Tag Archives: cult classics

Vinyl en Vogue

Commedia Sexy All Italiana

Though the soundtrack music of a film often escapes serious consideration in most formal film criticism, anyone who has made a film and had the luxury of an original soundtrack is well aware of the importance of the music that lends itself to the image. I found this to be particularly true for myself with regards to my last feature, scored by Stephen Mercy. Luckily, with vinyl in vogue again, there are a number of labels issuing the official debuts of soundtracks as well as reissuing established favorites and cult classic soundtracks. The overwhelming majority of these releases is catered to the latter genre of cult films. This shouldn’t be surprising considering the ample opportunities for profit permitted by special and limited editions of novelty items in any collector’s market.

Perhaps the strangest novelty release, that I am aware of, is Commedia Sexy All’ Italiana (published by Mediane Libri in 2007). This is a handsome hardcover book of stills from Italy’s “sexy comedy” genre that also comes with a CD that anthologizes a number of the themes from the most notable of these films such as Bora Bora, Loving Cousins, Prickly Pears, Chaste and Pure, etc. The music is varied, covering a number of genres but always with that distinct Italian sound that those familiar with the Crippled Dick Hot Wax label’s Beat Of Cinecitta Vol. 1-3 will certainly enjoy. Most of the films covered in the book’s single essay by Gordiano Lupi are unavailable in the United States. So this “document” of film stills and musical themes is really the only extensive insight we have into this genre of Italian filmmaking available in English. Though it may not seem essential to the study of Italian cinema or world cinema as a whole, the once enormously popular films referenced in this book speak to a nation during a specific period. Not to mention the role this release could play in expanding the surveys of sexuality in the cinema.

Bobby Beausoleil's Lucifer Rising soundtrack

Another impressive release of this re-issue frenzy is the boxed set The Lucifer Rising Suite: The Music Of Bobby Beausoleil. Released by The Ajna Offensive in 2009 and again in 2013, this release collects not only the final score for Kenneth Anger’s last epic, but also a number of alternate versions and outtakes. The set, pressed on colored vinyl, also includes an in-depth booklet charting the evolution of the Beausoleil score as well as two full color posters of original artwork by the composer. Anyone interested in the history of Lucifer Rising’s production or Kenneth Anger in general will find this release essential. Not only does it do a thorough job of casting the now infamous production of Lucifer Rising, perpetuated by Kenneth Anger and his unauthorized biographer Bill Landis, in a new light, it also dispels the notion that Beausoleil was an opportunistic hack.

A similar package was put together by Blue Jazz Records in 2015 for the release of Kailash. The music contained within this set is composed of solo piano versions of music for the film Kailash (directed by Florian Fricke and Frank Fiedler) and the Popol Vuh versions of the same compositions. This release also anthologized a number of related piano recordings by Fricke made between the sessions for the soundtrack in 1978 and as recently as 1989. So like The Lucifer Rising Suite: The Music Of Bobby Beausoleil, Kailash is a compact history of a musical document and its relationship to the images that inspired it. It is also worth noting that a DVD of Kailash is included in this double album set.

Florian Fricke

Kailash, in the Blue Jazz Records package, pinpoints succinctly the aesthetic exchange at work between filmmaker Werner Herzog and the band responsible for the scores to such films as Aguirre The Wrath Of God, Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht and Heart Of Glass. Fricke and Fiedler’s film, Kailash, functions as a meditative travelogue of their pilgrimage to the far east. But their choice of images, and the duration with which they confront us with them, all signify an opening up and expanding of Herzog’s aesthetic treatment of place. In this way Kailash is far more comparable to Herzog’s own Fata Morgana than it is to his more traditionally narrative features. For Fricke and Fiedler the emphasis is the effect of space on man within a context that requires far more in terms of audience participation than Herzog’s own films which are in many respects often hindered in this mode by their narrative which permits a notion of removal in its spectator. Fricke’s compositions, spartan and ethereal, reflect this sense of space and duration, obscuring and abstracting the musical themes that came to define his work with Herzog.

