Thursday, 30 June 2011

Extraordinary


Before the Mahavishnu fusion wig-outs, before the Spanish virtuosity, before the reworked ragas, even before the work with Miles Davis, came 'Extrapolation',
John McLaughlin's 1969 debut album. Extraordinarily, this was recorded when he was only 26.

Born in Doncaster (yes, Paul) McLaughlin was never really part of the British 60s/70s jazz scene, though this recording fits perfectly. His albums with Miles led me to overlook much British jazz in favour of American for many years, a sin for which I continue to berate myself. M&C hope to redress the balance with a few well-chosen British jazz tunes in due course.

I don't believe in ultimate artworks, nor do I care for 'Top Tens' and the manufactured consent of critics and the media. Don't put a label on me, daddy-o or I'll bust ya chops. The world changes and so do I. But there are a few constants, a select number of paintings, films and tunes that I return to over the years that always hit the spot. This is one of them.

Pat Hammers


Patrick Hamilton is my favourite novelist. His body of work is small, his scope limited, and his reputation relatively minor, but his understanding of the human condition, his ear for dialogue, his sense of humour and, most of all, his ability to create unforgettable characters with a few well chosen words makes him, for me, if not a major writer, a major talent.
Hamilton’s milieu is the pub and the hotel, the park and the pier, the rented flat and the boarding house, the seedy, transient locations where human beings gather for shelter and to look for companionship, but often end up as emotional battlegrounds, places where irreparable psychic damage takes place.
Hamilton suffered an enormous amount of setbacks in his life, including falling in unrequited love with a prostitute and being hit by a car and having his nose ripped off, as well as (perhaps unsurprisingly) being a chronic alcoholic for almost all of his adult life. The roots of Hamilton’s deep personal unhappiness find their way into his fiction in form of disastrous love affairs, mistakes made whilst under the influence, and a morbid fascination / abhorrence for the motor car.
In ‘Hangover Square’, for example, a lonely schizophrenic longs for a conceited 'actress' – she abuses him, spends his money, flatters him, cuckolds him and helps drive him further and further out of his mind. Eventually, in a fugue state, he kills her and gasses himself.
In ‘The Slaves of Solitude’, the epicentre of World War Two is relocated to the dining room of a dingy suburban guest house, where an unhappy spinster tries to hold the line against fascism in the form of the odious Mr. Thwaites, an appalling bully, who becomes her very own Hitler.
Despite the synopses, Hamilton is not simply a miserablist or a misanthrope – for every deceit and disappointment there is the glimmer of honesty and goodness, even if his characters don’t always recognise it until they’re at the very end of their rope. Hamilton seemed to see the world as an essentially petty place, an arena where small mistakes and mean acts can destroy lives, just as little kindnesses can save them. For Hamilton, sadly, the bad always outweighed the good, but he remains a fascinating and rewarding writer, and, almost fifty years after his death, his situations and characters are as vivid and relevant and recognisable as anything from his better known contemporaries.
Recommended works:'The Slaves of Solitude', 'Hangover Square', '20,000 Streets Under The Sky', 'The Gorse Trilogy', i.e more or less everything.

Na Srebrnym Globie



Polish filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski is probably best known for his anguished-hysterical-looney-monster-movie Possession, which starred Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani as a married couple who spend most of their time screaming at each other in different rooms. His films are aggressive shrieks of madness, doomed love, trance-state convulsions, shrieking emotional upheavals and all out bonkers visual images. All the greats. There’s this octopus creature thing that materializes halfway through Possession that transports a (fairly) naturalistic, if explosive, kitchen-sink drama into the realm of magical realism with a bit of tentacled monster shagging thrown in for good measure. Nice.



In a career that was plagued with financial restrictions and bans from the Polish Ministry of Culture for being too racy. It’s amazing a film like his would-be cinematic opus Na Srebrnym Globie (On the Silver Globe) ever even got the green light in the first place. Still, though unfinished it remains a "broken thing" since his financiers not only shut down his movie in the middle of principal photography, but also destroyed his remaining costumes and sets. The bastards.


Based on a series of science fiction novels written by his great-uncle Jerzy Zulawski entitled The Moon Trilogy (which in terms of philosophical heft rivals Stanislaw Lem and resembles the epic scope of Frank Herbert's Dune books), this might have been a sacrilegious masterpiece about a colonized land where men create new gods in order to have something to believe in. 

But the film was never finished, and it wasn't until the mid-1980s that Zulawski was able to shoot some additional material and piece together the raw footage into a semi-coherent state.




