Home

Donald Is Possessed By The Devil (& Papa Gets a Brand New Pigbag, Whatever That Is): A Y Records Two For Tuesday

Leave a comment

Anybody remember Pulsallama?

The band were apparently synonymous with Club 57 on St Marks Place in the East Village in the early 1980s, when singer Ann Magnuson was a manager there.

Club 57 sounds a lot more exciting than my local arts centre. It played host to avant-garde plays, performance art events and readings by writers like Kathy Acker. Regulars Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf staged exhibitions. Movies were screened: grindhouse favourites like Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Satan’s Cheerleaders. Horror fanzine Gore Gazette took over the venue for their first anniversary – Herschell Gordon Lewis was special guest and Sleazoid Express held several events there too. Many, many fantastic bands also took to the stage, from The Cramps to Ultravox, The Slits to Suicide.

For their first shows at 57, Pulsallama advertised themselves as a ‘Thirteen piece all girl percussive orchestra’, while Glenn O’Brien in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine described them as: ‘a rhythmic band consisting of a dozen or so women who whomp and whoop up a storm of frolic on a wide range of percussive devices and some bass guitars.’

I’d guess if The Waitresses, ESG and a Caribbean steel band all entered a studio together, they might have ended up sounding not unlike Pulsallama.

The band had great names like Jean Caffeine and Wendy Wild and dressed theatrically in cocktail dresses. This was one act that refused to take themselves too seriously.

Pulsallama - The Devil Lives In My Husband's Body

I had almost forgotten about them since the days when John Peel would give them the odd spin on his radio show almost forty years ago, although Simon Reynolds had quoted an old East Village Eye review in the Mutant Disco and Punk-Funk chapter of Rip It Up and Start Again back in 2005. They got more of a mention in Stanley Strychacki’s Life As Art: The Club 57 Story, where Cynthia Sley of The Bush Tetras enthused about a typical Pulsallama live excursion, where they would bang on all kinds of percussion and yell. ‘A tremendous cacophony. Something like, Listen to us or die. But funny’.

NME gave them a one page spread. They shared a bill with a very young Madonna and supported The Clash at Bond’s in New York, where they were seen by everyone from Johnny Rotten to Robert De Niro.

By the time of their 1982 single The Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body, they had slimmed down to a seven piece. The song tells the tale of Donald, a suburban husband, who begins suddenly each evening after work to head down to the basement of his home, where he yelps, barks and growls like a dog.

Not the last barking mad Donald you may be thinking.

As daft as it is infectious, here it is:

The Pulsallama EP, a live set of seven tracks including The Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body, recorded in a New York studio for French radio, is just out, available here on pink or splatter coloured vinyl, CD or download.

Pulsallama signed to Y Records, named after the debut studio album of noisy English post-punks The Pop Group. Bristol based, the label was set up by Dick (Disc) O’Dell, who once upon a time had worked as a lights/sound operator for Pink Floyd and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and at this point was The Pop Group’s manager.

When the girls put pen to paper, the label was likely best known for being the home of Pigbag of Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag fame and an element of crossover existed between both acts, such as playing a show together at New York’s famous Peppermint Lounge and sharing a producer in O’Dell. Peter Shapiro even suggested in Turn The Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco that Pulsallama ‘sounded like Pigbag combined with Julie Brown’.

That Pigbag single was one of the most insanely danceable records of the era, a guaranteed instant floor-filler in Maestros in Glasgow and likely every other club across the country. Even the really crap ones.

In 1981, it created a stir in the indie charts, albeit it would be best described as an underground hit. On its re-release a year later, as the band toured Britain to promote their Dr Heckle And Mr Jive album, it really took off. It entered the British charts at #50. A month later it had climbed to #3, where it peaked, unable to go the whole hog and dislodge Bucks Fucking Fizz’s The Camera Never Lies and Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s turgid Ebony and Ivory. Perfect harmony, my arse.

Here is Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag on Top of the Pops:

For more on Pigbag: http://www.pigbag.co.uk/

Goodbye, Ennio Morricone

Leave a comment

Ennio Morricone Trumpet

Today, a repost from exactly two years ago in tribute to Ennio Morricone, who died aged 91 today in Rome. The man was an absolute colossus in the field of soundtrack composition and what a magnificent legacy he has left behind.

*

If you don’t already know this obscure little gem then you’re in for a real treat. Honestly, don’t even think about leaving this page without reading on!

Ennio Morricone is the maestro behind the music of such films as A Fistful of Dollars and Once Upon a Time in the West through to The Untouchables and The Hateful Eight. His work has been sampled by a long list of acts from Big Audio Dynamite, Goldfrapp to The Prodigy and, of course, Stereolab.

He is also one of the rare musicians that I would firmly class in the category of genius.

Even so, I’ve still seen less than half the 500 plus films that he’s supplied the scores to and I can’t claim to have seen Vergogna Schifosi (or Dirty Angels, to give it its English translation) apart from some poor quality clips on YouTube.

It doesn’t seem to be available to buy from eBay or to download anywhere so Mauro Severino’s 1969 movie might be an underappreciated masterpiece or, alternatively, utterly awful, but even if it is a dud there’s still an exquisite Morricone soundtrack to enjoy.

According to someone commenting on YouTube, the opening track Matto, Caldo, Soldi, Morto… Girotondo sounds like a ‘satanic erotic mantra’ and I can see where they’re coming from but from the little I can glean from the internet, the song has some kind of connection to Giro Giro Tondo, an Italian nursery rhyme that is the equivalent to something like Ring Around the Rosie.

Featuring the honey-saturated soprano of Edda Dell’orso, whose voice here conjures up visions of earthly paradises, I’ll go for a Capri beach with golden sands, inhabited by Monica Vitti lookalikes in bikinis and the most intensely coloured rainbow you’ve ever seen in the sky.

Glorioso!

PS. I only very recently came across Dirty Angels on YouTube although it’s in Italian with no subtitles. Despite living with an Italian in the 1990s, I sadly only know a handful of words and phrases in that language but I do still intend to watch it soon.

Finally, some more Morricone magic. A Fistful of Dynamite, to give it the title it’s known as in Britain, is an entertaining spaghetti western featuring James Coburn’s never terribly convincing Irish accent, Rod Steigers’s never terribly convincing Mexican accent and explosions galore.

The soundtrack is superb throughout and here is its main theme – and, yes, Coburn’s character is called Sean.

