Archive for September, 2011

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the SLAPSTICK…

09/29/2011

percussion adds more funny…

from MUSIC @ VIRGINIA TECH

A percussion instrument that creates a loud clapping or slapping sound, often called a whip. This instrument has been used in the theatre for hundreds of years and can be traced back as far as the theatre performances of Plautus in the 3rd century BCE.

Through the years, the slapstick has been used extensively to add extra comic effect for sight gags in theatre, vaudeville, and in cartoons. It is seen occasionally in classical music, such as the 6th Symphony of Gustav Mahler and is used as the sound of whips in a number of light classical and more contemporary compositions.

The slapstick is a simple instrument that consists of two flat pieces of wood, hinged at one end, which, when struck together produce a slapping sound.

The sound of the slapstick is a sharp crack, slap or whipping sound that can be performed loud our soft. The size of the slapstick (and strength and composition of material to some degree) provides the quality of the sound. A larger instrument can produce a louder and slightly lower pitched crack.

The slapstick has no way of altering or adjusting accurate pitches, so there is no range, nor is there any specific pitch or set of pitches associated with the instrument. It is used solely for rhythmic reinforcement and effect.

(MUSIC @ VIRGINIA TECH)

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“MAIDSTONE”

09/27/2011

Norman Mailer’s “guerrilla raid on the nature of reality”…

by GERALD HOWARD

In this era of instant cultural gratification, it is rare to have to wait 36 years to watch a film. But that’s how long it took for me to see “Maidstone,” Norman Mailer’s legendary exercise in improvisatory semifictional cinéma vérité. It finally arrived at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center this past July like a video transmission from the faraway Planet ’60s — a civilization in the throes of a crackup. I had been itching to see it ever since reading Mailer’s extraordinary essay on its creation, “A Course in Film-Making,” in New American Review in 1971, by which point the film had come and gone. For reasons its creator could hardly have anticipated, this lurid, ludicrous, lunatic spectacle was worth the wait.

At one level, “Maidstone” is a Norman Mailer version of a Rat Pack movie, albeit in the manner of Artaud. Filmed over five booze-, drug- and sex-soaked days in July 1968 in several Hamptons locations, it was a “guerrilla raid on the nature of reality,” as Mailer described it. Such forays were his speciality in those years, when he dominated a hopped-up, stressed-out American culture like a hipster-intellectual king of all media. No mere scribbler, he was a mega-celebrity and an oracle in an age that adored fame. Not since Hemingway had a novelist so stood astride the culture. Richard Poirier, in his 1971 study, “The Performing Self,” captures Mailer’s style precisely: “furiously self-consultive, so even narcissistic, and later so eager for publicity, love and historical dimension.”

Mailer had already made two smaller films in a similarly ad hoc style: “Wild 90,” a profanity-laced sub-“Sopranos” exercise that Pauline Kael called “the worst movie that I’ve ever stayed to see all the way through,” and “Beyond the Law,” an exploration of the psychodynamics of cops and criminals. Both films were unscripted experiments in le style Warhol that cost little and were screened at the tiny venues where underground movies were shown.

“Maidstone” represented a quantum leap in ambition, size, logistical complexity and expense. The huge cast and crew included scene makers, hipsters, hangers-on, socialites, amphetamine-thin actress/models, black militants, the publisher Barney Rosset, the boxing champ Jose Torres, the Warhol superstar Ultra Violet, Mailer’s wife at the time — Beverly Bentley — two of his ex-wives, and a sprinkling of professional actors, including Hervé Villechaize and, most crucially, a smolderingly intense Rip Torn. This ménage made its way to the bucolic East End of Long Island, where five separate camera crews (one led by the documentarian D.A. Pennebaker of “Don’t Look Back” fame) began shooting on several estates.

“Maidstone” had no scripted dialogue, but it did have a framing scenario that put Mailer and his outsize ego front and center. The conceit was that Mailer was to incarnate a high-art film director of the Buñuel/Fellini sort named Norman T. Kingsley (Mailer’s middle name), who was planning an improbable run for the presidency. Surrounding him was a circle of advisers termed the Cash Box, headed by Torn as Kingsley’s half-brother and confidante. Meanwhile, men in expensive suits and horn-rimmed glasses assess Kingsley’s threat level to the military-industrial complex and consider having him assassinated. This overreaching exercise in self-valorization can be understood only in the context of Mailer’s career, in which his running for existential president has been a recurring motif, and the assassination of Robert Kennedy on June 5. The distinction between psychological breakdowns and breakthroughs having been erased, “Maidstone” was in perfect sync with such contemporary phenomena as art world “happenings,” the Living Theater and the Doors’ sex-and-murder freakout, “The End.”

In the panel discussion that preceded the screening in July, Mailer characterized the role of film director as “equivalent to being a general in a war in which no blood was shed.” But back in 1968, Mailer’s troops were in a constant state of mutiny, and a fair amount of blood was shed. The scenario slipped away as things devolved into a saturnalia, “a psychic pigout” in the words of one participant, and a dangerous one. Mailer strides about shirtless and self-important, declaiming in his weirdly variable accent. His bullyragging, mock-seductive treatment of the nakedly needy actresses “auditioning” made my skin crawl. “You’re not a dyke, are you?” he sneers at one, making Kate Millett’s and Germaine Greer’s future case. The equally squirm-inducing interchanges between the black activists and the white women reek of radical chic and Eldridge Cleaver-ism. One blonde proclaims, “If I meet a Negro I’ll have a Negro habit,” and the camera pruriently lingers on Ultra Violet making love with a black man and briefly on an outdoor session of interracial oral sex.

