in the recent documentary THE KATE BUSH STORY - RUNNING UP THAT HILL (BBC, 2014) about the TRANSFORMATIVE BRITISH songwriter KATE BUSH, there is much EFFUSIVE PRAISE for such a SINGULAR artist who was seemingly fearless in her experiments to bend aspects of FORM, SONIC TEXTURE and LITERATURE to her will. this aspect of her work is reiterated time and again throughout, as the range of her discography feels as though there was LIMITLESS POTENTIAL at hand and that the rules of pop culture did not infiltrate her CREATIVE PROCESS. she seemingly transcended such considerations and focused on nurturing and expanding her craft and voice as an artist. taking in and synthesizing disparate influences ranging from BRITISH FOLKLORE to LITERATURE (J.M. BARRIE, EMILY BRONTE, JAMES JOYCE, WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN) to even the 1970s GLAM ROCK she was raised on as a child. the participants alone in this film are a veritable murderer's row of recording artists and thespians that have likewise held experimentation as a core of their ARTISTIC IDENTITY, namely ELTON JOHN, PETER GABRIEL (GENESIS), TRICKY (MASSIVE ATTACK), DAVID GILMOUR (PINK FLOYD), VIV ALBERTINE (THE SLITS), BIG BOI (OUTKAST), JOHN LYDON (THE SEX PISTOLS, PUBLIC IMAGE LTD), NATASHA KHAN (BAT FOR LASHES), ST. VINCENT (THE POLYPHONIC SPREE), BRETT ANDERSON (SUEDE), TORI AMOS, GUY GARVEY (ELBOW) and comedians STEPHEN FRY, STEVE COOGAN and JO BRAND as well author NEIL GAIMAN (THE SANDMAN) and the celebrated late dance and mime artist (and teacher of both DAVID BOWIE and KATE BUSH) LINDSEY KEMP among others.
i remember the first time i heard THE HOUNDS OF LOVE (EMI, 1985) by KATE BUSH at the recommendation of a friend in graduate school and was immediately taken by the sensory overload of her UNIQUE singing style, the lyrics and the LUSH production. it was just too much to take in during one sitting and was eerily reminiscent of my initial experiences coming to terms with other SONICALLY CHALLENGING and EXPLORATORY artists like FELA KUTI, MF DOOM, APHEX TWIN, FRANK ZAPPA, BJORK, CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, PATTI SMITH, MIKE PATTON, GRIMES, JANE'S ADDICTION, DAVID BOWIE, MIKE OLDFIELD, KRAFTWERK, LOU REED, TRENT REZNOR, BRIAN ENO, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, JOHNNY MARR, FUGAZI, PETER GABRIEL, DEVO, GEORGE CLINTON, MASSIVE ATTACK and CHILDISH GAMBINO. at first listen, all of these artists sounded ALIEN to me, but over time contributed to an expanded sonic lexicon of SOUNDS, TEXTURES and IDEAS. what makes BUSH SPECIAL for me is that i feel like in some ways i am still very much in the process years later of coming to terms with her discography. its all enveloping aural density and lyrically EXPRESSIVE intensity means that i am constantly finding new aspects of her music to appreciate and inhabit. it is a SINGULAR experience that is difficult to describe.
of course BUSH is also known for her reclusiveness, especially her late career which saw her leave the entertainment industry after THE RED SHOES (COLUMBIA, 1993) to move to the countryside and have a family. there is a sense in the film that this choice to abandon her PUBLIC PERSONA was a means of preserving her sense of IDENTITY and that self-narrative of her existence. it is difficult to not respect such, especially in the modern oversharing digital attention economy (of which this blog is subject to) where there is much ado about presenting oneself rather than being oneself. her life of private quiet contemplation and the shielding of her CREATIVE PROCESS from public consumption until new material is presented strictly on her terms seems fitting for an artist of her caliber.
its a gift. it really is.
photo & text by nacrowe
it is hard to overstate the importance of the former HACIENDA nightclub in MANCHESTER cofounded by NEW ORDER and their manager ROB GRETTON, as well as FACTORY RECORDS label head TONY WILSON, in the early 1980s. the documentary THE HACIENDA: THE CLUB THAT SHOOK BRITAIN (WISE OWL, 2022) recently featured on BBC2 delves into that unique legacy of this unique nightclub decades on. initially THE HACIENDA was meant to recapture the energetic, all-inclusive vibe of the MANHATTAN nightclubs that NEW ORDER members had witnessed while on tour immediately in the wake of the abrupt fall of JOY DIVISION. unlike the stuffy nightclub scene in ENGLAND at the time, where people drank lager and paraded themselves around in the hopes means of finding company, the point of the NYC scene was a fun night out with enjoyment of the music at the center of the agenda. it was also created with the hope of providing a center to a new generation of MANCHESTER artists and musicians.
THE HACIENDA came out around the time of early SYNTH-POP but a few years later dovetailed with the rise of HOUSE MUSIC out of DETROIT that when paired with the new drug ECSTASY essentially created ACID HOUSE. with THE HACIENDA at the epicenter there was a brief moment where the culture shifted towards an inclusive, comes-as-you-are mentality with participants felt a sense of unity and collective humanity through rhythm, motion and dance music. even INDIE ROCK got pulled into the orbit of ACID HOUSE with MADCHESTER bands like the HAPPY MONDAYS and THE STONE ROSES borrowing both aesthetic and sonic elements from the local scene. OASIS are considered a traditional BRITPOP rock band that borrowed heavily from classic BRITISH INVASION bands, but no less an authority as NOEL GALLAGHER spoke about in this film about the way the scene opened him up to all music.
and that seems to be the point of the film. it was not about the bad business decisions that led to its creation or the fact that its demise ruined relationships with NEW ORDER. the real legacy of THE HACIENDA was how it liberated those who came in its confines and provided safe harbor for discriminated minority groups. in so many ways it was a UTOPIA that was destined to fail, but its run is still felt and missed to this day by those fortunate enough to participate.
in the feature documentary HOCKNEY (BLAKEWAY, 2014) about the revered 20th century BRITISH painter DAVID HOCKNEY there is a quote attribute to him that paraphrased essentially argues that a transformation in viewing leads to a transformation in feeling. this conceit is the central thread that connects a life of creative work that really runs the stylistic gamut from ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM through POP ART. at heart HOCKNEY's work is concerned with perceived reality and is figure-based, but the aesthetic expressions of such showcase a talent concerned with SELF-ANALYSIS and SELF-EXPLORATION throughout his life: especially regarding his own relationship to his SEXUALITY. as his self-discovery through ART blossoms, so does his feelings towards such and the community that supports him.
being the child of RADIO from the SLEEPY northern industrial YORKSHIRE town of BRADFORD, HOCKNEY was well aware of the exploits of ESCAPISM that his IMAGINATION could provide, especially after discovering the local CINEMA as a child. movies provided both an escape and a spark that transported him far away from his DREARY routine in a crowded apartment that he shared with his parents and four siblings. its hard not to read that TRANSFORMATIONAL dream-like element into his paintings, almost SURREAL and GIORGIO DE CHIRICO-sque, that was no doubt so aided by both CINEMA and TELEVISION. the later of which he first witnessed as a teenager. even the notion of AMERICA and specifically HOLLYWOOD as a locust for personal expression and self-made REINVENTION seems rooted in this childhood attachment to MOTION PICTURES. my feeling is that its truly difficult to properly understand the REVOLUTION that was CINEMA if you were not a child of the RADIO beforehand. it was an EXPANSIVE and MIND-ALTERING INVENTION probably on par with the INTERNET a few generations later.
whereas his POP ART contemporaries in ANDY WARHOL and ROY LICHENSTEIN were more concerned with the MARCEL DUCHAMP-ian conceit of locating the AUTHENTICITY found in REPETITION and COMMERCIAL ADVERTISING and INDUSTRIAL PAINTING TECHNIQUES, HOCKNEY seemingly was more INTROSPECTIVE in both his focus and his subject matter. he usually painted associates, family and friends utilizing a CAMERA as the basis for his ART. interestingly HOCKNEY saw the emotional limitations of PHOTOGRAPHY as the starting point for his CREATIVE WORK, as he was able to warp elements such as color, proportion, light, composition and especially PERSPECTIVE to his will. though based in TRADITIONAL representational depictions of reality, over time his work confronted the VANISHING-POINT techniques from antiquity and sought out a wider PERSPECTIVE that took in multiple angles. his later work sought to seek the EMOTIONAL TRUTH found in a myriad of PERSPECTIVES on a single subject. almost twisting the idea of REPETITION on its head towards something altogether INSULAR and undoubtedly INNOVATIVE.
in many ways, being a HOMOSEXUAL in BOHEMIAN circles during his career was likewise a bold act of self-determination as such was completely TABOO in polite society. maybe i am reading in too much, but both his ARTISTIC and SEXUAL pursuits were related activities. i can only imagine the tragedy of the 1980s where the rise of AIDS effectively rendered two-thirds of his COMMUNITY gone seemingly overnight, especially in NEW YORK. that deep loss of vitality. that loss of potential. the seeming indifference of a CONSERVATIVE AMERICAN body politic that had yet to come to terms with its own constituent parts. it is still SHOCKING, even in retrospect.
many of HOCKNEY's friends, contemporaries, assistants and business partners participated in this film such as ED RUSCHA, JACK LARSON, DON BACHARDY, JOHN KASMIN, RAYMOND FOYE, TCHAIK CHASSEY, MELISSA NORTH, GEORGE LAWSON, WAYNE SLEEP, PHILIP STEADMAN, JOSEPH CLARK, KENNETH TYLER, CHARLIE SCHEIPS and DAVID OXTOBY. they likewise provide a multi-perspective on the subject himself, who is interviewed throughout. HOCKNEY was an absolutely REVELATORY and extremely WELL-CONSTRUCTED film that i highly recommend to anyone interested in MODERN ART or QUEER STUDIES. required viewing in my opinion.
the relationship between sleeve ART and the MUSIC it promotes has always been an INVIGORATING yet SUBTLE art, especially to music lovers like me. when seeking out an unfamiliar record by unknown ARTIST, seemingly you were always attempting to accurately surmise what the MUSIC would possibly SOUND like given the cover sleeve ARTWORK. most times this was a fool's errand but a fun one. the MAGIC of this interplay between SOUND and VISUALS is now largely lost given the MODERN advent of mobile streaming and various TECHNOLOGY-enabled distribution vehicles that make AUDIO content (as well as VIDEO) available instantaneously. there is no risk in purchasing a record, since commonly in recent years there is no record and consequently there is no purchase anymore (just watch it on YOUTUBE).
the documentary 23 ENVELOPE (BBC, 1985) is short documentary regarding the design firm 23 ENVELOPE, which was made up of graphic designer VAUGHAN OLIVER and photographer/videographer NIGEL GRIERSON. their partnership lasted from 1980 to 1988 and was celebrated for its CREATIVE work with BOUTIQUE BRITISH independent label 4AD and their stable of EXPERIMENTAL artists ranging from COCTEAU TWINS, PIXIES, LUSH, CLAN OF XYMOX and THIS MORTAL COIL to DEAD CAN DANCE and XMAL DEUTSCHLAND. what ties their PHOTOGRAPHIC and TYPOGRAPHIC work together is a commitment to all things and ABSTRACT. their work carries with it an ETHEREAL, OTHERWORLDLY quality that makes it feel very much up for interpretation, much like the MUSIC it serves to introduce. their work is also LYRICAL in the sense that it has an EMOTIONAL RESONANCE despite its OBTRUSIVE nature. too often with commercial COVER ART the images being displayed do not hold up AESTHETICALLY without explicit reference to the MUSIC. famous examples where this is not the case include ANDY WARHOL's iconic THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO (VERVE, 1967) cover, RICHARD KERN's early collaborations with SONIC YOUTH, as well as the images PETER SAVILLE provided for both JOY DIVISION and NEW ORDER at FACTORY RECORDS. these NOTABLE examples standout as ARTISTICALLY compelling statements outside of their commercial associations with the TRANSGRESSIVE and INNOVATIVE MUSIC they were commissioned to promote.
the whole discussion regarding the role of ART and MUSIC is endlessly FASCINATING for me since at its core it serves a MARKET FUNCTION of differentiated what crassly very much is a PRODUCT for general CONSUMPTION. but the core INTEGRITY of INTENTION at display with this documentary in reference to the work of OLIVER and GRIERSON proves that more can be accomplished and render this PRODUCT as INDESPENSIBLE to the right constituency. that interplay between ARTIST and PATRON, MARKET and CONSUMER will never be figured out as they are uneasy bedfellows. 23 ENVELOPE voices this dynamic brilliantly and is a relevant documentary definitely well worth checking out.
RIP VAUGHAN OLIVER
i recently came across the documentary WHEN BOB MARLEY CAME TO BRITAIN (WISE OWL, 2020) on BBC2 that outlines the MASSIVE impact ENGLAND had on the art and career of the ICONIC JAMAICAN ROOTS REGGAE musician. given that he was born the mixed son of a white ENGLISH plantation overseer (who formerly was a captain in the BRITISH ARMED FORCES with previous stints in CUBA and NIGERIA) and a local teenage JAMAICAN woman, by definition BOB MARLEY had a COMPLICATED relationship with the UNITED KINGDOM.
the same could be said about the island nation's relationship to its former colonial authority. in the aftermath of WORLD WAR II, there was a significant influx of immigrants from around the commonwealth that relocated to ENGLAND to assist with the need for low income workers in the many factories being built at the time, especially in the north. this incredible inflow of immigration from the CARIBBEAN specifically from 1948 through 1971 was known as the WINDRUSH GENERATION. when MARLEY came to ENGLAND for the first time in 1972 as part of a tour revue for JOHNNY NASH, nobody could know that in a few short years he would become the spokesman for the second generation of WINDRUSH immigrants would were asserting their ECONOMIC, POLITICAL and CULTURAL power on a ENGLISH culture unprepared for such. MARLEY proved to be nothing less than TRANSFORMATIVE and REVOLUTIONARY in this regard through his music and personality.
being signed to the major label ISLAND RECORDS, which had roots in JAMAICAN culture via label founder CHRIS BLACKWELL, by the time CATCH A FIRE (ISLAND, 1973) was released there was a considerable push that found the group on the OLD GREY WHISTLE TEST program on the BBC that put a face to his music and proved to be influential. it also introduced his music to a ROCK N ROLL audience and a mostly white college circuit that permanently shifted and expanded his audience. this was key to his INTERNATIONAL success and positioned him as a cultural ambassador of JAMAICA, a moniker that has not altered some 40+ years after his death from cancer in 1981.
the most compelling aspect of this documentary are the testimonials that speak to MARLEY's transformative impact on the way children of the WINDRUSH GENERATION self-identified. interviews with DJ/musician/film director DON LETTS and musicians BRINSLEY FORDE (ASWAD), MYKAELL RILEY (STEEL PULSE) and LOCKSLEY GISHIE (THE CIMARONS) all attest to his influence during his stay in ENGLAND. all knew him personally when he lived locally as a CELEBRATED international musician attempting to break ENGLAND. they speak of the time he had for his fans and locals alike, quickly becoming a part of the fabric of the local community. former schoolchildren speak about a pre-BRITISH fame MARLEY and NASH giving a concert at a nearby school at the behest of a local art teacher, singing unaccompanied acoustic versions of classics like "STIR CRAZY" and "I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW" no less. decades later the pride in that event is still palpable for these MULTI-RACIAL former classmates.
and i feel like that sense of unity is the ethos of the persona and music of MARLEY. he was more than a musician, but a prophet of a FUTURE UTOPIA that we all could imagine and touch via his songs. even today his music cannot be ruined by all the lame college burnouts and wannabe privileged caucasian RAS TRENTS that have attempted to culturally appropriate and weaken his legacy with all their lame attempts at proselytizing and supposedly living an identity they dont understand or have any connection to. ok maybe that last bit was about my experiences around idiots at university, but his music transcends those modern associations. his message of unity cannot be tied down to any group or creed. it cant be debased even by his own progeny actively invoking his name while palling around with the racist likes of CANDICE OWENS and KANYE WEST. MARLEY was quite simply a gift to the world and its interesting to know that such really gained initial traction in BABYLON, i.e. BRITAIN,and used such a spark to spread his light around globe.
