Fragmented Films 17th Jan 09

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Exploitation cinema by definition tends to be a little rough around the edges, the edges being plot, acting, production values and budget, which are fearlessly brushed aside to get to the good stuff: gratuitious nudity, big explosions, hyper violence and stupid stunts. Mark Hartley’s witty self depreceating and perhaps overly mythologising Not Quite Hollywood (Madman) opens a gateway to this abyss, reminding us of our own sordid b movie past. Brian Trenchard-Smith comes across well, possibly because he had few pretensions. The Man From Hong Kong (Madman) imports kung fu to Sydney and gets the mix of stunts, nudity and action just right, even setting fire to George Lazenby (James Bond) during one memorable fight scene. Wang Yu (The One Armed Boxer) meanwhile tears Sydney apart with the subtlety of Dirty Harry coming off an ice binge, bedding Rebecca Gilling, killing suspects, destroying restaurants and climbing skyscrapers. The second disc of Extras reveal a pompass ass who would catch flies in his mouth before the love scenes because white women were ‘scum.’

Trenchard-Smith’s Stunt Rock (Madman) is even better, and by that I mean it’s absolutely fucking terrible. So carried away was he by the prowess of stunt man Grant Page (The Man From Hong Kong) that he took him and Sorcery, a terrible heavy metal band (who were also magicians) to LA, set up a few stunts and put the band on stage. If you can find a plot here, then power to you. Again the Extras are excellent.

Dead End Drive In (Madman) is set in the future where the streets are lawless and youth crime is rampant. When a young couple visit the drive in, they discover they’ve been unwittingly trapped in a maximum security prison for teens. It’s a typically schitzo Trenchard-Smith mix of action and social commentary, that ensures that the message never gets in the way of the explosions.

Turkey Shoot, included on Ozploitation Vol.1 (Umbrella) a six disc set cashing in on newfound interest in the genre, is Trenchard-Smith’s crowning glory. Two weeks before filming almost a third of his money disappeared, leaving gaping holes in, well, everything. Yet he soldiered on and delivered a nasty, and inexplicably hilarious sadistic concentration camp tale that is equal part Running Man and Hogans Heroes. It’s a totally mindless piece of schlock that delights in its appalling taste. There’s circus freaks munching on human toes, severed hands and feet, rape, murder, torture and all of the nasty stuff you know and love. In the same set, Roadgames (1981) with Stacey Keach as a truckdiver crossing the Nullabor picks up hitchiker Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s been billed as ‘Rear Window on wheels,’ and is equal parts imaginative, seedy and suspenseful. The Naked Bunyip (1970) a sexumentary with Graeme Blundell, meanwhile is just a fragrant excuse for nudity, and as a result should be encouraged.

Ozploitation Vol. 2 (Umbrella), 7 more flicks, offers up some unexpected gems. Long Weekend (1978) in which an obnoxious couple go camping with little regard for their environment is geniunely creepy as nature strikes back with a vengence. Apparently if you engage in a touch of swinging, shoot a sea cow, run over a kangaroo and throw your litter haphazardly around the bush, then watch out. The Chain Reaction (1980) is a slick nuclear nightmare that tells us that ruthless multi national corporations with hired assasains and governments in their pockets are no match for an angry Aussie bogan with a fast car. Razorback (1984) is a music video come to life, unfortunately as one irate patron suggested a $100 million film with a $10 pig. Fantasm and Fatantasm Comes Again are just blatantly plotless soft core films, questionably erotic vignettes that boast an apperance from porn legend John Holmes. Stone (1974) meanwhile is truly a great film, a hard edged biker film which revels in biker culture. The True Story of Eskimo Nell (1975) is Porky’s meets Rio Grande, by way of Moe. It offers what Peckinpah and Ford forgot to put in their Westerns: farting competitions. “There’s a day coming when I’ll stick my dick in the heart of the earth and the bang will be heard in Alaska,” offers Max Gillies at some point. This is what Ozploitation is all about. Inexplicable crassness and sheer stupidity.

Fragmented Frequencies 2nd Jan 09

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There is something curiously unhinged about Melbourne musician and playwright Julian William’s latest album Liquidamber (Spill/ Synaesthesia). It’s like a brooding circus sideshow, except without the groove. It’s pop music for the experimentalists, highly original highly idiosyncratic outsider music, with bizarre sounds careering around happily over which Williams intones, multi-tracked in very loose harmony with himself. Whilst listening I kept thinking some strange animal was creaking around in my room just out of eyeshot which made me kind’ve nervous. Williams is probably best known for his equally unhinged work in one of Melbourne’s most interesting ensembles The Hi God People, a loose collective of musicians and performance artists who tend to mesmirise astound and confuse with each successive performance. Liquidamber has some conventional instruments such as guitar, organ and wind instruments, also some sped up or slowed down field recordings, the field being his house. The icing on top are his vocal harmonies, his call and lethargic response, his dense at times extremely scattered layers and pitches of vocals. It’s hard to know what to make of it. It’s his 14th solo album according to his calculations and this one seems to be getting his widest release thus far and there’s a lot to like. And even more to be confused by. It’s music that bends time, that messes with your equilibrium, and makes you wonder if you’ll ever get old enough that the flashbacks will finally end.