A bright thread of violence wound through the shooting, giving “Maidstone” its ominous air and notorious climax. At one point, Rosset emerged from his house to find a drunken Villechaize drowning in the pool. An exasperated actor grabbed Mailer around the head and got a shot to the mouth and a broken jaw for his trouble. Everyone was convinced that persons unknown were packing real guns.

Much of this and more unfolded on the screen like some long-delayed acid flashback to a bad trip I had never taken. Then came the last three minutes, which guarantee “Maidstone” a kind of immortality. The filming proper was supposed to have ended one very late night in a so-called “Assassination Ball,” where Mailer/Kingsley, in top hat and tails, delivered a vainglorious speech to the assembled cast, though disappointingly to many, no attempt on his life was staged. The next day the cast went to rustic Gardiners Island to decompress and use up some leftover film. Pennebaker’s camera captures them strolling about the fields and then focuses on Rip Torn, who removes a hammer from a backpack, strides over to Mailer and hits him on the head twice, announcing: “You are supposed to die, Mr. Kingsley. You must die, not Mailer. I don’t want to kill Mailer, but I must kill Kingsley in the picture.” Shocked, Mailer wrestles him to the ground, and they roll down the hill in an ugly tussle, Mailer biting Torn’s ear as Mailer’s wife and children scream. Finally separated, the two bloodied men walk at a wary distance from each other, Mailer hurling curses, Torn explaining calmly: “When — when is an assassination ever planned? It’s done, it’s done.” The sequence ends with Torn calling Mailer “a fraud” and pointing a finger at the camera, taunting, “Hoo hoo!”

In the film “Performance” (1970), the reclusive rock star played by Mick Jagger declares: “The only performance that makes it, that really makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness.” Rip Torn took Mailer’s premises more seriously than Mailer himself did and acted them out, in the process both stealing Mailer’s film and making it for him. Over the next two years, as Mailer struggled to edit his 45 hours of footage into something workable, he was forced to accede to Torn’s logic and made his attack the centerpiece and culmination of the film.

“Maidstone” was screened for two weeks in September 1971 at the Whitney Museum, selling out its entire run. In his New York Times review, Vincent Canby cites the final scene as “complex and dense and very much in keeping with what a major author is required to give his public in this era of Total Revelation.” Mailer’s company then rented a commercial movie theater on Third Avenue, but the public stayed away in droves. “Maidstone” went on to become an essential part of the Mailer legend, in good part as a result of never being seen.

As I watched the film, the thought struck me that “Maidstone” functions for the intelligentsia of the ’60s in much the same way that “Gimme Shelter,” Albert and David Maysles’s documentary about the Altamont festival, does for the counterculture. Mailer’s essay ends with the oft-quoted sentence “We are a Faustian age determined to meet the Lord or the Devil before we are done, and the ineluctable ore of the authentic is the only key to the lock.” Both Mailer and Mick Jagger had loudly proclaimed their sympathy for the Devil, fancying themselves masters of the revels, but they were undone by the irrational forces they had unleashed.

In our diminished age, “Maidstone” provokes renewed amazement that artists ever really did such things, as well as nostalgia for the vivid presence of literary action heroes like Mailer. And if I ever see Rip Torn, I’m determined to shake his hand — checking first, however, that the other one does not hold a hammer.

(NY TIMES  8.26.07)

Gerald Howard is an editor at Doubleday Broadway

“MAIDSTONE” 1970 directed by Norman Mailer

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“ESSENTIAL KILLING”

09/23/2011

an interview with director Jerzy Skolimowski…

by ALEX GODFREY

A couple of years ago, 72-year-old Polish film director Jerzy Skolimowski’s car skidded off a forest road and he found himself “alone in nature”, surrounded by animals. He realised the same thing could happen to a van carrying dangerous prisoners, and that’s pretty much the premise of Essential Killing, a beautiful, bonkers, man versus nature slugfest starring Vincent Gallo as a man of implicitly Middle Eastern origins who is tortured for exploding some American soldiers before escaping into the forest.

Out there in the snow, all morality hurls itself through an open window as he attempts to survive, battling anything and anyone that gets in his way, eating ants and stealing fish while being chased by dogs and crushed by trees.

The precise origins of Gallo’s character are never determined, but his name is ‘Mohammad’. The casting decision furrowed a few brows, but everyone’s favourite sperm-selling Italian-American plays his role expertly, which is high praise when he’s given no dialogue whatsoever to work with.

I met the director (who co-wrote Roman Polanski’s Knife In The Water and acted in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises) in London to talk about Gallo, politics and waterboarding.

Vice: When it was announced that you’d chosen Vincent Gallo to play a Middle Eastern fundamentalist, were you surprised that people said it was provocative casting?
Jerzy Skolimowski: Well it was kind of extravagant casting. Wouldn’t you say?

Vice: Yes. But when you’re watching the film he looks right. You don’t question it. Was he excited about playing the part?
Jerzy Skolimowski: Yes, he wanted to play it very much. When I approached him he got very enthusiastic, and he was even saying that he’s so used to the cold weather because he’s from Buffalo where it’s always cold. He said he was willing to run barefoot in the snow. Which in practice wasn’t that easy.

Vice: Did you always have him in mind for the character?
Jerzy Skolimowski: No, that was pure accident. I met him in Cannes in 2009 after a screening of Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro, and I liked him in the film. I saw him walking in front of me and I observed certain animalistic movements of his body, and I thought that would be good for the part. And I was walking behind him for a while wondering whether to approach him or not, and then just instinctively I tapped his shoulder and I said, “Hi Vincent, I’ve got an idea for a film you might be interested in,” and I gave him five pages of treatment. And he called me literally two hours later and he said, “This is phenomenal, I want to be in it, I MUST be in it! I’m physical, this is the ideal part for me!” So I said, “OK, grow a beard, grow your hair,” and six months later we were shooting the film.

