Friday, December 21, 2012

The Past in the Present: The Great Gatsby in 1974 and 2012.

This is a short piece I wrote awhile back when the first Luhrmann Gatsby trailer surfaced.

                While the release of the Luhrmann Gatsby trailer last week elicited a fairly mixed response overall, the overwhelming majority appeared to be dismayed, often to the point of disgust, with the provocative, if not entirely unexpected, aesthetic choices that the trailer highlighted.  Underlying much of the rancour was a sense of broken decorum – a strongly engrained feeling that adapting a classic and a period piece is a highly formal exercise not unlike meeting the queen.  You approach the queen with an air of self-conscious frigidity, and then proceed with the elaborate ritual of courtesies, because that’s how it’s done.  Some of the Gatsby reactions suggested the kind of horror that might accompany somebody tongue-kissing, or even goosing, the queen in lieu of the usual formalities.  While it’s far too early to say, obviously, what kind of picture Luhrmann has fashioned out of Fitzgerald’s hallowed literary classic, it’s worth teasing out some of the attitudes that underlie this sense of decorum regarding literary adaptations and period pieces.

                It’s often felt that the chief criteria by which we judge literary adaptations is in terms of their fidelity and faithfulness to the source material.  This is an attitude shared, oddly enough, by literary purists and comic book nerds – though at wholly opposite ends of the cultural spectrum, both share a kind of fundamentalist fervour for the Holy Writ of the source material.  It’s an attitude not without some merit – nobody really wants Gatsby with a sci-fi or zombie twist – but at the same time, it fails to acknowledge that movies and novels are fundamentally different mediums.  All novels worth their salt defy any kind of direct translation to the screen, because they are so rooted in language, and in the specific properties and effects that can only be achieved in the novelistic medium.  Those novels, on the other hand, that do facilitate direct translation are the pulpy page-turners that were never more than fleshed-out film scripts to begin with – Jaws, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Jurassic Park, and so on – all vastly superior movies than they ever were novels.  The point is that novels and their movie adaptations are not joined at the hip – they are separate entities that deserve to be judged on their own terms and relative merits.  If a perfectly faithful translation of a novel was possible, it would render the source novel itself obsolete – as has essentially happened with The Godfather and the other page-turners.

               The Great Gatsby is an unfilmable novel because its essential character lies not in the surface plot, but rather in Fitzgerald’s treatment of it.  In the hands of a lesser author, it could easily have been so much forgettable melodrama, but Fitzgerald – by means of the evocative, suggestive quality of his prose, and unerring sense of what to leave unsaid and un-shown – turns the story into a highly compressed, almost ineffable narrative poetry.  Any attempt to replicate this effect on screen is doomed to failure – even to flesh out any of what Gatsby stirs in the mind’s eye of the reader is to threaten the delicate, tenuous magic by which Fitzgerald maintains the perfection of his small novel.  For this reason, the filmmaker has the freedom to strike out on his own with source material like Gatsby – to create something congruent with, but not slavishly faithful to the original – something that is allowed to breathe in its own cinematic context and its own moment.
                This leads to the question of anachronism in Luhrmann’s trailer.  All period movies are anachronistic to a greater or lesser degree.  The idea of a correct way to approach period on film is as illusionary as the perfectly faithful literary adaptation.  How we think period should be approached on film has little or nothing to do with historical accuracy, or the nature of the period itself – rather, our ideas about period decorum are simply the set of anachronisms that have become conventionalised as to how period should be shown on film.  Since the past is only the past relatively speaking, and was the present to those who actually lived it, the most accurate period ambience would feel exactly like the present moment – this is the paradoxical realization that made Public Enemies such a formally bold and contentious film.

              The real irony here, however, is that although Luhrmann has eschewed the frigid and fussy approach to period, he seems to have done so in a way that is conspicuously old-fashioned.  The stylized, almost psychedelic artificiality of the imagery in the trailer seems to me to be much closer in spirit to the lush, painterly artificiality of the Technicolor Era – to the Old Hollywood worlds of Minnelli, Busby Berkley, and Sirk – than to the romanticized realism of the 1974 Jack Clayton version.  The 3D orientation and CGI appear heavily anachronistic to us – only because of our more recent conventionalized appetite for surface realism and verisimilitude in a period or drama movie.  Hollywood in the 40s and 50s made ample use of sound-stages, matte painted backdrops, crazily phony-looking back projection for driving sequences, and so on; artificiality and stylization in a movie like Gatsby wouldn’t have bothered them the way it does us.

