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by Bill Gibron

27 Mar 2009

One of the great things about art is its ability to make you see the common and the familiar in a totally different and unique light. Painting puts a stylistic impression on the world, while music translates ideas and feelings into sound and sonic expression. Film is perhaps the most endemic of the many formats. It allows for the greatest combination of facets, plus is relies on reinvention and reinterpretation to stay fresh and alive. This is exactly what happens to the horror film in Ben Rivers deconstructionist delight Terror! As part of Provocateur DVDs new Experiments in Terror 3, this brilliant breakdown of the standard fright flick is so radiant, so drop dead eye-opening in what it says about the genre, that it should be required viewing for all scary movie buffs.

As they have in the past, the Experiments in Terror series collects unusual and outsider examples of sinister short films from around the world. Past participants have been Damon Packard, Bill Morrison, and J.X. Williams. This time up, we are treated to six sensational examples of avant-garde artistic invention. Williams shows up again with the Christmas themed Satan Claus, while famed underground legend Mike Kuchar conjures up the mummy mania of Born of the Wind. Rivers’ Terror! costars with Jason Bognacki’s The Red Door (more of a trailer for an upcoming feature than a full blown film), Carey Burtt’s toyland expose of The Psychotic Odyssey of Richard Chase, and the silent film fascination of Marie Losier and Guy Maddin’s Manuellle Labor. Add in Clinton Childree’s It Gets Worse and a pamphlet describing each offering, and you’ve got a killer compendium - both figuratively and literally.
 


It all starts with the animated atrocities of insane maniac Chase, a real life criminal who believed he was a vampire. Inspired by Todd Haynes and his Barbie doll based Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, Burtt using basic stop motion techniques and some careful framing to tell the sensational story. There are moments of high comedy and sequences of unsettling psychological damage on display. By using the innocent items associated with youth, Chase’s crime become more compelling - and disturbing. Similarly, the black and white turn of the century cinematic techniques displayed by Losier and Maddin, as well as Chidree, change the entire nature of the horror film narrative. Both feel like malformed comedies, humor derived from death, birth, and the mutations that accompany each.

Elsewhere, Williams works his magic on the Mexican kiddie classic (and Mystery Science favorite) Santa Claus. Taking a subplot involving the rich boy and his inconsiderate parents and turning it into a tale of devil worship and demonic possession - with a little Profundo Rosso thrown in for good measure - we wind up with a wicked Yuletide treat. Even Kuchar manages a bit of bedevilment in his typical homage hysterics. This 1964 farce features the standard company from the underground icon and a plethora of his peculiar motion picture style. There’s high camp, over the top sexuality, significant gore, and a last act reveal that’s so outrageous it hurts.



Oddly enough, the only outing which lacks true impact is Bognacki’s Red Room. There are hints of incest, abuse, spirituality, and murder in this music heavy promo. Just as things start to sort themselves out, we get that most dreaded of creative con jobs - the tag “to be continued”. In fact, much of this prostitute vs. John vs. phantom presence plays like a music video for a forgotten ‘90s Goth act. All we need is Marilyn Manson showing up with a jaw spreader in his craw and we be rockin’! This is not to downplay Bogmacki’s talent - the material looks fantastic, and the post-production touch of placing an animated scar across the ghost’s eyes really works. Too bad it’s all in service of something insignificant and incomplete.

But everything here, no matter its value, is raised several substantive notches by the inclusion of Rivers’ genius dissection of modern fright. Terror! takes several recognizable films - everything from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween to City of the Living Dead and Friday the 13th to showcase the standard cinematic stereotypes and formulaic filmmaking techniques involved in manufacturing fear. We get the simple set up, the shot of feet stumbling in the dark, the unexpected reveal of the villain, the last girl struggles, the inept desire to explore the unknown, the sudden shocks, and most significantly, the gruesome, gory end game. This last facet is the most fascinating element in Rivers’ routine for many reasons - many of them very telling indeed.



