Tag Archives: Rock and Roll

179. PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974)

“The reason Fox found it unwieldy — the scabrous humor about the music industry, the unhappy love story and the weirdness of some of the characters — are exactly the reasons why people love it now.”–Gerrit Graham on Phantom of the Paradise (quoted in the New York Times)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: William Finley, , , Gerrit Graham, George Memmoli

PLOT: Swan is the world’s most powerful music producer, who dreams of opening a grandiose concert venue called the Paradise, while Winslow is a composer who has created a rock cantata version of “Faust.” Swan steals Winslow’s work; while seeking revenge, an accident disfigures Winslow’s face and destroys his vocal cords. Now wearing a mask, Winslow takes up residence in the basement of the Paradise and strikes a deal with Swan to rewrite the opera for Phoenix, a female singer whom both men lust after.

Still from Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
BACKGROUND:

  • Although Brian De Palma became famous for thrillers and action movies like Dressed to Kill, Scarface, The Untouchables, and Mission Impossible, he began his career making subversive underground comedies, and his earliest films for major studios were oddball farces. Phantom of the Paradise marks the apex of De Palma’s comedic phase; his next film would be the horror hit Carrie, following which he would largely abandon his burlesque and experimental impulses.
  • De Palma was inspired to write a satire on the commercialization of rock music when he heard a Muzak version of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” in an elevator.
  • Paul Williams, a successful songwriter who had penned hits for The Carpenters, wrote and performed the soundtrack (dubbing in William Finley’s singing voice). Williams was originally cast in the role of Winston, but asked to play Swan instead, and proved a natural for the role.
  • The movie was a financial flop, but Williams’ score was nominated for an Academy Award.
  • A bizarre bit of trivia: although Phantom was a box office bomb, for some reason it was immensely popular in Winnipeg, Canada, where it played screens on and off for over a year. (I like to imagine famous weird Winnipegian , who would have been about 18 at the time, was a repeat customer).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We’ll go with the assassination of Beef, who is killed in improbable fashion by a neon lightning bolt. To ecstatic applause from the spectacle-hungry audience. Not only is it an unforgettable sight, it’s also the moment when the operatic Phantom solidifies its weird credentials.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It’s a wadded-up plot of “Phantom of the Opera” and “Faust,” with a bit of “Dorian Gray,” rolled up into a music biz satire ball and sprinkled with a dusting of crazy.


Edgar Wright commentary on the original trailer for Phantom of the Paradise (from Trailers from Hell)

COMMENTS: There’s a critical cliche that says that you can’t deliberately fashion a cult movie; it must be discovered. In other words, it’s the Continue reading

CAPSULE: A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Wilfrid Brambell

PLOT: A day in the life of the Beatles as their handlers try to prepare for a show that night—but the lads are always goofing off, chasing girls, and trying to track down Paul’s grandfather.

Still from A Hard Day's Night (1964)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: For all its cult cachet, all the talk about its irreverent anarchy and its “surreal humour,” and all of the “underground” techniques it mainstreamed (using techniques pioneered by the French New Wave, Day’s Night is also often credited with inventing the music video), the Beatles’ first feature isn’t “weird” (except as a corrective to the overly-stiff style of 1950s filmmaking it was reacting to).

COMMENTS: “They’re ‘fab’ and all the other pimply hyperboles,” goes one typically sparkling line in A Hard Day’s Night. The speaker, a cynical, unhip adman specializing in teen marketing, was talking about shirts, not the Beatles, but he might as well have been expressing the dismissive attitude most grown-ups shared for the Fab Four before Richard Lester’s rollicking A Hard Day’s Night recast the group as trickster archetypes rather than just four young men pandering to underage girls’ romantic fantasies. Lester makes the Liverpudlians universally lovable: the movie caters to the spirit of rebellion and style kids and teens connected with, while simultaneously disarming adults’ fears and contempt with a witty script. The jokes and wordplay (“I’m a mocker,” Ringo says when asked it he’s a mod or a rocker) were too sophisticated for the crowds of screaming, erotically ecstatic girls (mostly pre-teens, as the concert footage reveals—the Beatlemania demographic, it turns out, was the same age group that later embraced the Backstreet Boys or One Direction) who populate the film’s electrifying concert sequences. The script aimed at broadening the group’s audience by playing up the group’s reputation for clever wordplay and irreverent ad-libs, while not apologizing for their boy band magnetism. It worked. After A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles were no longer just kids’ stuff: they were spokesmen for a youth movement with a cool new insouciant attitude.

