Welcome to Screenage Kicks - a blog concentrating on the lurid, feral excitement of on screen 'punk attitude'.
Bare with me, this blog is in it's tentative stages, but I hope to cover a wealth of cinema that influenced punk, was influenced by punk, or is in itself - pure punk. However my definition of 'what is punk?' is based on notions of attitude, subversion, rebellion, transgression, visceral excitement, self exploration, boundary breaking, abandon, and both brutal realism and wild escapism. A broadbased appreciation of life changing or challenging movies, having little to do with prescribed identikit cliches of 'punk'. The concept of 'punk cinema' by it's very existence should challenge the notion of what is, and what is not 'punk cinema'. Reflecting this 'break the rules' outlook my writing will vary wildly between flip fan-istic enthusiasm and more serious academic investigations and insights, depending on my mood (and level of aggression).
Friday, 17 February 2012
Throughout Easy Rider we witness the discrimination and paranoid suspicion of outsiders (both outsiders in a geographical sense but also outsiders in a cultural and intellectual sense) from law men. The two protagonists - examplars of the new youth, are verbally abused in public, goaded, and thrown in jail. Their brutal slaying at the end of the film however comes from a couple of citizens - 'good ol inbred local boys' who are just as likely to drive into the mise-en-scene of Deliverance. Easy Rider presents the brutality of both institutionalised bigotry and the dangerous narrow mindedness of Americas rural and seemingly disconnected (disenfranchised, confused, alienated?) population.
EGIB however gets its hands dirty by setting itself up to seemingly come from the other side of the Easy Rider discourse, It's main protagonist is tiny 5 foot Vietnam Vet turned highway patrol cop "Big John" (Robert Blake) who's is a compliant cog in a corrupt and oppressive police force. The film was accused of being fascistic on it's release, such criticism completely missed the point of the films arresting oppositional set up. Maybe these critics never made it through the entire film, where John (a stickler for the law and it's rules) depicted as fair but unwavering soon tires of the corruption and blatant discrimination against hippies and longhairs, when made aware of how the law bends to fit it's own means and preoccupations. Maybe Johns trajectory mirrors the trajectory of the more liberal minded of Americas population and authorities as he comes to value truth and honesty over the blind vilifying young people simply because of the length of their hair of unconventional clothing. It would only take a few short years before most of these types of communities adopted the long hair look as "normal" to the point where when short haired punks come onto the scene a few years later they are vilified once again for looking different. A display of how the mainstream co opts the things it once railed against. By the end of the film a faith in the objective balance and fairness of the "cop"' is manifest, which points towards a fairer, better America however this optimism is short lived as the shocking brutal shooting of John off his Electro Glide motorcycle by a hippie from the rear window of a camper van, again brilliantly mirrors the "opposite" of Easy Rider its the same ending but from the other side of the counter culture discourse. Whats sad is that it is the paranoia and fear of mutual distrust that killed John here, having finally decided to "trust the hippies" he stops them, but recognising one of the hippies he is friendly and lets them move on, however noticing that they have left something behind he (again friendly) follows them to return the item, and although their reason is not made explicit maybe the hippies think John is toying with them (as has happened by previous cops) - tired of being toyed with they shoot John from the rear window of their van as he approaches from behind. Sad that as the establishment (as represented here by John) finally had accepted and caught up with the voices of dissent, he is shot down. Maybe we can draw association here with the assassinations of the Kennedy's. The link seems overt, however this notion is hindered somewhat by the fact that the assassin is depicted as countercultural and not counterculture oppositional - as the assassins of John and Robert kennedy surely were trying to stand in the way of American progress. Think again however and the concept of the 'bad hippie' leads straight to the doorstep of Charles Manson, still very much in the public and cultural national conscious of America at the time of the film in 1974, whereas back in 1969 when Easy Rider was released the notion (from within the counter culture itself) of the "bad hippie" was not raised unless it was of course from the bigoted right wing conservative's who indeed labelled all hippies as bad.
Many of these films from this era highlight the failure of the hippie dream, and it was this failure (often seen in terms of giving up or selling out) that lead the next youth culture to sometimes take on an anti-hippie stance despite sharing many of the same ideologies that challenged the dominant mainstream culture in the name of liberty, personal freedom and self expression. Dennis Hopper (star of Easy Rider) seems to have realised this and so if EGIB was Easy Riders opposite then Hoppers criminally underrated Out Of The Blue is the bleak punk sequel to Easy Rider. Hopper him-self has expressed that it was a kind of unofficial sequel.
