Sunday, December 31, 2006

Cinebomb #2: Mauvais Sang

Filmmaker Leos Carax was one of the more polarizing figures in the '80s. His films - he's made only four - are often held up as prime examples of "over-arty" and "self indulgent". Carax cannibalizes from the few film genres that I absolutely despise - melodramas and Hollywood musicals - but adds enough French New Wave style that the resulting Frankenstein is lithe and brilliant. It's a very liberating magic trick and 1986's Mauvais Sang (Bad Blood) is perhaps Carax's finest experiment.

The film centers on actor Denis Lavant - he's got a face like a primary school prizefighter. Lavant's in love with Juliette Binoche but she's with Michel Piccoli, a street thug. Lavant and Binoche's doomed romance plays out against a backdrop of industrialized streets in the near future where a sexually transmitted AIDS-like disease spreads among those who have sex without emotion. Lavant's estranged dad is a hood and when he's knocked off his cronies, including Piccoli, send Lavant to steal a vaccine for the disease. All this under the opressive heat from an approaching Halley's comet...

But the plot's just a thin structure here. Just some pale skeleton to hang the images on. The characters are ciphers, their words are formulaic. Carax has them there only to move, to smoke, to fuck - Carax wants to capture the raw energy of life. And life is bubbling under the surface of nearly every image. At one point, Lavant literally bursts into dance - seen in the vital tracking sequence above - all his emotion enfusing his muscles and making them jerk and jump.

Carax is an odd craftsman. He loves closeups - mostly of heads. He loves to play with shadows and images of puppetry. Distortion and color whirl together. But he's also elegant. There are long sequences that feel otherworldly in their beauty, passages of dark street poetry. At times all this joyful exuberance gets tiring and at two hours the film can be a test. But there are so many delicious moments in Mauvais Sang that resonate deeply, you'd be foolish to pass up the experience.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


First off I don’t really like videogames. But it’s true that I spent most of 1988 in the basement watching my brother play R-Type. (That and SuperContra.) There was just something so science nerd about it. Games like R-Type had that “Heavy Metal” styled sci-fi bug out that our pubescent brains required but it also seemed somewhat educational. It was like a psychedelic Giger classroom film.

Stage 1 – Love the intro riff

I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t really play the games. I sucked at them. The whole hand-eye coordination thing was just too much. Sensory overload. And all those freakin’ tricks – hold down this button and press up ten times while shaking the controller – I just couldn’t deal. But my brother was good. Damn good. He could clear every level that I couldn’t and he could do it fast. So, I just sat back with a Mountain Dew and watched. For hours I watched.

Stage 3 – That impossible ship!

And R-Type was the best game to just stare at. First off R-Type had perfect graphics. The game looked like one of my ColorForms come to life. Like something I’d draw with magic markers. Something painfully bright. I mean look at that green! But it wasn’t just the graphics on R-Type but the throbbing synth score. It was so Japanese. Take a killer Kraftwork pulse and mix in some Herbie Hancock shit. Irem always had that fusion thing – if it didn’t sound like it was going to spin off into a sax solo than it didn’t sound right.

Stage 5 – the colonoscopy

For some reason my brother only won the game once. Or twice. It took like five hours and eight cans of Dew. And at least a pack of Oreos. We were all worked up when he hit that last stage. Sweat beading. Hands shaking. I was jumping out of my seat. But then it was over. The last boss wasn’t some monstrous ro-beast, just a fetal Cthulhu in its nest. Man did that ever suck.

Stage 8 – what a finish

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Cine Bomb #1: Maidstone

By the end of Norman Mailer's third film he was bruised and bloodied. And Rip Torn had lost a chunk of ear. The movie's called Maidstone and you've never seen anything like it.

Norman Mailer is best known for his contributions to New Journalism (Wolfe, Capote). His counterculture bent brought him into the streets – he covered Republican and Democratic national conventions and was arrested in anti-Nam protests – but he’s best know for leftist works like Armies of the Night (1968, covering the 1967 March on the Pentagon) and novels like The Naked and the Dead (1948, WWII) and Executioner’s Song (1979 novel swirling around the execution of Gary Gilmore, the first person executed in the U.S. after the re-instatement of the death penalty.)

Mailer’s written plays, biographies (Marilyn Monroe, 1973, in which he concluded the CIA & FBI hushed her because of the Kennedy affair. Later regretted the assertion) and screenplays (The Naked and the Dead). Much to filmgoers dismay he directed several films as well.

The first film travesty that Mailer helmed was the abominable Wild 90 (1968). Playing out like a goofy vanity project with his pals Buzz Farber and Mickey Knox, the movie captures the final days of some mafia goons trapped in a warehouse. It’s a long improvisational 80+ minutes of drinking and cursing and rambling and it’s painfully inept. Rock show documentarian D.A. Pennebaker photographed. (Yeah, he did both Monterey Pop and Depeche Mode 101.)