Ennio Morricone: 10 November 1928 – 6 July 2020

Spring Night Summer Night: American Indie #12

Leave a comment

Spring Night Summer Night

Like Quentin Tarantino, Nicolas Winding Refn is a film obsessive. Not only does he direct and produce films, he confesses to having ‘collector-mania’, possessing a huge quantity of movie-related artifacts from quad posters through to celluloid itself. He loves to promote obscurities that he especially admires, and many of these can be found on his site byNWR.com.

There you can see Jac Zacha’s 1970 psychedelic saga Walk the Walk; Orgy of the Dead, an erotic horror scripted by Ed Wood and Night Tide, a sometimes magical movie about Mora, a woman brought up to believe she’s descended from mermaids.

Then there’s Spring Night, Summer Night from 1967. This has been said to have brought Italian Neo-Realism to Appalachia, and had been selected to screen at the 1968 New York Film Festival only to be dumped late in the day and replaced by John Cassavetes’ Faces. Oouch.

Virgil and Jessie

It’s the tale of a dirt poor family living on a farm in rural Ohio. This is the kind of family often vilified as white trash or hillbillies by folk who would normally claim to be against stereotyping. The film, though, certainly does little to combat some of these common perceptions, albeit it’s never malicious about the community it depicts.

At its heart is Jessie (Larue Hall). Her life lacks glamour and freedom in equal measures. Her days mostly consist of cleaning and cooking for her mother Mae, stepfather Virgil, stepbrother Carl, four younger siblings and grandmother.

Directed by Joseph L. Anderson, Spring Night, Summer Night opens with the sound of gunfire. Carl (Ted Heim) is shooting at a bucket attached to a tree, before turning his attention to the wing mirror of a rusting tractor.

Carl’s a rebel, probably without much of a cause.

‘What the hell are you doing?’ Virgil demands to know. ‘You’ll pay for that,’ he continues before he receives an answer from son.

That night, a Saturday presumably in Spring, the family gather together to eat. They say grace before meals and then glower at each other across the kitchen table, the adults sucking every strand of tobacco from their ciggies. Mae moans about the food not having enough salt. Virgil barks out complaints about the lack of respect shown to him by his children.

Family Dinner in Spring Night Summer Night

Rather than taking his wife out to a local hootenanny, he declares that he’s taking his favourite bird to a cockfight. Yes, a cockfight. When Carl accidentally stumbles into the bathroom (or was it accidental?) his gaze lingers a little too long on his step-sister lying naked in the tub.

This is a film about a family that you likely wouldn’t want to watch with your own family.

Carl and Jessie head off to a bar. Spring Night Summer Night may have been shot as psychedelia was on the rise but believe me, Haight Ashbury this part of Ohio ain’t. Carl launches into a brawl with a boy dancing with Jessie. He then drags her out the hall. In the car he forcibly has sex with her – although she later says she could have stopped him.

He’s been talking of leaving for some time and the next morning he does so, hitching to nearby Columbus.

Miss Jessica is Pregnant

When he returns during the summer, Jessie is visibly pregnant and Virgil is unsuccessfully attempting to discover the identity of the father.

Carl tells Jessie he loves her, insisting that they should move away together. He speculates that they maybe aren’t even really related through a bloodline to one another. According to persistent local rumours, Mae hasn’t ever been the most faithful of wives and, when confronted, she finds it impossible to be sure who Jessie’s father was.

It’s easy to assume that this isn’t going to end happily.

Carl and Jessie in Spring Night Summer Night 1967

Made on a budget that didn’t even stretch to $30,000, with most of the crew being pupils of Anderson at Ohio University, Spring Night Summer Night can be a gruelling watch but it’s shot beautifully with a striking cinéma-vérité feel. Anderson particularly excels at capturing movement with a handheld camera, whether it’s the younger kids whirling around during impromptu games or Jessie running through the woods in a wet dress.

It’s like a cross between Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show and the short stories of Breece D’J Pancake, a writer from West Virginia who has been called ‘the Hillbilly Hemingway’. And yes, Breece D’J Pancake was his real name.

Jessie in Spring Night Summer Night 1967

On its release, Spring Night, Summer Night was seldom shown beyond a handful of local screenings. Oblivion beckoned until some scheming distributors hit on the awful idea to re-cut the movie to play as the bottom half of a exploitation double bill on the grindhouse circuit where it would be renamed Miss Jessica is Pregnant. With no better options on the cards, Anderson obliged, shooting some new racier scenes to be shoehorned into his film.

Rediscovered in the 21st century, Spring Night Summer Night was eventually screened, in a restored version, at the New York Film Festival in 2018. It was belatedly greeted with much praise.

Okay, it’s not as good as Faces, but only a very small percentage of films are. I would guess that it’s far better than the majority of films chosen for the NYFF that year and I’d be surprised if any of the postponed blockbusters that were originally scheduled to playing now at our local multiplexes would be anywhere near as good.

‘Hold the Chicken’ (Five Easy Pieces: New Waves #16)

Leave a comment

Five Easy Pieces

Here Jack Nicholson stars as Bobby Dupea a complex malcontent, whose personality is equally magnetic and malign. He’s a character who is hard to admire but impossible to forget and this was the performance that deservedly made Nicholson a true star.

Bobby, when the film kicks off, is working as a rigger on an oil field in Southern California with his pal Elton. On his return home, he chides his girlfriend Rayette’s (Karen Black) taste in music, baulking at the idea of her playing Tammy Wynette’s sickly Stand By Your Man yet again.

When she suggests Bobby spin the B-side instead as if this might improve his mood, he tells her: ‘It’s not a question of sides. It’s a question of musical integrity.’

Bobby will never be happy for any prolonged period. He is what would today be called a commitment-phobe. He’s also downwardly mobile – although we don’t yet know it. And I should point out that there will be spoilers in the final paragraphs of this post.

Karen Black & Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces

Bobby and Ray go ten-pin bowling with Elton and his wife Stoney and Bobby gets pissed off with Rayette’s inability to launch her bowling ball in anything resembling a straight line down the lane.

Her bowling balls might veer into the gutters but Rayette is at least occasionally looking at the stars even if her dreams of becoming a country and western star are entirely unrealistic She’s naive and clingy, and she’s also far from Bobby’s intellectual equal but Karen Black never reduces her to a dumb redneck caricature and Rayette always remains much more likeable than her partner.