Although each of the band members has a distinct personality (wry John, boyish Paul, quiet George and mopey Ringo), “the Beatles” as a group emerge as the movie’s principal character. The boy’s adventures tweak the status quo without eviscerating it; the film’s satire is so gentle that its targets—joyless adults, out-of-touch media, and the humorless of every stripe—laughed at the jibes, not recognizing themselves. Yeah, its pro-youth, but it doesn’t alienate older folk, most of whom would rather identify with Paul’s mischievous (but clean) grandfather and his penchant for sneaking off to the casino than with the wrinkly sourpuss who refuses to open the windows on the train. The spirit embodied by Lester’s Beatles was welcoming, and it wasn’t about chronological age: it was about choosing “parading” over propriety. The plot, such as it is, is a constant stream of sequences where someone wanders off to do his own thing, leaving the authorities (the band’s manager, the television producer) wringing their hands. Paul’s grandfather is constantly getting into trouble; the boys leave practice to go frolic in a field; with only an hour left until the big show, Ringo goes off on his own, ending up in police custody. In the end, naturally, the lads pull it together and bring down the house, proving that the stuffed shirts needn’t have fretted—they should just enjoy the ride, like the rest of us.

Naturally, the Criterion Collection gives A Hard Day’s Night the royal treatment. Aside from the restored picture and (possibly more important) audio (including a new stereo mix), the 2-DVD (1 Blu-ray) set collects four short documentaries on the film, interviews, and more. The commentary track includes almost a dozen people who worked on the movie–including extras, editors, the cinematographer—but unfortunately, nothing from director Lester. Of major interest to cinephiles (and of some interest to weirdophiles) is Lester’s short “The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film,” with Spike Milligan and , a series of silent gags (such as a man who places a record on a tree stump and plays it by running around in a circle holding a needle) that was nominated for an Oscar and was a big favorite of John Lennon’s. Rounding out the package is an 80-page booklet with an appreciation by Howard Hampton, an interview with Lester, and behind-the-scenes photos of the Beatles. The release is a must-have for movie fans and Beatlemaniacs alike.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… looks chaotic and slapdash enough (and just occasionally, for me, depressing enough) to count as an experimentalist or underground movie.”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (2014 reissue)

CAPSULE: METALLICA THROUGH THE NEVER (2013)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Dane DeHaan, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo

PLOT: A roadie goes on a mysterious errand during a Metallica concert.

Still from Metallica Through the Never (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a weird movie for fans of Metallica, not a Metallica movie for fans of the weird.