Vice: Did you talk to him about the political aspect to the character?
Jerzy Skolimowski: I told him that I’m not interested in politics and that I was going to treat the situation at the start of the story as ambiguously as possible. I don’t point out where we are, which war it is, which year it is, it could be many different places. We know on one side there’s a well-equipped American army, and on the other side there are some guys in turbans. It could be anywhere: Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan.

Vice: Did he talk about his own politics?
Jerzy Skolimowski: No… you know, we were not on very friendly terms. Let me explain something. Vincent is a method actor. So he accumulates all the negative things to play that character. So he was actually antagonising everybody just to feel like that character. This is the method.

Vice: What was he doing?
Jerzy Skolimowski: Making scenes about every little detail. He wanted to have berries for breakfast, and we were in a remote place in Poland where the nearest civilised shop was hundreds of miles away. So we said: “We cannot get you berries for breakfast, we can have it maybe tomorrow or the day after.” We got him berries the next day and he didn’t want them any more. So the crew ate the berries. But he was looking for reasons to explode, to be angry, he wanted to be, he needed to be angry. And he was! But, look. What really counts is the final result on the screen, and he’s just sensational, he’s phenomenal! So whatever price we had to pay, him as well, it doesn’t count.

Vice: Did you clash with him? Did he go too far?
Jerzy Skolimowski: Yeah, we had difficult times. Let me give you an example – the scene where he kills the logger, this giant guy, I brought him aside and said, “Look, you jump on his back, you roll down and you struggle,” and he looked at the guy and said to me, “Err, it has to be a body double, not me.” I wanted to have it in one shot, because I wanted to show his face, not cut to a double’s body and then desperately cut to a glimpse of his face. You have to see the real fight. So I said, “Listen, it’s not such a dangerous thing, you’re a physical man, you said that you could do anything, and jumping on the guy and rolling down, it’s nothing that would harm you.” And he said, “Would you do it?” I said “Sure.” I jumped on the guy, I rolled down with him, I got up, the crew was silent. I got the snow out of my clothes and the crew started to applaud. So he didn’t have any choice. But things like this happened every day, many times a day.

Vice: Was it harder than you expected, being out there in the cold?
Jerzy Skolimowski: It was. The cold temperature really got to us. It was -35ºC, night shooting, night after night after night, most of the film was shot at night.

Vice: Where were you staying?
Jerzy Skolimowski: We shot for 40 days in three countries. In Norway, because I had to have snow, in Poland, and in Israel. So it was a lot of travelling, it was probably the most difficult film I ever shot.

Vice: How did Gallo deal with the weather?
Jerzy Skolimowski: Well the scenes where he’s barefoot – he was brave, doing this, but at the same time, he was demanding so much care. Immediately after I said “Cut” each time, there was an army of people running towards him with everything, blankets, hot tea, this and that. And if anybody was a split second late he was immediately angry, shouting, “How do you treat me! I am the star of the picture!” Things like this.

Vice: How heavily did you research the film, in terms of people surviving in the wild?
Jerzy Skolimowski: No research at all. It’s pure fantasy. I didn’t study anything about the political situation either. Let me give you an example: Everybody knows what waterboarding is and that the US military applied it. But no one knows how it looks. There are no witnesses. So I had to make my own waterboarding torture how I imagine it. How to get the water drops into the nose. I said, “Ok, the guy has to lie down, there has to be some kind of apparatus, maybe very primitive.” I didn’t need to research anything, because this is not a documentary, it’s not even realistic. It’s a brutal, modern fairy tale. A poem.

(VICE  3.11)

“ESSENTIAL KILLING” 2011 directed by Jerzy Skolimowski

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JIM TULLY…

09/21/2011

BEFORE THE BEATS: PART 2

forgotten hard-boiled hobo writer rediscovered…

by THOMAS GLADYSZ 

In the 1920s and 1930s, Jim Tully was something of a household name. His writing — his singular brand of rough and tumble realism — was both popular and critically acclaimed. In his heyday, Tully’s books appeared on bestseller lists, were adapted for the stage, made into movies, and got both good and bad reviews in major publications across the country. One of his controversial books was even banned, and a large part of its first edition destroyed.

Despite his past celebrity, few today have heard of Jim Tully. In the years following WWII, his reputation waned — but not because he was considered out-of-date. If anything, Tully was ahead of his time.

Some consider Tully a precursor to the “hard-boiled” school. In the twenties, Tully wasn’t writing about the glitz and glamor of the Jazz Age. Rather, his sometimes muscular prose concerned petty criminals, addicts, hobos and other misfits of society. Charles Willeford, one of the leading post WWII hard-boiled crime fiction writers, has praised Tully and written of his influence.

Over the last year and a half, the Kent State University Press in Kent, Ohio (Tully’s one-time home) has begun reissuing this forgotten writer’s long-out-of-print books. So far, they’ve released Circus Parade (with a foreword by the late comix artist Harvey Pekar), Shanty Irish (with a foreword by film director John Sayles), The Bruiser (with a foreword by critic Gerald Early), and Tully’s breakthrough work and what’s likely his best remembered book, Beggars of Life (with an introduction by series editors Paul Bauer and Mark Dawidziak). Two more titles will follow in 2012.

Next year will see the release of Bauer and Dawidziak’s biography, Jim Tully: American Writer, Irish Rover, Hollywood Brawler. That book will include a foreword by documentary film maker Ken Burns, who has called it a “wonderful, hugely important biography.” All together, these forewords by so many celebrated contemporary figures suggest this little remembered author has a still strong following, at least among the cognoscenti.