my god the documentary THE ORIGINAL CHARVEL GANG (ROYALROCKFILMS, 2021) was TERRIBLE.
which is a SHAME, because the story of how TALENTED entrepreneurial-minded craftsmen and startups they initiated took the game from bigwigs like FENDER and GIBSON through INNOVATIVE guitar designs made by and for guitarists is a story very much worth telling. in many ways it reset the table for today's gear landscape with countless high-quality boutique GUITAR, AMP and PEDAL manufacturers. the list of interviewed participants including STEVE VAI (FRANK ZAPPA, DAVID LEE ROTH), WARREN DEMARTINI (RATT), MICHAEL ANTHONY (VAN HALEN), TOM DUMONT (NO DOUBT), STEVE STEVENS (BILLY IDOL), DOUG ALDRICH (WHITESNAKE), BRIAN "HEAD" WELCH (KORN), PHIL COLLEN (DEF LEPPARD), NUNO BETTENCOURT (EXTREME), SLASH (GUNS N ROSES) and past luthiers at every stage of the company's development only goes to show the WIDESPREAD INTEREST and CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE of CHARVEL and JACKSON guitars over the years.
where this documentary FALTERED was in its execution. the sound design and cinematography was uneven and highly DISTRACTING. as a viewer you are made aware of how poorly edited this film was constructed (the ultimate sin in cinema since the medium strives for seamlessness). compounded is the fact that the subject at hand is about the relationship between TECHNICAL INNOVATION and shifts in CULTURE, which means this documentary should have been likewise seamless in its production and quality control. there were also lots of odd choices, like a fully-clothed TOM DUMONT walking around fully clothed on a marina with a surfboard or the director himself walking around in a sand dune like the NATIVE AMERICAN dude from OLIVER STONE's THE DOORS (TRI-STAR, 1991). and then there is the lame jam session with the director and two hired guns in front of lear jet in a hanger. i didnt get the point of that. maybe the director just thought all these DISTRACTIONS looked cool (?), but it just came off completely amateur hour and really sidetracked from the intent of the film which was to showcase the legacy of WAYNE CHARVEL and GROVER JACKSON. this and the fact that it was PAINFULLY obvious the film wasnt able to secure any of the rights to the music of the important artists being interviewed (i.e. VAN HALEN, QUIET RIOT, NO DOUBT, RATT, DEF LEPPARD, OZZY OSBOURNE, KORN) which is just SAD.
i think it makes total sense why GROVER JACKSON did not take part in this film. its a total utter DUD. definitely not worth checking out, which again is UNFORTUNATE because this wasted opportunity of a documentary covers a topic i care about as someone who lived within a few miles of SAN DIMAS when the glory days being discussed where underway. its part of my cultural heritage that i wish was presented in a more coherent, mindful manner.
for years i had a vague association of what i understood to be the obscure 1980s highly IDIOSYNCRATIC communal art project/quasi-religious/cult parody THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS with some of my favorite artists including DEVO and PAUL REUBENS (of PEE WEE's PLAYHOUSE fame), but beyond that i knew very little. so i was thrilled to watch the recent JR "BOB" DOBBS & THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS (DARK STAR, 2020) documentary and learn more about its origin, intent and its two main architects/accomplices IVAN STANG and PHILO DRUMMOND. i really had no idea that there was a whole community of likeminded artists including filmmakers ALEX COX (REPO MAN, SID & NANCY) and RICHARD LINKLATER (DAZED & CONFUSED, SLACKERS), cartoonists R. CRUMB and MATT GROENING (THE SIMPSONS), actor NICK OFFERMAN (PARKS & RECREATION), philosopher ROBERT ANTON WILSON, magicians PENN & TELLER and musicians DAVID BYRNE, THE RESIDENTS and FRANK ZAPPA among many others.
from what i could gather from the film, for all of the parodied RHETORICAL FLOURISHES, CADENCES, MANNERISMS and cyclical SELF-REFERENTIAL LOGIC that defines TELEVANGELISM, there is a value to the effort. at its core the whole endeavor seems to be about COMMUNICATION and COMMUNITY BUILDING. not for money or a RELIGIOUS SOCIOPOLITICAL EXPANSIONIST AGENDA, but seemingly for unfettered SELF-EXPRESSION and the search for SELF-GENERATIVE MEANING. of course by playing with the "us versus them" vocabulary and SELF-AGGRANDIZING MYTHOLOGIZED IDEOLOGY routinely utilized by CULTS and religious sects, they ran the risk of being treated like a cult or new religious sect by the population. or worse, converts. what makes this film interesting is how STANG and DRUMMOND navigate those waters of maintaining a parody religion over time, especially when things get hairy, as in the aftermath of 9/11 and the later rise of DONALD TRUMP. at those points irony was dead and the CYNICISM apparent in the population had seemingly far exceed the parodies and gentle prodding of THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS. during these periods the MANUFACTURING OF CONSENT and TRIBAL SECTARIANISM in the population through internet-enabled PROPAGANDA made for a DYSTOPIAN REALITY indeed.
at one point is the joke not funny anymore and essentially LIFE IMITATES ART.
im happy that the film ends with the two founders MOVING FORWARD and EVOLVING with the times. it makes me feel that that instinct to PROD, REJECT, LAUGH, PARODY, INVESTIGATE and ultimately THINK is an ART unto itself and when that is ability is given over to an AUTHORITY FIGURE, that is when it all ends. lights out. so im glad that the film closes with them not giving in to TRUMP. because sometimes i fear i have.
JR "BOB" DOBBS & THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS is definitely a strange film but well worth checking out, whether or not you are a genius or a subgenius.
much has been discussed, CELEBRATED and parsed out regarding the generational GLOBAL CULTURAL PHENOMENON that as THE BEATLES, so it is always interesting when a recent documentary takes a stab at a narrative most fans feel they already have a handle on. RON HOWARD's THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK - THE TOURING YEARS (APPLE CORPS, 2016) as its title suggests is concerned with the influence that their live performances had on the band's state of mind and thus their CREATIVE MINDSET up through their last touring performance in 1966 (famously the band did a one-off final performance in 1969 from the rooftop of their LONDON APPLE CORPS office to a film crew, coworkers and unsuspecting bystanders).
in essence their two major stateside touring cycles that saw them play to FANATICALLY ENTHUSIASTIC crowds, first in theaters and later in stadiums, drained the band. though immensely FINANCIALLY LUCRATIVE (as the band made relatively little from their lopsided record deal), these live gigs due to the feverishly impassioned teenage crowds quickly became an UNCONTROLLABLE CIRCUS. they played through terrible PAs and could barely hear themselves on stage. adroitly the RON HOWARD-directed film picks up on the powder keg of a POLITICAL, SOCIAL and CULTURAL MOMENT that was the UNITED STATES in the mid 1960s in the wake of the JFK assassination, CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT and the VIETNAM WAR. in a sense THE BEATLES found themselves having to deal with issues such as CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALISTS manipulating their words in bad faith with sinister ulterior motives and SEGREGATION at shows in the AMERICAN SOUTH. i never knew that THE BEATLES refused to play a series of dates starting in FLORIDA id they did not integrate the crowd. those shows were historically the first integrated events at those football stadiums, which is INCREDIBLE.
luckily for the band members, they experienced all of this as a group. unlike say ELVIS PRESLEY who went through similar cultural heights all alone. the band kept each other grounded and when they made a decision as a group they stuck together on such. they essentially EMPOWERED themselves with the further assistance of like-minded manager BRIAN EPSTEIN, who had their best interests at heart. that PRESSURE-COOKER live atmosphere of their gigs led to them developing an INTIMATE sense of group cohesion that led to a deep focus when entering the studio. for them the studio was a place of respite from the press and outside obligations. it was a site of CREATIVITY and COLLABORATION.
the push and pull of the road and the studio is something i hadnt considered before. post 1966 the band abandoned live gigs and dove headfirst into expanding their sonic and conceptual palette into a string of records that basically defined their lasting impact on WORLD CULTURE.
just seems TRAGIC in a way that their stateside live gigs where such a DANGEROUS and ultimately UNFULFILLING affair for the band on nearly every level. seems a bit of a WASTE.
