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Age of Consent & Candidate (Two For Tuesday)

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‘Have you seen the new video for Age of Consent?’ a pal asked recently, as we got to talking about New Order just after the release of the super-dooper deluxe, definitive and expensive as hell version of Power, Corruption and Lies which contains the video above, filmed by rising Danish talent Tine Reingaard.

‘Seen the new video?’ I wasn’t even aware there was an old one.

This not so terribly old one had been shot by Amos Poe in 2011, by which time the band had become Hookyless, an event that saw my interest in New Order nosedive, albeit it had been slowly declining for some time before.

The Godard of No Wave cinema, over the past 45 years, Poe has made many lo-fi independent films featuring the likes of Debbie Harry, John Waters regular Cookie Mueller and even Robbie Coltrane. His 1991 crime movie Triple Bogey on a Par Five Hole gave Philip Seymour Hoffman his screen debut back when he was plain old Phil Hoffman. Poe’s also directed cult cable TV show, Glen O’Brien’s TV Party. He’s produced films. He’s written screenplays. He’s taught film.

In his book Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes, John Pierson tells an anecdote about a visit that Poe made to the cinema where the author worked in 1981, angling for a retrospective of his work. ‘He didn’t just want to make movies in New York: he wanted to make a movement in New York like the French Wave – a whole “film generation” of cheap, 16mm, black-and-white features.’ Pierson thought he was ahead of his time but couldn’t offer him a retrospective. Poe’s comeback took him by complete surprise.

‘Well, if you’re not going to show my films, could I be an usher?’

Now, there’s a man with a passion for cinema.

Poe is likely best known for Blank Generation, the music documentary he co-directed with Ivan Kral in 1976 and which I covered here. Since that post, due to a long running lawsuit over profits from licensing fees for screenings of the film, Poe has legally lost his co-directing credit for the documentary together with his ownership of several of his other movies.

Worse still, the ending of Blank Generation has been changed and the directing credit reassigned to Cindy Hudson, the wife of the now deceased Ivan Kral, which strikes me as being wrong, wrong, wrong. You can read more about the case in this New York Times report.

Anyway, here’s Poe’s visual interpretation of the opening track of New Order’s 1983 album Power, Corruption & Lies. Simplicity itself. Shoot a girl dancing (she’s namechecked as Betty Kelly) in grainy, washed out Super 8 and edit together ever more frantically as the song reaches its conclusion by which point the images are almost blurred to abstract shapes in places.

More recently – about a year and a half ago – Poe was commissioned to film a video for Joy Division’s debut LP as part of a project titled Unknown Pleasures: Reimagined. This aimed to give ten different directors the chance to shoot a ‘filmic re-imagining of the music in 2019’.

This is Poe’s take on Candidate:

I think this might be a pretty good promo. For some mainstream modern day act that’s maybe hoping to appeal to, say, the Lana Del Ray fanbase. But not for any song ever performed by Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris.

For more on Amos Poe: http://www.amospoe.com/

For more on New Order: http://www.neworder.com/

I Start Counting & Primitive London (Soundtrack Sundays)

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Tomorrow sees the release by the British Film Institute of director David Greene’s I Start Counting! Underrated when it first came out in 1970, the movie has since established itself as a genuine cult favourite. This is largely down to Jenny Agutter giving one of the best ever performances by any teenage British actor, although its reputation has also been enhanced by the growing interest in the music of Basil Kirchin, whose score is remarkably evocative of the era.

It did surprise surprise me to learn that Kirchin had originally wanted Cilla Black to contribute the vocal for the movie’s theme tune. Thankfully, he didn’t get his wish. Instead, an unknown teenager called Lindsey Moore took on the singing duties. According to legend at least, this came about as a result of Lindsey accompanying her mum (Basil’s singer/arranger/composer pal Barbara) on a visit to the studio where he was recording. Having mentioned that her daughter was looking to start a career as a singer, Basil, on the spur of the moment, suggested that Lindsey give the song a try and handed her a microphone.

What a wonderful job she made of the opportunity. It’s this demo that was used as the musical introduction to the film:

We hear many variations of the theme throughout (although I didn’t start counting them) and there’s a few other less successful tracks, which were Basil’s attempts at mimicking the pop music of the day. They Want Love sounds like a band who thought the high point of The Beatles’ career was Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, fronted by a singer who wanted to be Tom Jones. These were left off the soundtrack album.

Now, we all know that Dusty Springfield was one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th century, don’t we? I’m guessing that through Barbara Moore – who was for a time one of Dusty’s backing singers on her TV show – Dusty became aware of the theme song and fell in love with it to the extent that she covered the track on her 1972 See All Her Faces album. While it’s always a real pleasure to hear that voice, I reckon this is another case of the original is best.

This BFI release comes with a number of special features, and these include Worlds Within Worlds, a 33-minute look at Basil Kirchin’s pioneering career by Jonny Trunk, whose label Trunk Records, has helped bring Kirchin’s work to the attention of new generations of music fans, releasing several of his albums of his soundtracks and library music. In recent years, Brian Eno, Jarvis Cocker and Thurston (definitely no relation to Lindsey) Moore are only three of the musicians who have also talked up Kirchin’s talent publicly.

During the feature, Trunk mentions that a definite similarity exists between two of Kirchin’s cues for Primitive London and Bernard Herrmann’s Taxi Driver score, written 12 years later.

Primitive London is a curious mondo style documentary that examined life in the capital in the mid-1960s. ‘The beat,’ we’re advised, ‘is off-beat.’

Director Arnold Louis Miller combines the seedy with the sanctimonious. Any supposedly salacious visuals are always accompanied by a lecturing and moralising narration. Men and women flock to a cabaret club to watch ‘exotic’ dancers, a young woman gets a tattoo – a real rarity at the time – and for a reason I couldn’t totally understand, we visit a kendo dojo. We’re introduced to mods and rockers, beatniks and Soho strippers. Britain might not have moved into full swinging mode just yet but we are shown a swingers’ party in suburbia with ‘car keys dropped into a brandy glass.’

