‘Shame’ [2011]

May 17, 2012


‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ [2011]

May 12, 2012

[Spoiler ahead] Director Troy Nixey spins a familiar yarn about a spooky, lush estate, a misunderstood child, and the absent adults who don’t believe her things-that-go-bump-in-the-night stories in his adaptation of the 1973 TV movie, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Trying to tap into the collective fears of our childhood, but instead serving up halfhearted impressions of producer Guillermo del Toro’s best-of, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is passable, but lacks the poignancy of the filmmaker’s other collaborations, like Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Orphanage. The usually compelling Guy Pearce is comically unavailable — as the film’s father and an actor — and Katie Holmes delivers an annoyingly weak show at solidarity toward Bailee Madison’s Sally. What feels like an attempt to show Sally’s frustrated perspective lacks conviction. In the end, we can surmise that prescription drugs are evil and that we should follow Nixey’s advice when dad’s young girlfriend gets what’s coming to her, vanishes into the bowels of the haunted house, and the rest of the family all but shrugs and walks away.

The Magic of Cronenberg

May 10, 2012

Rob Pattinson just became a lot more appealing to me. I’ve been writing up news about Cosmopolis for some time now, though, and can’t wait to see more.

The photos come from Premiere France‘s special Cannes edition. Read the interview and see more photos on the Cosmopolis website.

‘Mean Girls’ [2004]

May 4, 2012

My reaction to high school, still to this day.

‘Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus’ [2006]

April 29, 2012

Nicole Kidman’s Diane Arbus is painted as a childlike artist, filled with repression and longing, fervently rebelling against her role as a wealthy, compliant 1950’s wife and mother. Realizing her own potential as an artist, Steven Shainberg’s eccentric fairy tale Fur imagines how an emotionally fragile Arbus’ dormant passions are awaked by an intriguing neighbor, Robert Downey Jr.’s strangely alluring Lionel. He’s a sideshow castaway covered in fur whose soulful eyes, sonorous voice, and seductive games immediately draw Arbus — and us — in. The two navigate a love affair on the fringes that blurs fantasy and reality. The photographer’s work has often been a point of contention. Were Arbus’ images of freaks and deviants simply exploitive? Shainberg and Secretary collaborator, writer Erin Cressida Wilson (informed by Patricia Bosworth’s Arbus biography), attempt to draw deeper connections to the artist’s subjects and conjure her emotional landscape. It’s easy to look past a few intimacy clichés (i.e. the shaving/sex scene) since RDJ and Kidman deliver such provocative performances.

‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ [2011]

April 28, 2012

Effortlessly revealing the silent turmoil of psychological torment, displaced and grasping at shifting memories, Elizabeth Olsen’s breakout performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene is quietly thrilling. Revelations materialize slowly, in keeping with Sean Durkin’s naturalistic and hazy approach, allowing atmospheric anxiety to build throughout the film’s dual narrative. Ambient tension is seductive and cruel. Whispers and creaking doors, the rush of wind through trees and gentle waves suture Martha’s redemptive worlds together. Plucked guitar strings are lulling harbingers worthy of John Hawks’ enigmatic charisma and menace.

‘Sleeping Beauty’ [2011]

This opaque mood piece from Julia Leigh, Sleeping Beauty, intrigues with bizarre banality and detached erotic charge. Emily Browning’s doll in the ether becomes immersed in a sado-masochistic Foucauldian paradigm and conceptual feminist experiment. Lynchian production design from Annie Beauchamp and coolly still cinematography from Geoffrey Simpson are striking standouts. Pro tip learned: match your lipstick to the color of your labia.


Comics and the Expressionist Eurotrash Witch Film ‘Baba Yaga’

March 16, 2012

I recently wrote about the 1970’s fumetti adaptation Baba Yaga for FEARnet. It’s a remake of Guido Crepax’s erotic, phantasmagorical tale Valentina. The screen version opens with an illustrated credits sequence, which I’ve pasted in the gallery below. (These shots aren’t from the new Blu-ray, which is available here if interested.) If Bernie Krigstein and Aubrey Beardsley made babies, it might look something like this.

The fumetti during the ’60s and ’70s were in many ways ahead of their time, exploring sexuality — and even a few political themes — while experimenting with narrative structure and style. Baba Yaga’s opening sequence was definitely unusual for the time period and is still a great standout today. Also of note is the animated sex scene, which employs early animation techniques, intercut with live action — and a creepily leering George Eastman. I shared the scene in the video below along with the trailer.

Audiences were treated to two other memorable cine-fumetti tales just years before Baba Yaga, which director Corrado Farina has cited as influencesRoger Vadim’s Barbarella seemed tame to those familiar with the comic, and Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik is far more fun and sophisticated. Farina’s witchy remake isn’t the sleaziest film you’ll ever see, but it’s fleshy and enigmatic enough to appease fans of the books.

From FEARnet:

“Adapted from Guido Crepax’ erotic comic (fumetti, as the Italians would say) series Valentina comes Corrado Farina’s 1973 fever dream, Baba Yaga. Clearly influenced by the gialli, the lesbian Eurotrash cult flick stars Carroll Baker (Baby Doll) as a ghostly witch who controls a free-spirited photographer with sapphic mind powers, a hexed camera, an unnerving doll decked out in a sadomasochistic body harness, and surreal Nazi-era flashbacks. George Eastman also appears for that added touch of smarmy boyfriend sleaze. Baker’s Baba Yaga — named after a witch-like figure that originates from Slavic folklore — is an over the top character who suckles garter belts like candy and commands her erotic slaves from a decadent, but crumbling, mansion.”

Journal: New Animals [Week of Oct 24]

October 30, 2011

∞ Writerly things:

Trailer for new Herzog; William Friedkin interviews Fritz Lang; beautiful horror film soundtracks; Cuckoo’s Nest asylum photos + more.

Movie news & horror news

∞ Reading

50 Watts, World Enough, and Time by James Kahn, The New York Times on José Mojica Marins, and new Girls on Film about feminism and horror by Monika Bartyzel.

∞ Follow

Friends new and old worth your time:

@SeraphicManta @NoVisibleScars @DailyGrindhouse @kesslerboy

Happy Halloween!





Peter Murphy Lends His Talents to ‘The Lady ParaNorma’

October 18, 2011

Bauhaus front man Peter Murphy lends his booming vocal talents to the dreamy, stunningly animated The Lady ParaNorma. Director Vincent Marcone (AKA My Pet Skeleton) — a multiple Emmy award-winning artist and filmmaker — has teamed up with horror mag movie outlet, Rue Morgue Cinema, for a ghostly filmic poem. When an eccentric woman is haunted by the howls of specters, she follows their strange call to uncover the mystery. Gothic icon Murphy added his voice to the project for several of the darkly beautiful soundscapes. He also narrates the film, which is currently making the festival rounds. Marcone recently shared an amusing story about his recording session with the artist. “‘Was that ok?’ he asked politely when he was done. The lot of us sat there unresponsive for a more than a moment, paralyzed by our own goosebumps. ‘Yes Peter, that was good … ‘” Hit the jump for a peek at Murphy in the studio and to check out the trailer for the film.


Review: Bad Dreams and Visiting Hours

September 4, 2011

Eleven years before Lorena Bobbitt severed her husband’s penis after he abused and raped her, TV journalist Deborah Ballin (Lee Grant) was the voice for one women’s domestic violence case in Jean-Claude Lord’s Visiting Hours. The anchorwoman is eventually attacked in her home because of her feminist, outspoken views and is hospitalized. Her attacker is a madman who suffered his own fair share of domestic drama as a child, but has vowed to hunt down Deborah in a violent killing spree regardless. Michael Ironside is Colt Hawker — who in the first few minutes of the movie will win you over with his cross-dressing get-up and menacing mug. No one does maniacal like Ironside, which is why you’ll be able to forgive the movie’s multiple jump scares — a cheap trick, but effective when delivered by a creep as cool as the Canadian actor. Unfortunately the film is a bit of a mess — aimless and unsure who its lead heroine is — but Lord effectively uses the hospital’s sterile, lifeless interior as the backdrop for bloody action. Still, the best thing about Visiting Hours is its memorable movie trailer, which features the lights of the hospital facade forming a skull.

