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Saturday, Nov 11, 2006


Gillian Kaites is one of those undercover cops who only looks believable in a low-budget action picture. Long and lanky with no visible physical or law enforcement aptitude, she is still the most highly decorated member of her force. This means that within minutes of the movie’s start, she ends up weeping over the corpse of her dead partner/boyfriend/fiancé. An arms ring sting goes ka-ping when a raw rookie starts making like Starsky, and before you know it, Gillian is lost, forlorn and depressed. Taking a drive on a road to nowhere, she is harassed by a couple of creeps in a black van. Then, out of the blue, she picks up a hysterical hitchhiker dressed in a swanky evening dress (thumbing rides reached its fashion pinnacle in the mid-‘80s). The sheriff comes along and assures Gillian that the rambling runaway will be safe and sound. All he needs is a statement from her.


Before she knows it, Gillian’s been drugged, dragged into a dingy prison cell, and set upon by the sassy barracks broad, a pissed-off convict named Vicky. Soon, Gillian gets to know the “don’t drop the soap” ropes. Doc Bass comes along to give the girls “examinations,” mostly consisting of Mr. Blackwell-style beauty consultations. Mrs. Pusker, the head matron, roughs up the detainees to keep them under control. And when she’s too busy, she gets her lover/lesbian behemoth Big Eddie to do the debauched dirty work. But Warden Maxwell is the worst. Selling the sullen ladies to the highest bidder, he takes a few of the captive gals to his secret hideaway to make incredibly disgusting snuff porn. The violation of a young innocent named Sharon finally gets Gillian off her rigid rump to find a way to escape. But it will take all the detained dames to help realize this fantasy of fleeing. But since they all have a Lust for Freedom, it should be as easy as a jailhouse romance.


You only need three words to understand why Lust for Freedom is such a fantastic freak-out of a film: three simple pieces of the English language that say so very much while remaining so basic and pure. Trapped within their vowels and consonants are the tone, the timbre, and the type of cinematic sensation you’re in for. And what is this lexis of lunacy, you ask—this triumvirate of telltale phonics? Why, women in prison, of course.


That’s right, ripped from the storehouse of stalwart exploitation genres and given a 1980s hair band rebirth, Lust for Freedom is that wonderful standby of innocent babes behind bars, forced to fend for themselves and their femininity against a corrupt system of guards, hacks, henchmen, hired help, wardens, judges, doctors, and police. As old as cinema itself and jam-packed with as many examples of outrageous big house badness, nothing quite compares to a ribald, ridiculous tale of ladies locked up for no good reason. But in the case of Lust for Freedom, the fiction is taken to a whole new level of the preposterous. The Georgia County Correctional Facility is home to rape, torture, drug dealing, nude frolics, white slavery, pedophilia, and all manner of plot-padding perversions. The warden sells inmates to the local doctor, who grades his purchases on a sliding scale of his own device. (Bad overbite and split ends? She’s a 5!) The prison head also grabs some of the more unwilling members of the Gen Pop and forces them to make butt bongo bonanzas. And when the aardvarking is done, it’s time for a celluloid two-fer: sex scenes turn deadly as snuff becomes the stuff of the warden’s miscreant moviemaking.


Indeed, Lust for Freedom is so ripe with seedy shenanigans and despicable ideas that makers of autopsy porn look down on its delicious tawdriness. Conceived, created, and directed by Troma cult icon Eric Louzil (responsible for such other unexpected delights as Sizzle Beach, U.S.A. and Class of Nuke ‘em High II), this is one exploitation gambol that takes the tired conventions of the jailbird genre and pumps them full of radioactive iniquity. From the jaded Geronimo named Judd—about as American Indian as Val Kilmer and equally insane—to the bleary, booze-eyed doctor who dresses like the Colonel Sanders of snatch, this movie unleashes its demons of depravity for the entire world to gloryhole in. Who cares if Melanie Coll can’t act her way out of a wet baby wipe? And the rest of the cast appears to have gotten their acting chops (and low, throaty voices) from the Mercedes McCambridge Correspondence School of Sour Dispositions.


Lust for Freedom makes you understand instantly why films of this genre—namely gals in gulags—are so cotton-picking pleasing. One sequence in particular will have your sordid sensations high-voltaged over to 11. While two hot honeys get a little better acquainted in their cell (Sappho would be so proud), one of the warden’s henchmen rapes a dumb dope-smuggling doll at crossbow point. To top things off, Mrs. Pusker gives a potential breakout bimbo the business end of a whip. As all three scenes intercut and interconnect, the storm clouds of filth begin to gather. Soon, rains of vulgar randiness are falling all over the screen, and folks at home with a pandering proclivity for smut are a lot like Loverboy—lovin’ every minute of it. There is nothing wrong with wallowing in the den of sin that is a hilarious hunk of hoosegow hijinx. Lust for Freedom delivers in shivers.


