It’s a Bikini World (Soundtrack Sundays #6)

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The Castaways: Liar, Liar (1965)
The Animals: We Gotta Get out of This Place (1965)

With its inspired combination of falsetto and Farfisa, The Castaways’ Liar, Liar is one of the great American garage band hits of its era. It also has a zingy guitar lick and one of the best screams in 1960s rock’n’roll.

I first came across the track on the Nuggets compilation that Lenny Kaye assembled in 1972 and since then it has also appeared on a number of soundtracks, including Animal House, Good Morning, Vietnam and the hugely over-rated Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Before all that, Liar, Liar was performed live (well, supposedly live) on It’s a Bikini World, where The Castaways play it for the audition of a potential new go-go dancer for nightclub owner Daddy’s club The Dungeon, Daddy being played by Sid Haig, who later appeared in both Foxy Brown and Jackie Brown, both of which I covered last week.

Did she get the job? You bet she did!

It's a Bikini World

It’s a Bikini World belongs in the category of the beach party movie – or beachploitation or surfploitation if you prefer. This kind of film is generally far too frothy and wholesome for my tastes with all that sunshine and all those Dennis Wilson lookalikes with six packs and tanned Californian girls with gleaming smiles.

All these decades later, it’s odd to think of young people excitedly queuing up to see It’s Bikini World, Beach Ball (Haig was in that one too), Beach Blanket Bingo or Surf Party. Then again the same could be said in 2018 for Ant-Man and The Wasp and all the other blockbuster garbage currently clogging up the country’s multiplexes.

Here beach queen Deborah Walley stars along with Tommy Kirk and Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett of Monster Mash fame. Tommy Kirk’s opinion of the film? Well, he admitted to Filmfax magazine: ‘It was one of the worst pieces of shit that I’ve ever been in my life.’

Yes, it’s about as much fun as a wet Thursday in Thurso but director Stephanie Rothman, a protege of Roger Corman, does at least inject a little feminism into its bad battle of the sexes sitcom plot with a female lead character who is far from the passive norm of the beach movie.

Clearly though the main reason for watching It’s a Bikini World is for the music. In addition to The Castaways, girl group The Toys perform Attack!, a minor hit in the States, while The Animals, play We Gotta Get Out of This Place with Eric Burdon looking like getting out of this place was exactly what he wanted to do while lip-synching to the track at the Dungeon. I use the term lip-synching loosely.

Although shot in 1965, It’s a Bikini World wasn’t released until 1967, by which time biker and hippie flicks had began to supersede all the lightweight beach related bunkum. Suddenly young people with long hair in denim and leather took centre-stage and, unlike the ‘clean teens’ they liked to smoke, drink and have sex, as well as tuning in, turning on and dropping out. Characters that wanted to be free. Free to do what they wanted to do. Who wanted to get loaded and have a good time.

Oh, I feel a review of The Wild Angels coming on sometime soon.

For the It’s a Bikini World trailer, click here.

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A Pam Grier Double Bill (Foxy Brown & Jackie Brown)

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Foxy Brown & Jackie Brown.jpg

Pam Grier’s two big 1970s career highpoints were Coffy and Foxy Brown and it’s easy if you haven’t seen both movies in years to confuse them. Both are blaxploitation revenge fantasies. Both are directed by Jack Hill with the Grier characters kicking ass throughout as they take on local drug pushers, pimps and crime lords. In both Grier poses as a high-class hooker as part of her strategy to gain some serious payback against those who have wronged her and her community. In Coffy she hides razor blades in her afro and then a small gun in Foxy Brown. That’s right, a small gun.

Foxy Brown is now the better-known film, largely because of the iconic name and the whole Jackie Brown thang, Quentin Tarantino giving several nods to Foxy in his third feature film. Just look at the typeface on those records pictured above for starters.

Coffy likely edges it as the superior movie, but Foxy is a whole lot of fun, more cartoon-like and more outrageous with a great arch nemesis in Miss Katherine Wall (Kathryn Loder), the unlikely head of the syndicate that controls the city’s drug trade.

It also has a much more dynamic opening credits sequence, blazing with pop art colours and accompanied by a track from under-rated Motown artist Willie Hutch. Here is Theme From Foxy Brown:

Based on Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, Jackie Brown still displays Tarantino’s effortless directorial pizzazz but this is a more nuanced and mature film than his previous high-octane trademark style might have led us to expect with only a fraction of the fireworks of Pulp Fiction.