You can pick up a double-bill of hospital horror from Shout Factory, who have pitted this Canadian slasher against the American supernatural terror Bad Dreamsstarring Jennifer Rubin. The film feels like it could be A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors all over again, but actually has decent gore and other strange stuff from The Craft’s Andrew Fleming to make it more memorable than a mere copycat.

BBC Documentary: Radiophonic Sounds Like Alchemy

August 19, 2011


A fascinating look inside BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop in the 1960s, its influence on the sci-fi genre, and how it shaped the history of electronic music. Includes footage of the old greats like Delia Derbyshire, Brian Hodgson, John Baker — and all the insane instruments and equipment they used to create pioneering sounds.


San Francisco Smut Documentary Screening

August 18, 2011


Tonight, people at YBCA in San Francisco are going to watch a documentary about smut that has been making the rounds at the festival circuit. Director Michael Stabile, DP/editor Ben Leon, and producer Jack Shamama — all vets of the adult film industry in their own right — got together to make Smut Capital of America. The documentary takes a look at San Francisco’s sleazy Tenderloin district in the ’70s. According to YBCA:

“Smut Capital of America is the title of Michael Stabile’s in-progress documentary which chronicles San Francisco’s reign as the center of porn production in the U.S. during the early 70s. In 1969, San Francisco became the first city in the U.S. to effectively legalize pornography, hugely boosting our reputation as a boomtown for sex, and eventually opening up the floodgates to the rest of the country. The series begins with a screening/discussion with Stabile and continues through August 18 with a wide variety of films made during the era. All will be presented in their original film formats (not digital transfers).”

Check out the clip below. You know if John Waters is scared, it’s serious. Prepare to learn about the origin of the “split beaver.”

Revolver’s ‘King George VI: The Man Behind the King’s Speech’

August 17, 2011

Revolver Entertainment’s King George VI: The Man Behind the King’s Speech tells the true story of the shy statesman’s rise to the throne and how he overcame his personal limitations to save a nation.

The role of King was a position he never wanted — in fact, it devastated him — and England was just as wary due to concern surrounding his various medical conditions and oft-talked about stammer. After working with speech therapist Lionel Logue, and thanks to the support of his loving wife Lady Elizabeth, he was able to overcome his fear of public speaking and become a valiant leader — particularly loved for his commitment and sympathies to his people during World War II.

Revolver’s DVD includes commentary from Colin Firth, whose role as King George VI in The King’s Speech won him last year’s Oscar for Best Actor. The film’s director Tom Hooper also provides thoughts, as does Logue’s grandson. The feature-length documentary contains original footage from the King’s reign, and several extras (King George V Memorial, Royal Welcome at Cape Town, Royal Christening, and the movie’s trailer). King George VI: The Man Behind the King’s Speech is also available On Demand and for download. Visit Revolver for more details, and buy the DVD over here.


Review: The Baby

August 16, 2011


Magnum Force and Beneath the Planet of the Apes director Ted Post made one of the most bizarre films of the ’70s when he created The Baby. Resembling more of a TV family melodrama than the horror film you might be expecting — but still containing some truly strange, hair-raising moments (there’s no competing with Marianna Hill’s coif, however) — this story about a weirdly tight-knit family with a peculiar baby is an over-the-top absurdity.

Anna Gentry (Anjanette Comer) is an eager social worker who has been assigned to the Wadsworth family’s long-neglected case. It doesn’t take long for her to become obsessed with Baby (David Mooney aka David Manzy) — the family’s adult son who still wears diapers, coos like an infant, and sleeps in a crib. Although Anna is convinced that Baby has the potential to grow out of his unusual condition, Mrs. Wadsworth and her lusty, disturbed daughters disagree and do everything in their power to prevent her interference.

The Baby pokes at what filmmakers like David Lynch have demonstrated with movies like Blue Velvet — the suburbs are a truly terrible place. Where else would someone’s slutty sister sex up the local sleaze bag at her little brother’s birthday party? The burbs in The Baby are where mom looks and acts more like Mommie Dearest (bless Strangers on a Train’s Ruth Roman), the babysitter will do anything to get the job done, and murder is the only way to get rid of your problems.

Demented, uncomfortable, and absolutely ridiculous, The Baby encapsulates a part of 70’s cult cinema that is best served with Quaaludes, squeeze cheese, and nylon panties. Severin Films delivers another great transfer with their new DVD, including several interviews and trailers. Pick up a copy over here.