If you’re able to endure nearly two-and-a-half hours of patched-together incredibly difficult to follow footage then you’ll be rewarded with some incredible scenes – but I should warn you; Zulawski throws in unrelated images of sunsets, cityscapes, and roving shots drifting up and down escalators with his own voiceover giving summaries of the scenes or sequences he was never able to film.



I’ll be honest even with subtitles, Na Srebrnym Globie is bloody hard going at times with its large cast of characters, bizarre interplanetary rituals, and extended trance sequences where characters degenerate into insanity. But, still – it looks good.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

If I Ever Get A Tattoo...

Blue Blood


Oliver Reed! Man mountain! Garantuan acting colossus! When he’s on top form he’s one of the very best English actors ever ever ever in the history of anything ever. When he’s not, he doesn’t so much chew scenery as swallow the sets whole and burp in your face. In this film, Blue Blood we get the latter Ollie. You can’t take your eyes off him. Mainly because you’re terrified that if you do, he’ll turn up in your living room shout at you, eat your cat and throw your sofa out the window.

Ollie plays an evil butler who takes over the possessions of his degenerate master (a very young Derek Jacobi) by means of witchcraft. That doesn’t sound too bad does it? Well, I’m sorry readers, it is. It’s just bloody awful. One teeny tiny redeeming feature is the beautiful Fiona Lewis who has a couple of sex scenes. Though sadly they’re with Derek, who is many, many things but sexy?

No.

The whole thing was filmed on location at Longleat House. The country seat of the Marquis of Bath, who co-wrote the script under the name Alexander Thynne for some reason, probably because he’s an idiot.

Helmet

Whoops, indeed


Staircase is one of those classic late sixties films which has no particular purpose, it just seems an excuse to spend several million dollars, indulge a couple of stars and to wring every last drop out of the short-lived American obsession with everything British which, of course, includes homosexuality.

Adapted from a meandering and over written two character play, 'Staircase' was touted as being one of the first films to foreground gay men in a sympathetic way, although it did so by making them tiresome bitchy queens and hiring two of the most heterosexual men in Hollywood, Richard Burton (married five times) and Rex Harrison (married six times). The joke backfired, however, as the film was a huge flop.

'Staircase' (as far as I know, the only film to feature Blakey from 'On The Buses' as a rent boy) was directed by Stanley Donen, who had just made 'Bedazzled' with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Dudders was asked to write the score for this film, and his solemn and slightly queasy organ theme is a highlight.


Maurice Binder's slightly crappy scrolling credits pre-date 'Star Wars' by a good eight years, although they lacks the presence of an Imperial battle cruiser or whatever the hell that plastic spaceship is called.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Artist of the Week: George Grosz

Georges Grosz (1893-1959) was a German painter whose early Expressionist style was transformed by the horrors he witnessed during WWI and the broken society of its aftermath. Sex, death and corruption were his major subjects and he found all of these in excess in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. He saw the worst that humanity had to offer and the grim humour and gross caricatures made quite sure that his audience got the message.

Self-portrait as Sex Murderer (1920)
Grosz had a taste for grim and grotesque humour, as illustrated in this macabre photograph.

The Tower of Love (1915)
A lighthouse keeper eagerly eyes the bloated body of a dead woman washed ashore.

Sex Murder in Acker street (1917)
In the corner of a seedy room the murderer looks guilty as he washes his victim's blood from his hands.

On the Hunt (1919)
Reducing romance to its vulgar essence, the small man fails to attract the woman he pursues, while prostitutes look on.

From the Cycle Parasites (1919)
 A bored pimp waits while his girls perform.

Circe (1927)
Grosz wrote in a letter to a friend 'Men are swine', and clearly his view of women wasn't much brighter.

This Holiday Will Be Just Like Any Other Holiday


The Magic Fountain is an animated series that flitted around the periphery of my memory for almost forty years. The trouble was that I could remember one sequence vividly, and that it had been on ITV when I was little, but no title, no year, no other details.

A couple of years ago, I read a synopsis for an obscure kids show called 'The Magic Fountain', I recognised it immediately for the programme I had wondered about for so long. Watching it was deeply odd: there it was, the forty second bit of kid's TV I had retained instead of dozens of faces, names, hundreds of events, thousands of other bits of minutiae. I have no idea why it made such an impression on me, unless it was an eerie forewarning of the Summer of 1975, when I nearly drowned at Walton On The Naze and had to be revived by mouth to mouth, but that's a whole different kettle of pseudoscience...

Here's the only episode I've managed to locate: the first. It's gloomily narrated by Edward Judd, and has a quite amazingly eerie, heavy electronic score from Alan Hawkshaw and, of course, the underwater cave drowning scenes that indelibly scored themselves onto my doughy five year old brain.