Like pornography, horror’s unwholesome relative, there is a definite desire on the part of scary moviemakers to start out somber and build to a climax. All throughout Terror! , we anticipate the killings to come (especially once the individual films reveal themselves) and then spend nearly 20 minutes waiting for the payoff. All the while, the normal beats that keep us on the edge of our seats become delayers of our gratification. As Rivers randomizes the edits, drawing us closer and closer to the blood orgasm to come, we truly want the relief - and when it comes, it’s almost sickening in its satisfaction. Of all the films made about fear and the movies that monopolize said emotion, this is one of the very, very best.

And that’s par for the course when it comes to Provocateur and its itinerary of titles. One should simply sit back and expect the unexpected, whether it’s action figures and crayons creating blood-drinking dread or a famed filmmaker using his love of antique Tinsel Town for a fabulous play on words. No matter the age, ability, or aspirations, all of these ‘experiments’ succeed in showing that talent in any form - feature length or substantially shorter - can lift even the most mediocre of overdone genre. Horror definitely fits into such a mangled category. For all the good work done, there are thousands of genuine junk piles. This trip into terror is significant for many reasons, the least of which remains their artistic integrity. Like all good masterworks, they mean as much in retrospect as they do in reality.

by PopMatters Staff

27 Mar 2009

The new Super Furry Animals album Dark Days / Light Years releases digitally via Rough Trade on April 14th and in physical form on April 21st. Of course, as many of you know the Welsh popsters have already released it digitally on their own website. Here’s a slice of the tunes on offer, “Inaugural Trams”.

Super Furry Animals
“Inaugural Trams” [MP3]
     

by Thomas Hauner

27 Mar 2009

After an awkwardly scripted, but hilariously oblivious, introduction by the night’s host Bryan Michael Cox, Peter Bjorn and John took the stage at their “Wonderlust” W Hotel gig. Their physical and musical presence was highly anticipated, not having performed in the US for a year and their fifth album, Living Thing, arriving March 31.

Playing mostly new songs from Living Thing, their sound adhered to the stripped-down minimalist indie pop of past albums—namely the excellent Writer’s Block. But now, in their sparse arrangements, synthetic sounds dominated. Peter Moren hammered away at a keyboard while John Eriksson eschewed a drum throne and kit, instead standing in front of a shelf of sampling pads, drums and cymbals while kicking a bass drum to his right.

Compared to their listless photo op upon entering the venue, the trio was animated and energetic, excited to be performing new music. In a bit of role reversal Björn Yttling played keyboard while Moren slashed away on bass for “I Want You!”

Peter Bjorn and John joined the Catchy-Kids-Chorus-Club with “Nothing To Worry About”. Gorgeous minor-soaked melodies scratched against Eastern flute samples and a heavy beat before Moren’s voice took over. It was the first point in the set at which everyone in the crowd was dancing and seemed to have a clue as to what the Swedes were up to.

On “It Don’t Move Me”, Yttling echoed the same piano sounds he created as producer on Lykke Li’s “I’m Good, I’m Gone”. Also the intro on title track “Living Thing” had hints of Moren’s Swedish rockabilly roots.

A few of the band’s songs were a departure from the irrepressibly catchy, but intriguing, melodies PB and J have accustomed themselves to. At some points they seemed to be veering towards the current post punk trend, one that dishevels their tight sound. Ending with “Object Of My Affection”, however, they played with precisely the type of above punk ethos their music—and facial hair—emanates.

Forty minutes later they finished with a single encore, “Young Folks”. I thought it was a bit 2007, and would have definitely preferred the “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard” Moren flaunted at a Mercury Lounge show a year ago.

 

by Andrew Martin

27 Mar 2009

For those of us unable to attend SXSW, such as myself, Tanya Morgan recorded their live set to add to our jealousy. With 10 tracks ranging from teasers to interludes to full-length cuts, this is certainly a nice treat and preview of their upcoming album Brooklynati. While this mix cannot compare to the vibe of actually being there and losing your mind in person, you could always turn this way up, let it bump, and pretend.

Tanya Morgan
Official Live Recordings [MP3s]

 

by Rob Horning

27 Mar 2009

Economist Willem Buiter, who also serves as a highly engaging and polemical blogger for FT, wants to know why more bankers and board members are not being perp-walked.

It is clear that the vast majority of the large border-crossing banks are continuing to exploit every accounting trick in the book to avoid recognising the marked-to-market losses on their dodgy assets.  With most banks cursed with paper-thin equity cushions in relation to their assets, a more intense, let alone a quasi-forensic scrutiny of the balance sheet by a nosy expert paid for and acting on behalf of the government shareholder could easily precipitate a move from partial to full state ownership and thence into insolvency and an orderly restructuring or liquidation.
Too many bank insiders have exploited their monopoly of information and the control it bestows on them, to enrich themselves by robbing their shareholders blind.  There has been a spectacular failure of corporate governance.  Boards have foresaken their fiduciary duties.  Surely, even the liability insurance taken out by board members ought not to shelter those who are guilty of, at best, such willful negligence and dereliction of duty?  Where are the class actions suits by disgruntled shareholders? Where are the board members in handcuffs?
Now that there is no meat left on the shareholder drumstick, the rogue managers and employees are going after a piece of the really juicy bird - the ever-patient tax payer.  I hope they choke on it.

These are good questions, and it would seem imperative that some punishment be doled out to some deserving scapegoats at some point, if only to defuse populist anger. The fact that all the malefactors in this crisis can’t be punished shouldn’t prevent authorities from singling out a few and laying the groundwork for the “few bad apples” argument—i.e., it wasn’t that the whole system was bad; there were just a few naughty bankers who abused our trust.

Paul Krugman, in his editorial today, will have none of that—it sounds as though he wants, like Lionel Hutz, to put the system on trial. He describes securitization as a scheme to enrich financial intermediaries with no value added in terms of risk management or beneficial capital allocation:

Underlying the glamorous new world of finance was the process of securitization. Loans no longer stayed with the lender. Instead, they were sold on to others, who sliced, diced and puréed individual debts to synthesize new assets. Subprime mortgages, credit card debts, car loans — all went into the financial system’s juicer. Out the other end, supposedly, came sweet-tasting AAA investments. And financial wizards were lavishly rewarded for overseeing the process.
But the wizards were frauds, whether they knew it or not, and their magic turned out to be no more than a collection of cheap stage tricks. Above all, the key promise of securitization — that it would make the financial system more robust by spreading risk more widely — turned out to be a lie. Banks used securitization to increase their risk, not reduce it, and in the process they made the economy more, not less, vulnerable to financial disruption.
Sooner or later, things were bound to go wrong, and eventually they did. Bear Stearns failed; Lehman failed; but most of all, securitization failed.

Economist Arnold Kling concurs, adding the codicil that securitization has always been a perversion of free-market principles. “My view is that securitization of mortgages would never have emerged in a free market.  Instead, it came from our country’s industrial policy supporting housing.  Every major advance in mortgage securitization was a regulatory/accounting gimmick, encouraged or created in Washington.” The insane promotion of homeowning for its own sake has caused no end of trouble. Perhaps, as this Boston Globe thinkpiece suggests, we’re ready to move away from that ideology and stop subsidizing housing to the detriment of the rest of the economy.

Anyway, Krugman is wary of the few bad apples scenario, worrying that “the underlying vision” of the Obama administration “remains that of a financial system more or less the same as it was two years ago, albeit somewhat tamed by new rules.” But that system, in his view, has proven a failure, and isn’t worth saving. What will replace it though? Is he perhaps edging closer to Steven Waldman’s idea of replacing credit administered by banks with a system of flat transfers for consumers, and investment trusts and locally targeted “narrow banks” for businesses. When mainstream discussion reaches that point, we’ll know then that we are truly verging on a new New Deal. 

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Violin Virtuoso L. Subramaniam Mesmerizes in Rare New York Performance (Photos)

// Notes from the Road

"Co-presented by the World Music Institute, the 92Y hosted a rare and mesmerizing performance from India's violin virtuoso L. Subramaniam.

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