Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Road Worriers

Films I've recently watched...

Been sitting on my arse watching stuff on DVD, starting with...

TWO RARE AS SHIT FILMS by ALAN CLARKE (U.K)...The cinema of Alan Clarke has been getting a bit of how you say 'chi-chi' reappraisal in recent years, most notably via Gus Van Sant and every film he's made since ELEPHANT, which was inspired by Alan Clarke's short film of the same name, as well as alumni of Van Sant, Harmony Korine, who lists Clarke as one of his favourite directors. You also get Clarke's' influence in many of the trendy 'grunge' film-makers, most notably the films - at least up to TRAINSPOTTING of Danny Boyle, and other trendies like Lynne Ramsay who made MORVERN CALLAR or even that guy who recently made that Joy Division movie KONTROL, and then let’s not forget Belgian guns the Dardenne Brothers, who's steady-cammed social realism -owes more to Clarke's films than the easy comparison to Bresson made by 95% of Johnny-cum-lately film reviewers or whatever they call themselves these days. For those that want to dive into Clarke's work, well you don't have to look too far. The most-excellent cult-cinema label BLUE UNDERGROUND put out a box-set a few years back that comprised of his most well-known film, the borstal-basher SCUM, as well as the equally excellent MADE IN UK, THE FIRM and the previously mentioned ELEPHANT. The box-set it OOP, but the titles are available as individual film. Clarke's final film (he died too young in 1990), the dirty-comedy RITA & SUE & BOB TOO is also available from the UK... But Clarke's other stuff is extremely rare, made more so by the fact that most of Clarke's output for BBC television as one off 'movies of the week', so if you know someone who taped them when they screened in the 80s yr in luck...

The first of the two films I saw was the most excellent CHRISTINE, which is pretty much the day in the life of a young, working-class female junkie. Living in drab flat, Christine basically spends her days shooting up, and then walking to her friends’ houses to shoot up some more. Dialogue is kept to a minimum as Clarke's steady-cam stalks his main protag with a low-rent Kubrick styled efficiency. There's no drama, just the blunt, dull and monotonous process of the junkie shooting up, nodding off and then repeating. Clarke uses his signature of 'the walker' to great effect here. A running theme in Clarke's films, despite the overall bleakness of Thatcher's England, is the concept of 'the Walker'..Nearly every character in Clarkes' work is walking through a bleak, almost alien environment, as if they are stuck in a prison, in this case working class England. Steadycam is the method to follow his protagonist’s journey and events literally unfold along the way, in real time. CHRISITNE is no different; she walks, shoots up and nods off, all the way until the last fix, where she may have just found an inner peace...

The second Clarke rarity I saw was THE ROAD...Some rate this one quite highly but it didn't do much for me..based on a play, the film had too much talking heads complaining directly to the camera, punctuated by a brief steady-cam shot of each character...The film revolves around the lives of two disenfranchised woman and two guys they meet at a drab disco. Interspersed are the monologues of a sad old divorcee, a sad old man, and a sad young couple. The film sits very much in that Irvine welsh TRAINSPOTTING type mould with people talking in a heavy British vernacular and complaining about the system and whatnot. The film is a lot more stylised that Clarke's other work, with scuzzy settings and characters mugging for the camera in freeze-frame. If you want to know where Danny Boyle got a lot of his original ideas you should try and check out THE ROAD.

Finally I watched the totally off-its-head JE T'AIME MOI NON PLUS directed by French-frog pop hero serge Gainsbourg. Starring Warhol beefsteak Joe Dellasandro and French-fry junkie-chic Jane Birkin, the film tells the story of Krassky (Dellasandro), a gay truck driver who falls for a chick with no tits and look like a boy called Johnny (Birkin)...Poor Krassky, he thinks he's falling for this anorexic, until he has to sleep with her, and then in frustration can only consummate his love for her Greek-style! Yeah well, how do you interpret this film? To me it was like a Fassbinder movie meets one of the those 70's mid-western acid movies like something by Monte Hellman or an early Hal Ashby film..The premise is more ridiculous when you tell people about it, than when you actually watch it, but the whole film works on such a unique don't-give-a-fuck and provocative manner, that you can't help but be entertained, and realise they just don't make shit like this anymore! Oh, and for those who dig Monsieur Gainsbourg, this film is actually an adaptation of his hit song Je T'Aime Se Nous Plus, so suck on that one!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Stealth rock around the cock


