Music And Movies (Punk)

In recent years Michael Winterbottom has made films in Estonia, India & one which took 5 years to shoot as the director waited for his child actors to grow. His last brush with the mainstream was a well-judged adaptation of “The Killer Inside Me” (2010) with 3 proper Hollywood stars. At the first whiff of controversy this enjoyable film was buried. If you are at all serious about apprehending the spirit of Jim Thomson then your film will contain brutish, amoral, psychopathic violence…I mean really ! Winterbottom’s new film is his 3rd (plus a TV series) made with Steve Coogan, a very funny man who’s big screen career does not reflect his talent. A re-make of “Around the World in 80 Days” ?…with Jackie Chan as Passepartout ? Oh yeah, that’ll work. The Alan Partridge movie has been a long time coming. The Winterbottom films & a cameo in “In The Loop” are, up to now, the only work to stand alongside his TV character comedy.

“24 Hour Party People” covers the Manchester music scene from the arrival of the Pistols in 1976, the adventures of Factory records to an inevitable bankruptcy in 1992 as excess, a groundbreaking but loss making club & allowing the drug-fucked Happy Mondays to record in the crack capital of the world converged to cause a crisis too far. Tony Wilson (Coogan) is the bulls-eye of the tale. As a presenter on local TV news he was already a face but if you lived in Manchester & liked music (as I did) then he was bloody ubiquitous. OK, he had the best club, the best bands were on his label but really he was always there. Just as he was at the Lesser Free Trade Hall for that first Manc punk gig. Winterbottom informs us who the players are in his story & how he intends to tell that story in a different way.

This ain’t no rock/mock/doc/biopic “I Walk the Line” nonsense. It is a proper attempt at rock & roll myth making, playing fast & loose with the facts when it suits, being more concerned with the substance, energy & ideas. The Rock Gospels, from Elvis walking into Sun Studios to Woodstock/Altamont are affidavits guarded by a generation who have taken themselves way too seriously. Let the new fables kick against the pricks, show the art & the artifice.The clip of the real Pistols fused into this scene is from an entirely different gig & it really does not matter. In the later “A  Cock & Bull Story” Winterbottom & Coogan mix it up even more exhilaratingly. It is a cliche about Tony Wilson that he got things done but he was a wanker. He really did seem to love any kind of attention. Well he may have been a fool but he was our fool & “24 H.P.P.” is one of the best films about music around because it is about the people, the drugs, the city. To quote Don Logan,” It’s the charge, it’s the bolt, it’s the buzz, it’s the sheer fuck off-ness of it all” .

“Bringing Out The Dead” (1999) is the 4th &, to date, final collaboration between director Martin Scorsese & writer Paul Schrader. So there’s faith, guilt, redemption then, it’s what they do. This character study (there’s little plot) of a paramedic struggling to see anything good in an Infernal New York is more than “Taxi Driver II”. Frank’s (Nicholas Cage) contact with the doomed & the dying give him  nightmares which have infiltrated his days. Cage gives one of those performances which will prevent you from watching any more than 3 minutes of “Ghost Rider:Spirit of Vengeance”. The script, cinematography & direction grab you by the balls & the throat. The reason “Bringing Out..” is not regarded as classic Scorsese is that there are fewer touches for a broader audience this time around. No Joe Pesci swearing & killing motherfluffers imaginatively, this is black & barely comedy. It could be Scorsese/Schrader “fin de siecle” but I prefer, in the spirit of New York punk, End of the Century.

The film has the usual classy & spacious soundtrack from both Bernsteins through Motown & reggae to R.E.M. But this is Scorsese’s punkiest movie & the use of “Janie Jones” is perfect in this scene with Cage & ready-for-rehab Tom Sizemore crunching through the mean streets taking direction from the disembodied voice of the man himself. Hey, I’m so bored with the USA.

Hey ho, let’s go. I have finally managed to get “Repo Man” (1984) on to one of these posts & about time too. It is not good enough to invoke the spirit of the B-movie, the exploitation movie,  then just stand back & expect to be admired. That spirit, one of imagination & audacity wins over any budget restrictions. I am going to give Tim Burton “Ed Wood” but “Mars Attacks !” had a $70 million dollar budget & $5 of that was for ingenuity. “Repo Man” is as ramshackle as “Dark Star” & “Eating Raoul” , like both these films,it nails an attitude so adroitly that it transcends any cult status & is just a great film.Of course it takes a film made away from Hollywood to get punk on to celluloid properly. Stuff happens in my life every week that makes me think “what would Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) do ?” Look at those assholes, ordinary fucking people. I hate ’em.”…Only joking, or am I ?