Like that film, though, its dialogue flows like Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day, an intricate plot requiring you to pay close attention – don’t even think about checking your phone until the end credits roll – and, the soundtrack is top-notch, albeit more subdued than had been the case in before on Planet Quentin with no totally unexpected, stop you in your tracks moment like Little Green Bag or Stuck in the Middle with You in Reservoir Dogs.

Instead we are treated to some high class soul and funk including Across 110th Street by Bobby Womack (borrowed from Barry Shear’s blaxploitation crime drama of the same name from 1972), The Johnson Brothers’ Strawberry Letter 23 and The Meters’ Cissy Strut, one of the finest songs to ever emerge from that great musical city New Orleans:

Like Tarantino’s previous work, Jackie Brown also boasts a fantastic ensemble cast.

Here Pam Grier is Jackie Brown rather than Foxy (although she is still plenty foxy in the looks department). She’s is in her mid-40s and works as a flight attendant for the Mexican equivalent of Easyjet. To supplement her meagre wages, she smuggles money from Mexico in to L.A. for gun-runner Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson), a motormouth with a long ponytail and a little braided goatee, straight out of a Shaw Brothers’ chop socky flick. Ordell is equal parts charming and psychopathically ruthless.

Bridget Fonda plays his girlfriend Melanie, a full-time stoner, who, for a while at least, seems to enjoy hanging out with schubbly ex-con Louis (Robert De Niro), Ordell’s dim-witted but hot-tempered partner in crime.

Briefly we are even treated to three of my favourite actors sharing screentime together: Samuel L. Jackson. Robert De Niro and Pam Grier.

Anchoring the drama, though, is Robert Forster as world-weary bail bondsman Max Cherry, who develops a crush on Jackie (and a love of The Delfonics through her).

There’s one scene where he visits Jackie’s place and she sticks on a vinyl copy of The Delfonics’ self-titled third album, placing the needle on Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time). Max doesn’t recognise the track and asks if she hasn’t got into ‘the whole CD revolution.’ Jackie replies she has a few: ‘But I can’t afford to start all over again. I got too much time and money invested in my records.’

Later Max buys a cassette copy of The Delfonics’ album in a store and their music seems to symbolize his growing fondness for Jackie. Strange to think that for a time around twenty years ago, cassette tapes had somehow seemed to have outlived vinyl.

Jackie Brown has been called the last great crime movie of the 1990s but just as memorable is the poignant (potential) relationship between two characters who have, between them, lived on the planet for the grand total of one hundred years.

The chemistry between Grier and Forster is remarkable and the fact that Grier’s biggest successes had come almost a quarter of a century beforehand, while Forster was still best known for his role in 1969’s Medium Cool provided further proof that early period Tarantino possessed an exquisite talent for the kind of imaginative casting capable of resurrecting careers.

From Philly, another fine music city, here are The Delfonics with the soft soul classic Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time):

For more on Quentin Tarantino: https://www.tarantino.info/

A Blaxploitation Double Bill (Black Caesar & Hell Up in Harlem)

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Black Caesar& Hell Up in Harlem

Directed by Larry Cohen in 1973, Black Caesar was a classic rise and fall of a gangster tale, whose structure borrowed more than a little from Little Caesar.

It proved a huge hit with Blaxploitation fans. Some NYC cinemas ran the film almost continuously all day long. Even during the freezing cold of a Big Apple winter, film-goers were prepared to queue round the block for a chance to see it when it first hit screens early 1973.

They loved the action, filmed with a high-octane pizzazz by Cohen. They loved Fred Williamson’s charisma in the lead role of Tommy Gibbs, a man who works his way up from ghetto kid to Harlem’s Gangsta Number 1. They also loved the soundtrack supplied by the Godfather of Soul Mr James Brown.

The accompanying album is uneven but tracks like The Boss and Make It Good To Yourself are among the most infuriatingly funky tracks to appear on any slice of soul cinema. Here is James Brown with one of the most sampled songs ever recorded:

Such was the box office success of Black Caesar that American International Pictures demanded a follow-up ASAP and Cohen was roped in to craft a sequel.

Hell Up in Harlem? Well, it’s a mess in places, oozing with cliches and a plot that you might imagine was made up as the filmmakers went along.

