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interview with Carl Snow…


On the strength of their one EP, KoRo is one of my all time favorite bands. They played a stripped down, raw brand of hardcore that’s as fast as can be while maintaining amazing song writing qualities. That’s to say, I don’t think you can write songs that are simultaneously faster and more catchy than KoRo did. Along with bands like Deep Wound, Die Kruezen, Anti-Cimex, Void, and Poison Idea, they raised the bar and pushed the limits as to what you could accomplish musically in the genre of hardcore. Unfortunately, those high standards haven’t even been challenged.

I managed to get in touch with the founder and main songwriter of this band. The smile didn’t leave my face for a few days after Carl first wrote me, and the opportunity to pick his brain and get to know him was more than welcome. While many thought KoRo had disappeared off the face of the earth I found out that, quite to the contrary, Carl is still as passionate about music as ever. I was able to learn a great deal about their history and that the short lived band wasn’t just a one night stand in Carl’s life as a musician. I’ll excerpt from a recent article on Knoxville’s musical history written by Mike Gibson as a way of introduction:

Two of the remarkable guitarists who emerged from that milieu were burly, tattooed axe-mangler Carl Snow and Van Halen-obsessed Bearden kid David Teague, the foundation of Knoxville’s Koro in 1982. That hardcore unit set out to be “the fastest, tightest band in the world…and they came damn close,” remarks Sewell. “They blew everybody else out of the boat. The first time I heard them, they scared me.” The singular ferocity of the outfit (their lone 7-inch is now a punk-rock collector’s item) owed much to the skills of those two players. Both were chameleons, capable of adapting their styles to multiple contexts, but best-known for their fast, impeccably tight rhythms and rabid solos. “Carl is as talented a musician as has ever been in Knoxville; he can play anything effortlessly, and he can write it out on music paper,” says Sewell. Snow played in a handful of other locally-renowned outfits (Red, Whitey…), as did Teague. But Teague’s questing took him to points West, where he would record an independent album with the Los Angeles band Muzza Chunka. The band later broke up, but the six-string deities smiled on this particular son of Knoxville guitartistry. Today, he’s a member of the long-running and very successful punk band the Dickies and has appeared on the group’s last two albums.

DAVE HYDE: You started getting into music in Knoxville, TN in the late 70’s, right? Was there anything happening there locally or did you just start getting into other stuff you heard?
CARL SNOW: The guys I was hanging ’round those days…well, we had the XTC LPs, SOME Sham 69, Ruts, Stiff Little Fingers, etc, but not much HC (as it was not recognized yet). We (some of us landed in KoRo) had a band in 1979… whew now I feel old. I’m the guy who started KoRo, then I got Dave Teague on board.

DH: How did you go from that first band to KoRo?
CS: Dave Teague used to hang around the Trivia Birds practices and shows, and was/is a good friend. I was “over” the Birds and searching for more and needed a bigger GIT sound. I thought of Dave. The bassist for T-Birds was Danny, Ron’s younger brother (not a great bassist). Greg was an incredible drummer, but he was forming Turbine-44 with Trey and Bart so I could not get him. We (Dave and I) found out our long time buddy Ron was a really good bassist, but we needed a drummer. Dave knew this guy in a metal band named Bill (god, was he good). We played him the Germs LP and got him to join. For a while I did the vocals a well as (twin leads) guitar, but those songs were very physically demanding to play (the speed) and I would get dizzy after a few songs. So we hunted with no luck until one day, Scott (Bills much older half-brother) got dragged to practice. We were fuckin’ around playing “Amoeba” and “Kids of the Black Hole” by the Adolescents and “Revenge” by Black Flag or something like that when he walked in the garage. He knew the songs! We asked if he’d sing to “Gimme a Break,” and BLAMO!, he was in. That’s the formation of KoRo.

DH: What about the name Koro?
CS: The name KoRo (also – shookyong) was found in Ron’s psychology book (he was the “older guy” in the band and was in college). It was/is a mental disorder that at the time was prevalent among Asians (mainly Japanese) To paraphrase from memory: “Men suffering from Koro (shookyong) have an overwhelming fear that their genitals will be sucked into their body as they sleep. This causes extreme sleeplessness and panic, sufferers have their mates HOLD their genitals as they fall asleep or by a CLAMPING DEVICE (haha) to hold the genitals in place.” Now if YOU were 15 or 16 and YOU read THAT SHIT while wanting to name your new band something… how the fuck could you resist!?

