The Color Wheel: American Indie #10

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The Color Wheel

‘The Color Wheel partially recalls the scathing audacity of The Graduate some 45 years ago.

Jeff Shannon (The Seattle Times)

‘Some will call The Color Wheel daring. Others will remember that it takes more than desperate shocks to add substance to the sloppy diddlings of a dilettante.’

David Fear (Time Out New York)

In the last decade, Alex Ross Perry has carved out a name for himself as a talented independent filmmaker. Her Smell, starring Elizabeth Moss as Courtney Love – sorry – a fictional singer named Becky, may be his best yet.

His second film, The Color Wheel (2011) was made on a significantly smaller budget with Perry giving himself one of the two starring roles. That’s him on the beautifully illustrated poster above together with Carlen Altman, who plays his sister JR.

The pair also co-wrote the script, with Perry producing and editing too.
The Color Wheel is a black comedy and a road movie. In a cinematic landscape where fewer and less fewer risks are being taken, this stood out. In places it’s very funny, but it can also make for some excruciating viewing. Its tagline: An objectionable comedy about disappointment and forgiveness.

Alex Ross Perry and Carlen Altman

Colin lives with his girlfriend Zoe and their relationship doesn’t appear rock solid. His hapless sister JR, an aspiring news anchor, asks him to help move her belongings out of her ex-boyfriend Neil’s place. Colin reluctantly agrees. As they drive there, they instantly begin to bicker incessantly and put each other down.

To save money, they rent a single room in a motel run by a strict Christian. This becomes problematic. Only married couples are allowed to share rooms. Colin and JR pretend to be wed.

‘We have a wonderful marriage,’ JR deadpans, going on to claim that she’s so happy with her husband that, ‘I can’t stop smiling. Most of the time my face hurts.’

Forced to give each other a kiss in order to prove that they are indeed married, Colin spews up once he’s in the room.

The uber-sarky siblings recommence with the hostilities, with JR, instead of showing any sympathy for his bout of ill health, demanding to know: ‘Was it really that bad pretending to kiss me?’ The trash talk maybe peaks later when Colin takes great pleasure in telling her: ‘You make me, mum, dad and my girlfriend sick to stomachs every single time you come up in the conversation.’

Carlen Altman

They arrive at Neil’s place, where he is with a new girlfriend. JR and Neil, an older professor who until recently had taught JR, also immediately begin tossing verbal hand-grenades at one another and relentlessly attempt to point- score.

‘I’m starting to think that we’re not going to have that one last conversation I was hoping for,’ he says, after she’s likened hanging out with him to being in ‘a geriatric facility’.

Almost like a tag-team, Colin takes over from JR. Not that he defends her against Neil’s accusations. He just despises people like Neil, probably because he is more successful and cooler than he is, although Neil’s obviously a jerk too.

What did JR see in him? Most likely, she was attracted to his list of media connections and promises of a job in television, along with the added bonuses of rent free accommodation and never having to pay for a meal.

He got a fantastic looking and much younger girlfriend.

Carlen Altman as JR

Both leads can be deeply unpleasant and their redeemable qualities are few although I kinda liked them but then I have always been drawn to sarcasm. Neither is as monstrous as other Perry creations such as Philip in Listen Up Philip or Becky in Her Smell. They’re also better company than Neil, or their snobbish ex-school pals who they later meet up with for a party. That could be said to be damning with very faint praise, though.

No surprise that JR only goes along to the party for a selfish reason. She’s heard that a TV agent will be there. In Planet JR, success is more likely to come from networking than talent. She demonstrates no interest in the news throughout and it’s easy to assume that the most ‘work’ she’s put into establishing her career is her vision board, which we see in the boot of her car.

Carlen Altman in The Color Wheel

Equally self-centred and shallow, JR reminded me of a number of people I knew back in my bedsit days, dreaming of some breakthrough in their chosen fields (usually music) but much more likely to smoke joints and watch daytime TV than putting in any hard work that might help them to achieve their goals.

