Sunday, September 29, 2013

Weekly Mondo Round-Up: The Liberosis Edition

Liberosis? You might be thinking, “excuse me, I've already been tested for that,” but no, it's not a disease. Instead, it is a word that popped up on a site I follow called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. (After all, sorrow is rampantly common in this world, so the one that is obscure is to be contemplated and shared.) They list Liberosis as the following;

n. the desire to care less about things—to loosen your grip on your life before you reach the end zone, to stop glancing behind you every few steps, afraid that someone will snatch it from you—rather to hold your life loosely and playfully, like a volleyball, keeping it in the air, with only quick fleeting interventions, bouncing freely in the hands of trusted friends, always in play.

This definitely caught my eye. It's a desire I think deep down a lot of us can empathize with. Not about the things that actually matter to us, but on the fears that hold you back. I've heard people express wishes like “I wish I could be an artist” or “I would love to write.” My answer is usually “well then, do it!” Failure is something no one wants to experience and even the biggest masochist in the world doesn't always want to be told no. That said, a feeling that's darker and more tinged with a melancholy punch is that special breed of regret. The dreaded “What if?” variety. Rejection is that slap in the face that stings initially but you will heal from it. Often, more quickly than you think. But the “what if?” head trip is a powerful, toxic beast that's not worth the stomach and heart ache. 

Something that has been filling me with liberosis of the most positive kind is a semi-obscure and ultra-amazing blues-punk-rock band from the mid-late 1980's called Da Willys. This band first appeared on my radar thanks to an appearance on a series called Hard and Heavy. While the series was as cheese ball as it sounds, there was one episode where they were clearly trying to bridge the worlds of heavy metal with the then burgeoning “alternative” movement. In addition to a funny interview with an early incarnation of The Lunachicks, plus Da Willys. 

The band were instantly awesome and not above taking the piss out of the interviewer, including one of my favorite replies ever. When asked if they do drugs, singer Lynne Von responds, “No. We can't afford drugs.” Even better, the little tidbits of music you see them do live is actually good. It's rough in the way that quality blues-rock should be. The blues, before it became co-opted by bad butt-bar-rock beer commercials and Eric Clapton, were a rough, raw and real form of music. Between the scraplings we're given here and the tiny handful of clips that have surfaced on YouTube, Da Willys really were the real deal. Probably too real to ever make it to the mainstream, but then again think about how many forgettable bands make it to the land of milk and honey, all for naught? After all, which band would you rather listen to; Glass Tiger or Da Willys

Singer Lynne Von is still active musically and has even Dj'ed a few events, while drummer Peter Landau is now a working writer and mighty good one at that. Guitarist Leon Ross passed away back in 1992 and the titular Willy is now living in Pennsylvania. There's also a great Flickr gallery of band photos and fliers, featuring art by both Landau and Von, often reminiscent of underground comic book artists like R. Crumb. 

File under you can never tell what people are going to respond to, my “Witchcraft 70” piece on Dangerous Minds has been doing exceptional, especially for a piece on a decades old mondo film about the “dark arts.” So big thanks to everyone who has been digging it. I'm sure the horned one appreciates. it. There's more work on the near horizon, including something old and something new. 

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Weekly Mondo Round-Up: The Bang Bang Edition

The past few weeks have been extremely exciting for fringe culture fans everywhere. For those in the know, the uber-fantastique film festival, L'Etrange just wrapped up, with one of its best line-ups ever. The festival included showings of Frank Henenlotter's incredible looking documentary “That's Sexploitation,” John Waters “Desperate Living” (my personal favorite of his), tributes to “Last Horror Film” star Caroline Munro  and even a showing of Erich von Stroheim's “Foolish Wives.” Of course, the granddaddy move was the focus on the work of Stephen Sayadian, with each film being presented by the man himself. Getting to see an artist I admire greatly get this kind of recognition is a huge joy. For the curious, there's also a good interview up on Twitch.

My only problem with a lot of the press, which has honestly been wonderful, is that I think we can officially kill the term “porn” when talking about an artist like Sayadian. If you're gonna call films like “Cafe Flesh” porn, then you better call “In the Realm of the Senses” and “Anatomy of Hell” porn too. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with porn in and of itself. Not at all, but there is an ocean of difference between films like “Nightdreams” and say, “Anal Angels 9.” If guys like Sayadian or say, Gerard Damiano, were European and had bigger budgets, the porn term never would have been applied. It's a classist move, after all no one calls Egon Schiele a pornographer, even though he featured erotic themes in his artwork. To me, nudity and sexuality do not make automatically make something pornography.  


Speaking of thrilling artists, the news of Alejandro Jodorowsky's new film, “The Dance of Reality” has emerged, along with a trailer that looks like it is going to be yet another masterpiece from the man. The imagery already brings to mind both “Santa Sangre” and “Viva la Muerte,” which was helmed by Jodorowsky collaborator and fellow Panic movement founder Fernando Arrabal. 

Another new development, at least on my end, was a highly rewarding trip to the local used bookstore. After looking through the Art books for a minute, I immediately bee lined it to the film section. For a minute, it appeared be the usual one-two-three punch of dry academic journals on Truffaut and general movie review guides, but then I saw it. A hardback copy of “Sex in the Movies” by Jeremy Pascall and Clyde Jeavons, a book I have read about for years. In fact, it was recommended to me by one of the most brilliant film writers I have ever known, so I knew it was a must have. Now, if that felt like kismet, then what I found almost right next to it was like running into a dear old friend. Another hardbound book entitled “Cut! The Unseen Cinema” by Baxter Phillips. This book is very special to me since it was one that I studied from page to page as a young girl. Covertly, of course, since it is brimming with nudity and violence, as well as images of religious/political subversiveness. On one hand, I was probably way the hell too young to be reading it but on the other hand, I am grateful for the exposure. It was this book that planted some of the key seeds for my development as a film writer. Titles that are huge to me now are mentioned in that book, including Ken Russell's “The Devils” and Walerian Borowcyzk's “La Bete.” I haven't looked at “Cut!” since I was a kid, so finding it again feels like love. 

As for the film writing, if you haven't already, please check out some of the latest for Dangerous Minds. I got to explore the rare landscape of kung fu prurience with “Vixens of Kung Fu: Tale of Yin Yang,” which features an all star cast and some of the dodgiest martial arts this side of your Low Mein buffet. On top of that, I also write about the Mondo occult relic, “Witchcraft '70," which is goony in a swanky-devil-scare sort of way. 

Hope everyone reading this is having a wonderful and safe weekend. Fall's almost here and what better way to celebrate it than watching Iggy Pop on German TV lip syncing around a bunch of confused looking models? Enjoy!

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Weekly Mondo Round-Up: The Movie Music Edition

One of the absolute biggest rewards about writing are those rare and wonderful lucky moments when something you have written ends up moving another writer. I was blessed enough to have this very thing happen recently with the last Weekly Mondo Round-up, with my friend and fellow film writer, Goregirl's Dungeon, when she wrote a fabulous post about the independent music scene in Vancouver in the late 70's and early-mid 1980's. If you have not read her site before, please check it out. It's full of fun, quality film writing and you may just learn something.

Speaking of music, one of those dreaded yet masochisticly compelling Rolling Stone lists popped up the other day, this time covering the top 25 soundtracks of all time. In fairness, it wasn't as heinous as I was expecting, but there were some glaring omissions, to say the least. Music and film are like peanut butter and chocolate. The combination, when done well, is luscious and kinetic.

Since part of the reason I write in the first place is some strange moral compulsion to right the cultural wrongs of the world, I figured I would contribute my own personal list of superb soundtracks. The key difference with this list, other than being naturally quality, is that I refuse to put anything in numeric order. How art hits you can be really mercurial, all depending on your mood, the position of the moon, how the postman looked at you, etc etc. So with all of that in mind, here's just a taste of some of my favorite movie music!

“Repo Man.” Alex Cox's cult film, in a lot of circles, is almost better regarded for its soundtrack than the film itself. (Though don't get me wrong, the film is great. How could anything with Harry Dean Stanton, Fox Harris and Zander Schloss be bad?) Staring off with the mean title track by Iggy Pop, the rest of the album is a like a paen to early 80's West Coast punk, including such titans as The Circle Jerks, The Plugz (God love Tito Larriva!), Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies and Fear.

Speaking of punk rock soundtracks, I would be remiss to not mention either “Return of the Living Dead” or “The Great Rock and Roll Swindle.” The former was actually my early introduction to bands like The Cramps and The Flesheaters. That alone is terrific, but it also features the indomitable The Damned, 45 Grave and an early incarnation of synth-outfit SSQ, which later on morphed into the solo career of Stacey Swain aka Stacey Q. It's a great soundtrack for one of the most fun and well-made non-Romero zombie films.

“The Great Rock & Roll Swindle,” a film whose origins begin with being the aborted Russ Meyer project “Who Killed Bambi?” ended up being one fascinating mess of a music film. There are moments of greatness within the film, with some of the the highlights being Steve Jones romping in a neon bed with a half-naked lovely in gold undies to “Lonely Boy,” only to have coitus interruptus via a talking dog (!), the tribal-disco fusion band, The Black Arabs, doing a “Stars on 45” type medley of the Pistols hits and, of course, Sid Vicious beautifully butchering the old standard “My Way.” The latter has become particularly iconic and a great example of how one can really deconstruct something old, hence making it new. Especially when it is the musical equivalent of using a ball peen hammer and some crazy glue. Which is never, ever a bad thing!

Of course, Tenpole Tudor's "Who Killed Bambi?" does have a huge place in my heart.

One of the most striking soundtracks to have emerged in the last thirty years is absolutely Mitchell Froom's work for Stephen Sayadian's post-nuclear masterpiece, “Cafe Flesh.” Released as “The Key of Cool,” Froom's score, much like the images and story it is accompanying, are not easily forgotten. It's jazzy, infernal and is in dire need of being back in print. One of my dreams is for not only “Key of Cool” to get a nice, new re-release, but for “Cafe Flesh” itself to get the loving, uncut and remastered treatment it so desperately deserves.

The soundtrack for Richard Elfman's “Forbidden Zone” was an absolute staple of my latter high school years. While I loathed high school, this film and soundtrack both were one of the balms that got me through. At the time, I had only seen the film once, renting a severely out-of-print copy from the long defunct Hauser Video, but it was love at first site and sound. It is a great insect-in-the-amber document of the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, right before they became less Cab Calloway and more New Wave as Oingo Boingo. Anyone who loves black & white film, expressionism, old music, nudity, dancing frogs, Susan Tyrell, Herve Villechaize, the Kipper Kids, my beloved Joe Spinell and Danny Elfman dressed up as ole scratch himself the way that I do, must pick this up.

Absolutely one of the most underrated films and soundtracks ever has to be Bob Rafelson's “Head.” Better known as the one film the Monkees ever did, “Head” is one of the most exquisitely edited, subversive, dark humored rock films ever. It initially flopped, with one of the biggest factors being their fans expecting something just like the TV show: cute, zany and fairly safe. Instead, they got the ole “the money's in, we're made of tin” soft shoe, Vietnam war footage and Timothy Carey at his most intense and out-of-bounds. (Okay, what am I saying? Carey was always that magnificent!) The music matches the proceedings inch by inch, with the absolute highlight being the haunting “The Porpoise Song.”