Emilio Estevez as Otto, “a clean-cut kid in a dirty business” makes his case to be regarded as the likeable Sheen brother. 30 years later there has been no reason for anyone to doubt him. Director Alex Cox, an Englishman abroad, talked a good fight too, looking back to John Ford & Nicholas Ray as touchstones for his punk rock, sci-fi, B-movie comedy…cheeky beggar. He got the “Sid & Nancy” gig because of “Repo Man”. I thought he did a good job. Both films have a fine sense of the ridiculous, playing fast & loose with facts or reality. Subsequent movies were criticised for being too political, too rough, too clever or too stupid, as if any of these was a bad thing. He had to spend too much time scratching around for enough money to just make the films & they are all worth a watch. Any road up, here is the closing scene of “Repo Man”. “What about our relationship ? Fuck that !”, a flying, glowing car & a song that Iggy Pop wrote for the film. Gotta send you out of the cinema with a smile on your face & a safety-pin stuck in your heart.

Music And Movies

I love a classy film soundtrack.If I made a Top 10 list there would be 10 more spring to mind that I had overlooked. The greatest of the composers are linked with great directors, Bernard Herrmann with Hitchcock, Nino Rota with Fellini and Ennio Morricone with Leone. Then there are the modern rock age scores, Ry Cooder’s “Paris Texas”, Vangelis “Blade Runner” and Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man”. The bespoke works of Jack Nitzsche for “Cuckoo’s Nest”, Popol Vuh’s “Aguirre” and Philip Glass’ “Koyaanisqatsi”. Missed out some great ones ? Of course I have, I told you I would.

“Easy Rider” was a breakthrough film in many ways. For the first time Hollywood let young people make a movie for the young. While that market was there waiting for such a film the use of rock tracks found a new one. The “Easy Rider” soundtrack LP was the first to be bought by many people, followed by the “Woodstock” and “A Clockwork Orange” albums. Now there is a pick and mix approach to the soundtracks of almost all movies. Sometimes it works and sometimes it’s just crass. If I hear one more Nick Drake song in one more crappy US rom-com it will still be wrong. Here are three random but favourite uses of rock music in movies.

Martin Scorsese has always used rock and roll in his films. He edited the “Woodstock” movie, in “Mean Streets” there is a fantastic selection of doo-wop and R&B along with a couple of Rolling Stones songs. Over 30 years later he shows the touch of a master in his introduction of Jack Nicholson’s character, Frank Costello. The scene is edited to “Gimme Shelter” the ominous Stones’ classic. The monologue ends with Charlie’s drum beats, he leaves the deli to Merry Clayton’s cries of “Rape! Murder!”. I know that “The Departed” owes a big debt to “Infernal Affairs”. I know that the original is probably the better movie. I had paid my money to see the great Jack Nicholson doing his job properly again in a Scorsese flick where wise guys got violent and swore imaginatively with some good music along the way. After this opening scene I settled into my comfy seat knowing that I was going to enjoy this film and be entertained by a great director. The world outside the cinema could wait for a couple of hours.

A battered set of wheels, a beer, a joint and a Creedence tape playing. What’s not to love ? For 40 whole seconds Jeff “Dude” Lebowski is a happy man. “The Big Lebowski” is the Coen Brothers’ rock and roll movie. The Dude, “I bowl, drive around, the occasional acid flashback” is hero for our times. In a film which is more quoted and more quotable than any in recent times “what day is…is this a weekday ?” is the funniest because, in my case, it is the truest. My inner Dude ? Whaddya mean inner ? In 1998 when this film was released I went to the cinema on consecutive weekends to see it.

Joel and Ethan had a top script and got themselves a top soundtrack for the film. Captain Beefheart, Dylan, Elvis Costello, Kenny Rogers, you know, the greats. The Eagles are in there a couple of times. Once to have a delicious dig at them and to get the Dude thrown out of a cab, another the brilliant raucous noise of the Gypsy Kings’ version of “Hotel California”. It is the Dude’s attachment to Creedence Clearwater Revival, music which makes you happy, which makes us smile. This scene is only edited to the music for the final drumbeats. There are those younger than me who were introduced to CCR by this film. “Looking Out My Back Door” is their gateway to their discovery of some fine music. The Dude, indeed, abides.

In the 1970s director Hal Ashby made 7 memorable films. The second of these, 1971’s “Harold And Maude” is a comedy about suicide and love, death and living. It is a brilliant life-affirming experience. If you know the film then this clip, from near the end, will be as poignant as on the first viewing. If you don’t know the film then enjoy the music of Cat Stevens.

Cat Stevens was a teenage pop star, writing his own songs, who suffered a bout of tuberculosis and re-emerged as a sensitive singer-songwriter. His songs of innocence and experience, with a couple written for the film could not have suited the film any better. Ashby was an editor before he was a director. He only needs the music and the images to tell the story and he does it with a brilliance that few have matched. “Harold and Maude” is one of the great screen love stories but was a commercial flop on it’s release. We would see the film as often as we could in the art-house repertory cinemas and loved to introduce it to people who did not know it.