Born near St. Marys, Ohio in 1886, Tully experienced an impoverished childhood. After the death of his mother in 1892, Tully’s Irish immigrant ditch-digger father sent the boy to an orphanage in Cincinnati. He remained there for six years until the misery became more than he could bear. Tully ran away though he was only a teenager.

Thereafter, what education this wild boy of the road received largely came in hobo camps, railroad yards, and public libraries scattered across the country. Tully is known to have stolen books by favorite writers (such as Dostoyevsky) from the local libraries in which he often found shelter.

After moving to California, Tully began writing in earnest. He also became one of the first free-lance writers to cover Hollywood. His journalism and celebrity portraits appeared in Vanity Fair and other leading magazines of the day, from Scribner’s to True Confessions. Tully was highly paid for his no holds barred accounts.

Tully wrote about Hollywood celebrities (including Charlie Chaplin, for whom he had once worked) in ways that the studios and the stars did not always find agreeable. For these pieces, Tully became known as the most-hated writer in Hollywood. It was a title he relished.

His first book, Emmett Lawler (1922), was originally composed as a single paragraph of 100,000 words. In an autobiographical statement published in 1933, Tully wrote “My first book was bad, and is now forgotten. I found myself, I think, in Beggars of Life, which I wrote in six terrifying weeks, while living with a bootlegger.” The book was “intended as a compilation of dramatic episodes in the life of a youthful vagabond, which I was for seven years.”

Published in 1924, Beggars of Life was the first of five autobiographical books Tully regarded as part of a larger single work. His “Underworld Edition” included Circus Parade (1927), “a series of none too happy and often ironical incidents with a circus,” Shanty Irish (1928), “the background of a road-kid who becomes articulate,” Shadows of Men (1930), “the tribulations, vagaries, and hallucinations of men in jail,” and Blood on the Moon (1931). Of his books, these autobiographical works were the closest to his heart.

Tully also wrote celebrated novels about Hollywood, Jarnegan (1926), boxing, The Bruiser (1936), and the down-and-out, Laughter in Hell (1932). Shortly after publication, a novel about prostitutes set in Chicago, Ladies in the Parlor (1935), was seized by the police due to claims it was obscene. Most copies were destroyed and today it is a prized rarity.

Tully’s last book, A Dozen and One (1943), includes an introduction by Damon Runyon. It features biographical portraits of 13 famous people he encountered during his life including Chaplin, H.L. Mencken, Jack Dempsey, Clark Gable, Diego Rivera and others.

With the May, 2011 publication of their long-in the-works biography, Bauer and Dawidziak will take to the road and revisit some of the cities and towns the hobo author once stopped in decades earlier. They even plan on visiting a local jail where Tully was incarcerated for vagrancy.

Whether or not Tully’s work will strike a chord with contemporary readers remains to be seen. It could take time, as Tully is an acquired taste. Certainly, readers of Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, William Vollmann or Stephen Elliott will find something of interest in Tully’s stories and prose.

His champions Bauer and Dawidziak have described Tully as “the greatest long shot in American literature.” Considering his ramshackle life, it is a miracle he wrote at all. If you’re a sucker for neglected books or lost classics, the work of this “literary bum” is worth a gamble.

(HUFFINGTON POST  12.8.10)

Thomas Gladysz is an arts journalist and author. His interview with Allen Ginsberg on the subject of photography is included in Sarah Greenough’s “Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg” (National Gallery of Art, 2010). And recently, he wrote the introduction to the Louise Brooks edition of Margarete Bohme’s classic novel, “The Diary of a Lost Girl” (PandorasBox Press, 2010). Gladysz will speak about “The Diary of a Lost Girl” at the Village Voice Bookshop in Paris on January 13, followed by a screening of the film at the nearby Action Cinema.

BEFORE THE BEATS: PART 1

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“THE WEIRD WORLD OF BLOWFLY”

09/19/2011

probing the life and mind of Clarence Reid…

by BILL GIBRON

It’s not an unusual story per se. The music business is literally riddled with the carcasses of former artistic greats who’ve been conned and cast aside. Nor is it bizarre for a one time Billboard fixture to fall on very hard times. Unlikely comebacks are also part of the pattern, as is fanboy worship that can often work against the individual in question.

In the end, a documentary about a defeated former superstar has to play by a certain set of narrative beats, lest we lose the melody all together. Perhaps this is why The Weird World of Blowfly is so refreshing. Yes, it offers up the typical riches-to-rags trajectory we just discussed and showcases an unfairly dismissed genre icon. But more so than most Behind the Music overviews, this movie makes the case for Clarence Reid, aka the infamous filthy ‘rapper,’ as his own biggest champion…and worst enemy.

Reid, a fixture in the Miami music scene since the ’50s, forged a career out of writing, producing, and occasionally recording, his own uniquely funky soul songs. By the ’70s, he was penning hits for Gwen McRae (“Rocking Chair) and her husband George (“Rock Your Baby”). Yet there was another facet to Reid’s career, one built on the back of those secret scatological gems of the era — the party record. Made famous by comedians such as Rudy Ray Moore (Dolemite) and Redd Foxx, these X-rated recordings flew under the mainstream radar, picked up by fans looking for something a little more rude and crude. Reid’s raunchy alter ego was named ‘Blowfly’ (after his grandmother’s critical comment about his talent) and consisted mainly of the singer mocking popular hits, adding his own curse-laden lyrics to the tune.

