Category Archives: 4 stars

Lost Highway

Another Lynch film, I know. But I saw it for the first time last night and wanted to blog about it while it was still fresh in my memory. I’ll review a non-Lynch film one day, I promise…The film is sort of a spiritual predecessor to Mulholland Drive, and opens in a similar style- driving along a highway (see left) with a very effective and mood-setting soundtrack (the song in this case being David Bowie‘s I’m Deranged. In fact, the entire soundtrack (as with all Lynch films I’ve seen to date) works very well, the likes of Rammstein adding to the nightmarish freakishness of much of the film. 

Having seen Mulholland Drive first, I could see how the ideas, motifs and structure of that film were a continuation of Lost Highway, could see how his style involved. However, the latter (made in 1997), though by all means a fascinating and original film, is by no means as sophisticated and complex as the former (made in 2001). Similar motifs in both films include the use of dark corridors and corners to heighten tension- as you cannot see what is lurking around the corner!, psychological breakdown and repression, relationship breakdowns; as well as common visual motifs such as Mulholland Drive (the highway) and in fact the same type of telephone is used in both films. The films also follow a similar structure: what Slavoj Žižek calls a “bipartite structure”, creating a contradictory storyline that can be very confusing. Without giving too much away, halfway or so through the film, everything changes and it no longer makes sense (at least, in the literal sense). In both films, the action of the film (can be interpreted to) represent(s) the psyche of the protagonists, in terms of dreams or hallucinations. An interesting comparison of both films can be found here

The film begins with protagonist Fred Madison being told the cryptic words “Dick Laurent is dead” by an unseen visitor at the intercom. This directly ties into the end of the film (a satisfying full-circle at the ending, complete with a rehash of the opening credits and Bowie), but I won’t tell you how, because that would spoil all the fun! Another example of the postmodern nature of the film is the intense focus upon the inner character, his psychological state– mostly twisted and pathological. As in Mulholland Drive, the development of the protagonist is shown in the action of play; and the surreal, contradictory plot reflects the breakdown of the character’s psyche. The use of the device known as “unreliable narrator” means that we experience the events of the film through the protagonist’s phenomenological field, not from the objective, privileged perspective we are accustomed to.

In fact, it just occurred to me that this focus on the character and the inner (in Lynch’s case, SICK!) self is the polar opposite of Greek drama. This talk of characterisation affecting plot reminded me of the time we studied EuripidesMedea in Literature class and an essay I wrote on that, with reference to Aristotle’s seminal work Poetics, in which he states that characterisation is secondary to plot and significant insofar as it affects the latter. I found this really interesting, especially considering the way the medium of the fiction affects the story’s focus and the way it is told. For Euripides and other Greek dramatists, their plays were acted out in large auditoriums where the actors could not be seen closely and often wore masks (to make obvious their “mood”) and large gloves (to help accentuate gestures). In this setting, it would only be natural that the playwright would not be able to manipulate very many factors in the presentation of the play, so language and plot would be of utmost importance to communicate the message of the play. On the other hand, the medium of film, especially with special effects and the use of cinematography to influence the way the viewer responds to the film, gives the director an incredible level of control over the way the story is told and enables a complex exploration of characters and their psyches. (I’m well aware this paragraph is clumsy, but I’m tired and can’t be bothered making it more coherent- as long as you get the point that the postmodern focus on characterisation is the polar opposite of the prime importance of plot in ancient Greek drama).

A word of warning: Lost Highway is rated R18+ (in Australia) and features both quite a bit of sex (heterosexual this time) and a high level of violence. Otherwise, though not as good as Mulholland Drive (in my opinon), it is still very good and excellent to watch to see how Lynch’s filmmaking has evolved. Thrilling, suspenceful and completely bizarre throughout, Lost Highway is another fascinating piece of insanity from the twisted mind of David Lynch (again, I do promise to talk about a non-Lynch film one day…). 4 stars.

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Ghosts I-IV

An interesting album, and an example of artists moving with the times, Ghosts (link to official album website featuring free download of Ghosts I- the first part) by Nine Inch Nails first caught my eye with some minimalist advertising: posters with just the album cover (see left).

This album is both a continuation and a marked change from Reznor’s previous work: a continuation in that he has been exploring sounds and concept albums previously (in fact, the previous album Year Zero was a fascinatingly complex paranoia-themed concept album marketed primarily with an immersive Alternate Reality Game), a change in that it was the first album released after the band left Interscope Records after disagreements about commercialism. 

Entirely instrumental, Ghosts is much more experimental than previous albums and features a variety of sounds, from heavy, industrial music to minimalist piano/xylophone to distorted, computer-created soundscapes. Reznor’s focus in creating the album was: “10 weeks, no clear agenda, no overthinking, everything driven by impulse. Whatever happens during that time gets released as… something”.

