Sunday, July 28, 2013

Cosmic Trigger: Le Soleils de l'ile de Paques (The Suns of Easter Island) 1972.

I first came across this movie in an old post on Mounds and Circles The Suns of Easter Island is a curiosity; a very of its time metaphysical adventure which feels like something between Chariots of the Gods, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and abstract globe trotters like Koyaanisqatsi and Baraka.  The plot concerns six unconnected individuals scattered across the globe who all experience a strange visionary episode, in which they witness hexagons, ancient architectures, stone heads, and scenes of contemporary unrest and strife.  After the hallucinations subside, they discover that a silver disk has mysteriously and permanently imprinted itself on the palm of their right hands.  Gradually, the six realize that some force is drawing them towards Easter Island on the date of a specific cosmic alignment, so that their minds can be used to make contact with an extraterrestrial species who establish a telepathic link with mankind every 500 years.

The early to mid-70s is a period I'm particularly fascinated by; it was a watershed era for Fortean/occult shenanigans.  The idea of mental contact with extraterrestrial higher intelligence was very much in the ether during this strange time.  On July 23, 1973, the great Robert Anton Wilson experienced the first of what he then suspected to be transmissions from an extraterrestrial intelligence located somewhere in the vicinity of the dog star Sirius.  Timothy Leary, then doing the persecuted philosopher routine in Folsom prison, was also receiving downloads from a cosmic intelligence - a cosmic intelligence, it should be conceded, whose oracular pronouncements sounded more than a little like Leary himself.  Philip K. Dick was writing the best fiction of his career, and was of course zapped by the motherlode of all cosmic transmissions in the legendary VALIS incident of '2-3-74'.  The Suns of Easter Island taps into this weird zeitgeist beautifully - an era characterized by open-mindedness (often to the point of naivete), esoteric excitement, and a questing spirit sometimes cast adrift in the psychic fallout and hangover from the previous decade.  As a French production, however, Suns can be located in a distinctly Gallic tradition of esoteric counterculture going back to Pauwels and Bergier's mighty The Morning of the Magicians.

While many may have interpreted the movie as borrowing heavily from von Daniken, it was in fact von Daniken who borrowed a great deal of his "Ancient Astronaut" thesis from Morning of the Magicians, and another French author called Robert Charroux.  It's the sensibility of  Pauwels and Bergier that the film apes the most, though - that unique melting pot of contemporary intellectual radicalism and occult revivalism, the authors' fascination with tracing the curve of the distant future in the scattered remnants of the deepest past - the absolute elsewhere from which my title is cribbed.  The Suns of Easter Island was directed by tv/film screen-writer and director Pierre Kast, and beyond that, information about the film is quite scarce.  It seems to have fallen completely off the radar.  Though somewhat of an acquired taste, it's definitely worthy of cult re-discovery - it's a beautifully shot, atmospheric and expansive production that serves as a marvelous time capsule of the metaphysical preoccupations of the early 70s (click captions for English subs): 

The screen grabs are from Mounds and Circles.   Thanks to them for unearthing this forgotten gem, and thanks to von Drak for alerting me to the youtube upload.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Stranglers - Hallow To Our Men

In 1981, the Stranglers released a very peculiar concept album called The Gospel According to the Meninblack, a paranoid, experimental post-punk record whose lyrics are replete with references to alien visitation, esoteric conspiracy, and biblical ancient astronauts.  This combination didn't exactly set the charts on fire in '81.  I haven't made my mind up on the album as a whole yet, but this track is excellent:

"At the very least, he is magnificently wrong"....Velikovsky and Worlds In Collision.