COMMENTS: Obviously, aficionados of hard rock outfit Metallica’s shredding guitars, brutal pounding rhythms, and morbid macho posturing will be thrilled with this 90-minute testament to their precision musicianship and sweaty stage presence. Fans will be happy to hear that the 14-song set isn’t a plug for the latest album, but instead is of a classic greatest-hits survey of crowd favorites. To me, on the other hand, every Metallica song sounds like a guy with anger-management issues yelling at his malfunctioning washing machine. Then again, I think popular music never recovered from the wrong turn it took at Bill Haley & the Comets. Still, as a pure adrenaline/testosterone concert concoction, Through the Never is near the top of the heap. The elaborate stage production features walls of video monitors (and even a video floor that sometimes “fills” with blood), green lasers shooting skyward, the assembly and demolition of a colossus, and a sequence where the electrical wiring goes haywire and speakers come crashing down onto the stadium floor, all captured with some impressive crane shots. Even with the receding hairlines, the performance is of sufficient energy to avoid Spinal Tap syndrome. All of this will, obviously, play to fans looking for the virtual concert experience. Through the Never‘s extra ambition comes in its feature-length music video style narrative about a roadie named Trip who’s sent to recover a mysterious parcel while the band plays. His mission takes him through a surreal Vancouver nightscape ruled by rioters and a horseman in a gas mask. Director Nimród Antal indulges his visual imagination with weird moments like a bleeding guitar and a walking voodoo doll. These music video styled semi-narrative excursions effectively break up what otherwise might have become a tedious visual exercise in determining how many ways you can shoot a guitar so it reminds you of a phallus. And, although the symbolism will be obscure to outsiders, there is a touching point to Trip’s quest that Metallica diehards will surely pick up on. Non-essential for non-fans, but not nearly as bad as it could have been, and infinitely better than the last movie we reviewed in these pages sponsored by a band.

I find echoes of the fascist concert sequences from Pink Floyd The Wall in the call-and-response exercises with the adoring audience who chant angry lyrics about death like holy texts. That’s not unique to Metallica, of course: this Dionysian abandonment, the adolescent’s desire to dissolve his individuality into the headbanging collective, is the thing I’ve always hated most about rock concerts.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Who says a movie has to make a lick of sense to be entertaining?… If half an hour of bizarro side-narrative fever dream is the price of admission for a gorgeously lensed, best-seat-in-the-house hour of chugging rock brutality, I’ll pay gladly.”–Colin Covert, Minnesota Star-Tribune (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THIS MUST BE THE PLACE (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Paolo Sorrentino

FEATURING: , Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch

PLOT: A retired Goth rocker hunts for the Nazi who persecuted his deceased father in a concentration camp.

Still from This Must Be the Place (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s worth watching just to see Sean Penn in Goth drag, but one of the world’s weirdest movies this ain’t.

COMMENTS: The reason to see This Must Be the Place is Sean Penn’s high-concept, high-pitched performance as an emotionally stunted man-child serving a self-imposed sentence of early retirement while living off royalties from his pop star youth. I think that the movie probably works better with an against-type movie star in the lead than it would with an unknown or a character actor; seeing Penn, who has a reputation as an onscreen firebrand prone to fits of violence, playing an effeminate ex-rocker in makeup adds another level of incongruity to an already oddball tale. Penn plays Cheyenne as a man who’s completely drained, so much that you might think his corpse-like pallor comes not from foundation powder but from a total lack of circulation. He walks slowly, as if his bones ache, and with his eyeglasses on a rhinestone lanyard, he often looks like someone’s grandma. At least in the early part of the film, his answer to nearly every question is a bemused “I don’t know”; he seems to be waiting to die in a kind of post-heroin, pre-senility middle-aged twilight. Unfortunately, the script starts off reflecting the same bored aimlessness as its subject, spending its first half-hour dithering around in Cheyenne’s retirement in Ireland, focusing on an extraneous menagerie of quirky friends (an overweight Lothario, a Goth girl and her straight-laced paramour, a mother whose son has gone missing) who serve no function in the main plot. The story picks up speed once Cheyenne gets the call saying that his estranged father has died and makes his way to America, where he discovers pop’s lifelong quest to track down a small-time Nazi who tormented him as a boy at Auschwitz. Following the clues uncovered by his father gives Cheyenne a purpose, and he morphs into a laconic angel of vengeance, touring the United States and engaging in eccentric conversations with middle Americans (including a brief encounter with as a retired airline pilot obsessed with luggage). He encounters several casually weird and dreamy bits on his odd journey, including an incident where he’s trapped in a traffic jam caused by a giant promotional bottle of whiskey, visitations by a goose and a buffalo, and a vision of an elderly Hitler passing by on a platform pulled by a tractor. “A lot of unusual things have been happening to me lately,” Cheyenne tells a trucker in his detached falsetto after his rental pickup truck spontaneously catches fire. Penn has some great confessional moments that explain Cheyenne’s lassitude, and he brings this unique and scarcely credible character to life; it’s a shame that the script couldn’t be more economical in introducing the rocker. When Cheyenne’s not hunting Nazis, his halfhearted, girlish giggle and stoned, distant demeanor can get annoying.

The film’s title was suggested by a Talking Heads song, which is performed live by David Byrne in the middle of the movie, and then sung again later by a freckle-faced kid. “You’re delusional,” Cheyenne calmly explains when the lad insists that Arcade Fire wrote the song.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“As juxtapositions go, regressed Goth rock star and Holocaust could hardly be more bizarre, and bizarre can be good when it’s done deftly. In this case, however, it’s done ponderously and sententiously.”–Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by dwarfoscar, who said, “there is a fair amount of weirdness in it. I really loved that film and its always low-key and quiet craziness.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

GIMME SHELTER (1970): AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN SEMPER

Gimme Shelter (1970) is a documentary film about the last ten days of the 1969 Rolling Stones tour. The film was directed by brother documentarians Albert and David Maysles. It is best known today for having captured footage of the murder of a black man by a Hells Angels security guard at the Altamont Speedway near San Francisco. Gimme Shelter recently received the Criterion treatment on DVD. This is an interview with John Semper, Jr., who worked for Albert and David Maysles while they were editing that film.

John Semper Jr’s experience with Gimme Shelter, the Maysles brothers, documentary filmmaking, the film industry, and film as art and commerce.

“What happened was in high school I knew this guy named Gregor Shapiro. In fact, we’re still friends even though he lives in Sweden these days. Somehow Gregor had a connection to the Maysles: Albert and David. I already knew who they were because I was a budding young filmmaker back in the days when nobody under twenty saw any future in being a budding young filmmaker. It was a completely different time. We were not as drenched in media as we are today. For most of my peers being in the media was not a viable career option. That’s how long ago that was, but for me it was, and I was paying a lot of attention to the documentary filmmaking that was going on.

The Maysles were unique because they had created a custom-built,16mm hand-held camera. This was cutting edge technology. They had designed this camera. I think David had designed it. It was balanced so they could have it on their shoulder for a long period of time and it would not cause them a great deal of fatigue. The idea of something hand-held that would not cause you a great deal of physical discomfort was a huge breakthrough.

The other thing about their equipment was that the camera ran silently. 16 mm cameras in those days were extraordinarily noisy and blimps that you would put on them to make them quiet were huge. You couldn’t really do documentary filmmaking without being very visible and very loud. Not only could the Maysles carry their equipment unobtrusively, without causing them physical pain, but it was silent so after a while people forgot that they were there.

They did this one documentary that got a lot of attention called Salesman [also a Criterion release] where they followed around a bible salesman in New England, following him from door to door. The fact that they could get this candid footage was unheard of. Also, the fact that you could record sound on the fly. Remember sound had to be recorded separately from pictures. There were no cameras really that recorded sound while you were recording picture. That was all very new and exciting. The footage that they got, which today we would call “reality” footage, in those days it was very much “documentary” footage. The Maysles ability to capture people in their regular lives was unrivaled and amazing

Still from Gimme Shelter (1970)This was the late 1960s. I knew the Maysles’ work because I had seen Salesman and I was heavily into watching and studying documentaries. Gregor went and worked for the Maysles during one Christmas vacation. Gregor came back to school afterwards, and he had somehow got hold of a duplicate of the footage from Gimme Shelter where the guy gets killed: the one guy that the Hells Angel is knifing, a poor black guy who is wearing a lime green suit. Gregor had this footage and he showed it to us. We were all just mesmerized that this had happened and that Gregor had the footage.

