Fragmented Films March 2010

Bronson

When a film makes you laugh at someone vomiting blood you know you’re in good hands. Somehow Korean director Park Chan Wook (Oldboy) grafts an uneasy gravity to evil dark humour in Thirst (Eastern Eye), pretending not to enjoy the chilling moments of absurd bleakness. It’s vampirism as a disease when a Roman Catholic priest nobly volunteers to test an experimental vaccine and comes out with a penchant for struggling to restrain himself during ‘that time of the month.’ It’s the anti Twilight, very sick, occasionally slapstick, and very very not sexy.

So this idiot grabs his sawn off shotgun and attempts to rob a post office. The police nab him and he gets seven years. But he’s not done yet. “I love you,” says Charlie to his stripper girlfriend. “It’s been nice,” she says to a man with no impulse control. A man who’s name wasn’t big enough to fit him and changed it to Charles Bronson. In Bronson (Madman) every moment is filled with dread as the ultra violent Bronson finds real joy in defying society and attempting to murder everyone he comes into contact with. It’s part Chopper part A Clockwork Orange, combined with Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn’s (The Pusher trilogy) yen for tension, viewing Bronson’s ultra violence as artistic expression. Having now spent 30 of 34 years in solitary confinement Refn in his directors commentary suggests he sees a lot of himself in Bronson. Scary

It’s impossible not to recognise the genius of Withnail and I (Umbrella) in the opening credits. Nothing happens. A bloke in a messy apartment puts on the kettle and a jacket. Yet it’s to the strains of King Curtis live at the Filmore East, so when the applause starts it feels like we’re applauding the kettle and jacket, the mundane now worthy of adoration. It’s a squalid tale of two out of work actors loading up on inebrients and taking a trip to the country to unwind from, well, nothing. The beauty of this film is that even midway through you still really have no idea what’s going on. It’s the ultimate drug film, hell they consume so much booze that there’s even a drinking game where you follow Richard E Grant’s eccentric lunatic Withnail drink for drink. It’s okay though, they let you substitute rum for the lighter fuel. This Blue Ray version looks great, brimming with extras, ridiculous quotes and one of the wrongest attempts at seduction ever courtesy of the very round very red and very randy Uncle Monty. Just don’t expect it to be normal. Or to be normal yourself afterwards.

Michael Hutchence as a seedy self involved drug addict, a talentless lead singer of an angry young band of no hopers? Bit of a stretch right? Director Richard Lowenstein, director of numerous INXS videoclips delivers a messy affectionate almost plotless ode to the decline of the 1970’s punk scene, ecstatically sweeping through the human debris of a grotty share-house in inner Melbourne. Dogs In Space (Umbrella), re released on Blue Ray, looks more vivid than ever, you can almost smell every stain, touch every hair on the livestock wandering the hallways. The bevy of extras features a bunch of middle aged blokes fondly reminiscing about the joys of getting mangled, whilst Ollie Olsen prefers the film to actually living through it.

Hey you wanna buy a t-shirt? Che Part One: The Argentine (Paramount) is Steven Soderbergh’s attempt not to be the ugly American, a Spanish language biopic of Ernest ‘Che’ Guevara that chronicles the events leading up to the Cuban revolution. In the extras Soderbergh, who frequently cuts back and forth in time says “I didn’t want to make a film where someone asked, ‘so why do they call you Che?’ So instead we learn little of the man, and like all Jesus flicks, every action Che makes is treated with the utmost reverence. Che is nice to people, so he is kind, he treats them with respect and they respond accordingly, therefore he is smart. Soderbergh is methodical in his treatment of guerilla warfare and a restrained Del Toro is exceptional. Che Part Two: Guerilla (Paramount) leapfrogs to years after the revolution when the restless revolutionary travels to Bolivia to further the cause. Strangely it’s almost a mirror of the first, filled with repetitive scenes of guerillas training and heroic death in battle sequences with people we haven’t yet developed an emotional attachment to. In fact there’s something strangely impersonal here, despite the 253 minutes spent with the Che’s he remains little more than an emblem.

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Fragmented Frequencies March 2010 (Womadelaide Edition)

Mariem Hassan

With 500 artists from 27 countries across 4 days of music, workshops, cooking demonstrations, and theatre, WOMADelaide strives to change what you know about festivals. Say goodbye to chips smeared into grass you’re trying to sit on, vomiting bogans or riffing guitars. This is about musical discovery. Set in the gorgeous surrounds of the Adelaide Botanical Gardens, each stage was dwarfed by mammoth trees which would reach over and provide shade to the patrons, whilst a gust of wind would send the leaves rustling, often on cue with the music.

Mahmoud Ahmed

A huge draw-card on the friday night, singer Mahmoud Ahmed, star of the Ethiopiques series from the Golden Age of 70’s Ethiopia, looked stately in a white robe, his incredible vocals snaked through the slinky jazzy music of his French band. Later Jamaican icons the Skatalites proclaimed they were the original ska band before playing an amusing cover of Burning Ring of Fire. Yet it’s a little like watching the Ramones crossed with Tijuana Brass, the legend status clashing a little with the kitsch. Speaking of Tijuana, the Nortec Collective were up next, a terrifying mix of traditional Mexican music combined with house and electronic beats. With a large television screen featuring uber cliched images of dodgy Mexicans as well as instructions to ‘shake it,’ they were simultaneously repellent and fascinating. Multiple viewings did nothing to clarify whether fight or flight was the appropriate response for this insane curio. Finally Azerbaijan singer Gochag Askarov and his quartet of traditional players effortlessly washed the Nortec out of our mouths. Their music was almost baroque, ancient traditions with lutes, fiddles, pipes and hand percussion that lulled us out into the Adelaide night.

Mariem Hassan

One of the big surprises was Western Saharan vocalist and percussionist Mariem Hassan. Her live performances were explosive, flanked by two electric guitars playing a kind of traditional yet minimal desert funk. A few days later she conducted a dance workshop where they taught us the Ostrich Dance, and later still she demonstrated how to cook camel stew. Whilst the music was warm and soulful the insight she offered into the culture of the displaced Western Saharans was both moving and heartbreaking. Whilst Djan Djan offered some light breezy guitar, kora and tabla music, it was the solo Kora set from a third of the trio, Malian Mamadou Diabate that was the real highlight. Performing in the light rain on a tiny stage, his facial gestures as he worked his way around the ancient African harp were fascinating and the music like liquid.

Melbourne 19 piece Public Opinion Afro Orchestra barely fit on stage as the heavens opened up and the crowd went wild dancing in a frenzy to the hip hop and afrobeat grooves off their newly released monster Do Anything Go Anywhere. Later Dub Colossus, a fusion between UK Producer Nick Page (Temple of Sound) and a couple of Ethiopian singers, with big brass, and piano, wowed the crowd with everything from reggae to salsa, updating the Ethiopiques for this generation. And then France ska punk vaudeville lunatics Babylon Circus hit the stage, a band we would see three times in four days (including their club show in Melbourne), where they mix pop hooks and showmanship in a high energy melodic bast – check out their recent La Belle Etoille (Cartell) it’s a cracker.

Kamel El Harrachi

Elsewhere Melbourne based Russian criminals VulgaGrad were typically seedy and a lot of fun, the contemporary Taiwanese dance company LAFA were simply astonishing with their use of silhouettes and a single table. Algerian popstar and oud exponent Kamel El Harrachi was passionate and gracious, Hungarian gypsy fusion ensemble Besh o droM, were like a new band with each song, Ray Lee’s Siren was an awe inspiring sound installation of spinning tones and Aboriginal Arnhem Land group Young Wagilak Group‘s enthusiasm and desire to share their culture was infectious.

And then there was Ravi Shankar. The 90 year old Indian maestro, performing with his daughter Anoushka to 20,000 seated fans. It’s like a ‘mini Woodstock’ he quipped, before launching into a series of long ragas. Ravi is music royalty and his music tonight was amongst the most amazing, soulful and beautiful Fragmented Frequencies has ever experienced. He’s here on the 20th of March. You have to go.

Photos from Carla Martins.