Home

White Bird in A Blizzard (Soundtrack Sundays)

1 Comment

Last week saw the release of the Mockingbird Love EP, four new tracks by former Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie. They’re all predictably good and conjure up many of those adjectives that critics love to use to describe his former band’s music. Celestial, spellbinding and ethereal for starters.

By a wee coincidence, I finally got round to watching Gregg Araki’s White Bird in A Blizzard from 2014 on the night before I became aware of the Guthrie release.

Sometimes the right piece of music can really set you up for a film. And Sea, Swallow Me by The Cocteau Twins and Harold Budd worked the trick for me here. A perfect mood setter, with Budd’s exquisite soft pedal piano complementing the band perfectly.

You can always rely on Araki for some solid soundtrack choices. He’s one of those American directors like Richard Kelly with a thing for what might loosely be described as British alternative music of the 1980s. It’s easy to imagine rows of shoegaze albums in his record collection, together with everything ever released by New Order, The Jesus and Mary Chain and, of course, The Cocteau Twins. In White Bird in a Blizzard, those three acts are joined by The Psychedelic Furs, Talk Talk, Echo and The Bunnymen, Everything But The Girl and others, while Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd also provide some incidental music.

Unfortunately, after having my hopes built up, it turned out that the music is much better than the film as a whole.

Set in suburban America from 1988 to the early 1990s, White Bird in a Blizzard is the story of 17-year-old Kat, played by Shailene Woodley, who comes home from school one afternoon to be told by a pensive father (Christopher Meloni) that her mother Eve (Eva Green) has gone. She’s been threatening to leave him for years, and he doesn’t reckon she will be coming back any time soon.

This isn’t the devastating blow that you might assume for Kat. Through a series of voice-overs and flashbacks, we learn that Eve was never mother of the year material. Or wife of the year material either. Once, her parents had been ‘the quintessential American couple’ – although Eve’s accent is more Paris than Paris, Texas – but it didn’t take long for their marriage to turn sour, with Eve treating her husband like a doormat and Kat not much better. In one particularly disturbing episode a raging Eve wakes her in the middle of the night to grill her on her sex life.

Kat is said to physically resemble her mother, and Eve is becoming inordinately jealous of her daughter’s youthfulness and potential future. She also doesn’t make much of an effort to disguise her sexual interest in Kat’s boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez) and her behaviour becomes increasingly irrational and her skirts progressively shorter, the longer Kat dates him.

‘Not bad for 42,’ a boozed-up Eve boasts one night to the young couple as she stumbles down into the cellar wearing a skimpy outfit. And yep, she certainly hadn’t scrubbed up too badly.

Like Eve, the film gets a little irrational too. Looking like the sort of thing you might expect to see on some porno website where a young man is employed to deliver pizzas (not that I watch that type of thing, honestly!), the scene featuring a barechested Phil in shorts searching for his mother’s cat as Eve sunbathes in her swimsuit is unintentionally funny.

With Eve still untraceable and Phil showing more interest in gaming and ganja than in having sex with her, Kat’s suspicions about the two maybe having had a thing surface, though not to that great an extent, with Kat maintaining a kind of ‘whatever’ attitude to her mother’s disappearance for much of the movie. And if she doesn’t give a shit about the vanishing act, why should we?

Despite this, she agrees to her dad’s idea that she sees a therapist, played by Angela ‘right here, right now’ Bassett. Kat’s voice-over reveals that she feels ‘feels like an actress playing myself’, while Dr. Thaler reminds her ‘of an actress playing a therapist.’ Bassett reminded me of an actress that deserved a better role.

Lines of dialogue might be clunky and draw attention to themselves, but there are pluses. With some striking dream sequences, the film strays into David Lynch territory and Laura Palmer herself (Sheryl Lee) appears briefly as the new woman in Kat’s father’s life. Of course, Kat has no problems with this turn of events. Initially at least.

Shailene Woodley and Christopher Meloni both put in impressive enough performances and Eva Green does a great line in unhinged, although that accent of hers really should have been explained. Ultimately, the film is a disappointment but one that was still worth a watch.

One huge revelation late on, which is difficult to buy into, is delivered by a voice-over (Araki obviously isn’t a believer in the old screenwriting maxim ‘show don’t tell’) and this is immediately followed by a flashback, though not a flashback of Kat’s, which explains the disappearance with a twist ending that was even more difficult to buy into due to a lack of any real clues given. Not only that but the fact that it was never revealed whether Kat was aware of these events did niggle at me.

