Fragmented Films March 2013

holy-motors

When you’re a hot new director the suitors come calling, studios, the moneymen, famous actors, musicians, and the world is your oyster. Budgets inevitably rise but you’ll make it back, after all you’re an auteur. And given you’re such a genius why not get a little outlandish and do that passion project, you know, that musical about the life cycle of a toad, or how about a Western on roller skates?

This kind of delusion is called the Cimino syndrome. After the Academy Awards of Michael Cimino’s Deer Hunter in 1978, his follow up Heaven’s Gate sunk a studio. His subsequent films have been tainted with his wounding, attempting and failing with by the numbers films like Desperate Hours, before all but disappearing in 1996.

But what if you went the other way? You know, go for broke.

In 1991 Leos Carax made Lovers on the Bridge, the most expensive French film at that time, and whilst popular, it still lost a bunch of money. His last feature was 1999’s controversial incest drama Pola X and since then, perhaps not surprisingly, he’s struggled to get films financed.

With Holy Motors (Icon) you can see why. This film is too good to make money. No wait, too surreal to make money. It comes from a tradition that owes as much to Jodorowsky as Bunel and Cocteau. The beginning is pure Alice in Wonderland, with our main character Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavent) discovering a hole in the wall through which he finds a passageway. In a peculiar moment of cultural zeitgeist the conceit mimics Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, in which the main character cruises around town in a white stretch limo, chauffeured to various appointments. Yet the paths diverge dramatically as Oscar alters his appearance and behaviour dramatically for each appointment. It’s never clear who these appointments are with, and who has arranged them, yet there is an almost collective delusion at play as participants treat him as a father, lover, beggar, you name it. Eva Mendes pops up, as does Kylie Minogue and she is remarkable. Depending on how you see it, the ending is either a slap to the face or complete genius. Nothing in cinema has prepared you for this. For God’s sake give this man more money. We can’t wait another 13 years.

Speaking of surreal and wrong with no easy answers, it’s season cinco for Adult Swim’s Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job (Madman). We’re talking base humour about dihorrea, male lactating, and bad health advice that’s distended, spazzed out and held for too long beyond all uncomfortableness until the gross out idiocy achieves some kind of transcendence. Or doesn’t. It’s a world of dodgy infomercials, marginal chat shows and cheesy skits that hurt as much as they humour. This is surrealism updated for the burger generation, viewed through a prism of ineptitude and z grade television sheen. It’s outsider humour, where not only do they celebrate the random lunatic muttering to himself on a street corner, they give him a recurring role. Not unlike their multitude of guest stars including Marilyn Manson, Ted Danson, Ben Stiller, Patrick Duffy and Will Ferrell as a clown breeder who doesn’t fiddle with his stock.

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Fragmented Frequencies August 2012

With all of the back and forth recently in electronic music circles stemming from an interview given by Deadmau5 (that dude with the giant mouse head), the concept of button pushers within electronic music is again pretty controversial. The buttons we’re talking about are ‘start’ and ‘stop,’ a live show that consists of playing an ipod and getting paid half a million dollars. A Guy Called Gerald recently weighed in with a nasty ill thought out rant outing Deadmau5 as a failed record company hack before inexplicably charging him with wanting to nuke Palestine. Slightly insane yes, but it highlights the sensitivity and confusion for many in electronic music circles. With most of the work done in the studio with a mouse over many hours, it’s just not feasibile or interesting to replicate this live.

“Yeah its a tricky one these days,” offers Melbourne audio visual artist Kit Webster, who alongside Chiara Kickdrum and Bevin Campbell (host of The Blend on PBS) is starting a new live electronic night called Movement.

“Back in the 90’s you would see the artist jump from one machine to the next, each tweak you can literally see what’s going on, and you can see the intensity on their faces, then I guess you really understand the true meaning of 100% live.”

Movement doesn’t discriminate between styles or scenes, but they want facial intensity. “We want to push boundaries with sound by showcasing the best artists from sound art, electronica to dubstep, techno and drum and bass. 100% self produced music.”

Movement will be launched on Thursday August the 9th at The Order of Melbourne with the likes of Voitek, Mindbuffer, Kloke and a gaggle of cutting edge musicians and visual artists.

Back in 2000 Fragmented Films has fond memories of fronting up to a grimy Punters Club to witness an electronic artist with rudimentary electronics, a trombone and a mandolin craft these beguiling textures of sound. The artist was Nightswimmer and he self released three albums between 2000 and 2003 before promptly relocating to the UK, in pursuit of his other more shoegazey pop project The Sound Movement.  He’s recently returned to Melbourne after 8 or so years abroad with a new album The Sound of Disconnect. Whilst there is some similarity in mood and aesthetic with his earlier work, there’s a greater complexity in composition and execution. Nightswimmer gives the music plenty of time and space, allowing sounds and emotions to drift gradually into earshot, vocals whisper, guitars jangle and before you know it your transported back into his incredible world.

http://nightswimmer.bandcamp.com/album/the-sound-of-disconnect

Percussionist Will Guthrie, co founder of the Make It Up Club has been living in Nantes France for the last five years or so. A regular improvisor, he is equally adept with junk percussion and contact mics as with a full blown kit, having performed with jazz, flamenco, and African bands as well as improv troupes like Anthony Pateras’ Thymolphthalien. His new album, Sticks Stones & Breaking Bones (Antboy) sees a return to the kit. “I was a little tired and frustrated with what of I was doing with electronics,” he offers via email, “it was time to change. I also felt a need to try to bring in more ‘pulse’ elements into my music.”

It’s a remarkable album, recorded, mixed and mastered within two days, with Guthrie setting up little experiments to push himself out of his comfort zone.

“The idea for the piece ‘Breaking Bones’ was to push my physical limits, and play repeated patterns at a very high volume until the body can continue no longer, and change happens regardless of a mental decision to change. The idea is that after awhile of pushing the body the mind plays second to the body, so the results can be unexpected and different to what I would normally ‘decide’ to play. It’s almost like a chance piece, but the outside element is my own self.”

He’s launching the album at Monkey Bar on the 12th of August at 4pm.

 

Fragmented Fish December 2011

George Clooney is boring. Brad Pitt has wasted all his opportunities, and Ben Affleck is an amateur. In fact the only Hollywood star that truly appears to be taking a bite sized chunk out of his privileged existence is Charlie Sheen. But whilst Charlie is more than happy to dip his wick into any female that moves, the crack addiction and spouse beating tend to tarnish the mythology somewhat.

It wasn’t always like this in Hollywood. The notches above Warren Beatty’s bed boast the likes of Joan Collins, Dianne Keaton, Jane Fonda, Cher, Madonna and approximately 12,770 others. He had a compulsive need to seduce and possess women. But he did it with class.

Beatty is also the only person since Orson Welles to be nominated for an Oscar in four categories (producer, writer, director, star), and that’s happened for both Heaven Can Wait and Reds. This is often what gets lost. Of course most people under the age of 30 have no idea who the hell he is. He hasn’t made a hit film since Dick Tracey in 1990, though he made Bullworth in the 1998. His last film was the forgettable Town and Country in 2001, then nothing.

Which begs the question why bother writing a biography about him now?

Salacious aggrandising author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Peter Biskind has been in Beatty’s orbit on and off for 20 years and always yearned to write his biography. Partially it seems to reflect and understand his own relationship with the man. Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America (Simon & Schuster) has Biskind charting Beatty’s involvement in the process, from hot to cold to hot to very cold. And it’s a perfect example of how he did business. He would never make a decision. Ever. And if he did, he’d often reflect on it and change his mind, days, weeks, months later. As new collaborators often found, you could battle with him, think you’d won, then the next day you’d be back where you started. For Beatty nothing is ever over.

Beatty’s work in films is possibly the least interesting thing about him. He used his star power to get good films made, yet he frequently pushed everyone to go above and beyond and then took credit for their achievements. Biskind suggests that he was like a “black hole, a maw of antimatter that swallowed everything and gave nothing in return, neither light nor heat.”

He was also a campaign strategist for Gary Hart and maintained a strong link to politics, even considering running for President at one point in the 90’s. At the peak of his powers, he could do no wrong, and Biskind delights in the games and strategies he used to not just survive, but also become one of the power players in Hollywood. He was a perfectionist. He would chew up and take over from all directors. Then he would think nothing of shooting 80 takes of someone walking through the door, causing huge budget blowouts and angering studios.

You can hear the frustration in Biskind’s words. Here’s a man who had the world at his feet but was more interested in shagging. Sure he made some good films, but he passed on numerous thanks to his indecisiveness. Biskind ends on a sombre note. At his age he’s no longer the leading man, and his reputation for going way over budget have made him virtually unemployable as a director. What a waste.

Fragmented Fish November 2011

A Serbian Film is shocking. It’s sexually brutal and transgressive cinema that is unrepentantly provocative gratuitous and manipulative. When fragmented fish reviewed it a couple of months ago he was driven to warn the reader that you can’t unwatch this film. The debut feature of Srdjan Spasojevic, like Salo, I Spit on Your Grave or even A Clockwork Orange it uses violence or in this case sexual violence that involves children as a metaphor for the depravity of the Balkan war in the 90’s.

It’s caused controversy overseas and in order to secure a release here the distributor Accent cut three minutes at the classification boards behest. It’s this version of the film that was finally released, however outcry from community groups and the South Australian attorney general sparked a review, and the film was effectively banned.

