Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Best 11 Minutes Of The Weekend

Tim Lucas has posted a fascinating eleven minute video of him and Donna opening the first ever copies of his Mario Bava book over at his Bava book blog. For people, like myself, who have been eagerly anticipating this book for years this footage is incredible and really very moving to see.
As I was watching this, I was struck by how rare it is to glimpse an artist seeing their work in its final form for the first time. What a privilege the Lucas' have given us.
The book looks astonishing and I can't wait to be holding my actual copy myself. A great big congratulations to Tim and Donna and thank you for a peak into a moment that typically wouldn't be captured.

There is a direct link over to the video at Tim's Video Watchblog which is linked over to the right.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Thinking Blogger Awards (My Choices)

It is with great irony that it is in my post on the 'Thinking Blogger Award' that I have to admit that I can't figure out how to post a direct link within my text. Sometimes I am incredibly inept at doing the simplest of things so the blogs that I am awarding this honor to are linked to the right under the movie Blogs section. Also linked is the original site that started the award. My apologies for my inability to do something which I should have figured out probably around the second day of starting this blog.
Anyway, here are the original rules for the award:

1. If, and only if your blog is one that is tagged on my list below, you must write a post with links to five other blogs you like that consistently make you think (hence, the Thinking Blogger’s Award).

2. Link to this post so people will know whose good idea all this was. (see above)

3. Proudly display the “Thinking Blogger Award” logo with a link to the post you wrote.

So it seems that I have already broke rule #1, possibly rule #2 and who knows maybe even rule #3. I have also decided to vote on the blog which gave me the honor in the first place which perhaps spoils the whole point of it, but I decided I couldn't make a list of five blogs that make me think without including Cinebeats.
So, without further ado. Here are my choices for the 'Thinking Blogger Awards' which are all again directly linked over to the right.
I am listing these in alphabetical order, as they are all favorites that I wouldn't wish to assign a rank to them.

1. CINEBEATS: Kimberly Lindberg's great blog is one that I look forward to visiting every day. She is incredibly knowledgeable on a vast and diverse field of film and music and has a wonderful writing style that is enjoyable and intelligent without ever being condescending or overly academic. Kimberly has the rare ability to continually write on subjects that are simultaneously of major interest to seasoned cult film fans and also to people who haven't been exposed to less mainstream and more outre works. Her writing and topics work as an ideal introduction for some and a continuation for others. CINEBEATS is one of the best places on the Internet...period.

2. THE BLEEDING TREE: The thing I like so much about filmmaker Neil Sarver's The Bleeding Tree is that no matter how short some of his posts might be they all contain a certain thought or idea that engages me. I always find his blog a most interesting place to stop by and another that has the willingness to deal with a vast array of topics in always a fresh way. He has a great writing style, lots of interesting ideas and runs a top notch blog. It is always a pleasure to stop by and see what is on his mind any particular day.

3. MR. PEEL'S SARDINE LIQUEUR: The first time I clicked on this fabulous blog, the newest post was on John Cassavetes always ignored BIG TROUBLE. I was impressed that someone would take the time to give such an in detail look at a film no one ever bothers mentioning and that continues to be one of Mr. Peel's biggest strengths. Whether it is looking at the obscure James Caan feature FREEBIE AND THE BEAN to a long piece on ISHTAR, Mr Peel always delivers the most unexpected, well thought out and fascinating posts. I also admire how he isn't afraid to also look at more mainstream productions like OCEAN'S 13 and the DIE HARD films, something I also try to do here. Plus he got to meet Barbara Bouchet which automatically makes him great in my book.

4. TOMB IT MAY CONCERN: David Zuzelo's incredible blog is currently doing an impassioned and definitive series of posts on THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE (THEY CALL HER ONE EYE) that has me clicking on his link every day. Add on to that posts ranging from everyone from Jess Franco to Bruno Mattei and you have one of the most informative and solid blogs around. There is always great stuff to be found here and David has a very nice informative writing style that is always a pleasure to read...and like me, he loves him some Christina Lindberg.

5. VIDEO WATCHBLOG: Tim Lucas has been one of this blogs biggest supporters and his blog was the one that initially inspired me to open this one. Like his magazine, Video Watchdog, his blog is a place to visit if you want your cultural landscape opened up. From short information pieces highlighting interesting releases, to personal observations on a variety of topics, to very lengthy looks at all possible styles of films and music, VIDEO WATCHBLOG is one of the Internets best stops. Tim's style, topics and observations are always spot on and VIDEO WATCHBLOG is a perfect companion to the most essential film magazine on the planet. I can't get through the day without clinking on his link.

It was very difficult to narrow these down to five as I have quite a few other blogs that I look forward to visiting everyday. Some of those are linked to the right and are all recommended, these five though provide me with daily inspiration and I am glad to honor them in this very small way. My apologies again for not putting the links directly in the post and for any other rules I might have broken. Six months in and I am still a relative novice at the whole blogging phenomenon. Thanks for your patience with me and now go visit those five great blogs.

The Great Ones Vol.2 (Side A Track Two) Vanessa Paradis

It is a tough job being an American Vanessa Paradis fan. For starters she is known by the majority of people in this country just as Johnny Depp's significant other, and then of course the fact that nearly all of her recorded and cinematic works still remain unreleased in the United States. It is especially hard to be a fan who lives just about an hour away from where Johnny Depp was born as inevitably I am always meeting up with people who have seen or run into Depp and my question is always, "Was Vanessa with him" which always gets me a completely clueless and mystified expression.
I first discovered Vanessa in the early 90s when she released her self titled English language album, one of her only works that briefly made a few waves here in the States. The Lenny Kravitz produced and written album is still a favorite of mine, with it's delightfully retro, nodding nature and striking cover shot of Vanessa looking like she had transported from a dream of what the sixties were supposed to have been. I became so taken with this very warm and extremely talented performer that I spent much of the nineties attempting to track down all of her works, a feat not easily achieved in Southern Kentucky.
Vanessa was born about six months before I was and even though we come from totally different worlds, I have always felt a kinship to her. There is something about the shared cultural radar of people born between 69 and always reminds me of a line from Arthur Penn's NIGHT MOVES where Gene Hackman says, "I bet we saw some of the same movies." Indeed I did grow up with many of the same films and music that Vanessa did, so whether she is involved in returning Delon and Belmondo to the screen together or covering an obscure Big Star song live, I am always right there with her.

The early part of Vanessa's career was a whirlwind of her getting discovered on French tv at the age of 8, to releasing a chart topping album and single at 15, to finally closing out the first part of her career working with none other than Serge Gainsbourg. Her early recordings are the typical light pop one would expect from a teenage French star of the eighties. From the beginning though there was something special about Vanessa. Perhaps it was her voice, a sweet and totally charming untrained sounding throwback to singers like France Gall, or maybe it was that gap toothed smile that would warm the coldest of days. Whatever it was, the young Vanessa Paradis became one of the most recognizable French personalities of the late eighties and her career would quickly morph into something much more than just a teen-pop sensation.
Jean-Claude Brisseau's 1989 feature NOCE BLANCHE isn't a perfect film but it is a daring one and it would show Vanessa as being a young actress of considerable talent. Making her film debut as a troubled teenager who seducers her teacher, Vanessa is extraordinary in her first role. Coming across as a world weary and self destructive nymphet, Vanessa would win her first Cesar for NOCE BLANCHE and it signaled her crossover from teen idol to one of the most serious young actresses in France.
Oddly, Vanessa put her film career on hold after NOCE BLANCHE and went back into the recording studio to record the great VARIATIONS SUR LE MEME T'AIME, her first truly grown up collection and a clear sign that she would be around for a long time. The album didn't sell as well as her previous work, which showed that not everyone was ready to accept the new Vanessa Paradis, but it did gather some critical acclaim and led the way to the Lenny Kravitz project.
I am not a huge fan of Lenny Kravitz's work but I love his production and songs he delivered for Vanessa's self titled 1992 album. They were a couple at the time and their chemistry really shines through on the collection. From the unforgettable opening track, NATURAL HIGH, to BE MY BABY, to the surprising Velvet Underground cover, VANESSA PARADIS has aged very well and it sounds a lot fresher than most of the records that were coming out in 1992. It would be a huge hit all throughout Europe but would fail in the United States. I have always suspected that if it would have been released just a few years later it would have proved a sizable hit here, but the retro seventies cool the album projected was just slightly ahead of its time.
Vanessa would then release a live album documenting the exciting tour that supported her self titled platter, and it is a great live album featuring a confident Paradis and a smoking band. She really started to show her diverse musical tastes in this tour and recordings from this period have her covering everything from Big Star's majestic BALLAD OF EL GOODO to a daring take of The Beatles OH DARLIN.

1995 would find Vanessa returning to the big screen in Jean Becker's underrated ELISA. Working opposite Gerard Depardieu, Vanessa turns in another bold and moving performance that compliments NOCE BLANCHE perfectly. Becker's film is a really fine work that has been seen by far too few people in the States. Vanessa was inexplicably ignored at the Cesars for this role but she did get a lot of critical acclaim and the film was a sizable hit in Europe.
1997's UN AMOUR DE SORCIERE would prove to be the first major slip up of Vanessa's career. This silly and disappointing film could have been an extremely successful and delightful one but it wastes every ones considerable talents, including Vanessa, who at least looks lovely in the role.
Vanessa would recover beautifully with her next role in UNE CHANCE SUR DEUX which would team her up with not just one but two of the most legendary and admired legends in French film history. I wouldn't necessarily call Patrice Leconte's action packed UNE CHANCE SUR DEUX a great film but there are very few moments in modern French film that match seeing Alain Delon and Jean Paul Belmondo together again. Vanessa, playing a thief who finds out that her father is either Delon or Belmondo's character, appears to be having the time of her life and I get so much joy out of watching the three of them together that I can overlook that the film, perhaps, isn't as good as the three of them are. UNE CHANCE SUR DEUX is one of the funnest French films of the late nineties and like the majority of Vanessa's work, remains unreleased in the United States.

The year and a half following UNE CHANCE SUR DEUX would prove a peak time for Vanessa with the release of the magical film GIRL ON THE BRIDGE and her masterpiece album, BLISS.
GIRL ON THE BRIDGE (LA FILLE SUR LE PONT) would team Vanessa again with Leconte and it would be her first film to get a pretty wide release here in the States. I got to see this lovely black and white film on the big screen in Louisville in 1999 and I must admit it to being one of my favorite theatrical experiences. Vanessa is breathtakingly good in this Golden Globe nominated film and its unavailability on DVD is unacceptable. Vanessa and the film received many accolades and she was nominated for yet another Cesar, the film was a huge hit throughout Europe and did surprisingly well in its short run through the States.
Vanessa's album BLISS is one of the great albums of the decade and one of the most little heard. Vanessa would add songwriter to her resume with this striking collection and like everything else she has attempted, she thrived at it. From the startling first single COMMANDO, to the slinky funk of LA LA LA SONG to the most effective ballads she has ever sung, BLISS is an impressive collection. The album would briefly top the French charts but would surprisingly not sell as well as expected.
Vanessa would spend much of the next year preparing for Terry Gilliam's ambitious DON QUIXOTE which would have given her the opportunity to work with her awesomely talented Depp, as well as appearing in a hugely high profile English language production. The film famously fell apart though and a striking looking Paradis can be seen in the incredible documentary documenting its collapse, LOST IN LA MANCHA.
ATOMIK CIRCUS is the one major film of Vanessa's that I haven't seen so I won't comment of it or its soundtrack which Vanessa appears on. I have seen 2004's MON ANGE and while it isn't one of her strongest films, she remains one of the most gifted actors on the planet even when she is working with material clearly not as good as she is.
2007 is shaping up to be a big year for Vanessa and her fans. She has just wrapped up filming of Guillaume Nicloux's much anticipated LA CLE and her new album is due out later this year. The album's title track and first single DIVINE IDYLLE is one of her great tracks and is garnering much attention in Europe. This propulsive and catchy title track to her upcoming album is much like Vanessa herself, an undeniably powerful time capsule of the last forty years in a deceptively simple and small package.

Even though Johnny Depp is one of my favorite actors and a guy that I consider one of the coolest on the planet, I have to admit that if I ever do run into him on one of his Kentucky visits that my first thought will be, 'is Vanessa here.' For two decades Vanessa Paradis has been one of the most fascinating figures in popular culture to me, the unavailability of her work in America is baffling and more than a little troubling. Hopefully one day that will be rectified, in the meantime her import dvds and cds often pop up on ebay reasonably priced and there are several online importers that also carry her work. I recommend BLISS or her live AU ZENITH album as a perfect introduction to her music and GIRL ON THE BRIDGE as the ideal first look at her as an actress.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises Trailer

Thanks to Tim Lucas for noting that this trailer had been posted online. This looks amazing and I am so excited to see Naomi Watts in a Cronenberg film. Watts is, in my opinion, possibly the finest actress to come out in the past ten years so the idea of seeing her in one of David's films is very exciting.
EASTERN PROMISES is due out in September and also stars the great Vincent Cassell as well as returning Cronenberg star Viggo Mortensen.
I always feel like celebrating upon the arrival of a new Cronenberg picture, so press play and mark your calendars for September.

An Artist and Muse Double Feature #23 and #24

I really like my ongoing 'Artist and Muse' series. It allows me to post some of my favorite behind the scenes photos and highlight some remarkable artistic relationships where both parties are equally and simultaneously 'artist' and 'muse'.
Today I was inspired by Cinebeats birthday tribute to the powerful Isabelle Adjani to offer up my first double bill of this series.

Adjani's performance for Francois Truffaut in THE STORY OF ADELE H. is one of the the greatest I have ever seen. Searing, intense and finally heartbreaking, the 19 year old Adjani delivered arguably the greatest performance anyone ever did for Truffaut which puts her ahead of some very strong competition.
I love reading Truffaut's accounts of the teenage powerhouse on his set, at times he seems nearly frightened by the emotion and dedication that she invested in the role and his close ups of her remarkable face are among my favorites in screen history. Adjani would receive her first Oscar nomination for THE STORY OF ADELE H. and in my view she should have won it.

Adjani's follow up to THE STORY OF ADELE H. was Roman Polanski's masterful THE TENANT. Long one of Polanski's most underrated masterpieces, THE TENANT features Adjani in a relatively small but extremely effective role that would show that she was capable of playing anything delivered to her.

Adjani would unfortunately never work with either Francois or Roman again but these two performances would kick start one of the great careers in modern cinema. Isabelle would soon be working with directors ranging from Werner Herzog to Andrzej Zulawski and can still frankly wipe the floor with most of modern cinema's greatest actors. I'd like to join in and wish her a, day late, happy birthday and I hope that one day she decides to return to the cinema screen again.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"Until We Meet Again"

Thirty years ago tonight at Indianapolis's Market Square Arena an exhausted, disillusioned and sick Elvis Presley stepped onto a stage for the final time. He would be backed by his James Burton led TCB band, a band often described as one of the greatest live bands ever assembled, and he would perform 21 songs from all parts of his remarkable 23 year career. The reviews of the Indianapolis show were among the best of that emotionally and physically devastating 1977 Summer tour but the reality is that it is like many of the shows from that year, a combination of a tired artist walking through some songs while investing others with explosively spiritual readings that would show the last things to leave Elvis Presley were his voice and heart.
Much has been written about Elvis in that final fateful year of his life. It has always baffled me as to how people can take such glee in cruelly making fun of someone who was in such an obvious state of emotional and physical turmoil, but that is exactly what the last thirty years have brought. Whether it be the ill conceived CBS television special that was aired to pay off Colonel Parker's gambling debts, or the factually and spiritually corrupt Albert Goldman assignation job of a book in 1981 to people who have no conception of how important culturally and devastatingly talented this man was; 1977 and the years since have taken much away from the legacy of Elvis Presley.
The thing that strikes me most about that fateful final year is just how, even at his most vulnerable and damaged, great Elvis Presley remained. For all of the rushed through and lifeless performances that he gave that year, each show would also feature some of the most powerhouse vocals of his career. I'm not an apologist for Elvis in 1977. The man was sick and needed to be in a hospital and not on the stage but there are moments, like when he is singing HURT, HOW GREAT THOU ART, BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER and especially a exorcising UNCHAINED MELODY, that the most powerful aspects of Elvis come out. Also noteworthy is that this was clearly a man who was remembering something special from his past and the spirited performances of TRYING TO GET TO YOU, LITTLE SISTER and an acoustic driven THAT'S ALL RIGHT all point to the fact that Elvis seemed to be finding solace in much of the rock music of his youth. A planned rock and roll studio album was being discussed for late 1977 and with people like John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and David Bowie clamoring to write and produce for him, the late seventies could have been a most glorious time of renewal for Presley.
But it wasn't meant to be and as tragic as the final year of Elvis Presely's life was, it is hard to imagine things any other way now. The site of Elvis Presley's final show was a sports arena built for the Indiana Pacers in 1974. Elvis had played there before but in that final show it has been reported that the 18,000 people that saw him thirty years ago tonight was the most the arena could hold.
The show was pretty typical for 1977 with the aforementioned THAT'S ALL RIGHT being the opening song after the 2001 theme played. The beguiling and always powerful CAN'T HELP FALLING IN LOVE closed the set which included readings of songs ranging from YOU GAVE ME A MOUNTAIN to LITTLE SISTER to a surprising, for 77, I CAN'T STOP LOVING YOU. The final words Elvis Presley spoke on stage were, "Until we meet again, may God bless you...adios."
The Elvis Presley of 1977 was the same Elvis Presley who had stunned people in his legendary 1968 comeback special, just like he was the same man who had made millions of people happy in his 31 feature films, and the same person who had inspired every major rock artist of the sixties and seventies with his work in the fifties...and finally the Elvis Presley of 1977 was the same little boy who grew up in poverty stricken Mississippi dreaming he could reach something else. The career of Elvis Presley can be split up into parts but it should never be forgotten that this was the same man all the way through and there was still a lot of that young dreamer left in him even at the end. Elvis in 1977 is often described as 'old Elvis' which is a mistake because Elvis Presley never had the chance to grow old, he was just 42 when he died.

