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Friday, 30 March 2012

Adrienne Rich: The tigers will go on prancing, proud and unafraid

It is with great regret that the Streetlamp learned of the death, earlier this week, of the great American, feminist poet and essayist Adrienne Rich. Rich had her first works published in the early 1950s and, from that point on, continued to grow and develop as a poet. Interestingly, the content of her work became increasingly confrontational throughout the years; exploring such themes as women’s role in society, racism, and the Vietnam war. For many of us on the left, however, she will be most proudly and fondly remembered for her refusal, in 1997, of the National Medal of Arts, stating that;

"I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration."
Going on to say:
"(Art) means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage."

Rich's family have stated that the cause of her death was related to complications of rheumatoid arthritis, from which she had suffered for most of her adult life. Readers unfamiliar with her work can read below one of my own favourite's Aunt Jennifer's Tigers. Written when Rich was in her early twenties, the poem contains, as one of its central themes, a celebration of the ability of a work of art to outlive the person who created it. I need add no more.

Aunt Jeniffer's tigers

Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen,

Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.

They do not fear the men beneath the tree;

They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.

Aunt Jennifer's finger fluttering through her wool

Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.

The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band

Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand.

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie

Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.

The tigers in the panel that she made

Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.

Here, also, is a musical interpretation of Rich's most celebrated work, Diving Into the Wreck,set to music by ThOmas.W


Thursday, 29 March 2012

Griff says; Do not pass Go; Anne Laplantine.

As Gordon rightly points out in his last post (see 'here'), I've been nagging him to write something about the mercurial talent that is Momus for some time now. The fact that he chose Sunday night to do so has also been serendipitous, as this week I wanted to write something myself about an artist who is a former collaborator of Momus, the equally capricious, Anne Laplantine (pictured).

Anne Laplantine, who in the past has also gone by the names of Michiko Kusaki and Angelika Koehlermann, is an experimental French musician and video artist. She currently lives and works in Paris. Momus fans will remember her for the collaboration Summerisle, which was released in 2004. This garnered mixed reviews at the time and is famously considered a 'difficult' listen due to Laplantine's idiosyncratic musical accompaniment to Momus's restrained, almost whispered, vocals. Overall, the music is an experimental/ambient/folktronica melange. Here's a sample track below coupled with an interesting and successful experimental video collage composed of mainstream pop footage reduced to an abstract movement of shape, light and colour (the video artist's page can be visited 'here').

A free MP3 of the track is available 'here'.

Interestingly, the Summerisle album is a concept piece partly based on Robin Hardy's classic, British, horror movie The Wicker Man, a film that both Gordon and I consider to be amongst the greatest ever made.

After the release of Sumerisle, Laplantine got married, moved to Paris, and quit music to concentrate on playing the ancient, Chinese game of strategy, Go. During this time, Laplantine reportedly played the game obsessively, to the exclusion of almost all else. She only returned to making art three years later in response to the infamous Virginia Tech Massacre in 2007. At that time, Laplantine produced a series of art videos, since removed from Youtube, which explored acts of violence, particularly as they occur in Western society. These videos were often misunderstood and attracted a storm of criticism, with internet trolls having a field day.

Since then, Laplantine has re-surfaced with a new Youtube page where you can see her most recent quirky, experimental, short films. She also has a great, interactive and unpredictable site devoted to her various art forms, which is worth a trawl around (see 'here'). More recently, Laplantine has taken to releasing her latest experimental, electronic compositions on soundcloud. All of this work can be freely downloaded, but will only appeal to the more musically adventurous amongst you. Here's a sample track:

Ah by anne laplantine

As you will learn, once you become familiar with her work, Laplantine's music is not bound by convention. Instead, she allows herself free rein to create her delicate and fragile sound-forms in an organic fashion. To finish, I'm embedding another piece of video art, which I think really recognises this aspect of her work and creates a charming visual that combines very succesfully with the music.


Sunday, 25 March 2012

~Tales Of The Momii~#1: The Man On Your Street

Ever since we first started this Blog, Griff has been pestering me to write an article on Momus, almost purely because he knows that Momus stands up there next to Morrissey in my echelon of musical heroes. And that has been the problem in why I've resisted in writing about him for so long. I could never encapsulate what Momus's songs and records have meant over this past (almost) 30 years any more than I could try to explain what Morrissey has meant in my life in a single Blog entry.
BUT.....I did feel that I would have to write something, so what I'm going to do (or attempt to do) is tackle each album that Momus has released, in some sort of chronological pattern. This may become quite a hefty undertaking, and it may become difficult once Momus abandons the formulaic fashion of releasing proper records through a record label, but I may as well give it a go.
It may not be entirely accurate, and some of my interpretations of his songs and lyrics may be vastly incorrect, but that's just it....they're MY interpretations.