DH: So THAT’s what KoRo means… always figured it was either nonsense or some obscure word with a deep meaning. Well, maybe it is in a way. Ha. Was there much of a local scene by the time KoRo started playing? What bands were from around there besides you guys?
CS: Sure, great “scene” as scenes go, I suppose. All “scenes” start fairly well only to dissolve into smaller cliques and factions. ’79-’85 some great things happened. Knoxville for a while, was almost a shared scene. Bands traveling found K-town a great layover between say “Atlanta, Nashville, Athens etc.” so the Athens/Atlanta/Nashville thing (Chattanooga to some extent) “helped”. We had B-52’s, Big Star, REM, Brains, 86, Lets Active playing here a lot as they shared our region. Some brilliant K-town bands ’79-’85 would be Balboa – incredible and incenerary, the best o’ the best by far! A few tunes on local compilation, a BRILLIANT 12″ EP (brown cover , then “live like this”), 5-Twins–great teen-love song power pop, Jelly Babies… Later there was STD’s (Jon “vox” later was in Whitey w/ me), Turbine 44 (also later incarnations = Turbine 25, L7 “box”), Beyond John, who had a great self titled LP, WH-WH (T-hills band after Balboa) great stuff, UXB, The Scam (Dave’s pre-KoRo band), Iron Hawg, The Wedge (Dave’s post KoRo band), Real Hostages who were later Smokin’ Dave and the Premo Dopes. They had some good output, a few CDs…not my fav though I like all the guys a lot. Also Hector Qirko Blues Band (Hq’s band after Baloa) who are STILL great still a band, Semi-Conductors, another great T-hill band, Teenage Love, Barbed Wire Shela, and on and on…

DH: Knoxville’s music history was richer than I’d thought. Was it just local bands or did touring groups pull through town?
CS: We played with too many bands over the years to remember: Decendants, Ramones, Big Boys, Dicks, SOA, Minor Threat, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, TSOL, Channel 3, Scream, Chili Peppers, Iggy, and so on. The most fun show was us and Circle Jerks in 1982(3?). The DK show was hilarious. Another funny story was eating with Black Flag. Hank ending the meal in a food fight with. And Ian (Minor, Fugazi) and crew’s odd eating regiment (always stayed at my place…very funny).

DH: The EP that you guys put out is easily one of my favorite records, but not many people even know it exists. You didn’t press very many copies of the record. I’ve heard 300 copies, is that right? How was the reaction to the record, did it sell well, was it well received?
CS: You mention us pressing 300 copies… naw, it was 500. We opened for the Dead Kennedys at the 688 club in Atlanta. Jello was a fan, he gave me some whiskey and I ended up selling records out of the box at that show…then (me+Jello+whiskey) I ended up getting convinced to let Jello take the rest of the EP’s to California for us. That’s why they ended up missing… and also why the EP is so bootlegged.

DH: Oh yeah… Jello took all the records to California? That’s strange. Did he sell all the copies, or did they get lost. Or are they all sitting in his basement still.
CS: Well… I knew Jello for a very short while but from what I know about him he probably forgot that the box was in the van until they cleaned! He was theorizing about governmental issues while reading a book by Karl Marx while drinking.

DH: Oh, also, I was actually having a conversation with someone about the KoRo record, and he mentioned that many copies were sleeveless, some had the oversize sleeve, and a few had an offset printed sleeve. Is that true? I never knew about the offset version.
CS: The original EP was regular size with gatefold cover and a hand written phone number inside and “the baby” on the EP itself. What you are referring to must be one of the many bootlegs out there. So, all told, baby plus phone plus lyrics plus old English KORO writing (cover- Koro, 8 songs for a grave age), hand done back and sleeve is original…..ANY others are boots.

DH: Why aren’t there any lyrics to “Acid Casualty” on the record?
CS: My mom an pop “put up” the 400 bucks for the ep and we told them “Acid Cassualty” was an anti-drug song, when in fact it was about the band getting high! So you can understand why at 16 years of age I would not include those lyrics. They would have worried my parents. Funny thing: after a while KoRo went “straight-edge”, haha. Mentioning Bart and Trey (friends then) and the “goings on” would not have been good at the time.

Lyrics to “Acid Casualty”:
Bart’s got the ludes, Bart’s got the speed

he’s a great guy, he’s all we need

people call us queer, people call us tweeked

we keep right along X 3

we keep snortin’ speed

I start to mumble, I can only stumble, my thoughts all crumble like saltine crackers, I’m fucking up and I don’t know what to do!

At Trey’s house…

we fry!

I believe that’s accurate… been awhile.

