave band and a great punk band to boot. "Gates Of Steel" is the greatest non-hardcore hardcore song of all time. They should have called it quits after the failure of Oh No! It's Devo. Watching them act like bitter children in the face of their waning popularity is embarrassing, and it continues today, at least with Jerry Casale. Mark Mothersborough agrees but he’s moved on quite successfully.
Devo Live (DVD Review) (Rhino): I tend to overthink this dvd, but I tend to do that with all trivial yet annoying things. It seemingly (and obviously) goes against everything Devo stands for, at least as evidenced in every interview with bassist, singer and songwriter Gerry Casale - Dave Thomas look-alike and modern music's most angry and impotent individual. Years after Devo's deserved rise and begged-for fall they come back in 1996 in a sunny summer afternoon show opening for Metallica fans at Lollapalooza in Irvine Meadows, CA?! Opening with "Whip It"?!
The set list is great and they play everything well and with gusto - "Whip It", "Girl U Want", "Satisfaction", "Uncontrollable Urge", "Blockhead", "Mongoloid", "Jocko Homo", Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA", "Gut Feeling", "Slap Yer Mammy", "Gates Of Steel" and "Come Back Jonee", but Devo's sweating in the hot August sun on a large and mostly empty stage, playing for Metallica fans waiting for something completely different. The cameras desperately seek and occasionally find a Devo fan or a drunk chick dancing comically in the name of phun, usually accompanied by a male friend assuming this is what you have to do to get laid. My head's in my hand and it's moving slowly to the left and right. I deserve better. Devo fans deserve better. Oh the humanity...
As a comeback Devo should have revisited their Hardcore Devo days and toured playing smaller clubs to the delight of long-suffering fans. But no, most if not all their shows since 1996 have been in overpriced nostalgia gigs catering to the varieties of spuds whose very existence usually make Gerry spittle, ball his widdle fists and explode in impotent rage. Mark Mothersbaugh is an instigator for sure, but his tombstone won't read "De-Evolution Is Real" like it will for Gerald. The best Gerry moment in Devo Live is after the show, as the band is filmed taking the mile-long journey back to their trailer. Gerry's all puffed up with insecure pride like the fat kid in weight loss camp who just won the belly-flop contest. He can't stop talking about how relatively great they did - you know, considering. [Head shakes left and right, but not back and forth].
Devo: Live In The Land Of The Rising Son (video review): Thanks to Netflix I watched this for free on my computer, so I can’t vouch for the sound quality. It’s the only Devo video I’ve never seen, and I didn’t feel a need to buy it after picking up Devo Live, most likely from the same comeback tour. Devo: Live In The Land Of The Rising Sun is the better of the two, but the one to see is Devo: Live 1980, when the spuds were in their prime and you don’t focus on their bloated middle age and say out loud to nobody in particular, “Hey, Mark doesn’t need the money since he does all those soundtracks and commercials and stuff.”
The set is: “Good Thing”, “Girl U Want”, “Whip It”, Satisfaction”, “Uncontrollable Urge”, “Mongoloid”, “Blockhead”, “Jocko Homo”, “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA”, Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy”, “Gates Of Steel”, “Freedom Of Choice”, and “Come Back Jonee”. Between songs are band interviews, awkward media events and crowd shots. One fan owns 300 Devo records from all over the world. Monk would be proud. As usual the Japanese fans are happy, excited and polite.
Comparing this to the Whatafuknloser (I mean Lollypopaloser) concert on DVD, The difference is mostly in the drumming. The US show employed Josh Freese, a studio pro and human metronome, while the Tokyo show features David Kendrick, who played with Devo late in their original run towards obsolescence. The US show technically sounded better but it was also consistently average and above without much to recommend it beyond nostalgia. Kendrick isn’t great at steady beats that require accents of power, but he does create an interesting racket on complicated songs like “Mongoloid” and “Blockhead”. In other words, you want Freese for Freedom Of Choice and Kendrick for Q: Are We Not Men A: We Are Devo!” Another difference is Mark’s keyboards, set in Japan to abrasive whenever possible. The Japanese set was grittier – the Roadhouse version of Devo. I generally prefer the metronome Devo songs, but as a change of pace it was nice to hear other songs stand out. Bob #1 on guitar is also more out front, and that’s good (hey, a Devo reference!).
I never pass up the opportunity to call bassist Gerald Casale a sad and angry little man, and in the interviews he doesn’t disappoint. He adds creepy and inappropriate to his repertoire of an insecure egomaniac demanding vindication for De-Evolution. In his mind the media should flock to him for insights on current events, and this makes him grit his teeth and ball up his widdle fists with his thumbs tucked under the fingers. Asked the difference between this tour and the olde days, Gerry says back then it was easier to score free teenage sex. He unfortunately keeps on talking. Being fat, elderly and obnoxious might provide answers. He then tells a story about Japanese groupie action from before many in tonight’s crowd were even born, and the Icky Meter takes off like a helicopter. Inquiring minds also want to know why he dresses like David Lynch.
Devo - Live 1980 (DVD review): Devo at their peak, no ifs, ands, or big buts. From Target Video, Devo – Live 80 is Devo on the knife’s edge between new wave and punk, a balancing act they performed alone, if not at least the best. By definition the new wave band that should have known when to call it quits, this is what you show your punkier-than-thou friends to rub their faces in their ignorance. F-yeah, baby! Boo-yay!!
Shot on August 17, 1980 at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma, CA in support of Freedom Of Choice, it’s all things to all people. Opening and closing with video, the set list is: "Freedom of Choice Theme Song", "Whip It", "Snowball", "It's Not Right", "Girl U Want", "Planet Earth", "S.I.B. (Swelling Itching Brain)", "Secret Agent Man", "Pink Pussycat", "Blockhead", "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", "Uncontrollable Urge", "Mongoloid", "Be Stiff", "Gates of Steel", "Freedom of Choice", "Jocko Homo", "Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA", "Gut Feeling/(Slap Your Mammy)", "Come Back Jonee", "Tunnel of Life" and "Devo Corporate Anthem". The film quality is VHS but for Target this is Citizen Kane.
The spuds are in top physical form. Gerald, the Dee Dee Ramone of Devo, incorporates crisp dance moves into his razor-sharp robotic ticks, while Mark, thin enough to be almost transparent, performs jumping jacks throughout “Be Stiff”, their best underrated song. Featured on the cover, Bob 1 is the most charismatic and coolest member of Devo, stepping forward to deliver riffs with the calm assurance of Billy Zoom. Human metronome and Artie Ziff look-alike Alan Myers keeps it all together to little acclaim near the side of the stage. No matter how you slice it Devo are at the top of their game.