Another interesting relic from the 70s.  Though first published in 1950, Emmanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision enjoyed it's greatest popular exposure and notoriety in the 70s.  Along with the Ancient Astronaut explosion initiated by Chariots of the Gods, Velikovsky's "catastrophist" theories proved hugely popular with audiences who were keen to revisit - and sometimes re-invent - the ancient past, while at the same time thumb their noses at the academic establishment.  In brief, the book posited that Venus was a relative newcomer to our solar system, having been ejected from Jupiter as a comet sometime in the 15th century BC.  The proto-Venus comet passed by earth orbit on two occasions, causing a series of extraordinary catastrophic events which are recorded in the world's mythologies, and which continue to scar the human psyche to this day.  Eventually, needless to say, the planets settle into the familiar orbits of the solar system which we know and sometimes love today.  This thesis elicited an intense reaction from scientists form the onset; in what came to be known as the "Velikovsky Affair", Harvard astronomer Harlow Shapley lead a campaign against the book prior to its publication.  Carl Sagan elongated and otherwise tortured the pronunciation of a great many words on the subject, though conceding that the attempt to suppress Velikovsky's book was the worst aspect of the story.  One senses the great frustration of scientists when an intuitively satisfying alternative narrative becomes a runaway success with mass audiences; there is an eternal conflict in the modern world between what Werner Herzog memorably called the ecstatic truth and the accountant's truth.  Steven Jay Gould later commented:  "Velikovsky is neither crank nor charlatan - although to state my opinion and that of one of my colleagues, he is at least gloriously wrong - Velikovsky would rebuild the science of celestial mechanics to save the literal accuracy of ancient legends."  But was it really to save the literal truth of ancient legends that Velikowsky constructed his beguiling edifice of research and folly?  The even-handed 1972 Horizon documentary below suggests another possibility.  

Velikovsky was a psychiatrist who had trained under Wilhelm Stekel, one of Freud's proteges.  (Indeed, it was the great cigar stroker's monogram Moses and Monotheism which inspired Velikovsky down the path of comparative mythology and what might today be labelled alternative or forbidden archaeology.)  Freud's generation were deeply preoccupied and troubled by one particular idea above all others: that the World Wars had laid bare the second great faith of the western world following monotheism, which was the notion that human nature was governed in essence by reason.  Instead, the world had discovered that human beings were fundamentally irrational, and possessed by a profound death drive which the age of Reason had only made more technologically efficient.  In the advent of the nuclear age, this death drive threatened the whole species.  For Velikovksy then, the theory of ancient global catastrophes represented a primal trauma which could effectively explain the existence of the death drive.  He had taken the core supposition of psychoanalysis - that the irrational or neurotic behavior of the present is explicable and potentially curable by virtue of discovering a repressed and forgotten incident in the past - and applied it to the whole species and its collective history.  While it is at present unlikely that Velikovsky's idiosyncratic ideas of celestial motion will ever find academic respectability, this idea of the distant past as a kind of unconscious to the present, whose scattered ruins and mythic fragments are in a sense to the modern mind like the partial recollections of a dream, is a pregnant notion indeed - if not to the accountant, then at least to to the poet with whom he must be at loggerheads.


Monday, July 22, 2013

The Mind-Bending Visionary Art of Mati Klarwein.

I was aware of Mati Klarwein's work though its use as iconic cover art for Bitches Brew, but never put a name to the artist until recently.  Klarwein was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1932, and studied art at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, eventually encountering something of a mentor figure in Ernst Fuchs in Saint-Tropez.  After travels in various far-flung places from Tibet to North Africa, Klarwein washed up in New York city in the early 60s, where he befriended Jimi Hendrix.

Although he did experiment with a little with LSD, Klarwein claims that psychedelic drugs had a minimal influence on his art.  Indeed, the Force was naturally so strong with Klarwein that he may have been the only person in history whom Timothy Leary thought DIDN'T need psychedelic drugs.  Looking at his work, I'm inclined to agree with that diagnosis.  Klarwein's artwork experienced wide exposure during the 70s, especially after Miles Davis commissioned him to design the cover for his fusion masterpiece Bitches Brew.  In this surreal and hilarious interview, Klarwein describes his entry into the weird headspace of the Milesverse circa '69 (listen here.)

Klarwein passed away in 2002.   His webpage has a fantastic selection of otherworldly gems to browse through, and is well worth a trip - Mati Kerwwein Website.  (Click images to enlarge.)

via feuilleton

Monday, July 15, 2013

Witchploitation Documentary: Legend of the Witches 1970 (NSFW for Witch Nudity and Campy Footage of Occult Ritual.)

