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When Werner Met David: 'My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?'

Undeniably quirky, but also very effective from a straight dramatic standpoint, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? argues for Herzog's continued viability as one of the great filmmakers of the post-modern age.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?

Director: Werner Herzog
Cast: Michael Shannon, Willem Dafoe, Chloë Sevigny, Udo Kier, Grace Zabriskie, Brad Dourif
Rated: R
Studio: First Look Pictures
Year: 2009
US date: 2010-09-14

For most of his career, director Werner Herzog has been struggling with the narrative themes of man vs. nature vs. man vs. his own nature. In brilliant films like Aquirre: The Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo, and documentaries like Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Grizzly Man, the German auteur has positioned the practical human condition against the hurdles - natural, social, or psychological - that would stand in their way. Even his recent deconstruction of the police procedural, the brilliant Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, offered a contextual discourse on individual evil up against perceived public good, all set within a post-Katrina landscape beset by the unleashed elements of a hurricane devastated terrain.

His latest collaboration with producer/genius David Lynch, a self-described attempt to get back to "essential filmmaking" reflects this life long battle between the various forces of that effect our lives. Given the unusual title My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? and based upon the true story of a young man inspired by Aeschylus's Oresteia to brutally kill his own mother, it's yet another example of the visionary maverick's undying need to expand his own artistic and professional horizons. Collecting a group of actors he longed to work with and aided in the script writing by Greek mythology expert Herbert Golder, the result is another delightful genre reinvention, Dog Day Afternoon where the standoff isn't just between police and protagonist, but is instead intertwined with our killer and his kindly, understanding friends.

After a trip to Peru where he saw several of his buddies drown in a white water kayaking accident, Brad McCullum (Michael Shannon) was forever changed. He became disconnected and obsessed with God, claiming he could see the deity in the face on a box of oatmeal. While his domineering mother (Grace Zabriskie) tolerated his latest mood swings, fiancé Ingrid (Chloë Sevigny) fears for his sanity. Things come to a head when Brad is cast in an Oresteia inspired work helmed by associate Lee Meyers (Udo Kier). Playing a character who kills his cruel and uncaring mother, it pushes the already unstable young man toward demented, deadly thoughts. With an antique sword he borrowed from his bigoted Uncle Ted (Brad Dourif), he murders his mother and then holes up in his house. It is up to police detectives Havenhurst (Willem Dafoe) and Vargas (Michael Pena) to defuse the situation before it turns even deadlier.

Undeniably quirky, but also very effective from a straight dramatic standpoint, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? argues for Herzog's continued viability as one of the great filmmakers of the post-modern age. With an eye that can't help but produce masterworks and an aesthetic which neatly balances the weird with the clear and concrete, he forges a path toward enlightenment while tossing as many unusual beats at the audience as possible. From the opening scene where Shannon teases and taunts a pair of live pet flamingoes (which not only symbolize tacky white trash kitsch but beauty, grace, and balance) to the out of sync references to basketball, oatmeal, and gospel music, Herzog has his pick of peculiarities. There's even a familial tableau held still in camera, the actors doing their best to stay silent and motionless. Yet the director always counterattacks their initial oddness with an insight or explanation that furthers our understanding of the subtext involved in the story.

For Brad, whose never had a father or freedom from his mother's considerable grasp, the South American incident brings thoughts of machismo and mortality to the surface. We see him taunted by his hedonistic pals, a reactive response representing every unspoken accusation the group is making toward him. Even when he has Ingrid in his bedroom, the lovely gal prepping the sheets for a night of...whatever, mother wanders in with a plate of brownies and a coolly critical demeanor which works better than any contraceptive in the prevention of premarital sex. As embodied by Shannon, an actor well known for bringing even the most troubled temperament to stunning life, Brad is a boy longing to be something - perhaps not a man, but at least not the son of someone who can't separate the ordinary with the obsessive (mother's decorating style suggests a hidden unhinged homemaker).

Everyone else is an enabler, from the girl who goes along with Brad's trips into psychosis to Meyers, who tolerates his death antics because "he's so good" in the starring role. About the only character here who doesn't put up with Brad's Beatle wig pout is Uncle Ted, though his gay bashing belittling of his nephew suggests someone whose long given up on anything other than the oversized birds on his ostrich farm. Even the policeman walk the 'by the book' walk, avoiding heroics to shuttle coffee and overanalyze everything. There are moments in the stand-off when the audience knows more than the officials in charge, the claim of hostages mocking what we know about Brad and his/his mother's "tropical" tendencies.

As he does with most of his projects, Herzog finds actors who can support his skewed approaches. Since this is a very talky film, filled with flashbacks and gaps in the otherwise mundane 'action', he needs performers who can parse the dramatic out of the seemingly dull. Luckily, everyone here is up to the challenge, from a bristling Dafoe to a slyly flamboyant Kier. Herzog, like Hitchcock, recognizes the value in proper casting and every role in My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? is essayed with perfected panache. Lynch's influence is evident around the edges, in the unusual set designs and simmering sinister suburban locale. There's even a sequence where Dourif discusses a proposed TV commercial involving a little person - and sure enough, a midget straight out of Mr. Eraserhead's psyche shows up.

All throughout the recent DVD release of the film, however, Herzog makes it very clear that his collaboration with Lynch was more ephemeral than practical. In interviews and commentary, it's clear that both of these moviemaking maestros want to return to a time when film was an organic medium, not something preprogrammed and pre-marketed by a super studio looking down the line to all means of maximizing profits while marginalizing art. If My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? is any indication of where such a cinematic strategy can go, the duo has the right idea. Cinephiles and film fanatics anticipating the ultimate merging of the strange with the surreal need to look elsewhere. While My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? does offer up some decided digital dementia, its status as the possible start of something significant in independent filmmaking is far more interesting...and entertaining.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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