He’s launching this opus alongside Snawklor, his other band The Inevitable Orbit, and Justin K Fuller with some visuals from Jason Heller. It’s on Wednesday the 14th of July at Horse Bazaar, a night which coincides with experimental music night Stutter’s first birthday.

The Sydney Festival’s on again in January and this time the sloppy seconds that make their way down to Melbourne look pretty damn good. Aside from the Matthew Herbert Big Band and Argentine songstress Juana Molina, both of whom released incredible albums last year, there’s one real surprise. Tuba is way too under represented in modern music, particularly tuba played at breakneck speeds beneath a savage wail of horns and all manner of brass. Fanfare Ciorcarlia’s Balkan funk is a full bodied experience and they’re touring as an 11 piece wall of exotic freneticism. They’re Romanian in origin, a gypsy big band that began life playing weddings and festivals and now are all about the party, and speed. They’ve been clocked at somewhere between 130 and 200 bpm, so those with weak constitutions best not attend. There’s nothing like them in the world and they’re playing as part of the Mix It Up series at Hamer Hall at the Arts Centre on the 18th of January.

Finally Austrian maestro Fennesz snuck a new album in late last year, featuring a contribution from Melbourne’s Anthony Pateras on prepared piano. The album, Black Sea (Touch/ Fuse) arrived a little too late for our ‘best of’ lists, but some dedicated holiday listening reveals it to be a worthy contender. It’s not a mammoth departure from 2004’s Venice, however there is a blissed out electronic fuzz that seems to draw upon the stately grandeur of My Bloody Valentine. The closest I can come is that it’s a hypnotic ambient noise record, quite gentle and ponderous, that dips into some melodic riffs at times, yet also delves heavily into more experimental sound art realms with firery drones and steady rumbles. The epic 9.22 minute Glide in particular (with Rosy Parlane) takes on a searing orchestral grandeur, where noise taps directly into the emotions, and it’s amongst the best work he has ever done. The remainder of Black Sea reveals an artist at the top of his game. This isn’t merely a cd, it’s an achievement. Then again I say that everytime this man releases an album.

Fragmented Films 18th Dec 08

Otto Or, Up With Dead People (Kojo) is a gay zombie film from Bruce La Bruce with the best wound sex since Crash. Whilst it feels calculated to offend, there’s an unexpected depth here, with strong socio political undertones and anti consumerist messages. Yet that’s only if you dig beneath the extreme gore of homosexual zombies literally consuming and mutilating each other by tearing out their intestines with their teeth during sex or wandering down the road munching on decaying roadkill. But they’re also being persecuted, getting beaten up and set on fire by horrible gangs of the living. It’s edgy, at times hilarious cinema, and La Bruce uses some intriguing experimental techniques takes some real risks with sound design. It’s a cool art-house gorefest that’ll keep you away from sausages for a while.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films are a revelation. He delights in those messy difficult emotions, of love, obsession, loneliness and desire. He has this rough and ready style that initially seems clunky, yet creeps up on you and then turns on you like a spurned lover. He made films quickly with the most uncommercial pretexts, such as a love affair between a middle aged woman and a young Moroccan immigrant. Yet Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (Madman), is incredibly compelling, a reworking Douglas Sirk’s All that Heaven Allows (Madman), that takes a blowtorch to moralistic society. On Sex (Madman), groups together three of his films united by the tragedy of submitting to love. In The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972) and Fox and his Friends (1974), in which Fassbinder himself plays the title role, and even in In a Year with 13 Moons (1978), to be in love is to throw yourself to the mercy of another. That other, is either oblivious to your presence despite the fact that you’ve just had a sex change for him, or fleecing you for everything you’ve got. Neither seem like a good option. Yet despite being hazardous to your health, love in Fassbinder’s hands is all conquering – which would be romantic if the consequences weren’t so dire.

He filmed Lili Marleen (Madman) in 1980 in English with a big budget. It’s an opulent, Sirk influenced melodrama, the tale of the song Lili Marleen that became synonymous with the Nazi war effort, a garish hideously unmusical dirge that Fassbinder repeats endlessly through the film. The kicker is that it evokes something different each time it’s performed, thanks to the trials and tribulations of an impossible love story, the singer who became a propaganda tool for the Nazi’s and her lover who risks his life attempting to get Jews out of Germany. Movies have taught us that love conquers all, and whist Fassbinder agrees unfortunately it doesn’t negate the suffering.

