Do Look Back: A Baker's Dozen for Your Swinging '60s Film Fest

Are you in the mood to be retro-hip? Do you get the urge to be mod and pop, '60s style? Sure you do.

Are you in the mood to be retro-hip? Do you get the urge to be mod and pop, '60s style? Sure you do.

A batch of recent Blu-rays (and a couple of more digitally challenged items) offers a cross-section of the cinematic era when you couldn't swing a hepcat without hitting something groovy. Here's a guide to programming your own marathon. Only a few of these titles are certifiable "classics", but they all exude distinctive flavors and aromas of that stylish decade. You can spot them at 100 paces.


The Mask (1961)

What It Is, Man: Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the psychedelic '60s in an explicit metaphor for drug addiction. When a shrink (Paul Stevens) inherits an ancient tribal mask from a dead patient, he can't resist putting it on and channeling 3-D visions from his repressed psyche, which boil down to the idea that men want to prey on women. Canada's first horror feature and first 3-D feature is restored brilliantly by 3-D Film Archive; the Blu-ray plays flat or 3-D depending on your TV.

How It Grooves: Most of the bumpily plotted film is in heavily chiaroscuro'd, expressionist black and white, while the 3-D dreams ("Put the mask on now!") function like experimental musical numbers of sex-and-death surrealism. If you have a regular 2-D TV, these sequences are repeated in an anaglyphic extra (bring your own glasses), and they look terrific. Bonus features include excellent commentary, a profile of Canadian pioneer Julian Roffman, a selection of avant-garde works by great montage artist Slavko Vorkapich (hired and fired from the 3-D scenes), and a lovely new 3-D film based on old stereoscopes of "diableries" (scenes of Hell). It's a fine package.


The Honey Pot (1967)

What It Is, Man: Cecil Fox (Rex Harrison) hires an actor named McFly (Cliff Robertson) to help lure three ex-girlfriends (Susan Hayward, Capucine, Edie Adams) to his Venetian palazzo by pretending Fox is dying. It turns into a murder case as everyone stands around delivering glittering dialogue amid gorgeous sets and costumes, scored elegantly by John Addison. Maggie Smith gets a good showcase as a mousy assistant, and Adolfo Celli is the inspector.

How It Grooves: Writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz couldn't help making civilized entertainments full of clever repartee. This one derives from a play by Frederick Knott (Dial M for Murder) and a novel by Thomas Sterling, which were based in turn on Ben Jonson's comedy Volpone. Twenty minutes were cut after the British premiere, which explains why two credited actors don't appear, and it's still on the leisurely side. Such a polished throwback might have seemed out of step with the era's quest for relevance and shock, but today we can appreciate its high style on Blu-ray.


Hotel Paradiso (1966)

What It Is, Man: In 1900 Paris, Boniface (Alec Guinness) arranges an adulterous assignation with his neighbor's wife (Gina Lollobrigida), but several people they know happen to be staying at the same hotel as the night escalates into farcical slapstick. (The premise falls apart if we ask why they go to a hotel when their spouses are away, so don't ask.) Robert Morley plays the husband, who thinks he's chased by ghosts. In the era of What's New, Pussycat, producers looked for naughty storylines in which most people aren't allowed to have sex, and it helped to have the pedigree of a classic French farce by Georges Feydeau. To promote the resemblance, that film's Eddra Gale is dropped gratuitously into this one.

How It Grooves: Director Peter Glenville's films are mostly based on stage projects, including his own, and that applies to this one in which he appears as Feydeau. While the actors are good, the classic restraint of the approach dampens the frantic energy required. This beautifully designed film would look and sound much better if money were spent on restoration, but it's considered too minor for that, so all we have is this mediocre made-on-demand DVD-R from Warner Archive.


Come Fly With Me (1963)

What It Is, Man: Three stewardesses, or airline hostesses, travel to Paris and Vienna, look at postcard sights, go to restaurants, put on water skis, and have predictable if unlikely romantic misadventures with an Austrian baron, a handsome pilot, and a Texas tycoon. Pamela Tiffin, Dolores Hart, Lois Nettleton, Karl Malden, Hugh O'Brian and Karl Boehm dance on the edge between the mod and old-fashioned, the swinging and the moralistic, until Europe is made safe for midwestern values. "I'm the biggest square in Paris!" shouts a hip street urchin. Look sharp for Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) as the fourth hostess. Frankie Avalon sings the title song.

How It Grooves: Ah, the good life, an era when air travel was sold as a glamorous consumer fantasy where (at least in First Class) the champagne, lobsters and caviar were served by sexy models looking for a husband. Director Henry Levin handles the widescreen romp lightly, while classy producer Anatole de Grunwald made the similar airport saga The V.I.P.s the same year. This is another film that would look much better if the Metrocolor were restored to its original sheen instead of being another faded on-demand item from Warner Archive. Alas, no Blu-ray here.


Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965)

What It Is, Man: In smoking jacket and gold genie shoes, Vincent Price sends himself up as a megalomaniac who wants to control the world by having powerful men marry bikini'd robots. Frankie Avalon is the bumbling secret agent out to stop him in this sci-fi spy spoof. The Supremes sing the title song in a lark of sexist absurdism very typical of its era, a juvenile comedy yearning for liberation.

How It Grooves: Comedy vet Norman Taurog handles the tongue-in-cheek shenanigans in a manner that marks it as an offshoot of AIP's beach party movies. Historians David Del Valle and David DeCoteau offer chatty commentary. Although without the budget of Hotel Paradiso or Come Fly with Me, these brilliantly colorful HD presentations of the Goldfoot movies make them look better than they are.


Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966)

What It Is, Man: This time the robots explode when kissed, an especially blunt metaphor. Vincent Price returns in an Italian-made sequel that replaces Frankie Avalon with Fabian and highlights the "comedy" antics of Franco and Ciccio, a prolific Sicilian duo popular in Italy and nowhere else. The Italian version supposedly has more of them, which wouldn't make it preferable, but this is the heavily recut US edition.

How It Grooves: This sequel is even more wildly, crazily '60s, thanks to the eye of director Mario Bava, his photographer and designer. The climactic chase occurs on amusement park rides, proving that mindless kinetic energy is more important than linear progress. David Del Valle and David DeCoteau offer friendly, rambling, inconsequential commentary to match the movie.

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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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