*

Here’s another of those inspired Araki soundtrack choices. Sung by Gordon (now Cindy) Sharp, formerly of The Freeze and an old pal of The Cocteaus, this is Fond Affections from This Mortal Coil’s 1984 collection It’ll End in Tears (the video is unofficial in case you’re wondering):

Finally, back to Robin Guthrie, whose new album Pearldiving should be out next month on Soleil Après Minuit. For the time being, here’s Copper, the opening track on the aforementioned Mockingbird Love EP:

For more on Robin Guthrie:

https://www.facebook.com/robinguthrieofficial/

https://robinguthrie.bandcamp.com/

A Scottish Post-Punk Top Ten

4 Comments

As promised, my ten favourite Scottish post-punk tracks – or at least ten tracks that could be categorised as post-punk – in no particular order and with pretty much random thoughts on each, although I will go into much more detail on some of these songs in my Independent Scotland series in the weeks and months to come.

Scars: Horrorshow (1979)

When this was released I had read but hadn’t yet seen A Clockwork Orange. Hearing Horrorshow only made me want to see it even more although post-Kubrick’s death when it was re-released in cinemas I was almost inevitably disappointed by the film. Fantastic as it was in places, even its hyper-stylised ultraviolence failed to match the chilling intensity of this track, which is arguably the best record ever put out by a Scottish band.

Josef K: Sorry For Laughing (1981)

Although some could make a convincing claim for this track written by Paul Haig and Malcolm Ross and released by Belgian label Les Disques Du Crépuscule early in 1981.


The Associates: White Car in Germany (1981)

Wondering how Billy Mackenzie managed to achieve the particular vocal sound on this track? According to Alan Rankine in Simon Reynold’s book Totally Wired, he sang through greaseproof paper and a comb in the studio during its recording.

Strawberry Switchblade: Trees and Flowers (1983)

The band will always remain best remembered for Since Yesterday though I’ve always much preferred this pastoral and poignant track written about Jill’s agrophobia. I remember the first time I laid eyes on Jill and Rose in what used to be the Rock Garden in Glasgow. I was just up from working down south and I asked a pal if he knew who the two girls in the polka dots were. He explained they sang in a band called Strawberry Switchblade and I instantly knew that stardom was inevitable for them.

Simple Minds: I Travel (1980)

As previously featured on this here blog. A favourite back in the day at Maestros in Glasgow. And many more clubs across the country I would imagine.

Cocteau Twins: Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops (1984)

From Simple Minds to an act that named themselves after a song that Simple Minds recorded as part of their second demo tape in 1978 and which evolved into No Cure on their Life In A Day album.

Elizabeth Fraser is Scotland’s most imaginative singer ever. Discuss.


 Orange Juice: Blue Boy (1980)

The run-out grooves on the A & B side of this second Orange Juice single are: ‘When is an artist at his most dangerous?’ & ‘When he’s drawing a gun.’ Boom boom.

The Fakes: Production (1979)

If you read my last but one post you will remember me mentioning that it seems almost compulsory when making lists like this to include a relative obscurity. Well, here is the obscurity, although after another track by The Fakes was included in the Messthetics #105: D.I.Y. 77-81 compilation I guess the band are slightly less obscure. Production really does sum up how mind numbingly boring being a factory wage slave can be and luckily for me, by the time this single was released I was no longer working in the field of production myself. No huge loss for the factory that employed me although it did go out of business not too long afterwards.

Fire Engines: Candyskin (1981)

‘The Rough Trade attitude makes me sick,’ Davy Henderson told Melody Maker in the late summer of 1981. ‘That independent bullshit! They don’t want any stars and superstars – that’s disgusting.’ I still have no explanation why Henderson and his band of merry men never became stars let alone superstars.

The Jazzateers: Wasted (1981)

In his book on phase one of the Postcard label, Simply Thrilled, author Simon Goddard put the boot into The Jazzateers, or at least their earliest incarnation. ‘Their singer,’ he wrote, ‘was a waitress called Alison, who looked like a singer and sang like a waitress.’ He also writes of the band having wasted ‘Wasted’, their cover of that song from Donna Summer’s 1976 album A Love Trilogy. Yes, it does lack the gloss and slickness of the Summer version but I adore what I suppose might be called the naive charm of this track.

*

On another day these might have been included:

Article 58: Event To Come / Altered Images: Dead Pop Stars / Strutz: We Are So Fine / Positive Noise: Give Me Passion / The Prats: Disco Pope / The Flowers: Ballad Of Miss Demeanour / Boots for Dancing: Boots for Dancing.