Dan Duryea is Willem Defoe for the 1950’s. He appears in three of the four films in Universal Film Noir: Vol.2 (Aztec), a collection that explores that dark and murky emotional and urban landscape of late 40’s early 50’s America. There’s something incredibly cloying in his manner, yet you can’t take your eyes off him, though that might be because you want to make sure he’s not going to reach through the screen and steal your silverware. In Fritz Lang’s excellent Scarlet Street, he’s a seedy shyster to Edward G Robinson’s straight laced bank clerk, in Criss Cross, he’s the dangerous seedy gangster to Burt Lancaster’s lovelorn straight man and in Black Angel he’s the seedy alcoholic pianist to June Vincent’s virtuous. Sense a pattern? Duryea makes seedy endearing in this compelling collection of 50’s cinema.

Sukiyaki Western Django (Hopscotch) is a truly bizarre mess of spaghetti western cliches shaken up and spat out by lunatic Japanese director Takashi Miike. Miike is responsible for some of the wrongest films of all time, including the hyper violent Ichi the Killer (Siren) and the hyper wrong Visitor Q (Siren). He’s a man who does extremist cartoon violence better than anyone and it’s sprinkled liberally through what is essentially stealing back what Sergio Leone initially stole from Akira Kurosawa, yet with less class and a higher body count. It looks beautiful, has a Quentin Tarantino cameo, borders on nonsensical and is in English, yet still requires subtitles because it’s totally unintelligible. In a good way.

Fragmented Frequencies 7th Dec 08

The problem with Femi Kuti is his father Fela. How can you possibly compete with a legacy as immense as that? Or at the very least forge your own identity? It’s the Ted Whitten effect. What chance did Ted Jnr have when his father was Mr Football? If he played well, it was never as good as his father, and if he played poorly then he was an insult to the legacy. The solution? Retire at 25 and run a foundation dedicated to your father’s memory. So to with music. We’re so desperate for another piece of Fela that we try to build Femi in his image, willing him to commit just one more epic Afro-beat freak-out, and he regularly obliges. Femi was in his father’s band, so he knows the ropes, though he’d also no doubt feel the pressure. On his latest album Day By Day (Wrasse/ Filter) he does give us a couple of tastes of Afro-beat, and shares his fathers desire to meld politics and music, yet he also diversifies, attempting to move beyond his father and create his own path. He’s moved from sax to trumpet, and the music takes on a jazzier and at times a light, relaxed, and mellow feel, moving at a gentle cadence with the occasional brass stab. It’s definitely Femi’s most interesting and complex work to date, and solidifies his reputation as an artist in his own right. For those still yearning for the Fela experience, Femi’s brother Seun has enlisted Fela’s Egypt 80 band and is making his way to Womadelaide next year, and legendary percussionist and bandleader of Fela’s Africa 70 Tony Allen will also playing the Corner – both in March 09.

Another man with family issues is Lulo Reinhardt, grand nephew to gypsy jazz legend Django Reinhardt. In fact there is a certain similarity between Lulo and Femi. Both have an incredible affinity with their famous relative’s stock and trade, yet use it as a launch pad to explore their own musical whims. His Latin Swing Project (Toca/ Filter). begins with gypsy swing yet also dips into elements of samba, flamenco, tango and jazz influences. He’s in town and playing at the Famous Speigeltent tomorrow night. His musicianship is incredible, and his live show incendiary. He’s also got one up on Django: he has all his fingers.

Not only is there a new 2 disc compilation, but also an accompanying coffee table book for Dancehall: the Rise of Jamaican Dancehall Culture (Soul Jazz/ Inertia). With text and hundreds of photographs from Beth Lesser, it’s a definitive chronicle of the phenomenon which began in the 50’s in Kingston Jamaica with Coxsone Dodd’s sound system and has continued to this day. Lesser was there 27 years ago and her accounts come from this insider perspective as she talks of her experiences at sound clashes, The DJ’s, the police, the poverty and the political violence. The photos too are incredible. everyone from Sly and Robbie, Gregory Isaacs, King Jammy, everyone you could think of back in the day. It’s an incredibly creative time in the history of music, where the scene was experiencing a resurgence and the creativity was rampant.

Stutter is pleased to be hosting a four-way, a combined Christmas party with the excellent Sabbatical Record label (www.sbbtcl.com/sbbtcl), the dark brooding Sweat Lung (www.sweatlung.blogspot.com), the launch of issue 21 of Cyclic Defrost Magazine and their own celebration of a year of incredible experimental music. It’s on at Horse Bazaar on Wednesday the 17th of December.

Finally tonight, and when I say “tonight!” it’s with a high pitched squeal and a metal salute, Philip Brophy is living out his metal fantasies. Bare-chested and adorned with long flowing black metal-dude hair, flailing away at the drums, he will be flanked by two exuberant explosive dancers. No words. No guitars. No other visible instruments. Just a set of skins sandwiched by skin. It all sounds very wrong, yet it’s a performance to end the One of Us Cannot be Wrong Exhibition and it’s at the TOFF in town. And yes Phil, sorry to say but I know which of us is wrong.

-Bob Baker Fish