Moving back into Thunder Picks territory, I refer my learn’ed readers to a previous Raygunesque under the heading of Re-reading The Brief, where I outlined the thinking behind this, as I’ll just run through a few cinema, DVD and Blu-ray and vinyl releases that are currently tickling my fancy and worth further investigation…
John Carpenter - Lost Themes
I’ll be honest with you, I’d have thought The Ransom Note would have been all over this, it’s already been written about on lesser sites, but has escaped attention so is worthy of a mention. Lost Themes is more than the sum of its back-story – famous film director who wrote classic synth scores for his early films to save money jams in the studio with son and releases an album of the results. Carpenter’s filmmaking may not be what it once was (who could keep up that opening salvo that included Assault On Precinct 13 and Halloween among others), but this not only bears the hallmarks of his original outings and collaborations with Alan Howarth, it manages to sound fresh and relevant too. Well worth your hard earned, good luck with tracking down the black and white swirl vinyl version too.
Heavy with metaphors, the film that everyone keeps accidentally calling White Dog instead of White God (or at least I do), is about a dog who rounds up a few mongrel pals and takes revenge on the cruel humans who make their lives so miserable. It’s notable not just for its allegorical look and there’s plenty of interpretations you can put on it, but for the fact that its cast, or rather pack, of mutts are proper dogs. There’s not a digital frame of computer generated dog in it. And when you see the opening sequence, and plenty more, you’ll understand why smarter people than me were completely bowled over by it.
It might still be playing the odd art house or in rep here or there, the DVD’s due in July…
Opening scene here:
Like White God, another tale loaded with metaphor and easily open to all sorts of different interpretations, from the ridiculous to the sublime (director David Robert Mitchell has deliberately left it as open as possible), It Follows has taken what seems like an age to make it to a proper release – buzz about this hugely inventive horror started building late last summer – but it’s certainly been worth the wait. It’s like a proper nightmare come to life and you’d be hard pushed to see a better horror film – certainly a teen one – this year. Like many of the choices here, its soundtrack is ace too – not too many surprises in terms of style (blah blah blah synth, blah blah blah Carpenter, blah blah blah coloured vinyl, blah blah blah referencing 80's horror), but hey, those references are good enough for me and they should be good enough for you. Just a shame the artwork isn’t better (like those UK promotional t-shirts, for starters).
Try this one on for size:
OK, so in noting noted that you might not see a better horror film than It Follows this year, perhaps it would have been wiser to add the caveat “unless, of course, you haven’t seen The Babadook. Much talked about – again, like It Follows it feels like it’s been hovering around on the radar for ages – but it’s really worth picking up the Blu-ray of this one because it’s a joy to watch. It includes a proper Easter egg (remember those?) that can be unlocked if you’re patient enough and you’ve been watching properly. And like the pop-up book that’s currently in the works (it’s been crowd funded and looks like they’re all gone, expect them to go for a fortune sometime soon), the whole package ties in with the film too. I won’t bother telling you about the plot, it’s one of those that works far better the less you know, just go and buy the Blu-ray…
Here’s a clip…
And here’s how the book was made…
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve read it all before, another Arrow Video release we’re banging on about, but Rollerball really is a bit special. For me it holds a special place, released in a pre-video era, at cusp of the move to event cinema, it was the first time, as a junior school lad, that I became truly aware of the certificate and classification system and what I was or wasn’t allowed to see at a tender age. Rollerball, starring James Caan, was an AA certificate (ask your parents), only suitable for those aged 14 years old or over. So I had to content myself with press ads and the odd newspaper feature to sate my desire to see this film. I think the film had a similarly profound effect on others too – publishers at Action comic, a blood and guts title aimed at kids and selling mightily well until a concerned parent went running to the tabloids about its high gore quotient, had a regular story called Spinball, a direct rip-off of the film, albeit with additional ice-rink action until its demise (this was alongside a Jaws copy called Hook Jaw and some sub-Peckinpah war tales). The film itself, a classic slice of 70's paranoid sci-fi about a society where corporations rule and the great unwashed are distracted from day to day drudgery and rampant capitalism by the ultraviolent sport of the film’s title. It still stands up well and, like another current Arrow release, Network, is as relevant now as it ever was. I’d go so far as to hazard using the word “dystopian”, were it not ridiculously overused by any Tom, Dick or Harry writer talking about the genre. Additional things to look out for: a rather strong Andre Previn soundtrack, including the wonderfully named Executive Dance Party; the aforementioned party itself, one of the finest ever committed to film, incredibly louche, incredibly 70's and just missing loads of flake and everyone having a great big fuck afterwards (although given that Caan was present, I’d like to think that it definitely happened after the cameras stopped rolling); some great polyester-based casual wear (the future, according to the 1970s), making the proceedings look remarkably like an adidas catalogue; some outstanding sportswear for the Rollerball teams, with a distinctly knocked up by the wardrobe department feel to it, it resembles the kind of thing your mum would knock up on a sewing machine for you when your parents couldn’t afford to buy you a proper Rollerball kit; some marvellous posters in the background and loads, loads more. If you don’t already own this film, buy it now. If you own the old MGM special edition, still go and buy this Blu-ray, it’s got some ace extras too.
Hyena/Snow In Paradise
Every time you think you’ve had enough of Brit gangster films one comes along to prove there’s still life left in the genre, much like a lifeless body beaten by a mob with baseball bats will start twitching, you could say. But there have been two striking entrants into this genre that I’ve viewed in recent weeks. Hyena features plenty of familiar faces, Neil Maskell and Stephen Graham chief among them. Both are supremely talented and they’re far from slumming it here, their involvement signifies that this is a cut able your average lor’-luvaduck-me-old-chinas-cor-blimey-apples-and-pears business. As for the plot itself, well, recounting it makes it seem all too obvious – bent coppers, Albanians and Turks fighting over territory, drugs – but the performances, driven by a cracking score from Matt Johnson’s The The, lifts this well above average.
Opening section of Hyena here:
Snow In Paradise is equally recognisable in plot terms – more drugs, more gangs, drugs, again, violence, some distinctly unpleasant characters, wotcher guv Cockneyisms – but this too is lifted by similar elements, outstanding performances being chief among them. And if there was a prize for best use of 23 Skidoo on a menu screen (and towards a film’s climax) then Snow In Paradise, with its use of the band’s pivotal Gospel Comes To New Guinea, all booming post-punk bass, tape loops, drums and percussion, wins it hands down.
Which leads us on nicely to…
Beyond Time DVD and vinyl or CD soundtrack
If using a 23 Skidoo song briefly in a flick and on its accompanying DVD menu screen is enough to earn you a recommendation, then whither Beyond Time? It’s a film directed by one of the band’s long-term members, Alex Turnbull, about his and fellow band member Johnny’s old man, artist Bill Turnbull (not the BBC Breakfast bellend, but a sculptor and painter, William) and features their music throughout. It’s just been released on DVD with an accompanying soundtrack on vinyl or CD.
I first saw 23 Skidoo in 1982 or thereabouts at the old University of London Union venue (is that even still a place used for gigs?). Before coming on properly, there was nearly half an hour of just tape loops and weird sounds, while the screens on stage (still a relative rarity then) played footage of African tribes getting circumcised and other rituals. It was as much fun as it sounds; but it was wonderfully, wilfully contrary. There was I, thinking I was well avant grade punk funk, being confronted with something that was difficult to listen to and even more difficult to watch, when all I was expecting was some bongos, a booming, deep, throbbing bass, some way way guitar and a few film samples and shouted vocals on top.
Fast forward 30 years, with a lot of stuff in between, including the rightful acknowledgement of 23 Skidoo’s 80's work, especially Coup and their Seven Songs mini LP, in the post-punk pantheon, thanks to, among other things, inclusion on Weatherall’s Nine O'clock Drop album. I’m at Electrowerkz in Islington for the launch of Trevor Jackson’s Metal Dance compilation, featuring the seminal Coup, albeit in the not obvious Palace mix, and 23 Skidoo are playing live. During a toilet trip, I start talking to the bloke behind me in the queue about the state of the gents there and after making some cheap crack (he laughed, so it wasn’t that bad), I realised it was Jude Law. Later someone I bumped into, who knew Johnny and Alex from their skateboarding days, told me that he was part of their old west London crew and that their dad was William Turnbull. Someone may have told me this before (I can’t be expected to retain every trivial piece of information I pick up, I’m not some kind of human sponge), but everything started falling in to place. Turnbull senior did his own assorted versions of showing films of African boys being circumcised, annoying critics, attempting to sabotage his own career at various stages and this is a smart documentary about his life and work. The soundtrack is taken from some already released 23 Skidoo songs, including the magisterial Dawning, all cuts and scratches with Pharaoh Sanders on top, from their most recent album, with the odd version and unreleased track. The sleeve of the vinyl version is a Turnbull painting too. It just makes you wish that the band hadn’t gone on a lengthy hiatus every now and then.
Currently out at cinemas and also available from the Curzon Home Cinema vod service, this Spanish and Argentinian collaboration boasts the involvement of Pedro Almodovar as an executive producer and is vaguely reminiscent of some of the maestro’s own work. It’s a deliciously dark black comedy anthology, with revenge in all its forms proving the key. Anthology films can often be so-so affairs, although recent years have seen a couple of decent entrants (notably the V/H/S series, especially the second outing), but these have a tendency to have different directors and be something of a hotch-potch. Wild Tales suffers from none of that, with just one man, Damian Szifron, at the helm, it has more coherence, less cut and paste and jarring switches in tone. You could pick any of its vignettes of wronged drivers, cheating partners, drink drivers, vicious women-haters as its finest moment, but special mention must go to its opening story, which, given recent real-life events some may find disturbing, but neither this nor the actual incident which it resembles, could have been predicted, so just enjoy. It’s the best thing to come out of Argentina since some kind of weak footballing analogy…
Duke Of Burgundy
More soundtrack-related film business, this one’s a peach. The DVD and Blu-ray of the latest from Peter Strickland is due later in April, the exquisite music for the film, by Cat’s Eyes, the Faris Badwan from The Horrors’ other group, is available now on vinyl and well worth your hard-earned it is too. Strickland has nothing if not impeccable taste; heck, his collaboration with Bjork kicked off with discussions about and a mutual love of anarcho-punk and Crass-related records (still as good a way of judging whether someone is a likely friend or not in my book). His last outing, Berberian Sound Studio, came complete with a Broadcast soundtrack, while Strickland himself runs his own label, Peripheral Conserve (he has a stack of the records in the film under his bed, or so someone in the know told me). The opening track alone is simply gorgeous, all wispy school holiday Czech TV programme meets sleazy 70's arthouse porno, while others, such as Black Madonna (not that one) are equally beautiful. And Requiem For The Duke Of Burgundy is as close as I’ll ever get to church. The film itself? It’s firmly on Strickland territory - as good an argument for being in Europe as any you’ll find this year. A trouser-lifter for would-be critics everywhere (most of them wished audiences would flock to see this as did Fifty Shades Of Grey, as close as they'll ever get to admitting to getting a semi. Essential items.