Fashion this evening began with white paper jumpsuits, red belts and red energy domes, moving to black shorts, black t-shirts and kneepads, and ending with V-shaped pullovers that spelled D, E, V, O.
Devo – Live 1980, ask for it by title or item number.
(DVD review): This film should have been
called Bathe! (Thank you!).
Dig! is the tragic story of what happens when twenty-something stoners cut
their own hair.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre and
The Dandy Warhols could have used some of that sweet record company scratch
for a shampoo and style at Supercuts.
Director Ondi Timoner did an excellent job mixing textures and styles, making much of the hand-held digital camera work look substantial. Many events are captured on film, and between both bands there's nobody with enough class to keep their mouth shut or not act as dumb as possible, so the narrative is pretty much always backed up with visual evidence. It's a fun movie to watch even if you couldn't care less for neo-psychedelic 60's nostalgia (The Joneses) and alternative pop (The Dandies).
The major players are lead members Anton Newcombe (Jonestown) and Courtney Taylor (Dandies). Anton is a loathsome prick, an insane genius if you like the crap music he writes, otherwise just a mental case who whines on stage and off like a child in the back seat of a car when his brother touches him. The movie ends on the note that Anton is not allowed to see his newly born son. He's of the "I'm Jesus and my farts are new rock classics" school, while Courtney is a nice enough but gap-toothed pretty boy who let's his record label blow $400,000.00 of his future earnings on a video so hysterically wrong there's Busby Berkeley dancers with cardboard hypodermic needles for bodies above the waist.
Between the two bands there hasn't been so much tambourine shaking since The Partridge Family weekend marathon on TV Land. The Joneses have a member, Joel Gion, who goes by the title "Spokesman For The Revolution". He plays the tambourine, sings (I think) and wears women's oversized plastic sunglasses. I kept imagining a "kick me" sign on his forehead that's a command, not a suggestion.
Genesis P'Orridge takes a break from hormone treatments to say The Brian Jonestown Massacre are the greatest thing since collagen injections. Dig! is very funny if you like to watch bad things happen to stupid people. There's a number of Spinal Tap moments and enough idiocy to satisfy any reality show junkie. The Massacre's first album for a major is rejected because it doesn't have any "songs". Anton intentionally ruins an industry showcase gig by screaming and fighting his own band members. Then there's the horrific "Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth" video by the Dandies.
In the end The Dandies, the "lesser" of the two bands even in the eyes of Courtney Taylor, prove the commercial and charismatic winners, touring Europe after a song of theirs appears in a foreign commercial (another Spinal Tap touch). Their music isn't that bad, whereas Anton strums a sitar, blows a harmonica and plays guitar like Bob Dylan to create a whole lot of nothing some people find amazing. His big comeback finds him unable to play because he's too busy complaining, and then he's arrested for kicking some audience dude in the head in what has to be the most telegraphed move in martial arts history.
My money was on the film ending with Anton dying somehow. He's still alive. What an anti-climax. Great, more crap from a genius for who knows how long.
DOA - Smash The State (video review): The box declares “Destroy Tradition”, along with snazzy anarchist symbols for the letter A in “Smash The State”. Seeing how DOA haven’t smashed or destroyed anything in their long career the slogans seem quaint, a euphemism for silly. Joey Poophead’s lifelong sloganeering sounds equally trite on this mono and VHS-quality collection of concert and backstage footage from 1978 to 1981. It’s an indictment on humanity that children overwhelmingly form their opinions on the wit and wisdom of pretty people on TV and angry people with microphones and guitars.
I’m a fan of DOA’s early hits, and I give them credit for being, in Vancouver, it not all of Canada, a hub of the continent’s hardcore scene. Back in the day their politics and stridency may have been small “f” formidable, I know I was impressed, but in retrospect it was a tiny movement capable of little more than loitering and vandalism in terms of threatening the status quo, which ironically is the one that allows them to be belligerent in the first place.
The shows are sloppy, fast, mono, and color- bleeding all the way to the morgue of archival product more important as cultural evidence than actual entertainment.
The shows are:
1980, SF, On Broadway –“New Age”, “Get Out Of My Life”, “Royal Police”, “Woke Up Screaming”, “Trucker’s Breakfast”, “Rich Bitch”, and “2+2”. Joey looks like a middle-aged mechanic. What I thought was a British accent affectation might actually be a French-Canadian thing. The camera is far away for this set.
1981, SF Old Waldorf - “America The Beautiful”, “Rent-A-Riot”, World War 3” and “The Enemy”. Joey gives a Nazi salute at one point and the camera lens is dusty.
1981, SF, Bay Area Mystery Concert – “The Enemy, “Stratman”. Same dusty camera.
1981, SF, 10th Street Hall – “New Age” and backstage footage.
1980, Vancouver, TV show Soundproof – “The Enemy”
???, Anarchist Anti-Canada Day, Stanley Park – Joey can’t stop yapping about how everything stinks, and it’s funny when complains about “Honkey-bastard celebrations.”
D.O.A. (video review) (Columbia Video): I remembered this documentary as not being very good, but seeing it again I'm impressed. Impressed with the access they had to the bands, the cross-section of people they were able to interview and the neutral perspective of the whole endeavor. There's coverage of the Sex Pistols' ill-fated US tour, and as expected they are the centerpiece of the film, but equal time is given to others like X-Ray Spex, Sham 69, Generation X, The Dead Boys and The Rich Kids (Glen Matlock singing "Pretty Vacant" with his original emphasis on "We're So Pretty" instead of Lydon's "Pretty Vay-cunt"). You rarely hear complete songs and that’s fine because there's much to learn about punk, the fans and the threats society saw in the movement. If there was No Future, the authorities saw punks as responsible for that. For every Mary Whitehouse given screen time there's an idiot punk given enough rope to hang himself, so there are no real winners or losers, just people either being themselves or cartoons of what they've allowed themselves to become.
DOA. is most famous for the scenes in San Francisco where Sid and Nancy are laying around too drugged to know or care. Nancy is being her annoying self and Sid is nearly comatose. These short scenes may have been the sole inspiration for Alex Cox's Sid and Nancy. My favorite person in the movie is a British average Joe by the name of Terry Sylvester. His band, Terry and The Idiots, aren't good enough to even rehearse, and their gig at the corner pub is an embarrassment of epic proportions, yet he appears throughout the film because he makes many good points and he's so damn vulnerable in his a charming way you want to give him a hug and buy his a beer. He's not a loser but an underachiever who's trying to be better than his surroundings and personal limitations. (updated: later research found he put the band together that day just to be in DOA).