The Weird World of Blowfly picks up nearly 40 years later. It highlights a series of missteps by Reid (desperate and nearly bankrupt, he sold his catalog for a pittance years back) as well as his tenuous relationships with family, friends, his own race, and his new business manager, Tom Bowker. Set against the backdrop of an attempted return to the limelight, we get the typical talking head accolades (from such standard sources as Ice-T, and such unusual fans as The Dead Kennedy’s Jello Biafra) as well as some sit down moments with the star. In between, concert footage argues for the 70-year-old’s continuing viability as a performer, as well as the numerous uphill struggles he faces as a forgotten fixture in rap and hip-hop’s history.

This is not just some saccharine overview. Reid is a feisty, angry individual and director Jonathan Furmanski makes sure to highlight his cynical, curmudgeonly personality. Before a show, our subject screams about his pizza touching the seat cushion of a chair. Later, he delivers a stinging denouncement of all African Americans. While his ex-wife and two children are interviewed (and they all have wonderful things to say about him), he seems unable to connect with anyone on a compassionate level. Even fans flummox him, a combination of arrogance and obliviousness destroying a perception of appreciation.

One of the most telling scenes comes early on, when Reid is asked by a famed German rock band to open up for them on a European tour. Fans who’ve come to see their favorite black leathered metal gods give Blowfly an immediate thumbs down. Later, when faced with even more heated hostility, he breaks out a lewd lampoon of The Clash’s hit “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and the hand sign throwing throng suddenly love him. It’s a perfect dichotomy and allusion to Reid’s professional life. Though he wants to be taken seriously, it’s the vulgarity the audience values.

(AMC FILMCRITIC  9.15.11)

“THE WEIRD WORLD OF BLOWFLY” 2010 directed by Jonathan Furmanski

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the films of ALEXANDRO JODOROWSKY…

09/17/2011

PART 3: JODOROWSKY’S DUNE

the unmade epic that aimed to spice Geiger, Dali, Welles, Jagger and Floyd…

by ALEXANDRO JODOROWSKY

“To show the process of illumination of a hero, then a people, then an entire planet (which in turn is the Messiah of the Universe since in abandonning its orbit, the holy planet leaves to spread its light through all the galaxies)…

I didn’t want to respect the novel, I wanted to recreate it. For me, Dune didn’t belong to Herbert just as Don Quixote didn’t belong to Cervantes.

There is an artist, one alone among millions of others artists, who one time in his life, by a piece of divine grace, receives an immortal theme, a MYTH…I say “receive” and not “create” because works of art are received in a state of mediumness directly from the collective unconcious. The work overtakes the artist and in some way it kills him, because humanity, in receiving the impact of Myth, has a profound need to erase the individual who receives it and transmits it: his individual personality hampers, stains the purity of the message which, at the root, asks to be anonymous… We don’t know who created the Notre-Dame cathedral, nor the Aztec solar calendar, nor the tarot of Marseille, nor the myth of Don Juan, etc.

One feels that Cervantes gave HIS version of Quixote–of course incomplete–and that we carry in our soul our total character… Christ didn’t belong to Mark, Luke, Matthew or John… There are many more gospels called apocryphal and there are as much lives of Christ as there are believers. Everyone of us has their story of Dune, their Jessica, their Paul… I feel fervent admiration towards Herbert and at the same time conflict (I think the same thing happened to him)… He hampered me… I didn’t want him as an advisor of technique… I did everything to keep him away from the project… I had received a version of Dune and I wanted to transit it: the myth had to abandon the literary form and become image…

In the film, Duke Leto (father of Paul) would be a man castrated in a ritual combat in the arenas during a bullfight. (The emblem of the Atreide house being a sacred bull…) Jessica–Bene Gesserit nun–, sent like a concubine to the duke to create a daughter who would be the mother of a Messiah, falls so much in love with Leto that she decides to blow a link in the chain and create a son, the Kwizatz Haderach, the saviour. In using her powers of Bene Gesserit–as soon as the duke, madly in love with her, confides his sad secret–Jessica lets herself be inseminated by a drop of blood of this sterile man… The camera followed (in the script) the red drop through the ovaries of the woman and accompanied its meeting with the ovule where, by an miraculous explosion, it inseminates the egg. Paul was born of a virgin, and not by the sperm of his father but by his blood… In my version of Dune, the Emperor of the Galaxy is mad. He lives on an artificial planet of gold, in a palace of gold constructed according to the non-laws of anti-logic. He lives in symbiosis with a robot identical to him. The resemblance is so perfect that the citizens never know if they are facing the man or the machine… In my version, the spice is a blue drug of a spongy consistency filled with a vegtable-animal life endowed with consciousness, the highest level of consciousness. It doesn’t stop taking all sorts of forms, shifting without cease. The spice continually reproduces the creation of innumerable universes.

Baron Harkonnen is an immense man of 300 kilograms. He is so fat and heavy that, in order to move, he needs to continually use antigravitational bubbles attached to his extremities… His delusions of grandeur have no limit: he lives in a palace constructed as a portrait of himself… This immense sculpture stands on a sordid swampy planet…In order to enter the palace, one has to wait for the colussus to open its mouth and stick out a tongue of steel (landing strip…) At the end of the movie, the wife of Count Fenring bounds towards Paul, who has already become Fremen, and she slices his throat. Paul while dying says: “Too late, you can’t kill me… because…” “Because, (continues Jessica with the voice of Paul) in order to kill the Kwizatz Haderach, you would have to kill me too…” And every Fremen, every Atreide talks now with the voice of Paul: “I am the man collective. He who shows the way.”

Reality transforms rapidly. Three columns of light shoot out from the planet. They mix. Sink into the sand of the planet: “I am the Land that awaits the seed!” The spice dries up. The sun trembles. Drops of water form a piller surrounded by fire.