Okay, this isn’t that difficult. Verbally abusive on a very regular basis, he’ll pick fights or battle with not only with his girlfriend but with Elton, some cops arresting Elton, and even a noisy dog during a traffic jam on the freeway. The latter frustration eventually leads him to jump on the back of a removal wagon to get a better view to assess how long the tailback is. There he spots a piano, and he begins to play away although it’s hard to tell how good he is as his tinkling is accompanied by a constant cacophony of honking car horns.

Most memorably, he engages in a war of words in a roadside restaurant with an inflexible waitress. Although not a dramatically pivotal scene, this is the one that many viewers recall most fondly. The argument revolves around a chicken salad sandwich and ends with a brattish Bobby scattering the glasses on his table onto the floor with an angry sweep of the hand.

An angry Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces

By this point Bobby has been given a family update via his sister Partita (Lois Smith). Their father is seriously ill in the aftermath of suffering two strokes.

Bobby is advised that he should see him before he dies and he reluctantly agrees, taking Rayette with him. On the road, and with some amusing consequences, they pick up a pair of hitch-hikers heading for a new life in Alaska played by Helena Kallianiotes and Toni ‘Oh Mickey, you’re so fine, You’re so fine you blow my mind’ Basil. The former complains incessantly about the dangers of dirt and when asked why she wants to move north, she replies, ‘It’s cleaner.’

‘That was before the big thaw,’ Bobby remarks dryly.

Five Easy Pieces - On the Road

On the verge of reaching his destination, he dumps Rayette in a cheap motel, presumably ashamed of her, at best figuring that she might feel out of place in the social milieu there.

Back at the family home, he hits on a musician Catherine Van Oost (Susan Anspach), who is working with his brother Carl, played by Ralph Waite, later to be the head of the Walton clan. Indeed, Bobby spends more time in pursuit of her than in tending to his father, although he does at least share some time with the dying old man, hoping to achieve some kind of reconciliation with him. ‘I move around a lot,’ he explains, ‘not because I’m looking for anything really but because I’m getting away from things that get bad if I stay.’

The reasons for Bobby’s discontent are never explained. No flashbacks to his childhood being scolded by his perfectionist father (or similar) and if you’re looking for any explanation of why Bobby is the way he is then this is as near as you’ll get to it.

Jack Nicholson alone

He leaves with Rayette, saying goodbye only to Partita.

The film that began in an oil field ends in a gas station and the final scene is one of those endings that you desperately hope has become confused in your memory. Watching it for the first time since Alex Cox featured it in his Moviedrome series in the late 1980s, I began hoping that, as Rayette went in search of some coffee, Bobby wouldn’t have a word with the driver of a parked logging truck. That he wouldn’t step inside the truck, that instead he might get out and face his responsibilities. Head back to the family home with Rayette and, like a prodigal son, help care for his father and maybe even rekindle his career as a concert pianist.

Of course what an audience want doesn’t translate as what is artistically right.

There’s a big clue to the ending in the final location. At the gas station, a sign hangs advertising one of America’s best known oil companies, GULF. All along, there’s been too much of a gulf between Bobby and his respectable upper-middle class family for any great rapprochement, too much of a gulf between the former piano protege and the Tammy Wynette loving waitress for any relationship between them to realistically work. While Rayette is in the cafe thinking of the man she loves, Bobby sets off with the trucker to somewhere that’s ‘colder than hell’, probably Alaska.

Bobby won’t be any less restless or cantankerous there but least he’ll be clean.

Five Easy Pieces Gulf

The idea for Five Easy Pieces was conceived by its director Bob Rafelson, together with Carole Eastman. It’s surely no coincidence that Rafelson himself was born into a relatively wealthy family and also – before finding his direction – earned a living from a wide variety of jobs from breaking horses for the rodeo to drumming in a jazz band based in Mexico.

He directs his second feature beautifully. The cinematography is flawless. Nicholson is brilliant. Karen Black is also superb. Fifty years ago it might have resonated more and Chinatown and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest might be better films but this is still a wonderful watch that everybody should see at least once, a key film in what became known as New Hollywood.

If you liked Five Easy Pieces you might also like Head.

Firstly – if anybody is remotely interested – my favourite group when I was a kid I’ve been told was The Monkees, although my memory doesn’t quite stretch back that far. According to my parents, I liked to argue that they were a much better group than The Beatles. All these decades later I still reckon they put out some cracking singles like Stepping Stone and Valeri – even if they might not have played all the instruments on them. The fifty-something me, though, would have to admit that they never recorded anything as extraordinary as Helter Skelter or Day in a Life.

How long my Monkee-mania lasted, I have no idea but I wish I knew if I’d stuck with both them through to the closing moments of the final episode of the series, when Tim Buckley performed Song to the Siren.

It was Bob Rafelson who initially hit on the idea of making something like A Hard Day’s Night into a madcap TV comedy show. An ersatz band was assembled, and the series proved a massive ratings winner.

After two seasons, and with the band wanting to shed their frolicsome four image and establish themselves as ‘serious’ musicians, they agreed to go further down the experimental route they’d always embraced for a film co-written and co-produced by Rafelson and Nicholson, 1968’s Head. This was a crazed attempt to deconstruct the pop band that owed as much to underground filmmakers like Stan Brakhage as Richard Lester.

I wouldn’t claim that it’s a great film but it does contain some startling moments. From it, here is Porpoise Song. Dig those psych flavoured solarizations.

Throw Down (Made in Hong Kong #1)

Leave a comment

Throw Down 

Shot in 2004 by Tarantino favourite Johnnie To, Throw Down is a visually stunning and idiosyncratic homage to the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. It’s highly unusual for a Hong Kong movie in that it focusses on judo and the action might not be as spectacular as that seen in kung fu or wuxia films, but Johnnie To captures his fight scenes brilliantly. His cast underwent rigorous training before the shoot and To avoided the use of special effects and stuntmen. Hallelujah.

It’s also unusual in that the fights have nothing to do with just knocking an enemy senseless. Arguably, they’re not even about winning, the combatants being more concerned about taking on and learning from a worthy opponent. This echoes the beliefs of Kanō Jigorō, the idealistic founder of judo, who insisted that his sport should not be viewed as just a technique for self-defence and that personal enlightenment was as vital as technical proficiency.

Throw Down tells the story of a very highly regarded ex-judo champion Szeto Bo (Louis Koo), who owns a bar called After Hours (likely a nod to the Scorsese film of 1985). His life now completely lacks the discipline required of a top-class athlete.

After Hours in Throw Down

Rather than visiting the dojo, his time is spent downing pint after pint of San Miguel. And when he’s not drinking himself into oblivion, he’s likely visiting gambling dens where he bets high stakes hoping to win enough to pay off his debt to local moneylenders.

Slowly, we begin to learn why Szeto has likely ended up such a mess. Spelling it out here would be a massive spoiler here, so I won’t.

Luckily two people come into his life who do believe in him. One is Tony (Aaron Kwok), a carefree and cocky young judo enthusiast who dreams of taking on Szeto, a fighter he has always admired. The other is a young Taiwanese woman Mona (Cherrie Ying). A wannabe entertainer and material girl, Mona shows up at After Hours to audition as a singer. Both attempt to help Szeto pull himself out of his current stagnation and reignite his lust for living. This isn’t going to be an easy task.

Aaron Kwok and Cherrie Ying in Throw Down

The film does threaten to veer into sentimentality at times, but there’s much to enjoy including a highly complicated sequence with the camera darting across four adjacent tables with a host of characters in conversation at the same time. This ends with the kind of bar room brawl that would put anything in an old Hollywood western to shame.

Look out too for one of the best ever chase scenes in any movie – a near magical sequence with Szeto and Mona making their getaway through the neon drenched streets of Hong Kong, a gang of thugs in pursuit. Mona has just stolen the money lost by Szeto and as she runs, notes fly from her grasp, the thugs stopping every few strides to help themselves to the stray cash as it lands.

There are flashes of humour too such as the scene with Szeto and Mona hiding together inside a toilet cubicle and I liked Brother Savage (Cheung Siu-fai), an unconventional gangster who can be childish one minute, chilling the next.

Louis Koo in After Hours

A film about redemption, To is very proud of Throw Down, even if it divided critics. Maybe more than any of his works, it best expresses his philosophy that despite any setbacks, life is always full of hope.

Throw Down is now available as a blu-ray on the Eureka Masters of Cinema imprint. Special features include a new and exclusive feature-length audio commentaries by Asian film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival) and Ric Meyers; a lengthy interview with director Johnnie To (40 mins); a Making of Throw Down featurette and a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film.

For more on the release click here.

All the Love and Poison of London (& A Reaction Against All the Love and Poison of London)

Leave a comment

Suede and Elastica

This week I’ve been reading The Last Party, John Harris’s take on Britpop, Blair and the demise of English Rock, together with the July issue of Mojo.

I thought I’d given up on music mags, as every time I’ve read one in recent years I’ve felt something akin to déjà vu, with the same old acts cropping up again and again, saying much the same things again and again – while far too many of the newer acts look like geography teachers for my liking.

Suede ad

Suede certainly didn’t resemble geography teachers. And they didn’t resemble the grunge acts that were ruling the alternative roost of the early 1990s either. Suede might have had longish hair but unlike the Seattle bands, they deemed it a good idea to actually wash it more than once every coupla months. And there was as much chance as singer Brett Anderson donning a plaid shirt as me sending a donation to Richard Branson on his private island to help him out during his current financial difficulties.

Live shows saw Brett sashaying around the stage, skelping his thighs and his skinny ass as he did so, that lank fringe of his swaying foppishly back and forth across with metronome regularity, while singing in that arch voice of his about beautiful losers and the underside of the city – or as the band put it on the deadwax of Metal Mickey: ‘All the Love and Poison of London’.

A year earlier A&R departments wouldn’t cross the street to see them but in 1992, the band speedily found themselves the darlings of the British rock press which now included magazines like Q, Vox and Select. Few independent guitar acts had created this level of hype since the early days of The Smiths and The Jesus and Mary Chain. For one front cover in Spring 1992, Melody Maker declared them the best new band in Britain. They had yet to release any music, although when sleaze tinged glam pop debut The Drowners hit record shops the hype machine only accelerated.

The track demonstrated a band with big ambitions, consequently pissing off many indie purists (I’ve just reached the point in The Last Party, where an indie purist accosts Alan McGee and calls him a ‘turncoat cunt’, before spitting on him for selling off just under half of Creation to Sony). These musical puritans must have cursed the rise of Suede, meaning less room in their music paper of choice for Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and other acts with terrible haircuts and even worse music.

NME’s Christmas 1992 issue was reputedly their biggest seller in a decade. On the cover Brett Anderson posed as Sid Vicious, an idea explored around the same time by the artist Gavin Turk in his life-size waxwork Pop, where Turk poses as Vicious singing My Way in The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle. Which came first? I’m not sure but if I had to guess I’d go for the NME cover.

Brett as Sid and Gavin as Sid

Anderson had a way with a quote. Twenty years earlier, David Bowie had informed Melody Maker that he was ‘gay, and always have been.’ Brett Anderson now explained in the same paper that: ‘I see myself as a bisexual man who’s never had a homosexual experience.’ This struck some as a big deal at the time.

Brett’s father was a Lisztomaniac who even named Brett’s sister Blondine after Franz Liszt’s daughter. His mum an art school graduate. The young Brett caught up with The Sex Pistols in secondary school during the 1980s. And then he developed a taste for Crass and The Exploited, which is a bit like discovering that pre-Britain’s Got Talent, Susan Boyle had been obsessed with, well, Crass and The Exploited.

His musical tastes improved with age, his affections switching primarily to Bowie and The Smiths. As Suede established themselves, their sound reflected these influences, although I thought there was as much Human Menagerie era Cockney Rebel as 1970s Bowie. Brett soon got to meet his heroes, although the encounter with Morrissey soured almost instantly. Anderson complained that Morrissey’s shyness was boring rather than charming and claimed Moz was like ‘some kind of useless teenager’.

The useless teenager volleyed back, decrying Suede as a band ‘with all reference points so tightly packed that it consequently leaves no room whatsoever for originality, should any be lurking.’ His tirade concluded by stating that Anderson would ‘never forgive God for not making him Angie Bowie.’ Oouch, but it was a putdown that raised the question as to why then had he chosen to cover The Insatiable Ones (one of the B-sides of The Drowners) live?

Controversies continued. Stuart Maconie at Select featured Anderson on one front cover with a Union Jack superimposed in the background – a decision guaranteed to get the knickers of most British indie types in a collective twist. A stooshie ensued with some seeing this as a dangerous right-wing statement, while others argued that the time was right to reclaim the flag and that you could be proud of being British without wanting a return to the days of the Raj. Either way, it was a decision that had nothing to do with Anderson.

From the moment Bernard Butler’s guitar took off and soared like Concorde, second single Metal Mickey was clearly going to consolidate Suede’s reputation. Like their stage image, the single’s packaging also showed the benefits of a coherent aesthetic. The first single had featured famous 1960s model Veruschka von Lehndorff on its cover, a trompe-l’œil suit painted on to her body and facial hair stippled on to her face. This time around Anderson chose an intriguing photo he’d found while browsing in a second-hand bookstore. Like The Smiths again, Suede were dead against the idea of any record company imposing their ideas over the band’s vision. The ideas for these sleeves came from Anderson and the boys, albeit a pair of graphic designers, Peter Barrett and Andrew Biscomb, were brought in to execute the finished product.

Suede 3 Singles

The Metal Mickey video saw the reappearance of the sleeve star of The Drowners – okay, somebody else dressing as the Veruschka figure but with a better pimp hat – who rescues a pretty thing from the drudgery of her dead-end job at a meat processing plant, whisking her off to the seedy glamour of a neon lit Soho.

Released on Nude Records in November 1992, here is Metal Mickey:

And now for an act featuring two former members of Suede, Justine Frischmann – who had gone out with Brett Anderson and had played guitar in the band – and Justin Welch, who was their first drummer, although not for long.

Justine decided to react against the music and lyrics of that band.

‘I was sick of the whole “love and poison of London” thing,’ she told Harris in The Last Party.

Elastica Singles

And unlike Suede, their aesthetic was minimalist DIY. Just take a look at the video for debut 45 Stutter.

White background, magazine pages scattered across the floor. Justine out in front, flanked by Donna Matthews and Annie Holland, with drummer Justin at the back. The band mime and a handheld camera captures them in a single take. A perfect match for the music with those crunching power chords, crisp drumming and Jean-Jacques Burnel bass. And didn’t Justine look effortlessly cool as she sings about her frustration at the failures of some guy in the bedroom.

From November 1993, this is Stutter, the third single release on the Deceptive label:

The album Suede charted at #1 in the UK Albums Chart, shifting 100,000 copies on the day of its release. It went on to win the then prestigious Mercury Music Prize, while Elastica also hit #1 becoming one of the fastest selling debuts in British musical history. Soon Suede’s rivals at the time Blur released Modern Life Is Rubbish, which I loved while Pulp were also about to make a hard won and well deserved breakthrough with His ‘n’ Hers.

For the first time since the late 1970s/ early ‘80s heyday of The Jam, The Specials and Dexy’s, my tastes were pretty much in line with what was looking like the new mainstream.

This wasn’t to last too long.

Justine Frischmann Three Paintings

Today Justine is based in California where she works as an abstract artist, utilising a wide range of materials from the traditional (oil paint) to the new (repurposed photography and fluorescent spray enamel).

‘I really enjoy the synthetic, Pop-look of fluorescents, and the magical, almost mystical way they seem to light up a surface,’ she told In the Make website. ‘They only came into existence in the latter part of the 20th century and for me, they are one of the best things about our toxic, synthetic times. Medieval artists used gold leaf to light up a surface; we have fluoro!’ Above are her paintings Lambent 89, Lambent 80 and Lambent 83.

Justine was shortlisted for the 2012 Marmite Prize although she didn’t win – presumably her work completely divided the opinions of the judges. She has no plans to reform Elastica which hopefully rules out any temptation to ever appear at some ‘90s Rewind style weekender at Butlin’s Minehead along with Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin.

Fingers crossed.

For more on Justine: http://www.justinefrischmann.net/

The World’s Most Tattooed Lady, A Man Playing Snooker And Thinking Of Other Things & Much Much More! – Pop Goes the Easel

Leave a comment

Produced in 1962 for BBC arts series Monitor, Pop Goes the Easel (terrible pun) explored British Pop Art. In a shirt and tie and with fingers steepled, Huw Wheldon introduces the documentary, which was directed by maverick visionary Ken Russell.

‘They’re four painters who turn for their subject matter to the world of pop art,’ he informs his audience. ‘The world of the popular imagination, the world of film stars, the twist, science fiction, pop singers; a world which you can dismiss if you feel so inclined, of course, as being tawdry and second rate but a world all the same in which everybody to some degree lives, whether we like it or not.’

If I had to put my money on it, Wheldon would definitely veer towards the tawdry and second rate category.

Peter Blake and Derek Boshier

Sadly, Pop Goes The Easel is shot in black and white, which fails to convey the sheer fizzing colour of the paintings and some of Russell’s idiosyncratic imagery.

Four twenty-something British artists were chosen to represent the rising movement: Peter Blake, Peter Phillips, Derek Boshier, and Pauline Boty. Pop is usually seen as an American movement but you could easily argue that it was invented in Britain by artists like Richard Hamilton and The Independent Group, Eduardo Paolozzi and Peter Blake himself, just as in the 1970s, punk became associated with Britain although again you could argue that The Ramones, Richard Hell and others kicked off things in New York.

Pop Art was about breaking down the barriers between high and low art and bringing back representation in an increasingly dreary art world where critics were championing an increasingly dry and dreary brand of post-painterly abstraction.

The documentary begins with the four artists hanging out together in London. They stroll along a funfair accompanied by James Darren’s contemporary hit Goodbye Cruel World, typical of the kind of kitsch and (second rate) chart pop that was all the rage when I was in nappies.

Pop Artists at a Coconut Shy

They ride some dodgems, slip coins into slot machines, visit a coconut shy, and then a shooting gallery where they all take aim with various degrees of success. Russell gets appropriately playful, editing in a shot from an old Hollywood Western of a gunslinger firing back – as if at the Pop Artists. Peter Blake draws a couple of clowns. As it’s the 1960s, they smoke incessantly.

Russell then presents single portraits of the quartet. A version of Jorge Veiga’s Brigitte Bardot by Achilles and his Heels plays as Blake pretends to wake up, his bedspread embroidered with a myriad of flags and photos of eminent Victorians. Two feet emerge from the bed but they surely aren’t Blake’s. No, Russell splices in a shot of Bardot’s legs also emerging from a bed as Achilles sings ‘The longest legs in Europe and the cutest nose I know.’ We see some of Blake’s Tattooed Lady series; Siriol, She-Devil of Naked Madness and Self Portrait With Badges. He’s already a highly accomplished artist.

Peter Phillips glances through monster and girlie mags that have inspired his work. In his room, huge canvases like For Men Only and The Entertainment Machine dominate the walls. A mysterious blonde beatnik girl plays pinball. She would be no match for Roger Daltrey’s Tommy from Russell’s 1975 film, though. Phillips points a toy gun at her and she mimes firing back and blowing away imaginary smoke from the imaginary barrel – just like the pretend gunfight in Godard’s Band of Outsiders, shot three years later.

Derek Boshier Studio in Pop Goes the Easel

Derek Boshier introduces an element of criticism into proceedings as he talks about advertising techniques and the commercialisation (and Americanisation) of British life – or should that have be commercialization and Americanization? – as he explains the thought processes behind the making of works like A Man Playing Snooker and Thinking of Other Things.

Pauline Boty Nightmare in Pop Goes the Easel

Cut to the most visually arresting sequence in the film. Pauline Boty lays out some of her works on paper onto a corridor floor and contemplates it. She is startled by the sudden sight of a line of women – who, oddly enough, appear to be social distancing. One speaks angrily in German and walks over the artworks. Pauline slaps her. Pauline is then pursued along curving corridors by a woman with black hair, black clothes and dark glasses in a wheelchair, a cranked up alarm bell adding to the unease, or is it an alarm clock? Yup, it’s an alarm clock finally ending a particularly disturbing and surreal anxiety dream.

‘I’ve always had very vivid dreams and I can remember them very, very easily,’ she tells us as she teases her hair like a 1980s goth. ‘I’ve used the kind of atmosphere of the dreams in my collages.’

The gang gather together at her West London flat. Peter looks at some of her collages. He is said to have harboured a massive (and unrequited) crush on Boty – it’s easy to see why – and once sent a valentine to her. None of your cheapo card shop efforts either. His valentine combined collage and enamel paint on hardboard.

Pauline Boty & Peter Blake in Pop Goes The Easel

Derek and Peter meanwhile, muse on the chance to visit space. The Science Fiction Bookclub is offering to send prospective moon pioneers an ‘authentic moon tour reservation’ which won’t commit them to taking the voyage. Of course, this depends on you spending money on some of their paperbacks. They decide to sign up for it anyway and Boshier quips that he’ll sort out the Mars trip later.

The four troop off to a local market and browse through racks of comic books then spend an evening watching wrestling with Pauline looking genuinely excited by the action of a tag team bout.

Finally, at a crowded studio, it’s time for the big daddy of dance crazes. Forget the locomotion, the mashed potato, or doing the alligator. Twisting time is here and Cole Clay is insisting that ‘everybody twist’. The party-goers obey and the twisting gets frenetic at times – it’s no wonder nobody in the room is chubby!

David Hockney makes an appearance in his big round black rimmed glasses and dyed blonde buzzcut. He jumps and hops rather than twists which maybe gives an indication that he would always follow an unconventional artistic pathway. It maybe also explains why he isn’t included in the gang – he wouldn’t have wanted to be pigeonholed as a ‘Pop Artist’ even though he had leanings in that direction back then.

Everybody’s having a smashing time and the camera loves the centre of attention that is Pauline Boty. She shows off shamelessly, grabs a fur stole and waves it behind her head. She grins and winks at the camera and I think the swinging sixties were at this point inevitable. They maybe even began at this precise moment.

pauline winking

Blake, Phillips and Boshier are all still creating art, much of it still pop tinged. In 2015, all three were all commissioned to create new channel idents for the BBC Four Goes Pop! Season.

Blake has designed covers for Paul Weller, Oasis and The Who (including last year’s WHO album). Most famously, he created the iconic cover for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, along with his wife of the time Jann Haworth.

Peter Phillip’s paintings have adorned album covers by The Cars and The Strokes. In the early 1970s, Boshier taught a guy who insisted on everybody calling him Woody at London’s Central School of Art & Design. Joe Strummer, as he was by 1978, helped hire Boshier to produce a songbook for Give ‘Em Enough Rope. Boshier also worked with David Bowie on the sleeves for Lodger and Let’s Dance.

boshier-lodger

And Pauline Boty? She would also enjoy a secondary career in acting, and was shortlisted for the role of Liz in Billy Liar. She didn’t land the part but some have observed that Julie Christie’s portrayal owed something to Boty’s free-spirited appearance in Pop Goes the Easel. Pauline went on to play a blink and you’ll almost miss her cameo as one of Michael Caine’s conquests in Alfie and Russell hired her in 1964 to play a prostitute in his Bartok film. She also acted at the Royal Court and on TV and radio and she and Derek Boshier were selected as regular dancers on Ready Steady Go.

Somehow during all this activity, her art progressed rapidly too. She embraced a more pure pop style (the collages we saw earlier owe more to surrealist Max Ernst than anybody else) and she would soon reach her pop art prime with paintings like The Only Blonde in the World – a rare take on Marilyn Monroe from a female artist – and With Love To Jean Paul Belmondo, a huge rose crammed into the top half of the canvas representing her sexual desire for the French film star.

Tragically, Pauline’s life was cut very short. While pregnant, it was discovered that she had leukemia during a checkup. She rejected the idea of an abortion and also refused chemotherapy, fearing it might harm her unborn child.

She died in the summer of 1966, four months after giving birth to a daughter.

Pauline Boty Monitor

For more on Pauline Boty: https://paulineboty.org/

Dark Alley / Black Star / Four Turkeys in a Big Black Car

Leave a comment

Brian Eno: King’s Lead Hat

7-by-7-1977-logo-2016

Anagrams aren’t really my thing. Offhand, I can only think of one that someone else has coined. That is King’s Lead Hat, which you likely know is an anagram of Talking Heads. I bet Eno, the great intellectual of pop music*, could rattle off a list of thousands of them and given a few seconds could generate one off any random letters he was given to work with.

Eno had been impressed when he saw Talking Heads support The Ramones in the early summer of 1977 in London. He hooked up with them a couple of times after the show and struck up a friendship with David Byrne in particular. Before the year was out, Eno travelled to New York where he met up again with The Talking Heads. He was hired to produce their second album on this visit.

1977 was to prove a vintage year for Eno. He earned glowing accolades for acting as what Tony Visconti called ‘zen master’ on the classic pair of albums Low and Heroes that proved David Bowie truly was music’s great chameleon; he additionally teamed up with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius on the album Cluster and Eno and produced three albums that would be released on his own Obscure imprint, including Harold Budd’s The Pavilion of Dreams. Eno also appeared on a Camel track Elke – which I had never heard of until a few hours ago. It’s certainly better than I had imagined it would be although I doubt it’ll be making its way into my collection any time soon.

