Wednesday, 26 September 2012

album review: moon duo - circles

Moon Duo - Circles (****)

Moon Duo’s debut Mazes invited its listeners to get lost in a sonic labyrinth of stargazing krautrock jams. The title of successor Circles evokes a simpler form of immersion, a single line without beginning or end, emblematic of the way the San Franciscan couple’s songs repeat and revolve around minimal components. These propulsive compositions often sound like they could go on forever, but Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada are disciplined explorers, testing their horizons but keeping their feet on terra firma and instinctively knowing when to wind down each workout.

There’s a structural certainty to Circles: without exception, the pace and tone established in a track’s opening seconds is carried through to its final moments, a clarity that prevents their psych-adventures from growing overly outré or indulgent. Locomotive rhythms and chugging guitars form an incessant base, while other textures eddy in and out to supply spark, from Johnson’s shamanic vocals and distorted soloing to Yamada’s intoxicating organ playing. Sometimes, the results are light-footed, like the sprightly title track, and sometimes unapologetically droning, like the closing Rolling Out. As the latter fades from speakers, the urge to close the circle by re-hitting play and taking in another spin is firmly felt.

Out 1st October

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

now that's what i call a best of playlist...

1. unpoc - here on my own
2. the national - secret meeting
3. laka - pokusaj
4. frightened rabbit - the modern leper
5. okkervil river - unless it's kicks
6. the thermals - no culture icons
7. smith - baby it's you
8. fontella bass - rescue me
9. manfred mann - 5 4 3 2 1
10. the angels - my boyfriend's back
11. prince - sign o the times
12. errors - pleasure palaces
13. the knife - heartbeats
14. omd - electricity
15. the human league - fascination
16. devo - girl u want
17. tokyo police club - nature of the experiment
18. men without hats - the safety dance
19. carly simon - you're so vain
20. au revoir simone - sad song
21. the postmarks - 7-11
22. the magnetic fields - california girls
23. shakira - she-wolf
24. talulah gosh - talulah gosh
25. sleeper - nice guy eddie
26. xtc - life begins at the hop
27. the modern lovers - roadrunner
28. claude channes - mao mao
29. compulsive gamblers - stop and think it over
30. tv on the radio - dancing choose
31. jens lekman - opposite of hallelujah
32. chairman of the board - give me just a little more time
33. bruce springsteen - ain't good enough for you
34. the dirtbombs - chains of love
35. david bowie - china girl
36. huey lewis and the news - the power of love
37. joy rider - rush hour
38. the ramones - beat on the brat
39. the undertones - true confessions
40. the sonics - psycho
41. t-rex - 20th century boy
42. of montreal - first time high
43. beat happening - you turn me on
44. talking heads - psycho killer
45. arcade fire - keep the car running
46. eux autres - salut les copains
47. blondie - denis
48. jeff wayne - the eve of war
49. dire straits - walk of life
50. rem - it's the end of the world as we know it (and i feel fine)
51. the vapors - turning japanese
52. the spencer davis group - gimme some lovin
53. little richard - a little bit of something
54. edwyn collins - girls like you
55. the jackson 5 - i want you back
56. the cure - friday i'm in love
57. the pretenders - kid
58. the b-52s - private idaho
59. fleetwood mac - go your own way
60. ash - girl from mars
61. idlewild - when i argue i see shapes
62. j geils band - centrefold
63. the smiths - you just haven't earned it yet baby
64. billy joel - we didn't start the fire
65. the penguins - earth angel


Friday, 21 September 2012

party like its 2008-2012

at the bottle rocket 'best of'!


nice n sleazy!

11:30pm - 3am!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

emak bakia at telluride

One of my EIFF 2012 highlights, The Search for Emak Bakia recently played at the Telluride film festival in Colorado. My Skinny review was re-run over at Film Watch to coincide (under the title Man Ray's Footsteps), which is as good a reason as any to reprint it here too!

Taking Man Ray’s inscrutable cine-poem Emak Bakia (1927) as inspiration, The Search for Emak Bakia sees director Oskar Alegría walk the Basque coast with chance as his compass, following in the American surrealist’s footsteps and taking numerous enriching detours. It’s a suitably abstract approach: Alegría layers Man Ray’s avant-garde experiments over recreations and re-visitations, hunting out the house that inspired the film’s title and visiting clown graves and dreaming swine along the way.

The film’s visual palimpsests are interspersed with text that’s by turns informational and contemplative, while a nice sense of absurdity keeps pretension at bay. Those with an active interest in Man Ray’s oeuvre will understandably gain most from The Search for Emak Bakia, but its constant inventiveness also affords the film an unexpected accessibility, stocking it full of engrossing moments worth lingering over. “Now I’ve gotten all muddled” confessed one interviewee, “I hope you can untangle it later.” It’s not a straightforward task, but it’s an immensely satisfying and inspiring one.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

live review: beirut, daughter @ abc, 11th september

Built around Elena Tonra’s candid songwriting – a litany of break-ups and breakdowns in a doleful key – Daughter’s fragile sound could easily lose potency in a room this size. But the trio take to the scaled-up surroundings with understated confidence, leaving many-a lump in the throat. “Ladies and gentlemen, you are one song away from Beirut!” announces Igor Haefeli towards the end of a relatively lengthy set. “Ah like yous guys better!” comes a cry from the floor – an enthusiastic assessment that also proves rather prescient.

For where Daughter exceed expectations tonight, Beirut only match them, turning in a solid, crowd-pleasing set that’s a little diminished by a lack of energy onstage. Jetlag’s to blame: “you might be seeing a show I’ll never remember later, which is kinda cool” Zach Condon explains towards the end, dead on his feet but too consummate a professional to short change his fans.

The incredible musicianship from Condon and band is what keeps the show satisfying despite its lulls: even if he had passed out fully, chances are muscle memory would have got him through, such is his honed expertise. High points come from across the discography: the horns of Postcards from Italy garner a passionate, wordless sing-along; a solo uke The Penalty ushers hush; while East Harlem is among the cuts suggesting last year’s The Rip Tide didn’t gather a fraction of the attention it deserved. Tonight won’t go down as the band’s finest ninety minutes, but even on half-cylinders, they’re frequently superb.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A student guide to the Scottish music scene...

As in 2009 and 2011, I've put together an overview of Scottish music for The Skinny's Fresher's guide book thingymajig. Yes, i missed out loads of people. Whaddaya expect, eh?

Wind turbines, cholesterol, and incredible music: three things Scotland’s got in abundance. Here’s our guide to the latter – to the solo acts, bands, producers and so forth most liable to metaphorically blow your socks off this year.

Now naturally, you don’t set about squeezing an entire country’s musical fruits into a few hundred words without a whole lot slopping over the sides. But with some modest parameters to guide the selection process, we’ll give it our best shot, goddammit.

So, on the basis that the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Belle and Sebastian and Mogwai are already firmly squared away in the public consciousness, we’ve focussed our sights solely on younger guns – those who’ve impressed with no more than EPs, an eye-catching gig, or, at most, a scintillating debut to their name. We’ll let Malcolm Middleton through on a technicality, his debut as Human Don't Be Angry having taken a sonic detour from previous solo work to revitalising effect.

Similarly, Scottish Album of the Year Award winners Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells can scrape in too, if we consider them a single recording unit and overlook the megaton of brilliance they’ve each recorded in other guises and partnerships. And Gerard Love’s Lightships can act as proxy for all the amazingness Teenage Fanclub have produced in their twenty-odd-year existence, what with his new outfit’s breezy/bittersweet melodising sounding not entirely dissimilar.


The rest of the picks fit the bill less contentiously. Recent(ish) debutants to have tickled The Skinny’s collective fancy include Happy Particles, who swirl up dreamy lullabies real nice; De Rosa man Martin John Henry (also moonlighting in Middleton’s aforementioned Human Don’t Be Angry project); and future-pop electro-maven Julian Corrie, aka Miaoux Miaoux. Then there’s taps-aff riff titans Holy Mountain, subtle-schmubtle Warp wunderkind Rustie, and idiosyncratic art syndicate Muscles of Joy; Delphian shape-shifters Die Hard, buzzing slacker-rock skater-bois PAWS, and MC + drums duo Hector Bizerk; emotive indie ensemble French Wives, prodigious electronic minimalist Konx-Om-Pax, and Chris Devotion and his punky, new wave-indebted Expectations. Oh, and quirky feet-draggers Jesus H Foxx, who finally got round to releasing their overdue (but top-notch) debut in April - which is slow, but not as slow as eagleowl (recent tweet in response to query ‘when’s the album due?’: “about three years ago”). Good things come to those that wait, etc. Case in point: Divorce, currently fulfilling their reputation for terrifying, noisy awesomeness with a formidable self-titled full-length.