As you can see from the quotes at the top of the post, reviews of The Color Wheel were very mixed. ‘There’s handmade and then there’s amateurish,’ Shawn Levy concluded in his review for The Oregonian. ‘This, alas, is the latter.’ The New York Times praised it as ‘sly, daring, genuinely original and at times perversely brilliant.’

Generally, I was pretty much hooked myself although the acting, particularly Perry’s, is a little flat and some of the comedy is of the very average sitcom variety.

Carlen Altman and Alex Ross Perry -The Color Wheel 2011

Made in super-grainy black and white, I did wonder why it was titled The Color Wheel. In my first week as a student my class had been forced to paint a color wheel. The main idea behind this being to sear into our collective memories the concept of opposite (complementary) colours.

Color wheels are all about opposites and Colin and JR might see themselves in this way. JR slates Colin for giving up on his dreams of being a writer and taking on a boring job. He criticises her for thinking she’s special when she clearly has no talent and not bothering to work.

They’ve both had a dream, though, and they clearly have much in common, from sharing the same family through to their near-identical misanthropic worldviews.

But the real reason for the title has nothing to do with color wheels. When he began developing a serious interest in cinema, Alex Ross Perry asked his parents what was the first film he’d ever seen. He was told it was The Color Wheel. Fifteen years later he looked up the title on IMDb (Internet Movie Database) and nothing with that name was listed.

He’d wanted entirely original titles for his films, and it sounded like a Philip Roth novel like The Ghost Writer and The Anatomy Lesson, so he adopted the name. Perry’s a big fan of the Pulitzer Prize winning writer and read a number of his novels while working on the screenplay for The Color Wheel.

Now, a word on the poster. The beautifully rendered double portrait is painted in acrylic by Perry’s then partner Anna Bak-Kvapil (now his wife). Anna, incidentally, also played Kim Thomson in the film as well as taking on a number of duties such as set decorator and script supervisor.

The typeface is (or closely resembles) Benguiat Caslon, the go-to serif font in the late 1960s and first half of the 1970s for bestselling books like Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls, Joan Didion’s The White Album and that man Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint (which like The Color Wheel dealt with a controversial subject matter). Here is the poster again together with the first edition cover of the Roth novel.

Portnoy's Complaint & The Color Wheel

I did have a quick look on eBay to see if there were any quad posters up for auction but no luck. A pity. It would have looked great on my bedroom wall.

Finally, here’s the song that plays over the end credits. With its mumblecore feel I half expected something lo-fi and quirky. Wrong.

Released in 1972 on the Cotillion label, this is Chicago’s Patti & The Lovelites with the gorgeous Is That Loving in Your Heart:

Toby Dammit: The Italian Connection #2

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Toby Dammit - Spirits of the Dead

The arrival of a vampiric looking English actor in Rome’s Fiumicino Airport is greeted with paparazzi furiously snapping his picture, their flashbulbs blinding him momentarily. Incandescent with rage, he hurls a suitcase at one, hitting and knocking him to the ground.

The actor is Toby Dammit, a stressed-out and booze-sodden mess, unravelling at an alarming rate.

At the top of an escalator, he sees a vision of a pre-teen girl (Marina Yaru) who looks like she might just have stepped off the set of a much more recent J-Horror chiller. Her skin is every bit as pale as his own and her hair is similarly fair. She says nothing but bounces a white ball.

This is a strikingly strange start to any film but things only get more bizarre as events unfold.

Toby Dammit - Girl

Toby Dammit – now there’s a name I doubt you’ll find in your local phone directory – is played by Terence Stamp, in one of his finest performances. The film is the third segment of an omnibus movie Spirits of the Dead (or in Italian Tre passi nel delirio).

The idea of the work was to have three pieces all related by being based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Originally Orson Welles, Joseph Losey and Luchino Visconti were envisaged to helm the film but in the end Fedirico Fellini, Louis Malle and Roger Vadim did so.