DH: The first song, “700 Club”, is, obviously enough, about Pat Robertson and the religious right. How prevalent was evangelical religion in the early 80’s in Tennessee?
CS: I wrote this whole mess after getting sick of Pat Robertson and co. Also, these religious zealots used to harass the fuck out of us at school. They called themselves “young life.” It was just an excuse to get drunk Friday at the high school football game and repent later. They used to follow us around trying to “save” us. Great Bill drum fills and me trying to play a solo in less than 2 seconds.

DH: “Nauseous” makes reference to Carl and David. Is that self-referential/is there any story behind that or was it just a coincidence that the names used happened to be the names to two members?
CS: Haha, deep song. On the surface I wrote it about me and Dave puking, but it had a twist. A lot of shit made me wanna puke in those days. Me and Dave hurling after a bottle of something was an unintented “cover” for everything making me wanna puke. Another funny thing. Blap! is about a dumb girl we all knew who did one to many Qualudes fell down and asked “did I go ‘blap?'”, haha. Nauseous. As I said earlier Richard (RIP) Creekmore wrote the words. It started as a TRIVIA BIRDS song (Me, Danny (bs) [Ron’s younger brother!] and Greg [Later of (forget the name) “The Obsessed?”…dunno]). At the time Dave had a band called THE SQUAD (hence the line calling him “Dave Squad”) Richard called him D-Squid. We used to play this beautiful dump with Dave’s “SQUAD”, Greg’s TURBINE 44 (yup, he was in 2 bands at the time), and Jon’s band JELLY BABY’S (later called STD’s). The original (TRIVIA) version was without the intro and outro – Greg could have played it, but Danny was not that great on bass. KoRo decided to do it cause we all dug it, but it needed the “KoRo” signature on it somewhere. At first I was like, well, I like it like as it is, then under pressure (and help) from Dave it was decided to add the intro and outro. I said “o.k. lessee if we can play this!” “Ha!” “I’ll show them” The intro is a tough cord progression to say the least, but the guys nailed it. So me wanting still to fuck with them said, “yeah but at the end I wanna do the intro again DOUBLE TIME!!” I thought I had ’em but was wrong (thankfully). This is my favorite Dave solo ever! He nailed it in one take… one note at the solo intro is OFF the neck (high) and Dave was determined to “get it” so he practiced the lick forever with great result. Note: Dave always “wrote” his solo’s and prided himself on reproducing them. I always just played whatever came to mind (solo wise). I’ve noticed the difference in Dave’s and my lead styles: what a hoot Dave=Ozzy, metal lead and Carl=Hendrix, jazz, blues lead. The intro/outro became a critical part (years later) of WHITEY’s “Guns, Bibles, and Beer”. Man, I miss Richard. By the way, he did get quite ill at a show at Bundulees. We had (pre-show) listened (at Greg’s house) to the ENTIRE Phillip Glass Opera “Einstein On The Beach” while tripping and drinking. It was enough to fuck with anyone’s stomach!!

the interview continues



examining the famed sasquatch footage…


Was the Patterson-Gimlin film ever proven to be a hoax? The short answer: No.

But what about the rumors? What about the rumor that one of the people who helped obtain the footage “confessed” to wearing the costume? There are, in fact, several different stories involving different people who claimed (or were suspected) to be the man in the costume. Logically, if the stories involve different culprits then most of those stories must be completely bogus because not everybody who made the claim of being the guy in the costume was the guy in the costume. Some of those bogus stories have been commercially exploited in books and TV documentaries. That his how most people have “heard” that the Patterson footage was “proven to be a hoax”.

Thankfully, in January 2010 new information was presented on television which graphicly demonstrates that all of those costume stories were falsified. A new documentary on the National Geographic Channel titled “American Paranormal: Bigfoot” presented some compelling math and anatomy to show it’s not a costume at all. The strategy for analysis of the Patterson creature built upon strategies employed in prior documentaries, namely “Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science” and at least one episode of Monsterquest (History Channel). That’s not a bad thing. The three different examinations all mutually corroborate each other in various ways. The mathematical data of the latest examination gives a more precise measurement of the Patterson creature’s height: Seven (7) foot, six and a half (6 1/2) inches tall.

All the Costume Confessions, Now Obsolete

Between the beginning of 1996 and the end of 1999, a new crop of PGF debunking rumors blossomed, as large segments of the North American population were connecting to the Internet for the first time. Some of those claims were promoted by clever opportunists. A handful of these rumors received regional press attention. A few received national press attention. The stories did not corroborate each other. They were all contradictory in their details, but they all claimed to debunk the Patterson footage. After a while it became increasingly ludicrous to hear more stories claiming to be the “final resolution of the mystery.”

