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Sex in the cinema: Viva (2007), directed by Anna Biller.

29 May


Viva deliberately and self-consciously evokes the era of late ‘60s and early ‘70s sexploitation films, even down to the production design and music. As far as style is concerned, Viva is a resounding success, with even the film stock looking just right. I may stand to be corrected, but like director Anna Biller’s subsequent film The Love Witch, Viva was shot on 35mm film, and printed from an original cut negative. This lends the film a faux authenticity that further blurs the line between originality and homage. If this was on a television and you were channel surfing, you may well think it was from circa 1969. As a fan of that era and being happily willing to have nostalgic memories of other films and television evoked, this is an aesthetic I am very much on board with.

While I can appreciate that Viva may have something to say beyond the purely visual engagement (and I confess I was already aware of Biller’s work, her feminist stance and exploration of the ‘female gaze’, before I watched it), Viva is a comedy that simply isn’t funny. Its pacing is a leaden as the performances, which are deliberately lousy and any laughter will prove as false as the equally and deliberately hollow peals of laughter from the characters, who seem to exist in gaudy tableaus of consumerism and permissiveness, which is part of the message but also probably more to fulfil an aesthetic ideal than drive a narrative. And there is a narrative, of course, but it is a secondary concern to the nostalgia, subversion and exaggeration of stereotypes. Biller, boldly taking centre stage in her own film, plays a bored housewife who eventually embraces the permissive lifestyle of the counterculture. But, like the film as a whole, Biller’s mannered performance eventually lost my interest and patience. I understood it was a conscious choice, but like the day-glo interiors and fashions which appear from another era, my appearance of sustained attention would have been just as false.

At the time of writing, Viva is available to view on BFI’s online subscription service.

A splendid time was photographed for all.

30 Mar


My first post since January. So, as a toe dip back in the blogging water, I’ll keep it short! It came to my attention that there was a significant pop cultural anniversary coming up and that even today it would be apt to mention part of its creation. The 30th March 2017 marks 50 years since the photography shoot of The Beatles’ iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. An era defining musical game changer or more of a curate’s egg? I have much more to say about that album, but for now, here is some excellent information on that day:


20 favourite albums (in no particular order). #9: Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood: ‘Nancy and Lee’ (1968)

8 Jun


I’m pretty sure I got introduced to this album when I borrowed a batch of a mate’s Nancy Sinatra albums around 1995. Well, I say my mate’s albums, but they were really his mum’s, who’d actually bought them in the ‘60s. I rated Nancy, if only for her collaboration with the great John Barry on the You Only Live Twice soundtrack. It was the side of ‘60s music that I adored as much as the twangy guitars and hippy antics. Full wall of sound orchestras and emotive soundscapes, but given a slightly surreal and psychedelic twist; it was easy listening, I suppose, but not quite what Andy Williams was doing. Additionally, Lee Hazlewood looked like my Dad, which makes Hazlewood’s appearance in numerous video clips all the more surreal and amusing to me.

Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra was an odd combination, but that was the point and why it worked so well. More recently Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan have shown us a similar dynamic over three albums (as did Nancy and Lee), but Nancy and Lee was the first and here it feels like a series of fresh and unique takes on the duet. Hazlewood was the gravel voiced, world weary cowboy character and Nancy was the sweet but sassy girl next door, and the contrast brought the songs alive in a slightly subversive way that just wouldn’t be there if they were traditionally matched up. The story goes that Frank Sinatra asked Hazlewood to rescue his daughter’s recording career, and pen and produce her some certain hits. With this being Frank Sinatra, perhaps he made Hazlewood an offer he couldn’t refuse; either way, Hazlewood rose to the challenge and ‘Boots’ was a universal number one, quickly followed by the likes of ‘How does that grab you darlin’?’ and the start of a winning collaboration. That Lee Hazlewood would eventually come from behind the mixing desk isn’t as inevitable as you might think, as the man had a nice career of his own, but I’m so glad he did. Lee and Nancy sound like they’re having so much fun here, that when it’s not being strange and surreal, it’s all out goofy and slightly ridiculous, with Nancy playing up to the stupid blonde stereotype (which at no point truly convinces me) and Lee ramping up his sardonic drifter act.

The album isn’t a faultless product though, and I can admit that, no matter how much I love it. Their version of “You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling’ verges on the cringe worthy, and the fact that it opens the album does not bode well. But things improve and four tracks in we get the first Hazlewood original: ‘Summer Wine’. ‘Summer Wine’ is captivating, an oddly dangerous sounding and utterly sublime ballad. Once they stop goofing around these two metaphorically rip my heart out and throw it a few thousand feet in the air. It’s a brilliant tune, and it’s not the best here either. The two delights on side two of the original vinyl (‘Some Velvet Morning’ and ‘Ladybird’) are often cited as examples of psych-pop or dream-pop or something of that nature. Basically, they’re both slightly weird, by the standards of pop music in 1968, and probably now as well, and that edge (along with their epic wall-of-sound arrangements) makes them two essential listens. The ‘psych’ tag is misleading, as Nancy and Lee isn’t a psychedelic album as such, but then again, it is an album with psychedelic leanings. It’s just a few other things as well; it’s a strange little package if the truth be told, and that’s why I like it so much. Its easy listening made a bit hard. Like Nancy’s solo albums of the time, the orchestra and arrangements were by Billy Strange, who managed to elevate the music to a special, occasionally mystical, aural place of emotive class, somewhere between Phil Spector and a James Bond soundtrack. This is the more refined side of ‘60s pop, but with enough far out posturing to make you wonder what Lee had been putting in Nancy’s tea (and let’s be honest, it was probably that way round).



Nervous Tube passengers be warned: Yeti back in the London Underground for the first time in 45 years (sort of).

11 Oct


Not the best day to buy a new Oyster Card…

Doctor Who is only a television series. But it’s only a television series in the sense that The Beatles are only a band. It means a great deal to a lot of people. A lot of different people, as it happens, from many walks of life. It’s earned its critical stripes over the last fifty years, despite the odd foray into pantomime and self-parody, and in Britain (with the possible exception of a ‘lost generation’ of children in the ‘90s) each new generation have embraced their own era of the programme. Rather like recalling which Blue Peter presenters we grew up with, many fifty somethings will cite Troughton, Frazer Hines (Jamie) and Wendy Padbury (Zoe) as their TARDIS crew (or perhaps Troughton with Hines and Deborah Watling, but you get the idea). In the same way thirty or forty-somethings might recall Tom Baker with anyone from Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter through to Lalla Ward and K9, and there will be teenagers now who wax lyrical about Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper.

So imagine the excitement amongst millions of kids and kids at heart this week. For some time now there has been increasingly fervent suggestion that a treasure trove of lost Who episodes had been found in some far flung location (Nigeria apparently), and the canisters were on their way back to the BBC. For those not in the know, the systematic junking of old television shows was standard practice in the ‘60s and ‘70s, with many classic series such as Steptoe and Son, Top of the Pops and That Was the Week That Was missing many of their earlier episodes. Often as a cost saving exercise the BBC reused their professional video tape, rather than utilise fresh stock, and no one saw the potential in old television being watched by future generations. That may be a short sighted view from a modern perspective, in an age of on-demand telly, DVD and blu-ray box sets, but fifty years ago TV was viewed as a much more ephemeral medium. If you didn’t see it on transmission, you probably would never see it, unless you got a repeat. Pity ‘60s Doctor Who fans then, who had one repeated serial in the whole of the 1960s. That was such a rare occurrence that the repeated story (The Evil of the Daleks), was included in the on-going narrative of the then current season by means of a character flashback. Being the show’s first ever repeated story, history’s ironic joke is that The Evil of the Daleks can’t be seen ever again as most of its episodes are missing. So the BBC allowed us to see it twice, and that was them being really generous.


The Doctor! The Brigadier! But he’s still a Corporal! Er…and some bloke to the left that I don’t recognize…

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‘The music is your special friend, dance on fire as it intends’: RIP Ray Manzarek (1939- 2013).

21 May


I’m up to my proverbial eyeballs in Masters Dissertation work, not to mention the other paid kind (which I just did), but a quick blog post is needed today I feel. One of my music idols passed away yesterday, and what a surprise it was. I thought he was in the rudest of health. Ray Manzarek, best known as the keyboardist and one of the founding members of The Doors, died after a battle with cancer. Continue reading

Don’t ruin New York before I get there!