It’s a decision that reignites the censorship debate in Australia, bringing to mind the furore around Salo, Base-Moi, Bruce La Bruce’s La Zombie and Larry Clark’s Ken Park. It also highlights how subjective and open to manipulation the censorship laws are in this country. It’s peculiar that the board can ask for specific cuts to a film, release it, only to reverse their decision months later.

For Accent who have released edgy controversial films like Irreversible and Destriction, it was not about the depravity. “We never pick up a film because it has extreme violence or sex in it,” General Manager George Papodopoulos offers. “There has to be more than that and we have seen and passed on many very graphic films because we felt they were total exploitation and had no redeeming qualities.”

The film reads like a comment on the pornification of our culture, where women, men, even children have been reduced to sexual commodities by mass media. Spasojevic though seems to take a certain salivating delight in the depravity, drawing it out much further than is tolerable. It’s a point taken up by Melinda Liszewski from Collective Shout, an organization that fights the sexualisation of children and submitted to the classification board to have the film banned.

“The story line of A Serbian Film does reflect the message that the making of pornography causes real harm to people,” she states. “However, this message is undermined by putting in front of the viewer detailed depictions of sexual violence against women and young children. A Serbian Film is the violent pornography it pretends to condemn.”

Yet there’s something about the excess, pushing things further beyond taboo that help shine a light on our own cultural practices. And that’s where the debate lies. Can the extreme sexual violence be justified as political comment or art? At this point in this country the answer is no.

For Collective Shout it’s a victory, though they believe that a classification system that passes a film like A Serbian Film needs a complete overhaul. For Accent though it’s a financial hit, highlighting the perils of bringing challenging transgressive cinema into this country. Papadopoulus though is undaunted.

“It’s probably made us even more determined to ensure quality, challenging films can be seen in a democratic, free country like Australia,” he offers.

Fragmented Fish September 2011

Do you know Weng Weng? No? Well he was a major international movie star in the mould of James Bond. He wore white leisure suits, got the girls, nabbed the villains and could drink ten stubbies of beer in a single sitting. He was also a two feet 9 inch actor from the Philippines who according to the Guinness Book of Records is the shortest actor ever in a lead role. Who could forget his turns in For Y’ur Height Only and The Impossible Kid (Umbrella)? “You’re such a little guy,” offers a horribly dubbed lady, “very petite, like a potato.” The films are surreal, ridiculously cheap, horrible Bond knock offs shamelessly exploiting the ridiculousness of Weng Weng’s stature, making him dance, posing him with his shirt off (he has very large nipples) and having us believe that agent Double 0, is a killing machine, dispensing his attackers with well executed kicks to the groin. With faux Bond music, an incomprehensible plot and action scenes where he jumps out of a 20 storey building with an umbrella, flies a jet pack that’s attached to a rope and zings across the ground on his back shooting his pistol, you can’t go wrong. The ladies love OO too, “Are you a sexual animal,” purrs one potential suitor in an inconceivable posh British accent. “I don’t know,” he offers like a frightened schoolboy. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately we’ll have to use our imagination about what happened next.

He was an unlikely megastar in an exploitation cinema revolution in the mid 70’s early 80’s Philippines under the Marcos regime where life was cheap and making films even cheaper. The American B movie exploiters came in their droves; your Roger Corman’s, your Jack Hill (The Big Doll House), Joe Dante (Gremlins) and Australian Brian Trenchard Smith (Turkey Shoot) who turned out all manner of kitsch drive in crap. It’s all documented in Machete Maidens Unleashed (Umbrella) from Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood), which delights in tales of movie making debauchery and lawlessness, catching up with Sid Haig, Chris Mitchum, John Wayne’s son, and a bevy of faded starlets who were just dropped into the jungle. It’s hilarious. It really was anything goes guerrilla filmmaking. Producers carried guns, stunt people died on set and were simply replaced with new ones.

The recipe was the three b’s, blood, beasts and breasts, drive in fodder brimming with unusual gimmicks, such as giving the audience a vial of ‘green blood’ to consume at pre arranged time in the film. Filipino directors also rose to prominance. Eddie Romero’s Blood Island films though the 60’s and 70’s were just the same film remade time and time again, Cirio Santiago offered Vampire Hookers (blood isn’t the only thing they suck), and Bobby Suarez’s Cleopatra Wong is a classic, thanks to the shootout finale with a gaggle of well-armed nuns.

“They took control, but they’ll show you their tits,” offers a salivating John Landis (The Blues Brothers), a man who revels in crap. Despite throwing in Apocalypse Now, which doesn’t really fit, mostly because it’s not terrible, Machete Maidens shines a light on one of the most obscure and exciting times in B movie history. A time when there was no such thing as too cheap. Or too ludicrous. The good old days when an oddity like Weng Weng could become a star..