In the nine years between the widely publicized Jerry Crew tracks in October, 1958, and the Patterson-Gimlin footage in October, 1967, several people in the Northwest had the idea of making a documentary about the bigfoot mystery, but only a few actually made progress in that direction. Patterson was, apparently, the only one among them who was willing and capable of leading extended horsepacking trips in the mountains where tracks were being found most often — down around Bluff Creek, California.

The Real Story Behind the Patterson Footage

The real story behind the Patterson-Gimlin footage is a remarkable intersection of uniquely western talents, bravery and entrepreneurial motivation.

In the summer of 1967 Bob Gimlin was asked to accompany his friend and fellow rodeo rider Roger Patterson on a horsepacking trip to Northern California. Patterson wanted to obtain footage of a sasquatch for his own documentary about the subject. Had Gimlin not been a gifted handler of quiet-stepping Rocky Mountain horses, and had Patterson not been a seasoned rodeo rider, with a strong drive to make documentary about sasquatches … the footage would probably not exist.

When the two men came into view of the creature, Roger’s normally unspookable mountain horse reared up in panic and fell over on him. Roger’s leg was pinned to the ground. With a thrashing horse pinning him to the ground, he pulled himself out from underneath it, and whipped out a 16mm camera from a saddle bag, and then dashed toward the fleeing figure, finally steadying his aim as it walked away. It all happened faster than it takes to describe. You get a sense of how fast it actually happened when you watch the unstabilized full version of the footage. It was a violent burst of energy and motion, then a quickly steadied control of his body and hands — the characteristic maneuvers of a seasoned rodeo rider.

Patterson was not a hoaxer. Patterson was an authentic cowboy, on an authentic cowboy mission. He accomplished that mission on the afternoon of October 20, 1967 and then died from cancer a few years later (probably due to his cowboy lifestyle).

The Significance of the Patterson-Gimlin Footage for Bigfoot Research

Dr. Jeff Meldrum, Professor of Anthropology at Idaho State University in Pocatella. The image above shows him giving an authoritative lecture about the Patterson-Gimlin footage at a bigfoot conference. The PGF has tremendous significance for bigfoot research. To the public it represents both the purported creature, and the controversy over its reality. To most bigfoot researchers (“bigfooters”), the PGF is what it appears to be — a unique peek at a surviving giant ape species, in North America.

read the entire article here…

(BFRO  1.31.10)

Copyright © 2011 BFRO.net


a great American artist… 


Clementine Hunter was born on Hidden Hill Plantation near Cloutierville, Louisiana; a place so isolated and harsh that local legend claimed it was the real-life inspiration for Uncle Tom’s Cabin. her family moved north to the Cane River area when she was a child, and eventually they moved to Melrose Plantation near Natchitoches, where Hunter spent a lot of her life picking cotton. She attended school for just 10 days and never learned to read or write. Later, she cooked for the Big House, using her creative spirit to make dolls for the children, as well as quilts, baskets, and lace curtains.

But in the late 1940s, one of the many artists who visited the plantation left behind some tubes of paint. Plantation curator Francois Mignon encouraged Hunter to try her own hand at painting. During the next four decades, she created thousands of paintings. Hunter worked all day at the plantation Big House and took home washing and ironing to be returned the next day. Once home, she took care of her worthless husband.

It was often midnight before she was free to ”mark some pictures,” as she once said of her painting; using cardboard, paper bags, lumber scraps, milk jugs, the insides of soap boxes, and other throw-outs. Almost all of her works were ”memory paintings,” showing plantation life as she remembered it: picking cotton, gathering figs, threshing pecans; the weddings, baptisms, funerals, and other scenes of everyday life. Her titles were often intriguing, too.

Some simple ones were selected by collectors and were merely descriptive of their content: Watermelon, Flowers, Ducks, and so on. When collectors did ask for a title, Hunter gave her own, such as “Trying to Keep the Baby Happy,” “She’s Not Pretty But She’s Strong,” and “Saturday Night at the Honky Tonk.” Visitors to the plantation would buy her paintings, starting at 25 cents and 50 cents in the 1940s. Contemporary collectors consider these early works her best. Eventually, her various patrons were able to get her work into shows, the first big one being the New Orleans Arts and Crafts Show in 1949.

A June 1953 article in Look magazine brought her to national attention. In 1957, some critics dubbed her “’the Black Grandma Moses.” And, in 1979, Robert Bishop, director of The Museum of American Folk Art in Washington, called the artist, then in her 90s, ”the most celebrated of all Southern contemporary painters.” By the 1970s, there were large public and private collections of Hunter’s work, and by the 1980s, several important traveling exhibitions featured her paintings. The prices for her work had risen from 25 cents to several thousand dollars.

