Sunday, January 31, 2010



I have a friend who loves Radio Birdman (and so do I) but hates, I mean HATES The Rolling Stones. I'm not sure why, and I think it might be a 'long story' reason. It's funny because even though Birdman don't sound like The Stones per se, you can't deny that they bear at least some inkling of their influence as most rock bands do. In a way the disparity of preference doesn't seem completely logical, but that's what makes personal personal. As we well know, it's hard to gauge who will like what and what will be popular based on simple facts alone. But then I have at least one friend who claims The Stones are the greatest rock and roll band ever, and anyone who thinks differently is wrong. And another friend claims they made some of the best rock and roll movies ever. So what's the best Stones song? Well, I might be too much of a novelty head here but I love their Rice Crispies spot. It's so punk! In and out, get the job done raw and fast. Call them a sell out shilling for cereal, but this still SOUNDS subversive, or at least disruptive:

I used to have this on an 8 hour video tape of garage and 60's bands, from The Kinks and The Who to Q65 and so forth. One of the best clips aside from the Rice Crispies spot was from this British B movie The Deadly Bees that featured The Birds - not to be confused with the U.S. folk group who spelled their name with a Y, but the incredible British beat / r&b band featuring future Faces member and Rolling Stoner Ron Wood. Damn, I wish they'd released this song as a single or something, because this is unfortunately incomplete. This seems to be the only known recording of the song:

Saturday, January 30, 2010


On the plane to and from Tokyo back in November we were subjected to the remake of The Taking of Pelham 123. I like Denzel and Travolta fine, but they can't seem to stay away from formulaic dribble that panders to the masses (who don't seem to care). They changed around the story a bit with this whole subplot of corruption in the MTA (really?), while Travolta's badman had a different, seemingly unnecessary back-story than Robert Shaw's bad-ass ringleader. The remake tried to be a more psychological thriller, but it ended up being a smarmy potboiler at best. Back in New York I re-watched the original to get the bad taste out of my mouth. It's so great, straight-forward and no-nonsense. It's like good pulp fiction - no bullshit or lots of explanations why this drastic heist is going on - it just is. And people will die. Robert Shaw's bad guy was a mercenary. He fought wars for a living. And now he wants more money so he's gonna take it from the city of New York. Simple economics. The mayor is a bumbling stooge whose staff convinces him pay the $1,000,000 ransom to save votes, not lives. Sort of an indictment of the capitalist system on par with Leone's For a Few Dollars More...maybe. Love Walter Matthau. He had this salty everyman quality that made him perfect in films like Pelham, Charley Varrick and The Laughing Policeman - the latter is what I ended up re-watching right after Pelham. It has a great raw look to it. Man, urban America in the 70's had a nice dirty, creepy, yet cool vibe - in these movies and also my memory of Manhattan as a kid. I remember White Castle on the corner, grimy gas stations, and greasy restaurants with rotisserie chickens in the window. And auto-mats. Anyway, The Laughing Policeman starts off in a San Francisco bus station and it has that sort of nasty city feel that you can really sink your teeth into right at the beginning. There's some random violence (not unlike that of the Michael Winner/Charles Bronson flick The Stone Killer) and a litany of low life cretins and oddball characters. One example is a funny, sort of dated scene with Lou Gossett Jr. as a cop reading the riot act to a mean hooker-beating pimp. Perennially creepy Bruce Dern is perfectly cast as Matthau's really annoying and arrogant new partner. There's a weird moment where they meet an informant in a cafe and then the camera cuts from Dern's gaze to a close up of a chic's ass, for no reason other than to see the ass maybe, and underline his character's creepazoid factor. Weird rhythm but it somehow works. The film quickly wraps up the conclusion and doesn't really make any sense. It was based on a popular Swedish detective novel of the same name, which I haven't read, but the Czar of Ivanlandia did read it and said the book didn't make much sense either. However, the title of the book comes from the old song, a record of which is given to the detective by his daughter as a gift. This is not in the movie though, so without knowing that you just assume the title refers to the protagonist, a somewhat sardonic detective. Wow, okay check out this plate of shrimp coincidence: I really liked Tsai Ming Liang's The Wayward Cloud, especially the ridiculous musical numbers to old Chinese pop songs. I was watching those on youtube right after I saw The Laughing Policeman and finally made the connection. Here's Hong Zhong's 'Strange Date' from The Wayward Cloud:

And then I discovered Hong Zhong's number was a cover of this old English dance hall song:

Then I found out that's where the book got it's title from. Whew. Now for something slightly different, perhaps you've already seen this bit with Chiang Kai Shek, also from The Wayward Cloud, (it says "Be Patient," but that's a mistake, it's really "Love Begins") but I dig it so here it is redundant or not:

This long trailer for The Laughing Policeman shows Matthau being salty, Dern being creepy, and Gossett acting tough. Gritty, funny, sleazy - all in all a nice bit of big studio exploitation:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Cool, I just stumbled on the news that this cat Mike Malloy is making a documentary on Poliziotteschi - those gritty Italian crime movies from the 70's. Wild, violent and nasty stuff, like the truly vicious ALMOST HUMAN or the standout revenge flick that puts a positive spin on the term 'potboiler' - LA MALA ORDINA. And consider those ridiculous, yet evocative titles (that Italian genre cinema always offers) such as LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN. Here's the trailer:

Yes, that's John Saxon being interviewed. He deserves his own special corner, somewhere here in cyberspace. Anyway Eurocrime: The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled The ’70s is here too. Ever since IFC did those hour long docs on Shaw Brothers and Spaghetti Westerns, I figured that the crime films would follow. There are docs on Mario Bava, Dario Argento and even Lucio Fulci that cover Italian horror. Now I suppose all that's left are docs on sword and sandal and Italian sex comedies (!?!).

I think a large reason behind the Euro crime film's appeal is how unapologetic they are in their right wing ideology, yet so utterly transgressive in their depravity. That, and all the car chases, gun fights, macho posturing and brutal brawls; sick set pieces like machine gun assassinations and a spike through the throat, etc. A lot of rough stuff going on in Italy then - and I suppose still is - and it's palpable from these films

And I just found out there's yet another book coming out about spaghetti westerns! I'd like to see it, especially since it's from Fab press, who are all about outré cinema. But Alex Cox's 10,000 WAYS TO DIE is hard to beat. It's obsessive, but it's not one of those simple fanboy-type volumes of hype without substance. Cox looks at the films from a filmmaker's perspective and breaks down each film with constructive criticism. That means he tells you that Sergio Corbucci's pre-DJANGO film RED PASTURES "is a bad film" and why. It goes chronologically year to year and is an engaging, conversational sort of read. Don't know much about this new book, but part of the spaghetti western fascination is the fetishization of the mythology, reinforced by these sort of 'studies' (yeah, I use the word study loosely).

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Last March I got hipped to these director / rock star t-shirts. And speaking of postmodernism, the place that's selling these - the IFC Center - is now doing a one week run of HOUSE - also know as HAUSU. Here is my two cents on that movie from when it played at last summer's NYAFF. This belated U.S. theatrical run (over 3 decades after its domestic release), along with the praise from Manohla Dargis among others, proves that director Obayashi was ahead of his time, not to mention out of his mind - in the best sense of the phrase.

Those shirts might be too smarmy, or should I say snarky, for one to wear in good conscience. But that's the conceit I suppose - the meeting, or I should say melding, of so-called high and low brow culture. I think it was at Cinema Classics where I saw some DVDs labeled with the slogan 'cult movies are the new rock and roll,' or something to that effect. Speaking of 'cult movies,' one night I came home from a funny night at a cozy bar, turned on the TV and saw a movie that was almost as obscure and legendary as the aforementioned HAUSU. I'm talking about this:

This was the best clip I could find, it's still so obscure, but TCM has a great page for it with a more tasty clip. Zines like SHOCK CINEMA and PSYCHOTRONIC heralded praise for both these films umpteen years ago. Used to be you'd go to Kim's for an un-subbed VHS of HAUSU and if you were lucky you'd stumble on a bootleg of DARKTOWN...The latter proves once again that if you revel in the offensive, you can also transcend it.

Friday, January 01, 2010


Back in the early 90's my weirdo friends had wacky bands like Sarcastic Orgasm and made crazy mix tapes of bizarre, often prickly music spiced with the best novelty songs. T. Valentines's Hello Lucille...Are You A Lesbian? is a standout example of the latter. I also remember around this time finding out about this odd, obscure band - purportedly from Texas (but the word on the web is they were actually disgruntled session guys from L.A.) - called Jon Wayne. Perhaps the song Mr. Egyptian was on one of those mix tapes. In any case, they sounded like a fall-apart punk band playing country music out of tune, with a drunk, demented singer who sounded like he had a plate in his head. The southern drawl and odd mannerisms might have been affected , but nevertheless something about the whole train-wreck affair smelled authentic. You can probably still find their Texas Funeral album in the dollar bin. That's where I found my copy back in the day. I swear I had hipped my friend Dean to this then too, but he has no recollection of it now. Oh well, you can't blame him. Nonetheless I feel it stands the test of time. Here's one of them user-made videos from youtube so you can hear the masterpiece Mr. Egyptian:

Now after all these years, again thanks to youtube, I've actually seen the band on stage - well this video has some live bits, and some music video, including one for Mr. Egytpian:

Obviously Jon Wayne was deeply influential:

And I can't resist offering an example of some rocking prickly music: