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Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Return of Gil Scott-Heron



One of my favorite artists is getting ready to unleash his first album in over fifteen years and I wanted to share the first video from it here. Gil Scott-Heron's new album I'm New Here, which is already drawing some serious acclaim, is due out Febuary 9th in the states and more info on it can be found here at Gil's official site. This is the video for "Me and the Devil", the amazing first single off the album. This track is a doozy and the spoken word section at the end will give long-time fans of Heron's some serious chills.



I wish Gil great success with the upcoming album and I can't wait to get a copy.

Jean Rollin Home Video Designs: The Demoniacs (Rare High Resolution VHS Covers)

A very kind reader from France recently alerted me to this wonderful database he is involved with dedicated to preserving rare VHS box art from around the world. They have a huge Jean Rollin selection here and this reader has offered to supply me with some large scans to share with fellow Rollin fans. Here is the next batch, which focuses on The Demoniacs. Thanks so much to this very kind fan who, like me, is really wanting to preserve Rollin's legacy and I hope this and the upcoming posts of these prove pleasing!





Jean Rollin Home Video Designs: The Iron Rose (Rare VHS High Resoloution Covers)

A very kind reader from France recently alerted me to this wonderful database he is involved with dedicated to preserving rare VHS box art from around the world. They have a huge Jean Rollin selection here and this reader has offered to supply me with some large scans to share with fellow Rollin fans. Here is the first batch, which focuses on The Iron Rose. Thanks so much to this very kind fan who, like me, is really wanting to preserve Rollin's legacy and I hope this and the upcoming posts of these prove pleasing!




Friday, January 29, 2010

It Was A Pleasure Then: Twenty Years of Mazzy Star


While I have trouble wrapping my head around this fact, this year marks the twentieth anniversary of the beautiful first album teaming guitarist David Roback and vocalist Hope Sandoval, a gifted twosome that would form the core of the unequaled Mazzy Star.
Mazzy Star’s She Hangs Brightly, one of the most mesmerizing debut LPs of the modern rock era, did indeed hit record stores (remember those) back in 1990 and I wanted to take a few moments to celebrate a band that I can’t imagine the soundtrack of my life without.
Mazzy Star formed out of the ashes of the mighty Opal, an important and mostly unsung band featuring Roback with former Dream Syndicate member Kendra Smith. After the Smith version of Opal suddenly and quite mysteriously imploded in 1989, young vocalist Sandoval stepped in and Mazzy Star was born.
Mazzy Star only released three albums in their rather short career that stretched just over the seven-year mark. While the band has never officially broken up, 1996’s lovely Among My Swan remains the final album bearing the Mazzy Star name. Roback has continued on in the music industry, as has Sandoval (whose two solo albums are absolute gems) but, outside of an appearance or two, Mazzy Star has remained in silent mode for nearly fifteen years now.



My own experiences with Mazzy Star started, like a lot of fans, when I was bowled over by their extraordinary second LP So Tonight That I Might See in 1993. I had just turned twenty years old when the exquisite “Fade Into You” began breaking into the airwaves like a whispered reminder of how great popular music could be in the midst of a grunge movement that was already turning in on itself. As much as I came to love that second and finally third album throughout the nineties, She Hangs Brightly might be the definitive Mazzy Star creation, a psychedelic country-tinged classic recalling the best of The Velvet Underground, Love, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Doors, The Jesus and Mary Chain and a number of other bands who, like Mazzy Star, refused to just cater to the tastes of their day.

She Hangs Brightly is a breathtaking collection from its first song to its last. Whether it’s the delicious gentleness of the opening track, “Halah”, or the ferocious intensity of the rocking powerhouse “Ghost Highway”, She Hangs Brightly simply sounds like no other album I can think of. It’s one of those rare LPs that manages to work as a clear tribute while transcending its influences.
Mazzy Star would of course influence a number of bands throughout the nineties and into this decade but those bands lacked Mazzy Star’s bite, they lacked their intensity and their ability to breathe fire when they needed to. Mazzy Star were both lovely and dark at the same time, and nobody was more intense than Hope Sandoval when she would go as deep into a song as possible, at times, with barely a whisper.

I only had the opportunity to see Mazzy Star once but what a memorable show it was. Opening up for The Jesus and Mary Chain at Cincinnati’s Bogarts, Roback and Sandoval were a powerful experience live. So concentrated and passionate were Sandoval’s silent offerings that night that I felt like the door of the club might be blown off by the brilliance she exuded. The Mary Chain finally did blow the door off later in the evening with “Reverence” but I will save that story for another post.

While I have many memories of Mazzy Star and how they have influenced my life, they will always be of the most utmost importance due to the impact they had on me in the late nineties when, in the midst of my own very spiritual and personal crisis, their three albums provided me much needed solace from a particularly dark journey I was on. Great music will always be meaningful but music that can help lead you through deserves a special place, and Mazzy Star helped me out of the Badlands when I badly needed a guide.

Whether Mazzy Star will ever return remains to be seen. Hope Sandoval has said that there will be a fourth album eventually and I would like to believe that is true. While Mazzy Star will always occupy a special place in my past I would love to have them in my future as well.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Paris, Texas Now Out on Criterion


I couldn't let the week slip by without mentioning that Wim Wender's astounding 1984 film Paris, Texas has just been released as part of the prestigious Criterion Collection. This set has been greatly anticipated by a lot of folks, myself included, who consider Wender's film among the best ever made and I am thrilled that it is finally out. The two-disc set contains everything from a great commentary track from Wenders to appreciations from filmmaking fans like Allison Anders and Claire Denis. It also contains a documentary, deleted scenes and a written contribution from Nastassja Kinski, who delivers one of my all-time favorite performances in the film. I highly recommend the set, which can be ordered from Amazon here.