In the last years of her life, Hunter left her rented cabin and moved upriver, living in a trailer she bought with money from selling her paintings. She painted until the last few months of her life, dying at the age of 100 on January 1, 1988. Hunter was more modest about her abilities. “God puts those pictures in my head and I just puts them on the canvas, like He wants me to,” the artist said.



Norman Foster‘s project for Kazakhstan…


You hear a lot about pushing the boundaries in architecture. In Astana, the new capital of Kazakhstan, this overused phrase is literally true. Walk a few hundred yards from the manicured central boulevard, sidestep the preposterously grand presidential palace, and you are quickly into a shanty town of construction workers’ huts. Cross the river, and you are out on the dusty steppe. And there, pushing the city boundary right out, is the Pyramid of Peace. It is designed by Britain’s most high-achieving architect, Lord Foster.

I have seen a lot of Foster buildings in my time but none so curious as this 203-foot high platonic object. Set in the middle of a once virtually unknown former Soviet republic which happens to be the size of the whole of Western Europe, it is curious in all its aspects – the what, the where, the why, the how. The how is especially compelling. I saw it a week before it was meant to be finished. Were this a European or American building, you would have said it was three months off. But they do things differently in Central Asia. The swarming interior, all swirling smoke and deafening clamour shot through with torrents of sparks, was William Blake crossed with Piranesi, as imagined by fantastical film-makers Powell and Pressburger.

As well as the hundreds of Turkish and Kazakh workers, many of them women, they had drafted in the army to get things speeded up a bit. By the time you read this, it will be complete, after a fashion. The shrieking, fiery Pandemonium will have become a mysterious kind of heaven. This is the whole point of the place. It is all about peace, love and understanding. Oh, and it has an opera house in it, too.

You have to imagine a country where the ex-Soviet president, buoyed up by his country’s oil, gas and mineral wealth, first decides to move his capital city from the edge to the centre, and then instigates a triennial congress of the world’s religious leaders in an attempt to put the world to rights. Kazakhstan is roughly half Muslim, half Russian Orthodox. He then decides he needs an appropriate building to house this congress. It ought to be a pyramid, he thinks, and it should stand just across the river from his own palace. He then picks up the phone and calls Norman Foster.

There is a bit of a cult of personality around this powerful, well-connected and somewhat aloof figure. You could say the same about President Nursultan Nazarbayev. His official portrait is to be found hanging on walls everywhere. But usually quite small, and always indoors. Not huge and outdoors, which is when you have to start to worry. Opposition political parties don’t get very far here. But there’s a context to this kind of thing: in a volatile region, stability is prized. And as one seasoned Turkish observer put it: “They don’t put up golden statues to the president here.” True enough, though his handprint is set in gold at the top of the city’s observation tower, and newlyweds touch it for luck. Some say he intends the pyramid as his eventual mausoleum.

You also have to be aware of the Ottoman, Silk Road, aspect of all this. Foster and Partners have collaborated with their Turkish colleagues Tabanlioglu Architecture. Their clients are the Turkish development and construction company Sembol. It is said that Turkish interests were instrumental in encouraging Nazarbayev to build the new capital. In the site office at the base of the pyramid, the inevitable presidential portrait is flanked by one of Kemal Ataturk, the reforming yet similarly authoritarian founder of modern Turkey.

For all that, a surprising amount of the new architecture in Astana is post-Soviet classical stuff of a kind that would be familiar to Stalin. Much of the rest is a tragically misguided attempt at 1980s Western postmodernism, and all of it is dropped onto a grandiose masterplan originally drawn up by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa in 1998. Kamaz construction trucks, the indestructible vehicles beloved of the Russian military, are everywhere. But they share the broad highways with shiny new Mercs and BMWs and Lexuses. There is no shortage of stretch limos, as you’ll notice on Saturdays when the wedding parties, fresh out of mosque or cathedral, charge around town in them. There’s not much “there” there yet, not much sense of cohesion, but that may come: I’ve seen the plans for the next 15 years. This is Nazarbayev’s version of Brasilia or Canberra.

Why get involved in all this? Foster has described the pyramid as “dedicated to the renunciation of violence and the promotion of faith and human equality”. As Foster’s fellow-director David Nelson, charged with delivering the building, puts it: “It was one of those things that captures the imagination. We felt that if someone wants to bring together the world’s religions, that is something that is well worth doing at the moment. As a symbol, the pyramid is not really owned by any of today’s religions.”