The last release that I think is worth discussing in-depth is the Death Waltz Recording Company release of Joe Delia’s soundtrack to Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45 in 2014. Despite the popularity of Ferrara’s film, Delia’s score had never been pressed to vinyl before. Here one can hear the original soundtrack remastered under Delia’s supervision in a clear, crisp mix. This pressing also includes extensive liner notes and comments by Delia, as well as an original poster by Alice X. Zhang. Fans of Ferrara’s work will find all of this to be great fun as well as an excellent tool for dissecting and re-evaluating Ferrara’s first truly successful feature.

Previously I have discussed at length Dagored’s re-issues of Claudio Gizzi’s soundtracks for Paul Morrissey’s films Blood For Dracula and Flesh For Frankenstein. I’m happy to say that Dagored has maintained their output of high quality soundtrack reissues. Similar labels have also put out equally impressive editions. Doxy Cinematic has released the soundtracks to Orson Welles’ The Trial and John Cassavetes’ Too Late Blues while the label Finders Keepers has issued releases of Andrzej Korzynski’s score for Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession and Jean-Bernard Raiteux’s score for Jess Franco’s Les Demons; to name just a few that I have been most excited about.

Ms.45 gatefold

This is not merely a renaissance of sorts solely to be enjoyed by avid record collectors. The information and insights provided by releases such as those mentioned above provide serious and compelling insight into these comparatively obscure films. For the first time, the soundtracks to films are being released with the same care and attention to detail as the films from which they have originated. This affords new frontiers in many respects for the critical discourse surrounding these films. I believe it is essential not to allow such opportunities to slip away (especially when so many pressings are in limited editions).

-Robert Curry

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The Man Who Fell To Earth

Some years ago I bought my first DVD from Movies Unlimited in Northeast Philadelphia.  Last summer I had the good fortune to see that same film on the big screen at the Ritz Bourse.  The film I am speaking of is Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) starring David Bowie, Candy Clark and Rip Torn.   The narrative comes from the novel of the same name written by Walter Tevis about an alien who comes to Earth in search of water, only to become the prisoner of corporate America and a paranoid government.

 

This film succeeds at manipulating the audiences’ awareness of the passage of time within the narrative with a subtlety rarely seen in the cinema.  Roeg does not employ fancy fade effects or title cards; the main stays of the device in mainstream movie making.  Rather, Roeg allows his scenes to pass fluidly, one to the other, without pause or the disruption of the films narrative sequence.  What Roeg does to convey the thirty years covered in the film’s narrative is to apply make-up onto the actors.  This forces the passage of time directly into the visual components of the film, so that it becomes the audience’s responsibility to observe the effects.

In Roeg’s film David Bowie plays the alien Thomas Newton, Candy Clark his mistress Mary-Lou, Rip Torn the speculative scientist.  All three performers have very different and contrasting styles.  Bowie’s training was in Mime, Rip Torn’s the stage, and Clark had been in the movies since adolescence.  The contrast is used by Roeg to heighten the tensions between his diverse characters, but also to re-enforce the other worldliness of Newton.  Roeg perfected this device in his first two features Performance and Walkabout.  Both films cast non-actors opposite professional actors to dramatize cultural and psychological differences.  The necessity of such a contrast was never more prevalent in Roeg’s filmography as in The Man Who Fell To Earth.

In the Roeg cannon, The Man Who Fell To Earth is also the most visually fantastic of his films.  The genre of science fiction permits the acceptance of fantastical images by the audience more than any other genre (consider Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or Tarkovsky’s Solaris).  Slow motion, double exposure, super imposition, etc, are all tools Roeg skillfully implements, often sparingly, to construct an alternate vision of America from the perspective of Newton.  More striking than these effects is Roeg’s use of light and color.  Roeg places scenes of darkness opposite those with bold, flat color back to back. This provides the audience with cues pertaining to the sterile nature of Newton’s technological environment, and the oppression experienced by Newton in these impersonal and colorful settings.  Where as the shadowy sequences, where Newton has a natural cover for his alien form, are the most liberating for the character sociologically and sexually.

It’s a shame that The Man Who Fell To Earth is relegated to the genre of seventies cult classics.  Though I suppose that the majority of film goers know the film simply as a weird Bowie picture whose stills are featured on his album covers for Station To Station and Low. It is a highly stylized and uniquely nuanced piece of filmmaking.  I am speaking as both an avid David Bowie fan and a great admirer of Nicolas Roeg.  Check this one out again if you haven’t already.

-Robert Curry

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