Fellini has been a fan of the American author since childhood, and he considered a couple of stories – The Tell-Tale Heart and Premature Burial – before deciding to adapt the 1841 short story Never Bet the Devil Your Head: A Tale With a Moral. And when I say adapt, I mean adapt in the loosest sense. He updated things to contemporary Italy and reputedly didn’t even read the story before making his film.

It’s not a universally loved collection but Fellini’s entry has picked up a whole lot of praise over the years. It’s easy to see why.

Terence Stamp - Toby Dammit at Film Awards Ceremony

Dammit is in Italy to star in the first ‘Catholic Western’ which seems to be telling the story of a cowboy Christ, its title being Thirty Dollars, which is maybe partly a reference to thirty pieces of silver as well as spaghetti western titles A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. Clint Eastwood incidentally was one of a number of actors considered to play Dammit. I can’t see that having worked.

Thirty Dollars is said to be ‘something between Dreyer and Pasolini, with just a hint of John Ford’ a priest acting as a producer tells Toby. He shows no interest in hearing the details. But he is keen to ask about a promised Ferrari sports car.

His career is on the slide, presumably due to his large intake of drink and he likely sees this as a final payday.

He’s whisked off without warning to a TV studio and grilled on a live talk show with rapidfire questions from a variety of hosts. ‘Do you take LSD or other drugs?’


He’s asked if he believes in God. He doesn’t. He’s asked if he believes in the Devil.

He does.

Toby Dammit - Awards Ceremony

Next up on his itinerary is a glitzy cinema awards ceremony. People tout themselves and family to him hoping he can help their career in some way, though he can’t help himself. There’s a fashion show interlude with models decked out in futuristic space-age fashions that actually scream 1960s.

Award winners deliver the same short acceptance speech. His stand-in enters the venue on horseback. The actor swigs whisky from his oversize hipflask before taking to the stage to recite some lines from Macbeth. This is followed by a very public breakdown.

Toby storms outside and is finally given the keys to the Ferrari. He puts his foot on the accelerator and speeds off irresponsibly with no fixed destination in mind.

On the streets, he sees mannequins of people and knocks one down. His journey must stop temporarily when he reaches a stretch of road before a collapsed bridge. A man in a mask tells him he must take a detour.

I don’t think I’m giving too much away by mentioning that he will once more see the girl with the white ball.

Toby Dammit - Toby in car

Fellini had been seriously ill in the lead up to shooting Toby Dammit. He feared death after being diagnosed with cancer of the pleura but recovered.

From the arrival of Dammit in an airport bathed in an unnatural orange-yellow light until the highly memorable and macabre image that ends the film, Toby Dammit is a disorienting watch. Only 37 minutes long, it resembles some extraordinary, surreal fever dream.

Here’s the trailer for Spirits of the Dead.


Bande à part (Band of Outsiders): New Waves #15

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Bande A Part

This time round one of the best loved movies that starred 1960s cinematic icon Anna Karina. Sadly, Anna died on Saturday, with details of her death being released yesterday.

She’ll be best remembered for her collaborations with one time husband Jean-Luc Godard during the heyday of the Nouvelle Vague such as Une Femme Est Une Femme, Alphaville and Pierrot le Fou but most especially for Bande à part (Band of Outsiders).


‘We had fun. Lots of fun,’ Karina told Jason Solomans in 2016 after a screening of the film at the BFI. ‘I have to say we didn’t think about making great careers or things like that – we just wanted to be actors and play.’

Bande à part was shot quickly and certainly appears playful – even though Karina in reality was in a bad place at this time, suffering from depression. Bande à part looks as spontaneous as just about any movie ever made but this is often an illusion. Seeing for the first time, I might have guessed that the famous dance scene was entirely improvised. It wasn’t. Three weeks of one hour’s dance practice each night preceded Godard shooting it. It was by far the most carefully rehearsed scene in the film.

Godard incidentally claimed to have invented the Madison dance but was lying. It was already a craze in the land of a thousand dances just like the Twist, the Stroll and the Cha-Cha-Cha.