In reality it was.

The circumstances behind the making of the movie were far from ideal. Cohen had to film it while he was also making It’s Alive! for Warner Bros.
Not only that but Fred Williamson could only participate at weekends as he was shooting That Man Bolt for Universal on Monday through to Fridays.
A logistical nightmare. Many of the same crew were employed on both films and sometimes, presumably when Williamson’s body double was being utilised, shooting on both projects took place on the same day.

It’s little wonder that the movie makes little sense at times. There are some batshit crazy moments and inconsistencies. Be warned: your suspension of disbelief must be extraordinary if you are to enjoy the film without questioning its plot.

Just take the accelerated character arc of Tommy’s father, Papa Gibbs. In record breaking time he moves from an ageing, benign and law-abiding citizen to badass crime boss, ditching his shirt and tie along the way and embracing some peacock pimp chic threads.

Despite having avoided his own boy for years on end, the suddenly judgmental old hypocrite takes a sadistic glee in banning his son’s ex-Helen from ever seeing her children again, claiming she’s a bad mother.

And I should explain, I literally mean a bad mother and not the kind of bad mother James Brown sings about in The Boss.

Another problem was the soundtrack.

Unbeknown to the AIP bosses, James Brown had messed up the lengths of music required despite being given a print of the picture and exact timings for each of the scenes where his input was required. A music editor had to be brought on board to help Cohen cut and edit each and every music cue until they could fit with the scene. Not an easy task.

AIP were unaware of this and happily hired Brown to score another of their movies, Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off.

Again the Godfather of Soul messed up his timings but didn’t have Cohen to cover up his mistake this time around.

AIP were so pissed off that they refused to use him again and considered legal action against him. Despite this, Brown created another spec score but although Larry Cohen rated it, AIP still wouldn’t use it. These tracks ended up on The Payback, a #1 on the soul charts and his only album to be certified gold.

Luckily, since the success of Isaac Hayes’ influential score for Shaft, followed by Curtis Mayfield’s amazing job on Super Fly, just about every major soul artist was all too keen to jump on board the blaxploitation bandwagon.

Edwin Starr was invited to supply a score. And Edwin certainly delivered. Presumably with the correct timings.

Sampled by Ice-T on 1988’s High Rollers, this is Easin’ In:

For more on Larry Cohen: http://www.larrycohenfilmmaker.com/

Permissive (Seedy Sex & Suicide in Post-Psych London)

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Permissive_Quad__Poster

Firstly, a quiz question.

Which member of a highly successful Scottish act played a leading role in British film Permissive in 1970?

Clue: The band he is synonymous with are represented in the current Rip It Up exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Further clue: The same bands’ biggest hit reached the top ten in Britain and America.

Answer: Alan Gorrie of The Average White Band.

*

The permissive society is one of those terms you hear very rarely these days. In the 1970s, though, many a moralist was scandalised by the idea of the filth being peddled by the likes of pop stars and the gutter press.

Watching this depressing drama, you may wonder if the Daily Mail readers and Mary Whitehouse types had a point.

Made at the height of the groupie phenomenon, when Bebe Buell, Sable Starr and Pamela Des Barres were names known to every rock fan, despite them having never played a note, Permissive is an unusual example of the then fashionable youth culture movie.

Directed by British based Canadian Lindsay Shonteff, Permissive tells the story of Suzy (Maggie Stride), a mousy and innocent provincial gal who arrives in a very grey London. Here she hooks up with her pal Fiona (Gay Singleton), although Fiona is about to hit the road with hairy arsed rockers Forever More, whose singer (and bassist) Lee is played by Gorrie. Fiona being Lee’s ‘old lady’.

Maggie Stride - Permissive

Not allowed to join them, Suzy wanders the streets with homeless hippy busker Pogo, a highly irritating religious obsessive. ‘God is uptight, man,’ he declares during an unofficial sermon from the pulpit of a near empty church, before giving his none too original thoughts on war and inequality. Thankfully he is quickly arrested and then killed off almost arbitrarily in a car accident. The good Lord giveth and the good lord taketh away.

After his death, Suzy takes her first steps in the highly competitive groupie scene. She ditches her duffel coat and starts to wear more fashionable glad rags like a bright maxi-dress and bippity-bopitty hat. She also embraces her inner bitch and slowly wins acceptance into the Forever More clique.