As in Penelope Sheeris' landmark Decline Of Western Civilization, also released in 1981, fans are allowed to be themselves in front of the camera. Whereas Decline focused on the fan's moral voids, DOA provides a better cross-section of the fans. DOA was shot two years earlier in both the US and UK, and in this film you see the difference between the countries and catch older trends that still held sway when punk was new. You see long-haired urban hippies always up for something weird, glam rockers, new wavers, pre-goth face painters, and even disco kids trying something dangerous. Some are sincere, some are truly nuts and others are posers, yet most are kids being kooky in the name of fun.
What amazed me most was how many people came to the shows because they hated the whole idea of "punk" and wanted to do something about it. A religious group in Texas sets up a banner in front of the hall that reads "Life 'is Rotten' without God's only begotten -- JESUS!!!" Then there’s the Dallas club owner who wants to cancel the show after finding out about the Pistol's notoriety. He looks and talks like Billy Bob Thornton's character in Sling Blade. Creepy.
DOA is poorly filmed and edited but still well worth watching. Keep your eyes and mind open and you'll learn more from this film than you will most anywhere else.
Desperate Teenage Love Dolls - (Video review): Hands down this is the worst movie you'll see in your life. Using the magic of fast forward I made it through this sixty minute ordeal in fifteen and didn't miss a word of dialogue. You can do that with a film shot with an old home movie camera. Released in 1984 through Doug Moody's Mystic Records, the film's soundtrack contains songs by Redd Kross, Black Flagg, Nip Drivers and White Flag. One of the McDonald twins from Red Kross plays a sleazy record industry type.
What's so bad about this film? Everything. The acting sucks. Everyone laughs while delivering lines. The production values are a combination of Pink Flamingos and ‘70s NY porno loops. The film was edited with a blender. Incidental music is swiped from what even Roger Corman would consider too public domain to use. The final credits are shots of a monochrome computer screen with words typed in. A piece of paper is manually lowered over the screen to create a scrolling effect.
The intent of this film was (I guess) to parody teen exploitation films. There's drugs, murder, running away from home, a female gang called the She-Devils, petty crime, the casting couch, catfighting and a quick rise and fall from fame. The dialogue is campy and while it starts funny ("A job is a Bozo No-No") the yucks die quickly.
When Desperate Teenage Love Dolls came out thirteen years ago there was some hype surrounding it. The critics who gave the positive reviews that appear on the video box had to have owed the filmmakers huge favors. Just because a movie sucks doesn't make it a cult classic. They made a sequel. Fart, I mean, run like the wind if you ever see it or this.
Destroy All Monsters: Grow Live Monsters (DVD review): May I say this is the worst piece of crap I’ve seen in my life? I may? Thank you. This is the worst piece of crap I’ve seen in my life. It’s not that I don’t “get it”. I get it. It’s dada acid-trip hippie shite art damage bullfart anti-music and anti-film made with enough smug self-satisfaction to fuel the space shuttle. Cary Loren ‘splains it right here. More here. They’re called “noise deconstructionists”, but that’s code for intentionally creating crap – the laziest and easiest thing to do, and it’s enforced by the artist’s creed of art is art if an artist says it’s art.
For a short time Destroy All Monsters recorded a few decent tunes that didn’t sound like droning static with layers of random anti-sounds added like gravel in a blender. Band members included Ron Asheton from The Stooges and Michael Davis from the MC5. Their 1979 Cherry Red release of “Nov. 22, 1963” is a classic. Watch!
Damn that was good! They recorded more good music and I rented this thinking I’d learn and enjoy at the same time. Boy-howdy was I wrong.
Grow Live Monsters was
released in 2007 and consists of five films. The first is 56 minutes
long and is a nightmarish collage of home movies, Godzilla footage and ten
thousand scraps of other film. Either the music or the film is in fourteen
sections, it’s hard to tell, with titles like “Cootie Bugs Of Lake Ashooga” and
“God’s Oasis Movie Ranch”. The music is violin-based noise and the visuals
inspired by Kenneth Anger and psychotronic Italian horror movies. Edited
together in 1995 by Cary Loren, whose pretentiousness cannot be measured
by existing scientific theories, it’s taken from footage shot between 1972
and 1976. The thing's unwatchable unless the voices in your head command you to
do so while somewhere inside the remaining embers of your soul your inner child is being
gang-raped by GG Allin and Ed Gein.
Section two runs 21 minutes and is called Monsters Redux. It’s an apology of sorts for the first film, with both songs and video structure. It’s watchable. Section three is Shake A Lizard Tail, Or Rust Belt Rust. It’s 28 minutes of commercials and other socio-political commentary in a thought-provoking collage. It made me throw away all of my preconceived notions and look at life at a new way, thanks to artists and art.
Section five is Seattle Invasion 2000, a 15 minute piece on an art and music show Destroy All Monsters performed in “a space”. I’m sure it made the attendees throw away all of their preconceived notions and look at life in new ways thanks to artists and art. Section six is a ten minute slide show of their many printed materials, and also the only part I found interesting.
May I please stop reviewing this? Thank you.
D.I. – The Suburbia Sessions 1983 (dvd review): D.I. were a great band but this rehearsal session filmed by someone involved with Flipside magazine is as exciting as watching bored people going through the motions of playing songs in a dingy warehouse somewhere in Fullerton, CA. Which is what it is. The single camera, VHS-quality, likely mono sound made me feel like a ghost doomed to haunt the halls of the mundane. As a fan I liked it but I wished I was watching a concert instead. The extra twenty minutes of interviews and milling about will trigger narcolepsy if you are so predisposed.
Dog Years (video review) (Troma): Last week I was trying to ‘splain the difference between a B-movie and an indie film. Watching Dog Years once again brought home the point that simply being bad doesn’t make an indie a B. Shot in 16mm on a budget of $12.47 and three box tops, this post-Reservoir Dogs half-asser fails at everything. I’ve seen worse (not lately though), but Dog Years is as deliriously inept an effort as you can imagine. Border Radio was more ethereal ennui than film, and it meant nothing to turn that off as quickly as you might a high pitched noise. Dog Years has all the basic film elements from plot to editing to acting to cinematic perspective. It’s just that it all sucks so bad you wonder if Director-Editor-Cinematographer-Producer-Screenwriter Robert Loomis will ever be allowed to go anywhere near a reel of film again. For the sake of all humanity, I vote no.
