Fragmented Films Dec 09

Epsilon is incredible. On the one hand it’s an insult to the science fiction genre, limp unimaginative and cringe inducing, yet on the other it’s such a freak oddity that it will make your brain melt. As part of the 6 disc Rolf De Heer Collection (Umbrella), which encompasses his first six films, it combines some extraordinary images of sped up humanity, not unlike koyaanisqatsi, then jams it kicking and screaming into a ridiculous narrative about a superior (female) being (with a broad aussie accent) arriving on earth, encountering a good natured ocker outback bloke and debating the horrors of humanity before falling in love. It’s stilted cringe inducing death on celluloid. De Heer puts the duo in matching shirts and shoots it like it’s Neighbours. It makes you wonder how he could have been responsible for the dark wit of Bad Boy Bubby two years earlier, or even the understated beauty of Dingo (1991), which stars jazz legend Miles Davis, who you’d be positive hadn’t seen De Heer’s previous film when he signed on, the woeful 1987 outback horror Incident At Raven’s Gate. The only horror here is that they gave him money to make other films after this turkey. Yet that’s De Heer in a nutshell: hit and interesting miss.

Wake in Fright (Madman) is a film about assimilation whether you like it or not. It’s Lost Weekend by way of Deliverance, except in the Australian outback the evil yokels don’t play banjo and make you squeal like a pig, no it’s much worse than that, they get you shit-faced and take you roo shooting. The residents of Bundanyabba are grinding down English primary teacher John Grant with bogan redneck Aussie hospitality, until he loses not only his smug superiority, but everything else he thought he stood for, descending into alcohol fueled oblivion. This is outback horror, the residents of ‘the Yabba,’ the equivalent of zombies clawing at Grant, trying to make him one of them. Made in 1971 it’s one of the most vicious and confronting Australian films around. The words “Is this your first time in the Yabba? So how’dya like the Yabba?” will chill your blood.

Samson and Delilah (Madman) is a love story without words. In the extras writer/director/cinematographer Warwick Thornton suggests at 14 he didn’t have Hannah Montana‘s monologues, he threw stones at girls. It’s bleak, austere and set in an Aboriginal community in central Australia, not pulling any punches, particularly in terms of petrol sniffing. But it’s a different kind of love, one that is faced with much more difficult, gritty and harsh obstacles than your normal cinema affords. It’s a two disc set, the second features Thornton’s previous shorts and a great behind the scenes feature with the actor playing Samson participating in a diversionary youth justice group conference apologising for a burglary he committed a year earlier. Believe the hype.

He Ran All the Way is a classy 1951 noir that transcends the premise of a killer holed up with an innocent family and becomes a fascinating rumination on family and trust. It was a film tainted by the House Un American witch hunt in the 50’s. Soon after the director John Berry fled to France, it was star John Garfield‘s last film dying at the age of 39 after much harassment from Mcarthy, and it was written by Dalton Trumbo (Spartacus) under an alias, in jail at the time of release for refusing to name names. It’s part of an excellent four disc box set MGM Film Noir (Aztec) that also includes Orson Welles patchy yet still compelling The Stranger with Edward G Robinson, Robert Wise‘s classy heist gone wrong Odds Against Tomorrow with Shelly Winters, and hard man Robert Ryan, as well as the inspiration for Dragnet, He Walked by Night.

Bastardy (Siren) is a portrait of the complexity of Melbourne’s Jack Charles, actor, musician, heroin addict, homeless, thief, criminal, and member of the stolen generation amongst other things. He begins by shooting up, saying “If I hide anything it wouldn’t be a true depiction.” And what we get is the charm and ravaged potential of a man who justifies burglaries in Kew as ‘hunting and gathering on prime Aboriginal land’ starred in The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and has battled drug addiction for thirty odd years. Seven years in the making, this is raw unflinching intimacy.

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Tom Waits – Glitter and Doom Live (Anti/ Shock)

Tom Waits live is a larger than life vaudevillian skit, a skid row poet and junkyard experimenter bred in the good ol’ days when the entertainers had done the hard yards and had true grit. His voice these days is all grit, rougher than ever, one of the most distinctive and immediately recognisable sounds in modern music. Age and perhaps a few unhealthy nocturnal pursuits have irrevocably seared his vocal chords and the sandpaper growl that comes from deep within his weary blackened belly is the loudest and most powerful instrument on this disc. It’s so over the top, so immense that it’s hard to imagine that it could ever have come from a human being. Yet the emotion is palpable, it’s the cry of his wounded soul, of someone who has seen too much, been too close to the flame, yet somehow survived to groan out the tale.