So let's start at the beginning, way back before he even was Momus....back when he was Nick Currie of The Happy Family.....
It's March 1982, and 4AD Records have just released the 'Puritans' EP by The Happy Family. This band are comprised of former members of Postcard legends Josef K, who have decided to back Paisley born, Edinburgh-based, literature student Nicholas Currie, who had sent them his lyrics.
The lyrics are deft, intelligent and have a barely-suppressed, delicate fury, borne from Nick's current 'angry young man' status. In future sleeve notes for the re-issues, Nick puts forward the theory that since they scrapped National Service in the UK, the angry young men brigade form gangs instead, and some of those gangs become bands. And in the late 70s/early 80s there was a lot of anger channelled through music.
Lyrically, the three tracks on Puritans; the title track, Innermost Thoughts and The Mistake, bristle with an anti-Calvinistic rancour and a political point of view developed and reflected through the prism of Theodor Adorno's 'Minima Moralia', Nick's most studied reading matter of the time.
Over a staccato rhythm, guitars jangle and chime, more like freshly sharpened knives than a tambourine, and Nick delivers a vocal not unlike Edwyn Collins, of those other Postcard legends, Orange Juice.
"Oh, take these Puritans away!"
It's a perfect slice of knowing, arch post-Punk/Pop, completely of it's time, yet carbon dated due to it's unsparing production. Harsh, yet oddly endearing!

But if Puritans was a quirky, of-it's-time, Indie-pop song, it gave no clues as to the scale and intellectual ferocity of The Happy Family's next release; the album 'The Man On Your Street', released in November of 1982.
The subtitle strap-line of the album should have been a warning; "Songs From The Career Of Dictator Hall: Witnessed And Presented By The Happy Family!". Yes, for their first full length LP The Happy Family delivered a concept album based on the fictional life of a European Fascist dictator known as President Hall.
The album's dramatis peronae comprises four main characters; President Hall; his unknowing nemesis, an Evangelical detergent salesman; Samuel, the salesman's son; and Maria, the daughter of the President.

Nick Currie claims in the sleeve notes of the reissue that his own inner turmoil, at what was a turbulent time in his personal life, led to the creation of an unlovable recording. The album's opaque, obtuse lyrical concerns; the way the listener is dropped into the middle of situations involving characters who have not been properly fleshed out yet; is reminiscent of films of Renoir, Antonioni or Fassbinder, or the books of Thomas Pynchon or Bret Easton Ellis. The listener has to piece together the clues often buried deep and cloaked in political or psychological theories they have no learning in. It was deliberately inpenetrable, Nick casting himself as a hybrid of Mark E Smith and Kasper Hauser.

The music too, offers little relief to the already brain-hurting perplexity of the listening experience. There are few obvious reference points for the listener to identify with. The music shifts from baroque chamber-pop to a forthright Post-Punk jarring, the occasional moments of fluidity often torn asunder by well-executed time signature shifts. The voice has not yet become that which is so beloved of his listeners, and still sounds too mimicking of other contemporary vocalists of that time. All of this leads to an album that could hardly be filed under 'Easy Listening'. I have to confess that of all Nick Currie's records, this is the one I have listened to least. It can't simply be put on as background music, nor can it just be played for a little soothing balm at the end of the working day. It's an album that you have to sit down and tackle in one sitting. Even then, only some of the album's narrative themes become obvious; Hall achieved his wealth and power thanks to a lottery win (though this was a full 12 years before the UK National Lottery would begin); like Bergman's The Silence, all the action takes place in an unnamed European city at a time of war; Maria, daughter of President Hall will fall in love with Samuel, the salesman's son and they will join the Red Brigade to overthrow the dictator; the catalyst for the revolution will take place during March in the city of Turin....the album ends with the words, "March in Turin// Where lovers can win// March in Turin// Only in strange times and places....// Now's our chance// Now!".

Okay, so it's hardly 'Club Tropicana'....but that's the point! In 1982 Nick Currie was an angry young man in a five man army, his music his rifle, his words his bullets. But his first offensive had not quite had the desired effect he had hoped for. Only by venturing out on his own, donning the garb of Momus, the Greek god of Mockery, and creating one of the most dazzling bodies of work in the left-field Pop would he see his planet-sized imagination bear fruit.

The Man On Your Street is not an album I could recommend to everyone, it's a complex enigma that requires both patience and a detective's willingness to investigate; like the books of James Joyce, or the films of Dreyer, you have to WANT to listen to it.

But it's a rewarding challenge, and the first footsteps of a Pop genius.

Take revenge!


If you do WANT to listen to album(along with the Puritans EP), you can download it here
(This file does not belong to the ~Streetlamp~. If anyone is unhappy about us posting it, we can remove it from our page, but we cannot remove it from the Internet)

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Griff says: What big ears you have - Stereowoolf

I've just got a short blog for you tonight and one tinged with a certain amount of anguish. You see, the song I'm bringing you is the very last offering from short-lived, German riot grrrl band Stereowoolf. As you know, the Streetlamp team love our European feminist punk (see 'here' and 'here') and so, while we're happy to put you in touch with Stereowoolf's parting gift, we're also a little sad that we'll hear nothing more from them.
The song itself is the strangely titled 'When I Was A Baby Feminist' and it is a tight slab of guitar rock with a quirky, meandering, story lyric delivered in distinctively charming, central-European-accented English. You'll love it, and what's more it can be downloaded for free on bandcamp and soundcloud.

