Friday, January 23, 2015

Shredding with Th' Faith Healers' 2006 Live Show

Thank you to to Vacant Moon for uploading this live Faith Healers regrouping from a small Brooklyn club in 2006. It's a little lazy of me to just embed and run here, but I enjoyed this so much, I wanted to share. The recorded output of Th' Faith Healers was a bit spotty. Their main superpower, as this demonstrates so well, was the live show.

An indie band from Hampstead with a cult following, Th' Faith Healers are pretty mysterious to most. Tom Cullinan's effects-box guitar playing is like three band members in one. Singer Roxanne Stephen's voice softens Cullinan's hard edges while fully embracing the aural madness. Bassist Ben Hopkin and drummer Joe Dilworth are mighty powerful rhythm masters, grounding the sound waves before they fling themselves into the stratosphere of total chaos.

Th' Faith Healers emit a psychedelic drone, free-form madness and angst, while providing experiments in compositional control. A jam band—one of the finest. As for their musical influences, note the cover of Can's Mother Sky at the one-hour (second encore) mark. You're gonna plotz.

More! The People from the "The Imaginary Friend" album - a slow build to rhythmic-drone intensity.

Don't Jones Me from the Too Pure label's 1994 compilation, "Pop (Do We Not Like That?)." Th' Faith Healers would break up soon thereafter. This is their second version of the song, slightly different from the one on their 1993 debut album, "Lido." It was recorded and released for U.S. college radio distribution, and it shreds.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Movies You May Have Missed - Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

I didn't know Jim Jarmusch had released a vampire film in the last couple years—I was completely in the dark about Only Lovers Left Alive, so to speak. Its marketing budget must have been quite under-funded. Jarmusch is an interesting director who's content to make films about people talking, walking and driving. He's not overly concerned with the concept of story arc. He's an idea guy, a visual guy, and he plays in the band Squrl. He's an artist.

His earlier films, Stranger Than Paradise, Down by Law, Mystery Train, and I'm going to throw in Dead Man, felt fresh and playful, no matter how decayed the vista, or lost the protagonist. Beyond that, I kind of let go of Jarmusch. I was so annoyed by the miscasting of Winona Ryder as a grease-monkey cabbie in Night on Earth, that I just shut my Jarmusch door. It was unfair of me—but Ryder had been cast in so many films at that time, even in roles that she couldn't possibly fulfill. I couldn't take it anymore.

So of all things, why would I recommend a Jarmusch VAMPIRE movie? I like a good classic vampire story, but modern vampires are done, especially romantic vampire sagas. Jarmusch tried to make this film nearly a decade ago but couldn't get the funding together. So it stewed and brewed in his consciousness and oh, the resulting visual richness! I am such a sucker for decay and artistry of the past. If you are too, this could be your sleeper DVD rental. Plus Netflix recommended it for me, and they're never wrong. But it's a sad state in the distribution industry when I can't even remember how I discovered this, from a well-known independent film director no less.

What does the Jarmusch treatment add to the overworked genre? The idea of immortality weighs on the narrative, specifically for vampire Adam (Tom Hiddleston), who resides in an abandoned mansion in Detroit. His centuries-old wife, Eve (Tilda Swinton), finding delight in speed-reading books in multiple languages within her bohemian lair in Tangier, seems more at ease with her agelessness. Her pal, Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), can get her the "good stuff." Blood as a drug is a recurring motif, and Eve, swathed in brocaded silk, silently walking the back-alleys of Northern Africa like an urban spirit, finds joy in nature, dancing and love.

But Adam finds modern life depressing. He especially decries the lack of care of the environment and in people. We have let ourselves go to the point that our blood is potentially poisonous for a modern night-stalker. These vampires have to find untainted blood through underground sources. Getting a daily blood fix requires a highly specialized dealer.

This is ultimately a love story and a believable one. If you don't mind a quiet, contemplative look at endless night-bound existence, you'll appreciate this Jarmusch-created world that looks familiar but feels like an ongoing dream. And now:

This film can be taken as a celebration or a satire of hipster culture. If you find that unappealing (it's a wry look at centuries-old creatures who can't help but look backward all the time), then just enjoy the sumptuous visual ecstasy of old-technology form and function.

A dirge-like cover of Wanda Jackson's "Funnel of Love" spins us down into the psychic connection between Adam and Eve.