R. Michael Caincross plays Wally, a non-racist skinhead who winds up at odds with local business-class drug dealers (the gang that couldn’t shoot up straight) when his beloved Dalmatian dog NeeChee is kicked by one of the bad guys while out on a happy-go-lucky walkie walk. Why make Wally a skin? I don’t know, maybe to ‘splain his nonchalance with violence. Maybe in Loomis’ mind a skin represents the common man who walks tall. Maybe Caincross is really a skinhead, and if he was a SXE guy the film would be about a clean living baldie and his vegan pooch. Maybe this is a simple love story about a boy and his dog - as seen through the eyes of Quentin Tarantino.
It’s just that everything is so bad. The acting is below amateur and nearly monotone (check out Charlie Rivers as Popeye) and the dialogue insipid. Even worse is the editing. How difficult can it be for a sighted person to edit out the part between “action!” and when the actor finishes getting into character? I think they found mimes to do all the stunts. If you have no budget at least give up the body. Worst of all is that Dog Years wants to be funny and edgy yet fails at even the basics of timing.
Dog Years is saved from total catastrophe by two actors – Ted Parks as suave #2 mob guy Durante and Neitzche as Neechee, the object of oi-boy’s affection. Parks plays Durante as a dry-witted skinny greaseball with an accent somewhere between Spanish and French. He would be great playing a detached and smug Maitre d’ at the kind of French restaurant you see in a Three Stooges reel. Neechee is a Dalmation and he’s just too cute and lovable. Any scene he was in reduced me to cooing “That’s a good doggie. Yes you are. Yes.. you.. are!!” I lost track of the film every time Neechee was in the frame, because he’s adorable.
Throughout the film Wally is asked if he’s a nazi, and he says the first skins were black. His love interest in the film is black. I guess the anti-racist nazi thing is a running gag and commentary in the film but since the writing is so poor little insight comes across. The soundtrack has some ska from Dave’s Big Deluxe, Arizona’s #1 ska band or so I’ve read. Dog Years was shot in Tucson, a great city that’s been overrun by Crips and Bloods. Dog Years would make a great candidate for MST3K treatment. It’s not bad enough to be good on its own. You know?
Dogs In Space (video review) (Key): Could this movie have been saved from itself? Mmmaybe. Is it worth saving? Mmmaybe not. No matter how much you defend a work by calling it Slice Of Life you need some kind of logical progression from points A through 47. Even if characters have no clue as to the who, what, why, where, when and how of their own existence, at least the creators of the work should. It would be nice for the audience to also have something to hang their mental hats on but that's often the last consideration either by design or neglect. Dogs In Space is a patchwork of great ideas and great failures. It's a movie to see once for the pluses and then never again.
Michael Hutchence, the deceased singer of INXS who was all hung up over masturbation, is the lead in an ensemble cast of a dozen or so decent professional and amateur actors. The video box hypes the film as a post-punk epic. Epic as in sweeping, grand and heroic. Not exactly. I'm reading every plot synopsis on the internet and it's a scream because whatever plot there might be is diluted by endless rambling subplots. Hutchence's character Sam has a band called Dogs In Space, he sings a song called "Dogs In Space" and "Dogs In Space" is spray painted on his house. Sam has a normal girlfriend, Anna, who sinks into oblivion. There's a young girl credited as "The Girl" who is mostly quiet and takes in the action, a horny engineering student has a monster fat chick girlfriend and there's so many other’s I forgot. They have parties, go to clubs, watch TV in the street, the police come, the house is dirty, something really really bad happens and everyone's sad. Then Sam is famous and he sings a music video on stage to show how sad he is and I guess tragedy leads to art or some other thing. Ta da!
Richard Lowenstein does an excellent job directing his own senseless script. His use of long tracking and POV shots make the viewer an active voyeur into the lives of the characters, most of whom are quickly given rich, full personalities. The problem is that the script was written on Swiss cheese slices and then attacked with a hole puncher during shooting and editing. The people on screen might not know what's going on, but the audience should. Dogs In Space is random nothingness.
It starts off well enough, with the words "We're living on Dog Food, so what! - Iggy Pop" splashed over a black background. Newsreel footage of Sputnik and Russia's use of a dog as the first astronaut make for a great metaphor, except Sputniks went up in the late ‘50s. The movie takes place in Melbourne during 1978 (the film was released in the US in 1987 to capitalize on the popularity of INXS). Dogs In Space quickly gets weird, and not in a good way. A crowd of new wave punk goth rocker mods are on line for David Bowie tickets when a carload of skins pull up. You can tell they're skins because one yells "oi!" to get the attention of Hutchence, who's curled up in a blanket half asleep and the last person you'd think would be picked on since there's no eye contact. The skin gets out to kick some Hutch ass, and the guy's as skinny as a q-tip and wearing high heel glam shoes. Huh? Sam's a total coward but his girlfriend and the other women in line not only stand up to the skin they break a bottle across his face and chase the lot away.
Everyone crashes in a group house that hasn't seen neither a clean dish nor personal hygiene in eons. A few people work while the rest are on welfare or living on sunshine and smiles. They go to clubs, throw house parties and treat each other with friendly disregard. This being Australia and the protagonists new wavers, quaint and nice are the keywords. They may live like pigs but nobody would ever consider violence or shoplifting. They're middle class artist types who enjoy loose sex and drugs. Young, dumb and full of fun. There's an attempt to combine elements of Animal House and the Haight-Ashbury hippie scene of the ‘60s. It works, but once again the effect is lost in there somewhere.
Sam's character is annoying like Jesse Camp. He's pretty, helpless, primal and ineffectual. The Girl's run away from home and her parents somehow track her to the house via the telephone. Did they ask the operator for the number to the Fugg-Up residence? The sound mix is bad, especially when combining music and dialogue. They drive old VW Beetles they have to run down the street to start them. Sam makes out with The Girl for no reason and is caught by Anna, who then exits stage left to mope, only to come right back and forgive the big dope. She's supposed to be the smart one! At a club you get to hear the same illuminating lyrics twice, "I've been contemplating suicide, but it really doesn't suit my style. So I think I'll just act bored instead." What is this, the Teletubbies? Once is enough.
Inertia nudges the movie along for 100 minutes, when quiet misadventure leads to a bad end that stops life’s party. Lowenstein overcompensates by tacking on pages of dogmatic preaching and music video staging. Is he making fun of the housemates by having a socialist come in and spout verbatim leftist propaganda from decades past? Do these kids deserve welfare and social support or just a good kick in the ass and a mop shoved in their hands? Everyone's likable enough but they live and act like children.
Iggy Pop, the film soundtrack patron saint of drug and alcohol abuse, has both "Dog Food" and "Endless Sea" used in the film. A street sign has the word "Parking" crossed out and is written over to say "No FUTURE (At Any Time)". The kids sing "And we don't care". Thankfully there's few offensive stereotypes and all are accepted as is. Dogs In Space had potential, but it gets worse the more you think about it. What it needed was a good script editor.
The Dream Syndicate in Weathered And Torn (video review) (Atavistic): I picked this up new for $1. I've never knowingly heard The Dream Syndicate but I figured I needed something to review, and the price was right. By name alone I've always assumed they were a limp synth band like the Thompson Twins. Yikes was I wrong. Lead dreamer Steve Wynn is a pleasant, down-to-earth guy and the band reminds me of Television, REM, Alex Chilton and Mission Of Burma. They could have opened for The Replacements. A Neil Young vibe also radiates in their work. Their first release was in 1982, making The Dream Syndicate leaders of the post-new wave folk/psychedelic movement that formed the foundation for alternative rock. Try not to hold that against them.
The video combines live footage and behind the scenes segments. They're unassuming and refuse to ape for the camera, a very welcome change from many of the videos I've forced myself to watch. In an interview at a college radio station Wynn admits his fan base hasn't changed in size for five years - new fans replacing old ones with little fluctuation. The songs here are mostly slow to mid-paced college rockers that I find to be decent. Altogether this is a great package for any fan of the band.
Du BEAT-e-o (video review) (Fox Hills): This 1984 mess either pre-dates DVD commentary tracks by at least a decade or it tries to reproduce the feelings of distraction and confusion associated with the inner voices of schizophrenia. I think I became nauseous watching this. My left eye hasn't stopped twitching.
Du BEAT-e-o is a confusing group audio commentary laid over a crawling movie built around the remains of a real yet unfinished Joan Jett film. It was probably developed in this reverse order: parts of a film called We're All Crazy Now (also the alternate title for Du BEAT-e-o), about The Runaways but with only Joan Jett remaining, fell into the hands of director/producer Alan Sacks. The clips are silly but harmless concert-rock video-road antic pieces like the Beatles' Help. Alan Sacks then created a movie around it involving a street smart L.A. by way of NYC filmmaker under the gun of his mob financial backer to finish his film in 31 hours, or else. Between the Joan Jett and Sacks footage there's still no finished picture, so an audio track is added where a group of people, some involved in the Sacks film and some not, talk about what's happening on screen and off. They might be drunk, and the men are hitting on the women who seem to be there to party and couldn't care less about the film. It’s all very confusing.
The audio track is disorienting because the timing is crazy and you can't tell what's coming from the film and what's from the commentary. Sound levels are all over the place, and just when you're forced to increase the volume to hear what's going on someone yells for no reason and the burrito I'm holding flies up and sticks to the ceiling.
The reviews I've found for Du BEAT-e-o are all wrong and may originate from the plot synopsis off the video box. The Videohound review is typical: "A filmmaker races against time to finish making a documentary about the Los Angeles underground hardcore punk scene, and becomes immersed in the subculture" That’s 50% wrong. The film's tag line is "An unprecedented look at the raw underside of the L.A. punk scene." It's not, and all you have to do is watch for more than ten minutes to realize it's not about the L.A. punk scene at all. Some of the actors and references are from the LA. punk scene, but that's all, folks!
Here's some of the L.A. and punk peoples associated with the film: Derf Scratch from Fear plays Benny the film editor, Texacala Jones from Tex and the Horseheads sings in a dream sequence, performance artist Johanna Went appears in the same dream, El Duce of The Mentors is all over the place, Chuck E. Weiss and Spider Mittleman act somewhere, L.A. .scene photographer Ed Colver shot stills, Brian Fister provided the many polaroid shots edited into the film to make it edgy, Gary Panter of Residents fame contributed titles and graphics, sleazeball Doug Moody provided some of the music (there's a soundtrack out on his Mystic label), and the Lounge Lizards tossed in some background music. This is a movie about a movie about Joan Jett.
The only thing worth watching in the entire film is El Duce, who would have made a great comic actor if he wasn't an unreliable alcoholic and all-around bottom feeder. Ray Sharkey's character is too annoying to be effective and his lines sound like they're dubbed anyway, creating another level of confusion to the whole mess. If you must, watch only fifteen minutes. Any part is fine since it just repeats itself. Warning: Du BEAT-e-o may induce mental flatulence.
Dudes (video review) (IVE): Penelope Spheeris' fifth film, and I think the plot's about how a director cons dentists and accountants out of thousands of dollars each to photograph many still pictures which are then strung together to simulate motion. Voodoo might be involved. This 1987 diaper-load stars Jon Cryer, the thinking man's Corey Feldman, and Lee Ving in a roll that limits him to scowling and short acts of ultra-violence.
Plot, plot, plot -- oh yeah, Jon and his punk friends Biscuit and Milo (played by Flea), decide to move to Californ-I-A after a night of seeing the Vandals play and getting into a wacky brawl with a 1981-era new wave punk in a Chinese restaurant that has a David Bowie poster on the ceiling. As Cryer explains, "I'm so sick of waiting for the world to end". Testify, brother. So they're on the road in an old VW Bug and it appears their trip will be filled with wacky adventures, oddball character actors and heartening personal growth. Then out of the blue Lee Ving appears as the leader of a gang of Utah desert miscreants and shoots Flea dead in the head. Just when you think they’re going to zing they actually zag.
At this point the focus shifts to a revenge plot and you think the fun's over - but it's not! Dudes is a dumpster of everything from slapstick to dark comedy to surreal fantasy. It switches with no rhyme or reason. Cryer gets a love interest and dresses like a western dude. Biscuit dreams he's a Native American warrior and dudes up like a cigar store Indian. Serious violence rears its ugly head every time Ving comes into view but finally our hero kills the bad guy and everybody go-go dances till dawn. Wait, I think that ending was cut out.
Jon Cryer is a good actor but his presence makes the film more like a John Hughes film gone astray. Jon Cryer as the avenging hero? Spheeris didn't even want Cryer in her film. There's great shots of the wide-open spaces only found in the American west, but everything else is haphazard, and for a lack of a better word, goofy. The tone shifts often with no sense of planning. The Elvis impersonator, "Daredelvis", is the best part of the film as he’s the only fully realized character. The actor went on to play Elvis in a few TV shows like Designing Women and ER. Daniel Roebuck (Biscuit) later did a great imitation of Jay Leno in the HBO movie The Late Shift.
