Fragmented Frequencies June 16

the hot spot_001As a director Dennis Hopper had his flashes of genius, madness and self-indulgent foolishness. People always gush about Easy Rider or its follow up the near mystical cocaine damaged The Last Movie. And whilst I’ll tip my hat to 1988’s Colors, my favourite is the failed 1990 desert noir The Hot Spot. There’s a lot to like, Don Johnson as the smooth drifter looking for a second chance, who falls into bed with his car dealer boss’ wife Virginia Madsen, whilst simultaneously falling for Jennifer Connolly, the innocent ingénue. With bank heists, femme fatales and an amoral every-man searching for his soul, caught between his brain and his balls, it’s noir for the 90’s. And whilst the sun soaked ‘Last Tango in Texas’ failed to ignite the box office, Hopper did one thing right. He hired Jack Nitzchse to score. Nitzchse had worked with Neil Young, James Brown, The Rolling Stones, and everyone in between. His films included One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Performance and Cruising. Yet for the Hot Spot Nitzchse did something special. He hired Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker, Taj Mahl, slide guitarist Roy Rogers and put them all in a room together. The results really defy categorization, lazy stripped back instrumental blues, with Hooker moaning periodically, Mahl strumming absently on his dobro and Rogers offering shimmering desert slide as Davis steps over the top and drops plaintive trumpet lines that sound like harmonica shimmering in the distance. It’s the soul of the movie, and it’s remarkable.

Fragmented Films Dec 09

Epsilon is incredible. On the one hand it’s an insult to the science fiction genre, limp unimaginative and cringe inducing, yet on the other it’s such a freak oddity that it will make your brain melt. As part of the 6 disc Rolf De Heer Collection (Umbrella), which encompasses his first six films, it combines some extraordinary images of sped up humanity, not unlike koyaanisqatsi, then jams it kicking and screaming into a ridiculous narrative about a superior (female) being (with a broad aussie accent) arriving on earth, encountering a good natured ocker outback bloke and debating the horrors of humanity before falling in love. It’s stilted cringe inducing death on celluloid. De Heer puts the duo in matching shirts and shoots it like it’s Neighbours. It makes you wonder how he could have been responsible for the dark wit of Bad Boy Bubby two years earlier, or even the understated beauty of Dingo (1991), which stars jazz legend Miles Davis, who you’d be positive hadn’t seen De Heer’s previous film when he signed on, the woeful 1987 outback horror Incident At Raven’s Gate. The only horror here is that they gave him money to make other films after this turkey. Yet that’s De Heer in a nutshell: hit and interesting miss.

Wake in Fright (Madman) is a film about assimilation whether you like it or not. It’s Lost Weekend by way of Deliverance, except in the Australian outback the evil yokels don’t play banjo and make you squeal like a pig, no it’s much worse than that, they get you shit-faced and take you roo shooting. The residents of Bundanyabba are grinding down English primary teacher John Grant with bogan redneck Aussie hospitality, until he loses not only his smug superiority, but everything else he thought he stood for, descending into alcohol fueled oblivion. This is outback horror, the residents of ‘the Yabba,’ the equivalent of zombies clawing at Grant, trying to make him one of them. Made in 1971 it’s one of the most vicious and confronting Australian films around. The words “Is this your first time in the Yabba? So how’dya like the Yabba?” will chill your blood.

Samson and Delilah (Madman) is a love story without words. In the extras writer/director/cinematographer Warwick Thornton suggests at 14 he didn’t have Hannah Montana‘s monologues, he threw stones at girls. It’s bleak, austere and set in an Aboriginal community in central Australia, not pulling any punches, particularly in terms of petrol sniffing. But it’s a different kind of love, one that is faced with much more difficult, gritty and harsh obstacles than your normal cinema affords. It’s a two disc set, the second features Thornton’s previous shorts and a great behind the scenes feature with the actor playing Samson participating in a diversionary youth justice group conference apologising for a burglary he committed a year earlier. Believe the hype.

He Ran All the Way is a classy 1951 noir that transcends the premise of a killer holed up with an innocent family and becomes a fascinating rumination on family and trust. It was a film tainted by the House Un American witch hunt in the 50’s. Soon after the director John Berry fled to France, it was star John Garfield‘s last film dying at the age of 39 after much harassment from Mcarthy, and it was written by Dalton Trumbo (Spartacus) under an alias, in jail at the time of release for refusing to name names. It’s part of an excellent four disc box set MGM Film Noir (Aztec) that also includes Orson Welles patchy yet still compelling The Stranger with Edward G Robinson, Robert Wise‘s classy heist gone wrong Odds Against Tomorrow with Shelly Winters, and hard man Robert Ryan, as well as the inspiration for Dragnet, He Walked by Night.

