Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Night Local: Th' Dudes, 'Be Mine Tonight' (1979)

Another quick post tonight: It was Mrs Simian's birthday last week, so this is for her:

Wow - Dave Dobbyn looks skinny here, there's no sign of Pete Urlich, and we really lost a great songwriter in Ian Morris a couple of years back (Morris co-wrote this one.) Be Mine Tonight was released as a double A-side with another great Dudes song and a personal favourite Walking in Light, a song that at the time I couldn't divorce from The Rolling Stones' contemporaneous Emotional Rescue and still sort of can't.

It was a close call deciding which video to put up this week - Walking in Light definitely has the better look (more wire-haired, wire-limbed guitar legend Dobbyn can't be a bad thing), but Be Mine Tonight has a nicer guitar line, more interesting verse to chorus progression, and I rather like the coda as well. No contest!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Quick reads: Irish Masters of Fantasy - Peter Tremayne (ed), 1979

Between Friday posts, here's a quick read-through of a medium-sized anthology. I picked this up on a whim at the Wellington Public Library, unsure of the content aside from a suspicion that I'd find nothing within that might nowadays be called 'fantasy' (i.e. no swrods and sorcery), and probably no or little actual Irish folklore. I was right on both counts, but it also proved that I know little of the genre - of the Irish writers I was aware of Stoker and LeFanu, but looked for Wilde and Yeats in vain – Peter Tremayne’s collection is instead a pretty sensible picking of a broad range of writers among whom largely two elements are common – forays in the fantastical, gothic or phantasmagorical, and at least a passing stint in the Emerald Isles. And so without further ado...

'Melmoth the Wanderer'(excerpt) -Charles R Maturin A man is stalked for years by a demonic figure. Both meandering and possibly the most action-packed chapter at that, of a long and turgid work. I was reminded of Varney the Vampire in its episodic, drifting style. Once the action heats up in a London asylum (described pretty starkly) the pace quickens, but it’s all pretty hysterical and ultimately, I was glad to reach the end of it. yes, that's not very charitable to a work regarded as one of the great progenitors of Gothic literature, but to me many of the hoarier aspects of the genre seemingly begin here, too - leaden and sonorous descriptive passages being one.  

'The Familiar' – Sheridan Le Fanu
A man is stalked for years for- hang on... Actually, this is a nicely paced work, just the right length. I’ve had a few brushes with Le Fanu’s Carmilla including as edited prose (a children’s version, if memory serves – good grief!), film adaptation (Hammer’s very loose Karstein trilogy) and audio adaptation (a rather fine reading by Miriam Margolis), but this was the first proper read I’ve had of his work. The Familiar is pretty good, with quite a neat ending - I was listening to a reading of Guy de Maupassant's The Horla at the time of reading and couldn't avoid comparisons.  

'The Wondersmith' - Fitzjames O'Brien Begins with a splendid descriptive opener reminiscent of Dicken’s Bleak House scene-setter (though this is set in a fictional New York), but soon mutates into an alternately ghoulish and sentimental story of gypsies, hunchbacks and outright villainy – and it gets rather silly towards the end. The story’s classed by some as the progenitor to the robot story with its murderous miniatures, but to me that’s a little too generous - like saying Pinocchio prefigures I, Robot. Sort of satisfying in the end, but a tad melodramatic. And the gypsy stereotypes are a worry.  

'The Burial of the Rats' – Bram Stoker Englishman runs for his life in a labyrinth of rubbish, pursued by desperate vagrants in post-Revolutionary Paris. Really really good. Skin-crawling and effectively tense. I loved it – it stayed with me for a few days afterwards.

 'Xelucha'- M.P. Shiel Man mistakes shady lady for ancient enchantress (or doesn't?) Hysterical. Complete bonkers from a decidedly shady writer and possible loon. Impenetrable text, verging on the wrong side of what we might nowadays call magical realism (maybe), but apart from the punchline ending, just stream of consciousness bobbins.

 'The Ghost of the Valley' / 'Autumn Cricket' - Lord Dunsany I shan't spoil these - both short, intimate and rather lovely pieces of supernatural pastoral fantasy. Alongside Stoker and Le Fanu's works both were enough to make me want to seek out more of Dunsany’s work.

 ...three to four out of six is pretty good, and I've a new writer to seek out. Not too bad!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Friday Night Local: Headless Chickens, 'Mr Moon' (1991)

A quick post tonight, and it's dedicated to two sterling chaps: firstly to my friend Dave, who I know likes this song a lot (a Happy Birthday for last week!), and secondly to Mr Moon himself, Jim Moon of Hypnogoria fame, who never fails to bring a smile in his wonderful podcast series...