As far as punk goes, the Vandals appear at the beginning and there's a scene in a hick town jail where Biscuit asks an old coot if he knows the song "'Holiday In Cambodia' by the Dead Kennedys". The opening looks like a punk documentary but the rest is pure Hollywood. A few obvious concessions are made to the gods of commercial demographics. The big punk dude who starts a fight with our heroes is wearing a vest borrowed from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. His girlfriend looks like an extra from Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" video. Biscuit daydreams about getting to L.A. to date one of the GoGos. I've seen worse but you’re better off spending the time taking a nice warm coffee colonic. You look like you could lose a few pounds anyway.
Classic Albums: Duran Duran: Rio (video review): I don’t hate Duran Duran (wait, I'm sure I do. Tee Hee!) but I surely don’t like them, but if you do like them and you’re a good person then enjoy them all you want. If you’re a bad person I wish only bad things for you. I watched this 2004 video for free on The Netflix to see how much I could take, and I took the whole 54 or so minutes, which wasn’t so bad but I did make a lot of sputtering noises and took frequent breaks. This looked to be as much a promo for their then recent touring than a look back at 1982’s Rio, which along with others like Culture Club and Spandau Ballet destroyed new wave as a valid alternative to crap top-40 pedestrian lite-disco crap crap, forcing anything decent from that genre to be relabeled post-punk. But I digress...
Rio yielded crap crap hits such as “Rio”, “Hungry Like The Wolf”, “Save A Prayer” and “Do My Mascara And Puffy Pastel Clothing Make My Androgyny Look Asexual?” The video has a hard time defining their sound beyond calling it Pop, code for what’s being discussed is a generic consumer product formulated by committees, and therefore immune to analysis beyond units sold and media interest generated. Someone did make the point that they combined funky bass, funky drums, dark keyboards and optimistic vocals, so maybe they weren’t exactly Alvin and the Chipmunks even though they were The Monkees of poofy-haired pretty men. It’s said of Rio that “It captures a moment in time”, leaving it open to anyone’s opinion on that. Mine is less kind.
The film interviews band members, label people and British music journalist Betty Page (real name Glick) who championed the New Romantic movement. Thanks Betty! I guess she saw in them what their fan base of screaming fifteen year old school girls did – famous, pretty older boys who looked directly into their hearts. On a plus note I didn’t get the sense Duran Duran were self-obsessed numbnuts like Adam Ant. They did go along with the MTV program, like The Monkees, filming soft-core music idol porn for young girls and older men. The song analysis centers around band members listening to portions of it on a mixing board and remembering what they can, like when a director records a commentary for a movie they filmed twenty years ago. That part’s not bad as you can see how songs were developed and then built.
There’s not much to add about a surface-area documentary about a surface-area pop band. A Capital Records VP of A&R from that era sums it up by chirping “How could you not be happy when you were listening to Duran Duran music?” Believe you me many of us found a way, and it didn’t take much effort.
There’s also a “Making Of” documentary to remind you of how long and boring the creative process can be, and a short film I’ll clean up as “Kisses, Eat & Eat”. What else… four songs from 1989 in what might be a surprise show at a bowling alley lounge, two interview pieces weighing in at 28 minutes, a promo for a possibly existing film about the Dwarves titled “The Scum Also Rises”, Blag Dahlia playing solo electric and acoustic, and a trailer for a badly acted amateur film called “Misogynist: The Movie”.
So, what we have are two versions of an expensive music video and filler from a box of VHS tapes in the Dwarve's communal garage. Is it worth it? Not really. The Dwarves deserve better than low grade film stock inventory. I did learn that HeWhoCannotBeNamed has no problem with nudity as he is in touch with himself often.
The Dwarves – F*ck You Up And Get Live (DVD review): This affordable DVD from 2005 demystified The Dwarves for me in a bad way. I expected only apocalyptic mayhem from the band that gave us one of history’s fastest, tightest and meanest records ever and was known to bleed their way through fifteen minutes sets stopped short by locals with pitchforks and torches. Here we find The Dwarves as mere mortals working through their 39 minute set at NY’s Continental, the default CBGBs. Sure, HeWhoCannotBeNamed wears a thong and a Mexican wresting mask, but according to his MySpace page he’s a cultured family man, and singer Blag Dahlia (real name Paul Cafaro), is a novelist, poet, producer – he even recorded a bluegrass album. I expected a bunch of GG Allins but got another night at The Continental, where the beers are cheap, the women cheaper, and a fog of B.O. disables cell phones.
I liked the songs I recognized and felt the others had little character beyond starting and starting with a few stop/starts in-between, but at that speed and sloppiness they’d all be a blur if I didn’t know them beforehand. A lot of hardcore is like that. The studio is where you define your song, and the road is where you remember what you can as you go along.
Four cameras were used and for style they alternate between saturated color and B&W. Blag’s vocals are perfectly recorded. The crowd knew all the songs and screamed the lyrics whenever Blag shoved the mic their way. My rating for F*ck You And Get Live is two naked women and a little person covered in animal blood. I liked The Dwarves more when I only knew their legend as myth.
Eater Live: Outside View (dvd review): The (literal) kids punk rock band Eater formed in 1976 and broke up three years later. This show from 1997 is one of singer Andy Blade’s periodic band name resurrections. It doesn’t have much to say for itself and an air of desperate self-promotion is whiffable when Andy (real name Ashruf Radwan) reads from his autobiography. The guy’s making the effort, so I’m not going to sit back in my sweat and Doritos-covered chair, scratch myself inappropriately and call Andy a loser for trying, but still, Eater was a gimmicky footnote of the first wave UK scene, famous for their ages and abusing a dead pig’s head on stage one glorious evening thirty-plus years ago (and fading fast). I don’t see an Eater constituency existing to rile up for a march to the book store. The image I get is a farmer trying to milk the oldest cow alive.
The show is shot single camera on VHS-quality tape. Andy and Brian Chevette are the remaining original members. I like their sound generally and enjoy a few of their songs (“Thinking Of The USA”, “Outside View”, their cover of Bowie’s “Queen Bitch” and Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” and “Waiting For The Man”) but much of this show bleeds into itself forming a shapeless, loud rock mess. Pick random places on the disc and the sound will most likely be the same, and not much of note is happening except for playing and singing. I hope I’m not the only one who hears a band and marvels how the musicians themselves can remember the subtle differences that make up most of the songs.
Legendary producer Don Letts opens the show with a drive-by recommendation of Eater, the band plays, then there’s a twelve minute, soft-spoken interview and a short piece of Andy reading from his book. Andy and the other guitarists are wearing thin-lapelled sport coats and Andy’s sporting a bow-tie, so visually that’s not very ’76. I thought maybe some waiters had wandered on stage during a band break and were giving it a go.
