Short Ends and Leader

Pretty Hate Machine: 'Sextette'

It's the kind of jaw droppingly bad experiment in misguided moviemaking that makes you run to the comforting cover of the Village People's Can't Stop the Music or Menaham Golan's sci-fi musical religious allegory The Apple.


Sextette

Rated: PG
Director: Ken Hughes
Cast: Mae West, Timothy Dalton, Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, Alice Cooper, Dom DeLuise, George Hamilton
Extras: 4
Studio: Scorpion Releasing
Year: 1978
US date: 2011-04-19 (General release)

Mae West definitely deserved better. A camp fixture for most of the '60s and '70s, she had taken her career as controversial early talky "bad" girl and transformed it into a combination of gay icon, culture curio, feminist fixture, and in her mind, still sizzling sex kitten. Never mind the fact that she was starring in vaudeville in 1907, and that the majority of her fame was achieved in the early '30s (when she was nearly 40). West was an institution, an example of a boundary pushing beauty that wasn't afraid to flaunt what proper society (and its so-called moral watchdogs ) thought was perverse.

West was more than just her measurements and her ferocious frankness. She was a keen marketer, creating projects for herself when none were available or even being offered. She took her talents to Broadway, to regional theater, she toured the country with her revue, and kept her soon to be celebrated vulgarity as a topic of publicity rag reality. By the time the '40s rolled around, she was mostly forgotten, and during the '50s, her mantle was moved over to figures more formidable, such as Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield. Yet via radio or Las Vegas revival, West still kept her star. It may have dimmed a bit, but it certainly still held some show business sway.

But by 1978, West was an 84 year old plastic surgery disaster who had trouble memorizing lines and walking without assistance. Her days as a rock and roll novelty act were long gone (she recorded a couple of "hit" albums during the '60s) and she hoped to jumpstart a late in life renaissance with the help of a new film. Through backroom deals, or black magic (at least one of the two) she got Crown International Pictures to back an update of her last stage play, 1961's Sextet. Relabeled Sextette for the silver screen, it was a throwback farce which saw West playing a newlywed (?) Hollywood honeypot (?) dodging reporters and the prying eyes of gossip columnists while trying to save the world (?) and prepare for her next big starring role (?). You read that right.

Now available on DVD for the first time in full blown anamorphic widescreen, Sextette suggests that, by the middle of the Me Decade, someone had it in for West. It couldn't possibly be that the star's struggling ego was so big and her demands so irrefutable that no one could say "HELL NO!" to her, could it? The movie, which tries to hide the fact that the romantic female lead is a stumbling octogenarian deals with horrifically cliched comedic ideals, the lamest of double entendres, the most bizarre and surreal supporting cast in the history of hack Hollywood, and on top of all that, a selection of musical numbers that make the rejects from the American Idol auditions look like members of the Metropolitan Opera Company.

West is Marlo Manners, recently wed to British playboy nobleman Sir Michael Barrington (Timothy Dalton... YES, THAT Timothy Dalton). While her personal assistant (Dom DeLuise) tries to work out the arrangements for her next film with her costume designer (Keith Moon... YES...oh, forget it) and her director (Ringo Starr), her new husband learns several salacious fact. First, he is not Marlo's first husband but her sixth (thus, the title). She has previously been with, among others, a noted gangster (George Hamilton) and a high ranking Russian official (Tony Curtis). In fact, Moscow's main man is so smitten with Marlo that he will not agree to an international peace treaty unless his former fling agrees to have one last night of romance with him. For duty and her country, our heroine says "Yes," all while Sir Michael defends himself against charges that he is gay.

Are you laughing yet? Should this review wait until you catch your breath and massage the pain away from your doubled over sides? Perhaps if we add in the boy toy United States Athletic Team, a cassette tape filled with Marlo's sauciest secrets, and a last minute appearance by Alice Cooper as a disco singing waiter, that will win you over? No? Well, no matter. Sextette still exists, sullying a reputation that didn't necessarily need such slanderous denigration. It's the kind of jaw droppingly bad experiment in misguided moviemaking that makes you run to the comforting cover of the Village People's Can't Stop the Music or Menaham Golan's sci-fi musical religious allegory The Apple. To call it an affront gives it an implied power it definitely lacks. To somehow spin the experience over into something akin to likeable questions your very sanity.

As a starlet, as the lead in what is otherwise a fairly high budget affair, West is worthless. Her face is a frozen mask of bad doctor decisions, her once curvaceous figure forced into what resembles the evening gown version of barrel covers. Her inability to walk (she will take a few short steps before the camera cuts away) is only matched by her lack of comedic timing and basic dialogue skills. It's as if someone is feeding her the lines and she goes along with whatever is being whispered. What's most disturbing, however, is her continued reliance on the obvious come-on and sledgehammer sexual innuendo to define most if not all of her character. Every conversation has Marlo saying something about getting satisfied, and when it comes out of the aging mouth of a so restricted it's sad ex-star, the experience is all the more depressing. At her age, she should know and acknowledge better.

Not that the supporting cast helps matter much. DeLuise is the only actor who seems to know that Sextette can and will never work. So he does his best to play it from both sides of the situation - serious and solidly tongue in tushy. As for the rest? Dalton is a dull straight man, Moon is all rock ham, Starr barely makes an impression, and Curtis is so creepy and over the top that you'd swear he was actually 'living' the experience of seducing West. And then Cooper shows up to scare us right back into our stunned sense of disbelief. For his part, director Ken Hughes clearly pissed someone off during his journeymen tenure behind the lens. Maybe it was his work on the original Casino Royale, or oddball kiddie film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang that doomed him to such a situation. Toss in the terrible songs (mostly standards from the '30s and '40s, with a couple of Van "The Hustle" McCoy originals thrown in to really mess with your mind) and you've got a career killer.

Luckily, there wasn't much left of West's profession to protect. She lived to see Sextette released and tank, and then spent her remaining few years in quasi-isolation. Along with her musclemen companions and personal aids, she played queen to a kingdom of one - herself. Even with all the smart business moves she made during her life, the clamor for continuing recognition resulted in one of her biggest bombs ever. Mae West could have easily left the limelight in the early '40s and faded away as a memorable mark on Hollywood hypocritical Puritanism. Instead, she made Sextette, and the rest as they say is WTF? history.

2

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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Music

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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