Filaments of silver surge from the spice. Creating a rainbow. They merge into a cloud of water, producing a red “lava”. Then vapor. Some clouds. Some rain. Some rivers. Some grass. Some forests. Dune becomes green. A blue ring now surrounds the planet. It separates. It produces more and more rings. Dune is at present an illuminated world which traverses the galaxy, that leaves it, that gives its light–which is consciousness–to all the universe. In order to conceive this final sequence of transmutation of matter, I had the chance to come in contact with some real alchemists… Some mysterious beings (one of them seemed to have more than a hundred years, an advanced age which yet permitted him to move about with the energy of a young adolescent) approached me because Dune could be a philosophical stone, the stone which changes all the other metals into gold… In this sequence, they described what really happens when they transform, in their alchemical ovens, matter… For the “guerilla” war that Paul and the Fremen lead against the imperial army, I had the chance to contact a guerilla expert in South America… He had fought in Bolivia, Chili, Peru and Central America… His precious information brought to the story a soldierly reality…

When Jessica becomes the supreme mother of the Fremen and has to go through the ceremonies of initiation, learn sorcerors’ medecine and contact other dimensions of reality, I knew of gypsy magical medecine through Paul Derlon, already deceased… And the ceremony of magic mushrooms and the miraculous operations by the witch Pachita, a being who had way more powers than the so-called Phillipino surgeons. My son Brontis, who had to play Paul, was initiated at age nine by a legendary bodyguard–Jean-Pierre Vigneau–at knife combat(real combat), at karate, at archery… He received lessons from an almost real mentat–Michel de Roisin–who possessed an encyclopedic brain… I remember seeing him give Brontis a lesson on the fable La Cigale et la Fourmi which lasted more than fifteen days… Through the verses, he described a whole age and its civilisations.

With the production, we traversed the Sahara. I wanted to film Dune in the Tassili, braving with the actors, the thousands of extras and the technical teams, the torrid heat and the dryness to get a real lunar landscape… The Algerian government was very interested by the project…

One time, divinity really wanted to tell me in a lucid dream: “Your next film must be Dune”. I had not read the novel. I got up at six in the morning and like an alcoholic who awaits the opening of the bar, I waited for the bookstore to open to buy the book. I read it in one stroke without stopping to drink or eat. Right at midnight, the same day, I finished reading it. At a minute after midnight, from New York, I called Michel Seydoux in Paris… He would be the first of the seven samurai that I needed for the immense project. Michel was for me a young man (26 years old) without experience in the cinema but his society Camera One had bought the rights to The Holy Mountain, my last film and had distributed it very well… He told me: “I would like to make a movie with you.” I didn’t know much about him but, by intuition which surprises me today, seeing him, despite his youth, I recognized in him the greatest producer of this age… Why? Mystery… And I wasn’t wrong. When I told him I wanted to purchase the rights to Dune and that the film had to be international because it would be more than ten million dollars (a fabulous sum for that time: even Hollywood didn’t believe in science-fiction films, 2001 would be unique and unsurpassable) he didn’t move a muscle: “Alright. We’ll meet in two days in Los Angeles to buy the rights”. He hadn’t read the book… I think that he still hasn’t read it because the prose of Herbert is bored him… And the rights could be bought– easily because Hollywood found the book unfilmable and non commercial… Michel Seydoux gave me a carte blanche and an enormous financial support: I could create my team without economic problems. I needed a precise script… I wanted to direct the film on paper before filming… Now all films with special effects are made like that, but at that time this technique wasn’t used. I wanted a comic artist who had the genius and the speed, who could serve as camera and at the same time give give a visual style…I found myself by accident with a warrior: Jean Giraud alias Moebius(at the time he hadn’t yet done The Airtight Garage). I tell him: “If you accept this job, you have to abandon everything and leave tomorrow with me for Los Angeles to talk with Douglas Trumbull(2001 A Space Odyssey)”. Moebius asked me for some hours to think it over. The next day, we left for the United States. It would be a long story…Our collaboration, our meetings in America with strange illuminaries and our conversations at seven in the morning in the little cafe that was the base of our work and was by “chance” called “cafe Univers”. Gir made more than 3000 all marvelous drawings…The script of Dune thanks to his talent is a masterpiece. You can see the characters living, you follow the movements of the camera. You visualize the editing, the decors, the costumes…All that with, each time, some strokes of a pencil…I was behind his shoulders asking him for different points of view…In directing the actors, etc. We had filmed the movie…

For the third warrior I needed and ingenious dreamer who could paint the space ships in a different way than the American films. That’s why I wrote to Christopher Foss, an English painter who illustrated science-fiction book covers… Like Giraud, he had never thought about cinema… With great enthousiasm, he left London and came to settle in Paris… This artist, with the ships that he produced for Dune put a mark on cinema. He could create semi-living machines that could metamorphose the rocks of space with colour… He could create “battleships made thirsty dying century after century in a desert of stars waiting for the living body who would fill empty reservoirs with subtle secretions of its soul…”

After I found Giger, the Swiss painter whose catalogue Dali had shown me…His decadent art, sick, suicidal, genial, was perfect to create the Harkonnen planet… He made a project of the castle and the planet which really touched metaphysical horror. (Later he created the sets and monster for Alien.)

For the special effect, thanks to the power that Michel Seydoux gave me, I could refuse Douglas Trumbull… I couldn’t swallow his vanity, his big boss airs and his exorbitant prices. Like a good American, he played at looking down upon the project and tried to mix us up by making us wait while talking with us the same time as ten other people on the telephone and finally by showing us the superb machines that he was trying to perfect. Tired of all this comedy, I told him to fuck off and went looking for some young talent. I was told that in L.A., it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. I saw in a modest amateur science fiction film festival a movie made sans moyens that I found to be marvelous: Dark Star.