Some honorable mentions that I will write about at a later date include:

“Shock Treatment”
“Urgh! A Music War”
“Christiane F.”
“Bram Stoker's Dracula” (Not counting the Annie Lenox song. The score itself is gorgeous and much better than Coppola's muddled effort.)
Anything Italian between the late 50's and mid 80's
Anything with the names Les Baxter or Angelo Badalamenti attached.

There's obviously way more, but consider this piece to be a little bit of a taste of the proper. Now as a bonus, here are two of my favorite songs from a movie. 

The first is Mort Garson's theme from Larry Hagman's “Son of Blob.” I have no idea how the film is, but I do know that this song is a little slice of esoteric heaven to my ears. I never need happy pills as long as I have access to this delight. Also, Mort Garson was a genius whose library is itching to be rediscovered.

The second is from the original “In the Heat of the Night.” Featuring the uber-fantastic Anthony James, “Owl on the Prowl” is like a hillbilly version of Sam the Sham's “Little Red Riding Hood.” In other words, awesome. (Also, this is for a friend of mine, whose taste surpasses even my own.)

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Weekly Mondo Round-Up: The Rip it Up Edition

 “Edgy” could be one of the most overused adjectives in the history of cultural writing, along with “brilliant” and “understated.” Granted, I am as guilty as anyone else, but words are really just mere vessels for our intentions and ideas. One man's edgy is another one's boring and one of the things I have observed over the years is that most things labeled “edgy” are often the furthest thing from the truth. Sure, a lot of folks clamor for it, but when they actually get it, they will go out of their way to run from it. Case in point, lots of people wet their collective panties over Wes Anderson, an overly arch, white bread faux-indie filmmaker if ever there was one, but a guy like Alejandro Jodorowsky, a born & bred maverick, still has problems garnering funding for his projects. Then again, I'm someone who firmly believes in the adage, “Give the people what they deserve.” Any artist that honors that is someone who will always be my valentine. 

Speaking of which, I got to check out the Crass episode of the web series “The Art of Punk” and was instantly inspired by band founder Penny Rimbaud. Unlike some of the other episodes, you actually get to hear some of Crass' music as well as see the intense and vital visual side. Rimbaud is my kind of hippie. Mentally sharp, cranky and individualistic to his core, Rimbaud is as uncompromising now as he was in the 1970's. The other “Art of Punk” episodes are definitely worth checking out, including ones on Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys. The former is a super-gem thanks to some interview footage with the great Raymond Pettibon.

Going back to Rimbaud and Crass, I love it that one of the most seminal “punk” bands was founded by an older, commune living activist. Given how popular the phrase “never trust a hippie” was, there is something just so beautifully subversive about that. Not to mention, one thing that gets lost on a lot of folks is that punk originally was purely about DIY. Before it got codified by the mainstream and put in an “angry,skinny,white hetero male with spiky hair” box, punk was actually a musically diverse movement. In the UK alone, bands like Crass would have never been confused with say, The Damned or Big in Japan. Not just because Crass was so incredible, but because a lot of these bands stood out from the pack. The US scene was equal as well, with early proto-punk bands like The Stooges and later on, the massively underrated Destroy All Monsters, standing as unique giants along side bands like Suicide, the New York Dolls, The Fast and Jayne County.

One of the many reasons why I love the concert film”Urgh! A Music War”so much is that it is a semi-perfect document of punk and post-punk before it became completely signed, sealed and delivered by both the mainstream record companies, as well as the more sheep-like “fan”contingent. You have such equally great but different bands as Wall of Voodoo, The Cramps (those last two alone sealed my affection for the film), X, The Fleshtones, John Otway and the still incomparable after all these years, Skafish. (We'll just ignore the fact that UB40 is also in the film. Hey, the devil works in many ways.) 

Now more than ever, the air is ripe and the time is more than right for a new cultural revolution. Movements like Dada, the Beats and Punk have all laid out the groundwork to show us that it can be done. Like the song goes, let's rip it up and start again.

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