Stereowoolf - When I was a Baby Feminist (free download) by stereowoolf


Sunday, 18 March 2012

~Kitten Wine#32~: Bjork Is A Four Letter Word

One of the greatest mysteries of my musical fandom is the fact that I have never appeared to sing the praises of Bjork Gudmundsdottir, even at a time when people knew I was a huge admirer of her work, and carried the burning torch of infatuation for her.
The thing is, I have actually been a fan of her work for close on thirty years now, although admittedly there was a time when I owned her records but didn't have a clue who she was. How so?, I don't hear you ask. Well let's take a look at the musical output of the woman who really should be my female Morrissey, and we'll see how it all fits into place....
Back in the 1980s I, like so many of my friends, were guilty of purchasing records purely because they were on a certain record label; Sarah, Factory, Creation and, especially in the early eighties, Crass. Any record that came in a black and white wraparound sleeve with the familiar Crass font, would be almost immediately snapped up. Whether we'd heard the record, or even heard of the band, didn't make the slightest bit of difference. And that, my friends, is how I came to end up with 'The Eye', a 7" Crass release by a band called KUKL(which translates as 'sorcery'). I never really twigged that they were Icelandic, just that they must be foreign given their unusual moniker and their even more unusual bandmember names; Stigtryggur Baldurson? What gives??
I wish I could portray myself as unbearably smug and claim that even back in 1984 I knew Bjork was in for a stellar career, but in truth I hardly played the record. It was too scratchy, scrapey and skronky and featured some ranting mad bloke (Einar Orn Benediktsson) and a girl who sounded like a sexually frustrated whale (our heroine of the piece).

A year or so later there followed an album 'Holidays In Europe' which I bought, purely out of curiosity, played once and filed away in the 'won't be playing that mad bollocks again' box. The album was set out like a trip round Europe, each song had a two-part title; one which gave the name of a place, the other which I expect was supposed to describe what happened in the said destination.
Years later I can now listen to the album and it doesn't sound too extreme, but back in the day it was like being assaulted by, not so much the loony on the bus, but a whole busload of loonies.

Then, one day in 1987, John Peel played 'Birthday' by a band called The Sugarcubes.....

It was incredible!
Everyone I know went mad for this amazing sounding record. We gathered en masse to celebrate this extraordinary beast and all proclaimed in unison, "That girl's voice is AMAZING!!!". I wish I could have been way ahead of the pack an immediately claimed that, of course, I'd been following her career for years, but it still didn't click that this was the same singer from KUKL. In fact it WAS KUKL, just with a different name, a different label, and a more commercial sound. Well....'slightly' more commercial; it was still weird, and still had that mad bloke ranting and parping his trumpet all over the tracks, but it WAS radio-friendly.
It was in an interview in the NME that it all fell into place. Singer Bjork had been a child star in Iceland, even releasing an album.

She was then part of Crass's only Icelandic signings KUKL....KUKL!!!! Of course! That's why I thought there was something strangely familiar about the sound.
Then, in mid 1987, our local watering hole became part of an experiment in in-pub video entertainment. At this point in time, pubs weren't really allowed to broadcast MTV as it broke the Entertainment Licencing Law, so some brewers chains got together and compiled video compilations of the latest music videos so that they could broadcast them in their pubs. One of the first of these compilations featured the second single by The Sugarcubes, 'Cold Sweat', and this was the first time I ever saw Bjork!

The effect was heart-stopping! I was smitten like never before over a pop-star(Griff: except Morrissey!!). I though she looked incredible. Without sounding xenophobically patronising, she was like a cute Icelandic pixie, like someone from another world. I embarrassed myself somewhat by lending my mate Gary an album only for him to tell me "Aye, the album's quite good, but why was the inner sleeve stuffed with pictures of that burd fae The Sugarcubes?" I'd lent him an album where I'd stashed my pictures of Bjork cut out from the magazines. Oops!

The Sugarcubes would go on to be the Indie darlings of the next few years, and while I always felt more a fan of Bjork rather than her band, I never though they were quite as great as they could have been. But it was while in The Sugarcubes that Bjork delivered the first of two of my favourite vocals by anyone in the history of music at any time, and in any genre....

Now, if in the first six months of 1989 you had asked me to compile my Top 10 Favourite Songs Of All Time, somewhere, probably in the Top 5, would be 'Deus' by The Sugarcubes. I absolutely LOVED this song, and was one of those rare records that I practically rushed home from work just to hear it. Any song that questions, or even denies the existence of God in it's opening line("Deus does not exist!") is pretty cool with me. Even the fact that Einar mutters on about God's existence("I once met him//He just sideburns and quiff!") doesn't spoil the song because OF COURSE God is going to have sideburns and a quiff!!

