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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 formal 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 releases of this re-issue frenzy was 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 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 history 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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Beethoven’s Nephew

About a year ago I had a forty-five minute telephone conversation with director Paul Morrissey. I was ecstatic beyond belief, Morrissey being one of my cinematic heroes, a hero who has gone greatly under appreciated in this country and often neglected. The most pleasurable part of this conversation was Morrissey’s willingness to discuss his film Beethoven’s Nephew (1985). Beethoven’s Nephew has had one home video release in America back in the eighties largely because of copyright and ownership issues that have arisen as an on going conflict between the film’s writer/director and his European producers. These circumstances have kept Beethoven’s Nephew, as well as Morrissey’s other later day masterpiece Spike Of Bensonhurst (1988), out of the public’s sight and mind. As a result studies on the cinema of Paul Morrissey are largely restricted to his work for Warhol, his seventies cult classics, European horror comedies, and the street gang soap opera Mixed Blood (1982), negating the consideration of what I consider Morrissey’s most mature work, Beethoven’s Nephew.

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Morrissey’s career post his break from the Warhol brand after Flesh For Frankenstein (1974) resulted with a decline in the director’s profile. Until 1975 Morrissey had been working in the shadow of Andy Warhol, trading on the pop artist’s name to obtain international distribution for the kind of underground films that rarely got out of Downtown New York city. The films that follow are indicative of a few things, the first being Morrissey’s continued outsider status in Hollywood, secondly that Morrissey’s popularity in Europe ensured exclusive overseas financing, and lastly that no one knew what kind of films Paul Morrissey should be making. When Morrissey returned to independent filmmaking with Mixed Blood he also returned to the break out aesthetic of his most renowned works Flesh (1968), Trash (1970) and Women In Revolt (1971). When Mixed Blood failed to find an audience Morrissey began seeking a project that could be made independently in Europe, whose subject matter could attract the consideration of serious critics and in turn put the director’s career back on track (a narrative that has always been common place among the lives of independent filmmakers from the likes of John Cassavetes and Jim Jarmusch to that of John Waters).
But Paul Morrissey was not out for the kind of art house status so many filmmakers crave, in fact, Morrissey intended Beethoven’s Nephew to be a more entertaining and informative commercial film than the highly publicized Oscar winner Amadeus (1984). To ensure bankability, Morrissey lifted certain aspects of Amadeus’ narrative construction, but filtered these components to create a minimalist tableaux of vignettes that are strung together thematically more so than narratively. Morrissey’s co-writer, Mathieu Carriere, was entrusted with obtaining historical materials that could provide a trustworthy reference point with the hope of the film transcending the conventions of the average Hollywood biopic. The result of this peculiar form that the film has taken is entirely psychological. Beethoven’s Nephew works as a sort of psychological dossier on Beethoven whose scenes either function to give evidence to certain traits in Beethoven’s character or to explain the origins of certain obsessions and desires.
The key aspect of Morrissey’s depiction of Beethoven centers, as the title suggests, on the composer’s relationship with his nephew. In Morrissey’s film it is proposed that Beethoven’s sexual obsession with his nephew, so terribly suppressed, manifests itself in the form of possessiveness and various attempts at complete control. The equating of desire with control had long been a driving force in the cinema of Paul Morrissey. Consider any scene in Trash where Joe Dallesandro is propositioned for sex. When it is revealed Dallesandro can’t keep a hard-on the supporting characters begin crafting other means with which to control Joe. In Beethoven’s Nephew, as opposed to the numerous relationships addressed in Trash, the focus on sexual politics is centered on a single relationship whose analysis lasts the entire duration of the film. In this way Morrissey permits himself to engage in an active meditation on this theme that he presents to his audience as a perverted Punch & Judy Show.

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Beethoven’s Nephew is also one of Morrissey’s rare films without an American actor, such as Joe Dallesandro, in the lead. Famous singer and actress Jane Birkin features prominently in the film as Johanna, with the larger than life Wolfgang Reichmann as Beethoven. This film, unlike Morrissey’s previous ventures, is cast to obtain the sort of marketable pedigree of Hollywood’s all-star biographical extravaganza box office films. It’s obvious now, looking back, that the casting choices for Beethoven’s Nephew were too European and therefore quite unknown in America, therefore bypassing the very purpose of such casting.
It was all about the timing for Paul Morrissey. Where once his timing had been perfect with Flesh in 1968, his timing had become grossly inhibiting, causing his most nuanced film to be shelved after a brief limited run. When talking to Paul Morrissey on the phone a year ago about this film his anger was still palatable. His attempt at a come back had failed despite all of his skill and careful planning, and he was never again afforded the opportunities that had once greeted him at the onset of the seventies.

-Robert Curry

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