Electra Glide In Blue however harness's much proto-punk attitude, including the sharp, new wave leather boy look of the cops who's outfits and helmets are fetishized in a cool glamorous manor that seems brave during a time when cops ("pigs") were possibly the most uncool group of people in America at the time. Here the cops / pigs look far cooler than the unkempt hippies who at that time were meant to be thee coolest. Something which would not go un-lost on any budding future punks in the cinema audience, identifying more with the deadly look of the cops in contrast to the rather worn and deadbeat look of the hippies who look lost and already outdated - dying dinosaurs. The subversive "leather and power" identity play also brings to mind Kenneth Angers transgressive masterpiece Scorpio Rising.
Along side other gritty road movies such as Two Lane Black Top and Vanishing Point, EGIB contributes to an a unique and visceral cycle of existentialist films that injected the "new Hollywood" trajectory with countercultural films of a seriously reflexive nature - asking questions about all sides of the cultural crises, capturing the confusion and paranoia of the times without being preachy. These often challenging films carried the glimpse of the new found freedoms and spaces but often showed the true horrors to be found in such uncharted places.
Thursday, 9 February 2012
Socially and personally - politically transgressive jet black comedy. One of the finest 'head-fuck' films of the 1970s. Part of the Yugoslavian film movement known as 'the Black Wave' the film is rooted in the motivations of the global counterculture of the 60s that were by then, stranded in the 70s and being forced to deal with the death of the leftist hippy dream under the all consuming tide of consumerism and fractured societies. Employing disturbing imagery and modes in a provocative, questioning, analytical, self reflective and socio-politically critical way which pointed towards the deeper elements of the oncoming punk (situationism, anarchy, the dialogue between left and right, socio-political discourse) movement. In that manner it sit's somewhere between Jodorowsky's El Topo and Derek Jarmans Jubilee - with extra Eastern Block politicking and some John Waters 'shock camp' thrown in for effect. All bases are covered, uncovered, dissected, digested and spewed out in a stream of bizarreness that veers from dark hilarity to even darker moments of genuinely disturbing discomfort - sexuality, sexism, feminism, mental illness, perversion, cruelty, automation, pedophilia, communism, fascism, rascism, power, greed, corruption, the natural, the unnatural, homosexuality, scatology, fame, desire, obsession, oppression, regression, revolution, repulsion, control, abandon, freedom, enslavement, the themes are literally endless and it's startling how much director Dusan Makavejev packs into it's duration. Wrapped loosely around two main narratives that provide frameworks for the subversive themes and startling imagery. The imagery is jarring, shocking, repulsive, sexy, poetic and layered with cryptic metaphor, but always startling in it's beauty, these rich associative montages may be amongst the finest of such cinematic mechanisms in cinema full stop, rarely do we see such modes of screen expression taken to such extremes. A truly unsettling aesthetic, as the mise-en-scene both enticingly seductive in its weird beauty yet repulsive in its darker moments creates a refreshing 'out there' piece of work. High camp imagery melds with high art, this footage often deliberately sexy or sexualized, almost surrealist, often ridiculous, is intercut with original real field footage of second world war atrocities. There is no safe way to view this film, your perceptions and comfort zones will be challenged at every turn. It's about as punk as it gets.
Tuesday, 7 February 2012
'Never Have I encountered such a morally bankrupt group of people'
Proto punk masterpiece - which towards the end of the film sees Divine go all out 'postcard punk' replete with full mohawk hair, years before Kings Road punks would adopt the same look. Although there may not be any dog shit eating here ala Pink Flamingos, Divine really does provide ample outrageousness in this follow up to his most infamous role. High expectations were placed on John Waters to deliver the goods again, after the runaway midnight movie success of Pink Flamingo's, maybe there never was such high expectation placed on such low trash in the history of cinema. Waters however does not disappoint in this epic melodramatic tale of fame hunger turned sickness, a theme which seems all the more prescient and relevant - now in the post reality TV and X Factor era. The laughs come thick and fast and the character creation/scripting/acting is superbly eccentric in that perfect John Waters 'collection of freaks' kind of way. This film really is 'punk before punk' and Divine of course is as punk as it gets, with a breathtaking display of outrageous originality, attitude, balls and a truly beautiful sense of the absurd.
Monday, 6 February 2012
I know Ian Curtis' bones have been well picked over for every last scrap of exploitable flesh.
But while thinking about Werner Herzog's 1977 film Stroszek (the film which Curtis hung himself after watching) I remembered this absolute gem - a lovely homage to Curtis from 1990 - long before the rest of the world had any interest in grave digging (gloomy existentialist Manchunians) for cool points.