All these years on, I still think this is a remarkable song and Bjork's voice is the perfect blend of sexy and scary that she came to master over the years.
The Sugarcubes trundled on until the early 90s, never really capturing the imagination of those first few releases, but always good to have around. I remember Griff once phoning me to tell me that I should check out the inner sleeve of their album 'Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week' as you could see down Bjork's top in the picture. I'm sure he'll deny this completely(Griff: I deny this completely!), but he hoists himself with his own politically correct petard.

Bjork's solo debut album(if you don't count the one she made as a child), 'Debut' is another album that virtually everyone I know owns. We all expected it to be her first fully brilliant release, now that Einar was out of the picture, but in truth it only works for about 80%. Lead off single 'Human Behaviour' was outstanding as was the giant teddy bear video that accompanied it. And 'Venus As A Boy' was a thing of shimmering beauty, but there were an awful lot of songs that felt incomplete. There was also the track 'Big Time Sensuality' whose video had Bjork tweeing about in the back of a truck with a silly hair-do. I always felt that this video ushered in the horrible 'Bjork-as-quirky-cartoon-character' persona that hung around her for the rest of her career.

And things didn't improve with the release of her second album 'Post' which contained the execrable hit single 'It's Oh So Quiet' which further dented her image as a serious performer. This also led to Bjork becoming lumped in with the whole dinner-party set; you know, Yuppies who throw dinner parties and have Dido or M People or Beverly Knight as background music to show their hip and down with the kids. The same people who hijack Amy Winehouse or Adele. Bjork was now their kooky conversation piece. I think this is why I often felt loathe to sing her praises while I was still a huge fan.

From about this point onwards, Bjork has actually released a stream of fine albums, all of which I have and all of which I enjoy immensely. After those two early solo albums, her choice of musical styles and collaborators has changed and she has finally hit a seam of inspiration we all knew in the early days she possessed. She toured, backed by lo-fi Electronica duo Matmos AND an all female Inuit choir, resulting in some of the most magical live shows imaginable.
She even turned in a remarkable acting performance on Lars Von Trier's exceptional film 'Dancer In The Dark'. Bjork also contributed the songs for the film, garnering her an Oscar nomination, and another performance-from-another-planet when she turned up dressed as a swan, complete with egg. She delivered a powerful version of the song at the award ceremony but sadly lost out to a song that couldn't lace her Doc Martens.

It was during her solo career that she delivered the second of my favourite vocal performances of all time. It's from her 1997 album 'Homogenic' and is a track that many of her fans, including myself often call 'State Of Emergency', although it's actual title is 'Joga'. This song came out as I was coming to the end of my most insular bout of depression, and it was like one of those moments when you first see the sun rise above the horizon. It was like someone enveloping me in a velvet glove and saying that everything was going to be alright again. Not many songs ever broke through that pitch black veneer, but it was always going to be something powerful by someone I had always harboured emotional feelings for....she hit me and it felt like a kiss!

And here is a live version complete with strings by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra:

As I write this, the only release of Bjork's that I don't yet own is her latest album 'Biophillia', and that's only because it's been released in multiple variations of packaging, something that you'll know by my recent Blogs annoys the shit out of me. BUT....I may now, in the wake of this posting, download the album sans any packaging and just have the songs.
Given that they're by Bjork, they'll be all I need....


You can download KUKL's EP 'The Eye' here

And their 'Holdays In Europe' album here

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Griff says; The way through the woods

I often find when I'm composing these blogs that, quite unintentionally, themes recur, repeat and persist in what I'm writing. I suppose that's partly to do with my returning to draw repeatedly from the well that holds the refreshing, gentle and melancholy store that is modern indie-folk, but there's more to it than that, I think. For instance, it's funny how often symbolism related to journeying through the woods shows up in the art that I'm drawn to. Long-time readers will recall my previous blog on wistful, Swedish indie-folk band Mellow Dramatic Avenue; on the release of their album 'Through the Woods, Divided'. The title to that blog referenced one of my favourite works of the poet Robert Frost, and had I not used it on that occasion then I would certainly be considering it today. However, I have used it, and so I'm using the title of another beautiful and evocative poem about a visit to the woods for today's title. As always, award yourself 100 lovely 'Streetlamp' intellectual pretension points if you recognise it. For those of you who don't, 'The Way Through the Woods' is the title of a Rudyard Kipling poem. Now I know that Kipling, with his imperial associations, is a poet that you wouldn't normally associate with The Streetlamp, but I must admit to having a bit of a soft spot for him despite this. Here's the poem:

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.

Now, you may be wondering what the point of this lengthy preamble is, and wondering too when I'm going to get to the music; so, let me get to that right now. Today, in line with the poem above, I have a literate and pensive offering for you, an EP entitled 'The Woods'. This recording is the product of an indie-folk band from the south coast of England, which goes by the name of Wise Children. Wise Cildren was originally created by song-writer Robin Warren-Adamson (pictured), who mainly plays solo but is sometimes accompanied by other musicians. Their eponymous debut EP was released in 2008. The Woods is their latest, 7-track, EP and, as with all of their output to date, is available as a free digital download from bandcamp. Those of you who read these 'Griff says' pieces to get the best in well-crafted, contemporary, acoustic folk will really love this one, I suspect. Robin employs a thoughtful, witty and, above all, intimate song-writing style, which is similar to Streetlamp favourite Laura Hocking. I'm embedding simple videos of two of the tracks from the EP below to give you a flavour.