Somehow rated X on its release, this is an interesting enough time capsule but easily the best thing about Primitive London is Basil’s score. Here is one of those musical cues that resembles the main theme from Taxi Driver, listen out for the distinctive 21 note melody that both pieces feature.

If you want to hear Herrmann’s theme for Taxi Driver, click here.

For my review of I Start Counting! click here.


For more on Trunk Records: https://www.trunkrecords.com/

Shoplifters of the World (2021)

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This week Stephen Kijak’s Shoplifters of the World, a new Smiths related comedy drama set in Denver, that tells the story of a bunch of Smiths devotees in the wake of the announcement of the band’s 1987 breakup.

The Smiths were far from the most original band of the 1980s, but with his startling wordplay and unique take on life, Morrissey would have to loom large in any discussions of the most adroit lyricist of that decade, while I would struggle to name a more gifted or versatile guitarist than Johnny Marr. Yes, I was a big fan but never an obsessive uberfan. No gladioli waving and no cardie, quiff or NHS specs for me in any attempt to resemble Morrissey, thankfully. That kind of thing always struck me as more than a little sad.

The main characters in Shoplifters of the World have no such qualms about hero worship. They adore The Smiths and in particular Morrissey. The man is pretty much the perfect human being and whatever he says goes. Remember, this is 1987.

Cleo (Helena Howard) is the first of this group of outsiders to discover that the band have split up – via one of the least convincing news bulletins in cinematic history. Luckily, she has gathered up some beer cans left by her dipso mum on the living room floor, so she we can see the severity of her shock as she drops them in sheer disbelief, before letting out one almighty scream, although, as the report mentioned, there had been months of speculation in the music press about the possibility of the band calling it quits.

She drives straight out to her local independent record store to discuss the bombshell with Dean, a Morrissey lookalike behind the counter, who is clearly smitten by her, and is reading about the news in Melody Maker. Impressively, in the short time since Cleo left her home, the British music press has already arrived in Colorado with Johnny Marr’s version of events making front page news in NME.

‘Our music died today and nobody even cares,’ Cleo sulks. ‘I wish there was a way to get all the posers in this town to take notice.’

What good this would achieve, I have no idea but Dean might just have a solution. ‘Something that would go down in musical history.’ But he’s keeping schtum about the details of his plan.

We soon meet more of Cleo’s pals. There’s Billy, who’s joining ‘Reagan’s army’ mainly to please his parents, and there’s Shelia (yes, really) and Patrick (honestly), a couple who are planning to visit England. Sex isn’t featuring in their relationship because Patrick wants to emulate Stephen Patrick’s celibacy. Or because he is obviously gay and looking for a convenient excuse not to have to take his frustrated partner to bed.

Like Dean, Cleo, Billy, Sheila and Patrick all love endlessly punctuating their conversations with Smiths lyrics and song titles to the extent that Morrissey – who liked to swipe the odd snatch of film and theatre dialogue into his lyrics himself – ought to have been given a screenplay credit. For a bit of variety, though, they also like to quote anybody who ever inspired their Mozziah: Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire and even Saturday Night and Sunday Morning‘s Arthur Seaton for starters.

This barrage of references quickly begins to grate.

As they attempt to find a party, a lovestruck Dean, presumably in an attempt to impress Cleo, makes his way over to local radio station Kiss 101 with a bunch of Smiths albums. There, he points a loaded gun at macho deejay Full Metal Mickey, interrupting his monthly Metal Marathon, and ordering him to play Smiths records back-to-back all night long.

Full Metal Mickey is no fan of ‘depressive haircut bullshit’ and when told that The Smiths were the only band that mattered, he gives Dean an incredulous look and sneers: ‘You’ve clearly never listened to Twisted fucking Sister!’ But he does what he is told, although there’s never any sense that Dean would shoot him even if he continued to play Sabbath and Slayer.

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Ironically, it’s the metalhead who is easily the movie’s most rounded and likeable character. He’s the only one with any real sense of humour or genuine insight. ‘One day, your heroes are gonna grow old,’ he warns the younger man. ‘They’re gonna change. They’re gonna put out shitty music. They’re gonna say stupid things that betray the past.’

Amen to that, dude.

If you’re wondering about the inspiration behind this part of the story, a depressed young Smiths fan did once drive to a radio station in Denver, carrying a rifle and planning to force the station to air his Smiths mixtape although he failed to carry out this plan of action.

The soundtrack – and there are twenty Smiths tracks included on it – is undoubtedly magnificent, albeit it’s used with as much imagination as an episode of Heartbeat. When Cleo makes her way out of the record shop and throws a pile freshly stolen cassette tapes into her car, she does so to the sound of Shoplifters of the World Unite and when the Sally Ann brass band strikes up the introduction to Sheila Take A Bow, you won’t need me to tell you who the camera focusses on. She even takes a bow.

The film begins to flip between Cleo and her pals out on the razz and Dean and Mickey in the radio booth, where the pair learn that they might have more in common with one another than they first assumed.

Shoplifters of the World is not an entire stinker but neither is it a film that I’ll likely ever be tempted to watch again. None of the performances really stood out bar Joe Manganiello as Mickey. Kijak often demonstrates a good eye for a shot, and while I found his script mediocre at best, I did like the fact that not everything is magically resolved for all the characters as the closing credits beckon. The way he weaved archival Smiths footage into the film was skilfully handled too.

My main problem is that I failed to find any of this bunch very interesting. Just because they see themselves in opposition to the awful one-dimensional jocks who surround them doesn’t automatically make them likeable. 

We’re especially supposed to admire Cleo’s feistiness although she oozes a snobbish sense of superiority over anyone with a different taste in music. She pretends to her pals that she’s a student with a boyfriend when neither is true. She’s a petty thief, and she complains about posers and yet smokes in the most incredibly affected way, using a long cigarette holder. She also lacks self-awareness. She criticises Molly Ringwald’s character in Pretty in Pink, thinking she was ‘kind of a bitch’ by refusing to get together with her ‘cool’ friend just because he dotes on her, while Cleo refuses to get together with a guy who would leap in front of a flying bullet for her.