Bande à part can be spontaneous too. It was made cheaply and shot in only 25 days. Godard would write much of his dialogue at the last minute, meaning his actors would not have the time to rehearse as thoroughly as they normally would. Additionally, he would generally insist on only shooting one or two takes.

Released in France during the summer of 1964, Bande à part wasn’t the critical or box-office success that you might have imagined. Godard himself was far from fond of it. Over the years its reputation has grown though, and this owes more than a little to Quentin Tarantino repeatedly talking it up during the 1990s, together with his decision to name his production company Band Apart in homage.

With its range of cinema/literature/pop culture references and in-jokes throughout its ninety minute run time, it’s easy to see why he was such a fan.

Band a Part - Nouvelle Vague

These include the two male leads, Arthur (Claude Brasseur) and Franz (Sami Frey), jokingly re-enacting the gunfight between Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett; Arthur and Odile walking towards the Place de Clichy at night and passing a shop called Nouvelle Vague; and then there’s the man who bills himself here as Jean-Luc Cinéma Godard narrating early on: ‘The story till now, for people who’ve come in late. Three weeks ago… A hoard of money… an English class… a house by the river… a starry-eyed girl.’

If you want more detail, here you go. Odile (Anna Karina) stays with her adoptive aunt in a large, isolated villa on the outskirts of Paris and by a river, obviously. She’s naive and fragile and studies English in a night-school class with Arthur and Franz. Both predictably become besotted with her and continually compete for her affections. She mentions that a man who very occasionally stays at her home Monsieur Stoltz has carelessly stashed a pile of money in the cupboard of his room. Arthur and Franz being petty crooks, begin planning a burglary with her reluctant help.

Arthur, Odile and Franz

Our Band of Outsiders are far from the sleek thieves of many modern Hollywood movies who can audaciously rob casinos and banks with forensically detailed plans and high-tech gadgetry. This trio are incompetent to the extent that they might just manage to bungle taking candy from a baby. It’s probably best if the three people planning a robbery aren’t all part of a love triangle.

Bande à part can be great fun and exhilarating, as when the trio dash around the Louvre in an attempt to break the world record for the fastest time to run through the gallery. It can be melancholic too. ‘People always look sad and unhappy in the Métro,’ Odile observes at one point while sitting on a Métro carriage looking clearly sad and unhappy herself.

Quirky and inventive with well cast leads, this is Godard’s most accessible work along with A Bout de Souffle. The director has spoken of the three characters being equals – hence the rapidfire edits of close-ups of them that introduce the film but Odile is the heart of the film. The camera utterly adores her, just as much as Arthur and Franz do, even when she’s wearing a dowdy coat and looking utterly despondent.

Filming Bande à part proved therapeutic for Karina. She later claimed it saved her. She divorced Godard not long afterwards although she still happily agreed to star in his next film Pierrot le fou and says that this was the most fun she ever had while filming.

Band a Part - The Louvre

Of course, Karina didn’t only make movies with Godard. Over her long career, she also worked with Agnès Varda, Roger Vadim, Jacques Rivette, Volker Schlöndorff, Tony Richardson and Rainer Werner Fassbinder to name only six huge talents.

In 1973, she also made a movie herself, Vivre Ensemble (Living Together) which debuted at Cannes. Victoria was her second and final outing as a director came out in 2008. A French-Canadian musical road movie, she appeared in this one too, her acting swan song.

Anna Karina (Hanne Karin Blarke Bayer): September 1940 – December 2019

Oasis of Fear (The Italian Connection #1)

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Oasis of Fear (Dirty Pictures)

Co-written and directed in 1971 by Umberto Lenzi, this is a film also known as Dirty Pictures or An Ideal Place to Kill.

In the rainy streets of Copenhagen, a young couple run through the city hand in hand accompanied by a breezy and rather cheesy Europop ditty How Can You Live Your Life?

They look fresh, carefree and very much in love. This could be some youth ad from the era. They look so sweet!