Wonderful! I hope you enjoyed those as much as I do. As well as their bandcamp site, Wise Children also have a portal to their various websites 'here', and their music can also be streamed and downloaded on In keeping with contemporary mores, they also have a facebook page. A visit to this will provide information on upcoming live shows in the south of England, if you happen to be in that neck of the woods (excuse the pun).


Sunday, 11 March 2012

I Misplaced It At The Movies: Something Weird Video

Lux Interior once described his band, The Cramps, thus; "What we are about is 'other worlds', and independently made horror movies of the fifties and sixties are 'other worlds'. Collectively they form one complete 'other world', but each is an 'other world' in itself".
And it's that sense of an alternative universe created through a collection of disparate yet tenuously linked movies that I am here today to discuss.

The world of Something Weird Video!
Now, here at the ~Streetlamp~ we may often come across as taking everything a bit too seriously, whether it's music, art, left-wing politics or films; and on that latter subject we may come across as a bunch of lemon-suckers sitting about watching Bunuel, Bulgarian art-movies, Bergman, and some other pretentious toss beginning with B. But in truth there nothing we, or perhaps I should emphasise ME, likes than some good old off-kilter, skewiff, politically incorrect, brain-frying exploitation movies. Y'know...real cinematic cat-litter!
And nobody deals in that kind of movie madness like Something Weird Video!

SWV was formed circa 1990 by former grindhouse film-theatre projectionist Mike Vraney who decided the world would be better off for seeing his collection of sexploitation movies, bizarre stag reels, obscure low budget horror movies, and some of the maddest cinema imaginable. Pretty soon, via the good old VHS, he had a thriving company on his hands.
(Mike Vraney on the right, with legendary exploitaion producer David F Friedman)

I first became aware of Something Weird around 1994 when I began using an underground network of video sellers to get movies that were never released in the UK. Finally I was able to get my hands on all those mad films I had only ever read about in Psychotronic or Incredibly Strange Films. The tapes I got were bootlegs of American videos, and I noticed that many had a Something Weird logo at the start of them. When I went on holiday to Florida the next year, I bought a load of US film magazines and began to find out more about Something Weird and sent off for a catalogue of their releases (as well as acquiring a multi-region video recorder). Remember this was in the days just before the Internet so everything had to be done by letter or fax, but this added to the thrill of hunting down some of the most surreal films out there.
Since the Internet took off, so did Something Weird, who issued hundreds of DVDs and who now offer thousands of films for download.
I'd like to take this opportunity to look at three of my personal favourite films (amongst many) from their output, one of which is one of my favourite films of all time.
So let's start with that one, and let's take a look at 'Bad Girls Go To Hell'....

It's a pity that so many non-porno movies that dare to deal solely with the issue, and repercussions of (whisper it), are often dumped in the bins marked 'Worst Movies Ever Made'. Once this happens, so many interesting movies just seem to disappear, becoming totally under-valued.
So let's hear it for Doris Wishman and this, which may well be her greatest movie. 'Bad Girls Go To Hell' is a gem, a highly individualistic fever-dream of erotic (but never pornographic) intensity.
The movie benefits greatly from its star, the astonishing looking Gigi Darlene, who appears to be in every frame of the movie's running time. She is quite simply one of the most beautiful screen-stars I have ever seen. In 'Emmanuelle', Sylvia Kristel was praised for looking sexy(or sexual) without even being aware that she was being so. Well it's the same with Gigi here, every movement she makes on screen seems somehow sexually charged, without her having the slightest inkling of her power. Men become weak and slobbering before her, unable to control their vile sexual lusts and frustrations, and as always seems to be the case, it's Gigi who suffers as a result.

(You can view the trailer here)

Driven from her domestic bliss (her husband is the only man in the movie who seems capable of controlling his desires while around her) after killing a deviant who attacks her, Gigi finds herself in New York where she is befriended by a struggling alcoholic man who invites her to stay at his place. After mistakenly giving him alcohol as a 'thank-you' for his kindness, the man goes berserk and beats her, causing her to flee again. She next finds herself living with a lesbian who is involved with a sleazy pornographer (pimp?). Again, it all ends in tears. The ambiguous ending to the film is either a happy ending or a bad ending depending really upon the viewer.