I’m giving Eater Live: Outside View a hard time but it’s not bad as much as it is grossly after the fact. They had their day and through appearances on various compilations they’re grouped together with bands of greater consequence. Eater’s greatest accomplishment was being Old Skull waaaay before Old Skull was Old Skull.
Set list: “You”, “Annie”, Lock It Up”, Space Dreaming”, “(No More) Bedroom Fits”, “Point Of View”, “Get Raped”, “I Don’t Need It”, “Outside view”, “My Business”, “Queen Bitch”, No Brains”, “Thinkin’ Of The USA”.
The Edge Of Quarrel (dvd review): Straight Edge became more about tribal and gang violence than self-respect with the advent of “core” bands like the Cro-Mags, Slapshot and Youth Of Today in the 80s. The title of this 2008 digital home movie is a take-off on the title of the first Cro-Mags album Age Of Quarrel. The film is about the ongoing fights to the finish between punk rockers and the SXE crowd, and except for the appropriate “X” or band shirt it’s hard to tell the difference between the two tribes. Their mutual hatred seems mostly arbitrary and the result of violent people seeking friends so they can beat up other people they don't want be friends with. In the earliest days of Straight Edge there were comparisons made, mostly false, with skinheads. Now they’re interchangeable except for who they hate and why.
The Edge Of Quarrel also has an ongoing soap opera story about time and lost friendships, along with concert footage featuring The Murder City Devils, whose lead singer looks like your old friend’s husky and nerdy little brother who grew up to be a hardcore alcoholic and the unlikely lead singer of a successful punk band. SXE vs. punk politics are given a thorough airing, and to anyone not in the middle of the war it must come across as splitting hairs as, at least visually, most characters are interchangeable.
The acting’s not all that bad considering there’s much staring directly into the camera and lines read without another person to interact with. If you enjoy the hatreds, yearnings and existential quandaries of violent losers (I mean punk rock winners) the plot will be awesome! The sweat stink of the slam pit wafts through your speakers in the concert scenes and you may wonder if the guys flailing their arms in distinct patterns of punching and elbowing aren’t looking to crack open any head they can connect with and then claim they were only “dancing”. A solid ¼ of the film has people beating the crapola out of each other, singly and in groups.
The Edge Of Quarrel, a slice of life tale of the young, underemployed, and quick to attack in gangs.
Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways (video review): I was never a fan of The Runaways and don’t plan on being one in my lifetime, but I did enjoy The Donnas for a time so I may be a hypocrite. I’m also not into Motorhead even though they’re like The Ramones with buzzsaw guitars and hard rock street cred (two things I detest). I never liked hard rock in the 70s. I listened to all kinds of rock bands from The Kinks to Molly Hatchet to The Band, but partly (or mainly) because of their fans I never like Led Zepplin, KISS, Pink Floyd or Black Sabbath. Where I grew up in New York’s Nassau County we called our white trash “dirtballs” and anything dirtballs liked I made a point to dislike and avoid. I watched this 2004 documentary because I’m fascinated by Kim Fowley - psychopathic Svengali and unrepentant douchebag, whom I first encountered in The Mayor Of Sunset Strip. At seventy he looks like Boris Karloff as The Mummy pretending to be John Waters while wearing oversized David Byrne suits with blaringly loud modern art design shirts.
I thoroughly enjoyed Edgeplay for what it is – a direct to video history and character study made by The Runaway’s second bass player, Vicky Blue, who’s worked in all areas of film production. Some are put off by the absence of Joan Jett and licensed Runaways songs, but like the title says this is “A film about The Runaways”, not “The Film about The Runaways”. That film came out recently and I’ll see it on dvd as the source material makes for a great story - Los Angeles teenagers assembled by a lunatic manager, they record, tour, drink, inhale drugs, form rivalries and friendships, and suffer under the control of Fowley, who deserved a beating every 37 minutes. Throw in ugly 70’s clothes and unisex long hair, and BAM you have the Citizen Kane of dirtball chick rock'n'roll movies. Dakota Fanning plays Cherie Currie. Seriously, how old and creepy do we all feel about that?
Edgeplay mixes interviews with archived concert/backstage footage and old home movies of band members as children. The interviews are digital video quality while the archived footage is often slowed down, sometimes changed to B&W and always seen with alternating lines as if on a television. The old home movies keep their faded color look. I thought the editing was great. It kept my eyes busy without annoying them. I couldn’t care less if real Runaways songs were used, so I never felt cheated in that regard.
The main interviewees are Cherie Currie, Lita Ford, Jackie Fox, Sandy West, Vicki Blue, Suzi Quatro, Kim Fowley, Kari Krome (their main songwriter), Sandy West’s mom and Cherie Currie’s mom. There’s some Rashomon Effect at work but the stories generally back each other up and it’s edited together flawlessly to create a timeline that’s simple yet dense with information and larger points to consider. Five fifteen-ish girls are made into a band by an insane prick who’s best hope for acceptance some might call Stockholm Syndrome. They live the rock and roll lifestyle of the era, America’s last wild west decade where anything could happen and it usually did. This was before parents covered their children with bubble-wrap and told them never to talk to strangers or even leave the house. We played dodgeball in the 70s until our noses were flattened, rode bikes without helmets and always landed on our heads, and wound up in stranger’s homes for who knows what reasons. When things went horribly wrong they still thought of it as stuff happens. F-Yeah! The 70s were the poop!!
If Fowley had a soul he’d never appear in something like this, but in his mind he’s devoid of blame and always up for an interview, which makes him that much creepier. Some highlights: Fowley called rehearsals “Boot Camp” and had them practice “Heckler Drills”. He prefaced his abuses with “dog”, as in “dog-piss” and “dog-a—t”. He says they weren't a band but a sports team. They’re Amazons – not T&A but a sports team with musical instruments and teenage lyrics. Jackie says when they first formed each girl imitated others. She was Gene Simmons, Cherie was David Bowie, Joan was Suzi Quatro, Lita was Richie Blackmore, and Sandy was someone in Queen. Vicki was unaware she was experiencing epileptic seizures.
The general tone is reflective and honest without being mired in gossip and retribution. I don’t know if this comes from the participants or just editing, but watching Edgeplay you won’t feel pettiness getting in the way of storytelling. The most interesting character is Sandy West, whose life went south after the band’s breakup. She would love for The Runaways to get back together for a world tour, and after twenty years of construction jobs, drug abuse and sketchy details about being a hired gun collecting money for a drug dealer, she doesn’t think it’s asking too much for the band to reform and grant her one last shot at money and recognition. She passed away from cancer in 2006.