This is heartfelt and genuine, Genesis being a longtime friend and associate of Curtis'. Here the charming 'acid house aesthetic' video is shot through with homage to another punk/sub cultural/transgressive hero - Kenneth Anger (surely the ultimate King of Screenage Kicks).
Strange film. Disconcerting. It obviously had a weird effect on Ian Curtis too, considering that he killed himself after watching it.
This scene (Dancing Chicken) from Strozek was referenced in Joy Division/New Order/Factory Records/Tony Wilson/Happy Mondays bio pic 24 Hour Party People, during the scene where Curtis hangs himself. Whats more the Dancing Chicken scene reminds me of the garish trash aesthetic of some of the design work produced by Factory records design associates - Central Station Design, who did not design Joy Division's artwork but created sleeves for later Factory releases by Happy Mondays and Northside (who's debut album was called Chicken Rhythms), they also created the opening credits for 24 Hour Party People.
Sunday, 5 February 2012
Forget The Hurt Locker, this 1982 outlaw biker / rockabilly oddity (The Loveless) is the finest film Kathryn Bigelow ever made, it was also her first (co-directed with Monty Montgomery). Further more this hyper stylised, seductive, dream (it's not quite a nightmare but it's slightly twisted, lurid and uneasy) also provided Willem Dafoe with his debut feature role. And if Dafoe's cool, enegmatic, demonic, creepy but shatteringly compelling screen arrival wasnt 'punk' enough then punk rocker / neo rockabilly legend Robert Gordon ensures the films place on this blog.
Robert Gordon maintains that he had his life changing punk moment at the age of 9 when he first heard Elvis' Heartbreak Hotel played on the radio. Later cementing his punk credentials in the 70s with punk band Tuff Darts who appeared on the compilation album Live at CBGBs. After hooking up with American garage band legend (The Strangeloves), songwriter (My Boyfriends Back, I Want Candy), producer (Richard Hell & The Voidoids, Dr Feelgood, The Fleshtones) Richard Gottehrer, Gordon headed in a more rockabilly direction, reflecting his deep love of Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and the like. He was soon working with guitar hero Link Wray and they released the album Robert Gordon with Link Wray in 1977. A second album with Link Wray followed in 78, this time featuring sometime Elvis backing vocalists The Jordanaires, this album also featured a song called Fire that Bruce Springsteen had written for Elvis, whilst on this album version Springsteen played keyboards on the track. Gordon's third album Rock Billy Boogie was made with Chris Spedding (Sex Pistols producer who had also worked / played with Nilson, John Cale, Tom Waits, Roxy Music and both Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno solo) this trio of albums had cemented Gordon as a prime force in the punk generations return to rockabilly roots in search of direction, a direction soon taken up by the likes of The Stray Cats, The Cramps, Tav Falco's Panther Burns, The Pole Cats and many many more as a deeper love for rockabilly saw a wealth of 50s influenced artists arrive in force as either neo-rockabilly purists or in the mutated (mixed with 60s garage, surf and B-movie horror influences) punked-out form of Psychobilly. Gordon then (already a subcultural icon) was the perfect choice to give weight and credibility to a 50s style biker movie obviously inspired by the Brando classic The Wild One.
The Lovless was overlooked and under-appreciated on it's original release, probably not taken fully seriously due to it to coming after a wealth of 50s / early 60s set 'youth films' that had already seen a return a similar aesthetic (Grease, The Wanderers). However the subtleties and original aspects of The Loveless were obviously lost on critics who couldn't see past the retro 50s themes. Audiences hungry for a slightly subversive and fetishistic take on this already exhausted period however felt different, and over time The Loveless found it's audience - becoming a genuine cult favourite. The fine tuned fetishistic elements of the film summon up the memory and feel of Kenneth Angers transgressive masterpiece Scorpio Rising in a way that the likes of Grease never did! Though it is as if Bigelow had seen Grease and decided that it's villains - Crater Face and his gang the Scorpions would have made far more interesting main protagonists than Danny Zuco and his T-Birds. John Waters of course would later manage to blend aesthetic elements of both Grease and The Loveless in his 'Delinquent musical' Cry Baby.
There's not much of a story here (employing the classic punk topic of 'boredom' as bored biker gang cause trouble in a small Southern town) but the languid sensual visuals and sexy retro mise-en-scene make the film an essential slice of post punk retro mania and a total joy to immerse ones self in, for its duration. Often criticised as empty, dull and boring, due to the scripts minimal nature, however the sparseness employed actually adds significantly to the sense of strangeness and poetic otherworldly ambience.