i should start off stating that i am among the CONVERTED.
between my dad and i, we have several guitar AMPLIFIER by the likes of FENDER, MARSHALL, AMPEG, SUPRO, VOX, MESA-BOOGIE, and even a vintage SUNN. i get the appeal of running a guitar straight into a good AMPLIFIER. its because of this predisposition that i am a bit confused by the recent AMPIRE: THE SOUND OF MUSIC (2018, DNR PRODUCTIONS) documentary which is supposedly about guitar amplification but really is about the CULT / OBSESSION / FETISHIZATION surrounding it.
the conceit of this film is one of combatting the recent wave of DIGITAL MODELING TECHNOLOGY that has transformed the AMPLIFICATION INDUSTRY, both in terms of high and low price points. even beginning guitarists through low wattage MODELING AMPLIFIERS now have access to a myriad of quality sounds and effects unheard of ten years ago at an entry level price point. likewise, with the advent of studio-quality MODELING / PROFILING PLATFORMS like KEMPER, HELIX and AXE FX, touring and recording musicians have access to the tones of their existing AMPLIFIER collections in a more USABLE, TRAVEL-WORTHY package.
the message of this film is one of advocacy for the EMOTIONAL and PSYCHIC, almost ALCHEMICAL, connection between player, guitar and AMPLIFIER (whether tube or solid state). adherents to said worldview include an impressive list of interview participants such as PETER BUCK (R.E.M.), RICK NIELSEN (CHEAP TRICK), ALEX LIFESON (RUSH), JOHN 5 (K.D. LANG, MARILYN MANSON, ROB ZOMBIE), ROBBIE KRIEGER (THE DOORS), PAUL GILBERT (RACER X, MR. BIG), PAT METHANY, MIKE KENEALLY (FRANK ZAPPA, STEVE VAI), PETE THORN (CHRIS CORNELL), LITA FORD (THE RUNAWAYS), TOMMY HENRIKSEN (ALICE COOPER) and JOE BONAMASSA among others.
here is the thing: i dont buy the argument.
a more thoughtful approach would be to actual explain in some detail what a traditional tube AMPLIFIER actually consists of and how it technically functions. educate your audience. maybe throw in a little history about its TECHNICAL DEVELOPMENT and throw some shine to past and present AMPLIFIER INNOVATORS like LEO FENDER, JIM MARSHALL, MICHAEL SOLDANO, DAVID REEVES, HARTLEY PEAVEY, EVERET HULL, REINHOLD BOGNER, RANDALL SMITH, LYNDON LANEY, DAVE FRIEDMAN, CLIFFORD COOPER, PETER DIEZEL, DON RANDALL and HOWARD ALEXANDER DUMBLE among countless other engineers. better yet, instead of seeing the incoming wave of technology and various techniques regarding onstage miking of low wattage AMPS to massive PA systems as competition, maybe get a little PHILOSOPHICAL about how these are all tools for conveying a musical idea. and they all have their place.
AMPLIFIERS are cool, dont get me wrong. but they arent the end-all-be-all of musical expression. arguing against incoming technology is a surefire way of rendering yourself an ANACHRONISM, which is sadly what some of these advocates have exposed themselves to be. others seem to embrace change which is where i stand. this film is essentially a variation on the topic of the relative merits of ANALOG vs DIGITAL equipment and the false attribution of AUTHENTICITY to the mix that was tread notably in DAVE GROHL's SOUND CITY (review linked HERE) documentary.
AMPIRE: THE SOUND OF MUSIC is an INTRIGUING and FUN film worth watching but the argument is a bit TEDIOUS and SANCTIMONIOUS at times, even for someone who absolutely adores both traditional tube and solid state guitar AMPLIFIERS like myself.
i remember it being a big deal in elementary school when my friend's much older half brother got featured in the national magazine TRANSWORLD SKATEBOARDING. i wasnt a skater but i have a distinct memory of seeing SHON FARREN doing a long FRONTSIDE MANUAL down this pitched road in front of my friend's house in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. dude just glided effortless across my vision with a dyed day-glo red hair to match. i think it was then that i realized SKATEBOARDING was not just COOL because of the technicality of its TRICKS, but also the ATTITUDE of its participants. FARREN was a very nice dude and multi-talented as well, i heard he later went into graphic design and worked with various SKATEBOARDING brands over the years.
there is no 1990s SKATEBOARDING magazine that more epitomized that spartan DIY ETHIC and unbridled sense of REBELLIOUS abandon than the NORM-SHATTERING BIG BROTHER. as the recent documentary DUMB: THE STORY OF BIG BROTHER MAGAZINE (HULU, 2017) attests, the publication was as more about the ENERGY and PATHOS of the SKATER COMMUNITY then the actual activity itself. when it began in the early 1990s, the industry was at low point and the two competing publications THRASHER and the aforementioned TRANSWORLD felt played out. both had established core demographics that utilized them for tips and how-to's on landing specific TRICKS and essentially both played into those constituencies. it felt STALE. i dont believe kids get into SKATEBOARDING (or guitar or science or drawing or whatever) necessarily because of the tricks, they get into it because someone way cooler than themselves (and im pretty sure FARREN is absolutely still COOLER than me) modeled it for them.
and BIG BROTHER knew about that.
the PROVOCATIVE publication itself was helped/hampered by the fact that nothing was off limits. nothing was too CRASS, VULGAR or OBJECTIONABLE to not be put into print, such as but not limited to repetitive MALE FRONTAL NUDITY, FECAL PLAY, SELF-INDUCED INJURIES, DRUG USE, etc. some of it seemed geared at parodying their competition (with how to's on killing yourself and making a baby instead of a KICKFLIP). on the face of it the whole thing went beyond OBJECTIFICATION and PORNOGRAPHY to something completely different, it seems, because at the heart of BIG BROTHER was a genuine sense of (mostly male) CAMARADERIE. these were a bunch of idiots attempting to push each other's PHYSICAL, MORAL and ETHICAL LIMIS by OUTGROSSING and OUTLASTING one another. there was no MALICE seemingly involved. it was all consented upon and done as a joke by various willing participants.
whats interesting is how brands at the time bought into the magazine. maybe it was because the industry was in such a LULL at the time that they could take the risk of being associated with such a JUVENILE endeavor. in fact, the downfall of the publication was not the departing of key members (JEFF TREMAINE, JOHNNY KNOXVILLE, CHRIS PONTIUS, STEVE-O, JASON "WEE MAN" ACUNA) for what became the JACKASS franchise. it was the relative health of the industry whose key players all decided to take their advertising portfolios elsewhere.
i know most viewers of this documentary are probably going to be either TITILLATED or ENRAGED by the relatively TASTELESS SHOCK ANTICS of the magazine. my interest was more how such a publication exists in the first place and what niche they were exploiting. seems to me that BIG BROTHER could not return as it did before because in essence the culture has morphed along the same lines. modern social media has a never-ending PARADE OF IDIOTS doing STUPID STUFF pleading for your attention and corporations are now incredibly more RISK-AVERSE than they were ten years ago, much less thirty.
but who knows. nobody saw BIG BROTHER coming back then. cant say i advocate for this film, but if you are interested in FREE SPPECH issues, GROSS OUT humor, SELF-FLAGELLATION or yes, even SKATEBOARDING, then definitely check out DUMB.
the psychology of a CREATIVE ARTIST is such a COMPELLING topic. of course all of them are different and have their own processes and neuroses, but there is this sense of magic that they can create something from seemingly nothing. its almost ALCHEMICAL.
KEVIN BARNES of PHANTASMAGORIC INDIE ROCK band OF MONTREAL as evidenced in the documentary THE PAST IS A GROTESQUE ANIMAL (POLYVINYL, 2014) is of the more SELFISH, JUVENILE sort. the project is in essence his baby, but in order for it to meet his EXPANSIVE visions in a live setting, he relies upon (more like exploits) his numerous collaborators he has gathered over time. its an odd dynamic, especially for a person as UNSYMPATHETIC and CALLOUS to the needs of others as BARNES. for him it is literally all about the art and not the community. he is of the moment and in the moment with sense of CHILDLIKE AMORALITY that makes him an UNRELIABLE partner. the needs of his child are second to his emotional whims.
i dont know. this is a hard documentary to stomach since you very much seen the extreme CLAUSTROPHOBIC nature of being a member of his band or even his ex-wife. more than that you see what little effect such has on him other than as gristle for the next OF MONTREAL album. even in retrospect he honestly doesnt care. its not that he is MEAN-SPIRITED, its more like he's a SOCIOPATH or an EMOTIONAL VAMPIRE, feeding off the creative life source of others. i have to stop and remind myself at times just how IMAGINATIVE some of those records are, specifically the landmark album HISSING FAUNA, ARE YOU THE DESTROYER? (POLYVINYL, 2007). im aware that some musicians are bastards, as that concept was part of the second show i ever did with DEER GOD RADIO. the show was called GOOD MUSIC BY BAD PEOPLE.
i know JOSH HOMME (QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, KYUSS) has talked in interviews about how members of a band have to accepting of their position in the band for it to work, a bassist cant secretly pine to be the guitarist. so there is a sense that this BARNES ship and that there is no opportunity for advancement within OF MONTREAL. maybe some of these former members had UNREALISTIC expectations, but watching a documentary about how their dreams and aspirations are shot down with no sense of feeling or humanity is hard to consume. at least for me.
makes me question why they even made this documentary. if it was to show what an IMMATURE, POMPOUS ass BARNES is, then congratulations. maybe it was to show the music succeeding in spite of being sourced from this sorry MAN-CHILD. i honestly dont know what the point was or who this film was made for. which is why i find it so interesting in spite of such.
by the time the SEX PISTOLS imploded on DOOMED stateside tour in early 1978, singer JOHN LYDON had long since established himself as a BRITISH cultural ICON for the ages. even to an AMERICAN audience over several generations since, his name and image is synonymous with the PUNK ROCK movement writ large. it is absolutely staggering to think of the fact that he was still in his early 20s when he started what is possibly one of the great second acts in ROCK AND ROLL history, his INFLUENTIAL POST PUNK outfit PUBLIC IMAGE LTD.
unfortunately the story of LYDON's post SEX PISTOLS career has long been overshadowed (how could it not) and not well understood by the public. thus the recent documentary THE PUBLIC IMAGE IS ROTTEN (VERISIMILITUDE, 2017) is well situated to address this omission and provide context on one of the great artistic and PERSONA TRANSFORMATIONS. participants include past managers, collaborators (including GINGER BAKER) and members of the band as well as notable acolytes in THURSTON MOORE (SONIC YOUTH), ADAM HOROWITZ (BEASTIE BOYS), FLEA (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS) and MOBY. what is well apparent is the intelligence of LYDON's lyrics and his deep involvement of curating a DECONSTRUCTED IDIOSYNCRATIC sound that incorporated DISPARATE elements including FUNK, REGGAE, SOUTH AFRICAN MUSIC, early ELECTRONIC MUSIC and beyond.
i remember TOM MORELLO in an interview once said that he wanted his sound to be as REVOLUTIONARY as the lyrics being generated by his bandmate ZACK DE LA ROCHA. that intent spawned INNOVATION and transformed how he saw his instrument and its role in RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE. decades before, LYDON had a very similar approach in that he was unafraid of including sounds that could be described as ATONAL, DISSONANT, DRONING or REPETITIVE. his intent was to move beyond the rehashing of CHUCK BERRY guitar licks (again) and move forward sonically into uncharted territory. it is that INTENTION and ABILITY to deliver challenging work long after what many consider his predetermined artistic and cultural shelf-life post-SEX PISTOLS is quite a legacy.
you also get the sense from listening to current and former members of PUBLIC IMAGE LTD that he is/was a GENEROUS collaborator and TRUSTWORTHY leader. i think where everything career-wise gets tripped up is how LYDON deals with the media and the necessary evil of debasing himself just enough publicly to promote his projects without giving away his INTELLIGENT, SUBVERSIVE nature. television interviews by definition are conducted by and for squares, so it makes sense that he took the piss out of it on most every possible opportunity. the unfortunate downside is that his PUBLIC PERSONA doesnt mesh with the private LYDON who is loyal to his wife and family and a STEADFAST ally with his bandmates.
i found THE PUBLIC IMAGE IS ROTTEN to be quite refreshing a lesson in maintaining one's AUTHENTICITY in a world (especially now with the internet) that seeks to consume and dispose of art with equal vigor. LYDON, his LEGACY and his PERSONA will endure through the ages.
dude is an icon.
its easy to write off a figure like turn-of-the-millennium UNDERGROUND collage artist / photographer DASH SNOW as being the recipient of undue acclaim and attention due to the presupposed PRIVILEGE of being a scion of the DE MENIL family and its massive art collection, as well as noted BUDDHIST author and academic ROBERT THURMAN. but that would be incorrect and such is the working thesis of the recent MOMENTS LIKE THIS NEVER LAST (VICE, 2021) documentary about his meteoric rise as a CELEBRATED artist and his tragically brief life at the hand of heroin.
SNOW was a talented artist who served as a catalyst for the downtown NYC art scene that included peers like RYAN MCGINLEY, DAN COLEN, TERENCE COH and ex-wife AGATHA SNOW among others. as a teen he effectively left his family (with whom he was apparently written out of their will) after returning to the city after a brief stint in a juvenile correctional facility in rural GEORGIA meant to cure him of his OPPOSITIONAL DEFIANT DISORDER diagnosis. the trauma of such seemingly only reinforced his OPPOSITIONAL worldview towards authority and strengthened his loyalty to friends and allies he found on the street, eventually coalescing with his IRAK clique of fellow hustlers and street artists. this pre-9/11 downtown scene during the height of GIULIANI's reign was the incubator for his PERSONA and ART. the dude tagged everywhere, including a legendary "FUCK GIULIANI" on the side of the BROOKLYN BRIDGE. this aspect of his personality i found more than a little JUVENILE and OUTLANDISH, since it reeked of attention-grabbing antics from a TROUBLED young man.
what i found IMPRESSIVE was how SNOW was able to hone his craft, be quite PRODUCTIVE and support his friends throughout his brief life and career. his work was biographical and completely UNINHIBITED, he essentially lived like someone in a community with no boundaries or limitations. outsiders may see this as bohemian nonsense, and at times watching some of these antics in retrospect does feel a bit forced, but there is no doubt when looking at his collages and photographs the studied intention and eye for detail. he was truly GIFTED. its more than a bit HUMOROUS and IRONIC as the film points out, that a kid who ran away and gave up a family of art royalty, in turn became one himself. like many TALENTED artist and musicians before and since, opiates robbed him of his creativity, sucked out his ENERGY to live and snuffed him out too soon. its an old story that is beyond cliche at this point but its one that will continue unabated going forward no doubt.
the fact that he passed away so young with an infant daughter to boot is just tragic. i condone the right of people making personal decisions regarding LIFESTYLE and HEALTH, but when said choices lead to a young child being robbed of the opportunity to grow up with a father, it just feels like a SELFISH moral failing. i could be wrong on that but its my reaction nonetheless with regards to SNOW as well as BRAD NOWELL, IAN CURTIS, SHANNON HOON or KURT COBAIN before him. again, cant help watching this celebration of his life without feeling BITTERSWEET about his legacy. he catalyzed an art movement but at the price of his family.
was it really worth it?
first off, love the title. no such thing as a bad literary allusion in my estimation. celebrated AMERICAN ELECTRONIC DANCE musician/composer MOBY is distantly related to HERMAN MELVILLE, so yeah MOBY DOC (GREENWICH ENTERTAINMENT, 2021) is a clever knowing wink and unsubtle nod to his literary namesake. and that self-referential aesthetic makes sense given that MOBY here is writing and directing his own documentary where he is the subject. so he has fun playing with the MEDIUM (INTERVIEWS, AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS, VOICE-OVER-NARRATION, SPECIAL EFFECTS, FLASHBACKS, REENACTMENTS, etc.) and you can tell. in essence he is less concerned with traditional audience expectations regarding the documentary format and more concerned with producing an EXTENDED MEDITATION on the NATURE OF SUCCESS and CELEBRITY from the perspective of a HARDCORE outcast growing up poor in a broken home in suburban CONNECTICUT.
what is the meaning of that pursuit? what is gained once such is achieved?