While not the film about The Runaways, Edgeplay is a great film about interesting people who spent half their teen years on a wild and crazy ride the kids call Rock And Roll, a subsidiary of this business we call Show.
Einsturzende Neubauten - Liebeslieder (video review) (!K7): The following is from the back of the video box, and it's proof one shouldn't mix Prozac with crack cocaine:
EN are not only the most innovative and challenging group of the last 15 years - the way they stormed the citadel of music with an armoury of jackhammers, drills, chainsaws, junk metal percussion sculptures, tapes and amplified guitar noise made them the most formidable live spectacle this side of total war. Yet, as the dust settles the restless musical intelligence releasing and then choreographing the apparent chaos becomes clear. Much more than a spectacle of disaster and ruin, N's great and varied noises eroticize de-sanitized and dead zones of contemporary life.
I'm going to go Ellis Island on this band's name, which translates into "Collapsing New Buildings". Let's see... how about a good mob name like Eddie Noobs. Yeah. The sum total of my experience with these German noisemakers is a decent compilation of some early work and this seemingly comprehensive documentary. That's all I need to pass judgment because 1) I'm god, and 2) I recognize the arc of their career. It gets played out all the freaking time. Eddie didn't invent the wheel, but they did rev it up with sparks, flames and junkyard percussion to create a decent not but not earth-shattering body of work.
Formed around 1980, Eddie Noobs came together as part of a local dadaist movement. They're theatrical performance artists first and foremost, which always means you never know if a work or performance will be worthwhile or just worthless. Of all the art forms, performance art holds itself the least to any set of recognizable standards. Half-baked ideas get peddled as anti-art and granted immunity from criticism by the most pretentious class of humanity ever to wear berets and drink espresso. If anyone tells you some piece of art, music or whatever may be bad but it's important, kick said poser hard in the groinal region. When Eddie decides to actually play structured music the results are good, or at least interesting. When they randomly go about stomping, breaking, throwing, sawing, burning, jackhammering and drilling, they're making a statement, one which takes three seconds to fully understand. Three seconds repeating endlessly only leads to boredom, and that's what I saw on the faces of the audiences. I've had that same look too often at shows. I've been there, baby!
Watch a Throbbing Gristle video. It's the existential version of what Eddie renders as nihilism. Here comes the obligatory mention of Wendy O. Williams and her amazing chainsaw. And, there it went. Eraserhead, Kraftwerk, Foetus, John Cage, Suicide, Delta Blues, The Little Rascals, and a few tracks off the OHM: Gurus of Electronic Music compilation. These names pop into my head as examples of those who did this before Eddie came along. I think what's making me mock and downplay the historical importance of this band is the deadly seriousness of their fans, and how pretentious Blixa Bargeld comes across in both interviews and performance. Performance I can maybe forgive, in interviews he’s annoying. Yo, Blixa, buddy, the Autobahn doesn't stop running if you die tomorrow. The guy in the trucker's hat - now he's got a sense of humor and probably some healthy ironic perspective. He should run the Eddie show and up the yuk factor.
Liebeslieder, which I've Americanized to Lenny, is well made and worth seeing for its comprehensive documentation of a modern manifestation of an influential art movement. Noobs seemingly filmed everything they've ever done, so you never have to take someone's word for what they say. You’ll want to keep one finger on the fast forward button at all times. Trust me.
Electric Frankenstein – Live At Camden Underground (dvd review): I’m surprised a band so obsessed with studio quality control and graphic arts cleverness would allow this piece of garbage to be released. Live At Camden Underworld sports crappy sound, visuals and playing - the trifecta of entertainment craptitude. Another surprise is that Punkervision produced this. Their Leatherface and NoMeansNo/Hanson Brothers dvds were frankly awesome.
I don’t know what genre Electric Frankenstein is exactly, but I do know when they decide to carry a tune they’re the hardest hitting proto-punk revival band on the planet. Sadly for me I find a lot of their catalog to be some kind of trucker-punk cock-rock inspired by the worst album tracks of the MC5 and for all I know Black Sabbath. As indicated above this December 2000 UK show is sloppy and don’t sound too good either, so the tuneful and not-so-much-so fairly much sound the same, only with less noodling on the songs I like. If you squint you can see waves of tour sweat stench drift at you from your television. The lighting alternates between red and bright.
For those drunk punks who rock, here’s the set list: Right On Target / I’m Not Your Nothing / Already Dead / Friction / Perfect Crime / Listen Up Baby / Annie’s Grave / Get Off My Back / Hate Machine / Up From The Streets / Demolition Joyride / Blackout / Rocket In My Veins / Action High / Devil Dust / Time Is Now / It’s all Moving Faster.
Of The Century - The Story Of The
Ramones (DVD review): When I ponder the
Ramones I wonder if anyone in the band was capable of honest reflection. I
thought Joey the most likely but now I see it was Johnny, no matter how stubborn
End Of The Century is a great documentary, and like Johnny said, "It's
accurate. It left me disturbed". All the major players are included but I think
Joey died before he could be involved directly. If he were I don't think he
would cleared anything up anyway. Only Johnny could consider a real answer if
asked if he screwed up.
At 1:45 it's too long. I don't see any band history that can't be told in an hour flat. There's a recurring theme of "No Future" that doesn't hold true and was already beat to death by the Sex Pistols. The great overall theme of their career was that they never got their due. That's not true. They went as far as they could which was amazingly far considering how outside the mainstream they were. The mainstream came to them much later, but that's simply how it worked out. I see no conspiracy or crime. Crap, go ask the Velvet Underground. My only other negative comment is that once CJ joined the band they played too fast in concert, destroying whatever melody remained.
Dee Dee is desperate to be liked but offers the honesty of a junkie. He was the handsome one but aged into a clown-faced hobo. He was worthless except he wrote many of the best Ramones songs. Tommy gets no respect but he put the band together and was at least sane. Joey's a lovable guy, for a Ramone, but it's said of him that "(He) could carry a grudge like an elephant never forgets". Johnny is a cold customer but he made the Ramones work as both a musician and business manager. Johnny saw the Ramones as a business and there's nothing wrong with that since he insisted on giving the fans what they wanted - a band that never aged and never changed.
The Ramones are the single most important band in punk history, and I'm glad a great film was made about them. Legs McNeil says about punk and the Ramones in particular, "You take everything that's sh--ty and you celebrate it, and make it good." For better or worse that's probably correct.
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