Monday, October 27, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On At the Movies #102 - Videodrome (1983, dir. David Cronenberg)

“Television is reality, and reality is less than television.”

First let me get this off my chest, this movie is not for the children or the squeamish and it is certainly NSFW (as the kids would say), but if you are into genre-bending, spine-tingling horror films this is an exquisite masterpiece of a must-see film. Videodrome, David Cronenberg’s dystopic vision of the future, is an achievement in the genre of horror/science-fiction that has stayed relevant and continues to mystify viewers. Unleashed upon the world in 1983, Videodrome contains all of the aspects that make the horror genre great - blood, guts, suspense and a hint of camp - but in addition to these aspects what makes this film so special is the Cronenbergian additions of unexplainable mystery and a captivating/unnerving visual style. Most horror films of this era tend to be somewhat predictable and bold-faced, but Cronenberg’s stylistic touch of the odd and macabre enliven this film, elevating it onto its own plane.
Not to overstate the ability of this film to presage the future of our culturally bleak society that has become distracted, disenchanted, and fascinated with the morbid, but it has all but completely torn down the veil between 1983 and the future 31 years later. In this unconventional horror flick set in some undetermined future (beginning simply on Wednesday the 23rd) our ‘hero’ Max Renn (James Woods) is a scummy cable television executive determined to find something that not only pushes the boundary but “breaks through.” Dealing mostly in smut of the sexual and violent varieties, Renn is obsessed with staying cutting edge. His obsession leads him to seek out a convoluted transmission entitled ‘Videodrome’ that can only be described as ‘torture porn’ (again with this film’s prophetic nature).

“I live in a highly excited state of overstimulation”

Delving deeply into the seamy world of Videodrome he and his girl friend, Nicki Brand (played by Blondie’s Debbie Harry), begin to explore mixing pain and pleasure. What begins with a mostly innocent exploration of sexuality quickly spirals as both begin hallucinating and become completely consumed by the sadomasochistic videotapes that keep finding their way into Renn’s position. Both Renn and Brand are fascinated with the fact that the tapes blur the lines between reality and television. As their society has grown more and more dependent upon their television sets as a crutch (in their bedrooms, as their alarm clocks, and as all forms of entertainment) the screen becomes synonymous with the retina of the eye. With the connection between people and their televisions becoming more and more symbiotic it is no wonder that the people of Cronenberg’s dystopia are fascinated with and easily engulfed by a level of disarming and dangerous reality. This is yet another area of the film that comes off as a bit of a forewarning (read: current society’s obsession with reality television).
From this point the plot of the film expands immensely as Brand searches for Videodrome in Pittsburgh to become a ‘contestant’ and Renn has more trouble determining what is real and what is hallucination. I won’t go too much further into the plot as the webs of conspiracy that form are best experienced without spoilers. But I will say that as the plot develops and the conspiracies unfold the lines between reality, hallucination, and television become more beautifully convoluted as Max Renn stumbles into the insane climax of the film
Aside from all of the aforementioned reasons let me get to the real point of why I have chosen to attempt to ‘turn you on’ to this demented prophetic horror flick (especially this close to HALLOWEEN!), and that would be Cronenberg’s twisted aesthetic vision. If you haven’t delved into Cronenberg’s filmography please dip your toes in starting with this film. Every aspect of Cronenberg’s work is meticulously skewed in an attempt to deliberately engage, confront, and confound the viewer. Cronenberg’s style is visually arresting and he has an uncanny ability to seamlessly merge a current reality with a fanciful strange alternate reality. Watching any of Cronenberg’s films – such as Dead Ringers, The Fly, Naked Lunch, and Cosmopolis, to name a few - will immediately transport you to a new, strange and disarming world where fantasy and reality blur.
In the end there are so many levels to this movie and it can be read in many different ways - you simply must see for yourself. So pick up the DVD (or invest in the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release) and investigate this strange new world of Videodrome for yourself. While you may be confused by it, you will not be sorry you checked out this cult classic, because at the heart of it, it’s just a really COOL twisted specimen of the horror/sci-fi genre.

“Death to Videodrome, long live the new flesh!”