The man behind this series was Zoran Perisic. Zoran went on to blaze a trail in cinematic effects, holding several patents in front projection and 3D cinematography. His work here is less showy than on, say, 'Superman: The Movie' , but no less effective.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Sometimes Mildly Obscene


This sequence from the Arena documentary about Joe Orton (and, of course, Kenneth Halliwell) Genius Like Us made me laugh like nothing else in 1982, got me reading plays and inspired me to buy a typewriter and embark on a short and happily undetected period of copycat tomfoolery before moving on to a series of Edna Welthorpe type hoax letters.

If you ever get a chance to see an amateur production of one of Orton's seven plays, go - my most memorable theatrical experience was watching a production of 'What The Butler Saw' by the Great Yarmouth based 'Anna Sewell Players' where, contrary to Noel Coward's advice, they hadn't learned their lines, dear, and kept bumping into the furniture.

My second most memorable theatrical experience was watching a student production of 'Entertaining Mr. Sloane' where the seductive, manipulative title character was played by an actor who closely resembled Ronnie Corbett.

Casanova '73



‘Casanova ‘73’ was a smutty sit com broadcast on the BBC in 1973. It starred perennial lech Leslie Phillips as Henry Newhouse (Newhouse? What would that be in, say, Italian? Casa-something?) a successful PR man with a nice home, a lovely wife and a blond moustache. Newhouse, however, despite his best intentions, just can’t keep it in his trousers and that leads to a load of unfunny running about and semi-naked people hiding in wardrobes and stuff.  Relentlessly puerile and surprisingly unambiguous for an early evening show, ‘Casanova ‘73’ was soon shuffled off to a graveyard slot (it was swapped with ‘Mastermind’, helping the latter show become successful) and, after the first series, unceremoniously axed.


Zoom photography is a feature of the production.
 Genius writers Galton and Simpson are well below par here – their best work is full of wit and subtlety and poignancy and, most of all, flawed, identifiable human characters in slightly desperate situations - people who, despite their faults, are sympathetic: Henry Newhouse is just a sleazy twat.     

He's kissing Maureen Lipman, presumably to shut her up.
 Here’s the title sequence. They might as well have called the show ‘Phwoar’, or, perhaps, 'Dirty Bitches'. Listen to that laughter track: those canned people are lapping this shit up. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Humphrey Jennings



Humphrey Jennings (1907 – 1951), was a bibliophile, a set designer, a writer of verse, a painter an intellectual and an anthropologist. He is also recognised (by me at least) as one of Britain's greatest film-makers. His studies of national English life made for the GPO Film Unit, the Crown Film Unit and the Ministry of Information before and during the Second World War include Listen to Britain (1941), Fires Were Started (1943) and Diary for Timothy (1945), but it’s as a poet that I find him most interesting. In 1936, Humph helped to stage the first Surrealist exhibition in Britain along with such luminarys Henry Moore, Herbert Read, Roland Penrose, David Gascoyne, Diana Brinton Lee and the genius that is Paul Nash.

This is a poem from the exhibition called:

Prose Poem

As the sun declined the snow at our feet reflected the most delicate peach-blossom
As it sank the peaks to the right assumed more definite, darker and more gigantic form.
The hat was over the forehead, the mouth and chin buried in the brown velvet collar of the greatcoat. I looked at him wondering if my grandfather’s eyes had been like those.
While the luminary was vanishing the horizon glowed like copper from a smelting furnace.
When it had disappeared the ragged edges of the mist shone like the inequalities of a volcano.
Down goes the window and out go the old gentleman’s head and shoulders, and there they stay for I suppose nearly nine minutes.
Such a sight, such a chaos of elemental and artificial lights I never saw nor expect to see. In some pictures I have recognized similar effects. Such are The Fleeting Hues of Ice and The Fire which we fear to touch.

Monday, 20 June 2011

She'll Take Down Your Particulars


Dirty Barry Originally called this The Horizontal Woman, which in my humble opinion is a better title. It belies what's under the covers - so to speak. I should point out that if any of the more grubby of you fancy trying to get hold of a copy (it's currently going for stupid money on Amazon) expecting a titillating sex romp prepare for no small amount of disappointment. The sex scenes are, not to put too fine a point on it, shit.

Punishing the Python

The smutty cover lurking beneath the dust-jacket of The Brand New Monty Python Bok (sic) made quite an impression on me as a callow 11-year old, and still holds my interest more than much of the weary humour contained within.
Not surprisingly, Graham Chapman was keen to oblige when a raffish model was required.

Come On, Baby, Light My Pipe


The Hamburg Tourist Board efficiently highlights the two main attractions for the casual visitor: access by sea, and whores.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Cadbury Fingers


Look at this:

The 'about the author' blurb claims that George Macbeth is 'one of Britain's most popular poets. Twelve volumes of his own poetry have been published, he is the editor of six anthologies, and he frequently broadcasts poetry for the BBC'. He also wrote couple of well smutty lady spy novels about a woman called (for some reason) Cadbury.


Oh, there’s one called 'Cadbury and the Seven Witches' too - which is supposed to be a bit spooky. But I don’t have that.

Tittits


'Dana Gillespie has earned the title of "Miss Superbust" because of her breath-taking 44-26-37 figure. But if friends like Angie Bowie get their way she'll soon have a new title: "Superstar".'


From Titbits, 1974.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Beat A Max


The San Francisco poetry renaissance of the late 50’s/early 60’s became known as the The Beat Generation. Bohemian beatniks, they changed the face of literature. Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs the Godfathers of cool. Titans all.

What do we get here in Britain?

Bloody Max Bygraves.

But fear not, dear readers - as this track (uploaded exclusively for MC) from Max’s album Fairy Tales for Grown-Ups shows we can be as hip as the Yanks. Oh yes.

Not only is this track quite genuinely funny it also ends with an atomic bomb going off.

Groovy*.


* Hardly.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Jazz Interlude #2


In 1964, Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida recorded the LP 'Collaboration' with The Modern Jazz Quartet. It's a masterpiece. Shortly afterwards, they performed selections from the album for the BBC, including this sublimely subtle version of 'One Note Samba'. I love the way it switches gear half way through, moving effortlessly from the traditional to the very groovy indeed.

That's Milt Jackson on the Vibraphone. I place the Vibraphone above any other instrument, I could listen to it all day, especially when played by Milt. Not so keen on the presenter, one of those old school 'now, listen to me you idiots' type broadcasters: he has particularly strong views about the proper way to play a guitar, and you will take note of them.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Seedy


"Seediness has a very deep appeal; it seems to satisfy, temporarily, the sense of nostalgia for something lost".

Graham Greene

Bonjour, Demon Seed


This lady looks more 'willing' than Julie Christie did.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Jazz Interlude #1




Let's have a little smut break. Here's the brilliant Patrick McGoohan playing the drums (and I mean playing) in the 1962 Basil Dearden film 'All Night Long'. A retelling of 'Othello' set in the London jazz scene, the film is notable for one of McGoohan's most intense performances, and the on-screen presence of the cream of the British jazz scene, including Johnny Dankworth, Ray Dempsey, Johnny Scott and Sir Tubby Hayes.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Artist of the Week: Richard Prince


There is an interesting division between high art and popular culture. The boundary seems fairly elastic, so why bother with such artificial constructs? Sometimes they exist for convenience - people like to categorise things and take comfort from being able to draw clear distinctions. But where does one draw the line? When does erotic art become smut? Can high art take smut, recontextualise it and reinterpret it? Do the artists' intentions matter more than personal interpretation? Should erotic content be balanced by intellectual stimuli?

There are lots of questions that require a full and probing investigation. Clear answers may be harder to find. This blog is more about the thrill of the chase, as we tease different strands from the dirty crocheted blanket draped over the sofa of life, examine the patterns and stains, and leave sustained and still confused by it's bizarre complexity.

Richard Prince (b.1949) is an American artist. He gained notoriety with his early work in the mid-70s 're-photographing' advertisements, such as the Marlboro cowboy, and presenting them in an art gallery context. As such he was a poster-boy for postmodernism and although he has explored a variety of themes and media across his career, he has consistently employed an approach of appropriation, re-contexualising and re-mixing elements of popular culture and art history. He has also explored humour and smut. He seemed like an exemplary candidate for starting the Artist of the Week thread on MaC.

Let's begin with a selection from Prince's 'Gangs' series. 'Girlfriends' are taken from underground motorcycle magazines such as 'Easyriders' and pay homage to biker culture and "sex&drugs&rock&roll" in general. Any of the original erotic intentions of the biker photographer snapping his girlfriend striking a pose have been stripped away. What was shabby and tawdry to begin with now looks bleached and pathetic. It's usually a menage-a-trois between the biker, his hog and the girlfriend, in that order. Lust has given way to entropy. It's grim not sexy.







Here context is everything. The difference in placing the image in a greasy Levis jacket pocket, a magazine page, a gallery wall, a catalogue or online crosses a vast range of class and cultural boundaries. And so shall Mounds and Circles.