As I recall, Gregor was not as interested in film as much as I was. He had just kind of stumbled onto this job. Gregor was more interested in still photography. He turned to me and said: “I know you are really interested in film. Why don’t you come to New York with me next summer, I will introduce you to the Maysles. Let’s see if we can work there again.”

That summer Gregor and I went to New York and stayed at the Chelsea Hotel. The first night we walked in who was in the lobby, drunk out of her mind, but Janis Joplin! We were checking in and Janis Joplin comes walking Continue reading

LIST CANDIDATE: 200 MOTELS (1971)

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Tony Palmer & Frank Zappa

FEATURING: Howard Kaylan, Mark Volman, , , Keith Moon, Jimmy Carl Black

PLOT: 200 Motels is a series of sketches, experiments and concert footage loosely organized

Still from 200 Motels (1971)

as a reflection on the mixture of insanity and tedium experienced by a rock and roll band on tour.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  The movie’s wild visuals, absurd jokes and attention deficit disorder pacing are enough to bring it to our attention.  But if anything sets 200 Motels apart from the other psychedelic cinematic noodlings of the hippie era, it’s Frank Zappa’s extraordinarily weird music—a unique mix of jazz-inflected blues/rock, avant-garde 12-tone classical music, and junior high school sex jokes.

COMMENTS:  Ringo Starr plays Larry the Large Dwarf, portraying Frank Zappa.  The Who drummer Keith Moon is a female groupie dressed like Sally Field in “The Flying Nun.”   Theodore Bickel plays an omniscient Master of Ceremonies who brings Zappa’s band, the Mothers of Invention, a cheeseburger, and demands they sign for the delivery—in blood.  Bickel’s character (or at least one of them) also explains the movie’s philosophy to the band: “You must remember that within the conceptual framework of this filmic event, nothing really matters.  It is entirely possible for several subjective realities to coexist.”  Zappa himself is barely in the movie and never speaks (or sings).  He’s only briefly glimpsed in concert footage—although the other band members reference him as a godlike figure who spies on them through an empty beer bottle.  Other than appeasing the great god Frank, the Mothers only care about three things—scoring dope, getting paid, and getting laid.  The characters in this “surrealistic documentary” drift in and out of various skits, animations, and drug trips, and also find time to perform numbers like “Mystery Roach,” “Lonesome Cowboy Burt,” and an oratorio in praise of the penis.  One highlight sees lead singers Kaylan and Volman taking a “trip” to everytown “Centerville,” which is full of churches and liquor stores and bathed in wavy zebra stripes that lysergically distort Continue reading

94. PINK FLOYD THE WALL (1982)

“It was like nothing anyone had ever seen before—a weird fusion of live action, story-telling and of the surreal.”Pink Floyd the Wall Director Alan Parker on the movie’s Cannes premiere

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Alan Parker

FEATURING: Bob Geldof, Kevin McKeon, Jenny Wright,

PLOT: The movie begins with a man sitting motionless in a chair in a hotel room.  A series of scrambled flashbacks, fantasies and impressions tell the story of Pink, who grew up fatherless but became a successful, if unhappy, rock star prone to tantrums and bouts of severe depression.  Eventually, Pink’s manager and a crowd of roadies and doctors break down the hotel room door and give him a shot which revives him; his body rots, he peels it away to reveal himself as a fascist dictator who goes onstage to perform.
Still from Pink Floyd: the Wall

BACKGROUND:

  • “The Wall” began life as a 1979 concept album by Pink Floyd.  The double LP and the single “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” both reached #1 on Billboard’s U.S. charts.  “The Wall” remains one of the 50 top selling albums of all time to this day.
  • Most of the incidents in The Wall stem from Roger Waters’ personal history; a few, however, are taken from the life of former Pink Floyd lead singer Syd Barrett, a psychedelic drug abuser whose erratic behavior caused him to be kicked out of the band and to eventually become a recluse.
  • Almost all of the songs from the original album appear in the movie, sometimes in slightly altered forms.
  • With Alan Parker as producer, The Wall movie was originally intended to be a concert film with animated sequences and a few specially shot live action scenes.  When the concert footage was found to be unusable, the project was reimagined as a (semi-) narrative film with Parker as director.
  • Pink Floyd singer/bassist and Wall librettist Roger Waters originally wanted to play the lead, but after a poor screen test fellow musician Bob Geldof was cast instead.  Ironically, Geldof, lead singer for the Irish punk band The Boomtown Rats, was reportedly not a Floyd fan.
  • Parker and Waters clashed on the set, with the director almost quitting several times.
  • Designer/animator Gerald Scarfe was a caricaturist and political cartoonist before he began collaborating with Pink Floyd.
  • The cheering extras at the fascist concert were actual white supremacists.
  • Director Parker called The Wall “the most expensive student film ever made.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Picking a single image to represent The Wall is a tough assignment.  Among the live-action sequences, the vision of British schoolchildren in faceless blob masks marching into a meat-grinder is fairly unforgettable.  It would be criminal, though, to elevate any mere photograph over Gerald Scarfe’s animations; even picking among them is a tough call.  Though short, these bizarre and horrific images blaze across the screen in such a haunting way that their impact makes up for the brevity. We’re going to select the scene of the goosestepping fascist hammers as the most unforgettable (partly because the hammer imagery that recurs throughout the movie reaches a startling peak with this scene, and partly because Sacrfe’s crossed hammer symbol proved so iconic that it was adopted by actual fascist groups).  If you chose the genitalia-shaped flowers who entwine, mate, and then grow teeth and viciously rip into each other before the female swallows the male whole, however, we couldn’t argue against it.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDPink Floyd: the Wall is a collaboration between three separate


Original trailer for Pink Floyd The Wall

creative talents.  In 1979 Roger Waters performed a public self-psychoanalysis by writing a bombastic, self-indulgent rock opera, full of catchy melodies and sardonic lyrics.  When it came time to adapt the album into a movie, he enlisted political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe to provide animated segments, which ultimately included a surrealistic version of the bombing of London during World War II, a judge who is literally an ass, and some of the scariest cartoon vaginas ever drawn.  Bringing it all together was director Alan Parker (Midnight Express), who devised fantastic over-the-top live action visuals to complement the music and found a way to weave the competing thematic strands (autobiography, social commentary, and spur-of-the-moment surrealistic flights of fancy) into something comprehensible, while nonetheless keeping it defiantly weird.  Trying to meld these three separate creative egos on a project whose source material was already grandiose and scattershot could easily have produced an incoherent, pretentious mess.  Remarkably, the result instead is a semi-coherent, pretentious near-masterpiece.

COMMENTS: Watching, or listening, to Pink Floyd: The Wall is one miserable experience. All Continue reading

LIST CANDIDATE: PINK FLOYD:THE WALL (1982)

Pink Floyd the Wall has been promoted to “Certified Weird” status.  Comments have been closed; please post all new comments on the official entry.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Alan Parker

FEATURING: Bob Geldof, Bob Hoskins, Jenny Wright

PLOT: A rock singer, “Pink,” isolates himself in a hotel room and reflects upon his life while

Still from Pink Floyd: the Wall

slipping further into drug addiction and madness. The film has little in the way of dialogue and is heavy on visual interpretations of Roger Waters lyrics for the 1979 double album of the same name.  The metaphorical “wall” is constructed around the rock singer’s life separating him from the outside world and alone with his tortured thoughts and memories.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Possibly for one reason only: the fantastic and bizarre animation sequences rendered by British political caricaturist Gerald Scarfe.  Although the sequences are relatively short, the horrific images blaze across the screen in such a haunting way that the impact makes up for the brevity.

COMMENTS: Watching, or listening, to Pink Floyd: The Wall is one miserable experience. All the key elements of a depressing film are on display: madness, alienation, the atrocities of war, mind-numbing drug addiction, infidelity, fascism…well, you get my drift.  This is not an upbeat or fun movie by any stretch of the imagination.  Yet, the film is constructed in such a skillful manner by director Alan Parker that it is hard not to justify its reputation as a work of art.