..don’t ask me what the title means, you can figure it out for yourself coz I know yr that smart. The other day, being the sad-old-cunt that I am within the 35+ ‘demographic’ that-still-buys-music-as-albums--on-physically-tactile-formats, I picked up probably my favourite UK-indie-shmindie band of all-time, the Wedding Present's sorta-kinda-classic album: BIZARRO. Now I actually bought this album back during the great pre-war days of the earliest 1990’s, though I’d initially lost interest in the band after purchasing their hit-album ‘GEORGE BEST’ a neat, though badly produced record, that was still important in that here was one of the first indie-rock bands that proudly championed their love of sports before it became trendy with fuckheads (the hardcore pnuk scene', and also just before mid- 90s via Ameri-undie bands like Pavement & Yo LaTengo and who seemed to have become sports fans over-night in fear of the great gay-takeover or some shit whilst doing their art-farty humanities course at Uni, and realized they aren’t exactly part of the great ‘art’ dominant paradigm.)

NOW the Wedding Present in their day (what? 1986 to about 1990 or 1993) were basically up there in the big two of Brit-pop. It was Wedding Present vs. the Smiths), and while the Smiths are still championed for Morrissey’s exquisite charm and pomp and backbone of ALL British musique since 1972, GLAM, the Weddoes were always seemingly ignored because of their natural hetero boy-meets-girl-boy-has-complexity-with-girl-nobody-really-wins bittersweet paradigm. Which as I have been informed by a ex-pat servant-of-the-Empire buddy, made them quite popular with the chicks. I can vouch to that, though all I had was blue-balls-and-frustration/heartbreak with the only chick I ever went out with who was a Weddoes fan (there mighta been another, but she was into droney jazz records amongst the Stooges, and Nick Cave and PJ Harvey. ) In Australia, the Weddoes had fleeting indie-cult appeal with the sorta dancefloor ‘hit’ ‘My Favourite Dress’, that was the tougher antedote to the Smiths juggernaut in their songs ‘How Soon is Now’, ‘Big mouth’ etc…Another thing that didn't win the the Weddoes a fan base outside the UK was they were another trainspotter specialist type band. This was partly due to the fact that they WERE a 100% indie band pre the onset of 90s indie-rock globalizm fracas, while the Smiths already had major label distro in this country. You could and still to a great extent, only buy Wedding Present produce via ‘specialist’ stores or directly from the maker via the Internerd. Adding to this, still to this day, no skerrick of the Wedding Present ‘empire’ have ever been to Australia in the live-on-stage format. As a result being a fan of the Wedding Present immediately put you into a secret cult that almost immediately helped you identify with other secret agents of the resistance or some such shit.

SO we have BIZARRO. Following up to their indie-smash-hit and genre defining ‘product’ - GEORGE BEST - the band created waves in the UK by wrenching post-punk ideals by the balls, taking full ownership of their own work based on their substantial cult-following and having one of the first, we produce-it-and-you-cunts-distribute-it-better deals with a major (RCA) which would become the norm with grunge-etc..(tho’ wasn’t anything really new, since the Rolling Stones pioneered it).

BIZARRO immediately saw the band taking another step forward, album opener ‘Brassneck’ was pretty much a representation of a UK band absorbing the ‘Blast First’ records American-invasion on the indie-underground, immediately pushing this band into a more ‘rockist’ realm, which would aid them immeasurably in the next dam-busting raid that would occur some 4-5 years later over the pond. ‘Brassneck’ is basically the Wedding Present interpreting Sonic Youth’s ‘Teenage Riot’ without losing their own unique identity, unlike the shoegazers soon thereafter. No doubt setting up the forgotten fact that BIZARRO is pretty-much one of the DEFINING (or seminal) records of the shoegaze cannon. The next three tracks ‘crushed’, ‘no’ and ‘thanks’ still stick the ye-old-school Weddoes ‘sound’ of jingly-jangly Anorak-spangly guitars and ennui lyrics, until the big-one ‘Kennedy’ comes along. Fuck a duck! The first Velvet-Undergound disco-‘floor’ track, with a cha-cha that’s still as limey as Blancmange’s ‘livin’ on the ceiling’, and a track that is more subversively ‘witty’ than anything Herr-Morrissey coulda penned. I crapped on before about the Fall’s BEND SINISTER being one of the first Chmosky-style albums, well ‘Kennedy’ would rate as one of the first Chmosky-stylee bubblegum pop-songs!

One of the great things about BIZARRO is the Wedding Present’s ability to take the ecstatic ‘What goes on’ strum without giving a fuck about the outcome. Critics would write this off as ‘boring indulgence’ since all they are really doing is strumming and not really going anywhere for five odd minutes. The only real flaw in this may not be as much fun for the listener as it is for the artist. But listening with fresh ears in my olde-age, the ecstatic strum-outs sound more like a response to the eccy-trance of the dance music at the time as well as a nod to the Daydream-Nation psych-expanses of the other mob. People forget that the Wedding Present were actually a dance got ‘what have I said now?’ on the rocker behind me now and contrary to the indulgence, just stopped it’s ecstasy-strum a bit too early! band in the post-punk sense. They were still the offshoot of Joy Division (if Ian Curtis lived would the Weddoes have existed???), Wire, the Fall, but were possibly subconsciously taking a more dance stand via say their New Order or even their Gang of Four stylings. In fact, I got ‘what have I said now?’ on the rocker behind me now and contrary to the indulgence, just stopped it’s ecstasy-strum a bit too early!

But the rest of side-2 (or last 6 tracks or however i-dopes ‘schedule’ music these days) is all fucken great soft-psych jam-out noise bliss/fun/release/groove/meshigarse/primitive ritual –whatever!

Gedge’s lyrics were always as interesting and obscure as the sonics. Whereas Morrissey was always on his Oscar-Wildean via Derek Jarman via (showing my ignorance of UK culture here) I dunno Coronation-Street repression-Marxist-position-of-the-homo-‘other’ encoded-shtick, Gedge would stick to hetero boy-meets-girl-boy-has-complexities-with-girl as only he knows how, and alas pick up all the Morrissey ‘fans’ who knew they could never fuck him! Gedge lyrics have a matter-of-fact rawness and honesty/ awkwardness/neuroticness that makes him some sort of John Cassavettes inspired poet, even if he probably never watched any Cassavettes movies. Similarly, they have that quaint-but-potent interplay, humor, potency and bla-bla-ness that you find in most Eric Rohmer films..

Rohmer's bitter sweet summer lovin' re: 'Take me', 'don't talk just kiss'

..or even stuff like Godard’s ‘Contempt’ and plenty of Trauffaut (which probably adds to the Weddoes popularity with indie Franco-philes and American indie film-makers!) I was trying to position Gedge with UK film-makers of his time- in the way that it’s so easy to position Morrissey into the Jarman-Greenaway vanguard that was moving at the time - but it’s proving tricky (which is good). Despite having a sort of ‘kitchen sink’ reality about them, for the majority, Gedge’s lyrics were never as blatantly Marxist-leftist as the Leigh/Loach films of the time. The closest they would have resemble (of which I’m not terribly versed in either, remember, I am not a hardcore Anglophile) would have been the cinema of Alan Clarke, and even then, only ‘Rita & Sue & Bob Too’. (NOTE: If anyone wants to add more films or other culture I would never have seen, that might have been in alignment with Gedge’s lyricism, please fill me in I AM interested!)

So now it’s its time to put my pinhead hat on and do my lame attempt at charting the impact of this band that seem to have been written out of Brit-roque history. From my R&D the Weddoes were definitely the next step from the Joy Division/New Order sonic paradigm, and interestingly used the whole Factory-records ‘indie’ model for their show-business affair before nearly any bands of their generation. This probably set themselves apart from their Marxist (marx brother-ists?) C86 peers. The Weddoes weren’t afraid, to use the capitalist paradigm to their advantage, in fact they were probably more organized and together in the head than their peers, and probably were reviled for having such ‘careerist’ agenda (and tags that were wrong, but fuck the critic wankers)..Despite being emerging from the C86 thang, they were always a bit rougher and ‘rockist’ than their polite passive-aggressive contemporaries. That basically beat their own path. They also pledged allegiance to more ‘rockist’ post-punk groops like Wire, the Fall and the Buzzcocks (but then so did the fucken Fine Young Cannibals - aint pop music strange at the best of times?), not forgetting the Velvets, the birthday Party (apparently Gedge was paranoid there were too many similarities in name, that never ever occurred to me until I Googled it recently!) and elements of American hardcore via the faster-louder paradigm. But BIZARRO would create its own unfairly forgotten cross-the-and -in-pond tremors. The whole shoegaze thing owes a debt with the softer-louder dynamics of BIZARRO’s side-2, the early 90s Amerindie ‘sound’ was shaped as much by the Fall as the pop-accessibility of the Weddoes, from Superchuck, Pavement, whole pockets of the eastern-board US undieground, to fuck I dunno? the Strokes, the strumarella of the Arctic Monkeys?? Many more decorated and possibly more eloquent and better dictioned rock writers bemoan where British rock disappeared and re-emerged in it’s own right, it never ceased to amaze why the Wedding Present were never considered, and there’s probably smarter dudes who could tell me why. (NOTE: The Weddoes drummer ain’t too shabby!)

All I can say is, ain’t rock history a prick?