I am writing this on my 60th birthday. I guess that now I am officially old…how did that happen? Thinking about “Harold and Maude” makes me think of Maude, played by the amazing Ruth Gordon. This 80 year old lived a life of extremes but retains an anarchistic (if sometimes illegal) appetite and energy for new experience. It is not just the youth who could use a role model and Maude will suit me just fine for the next 20 years. In her spirit I will add this clip, she would not end with a sad one…because there’s a million things to be you know that there are.



Those 70s Movies (Part Four).

Punishment Park (1971)

director: Peter Watkins.

The most personal of my choices, “Punishment Park” never received a general release and, like other Watkins’ films was pretty much buried. It is now available on You Tube and I was delighted to be able to view it again recently. His earlier film, “The War Game”, made for the BBC and about a nuclear attack on the UK, had been banned. Over 10 years later the film was still relevant but could only be seen in local community centres and church halls. How effective, how true does a movie have to be for authorities to not want us to see it ?

“Punishment Park” is a similar documentary style (I refuse to use the prefix “pseudo”) projection into a dystopian near future. It posits a reaction to the counter- culture by the authorities whereby, after a tribunal, those arrested are given the option of prison or going to Punishment Park, an area in the desert where those who choose have to travel 50 miles to the American flag pursued by the National Guard. The film intercuts between a group in the desert and the tribunal for the following group.

It is obviously a political film. Watkins has an agenda and pulls no punches in showing which side of the fence he stands. It is this “fence”, the polarization of American society in the late 1960s, which is shown more effectively than in any film I have ever seen. The absence of any mutual understanding between the two opposing groups is repeatedly made. The treatment of the black activist at the tribunal seems crass and ridiculous yet mirrors the treatment of Bobby Seale who was bound and gagged in the courtroom during the trial of the Chicago 7. There is always an element of “this could happen” about this movie which makes it so compelling. A monotone English voice coldly narrates adding a veracity to the images.

Seeing “Punishment Park” again is not like watching a view from another time. The same polarization exists today, the potential for oppression remains. The arguments are the same and the film is still relevant. The style is also wonderfully modern. The rapidity of the editing , the hand held shots, the involvement of the film makers as the events unfold bring to mind the films of Nick Broomfield, “Man Bites Dog”, even “The Hurt Locker. The legacy of music video on cinema is the eye-blinking speed of cuts between shots. Watkins uses this so effectively that it is difficult to believe that the film is 40 years old.

On leaving the cinema in 1972 a friend asked if we had just watched a documentary. We were surprised at his reaction but this reflects no deception on the part of the film-maker rather how effective his methods had been. A film which still provokes thought, discomfort and anger after all this time.

Taxi Driver (1976)

director: Martin Scorsese. starring: Robert de Niro.

“Taxi Driver” is the director’s first major, big budget, movie. He had made good films previous to this and “Mean Streets” is a great one. The later film nicks it because it is a more collaborative and thus more structured film than the labour of love that is “Mean Streets”. Scorsese even had a bona-fide movie star in the lead role after his boy De Niro’s turn as the young Vito Corleone in “Godfather 2”. Robert was on a roll which brought us “1900”, “The Last Tycoon”, back with Martin for “New York, New York” and then “The Deer Hunter”. (Blimey, I have missed some quality movies from this list of 10). The script, by Paul Schrader, a man as driven as the director, was a ready rolled portrait of alienation and it’s consequences. Scorsese gave notice of his intentions to make a film about urban and personal claustrophobia by employing Bernard Herrmann to score the film. Herrmann had written the music for Hitchcock’s great run of 50s classics. He wrote the music for “Citizen Kane” for Christ’s sake. This was to be his final work.

Travis Bickle, our hero, is a man estranged from the world around him. He wants to make connections but is unable to. He hates the world he sees through the  windscreen and in the back seat of his cab. When he tries to make connections he meets the platitudes of fellow driver Wizard (Peter Boyle) or fails through his own social inadequacy with Betsy (Cybill Shepherd). He is, in his own words, “God’s lonely man”.

The film’s progression to the violent climax is perfectly pitched. Bickle tenses as Tom (Albert Brooks) tries to move him along and you just know that the Vietnam vet could do some real damage here. The destruction of his TV is as funny as hell. When Travis shows up at a political rally sporting a mohican it is obvious that it is all over for him and for whoever gets in his way. The involvement with a teenage prostitute, Iris, (Jodie Foster) and her pimp, Sport (Harvey Keitel) inevitably ends in violence because Bickle is, by this time, too far gone.

Scorsese with “Taxi Driver” brought the urban cinema of Hitchcock, Kazan, Lumet and others into the modern age. He paved the way for Tarentino and Ferrera to make their provocative films. More than any director he was aware of cinema history and, I think, it was no accident that he did this. “Taxi Driver” is a modern film. Every year in the USA there are shocking murders such as the Columbine shootings. This film forewarned of these events and explains the psychology of the disturbed loners who commit them.Travis only ends as a “hero” because society will always interpret violence to suit it’s own ends. A great, GREAT film.

As a change of tone here is Michel Gondry’s “sweded” version. (see “Be Kind, Rewind).