Ingrid & Dick - Oasis of Fear.png

Oh wait a minute, this pair of bright young things then enter a sex shop and we learn of their plan to smuggle a stash of legally purchased porn across borders to countries where it remained illegal to finance their cross-continental adventures. Hence the alternative title of Dirty Pictures.

He is Dick Butler (played by Ray Lovelock). She is Ingrid Sjoman (Ornella Muti). Together they scoot around Europe in a zippy wee yellow convertible – decorated with brightly painted flowers – and flog their porn mags.

This is a highly lucrative business. Ingrid is a magnet to every fat lecherous man who strays within gawping distance of her. Of course, they’re only too eager snap up her wares.

Ingrid - Oasis of Fear

The motif of birds is never far away here. This ranges from the patch of a dove sewn over the back of Ingrid’s hotpants outfit through to the couple (or love-birds if you like), dressed in matching white outfits, releasing white doves in a swanky restaurant. ‘We want peace,’ Dick tells his fellow diners. Needless to say, our cut-price John and Yoko are soon kicked out. Why they were let in with so many birds remains a mystery.

They discover they’ve ran out of money but no problemo. They take Polaroids of themselves with no clothes on but this lands them in trouble when Ingrid attempts to sell these to an off-duty cop. They’re arrested and given an exit order. They must leave Italy within 24 hours.

Do they? Nope, our freewheeling duo meet up with some revolutionary bikers, one a budding Evel Knievel. Their new friends invite them to travel with them south to Napoli but steal their cash during the night.

Dick and Ingrid take off again but run out of fuel across from an isolated and luxurious villa – the oasis of the title.

They knock on the door, but the woman inside doesn’t answer. When Dick spots a garage that is open (an unlikely scenario given the way the plot will proceed), the pair push their car into it and then siphon off some petrol from a car already parked there.

This is when we’re introduced properly to Barbara Slesar, played by Irene Papas (Don’t Torture a Duckling, Guns of Navarone). She’s a middle-aged housewife married to a NATO general. She threatens them with the police but then takes pity on them and invites them in for a sandwich.

The free-thinking and feckless youngsters and neurotic socialite find some common ground. Before too long she’s invited them to stay the night. They neck champagne like they’re long lost buddies. Barbara gets up to dance with Dick and there’s definitely an attraction on both sides.


She’s keen to learn more about her guests. Dick recalls to Barbara his first meeting with Ingrid and her feminist friends. ‘They were trying to undress a policeman. I dragged her away just before the paddy wagon arrived.’

‘We’re dedicated missionaries,’ a straight-faced Irene declares to Barbara. ‘Bringing the gospel of sexual freedom to darkest Italy.’

They attempt to come over as amoral in an attempt to épater their bourgeoisie host but she’s not the uptight fuddy-duddy she might superficially appear to be. Even when the pair behave like spoiled children.

This they often do, their antics including Ingrid defacing a painting and scrawling PIG on a mirror with ketchup, an odd echo of the Tate-La Bianca murders, the trial of which was still ongoing as Lenzi was filming.

Let the psychological mind games and sexual shenanigans commence.

Oasis of Fear 1971 Umberto Lenzi

This is one of many films made around this time that sets out to be ‘with it’ but misses the mark with Dick and Ingrid coming across as hip youngsters as imagined by an older man. See also Dracula A.D. 1972.

It does err on the sleazy side but hey, it’s 1970s Italian genre cinema and it’s released by Shameless Screen Entertainment, so no surprise there.

Lenzi could be a stylish and inventive director – look at the crash zooms and spiralling camera angles utilised here – but his main mission was to put bums on seats.

This he succeeded in doing over a long career, dabbling in many genres such as spaghetti westerns, poliziotteschi and gialli. He even claims to have kick-started the Italian cannibal craze with his gory Man From Deep River from 1972.

Oasis of Fear is far from his finest work but it is undoubtedly a fun watch.