He did actually say that, and I almost screamed with the same ferocity as Cleo had earlier.

And speaking of flying bullets, she loves the idea of someone threatening another person’s life with a gun just so she can get to hear her favourite music. Yep, I much preferred Molly Ringwald’s Andie, and for all its faults, Pretty In Pink is a much better film than this.

For more on the movie click here.

Cuban Heel: An Interview with Laurie Cuffe

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This week a conversation with Scottish singer and guitarist Laurie Cuffe, whose career started with The Cuban Heels.

There is a myth that when Johnny & the Self Abusers split, two bands were formed, one being The Cuban Heels, the other being Simple Minds. The Cuban Heels, though, had already been in existence for a year or so at this point, although John Milarky did join their ranks from J&TSA.

The band’s debut single was released on independent label Housewives Choice Records in Spring 1978, a double A-side consisting of a frenetic cover of Petula Clark’s international hit Downtown and a self-penned number Smok Walk.

A string of singles and an album followed in the early 1980s but the lifespan of the band was relatively short with Laurie going on to feature in the line-ups of a number of other bands, including The Saints, One O’Clock Gang and, in recent years, The Véloniños, along with Davie Duncan, Kenny McLellan and Shug Jamieson.

In 2019, The Cuban Heels were represented in the highly recommended Big Gold Dreams: A Story Of Scottish Independent Music boxset. That same year, The Cuban Heels were featured in the Spirit of Punk 2019 – RIG Arts exhibition held at Greenock’s Beacon Arts Centre, while Laurie was interviewed for Punching Above Our Weight, a documentary that examined the 1970/80s music scene in the Inverclyde area.

After an absence of decades, the band took to the stage together again to perform two shows: the first at the Beacon Arts Centre to coincide with the exhibition, the second at Glasgow’s O2 Academy.

Can you remember when you first decided that you wanted to become involved in music?

My parents got me a guitar when I was around 12 and I got serious about playing around 14 or 15, listening to bands like Thin Lizzy and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. My older brothers were big music fans so there was quite a mix of records lying around. Lots of Beatles and Stones (mostly Stones) but also Bob Dylan, folky stuff like the Incredible String Band and Pentangle and I remember loads of Chess label singles including Chuck Berry and Howling Wolf.

Chuck Berry and The Incredible String Band! That really is quite a mix!

The first Dr Feelgood album ‘Down By The Jetty’ had a huge effect on me, especially Wilko Johnson’s guitar style. A real lightbulb moment was hearing the Damned’s ‘New Rose’ on the John Peel show. The first Ramones album and then the first Clash album made it seem like something you could attempt yourself.

So, when and where did the Cuban Heels start and what was your first live show?

We started off in Greenock around ’76 as a three piece. I think the first gig was playing at a mate’s birthday party. I remember doing a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Oh Carol’. Suits and skinny ties, trying to look like the Jam!

What was the music scene in the Greenock area like when you started out? Were you aware of Thomas Leer and Robert Rental over in neighbouring Port Glasgow?

We weren’t aware of them. The music scene at the time revolved around a gig called the Victorian Carriage. It seemed to be mostly bands doing Steely Dan covers. I recall a lot of versions of ‘Haitian Divorce’. We were more aware of what we didn’t want to be like. One great exception was Chou Pahrot, who were from Paisley. They were a kind of weird hippy/punk, instrumental, Captain Beefheart mash up. Ahead of their time, really good guys and very encouraging to us.

How true is the story of the guy behind the Housewives Choice label being a millionaire who worked part time in an Edinburgh music shop?

Well, he seemed like a millionaire to us as we had fuck-all! His name was Mel Benton. I think his wife came from the landed gentry. I seem to remember they had a big flat in Edinburgh’s New Town. There was a thriving punk scene in Edinburgh based in Cockburn Street. We used to play a pub there called The Wig and Pen.

The band made a cameo on BBC drama Just A Boy’s Game, how did that come about and what did you make of the play?

Scouts from the film company saw us playing at the aforementioned Victorian Carriage. It was shot in Greenock, and our bit was filmed in a bar called The Norseman which is still there. The play was very much ‘of its time’. Looking back it all seemed very bleak. Greenock looks like Gdansk.

After a gap of a few years, your second single Walk On Water appeared on Cuba Libre, which was your drummer Ali Mackenzie’s label, wasn’t it?

Yes. Ali liked the business side of things. He put out early Shakin’ Pyramids and James King & The Lone Wolves releases too.

The Cuban Heels’ sound had moved on significantly since the early days. Who would you say was influencing you at this point?

I remember listening to Talking Heads a lot. I was impressed by Teardrop Explodes and Echo & The Bunnymen. There was a lot of good stuff happening then.

By the time of the release of the Work Our Way to Heaven album, things must have been looking good for the band, Peel sessions, live concerts on Radio 1, working with in demand producers like John Leckie – what would be the highlights of your time as a Cuban Heel?

Working with John Leckie in the Manor Studio in Oxfordshire was amazing. Recording Peel sessions at the BBC was a great experience. We played great places in London like The Marquee, Hope & Anchor, Rock Garden, Dingwalls and The Vortex. I have equally fond memories of iconic Glasgow gigs like The Burns Howff, Amphora, Mars Bar, and the student union at Glasgow Tech was always a good gig for us.

Yeah, I think next to the Apollo that was the best venue in Glasgow in the late 1970s.

We did a support slot with the Stranglers at the Apollo too, and it’s nice to have played that stage.

Being a Nico fan, I’m curious about the time you acted as her backing band for some songs in Edinburgh in 1981.

I remember we did ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, ‘Waiting For The Man’, ‘Femme Fatale’ and a version of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. The gig was at the Nite Club in Edinburgh. We worked out the songs beforehand and had a rehearsal with her on the afternoon of the gig. I remember us going through ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ and she pointed and shouted ‘Play!’, when she wanted me to do a guitar break. I’m pretty sure she was in the midst of heroin addiction at the time, but she was still an imposing presence. Her voice was as great as ever.