Like many landmarks Americans take a weird satisfaction in destroying, Market Square Arena was imploded a few years ago to a crowd of hundreds; a crowd that erupted in a mixture of boos and cheers when the destruction happened. It has always reminded me of a line Lou Reed wrote in 1989, "Americans don't care too much for beauty, they'll shit in a river and dump battery acid in a stream..then complain that they can't swim." There is a strong element in our country that takes a certain sick satisfaction in tearing down our landmarks and idols. Certainly for the last thirty years they have tried to do it to Elvis Presley and yet somehow he remains; like some sort of indestructible reminder that you can't kill a dream that millions of people have ended up sharing.

Elvis Presley was often described, throughout his life, as someone who wanted nothing more than to make the people around him happy, and up to those last moments when he walked off that Indianapolis stage he was still doing just that. His ultimate sacrifice for making people happy was finally his own life, which perhaps says as much about the world we live in as anything else ever could. Ironically, even thirty years after he sang those final notes, Elvis Presley continues to make millions upon millions of people happy...whether you are a fan or not, that is a fact that should be celebrated.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Moments With Jane Birkin

Since my last Monday with Jane was so wordy, I thought I would just let a few choice pictures express everything this week. Here are some lovely shots of Jane, Serge, Lou and Charlotte at home in the Seventies. Plus a bonus shot of Serge and Charlotte in the eighties.
Next Monday will bring a longer piece on Jane but for now enjoy these extraordinary shots.

Thanks To Cinebeats For The Thinking Blogger Award

I got a very nice surprise this morning when halfway through my first cup of coffee I saw that Kimberly Lindbergs at the towering Cinebeats had voted my blog as one of five deserving of the "Thinking Blogger" award. This really means a lot to me and I wanted to post a special thanks to her here. Kimberly is a really wonderful writer and has an awe inspiring knowledge of cinema and music, so I'm especially thrilled to get such a strong vote of confidence from her.
If I am understanding the process, I believe I am now supposed to choose five other blogs now to bestow the same honor on. This will be especially tough as I don't think I can put a vote in for the blog that honored mine. I will try to get my five selections up later this week after I do some serious thinking about it and reviewing the rules. There are so many great, well written and knowledgeable blogs around that it will be hard to narrow it down to just five.
Thanks again to Cinebeats for all of the support and for making the beginning of my week much sweeter. To paraphrase a thank you from one of my favorite films, let me just say that 'I'm going to keep on rockin' and hopefully the blog will keep improving.

Cristina Martinez and Boss Hog at Xholdesert

The xholdesert blog (linked to the right) continues to be one of the best places around to find some of the most fantastic out of print music around. Featuring everyone from Danielle Dax to Opal, this blogger really knows their stuff and is doing a service by featuring so many unjustly out of print acts.
Xholdesert are really topping themselves this week with a series on my much loved Cristina Martinez and Boss Hog. I paid tribute to Cristina back in January and I am glad to see that I am not the only one who remembers this phenomenally talented and underrated artist.
I'm not sure how much Xholdesert will post but as almost all of Cristina's catalogue is out of print (and with no re-issues in sight) these downloads are the best thing going...check them out and then try to track down the actual records. I miss Cristina and wish she would make her return...thanks to xholdesert for paying tribute to her.

oh and in case it comes up, I don't support the illegal downloading of available music but I do support these small sites that keep the out of print catalogues of unjustly neglected artists in circulation. These albums are extremely hard to find so right now this is the best route, use it as an introduction and stepping board to tracking down the actual records and discs, not as a substitution...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Ambitious Failure Blog-A-Thon: Tears In Rain. Thomas Vinterberg's It's All About Love

William at This Savage Art is hosting a most interesting Blog-A-Thon this weekend focusing on ambitious cinematic failures. I am a bit conflicted about the film I have chosen simply because I don't consider it a failure, but considering it is one of the worst reviewed and ridiculed films of the decade it seemed like a pretty good choice. What follows is my tribute to a film that I consider to be among a small handful of truly great films this decade, and a film that I am close to being alone in my love for.
After his much acclaimed film FESTEN (THE CELEBRATION) in 1999, Danish director Thomas Vinterberg spent nearly three years writing the screenplay for what would what would become his 2003 feature, IT'S ALL ABOUT LOVE. For the film, Vintenberg would abandon all of the Dogme rules FESTEN had embraced and make IT'S ALL ABOUT LOVE as cinematic as possible.

Featuring a cast of American stars with music by frequent Kieslowski collaborator Zbigniew Preisner and cinematography by award winning Anthony Dod Mantle, IT'S ALL ABOUT LOVE was a much anticipated film upon its arrival at The Sundance film festival in January 2003. Halfway through the screening though people reportedly began leaving the theater and as the credits came up, the attending Vinterberg and his star Claire Danes were loudly booed by the entire remaining audience. Danes was said to have broke down in tears and IT'S ALL ABOUT LOVE became the folly of the festival, a film that everyone seemed to relish hating.
Vinterberg continued to take his film around to different festivals with more of the same happening, although it was awarded three awards for it's striking look at the Robert Festival. The reviews started flooding in and they were universally negative and at times overwhelmingly cruel. A quick look at the film's Rotten Tomatoes score will show a sore of 14 with 24 of 28 reviews being very negative. At Metacritic it has a score of 32 and a brief glancing over the reviews finds words like, 'Awful', 'Incomprehensible', 'Silly' and 'Garbage' popping up. Filmgoers reaction weren't any better and the film quickly vanished from theaters and didn't appear on American dvd until two years after that initial Sundance disaster.
So what is it about this film that affects me so much? Why do I hold it among the best film's of the decade? I'm not sure if I can really answer those questions but I will just give a few thoughts on it and hopefully someone reading might search it out on their own, as I think the worst thing that has happened to this film is that it just hasn't been seen by many.

It was my mother who actually introduced me to the film. A couple of years ago she called me and asked if I had heard of a film called IT'S ALL ABOUT LOVE starring Joaquin Phoenix, Claire Danes and Sean Penn. I admitted I hadn't and she said that she was going to watch it that evening on, ironically, Sundance. She called the next day and asked me to watch the film and tell me what I thought. I didn't get Sundance at the time and she had to supply me of a copy of it, in the couple of weeks period before she could get it to me she watched the film a few times through, something my mom doesn't typically do.
My initial reaction to the film was to be struck by its look and how odd it was. I didn't necessarily love or hate it, I was just intrigued by it. I couldn't stop thinking about it though and that night I sat awake in my bed with certain images from it running through my head. I ended up watching it probably three times within that first week and finally decided it was some sort of visionary masterpiece and the most moving science fiction film I had seen since BLADE RUNNER.

