Film

The Lavish 'Samson and Delilah' Is Even More So in Blu-ray

Even the fiercest non-believer will see a flash of the truly divine in this Cecil B. DeMille epic.


Samson and Delilah

Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Cast: Hedy Lamarr, Victor Mature, George Sanders, Angela Lansbury
Distributor: Paramount
Rated: NR
Year: 1949
Release date: 2014-03-18
“Our god has delivered our enemy

into our hands,

the one who laid waste our land

and multiplied our slain.”

-- from The Death of Samson, Judges 16

The recent release of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah (and the upcoming Exodus directed by Ridley Scott) are strange reminders that once upon a time, Hollywood breathed and lived to deliver Biblical epics. These films were based on stories found in the Old Testament, and pretty much since the creation of the film industry, became staples whenever big directors wanted to make a relatively quick buck.

It wasn’t until the mid-'60s that the success of the biblical epic began to wane, as moviegoing audiences became less devout and craved the harsh realism of New American Cinema and eventually hungered for the summer blockbuster.

Hollywood’s newly rediscovered love for the Bible epic seems even stranger, because modern filmmakers don’t seem to be interested in what is it that once made these movies so successful and instead are trying to adapt them to modern audiences’ needs. Once upon a time a biblical epic meant lush Technicolor, bright, sensual costumes, bare chested men and lustful women and overall an escape from reality. Nowadays, filmmakers are recurring to the kind of gritty realism that makes films seem more like faithful adaptations, than glamorous interpretations of texts that were still somewhat sacred.

The Old and New Testament visions of Aronofsky, Scott and Mel Gibson are populated with earthy tones, dusty landscapes and simple cotton garments, the likes of which would’ve been completely foreign in an old Hollywood extravaganza, especially those of Cecil B. DeMille. To watch one of DeMille’s productions is to be instantly transported into a world which we otherwise would only imagine.

The lavish sets that populate his films are all the more monumental because they were the real thing, in the sense that anything in film is real (and as wonderful as computer effects are, we have eyes well trained enough to know when an image of a temple is digital or not). The actors that give life to his characters are nothing if not some of the best of their generation (and some of the most popular, too). Further, his interpretations of Biblical stories are so powerful, that we don’t question the veracity of the things he states. Even the fiercest non-believer will see a flash of the truly divine in a Cecil B. DeMille epic.

Few of his films were as lavish and exquisitely done as the romantic melodrama ,Samson and Delilah, which starred Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr as the tragic lovers. The story begins as Danite Hebrew, Samson, wages a war with the Philistines after the murder of his fiancé, Semadar (a lovely Angela Lansbury). When he is betrayed by his own people and handed to the evil Saran of Gaza (a deliciously wicked George Sanders), he becomes the object of Delilah’s obsession, who loves him but also chooses to betray him in order to keep him to herself for once and for all.

The passions at the center of the plot make little to no sense (Why is betrayal the only way people choose to prove their interest? What’s this nonsense about the hair giving him powers?) but the point is to let oneself be seduced by the intensity of the feelings on display. Even if we understand that Samson is perceived by others to be nothing but a brute, it’s the mischievous, endlessly horny Delilah, who seems ruled by nothing other than animalistic desire, and Lamarr plays her like a sly creature who will stop at nothing to satiate her lust.

Mature's performance is subtle to the point of feeling apathetic, as he allows the plot to wash over him, without much interest in striving for any changes. Watching these two extremely opposite forces at play makes for a fascinating experience, because it gently subverts gender expectations. How is it that a man as big as Mature (who is often photographed against elements that make him look positively gigantic) is often so overpowered by the petite Lamarr (Groucho Marx famously complained about Mature having bigger breasts than Lamarr).

Samson and Delilah remains a mystifying artifact, the likes of which seduces us as we try to figure out exactly what is it that makes it so appealing. Can it be that deep inside we still crave a primordial need to be surprised and marveled? Can it be that we’re falling under the spell of Lamarr’s combination of intellectual and sexual appeal? Or are the bright colors playing tricks on us?

Presented for the first time in high definition, the film’s Blu-ray edition is perhaps the best and only way, to watch this underrated classic. It’s a shame that only a theatrical trailer is included among the bonus features, but perhaps this allows the film’s many secrets to keep us from over analzying it and thus, it's magic won't slip away.

7

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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