Others are pre-debut album for good reason: Churches only introduced themselves in May this year, but their bold, hook-filled electropop is already proving seriously addictive (plus, their membership allows a smuggled mention of The Unwinding Hours and The Twilight Sad, on albums two and three respectively and going from strength to strength). Sacred Paws are similarly fresh out the gates, with every gig caught thus far a party-starter and then some; Palms deliver high-calibre, lo-fi sounds with a jagged undertow; while Aggi Doom’s brooding debut single Bring Me the Head has well and truly turned ours.

Then there’s the silver-lining acts that come from a beloved band’s break-up: Danananykroyd have shattered into Alarm Bells, Ex Teens and Ghost Pants, amongst others; Findo Gask members have reappeared in Bermuda (formerly Milk), Babe and the recently-reunited Mitchell Museum; while Joe Howe may have put Gay Against You to bed, but continues to bend brains as Ben Butler and Mousepad

Finally, there are those at the other end of this arbitrary set of qualifying criteria – those with a second album gestating, some in the early stages, others ready to drop. Hudson Mohawke is most likely dreaming up glitchy, dayglo shouldn’t-work-does-work sound combos this very moment; United Fruit have been debuting promising new material live of late; while recent Chemikal Underground signees Conquering Animal Sound have already finished Kammerspeil’s successor On Floating Bodies, with a release pencilled in for early 2013. Can. Not. Wait.

So much music, so little space in which to do it justice… Just enough room left to mention Neigbourhood Gout, namecheck Kid Canaveral, acknowledge Lady North, recognise Over The Wall, touch on Holy Esque, note Dam Mantle, and reference Withered Hand. But as the thesaurus reaches its limits, so do we: you’ll have to figure the rest out for yourself.

Monday, 17 September 2012

september skinny

The September issue 

Beneath the lovely cover you see above lies all sorts of culture-words.  my contributions this month were:

- toots and the maytals live review (read here!)
- deerhoof - 'breakup song' album review (read here!)
- efterklang - 'piramida' album review (read here!)
- sycamore and friends - 'sycamore' album review (read here!)
- the helio sequence - 'negotiations' album review (read here!)
- the fresh and onlys - 'long slow dance' album review (read here!)
- tabu film review (read here!)
- keyhole film review (read here!)
- aleksander dovzhenko box set review (read here!)


Sunday, 16 September 2012

friday friday gotta get down on friday

STOP PRESS: bottle rocket is on the move.

For 4 years, 2 months, we were THE ONLY PLACE TO BE on the third Saturday of every month. Now, for night #51+, bottle rocket will be (drum roll) THE ONLY PLACE TO BE on the third Friday of every month.

I know, I know, it’s a lot to take in. So to make the transition as smooth as possible, September’s party will be full of familiarity – a ‘best of’ of sorts, based on the fifty playlists already under our belt (all of which are archived on the right hand side of the blog). If a song has gone down well in the past, it’s a contender for the inaugural Friday edition – so expect all the usual suspects (bowie, bruce, b52s et al), plus a bunch of songs that have slipped our minds for yonks but which are 24 carat ACE.

11:30PM – 3:00AM

Saturdays shmaturdays.

Friday, 14 September 2012

GFT programme note: The Snows of Kilimanjaro


‘Courage is overcoming one’s own flaws, suffering from them but not being overburdened by them, and following one’s path. Courage is loving life, looking at death with  tranquillity; it is reaching for an ideal and understanding what is real; it is acting, and giving oneself to great causes without knowing what reward this profound universe will  reserve for our efforts, not even if any reward will be given.
Jean Juarès, ‘Speech to the Youth’, 1903

‘Remember: with great power comes great responsibility.'
Uncle Ben, Spider-Man (Sam Raimi, 2002)

The Snows of Kilimanjaro introduces its principled protagonist Michel (Jean-Pierre Darroussin, most recently seen on GFT screens in Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre) in the midst of a terse lottery draw on a Marseille dockyard. Every time a name is announced, an ashen-faced worker steps forward to identify himself the unlucky selectee – one of a raft of twenty redundancies negotiated by the union in a bid to prevent wider job losses. As the union boss behind this unfortunate compromise, Michel expresses ‘no regrets’. He conducts the draw with stoicism and gravitas, fuelled by a seemingly irreducible belief in the task’s necessity – a utilitarian effort to sacrifice a few comrades for the good of the many. As if to prove his ethical mettle, the nineteenth name announced is his own; though permitted to exempt himself, Michel declines special treatment. To some, including brother-in-law and colleague Raoul (Gérard Meylan), his decision is baffling – a stubborn and unnecessary martyrdom. But to Michel, to act otherwise would betray the socialist beliefs by which he defines himself, solidarity taking precedence over self-preservation. From the outset, then, Michel is presented as a man of unimpeachable ideological conviction, though as events will later transpire to expose, this robust moral code isn’t without limits or contradictions.

The two sources quoted above – a turn-of-the-century leader of the French Left and the fictional guardian of an American comic book character – serve as unlikely twin symbols of Michel’s moral doctrine. Jean Juarès is the more obvious idol for a fifty-something unionist: a socialist icon assassinated for his antimilitarist beliefs, Juarès perfectly exemplifies a certain shade of self-sacrificing politics, and it’s from him that Michel quotes while clearing out his locker. ‘Courage resides in watching one’s spinning machine or loom that not one thread snaps’ Michel intones, peeling a black and white photo of Juarès from the locker’s door. But the references to ‘spinning’ and ‘threads’ also contain a sly pun: beneath the Juarès photograph lies a second blu-tacked image, a poster of web-slinging superhero Spider-man, depicted spinning some socio-judicial threads of his own. Michel’s wife Marie-Claire (Ariane Ascaride) later name-checks both Jaurès and Spider-man in a single breath, prodding her husband out of self-pity by provocatively comparing him to his heroes, and concluding ‘you’re just an old man on early retirement. You’ve lost the power the union gave you and you’re an ordinary man again, facing his weaknesses.’ Her calculated dismissal has the desired effect, rousing Michel from a defeatist slump – restoring his power, in a sense.

Spider-man fulfils other roles in the narrative: a comic book gifted to Michel on the occasion of his and Marie-Claire’s 30th wedding anniversary acts as both an emblematic link to Michel’s youth, and later as a concrete plot device, when it is stolen as part of a violent robbery. Additionally, Michel’s admiration for comic book heroics hints at underlying tensions in his political certitudes, with Spidey’s all-American exceptionalism implicitly at odds with other aspects of the former docker’s belief system. The gap between ideals and actions is evident at the anniversary party, a lavishly bourgeois affair. The giant profiterole tower – so large it takes two to carry – is particularly symbolic, the desert’s grandiosity contrasting strongly with a later scene in which two young boys react excitedly to a simple jar of chocolate spread – evidently an uncommon pleasure in their household. (For British audiences, the immense croquembouche may also carry an echo of the Ferrero Rocher ambassador’s reception – an enduring image of luxurious indulgence this side of the channel).

Michel and Marie-Claire’s relative comfort is further underscored by frequent scenes involving barbecues and mealtimes; Michel’s forced retirement may not be an ideal situation, but the couple are clearly not about to go hungry. Unfortunately, this basic reassurance is not universally shared – a disparity brought vividly into focus by the aforementioned robbery. The subsequent revelation of the perpetrator’s tangled motives carries another echo of Marvel’s arachnoid vigilante; if power and responsibility are as indelibly intertwined as Uncle Ben stresses (by way, it’s worth acknowledging, of Voltaire), then Michel’s actions as union boss share a modicum of liability for the break-in, for reasons that this note will refrain from spoiling.

Writer/director Robert Guédiguian based aspects of The Snows of Kilimanjaro on Victor Hugo’s poem ‘How Good are the Poor’, in which a husband and wife independently decide to act selflessly, instinctively certain the other will share their altruism. Taking the poem’s sentimental climax as a starting inspiration, Guédiguian worked backwards, re-versioning Hugo’s premise for a contemporary setting.[1] Consequently, while the film starts with a convincingly messy quandary laced with credible self-doubt, its complexities are gradually ironed smooth to fit a pre-decided, all-but untroubled happy ending (set, incidentally, at another barbecue). Yet what it lacks in verisimilitude it makes up for in thematic coherence, as Guédiguian successfully marries the poem’s belief in human kindness with Juarès’ definition of courage – with a little of the moral absolutism associated with the comic book form also discernible. Michel and Marie-Claire’s good deeds may not involve city-levelling battles with mutant lizard-men, but their understated compassion is presented as equally heroic.

Dr Christopher Buckle
Researcher and Journalist
September 2012

[1] ‘Interview with Robert Guédiguian’, Snows of Kilimanjaro Electronic Press Kit, accessed 12 September 2012 at

Thursday, 13 September 2012

reviews: efterklang, kNIFE & fORK, the helio sequence

Efterklang - Piramida (****)

Efterklang’s intrepid ambition is perhaps their defining characteristic, as evidenced by fourth album Piramida’s titular birthplace: an abandoned mining facility in Svalbard. Decamping to the frozen archipelago for nine days, the Danish trio collected various field recordings, from which they built Piramida’s base – rusted iron struck like xylophone bars; birds and air taped and appropriated.

It’s a severe environment from which to draw inspiration – a rocky landscape containing more polar bears than people – and the result is a sombre and gelid piece at odds with the charm and warmth of past releases. But repeated close listens restart the record’s heart, as it shivers off detachment to reveal an exquisite elegance. Caspar Clausen’s vocals sit clearer in the mix than ever, deepened a tone and evocatively pensive, while tracks like Apples demonstrate a typically opulent breadth of instrumentation. Though possibly their least straightforwardly enjoyable album, Perimida is a distinct and expertly-accomplished advancement of the Efterklang sound.

Out 24th September

kNIFE & fORK – The Higher You Get the Rarer the Vegetation

kNIFE & fORK - The Higher You Get, The Rare the Vegetation (***)

From Magic Band member to stints backing the likes of PJ Harvey, Eric Drew Feldman’s CV exudes pedigree. For kNIFE & Fork – a collaboration with vocalist Laurie Hall that began with 2004’s Miserycord – Feldman steps out from esteemed shadows to prove himself as proficient at developing his own music as he is at servicing the songwriting of others.

Of the aforementioned acts, The Higher You Get… hews closer to Polly Jean’s gothic dramatics than Beefheart’s surrealism, despite its Dali-quoting title. This is partly due to Hall’s evocative vocals and lyrics, which run a gamut of registers, from haunting desperation on Tightrope to sleazy sexuality on grungy highlight Pocket Rocket. The album peaks with ten-minute opus The Revelator: an odyssey of desire and decay that carries an enriching cabaret tint without succumbing to the outer reaches of melodrama. Little else matches its considerable stature, but the album nonetheless brims with confidence and mystery.

Out now

The Helio Sequence - Negotiations (**)

Much of The Helio Sequence’s fifth album was reportedly born from improvisation, with many songs beginning life as one-minute sketches, and others formed entirely in a single take. In certain circumstances, improv can be a liberating working method – encouraging the kind of open-minded imagination that corporate-speak would have us all call ‘blue sky thinking.’ On Negotiations it appears to have had the opposite effect, causing the duo (singer/guitarist Brandon Summers and drummer/keyboardist Benjamin Weikel) to withdraw into conventionality, with largely tepid results.

Summers’ vocals are as irreproachable as ever, floating and soaring over reverb-heavy guitar lines, and it’s testament to the band’s proficiency that nothing stands out as particularly poor; the problem is that little stands out at all. But if this is the sound of a band creatively treading water, they make the pools in which they paddle sound pretty inviting, with glistening self-production making the most of their obvious talents.

Out Now


Wednesday, 12 September 2012

film review: keyhole

Guy Maddin’s latest is, loosely, a haunted Odyssey set in a decrepit, (meta)physically imposing mansion and populated by ghosts and gangsters. Its allure comes not from plot, however, but execution: those already enamoured by the director’s avant-garde style should approach this return to feature-length filmmaking hungrily, laden as it is with his characteristic obsessions and trademark cinematic mannerisms. Maddin weaves a hypnotic psychodrama that is by turns unsettling, amusing, and provocatively enigmatic – though also, admittedly, occasionally tedious, with Keyhole’s vagaries ultimately paling next to the filmmaker’s best work.

But even a relatively minor film from Maddin still has plenty to recommend. The present-tense dream-logic ruptures any firm sense of narrative continuity, as carefully stacked obscurities beckon to be unpicked – not so much a puzzle to be solved, as a febrile stew of interlaced symbolism. If you’re unfamiliar with Maddin’s askew vision, more accessible entry points exist elsewhere in his filmography. But for those with the commitment and patience to peer in, Keyhole is frequently mesmeric.

On limited release 14th September

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Monday, 10 September 2012

film review: tabu

Where The Artist recently resurrected antiquated filmmaking grammar for laughs, Miguel Gomes’ third feature Tabu parodies with more ambitiously philosophical aims. In an early scene, a tour guide intones “all I’m telling you is not reality, but tales,” allowing the script to highlight its central, redolent theme: the interlaced nexuses between memory, cinema and fable.

An unconventional structure splits the film in two: the first part (titled ‘A Lost Paradise’) set in present-day Lisbon; the second (‘Paradise’) in a dreamlike vision of Africa, with dialogue muted and replaced by an extended voiceover that tells a tale both romantic, yet softly cynical. There are echoes of Almodovar’s Broken Embraces in Tabu’s heady mix of melodrama and meta-artistry, while its crisp monochrome cinematography and Spector-pop soundtrack provide more direct pleasures. Gomes takes multiple histories – cinematic, familial, colonial – and fashions something wholly fresh and innovative. The bifurcation proves especially effective, weaving a hypnotic narrative that lingers in the mind long after its subtly constructed conclusion.

Friday, 7 September 2012

reviews: the fresh & onlys, deerhoof, jim noir

The Fresh & Onlys - Long Slow Dance (****)

San Francisco’s The Fresh & Onlys are old-fashioned songwriters – not only in the sense that their music evokes a panoply of traditions and styles, from fifties doo-wop to eighties indie, but in their prolificacy, releasing albums almost-annually and slotting multiple EPs between. Despite this formidable pace, their batting average on fourth full-length Long Slow Dance is astounding; from the Felt-like 20 Days and 20 Nights to end-of-night lullaby Wanna Do Right By You, all hit home.

The quartet’s second remarkable quality is that they can recall so many others (The Go-Betweens, The Beach Boys and REM all waltz into earshot) without rendering themselves redundantly over-familiar. This is, as promised upfront in the band name, a fresh sounding record, despite the obvious echoes of past practitioners. Small flourishes (like the horns of Executioner’s Song) produce significant ripples, while even at their most straightforward (such as on No Regards’ unadulterated pop), they prove utterly endearing.

Out now

                                                 Deerhoof – Breakup Song 

Deerhoof - Breakup Song (****)

Eleven albums in, Deerhoof inhabit something of a paradox: they manage to be both predictable and unpredictable simultaneously. They remain wildly imaginative, their messy musical palette evincing a giddy disregard for convention. But at the same time, they’ve executed sharp left turns for so long that swerves have become their hallmark, rendering Breakup Song idiosyncratically familiar, despite its unfamiliar components. Thankfully, it’s not as confusing as it sounds, thanks to the quartet’s evergreen qualities: exuberance, innovation and a keen sense of fun.

While the syncopated polyrhythms present a challenge, dancing is encouraged by the title track’s juddering melody and the samba horns of The Trouble With Candyhands, while Zero Seconds Pause sees Satomi Matsuzaki extend a more direct invitation (“Now I am going dancing / If you would care to join me?”). To paraphrase another track title, Deerhoof Do Parties, and they do it well. Unburdened by rules or expectations, they remain free to be themselves unreservedly, to everyone’s benefit.

Out 24th September

                                                 Jim Noir – Jimmy's Show 

Jim Noir - Jimmy's Show (***)

As he approaches 30, Mancunian psych-popper Jim Noir shows no sign of relinquishing his child’s eye view of the world. Lyrically, third album Jimmy’s Show is frequently too whimsical for its own good, with many of its tales (the life of a chewing gum collector; the torment of wanting a cup of tea when the caddy’s empty; writing to Her Majesty and imagining her contentedly vacuuming palatial carpets) the musical equivalent of a novelty tie: clearly light-hearted in intention, but frequently eye-rolling in their effect.

Luckily, Noir balances the clangers with expert musicianship: he plays almost every note himself, evidencing his quirk-pop expertise most proficiently on the likes of The Tired Hairy Man with Parts (which starts out a sugar-spun harmonic meander, before nimbly tipping into something more Kinks-y), and shimmying highlight The Cheese of Jim’s Command. Inspired moments outnumber slumps, meaning that even at its silliest, Jimmy’s Show remains enjoyable.

Out 17th September 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

dvd review: alexander dovzhenko's war trilogy

Aleksandr Dovshenko may not carry the same name recognition as contemporaries like Sergei Eisenstein or Dziga Vertov, but eighty years on his best work remains as inventive and revelatory as that of Soviet cinema's favoured sons. His three most celebrated works, Zvenigora (1928), Arsenal (1929) and Earth (1930) - commonly termed the Ukraine Trilogy, but more enticingly (if less accurately) re-christened the War Trilogy for this box set - collectively map key moments in the transformation of the director's homeland.

Naturally, some of the historical nuances resonate less clearly in a modern context, but the films remain engrossing at a more experiential level, with their imaginative edits and dramatic crescendos undiminished by time. Arsenal makes an especially pronounced impact, its visions of trench warfare retaining a terrifying intensity, though all three films possess their own distinct character and points of recommendation. Even those to whom the phrase 'silent revolutionary montage' is anathema would do well to take a chance at conversion.

Out 24th September

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

GFT Programme note: Out of Bounds

Last night, the GFT kicked off Out of Bounds, a series of once-banned films rescreened as part of the nationwide Scala Beyond season. I introduced the first (Tod Browning's Freaks) in person, and wrote the following notes, which give a very broad overview of all five flicks...

Scala Beyond: Out of Bounds 

In 1916, MP and journalist T.P. O’Connor was appointed President of the still-fledgling British Board of Film Classification (then the British Board of Film Censors). Tasked with summarising the Board’s activities, O’Connor drew up a list of 43 potential transgressions that could lead to censorship or rejection of a submitted film. Viewed at a remove of almost 100 years, the list appears over-sensitive and absurdly proscriptive. While some of its taboos – cruelty to animals, graphic depictions of violence – remain areas of contention today, others are very much a reflection of their time: some of its more quaint prohibitions include “indecorous dancing” and “unnecessary exhibition of under-clothing”.[1]

As this bygone yardstick of public decency indicates, offensiveness is not only subjective, but integrally intertwined with social and historical context. Where it otherwise, this mini-season would be impossible; films branded unsuitable for public consumption and consequently banned would remain so immutably, the controversies attendant on first release seared onto their celluloid forever. But attitudes liberalise; priorities change; societal expectations shift. Themes and images once deemed inappropriate, unpalatable or even insidiously damaging are rehabilitated and reappraised. Why and how this happens would need a dozen theses to even begin to examine, so this note will settle for something more modest: a brief look at the differing routes taken to official acceptability (and GFT screens) by each of the season’s five films.

Beyond their respective notoriety, the selections share little common ground, spanning Hollywood studio horror, documentary filmmaking and European arthouse dramas. The earliest – and the one that went unseen longest in the UK – is Freaks (Browning, 1932). Refused a certificate by the BBFC on its initial release, and again upon resubmission in 1952, it took thirty years to reach British cinemas – and even then, only with an X certificate and an accompanying warning. By the time it came up for reconsideration in 1994, attitudes had softened further: examiner recommendations went as low as PG, a clear demonstration of the fluctuating and subjective nature of offensiveness. It was eventually classified 15. [2]

A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, 1971) encountered no such external barriers, passed without cuts on the grounds that its contentious elements were justified by the story.[3] Its ‘ban’ came later, from Stanley Kubrick himself. Responding to accusations that his film had inspired copycat crimes, the shocked director withdrew it from UK distribution, a “victory for the moralists” (in the words of producer Jan Harlan)[4] only reversed following Kubrick’s death in 1999. A Clockwork Orange holds special significance to Scala Beyond; it was an illegal 1992 screening that led to the London cinema’s original demise, sued into bankruptcy by copyright holders Warner Brothers.

Fifteen years earlier, another London film club encountered similar challenges when hosting the UK’s first screening of Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Pasolini, 1975). It had earlier been refused a certificate on the grounds of ‘gross indecency’ – but rather than propose cuts, the Board’s then-director James Ferman extolled the film’s unpleasant but undeniable virtues, arguing that editing would “destroy the film’s purpose by making the horrors less revolting, and therefore more acceptable.” Ferman recommended that the film be screened uncut and un-certificated to niche film club audiences; when a Soho cinema did just that, police raided the premises and confiscated the print. While an edited version was intermittently shown in the following decades, the film wasn’t granted a certificate until October 2000.[5]

Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972) was never ‘banned’ at a national level in the same way. Certainly, it caused controversy, the infamous ‘butter’ scene in particular. But through negotiation between the BBFC and the film’s makers and distributors, a 10 second cut was agreed to, and Last Tango in Paris was granted an X certificate. At council level, some chose to reject the BBFC’s ruling, resulting in localised bans in different parts of the country.[6] Nonetheless, compared with the other films in the season, censorial intrusions were slight; the Last Tango in Paris that played to sold-out audiences during its initial run may have been incomplete, but at least it played.

Titicut Follies (Frederick Wiseman, 1967), an unflinching exposé of conditions inside Massachusetts’ Bridgewater institute for the criminally insane, suffered a more exhaustive suppression. Due to premiere at the 1967 New York Film Festival, the documentary was placed under an injunction, leading to lengthy court battles. Further restrictions followed, officially designed to preserve the dignity of the patients, though interpreted by the director and others as a politicised attempt to deflect criticism from a rotten system.[7] A judge labelled the film a “nightmare of ghoulish obscenities”, and until 1991, the film could only be shown to members and students of a narrow range of medical and legal professions.[8]

The five films differ, then, not only in the source and nature of their controversy, but in the extent to which they were bowdlerised and concealed from the public. While they no longer scandalise (we confidently predict no placard-waving protests in café Cosmo over the coming month), they each retain the ability to unsettle and provoke, whether through their explicitness, candidness, or some other less specific quality – a residual aura of danger, perhaps, that serves as a reminder that what we are seeing was once forbidden.

Chris Buckle
Researcher and journalist
September 2012

1 ‘The sbbfc Student Guide 2005/06’, accessed 3rd September 2012 at  

2 ‘Freaks Case Study’, accessed 3rd September 2012 at 

3 Stuart Y. McDougal (2003), ‘What’s it going to be then, eh?’: Questioning Kubrick’s Clockwork’ in McDougal (ed.) Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (Cambridge University Press; Cambridge) p. 3 

4 Video interview, accessed 3rd September 2012 at 

5 ‘Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom Case Study’, accessed 3rd September 2012 at 

6 Andrew Pulver (2011) ‘On the cutting room floor: a century of film censorship’, The Guardian, accessed 3rd September 2012 at 

7 Robert Koehler (1991) ‘Titicut Follies Arrives, 24 Years After the Fact’, The LA Times, accessed 3rd September 2012 at 

8 Jesse Pearson (2007), ‘The Follies of Documentary Filmmaking’, Vice, accessed 3rd September 2012 at

(full details of the season here)

Monday, 3 September 2012

live review: grandaddy @ ABC, 30th august

Six years ago, Grandaddy were collapsed and futureless. By the time final album Just Like the Fambly Cat appeared, the members had already parted company, leaving the record un-toured. But as My Bloody Valentine, Pavement and dozens of others have proven in recent years, nothing’s final in rock n roll; a split is but a stepping stone on the road to reunion. Grandaddy didn’t shut down; they hibernated, and now they’ve been rebooted in a future that appreciates them all the more for their absence.

From logo typeface (squiggly) to attire (Jason Lytle’s trademark cap), the band seem unchanged by the hiatus, launching into a muscular El Caminos in the West with nary a cobweb in sight. It introduces an all-but-faultless set, dominated by Sumday and The Sophtware Slump but interspersed with fan-pleasing B-sides and debut album cuts (tellingly, …Fambly Cat is ignored).
Lytle’s T-shirt reads ‘over the hill’ but the sounds filling the room say otherwise, from the fuzzy beauty of Jed’s Other Poem to a playful Stray Dog and the Chocolate Shake, with the majestic He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot raising goosebumps at the close. To quote from the John Sebastian ditty that ushered them onstage at the start of the night: welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.