IT'S ALL ABOUT LOVE is set in a future where everything, including the human heart, is freezing over. People routinely are falling dead in the street due to loneliness and isolation. It is snowing in mid summer, and once or twice a year everything freezes. There is also a most strange event occurring in Uganda that is causing members of the population to literally float away, at one point in the film a Uganda native speaks directly into the camera and says, "I don't want to fly, we are human beings."
The plot centers on a travelling businessman named John who has been estranged from his famous figure skating wife, Elena. He has been called back home to sign divorce papers as she is preparing her final performance. In the meantime, John's brother Marciello has has taken a pill to get over his fear of flying and he is in a plane throughout the film. Marciello, at times, seems to be talking to John on the plane's phone but mostly he is just recording his thoughts on a recorder. It soon becomes apparent that the plane will not be able to land as the section of world it is flying over has frozen completely. All it can do is fly until it runs out of gas and crashes, something everyone on board seems perfectly content with.
The film becomes more and more complex with several cloned Elena's attempting to take her place and a final snow covered escape section that is among the most moving things I have ever seen in a film.
Vinterberg's work is centered on two characters, played with beautiful fragility by Phoenix and Danes, who once loved each other very much but at some point collapsed into a world of lies, coldness and deception. They both seemed to have chosen the world of their careers and money over each other and their once strong love disintegrated because of it. Vinterberg lets this relationship, and the possible renewal of it stand in as a symbol for the soon to end world around them. We like them, want them to escape but we realize, that at least in Vinterberg's future world, it is much too late.
The film is a joy to look at and listen to. Even the most hateful and despising critics of it seem to acknowledge the work of Mantle's photography and Preisner's score. I would argue that Mantle's work in the final scenes of this film are the best stuff he has ever done and Preisner's heartbreaking score the equal to his work with Kieslowski.

IT'S ALL ABOUT LOVE is filled with so many striking sequences that a mere plot synopsis won't due, it really does just need to be seen. Particularly noteworthy is a strange, and totally compelling, act of sudden violence that occurs while the Elena's are skating; while the eerie final shots of the tied down floating Uganda people is like nothing else even thought of in modern cinema.

Thomas Vintergberg's film is a bold, ambitious and completely honorable film that focuses on the dangers of isolating ourselves too much from each other. The talented writer and director is really wearing his heart on his sleeve with this work and I suspect he knew that he was going to be ridiculed for it. As I sit here alone in my own little world writing this for other people to read probably alone in their own, I am struck by how relevant Vinterberg's message of not forgetting how important human contact is. I am going to shut off the computer after I write this and go out with a friend and enjoy the day amidst other people. Never in history has the possibility of total self contained isolation been so possible, Thomas Vinterberg's bold film suggest what can happen if we give into it completely.

There is a moment towards the very end of this film where Sean Penn's character Marciello, who has clearly been speaking from Vinterberg's point of view himself, says simply that, after finishing a report on the state of the world, he has decided that, "It's all about love and that's the way it should be." Vinterberg isn't just giving his film a title here. He is saying something so obviously true and important, and apparently something that modern day film audiences don't want to accept. Watching these final few moments of the film gives me the same feeling that Rutger Hauer's famous last speech in BLADE RUNNER gave me. It is one of the most effective and moving last few lines of dialogue that I have ever heard...and I will be eternally baffled how anyone could have booed a film so well meaning and extraordinarily rendered.

IT'S ALL ABOUT LOVE is available on Region one dvd in a bare bones presentation featuring artwork that attempts to make it look like an action film. It remains one of the most ambitious and timely films of the decade to me and one of the most visually astonishing films I have ever seen. See it for yourself and make up your own mind about its merits, chances are you will either hate it or be moved completely by it.
I suspect the dvd will soon slip out of print and this film will probably disappear much like the 'tears in rain' that Hauer spoke of at the end of BLADE RUNNER. I honestly believe though that this strange and wondrous film will eventually find its audience. It might be in ten years or maybe twenty and it might be a small audience but I suspect we will be extremely loyal to it. Lost or found, seen or unseen...Thomas Vinterberg's film will remain perhaps frozen in time as a work of art that lets us know that it is, indeed, all about love. I can't imagine a more truthful and important statement for our increasingly cold and shut off is not an idea or film that Vinterberg should ever apologize for.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Artist and Muse #22

Congratulations to both Michael Winterbottom and Angelina Jolie for receiving some of the best reviews of their career for the just opened, A MIGHTY HEART.
Winterbottom has become one of my favorite modern directors in the last ten years and I am glad to see one of his films getting so much acclaim.
The once unbelievably kinetic and intense Jolie was, at the beginning of her career, one of my favorite American actresses, but it has been almost a decade since she really seemed to push herself in a role. As much as I have come to admire her as a person, I have really missed the excitement her early work generated. I am happy to see that apparently she has found a role that might remind people, and perhaps herself, of how good she can be.
I plan on seeing the film this weekend and the talented Winterbottom has rarely let me down so I am looking forward to it.

I saw A MIGHTY HEART yesterday and it is one of the best film's Michael Winterbottom has ever made and the best performance Angelina Jolie has given since GIA ten years ago. Highly, highly recommended.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Mellowing Of My Most Extreme Tastes

The legendary Throbbing Gristle have a new studio album out. It is their first studio work in nearly thirty years and it is getting mostly very positive reviews. There was a period in my early twenties when Throbbing Gristle were among my favorite bands but I haven't been able to listen to them in years and am wondering whether or not I will get the new album.
It is funny that while my taste in films has perhaps gotten more and more extreme, I have found that my likes in literature, painting and especially music have really mellowed out. At any particular day in my early to mid twenties you could have found me listening to bands such as Throbbing Gristle, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Diamanda Galas or The Swans while reading something like the most abstract cut up work of Williams Burroughs.
I was really obsessed with artists who were really willing to push a form to its furthest extremes and I was more than willing to take their journey with them.
Looking back at my early twenties I now realize how depressed and confused I was much of the time and my taste in music and art definitely reflected that. I loved and admired so many of those people though like Lydia Lunch, Genesis P. Orridge, Diamanda Galas and Brion Gysin. I think that their extreme and at times extremely cynical world visions probably helped me get through a most sticky time period, even if at the same time I was letting them add to it.
I'm in a bit of a weird mood today which I guess is why I am writing this. I listened to some samples of the new Throbbing Gristle this morning and I must admit that it sounds very good but I just don't think that I have it in me anymore to give myself over to it.
I remember once during my Freshman year of college I played part of Throbbing Gristle's first album for a girlfriend and she started sobbing. It really shook her up and she was upset for days after. I had never seen music or art that had that kind of an effect on somebody and it made a big impression on me. She asked me several times after that how I could listen to it and made me promise to not play it while she was around anymore.
It is to Throbbing Gristle's credit as artists that they could cause such a disturbing reaction in someone but it is hard for me to imagine being able to enclose myself in that kind of art anymore. I have the utmost respect for artists like Throbbing Gristle, Lydia Lunch, Michael Gira or anyone who is willing to push a medium to its furthest extremes no matter the cost but I just can't follow it anymore.
I'm not sure why my tastes in film haven't mellowed but a filmmaker like Gaspar Noe, who could be called the cinematic equivalent of a band like Throbbing Gristle, remains a favorite. Maybe it has something to do with things that I connect to a certain period of my life, I don't know.
I hate the word mellowing and I certainly hate to use it in relation to myself. It represents a defeat of sorts, a sign that I am not willing to go as far as I used to. I suppose it is natural but occasionally I have to pull out something like Teenage Jesus or Throbbing Gristle to remind me that art doesn't always have to be safe and pleasant. There are, and have always been, certain artists who are willing to go and explore the darkest aspects of human nature. Our society needs them and they are to be held in the highest of esteem for their courage and willingness to go to these places...but for the most part it is a journey that I am unable to take these days.
I might get the new Throbbing Gristle as I am curious to hear it but I doubt that I will play it much. Their return should be celebrated though as our modern culture is overly saturated by safe art and artists who skirt over dark terrains. Throbbing Gristle will not ever be a safe band skirting over anything, their home is deep inside the very dark places most artists wouldn't even consider going near. I wish them luck in their ongoing journey even though it is one I can't continue with them.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Film Music Blog-a-Thon (Francis Lai, Emmanuelle 2)

Damian over at the Windmills Of My Mind blog is hosting a Film Music Blog-A-Thon and I thought it would be fun to join in. Many of my all time favorite albums are soundtracks so the idea of selecting just one to write about was extremely difficult. My mind immediately started to flip through my internal database of favorite albums and lp's ranging from Colin Town's FULL CIRCLE to Air's THE VIRGIN SUICIDES. Then I started thinking about individual moments in films that use certain pieces of music to remarkable effect like Bobby Womack's ACROSS 110th STREET in JACKIE BROWN or Moby's GOD MOVING OVER THE FACE OF THE WATER in HEAT. I decided finally though that I wanted to post on an album and film that typically induce disdain and snickers rather than respect. So the following is my tribute to one of my favorite lps, composers, actresses and yes, films.