Director: Jonathan Ogilvie
Film Archive

I had to hunt for this video, wanting the Fiona MacDonald piano fade-out of the music video version of the song and not the single or album mixes - inevitably, it's via MTV Australia rather than NZonScreen or YouTube, which is at least telling of the Chickens' Trans-Tasman success at their mid-life peak [link replaced, cheers even-bigger-HC-fan Jamas!] Have a good weekend, folks!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Strip to Screen: Ladies First!

It's a great time to be a comic book movie fan. Even if your world is as bilateral as MarvelDisney vs DCWarners (and if it is, hey - please accept my invitation to you to get a life!) the competition must be worth something more than bragging rights. And it is a competition, seemingly. First this, first that: first fast-running hero (Fox Win!), first aquatic antihero (DC Warners Win!), first non-nebulous galactic monomaniacal godlike tyrant baddie (MarvelDisney Win!) First superheroine- er...

It's complicated if you think this game has always been played. Is it Avengers' Black Widow? Well she's not the first ensemble heroine. Is it Captain America's Agent Penny Carter? Well, she's not a superhuman or imbued with superhero status [yet?] Is it X-Men's Storm? Rogue? Mystique?  Is it Catwoman? Elektra? Supergirl?

Well, I'm thinking those with a dog in the fight aren't looking that far back to the last generation of superhero movies, and ensemble superheroines are not as newsworthy in the sausagefest that is otherwise superhero movies these days, so let's say the counters are reset for the race to first female superhero in a title role. Marvel Studio's Kevin Feige says the time has to be right for a female superhero movie, and timing is everything. In the mean-time, no Black Widow solo outing. DCWarners have recently unveiled Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in 2016's Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice - it's great news, and about time, but stil two years away and DC's Amazonian hero won't be going solo until maybe 2018. There's no sign yet of a single X-Men hero going solo beyond Wolverine again (I'd suggest Storm again or Mystique for an easy pick, but no-one's listening!), and Fantastic Four's Sue Storm is probably unlikely to ever have her own solo movie. So who will be first...?

Apparently, it might be Sony's Black Cat, last hinted at in Amazing Spider-Man 2 (and nudged good and proper in pre-DVD promotions this week), slated for 2017 in a good-old reshuffling of the Sony Spider-Man deck this week. Interesting. And, look - the character probably isn't that distinguishable from Catwoman - similar name, similar look, similar raison d'etre - even an on/off thing with her superhero opposite; but she's also young, has none of the past casting baggage Catwoman has (Christopher Noaln pointedly doesn't use her title in The Dark Knight Rises) and as a younger woman with ties already to the likes of Oscorp, I think Sony could do worse than take the punt.

And for now, that's all I have to say about that!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday Night Local: Look Blue Go Purple, 'Circumspect Penelope'

More women in rock! More Dunedin Sound! More Eighties! Yes, it's a trifecta.

Look Blue Go Purple deserved more press, and better press. That rare thing, an all-woman group in an industry - a scene, even, which was dominated by young white guys with guitars and baggy jerseys. While the likes of The Clean, the Stones, Doublehappys and Verlaines were hapy to fill a room with squally guitar sounds and loose, alternative power pop, LBGP came across as a little more studied, a little more psychedelic in influence (the literary aspect is evident here, as also in later songs - Virgil's Aeneid inspires Winged Rumour, and Hiawatha borrows its lyrics from Longfellow's epic poem). The difference is refreshing, as is their choice of instrumentation - debut EP Bewitched from which this single hails is notable not only for Norma O'Malley's keyboards, but also the odd jab of flute in As Does the Sun. And, of course, there are five strong personalities here in the writing and composition, and a shared creative spark that makes for an interesting looking video below as well as some allegedly wild gigs back in the day. Penelope seems to be Kath Webster's creation, but equally strong songs from Denise Roughan (I Don't Want You Anyway) and O'Malley (In Your Favour) rightly endure. And there's Cactus Cat, too - but everyone picks that one, so here's my favourite today, filmed once again on the ubiquitous Otago Peninsula (maybe through the car windows you can see a young Marty Phillipps filming the Pink Frost video? Nah, probably not)

I previously had ambitions on devotng a longer post to LBGP here, but apart from a few asides to future projects (Roughan went on to be a 3D, Kathy Bull a Cyclops, O'Malley a Chug and Webster now edits the NZ Automobile Association magazine) there's little mroe to say. LBGP had their three Flying Nun EPs (Bewitched, LBGPEP2, This Is This) compiled onto a CD in the early 90s, but there's at least an EP's worth of uncollected tracks to be found on You Tube, including a rather good cover of Buffy St Marie's Coedine, and if nothing else This Is This desperately needs remastering. Fingers crossed, maybe.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Luxor Judge

Yep, in the future of Judge Dredd's world Egypt's law enforcement looks like this. The Pan African Judge system was expanded somewhat in the early 90s through the Dredd strip Book of the Dead by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar.