Another interesting aspect of this album was that it was released under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license, enabling and encouraging others to work with the music, to remix and collaborate- to create and share (examples of such collaboration can be found here— Barett Hiatt, who calls himself Halo33– free to listen online). I think this should be seen as the forefront of a new musical movement, along with developments such as Radiohead‘s free experimental release of In Rainbows and the video design contest that followed that. With major record labels threatened by the propagation of music download on services such as BitTorrent, artists must re-think the way they conceptualize, create and distribute their music. As with Radiohead‘s video contest, NIN have created a user-created “film festival“, providing an oppurtunity for fans to interpret and manipulate the music and share this with others.

Being entirely instrumental, I find Ghosts to be very good background music: just turn on the iPod, turn off Shuffle and start the album– sort of like a soundtrack to your life. When I first got the album, I listened to it straight through, but I find it works extremely well as incidental music, especially on the train in gloomy weather. I would recommend this to anybody who wants something interesting to listen to, even if you hate the rest of their albums. And since the first half of the first CD of this double album is available for free (legal) download here, its well worth a shot. An interesting experimental album that also offers clues for the future of the music industry. 4 stars.

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Dig Lazarus Dig!!

Dig Lazarus Dig!!!, the fourteenth studio album by the incredibly cool Nick Cave and his band The Bad Seeds, is a welcome change to some of his more depressed (not necessarily depressing!), piano-heavy music (i.e. The Boatman’s Call).

Don’t get me wrong… I love most of his stuff. But this is that sort of music that defines Cave as “cool”, rather than your run-o’-the-mill talented musician. Cave has stated that this album is similar in sound to his side project Griderman; a more “garage rock”-type sound.

The music on this album tends to have a repetitive feel with lots of noise happening and a driving, cool beat. It also has an epic feel to it, thanks to the use of instruments such as the organ. It seems most similar in musical style to Let Love In. Vocally, Cave takes on a sneering, Bowie-like quality.

Like pretty much all of Cave’s music, the lyrics are fantastic and a welcome departure from the flaccidity of much Western contemporary lyrics. In the great importance of lyrics to the overall feel of its songs, Dig Lazarus Dig!!! is similar to the Bad Seeds’ previous studio (double) album Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, in which Cave’s inventive lyrics could conceivably function as stand-alone poetry.

However, in my opinion, Dig Lazarus Dig!!! takes a step further. Its as if Cave has written a book and decided to read it along with some musical backing- often putting way more syllables in a line than we are used to with Western music. This has a similar feel to the operatic tradition of recitative: a focus on lyrics, with a sparse basso continuo accompaniment, to tell a story in between the arias. This makes the choruses even more effective, such as in We Call Upon The Author, where the recurring and driving chorus is especially dramatic compared to Cave’s recitative.

A very cool album that was well worth downloading again when the first copy was a dud. 4 stars.

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Barons of Tang (with Sex on Toast): Bar Open, 22 August 2008

Here’s another review. I was thinking about what to review: a book, an album, a movie? Then I decided to add a slightly local feel to the blog by reviewing a gig I went to a few weeks ago at a place called Bar Open in Brunswick Street.

I might actually start by talking about the place itself. It’s an interesting joint: a bar with strange artwork on the walls (see left) with a small bit out the back and an upstairs room with a bunch of couches which is where the music is. It has a good atmosphere and best of all, entry is free! So we got to hear two bands for the price of none!

The Barons of Tang are described on the Bar Open website as:

the pioneers of what has been dubbed gypsy “deathcore” which is a crazy mash up traditional Eastern European, Latin, rockabilly and tango sounds, outrageously bastardized by hard hitting guitar riffs, double kick blast beats and massive horn arrangements

 

The music was really good and drew an interesting crowd. Mixing gypsy melodies with dancable beats drew out the very best of Melbourne’s hidden creatures: black-clad figures doing interpretive dance, some interesting hair colours and a man with a massive pirate hat (who also danced). Somebody (can’t remember who) recently told me that the saxophone has no place in a gypsy band, but if they’d seen Barons of Tang, they would have been forced to eat their words! In fact, the harshness of the saxophone went very well with the fast rhythms and hard beats. Visit their myspace to check out their songs, especially my favourite, Tango For Billy.

They were supported by a band of lanky teenagers who called themselves Sex on Toast (see left; photo from gig). These fellows played an interesting variety of music, always fun. I ever so slightly envied the keyboardist, who had a tshirt that said “*picture of keyboard* ADDICT”. It was good music, suitably fast and noisy- the sound of people having a good time and using their music for fun, not boredom (in contrast, to, say: “All right people, we’re taking the second movement again slowly! Strings: watch the conductor!”). They describe their music as “combining cartoonish screaming and jump cuts, free improvisation and killer metal riffs, fused with the finest doo-wop harmonies… fun, often whimsical”.

The two bands were a good combination for a good night out and a great way to celebrate my birthday. I definitely recommend the venue as it often has great bands playing (for free!) as well as cult movie nights, etc… Also, if you ever see either Barons of Tang or Sex on Toast around, you would be well advised to give them a shot. Easily the best entertainment-to-cost ratio I’ve ever had the good fortune to… (what verb would go here?). 4 Stars.

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