~Edward Hill

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tig Notaro as Interviewed by Jeff M. Albright

In celebration of Tig Notaro’s upcoming show at the Paramount Theatre on 11/9, local comedian and Twist and Shout employee Jeff M. Albright interviewed Tig for our Spork Blog.  Be sure to catch Tig Notaro during her 35 city nationwide Boyish Girl Interrupted Tour

Jeff M. Albright: What are some of your favorite memories from your time here in Denver, particularly your work with Tignation Promotions? 

Tig Notaro: So many great times in Denver. I actually started a "business" with one of your old employees, Dawn Greaney where we would consult local bands. We only had one client one time and after the "meeting", we realized we never decided what we charged for our "services." The "meeting" ended with us awkwardly asking for 20 bucks. I feel confident whoever that was that we met with did not go on to bigger and better things thanks to us. 

JA: Your comedy LP Live is considered by many to be one of the "instantly legendary" comedic sets of all-time. Do you feel the pressure to recreate that moment with every set or is it more of a moment in time that is unique unto itself? 

TN: A moment in time, no doubt.  I think the pressure I felt after that set, was more the pressure I typically will put on myself with creating a new hour of stand-up. There is no way I could possibly follow up that CD.

JA: The Denver comedy scene is experiencing a dramatic boom right now both state wide and nationally. Are there any comedians that are Denver based that you follow or would like to work with in the future? 

TN: Well, I have been friends with Nancy Norton forever at this point and I follow her like a hawk- even stay at her place from time to time. I love Nancy, but she's technically in Boulder. And you're right, Denver's scene does seem to be exploding. I'm having the most handsome and funny Andrew Orvedahl host my show and as a fun twist for the evening, my crazy talented poet pal Andrea Gibson will be the opener. Its gonna be a good time, no doubt.

JA: If you could give one piece of advice to a comedian who is in their first two years of stand-up comedy what would it be? 

TN: Get up on stage constantly. Like, now. You shouldn't even be reading this- you should be on stage.

JA: Being that we are a music store I would be remiss if I didn't ask you what are some of the bands/musicians that are currently on your playlist?

TN: Frightened Rabbit, Lucinda Williams, Wilco, Regina Spector and tons of others. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On #114 - Melvins - Hostile Ambient Takeover

Melvins have been doing it for over 30 years now.  But what is it exactly that they do?  Punk, hardcore, post-punk, post-hardcore, sludge, grunge, metal, drone, experimental, noise; those and many other terms have been thrown around over the years.  Ultimately, Melvins are a category unto themselves.  Led by Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover, they first emerged out of Aberdeen, Washington in the early 80s.  After about a decade of kicking around the West Coast underground, they were brought to the attention of the rock mainstream by an old friend from their hometown, Kurt Cobain.  Cobain's influence got the band an unlikely, and destined to be short-lived, major label contract.  Yet while they didn't become the next Nirvana, they did get exposed to a wider audience that otherwise wouldn't have known about them.  The odd spectacle of Melvins opening for arena rock titans like Rush and KISS somehow became a reality.  Jumping from label to label became as much a feature of the band as their ever-changing roster of bass players.  They finally got some stability courtesy of old friend Mike Patton who started up his own label, Ipecac Records, in 1999 and made Melvins his first signing.  They started out with a bang, releasing a trilogy of connected albums, The Maggot, The Bootlicker, and The  Crybaby, each focusing on an aspect of the band.  First, heavy riff-rock; next, quieter and more experimental; finally an album of collaborations with friends and admirers.  So how do you follow up something like that?

The answer is 2002's Hostile Ambient Takeover.  It's not necessarily an epic statement but it is a great album.  With nothing to prove and no overarching theme, Melvins just let it rip.  It's mostly heavy, riff-oriented hard rock with a few odd interludes for a Crover drum solo, a blast of distorted feedback, even a spooky synthesizer-based passage.  It wouldn't be the Melvins without a prank or two and here they mess with the CD track listing.  The numbers on the back don't exactly correspond to what your player's display tells you, but it's not too hard to figure out what's what.  "Black Stooges" and "Dr. Geek" feature infectious riffing from Buzz, while "Little Judas Chongo" has the band going psychobilly at breakneck speed.  "The Fool, the Meddling Idiot" is a classic Melvins slow-burner that features slide-bass work from Kevin Rutmanis, who actually has one of the longest streaks as a Melvins bass player.  The album ends with another epic drone metal piece, "The Anti-Vermin Seed."  This sludges along for 15 minutes, always threatening to bust wide open but never quite doing so.  Creating this much tension without any release could be seen as another prank, but a close listen reveals the song to be a carefully constructed epic.