Fragmented Fish July 11

It’s the case of the missing dick head. But it’s not a random idiot; rather it‘s the cranium of author Philip K Dick. You may know the anxiety ridden ultra paranoid sci fi writer from such tomes as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (filmed as Blade Runner) and A Scanner Darkly, a man who married 5 times and had a series of visions that were either an encounter with the divine, aliens, or the effects of a stroke.

His fiction was incredible, paranoid visions of a dystopia where anything was possible, yet his life was perhaps even more contradictory, ironic and confusing. If you’re curious Emmanuel Carrere’s excellent biography I am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K Dick is simultaneously tragic and amazing – a unique insight into the troubled soul behind the words.

But it’s Dick’s life after death that continues to fascinate. Whilst Hollywood continues to churn out films like The Adjustment Bureau, in recent years stranger, dare I say more Dickian things are afoot.
In 2005 the Dick bot first appeared. Yes that’s right a Philip K Dick robot, because apparently a real Philip K Dick wasn’t strange enough. It was the work of hyper nerds at the forefront of artificial intelligence alongside a robot builder with a sci fi fetish. And they did it on the smell of an oily rag.

It’s a fascinating tale taken up by David F Dufty, in Lost In Transit: The Strange Story of the Philip K Dick Android (Melbourne University Press) a psychologist who just happened to be doing some post doctoral work at the University of Memphis at the time the android was being constructed. Dufty gives an inside take on some of the personalities who helped bring the artificial Dick to life, taking us through the challenges and setbacks the team faced along the way.

Loading information from every audible interview Dick had ever done into a vast database (Dufty suggests that Dick might be the most recorded individual ever thanks to his open door policy with interviewers), the Dick bot was actually capable of interacting and responding to questions. Occasionally it would ramble endlessly about the meaning of the universe no matter what question was asked. But then again so did the real Dick. At least they had a kill switch for the bot.

Dick became a sensation at trade shows (check you tube for examples), and its makers were feted by AI groupies. But en route to a Google presentation tragedy struck. Dick’s head disappeared. Police were called. But in true Dickian fashion it had vanished without a trace. It’s tempting to think of it out there somewhere roaming free, biding its time as robots and artificial intelligence become more commonplace, when one day it will marshal the bots and lead a revolution to overthrow the human race. Then again it’s probably just sitting on some sci fi nerds mantelpiece. Regardless one question remains. Does it sleep? And if so does it dream of electric sheep?

Fragmented Fish June 11

These days there’s a cottage industry resurrecting not just the glories but also the social and technical inspirations behind your favourite albums. Whether it’s Ashley Kahn’s exhaustive book on the creation of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, or the overly technical Recording the Beatles, which details the knobs on the faders on the panel that they used at Abbey Road, it seems like we’re desperately trying to get in touch with the magic behind the music.

But what if this analysis wasn’t about such elusive long past icons? What if it was about the band that signed your smoking paraphernalia the first time they played at the Evelyn? What if it was about a band who inhaled copious amounts of Scotch Guard to record one of their albums that they named after the fly infected shack they were living in at the time? And what if it was about an album that totally turned your understanding of music on its head?

My first contact with Ween’s 1994 Chocolate and Cheese album was via the clip to the track I can’t Put My Finger On It which featured a couple of Lebanese butchers angrily waving their machetes. At the time my ears were still tainted by their one bona fide hit from their previous album Push the Little Daisies, so needless to say I was more than a little wary.

When I brought the album home the musical dexterity, the humour, the sheer inventiveness of the music was a revelation. More than faux Lebanese butchers there was silky smooth white boy soul, tripped out boogies and wacky songs about diseases. Genres were putty in their hands, but they came from a very wrong place.

It’s a point taken up by Hank Shteamer in his 33 1/3 (continuum) book on the album. He charts their development from an obnoxious band that most hated, through the 4 track stoner antics that landed them a major label deal, and finally Chocolate and Cheese, an album he views as a transition record, a link to their later more lush work, a move away from a drum machine and a duo to a live band and a force to be reckoned with. He goes into detail about each song, listing where it comes from through interviews with the band and assorted randoms like Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age).

It’s also not afraid to stretch; producer Andrew Weiss equates the HIV song with Neil Young’s Rockin in the Free World, which is pretty amazing for a song with just two words Aids and HIV. It was also their first digitally recorded album, in a rented space in an industrial estate; filled with stinking rubbish, empty beer bottles and noise wars with their dentist neighbour. He tells the story behind the infamous cover and the booze filled binge that produced the screams you can hear in the background to Candi. He talks of Ween folklore, the Boognish, being brown and ponies. In short he provides this album the kind of respect and analysis that a great and lasting album like Chocolate and Cheese richly deserves. And it’s endlessly fascinating.