Shot very naturalistically on a budget of around £20,000, Permissive is pessimistic as hell and isn’t much of a fun watch in any way. It does, though, present what I would guess is a pretty authentic portrait of a time when the sixties dream was disappearing fast even though many might have refused to admit it.

Suzy Superscrew was one title touted for the film and if any dirty old man had headed along to his local fleapit picture house on the basis of that sensationalist name then they would have left disappointed. Any sex here is dull. ‘Two minutes and 52 seconds of squelching’ to borrow a phrase later used by Johnny Rotten. The bands exploit females and the females – who happily backstab each other to protect their position in the groupie pecking order – are only too keen to give them what they want.

Why they should do so I have little idea, Forever More are far from the rock royalty of the day. Rather than the champagne, cocaine and private jet lifestyle of a Led Zep, this is more a pint of bitter in a dimpled glass, a badly rolled joint and trips across the country in a cramped Ford Transit van.

Alan Gorrie - Permissive

The film’s music has its fans although I’m not really one of them. In addition to Forever More, cult acid-folk band Comus (who Stuart Maconie recently raved about on his Freakshow, and who were once given a residency at David Bowie’s Beckenham Arts Lab) provide a pretty good opening title theme and some other incidental music. There’s also a very forgettable act Titus Groan, who appear briefly onstage too.

Here I should point out that Forever More were a real band. Post-psych longhairs they were a very average white band specialising in very interminably long bluesy numbers. They recorded a couple of albums, Yours and Words on Black Plastic, for RCA which I have no desire to ever seek out.

Alan Gorrie definitely made a good move getting the funk and forming AWB in 1972 along with former Forever More bandmate Onnie McIntyre.

Gorrie’s acting skills are limited but I’ve witnessed many worse performances from musicians over the years. Most of the acting here is mediocre at best although Maggie Stride does a solid enough job as Suzy and Gilbert Wynne as sleazy manager Jimi also impresses.

This was Gorrie’s one and only appearance on celluloid but he did go on to compose and perform the scores for two further Shonteff films, The Yes Girls from 1971 and 1972’s The Fast Kill.

Strangely enough, Permissive, despite all the negatives I’ve listed, is a fascinating watch in places, especially if you have an interest in the Britain of the 1970s.

I’m guessing the editor had paid close attention to Performance, when deciding to add a number of ominous flash-forwards. One near the very start of the film that looks like a suicide. A touch that really sets the tone for one of the bleakest films ever made with a rock background.

If Ken Loach had ever directed a sexploitation film it might have resembled this.

For more on Permissive: https://www.bfi.org.uk/blu-rays-dvds/permissive

Dressed to Kill & Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!

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Dressed to Kill

My Italian soundtrack composer kick is ongoing. Over the past few nights I’ve been listening to Pino Donaggio, whose soundtrack career started with his haunting score for Don’t Look Now, before he forged a close collaboration with Brian De Palma. Over the years he’s supplied the music for many of that director’s films including Carrie, Body Double and Blow Out.

Before all that, though, Pino Donaggio penned a tune that became one of the great pop classics of the 1960s, Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te).

This song reached the top of the Italian charts in the Spring of 1965 and was also featured in Luchino Visconti’s award winning film Vaghe stelle dell’Orsa, which is sometimes known as Sandra, or in Britain, Of These Thousand Pleasures.

You might not think you know the tune from its Italian title, but you do and you most likely adore it, believe me, believe me! You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, as it was renamed with newly coined English language lyrics, becoming a British number one in Britain for Dusty Springfield in the Spring of 1966.

Italians Do It Better? Not on this particular occasion, this being one of the relatively few tracks where a cover version far surpasses the original. Here is Pino Donaggio anyway, performing the song on Italian TV.

Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill proved one of the most critically divisive movies of the 1980s. The movie is heavily influenced by Hitchcock’s Psycho and Italian Gialli movies – for starters, there’s a razor wielding killer in disguise, brutal murders and a pair of amateur sleuths, in this case the unlikely pairing of a nerdy and inventive Harry Potter lookalike and a high-end hooker.

The film is far from perfect – even when it was first released I found the whodunnit element easy to solve and Nancy Allen’s acting veers towards the flat but Dressed to Kill certainly grips you and, as always with De Palma, there are many virtuoso touches to enjoy. The long and wordless sequence in the museum is extraordinary, unpredictable and utterly dreamlike and brilliantly complemented by Pino Donaggio’s wonderful score.