Whilst I have praised Gigi Darlene highly for this film, the main credit must go to Doris Wishman. Often ridiculed, the simple truth is that if Doris was male and/or European, she would be hailed in the same breaths as Godard, Resnais and Truffaut. Her camera work and simplistic, minimal cinematography are effortlessly excellent. The film moves with a beat and tempo all its own. There is no doubt that this is a purely singular vision at work, an auteur's vision. It's almost incredible that Gigi Darlene can spend so much of the movie in state of complete undress, yet we see NOTHING. The movie would hardly earn a PG certificate these days, certainly not for nudity. It's a masterclass of editing. The clear crisp photography gives the movie a look all of it's own, especially in the scenes in (a bizarrely empty) Central Park. Further credit should go to the excellent score. The jaunty flute-laden music that accompanies the scene where Gigi prepares coffee in the kitchen at the beginning of the movie, and the garage-rock style accompaniment to the scene where the two girls are dancing, are both fantastic.
There are a couple of mysteries though. Both involving images that accompany the opening title sequence. Some of the images in the titles NEVER appear in the film. Given that one of the images is also one of the most frequently used as a poster for the film (Darlene Bennett in her underwear), it makes me wonder if a lot of footage was never used, or has simply been lost over the years.
Nevertheless, I cant rate this movie highly enough, even though it clearly wont be to everyone's tastes. It is, in my opinion, Doris Wishman's best film, and given that Gigi Darlene appears to have so few movies, I would say it's her star turn.
Gigi only appeared in a handful of movies (most of which I now own) including the charmingly titled 'The Beast That Killed Women', before just seeming to vanish. Bizarrely, she was last heard of in the opening titles to one of Michael 'Snuff' Findlay's Flesh Trilogy of movies. In the opening titles, which are written as graffiti on a toilet wall, someone has scrawled 'Whatever happened to Gigi Darlene?'
What indeed?

Despite it's reputation, Something Weird did a lot more than just peddle smut. They also sought out and released mega-obscure Sci-Fi, foreign-imported low-budget horror movies, Drive-In Intermission films, Sword & Sandal movies, drug films, public information shorts, and films that could only be described as 'time capsules', like my next choice; a film that has been released as both 'Something's Happening' and 'The Hippie Revolt'. The version I saw used the former title, so that's what I'll use in my description....
"San Fransisco in the middle 60's was a very special time and place to be part of", wrote the late great Hunter S Thompson, and this documentary, shot as it actually occurred, tries to prove this. However time has been rather unkind to both that period of history, and indeed this movie itself.

Most of the footage was shot in the Haight-Ashbury district in the Spring and Summer of 1967. The entire area seems swamped with hippies, beatniks and weirdos. Long hair, beards, kaftans, flowers, flutes, bongos, and wild, wacky, jerky dancing seem to the requirements of the day.
What makes this documentary stand out from other similar films of the time (Mondo Mod for example), is that there is no arch, wise-cracking, patronising voice-over narration here. None of that "Hey Daddio, check these groovy cats out....Man, that's a blast. Far Out!!!" stuff. Instead we get genuine voice-overs from the people who were there. Some are very lucid and intelligent (even if they have evidently been ingesting some mind-altering substances), others however drawl and slur and talk gibberish, but this all adds to the realness of the piece. Also, there's no ADR of those interviewed on screen, so what we hear on the soundtrack are the genuine sounds of the time.

My favourite sequence occurs about half way through, in a segment called 'Life In A Commune'. A young man tells us about life in the 'Strawberry Fields' commune. As he enthuses, the camera pans around to show nothing but absolute squalor. He goes on to tell how a young woman had too many candles in her abode and how it caught fire. He saved her but she received 60% burns to her body. We see the burnt remains of her shack, and as his voice breaks with emotion, the camera closes in on a burnt and melted copy of 'The Free Wheelin Bob Dylan'. Next up is a young mother who regales all her hippie friends (and we the viewers) with her mystical/drug-related stories. She may well be tripping, but she remains lucid and enthusiastic in her oration. "We USE dope, but dope is NOT our world" she tells us. Then she goes on to explain how she took LSD even before she had even gotten high on liquor. "And on that first trip I saw the face of Jesus" she goes on, while some mournful guitar-and-flute piece plays in the background.

The film ends with footage of an anti-Vietnam rally, at which Muhammad Ali is present. Here, the movie loses a point for it's subjective editing. A clean-cut 'square' young marine tells us he's going to Vietnam in 30 days for a 1 year tour of duty. He is then harangued by some bearded, wild haired hippy who tells him that most decent American citizens want the troops home, but before the young marine has a chance to answer, the scene cuts away. We hear the rally being declared unlawful, and then the police in riot-gear move in. Instead of showing us any conflict that may have occurred, we see the placards and banners lying broken and in tatters. A powerful and moving last image.

Time has also been unkind to the film-stock that was used. What was probably a very colourful time is now reduced to murky browns and oranges, giving the film an Autumnal, sepia tone, which actually works as this is now a period curio and nothing else. The film also loses a point for the lengthy 'trip-out' sequences, as pounding acid-rock instrumentals play out, we are bombarded with strobes and oil-lights. This is okay for a few minutes, but it goes on and on and on.
A real curio, and an intriguing portrait of a strange time and place.