Francis Lai will forever be linked to two particular themes that he wrote; The first for Claude Lelouch's masterful A MAN AND A WOMAN and the second for the piano based piece for Arthur Hiller's LOVE STORY. While those two themes are incredibly powerful they have often overshadowed just how prolific and consistently brilliant Lai has been. Scoring well over 100 films since the mid sixties, Lai has contributed solid work to pretty much every imaginable genre for directors ranging from Michael Winner to Rene Clement. Excelling in everything from violent crime films to romantic comedies, Lai is most masterful at composing themes representing desire, seduction and erotic love. He was never more successful at this than he was in in 1975 when he was asked to deliver the score for the follow up to the most financially successful French film of the seventies.

It is hard to overestimate just how popular and important Just Jaeckin's EMMANUELLE was in 1974 and how big of a star it made Sylvia Kristel. With the flood of hardcore films films filling French and American theaters by the mid seventies, Jaeckin's film played as a barnstorming reminder of the power of suggestion and true eroticism in film, with Sylvia Kristel becoming the face and body of a movement that seemed steeped in tradition as well as being totally progressive.
First time director and famed photographer Francis Giacobetti had his work cut out for him when he got the assignment to direct the sequel to Jaeckin's film. With the obvious thought that the follow up and had to top the first film in nearly every respect, Giacobetti began shooting what would turn out to be one of the most audaciously erotic films ever lensed, as well as a film that would push the limits to what was acceptable in a mainstream release.
Along with the jaw dropping images and incredibly lush photography that Giacobetti delivered for EMMANUELLE 2, a film which Alex Cox called one of the greatest ever made, there are two things that make the film not only better than the first but also one of the best films of the mid seventies.
Sylvia Kristel and Francis Lai were both in their absolute primes in 1975. Kristel was getting a landslide of offers from directors all over the world and would soon be appearing in films helmed by everyone from Claude Chabrol to Alain Robbe-Grillet. Francis Lai was just a couple of years past winning the Oscar for LOVE STORY and was one of the most in demand film composers in the world. Lai's soundtrack for EMMANUELLE 2 would be the perfect compliment to Giacobett's erotic imagry as well as a tribute to the beautiful and talented Kristel, an actress of considerable skill and a culturaly important figure that history typically tries to look over.

Lai's music for EMMANUELLE 2 is an intriguing and always beguiling mix of classical orchestration and surprising electronic textures. Paired up with the talented Christian Gaubert (with reported help from Catherine Desage) as arranger and working with some of France's top session musicians, Francis Lai's EMMANUELLE 2 has the clear distinction of sounding very much of its time but it still progressive sounding. The album is filled with Lai's typically spare piano pieces mixed in with Gaubert's innovative arrangements, but it becomes among Lai's finest works in the moments where he matches the eastern locations of Giacobetti's film with a series of still astonishing synthesizer pieces.
One of the highlights to the film and album is the acupuncture sequence. Here Lai's music seems to become a character in the film and the track is nearly overwhelmingly hypnotice with it's cross cutting of LOVE STORY like piano parts, sweeping orchestrations and irresistible drugged-out electronic sections. Listening to this track, with or without the film's striking imagery, has an incredibly strong dreamlike pull that few pieces of music in my collection can match.
Along with the above section, the key track to the album and film itself is the unbelievably cool and seductive title track sung by Sylvia Kristel. L'AMOUR D'AIMER is one of my all time favorite songs and every time I hear Sylvia Kristel's breathy and inspired rendition of it I am transported back in time to some hot and exotic locale with her. I posted previously on this track and how wonderful I think it is and the shots I have of Kristel in the studio with Lai are among my favorite photographs. The two clearly appear to be having fun in creating one of the greatest and most undervalued movie theme songs of the seventies.

The title track is available in two versions, both sung by Kristel, with one being in French and the other in English. While it is hard to match the original French version, Kristel's more hesitant English vocal is a real favorite and it is unfortunate that it isn't available on the soundtrack lp or cd.
The single was a minor hit in France and Japan and the great 45 of it often pops up on ebay and is highly recommended. The soundtrack lp is one of the great near lost treasures of the seventies. It was released to coincide with the film but quickly slipped out of print. It briefly resurfaced in Japan on a highly collectible cd in the 90s but that too is currently out of print. It occasionally pops up used on ebay or amazon but expect to pay a high price. A google blog search for it might provide a pleasant surprise if you choose to look though.
My favorite shot from EMMANUELLE 2, and one of my favorite closing shots in screen history, is the final freeze frame. After the final love scene Giacobetti pans away from the explicit action and cuts to a triumphantly powerful looking Kristel, and as Lai's remarkable title theme begins Giacobetti freezes the frame on one of France's great faces and then the credits role. It remains for me a chilling, exhirlirating moment and a bold reminder that the human face can be among the most erotic things in the world.

Obviously Francis Lai, Sylvia Kristel and Francis Giacobetti didn't win awards or much respect for EMMANUELLE 2. The film opened, got savaged by most critics and didn't do as well as the first one financially. I suspect too that the above rhapsodizing post on it will no doubt draw a few snickers also but that's okay, I am unapologetic about my love for this film, actress and music. It remains one of the great marriages between image and music in screen history. As the film's slightly notorious ad campaign stated back in 1975, "Nothing is wrong if it feels good" and all of these years later Francis Lai's music in this film still makes me feel very, very good.

To The Devil A Daughter at Nostalgia Kinky

As I noted before I will occasionally alert Moon In The Gutter readers to some posts on my sister blog, on Nastassja Kinski, that I hope might be of some interest.
I finished up my look at her first film, WRONG MOVE, yesterday and started my series of posts on her second film, the Hammer Horror production TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, this morning.
If anyone might be interested in the film, Hammer or Nastassja please zip over to Nostalgia Kinky and give it a look. The blog is still very young so I am trying to get my bearings with it...I will be posting on TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER throughout the next few days. I hope they are of some value and will prove interesting reads.
The link to Nostalgia Kinky is to the right...thanks.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Candice Bergen Is T.R. Baskin

While she finally received justified acclaim as an actress and comedian, Candice Bergen's early film work was often savaged by critics and several of her films remain virtually unseen by modern audiences. One of the most overlooked is T.R. BASKIN.
I first saw Herbert Ross' 1971 feature T.R. BASKIN in my mid teens the way I saw lots of films, on late night commercial television. Arts and Entertainment used to run this Ross flick quite a bit in the late eighties and it was a film that came to mean a lot to me in that period.
Ross has just come off the strange but effective OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT when he directed Bergen in BASKIN, the first script ever ever filmed of Peter Hyams. Hyams would later go onto to be a director himself and T.R. BASKIN does feel like a film made by two budding, and quite different, filmmakers.
T.R. BASKIN is a typical item from the early seventies centering on a young character attempting to find herself. Bergen, really lovely in this period, plays the just arrived in the big city Baskin who falls into the hazardous company of both James Caan and Peter Boyle.
The film's Chicago locations is one of its biggest assets and for lovers of Chicago it is quite a treat. Going along with the many great location shots is a fabulous score by Jack Elliott. The film's soundtrack album is a great one to track down and if the film is at times falls a bit short, the marvelous lp companion doesn't.
It is great to see Caan and Boyle together here and their scenes provide many of the films best moments. Caan had been around since the early sixties but 1971 was a big year for him, with his performance in BRIAN'S SONG and getting cast as a guy named Sonny in a little seen film called THE GODFATHER.
The always magnificent Boyle had just achieved notoriety in the effective and disturbing JOE and was well on his way to becoming one of the great character actors of the seventies and eighties. While his role in BASKIN starts out a bit slimy, he later shares some of the tenderest scenes of his career with Bergen.