House of Hammer Magazine: The ‘Twins of Evil’ Comic

August 14, 2011


House of Hammer magazine underwent many changes (you can read about its full history on Monster Magazine’s website), but the UK studio-centric zine was a hit in the late ’70s — promoting Hammer horror film favorites adapted into comic book storylines. Popular writers like Dennis Gifford, John Brosnan, Ramsey Campbell, and Alan Frank were paired with artists such as Brian Lewis, Brian Bolland, and John Bolton to illustrate the fiends of Hammer under the leadership of Marvel UK head and Monster Mag/Starburst‘s Dez Skinn.


Some of the British horror mag’s vampiric strips were resurrected by World International Publishing in the early ’80s for a one-off annual titled Dracula’s Spinechillers. Part monochrome, part color, the annual format — a Christmas staple in the UK — compiled stories, games, and other goodies within its hardback binding. This example, however, is hardly festive — promising readers “scary strip stories and tales to tremble by!!”

Check out the comic adaptation of Twins of Evil, which I’ve compiled into this handy PDF file for you to cozy up with (savable format — but if you have issues, email me, and I’ll send it to you). Feel free to browse my review of the 1972 twin terror tale over here.

Review: Deathstalker


As an obsessed Conan the Barbarian fan — the books and the Arnold Schwarzenegger films — I’m a little surprised that I’ve never seen James Sbardellati’s Deathstalker before. The same goes for Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans, Barbarian Queen, and The Warrior and The Sorceress — all of which are being released by Shout Factory on August 23 as part of their Roger Corman Cult Classics Collection.

The King of the B’s, Corman, isn’t the first low-budget filmmaker to “borrow” elements from popular films, but he’s certainly the one who did it the best — creating several features which were engaging enough to stand on their own (think Joe Dante’s Piranha, for example, which was released post Jaws). Following suit, Deathstalker uses elements of the 1984’s Conan the Destroyer — right down to parts of the score and several key scenes revolving around a powerful wizard, Thoth-Amon, who has been renamed Munkar for Sbardellati’s movie. As shameless as that may seem, Deathstalker manages to add a few of its own hilarious and entertaining touches in the form of some serious fromage.

Right from the film’s opening title credits, which features a heavy metal style font, you know you’re in for a treat. Deathstalker (Rick Hill) is a lusty warrior who stays busy sexing up the local wenches — and there are many in this movie. He wields a wicked sword, resembles a homoerotic jazzercise instructor, and is summoned by a witch who is trying to thwart the evil magic of Munkar. She needs Deathstalker’s brawn to save the day, and he makes his way to the sorcerer’s castle to do the deed.

Along the way, our hero meets other travelers — including a busty and near topless female fighter who endures the usual sword/penis jokes, but doesn’t seem to mind — and discovers that there’s a tournament happening that will pit the best combatants against each other. There’s also something about a princess and three powers, but they’re not nearly as important as the bacchanal scenes and a hysterical — but almost uncomfortable — gender-bending rape scene, which you just know will forever haunt Deathstalker and find him frequenting massage parlors in search of submissive ladyboys for the sequel. There are also many look-alikes in this movie, including an Elliot Gould/Yoda impersonator, Scott Baio on roids, and an Anton LaVey reject. By the end of the film, Sbardellati wants to remind us of another guy carrying a blade and wearing a loincloth. His final frame seems to pay homage to He-Man, which definitely elicited a giggle out of this reviewer.

If you like sword and sorcery films and can appreciate the Roger Corman school of filmmaking, Deathstalker is an entertaining way to spend a few hours. Shout Factory timed their DVD release of the movie — along with the 3 others previously mentioned, which are included in this double-disc set — with the Conan the Barbarian remake that hits on August 19. Deathstalker would be a fun way to keep the barbaric, good times rolling after you leave the theater. Deathstalker II is directed by the mammary-happy Jim Wynorski, with The Warrior featuring David Carradine, so there’s surely more to look forward to in this sword-savvy set. You also get the usual dandy Shout Factory features, including photo galleries, trailers, audio commentary, and more. Pick up a copy here.