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Friday, Nov 10, 2006
by Ian Murphy


James Ellroy’s unnerving 1983 crime novel Blood on the Moon presented a humdinger of a protagonist in Sergeant Lloyd Hopkins. A homicide detective with the LAPD, Hopkins is obsessively workaholic, as tough as Dirty Harry Callahan, and possessed of ethics which could best be described as dubious. He enjoys stealing evidence, breaking and entering, and seducing witnesses. It’s all in a day’s work for him. He has, as his boss tells him, “a wild hair up his ass about murdered women”, and is at pains to puncture his eight-year-old daughter’s illusions about the world because, as he sees it, innocent women are the victims of “a terminal disease that comes from way back when they’re fed all the bullshit about how they’re entitled to happiness like it’s their birthright”. He’s also fiercely intelligent, with a genius-level instinct for deeply entering the minds of killers.


It was only a matter of time before Blood on the Moon was adapted for the big screen. Generically retitled Cop to dispel sci-fi aficionados expecting an intergalactic horror rather than a hard-boiled urban policier, it was adapted and directed by James B. Harris, a onetime Stanley Kubrick producer who had a generally unremarkable, improlific directorial career (and who recently revisited the shady world of Ellroy by executive-producing Brian De Palma’s movie of The Black Dahlia). It was co-produced by its star, James Woods, no doubt because it afforded him such a potent performance vehicle.


The film opens with Lloyd discovering the corpse of a woman who’s been horrifically mutilated and strung up from her kitchen ceiling. Observing the victim’s unusual taste in feminist literature (titles like The Womb Has Teeth adorn her bookshelf), he weighs up the vague evidence and soon convinces himself that this is the latest in a string of serial murders of young women dating back fifteen years. Using his rather far-fetched intuitive skills in piecing together seemingly unrelated clues from unsolved female homicides in the Los Angeles area during that timespan, Lloyd comes into contact with a feminist poet and bookstore owner (Lesley Ann Warren), who harbors naïve romantic delusions about a mystery man who sends her love poems and pressed flowers. Over the course of his investigation, Lloyd’s personal and professional life unravels. His long-suffering wife (Jan McGill), pushed to breaking point by his penchant for telling their daughter gritty bedtime stories about police busts, leaves him with a note diagnosing him as “deeply disturbed”. His unorthodox work methods alienate his friend and superior officer Dutch (Charles Durning), and his mass murderer theories get him stripped of his gun and badge at the hands of his uptight captain (Raymond J. Barry).


Cop is a flawed effort. The plot traffics in coincidences, loose ends and clues that seem to drop right out of the sky. Warren’s feminist poet, who at one stage implores Woods to “make love” to her, is the sort of flaky, panicky daydreamer who could single-handedly carpet-bomb the feminist movement back to the dark ages. And, unlike Ellroy’s novel, little attention is paid to the motivation of the killer, whose identity feels almost incidental to the story.


But Cop is really the James Woods show, and he doesn’t disappoint. Arriving hot on the heels of his Oscar-nominated portrayal of real-life photojournalist Richard Boyle in Oliver Stone’s Salvador (1986), Cop consolidated the notion that Woods’ hyperactive nervous energy could sustain a movie on its own. He twitches, crackles and chain-smokes his way through this film with an intensity that demands you keep looking at the screen and then punishes you for doing so. He acts with his face, his voice and his whole body. His lean, wolfish visage, with its thick lips with wary bug eyes, communicate everything we need to know about Lloyd’s imploding state of mind. Woods gets us to feel his caffeinated, insomniac paranoia, his bull-headed stubbornness in the face of authority, and the maverick intellect with which he’s been both gifted and cursed. Above all, he gets us to feel Lloyd’s increasingly desperate need to silence his own inner demons by saving other innocent lives. He nails every shading of Hopkins, from sensitivity to sleaze, and he makes Cop as much a disturbing character study as a Dirty Harry-style thriller.


The film’s centerpiece is a simple scene where Lloyd stakes out the sparse, dimly lit apartment of a vice cop he suspects has some involvement in the murder case. Sunken into an armchair, with his thousand-yard stare boring a hole in the opposite wall and his mind wired and weary from meditating on human evil, Woods presents a chilling portrait of a man at the end of his tether. It evokes such a queasy dread that it almost derails the movie, and simultaneously raises it to a higher plateau.