Besides, Nelson points out, the Foster practice had done all kinds of buildings around the world, but nothing like this, in a climate that ranges from minus 40 degrees in winter to plus 40 in summer. “In a way, it’s a connoisseur’s building. Could we do something like that, very fast, in a more extreme situation than usual? There’s no point in just repeating things.”

The gamble has paid off. Foster now has at least one, even bigger follow-up project (a large year-round entertainment centre beneath a tented roof at the other end of town) and has set up an office in Istanbul to serve the region. The steel-framed, pale granite-clad, $70m pyramid with its apex of stained glass by artist Brian Clarke has been built at dizzying speed. It has risen from its man-made hill, inside which the 1500-seat opera house (a late addition by the president) is concealed. You enter via the side of the hill so as to leave the pyramid as a pure object in the manner of the visionary 18th century French visionary architect Boullée.

It is, however, steeper-sided than pyramids usually are. Instead of being an equilateral triangle in section, its height is the same as the width of the base, so pulling the apex upwards. This trick works best visually when you are close to the building, when its taller proportion counteracts the foreshortening effect of gazing up at it from below. It is unbroken by entrances though it is pierced by diamond-shaped windows that fit within its characteristically Fosterian latticework structure. You arrive in a cavernous black-granite foyer from which dramatic hanging staircases take you up into the heart of the building. Rather than interrupt this enormous open space with lift shafts, they have learned from the Eiffel tower and put slanting funicular lifts in the corners.

In this central space, you are standing on top of the opera house, walking over the triangular glass segments of its circular ceiling. The theatre consultant, architect Anne Minors, previously worked on both the Royal Opera House and Glyndebourne, and the experience shows: below your feet is a traditionally horseshoe-shaped room with two tiers of balconies, lined with warm wood inside and out. Although this was shoehorned into the project late – its flytower having to be staggered so as to fit inside the pyramid above – it feels anything but pinched.

Things get rather less traditional as you ascend the building. First you pass some relatively straightforward floors earmarked for offices and museums. Then you hit double-height Toblerone-shaped rooms for special events. Then the space flares out again and you walk up a ramp past walls festooned with hanging plants. Thus you arrive at the mystic chamber at the apex, light flooding in through the yellow and blue (Kazakh national colours) of Clarke’s coloured glass with its motif of giant fluttering doves. Quite a departure for an artist who used to be known for abstraction. In this space, representatives of 18 of the world’s religions will meet in a circle, arranged around an open oculus through which daylight floods into the atrium below. Once again, you think of filmic heaven, as seen in Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death. Say what you like about Foster, there’s no denying he’s the man for the big architectural set-piece.

As I left, all of this was rising from a moonscape of caked earth, whipped up into dust-storms in the wind by the huge tyres of the trucks. They were just starting to construct the road to the building. Within days they would whisk away the scaffolding inside and the tower crane outside. The landscaping – already advanced on the eastern approach side – would then be extended over the work site to the west. Whereupon Nursultan Nazarbayev would look out of the back of his palace and, like some modern-day Tamburlaine, see his religious vision on the steppes complete.

It is a strange story. The building looks surprisingly small in the endless landscape, though it will soon be surrounded as Astana continues to expand. It feels more Inca than Egyptian, with its steep sides and its sacred chamber at the top. Like a temple, it is not a thing you can warm to. It is a folly on a grand scale. But it is a place to wonder at.


Text © Hugh Pearman

unfinished work…

a brief history of three momentous films that didn’t make the cut…


Alfred Hitchcock’s “Kaleidoscope”

In the mid-1960s, with his career at a low ebb following the critical failure of Marnie and an ambivalent response to Torn Curtain, Alfred Hitchcock worked on a groundbreaking experimental film that would have represented a radical change in his style-possibly heralding a new late phase of cinematic creativity.

Kaleidoscope was the story of a serial rapist and killer. It was initially envisaged as a kind of prelude to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. There would be several murders, including an attempt on the life of a decoy policewoman – an idea that particularly excited Hitchcock – and a Psycho-style stabbing. And the director intended to use story details from infamous UK criminal cases (including an acid bath murderer and a necrophile).

This could have been Hitchcock’s darkest film. Indeed, Hitchcock himself worried that some scenes might be too frightening for the audience. In a bold move, he wanted to tell the entire story from the perspective of the killer, envisaged as an attractive, vulnerable young man (Hitchcock later decided that the character would be gay). More radically, he planned to experiment with innovative filming techniques such as hand-held filming and natural light.

Unfortunately, MCA studios turned the film down as they apparently thought that the protagonist was too “ugly”, a decision that rankled with Hitchcock for the rest of his life. All that remains now of his experiment is an hour-long tape of silent footage – and the tantalising prospect of a new wave of Hitchcock films in a new vérité style, influenced by the European avant garde, to whom he had become a deity.

