Fragmented Films Sept 09

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When Iggy Pop was spitting and screeching about how he wanted to be your dog, all sleazy rock n’ roll cool, it’s very unlikely he was thinking of the morally questionable 1972 French (dubbed into English) yarn Liza: Love to Eternity (Madman). It’s a bizarre and kinky little work that proudly sets feminism back decades. Marcello Mastroianni (La Dolce Vita) lives a reclusive existence on a tropical island with only his dog for company, yet their solitude is shattered by the appearance of Catherine Deneuve, who kicked off her yacht is left to fend for herself. Gradually their dysfunctional relationship develops until Deneuve becomes jealous of the attention he devotes to the dog and conspires to take its place – literally. When he puts the collar on her and makes her fetch a stick the wrongness hits you like a slap to the face. He just slept with her, this is a film about bestiality.

In 1996 Todd Solondz‘s (Happiness) Welcome to the Dollhouse (Beyond) was a revelation. It was mean, nasty, and just a little bit cute in a suburban John Waters gross-out kind’ve way. Following the torments of Dawn ‘Wienerdog’ Wiener, teased by her classmates, ignored by her family and hopeless at everything, we keep waiting for that one redeeming feature, because surely someone this ugly, this pathetic, this unlikable has one true talent. It’s when she’s alone with the studly ultra popular lead singer of her brother’s band and she offers to play the piano for him you realise that this is what the film has been leading up to. Nervously she seats herself, peers at the sheet music, and proceeds to murder the hell out of the tune. She’s got nothing. Wienerdog even dutifully meets the school bully as ordered to be ‘raped,’ of course the bully is just a schoolboy and has no idea what rape is, but even so…Solondz calls it a sad comedy about surviving growing up, yet like The Office it’s difficult to watch because it’s dripping with cringe.

French director Robert Bresson‘s 1956 A Man Escaped (Directors suite) is the kind of artist statement that cinema was invented for. He used non actors and had them repeat their lines over and over until they were delivered devoid of meaning, liberating all the acting. It matches the austere minimalism of each frame, and only seems to elevate the experience. There are no extraneous elements here. Even the sound design is minimal and stylised, with much of the sound occurring off screen. The precision and control here is remarkable. There are links to Ponterverco’s Battle of Algiers, however it possesses what some have referred to as a transcendent quality that elevates this prison escape film to a meditation on fate and destiny. Lancelot Du Lac (Directors Suite) is a little less successful, the sound design a metaphor, almost entirely comprised of the pokey clinking of the armor of the Knights of the Round Table. Rather than focussing on their heroic exploits, Bresson peers beneath the facade, and concentrates instead on the splintering and petty squabbling within the egocentric knights.

George A Romero uses zombies to make political statements. Despite the sledgehammer subtlety of Dawn of The Dead (Umbrella), it’s difficult not to love him, because if you have to sit through socio political statements they may as well be coated in truckloads of blood and gore. As society is decimated by the zombies a few survivors locate a shopping mall and set themselves up, gorging on the food and living out their consumerist fantasies. Of course if you want to see a bunch of zombies lurching through a shopping centre all you need to do is visit Highpoint on a saturday morning, the difference being at least you get to see their heads splatter here. This is a three disc set, with the original film, an extended cut, and a version edited by Italian horror maestro Dario Argento (Suspiria). It’s brimming with extras, like Romero’s q&a session at last years MIFF, multiple commentaries, and two feature doco’s.

If you’ve been wondering whatever happened to Peter Greenaway the answer is simple, he’s continued to make increasingly boring and unwatchably pretentious films. Nightwatching (Beyond), looks gorgeous and has the guy from The Office playing Rembrandt, yet despite an interesting premise is marred by too many theatrical (read incomprehensible) monologues.

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Fragmented Frequencies Sept 09

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It’s probably around the time of the earnest chugging groove of Sala, track 36 of Japanese lunatic Dokaka‘s 88 track debut album Human Interface (Dual Plover), that the first seeds that you may be losing touch with reality really begin to take hold. It’s not necessariy its musicality, or it’s R&B groove, something it shares with the one minute nineteen Verb four tracks on, it’s that they’re surrounded by some of the most curious and schitzo attempts at music that you’ve ever heard. This is sheer lunacy, the kind of crazy obsessive outsider genius that is all too rare. The music is fine, a myriad of genres, quite experimental, carefully structured, short sharp and punchy, with most tracks clocking in at just over a minute. There’s a cartoony feel to Dokka’s blend of rock, pop, r&b, torch ballads and bad 80’s memories. But that may because he’s created this whole damn thing with his voice. He’s famous for his vocal only reinterpretations of Led Zeppelin, Slayer, and the Rolling Stones, though Bjork also enlisted his services for her own experiments with vocal music on her 2004 Medúlla album. Human Interface is his debut solo release and whilst sharing a similar manic weirdness with Mike Patton’s Adult Themes for voice (Tzadik), he also delves into highly musical areas that are nothing short of jaw dropping. Perhaps this is the evolution of beatboxing, a one man barbers shop quartet attacked by a rubber lipped banshee. Once you normalise this kind of lunacy you’re in trouble.

Speaking of outsider music PIVIXKI (Sabbatical) is a collaboration between local pianist/ composer Anthony Pateras and Agents of Abhorrence drummer Max Kohane. They sound exactly like the Necks would if they decided to kill their bass player, get tatts and listen to grindcore. Except the piano, which takes on an abstract flowery new music feel – except when Pateras pounds the bejesus out of it like all he owns are thumbs. Like all Sabatical releases (www.sbbtcl.com) it’s limited to 200 and is fascinating and frenetic, the duo fusing together effortlessly, constantly moving, not afraid to startle and get a little musical alongside their beds of atonal discordance.

Speaking of discordance Italian Dario Buccino has an incredibly strange new DVD/CD Corpo Nostro (Extreme). In the doco he speaks of wanting to create “hypnotic excitement and numbness,” two states of being that he views integral in altering consciousness. His music is created by beating large thin sheets of steel, the kind they used back in the radio days to create thunder, and he attacks it with an almost religious zeal. The DVD also contains a busking session where he encourages volunteers to have a crack themselves, and excerpts from some live performances, demonstrating his virtuostic range on this peculiar instrument. “It’s very odd how he disregards harmony,” comments an excited percussionist, as we go behind the scenes to view how this extraordinary work was put together. http://www.xtr.com.

New Weird Australia is a free download only compilation of some of the more interesting Australian music around. Many of these folks you haven’t heard before, though Panoptique Electrical who offered up his second album, Yes To Fear Yes To Desire (Sensory Projects) recently offers an unrelesed track and there are some really curious tunes by Kharkov, Broken Chip and Sam Price. My favorite is from the suggestively titled Cock Safari. When I got on their myspace I found a link to a band called Anal Cum Wolf. When I got on their myspace I found a link to Nigger Fart Dance Party USA. When I got on their myspace they had a picture of a David Hasselhoff record called Night Rocker, where he is dressed in leather rocking out on the bonnet of KIT. They also had a song called Farting Like a White Man which sends race relations back 50 years. Then my head exploded. http://www.newweirdaustralia.com. There’s a new one each month.

Oh and yes. Don’t fret. Lightning Bolt. Here soon.

Fragmented Films Aug 09

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Coat yourself in baby oil and throw your keys into the bowl because we’re knee deep in soft-core porno chic heaven with the 1974 French adult sensation Emmanuelle (Madman). It’s a film that brought soft-core exploitation cinema to the mainstream thanks to it’s incredibly high production values and attractive cast. It established all the cliches, with an exotic locale simmering with sexual tension (Thailand), and a young innocent newly married woman beginning a tempestuous voyage of sexual discovery when she joins her highly sexed totally sleazy diplomat husband. It’s dripping with gloss, clearly the filmmakers figuring (correctly) that if they amp up the production values then no one would mind so much that the whole film is just a pretentious excuse to get Sylvia Kristel to nude up and be dry humped by everything that moves. Actually that’s not altogether true, her husband dresses her provocatively and sends her out with a sinister old pervert who educates her by taking her to an opium den and watching while she’s raped. Nothing like a spot of deflowering to get the juices flowing. Yet that’s only the beginning in a questionably erotic film from Just Jaeckin (The Story of O), with music from Francis Lai (The Godfather).

By the time the second film comes around, imaginatively titled Emmanuelle 2 (Madman), the tables have turned for our heroine. She’s been transformed into a sexual predator, preying on animal, mineral and vegetable, grooming innocent young virgins for her marital bed and wrapping her legs around anything with a pulse. Set in Hong Kong, the couple have surrounded themselves with a bunch of sleazy ex pat swingers, where life is just one big never ending key party. The production values here may actually be better than the first, and there are some genuinely erotic moments such as a bit of three-way rub and tug action in a Bali bathhouse, but perhaps to compensate even the slightest whiff of narrative is thrown out with the bath-water and we’re just left with an increasingly tiring bunch of lushly shot scenes of nude people rubbing, licking and unconvincingly pretending to hump each other.

By our third adventure, Emmanuelle 3 (Madman) the cracks are showing. Firstly Emmanuelle has cut her hair and looks a little like a stern primary school teacher, then her love interest, the studly film director Gregory looks leathery like Roy Scheider and acts with the vitality of Keanu Reeves on heavy sedation. This time our oily couple are in Seychelles and Emmanuelle is tiring of the debauchery. The free love psycho babble of the previous films is increasingly sounding like convenient rationalisations for her husband’s attempts to get his end into the help, and even the climaxes are becoming increasingly hollow. Whilst the first film was about Emmanuelle’s physical awakening, this film is about her emotional development, realising that in her pursuit of pleasure she’s actually forgoing the one thing she truly wants. With a Serge Gainsbourg soundtrack, this is actually the best in the series, a real critique on the supposedly super cool liberated lifestyle celebrated in the first two.