Upon the opening scene we see the protagonist rock star “Pink” (Bob Geldof) in his hotel room staring blankly at the television screen with a long burned out cigarette perched between his fingers.  Pink is in this position and state of mind for many of his scenes.  It is open to interpretation, but perhaps all of the scenes of the film are what is playing out in his unraveling mind.  The images correlate to the lyrics of each song, and we start off things by learning of Pink’s father’s death in World War II.  His bunker was blown to bits by an air raid bombardment.  Pink never knew his father and it is clear that this had a major impact in his childhood, as evidenced by a scene where he is playing in a park as a young child and desperately tries clinging on to a hand of an unsuspecting and unwilling male father figure.  As Pink grows up and goes to school he’s subjected to the harsh British educational Continue reading

CAPSULE: WILD ZERO (2000)

DIRECTED BY: Tetsuro Takeuchi

FEATURING: Masashi Endô, Kwancharu Shitichai, Guitar Wolf, Makoto Inamiya

PLOT: Guitar Wolf (frontman of the pistol-packing punk outfit Guitar Wolf) makes Ace a blood

Still from Wild Zero (2000)

brother when the would-be greaser is injured during a showdown between the band and an evil club owner; the rock star gives him a whistle he can use to summon the band in times of need, which comes in useful when Ace finds himself trapped in a town overrun by zombies.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s more “wild” than “weird,” and more “awesome” than “great.”  The surrealism sometimes seems to result from carelessness—as if the director is thinking, “no one’s going to care if this character suddenly shoots lasers from his eyes, as long as something blows up and the soundtrack’s loud”—rather than an ideological dedication to absurdity. It’s a crazy, fluffy pop confection made from zombies, punk rock and flying saucers, fun but totally non-nutritious; the younger, or the drunker, you are, the more likely you are to fall in love with it.

COMMENTS:  When Wild Zero‘s advertising proclaims it a “super rock and roll jet movie!,” it reminds us that Westerners are as fascinated and amused by the way the Japanese absorb and alter American pop culture, chewing up and spitting our entertainment idioms back at us in twisted forms.  Wild Zero is a fairly obvious mashup of Rock and Roll High School and Night of the Living Dead, but when seasoned with casual Oriental surrealism, it turns into something that feels unique and unclassifiable: a “super rock and roll jet movie!”  The band Guitar Wolf, with their leather jackets, shades, shared surname (frontman Guitar Wolf shares the stage with sidekicks Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf), and fast and furious odes to teen rebellion, shamelessly crib from the Ramones.  However, they add their own flavor to the recipe.  The Ramones never had magical powers, arsenals of munitions, or flames shooting from their microphones, and to my knowledge they never went so far as to act as superheroes for their most dedicated fans, explode zombie heads with glowing guitar picks, or use samurai blades hidden in guitar necks to gut alien motherships.  Superhumanly cool and macho, like Clint Eastwood if he Continue reading

70. PERFORMANCE (1968/1970)

PHERBER: What do you think Turner feels like?
CHAS: I don’t know.  He’s weird, and you’re weird.  You’re kinky.
PHERBER: He’s a man, a male and female man!

–dialogue from Performance

DIRECTED BY:, Nicolas Roeg

FEATURING: James Fox, Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg, Michèle Breton

PLOT: Chas, a sadistic associate gangster who terrorizes local businesses for London crime kingpin Harry Flowers, is forced to go into hiding when he kills one of his boss’ allies.  He rents a basement from Turner, a former rock icon caught in creative doldrums, now living as a hermit in a luxurious town house with two beautiful live-in girlfriends and a never-ending supply of dope.  Turner initially wants to get rid of Chas but gradually grows fascinated by him, sensing that the thug’s energy might help him break out of his artistic slump, and he begins to make over Chas in his own image.