I contacted the young man who had done the special effects: Dan O’Bannon. I almost found myself with a wolf-child. Completely outside of conventional reality, O’Bannon for me had a real genius. He couldn’t believe that I could confide in him a project as important as Dune. He was forced to believe it when he received his airplane ticket for Paris. I wasn’t wrong: Dan O’Bannon later wrote the screenplay for Alien and many other successful films. With Jean-Paul Gibon, who was the executive producer of Camera One and loved the project as much as we, we left for England to find the musician. A vital aspect for me: each planet had its style of music, for example a group like Magma could realize the Harkonnen warrior rhythms which would be capable of cristallizing the beauty of the sand planet with its mystery and its implacable force, the strange symphony of rings of giant worms.

Virgin Records met with us and offered us Gong, Mike Oldfield, Tangerine Dream. At this moment I say: “And why not Pink Floyd?” The group at that time was having such success that almost everyone considered that an unfeasible idea. I had the chance, thanks to my film El Topo, to be known by these musicians. They happily agreed to meet us in London at Abbey Road Studios where the Beatles had recorded their success. Jean-Paul Gibon was very pleasantly surprised that the group would see us. At that time, I had already almost lost my individual consciousness. I was the instrument of my sacred, miraculous work where everything could happen. Dune wasn’t at my service, I was like the samurai that I had found, at the service of the work. They were in the middle of recording Dark Side of the Moon. Upon arriving, I didn’t see a group of musicians in the middle of making their masterpiece, but four young guys eating fried steaks. Jean-Paul and I, standing in front of them, had to wait for their voraciousness be to satisfied. In the name of Dune I was taken by an anger and I left slamming the door. I wanted some artists who knew how to respect a work of such importance for human consciousness. I think that they didn’t expect that. Surprised, David Gilmour ran behind us giving excuses and made us attend the final mixing of their record. What ecstasy… After, we attended their last public concert where thousands of fanatics cheered. They wanted to see The Holy Mountain. They watched it in Canada. They decided to participate in the film by producing a double album which was going to be called Dune. They came to Paris to discuss the financial part and after an intense discussion, we came to an agreement. Pink Floyd would do almost all the music of the film.

With the best music on our side, I started to look for actors. I had seen Charlotte Rampling in Zardoz. I wanted her for Jessica. She refused the role. She wanted at the time to do two or three commercial films, the life of love interested her more than art. David Carradine came to Paris, interested by the role of Leto. The actor that I wanted the most was Dali: for the small role of the mad Emperor… What an adventure!…

Dali accepted with much enthusiasm the idea of playing the Emperor of the galaxy. He wanted to film at Cadaqu”s and use as his throne a toilet made up of two intertwined dolphins. The tails would form the feet and the two open mouths would serve one to hold the “pipi”, the other to hold the “caca”. Dali thinks that it is in very bad taste to mix the “pipi” and the “caca”.

He was told that he would be needed for seven days… Dali replied that God made the universe in seven days and that Dali, not being less than God, must cost a fortune: 100000 dollars an hour. Probably upon arriving on the set, he would decide to film each day no more than an hour for the same price.

The Daliesque happening would cost us 700000 dollars. We asked him for time, a night, to make a decision and we left each other. That night, I tore a page from a book on the tarot; it had a card reproduced on it: the Hanged Man. I wrote him a letter saying that the film couldn’t pay him 700000 dollars.

For 150000 dollars, I wanted three days and no more than an hour and a half of filming. I also wanted to have a polyethylene puppet, his replica, to use as his double in the film. Dali got angry. He cried: “I’ll have you like rats! I will film in Paris, but the set will cost you more than the landscape of Cadaqu”s and the cadre of my museum. Dali costs 100000 an hour!”

Bitter, he calmed down and accepted the idea of reproducing him in plastic if after the film the sculpture was given to his museum. We decided to definitively finish with the contract the next day. I had a discussion with Jean-Paul Gibon and we arrived at the conclusion that it was impossible to haggle with Dali. I meditated for a long time and I took this final decision: I reduced the role of Dali to a page and a half of script. I accepted his price, 100000 dollars an hour, but I would only use him for a single hour. The rest, I would film with his double. Dali couldn’t allow himself to go back on his price. We went to see him. I gave him the little page and a half and Dali accepted the proposition because his honor was safe. He would be the highest paid actor in the history of cinema. He would earn more than Greta Garbo.

Dali, with enthusiasm, showed me his wooden bed as the sculpture of a dolphin. A worker was there, already making the blueprint of the dolphin to make the toilet. As much for Dali as for me, the card of the Hanged Man on which some words were written served as a contract. Dali liked the aristocracy and like all men of noble spirit, he respected his word.

I liked fighting for Dune. We won almost all the battles, but we lost the war. The project was sabotaged in Hollywood. It was French and not American. Their message was not “Hollywood enough”. There was intrigue, plunder. The storyboard was circulated amongst all the big studios. Later, the visual aspect of Star Wars strangely resembled our style. To make Alien, they called Moebius, Foss, Giger, O’Bannon, etc. The project signalled to Americans the possibility of making a big show of science-fiction films, outside of the scientific rigour of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The project of Dune changed our lives.

All those who participated in the rise and fall of the project of Dune have learned to fall one and a thousand times with a fierce stubbornness, until learning to stand up. I remember my old father who, while dying happy, told me: “My son, in my life, I have triumphed because I have learned to fail.”

(THE SYMBOL GROWS)

also, check out this – “Dune: Book to Screen Timeline” – that charts all the attempts to produce the film, including ones by Ridley Scott and Arthur P. Jacobs…

see also — the films of ALEXANDRO JODOROWSKY: PART 1 and PART 2

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SNIFFIN’ GLUE…

09/15/2011

“and other rock’n’roll habits…”

from THE INDEPENDENT UK

Mark Perry would like to make something clear. He was not responsible for that immortal image – reproduced in Jon Savage‘s monumental history of punk rock, England’s Dreaming – which featured diagrams of finger positions on a guitar for E, A and B7, with the caption: “Here’s three chords. Now form a band.”