The movie’s main theme accompanies the famous opening shower scene (where we see parts of Angie Dickinson’s body that I don’t remember ever seeing on Police Woman). Okay, it was actually a body double.

Donaggio’s music here is sumptuous and might come over as sentimental and even a little sickly but together with the visuals, it provides the ideal suspenseful counterpoint to a scene that makes for increasingly uneasy viewing.

Finally, some more music by another Italian maestro of scoring, Signore Berto Pisano.

From the soundtrack of a Italian/German/Spanish co-production from 1971, Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! that starred James Mason and Jean Seberg, this is a superb slice of bossa nova grooviness featuring that sometimes soaring, otherworldly soprano of Edda Dell’orso.

Another track that Stereolab would love, this is Kill (to Jean):

The Return of Django (& A World Cup Rant)

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Last year on Twitter, Yoko Ono asked the question: Who will win the World Cup? Her answer being, ‘the child who believes in a peaceful world.’

I can never muster up any enthusiasm for football nowadays and haven’t watched a single game but would guess if this child had been in Scotland’s qualifying group, the probability is that Scotland would taken an early lead, before being pegged back immediately and eventually beaten by a last-gasp free kick into the corner of the Hampden net.

It’s just been announced that the next World Cup in Qatar will be played in November/December of 2022 and I’d guess Scotland will once again fail to qualify for this.

You may say I’m a dreamer but I would actually like if the Scottish footballing authorities declared they were refusing to even take part in any qualifying campaign for this corrupt event.

A line has to drawn somewhere and I’d draw it at staging football’s biggest tournament in a undemocratic land where where gay sex is punishable by jail, the stoning of women is legal and where hundreds of migrant workers drop dead each year as they work on construction projects including the building of new stadiums to host the World Cup.

Back in 1977, the SFA were invited to play a friendly as part of a South American tour at the National Stadium in the Chilean capital of Santiago. Four years earlier the country’s dictator General Pinochet had rounded up scores of innocent Chileans for the purpose of brutally torturing and killing them in the very same stadium. Despite this, Scotland’s footballing blazers agreed to the invitation, the resulting match being dubbed the ‘match of shame’.

The chances of the SFA doing the right thing this time around?

About the same as making money from Yoko Ono’s football tips.

*

Anyway, so what have I been up to while half the world has been glued to the coverage of the current World Cup?

Well, watching a lot of Italian cinema has taken up a big chunk of my time. Since the war, Italy has given the world a succession of critically adored directors like Pasolini, Antonioni and Visconti. They’ve also produced some of the planet’s best genre movies, especially in the wake of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, which ushered in a mad period when Italy was making more westerns than Hollywood.

After the success of Sergio Corbucci’s classic Django, there was maybe even a time when there were more spaghetti westerns with the name Django in the title being made than Hollywood westerns, most only based loosely on the coffin-dragging drifter of the original. Django Shoots First; Don’t Wait, Django! Shoot!; Django Kills Slowly; Django the Bastard and Viva! Django. I could go on. And on.

I’m guessing Italian film copyright law wasn’t stringently enforced back in the day.

Lee Scratch Perry was obviously a fan and here he is with The Upsetters on one of the most irresistible slices of ska ever recorded, The Return of Django:

Bizarrely enough the only official Django sequel came out in 1987, long after the Italian western craze had petered out, although a few years ago it was reported that we might yet see Franco Nero return again as Django,  with speculation surfacing about the actor reprising his iconic role for a third and final time in a movie taking place around fifty years after the events of the original.

Of course, Nero did also turn up in Tarantino’s Django Unchained for a cameo where he asks Jamie Foxx’s Django his name and asks if he can spell it.

‘D.J.A.N.G.O. The D is silent.’

From Django Unchained (but originally used on His Name Was King in 1971), this is Luis Bacalov & Edda Dell’Orso:

For more on Qatar, and the Independent newspaper’s campaign against modern day slavery, click here.

 

Dirty Angels

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Vergogna Schifosi

Tonight, the perfect accompaniment to relaxing in your deckchair on a sunny early evening and sipping a chilled glass of Buckardi (that’s equal measures of Buckfast and Bacardi with slightly less ginger ale).

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!

More Morricone in the near future, folks.

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