T.R. BASKIN was one of those films for years that had just remained in my memory, as my VHS copy from tv was accidentally erased in the early nineties. I caught up with it again late last year via Amazon's sometimes suspect downloading program. It remains the only time I have ever watched a film on my computer, and not something I am looking forward to doing again, but at this point it is the only way to see the mostly forgotten T.R. BASKIN.
Watching the film in my mid thirties was a very different experience than seeing it in my teens. Honestly, it didn't seem as meaningful to me...much of it felt too staged and contrived but there is still something about it that really affects me. I think most of that is due to Candice Bergen's performance.
Pauline Kael was particularly cruel to Bergen in her early career and I remember her review of T.R. BASKIN being particularly savage. Roger Ebert however, while not liking the film, saw something as well in Bergen's seemingly emotionless and at times uncomfortable performance. It is perhaps the kind of performance that a more experienced director would have re-shot but I find Bergen's off kilter and at times awkward line readings to be perfect for the confused and isolated Baskin. It reminds me a lot of one of my favorite performances of the nineties, Patricia Arquette in John Boorman's BEYOND RANGOON. I remember a friend commenting about one of Arquette's early scenes in Boorman's noting on how awkward Arquette seemed in the role but to me it was a case of the actor completely understanding that their character was indeed awkward in their own life. Candice Bergen is fascinating in T.R. BASKIN and, while I am not sure if she understood Baskin as well as say Arquette understood her role, she exudes the same kind of intelligence in this role that had proved so effective in CARNAL KNOWLEDGE.
Perhaps T.R. BASKIN should have remained in my memories as re-watching it took away much its power for me, which isn't to say that I don't recommend it. It's well worth viewing if it ever does find its way to dvd. It is a flawed little film made by a group of really well meaning young artists which gives it a sincerity that is often missing from mainstream American cinema.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Put Your Weight On It!

There are very few things in this world that give me more pleasure than the opening ten minutes of 1980's DISCO GODFATHER. I must admit to being a huge Rudy Ray Moore fan and my DOLEMITE box set is never too far away from my dvd player. I have noticed though, while I have watched all of the films multiple times, I often just return to particular sequences. From the, 'dance cracker dance' madness of the first film to the 'slow motion jump' in THE HUMAN TORNADO to the shot of Rudy Ray Moore dancing down the street with the Devil's cane in PETEY WHEATSTRAW, these films continually give me more sheer delight than most 'great' films coould ever hope to.
As awesome as any of those scenes are though none come even close to matching the joy that the opening shots of DISCO GODFATHER give me. A certain J. Robert Wagoner is credited as the director of DISCO GODFATHER but I have always suspected that Rudy Ray Moore himself probably had more to do with the production of the film than anyone else. A glance over at the IMDB listing for Wagoner shows DISCO GODFATHER as the only film he was ever attached to.
So onto the opening shot...As the great DISCO GODFATHER theme comes up and the opening credits literally burst out of the screen at us, we are treated to our first shots of the Blueberry Hill nightclub. People are dancing and having the kind of grand time that only 1979 could bring, strobe lights are flashing, drinks are being poured, cigarettes are being smoked and that great theme keeps pounding. People soon clear the dance floor though as the DJ announces the arrival of the one and guessed it, The Disco Godfather!!! Just before we see the great man our propulsive theme takes on some vocals and the line "He's the Godfather of the disco" begins repeating like some sort of life altering mantra and then there he is in all of his blue sequined jump suited glory. Everything I love about Rudy Ray Moore comes out in this moment...with a huge smile on his face, shaking hips, those great head swivels and the kind of outfit that only Dolemite himself could get away with. The crowd applauds him and Rudy gets down on the dance floor. Of course Rudy Ray Moore's dance moves are a bit like his karate chops, one gets the impression that this guy is to cool to expel too much energy and slowness is one of his greatest weapons. Soon Rudy is at the head of the room commanding everybody to, "Put your weight on it" and the crowd goes crazy and the dancing begins again. These opening shots of Rudy have gotten me through many rough times and they remain a sure fire cure for even the toughest depressions.

DISCO GODFATHER is certainly very different from the three Dolemite films that proceeded it. The first three were all hard R's, actually if memory serves I believe the first DOLEMITE was actually an X, filled with as much violence, language and nudity that they could squeeze into them. DISCO GODFATHER is PG and I think that a lot of fans have ignored the film due to this, they view it a bit as Rudy going soft and I suppose in a way that is true...but for all of its camp value, cheap production and sheer cheesiness there is something extremely sincere about DISCO GODFATHER.
The plot of DISCO GODFATHER centers on nightclub owner, and former cop, Tucker Williams and his battle to get PCP off the streets and out of the hands of his cities kids. Played by Rudy, Tucker is a hard hitting, take no prisoner, dancing and crime stopping machine. Joining him is the lovely and always great to see Carol Speed, seen here in one of her last film roles. Returning from the first three Dolemite adventures are Jimmy Lynch, Jerry Jones and of course the unstoppable Lady Reed.
Tucker Williams thinks all is fine in the world until his hot shot basketball playing nephew has a total meltdown in his nightclub one evening and ends up in a mental hospital. As the ambulance is carrying his nephew away, Tucker delivers the legendary, "Doctor, what has he had?" line and it is explained that the dreaded angel dust has infested the town. "Haven't you heard Godfather, our kids are dying." is the the thought that really fires Tucker up and soon he is paying a visit to his old buddies at the police station to let them know he is going to single handily take care of the situation.
As I said there is something really sincere in Rudy Ray's performance in this film. No one would ever call the great Dolemite one of the world's best actors but throughout DISCO GODFATHER one really gets the feeling that this guy really means every word he is saying.
I won't give away any more of the film as I really just wanted to celebrate the opening sequence but it's a fun film and fans of seventies trash cinema and the blaxploitation genre should absolutely give it a look. I miss the kind of kinetic, devil many care attitude these films had. One rarely gets the excited feeling of , "Look, I can make my own movie and have a great time doing it" anymore but all of the DOLEMITE films, including the often overlooked DISCO GODFATHER, possess that.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Moments With Jane Birkin and Dust Off Those Grooves (Chapter 14)

World renowned actress, activist, muse to one of France's most legendary songwriters and still popular recording star, Jane Birkin certainly has worn many titles. I think often though her solo recording career gets short changed a bit so I thought I would present a brief guide to her albums and some personal thoughts on each. As I have been compiling this list I was struck by the fact that I probably listen to these records even more than Gainsbourg's work as a whole, a fact which really blew me away and is a testimony to how much I love these lps.

Jane's first lp was released in 1969 as a duets album with Serge Gainsbourg. With her name boldly on top and and an endearing close up gracing the cover, the album was clearly designed to sell Jane as a recording star after the success of the J'E'TAIME MON NON PLUS single.
Like the majority of her early albums, the lp was composed, arranged and produced by Gainsbourg. The album is a real jewel and includes such legendary tracks as 69 ANNEE EROTIQUE and MANON plus some of the most whacked out orchestration in Gainsbourg's catalogue. The album does a splendid job of mixing Serge and Jane's vocals together and provides a perfect introduction to Jane's sometimes disarming and always charming vocal styling.

It would be a full four years before Jane would release another solo album although a handful of singles and her work on the stunning MELODY NELSON project would keep her well on the musical landscape of the early seventies. 1973's DI DOO DAH might be the ideal introduction to the world of Jane Birkin's recordings if just for the inclusion of the title track, LA DECADANSE and MON AMOUR BAISER alone. Featuring an incredibly sexy cover shot, Jane's second album is a much more relaxed sounding album than her first one. With Gainsbourg again providing the songs and the amazing Jean-Claude Vannier coming on board with the seductive arrangements, Jane really comes into her own here as a solo artist. This album also includes some great guitar work and is on the whole one of the great slow burn French funk albums from the early seventies.