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Friday, Nov 10, 2006

I’m going to assume this jump hed, for a story about Toyota, in today’s Wall Street Journal is dripping with irony and relish it accordingly: “Scion’s Cool Strategy Is to Sell Fewer Cars.” The counterintuitive strategy of buying something ugly (like a Toyota Scion, which looks like a rolling refrigerator box) so that your purchase can make you unique is dumb enough; buying one that’s also deliberately made to be rare in hopes of enhancing its exculsivity is just downright stupid. The Scion is much like a faddish car from a few years ago, the “retro” P.T. Cruiser, which conveniently has a brand name that is as lame as the car actually is. (It must be named for P.T. Barnum, who of course noted that there’s a sucker born every minute.) But by owning one of these you show how slavishly dependent you are on brand marketers for parcelling out to you your apportioned amount of “coolness”—that you have been convinced that your own behavior alone is insufficient to establish your own worth, your own hipness (if you are determined to be hung up on such juvenilia in the first place). It’s as though you want to signal to the world with your ugly car the ugliness and insecurity trapped within your soul. (Not unlike the goth strategy of marring one’s face with pale makeup, wearing half destroyed and unflattering black clothes and getting unbelievably bad dye jobs done to one’s hair—this shows how different they are.) If you are confident about your coolness, you don’t need to buy a car that Toyota has decided in advance will be its cool brand. If you do, you’re not cool, you’re a dupe; you are announcing that you are easily swayed by marketing tactics. Snake-oil salesmen of all stripes should be saving their money for the Scion customer list, because these people can certainly be sold on all sorts of artificially rare pseudo-positional goods that sensible people recognize as worthless.  That is if Scion itself doesn’t beat them to it:


To better position it as an “underground” brand, Scion over the past year has reduced its television advertising—never very significant to begin with—to a narrow range of late-night and obscure programs, like shows on Cartoon Network’s late-night “Adult Swim” programming. (On the Oct. 29 episode of “Frisky Dingo” on “Adult Swim,” a Scion tC was talked about by the show’s characters.) Now it is re-evaluating that strategy and may completely get rid of television advertising so it can focus more on experiential marketing, including event marketing and branded entertainment. Scion already launched its own music label for emerging artists and its own clothing line called Scion Release.


Wow, those cartoon characters were talking up the Scion? Maybe I need to rethink this whole “ugly cars are for idiots” thing, because watching adult cartoons like “Frisky Dingo” is also really “cool.” And I can’t wait to check out the great bands I’m sure will be involved with this project. Scion is so cool, it’s moved beyond MySpace to Second Life, which fits, because Second Life seems to be a realm devoted in part to the creation of value through artificial scarcity.


When prizing ugliness no longer suffices to serve as a distinguishing mark of advanced taste, the next logical step will be embrace non-descript averageness—whereby we will attempt to stand out by being entirely indistinguishable. From there, the only way to be cool will be to disappear altogether.


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Friday, Nov 10, 2006

Painful goodbye’s to two journalists who brought sobriety and scholarliness to their work: Ellen Willis and Ed Bradley (aka Teddy).  I particularly loved Willis’ essay about the Velvet Underground in Stranded not to mention the stalwart work she did as a Village Voice editor and a writer for the Nation. As for Bradley, aside from his cool, calm interview style on 60 Minutes, he was a constant booster of New Orleans music not to mention the host of Jazz at Lincoln Center.


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Thursday, Nov 9, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

Robert Pollard —"Supernatural Car Lover "
From Normal Happiness on Merge Records
On the heels of From a Compound Eye, Dayton, Ohio resident Robert Pollard‘s much-lauded first post-Guided By Voices effort, comes Normal Happiness, a stylistic hopscotch-jop from F.A.C.E., but no less coherent, fully-formed, and accomplished.


Johan—"Oceans"
From THX JHN on Excelsior Recordings
The use of superlatives in music is rarely justified, but in the case of Johan, it is an apt way to describe their sound. This is real music…plain and simple. It is popular music elevated to an art form. You can feel it in your bones when you hear Jacco De Greeuw sing. The melodies soar, and the emotions are worn on the sleeve.


South—"Up Close and Personal"
From Up Close and Personal on Young American Recordings
This fall, London’s indie rock heroes South returns with a career spanning double-disc DVD and CD package entitled Up Close and Personal. The DVD portion features over 60 minutes of live concert footage taken from their last tour, new music videos, and a slew of behind-the-scenes footage. The CD portion features new versions of some of their biggest singles, including OC favorite “Paint the Silence,” and “Loosen Your Hold.”


Summer Hymns—"Pity and Envy"
From Backward Masks on Misra Records
Fans will recognize Backward Masks as the Summer Hymns record you always thought they’d make, the one they’ve hinted at for many moons. It is a record that emerges as if fresh from the womb, untainted. The songs don’t hide behind reverb or elaborate production-in fact, it’s as if they’re pure enough that they wouldn’t even know to hide their real, raw beauty. Instead, subtle orchestration cradles simple, remarkable melodies so familiar and well-crafted they might be the sound at the end of the tunnel.


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