Fragmented Films 7th of Feb 09

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If you were wondering why a pre circus freak Mickey Rourke felt the need to actually bone Carrie Otis for real on screen in the charmingly mediocre Wild Orchid, why a respected director such as Michael Winterbottom needed not only crap British music but real screwing and cumshots in 9 songs (Accent), or why a climactic blowjob by Chloe Sevigny couldn’t save Vincent Gallo’s boring and awful Brown Bunny (Sony), then rest assured there’s a simple reason. They were trying to outrun a ghost.

That ghost is Japanese master Nagisa Oshima, who back in 1976 was making the holy grail: artistic porn. In The Realm of the Senses (Umbrella) is the kind of sexploitation that gives pornography a good name, one that we can all feel great about, because like those who read Playboy for the articles, we’re watching it for its artistic merit. It’s where erotic meets obsessive and everything goes downhill from there, ‘The geisha’s wont come to you because you never stop sucking him,’ the couple are told midway, and there’s more than enough of that. Very explicit that. Every kind of kink gets explored, until all the fun and titillation is sucked out and it becomes impossibly grueling (that’s the art-house element). In the end you just want them to stop rooting already. If your obsession with porn has caused you to lose everything in life, then watch this glammed up snuff film. It will cure you.

When an actor directs you expect ponderous self involvement. For every Clint Eastwood there’s a Johnny Depp (Time how long it takes him to walk up the stairs in The Brave and see if you don’t want to throttle him). Sir Anthony Hopkins third film Slipstream (Accent) is an unexpected revelation. The character actors lined up for this, John Turturro, a post oblivion Christian Slater, even Kevin ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ Mcarthy who plays himself. The film is a hallucination built upon a bed of dreams, with time slips, avant garde techniques and all kinds of experimental weirdness. Hopkins is an aging screenwriter with difficulty distinguishing between fantasy, reality and his own on screen creations. Just what this film is remains wonderfully oblique. It’s mischievous, surreal and highly inventive, equal parts Jacob’s Ladder and 8 1/2 that’s shot sexy and cool like an advertisement for jeans.

Provocative German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Gangster Films (Directors Suite) are a loose trilogy that owe as much to American gangster films of the 30’s and 40’s as Goddard and his pals in the French new wave. He populates his films with characters named Fuller, Murnau, Lang and Walsh, directors who were quite familiar with noiresque settings. They’re highly playful, with cinematic references coming thick and fast. In the three black and white films, we see a man in love with cinema and its many possibilities, experimenting with technique and narrative under the edgy framework of film noir, using it’s visual style and archetypes, yet deviating from its cold psychological world to to explore a raw emotion that he would develop in his later melodrama. These films are spare, referred to as his avant garde films, overly stylised with highly theatrical gestures. People just don’t die, they overact themselves to death. It’s both compelling and frustrating. Love is Colder Than Death (1969) is the first of 39 features in 16 years. Gods of the Plague (1969) has Franz Walsch newly released from prison virtually sleepwalking through the film, a mannequin as a main character, and The American Soldier (1970), the most dynamic of the trilogy has the strangest ending ever, a 5 minute single take of a man dry humping the corpse of his brother. Beautiful.

Tony Gatlif’s Transylvania (Directors Suite) has one of the most vibrant soundtracks ever. Since Latcho Drom, he’s been renowned for his deep love of gypsy music and culture, however it’s rare that you will find a director who uses music, this time in the style of Csardis played by Hungarian gypsies with a rhythm twice as fast as flamenco, as a way to frame a narrative. With the utterly beguiling Asia Argento (daughter of you know who), it’s part road movie, journey of discovery and exploration of the nobility of gypsy life. Of course you’ve seen it before, from Gatlif no less, but it’s an energetic joy and music is incredible.

Fragmented Frequencies – 5th Feb 09

 

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Gail Priest is a sound artist and associate editor of Real Time. She’s edited a book Experimental Music: Audio Explorations in Australia (UNSW Press) that attempts to chart some kind of course through Australian experimental music from the 1970’s onwards. It’s a slippery slope, with issues arising simply at the definition and Priest readily acknowledges that this is not a definitive account, it is just one account, no doubt coloured by the contributors actual involvement in the scenes they’re describing. And that’s probably a good thing. At least we know they were there. The book gains direction via these contributors, a mixture of practitioners and academics, who take a subjective journey through their area of expertise. We’ve got performer and academic Julian Knowles who has the unenviable task of taking in the mid 90’s onwards, yet taps into Percy Granger’s 1950’s experiments as well as taking us through the evolution of the What Is Music Festival, Now Now, Liquid Architecture, Totally Huge, and nights like The Make It Up Club, Impermanent and Audio, Small Black Box amongst others, emphasising the importance these institutions had and have in developing the scene. Ian Andrews (Disco Stu) tackles the diverse range of experimental electronic music that developed in the post punk period between around 1978 and 84, tapping into DIY cassette culture, the Clifton Hill Community Music Centre, Severed Heads and Industrial Music. Cat Hope explores noise music, again struggling with definitional issues. After all isn’t all music noise? SPK, Bucketrider, Lucas Abela, Toy Death, Philip Samartzis’ Gum and Darrin Verhagen’s EPA project all get a nod. Artist and academic Shannon O’Neil (Alias Frequencies)takes us through the history of sampling, appropriation and sound collage, again via Severed Heads and Gum, Dave Thrussell and Antediluvian Rocking Horse, yet also via the strange workings of ‘outsider’ label Dual Plover. Gail Priest and Seb Chan (Cyclic Defrost) unpack the rise of dance music with If, Psy Harmonics and the dissecting of various dance parties. Bo Daley gives an insiders account of the development of Clan Analogue, beginning with the fascinating quote that ‘being an electronic musician in Sydney in the 90’s was like being gay in the 80’s’ (Dan Bugagiar). Virginia Madsen explores experimental radio where Radio National comes off looking pretty good in a very bleak landscape, instrument maker Sean Bridgeman explores his area of expertise via Ernie Althoff, Rod Copper and Jon Rose amongst others, and improvising musician Jim Denley takes us through the history of improvised music in Australia, from possibly one of the most qualified exponents. The names above are those that have featured regularly in this very column over the years, yet the book attempts to provide some kind of sequential context to their work. It’s admirable that finally someone has finally deemed this broad, cross pollinating and ill defined scene worthy of some kind of investigation. It is the first book to document this scene, and whilst there are some attempts at critical discourse, the need to simply document the vast array of important practitioners leaves little space for any kind of meaningful dissection. The accompanying cd features some rare live material from Teletopa in 1971, The Loop Orchestra in 1982, Lucas Abela’s glass blowing shenanigans, Severed Heads, Biftek, Rod Cooper. Thembi Soddell and Anthea Caddy, Kaye Mortley and an audio visual excerpt from Robin Fox’s mesmerising Backscatter. Again, this could have been a 7 disc set such is the range of material that you’d wish to include. 

 

Japan’s The Tenniscoats are touring again on the 19th of February at the Toff in Town. They’re a curious ensemble, with very loose pop structures, shimmery folk and avant garde tendencies. They’ve got a mini album due on Room40 and it’s incredible.  Strange plucked haphazard reverberating instrumentation exist alongside these (at times) quite dominating field recordings, where Lawrence English recorded the band with in various Japanese locales, the sounds of birds, passing traffic, rocks thrown into the river, and reverb recorded in tunnels all interacting with the music. Temporacha (Room40) is glorious low key and utterly beguiling. Lets hope they be able to recreate this kind of energy indoors. Also out on Room40 is DJ Olive’s third sleeping pill,Triage, music to put you to sleep. If you needed any further encouragement Austrian maestro Fennsez contributes some production.