2 May

Two friends of mine have suggested a road trip across the United States. As I live hundreds of miles away in England, this isn’t the first suggestion I’d have for a cheap holiday (or one that requires just a week). Anyway, in the spirit that I’m provisionally up for this idea, and with the thinking that the more I want it to happen the more it shall (economics and work leave permitting), I got to thinking of some of the sights I’d like to experience on the potential first US stop of this would-be tour. We’ve talked about landing at JFK Airport, ‘doing’ New York, heading up into New York State and the Catskills to see some of my friend’s friends, before heading across to Chicago. Parts of the old Route 66 will hopefully feature, and if I don’t see Monument Valley before I drop off my perch, I’ll be all the slightly more disgruntled (presuming I get the opportunity for such quibbles when my physical battery leaks). LA is our last stop, if this dream scheme gets off the ground.

Anyway, this is all pie in the sky at present, but it got me looking at New York in more detail, and the possibility that the underbelly of NY (it’s more subversive and creative aspects if you will) might have changed beyond recognition in recent years. Although ostensibly a film by women for women, Desperately Seeking Susan first introduced me to this side of the city when I was a teenager. Of the locations seen in that film, the cool thrift shop Love Will Save the Day is now gone, along with the trendy Manhattan club Danceteria. But Battery Park City promenade is still there, and much of the city in a film of that vintage is going to resemble what’s there now, I would expect. But seeing the outside of what was iconic live den CBGBs, for example, isn’t going to be the same as seeing its interior, and the place actually being active. Just as Bernie Sumner, of Joy Division and New Order, once pondered that the Manchester of the late ‘70s was like living in some Eastern Bloc country, but still inspired such great music, so the NYC of the recent past was less than inviting to some but inspired (or allowed for) such wonderful creativity. The place that gave us Blondie and The Ramones was crime ridden and filthy, but the visual and aural evidence suggests a vibrancy and life that I really hope hasn’t been lost in the apparently successful attempts to clean up and modernise the city.


But I’ll see when I eventually get there won’t I! Another film that has had a lasting impact on me is Blake Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffanys, based on the Truman Capote story. God, what am I saying…I’d like to think you knew that already. So yes, two of my favourite New York films are Desperately Seeking Susan and Breakfast At Tiffanys. Who knew! Forget Taxi Driver, these are my NYC classics, and I’m not even a girl! Or gay!

Also, one of my favourite albums is The Doors second, from 1967, which is Strange Days. I won’t go into the music here, but the cover, with photography by Joel Brodsky, is an emotive winner. Looking like it was shot in some Eastern European location, the atmospheric looking mews in the photo is actually Sniffen Court, off East 36th Street. Another location to visit in my personal NYC itinery.

Some great web links here, well worth checking out. The Sets of New York one is quite extensive. NYC really has been the living set of so many great films. I’m thinking it may be a case of blissfull sensory overload when I get there.  I may have some kind of fatal orgasm when I see the Empire State Building.

I shall keep you all posted!


Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985, and more recently:

Sniffen Court, and as it was in 1967 for Strange Days:

The generation who had a new explanation. Remembering the decade I never knew…Destination Sixties.

24 Feb


I didn’t live through the 1960s; I wasn’t even born during that decade and yet that era has had such a big impact on me that I feel I should share some thoughts on the subject. Of course this is where I should define exactly what the subject is. One decade is a fairly big subject; and just what aspect of a ten year period am I considering and is it really ten years. Is it really so clear cut?

To be precise, I’m talking about the Sixties as a creative influence, a constant reference for what has come afterwards in the Arts. It’s an odd thing, since nobody ever taught me that there was something ‘special’ about the 1960s in the context of the 20th century, although that would appear to be the latter day suggestion- I kind of taught myself that truth. If indeed it is one. Growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s involved lots of good cultural reference points for one to reminisce about in later yeas, but the ‘70s seemed grimmer and more about ‘making do’. Like the morning after a great party. Or is that just the way I chose to see it? Continue reading