“That wasn’t in Sniffin’ Glue. It’s so mythical now, but it never was. I’ve had to put so many people right,” he shakes his head. “I’ve had people tell me I’m wrong, saying ‘Course you did it. Don’t you remember?’ I wish I had. It’s a great idea. It was perfect. It keeps getting quoted as a Sniffin’ Glue thing. It shows you how easy it is for these things to happen.”

But it’s not surprising really. Since a 19-year-old Perry founded the UK’s first punk fanzine in 1976 and, in a remarkable display of editorial integrity, closed it a year later despite healthy sales, Sniffin’ Glue has been more talked about than seen. Shutting it is something he doesn’t regret a bit.

“By the end you can see it’s lost the thread a bit. Punk had already got to another stage. All the bands were signed, it was on Top of the Pops, the papers had younger writers. So we thought ‘let’s end it on a high and make it a legend’. And it was a legend a year after it had finished, and has been ever since. Which is much nicer than being a boring old magazine which has been around too long.”

With yet another burst of interest in Britain’s last socially divisive pop explosion coinciding with the release of Julien Temple’s final word on the Sex Pistols, The Filth and The Fury, (itself a Daily Mirror headline) the time is ideal for the publication of Sniffin’ Glue – The Essential Punk Accessory. It consists of a reprint of all 12 issues (plus the bonus of a tiny Christmas 1976 special called Sniffin’ Snow) and an excellently illustrated history of the magazine and its times, largely told through a highly entertaining conversation between Perry and his school friend and collaborator, Danny Baker.

Though its production values were inevitably non-existent, much of it is still entertaining today, and not only for nostalgic old punks. Even at the time it didn’t hesitate to criticize the less savory aspects of the scene. “We were seen as the great banner wavers of punk, but, if you read it, we were always questioning it – the violence at gigs, how the Pistols fans were just a bunch of posers. We knock the Clash for signing to CBS. We were arrogant in a way, but that’s what it was about. I think that comes across nicely,” Perry says, clearly delighted that his teenage opinions have lasted the course.

Surely, though, it must have been odd to find yourself turned almost overnight from a bored bank clerk to “Mark P”, Voice of Youth? “It was strange. I’m not sure it could happen now in the same way. But around ’76 there wasn’t much going on. There were hardly any rock mags, and because it was so limited where it could be written about, when punk came along there was an opening for someone like me to come along and write an alternative viewpoint to Melody Maker or NME,” he recalls. Not that Perry was a likely trendsetter.

“It was a weird thing for me to do. I was a quiet person at school. I was in the background, I wasn’t a leader. I always hedged my bets, I wasn’t very confident. Danny was a loudmouth, but we all followed a guy called Steve Micalef who later helped me with Sniffin’ Glue.” Micalef, or Steve Mick as he frequently appeared in the pages of SG, seems to have vanished into the bohemian demi-monde of Brixton.

“Somehow punk came along at the right time for me. Because I was the first one, those of us who were lucky enough to be there at the start, the innovators if you like, got carried along with it,” Perry says, as if still amazed by events. “After two or three months I found myself on television and in the papers.”

In this media-saturated age it’s difficult to comprehend just how distant from their audience rock stars were at the time. “I think people forget. Me and Danny talk [in the book] about how rock used to be on the margins, it used to be underground. Yeah, it got in the charts, but they weren’t the celebs they are now, they didn’t knock around with prime ministers. And I think it was better like that. It’s so assimilated now that everyone’s so cool with it. As Danny says, ‘No one cares what music you like anymore.’ You can like a bit of house, a bit of drum’n’bass, Johnny Cash, Sex Pistols, Oasis… Alright, we don’t want to be beating each other up over it, but let’s have a bit of belief, a bit of faith in something. When I was into ELP, kids at school used to say ‘that’s rubbish’, and I used to think ‘they don’t understand me’ and it’d make you feel good. At the time that was a serious choice – you were into prog rock!” This middle-aged man, hardly looking older than his spiked hair and safety pinned days, obviously misses that inherent confrontation.

“I have arguments about this sort of thing all the time,” he admits. “Take hip hop. How do they allow that parental warning sticker? So you get chucked off the label. Form your own label! We haven’t really changed at all. We just think we have.” He resorts to a mock-Cockney whine. “It’s not like The Good Old Days. I sound terrible, don’t I, but I long for rock to produce that excitement again.”

Perry retains his enthusiasm to this day, planning to release two albums later this year with his long-running band Alternative TV, though his day job is with the Employment Service, a long way from Baker’s television and print ubiquity. He does have certain regrets about encouraging neophytes though.

“Any idiots could get on stage, but is that a good thing? Let’s face it, the more bands you get, the more shit you get,” he observes, recognizing the same problem with the dance music of the past decade which initially took many of its cues from punk. “Everyone’s scared now. It’s like ‘everyone should have a go’. No! If it’s shit tell them. They’ll still have a marvelous life without it.”

He’s right because he still cares, and because this mild-mannered fan of Sixties Britpop and Supergrass, given to picking up lost country rock classics in second-hand shops, can proudly say of his baby that “at its peak it was the greatest rock’n’roll mag in the world, because it was truly part of what it was writing about, and it was writing about it as it was happening”.

(THE INDEPENDENT  5.31.00)

Sniffin’ Glue: And Other Rock’n’roll Habits: The Essential Punk Accessory” 2009 Omnibus Press

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