Bastardy (Siren) is a portrait of the complexity of Melbourne’s Jack Charles, actor, musician, heroin addict, homeless, thief, criminal, and member of the stolen generation amongst other things. He begins by shooting up, saying “If I hide anything it wouldn’t be a true depiction.” And what we get is the charm and ravaged potential of a man who justifies burglaries in Kew as ‘hunting and gathering on prime Aboriginal land’ starred in The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and has battled drug addiction for thirty odd years. Seven years in the making, this is raw unflinching intimacy.

Fragmented Frequencies 25th June 09

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So it’s that time again, where the hyper music nerds stroke their collective chins, close their eyes and celebrate with their ears, tuning into the world of sound art and experimental sonic practices. It’s Liquid Architecture‘s 10th anniversary, a festival that has collected some of the most interesting, obscure and risk taking sound artists together over the last decade. This year they’ve managed to land Asmus Tietchens, a German composer who began with tape manipulation in the 60’s though took on an industrial electronic bent thereafter. Fragmented Frequencies first and only contact with him came courtesy of the very peculiar ∂ – Menge album in the mid 90’s on Ritornell (Mille Plateaux). It was a sweet electronic concreté work with no real sense of structure, sound that felt like it was already sitting there, electronically bubbling and spluttering away and Tietchens just happened along and recorded it. Obscurely knowing one of the artists is kind’ve like a badge of honour for Liquid Architecture, though often it’s the freaks you’ve never heard of who tear your face off and explode your mind. They’ve also got Swiss based electronic improvising artist Jason Khan, US mash up pioneers The Evolution Control Committee, German soundtrack artist Thomas Koner and a bunch of Australia’s best, brightest and weirdest intense sound dudes. It’s on from the 9th to the 12th of July and includes exhibitions, performances and workshops at various venues around Melbourne. Check http://www.liquidarchitecture.org.au for more details.

The Purple Duck is one of those evil wrong dudes from Suicidal Rap Orgy, so he’s quite at home on Australia’s wrongest record label Dual Plover. His debut solo album Duckside of the Moon (geddit?) is fucking stupid and amazingly great for exactly the same reasons. It feels like a comedy album, with skits such as Cunt Dracula, who is a nasty insensitive piece of work (even for a vampire) and Sex Falcon which is about a falcon that terrifies townsfolk by penetrating them and then dropping them off a mountain two hours away. Yes we know it’s juvenile but it doesn’t stop it being funny. And it’s part of the charm of Purple Duck who uses hip hop, funk, house, indie folk, blues and electro pop, torturing them within an inch of their life and then relieving them of urine. He’s launching his opus of wrongness with fellow eccentric hip hop dudes Curse Ov Dialect, The Professional Savage, Pig+Machine, and Aoi at Bar 303 in Northcote on Saturday the 11th of July.

Fragmented Frequencies desperately misses Leeds quintet Hood like Tracey Grimshaw misses credibility. A couple of years back the Adams brothers splintered off into two solo projects, Chris formed Bracken and his brother Richard developed Declining Winter, which not surprisingly if you play together at the same time sound exactly like Hood. Declining Winter’s Goodbye Minnesota (Sensory Projects) was an understated gem, a subtle and nuanced work that tapped directly into the emotions. A download only remix album has just been released featuring the likes of The Remote Viewer and Bracken tinkering at its bones. These remixes add elements of restrained electronica to the beguiling stillness, a kind of stripped surreal lilt to the work, with El Fog’s and Part Timer’s mix taking the tunes to a whole new level. Check http://sensoryprojects.com.au/

Finally many people will tell you that Miles Davis and the 80’s are a bad mix, that he had descended into a sad kitsch parody of the forward thinking greatness that he once effortlessly exuded. That said his last album, which he never lived to hear, the jazz fusion hip hop of 1992’s Doo Bop (Warner) is a firm favourite of Fragmented Frequencies. The DVD of a German concert in 1997 however is another matter. On Miles Davis: That’s what happened (Eagle Vision), his trumpet is a dull strained whisper and the tunes are hijacked by an awful polished jazz fusion band with bullshit guitar solos. Davis barely plays, his back to the camera, wandering around preoccupied, perhaps futilely looking for his sound. You know you’re in trouble when the highlight is his version of Cindy Lauper’s Time After Time. There’s also a short featurette on Miles’ art. “I love women with carriage,” he offers to a confused German journalist. It’s the best moment on this disc.

Bob Baker Fish