Fragmented Films Oct 2012

German lunatic auteur Werner Herzog couldn’t make a straight film if he tried. His truth is much stranger than fiction, skewed horribly by his all-encompassing ego and the madness that coarses through his veins.

Yet he makes great films and has done so since the late 60’s, modern masterpieces like Aguirre Wrath of God and Fitzcaraldo, where he physically dragged a three story riverboat from one river system over a hill into another, deep in the Amazon jungle. People died on his sets, it was crazy. In fact the making of Fitzcaraldo is a film itself, Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams (Shock), documents Herzog’s obsession in the wake of attack from hostile Indians, plane crashed and torrential rain.  Herzog interviewed in the jungle is pure feverish ramblings of a man on the edge of sanity, offering the most amazing turn of phrase you will ever hear. “Even the stars are a mess he offered,” before admitting there was a kind of harmony in the jungle, “but it is the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder.”

Whilst his fictional films, particularly something like 1982’s Fitzcaraldo possessed a gritty kind of realism, he’s tempered his fictional work with numerous documentaries like the strange and at times harrowing Grizzly Man, and Little Dieter Needs to Fly (that he later fictionalised as Rescue Dawn with Christian Bale). Recently his fictional work, the aforementioned Rescue Dawn and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans have lacked the danger and vitality of his 70’s oeuvre, and though his crew are no doubt happy, it seemed like his best work was behind him. 2009’s My Son My Son, What Have Ye Done collaboration with David Lynch, signalled something of a return to form, though these days he’s at his most edgy and peculiar in his documentaries.

What’s interesting is that he’s not attempting to sell the audience that he’s offering some kind of objective truth, rather his ego often has him front and centre in the midst of the action.

The incredible Chauvet Cave in France, which had been sealed off for over 20,000 years was discovered in 1994. Due to a rockslide, everything inside was preserved untouched, pristine rock paintings, fossilized skulls of extinct cave bears, even footprints of prehistoric man. Only a select few scientists have been allowed entry, but for some unknown reason when they were looking for a documentarian they chose Herzog.

The Cave Of Forgotten Dream (Reel) is remarkably poignant, Herzog narrating poetic musings on the lives and circumstances of the artists alongside interviews with the scientists. He’s fascinated by the process of filming it, wearing the limitations on his sleeve and allowing the viewer to experience the remarkable artworks as he does, using light and capturing the contours of the cave perfectly.  He tangents of course, capturing a master perfumer roaming the countryside outside the cave, searching for more caverns with his heightened sense of smell, and later manages to link albino crocodiles basking in water heated by a nuclear reactor 20 miles away, but that’s what we love about Herzog, emotional poignancy with a splash of tangential ego.



TIM & ERIC Australian tour – The Forum

Who here likes pantomimes? Or absurd moments of devastating wrongness? Tim and Eric do, the stars of Adult Swim’s Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job, a duo forever in pursuit of the surreal and uncomfortable. And where better to pursue it than Australia?

Who here likes diarrhea? Diarrhea. Diarrhea. Well hopefully most of the Forum, with the duo striding out purposefully, their big bouncy felt balls and bushy pubic hair bouncing bouncily around in front of them.

“Diarrhea.” They sang into their Madonna radio mics. “Diarrhea.” “Diarrhea,” they sang over and over above the kind of rapturous applause that is usually reserves for icons like John Butler or Katy Perry. All your favourites were there. On video. Spaghett popped up from behind some pot plants and scared Eric to death. Killing him. Later Tim refused to show his nipples, breaking up their successful comedy act and vomited on the audience.

The highlight was a Casey and his Brother medley, the musicianship extraordinary. It was lucid and heartfelt with Casey desperate to leave the stage to escape the pain and his brother dressed up as a hamburger. By the time they ended Hot Dogs and Hamburgers by showering the audience with hotdogs, we were inconsolable. Even the happy strains of Midnight Oils Beds are Burning couldn’t cheer us up. “Thank you for coming to our show,” they duetted with Peter Garret. Diarrhea.

El Gran Combo Puerto Rico – The Palace

If you’re going to see some salsa, then why not choose the best? With 150 million in album sales, and two Latin Grammy’s, El Gran Combo are possibly Puerto Rico’s greatest export, or at least the longest, having grooved up dance floors across the world for the last 50 years.

Tonight the Palace is a place of worship, with possibly Melbourne’s entire Puerto Rican community here, though also a healthy dose of Central and South American compatriots. El Gran Combo aren’t merely another band, they’re an institution, and many here tonight have grown up with their music.

The evening begins with local salsa dura band, El Barrio, who immediately whips up the crowd’s anticipation with their accompanying dancers and percussive interplays. It sounds great, but everyone’s distracted as above the stage on a video screen there’s a photo of a bunch of aging Puerto Ricans in matching suites.

It doesn’t feel like a gig per se, more a celebration of culture. A world champion salsa dancer comes and goes, leaving us with the memory of a glittery gold suite, a large smile and a flurry of physicality.

Then the DJ is turned down purposely and the crowd begin to hoot, and an advertisement for the Australia salsa open appears above the stage. Quickly though the video moves to El Gran Combo, flashing up images of ipods, turntables, 8 track cartridges, and inspirational figures from the past. Though it’s in Espanol, the gist is clear. Even during this last half century of change, one thing has remained a constant….

And suddenly we’re all screaming as the old guys amble onto stage with beatific grins that say they’re under no misapprehension about what’s about to happen. Pure unadulterated salsa heaven. This is the source. For oldies they’ve got stamina, the three singers in particular, Jerry Rivas, Charlie Aponte, and Papo Rosario don’t stop moving, pulling kitsch stage moves, gliding from side to side, twirling and dancing in unison. It should be kitsch, or would be in other hands. But for these guys it just demonstrates how well honed they are, they can do this in their sleep.

Very quickly the floor is shaking, as couples everywhere are twirling around excitedly, many barely watching the stage. Meanwhile over the next two hours the combo just does what they do best, the musicianship is seamless, the percussion amazing, and the banter between songs, almost entirely in Spanish induces hysterics. Bodies are going everywhere. People are getting photos taken with the band in the background. They want to prove they were here. Others are singing along in near hysterical ecstasy. It’s crazy. But then that’s what happens when you get close to the source.



Fragmented Frequencies September 2012

On the 25th of May 1977 a young man watched Star Wars on its opening day. He’d never seen anything like it.  Over that weekend he watched it four more times, even purchasing the soundtrack. For Domeneco Monardo, already a sucker for science fiction there was something special about this film, something magical. Yet when he got home and played John Williams now famous symphonic score something was wrong: The sound effects were missing.

“I wanted to hear the space ships, R2D2, the Light Sabers, the creatures sounds,” he would later tell interviewers.

Domeneco, or Meco as he liked to be known, wasn’t your typical acne scarred, geeky, living at home Star Wars fanatic. An accomplished trombonist, in the 50’s while still at school he’d formed a jazz trio with future legends Ron Carter and Chuck Mangione.  Since the mid 60’s he’d been a session musician and in the early 70’s started a production company with Tony Bongiovi (the second cousin of Jon Bon Jovi and producer of Jimi Hendrix, The Ramones, Talking Heads etc) and Harold Wheeler. Disco Corporation of America (or DCA) worked with numerous artists including Neil Diamond, but they really cemented their reputation with the burgeoning popularity of disco -most notably arranging co producing Gloria Gaynor’s classic Never Say Goodbye album.

So it was clear to Meco what John Williams score needed: the sweat and the swagger of disco. Star Wars & Other Galactic Funk by Meco is a deep funky disco monster with laser beams and light sabers bouncing around madly, and a relentless beat chugging along under John Williams triumphant score. To get the sounds of R2D2 Bongiovi toiled for 8 hours on now ancient synths but the efforts were worth it. It’s totally nuts. The b-side is perhaps even more remarkable. Concerned that they didn’t have enough material, Meco went for a walk in Central Park and heard some school kids playing drums. He rushed them into the studio the next day, wrote some melodies over the top, and voila, side B.

The record was huge; it sold 4 million copies and went to number one on Australia and the US. Bongiovi would use his first royalty check to build the legendary Power Station recording studios. And Meco? Well he kept going, a disco Midas transforming everything he could find into disco. John Williams copped the brunt of it, not only funking up the remaining Star Wars trilogy, but also Superman and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

“Meco took things another step by bringing Star Wars to a vast audience who otherwise would not have heard it in its original symphonic setting,” offered John Williams in the liner notes of Meco’s Superman & Other Galactic Heroes, being careful not to give his take on the quality of the music. Later during Phantom Menace Williams would exercise a clause in his contract preventing Meco from discoing up his score.

Meco’s crowning glory, aside from coproducing Kenny G’s first album and giving a young Jon Bon Jovi his first professional vocal on ‘R2D2 – We Wish you a Merry Christmas,’ is 1978’s The Wizard of Oz. It’s a darker slightly schitzo disco take, perhaps more menacing due to the strange vocals over the typically symphonic score and relentless disco shuffle. Ding Dong the Witch is Dead is particularly terrifying, with a shrieking witch and sped up munchkins. You don’t know whether to dance or hide whimpering in the corner.

In 1985 with dwindling sales and increasingly tokenistic albums, Meco left the music business behind to become, wait for it, a real estate broker in San Antonio. Yet as recent as 2008, at the age of 69 he was promising more Star Wars soundtracks and collaborations with Diana Ross and Brittany Spears. Yet not only have these not eventuated, but Meco himself has disappeared again, so it’s possible that he’s ultimately decided his talents lie best with selling houses, or John Williams has finally had him taken out.