Around the same time, Beyond the Law (1968) was greeted with boos and hollers. I can just imagine the poor bastards who wandered into this dreck. Same folks involved, this one takes place in a Manhattan police station. Mailer wanted to capture the whole cops and robbers thing from a different perspective – an honest one. Mailer plays an Irish cop named Pope. His Brogue is gut twisting. Lots of tough talking. Beer drinking. Broad scoping. Lots of improvisational gaffes. It’s all about Mailer playing a tough guy – I’m sure there’s lots of psychological dirt to mine there.


Mailer’s “best” foray into filmmaking was the mad Maidstone (1970). The film itself continues the improvisational antics displayed in Wild 90 and Beyond the Law but this time the scope is a bit wider. Filmed on the rambling Hampton estates of Mailer’s benefactors. Mailer “plays” Norman T. Kingsley, a respected filmmaker launching his campaign for the White House. A British reporter (played by Mailer’s third wife Jean Campbell) is following him and capturing his rhetoric. He’s a sleazy but energetic lout. Kingsley spouts political venom and moral apathy and at the same time hits on anything with breasts and a pulse, cue Ultra Violet. Like any good freak-out host, Mailer gropes starlets and screws them on camera. (This is before Mailer became Enemy Number One for the burgeoning feminism.) He claims to know the needs of black and latino radicals. (Mailer wrote “The White Negro” in 1957, arguing that hipsters should learn from ghetto culture - live for the moment and choose sex and drugs.) It doesn’t take long before Kingsley’s assassination is plotted. That’s when the fourth wall really breaks – we’re not really watching Kingsley plan his presidency, we’re watching Mailer make a movie about Mailer. The assassination is of the character – it’s like a cleansing. The staged bits of the film fall away. Madness spirals. Roles lose meaning. The cameras roll as reality heaves in.

Rip Torn, born Elmore Rual Torn, Jr, made a name for himself as an actor’s actor in New York and became part of Mailer’s circle – winning critical praise in Mailer’s off-Broadway “Deer Park” in 1966 – 1967. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s he took character acting into unbridled arenas. Maidstone’s crowning, most infamous, moment is when Torn loses all sight of the line defining fiction from reality. It is a sequence that remains truly unforgettable. (Thanks to Subterranean cinema for the upload above.)

At the end of the film Mailer debriefs the cast and crew on camera but Torn can’t seem to break character (he plays Kingsley’s brother). He just can’t let go of the assassination plot. As Mailer, Torn and Mailer’s wife (second, Beverly Bentley) and children walk along a path, Torn leaps on Mailer with the hammer. Torn says, "I don't want to kill Mailer, but I must kill Kingsley in this picture." A struggle ensues. They roll about the grass. Bentley and the children scream. Mailer is bloodied. Torn is bloodied. After the fight, Mailer says he’s going to cut the scene. Torn says frankly, “The picture doesn’t make sense without this.” Indeed.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Amanda Visell

Amanda's stuff is really quite nice. Ashley Wood robots meet Shag swanksterism. Love the stuffed version below.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bone Symphony

Songwriter Scott Wilk wrote a number of successful pop tunes before releasing his 1980 album Scott Wilk and the Walls on Warner. The eponymous debut was an Attractions-like power pop record. In fact, the album sounded so much like Costello that many people either thought it was or dismissed Wilk as a copy cat artist. Those overlooking the album missed a rather nice, though straight edge, slice of tight pop.

Wilk added two members to the band in 1983 and switched gears entirely. His new creation, Bone Symphony, was a mash up of new wave, electro dance and Oingo Boingo/Devo-esque bizarro. He ditched the power pop sound, added synths and hair gel and released an eponymous EP. The Capitol 5-track EP contained the songs, “It’s a Jungle Out There” (see video), “Everything I Say is a Lie”, “I’ll Be There for You,” “Piece of My Heart” and “Dome of the Spheres.” “It’s a Jungle out There” received a fair amount of airplay but most collectors know the band for the stand out track “Dome of the Spheres.”

In 1984 Bony Symphony appeared (fittingly) on the soundtrack to Revenge of the Nerds with “One Foot in Front of the Other” - a track that proved quite popular. But not popular enough to keep Bone Symphony afloat, they disbanded shortly afterwards.

In 2003, Scott Wilk replied to a post on the New Wave Outpost about his activities post Bone Symphony: “…I worked with Charlie Sexton on an album for MCA, and as his "MD" for a world tour that included MTV New Year's Eve. Charlie and I were also lucky enough to write and perform the end title song to "Beverly Hills Cop II". Charlie is on the road with Bob Dylan these days. I also made an album with Harold Faltermeyer, and scored films like "Valley Girl" and TV shows such as "Duckman" (70 episodes), which is still on Comedy Central. "Duckman", an animated series, starred Jason Alexander of "Seinfeld" fame.”