Melvins have always been insanely prolific,
constantly touring and releasing albums.  They haven't slowed down at all and have had some interesting collaborators.  The late-2000s edition of the band saw Osbourne and Crover combining with Seattle band Big Business as a two-drummer quartet.  Stand-up bassist Trevor Dunn joined for a project known as Melvins Lite.  They just released a new album with ex-Butthole Surfers Paul Leary and JD Pinkus.  Earlier this year, Buzz released a solo acoustic album.  With so much material, it can be hard to know where to start if you're just getting into the band.  Hostile Ambient Takeover is as good a place as any.  And if you're a fan of the band and missed this one, it's definitely worth catching up on.  It may not be their best or best-known but it's still an essential entry in the vast Melvins catalog.  Here's to another 30 years!

            - Adam Reshotko

Monday, October 13, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On At the Movies #101 - To Live and Die In L.A. (1985, dir. William Friedkin)

Although there is very little doubt that William Friedkin is a talented, varied and periodically excellent filmmaker, there are certain films in his oeuvre that remain criminally under seen and under appreciated – To Live and Die In L.A. being the prime example.
Friedkin is able to make a tough, murky crime film firmly planted in everything great that was the 80s in American cinema with very little, if any, of the bad. In this deceptively simple tale of counterfeiting we get to know everyone: the mules, the middlemen, the cops, the makers, the buyers and even the lawyers that keep everything "legal." Bathed in a damn near giallo style of reds, greens and purples, the film lets the audience smell the sweat and grit every step of the way. Although the screenplay is far from great (and even descends into awkward one liners that don't function at all), when it works, it works like a perfectly run machine. During those scenes of excellence, it's easy to find oneself lost into a world of neo-noir, where every line is akin to a loaded gun, every breath and bead of sweat becomes visceral, morality is an archaic myth with no place in this story, and every burst of Peckinpah-esque violence feels like an assault on every one of the viewer’s already heightened senses.
Thankfully, Friedkin has a deft handle on when and when not to use the fantastic (if a little goofy) score and songs from Wang Chung. The contrast of the pitch-black story unfolding with the brief, discotheque-ready musical interludes just makes the whole thing feel a little skanky in the best way possible. But the moments of near-transcendence come when we are left with no music. This film holds a firm place in the car chase sub-genre for an exhilarating, exhausting and extensive chase only bested by the likes of (Friedkin’s own earlier film) The French Connection and of course, Bullitt.
The cast is pretty solid all around. William Petersen is fantastic here, long before he threw the towel in and settled into C.S.I. Friedkin's smartest choice with this film was making our "protagonist" a real person. Rather than a simple black and white story of good vs. evil, all of our characters float freely between what is "moral" or right, with nearly everyone taking care of themselves and throwing others under the bus without question when they deem it necessary. This of course ties back around to the neo-noir aspects that really root the entire film. Willem Dafoe has surely one of his greatest performances here as a soul-tortured artist who burns any real artistic output and focuses his skills on counterfeiting for what seems to be the majority of Los Angeles.  John Turturro and Dean Stockwell don't necessarily have a lot to work with here, but they remain memorable in their respective roles. We even get a nice little turn from Robert Downey, Sr.
If you miss the days when Hollywood wasn't all that worried about you walking out of the theatre with a phony smile and sense that everything is okay, then this film is for you. For the most part it holds nothing back (it’s from the days when male and female could be naked on screen and no one lost their minds) and brings more energy, passion and vigor than any film of the like in recent memory. Crime films should be tough and they shouldn't end on an up note just because it feels better that way. Agree? Then you're in the right place.
- William Morris, House Manager, Sie Film Center

Monday, October 6, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On #114 - Cecil Taylor - The World of Cecil Taylor

Don’t be afraid of Cecil Taylor; he won’t hurt you, he just wants to make beautiful music. He’s earned a reputation as a challenging jazz musician, instrumental (along with Ornette Coleman) in ushering in “free jazz” in the 50’s and 60’s. But mostly the music that’s made him notorious came later than this, after a 1962 breakthrough where he found rhythm sections ready to go out on a limb with him and try something new. In the years leading up to that from his 1957 debut Jazz Advance, through the great 1958 release Looking Ahead! to his 1959 albums Hard Driving Jazz (later issued under John Coltrane’s name as Coltranetime) and Love For Sale, Taylor charted a course that challenged some but still worked within the boundaries of what people referred to as jazz, mainly held to the earth by solid bass and drum support. But after fairly indifferent sales for those albums he connected with the jazz writer Nat Hentoff, whose position as A&R man at the newly formed Candid Records meant that he could sign and give artistic freedom to a number of musicians working outside the mainstream of jazz. And Taylor didn’t waste the opportunity, producing several albums’ worth of material over a few recording sessions in October 1960 and January 1961, starting with this release. As with the titles of his first couple records (or Ornette’s similarly forward-thinking The Shape of Jazz To Come or Change of the Century) Taylor’s title promises a new world and a new approach to jazz here and he delivers it.
Though earlier on in his career Taylor took flack from critics unwilling to give his new music a shot, by this time he didn't really have anything more to prove to anybody - you take him seriously if you hear him play, simple as that. You may not like it, but there's no denying that he's for real. The record kicks off with “Air” where drummer Dennis Charles announces the opening with a drum fanfare into which Cecil drops a
thoroughly discordant but rhythmically solid (albeit tricky) melody. Charles and bassist Buell Neidlinger come back in with a cooking rhythm and the young saxophonist Archie Shepp takes the lead solo (two years before his debut album), sounding somewhat tentative here with Taylor comping menacingly behind him – or maybe that’s me projecting because when Taylor takes the lead Shepp's hesitant take on things is blown out of the memory within a few seconds, as he dissects the rhythm like a master surgeon, and plays around a tonal idea and stays challenging and dissonant without going completely atonal and aleatoric. Taylor and Charles trade off phrases as the piece draws to a close and Shepp reappears to say goodbye – but he’ll be back for the closing track, don’t worry. Next up is the lovely Rodgers & Hammerstein ballad "This Nearly Was Mine" (from South Pacific), performed as a trio with Neidlinger and Charles. In Cecil's hands it retains its beauty but it's edgy and works the extremes of the instrument and can jangle your nerves if you're the sort to let it get under your skin instead of immersing yourself. But if you immerse, you will find yourself right in his world. We also have "Port of Call," a Taylor original that's got a nice melodic line (which of course he immediately clutters up and subjects to changes) and might be the most accessible thing here for a listener looking for something more traditionally jazzy to hook into, though Taylor’s pixellated solo still may rattle the unwary. Following that is "E.B.," probably my favorite piece of the set. It's again a trio and is taken at a rocketing tempo with Dennis Charles working alongside Taylor's subversions of the riff that characterizes the piece in a way that reminds me of Blakey and Monk's interplay on Monk's underrated tune "Introspection." All the while Buell Neidlinger drives fiercely underneath and provides a grounding to even Taylor's wildest moments of solo flight. Closing things is the ballad "Lazy Afternoon" where Shepp acquits himself with a nice solo and some good back and forth with Cecil - still not quite in Taylor's league (to be fair, hardly anyone is), but he simply sounds great here, craggy tone and all - and helps make the piece work. Taylor of course takes what could be a languid stroll through an old tune and makes it something altogether more interesting while the rhythm mainly steers clear and lets him fly, especially in the opening improvisation.
            All in all, the album is a great way in to Taylor's music, a nice balance of accessible and complex, and one of his finest early records – possibly the best of all his pre-1962 albums. From here he’d get more challenging as he found players open to his unique rhythmic and harmonic approach, but the early years are a fascinating glimpse of how Taylor could make his ideas work within a relatively traditional framework. The friction of his striving often left behind some great work.

            - Patrick Brown