MOBY DOC almost feels like a subject walking you through an experiential approximation of what it is like to go from OBSCURITY to STARDOM. he does this through a spaceship visual metaphor that seemingly highlights both the propulsive skyrocketing DISORIENTATION of having success but also the DISCONNECTION and ISOLATION that comes with such. it is pretty TOUCHING. and similarly with his memoir PORCELAIN (review linked HERE), which chronicles the same probing EXISTENTIAL and METAPHYSICAL themes found in his music and this film, there is a similar capacity for being incredibly forthright and exacting about specific past PERSONAL FAILINGS. such as missing his mother's funeral due to being INCAPACITATED from a night of heavy drinking. MOBY is keenly aware of the SEDUCTIVE draw of fame and notoriety since he lived it and is open about such which makes the running thesis of the film (the NATURE OF SUCCESS and FAME) that much more powerful. the book deals with his career pre-PLAY, but the film goes right to the present.
and at stake is this idea of the sheer INSANITY having your sense of IDENTITY and SELF-WORTH not rooted, nourished and sustained by the music itself, but by the reaction to such by the public and the press. and how FICKLE both are and how PERSONALLY and PSYCHICALLY DEVASTATING it is to lose such external AFFIRMATION. i cant even imagine the DISORIENTATION. drugs and alcohol seem like LOGICAL responses to null and void that EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER, irrespective of which peak or trough you found yourself in. i get it.
for MOBY his GROUNDING INFLUENCE since childhood seemingly is his love of animals. they dont judge, the just exist. the just are. and he pays back in kind with his VEGANISM and his ANIMAL RIGHTS ADVOCACY. and you cant really argue with him on that. VEGANS are MORALLY SUPERIOR. they are making choices on a HIGHER ETHICAL PLANE than the rest of us. we know it. i know it. but he doesnt go about it on a moral crusade, its a PERSONAL CHOICE that he is sharing with the rest of us.
i very much enjoyed this film and its DAVID LYNCH and GARY BASEMAN cameos. its thoughtfully constructed and executed, not just from a cinematic perspective, but from a humanistic one as well. you feel you get a better sense of MOBY and where he's coming from.
the MYTH-making power of HOLLYWOOD is impressive. for all intents and purposes its almost an UNSTOPPABLE force given the INSATIABILITY and speed by which the public consumes information about celebrities. the accessibility of the internet and modern social media have only exponentially compounded the situation.
in essence, the recent MAKING MONTGOMERY CLIFT (LIMBIC, 2018) documentary is an effort by the family of MONTGOMERY CLIFT to set the record straight on their famous thespian kin against longstanding rumors, bolstered by two notorious biographies, that his death at 45 was not the result of a heart attack, but the end result of a spiral into ALCOHOLISM and SELF-DESTRUCTION rooted in his supposed SELF-LOATHING over being a HOMOSEXUAL. the popular myth is that he was deeply conflicted and troubled over his SEXUALITY and that such ruined his career and led to his downfall.
in other words the reality was more COMPLEX.
namely CLIFT was famously INDEPENDENT. a highly IN-DEMAND theater actor, his first film came in his late 20s after more than a decade of declining starring roles in such iconic pictures as EAST OF EDEN (WARNER BROS, 1955), which went to JAMES DEAN, ON THE WATERFRONT (COLUMBIA, 1954), which went to MARLON BRANDO, and SUNSET BOULEVARD (PARAMOUNT, 1950), which went to WILLIAM HOLDEN. his holding out was a way of using leverage to free himself of the STUDIO SYSTEM, essentially becoming a free agent who could choose projects and directors instead of being dictated such as the rest of his peers were. it was a absolutely UNIQUE situation that garnered him much POWER and in turn ILL-WILL amongst the HOLLYWOOD elite. as for his SEXUALITY, this film through interviews attests that he was OPEN about such to his peers, collaborators and bosses. he was never in a closet in terms of how he went about his personal life in private.
like all stars of the period, identifiers such as RACE and SEXUALITY were all similarly WHITEWASHED in order to cater to a national audience that was SOCIALLY CONSERVATIVE and uniformly UNFORGIVING regarding such. case in point is MARGARITE CANSINO whose SPANISH heritage was deliberately obfuscated to better sell her to audiences that would come to recognize her as RITA HAYWORTH. same goes on today with countless actors who change their name to avoid association with their ETHNICITY such as MARTIN SHEEN (SPANISH), CHLOE BENNET (CHINESE), HELEN MIRREN (RUSSIAN), RAQUEL WELCH (BOLIVIAN), NATALIE WOOD (RUSSIAN) and FRED ASTAIRE (GERMAN) among countless others. manufacturing stage names with the intent to obfuscate from one's ETHNIC or RELIGIOUS origins is practically a tradition in HOLLYWOOD with the intent being MARKETABILITY to an unsophisticated AMERICAN audience. CLIFT was not alone in living his personal life privately as a HOMOSEXUAL, as other prominent GAY and BISEXUAL male actors such as ANTHONY PERKINS, ROCK HUDSON, SPENCER TRACY, FARLEY GRANGER and TYRONE POWER all lived to varying levels of success amidst their falsely projected public personas. this is all a long-winded way of stating that his predicament wasnt UNIQUE in HOLLYWOOD and not a source of private consternation. the fact that such falsities were weaponized towards the end of his life seems emblematic of a HOLLYWOOD power structure that sought to kick him when he was down, as director JOHN HUSTON did with his SALACIOUS lawsuit that effectively isolated CLIFT from working in films at the end of his life.
this narrative of the CONFLICTED, REPRESSED, SELF-LOATHING HOMOSEXUAL is a TIRED and PAINFULLY VICIOUS trope that has been utilized in films seemingly forever as exhaustively researched and examined in the documentary THE CELLULOID CLOSET (SONY PICTURES, 1996), as well as the VITO RUSSO book (review linked HERE) of which it is based upon. it is a NASTY narrative trope that seeks to identify and perpetuate GAY characters as being INCOMPLETE, MORALLY COMPROMISED and ultimately UNWORTHY recipients of LOVE, DIGNITY or EMPATHY. that such bullshit was placed on such a prominent figure as CLIFT makes sense in this light. but its not the truth.
MAKING MONTGOMERY CLIFT is very much the seemingly SISYPHEAN attempt by the CLIFT family to provide archival audio recordings to showcase the EMOTIONAL and PSYCHOLOGICAL state of mind the famous actor was in shortly before his unexpected natural passing from a heart attack. the longstanding narrative is so culturally entrenched in our COLLECTIVE PSYCHE that its unlikely to be dislodged. but reality isnt a fantasy. sometimes people just die. end stop. no greater meaning and no attendant feel good moral victory.
the fact that this narrative has perpetuated itself for so long is likely due to the INFANTILIZATION of the AMERICAN public and its need for answers, when none exist. JFK, SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY and 9/11 are all susceptible to this lapse in rational judgement and the need to manufacture answers and meaning in a void. to create a MYTHOLOGY.
cant we just leave MONTY alone and let his memory be enough? MAKING MONTGOMERY CLIFT is an incredibly POIGNANT documentary whose questions regarding privacy and the INSATIABLE appetite of the public towards our CELEBRITY CULTURE as it intersects with FALSE NORMATIVE ATTITUDES towards MINORITY GROUPS is VALID and very much of this moment. definitely recommend this THOUGHTFUL film to anyone interested in those issues.