Ray Lovelock pursued a career in music in tandem with his acting (that’s him singing the film’s theme song during the opening credits). If you’re wondering about his less than Italian name, he was born in Rome to an Italian mother and English father, who’d met during the Allied occupation of the country during World War II. Strangely enough, he is half-English in the film too, which I suppose explains the union jack jacket.

Here he is with the theme tune of Tonino Cervi’s 1970 film Le Regine. This is We Love You Underground by Ray (credited as Raymond) Lovelock.

Irene Papas also made an impact musically, releasing a number of albums over the years including Odes, a collaboration with Vangelis from 1979. She’ll be best remembered, though, for lending a vocal to Infinity, a track by Vangelis’ first band, Aphrodite’s Child on their 666 album released in 1972.

When I say vocal, it’s more of a chant that includes her laughing, sighing, whispering, panting, braying, squealing and much more before reaching a hysterical orgasmic frenzy. It’s still one of the most controversial tracks ever released in Greece, the nearest that country ever got to a J’taime. It was banned from radio airplay in Greece and the military junta that ran the country at the time must have despised it, especially as Papas was a notable critic of their fascist regime.

Not one that you’d want to play every day but a remarkable listen all the same. This is Infinity (or ∞).

God Speed You! Black Emperor: New Waves #14

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God Speed You! Black Emperor

No, not anything to do with the Montreal post-rock band of the same name, this is the 1976 cult documentary by Mitsuo Yanagimachi that the Canadians took their name from.

Goddo supiido yuu! Burakku emparaa, to give it its Japanese title was director Yanagimachi’s debut feature length film. It was produced by his own independent production company, Purodakushon Gunrō.

Shot in 16mm monochrome, it examines a young Japanese biker gang and opens bang in the middle of a confrontation between the Black Emperors and the cops. The young bikers – or bōsōzoku, as motorbike gangs are known as locally – heavily outnumber them, so this is relatively easy.

Bōsōzoku roughly translates as ferocious speed tribes but ferocious might not be a word that would spring to mind in describing the young men here.

Gang names tend to be things like Pants and Vagabond and Beggar and at one point mention is made of a rival gang called the Pink Panthers. Not names that would even strike terror into the hearts of a bunch of bingo playing grannies.

God Speed You! Black Emperor - Bike

Decko claims to be their leader and to live in a tunnel. Cut to him eating breakfast and watching television in what I’d guess is his parents’ kitchen in a long block of brutalist apartments.

Education was never a priority for these bikers. One even claims he never went to school but it’s probably best not to believe everything they say. Teenage bravado is never far away as we observe them planning rides or discussing the future of their gang.

These bikers resemble their Western counterparts in many respects but there are just as many differences. For starters they have a very different look. While Hell’s Angels at this time favoured long hair and black leather, the Bōsōzoku often have short hair or pompadour cuts and nearly all shun leather. Rather than helmets they wear hachimaki headbands, the gang name written in English rather than Kanji, with a swastika decorating the space between Black and Emperors.

Maybe like earlier Hell’s Angels or early punks in London around the same time, this was adopted to piss off the older generation rather than as a way to signal their political allegiances. Maybe not, the swastika in Japan has many positive connotations and is commonly used on maps to denote Buddhist temples although with the upcoming Olympic games being held in Tokyo, this is to be phased out. I digress.

Anyway, the Black Emperors love being anti-social. They rev their engines at every available opportunity, the motorcycle’s roar being their favourite sound, possibly because it infuriates large sections of the public. Ditto tooting their motorbike horns.

They show off while riding en masse, swaying their bikes as they ride and weaving from one side of the road to the other. They get high. They fight. They goof around while listening to a morbid pop song on the radio.

If they watched the Roger Corman flick The Wild Angels, you could bet your bottom yen that they’d collectively nod their heads in agreement with the sentiment of Peter Fonda’s declaration: ‘We wanna be free. We wanna be free to do what we wanna do. And we wanna get loaded. And we wanna have a good time.’