Adam is a musical gearhead cult star, layering drones and feedback on reel-to-reel tape in his cobbled-together home studio. By personal philosophy or vampiric necessity Adam has come to loathe the concept of fame, glorifying art for art's sake. His connection to the outside world, Ian (the perfectly cast Anton Yelchin), sells him vintage guitars of incomparable beauty and excellence. Ian may also be leaking Adam's music and whereabouts to the outside world but this narrative goes unexplored in order to focus our rapturous attention upon fine, beautifully crafted musical instruments.

Tom Hiddleston doesn't look entirely comfortable with guitars and is in fact a pianist

Ooh, mama likes!

Adam calls on Eve, using his Tesla-inspired contraptions. Hipster.

Eve surrounded by literature. My kind of vampire queen.

I've been in houses like this—ideal for creativity to thrive but dust-coated and not recommended for asthmatics.

Another fine objet d'art!

More objects. Have collections of old stuff ever been more lovingly lit and filmed? When I realized  Jarmusch was more in love with his set design than his characters that's when I actually started liking this film a lot. Film as visual medium still entices. In their isolation, these two have an intense connection with aesthetics. They're artists and artists can be annoying and self-involved. But we need them to make sense of our chaotic existence. Hail, art.

Detroit figures into this as well. On Adam and Eve's night drives, Detroit's former greatness and current decay is a character unto itself.

ALL THE WORLD'S BOOKS. And all the time to read them.

Adam's manse. We're not told how Adam can afford his lifestyle. He pays for everything with wads of cash. Perhaps he invested wisely over the years...?

We also never know why they choose to live separate lives when they get along so well together. Maybe you just get sick of your partner after a few centuries and need a break.

More Detroit. The cinematography, like a threadbare velvet painting.

Adam in the light.

More objects in the dark.

Adam's inspirational shrine to genius, which someone at IMDB kindly and obsessively listed: Jean Michel Basquiat, Nikola Tesla, Isaac Newton, Christopher Marlowe, William Blake, Franz Kafka, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, William S. Burroughs, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Arthur Rimbaud, John Keats, Sitting Bull, Bo Diddley, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Patti Smith, Hank Williams, Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane Thelonious Monk, Johann Sebastian Bach, Nicholas Ray, Bruce Lee, Buster Keaton, Rodney Dangerfield, and Harpo Marx as well as numerous musicians whom Jarmusch has worked with on various films including Tom Waits, Neil Young, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Iggy Pop, and RZA.

Adam has excellent taste in geniuses but where is da Vinci?

A visit from Eve's sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), is described in the film's summary as a "disruption." She's trouble all right. But dread and horror are secondary concepts in this story. Eternal survival of body and mind is of more interest in Jarmusch's thoughtful approach. As I face the back-half of my lifespan, that's interesting to me.

Apparently long lifespans make for dry unmanageable hair

Only Lovers Left Alive isn't for everyone, but as a meditation on time, art, and eternal love, it works.

Love endures, however darkly


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Movies You May Have Missed - We Are The Best! (2013)

Lukas Moodysson is a supreme film director. He charms you, at times while breaking your heart (Show Me Love, Together) and sometimes he just breaks your heart, irreparably (Lilya 4-Ever, which I'm convinced altered my brain chemistry with its tragic human-trafficking story). We Are The Best! is based on his wife Coco's autobiographical graphic novel "Never Goodnight," about her early-teen punk-rock days in 1982 Stockholm. And like a graphic novel, Moodysson sets the story down as if in panels of a comic, with minor beginnings and endings as his three protagonists find one another, form a band and glory in the waning era of punk.

Refusing to believe punk is dying, even as the genre morphs into more commercially viable new wave, punk middle-schoolers, Klara, Bobo and Hedvig don't have any major revelations other than forming a friendship with one another in a world that doesn't understand them. But is anything more revelatory to a 13-year-old? One of Moodysson's great strengths is his understanding and ability to portray the human yearning for connection and acceptance, especially among young people. A satirical humanist with a spiritual, clear-eyed core, Moodysson is a rare artist in today's film world.

And now:

Our alienated teen protagonists: Bobo (Mira Barkhammar):

And her friend in punk, Klara (Mira Grosin):

Bobo's divorced mom is busy with a series of boyfriends and Klara's somewhat eccentric family doesn't take her political posturing seriously. Both girls are not exactly at the top of the popularity pool among their peers. Haircuts and baggy clothes are their outward manifestation of rebellion. But they truly do love punk music, finding comfort in the anger and pathos of musical misfitism.

