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by Rob Horning

28 Jul 2009

A few days ago, in an attempt to recapture some of the deeper pleasure I used to take in listening to music, I hooked up my turntable, which had been sitting in a closet on top of a milk crate holding the few remaining records I didn’t give away when I moved two years ago.

When I finally got the cables straightened out and dropped the needle on a record (The Other Woman by Ray Price), the first thing I noticed—something that I had totally forgotten about playing records—is that each time you play one, it sounds a little different. There are many contingencies: static, dust, the needle’s fidelity, the speed at which the turntable revolves. Records get worn out, obviously; they develop skips and so on. Some of the skips on records I had as a kid are burned into my mind, so that when I hear “Born to Run” on the radio, I still brace myself for a skid across the “wha-uh-uh-ohohoh” part at the end that never comes. I have this unique (albeit mostly useless) relation to that song because of the specific damaged record I owned. (Who knows? Maybe people will come to sentimentalize imperfections in the compression of their audio files. I tend to delete them instead.)

by Justin M. Norton

28 Jul 2009

Chump Changeby Dan FanteSun Dog PressApril 2008, 198 pages, $14.00

Chump Change
by Dan Fante
Sun Dog Press
April 2008, 198 pages, $14.00

Novelist John Fante has, since his death, attained a level of fame that eluded him in life in part because of the relentless endorsement of fellow Los Angeles author and poet Charles Bukowski. Fante is perhaps best known for Ask The Dust and the remaining autobiographical books in the Arturo Bandini saga (among them The Road To Los Angeles and Wait Until Spring, Bandini). His protagonist is a dreamer and struggling writer trying to navigate southern California in the late 1930s.

Fewer readers are familiar with the works of his son Dan. Dan Fante’s fiction was only available in France for years and was only recently published in the United States via small publishing houses. Dan Fante struggled with alcoholism and drug abuse, drove a cab, and seemed overshadowed by his father.
The younger Fante shares with his father an enthusiasm for confessional first-person narratives. I recently read Chump Change, the first of several novels featuring narrator Bruno Dante. The novel is, in part, a book-length eulogy to his father. Fresh from a New York sanitarium, Bruno returns home to Los Angeles to be with his family as his once-famous father dies. Dan Fante’s self-indulgent alter-ego Bruno Dante is the anti-Bandini. He is hopelessly self-destructive. Whereas Bandini was consumed with his fate as an author, Bruno Dante seems uncertain of his writing prowess and often claims he doesn’t want to write at all. Bruno Dante has a gift for staccato phrases and quick asides. He’s also not very likeable.

Dan Fante was, it would appear, more influenced by Bukowski than his father. Much like Henry Chianski in Buk’s Factotum, Bruno does his best to alienate everyone around him. During the course of his father’s convalescence and eventual passing, he gets drunk, attacks a transvestite in a hospital, holes up in a cheap hotel with a stuttering prostitute, and abducts the family dog. He takes a job working for a video dating service with disastrous results. While he mourns his father’s death in private he isn’t emotionally available to his family. The entire time we spend with Bruno is taxing—he’s the kind of person you would want to shake loose in real life. Whereas Arturo Bandini seemed driven by his anger and desire for greatness, Bruno seems determined to march to the bottom.

What father and son also share is a preoccupation with Los Angeles. Both men write about the haunting effects Los Angeles can have on author. Arturo Bandini and Bruno Dante seem mesmerized by Los Angeles as if the city herself were an elusive lover. It’s obvious from the fictional works of both Fantes that the most well-meaning scribe can be easily seduced and crushed by the Hollywood dream factory. 

Dan Fante’s very real admiration for his father’s gifts is also evident throughout Chump Change. One particular section of the book in which the protagonist finds a rare old copy of his father’s book (obviously Ask The Dust) is revealing and, alone, worth the cover price.

Dan Fante’s other Brunto Dante works—among them Mooch and Spitting From Tall Buildings—are set to be reissued by Harper Perennial in December 2009. Let’s hope reissues earn this worthy author a larger audience and recognition as an equal talent to his famous forebear.

by Andrew Martin

28 Jul 2009

Nicolay
Shibuya: City Lights Vol. 2
(Foreign Exchange Music)
Releasing: 15 September (US)

Dutch production master Nicolay crafts yet another breezy, soulful, and gorgeous Sunday anthem with Carlitta Durand handling vocal duties. It’s a hell of a teaser for his newest project, City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya.