It’s an eclectic mix of tunes, definitely not a greatest hits collection, Waits delighting in dusting off some of his forgotten and obscure bastards and parading them alongside his more recent hits. Thus songs like Singapore from Rain Dogs and Lucky Day from his forgotten opus The Black Rider, appear alongside a jazzy version of I’ll Shoot the Moon or Goin out West from Bone Machine. There’s also a fair degree of reinterpretation, making the tunes new again, the highlight being Bone Machine’s Dirt in The Ground, which is slowed down, losing its rasp and turned into soothing late night jazz which is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. It gives you goose-bumps every time you listen. Get Behind the Mule is almost hip hop and Make It Rain, one of the greatest songs he has ever written gets the audience clapping along to the beat, causing those pesky goose-bumps come into play again. It’s a bizarre and eclectic collection, 17 tunes cobbled together from 2008’s US and European tour that includes a second 30 odd minute disc of his between song banter/ stand up comedy tangents that are hilarious. It’s a collection that continues to demonstrate what this peculiar 60 year olds last album Real Gone told us, and what we’ve felt for the last 20 odd years – that he’s smack in the middle of his musical prime.

Bob Baker Fish

Fragmented Frequencies Dec 09

There’s a sound, it’s brass, but it’s more than just brass, it’s the low end. It doesn’t just hit you, it goes right through you. It’s tuba, and it’s funky as hell. You might even say it swings. To find it you need to go several hundred km North East of Bucharest in Romania to the village of Zece Prajini. It’s hard to find because it’s not on any map, nor is there a sign. There’s not even a train station. Luckily for the locals the train stops for a couple of minutes so you can jump off there if you choose. It’s here that you can find the most amazing gypsy band on the planet. A German, Henry Ernst stumbled across them in 1996 after 15 odd years of traveling aimlessly through Romania. On his return to Germany he sold everything he owned and toured them through Europe. For them it was a chance to escape ‘this misery,’ to Ernst it was a revelation. He formed the label Asphalt Tango and continues to put out their music and that of a slew of other Balkan artists to this day.

The band is Fanfare Ciocarlia and they’ve just relased Live (Asphalt Tango/ Planet Company), 16 dangerous breakneck slabs of gypsy brass recorded live in Berlin in 2004, with an accompanying DVD of the same concert, as well as their previously released Brass on Fire feature, which shows the band rehearsing in their wet muddy and very cold looking home. The music is of course high energy, swirling, invigorating, intensely sad at times, at others nothing short of life affirming. It’s music steeped in tradition, yet they play with the speed and potency of punk rock. ‘Do you like it?’ they scream in halting English during the concert and the audience just erupts. It’s truly amazing that these 12 balding middle aged Romanian men could be responsible for such joyous feats of musicianship and beauty. In the film we see them in their village and it becomes clear that they’ve decided to build a church. Running low on money they tell the priest that they’ll just have to tour again so they can finish it off. So they did. They even came to Melbourne earlier this year as part of Gypsy Kings and Queens tour with Indian, flamenco, and Macedonian musicians and the results were nothing short of incredible. If you like music with soul and energy you need to track these guys down. If the speed and agility of the music doesn’t get you the tubas certainly will.

So you may be aware that the What is Music Festival is back again after a low key room full of noisy musicians last year. Tonight they’ve got the experimental night from Horse Bazaar Stutter programming and we see experimental legend Jon Rose, famous for playing outback fences, some improvised music from Clayton Thomas (double bass) and Claire Cooper (Chinese Harp), some kind of weird electronic stuff from Japans Hercel, and Poland’s Anna Zaradny who has a very stranage installation going on under some stairs on youtube, but who knows what will happen live. Thursday features a bit of laptop noise from the USA’s John Wiese, who they suggest will ‘obliterate your very being,’ alongside various local noise merchants. Though saturday is where the weird turn pro. 50/50 at the Iwaki Auditorium Southbank features 50 bands playing in 50 minutes, one minute each, no breaks. We’ve got everyone from Curse Ov Dialect, to Rank Sinatra, to Agents of Abhorrence, Candlesnuffer, you name it, there’s experimental, jazz, noise, rock, metal. It should be amazing, or shit, or both. Check http://www.whatismusic.com for full program details.

Finally Melbourne multi media Philip Brophy’s fetish for anime has been widely documented by, well, him, in his book 100 Anime. He’s just released Beautiful Cyborg 2 (Soundpunch), an ongoing series of musical portraits for key Japanese anime figures. The music is hysterically twee and artificial, quite electronic, an exploration of what he describes as ‘that gleaming white plastic heart at the centre of Japanese pop culture.’ It coincides with three other releases from Brophy including a new scores to experimental films and an easy listening muzak work comissioned by the Melbourne Planetarium.