Most importantly for the artist, he finally finished off his fourth solo album Before And After Science, an eclectic collection of songs that ranged from the melancholic Julie With through to the aforementioned King’s Lead Hat.

The latter track owes something to the jerky, agitated sound of early XTC with an added dash of Devo (who would also soon hire him to produce an album) but at base it’s a salute to Talking Heads. Eno had even originally hoped that the band would accompany him on the track but due to a scheduling clash this couldn’t happen.

Still, he managed to assemble an interesting ensemble of musicians to take their place, including former Roxy pal Phil Manzanera, and Robert Fripp.
With nonsense lyrics such as ‘Dark alley / Black star / Four turkeys in a big black car’, Andy Fraser’s quakes of whiplash bass and unhinged plinky plonky piano supplied by Brian himself, this was Eno at his most infectious. Best of all is Fripp’s usual left side of the brain guitar lines.

Despite the age and experience of these musicians, it’s a track that didn’t sound remotely out of place in the year of punk’s big breakthrough. At the end of November, Eno was showcased on the front of NME with the first of a two part conversation with Ian McDonald inside. There was Old Wave, there was New Wave and there was David Bowie. And Brian Eno.

NME placed Before And After Science 14th best album of the year in their end of year poll, three places above Talking Heads’ ’77. Here is track five, side one:

If you were hoping for more of this kind of glorious racket from Eno, you’d be disappointed as he turned his attention increasingly to ambient music. Before then, he did release a remixed version of the song which came out on 45 in January 1978. This was accompanied by a way ahead of its time B-side, R.A.F. Although to be applauded for its innovative use of sampling, it’s not one that I listen to on any kind of regular basis (mainly due to being allergic to anything played on a fretless bass).

A precursor of 1981’s My Life In The Bush of Ghosts collaboration with David Byrne, which itself was way ahead of the curve, R.A.F. was credited to Brian Eno and Snatch with the songwriting divided between Eno, Judy Nylon and Patti Palladin.

It combined spoken vocals by Nylon and Palladin in the role of passengers on a hijacked plane with a studio recording made by Eno and others a few years previously. The sonic collage was then completed with recordings supplied by Nylon of snippets of West German police telephone communications containing RAF (Red Army Faction) ransom messages and other ominous material. Hear this hybrid of the new, the recycled, and the readymade here.

Roxy Music - Trash

‘Are you customized or ready-made?’ Bryan Ferry asked in the first line of Trash, Roxy Music’s first single since Both Ends Burning in 1975. This wasn’t the high-profile return that Ferry had hoped for. The song sneaked into the charts, peaking at #40.

It’s a decent enough wee ditty but clearly far from the flamboyant retro futurism of Virginia Plain and Ladytron. The new rather staidly dressed Roxy just didn’t look right either, with those shirts and ties and with a former pub rocker (Paul Carrack) and ex-Vibrator (Gary Tibbs) in the line-up. You might argue that image isn’t important but have a gander at either of the photos on the inside gatefold sleeves of the first two Roxy albums, and you’ll immediately realise which of the two line-ups would make the more vital music.

Roxy Music For Your Pleasure Gatefold Sleeve

Finally, if you like Japan (the band) then you’ll love the B-side of Trash, titled Trash 2.

* As I began writing, I chose an Eno Oblique Strategy online. It was Use Cliches and I don’t think this helped. I also decided to devise my first ever anagram and struggled to come up with what retrospectively strikes me as the highly obvious Brain One. Which it now strikes me I’m sure I’ve heard before.

The Devil’s Filth Witch Struts Her Stuff To The Second Greatest Disco Track Ever Recorded

Leave a comment

Firstly, we all know what the greatest disco track ever recorded was, don’t we?

A clue. It wasn’t Chic and Good Times. That was the third greatest disco track ever recorded. It wasn’t Le Freak either, although that’s right up there too. And it definitely wasn’t Disco Duck, was it? No, Donna Summer’s I Feel Love was the highpoint of disco, the Mona Lisa of the disco movement, the Citizen Kane of the synthesiser.

Hearing I Feel Love boom out for the first time was like being transported into the future and not just the near future. This is how music will sound in decades from now I must have thought, completely hypnotized by the electronic pulse of the track.

How deflating it would have been later that night to have actually time travelled forward into today, only to discover that music was being dominated by backwards looking bores like Ed Sheeran and Gerry Cinnamon sounding like 1970s buskers.

Second greatest ever disco track? Just edging it over Good Times is Sylvester and You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real). More on which later.

Sylvester - You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)

If you’re wondering about the devil’s filth witch dancing to it, then that’ll be Cosey Fanni Tutti, whose book Art Sex Music was one of my favourite reads of 2017. In it, she mentions that ‘The Devil’s Filth Witch’ is what the mother of one of her fans branded her upon discovering that her daughter had been in touch via the internet.

I imagine this woman resembling the psychotic mother in Carrie, punishing her daughter’s perceived transgressions by locking her in cupboards, convinced that her own twisted take on Christianity was morally brave and to be applauded.

If I’m being entirely honest, reading about some of the 1970s art performances by COUM Transmissions (of which Cosey was a member) do make me feel distinctly queasy – and I’ve managed to sit through all 120 days of Sodom in Salò and even reviewed one of those Human Centipede films for another site. But if something makes me experience a strong reaction like this, then I find it best to investigate it further. Why shut myself off in some personal safe space of the mind?

‘Cosey’s book,’ as I wrote in that Best of 2017 post,’ is by far the most engaging new autobiography I’ve read this year and it’s safe to say it’s also the best book I’ve ever came across by an author equally comfortable in her career as a leading avant-garde provocateur, industrial music pioneer, stripper and porno mag model.

‘One minute she’s exhibiting with the COUM Transmissions art collective and being dubbed a ‘Wrecker of Civilisation’ by Tory MP Nicolas Fairbairn, the next she’s nipping off to do a photo shoot for Fiesta.’

It was through her stripping that Cosey discovered that some background dancers were required for the video of the Sylvester single. Her agency phoned, asking if she would be interested in heading along to the shoot at the Embassy Club in the heart of London’s posho West End, a location used repeatedly in British films like Scandal, and where, like New York’s Studio 54 at the time, the waiters were made to wear tight satin athletics shorts.

The idea that in the 1970s, video makers would phone a stripping agency for dancers to appear alongside a fast rising American chart star and then hire them does tickle my fancy. Would never happen nowadays.