                Anyway, all this is to say that Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby strikes me as more promising than horrifying.  A restoration of Techicolor lushness and Old Hollywood artificiality – shot through with a brash, energetic modern sensibility – may well be a context in which 3D is actually aesthetically justified and rewarding.  I’m curious to see how DiCaprio acquaints himself with the titular role.  All movie stars who make it really big have a touch of Gatsby about them - a touch of the mystery of having everything and yet remaining unfulfilled – and it will be interesting to see if a star of our generation finally manages to nail Fitzgerald’s elusive shadow at the heart of the American Dream.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Clams Casino and Perdues dans New York.

The found footage is from Perdues dans New York, Jean Rollin's famously odd 1989 made for television film:

Here is the sequence in it's original context from Vimeo:

Ballardian Mash-up: Jack Webb and The Normal.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bo Diddley - Mona/Roadrunner (Live)

The grooviest thing I saw today was this footage of Teddy Boys and rockers getting down to a funky Bo Diddley performance in London in 1973.  Okay, in fairness I didn't see too many groovy things today, but this would still be pretty high-up on a red letter day:

More outrageous Brylcream and proto-breakdancing action from the Teddy Boys here:

W.I.T.C.H. The Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy From Hell.

Formed in 1969 from the ashes of the NYRW (New York Radical Women), the Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (W.I.T.C.H.) was a decentralized association of covens dedicated to feminism, socialist activism, and surrealist guerrilla street theater.  As such, they neatly embodied many of the most significant tendencies of the emergent counterculture: the often precarious mixture of political radicalism and dadaist spectacle patented by the Yippies, as well a brand that echoed the burgeoning revival of witchcraft and occultism.  According to an early manifesto:
                 WITCH is an all-women Everything.  It's theater, revolution, magic, terror, joy, garlic flowers, spells.  It's an awareness that witches and gypsies were the original guerrillas and resistance fighters against oppression - particularly the oppression of women - down through the ages.  Witches have always been women who dared to be: groovy, courageous, aggressive, intelligent, nonconformist, explorative, curious, independent, sexually liberated, revolutionary.  Witches were the first Friendly Heads and Dealers, the first birth control practitioners and abortionists, the first alchemists (turn dross into gold and you devalue the whole idea of money!)  They bowed to no man, being the living remnants of the oldest culture of all - one in which men and women were equal sharers in a truly cooperative society, before the death-dealing sexual, economic, and spiritual repression of the Imperialist Phallic Society took over and began to destroy nature and human society.

Their first act was to place a hex on the Black Iron Prison of Wall Street.  According to an article on Jo "Because WITCH actions could be done with a small group and were both fun and political, they quickly spread around the country. Boston women hexed bars. DC women hexed the Presidential inauguration. Chicago women zapped everything. On January 16, 1969, eight undergraduate women at the University of Chicago hexed the chairman of the Sociology Department, which had recently fired a popular woman professor. Dressed in black with their faces painted white, they told him to "beware of the curse, the witch's curse."  The WITCH acronym was used to mean a variety of different things on different occasions: Women Inspired to Tell their Collective Histories, Women Interested in Toppling Consumer Holidays, and, most comically, Women Incensed at Telephone Company Harassment during a demonstration against Bell Telephone.  Here is a wonderful picture of the witches dancing on front of the Chicago Federal building on October 31, 1969:

Pictures from custom buttons and occult chicago            

Jean-Claude Vannier/Yves St Laurent.

The great Jean-Claude Vannier scores a Yves St Laurent fashion show with a track from his masterwork L'Enfant Assassin des Mouches:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Postcards from Elsewhere.

These wonderful conceptual space colony illustrations, produced by NASA's Ames Research Center in the 70s, have been doing the rounds on the internet for awhile now (I used to use one of them as a banner for this blog.)  I come across them again recently on the Daily Mail (via the Daily Grail), so here's a selection:

Gaze Into the Eyes of LAM.

