Fragmented Films Nov 09

There’s something very wrong about a guy who gets his daughter to star in his latest film and then shoot a nude shower scene, adding a further layer of perv, to what is equal parts kitsch and creepy. We’re talking Italian horror maestro Dario Argento here, finalising his supernatural trilogy of Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980) with 2007’s Mother of Tears (DV1). Argento has always loved excess, overwhelming and confusing his audience with vivid colours, baroque imagery and insanely loud prog rock music. The plot in his hands is just a convenient way to connect the elaborately staged hyper gory murder scenes. It’s murder porn but it has style. Here the murders are crueler, more abrupt, the art in the gore, not the staging. With Asia Argento (Transylvania), Udo Kier (Suspiria) and a bunch of folks that look like they just stepped out of a Human League music video, it’s as insanely excessive as the other two, but somehow it doesn’t quite connect. That’s despite the joy of Claudio Simonetti‘s (Goblin) music and the opportunity to witness someone being strangled with their own intestines.

Sauna (Asylum), is heavy on the atmosphere, gorgeously shot, bleak and menacing. It’s set in 1595 after the bloody and brutal 25 year war between Finland and Russia. It begins with this awful sense of dread and doesn’t let up, following the weary battle scared warriors who have devoted their lives killing and defiling, now charged with marking the border between Russia and Sweden. In the middle of a swamp they find a mysterious uncharted village filled with the elderly and one solitary child. Nearby is an imposing concrete sauna that is said to wash away all your sins. The soldiers of course have more than a few they wish to offload. This is a grim kind of horror, about the weight of sin and the costs of redemption. It’s creepy, tense and scary as hell, the kind of horror that seeps into your consciousness until the narrative evaporates and all you’re left with is raw emotion.

Journey Among Women (Beyond) is Lord of the Flies with 70’s feminist ideals set in Australia’s convict past. In the generous extras director Tom Cowan speaks of taking 12 half naked inner city girls, including members of ghetto lesbian feminist rock band ‘clitoris,’ out into the bush and roughing it for 6 weeks, “there was almost a mutiny,” he explains calmly. And you can see this reversion to savagery on screen. It’s loose, heavily improvised and posses a dangerous feel, as a band of female convicts escape their shackles and create a utopian existence in the bush free from the abuse of men. It’s not entirely successful as a convict film thanks to the urban qualities of some of the girls , yet as a provocative (read heavy nudity and lesbian activity) study of power and gender issues in 1977 it’s a fascinating, not in the least because it manages to avoid the sexploitation tag, despite brimming with all the right ingredients.

When the hitchhiker beheads his driver, sews it back on and then sends the confused victim on his way, you realise that The Committee (Dark Horse) is a very strange film. This surreal murder is used as a catalyst to explore ideas of freedom of choice and bureaucracy as a means of maintaining control. By having the victim up and walking, the focus moves away from the violence of the act to the arrogant motivations behind it. Written by a professor of economics and with an obscure unreleased Pink Floyd score, this is provoking English intellectual surrealism from 1968.

The Land That Time Forgot (Madman) is a boys own adventure story from the writer of Tarzan, with hyper cheesy special effects of dodgy looking plastic dinosaurs, pink smoke and ludicrous plot developments. Yes the crap plot is a dodgy special effect. Put simply, former foes are forced to band together when they are marooned on a mystical island trapped in the past. They then decide to shoot everything. It was made in 1975. You can tell.

Sex Galaxy (Arkles) is a green movie, created solely with recycled footage from z-grade science fiction from the 60’s and re voiced with the maturity of a horny 14 year old schoolboy. At one point Billy gets attacked by a vaginasaur. “Talk about being pussy whipped quips one astronaut,” “does anyone have any yeast?” screams another, “you were lucky Billy 10 seconds longer and you would have been a human pap smear.” That’s one of the more intelligent exchanges in this proudly puerile film about a planet filled with female sex slaves who are protected by a jive talking Forbidden Planet robot pimp. It’s stupid and rude. You’ll love it.

Bob Baker Fish

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Mulatu Astatke – New York-Addis-London-The Story Of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975 (Strut)

Mulatu Astatke is the father of Ethio Jazz, in this writers opinion one of the most amazing living composers. His vibraphone, conga and various other percussion playing was a real highlight throughout Ethiopiques series, his unique fusion of jazz, funk, latin and African rhythms nothing short of inspired. He’s played with Duke Ellington, had his music in the Jim Jarmusch film Broken Flowers and earlier this year offered up a funky as hell collaboration with UK rare groove merchants the Helliocentrics.

