Fragmented Films January 2010

“There is something in Bruno that is very unusual in the expression of his eyes,” offers German auteur/ lunatic Werner Herzog in his commentary to 1976’s Stroszek (Umbrella). That’s because Bruno S the actor had spent 23 years in a mental institution and there’s a curious detachment and acceptance of trauma in his performance. Herzog, who has never officially been diagnosed, populates his film with a mixture of actors, pimps, street hustlers and freaks. Set in Berlin, Bruno freshly released from prison befriends the prostitute Eva and their elderly possibly dementia ridden neighbour. “The borderline between reality and fiction is very blurred,” Herzog admits as we see the inside of the real Bruno’s apartment, the bar that he drinks at, people he knows. After being repeatedly beaten up by Eva’s pimps the trio elect to move to Wisconsin USA. Yet the American dream they’re chasing in Herzog’s eyes is grim and unforgiving, a cold barren redneck wasteland devoid of the opportunity they’re yearning for. Magnificent, absurd, sweet and cruel, it was apparently the film that Ian Curtis (Joy Division) watched on the night he killed himself – I blame the dancing chickens.

“The villagers are in a collective trance or sleepwalkers walking towards an impending doom,” offers a cheery Herzog in the commentary to another film he made in 1976. Heart of Glass (Umbrella) gave him an excuse to personally hypnotize the majority of the cast, setting the actors tasks then using their responses to script this strange plodding film. It results in a detached, almost otherworldly feel in this allegorical tale about the demise of a Bavarian glassworks factory in the 17th century. It’s cryptic, slow and more than a little self indulgent. Recently a writer couldn’t decide if Herzog was a pompous windbag or God’s gift to cinema. Fragmented Films believes it’s a little from column a and a little from column b, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Circuit: Series 2 (SBS/Madman) reminds us what an incredibly brutal and beautiful country we live in by taking us out to Broome and outlying indigenous communities as we follow the traveling circuit court. We’re introduced to this via a ‘coconut’, Drew, black outside, white educated, an Aboriginal lawyer from Perth now working in legal aid. Whilst the first series laid the foundation, the second really amps up the drama as Drew becomes more firmly integrated into the community. It doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff, petrol sniffing, riots, land claims, deaths in custody, sexual abuse, and the divide between the community and police. Yet it approaches it with a grace, sensitivity and intelligence that is sorely lacking on Australian TV, eschewing preachiness for drama.

Lucky Country (Madman) is a grim little potboiler, a menacing Australian period piece set in an isolated bush cabin in 1902. “Nobody gets out without a scratch,” laughs Aden Young (Black Robe), face drizzled in blood on the second disc of extras. He plays the rapidly disintegrating father of two young people who’s isolation is disturbed by the appearance of three ex soldiers. It’s a bleak claustrophobic gem from Kriv Stenders (Boxing Day), in which the dark confines of the cabin become a menacing psychological battleground and every statement feels laden with an ill defined menace.

The makers of Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job: Season 3 (Madman) are chubby acid burn outs with a fetish for the uncomfortable and wrong. They love the raw dodginess of community television and populate their absurdist sketches with real freaks, Hollywood actors like John C Reilly, and take on various bizarre misfit characters themselves. It all looks like it was made on bad 80’s videotape. And if wasn’t for the gratuitous burp and fart jokes coupled with their concerning desire to smear brown substances over their faces, you’d swear that it was a bold and incisive parody of the plastic veneer of commercial television. But it’s not. It’s just idiots being dick-heads. And it’s genius.

Did you know the ocean floor is a dazzling multi coloured wonderland? That children run across the the tops of waves in the midst of a storm? Or that the ocean is a living breathing creature? No? Well it’s all true in Japanese anime auteur Hayao Miyazaki‘s Ponyo (Madman). His whimsical tale inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid is a sweet little tale of a goldfish called Ponyo who falls in love with a boy and takes human form. It’s a visually stunning life affirming feast for the imagination voiced by a bunch of Hollywood stars.


Fragmented Frequencies Jan 2010

The Kora is a 700 year old 21 string harp from Africa. 71 generations of Mali musician Tounami Diabate‘s family have made it their own, passed from father to son in the griot tradition. Nowadays he is world renowned for his virtuosic ability and better still he’s up for anything. He can play by himself, covering bass, melody and solo parts without overdubs as he did on his recent The Mande Variations (World Circuit), or with Western collaborators like Taj Mahal, Damon Albarn (Gorillaz) or even Bjork. “When I play with Damon or Bjork I don’t play their music. I just play my music. They play their music and we put it together and it will become a new music,” he offers. And the results can be sublime such as his duo with legendary Mali bluesman Ali Farka Toure which won them a Grammy.

He also fronts his own big band, the Symmetric Orchestra, a 25 piece fusion between traditional and contemporary instrumentation that plays every friday night in Bamako Mali. Diabate describes it as a Pan African band, an opportunity to provide an alternative to the negative African stereotypes perpetuated by the media. ” We want to rebuild,” he offers, before launching into the Orchestra’s machinations. “The kora is in the middle of this project,” he states, “even though you can play bass, melody and improvise on kora it’s not always good to do it at the one time. So for example the bass played from the kora is now played by the electric bass, so we are sharing.” Refugees from the Sydney festival, Tounami Diabate’s Symmetric Orchestra are playing as a 9 piece at Hamer Hall tonight Wed 20th Jan. If you’re reading this too late check the Orchestra’s sublime 2006 album Boulevard De L’Independence (World Circuit) and weep for what you have missed or if you can hold out until Feb the final collaboration with Ali Farka Toure is due.

One member of the Symmetric Orchestra making his own waves these days is the finger picking Ngoni (spike lute – an ancestor to the banjo) maestro Bassekou Kouyate. His debut album Segu Blue was incredible, a gentle low key meditative work based around four Ngoni’s all played by his family. His follow up I Speak Fula (Sub Pop/ Stomp) finds Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba on a subsidiary of Sub Pop called Next Ambience, a label designed in their words with “an emphasis on mind-blowing and life changing artists with no particular regional or cultural bias.” They’ve definitely started in the right place. The sounds of the acoustic Ngoni’s, the intricate picking, the incredible percussive webs, the elongated jams just feel so organic so beautiful so pure and life affirming that it’s impossible not to be hypnotised. Tounami Diabate’s presence on two tracks doesn’t hurt either.

From Friday the 22nd – Sun 31st of Jan ACMI presents Yard! Dub and Reggae on Film, a series of hand picked new and classic films documenting not just the power and the breadth of the music, but also the poverty and social problems that spawned it. There’s the classics, like Rockers, a 1978 meditation on Rastafarian culture, and The Upsetter, a profile on legendary lunatic Lee Scratch Perry, though also some contemporary films like the incredible Rise Up and the harrowing Made in Jamaica that peel between the picture postcard facade and reveal a country steeped in violence, poverty and inequality. Check – many of these have never graced the big screen (or sound system) in this country.

And if Tounami wasn’t enough to thank Sydney for, refugees are slowly filtering down from the Now Now festival, Australia’s premier improvised music festival. There’s a bunch of stuff on between Stutter (Horse Bazaar) and the Make It Up Club (Bar Open) over the next couple of weeks, featuring a mish mash of locals and internationals in curious combinations. Of particular note are the free jazz noise drums saxophone duo from Belgium Chaos of the Haunted Spire, and scary loud tenor saxophonist Kris Wanders and Mani Neumeier (Guru Guru) reuniting to resurrect a relationship that began in the mid sixties with their German group Globe Unity Orchestra. Check and for more details.