Wender's Paris, Texas Now Out on Criterion


I couldn't let the week slip by without mentioning that Wim Wender's astounding 1984 film Paris, Texas has just been released as part of the prestigious Criterion Collection. This set has been greatly anticipated by a lot of folks, myself included, who consider Wender's film among the best ever made and I am thrilled that it is finally out. The two-disc set contains everything from a great commentary track from Wenders to appreciations from filmmaking fans like Allison Anders and Claire Denis. It also contains a documentary, deleted scenes and a written contribution from Nastassja Kinski, who delivers one of my all-time favorite performances in the film. I highly recommend the set, which can be ordered from Amazon here.
Also out this week are two of my favorite films from 2009, Drew Barrymore's terrific Whip It and the moving Michael Jackson concert film This Is It.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Cinema of Jean Rollin: Les Trottoirs de Bangkok (The Sidewalks of Bangkok)



Exhausted after the troubled production of The Living Dead Girl, Jean Rollin was looking to return his freewheeling roots with his next picture, a nod to the serials of his childhood entitled Les Trottoirs de Bangkok (The Sidewalks of Bangkok). Delightfully daffy, deliberately disconnected and undeniably entertaining, The Sidewalks of Bangkok can be looked upon as the comic flipside to Rollin’s first feature The Rape of The Vampire from 15 years before. Shot on a shoestring budget and improvised, The Sidewalks of Bangkok is as far removed from Rollin’s fantastique works as possible and yet it is Rollin through and through.





Starring the stunning, mysterious and very talented Yoko, seen here in one of the only non-hardcore features of her sadly brief film career, and the brilliant Francoise Blanchard, fresh off her tour-de-force turn in The Living Dead Girl, The Sidewalks of Bangkok is 85 minutes of pure enjoyable nonsense. The whole film feels like Rollin deliberately taking a step back from the intense poetry of his last few works to delve into a colorful comic-book fantasy focusing on guns, girls and intrigue.




While The Sidewalks of Bangkok is admittedly a minor Rollin film it was never intended to be anything more. Rollin told Peter Blumenstock in the pages of Virgins and Vampire and Video Watchdog that, “the entire shoot was great fun”, and ‘fun’ is indeed the best way to describe The Sidewalks of Bangkok. It’s a mess, but a delightful one, and its devil may care attitude is a refreshing break after the deadly serious Living Dead Girl had taken such a toll on Rollin and his crew.






Working again with reliable cinematographer Claude Becognee with the ever present Lionel Wallman producing, Rollin recalled to Blumenstock that they, “filmed in secret in the Chinese Quarter around the Porte d’italie and on the docks where goods from Asia (were) unloaded.” Other stolen shots were found in an abandoned den near the Champs-Elyseees and on part of the French Railroad where Rollin remembered they managed to not, “get discovered by the security guards.” Along with the film's number of memorable locations, the catchy electronic score by composer Georges Lartigau also gives the film an extra push it otherwise wouldn't have had.







Feeling like he was, “20 years old again”, Rollin had a blast working on the set and greatly admired the fearless Yoko whom he recalled as being and actress who, “stopped at nothing and played her part instinctually, like a small hounded animal.” Yoko is indeed a real delight in the film and she keeps it more than watchable even when financial constraints make it feel even cheaper than most of the shoe-string budget pictures Rollin had shot previously. Rollin celebrated Yoko to Blumenstock and even went so far as to say he had, “never worked with an actor who was so open-minded and easy to direct.” Excited about the prospect of working with the beautiful young actress again he, “wrote a story for her and Brigitte Lahaie” but sadly this never became a film and Yoko had disappeared from the screens by the early nineties.





Nearly as memorable as Yoko in The Sidewalks of Bangkok is the mega-talented Francoise Blanchard who, sporting a new-wave inspired haircut, is seen clearly having a ball in Rollin’s tribute to film’s like 1932’s The Mask of Fu-Manchu. Most of the rest of the cast were either inexperienced or had more of a past in adult features, but Jean-Pierre Bouyxou and Brigitte Borghese will be immediately recognizable to fans of Rollin’s oeuvre. Rollin himself makes another brief but memorable cameo as well and keep an eye out for pretty Antonina Laurent who is an actress who has the distinction of being someone who only worked with Rollin and fellow maverick Jess Franco, as her only other big-screen credit is 1987’s Faceless.





With its wacky plot, focusing on a missing secret agent and a chemical weapon he has supposedly given to a mysterious nightclub dancer, The Sidewalks of Bangkok is a film of little substance but damn it’s an entertaining little puzzle that never outstays its welcome in its slim running time. Rollin loves the film and celebrated it as, “truly a B-movie”, which was, “as crazy as it was incoherent”, and, “part parody and part adventure film.” Most importantly he noted that, unlike the more na├»ve Rape of the Vampire, the humor found in the madcap The Sidewalks of Bangkok was very much intended. This might be a totally ridiculous film, but the people behind it are extremely smart.










Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs have an excellent section on the making of The Sidewalks of Bangkok in their indispensable Immoral Tales where they noted that despite a set-up time of “fifteen days from scratch” the picture, “went on to be one of Rollin’s biggest successes”, more than a little ironic considering how Rollin is often labeled as just a maker of erotic vampire films.





The Sidewalks of Bangkok has sadly not been given the full-blown special edition treatment of some of Rollin’s other works. It is currently available from Redemption with the only extras being a photo gallery and trailer. I would love to see a full-blown deluxe edition eventually, preferably with the involvement of the unforgettable and currently missing in action Yoko.