 Mostly harmless, the strip was pretty standard far for its time - Dredd gets sent off to another Megacity to kick arse and show the locals how it's done, and being a Millar/Morrison strip inevitably someeone ends up fighting someone else on a conveyor belt (it happens). Dermot Power, who went on to provide some stunning concept visuals for the Star Wars prequels, did the art duties. Luxor's an interesting place - a tiered class system, high-tech society (the Judges buzz about on hovering scooters and wield some sort of energy-weapon baton), and an affectation towards the ancient Egyptian pantheon. Senior Judges (i.e. those who can afford it) are embalmed after death, and there is a genuine belief in an afterlife - and even some form of the gods, as Book of the Dead goes on to illustrate via the then-regulation Big Bad Dredd went up against in the last chapter.

So far, so good. But the god aspect interests me because, as the Dredd strip has loosely established over its near-forty-year run, the concept of 'God' in Dredd's world becomes interchangeable (albeit on a colloqial level) with the epithet 'Grud'; a tradition going back to the late 70s by my reckoning, and built upon in subsequent years by other alternative entities: namely, Jovus and his mother Mavis (no joke!) Of course, other religions exist, and there seems to be an acknowledgement that higher powers may intervene in the affairs of mortals (thus Mega City One's Exorcist Judges, one assumes.)

But what of the Luxor Judges and their gods? Well, Millar and Morrison returned to the strip a few years later with the generally-derided 'epic' Crusade, in which Judges from all over the world converge on a mining outpost in the Antarctic to chase down and claim a 'god'. Moron- sorry, more on that in a later installment, but suffice it to say the Luxor Judges get a look in, and from Book's counterpart Judge Ramses no less. In his time of destiny (possible atop a conveyor belt) which god did he appeal to in his terrors? One called "Yad".

Make of that what you will...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Night Local: Chris Knox, 'My Dumb Luck'

Now, there have been a few upsets to a rough schedule in this Friday Night Music column, and today's entry is yet another. I didnd't intend to return to Chris Knox's music so soon after posting the Tall Dwarfs video a fortnight ago, and yet I didn't intend to go all J-Pop lat week either. This week was to have been either another female or all-female act, or a non-Flying Nun band from yesteryear, but instead I'm putting up another favourite video from one of Invercargill's finest former inhabitants.

My Dumb Luck is from Knox's 1988 solo sophomore effort Seizure, and is a typical track from the record (albeit a favourite song as well). I love the animation - it's simple, witty and creative, which are three things I also admire about Knox's compositions, as well as video and song here sharing a cyclical pattern. To this day I'm torn between appreciating Knox as a solo artist and for his collaborations, particularly with Alec Bathgate as the 'Dwarfs. By 1988 Knox's style was working its way into something of a groove, with buzzing guitars and looped percussion that wasn't a million miles from some Dwarfs songs (say, Crush), while the Dwarfs tracks remained more eclectic, sometimes more inventive and less direct, sometimes less accessible. I still like them both, although at the time I recall swinging fro Knox quickly and back to the duo just as soon. Was it the emergence of Knox's most famous solo song Not Given Lightly - a rueful, slightly cynical pitch at mainstream success (which did come after some time)? Perhaps. I never bought another Knox album after Seizure, with the exception of a cassette of Polyphoto Duck-Shaped Pain and Gum (whose stand-out track Inside Story was nearly a candidate for inclusion here - it's just not as fun as Luck) and the tribute album Stroke, featuring Knox's past work solo, as half of Tall Dwarfs or as frontman for The Enemy and Toy Love interpreted by his friends, colleagues and devotees. It's an impressive set of songs, and a testament to a creative spark whose work in music, film, animation, writing and cartooning seems to have been all but curtailed by a series of strokes five years ago. And I'm only just now thinking about how much Knox has inspired me in nearly all of these areas since I discovered him in my teens.

I'm posting this because there is a crowdfunding campaign underway to collect Knox's visual works in book form, Grafix Knox, next year - it's a great idea and deserves a wider platform, and you can find out more here!