This blog has a long-standing fondness for the very odd genre of the witchcraft-themed exploitation documentary which flourished (if that's the right word) in Britain in the early 70s.  The occult revival held a prominent place in the popular British cinema of the 60s and 70s - while films like Witchfinder General and Blood on Satan's Claw have come to be regarded as classics today, few remember some of the lesser and trashier entries in the cycle, such as Ray Austin's Virgin Witch (72) (trailer here), Tigon's Curse of the Crimson Alter (69), and Norman J. Warren's 1976 classic of total schlock Satan's Slave (full film here).

Being so prevalent in the fictional cinema of the period, it is unsurprising that witchcraft also seeped into the seedier corners of British filmmaking.  Now appearing quaint and incongruous, putative "documentaries" were often produced as a means of slipping copious nudity past the censor, these films finding a ready audience among the so-called "dirty mac" set in Soho sex cinemas.  Several of these documentaries were made around the theme of the witchcraft revival, often featuring Alex and Maxine Sanders, whom I've blogged about before here.  Shot mostly in the summer of 1969 and released in '70, Malcolm Leigh's Legend of the Witches is probably the Citizen Kane of witchploitation documentaries - however much that is worth.  Although languorously edited and frequently tedious, Legend takes the subject of paganism far more seriously than most films of this type, and more surprisingly, it is often extremely well-made.  The black and white cinematography is gorgeous, Leigh's compositions are striking, and certain passages are undeniably atmospheric and eerie (to those who can't wade through the whole thing, I'd recommend watching the final 12 minutes or so as a highlight.)  It's bizarre to consider how bored or cheated or baffled the dirty mac brigade must have felt about all this: 

Witchploitation documentaries have recently made a surprising come-back as prime found footage for the video art of witch house and various other hipster sub-genres.  Legend of the Witches provides the backdrop for Cosmotropia de Xam's beautiful, scary and brilliant video for (deep breath) Mater Suspiria Vision's ghost-drone remix of Crossover's I Know Your Face.  Probably best avoided by those sensitive to strobing imagery and general freakouts:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Afro-Britannia: Eric Burdon's War and Ginger Baker's Air Force.

Eric Burdon and Ginger Baker established their reputations during the British beat invasion of the 60s.  In the early 70s, both artists started to explore African-influenced funk as a new departure from the North American blues-based rock and psychedelic explorations which had dominated the previous decade.  Perhaps they were ahead of their time in this regard; neither project enjoyed the success of their iconic 60s groups, or are as well-remembered today.  This post takes a brief look at this interesting and forgotten strand of British beat music history.  Burdon, of course, is best known as the vocalist with the Animals.  Having been impressed all my life with the intensity of his performance of House of the Rising Sun without ever actually seeing what the group looked like, it somehow made it all the more impressive to discover that those awesome vocals were coming out of the mouth of an unremarkable guy who looked barely out of his school uniform: 

In 1969, Burdon hooked up with an eclectic, multi-racial Californian funk band called War.  The group developed a fearsome reputation as a live act, and enjoyed moderate success throughout the 70s.  I've only ever been marginally aware of Burdon's recordings with War, but this clip of them in Copenhagen in 1971 is just astonishing: 

Ginger Baker, meanwhile, will always be primarily associated with Cream (a band I personally can't stand.)  Also in '69, Baker formed a jazz/funk fusion group called (rather awkwardly) Ginger Baker's Air Force.  Although boasting more white faces than War (Steve Winwood was a member), you can definitely hear a strong African influence - Baker moved to Lagos in 1970 and befriended the great Fela Kuti.  Air Force was a very short lived project, yielding only two albums in 1970, but they piss from on high on Cream if you ask me: 

I discovered Air Force through the funny, fascinating, and depressing documentary Beware of Mr. Baker

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Kraftwerk - Ruck Zuck Live 1970.

Amazing footage and truly intense flute from the earlier prog incarnation of Kraftwerk:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Linda Perhacs - Hey, Who Really Cares?