I dare you.

Jeunesse D'Ivoire - Silent Imagery.

Can't really find out too much about this group online.  They are also responsible for one of my favorite ever coldwave tunes, A Gift of Tears.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Happening that Blazed Headlines Across the Nation: Riot on Sunset Strip.

Continuing the acid mania theme of a couple of posts back......In the thirties and forties, Hollywood's Sunset Strip was the glittering playground of movie stars, moguls, and mobsters.  By the mid-sixties, it had become the locus of the new music of the counterculture, with clubs and bars like the Whiskey a Go Go, Pandora's Box, and the London Fog providing a venue for the giddy ascent of The Doors, Arthur Lee's Love, and the Mothers of Invention.  Square local residents and business owners attempted to curb this growing saturnalia, and in 1966 a strict 10:00pm curfew and amped-up loitering laws precipitated a famous riot, in which hippies clashed with police, and Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson were cuffed and arrested.  Within six months, American International Pictures released an exploitation flick based on the incident called Riot on Sunset Strip.  It starred Aldo Ray and the delectable Mimsy Farmer; the title track was a great stomper performed by the Standells (listen here.)  I doubt it's any great shakes, even by bad movie standards, but the trailer is enough of a gas to justify its existence:

With the community welfare foremost in mind, the trailer asks "Do you know what acid can do to an inexperienced young girl?"  This, apparently.  Mimsy Farmer went on to cultivate a more androgynous look, and moved to Italy where she starred in Dario Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet, and Barbet Shroeder's far more clued-in counterculture movie More.  The curfew riots on Sunset Strip also inspired this song, which I hadn't heard for donkey's years:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Witchcraft '70.

Been looking for this one for awhile: Luigi Scattini's irresistible Mondo-style exploitation/documentary feature exploring witchcraft and occultism in the Space Age:

Postcards From Elsewhere.

A few samples from the excellent Pinterest page of Sci-Fi-O-Rama (via feuilleton)

Friday, December 7, 2012

"We even have some ex-disco people..." Steven Halpern on CBS 48 Hours

Steven Halpern was a musician on the New York jazz scene in the 60s - but he didn't much care for the bustle.  He moved to California instead to develop what he called "non-frantic alternative" music - what the world would later know as New Age.  Even truck drivers and burnt-out disco debauchees gravitated towards towards this healing new sound:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Avant-Garde Fashion Advertising: Asia Argento and Kenneth Anger.

Here are a couple of psychedelic fashion promos that caught my eye recently.  The first is directed by Asia Argento for Lodovica Amati's 2013 Spring/Summer collection.  Some people have evinced considerable displeasure at the idea of an ayahuasca ceremony as a scenario for a fashion shot.  I dunno.  I'm a sucker for all things Argento, Asia is as hot as hell, and this looks pretty stunning and hypnotic to me:

 In 2010, Missoni enlisted the talents of legendary Dark Magus and old favorite of this blog Kenneth Anger to promo their Fall campaign.  I don't know why I'm only seeing this now, but here it is:

Via Dangerous Minds and Arthur magazine.

Dragnet: Marijuana is the FLAME, Heroin is the FUSE, LSD is the BOMB!

A couple of SENSATIONAL clips I came across today on the Secret Sun facebook page:

And the moral of the story:

Monday, December 3, 2012

"It's a place that is trying to destroy the individual, by every means possible..." Patrick McGowan on The Prisoner.

The incomparable Patrick McGowan talks about his most famous creation on Canadian Television in 1977:

Cronenberg - High Rise

Continuing the early Cronenberg theme, I discovered this horror disco track by an artist or group called Cronenberg.  I think it's quite good stuff, although I'm probably a bit of a sucker for a track called High Rise by an artist called Cronenberg:

The album Things Inside has a blogspot page here, where you can listen to the rest of the tracks.  I've been impressed with the music so far, and it's a cool design sensibility.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Library Music Used In David Croneberg's Rabid (1977)

Summer's Coming by Keith Mansfield is beautiful library piece that first appeared on the KPM album Love's Theme:

It's the last of five library tracks used in Rabid that somebody has uploaded here: