Taj Mahal Travelers on Tour (1972)

Over the holidays I received a copy of  JaprocksamplerJulian Cope’s encyclopedic account of how Rock’n’Roll collided with Japanese culture to create a freaked out fusion of pop, folk, and experimental music.  Cope writes with authority and unabashed passion, but he lists more musicians, bands, and records then one feels they have time left to track down. One of the first bands I wanted to check out was Taj Mahal Travelers, a sextet of long haired musicians straddling the worlds of rock and art. When Cope mentioned that someone produced a tour documentary about Taj Mahal Travelers, I immediately set out to find it. Knowing that only one of their albums shows up on Spotify, I thought I’d have to do some real Internet mining to find this documentary, but low-and-behold someone has posted it to You Tube. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles. That’s okay, the music transcends the language barrier.

 

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30th Century Man (2006)

I remember an internet friend – those kind you know only online, but have never met face to face – writing extensively about Walker. It was intriguing, but far too in depth. I needed a primer. What I needed was a good entry point and guide to Scott Walker.We all have cultural blind spots. Even when I feel confident that I know a little about a lot of things, I come across some topic or subject that I know squat about. Scott Walker is one such thing. I’m partially embarrassed to admit that until recently I knew absolutely nothing of the singer Scott Walker, Okay, I knew this song, but I never knew who sang it.

If the point of a documentary is to share something of the real world then 30th Century Man is a good documentary.  It is, however, not a film you have to watch. There are long segments of this film where the visuals serve little purpose or add next to nothing to my understand of the film’s subject. Watching others listen to Walker’s work is an interesting element, but it doesn’t pay off. No matter how famous the listeners are, their reactions to the music are too internal to register on camera. Yet, when Brian Eno quips that today’s musicians are adding nothing to development of modern music he’s right. Especially, when we get to hear Walker’s more recent music. Walker is century’s ahead of the pop musician of today.

Let’s hope that at least one of today’s pop artists progress in the wonderful and weird ways that Scott Walker progressed.

The Blob (1957) + Beware! The Blob (1972)

The Blob is a matinee flick wherein Steve McQueen and Aneta Corsaut play very old teenagers who cannot get adults to heed their warnings about an intergalactic menace. It’s a classic, but it’s overshadowing an equally entertaining blob film.

Beware! The Blob diverges little from its predecessor’s plot. Again, a gelatinous life form is unleashed and few believe the teen witnesses. Filled with far more humor, Beware! The Blob is a surprisingly fun sequel filled with great bit parts by Richard StahlGodfrey CambridgeGerrit GrahamBurgess Meredith, and many other.

Poking fun at its genre and source material this Larry Hagman directed horror comedy, mixes farcical jokes with traditional scares. There is some low-budget, but inventive camera work and special effects, not to mention some of the wackiest dialog I’ve heard in ages. “Hey let’s go to your place and have an avocado sandwich, on whole wheat bread, with alfalfa sprouts, and Monterey Jack cheese.”

You’d have to watch Gremlins and Gremlins 2: The New Batch to find a similar comparison between The Blob and Beware! The Blob, with the first film setting up a premise and the second film having fun with the premise while also poking fun at it.  Joe Dante directed both Gremlins films. His directorial style is a more polished and pointed version of Hagman’s direction, perhaps even influenced by it.

I am quite surprised that it took me so long to stumble upon this gem and to do so uninvited. I cannot recall anyone ever suggesting it to me, nor reading about it in any books or magazines – even those that deal mainly with b-movies. Frankly, I’m shocked as Beware! The Blobis one of the most enjoyable popcorn flicks I’ve seen in some time. I also now get the reference made by WFMU’s Beware of the Blog.

Rollerball (1975)

Rollerball predicts a corporatized future where the most popular sport is a no holds barred, semi-motorized version of roller derby. It’s vision of the future is part Ikea, part Eames, and part Playboy advertisement. It’s masculinity meets mod.  What’s so strikingly wrong about its vision of the future is just how it is so low-key and unadorned with advertising. Rollerball is a far cry from NASCAR. Though, I’d much preferred to have seen a future as stylish as the one in Rollerball and not as slobbish as the future we are living in – minus the bloodlust, an corporate monopoly, of course.

Prince of Darkness (1987)

Prince of Darkness is a John Carpenter film that asks us to consider the possibility of a physical embodiment of evil. Located in the basement of a boarded up church lies a vessel containing the anti-christ.  As the evil escapes its holding tank an army of undead surround the church. Religion and science work together understand and contain the force of evil that has laid dormant for eons.

If there is a great fault with this film it casts a gang of less than stellar stars, including Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount as unlikely and not too memorable research students working to save humanity from ultimate evil. A budding romance between Parker and Blount’s characters is meant to draw us in emotionally. While most of the other students simply serve as hapless victims. In the end, I cared little for any of characters and too much for the unexplored history of evil incarnate.

Prince of Darkness does offer up one of the more chilling visuals in horror cinema. It’s a broadcast from the future year of 1999. The image of a dark figure exiting an abandoned church is wavy, broken up by static, and accompanied by garbled audio. What we can make out from the message informs us that in the future they have developed a transmitter strong enough to broadcast into dreams.  The film has a hard time explaining the physics behind how messages from the future can be transmitted into dreams. It is just one of a few interesting ideas that is never explored enough for my liking.

 

 

 

Possession (1981)

Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession is a film for anyone who felt Kubrick’s The Shining provided too sane a depiction of madness. Zulawski’s has none of the visual rigor of Kubric. Zulawski is far more daring with his visuals, but not always successful. Sam Neill rocks with intensity, the kind that is so unhinged it becomes nearly comical to those watching in the audience. To his screen wife, played by Isabelle Adjani, Neill’s madness can only be matched by her own masochistic insanity. When she’s not slicing herself with kitchen appliances she’s making love to a gooey creature straight out of a David Cronenberg flick, even if this pre-dates some of Cronenberg’s slimiest pics. There may even be a hint of Roman Polanski‘s paranoia sprinkled throughout this film

A combination of Kubrick and Cronenberg  and Polanski sounds appealing, I’m hard pressed to consider this film anything more than daring or bold. Those are not bad attributes for a film, especially if you are looking for a cinematic experience to shake up your night, but I would caution anyone to confuse those two terms with a guarantee for greatness.

The Hypnotic Eye (1960)

Women around town start mutilating themselves. They act as if in a trance. The results are grizzly, even deadly. Is a traveling hypnotist to blame? One detective must find the answer before his girl friend becomes the next victim.

The Hypnotic Eye swings like a pocket watch back and forth, back and forth, between dark and campy. The methods used by the women to disfigure themselves are shocking and cringe worthy, but then their are moments of unintentional hilarity. Take for example this scene inside a beatnik coffee house, perhaps my new favorite portrail of beat poetry in a Hollywood film.

Besides the  reflexive silliness of a pome like “Confessions of a Movie Addict” there is a lot to like about “The Hypnotic Eye”.

Check it today:

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