Fragmented Films Feb 2010

In the opening sequence to legendary schlock shyster Herschel Gordon Lewis’ 1970 bloodfest The Wizard of Gore (Siren), Montag the magician places his head in a guillotine and severs it on stage. Unfortunately the head is very clearly made of rubber and when, in a shocking reach around, he grabs the severed cranium you can see the outline of his greying quiff from behind the apparatus. Oops! Cut to a close up of said head and inexplicably the camera starts spinning repeatedly in a dizzying Go Go circle. It’s just like the start of Happy Days, yet the curious combination of technical ineptness and a rabid lust for gore make it so much more fun. It does however make you wonder why in 2007 some folks slicked up its stilted kitsch wrongness, slapped it on its ass and turned it into a strange hallucinatory gore noir. The Wizard of Gore (Reel) circa 2007 keeps some good stuff like Montag the magician butchering people live on stage and in a stroke of genius ropes in perennial weirdo Crispin Glover (Rivers Edge) for the role. Like a duck to water, his neurotic pre butchery monologues are philosophical gems that out of any other actors mouth would be complete nonsense. But that’s just Glover. He eats nonsense for breakfast. Indie legend Brad Douriff (Deadwood/ Blue Velvet) is also welcome in a ponytail he grew for Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant, and you can’t argue about a bunch of half naked Suicide Girls lining up for dismemberment. Unfortunately however the filmmakers desperation to be hyper cool gets in the way, deluding themselves that they’re edgy when like the original they’re just peddling trash.

When films that are dumber than you attempt to outsmart you it’s easy to get your back up. But while the Italian Godfather of Gore Lucio Fulci thinks he’s paying homage to Hitchcock in his ridiculously absurd 1969 Giallo Perversion Story (Umbrella), he’s actually closer to a seedy Eurotrash Brian De Palma. There’s a certain pompous stupidity in the plot twists and it provides for a great ride. Shot in America and dripping with gratuitous and startlingly unerotic nudity, it’s nothing short of a classic. Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Umbrella) is Fulci pedal to the metal, a stilted almost nonsensical psychedelic thriller with Ed Wood special effects, ridiculous amounts of nudity and an Ennio Morricone score. Carol Hammond, daughter of a prominent politician, is dreaming these wild LSD laced orgies filled with naked cavorting souls. Bad for Carol, but good for us in the raincoat brigade. When her neighbour turns up dead in the exact way Carol dreamed, Fulci decides to film more naked people. Apparently there is a plot here. See if you care.

Whilst Samson and Delilah (Madman) found the accolades, Van Diemen’s Land (Madman) is the best of the recent run of grim Aussie films, uncovering the ravenous hunger of Alexander Pierce, a convict who along with seven others escaped the brutal penal colony in Tasmania circa 1822. Perhaps it’s too grim for mainstream audiences, as it’s uncompromisingly shocking, yet also strangely beautiful, mining the depths of mans drive for survival and turning into unsettling gothic poetry.

To many Lars Von Trier is the Antichrist (Paramount), yet the provocative Dane’s latest ode to suffering is an intensely raw study of grief and psycho sexual disintegration that will resonate with you in ways that you never thought cinema could. It’s a grueling, bleak and traumatic work. Watching it is like being swallowed up in a cave that you know will never escape from. Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsourg are uncomfortably raw, open and visceral as the grieving couple and Von Trier himself has returned to the technical mastery of his earlier work, highly stylised, gorgeously shot. Yet each scene is filled with imposing dread. Idiot critics suggest that Von Trier is a mischievous misogynist puppet-master yet the oppressive darkness here reeks of first hand experience of the black blankness of depression. And it’s hard to know what’s worse, Defoe’s condescending and arrogant attempts to treat his wife’s grief or her infamous spot of genital mutilation.

O’Horten (Aztec), a slight, absurd and whimsical Scandanavian tale effortlessly washes away the sins and extremity of the previous films with its detached deadpan humour and dignified take on humanity. People drive blindfolded, businessmen slide down the road on their buttocks and our hero, a retired train driver’s name is Odd.

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Fragmented Frequencies Feb 10

When old people turn out to be talented musicians from a former age then everybody wins. If there’s one thing the Buena Vista Social Club taught us, it’s not to dismiss the oldies, you just never know. Since then we’ve been blown away by middle aged Balkan dudes (Fanfare Ciorcarlia), and dazzled by poorly amplified thumb pianists from Congo (Konono No 1). The Tango is another story. Not only is it a percussion button on your organ, but also Argentina’s national music, and its sultry sound throbbed through the streets of Buenos Aires in the 40’s until it was curtailed by the military dictatorships that remained in place until the mid 80’s. These days there’s something of a tango revival happening in Buenos Aires and in the DVD Cafe de Los Maestros (Hopscotch), Gustav Santaol, academy award winning composer of Babel and Brokeback Mountain leads a scattered journey through the genre, meeting the maestros and uncovering the history of the unique sound. Early on we see a 70 year old bloke singing acapela at the race track and we know we’re in good hands. “If when you listen to a well played tango you don’t feel your chest trembling, go do something else,” offers one of the aging maestros. There’s some remarkable grainy television footage of old school bandoneon (accordion) bands and plenty of pearls of wisdom from the aging legends, “He who plays silence well can play tango well.” Right. There are tearful reunions after decades apart, footage of the maestros in the recording studio and of course how could this film end but with a triumphant concert hall appearance from the legends themselves. There wasn’t a dry pelvis, I mean eye, in the house.

Julian Williams is from Melbourne. He creates this peculiar kind of outsider pop and has released (maybe) 20 odd albums. His latest is Zhu Zi Dan Ge (From the Same Mother) and it’s inspired by a six month stay in China in 2007. It’s much more poppier than last year’s Liquidamber, comprising of quite simple repetitive organ and guitar chords, occasional metronomic percussion and these lush slightly unhinged Beach Boysesque vocal harmonies. It’s a strange endearing mix, feeling like your subconscious went out to cash convertors bought some cheap outdated music gear and started a lo-fi pop band. By itself. Because Williams who also plays in Melbourne legends The Hi God People and Inevitable Orbit, plays all of the instruments alone. The lyrics are obscure, he sings of ‘forests of dead peat, ‘blisters on the skin of the foghorn,’ and birds ‘underwater.’ At times it’s a little reminiscent of a messier, more spazzed out DIY sounding Panda Bear, yet at others its a random lunatic on the street singing along to his headphones. He’s launching this weirdo melodic opus tonight (Wed 17th) at Stutter at Horse Bazaar alongside the always interesting Justin K Fuller’s (Zond) lucid trance guitar and the uncomfortably named Wet Patch who are apparently a drone duo.

Well it’s Womadelaide time again (March 5-8) and whilst it seems you have to make the trek to Crows territory to see the likes of Ethiopian singer and Ethiopiques recording artist Mahmoud Ahmed and also the Jamaican institution The Skatalites, where sleazy organ genius Jackie Mittoo got his break as a 12 year old, some folks are actually sliding across to Melbourne. Firstly there’s the 90 year old sitar maestro Ravi Shankar on his farewell Australia tour on the 20th of March at Hamer Hall, yet also theatrical French party band Babylon Circus playing the Corner on the 10th of March. Then there’s the inventive Hungarian gypsy ensemble Besh o Drom who steal musical styles from everywhere, including electronic music and create incredibly distinctive sounds at breakneck speeds. They’re reportedly amazing live and they’re stopping by for Karavan, Melbourne’s inaugural Gypsy Music Festival on the 27th of Feb at the Corner Hotel. Also featured are entertaining Russian gangsters Vulvergrad, the gypsy deathcore of Barons of Tang and Unified Geko.

Finally if you’re in the market for free music Beck is hosting a bunch of musicians on his website including Wilco dudes Nels Cline and Jeff Tweedy, Jamie Lidell, and Devandra Banhart all collaborating with a bunch of others. Beck explains it as “an informal meeting of various musicians to record an album in a day. Nothing is rehearsed or arranged ahead of time. The songs are rough renditions, often first takes that document what happened over the course of a day as opposed to a polished rendering.” Some, not all of it is pretty good. http://www.beck.com/record_club.