Some Bosozuku

Not that being in the gang is always a blast. Problems surface with parents and court appearances are always a possibility. Even among their own numbers, punishment beatings are common enough if a member is perceived to have broken gang rules. This takes in slaps, kicks and forced eyebrow shavings rather than the sort of gruesome retributions portrayed in Sons of Anarchy.

Although quitting the gang isn’t approved of, I’m guessing that rather than adhering to the biker code for life like many in the West, these youngsters were only seeking some camaraderie, rebellion and a sense of freedom before adulthood in the shape of marriage and responsibilities beckoned.

In Tokyo, when Yanagimachi was shooting his documentary, the Bōsōzoku were much more common than they are today. In Japan around this time home grown biker flicks were proving very successful at the box-office, with 1975’s Bakuhatsu! Bōsōzoku (Detonation! Violent Riders) starring Sonny Chiba being one of the most popular. And you just know with that title, this has to be something everybody should see. Numbers swelled as the film craze peaked.

Almost forty-five years on, they’re a vanishing breed.

Black Emperor's Rally

God Speed You! Black Emperor is slowly paced to the extent that modern viewers may judge that some scenes drag on. There’s no huge climax or revelation like so many documentaries today. At times the sound of camera whirr is clear and in the version I watched, the subtitles are poor. But it’s highly watchable. A fascinating glimpse into a world I knew little about.

This is one of the last films to be classified as Japanese New Wave, along with Nagisa Oshima’s controversial In the Realm of the Senses – aka Ai No Corrida. Both released in 1976.

Japan’s ‘Nuberu Bagu’ kicked off around the same time as France’s Nouvelle Vague but lasted longer and judging by those two films, rather than fizzling out, it ended on a real high.

The Leather Boys (1964)

If you like God Speed You! Black Emperor, then you might also like The Leather Boys. It was made in 1964, as the mods versus rockers feud was making front page news in Britain with the two competing groups being seen as the country’s latest folk devils.

It’s the only British new wave film to focus on youth culture – and would make a great double bill with Quadrophenia. I do much prefer the ‘mod’ film, although The Leather Boys is more authentic. The Ace Cafe in North West London, for example, is an important location. This was where many real Rockers spent time drinking coffee, smoking and spinning the likes of Gene Vincent on the jukebox, with rows of Triumph and Norton bikes parked outside. Many of the extras you see are real ton-up boys and director Sidney J. Furie was keen to ask them for their advice on the rocker way of life.

Lead leather boy Colin Campbell featured on the covers of a couple of releases by The Smiths and snippets from the film were superimposed over Morrissey in the video for Girlfriend in a Coma. Doubtless the singer was attracted to the film as he’s such a fan of British movies of this era and The Leather Boys, like A Taste of Honey and The L-Shaped Room, also features a gay character – a relative rarity in the first half of the 1960s.

Campbell died last year, and a convoy of bikers who were Ace Cafe regulars joined the funeral cortege of the London born actor.

Finally, some music from the band God Speed You! Black Emperor. This is East Hastings as used in the soundtrack of 28 Days Later, a movie made when Danny Boyle was taking risks rather than directing cosy high concept cop-outs like Yesterday.

My Little Red Book (Soundtrack Sundays)

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My Little Red Book x 3

I’m guessing it must have been a big deal to Manfred Mann to get the chance to record a Burt Bacharach/Hal David song for What’s New, Pussycat? This big budget comedy extravaganza starred Peter O’Toole, Peter Sellers, and more fantastic looking women than just about any movie I can think of.

Always destined to be one of the most heavily hyped comedies of the 1960s, the buzz around it was also aided by the success of the theme tune with those swashbuckling vocals by Tom Jones, whoa, oh whoa, oh whoa, oh whoa. Sorry that should really have been WHOA, OH WHOA, OH WHOA, OH WHOA! (no holding back there, Tom). This was a sizeable hit on both sides of the Atlantic and earned a nomination for an Oscar in the Best Original Song, albeit it didn’t win.

