Posts from 7th February 2005

7
Feb 05

THE NOMI SONG

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THE NOMI SONG
dir. Andrew Horn

The Nomi Song is a biography on German singer/performer Klaus Nomi, who recorded two albums, created one of the most memorable/iconic stage images ever, and passed away in 1983, one of AIDS’ earliest victims. The website will tell you more details, and on the level of straight biography I highly recommend it — it obviously cannot speak to every last facet of Nomi’s life, but what it does capture via interviews and archival footage and remembrances is still a striking and certainly in the end sorrowful story of a human being, warts and all, who died horribly and far too soon.

But Horn deserves other credit as well for creating this film. His earlier documentary, the marvellous East Side Story, which studied the phenomenon of Communist bloc movie musicals, I remember not only for its subject matter but also its intentionally playful way around conventions of documentary — one moment that sticks in the mind covered the reading of some government directives on what could or could not be filmed. Some directors would have been content to have a stern older male voice read over a montage of clips or stills — Horn got in three German supermodel types, dressed them up in semi-military costume and had one read the directives in a quietly sultry voice.

The Nomi Song goes to a further limit. Interviewees are sometimes shown against ‘normal’ backgrounds, a cafe somewhere, a straightforward gray wall. But others are shown against imagistic portrayals of the night sky, abstract shapes, even a round light held by an apparently naked man in shadow. Audio and visual cuts are sometimes abrupt, sometimes collage-like in their overlay of data — clips speed up and slow down briefly, all without disrupting the flow of the film. It’s as if one looks through a glass darkly at it all. The editing is top notch, even of the ‘straightforward’ footage — the intercutting between one of Nomi’s final performances and friend speaking about his terrible final days is most powerful — but with the more creative moments it’s even more entrancing, the moody light going up on a full-life sculpture of Nomi, the reenvisioning of an early Nomi flyer as a framework for a video clip.

Perhaps most lovely, though, is the conceit of his aunt being portrayed by a cutout in a large scale doll-house — who knows whether it was because they only had audio footage or simply felt it would work better that way, but for all the giggles it initially causes it still somehow connects, a further touch of artificiality about such a gloriously artificial stage character’s life. It too provides a moving moment, though — near the end of the film, the cutout doll is seen sitting in a garden set as the aunt’s voice recalls the last visit she had with Nomi, where he wanted to see her old garden one final time. As she tells the story, the light slowly fades as if at the end of the day — a golden hour and after that is alternately obvious and exactly what was needed.

The theatrical runs will be limited at best, I figure. But watch the eventual DVD.

DACHAU 29 APRIL 1945 ed. Sam Dunn

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DACHAU 29 APRIL 1945
ed. Sam Dunn

Frankly, I hated the slew of ‘greatest generation’ books and movies and stuff that came out in the late nineties in America. It struck me as a convulsive reaction on the part of baby boomers seeming to suddenly realize that ‘hey, you know, fighting in World War II must have been a huge sacrifice! thanks dad/mom/entity!’ Studs Terkel must have been shaking his head at it all given the tone it all took. I don’t know, perhaps because I was born in 1971 and was raised in a military (but thankfully not a jingoistic) family it always struck me as correct and right to acknowledge what had happened, not to suddenly make a big deal out of it because it was hip (hell, angels were ‘hip’ in 1993 I seem to recall, did they all get refitted with camoflauge gear a few years later?). I didn’t need Saving Private Ryan to tell me that war is not only hell but pretty damned gruesome. (Nor did I need to assume that Matt Damon needed saving at all, but that’s another matter.)

This book to my mind serves as a much more telling — and moving — counterweight. Written by survivors of the Rainbow Division who were the first American troops into Dachau right near the end of the European part of the war, it has the tone not of mythmaking huzzahs but of struggles, beauty and cruelty and reflections on what the scarring can mean for all. There is justifiable pride in the tone taken that this was what needed to be done — to cease the horrors at that camp and at many others — but there is bald, strong acknowledgement, in the reports made by men at the time, in the reminiscences from veterans nearly fifty years on, on the impact caused by seeing bodies piled up in train carts, by the skeletal figures awaiting them in the camps, by the outpouring of joy caused by their arrival. You sense the horror in their words as they each tell of their impressions of the day, certain actions and memories viewed in different points of view, the memories of camp survivors of the day and so forth. Above all else, you sense a shift from either disbelief or ignorance to blunt realization — and how young men found themselves questioning so much of the world after that moment.

You also get a sense of the need to document, preserve and argue — the bitterest words, the most powerful, are directed not merely against a vanguished force but those Holocaust deniers who came in later years. The sense of outrage that comes through on the page is restrained at points, but palpable. If anything, the book exists to say: “We saw it. We can never forget it. Our words here will stand as testimony to it after we are dead.”

Sometimes the writing is clumsy, sometimes it is repetitive. But it is never less than compelling. I am glad it exists.

NEW ORDER

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NEW ORDER
Waiting for the Sirens’ Call

It’s good, it is. In fact it’s better than good, it’s freakin’ great. But I’ll hold off on a fuller discussion about it now, suffice to say that no, it isn’t Technique part II by any means but that’s no bad thing, I’d rather have something able to stand on its own.

Less fragmentary than Get Ready (which I very much enjoyed), able to somehow capture that atmosphere of reflection and energy which characterizes the band at its best and has a killer first single in “Krafty,” which has much more of a kick to it than “Crystal” did. It’s a perfect summer (Sumner?) single coming out at the wrong time of year but I’ll bet yer dollars to donuts it’ll sound perfect when they play it at Coachella in May.

Meet The Fockers is in a lot of ways a pale rerun of Meet The Parents.

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Meet The Fockers is in a lot of ways a pale rerun of Meet The Parents. But oddly it is a much more assured film than MTP, in as much as with the exception of one actor, everyone else is a really good comic actor. That acotr of course is Bob De Niro, who after satirising his hard man image in two films and their sequels should be getting better at it, but isn’t. That is okay though, when Dustin Hoffman hugs him, or fights him, or even frowns at him, the sheer rush of energy bounces of De Niro’s stoney visage.

Whilst the film tries to remind us of MTP greatest hits, it plays them for niceness. What might have been interesting would have been to see something truly terrible happen and see how Hoffman and Streisand’s Fockers managed to soft soap it into a positive experience. So a much gentler film, but a film whose boisterousness is nevertheless infectious.

And you forget just how funny Streisand can be. More comedies woman.

Takako Araki

The Brown Wedge5 comments • 1,230 views

Takako Araki

I still get very frustrated by the web sometimes. I guess if I weren’t the kind of person who desperately wants to know more about a particular modern Japanese ceramic artist, and would stick with porn and Lord Of The Rings, I’d get less pissed off. I even asked Mark Sinker, who works on a crafts magazine, but they had nothing on her either. I already knew Takako Araki made ceramic bibles, and a few pretty thorough web searches have taught me no more than this. I don’t even know if she is still alive – she was born in 1921. I also can’t find an image of the stunning work I found in a book (The Art Of East Asia, ed. Gabriele Fahr-Becker), which started me on this, so we’ll settle for the image shown. Front seems to be a rock (perhaps to tie the whole to the great Japanese tradition of the dry rock garden), and back right is a bible part buried in sand, but the back left one is more like the first piece I mentioned, a bible modelled to look as if it’s been in a fire, curled up, with charred and fragmented pages. Apparently her work is sometimes so delicate it’s almost impossible to touch without parts of pages breaking off, and you can read the words where the apparent burns don’t prevent it. It’s striking enough on a craft level, but even for an atheist like me, the books being bibles provides some extra charge, though it’s hard for me to pin down why.

Day 20: New Jersey AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 LOUSY TUNES

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Day 20: New Jersey
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 LOUSY TUNES

After my random act of arson the night before, I managed to bed down in a church which kept open all night in Harlem. Pews are not all that comfortable, but it was the rude awakening I got the next morning from the choir which really set me off in a bad mood. Nevertheless, as I ran from the horrid sounds of God being praised in songs (what kind of god would allow this) I counted my blessings. I had managed to down a couple of beers the night before (not gin but it would do), managed to put a call to Miami and was not wanted for anything as far as I knew.

Then I saw a New York Times and knew differently.

“RENOWNED BRITISH MUSIC HATER WHO WAS FEARED DEAD NOW SUSPECTED ARSONIST”

It struck me that maybe my time in New York was coming to an end. I smelled a wee bit of melted vinyl, still had the same clothes on that Simone could ID and my photo was on the front cover of a newspaper. Time to cross a state line, I thought, hitching a lift in a truck heading for the greener pastures of New Jersey. From there I would head south, but not before putting in one more phonecall to try and get hold of Crispian. I needed to change some clothes, get some money and leave America if possible. New Jersey was a start, but not much of one.


BON JOVI – New Jersey

Everyone in New Jersey works in a factory. It must be the case. What do I base this deduction on?
a) The fact that characters in songs by Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen set in New Jersey always work in factories
b) The music made by bands from New Jersey are so bloody awful that it can only be produced by people with severe hearing damage caused by the kind of heavy machinery you would find in a factory.

New Jersey by Bon Jovi is typical of an album by a New Jersey band. Chocked full of one dimensional cliched blue collar workers, and guitar riffs that went out with Lynard Skinnard (only perpetuated by his brother Richard Skinnard on Radio One at the time). This filth was peddled to the British public by Jonathon King in his woefully mistitled Entertainment USA program. King was rightly sent to prison for this.

But what of Jon Bon Jovi and the band he must have spend ages thinking of a name for (see also Van Halen)? What of this world striding album, which filled stadiums everywhere, just asking to be carpet bombed? Well it have a distinctive cover, being grey writing on a grey background which should have suggest how dull its tunes really were. The big hit from it was probably Bad Medicine, which should also have been titled Bloody Awful Song. JBJ’s cowboy fetish kicked in around here as well, which was amusing considering if any cowboy had hair like his they would have been run out of town. And New Jersey has a very minor history of cowboy action.

That said I always saw this album as a call to arms to me way back in 1989. It opens with Lay Your Hands On Me, after all. Which if I ever had a chance to do no amount of medicine, good or bad, would fix Jon Bon Jovi’s poodle haired pretty boy face.

The Lord Palmerston

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The Lord Palmerston is a solid gastropub. Usual fayre, spartan look. It did however have a good line in locals and banter, which became evident when the various rugby types were barred from the pub for supporting the wrong team, and roundly abused across the room. It was all quite fun.

However binge drink culture appears to be taking over everywhere. To see a kid, probably still in nappies, vomiting on the floor after just being in the pub for half an hour was most disheartening. They can’t take their drinks these days. Luckily myself and my companion had finished our food and were therefore were not put off. However there is a simple moral to this tale.

Thou shalt not take nine month old babies to the pub.

THE FT TOP 100 SONGS 89. REEL 2 REEL feat THE MAD STUNTMAN – “I Like To Move It”

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THE FT TOP 100 SONGS
89. REEL 2 REEL feat THE MAD STUNTMAN – “I Like To Move It”

This had a previous life as “Jazz It Up” by the Erick Morillo Project, a funky disco-house number which no doubt kept many a party rollin’ with its tasteful floorfilling vibe. In barges the Mad Stuntman and credibility flies out of the window to be replaced by multi-million sales and the love of all mankind. “I spent forever tracking down the original” sniffed someone on a DJ board I googled, well ha! cos apparently it was on the B-Side.

I am sure that “Jazz It Up” is a fine record, the drums on this refit are satisfyingly crunchy after all and the groove is propulsive. But let’s face it, this song would not be on this list were it not for Stuntman, M. What you will learn about this force of nature by the end of the song:

i) he is a stuntman
ii) he is mad (these two facts gleaned from the sleeve but nothing he does on wax suggests otherwise)
iii) he is physically fit
iv) he likes to move it move it. To reinforce this last the follow-up is called “Go On Move” and isn’t quite as great.

It is a record that everybody wants to hear, especially if they’ve had a drink or two. They may not think they want to hear it but they do. The perfect marriage of a high-class groove and a low-brow energy.

Where have all the good themes gone?

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Where have all the good themes gone?

In the pub on Friday night a question was posed – what was the last really good TV theme? It sparked plenty of discussion. We took a rockist position on the subject, dismissing the two most prevalent trends in themery viz.

i) a real actual song being used as the theme
ii) a collection of atmospheric or dramatic noises (eg 24)

These two things actually sit at opposite ends of a continuum, in the middle of which are the ‘classic’ themes of mass nostalgia. At one end we have the theme as a discrete song which could exist happily separate from its show. At the other we have the theme as the briefest of sonic place-markers. The themes which cropped up in our conversation tended to sit in the middle – as memorable and catchy as a pop single but indissoluble from their show.

Given that some of us (well, me) were happy to even praise The Tripods theme tune it’s more than likely that we were letting nostalgia get the better of us. But is there a kernel of truth to the idea that the theme tune is in some kind of decline?

When random acts of kindness GO BAD

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When random acts of kindness GO BAD: a heartwarming tale of charity, neighbourliness, and litigation.