Attend London’s ‘Sound of Fear: The Musical Universe of Horror’

August 8, 2011

Having just arrived in London for a stay — not on September 3 when Sound of Fear: The Musical Universe of Horror is going on — I’m distraught. Stephen Thrower (Fulci scribe and former Coil member) posted all the info on his blog for the Queen Elizabeth Hall event, where he’ll be joined by writer Kim Newman and composer of Friday the 13th, Harry Manfredini, to talk about the art of sound in horror films.

According to the event site (where you can also purchase tickets), there will also be some interesting performances — including Vicki Bennett of People Like Us, who I admit I am most familiar with through the Hate People Like Us remix album featuring the reworkings of Coil, Negativland, Death in June, Boyd Rice, and others. Alan Howarth will also be there performing selections from Escape From New York, They Live, The Fog, The Thing and more.

In other words, If you don’t attend this, you’re a damn fool.

Review: Streetwalkin

August 1, 2011


Legendary cult filmmaker Roger Corman was an equal opportunity producer. In a man’s world of exploitation cinema where T&A are the only letters of the alphabet you really need to know, Corman was hiring female crew members fresh out of college to shoot sleazy tales others wouldn’t have dreamed of entrusting to a woman. The best Corman titles weren’t afraid to dabble with a little social commentary either, while dishing up buxom babes and bloodshed aplenty. Take Humanoids From the Deep, for example, which contains a social/racial subtext, albeit half submerged beneath a story about swamp men and their (somewhat inevitably) naked victims.

Streetwalkin’ assumes a similar approach. Directed and co-written by Joan Freeman — a Harvard grad whose previous filmmaking experiences included PBS documentaries and indie flicks — the film delves into the life of a young girl from a broken home who escapes to the big city with her brother to try and start afresh. Her idealism is short lived, however, when she’s compelled to get hooker happy to make ends meet, and is swept up into the arms of a violent pimp. Unsurprisingly, his sweet-talkin’ turns sour after his backhand works overtime, and he accidentally murders a fellow prostitute.

While the grim premise is one we’ve all heard before, Freeman’s titillating and tasking tale isn’t obscured by a bigger plot, lingering on the sordid realities of the skin trade. Gritty, grimy New York City streets, and all the nasty things that ladies of the night have to deal with, are the focus here: drugs, cops, abuse, and deadly circumstance. Although Corman’s productions frequently succumb to B-movie hilarity — and Streetwalkin’ is no exception (as much as I want to believe that everyone ran around topless in the ’80s, well … ) — the film sells seedy fairly well, with its low-budget origins working in its favor. Freeman isn’t shy about tossing around the C-word, flashing some flesh, or creating a tense subtext around a gang of African American pimps who are pitted against the whiter than white crew of whore wranglers.


Oscar-winner Melissa Leo might want to forget about her role as Cookie (and her nude scenes), the misguided girl from a small town who gets tangled up with Dale Midkiff’s Duke (most recognizable from Pet Sematary), but her performance is no more terrible than some of the TV work you’ve seen her perform in. The biggest surprise of the movie is watching a lingerie-clad Julie Newmar (Batman’s Catwoman) as the older and streetwise hooker who walks the pavement solo and doesn’t take lip from any man. In fact, you’ll find yourself rooting for most of the women in the movie despite their questionable career choice. It’s clear that Freeman and her co-writer husband had some kind of sympathy for the women enduring the world’s oldest profession and tried to present street life in a different light other than red.

Fairly fast-paced, engaging, and not wholly unbelievable, Streetwalkin’ sashays through its 86 minutes pretty painlessly — falling somewhere in between a daring Lifetime drama about trampy teen runaways and a nastier sexploitation flick. Shout Factory continues to do the Roger Corman Cult Classics Collection justice with a new DVD release featuring an anamorphic widescreen transfer, commentary from director-writer Freeman and producer-writer Robert Alden, several trailers, and a reversible DVD sleeve with the original ’80s poster art. Visit their website for more details and pick up a copy of the film over here.

Watch the Dreamy Czech Animated ‘Baron Prásil’

July 25, 2011


Czech cinemagician Karel Zeman has an admirably sized filmography and was an integral part of animation history, but the director still seems like somewhat of an obscurity — minus amongst Terry Gilliam fans who know that he was inspired by Zeman’s 1961 fantasy film, Baron Prásil (The Fabulous Baron Munchausen), for his 80’s remake of the classic story. Zeman blends a wondrous, poetic, and inventive mixture of animated/cinematic tricks (glass paintings, hand-coloring, etc.) and live action to present a one of a kind take on the tales of Gottfried August Bürger’s Baron Munchausen.

I kept thinking of everything from Guy Maddin, to Ray Harryhausen’s sci-fi adventures, to paper dolls, and psychedelia while watching the film (Gustav Dore engravings were actually used as the backdrops for many scenes) — but the artistry is truly something original.

Some kind soul has uploaded the entire film on Youtube (I’ve shared the first clip below — and it’s subtitled), but I’d recommend picking up a better quality copy of the movie for the full effect. IMDb users posted a few places you can snag a DVD. If anyone out there knows of a better issue, please chime in.

The Spatial Psychology of ‘The Shining’

July 24, 2011

Rob Ager’s (obsessive?) analysis of The Shining suggests the spatial inconsistencies in Kubrick’s film are blatant and not just commonplace errors in continuity. I’m uncertain if I completely agree with him, but it’s an interesting peek into the film’s set design.

I’m new to Ager’s essays, but a look at a few of his other videos deconstructing films reveals an equally in-depth approach. Ager has also just created a horror film, Turn in Your Grave, and won me over with this comment on his blog about Christopher Smith’s Triangle — a film that made a far greater impression on me than Nolan’s Inception.

Review: Messiah of Evil

July 16, 2011


In the tradition of 1970’s Hollywood hopefuls who created nightmare flicks and exploitation kitsch as an entry into the biz (see: Roger Corman’s work with Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, et al.) comes a phantasmagorical oddity from American Graffiti screenwriters Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz. Ripped from the pages between the chapters of Lovecraft, Romero’s zombie opus Night of the Living Dead, and chillers like Carnival of SoulsMessiah of Evil’s slow-boiled, sinister dreamscape is a surprisingly stunning amorphous vision.

A young woman searches for her missing father — who seems to have fallen prey to a bout of madness — in a strange, sea-side town whose residents worship the blood moon and await the arrival of a dark stranger. Looking like a relic from the Cold War era and sounding like something Stephen King would surely approve of, Point Dune’s blood-thirsty townies include an Albino man who gobbles down mice, a wandering tribe of polyester swingers, and the local drunk — whose ramblings err toward doom and gloom, yet are imbued with a skewed, mesmeric poetry.

Our narrator Arletty (Marianna Hill) — presumably named after the French film icon (there’s a distinct Euro cinema influence throughout) — introduces her hysteric tale of occult madness through an edgy voiceover that encourages comparisons to films like Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. And like Jessica, the blurred lines between dream and reality, psychosis and sanity are toyed with and distorted, becoming most pronounced in the movie’s unique set-pieces and uncanny murals that twitch with neurotic fervor as a backdrop for its somnambulistic characters.

The directors reveal in their commentary (thanks to another great job from Code Red DVD) that Messiah of Evil was never fully realized as originally intended. Exhausting their budget, investors were prompted to take over and complete editing on this striking debut. Pieces of the story were written, but never filmed, and the movie’s grand finale — which reportedly knots its plural loose ends — is perhaps the most significant omission. While this explains the disjointed narrative, the disconnect contributes to the film’s eerie and surreal atmospheric charms, ripening its potential for symbolic interpretation.

Whether Messiah of Evil was meant to allude to the cannibalistic nature of America’s Great Depression, or simply exist as a colorful pastiche of cinematic references (hazy French surrealism, the technicolor gialli … ), its disarming opacity impairs none of its charm. The prophecy may be vague, and the subtext obscure, but the malign ambiance is palpable. No harbinger necessary, the evil in this compelling and oppressive film speaks for itself.

Messiah of Evil is available on DVD

I Love My VHS Belt!

July 15, 2011

You can order one like it from Bonnie Banks on this site (contact page here), or get your old boots painted with the ghouly, drooly maws of demonic thingies.









Tommy Hartung’s Dead Cinema

July 9, 2011

Tommy Hartung’s stop-motion actionist video flux in low-fi unreality. Queens basement art.

“I’m more interested in some kind of dead cinema. A lot of animation is describing some kind of real or life-like situation. I’m sort of interested more in my characters or any human-esque subjects in a movie … being not believable, and what kind of illusion can you create out of that.”

Tommy Hartung’s Underground Movies | “New York Close Up” | Art21 from Art21 on Vimeo.

Whitehouse’s William Bennett on Sound Ephemera

June 27, 2011

Philadelphia Sound Forum posted a great interview with Whitehouse’s William Bennett about collecting, which is part of a series with MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona). He talks about his love for Italo disco, favorite soundtracks (including an mp3 link to download a teaser of his seven recommends), and the importance of the experience of music (reminding me of a recent article I wrote concerning the collection of VHS, and some other thoughts on the matter to several readers in the comments section).

A few gems:

Soundtracks are somehow a ‘decontextualised’ art form. Does this make them more interesting for you? As a follower of your blog, I know cinema is one of your passions, any type of cinema. Does your interest in soundtracks bear any relation to that?

That’s a nice point about their being a decontextualised art form. Ignoring the aforementioned lazy compilations made nowadays, traditional (bespoke) soundtracks occupy a curious place within the musical genre in that sense – are they more than mementoes? Would the music stand up in its own right, without the powerful filmic associations? I’m not sure. If we see a record collection as an expression of what I would describe as our personal ‘illusion of identity’, then soundtrack LPs would play an important role, because they say so much about a person.

Along similar lines, are you interested in Library Music? Back in their time, some soundtrack composers were also making those types of recordings, and it’s a very interesting field because of its experimental and non-commercial nature. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Extremely interesting, yes. It’s something I’ve read about but I have never had the resources to fully explore the subject to the extent it deserves.

Apart from those main lines of work, does your collection have any other limits (chronological, format…)?

Specifically speaking, my biggest love is vinyl, and to a lesser extent CDs, both of which form the main part of my collection. But I do also have quite a number of cassettes (mostly rare early eighties industrial) – there is some recent stuff, but the bulk of it is from the seventies and eighties, certainly very little from before then. Just as art is not something just to be looked at, nor is music something to be simply listened to: it has to be experienced – and that’s why format is a critical component, a transparent concession, that is tragically overlooked nowadays. I don’t mean that in the sense of a nostalgic hark back to the days of vinyl, except in the sense of how your experience, at the very least, is profoundly affected by the sensory modalities of having a real object – in this case a record sleeve – to hold and to gaze at, vinyl to smell, to touch, to handle. Imagine how boring food would be if the experience was reduced to taking a small invisible pill every day for all the necessary nutrients – and even this doesn’t take into account the crucial component of foraging and procurement, the very basis of collecting.

So in a sense, the digital revolution, to give it a name, is killing sound collecting? How do you imagine the future of sound collecting?

I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s killing sound collecting; there’s a new kind of collector nowadays who operates entirely within the digital domain, some of them obsessively filling up hard drives with MP3s or the more audiophile FLACs – the spirit of foraging and discovery still exists for them; however, the way I see it, the romance of sound collecting might be dead – not because of the music, but due to the loss of the personal human component of the process.

I’m also intrigued by your ‘personal theories on primary and negative influences as transparent concessions.’

This is related to my interest in musical archaeology – we mentioned the acid sound already, which is an example of how new technology creates new memes (in this case the TB-303, which came out in 1983). But naturally, a meme (whether of technological origins or not) cannot spread without influence – ‘negative influence’ I define as musicians making specific choices in order not to sound like something else, a kind of polarised response which may result in a highly stylised sound (e.g. the one-note guitar solo in early punk records); what I mean by ‘primary influence’ is the most fundamental kind, often with epigonic qualities. However, the theory I have about the latter, which is quite interesting, is that – and this applies to art beyond music – an artist appears incapable of admitting to their primary influence and will only articulate secondary or tertiary influences (in other words, less critical ones). Owning up to the primary influence – even to themselves – appears to take too great a toll on the artist’s illusion of identity and so it is generally not admitted to. Transparent concessions concern the invisible factors and compromises that affect the way we emotionally respond to things (in this case art) – they may have been intentionally or unintentionally applied by the artist. This notion also forms the basis of my idea that, to all effects, a piece of art functions not from what we consciously perceive, but through everything that we are unable to consciously notice, including the artwork itself …

© Alison Nastasi, 2015