Later you played with The Saints, how did you enjoy that experience?

Touring Australia was great fun. It was a carefree time – quite liberating to be just the hired guitar player.

And more recently you’ve played with and released music as part of The Véloniños, how would you describe this band’s music?

I suppose it’s kind of ‘modern/retro’. New songs but with a 50’s and 60’s instrumental feel.

Can we expect more Véloniños shows when things (hopefully) return to normal? Or maybe even a second album?

I really hope both of those things happen. I enjoy working on the guitar parts and recording the songs but playing live is my favourite thing!

2019 saw a brief live return for The Cuban Heels, any plans for more shows with them?

I’ve been writing songs with John Milarky, and we’d been talking about doing some small gigs before Covid hit the fan. Hopefully, that will happen before too long. Another Heels gig would be great.

Definitely. Thanks for talking, Laurie.

For more on The Véloniños click here.

Nashville: New Waves #17

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The question of what is the greatest music related movie is asked online regularly.

It’s tempting to answer with a film with a connection to music you love but some of my favourites feature genres that I have little or no interest in. The 2011 documentary Last Days Here tells the story of Bobby Liebling, lead singer of the heavy metal rockers Pentagram, as he battles his demons. It’s compulsively watchable but did I seek out any Pentagram music after seeing it? No.

Likewise, Robert Altman’s 1975 satirical drama Nashville is seeped in country and western balladry, the popularity of which as I’ll mention isn’t something I can readily fathom. It is, though, a great film which should appear on many more lists of best music movies. Here’s a review I wrote for Louder Than War for the Eureka Masters of Cinema release of the film in 2014.

Okay, firstly, Nashville isn’t the easiest film ever made to review – he says, getting his excuses in very early – and resides at the completely opposite end of the cinematic spectrum to the high concept movies beloved by Hollywood producers of the present day, ones that can be summed up in a single and easily understandable logline.

Sprawling and featuring many of Altman’s trademark – and for the time highly innovative – techniques such as his routine use of overlapping dialogue and improvisational shooting style, Nashville is an audacious and hugely ambitious ensemble piece with no real star unless you count the city itself.

Instead of focussing on a small cast of leads, Altman gives us twenty four main characters, whose lives we follow over a period of five days in the run up to the Tennessee presidential primary, where an unseen upstart candidate named Hal Phillip Walker of the fictional Replacement Party is attempting to record his fifth straight electoral success.

A number of themes also weave their way through the film’s very much less than straightforward narrative and Nashville can be viewed in a number of ways: as a biting satire of a country in crisis, a political parable (Nixon resigned as President during the shoot) or even as a musical, as Altman himself points out in his commentary, there’s about an hour’s worth of songs in the film.

Here I should really point out that if you’ve ever been put off watching the film due to its Country and Western backdrop then don’t be and I say that as someone who is just about allergic to the genre. Altman and screenplay writer Joan Tewkesbury weren’t fans either and on its release, the musical community of the titular city were far from enamoured of the representation of their scene which many felt the director had set out to mock.

Certainly, for this non expert, Ronee Blakley as down-home country queen Barbara Jean and Karen Black as her bitchy rival Connie White, appeared to be very convincing country stars from the era of Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton, while Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson), a little guy with an ego the size of several Southern states, also struck me as a very plausible Mister Nashville figure with his homespun philosophies and ridiculous late Elvis style wardrobe.

Some of his material such as the jingoistic dirge 200 Years that celebrated the United States Bicentennial and the cloyingly sentimental For The Sake Of The Children do walk a fine line between pastiche and caricature, but back then at least, the latter was something that Country and Western artists weren’t afraid to flirt with. In the same year that Nashville was released, Tammy Wynette scored two huge hits in Britain with Stand By Your Man and D.I.V.O.R.C.E, the latter a song that gave Billy Connolly a UK number one single when he parodied it, although it was surely already bordering on parody even before the Big Yin got his hands on it.

Hamilton could definitely be filed under what one out of towner dismisses as country crapola but Altman was aiming for a mix of good and bad songs and Keith Carradine, who is very plausible in the role of a manipulative womaniser called Tom Frank, provided the film with a track that I found an unexpected treat: I’m Easy, a country folk number that went on to win the Academy award for Best Original Song and also reached the Billboard top twenty chart.

In fact, the scene where he performs the song with several spellbound female characters in the audience clearly under the illusion that he’s singing it to them personally is a real highlight of the movie.

With so much great acting on display, it’s almost impossible to pick out favourite performances but Lily Tomlin is superb in the role of Linnea Reese, the one woman that Tom is actually delivering those lyrics to. She’s also the wife of one heartless husband, the mother of two deaf children and a member of a large gospel choir and what makes her turn even more astonishing is the fact that this was Tomlin’s feature film debut.

Another relative newcomer, Ronee Blakley, is equally fine as the afore-mentioned Barbara Jean, whose success is the envy of many but whose mental state is at best fragile, coming over at times like a cross between Loretta Lynn and Ophelia.

Gwen Welles delivers too as Sueleen Gay, a pretend name for a pretend talent. She has delusions of being the next big thing but no Auto Tune as yet to help her out with that ambition. It’s before the age of the Wonderbra too, so to catch some extra attention, she has to make do with a pair of socks to prop up her cleavage. Today, this gal would undoubtedly dream of the chance of appearing on X-Factor; here though the only time anyone pays any real interest in her onstage is when she’s tricked into attempting to strut her stuff during what is surely cinema’s saddest ever striptease in a club full of men gathered for a Replacement Party fundraising event.

Karen Black, maybe the most under-rated actor of her era, is predictably good. Finally, a mention too for Shelley Duval, who also excels as a brazen and shallow groupie who insists on being called LA Joan, a creature with a penchant for wigs and a talent for latching on to suckers – and if she was ever to catch something rather nasty from her regular bedroom romps then you really might still struggle to work up much sympathy for her.