Emmanuelle 4 (Madman) is a travesty, shot in the 80’s, six years after the third it’s barely related to the previous three and impossible to watch. The plot revolves around Emmanuelle, now referred to by the actors name, Sylvia, who escaping a stalker ex lover travels to Brazil to get some plastic surgery. Under the knife she goes back to a 20 year old and played by a different actress proceeds to root everyone she stumbles across, including the seedy bloke she was running from. This may possibly be the worst film Fragmented Films has ever submitted to. Within the first five minutes three characters have voice overs, then there’s this ultra kitsch screen wipe that’s an animated zip that gets pulled down the screen, inexplicably transporting us into into a studio set where the old Emmanuelle does these curious psycho sexual things to people, totally unrelated to the plot. It makes Ed Wood seem like Fellini.

After four paragraphs of beating around the bush (so to speak), lets cut to the chase. Eraserhead (Umbrella) is the greatest film ever made by anyone anywhere ever at any time. David Lynch created a new form of cinematic language with this strange malformed baby, a lush wondrous fever dream with some of the most incredible sound design you will ever experience. This is a digitally re-mastered special edition with an hilarious 90 minute making of documentary which is simply Lynch reminiscing and tangenting off about the strange band of outsiders who labored on this baby for five years. We’ve never had such insight into how this magical beast was created – it’s the holy grail.

Fragmented Frequencies Aug 09

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US group Dengue Fever were a total assault on the senses at this years Womadelaide. Firstly it’s their revival and celebration of 60’s and 70’s Cambodian psychedelic rock, then it’s the way they look. They’re like the X-Men of music, each member is a super hero with special powers.

At the time Fragmented Frequencies wrote: “They’re the ultimate eye candy. I defy you to tear your eyes from the gorgeous five foot nothing lead singer Chhom Nimol, squeezed into a tight pink skirt who obtained these impossibly high pitches with her vocals. The guitarist looked like ZZ Top’s early years, the bass player is a giant, the sax player and the drummer both just stole the booze from a Tom Waits session and the keyboardist looks like a down on his luck pawn shop dealer. They’re a cartoon, with kitsch choreographed stage moves and it all seems like a gimmick, except their music, psychedelic Cambodian pop from the 60’s was incredible, They drew upon their last album Venus on Earth (Real World/Planet Company) and in particular their trans global duet Tiger Phone Card went down a treat. It was Kenny and Dolly for the cool kids, though you couldn’t help feeling a little uncomfortable after noticing a raincoat brigade congregating in front of Chhom.”

Sleepwalking Through The Meekong (M80/ Planet Company) is a film that peels beneath the veneer, that adds a few additional dimensions to the band. Part travelogue, part rock bio, it documents their tour to Cambodia in 2005. For Nimol, who was already apparently a successful karaoke singer before moving to the US, it’s a homecoming and for the others you can sense the tension as they’re not quite sure what the Cambodians will make of Americans plundering their heritage. Through interviews with all members, gigs in sleazy dives, visits to music schools and a large open air festival you see music used as a form of cultural exchange. The Cambodian’s are amused and seem genuinely touched by these crazy Americans. And then you understand why. The music is in danger of being forgotten, as it comes from an era that was totally extinguished in the Killing Fields of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, where one and a half million people, mostly professionals, musicians and artists were slaughtered, and music (aside from state sponsored) was outlawed. There are some harrowing tales here and the music comes across as a way of healing some of these wounds. Dengue Fever jam with a bunch of kids learning traditional music, also Cambodian traditional and pop musicians and the film and the accompanying soundtrack are amazing affirming documents The great thing is that much of Dengue Fever’s repatoire is these old songs that everyone knows, so it’s pretty easy to get a singalong. Sleepwalking Through The Meekong features the film with a bunch of special features, also the soundtrack which blends field recordings, street musicians with Dengue Fever, with a particularly impressive version of Ethiopian legend Mulatu Astatke’s Ethanopium.

It’s album number 4 for Malian seven piece Tinariwen (Shock), and on Imidiwan Companion we’re seeing a refinement of their unique and beautiful sound. Such is this incredible Toureg ensemble’s popularity that they’ve played with everyone from the Rolling Stones to Tuung in the last few years, even landing in Melbourne earlier this year, seducing audiences with their hypnotic webs of guitar, hand drums and evocative call and response vocals. If you want desert rock, if you want to know where the blues came from, it’s all right here. It feels incredibly immediate, once the repetative riffing begins all you can see are sweeping vistas of sand. Whilst the earthy groove underlies all their tunes, ocassionally here they strip it right back to bass and percussion, amping up the funk, playing a little more with dynamics. They also do this gentle stripped back fireside groove, that when the group vocals comes in the hair stands up on the back of your neck. There seems to be a little more spoken word here than previously, kind’ve gruff and throaty, but really if you’re a fan of any of their previous releases you’re not going to be disappointed here.