Yet this compilation demonstrates why he is so revered. It opens with possibly his most famous piece, the ultra slinky Yekermo Sew, a cool jazzy beast with one of the longest melody lines this side of Ravel’s bolero. The tune is just so cool, so infectious seemingly without trying that his reputation would be secure on this track alone. Yet the album is brimming with inspired coolness. On the second piece I Faram Gami I Faram he takes a total left turn and comes out with a distinctively Cuban feel to his music, though on the third Emete the horns sound honky like some kind of lively noir juke joint, playing a loose mischievous sound that is brimming with possibilities. And that’s just the first three of twenty pieces, and they’re all amazing, with this loose ramshackle feel that does a disservice to him as it hides the complexity and compositional care.

It’s impossible to get an unbiased review from this writer about Mulatu Astatke. He is one of the masters, and this collection ably demonstrates why.

Fragmented Frequencies Nov 09

You know we need it, we got to have it, know we want it, got to have it, give it to me. What are we talking about? Soul Power! Say it loud. Soul Power! Not only is it the title of one of James Brown‘s most incendiary slabs of pure take no prisoners red hot funk from 1971 (with the original JB’s) , it’s also the name of Jeffrey Levy-Hinte‘s new doco charting the 3 day music festival that accompanied 1974’s Rumble In The Jungle, Muhammad Ali pitted against George Forman for the world heavyweight championship in deepest darkest Zaire. Soul Power (Madman) is a fly on the wall of the festival from the logistical nightmare setting up, to the incredible performances. Brown with a super cool mustache was the star attraction ripping through Same Beat, Payback, Cold Sweat, Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud). His performance is magnetic, frenzied, sexual “It was like a devil set,” offered Levy Hinte when I spoke with him earlier this year, “I really could have made a James Brown concert movie.”

Yet perhaps some of the most compelling moments of the film, which also includes Celia Cruz, a very young Sister Sledge, BB King, Bill Withers, Miriam Makkeba, OK Jazz, and Tabu Ley amongst others, occurs with the US performers on the streets of Zaire. Excited about returning to the motherland, they’d burst into these spontaneous jam sessions with the locals, creating beautiful unguarded moments of cultural connection where the musicians stop strutting and the camera feels like it disappears. “I wish I had more of it,” sighed Levy-Hinte, “that whole feeling you can see it on their faces. It was such a special experience for the musicians to go back to Africa, to the roots and really commune with people.” The problem however is lack of extras, this could have been a five disc set. It’s a great film, but also a wasted opportunity, three quarters of Brown’s performance is still on the cutting room floor.

It’s been described as the SXSW of world music, and there’s no denying the wealth of interesting music and possibilities on hand at the second annual Australasian World Music Expo. By day it’s a trade fair with panels, presentations and workshops, and by night it’s a series of showcases of artists from the UK, Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand Vanuatu, India, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, you name it. Highlights include The South Seas Concert which features a bunch of PNG and West Papua string bands curated by David Bride, the UK’s Mad Professor doing live dub mixing on Melbourne’s The Red Eyes, and of course Mad Professor’s dub/ reggae workshop. Just spilling the beans on how he was able to work with Lee Scratch Perry would be enough for this writer. Fragmented Frequencies is also keen to check out The Chooky Dancers from Arnhem Land, who’s unique interpretation of Zorba the Greek made them internet stars -they’re helming the From Tradition to You-tube workshop. It’s mind blowing, it’s crazy it’s a veritable feast of world music and it’s on from the 19-22nd of Nov in and around the Arts Centre with many of the performances free, check http://www.awme.com.au for more details.

Finally after 22 years together Australia’s The Necks are back with Silverwater (Fish of Milk), a 67 minute piece that is essentially a series of musical movements. Though it’s still improvised, they’re a long way from their jazz roots, nowadays trading in these exotic sounding drones, electronic and rickety percussion material. It’s earthy and sounds somehow like world music, but it’s just difficult to determine which world. Firstly there’s the percussive bamboo sound of the Indonesian Anklung, then there’s Buck’s interpretative and peculiar use of his regular kit, then there’s these electronic glitches hidden amongst the percussion, and finally Buck’s strange calming repetitive guitar work. It’s minimal, quite experimental, often with one of the members silent for long periods of time. Yet it’s also quite beautiful, almost transcendent. The trio are creating whole new structures before our very ears, whole new framework for putting music together, new even for them. This album is multi layered, a textural delight and totally uncatagorizable. It’s genius.

Fragmented Films – From July 09

tim-eric

Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job! Season 2 (Adult Swim/ Madman) is so cheesy, so wrong and so damn surreal in it’s stupidity and wrongness that watching it you begin to question your own sanity. It’s like time stretches out, consumes you and when it spits you out you can no longer trust your senses. Yes that’s right it’s TV LSD. It’s outsider comedy, filled with freaks and weirdos doing weird freaky things that are absolutely nonsensical. But it’s genius nonsense. It’s the kind of work that David Lynch would be doing now if he went for Cheetos and Baconaise instead of transcendental meditation. They’re obsessed with dodgy videotape and crappy visual effects. It’s like public access TV set in a psychiatric hospital letting the inmates do what they want. Both John C Reilly (Magnolia) and Jeff Goldblum appear regularly, even Dave Navarro pops up – but he doesn’t appear to have been let in on the joke.

Bryan Singer’s (X-Men/ The Usual Suspects) little seen debut feature Public Access (Dark Horse/ DV1) is the bastard child of his oeuvre. It’s incredibly stylish, visually assured and the acting in particular is creepy and engaging. Yet there’s a NQR quality that makes it compelling. It’s so open ended, like they trashed half the script, not bothering to connect the logic or expand upon the motivations underlying the characters behaviors. In Hollywood land where everything is over explained as if we’re skittish 9 year olds with learning difficulties, this is refreshing. The key is the manipulations of the impossibly smooth Wiley, who enters a small town and immediately books time on the local cable station. His show stirs up underlying tensions and pits townsfolk against each other in this Blue Velvetesque descent into what lies behind the white picket fences.

Polyester (Reel) is John Waters doing John Waters doing Joseph Sirk, a knowingly hysterical melodramatic soap opera brimming with wrongness and stupidity. All the senses are heightened. Some shouldn’t be, like the screen gimmick Odourama, in which the audience was to scratch and sniff a card everytime the corresponding number appeared on screen. Unfortunately the card doesn’t appear with this DVD, so you can’t enjoy the aromas of fart or dog doodoo in your lounge-room. Waters, who had only recently graduated from making people eat dog feces on camera, supplies many putrid oddly chace moments of outlandish debauchery. He’s obsessed with 50’s suburbia and where Sirk attempted to mine the subversion beneath the perfect veneer, Waters puts the subversion front and centre. Life is terrible for modern transvestite housewife Divine. Her husband is rooting around with his mousy looking secretary, her possibly brain damaged daughter (she never stops dancing) has been knocked up by the local hoodlum, and her glue sniffing son’s foot fetish has him wanted by the police. No wonder she’s an alcoholic. However when she meets the chiseled Todd Tomorrow and embarks on a tempestuous affair things are looking up, yet you know in Waters hands it can’t be that simple. There’s a great directors commentary too.

All you need to do is look at the cover of the Machine Girl (Eastern Eye), to find out everything you need to know – a young hottie in a Sailor Moon outfit splattered with blood who’s left arm is a gattling gun. Replacing body parts with weapons is almost a genre to itself these days, what with Rose McGowan’s machine gun leg in Planet Terror, though the Japanese have been doing it best since Tetsuo. The Machine Girl is another in a long line of shamelessly over the top, impossibly gory, ultra violent and very funny films the Japanese have been churning out recently. We’ve got metal bras that double as drills, amputations, geysers of blood, a touch of necrophilia, and ninja yakuza’s, in what is ultimately a revenge flick, that’s totally outlandish, shocking and proudly gratuitous.

The Savage Innocents (Umbrella) features some of the greatest laughter you will ever see/ hear in a film. Of course laughter is sex in this 1959 foray into the world of the Eskimo from Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause). Whilst Anthony Quinn plays the lead character Inuk and the mix between location and studio footage is a little obvious, this film is a real gem, highlighting the culture clash between the encroaching West and the Eskimos in a sensitive, compelling and slightly kitsch manner.