As Nashville reaches its conclusion, each of the characters who have been zigzagging through the storyline and interconnecting along the way, at last converge together at an outdoor concert at the city’s Parthenon to promote Hal Phillip Walker’s campaign. Some will be onstage, some in the wings and many in the audience – and let’s just say that one is never going to be allowed the chance of vote for Walker or any candidate in the forthcoming election. If you’ve never watched the film, don’t worry, I won’t be spoiling the ending for you here.

Film critics of the day lauded Nashville. ‘It’s a pure emotional high,’ Pauline Kael raved in the New Yorker, ‘and you don’t come down when the picture is over.’ Roger Ebert declared it was the best American movie since Bonnie And Clyde and it was nominated for four Oscars, including for Best Director and Best Picture.

It’s remained highly influential since its release. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and Magnolia were both large cast, multiple storyline movies that clearly took inspiration from it, as did Paul Haggis’s Crash, which bagged a Best Picture Oscar win, although few film afficionados would judge it was in any way more deserving of that honour than Altman’s film. Here in Britain, Annie Griffin’s Festival from 2005 was also absolutely in debt to Nashville albeit here comedy replaced country with Edinburgh providing a memorable backdrop.

Nashville is not a perfect film. It does sag slightly round about its halfway mark and an argument could be made that Altman should have excised a couple of songs from the Grand Ole Opry show but it is right up there with his very finest works such as M*A*S*H and Short Cuts. Not only that, but in a period when American cinema was arguably at its creative peak, and intelligent and often provocative motion pictures like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dog Day Afternoon and Taxi Driver were all huge box office hits, Nashville was right up with the best of them.

If You Like Nashville, you might also like Altman’s The Player (1992), an absolute joy from the almost eight minutes long opening sequence without an edit to its final credits. Again, there’s a fantastic ensemble cast including Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi and Peter Gallagher, along with cameos from Andie MacDowell, Malcolm McDowell, Jeff Goldblum, Elliott Gould and many, many more.

Whole Wide World & Divine Thing : A Soup Dragons Two For Tuesday

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The Soup Dragons’ Whole Wide World sounds like the result of a bunch of young guys having a see who can drink the most energy drinks competition – or maybe even a see who can drink the most cans of Dragon Soop competition – as they listen to a selection of classic Buzzcocks and Undertones singles, before rushing into a studio with the intention of making a ramshackle, rip-roaring teenage rampage of a record that will make anybody hearing it happy to be alive for its one and a half minute length.

Made by the band on a budget of around fifty quid according to singer Sean Dickson on his YouTube page, this is the video for Whole Wide World which went on to appear on British TV on The Chart Show.

The early Soup Dragons led a charmed existence. When the fledging band recorded a track called If You Were The Only Girl In The World Would You Take Me? I’m sure they had little idea the kind of reception that lay in store for it. If they did, then I congratulate them on their vivid imaginations.

Only conceived as one side of a flexi disc giveaway to be released through their bassist Sushil Dade’s Pure Popcorn fanzine (together with Talk Open by The Legend! on Jerry Thackray’s none too imaginatively titled fanzine The Legend!), it became an NME single of the week. John Peel picked up on the track and invited them down for a Radio One session, agreeing to pay their travel costs to London out his own pocket into the bargain as the band were too brassic to afford the fare down.

An invitation to contribute a track to the latest in a series of cassette tapes distributed by NME resulted in Pleasantly Surprised appearing on C86. And if Neil Taylor and his co-compilers ever imagined that this tape would end up giving a name to a genre of music then, again, I would congratulate them on their vivid imaginations.

Oh, and before I forget, the first ever live Soup Dragons show was also pretty special. They supported Primal Scream at one of the legendary Splash One ‘happenings’ at Daddy Warbuck’s in Glasgow. And if the Splash organisers ever imagined that a short documentary (The Outsiders) and a full length documentary (Teenage Superstars) that covered their club nights, would both later be shown on TV, well, you can guess my thoughts on the subject.

The music press adored The Soup Dragons.

And then the music press went off The Soup Dragons.

As did many indie fundamentalists, who felt betrayed when the band began to introduce a wider range of musical references into their sonic palette on tracks like Mother Universe. How dare they embrace samplers and a dance element?

Lovegod, their 1990 album, according to their press release anyway, was ‘Full of their love of rock ‘n’ Roll iconography. Full of Pain. Kinky Love. And dark metaphors delivered with swagger through a curled lip sneer.’ On its release, even more Soup Dragons badges around the country were unbuttoned from anoraks and thrown away in a tizzy, replaced by badges of more reliable acts, i.e. those with a suitably high score on the twee-o-meter and zero ambition to ever leave their indie garrets.

Sales began snowballing with the release of I’m Free, a Jagger/Richards composition that The Soup Dragons chose to cover after watching The Stones in the Park concert. Featuring some reggae toasting from Junior Reid, a gospel choir, dancey grooves and some slide guitar, this went top ten in Britain.

‘Early on we’d just bang the songs out, but we refuse to do that now,’ Dickson explained to Spin early in 1991. ‘When you start fucking about with songs, it’s really exciting. The whole concept of the Soup Dragons comes from a pop art background that’s defined by bastardizing thing. That’s where the whole idea of sampling comes from.’

The bastardizing continued on next album Hotwired, which again merged dance beats and rock. Divine Thing manges to sound more Stonesy than I’m Free. It’s maybe also a little Lovesexy (Dickson being a big Prince fan) and its chorus always struck me as a little T.Rexy.

A homage to Glenn Milstead AKA Divine, The Soup Dragons wanted John Waters to shoot the video but he otherwise engaged. Instead directing duties were taken on by Nick Egan, who was maybe best known at the time for directing Sonic Youth’s promo for Sugar Kane (and designing a couple of covers for Clash singles). From March 1992, here it is:

John Waters must have liked the song. As a thank you, he gave Sean an autographed can of hairspray, and just in case you’re wondering why, think of the title of Waters’ 1988 movie.

Submarine (Soundtrack Sundays)

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If I told you that that Submarine was an independently made coming-of-age drama, then you might not be surprised to learn that the protagonist of the story, a 15-year-old navigating his way through a stormy adolescence in South Wales, is an outsider. Of course, he is.