ALONG FOR THE RIDE (HAT & BEARD, 2017) is a unique documentary in that it provides a narrative in which the narrator is not the focus. in fact the ANONYMITY of the narrator, SATYA DE LA MANITOU, makes all his observations of his late close friend / collaborator / benefactor of more than 40 years, the towering 20th century cultural icon DENNIS HOPPER, that much more intimate and powerful.
this film is a cultural artifact for the ages about a significant artist from a confidant who wishes to bring to light not only his PERSPECTIVE, but the equally valid threads and perspectives of past producers, actors, directors, architects, painters, musicians and artists that came into his orbit. with that in mind, notable participants in this film include directors WIM WENDERS (THE AMERICAN FRIEND), LAURENCE SCHILLER (THE AMERICAN DREAMER), PHILIPPE MORA (MOD DOG MORGAN) and DAVID LYNCH (BLUE VELVET), actors JULIE ADAMS, LINDA MANZ, CHRISTA LANG, MICHAEL MADSEN, STELLA GARCIA, DEAN STOCKWELL, artists EDWARD RUSCHA, JULIAN SCHNABEL and JAMIE HEWLETT, architect FRANK GEHRY and musicians MARK MOTHERSBAUGH (DEVO), DWIGHT YOAKAM and DAMON ALBARN (BLUR, GORILLAZ) among others.
a cynic could definitely misinterpret and dismiss a figure such as SATYA as that of a garden variety HOLLYWOOD enabler and sycophant on first blush, but such an unfair assessment would not take into account the emotional, personal and artistic support he provided for years when HOPPER was in the wilderness after being blackballed in the aftermath of the release of his post EASY RIDER (COLUMBIA, 1969) directorial effort THE LAST MOVIE (UNIVERSAL, 1971). in fact, he wouldnt direct again until OUT OF THE BLUE (DISCOVERY, 1980). during that interim period it was SATYA among others who helped him navigate such peaks and valleys of his life and career with steadfast, unconditional support. enabler is a cruel term with loaded connotations, catalyst may be better.
THE LAST MOVIE, set in PERU, dealt with the CULTURAL BAGGAGE that cinema places on locations and indigenous peoples whose landscape is ultimately transformed by the experience in the mindset of viewers. in a sense cinema is a new form of COLONIALISM as westerners reassess and reinterpret the CULTURAL GEOGRAPHY of another and transfigure it into something less beautiful and ultimately alien to its inhabitants. i remember visiting CAMBODIA years walking among the wondrous ruins of ANGKOR WAT, which has a deep history in multi-layered HINDU and BUDDHIST iconography, and being told by a tour guide about some scene from a shitty ANGELINA JOLIE film (TOMB RAIDER) that was filmed there. that level of CULTURAL APPROPRIATION just felt sleazy and ultimately a form of theft. the sheer power of the location was immense on its own terms and did not need that extra layer to entice visitors, or so i thought. maybe some people went there because of that film. so in other words, HOPPER made a THOUGHTFUL film in THE LAST MOVIE that intelligently conveyed a COMPLEX theme that was a little too much for HOLLYWOOD and he fought for that vision like hell. that battle ultimately deprived him of the opportunity of making another film for nearly a decade, as studio execs thought otherwise irrespective of his having final cut over the project. HOPPER thus gained the reputation in HOLLYWOOD for being UNREASONABLE, not a team player and worse, UNHINGED.
being a first-rate acting talent saw HOPPER through the 1970s, in which his deep CURIOSITY that informed his directing was not satiated. little known in greater popular culture is the fact that HOPPER was a longtime art collector and had a knack for recognizing and valuing pieces by emerging artists like ANDY WARHOL and JULIAN SCHNABEL early in their careers. to understand HOPPER is to appreciate his multi-faceted ability to excel at various mediums beyond cinema, including as a PHOTOGRAPHER and WRITER. it was this capacity for EXPERIENTIAL INQUIRY about the world around him that made him such a unique artist, one who was constantly on the edge. he was also fiercely loyal as exemplified by his quiet ADVOCACY work in NEW MEXICO on behalf of the local NATIVE AMERICAN population, in fact he is buried in TAOS according to the customs of the PUEBLOAN community.
this film was a lot to take in and i am not doing it justice, but it succeeded in providing a DELICATE multi-perspective portrait of a COMPLICATED, SECRETIVE artist and immense cultural force. i will definitely return to this film as i seek out and watch the remainder of his directorial filmography that i have been unaware of until now. THE LAST MOVIE is most definitely worth checking out.
i first became aware of CLEVELAND-based artist DEREK HESS by way of the album covers he produced in the early 2000s for ascending POST-HARDCORE bands, notably CONVERGE and UNEARTH among many others. his EXPRESSIONISTIC, SKELETAL drawings often depicted CONTORTED, faceless bodies in a moment of PHYSICAL and SPIRITUAL DISCONNECT. i found his work to be emotionally charged and unflinchingly VISCERAL. like CARAVAGGIO, its art that is very much concerned with the individual's connection to the PHYSICAL BODY as a vessel that bears intense emotions of ANXIETY, GRIEF, SORROW, REGRET and PAIN. in many ways, it fit the potent HONESTY and PATHOS of those albums like hand in glove.
FORCED PERSPECTIVE: THE STORY OF ARTIST DEREK HESS (COAT OF ARMS, 2013) is a poignant documentary that reveals the artist and his connection to not only art as CATHARSIS, but art also as a vehicle for DISCOVERY and CONNECTION. it tracks his evolution from comic book aficionado to trained figure artist to concert poster designer to celebrated fine artist and serial entrepreneur whose work is part of the LOUVRE's collection among others. it really is quite the career trajectory but the essence of this film is not so much on his career milestones, but his dual connection with the CLEVELAND-based cultural scene he helped nurture and foster as well as his own relationship with his SOBRIETY and BIPOLAR DIAGNOSIS. coming to AUTHENTIC, hard-fought terms with his own physical limitations and learning of the impact his actions have on those around him is at the heart of what this film is about. it is the basis and foundation from which his art can develop and self-renew without being clouded by CHEMICAL DEPENDENCIES. his work is so powerful it almost requires an UNBLINKING, unadulterated gaze straight into the soul. his work is the seeming very definition of SOBRIETY in how it depicts and evokes the COMPROMISED PHYSICAL and SPIRITUAL nature of the HUMAN CONDITION without wincing or turning away. it shows the distance between our ASPIRATIONAL selves and our own dreary reality as is. and that DUALITY is something i very much appreciate about HESS' work.
i had no idea going in how much an inspiration SILVER AGE OF COMICS pioneer GIL KANE had on his work, especially with his dramatic use of foreshortening and forced perspective in order to evoke scale in a representational composition. KANE and his peers utilized such techniques as a narrative device in order to draw the viewer into the PSYCHODRAMA at play in the comic book. it feels like HESS utilized such as an EXTREME means of depicting INTERNAL, often SELF-DIRECTED CONFLICT at scale. its an INVENTIVE and CLEVER inversion.
ultimately HESS' ability to visually depict powerful INTERNAL PROCESSES related to INTENSE EMOTIONS is what he is renowned and celebrated for. in that he is a SINGULAR visionary. this film gets at the man behind the artist and his own personal struggles that feed his art. i found this documentary to be quite courageous in its depiction of HUMAN FRAILTY and would recommend to anyone interested in art as well as recovery from CHEMICAL DEPENDENCY and MENTAL HEALTH-related issues.
there is no stigma. only the determination to be yourself and showcase your own truth.
there is something identifiably AMERICAN about CANDY DARLING.
as a relatively new country, throughout our history there has always been this unique capacity to SELF-MAKE ourselves in some optimistically divined utopian vision of what we could and should be, unhampered by centuries of triumphs and mistakes. in essence we are collectively in the process of bringing a more perfect vision of ourselves to fruition. the SELF-MADE, projected figure of ANDY WARHOL superstar and cultural icon CANDY DARLING showcases that distinct TENSION that comes between LIVED FANTASY and LIVED REALITY.
born in LONG ISLAND amongst the post-war newly built track houses and stifling suburban CONFORMITY of MASSAPEQUA, CANDY knew from an early age that she was different. watching a relatively recent documentary such as this reminds you instantaneously that the larger cultural discussion regarding SEX and GENDER identity has only become mainstream in recent years (about a decade after this film). the whole concept of not identifying with your assigned GENDER was completely taboo in 1950s AMERICA, where POLITICAL, ECONOMIC and RELIGIOUS CONFORMITY was practically a national value in and of itself. what makes BEAUTIFUL DARLING: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CANDY DARLING, ANDY WARHOL SUPERSTAR (CORINTH FILMS, 2009) such an intriguing documentary is how it showcases a specific downtown NYC arts scene in the 1960s where SEXUAL EXPRESSION was not only tolerated but celebrated. in some ways these WARHOL superstars (JACKIE CURTIS, HOLLY WOODLAWN and CANDY DARLING) along with the likes of LOU REED were the trailblazers that opened the door that we have been walking through as a culture for the past half century. its been in the past five years that mainstream magazines like PLAYBOY and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED have used TRANSGENDER models in their publications and actors such as ELLIOT PAGE and LAVERNE COX have brought their powerful presence to film and television screens. despite modern troglodyte conservatives that wish to drag us back to the stone age with their REGRESSIVE GENDER PRESCRIPTIONS prescriptions and bullshit self-serving, binary moral constructions, we very much live in a new world that takes into account that life is complicated. people are complicated. deal with it.