Listen to the full album Parallelograms here.  I'm not crazy about everything on it, but the title track is a weird folk classic.

Not Really Now Not Anymore: Alan Garner's Red Shift (1978).

Nominally a historical fantasy for young adults, Alan Garner's Red Shift is an unconventional and "difficult" book by any standards.  Partially inspired by an oblique piece of graffiti (Not really now not anymore) which the author noticed at a railway station, it interweaves three separate narratives taking place in Southern Cheshire over a period of some three thousand years: a motorway and a caravan park in the 1970s, a besieged church during the English Civil War, and finally back to a troop of lost legionaries during the Roman period.  A stone axe head persists through each period, providing an explicit link between the stories, while at times the fates of the most troubled and alienated characters seem somehow mystically interwoven.  Garner's novel offers us not so much a present haunted by the past, as a sense of time as being somehow synchronous and indivisible, with past, present and future all haunted by the threads which weave the whole together: not really now anymore.  It's not a easy read - Garner's books (this one in particular) demand a great deal of creative input from the reader, and his vision is unsentimental and even brutal at times.  But Red Shift is the work of a stubborn and uncategorizable craftsman who respects his readers in a way that publishers rarely do, and whose affect has often been compared to that of a long prose poem.

In 1978, Red Shift was adapted by the BBC's Play for Today (the series which produced the incredible Penda's Fen which I blogged about here).  The director was John Mackenzie, best known in the general cinema world for 1980's The Long Good Friday, but remembered by connoisseurs of the Public Information Film as the director of that Friday the 13th of farm accident prevention Apaches.  It's a noble and largely successful attempt to translate a very difficult and complex book to the screen.  Watch it on youtube here

Hat tip to feuilleton 

screen grabs from Alan Garner on the Television at Sparks in Electric Jelly.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Space - Magic (Discomare 1977)

Greek ruins (shot, as near as I can tell, here), retrofuturistic space disco, beautiful women......a heady combination indeed:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Adventures in the Land of the Good Groove: Pre-Chic and Solo Nile Rodgers.

Who doesn't love Nile Rodgers nowadays?  Nobody I'd like to meet.  The legendary producer, arranger, song-writer and genius rhythm guitar player has seen his distinctive style explode back into the popular consciousness this year via collaboration with Daft Punk on their controversial "back to real music" opus Random Access Memories.  Rodgers is particularly lionized by guitar players - Johnny Marr named his son after him - and as a somewhat modest strummer myself, he's always been a huge personal hero.  Random Access Memories and Get Lucky inspired me to scour youtube for some lesser known gems from the great man.  Before they became Chic, Rodgers, bass player Bernard Edwards and the nucleus of Chic were called (somewhat less promisingly) the Big Apple Band.  Here's a clip of them performing a super-tight and funky cover of the Bee Gee's You Should be Dancing:

Rodgers will always best known as a collaborator - whether with Chic or the multitude of artists for which he has produced and written iconic songs with.  He never found the same level of success as a solo artist (producing four solo albums in the 80s and 90s), so most of that stuff is not well-known today.  Which is a shame, because some of it is pretty damn good, particularly 1983's Adventures in the Land of the Good Groove, released while Rodgers was collaborating with Bowie on Let's Dance.  The solo stuff doesn't have the immediate melodic and euphoric rush of Chic, but given a few listens, the grooves are just as indelible and beautifully crafted: 

The next track - Yum Yum - is completely stuck in my head.  The lyrics are admittedly not profound, and not hugely PC either, but it should be borne in mind that this is a man who spent much of the latter 70s hanging out in the ladies rest rooms of Studio 54:

And finally, here's a track with a spidery, arpeggio riff which I suspect might have been a particularly big influence on Johnny Marr's Smiths-era guitar style: 


Monday, July 1, 2013

Sidney Sime.

Here's a few more from that remarkable selection of Sidney Sime images from monster brains.  Well worth checking out the full selection here.

Popol Vuh - Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht.

Here's Popol Vuh's fantastically atmospheric soundtrack to Werner Herzog's fantastically atmospheric 1979 remake of Marnau's silent classic