Despite seeing the video a good number of times as Sylvester climbed his way into the top ten of the British singles chart, I never recognised Cosey as being one of the dancers. She is the girl with the long brown hair, shimmying her ass as the video opens alongside the girl with black hair.

Released in Britain during the height of the summer of 1978 and produced by Sylvester and Motown legend Harvey Fuqua, here is the second best disco track ever recorded. And don’t try this falsetto at home, folks. Not unless you have some helium handy.

Bizarrely enough, Cosey often later danced to the song during her stripping days in and around London. And not only that but she would sometimes wear the very same shorts you see in the promo as she did so. As she told The Quietus in 2015: ‘They were really good for stripping in.’

This should’ve been an anecdote in Art Sex Music surely but somehow wasn’t. Maybe it’ll feature in the biopic that Cosey announced a few months ago. The film will largely draw from her autobiography and Andrew Hulme has been attached to direct. I wonder who’ll play the devil’s filth witch?

Oh, and if you’re wondering, Cosey found that particular insult amusing. She and her partner Chris even adopted it as an occasional nickname for her. Wonder what the woman who called her that is up to at the moment?

And now for a little disco (of sorts) from Cosey’s days in Throbbing Gristle. There’s a big I Feel Love influence going down here with those pulsing Moog Modular synthlines and breathy, Je T’aime style vocals. This is Hot on the Heels of Love, which might even make it into my top ten disco tracks.

For more on Cosey: http://www.coseyfannitutti.com/

The Horror of Isolation (& Pulse)

Leave a comment

Pulse 2001
 
For a metropolis, the highways and roads are peculiarly empty. So are the streets, factories and shops. A sense of existential dread oozes over the inhabitants of this deserted cityscape.

No, not my recent trip to London as COVID-19 was starting to strike panic into the nation but a description of the Tokyo of the second half of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse.

Strangely enough, it wasn’t the corona virus that made me think of Pulse, rather it was reviewing the 1964 Japanese horror classic Kwaidan for Louder Than War.

Watching that striking anthology movie inevitably made me think of some of the J-Horror successes of more recent years like Ring, Ju-on: The Grudge and Pulse. That latter movie although released in 2001 seems strangely relevant in the world of the corona virus.

Pulse

Pulse – or Kairo to give it its Japanese title – was made at a time when Japan was experiencing what became known as Hikikomori, an extreme form of social withdrawal. In the run-up to the Millennium, this phenomenon was proving an increasing concern in Japan with maybe a million or so young people shutting themselves off from the outside world, sometimes for very extended periods of time, decades even. Doctors and psychologists struggle to precisely understand why and after being pretty much cooped up for a couple of weeks now I have even less idea why anybody would choose to live in this way.

What is clear is that technology has played a big part in the problem. Often those affected spend long hours wired up to an internet connection with mobile phones and video games also taking the place of real social interaction. It’s appropriate that Pulse opens to the sound of the stuttering screech and crackle of a dial-up modem.

Like Ring, this is a technology based chiller. In a 2016 interview included in the Arrow dual format release of Pulse, Kurosawa even claimed that it was ‘totally a copy of Ring.’ I think he was joking as he smiled while saying: ‘In Ring, the ghost came out of the television set. So we thought, “What else could be similar but different to that?”‘

His answer was the internet with ghosts somehow entering via the world wide web.

Pulse 2

Pulse runs two parallel storylines which eventually converge. The first concerns some co-workers at a rooftop plant nursery who are worried about their colleague Taguchi. He’s been doing some unspecified work for a computer disc but even with a deadline looming, he has stopped coming into work and hasn’t been answering his phone.

Michi (Kumiko Aso) feels the need to investigate. Taguchi won’t even answer his door. But he has hidden a key on his doorstep so Michi enters using that. She calls out his name, but he doesn’t answer. When she sees him, he is emotionless. He points her in the direction of the disc and steps into an adjacent room. The next time she sees him he’s hanging from a noose, dead.

When the disc is retrieved and viewed, it reveals an unsettling image of a spectral Taguchi staring blankly into his own computer monitor. Soon his friend Yabe is ignoring his co-workers. He hides in a storage room, repeating the reclusiveness of his dead friend.

Meanwhile economics student Ryosuke Kawashima (Haruhiko Katô) is beginning to take an interest in the internet. He signs up to a service provider and immeditely encounters some eerie images online. When a mysterious website asks ‘Do you want to meet a ghost?’, he shuts down his computer and goes to bed. But as he sleeps, it connects itself to the web and displays some more alarming imagery.

The next day he hotfoots it to the computer room of his university and makes enquiries. Computer science major Harue takes an interest and they strike up what looks likely to blossom into something more than just a friendship.

Don’t look for any romance here, though. Harue soon begins to display a severe streak of pessimism and becomes steadily more detached. ‘I’ve always wondered what it’s like to die,’ she admits and talks about her childhood where she was often left alone. ‘You might be all alone after death, too.’

She might just have a point. ‘Death is eternal loneliness,’ one otherworldly apparition later tells Kawashima.

Pulse 3

Dialogue is sparse in Pulse. The score is unnerving. The colour palette is greyish and seldom does any colour make an impact, one exception being the red tape used to seal shut the windows and doors of ‘forbidden rooms’. Why is the tape always red? Sorry, no idea. Kiyoshi Kurosawa isn’t a director who likes to spell everything out to audiences.

Is Pulse scary? I wouldn’t say so. A couple of scenes are undoubtedly creepy, especially one where a female phantom moves slowly towards Yabe with a highly erratic gait. Faces and bodies merge into shadows in darkened rooms and sometimes bodies transmute into smudged stains on walls. There’s also a spate of suicides that might be disturbing for some viewers to watch.

It’s a slow-burner but mesmerizing. It’s thought provoking too – predicting a world where new technologies which promised to connect people paradoxically instead only create more isolation.

It might be a little too long and some of the special effects look fairly primitive by today’s CGI standards but I’d take it any time over your average gorefest, slasher or found footage horror.

Pulse was shot in 2000, a time when the internet for me meant Netscape Navigator, Altavista and free web hosts like Tripod. The world wide web was booming but my time online up to about 2000 was spent out and about in cybercafes like the Java at the end of Park Road in Glasgow. No shutting myself away for years on end for me.

I’ve been online for 25 years now, but it’s only been very recently that for the first time I’m relying on the internet as my chief form of entertainment and contact with others.

Despite many reservations about social media, I’ve never been so glad that it exists.

 

Older Entries