In his blistering prose, Hunter S Thompson highlights the pitfalls, the 'meat-hook realities' that await the casualties from all this LSD burn-out, but Something's Happening got there first, capturing the skewering of the Age Of Aquarius as it actually withers on the vine. Something IS definitely happening, but it's not pretty, nor is it pretty far out, Man!
This would-be celebration of the Summer Of Love is actually pretty downbeat and sour, a sobering antidote to our parents' generation who'd have us believe that the whole 1960s was one huge party, and a youth culture who ultimately failed to paint it black. When Peter Fonda declares "We blew it!" at the end of Easy Rider he speaks for an entire generation.

I'll end this first dip into the world of Something Weird with a look at a film that pretty much sums up the whole label. A film so obscure, so oddball, so bereft of any sanity or logic that it defies description....but I'll try. Let's take a look at the 1970 effort known as 'Fluctuations'....
What on Earth is this?
Who is this aimed at??

On the surface it looks like just another 1960s sleazy, black and white, soft-core porn movie that Something Weird seem to specialise in. But this is a total off-the-wall oddity! There is ABSOLUTELY no plot to speak of here. What we have is a series of sexual scenes that seem to have been filmed, then re-filmed with other actors who appear in the film, then cut up and pasted together with no sense of continuity. We see a progression of various sexual encounters; couple, threesome, foursome, lesbian, whipping, (light) bondage, but the scenes often jump and other actors from different scenes appear in the scene taking the place of a previous actor. There is a bizarre karate fight at the start of the film between two men....this then turns into a fight between a man and a woman. The actress is wearing no underwear and some of the shots are extremely explicit. There is no real soundtrack to the film....there are a few minutes of library vibraphone music near the start, but that soon ends and the soundtrack becomes a loop of a woman moaning with pleasure (and using expletives). Add to this the sound of the karate fight (which often appears over the top of sex scenes), a phone-sex conversation which goes on for a while (and is EXTREMELY graphic...which adds to the erotic power of the film), the sound of clumping feet, and various extracts of random talking and sexual conversations...none of which ever match what is happening on screen. The acting is really odd too. Some of the actors (for example,the couple who engage in the naked karate scuffle, and who later share a bath) seem to be enjoying the experience; others seem very blank and emotionless. Especially the bearded actor who seems completely unmoved, even during the sexual scenes.

It's very difficult to tell what this all about, and what exactly the film makers had in mind when they made this. If Dali and Bunuel had decided to make ''L'Age D'or'' as a porn movie, this is probably what it would have looked like. Despite it's amateurishness, the film has a hypnotic power that keeps you watching throughout it's short (69mins) running time....which is not something you can say about a lot of these type of movies.
I'd love to have been in the Times Square dirty-mac crowd when this turned up on screen.
(Because of their anti-nudity stance, I can't bring you a Youtube clip of the movie, but you can watch the trailer - which makes even less sense than the finished film - here)

So there you have it....that's my first visit to the parallel world that is Something Weird, although I hope to bring you some more on the future.
Between 1995 and 2005, I pretty much became obsessed with hunting down as much SW's stuff as I could get hold of. This was difficult in the pre-Internet days but now, thanks to their rather superb website which I urge you to check out, it's simplicity it's self. Having taken a well earned sabbatical from their stuff (for the sake of my sanity), I've found myself succumbing to their comely charms once again. So it's a jaunt off to a particularly peculiar 'other-world' for me....

To Infinity in a dirty mac etc!!


Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Griff says; Julio&Agosto - get ready for Summer!

Today's blog takes us to Buenos Aires, Argentina for a wonderful blend of beautifully arranged and composed songs, mixing folk, pre-rock and indie-pop music. The band are called Julio & Agosto and they describe themselves as;

"a mini orchestra of songs in acoustic format, which constantly teeters between humor and melancholy."

That's a fairly accurate description. The, always playful and witty, songs have the slightly wonky folk feel of Beirut, each being strongly underpinned by a lugubrious double-bass. Over the top of this framework; trombone, trumpet, guitar, flute and violin are allowed to alternately gambol or totter as the mood dictates. This allows the band a rich, theatrical expression of sound that is, by turns, quirky, exuberant or wistful.
I'm sure those of you who have enjoyed previous Streetlamp recommendations, such as Mykonos Flame, Wild Honey or Les Chauds Lapins will love this band.

It's also worth mentioning at this point that the band produce a rather nice line in visual art, which I believe is self produced by the bassist Marcelo. The style is reminiscent to that of illustrator Axel Scheffler in my opinion.

The band's debut album is currently available as a free download on their bandcamp page and I'm embedding a couple of songs below to give you a flavour of the Julio & Agosto sound. However, I do implore that you check out the album as the band's range is so full that it was difficult to pick just two songs that adequately demonstrate their appeal.

The line-up for the recording was:

Santiago Adano: guitar, vocals and ukulele
Michael Canevari: guitar and vocals
Marcelo Canevari: bass
John Buonuome: Peruvian cajon
Luciana Cuneo: violin
Guido Gromadzyn: violin
Leandro Aspis: trombone and vocals

The recording also features:
Pisano Diego: Trumpet
Anaclara Frosio: flute

The band can also be found on soundcloud, facebook and reverbnation.


Sunday, 4 March 2012

I Misplaced It At The Movies: Desert Hearts and the art of the slow burn....

"I want you to dress and go.
No you don't, now do you?
Dont! I wouldn't know what to do!"

A hand touches a cheek...

A robe is taken off...

Wet kisses in the morning....

There are certain films that creep up on you, catch you off guard and alter your way of thinking and sometimes change your entire life around. Most of the special ones seem to occur at a certain point in your life; me personally, I'm thinking of Betty Blue, Withnail And I..., Blue Velvet , to name but few, all of which came out around 1986-87 and which I saw about a year or so later. And I would add to that list the 1985 film Desert Hearts which I saw sometime around 1987 on TV, in what was one of it's rare screenings on British television.
Desert Hearts is pretty much the dictionary definition of 'the slow burn'; a film whose natural beauty and simmering tensions seep into you unknowingly, until you find the film swimming around in your head for weeks after. The film is a low budget Indie affair, mercifully bereft of any Hollywood showboating, and loaded with characters who act and behave like, as Alex Cox pointed out in his Moviedrome introductions, real people doing things like real people, not like characters in a movie. Something Hollywood execs can't seem to get their heads round.
The film tells the story of Vivian, an unhappy English teacher who travels to late 1950s Nevada to arrange for a divorce from the loveless (and we imagine sexless) marriage she has found herself in. Dressed in constricting, dowdy school-ma'am-ish attire, she looks the very embodiment of suppressed existence. While killing time in Nevada, waiting for the divorce process to go through, she meets Cay, a tomboyish free spirit whose very brash and carefree ways somehow shock and attract her. Cay is the daughter of the ranch owner where Vivian is staying.
The two develop a friendship and one night after an engagement party, Cay attempts to kiss a clearly drunken Vivian. Acting repelled by Cay's actions, Vivian sobers up sharply and demands to be driven home. She moves out of the ranch-house and moves into a casino hotel. Next day, Cay arrives at the hotel and refuses to leave. Slowly, Vivian gives in to Cay's affections and they make love, beginning an intense and life altering affair.
This being small town America of 1959 though, the affair is not viewed positively by many people, and the reactions of others threatens to destabilize the relationship. When asked why a precocious free spirit like Cay would fall for an uptight, dowdy divorcee like Vivian, Cay remarks "She reached in and placed a string of lights around this heart of mine"....the key line of the film.
The film ends (and this isn't really a spoiler, so forgive me) with Vivian deciding to move away once the divorce proceedings are complete. At the train station Vivian asks Cay to travel with her to the next station so she can spend one last half hour with her....
And that's the ambiguous ending we are left with; Will Cay stay on the train the rest of the way, giving herself only to Vivian, or is Vivian merely testing Cay's feelings and devotion to her, or will Cay refuse to go any further than the next station and return to her small town life, setting Vivian free in every sense of the word?

Desert Hearts was the first full length movie directed by Donna Deitch, who has since gone on to carve a much respected career as a TV director, directing hundreds of TV shows, such as NYPD Blue and Murder One. Donna raised the money to make Desert Hearts over four years, with some help from the Independent Film community. When she turned the negative over to the distributors, her only demand was that the lengthy love scene be left unedited and unaltered. The scene, which is not in any way a 'sex' scene, is one of the most beautiful in modern cinema history, and comes as a sense of relief and release in a film simmering with overwrought Country & Western ballads, desert landscapes and pent up emotions. The central casting of Helen Shaver as Vivian and Patricia Charbonneau as Cay is also pitch perfect.
It was one of those films that got stacks of outstanding reviews, including many music magazines, yet never set the box-office alight. However, it has slowly built a very loyal and devoted cult following which seems to grow everytime someone sees the film for the first time.

As with the aforementioned Betty Blue, Desert Hearts also left it's mark on the artistic community; most obviously with The Field Mice who penned two songs in the film's honour; 'This Love Is Not Wrong' and, more blatantly, 'So Said Kay' (songwriter Bob Wratten changing the spelling of Cay's name) which contains whole lines of dialogue and scenarios for the lyrics:

"Where'd you learn to kiss that way?
I don't know from where that came
Don't wanna talk about it no more

Kay, you've got to let it go
I can not leave you alone
Honestly, I can not...

What d'you think you are doing?
What do you think you're doing?
Waiting, waiting for you

I want you to dress and go
No, you don't now, do you?
Don't...I wouldn't know what to do

A hand touches a cheek
A robe is taken off
Wet kisses in the morning

Of never seeing you again
I was scared to death
I was scared to death

Come with me, oh I can just
Picture me with your (self?....{sorry, I can never make this word out!!})
Send me a postcard when you get there

Ride with me to the next station
I wanna spend
Another half hour with you

She reached in and placed a string of lights
around this heart of mine
(So said Kay)"

Desert Hearts is one of my favourite films of all time. I try not to watch it too often though, as I like the smaller moments of the film to creep up and surprise me. The first time I saw it, it hung around in my head like concussion from a lover's first kiss. All these years later it still moves me because it's one of the few films which depicts love in a real human sense.

And it reached in and placed a string of lights around this heart of mine....