Sergei Eisenstein’s “Que Viva Mexico” 

In the 1920s, the pioneering Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein changed the face of cinema with his celebrated Battleship Potemkin – a seminal illustration of his theories of montage. And if he had succeeded in completing Que Viva Mexico, his ambitious social history of Mexico, weaving together its myths, art, religion, and social history, he might have changed cinema history once again.

Unfortunately, Eisenstein’s financial backer, the American novelist Upton Sinclair, cancelled the production before filming was completed in 1932. In part this was due to the film’s extended delays and increased expenses brought on by arduous working conditions in Mexico, as well as Eisenstein’s increasingly epic conception of the film. However, a telex from Stalin presenting Eisenstein as a traitor to Russia also weighed heavily on the project. The director was forced to return to Russia empty-handed. Although Sinclair promised to send him the footage, he was prohibited from doing so by the Russian state.

Que Viva Mexico represented a breakthrough in Eisenstein’s artistic development. Gone was the social realist approach to montage; in its place came an innovative improvised approach, a freer, more personal kind of cinema, exploring picture composition and mise-en-scène, anticipating directors like Von Sternberg. He was never again to achieve this kind of creative freedom.

Several versions of the film were culled from the footage, but none bear comparison to Eisenstein’s ambitious vision, notwithstanding the fragmentary beauty of Edouard Tisse’s stark vivid images. However, the influence of the film’s imagery can be seen on directors such as Luis Buñuel, John Huston and Orson Welles.

Orson Welles’s “Don Quixote”

Although Orson Welles left a myriad of incomplete films during his 50 years in cinema, Don Quixote was his most enduring passion. He began filming in 1955 and continued in Mexico, Spain and Italy over the following decades, bringing together the cast and crew whenever he could raise the finance. Indeed, Welles was still talking about finishing the film months before his death in 1985. Don Quixote was Welles’s great obsession. “What interests me is the idea of these dated virtues [like chivalry] and why they seem to speak to us, when by all logic they are so hopelessly irrelevant,” he said in an interview, revealing that this was a key theme of his films. In Welles’s film, Quixote was a timeless figure who leaves 16th-century Andalusia to confront modern Spain and the modern world.

The film mutated countless times over the years. Unable or unwilling to finish it, Welles continued proliferating images and stories, not unlike the style of Cervantes’ book. All that was left at the end of Welles’s life was 300,000ft of film footage poorly organised and distributed across the world.

A hastily “restored” version of the film, put together by Jess Franco in 1992, director of exploitation films such as She Killed in Ecstasy, was received with revulsion. It offered only occasional glimpses of Welles’s brilliance and Francisco Reiguera’s superb performance as Don Quixote.

Over the decades, Welles indiscriminately accepted films in order to raise finance for this film. This was not the only sacrifice he made. At the end of editing Touch of Evil, he rushed off to Mexico to film Don Quixote. And Universal studios, taking advantage of his absence, radically re-edited his dark noir masterpiece.

read the entire article here…

(THE GUARDIAN  7.30.04)

also see Kubrick’s “Napoleon”



the Dancing Plague of 1518, the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic, and plagues of Koro…


In July of 1518, a woman referred to as Frau Troffea stepped into a narrow street in Strasbourg, France and began a fervent dancing vigil that lasted between four and six days. By the end of the week, 34 others had joined her and, within a month, the crowd of dancing, hopping and leaping individuals had swelled to 400.

Authorities prescribed “more dancing” to cure the tormented movers but, by summer’s end, dozens in the Alsatian city had died of heart attacks, strokes and sheer exhaustion due to nonstop dancing.

For centuries this bizarre event, known variously as the dancing plague or epidemic of 1518, has stumped scientists attempting to find a cause for the mindless, intense and ultimately deadly dance. Historian John Waller, author of the forthcoming book, “A Time to Dance, A Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518,” studied the illness at length and has solved the mystery.

“That the event took place is undisputed,” said Waller, a Michigan State University professor who has also authored a paper on the topic, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Endeavour.

Waller explained that historical records documenting the dancing deaths, such as physician notes, cathedral sermons, local and regional chronicles, and even notes issued by the Strasbourg city council during the height of the boogying rage, all “are unambiguous on the fact that (victims) danced.”

“These people were not just trembling, shaking or convulsing; although they were entranced, their arms and legs were moving as if they were purposefully dancing,” he said.