A vapid schoolmate is not impressed

The local rock band, Iron Fist, who practice at their youth center, are about as disrespectful as you can imagine.

But when Iron Fist forgets to sign in for their regularly scheduled rehearsal night, the girls pounce for their chance to use the center's band room and piss off obnoxious boys at the same time.

Their first truly punk-situationist action

Even though neither has played an instrument in her life.

But that never stopped a punk band from trying and soon Klara has turned their outward humiliation into art. Of sorts. It's a perfect punk-rock feminist moment.

Disdainful of their P.E. teacher's athletic rules and regulations, the girls write their first song, "Hate the Sport" during a basketball-imposed infraction. This is how it all begins, man.

Clear-headed enough to recognize their inability to sing, play, or otherwise get it together music-wise, Bobo and Klara decide to recruit shy, friendless, classically trained Hedvig (Liz Lemoyne) into their new scene.

The angelic Hedvig

The fact that Hedvig is a practicing Christian is a bit of a ideological stumbling block, especially for Klara, who calls God a fascist. But they figure they'll just change Hedvig's mind about her faith and all will be kosher.

In one of the film's lovely surprises, Hedvig turns out to be a true practicing Christian. That is, a good soul. She teaches the girls about chords, harmonies and playing in the same key. She also acts as a mature, even nurturing presence, bridging Bobo's tendency toward self-hating despair and Klara's narcissistic brattiness. Every trio should be so lucky.

The girls reward her with a new peer-sanctioned haircut.

All is not serene within their unnamed band. There are punk-rock boys to contend with.

Ah, memories...

And all the jealousies and rivalries that can occur when girls enter the boys' world of rock music. Also, Bobo has a crush on Klara's older brother, Linus, who Klara despises ever since he gave up punk for all things Joy Division. Moodysson subverts the usual "teen party while the parents are away" scene in surprising, subtle fashion. I love how he allows compassion to come forth from unlikely cinematic sources.

Besides the camaraderie and excitement of expressing themselves musically, punk allows the girls to be themselves—a little pissed off, somewhat alienated, funny, intelligent and feminine on their own terms. We Are The Best! manages all this within its episodic realism. It salutes punk, adolescence and creative self-expression while celebrating friendship and girl power among the idiots. See it.


Hedvig's folk-cover of KSMB's Sex Noll Två (Six Zero Two) that brings her new friends to tears, in its entirety.

The exuberant Vad ska du bli? (What are you going to be?) by Ebba Grön, bookends the movie and expresses the anxiety of growing up ordinary in an workaday world.

An inteview with Lukas Moodysson by Steven Saito in The Moveable Fest.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Light-Display Freakout!

Greetings from Discovery Way in Concord, California, where holiday house displays are de rigueur for a hillside suburban community full of Christmas Spirit. You can have your HGTV specials and that house down the road with a bunch of twinkly icicle lights dangling from its rain gutters. But nobody's going to out-light Discovery Way within a 50-mile radius. The proof is in the pudding—the Christmas pudding.

Exhibit A: This house is pure lunacy and I love it. It has a tropical palm-tree theme with large-scale illuminated manger, flamingos, butterflies, and a ladder with Santa endlessly making his way to the rooftop. There's just a neon artistry to this that can't be replicated.

This photo is from last year, showing the dedication to theme

Christmas Flamingos

So inspiring, I made a movie of it, featuring the dulcet tones of Mr. Bobby Vinton.

O Holy Night from Miss Lisa on Vimeo.

There's more! Is there one square inch of this house NOT covered in lights? I think not. This is dedication.

This front yard promotes peace between the U.S. and the Middle East. That's my interpretation.

There will be no wreckless driving through the streets of Bethlehem on this Santa's watch. The penguin with the radar gun will see to it.


...but with a delicate touch. The garage of the above house with the gigantor Santa has a facade that shows holiday movies on one side, while housing a tiny diorama of a Christmas village on the other. The family pet within the garage barked hysterically at us while we marveled at this scene. All our Christmas senses were fully engaged in one tableau.

Tiny Christmas village

Have a merry one. See you in 2015.

A side note: Concord's Mr. Christmas is retiring after 36 dedicated years to home decoration. We visited his house last year and I just want to hail his Christmas spirit, which is merry and bright. Thank you, Mr. Christmas, and to all home decorators during the dark winter months. Have a fabulous holiday.

Mr. Christmas' home, 2013

Thank you, Mr. Christmas!