Wide-eyed and clueless, Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is a wannabe great mind who, again predictably, is lovestruck as the film begins, devoting much of his time to daydreaming about Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), a girl in his class who is occasionally moody and often mischievous. She even enjoys bullying ‘in moderation’, which makes Oliver uncomfortable, although as he tells himself: ‘I must not let my principles stand in the way of progress.’

Director Richard Ayoade (super-nerd Moss from The IT Crowd) doesn’t take too long before displaying a fondness for a cinematic reference, possibly to reflect the fact that Oliver also sees himself as a budding cinephile.

Jordana’s favourite item of clothing is a red woolen coat probably because Ayoade wants to later reference Don’t Look Now. The film even employs some bold intertitles that could have come direct from an early Godard film and come to think of it, maybe Oliver’s not too obscure object of desire’s bob is a nod to Anna Karina in movies like Godard’s Vivre sa vie.

Then again, it might be that Yasmin Paige already had a bob when she auditioned for the part and that the film’s wardrobe assistant got a good price on the red woolen coat and it looked pretty timeless, fitting in with a movie that didn’t want to be tied down too specifically to an exact period, even though Oliver’s parents go see Crocodile Dundee, meaning it must be the mid-1980s.

Maybe the coat is red because of Jordana’s sometimes fiery temperament. Or maybe there’s a combination of reasons behind it? I bet Oliver over-analyses film too. Let’s move on.

Oliver is persistent in his quest for Jordana, and this pays off. They tentatively become an item, and his dad Lloyd (Noah Taylor) gives him a copy of a mixtape cassette with some songs that he used to listen to when he was Oliver’s age and embarking on his first relationship. I had him down as a bit of a prog or folk rock man myself, but these songs are written and sung by Alex Turner.

Ayoade had previously made three promos – Fluorescent Adolescent, Crying Lightning, and Cornerstone – for The Arctic Monkeys and so inviting Turner to provide some new songs for the soundtrack was a natural choice. And a good one. Turner submitted five tracks, six if you count Stuck on the Puzzle (Intro) and Stuck on the Puzzle as separate. Okay, let’s call it five and a half. Reflective, broody and sometimes dreamy in a similar vein to his fellow Sheffielder Richard Hawley, these were released as an EP in the Spring of 2011 by Domino, the first solo work by Turner. Here is Stuck on the Puzzle:

Oliver ‘n’ Jordana begin seeing more and more of one another. She likes watching things burn, while on an early date, he drags her to his local arthouse cinema to see The Passion of Joan of Arc, a silent from the 1920s. There’s a boy that knows how to show a girl a good time. Although at least she probably enjoyed the ending.

Having succeeded in his pursuit of Jordana, Oliver next attempts to repair the disintegrating marriage of his parents. And when I say disintegrating, I mean disintegrating to the extent that mum Jill (Sally Hawkins) somehow finds her new neighbour – and old boyfriend – Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine) a more exciting prospect than Lloyd. This despite his spike topped mullet being the worst hairstyle in cinema since John Travolta’s dreads in Battlefield Earth. Not only that, but he’s also a motivational speaker, giving seminars to the gullible on his system of Psychic and Physical Excellence.

Saying that, Lloyd is far from perfect hubby material. He can be one morose individual, although he has his moments. He enjoys marine biology related facts, such as the ocean being six miles deep (really?) but smelling something distinctly fishy about his wife’s blossoming friendship with Graham sends him spiralling into depression.

Soon, Oliver’s going to join him in the feeling miserable stakes after a Billy Liar moment where he self-sabotages his chances of being with his dream girl. He might justify his actions but deep down he regrets them and reckons it might be best to put down his innermost thoughts on paper. Being a misfit, he does this in a classroom. I would have thought that as a film fan, he would have realised that whatever he writes will inevitably come to the attention of a teacher and lead to his total humiliation in front of the whole class including Jordana. Schoolboy error you might say.

Soppy git that I can be, as the movie edged towards its conclusion I found myself rooting for Oliver and hoping he could fix things with Jordana.

Okay, I never remotely bought into the potential Jill/Graham romance and thought Ayoade tried too hard to demonstrate his directing chops at times.

Submarine is not nearly as accomplished and individual as Rushmore. Neither is it as funny as Gregory’s Girl, albeit there’s a very amusing spoof of Open Uni programmes from the 1970s with an uncharismatic Lloyd presenting, and during one of Oliver’s voiceovers, there’s a clever visual gag where he discusses a biopic of his life and what the production would be able to afford. I won’t give that one away.

As coming-of-age dramas go this was a very solid effort for a debut. It avoids the cloying kookiness of many American dramas exploring similar territory. The two young leads were well cast with Yasmin Paige being especially good. Both actually look the age they’re depicted as onscreen, which is also a plus, while Alex Turner’s music suited the mood of Submarine perfectly. I’ll likely be in a pretty damn small minority, but I prefer the songs here to just about everything he’s ever recorded with The Arctic Monkeys.

A Beautiful Mutation Of A Future Generation & An Electronic Bilbo Bopparonie

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First up, The Regents’ 7 Teen, a slice of perfect post-punk pop (if that’s even a thing) released in November 1979 – by which time I was already 2 Months into being 8 Teen.

The song retains the rawness of 1977 but is even more stripped back than yer average punk offering from that year. It’s also somehow very accessible and danceable too, the sort of track you could have easily skanked along to at your local alternative disco in between The Specials and Leyton Buzzards. As for its DIY credentials – they’re impeccable. Released by British independent label Rialto, the tune was recorded on the band’s own 4 track and released in this form.

The lyrics are a grubby three and a half minute mini Play For Today about a girl who’s not yet a woman, a beautiful mutation of a future generation. There’s a great choppy guitar line, some chunky bass and the two girls la-la-la-laa-ing provide a fantastic counterpoint to Martin Scheller’s vocals. And his scream.

As for the cover, it looks like what graphic designers call a rough, a sketch produced quickly to give a client an indication of what the finished image might look like. Here, this is not necessarily a bad thing – its bold simplicity suits the lo-fi feel of the music.

Two versions of the single were issued. One was deemed TV and radio friendly, even though it manages to smuggle in the line ‘Thought that you were never coming’. The only difference is that it substitutes the ‘uncensored’ version’s ‘permanent erection’ with ‘permanent reaction’. You could never have one of the BBC’s top presenters such as Jimmy Savile having to introduce a hit with a clearly offensive word in its lyrics, could you?

And yes, 7 Teen began selling in sufficient quantities to make its way into the UK charts, joining the likes of The Clash, The Sugarhill Gang, Pink Floyd and Abba and soon The Regents were invited onto Britain’s favourite pop show on a number of times (and Savile did introduce them on one of these visits).

You couldn’t hold the band back. For another Top of the Pops appearance, Martin Sheller modelled a red outfit with two shoulder pads gaffa taped onto his top and despite the fashion faux pas, the record still kept on selling, eventually, peaking at #11. They’re certainly in a good mood here and look out for Sheller’s reaction when he realises he’s messed up his miming.

A year or so after The Regents’ five minutes of fame, Phil Oakey visited a nightspot in the centre of Sheffield called the Crazy Daisy where he chanced upon Susanne Sulley (only 7 Teen) and Joanne Catherall (only just turned 8 Teen) on the dancefloor. Famously, this led to him inviting them to sing and dance with The Human League, who had recently been depleted after an acrimonious split.

At the time it was suggested by some that Oakey’s decision might have been influenced by The Regents line-up including two young female backing singers in dresses who also danced – one blonde, one brunette.

Most likely a coincidence I reckon. The Regents, after all, had failed to repeat the chart success of 7 Teen and by this point must have already been worrying that they might be filed under ‘one hit wonders’ in years to come. As further evidence I’ll cite a comment made by a modest Susanne to NME in the autumn of 1981, when she explained Phil’s intentions for his new look band: ‘He wanted a tall black singer and he got two short white girls who couldn’t sing.’

The Sound of the Crowd was the girls’ first outing in the ranks of The Human League and the formula of a crunching synth riff; impossible to decipher the meaning of lyrics and two short white girls who couldn’t sing (and couldn’t dance either according to some) proved irresistible to the British record buying public. This would be The Human League’s first real hit, peaking at #12. With no need to stand proud, here they are from 1981.

Finally, in explanation, if you’ve been wondering about An Electronic Bilbo Bopparoonie. That’s the message etched into the runout groove of The Sound of the Crowd‘s vinyl.

Mr. Vampire (Made in Hong Kong #2)

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Friday saw freezing temperatures in my part of the world (-7 overnight) and the next morning I woke up sneezing incessantly. This lasted throughout the day and into the night but luckily disappeared after about twelve hours although the sneezing had been so severe that my ribs hurt like hell for some time afterwards. At least I could be thankful it very likely wasn’t Covid related.

It was time for something that might just be fun entertainment. The dafter the better and 1985’s Mr. Vampire suited that bill ideally. Directed by Ricky Lau, this is an influential horror/comedy/kung fu hybrid from the golden age of Hong Kong cinema that I hadn’t watched since it was featured as part of Channel 4’s Chinese Ghost Story season in 1990.

The rules here are different from those you have learned in Western vampire movies. Vampires become harmless if you stick a special talisman to their foreheads. Twin dabs of blood on the forehead also incapacitate them, as does an eight-sided mirror. They’re blind and so can’t locate you if you hold your breath. If bitten by one, you can be saved by sticky rice. Not a mixture of sticky and non-sticky rice. Only pure sticky rice. That rule is very important.

I should also point out that the vampires resemble zombies as much as they do Count Dracula. And they hop!

A Taoist priest, Master Kau (Lam Ching-ying) is given the task of supervising the re-burial of a businessman’s father, the idea being that the improved feng shui of a new tomb will bring prosperity to his family who are still alive. Together with his bumbling assistants, Man Choi (Ricky Hui) and Chou Sheng (Chin Siu-ho), Kau exhumes the corpse but the body shows few signs of decomposition despite having lain underground for years.

Realising that it must be a vampire, Kau relocates the coffin to his house for further study. Due to the incompetence of Man Choi and Chou, the vampire breaks out and his first victim will be his own son, Yam.

The local police become involved. Led by Yam’s nephew Wai, who is another incompetent, they are of limited use. Wai, like Man Choi and Chou, is more interested in Yam’s daughter Ting-Ting. To impress her, he arrests Kau, framing him on a charge of murdering his uncle. With the only man knowledgeable enough to combat vampires behind bars, the whole situation spirals out of control with yet more hopping vampires, a conniving but seductive ghost and even a cave-dwelling gorilla.

The comedy is obviously far from subtle. And if you’re looking for scares, you might as well watch Hotel Transylvania. The walls in the prison look as solid as cardboard and occasionally the wires are visible in some of the stunts. Whether Kau’s grey monobrow is supposed to look fake, I have no idea. But all of this adds to the madcap fun.

Ricky Lau, on his directing debut, keeps the action moving briskly. There’s some impressive kung fu action, especially from the amazingly acrobatic Lan Ching-Ying. Best of all, Mr. Vampire has a great ensemble cast, although special mention must be made of Lam Ching-ying as the indomitable Master Kau.

Lam had previously worked as an action choreographer, and assistant to Bruce Lee on movies like Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon, as well as appearing in a string of Shaw Brothers chopsocky movies. His performance here will be his most fondly remembered. Deservedly so.

On its original 1985 release, Mr. Vampire proved a real blockbuster at the Hong Kong box-office. It also spawned a cycle of sequels and countless rip-off jiangshi (hopping vampire) movies, though none of them are said to have matched the original.

The movie was released last summer by Eureka Masters of Cinema. For more on Mr. Vampire click here.

Radio On (1979): British Movie Night #5

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Music plays a big part in Radio On. Its opening credits even advertise not only the artists that we’ll be soon be hearing but the individual tracks. It opens with David Bowie’s Heroes accompanying some obviously handheld camera shots of someone prowling through a house, that initially appears empty. Doors open and close, and we get a glimpse of a man lying motionless in a bath, presumably having committed suicide. Or maybe not. This is not a film that gives much away.