SONG LIST
01 Lose Your Way feat. Carlitta Durand
02 Shibuya Station
03 Crossing
04 Rain in Ueno Park
05 Satellite
06 Saturday Night feat. Carlitta Durand
07 A Ride Under the Neon Moon
08 Omotesando
09 Meiji Shrine
10 Shadow Dancing
11 The Inner Garden
12 Bullet Train
13 Wake Up in Another Life
14 Departure
15 Shibuya Epilogue feat. Carlitta Durand

Nicolay feat. Carlitta Durand
“Lose Your Way” [MP3]
     

by Bill Gibron

28 Jul 2009

Along with their French, Japanese, and American brethren, the Italians were instrumental in bringing Golden era motion pictures - and all their phony, studio-bound ideals - up to date. With their naturalistic, neo-realism and aesthetic earthiness, they did as much as the New Wave and exploitation to help cinema “grow up”. Of course, once international audiences got a taste of their wares, commerciality took over. Soon, Mediterranean moviemakers were catering to the box office just as much as their Hollywood hucksters. By the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, Rome was the center of a mainstream movie machine that could indulge major players like Fellini, Pasolini, and Leone as well as numerous genre underlings. It was the classic battle between art and artifice, with the latter often taking profit point.

Sergio Martino and Elio Petri represent such minor, if still important, mid-period engineers. The former found fame creating cruel, nasty “giallos” - crime thrillers based on the popular yellow-covered Italian pulp novels. Such efforts as Case of the Scorpion’s Tale and Your Vice Is a Closed Room and Only I Have the Key rivaled Dario Argento for the title of king of the category. The latter was an Oscar nominated (for 1970’s Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion) radical, using his Communist party ties and strident beliefs to front-load films like The Lady Killer of Rome and We Still Kill the Old Way with alienation and surreal social commentary.

A perfect example of both men’s filmic modus operandi comes with Blue Underground’s release of Martino’s Torso and Petri’s The 10th Victim. While wildly divergent in both story and style, they’re also indicative of the men who made them and the culture who gave birth to their individual ideals. The first film is a typical “killer on the loose” exercise, Martino’s obsession with naked, nubile college girls overpowering what is, often, an intense and suspenseful nail-biter. The last 30 minutes are particularly effective. Petri’s future shock schlock, on the other hand, is all SCTV spoof fodder. From the outrageous fashions to the less than hidden anti-media agenda, this revamped version of The Most Dangerous Game is like a retro Running Man meshed with a Cinzano ad.

Yet both films are also time capsules as well. For Petri, the mid ‘60s were certainly swinging. Arthouses, long responsible for embracing the foreign film and its many marvelous auteurs, was giving way to an everyday hipster dynamic. One could walk past the numerous downtown marquees of Anytown, American and see offerings from all over the world. This meant that star power as well as story was important, and The 10th Victim gave known international icons Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress safe haven to look and act fabulous. She, decked out in the latest Milan couture, he, sporting a bad blond dye job and ever-present shades, play a prickly game of cat and mouse set against the most modern - at least for 1965 - of ultra-chic urban backdrops.

Andress’ Caroline Meredith is the latest “winner” of The Big Hunt, a worldwide television phenomenon which sees participants act as “assassin” and “victim” alternately, each pursuit played out for points, profit, and a chance at retiring a decathlete (one who successfully completes 10 missions). She is only one victory away from earning said title - and the $1 million prize that goes with it. Mastroianni’s Marcello Polletti, on the other hand, is a shady womanizer who, while equally triumphant in the game, can’t seem to hold onto his money. He’s always broke, and desperate for ways to earn additional endorsements. When the mega-computers in Geneva set them up against each other, it’s not long before passion, and the possibility of a huge advertising payday from a Chinese tea company, comes their way.

All dystopian visions should look as groovy as The 10th Victim. While Petri makes sure to pontificate now and then (the whole subtext about the Hunt solving world war and man’s natural tendencies toward violence get lots of jaw time), this is really just pretty people playing against a quirky, crazy quilt backdrop. We can never quite figure out Marcello’s marital status and his oddball obsessive girlfriend seems too unstable to be part of this meticulous killer’s interpersonal life. When he takes to the streets and cityscapes of modern Rome, Petri provides enough intrigue to keep us interested. But this is a movie that suffers from being severely dated, the high tech elements employed (handset-only dial phones, big ass blinking light computers) creating an aura of absurdity.

Still, there’s a real chemistry between Andress and Mastroianni, a tension that literally beams off the screen. The whole “are they or aren’t they in love” question appears easily answer, and yet Petri plays around with plot twists, mostly to the detriment of his designs. Visually, The 10th Victim looks slick and yet slightly stunted, as if creativity and imagination eventually gave way to budgetary concerns and limited production capabilities. We never really get the sense of the future. Everything looks like Rome circa 1965, with just a couple of technological tweaks here and there. While we sense where the story is going from the beginning, the movie tries to have it both ways, undermining our expectations while fiddling with the finale to violate the cinematic tenets of the “fourth wall.” While interesting, Petri attempt at satire merely comes off as stiff.

It’s similarly strange filmmaking fixations that also deflate Martino’s Torso - and in this case, it’s female breasts that get the best of this otherwise effective foreign slice and dice. Suzy Kendall is an American exchange student in Rome, matriculating amongst the majesty of - and the murders surrounding - an old college campus. The police are baffled by the killer’s ID, the only clue being a red and black scarf found at one crime scene. As coeds are being picked off one by one, Kendall and her crew head off to the country to escape the panic. Naturally, the maniac follows them to this remote cliff-side villa, where he systematically murders and dismembers everyone - everyone that is except our heroine. Taken lame with a sprained ankle, she is left to fend for herself, miles away from the nearest possibility of help.

So overloaded with red herrings that even Scandinavians would find it excessive, Torso is not the most complicated of whodunits. About an hour into the narrative, the identity of our villain is nothing more than a process of elimination. In essence, take whoever’s left alive, subdivide out the possible motives, and make with the Holmesian deductions. The answer, sadly, will seem pretty obvious. That doesn’t mean Martino can’t have a little frisky fun getting to the conclusion. If you like Me Decade ladies unclothed and submission, this movie is your ticket to titillation. Female mammaries are featured so often that they almost become a plot point. Similarly, Martino does his slasher genre best to handle every death from the killer’s bloody perspective. As the knife blade threatens another topless honey, it’s all so gratuitous and sleazy.

But then the director stops selling skin and offers a final act worthy of his macabre maestro status. While Kendall is recuperating in the isolated estate, she inadvertently comes across the killer using a hacksaw on her dead college friends. We watch in horror as (implied) vivisection occurs, realizing how deadly the stakes truly are. For nearly 25 minutes, Martino maintains the air of dread, Kendall looking for a way out as our psycho comes closer and closer to discovering there is one more potential victim. It’s a brave and quite brilliant twist on the standard fright film mechanics. Usually, it’s all last girl chases and proto-feminist fisticuffs. Torso, however, simply puts our heroine in harms way and then slowly turns up the suspense.

Of course, to modern audiences raised on gore, splashy F/X, and a heightened sense of cinematic spectacle, movies like Torso and The 10th Victim will seem quaint and slightly archaic. While dealing with the typical genre notions of sex and violence, each gets filtered through a particularly idiosyncratic cinematic vision. Of the two, Martino’s is more potent, if only because of the conventions he is embracing/flaunting. For Victim, Perti’s intentions are often damaged in the execution. Everything looks good, but it often plays like a trial run for the actual sci-fi statement to come. In the grand scheme of foreign cinema, and Italian filmmaking specifically, neither movie is definitive. Instead, they represent the coming commercialization of the once mighty Mediterranean artform, the end of an era that was as influential as it was inspired. Sadly, neither adjective fully applies here.   

by Omar Kholeif

28 Jul 2009

Recently dubbed the new “princess of Pop”, Rolling Stone has said that Lady Gaga is on the verge of being the “defining Pop Star of the year”, and earlier offered her the cover of the coveted annual Hot List Edition. The honour is arguably a well-deserved one, considering that the singer’s ‘80s flavoured dance songs have been smash hits across both sides of the pond—helping secure the former cocaine-addict a devoted fan base.

Personally, it isn’t Gaga’s music that I find most intriguing. Rather, it is her dramatic rise, and her unabashed obsession with fame and her penchant for discussing it. Surely, the title of her first album, The Fame professes this explicitly, while Brian Hiatt’s report in RS reveals that the young starlet is a workaholic, who is devoted to the continued rise of her stardom. These musings were interspersed with quips by Gaga who regaled readers with stories about “kissing girls” and how she “doesn’t look like the other perfect pop singers”, i.e. she aims to surprise with her lack of convention.

Pop music aficionados will note that there is nothing particularly fresh about Gaga’s approach. We all know how Madonna exploited the minds of the MTV generation, and that her sole intent at the time was (arguably) to usurp convention, through reinvention.

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