Possible Causes

Eugene Backman, author of the 1952 book “Religious Dances in the Christian Church and in Popular Medicine,” sought a biological or chemical origin for the dancing mania. Backman and other experts at the time believed the most likely explanation was ergot, a mold that grows on the stalks of damp rye. When consumed unknowingly in bread, the mold can trigger violent convulsion and delusions but not, Waller says, “coordinated movements that last for days.”

While at Australia’s James Cook University, sociologist Robert Bartholomew proposed a theory that the dancers were performing an ecstatic ritual of a heretical sect, but Waller counters, “there is no evidence that the dancers wanted to dance.”

“On the contrary,” he added, “they expressed fear and desperation,” according to the written accounts.

Unusual Events Preceded the Epidemic

A series of famines, resulting from bitter cold winters, scorching summers, sudden crop frosts and terrifying hailstorms, preceded the maniacal dancing, Waller said. Waves of deaths followed from malnutrition. People who survived were often forced to slaughter all of their farm animals, secure loans and finally, take to the streets begging. Smallpox, syphilis, leprosy and even a new disease known as “the English sweat” swept through the area.

“Anxiety and false fears gripped the region,” Waller said.

One of these fears, originating from a Christian church legend, was that if anyone provoked the wrath of Saint Vitus, a Sicilian martyred in 303 A.D., he would send down plagues of compulsive dancing.

Waller therefore believes a phenomenon known as “mass psychogenic illness,” a form of mass hysteria usually preceded by intolerable levels of psychological distress, caused the dancing epidemic.

Mass Hysteria

Ivan Crozier, a lecturer in the Science Studies Unit at the University of Edinburgh, told Discovery News that he “agrees completely” with Waller’s conclusion.

“His cultural explanation, combined with a contextualized view of the conditions in which people lived at the time on the Rhine and Mosel, is very convincing and is superior to the arguments about ergot, which is a compound like LSD,” Crozier said. “Ergot gave people visions, not energy to dance,” he added.

Crozier is a world authority on yet another mass hysteria epidemic: koro.

Since at least 300 B.C., plagues of koro — an irrational male fear that one’s genitals have been stolen or are fatally shrinking into the body — have swept through various parts of the world, particularly throughout Africa and Asia. Most recently, a 1967 outbreak, documented in the Singapore Medical Journal, caused over 1,000 men to use pegs and clamps in hopes of protecting themselves from the gripping fear.

“In both cases we see cultural issues impacting on collective behavior,” Crozier said, explaining that preexisting superstitions, fears and beliefs surrounding both koro and the dancing epidemic led to group beliefs turning into “collective action.”

Waller explained that victims often go into an involuntary trance state, fueled by psychological stress and the expectation of succumbing to an altered state. “Thus, in groups subject to severe social and economic hardship, trance can be highly contagious,” he said.

More Deadly Dancing, And Laughing

At least seven other outbreaks of the dancing epidemic occurred in medieval Europe, mostly in the areas surrounding Strasbourg. In more recent history, a major outbreak occurred in Madagascar in the 1840’s, according to medical reports that described “people dancing wildly, in a state of trance, convinced that they were possessed by spirits.”

Perhaps the most unusual documented case of mass psychogenic illness was the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic of 1962. A paper published the following year in the Central African Journal of Medicine described what happened.

Triggered by a joke among students at a Tanzania boarding school, young girls began to laugh uncontrollably. At first there were spurts of laughter, which extended to hours and then days.

The victims, virtually all female, suffered pain, fainting, respiratory problems, rashes and crying attacks, all related to the hysterical laughter. Proving the old adage that laughter can be contagious, the epidemic spread to the parents of the students as well as to other schools and surrounding villages. Eighteen months passed before the laughter epidemic ended.

Curing the Mind

According to medical epidemiologist Timothy Jones, an assistant clinical professor of preventative medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, who also reported an incident of hysteria in Belgium following soft-drink consumption, “Outbreaks of psychogenic illness are likely to be more common than is currently appreciated, and many go unrecognized.”

Jones recommends that physicians treating such problems “attempt to separate persons with illness associated with the outbreak,” conduct tests to rule out other causes, monitor and provide oxygen for hyperventilation, attempt to minimize the individual’s anxiety, notify public health authorities and seek to assure patients that, while their symptoms “are real…rumors and reports of suspected causes are not equivalent to confirmed results.”

Aside from their medical interest, Waller believes such epidemics, particularly those from past centuries, are “of immense historical value.”

He said the dancing plague “tells us much about the extraordinary supernaturalism of late medieval people, but it also reveals the extremes to which fear and irrationality can lead us.” He added, “Few events in my view so clearly show the extraordinary potentials of the human mind.”

(DISCOVERY  8.1.08)


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