Manfred Mann’s My Little Red Book on the other hand was a minor hit at best. In the film, it follows a snatch of a slowed down instrumental take of the tune that bears more than a passing resemblance to the theme song of grimy British sitcom Steptoe and Son. My Little Red Book then soundtracks Peter O’Toole’s Michael grooving with Paula Prentiss’ Liz in a Parisian club, while being spied on by Doctor Fassbender, played by Peter Sellers in a terrible wig and a red velvet Austin Powers suit. Come to think of it, didn’t Bacharach appear in the Powers movies?

What's New Pussycat - Peter O'Toole & Paula Prentiss

If you think the piano sounds as if Bacharach could be playing it, then you’re correct.

As the band began their recording session in Abbey Road’s Studio 2, Burt Bacharach dropped by accompanied by then partner Angie Dickinson. The thought of the consummately gifted songwriter and beautiful actress watching on combined with the clock ticking in the studio, made the keyboard man more than a wee bit nervous. After failing to nail his piano part a number of times, Burt suggested he play along with him. This didn’t go quite to plan either. As Manfred explains it: ‘Burt looks thoughtful, and after a pause, with tact and crushing sympathy says: “Manfred why don’t I play it and you tell me what you think?” ‘

Manfred thinks he won’t better it. So it is Burt on the piano that is used on the single and original soundtrack. Not that Bacharach was ever that keen on that version. ‘It’s just a very nervous sounding record, he once told Ken Sharp in a Record Collector interview. ‘They were uncomfortable with that song.’

Manfred Mann re-recorded the track for their Little Red Book of Winners album, improving it with added flute, a very prominent Hammond organ and more passionate delivery from Paul Jones.

Burt meanwhile put out his own version on the B-side of his take on What’s New Pussycat? Released under the moniker of Burt Bacharach & His Orchestra featuring Tony Middleton, I do love those glorious horns, bombastic drums and Middleton’s flamboyant vocals which soar wonderfully at one point. I bet you could spin this on a Northern Soul night and fill the dance floor.

What’s New, Pussycat? proved to be one of the highest grossing movies of 1965 and one of the most popular comedies that had ever been released (although I’ve never been a huge fan myself, it does have its moments but just tries too hard for my liking).

Arthur Lee of Love was one of the many cinema-goers to see it. He taught his band the song from his memory of it at the cinema, and he struggled to remember it entirely accurately. The track lost Bacharach’s sophistication, but gained a jerky garage band stomp and urgency. Wow, does that bass throb.

On the original, Jones didn’t sound emotionally shattered. Lee does.

Chosen to open the LA quintet’s eponymous debut album in 1966, the track was also issued as a single (and decades later was included on the end credits of High Fidelity).

So how did Burt regard this one?

‘There were a couple of chords that were wrong and it would have been better with the right chords,’ he complained in the same Record Collector interview quoted earlier. ‘But I liked their energy on the song and I liked that it was a hit.’

Here they are playing on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand:

Finally, Interstellar Overdrive. Why? Believe it or not the seeds of this psychedelic freakout originated when Syd Barrett heard early Pink Floyd manager Pete Jenner humming Little Red Book – which Jenner only half-remembered and couldn’t remember the name of. Guitar in hand, Syd began strumming along. So was born the principle melody of a track that became a live favourite of the Barrett-led band. And we all know this was the peak of Pink Floyd, don’t we?

I do find it amusing that, even unknowingly, the madcap young prince of London’s lysergic underground scene created this psychedelic freakout via a tune penned by the bow-tie wearing smoothie king of easy listening.

Not that the two songs sound alike.

Here’s a snippet of Interstellar Overdrive live at what looks like a quiet night at the UFO Club in 1967. Had all the regulars had taken off on the hippy trail to India or Tibet to find themselves by this point?

Scott Derrickson chose Interstellar Overdrive to feature on the soundtrack of his film Doctor Strange, which I haven’t seen and have little desire to ever see.

What’s Up Pussycat? is released on blu-ray by Eureka Masters of Cinema on 02/12/19. For more on the film: https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/whats-new-pussycat/