The lyrics move into the German version of the song, Helden, giving a hint that like Deep End, this is another British/West German co-production, funded jointly by the BFI and Wim Wender’s production company. And yes, the influence of the German director’s early movies is easily identifiable here, no surprise as he acted as associate producer and the film was shot by his frequent collaborator Martin Schäfer, while his then-partner Lisa Kreuzer plays a German woman Ingrid searching for her daughter Alice – an in-joke on Wenders’ Alice in the Cities where she played a woman searching for a daughter named – you’ve guessed it – Alice.

One of the dead man’s final actions was to post a parcel to his brother Robert (David Beames) with three Kraftwerk cassette tapes and a note wishing him a happy birthday. Robert decides to investigate the circumstances of the death further but he’s no Colombo.

Radio On is a real rarity, a British road movie. It’s also a minimalist road movie in every way and moves only between London and the Bristol area. Not much over one hundred miles in distance.

Fast-paced, plot driven and dialogue heavy are not descriptions you’ll ever come across if reading about the film. Petit himself has spoken of how he’s always thought of it as ‘more of a report than a dramatic narrative, about the way things looked and the music we played, about cultural climate and weather, buildings and landscape, a sense of alien record.’

You might not be surprised to hear that Hollywood didn’t come knocking on the door of Chris Petit.

Some scenes serve little purpose in the traditional way of moving the film forward, such as Robert getting his hair cut by the world’s least talkative hairdresser or when, alone, he plays an arcade game called Tumblers without any success.

Sometimes a shot seems superfluous but will later suggest something you feel the need to speculate on. When Robert sets off on the autobahn – sorry – motorway – to Bristol he drives under the Westway and past a wall where the prominent slogan ‘FREE ASTRID PROLL’ has been spray painted – Proll being Baader-Meinhof gang member arrested in London during 1978, her capture spawning a rash of supportive graffiti.

Ingrid’s ex-partner has obtained custody of their daughter and doesn’t want her to see her mother – there are some hints later that this situation is down to her behaving irresponsibly – perhaps getting involved in the fringes of some Red Army Faction style group. Or maybe that’s just my imagination running riot.

Robert goes into a pub and plays Wreckless Eric’s Whole Wide World on the jukebox. He drinks alone at the bar but when he leaves, there’s a youngish guy in his car. The two haven’t been seen communicating but Robert seems okay with this. An intense squaddie who has served two spells of duty in Northern Ireland, he has witnessed his pal being murdered by Nationalists, an event that has clearly brought on some kind of post-traumatic stress. This has led him to go AWOL and Robert decides he’d be better travelling alone although there is danger inherent in this choice. A little action at long last.

This is a film that can be self-referential. In his job as a nightshift DJ in a giant bakery, Robert plays Ian Dury and The Blockhead’s Sweet Gene Vincent. Later, an Eddie Cochran obsessed garage attendant (played by an on the cusp of fame Sting) mentions the crash that killed Cochran and injured Vincent, explaining that they had just ended their tour at the Bristol Hippodrome, a venue that we’ve seen earlier. Sting’s character also imparts some Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich trivia decades before a character in Tarantino’s Death Proof claimed that Pete Townshend almost quit The Who to join the Wiltshire act. I’m still not buying that one.

There are some more gently amusing in-jokes. When Robert first comes across Ingrid, she’s talking to a friend in German and there are no onscreen subtitles provided. Later the partner of Robert’s brother watches a film with the sound down so as not to wake Robert, relying instead on the subtitles.

Shot during Britain’s Winter of Discontent with the spectre of Margaret Thatcher’s likely victory at the polls looming large, the country looks cold with Schäfer’s black and white cinematography adding a suitably bleak mood to proceedings.

Radio On failed to grab me the way Wenders’ own early films grabbed me although it didn’t annoy me the way some of his later films like The Million Dollar Hotel annoyed me – the motto here being ignore Bono if he ever tries to pitch you an idea.

It was selected for Director’s Fortnight at Cannes before going on to play Britain’s art-house circuit. In the documentary series Punk Brittania, synth pioneer Daniel Miller of The Normal named it as one of his favourite films of the era, particularly admiring its use of Kraftwerk ‘which really threw the whole thing into a completely different, weird spin.’

Quite simply, the soundtrack is superb, easily the best thing about the film.

It could be split between two distinct camps (almost). Firstly, there are a number of very forward looking acts – Bowie, Kraftwerk, Robert Fripp and Devo – connected in a number of ways: Bowie used to regularly enthuse about Kraftwerk being his favourite group, while they name-checked him on Trans-Europe Express. Robert Fripp supplied lead guitar on Heroes, and after seeing Devo play Max’s Kansas City, Bowie took to the stage to declare them ‘the band of the future’. Fripp volunteered his services for production duties for their debut album but instead they chose Eno assisted by Bowie. The album was recorded at former Kraftwerk producer Conny Plank’s studio.*

Secondly, there are a bunch of Stiffs: the aforementioned Wreckless Eric and Ian Dury and The Blockheads, together with The Rumour and Lene Lovich – whose Lucky Number was shooting up the British singles chart as Petit filmed. Stiff Records’ head honcho Dave Robinson was agreeable to the idea that as many of his publicity hungry label’s roster be represented as possible and a deal was struck at a very agreeable price for Petit, including Devo whose frenetic take on Satisfaction did appear on Stiff in Britain (hence ‘almost’ in brackets in the previous paragraph).

Here’s a clip featuring some Kraftwerk:

Trivia: Nicholas Royle’s novel The Director’s Cut (2000) features a projectionist who has recently programmed and screened Radio On as part of a series of road movies. He also sleeps rough outside Radio On location the Camden Plaza Cinema and imagines meeting Chris Petit as he does so, the director keen to get him involved in a sequel. It’s a recommended read.

* Mark Mothersbaugh recently discovered some tapes of his band jamming with Bowie from these recording sessions and these will likely be released at some point in the not too distant future.

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