DI DOO DAH sold well and Jane was by 1975's LOLITA GO HOME one of the biggest recoding and film stars in France. LOLITA GO HOME is possibly my favorite album by her and at least the most underrated. Often overlooked because it features songs other than Serge's, Jane's work on this album is really splendid. It is hard to take songs as well known as WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE, LOVE FOR SALE, WHERE OR WHEN and THERE'S A SMALL HOTEL and make them your own but Jane, with her off kilter vocals, does just that. Her version of LOVE FOR SELL is one of the sexiest
and most moving performances I have ever heard, Jane really becomes the life and world weary narrator in this track and it is one of her definitive performances. JP Sabar steps in with the arrangements here and the whole album has a slightly hungover dazed feel to it, like the morning after a night of heavy and almost damaging lovemaking. Gainsbourg provides some of his most subversive lyrics here with JUST ME AND YOU'S line, of "fuck the rest of the world" pre-dating Johnny Rotten's vinyl debut by nearly two years.

Jane's final album of the seventies is one of her most emotional works as it was recorded in the period that her relationship with Serge was going sour. 1978's EX-FAN DES SIXTIES is a strange but compelling record. The title track alone, recorded shortly after Elvis died, focuses on the loss of not only various rock stars from but the loss of the idealism that the sixties had come to represent. Awashed with an almost childlike sounding arrangement, Jane's haunting vocal places this track center among her very best works. Gainsbourg contributed all of the songs on this album and judging from tracks such as ROCKING CHAIR, NICOTINE and especially APOCALYPSTICK, he is beginning to sound like a man tragically out of time.

It would be five years before Jane would return to a recording studio to record a full album but 1983's BABY ALONE IN BABYLON was worth the wait. Jane was thirty-seven when she came through with this very adult and and at times very lonely sounding record. The first album written after their divorce, Gainsbourg presented Jane with some of the most heartbreaking songs of isolation that he had ever written including the stunning OVERSEAS TELEGRAM, a track that would prove a highlight to the Mick Harvey and Anita Lane Gainsbourg tribute album a decade later. BABY LOU and the haunting NORMA JEAN BAKER provide two other major highlights. Even though the album is a bit bogged down in 1980's production, the songs and Jane's reading of them make it a stunning achievement.

1987 would prove a banner year for Jane's musical career with the release of her well regarded LOST SONG album and especially for the her first live album AU BATACLAN. I must admit that LOST SONG is an album by Jane that I have listened to the least so I will not offer any real thoughts on it here except to say that it is a solid record that for some reason I just haven't continually revisited like the rest. I think my main problem with it is the production that I think really bogs it down. Charlotte Gainsbourg's first album from this period also suffers a bit from this. The live lp though is a stunner. It works as not only a grand souvenir from her first concert but also as a splendid greatest hits record. One of my favorite things about this record is how receptive the audience is to seeing Jane live and how obviously appreciative she is. Highlights include a gloriously dead-pan LOVE FOR SALE and an incredibly tender reading of YESTERDAY, YES A DAY from Gainsbourg's great MADAME CLAUDE soundtrack. All in all, Jane Birkin's AU BATACLAN LIVE is one of the best concert album's from the eighties.

The nineties brought the tragic death of Serge Gainsbourg and saw Jane's work as an actress becoming more and more respected with acclaimed performances for directors like Jacques Rivette. Her recording career was not completely put on hold though and the albums AMOURS DES FEINTES from 1990, VERSIONS JANE from 1996 and A LA LEGERE from 99 are all nicely put together collections, but they are probably her least essential works. A LA LEGERE would find her seemingly escaping Serge Gainsbourg's shadow completely and the arrangements of Philippe Lerichomme are very nice but all in all these would be the three albums to not start your Jane Birkin collection with. I will admit though, that like LOST SONG, I haven't given these records as many spins as I should and perhaps at a later date I will return with more thoughts on them.
The nineties would also find Jane releasing two fine double set live albums as well as big selling best of collection that would find her singing a duet with none other than the beautiful Brett Anderson from the always astonishing SUEDE. The Brett Anderson duet was an incredibly important one, it would set in motion Jane's musical comeback and really show that modern French music was no longer something to snicker at, it had in fact been incredibly influential to a varied number of singers and songwriters from all over the world.

2002 would find Jane releasing one of her most popular collections and cementing her position as a vital musical force in France. ARABESQUE is a striking collection of re-recorded Gainsbourg tracks in an, as you might have gathered, Arabic mode. This innovative collection with it's positively tripped out middle eastern arrangements and Jane at her strongest vocally, it is a major success at giving new life to some of Gainsbourg's best songs. The album would be followed by a live dvd and documentary that would show a fully rejuvenated Birkin really firing on all cylinders. It is an undeniably exciting and vital record in her catalogue.

Even better is 2004's RENDEZ-VOUS, possibly the greatest album Jane has ever made and proof positive that her and Serge were among the most influential artists of the sixties and seventies. RENDEZ-VOUS is a duet album, and a great one at that, featuring a stunning set of artists singing and writing for Jane such as Feist, Brian Molko, Beth Gibbons, Francoise Hardy and most notably Bryan Ferry. The overwhelmingly talented Leslie Feist delivers A SIMPLE STORY and her and Jane are tremendous together, giving the song a sense of playfulness and heavy drama at the same time. The Hardy duet is very nice as is the great opening, JE M'APPELLE JANE but the real treasure on the album is the duet with Jane and Ferry on Roxy Music's still jaw dropping IN EVERY DREAMHOME A HEARTACHE. One of the great tracks of the seventies and one of Ferry's most demanding songs, Jane and Bryan transform it into a sinister electronic landslide of whispered vocals and seductive posturing. It is an audacious moment that brings Birkin back to Britain and it is an essential little companion to Roxy's monumental original.

Last year's FICTIONS continues Jane's comeback and finds her working heavily with The Smith's guitar great, Johnny Marr as well as Portishead's Beth Gibbons and The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon. To deliver an album this entrancing and alive sounding at the age of 61 is quite a feat but Jane Birkin has always managed to do the seemingly impossible. If FICTIONS is any indication then the remarkable recording career of Jane Birkin is no where near over.

This has just been my little introduction to Jane's solo albums. I will most likely be looking my favorites, DI DOO DAH, LOLITA GO HOME and RENDEZ-VOUS, at a later date. Hopefully for someone who might be interested in getting some of Jane's music this might serve as a nice starting point. There are quite a few solid best of collections out but I think her music is best heard on the original albums, most of them have been lovingly remastered in the past few years and are sounding better than ever. A good place to track them down is Chicago's great Dusty Groove which has an incredible online store and of course Amazon carries most of them also.

There Will Be Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson has been my favorite modern American director since he arrived on the scene over a decade ago. His first film in five years is going to be unleashed later this year and here is the first little teaser from it.
I must say from watching this that this is clearly going to be a Paul Thomas Anderson picture, no matter that this marks the first time he is working from outside source material.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD stars a near unrecognizable Daniel Day Lewis and will be in theaters this Fall. It is Anderson's first work since 2002's beguiling PUNCH DRUNK LOVE and it is my most anticipated film of the year.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Nostalgia Kinky Is A Go

Readers of this blog might have gathered, from the name of it, that I am a fan of Nastassja Kinski. Actually Nastassja has been my favorite actress for twenty years and I have been planning the past few months to pay a special tribute to her.
So in a move that will not affect this blog at all, I have given Moon In The Gutter a sister site.
Linked to the right is my new side project blog Nostalgia Kinky. I have set this up to celebrate, what I consider, the very underrated film career of Nastassja Kinski. This blog will consist of reviews of all of Nastassja's films in the order of their release as well as some other goodies. Let me say again that business will continue here at Moon In The Gutter and I will continue posting here like usual on a daily basis. Nostalgia Kinky is just my little side project and I hope to get at least one review up there a week.
It is active as of yesterday and my first review, for Nastassja's debut in Wim Wenders WRONG MOVE, has been posted. I suspect that the readership for this new blog will be small but if any visitors of this blog happen to admire Nastassja stop by Nostalgia Kinky and give it a look.
I will leave it linked on the right and occasionally I might post something here on it if something special is going on over there. Otherwise Moon In The Gutter will back in business tomorrow with my regular Monday Jane Birkin feature and some other treats.

I'm getting about 300 or so hits a day now and I wanted to thank those who continue to stop by, leave comments and have been nice enough to supply links to Moon In The Gutter on your own blogs and message boards. I appreciate the support more than I can say.
I have recently set up a MySpace profile, also linked to the right, so if you haven't already send me a friend request, please do so.

Finally a big thank you to Kimberly at Cinebeats who was nice enough to send me some incredible shots of Nastassja I had never seen, including the pictured above stunning promotional shot from none other than MOON IN THE GUTTER.