that being said its interesting to hear writer FRAN LEBOWITZ' opinion on CANDY and the seemingly SUPERFICIAL, PERFORMATIVE conception of FEMININITY she arguably brought to life. as a caucasian CISGENDER man i feel more than a little out of my depth speaking on this subject, but there does seem to be some light in how much of our GENDER is PERFORMATIVE through our ADOPTION and INTERNALIZATION of SOCIETAL CUES and CULTURAL PRESCRIPTIONS surrounding BODY IMAGE, PRESENTATION, VOCAL AFFECTATION and even POSTURE. the fact that CANDY grew up a severely abused child who took SOLACE and ultimately ESCAPISM in the 1950s cinema. her ideation of FEMININITY was informed by silver-screen starlets like MARILYN MONROE, JEAN HARLOW and especially KIM NOVAK. in many ways her INTERNALIZATION and eventual formation into becoming CANDY was performance of such that seeming coalesced into an IDENTITY. again, i am not denying her ability to self-identify as TRANSGENDER, but i do think that LEBOWITZ angle regarding the performative aspects of gender to be compelling if not food for thought.
ultimately for CANDY this was her LIVED EXPERIENCE and her LIVED REALITY, and she paid dearly for it. one of the most heartbreaking aspects of this documentary are the diary entries where she confesses to the DESPAIR and ISOLATION she felt about not being accepted by SOCIETY and not being able to partake in normal life rituals like being in a relationship, having a normal job and even visiting relatives. after her death her mother basically disowned her memory after remarrying.
for me BEAUTIFUL DARLING is just another reminder of how we need to treat each other with a sense of DIGNITY and genuine COMPASSION. very moving film. well worth checking out.
summing up the cultural legacy of seminal 20th century experimental ROCK AND ROLL musician and composer FRANK ZAPPA neatly is such a difficult task, but accomplished BRITISH director ALEX WINTER (yes, of BILL & TED fame) does an admirable job in this recent estate-authorized documentary ZAPPA (MAGNOLIA FILMS, 2020). as such, this is the first film given access to the extensive ZAPPA archives and it shows since there is much intimate footage of the composer, THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION and all iterations of his band over the years, not to mention family footage of his four children growing up.
im convinced this is one of the better music documentaries i have seen in recent years, partly because of the respect WINTER pays towards his subject. this is not a hagiography by any means and ZAPPA is shown warts and all. we see him as a man possessed by a ferocious drive and manic creativity that is a result of his being a "slave to his inner ear." we also see him as a womanizer and someone that put career in front of family for much of his professional life. in fact, his hit only hit song "VALLEY GIRL" was created as an excuse by his daughter MOON UNIT to spend time with him. again, WINTER does not shy away from his shortcomings that made him a complicated figure.
an aspect concerning ZAPPA that i was unaware of was the extent to which he was independent after his time at WARNER BROS, establishing ZAPPA RECORDS and later BARKING PUMPKIN RECORDS to put out his own records as well as those of supposedly commercially unviable acts like ALICE COOPER and THE GTO'S. this commonplace now for major artists, but back in 1981 not so much. seems ZAPPA was trailblazer from a business perspective as well.
one thing that comes across in spades is ZAPPA's love of MUSIC and MUSICIANS. this can be seen not only in his numerous collaborations with talented musicians, but also with regard to his sticking his neck out at congressional hearings related to the PARENTS MUSIC RESOURCE CENTER and their efforts to censor music. ZAPPA and his music was not a target, but his stature and credibility provided the opposition to this wave of potential overreach with a fitting white knight and spokesperson. i dont recall seeing BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, BOB DYLAN or TOM PETTY up their selflessly fighting the good fight. kinda sad that none of them did. with all the bullshit going on currently in FLORIDA with banned books and whatnot, it feels very much like we are coming full circle on this matter.
also im glad that a significant portion of this film was dedicated to the orchestral compositions written by ZAPPA throughout his life. it is a lesser known and criminally under-appreciated aspect of his immense oeuvre by the general public. especially at the end of his life when he was dealing with terminal PROSTATE CANCER, it was rehearsing and conducting these orchestral compositions that gave him great pleasure. so im glad that such was not overshadowed by his celebrated ROCK AND ROLL career.
when i think of ZAPPA i am presented with a towering cultural figure who more than anyone else i am aware of, never compromised his vision. he is the very embodiment of creative freedom. who knew the CZECH people agreed in that estimation. his music has not aged a bit and has influenced countless musicians that seek to challenge and push the medium forward. i hear his influence in everyone from ANIMAL COLLECTIVE, THE RESIDENTS, PRIMUS and SYSTEM OF A DOWN to THE FLAMING LIPS, THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS, KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD and TALKING HEADS.
ZAPPA is an incredible achievement and is most definitely worth checking out.
SHEPARD FAIREY is a celebrated RHODE ISLAND SCHOOL OF DESIGN-trained GRAFFITI ARTIST / GRAPHIC DESIGNER best known for his "OBEY GIANT" urban guerrilla sticker/poster/stencil campaign and the ubiquitous "HOPE" icon he created in support of BARACK OBAMA's successful presidential campaign back in 2008. inspired by the likes ROBBIE CONAL, BARBARA KRUGER, MARCEL DUCHAMP, ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG and ANDY WARHOL, FAIREY ventured out with his EXPERIMENTAL CAMPAIGNS that often played with REPETITIVE MESSAGING and the general public's capacity to be influenced and manipulated by such.
the recent documentary OBEY GIANT: THE ART AND DISSENT OF SHEPARD FAIREY (HULU, 2017) is very much concerned with fleshing out and introducing the career of FAIREY to a general public that is seemingly unfamiliar with STREET ART and its misunderstood code of ethics, which are often the target of overzealous police departments. what comes across is the intent of his work, which is often POLITICALLY, CULTURALLY and SOCIALLY ACTIVIST in nature, and the inherent risk of utilizing forgotten derelict and abandoned building facades as his canvas. there is a transition of sorts from the "ANDRE THE GIANT HAS A POSSE" SOCIAL EXPERIMENTALISM phase to his reactionary BUSH-era visual screeds against the war in IRAQ to his more recent, constructive post-OBAMA that advocates on behalf of a whole host of causes he believes in and provides free visual graphic work for (including CLIMATE CHANGE, MARRIAGE EQUALITY, PRISON REFORM, IMMIGRANT RIGHTS, etc.). in essence FAIREY is a master of PROPAGANDA, but he uses his powers for good in that he creates omnipresent visuals that promote and support an immediately identifiable VALUE SYSTEM that promotes CORE HUMANISTIC BELIEFS in INCLUSIVITY, DIGNITY, INQUIRY and DIVERSITY.
i personally was unaware of FAIREY's legal challenges regarding the ASSOCIATED PRESS photograph he transformed into the famous "HOPE" icon. the fact that there were two images and he misremembered which one he utilized and thus made a string of bad choices to cover up that mistake. the documentary itself may be a mea culpa on his part as such apparently affected his CREDIBILITY and fundamentally questioned his HONESTY. in my mind the whole charade feels like corporate overreach. seems the ASSOCIATE PRESS was attempting to extract money and the ability to reach back and futilely attempt to control the ability of artists to transform what is essentially their INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. feels equally ludicrous as the BOSTON police department arresting FAIREY on the opening night of his new showing at the prestigious INSTITUTE of CONTEMPORARY ART. what a bunch of schmucks. what i gained from those two misadventures is the cost of doing business as a famous GRAFFITI ARTIST. that is the risk you run playing along the edge of legality. not that im judging in the least.
OBEY GIANT: THE ART AND DISSENT OF SHEPARD FAIREY is an interesting career retrospective for a guy that is still young, only 52 as of 2022. as long as he isnt incarcerated, im very much looking forward to his creative work and international ADVOCACY CAMPAIGNS for years to come.