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Yo Little Brother

Nolan Thomas kickin' it Latin Freestyle circa 1984, yo.

Yo, yo, yo little brother/ What you out there tryin' to discover?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Revenge of the Ninja

Two years ago I was at the club lazing about in the hot tub. It was nine thirty at night. Maybe it was ten. Late enough that I was the only one in the hot tub. The club where I go has this giant tiled Jacuzzi in the center of the men’s room. It’s nearly Roman in it’s layout. Right next to it is the steam room. Huge plumes of steam come wafting out every time some naked elderly man steps in or out of the steam room. That’s right, elderly. At this time of night nearly every guy at the club is – at his youngest – sixty-five.

So I was surprised when a young guy walked in in his swimsuit and started doing karate chops at the steam room door. He was maybe in his mid-twenties. Had a buzz cut. But it was his eyes I noticed first. They shouted crazy. You know when someone has those bugged out eyes and the muscles all around them are bunched up and you just know this person is about to go postal – those eyes.

This guy does his karate kicks. Perhaps they were Tai-kwon-do. I’m not good at identifying martial arts. Just little kicks at first. These are soon followed, however, by big roundhouse kicks. Kicks that take him off the slippery tiled floor. In between the kicks he falls to the floor and starts in on serious push-ups. He does maybe twenty and then gets back up and starts roundhouse kicking the air again. Each kick and each drop to the floor for push-ups is punctuated by a grunt or an expletive. Usually it’s something like Mutherfucker or Assfucker or Bitchfucker. Anything ending in a fucker.

I kind of just hang out in my corner of the hot tub. Peek at the karate guy out of the corner of my eye. Trying not to act suspicious. Trying to act natural. Just a guy sitting in the bubbles. Sweating. Relaxing. As the show goes on I start praying that someone else will come into the hot tub room and break the uncomfortable silence. But this urban ninja doesn’t really seem to take notice of me. He just keeps doing his kicks and his push-ups and grunting his fuckers.

He’s there for maybe five minutes when things really start getting hairy. His roundhouse kicks get bigger. More air. And he starts traversing the entire length of the room from one end of the hot tub to the other. He doesn’t break for push-ups now. Now it’s just him being Sho Kosugi. And now every kick is highlighted by a shouted MUTHERFUCKER or ASSFUCKER or BITCHFUCKER or the new one FUCKFUCKER. And that’s when I start thinking about getting out of the hot tub.

But the thing is I can’t. See, now the ninja has his crazy ass eyes on me. He’s kicking and sweating buckets and cursing and the whole while he’s watching me. And I can’t help but think now that he’s some Iraq war vet who went nuts kicking the shit out of insurgents and he’s back to tear the shit out of the club and anyone foolish enough to be in his insane way. So I’m stuck there. Like a deer in headlights. He’s whirling around kicking the walls that are wet with his explosive ninja spittle and I’m thinking of escape.

That’s when the old Asian dude walks in. I think he’s Korean and he’s there every night. Usually with his son. He walks in. Looks at the ninja who has now stopped kicking and is pacing back and forth like one of those sad bears at the zoo and the Korean shakes his head. That’s when the ninja leaves. Not in a huff. Not with any outburst. Just quietly leaves. The Korean guy gets in the hot tub next to me and he sighs and says, “Crazy fucker.”

Flash forward to yesterday. Noon at the club. I’m in the shower and in the stall across from me is a man shouting at the top of his lungs MUTHERFUCKER and ASSFUCKER and BITCHFUCKER. I didn’t see him. The curtain was drawn but the voice didn’t leave much to the imagination. The ninja has returned…

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Glowing in the Dark: Minimal Synth MP3 Series #2 - Tattoo Hosts Vision On!

Okay, okay - it's not truly minimal synth. Yes, there's the sax. The bass. But Tattoo Hosts Vision On!'s (yes, that's the bands full name) "Empty Building" is an underground classic. Tattoo Hosts... was Ian Nelson - brother of Bill Nelson - here's what Ian said about the band on Bill Nelson's UK site:

"There was a record which came out under my own name along with Ada Wilson and Dave Whittaker (who is now in 'Music for Pleasure') called 'Tattoo Hosts Vision On' and also a couple of Ada singles. Around that time we did the concert in Brussels, the first of the 'Souvenirs of Impossible Events/ Invisibility Exhibition' which has now become a sort of recurrent theme. I had never done anything like that before, it was purely intended as a one off. We had discussed improvisation but that was the first time that we were publicly able to do it. We had improvised in the studio before, but the idea of putting tapes together and going out was unique to that event. We subsequently re-did it at The Black Boy in Nottingham and the Festival in Edinburgh and then on to the first four dates of a full concert. I actually enjoy the challenge of that more than maybe, working with a band, because it is less structured and less rigid and I like the element of chance there. It gives you much more scope for improvisation and experimentation. Its nice when things lock in, and its different every night."

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