Eli Roth's MySpace Post On Hostel Part 2

Eli Roth has posted a very sincere message over at his MySpace account on the failure of HOSTEL PART 2. He seems extremely frustrated, and legitimately so, about the ever increasing problem of Internet piracy in the film industry and the fact that many have been reviewing an unfinished workprint of his film.
I personally believe that illegal downloading is hurting films much more than perhaps the studios are even calculating. I don't think HOSTEL PART 2 stood much of a chance mid-summer but having a workprint leaked a week before its release clearly hurt it.
Roth also admits that he is pretty exhausted and will be taking a break for what sounds like at least a year. I suppose that is good news for some but the more I have thought about it, my opinion of HOSTEL PART 2 has gone up even more and I plan on seeing it again before it is gone in a week or so.
He also speaks on the inevitable return of softer PG13 horror films, a thought which really turns my stomach but with the failure of HILLS HAVE EYES 2, GRINDHOUSE and now HOSTEL PART 2 in just the past few months that is most likely the direction the studios will take.
If you have a MySpace account, head over to Roth's blog at:
It is an interesting read and I think it is great the guy is still attempting to keep in contact with his fans. And if you did enjoy HOSTEL PART 2 why not see it again in a theater? I have a feeling after next year we won't be able to see its like on the big screen for awhile.

Friday, June 15, 2007

An Anniversary Worth Celebrating

Since we past the fifty year mark last year of Elvis' appearance on the Ed Sullivan show it seems like there will be an endless number popular culture anniversaries that can be celebrated. One that I didn't want to let pass was the fortieth anniversary of what I consider to be the most important album released in that watershed year of 1967.
The number of influential and mind bending albums released during 67 is staggering with just a few of the most notable being The Beatles SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, Pink Floyd's PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN, Jefferson Airplane's SURREALISTIC PILLOW, The Kinks SOMETHING ELSE and I could go on and on. None of these, admittedly brilliant albums, compare though to my ears to one poor selling album that would have been gathering dust in the V section of your favorite local record store 40 years ago.
Released in March 1967, THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO was an album unlike anything ever heard before. Although it barely scraped the bottom half of the top 200 in the spring of 67, for the people who bought it became a watershed moment. It is ground zero for modern music and I would argue the most influential album ever made.
With the financial and artistic support of Andy Warhol (credited as producer although Dylan producer Tom Wilson actually handled it) The Velvet Underground at this point was made up of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker and a tall German model and actress named Nico.
New Yorker Reed had met Welshman Cale a few years before while they were both employed at a knockoff songwriting and recording company. Reed's astonishing street wise poetry and feedback drenched guitar stylings and Cale's classical avant-garde training would soon collide into the most searing sounds rock had ever heard.
The story of how The Velvets formed and met up with Warhol has been repeated so many times that I won't go into it here so I will flash forward to the album itself and my thoughts on it.
The thing that continues to give THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO so much power after 40 years is that it simply sounds like nothing else in popular music. No matter how many thousands of bands that have attempted to copy it's sound or Reed's words, the album is still its own separate universe. It is also one of the few recordings that doesn't have a clear starting point. With Elvis you could hear many of the blues artists and pop singers that he had heard growing up and with pretty much everyone after him you can hear Elvis, but songs like VENUS IN FURS or THE BLACK ANGELS DEATH SONG don't seem to have any starting point. They still sound like a clear beginning, some sort of musical big bang that hadn't been dealt with in rock before.
I would never slight the contributions of Maureen Tucker's primal revolutionary drumming style, the crystal purity of Sterling Morrison on guitar or the haunting vocals of Nico but it is hard to deny that THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO's main elements are Lou Reed and John Cale.

I have heard the studio take of HEROIN probably over a thousand time and I have dozens upon dozens of live recordings of it but there is still a moment in its original VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO take that still gives me chills and causes me to stop whatever other thought processes I might be having. It's the section that features Reed singing one of the most brilliant and chilling passages in rock history,
"When the smack begins to flow
Then I really don't care anymore
About all the jim-jims in this town
And everybody putting everybody else down
And all of the politicians makin' crazy sounds
All the dead bodies piled up in mounds"
and then Cale's Viola literally sounds like it is taking off into a completely uncharted splintered universe. The sound of Cale's viola along with Tucker's rapid heartbeat like drumming has still been unmatched for all out intensity in rock. You'd have to pull out an Ornette Coleman-Don Cherry collaboration or one of Albert Ayler's wilder moments to sonically come even close to what The Velvet's are doing on this album, and it all falls into place that moment when it feels like Lou Reed and John Cale come face to face with the most impending of all darkness and the darkness retreats screaming.

Much has been made of Lou's lyrics on this album and it is all justified. No one before or since has managed to capture urban angst or the frustrations of addiction, depression and ultimately redemption better than Lou Reed. The journey that he began in these grooves with tracks like HEROIN continues to this day. Much more than being rock's dark prince Lou Reed has reminded us for forty years now that there is indeed light at the end of the longest and blackest tunnel.

Equally compelling is John Cale. Like Reed, Cale has had one of the most ferocious and compelling careers of the past four decades, consistently releasing as many masterpieces as any of his peers, including Lou. The sound captured on THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO is these two warriors stepping into the ring for the first time battling off every conceived notion that a serious music fan might have of rock music, and the final bell still hasn't sounded on them.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO is perfect in every respect beyond the most obviously brilliant tracks like HEROIN, WAITING FOR THE MAN and VENUS IN FURS. It contains some of the most startling ballads in Reed's catalogue like SUNDAY MORNING, FEMME FATALE and I'll BE YOUR MIRROR. These songs, with all of their doubt and vulnerability, still rank among the finest songs of lost love and yearning ever written. The album is also filled with a handful of perfect rock songs like THERE SHE GOES AGAIN, RUN RUN RUN and EUROPEAN SON that chronicle both Reed's and Cale's love for rock at it's purest. It was no coincidence when Cale turned Elvis Preseley's HEARTBREAK HOTEL into one of his greatest tracks as a solo artist or that Reed would cite Presley's THAT'S ALL RIGHT as the creation of rock music. For all of their avant-garde leanings, these guys really loved the basic foundation of rock and roll and that comes through clearly on this album, it just so happened that no one had ever played it quite like them before.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO was of course a major failure upon release and it is hard to cite the exact moment of when it began to become the legend it is. You can hear the rumblings of it when David Bowie began to cover I'M WAITING FOR THE MAN in the late sixties but the exact moment is near impossible to place. It just feels like the album wasn't there and then it was...the moment of its release is rock music's point of B.C and A.D.
Brian Eno has that famous quote about how only a few hundred people bought the first Velvet Underground album but they all started bands. That's one of the most accurate thoughts in rock history and starting with the first Roxy Music album you can began to see the creative string that THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO album had dangled for other artists to grab onto. After Roxy Music, a virtual catalogue of the greatest albums of the last thirties years sprang directly from the bruising sonic masterpiece of The Velvet's first lp. Album's like Pere Ubu's DUB HOUSING, PiL's METAL BOX, Jesus and Mary Chain's PSYCHOCANDY and My Bloody Valentine's LOVELESS all the way up to the upcoming White Stripes record would be unthinkable without the Velvets. Thousands of others ranging far and wide between Joy Division to Vanessa Paradis or Television to The Birthday Party have continually paid tribute to The Velvet's and the extraordinary legacy they left.
Nico would never record with the full unit again although she would work with Lou and Cale at different points in her audacious and always brilliant solo career. My favorite Velvet Underground album remains the follow up to THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO, the chaotic and pulverising WHITE LIGHT WHITE HEAT. That would be the only record with just the four core group members and to me it is their ultimate work. The third album and LOADED are also masterpieces and it is hard to think of another group that has such a perfect, if small, studio catalogue. Start at track one on THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO and go to the final track on LOADED and you have one of the most seamless and extraordinary bodies of artistic expression in music history.

I was 15 when I got my first copy of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO. It was on vinyl and there was a small scratch on the record that caused a rhythmic popping sound during FEMME FATALE. I often thought that little pop was my own little secret version of the album and it's that sound and the music on this remarkable album that have stuck with me now for nearly twenty years of my life. I have no doubt that it will be something that I will have with me when I take my own eventual exit into the great unknown Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker and Nico travelled to forty astonishing years ago.