BACKGROUND:

  • Donald Cammell, a former painter turned screenwriter, wrote the script and directed the actors.  Nicolas Roeg, already a sought after cinematographer for his work on films such as The Masque of the Red Death and Fahrenheit 451, supervised the film’s visuals.  It was the first directing credit for either.
  • Donald Cammell took his own life in 1996 with a bullet to the head.
  • Warner Brothers agreed to distribute the movie solely because rock star Mick Jagger was attached to the project.
  • The role of Chas was written with Marlon Brando in mind.  Depending on whom you ask, Brando either declined the role, or the producers decided he could not play a convincing lower-class Brit.  James Fox, a rising young actor known for his posh upper-class persona, studied actual London gangsters to get down the Cockney accent and criminal mannerisms.
  • Fox, in his acting prime at the time of Performance, suffered a nervous breakdown after filming (reportedly brought about by a the combination of his father’s death and smoking the powerful hallucinogen DMT with Jagger) and did not act again for 8 years after completing the movie.
  • Tuesday Weld and Marianne Faithfull were the original choices to play Pherber, but Pallenberg, a model and Rolling Stones groupie (then Keith Richards’ girlfriend), was brought in after Weld was injured and Faithfull became pregnant.
  • Nicolas Roeg recalls seeing members of the film development lab destroying “intimate” scenes of the film “with a fire axe,” apparently believing they had mistakenly been sent illegal hardcore pornography to develop.
  • Jack Nitzsche composed much of the score on the ninth Moog synthesizer ever built (the Moog probably belonged to Jagger: the Rolling Stones had been
    one of the first rock groups to include a synthesizer on their 1967 album “Their Satanic Majesties Request”).
  • The movie was completed in 1968, but shelved for two years after a disastrous test screening at which audiences yelled at the screen and walked out of the theater.  A studio executive’s wife reportedly vomited from viewing the graphic violence, and audiences were offered their money back.  The movie’s eventual release was delayed for two years while the film was re-edited; much of the violence was trimmed, and Mick Jagger’s first appearance was moved forward in the film to appease Warner Brother executives.  Roeg has already left for Australia to make Walkabout and was not involved in the final cut.
  • In order to compress the beginning of the film, partly so that Jagger would appear onscreen earlier, editor Frank Mazzola created the fast crosscutting montage that begins the film.  “I knew I’d have to slide things back and forth or extend something to make it hit on a note or a frame,” the editor recalls.  “I could do three or four or five of those cuts and bang!, it was perfect, like a beat… You could do anything to that film and it would work, because of the way it was happening.  It was
    poetry, it was organic…”
  • Among the cuts later demanded by the British censors was a scene of Fox being flogged, intercut with a scene of him making love to a woman digging her fingernails into his back.
  • Performance was savaged by critics on its initial release, but its reputation has improved over the years.  In 2009 Mick Jagger’s Turner ranked number one in Film Comment’s poll of top film performances by a musician.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Turner is dancing around with a large fluorescent tube before a stoned Chas when he suddenly howl and thrusts the glowing cylinder at the mobster’s ear; a tracking shot through his auditory canal reveals Chas’ mob boss imprinted on the tympanic membrane. The camera plunges past this barrier and suddenly Jagger replaces the crimelord in the scene; he launches into an taunting song aimed at Chas and assembled gang lieutenants.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Even before Anita Pallenberg feeds James Fox hallucinogenic


Original trailer for Performance (trailer contains brief nudity and sexuality)

amanita mushrooms on the sly near the climax, the crazed editing of the first half, which cuts back and forth across time and space without warning while setting up the tale of Chas’ fall from gangster grace, is so trippy that it’s almost completely disoriented us.  Performance is almost exactly what you would expect to see if you matched a couple of smart, artsy, experimental directors to an eccentric half-amateur cast of drug addicts in 1968 and the set’s caterers fed the crew a diet of nothing but hash brownies and magic mushrooms for the entire shoot.

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