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.
Saturday, 4 February 2012
'In the summer of 1959 my two major passions, rock 'n' roll and cinema, collided to sensational effect in the long-awaited film version of Expresso Bongo'.
Andrew Loog Oldham. Maverick manager of the Rolling Stones.
The idea of the 'youth cult' exploded big bang like, into life in the mid fifties with the arival of rock 'n' roll. Teen gangs had existed before this - see John Boultings 1947 British screen masterpiece Brighton Rock for a fictional look at the infamous razor gangs of the 1940s - see also Jon (England's Dreaming) Savage's excellent 'TEENAGE' book for a complete pre rock 'n' roll history of the teenager and teen gangs. With the new improved 1950’s version of delinquency (both street level authentic and media / mogul created) dropping like a transatlantic A-bomb of proto-punk style and attitude (Elvis, Little Richard, James Dean, Marlon Brando, Levis jeans, leather Jackets, 6 inch flick blades, motorcycle gangs etc) - announcing the 'age of the teenager', largely a Hollywood construct to begin with, Hollywood was quick to perpetuate and exploit what seemed at first like a fad, and so the 'youth dollar swindle' soaked up and sold back it's own teenage American dream myths with films such as Blackboard Jungle (1955), Don't Knock The Rock (1956), Girl Cant Help It (56), The Big Beat (1957), The Beat Generation (1959), Born Reckless (59), Jailhouse Rock and many more.
Since the 'British Youth Cult' movie plays a hugley important role in proto punk as a construct I thought it only right that I include the finest of the genres roots, coming so close as they do to the dawn of the 60s when the term 'punk' first started to be used as a label for trashy American garage bands aping the British invasion with extra snot and attitude. In some ways there is no defining cut off between the end of the 50s and the start of the 60s only that one decade gradually merged into the other. Some commentators even state that the 60s didnt realy start until the release of the first beatles single in 63.
In Ali Cateral and Simon wells book Your Face Here they kick off their run of film reviews with The Beatles explosive 1965 classic... 'A Hard Days Night is an eighty five minute scream of orgasm. As Tommy Steel tickeled and Cliff Richard teased, the four headed eight legged hydra called
JohnPaulGeorgeAndRingo brought teeny boppers to a shuddering climax'.
Yeah, the first Beatles film was a faultline altering youth-quake, however these things dont just arrive out of the blue, someone has to pave the way, (some revisionist history books say otherwise but - there was life in Britain before the Beatles) and while its easy to dismiss Cliff Richard and Tommy Steel as clean cut teenybopper fluff now. At the acctual time it was a very different story.
Dont forget what Cliff achieved with his first record Move It (a number 2 UK hit), a gunuine slice of brooding supercool on wax, music critics Roy Carr and Tony Tyler wrote that it was the first genuine British rock classic while John Lennon was also once quoted as saying that Move It was the first English rock record. For a very brief moment Cliff actually seemed like a British sex deviant that may just possibly be as dangerous as Elvis. Giving off an air of sleezy menace, striking defiant poses of pure rock attitude, and rarely smiling or looking at the audience or camera. Sex appeal? Bags of it! Of course in hind sight we know things turned out different and Cliff quite quickly proved to be a wet letice and a massive let down (Billy Fury was the real deal British Elvis).
Cliff while still looking dangerous though, made his first on screen appearences in the form of two underappreciated films. Both are historically vital in terms of being amongst the first British films to deal with the whole 'youth cult' phenomena. A time when rockers, teds, greasers, tone up boys, trad jazzers, beatnicks and the early modernists were sending highly charged electric currents through the nations psyche, thrilling the youth but offten confusing or intimadating the older generation.
Although Cliff only appeared in a minor supporting role in Serious Charge, it paved the way for Expresso Bongo. Serious Charge itself was a teenage deliquency picture focusing on a 'rockin' youth gang' and their devastating effect on a comunity. A dark and heavy film for its day, dealing with thuggery, theft, lies, deciet, teenage death and the acusation from one rougue teen of molestaion from a parish vicar. Cliff plays the main delinquents younger brother, barely talking, apart from singing rock 'n' roll in the obligatory coffee bar hang out.
Cliff gets bumped up the bill in Expresso Bongo, playing alongside Lawrence Harvy in this tale of showbiz exploitation. Harvey plays slippery hustler come Larry Parnes style svengali Johny Jackson a fast talking chancer with a stripper girlfriend.
The opening sequence alone is an exhilarating trip through the forbidden backstreets of seedy Soho, all neon light and forboding shadows. Filmed with verve and exhuberance, an obvious influence on Julian Temple's 1984 homage to the acrid sights and sounds of late 50s Soho Absolute Beginners which ultimatley failed to capture the raw esscence of Colin Mcinnes wondefully precient late 50s novel.
Expresso Bongo however is still criminaly underrated, putting the record staight on its importance the whirlwind teen genius and legenday Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham let rip about the film in his 2000 autobiography Stoned. first taking about the musical that lead to the film.. '(Expresso Bongo) written by Wolf Mankowitz, this was the first ever British dramatisation of the 50s rock 'n' roll scene and the revolution in the streets as it was fomenting. 'Soho Johnny never had it so good - or lost it so fast' blared the bill board. Even more than the censored weekly TV shows that pandered to the youth, or the incresing interest by promoters in cashing in on live rock, Expresso Bongo's run in the West End signalled a coming of age for the new music, the new style, the new hustle. Even better, it owed very little to it's Yank progenitors; (sunk as it was in the shadowy showbiz underbelly of Soho - strip clubs, spivs and protitutes) it was Brit to the Core. It would be my liturgy: a senario where the manager was equally as important as the artist'. Fired up he goes on 'Expresso Bongo was at once so incredibly obvious and yet, oh so subtle: sex, religeon, a whiff of incest (which i believe to be the rock coupling that dare not speak its name). I saw a future where Bongos begged me to be their Johnny . And almost as important as the boost the play gave to my own aspirations was the reassurance that, despite the lonliness I often felt, I was not alone and, with like-minded fellows, anything was possible'.
Strong words indeed to atribute to what is essentially a piece of entrertainment, his musings on the actual film are a revelation. 'No one could have pleased me more as manager Johnny Jackson than my own Larry Harvey, who was as at home in the cofee bars and strip joints of Soho as he had not been in the society drawing rooms of his immediatley previous hit, Room at the Top. And to prove even further that my subconscious was beggining to control the audio and video of 'real life', Bongo was played by Cliff Richard. What really struck me was the upbeat conclusion, after a music business tycoon and an over the hill floozy conspire to steal Bongo from Johnny. Just as he's decided to get his drums out of hock and go on the road, leaving the scrumptios Sylvia Syms behind in her pasties, a notorious showbiz deadbeat repays a loan that Johnny never thought he'd see again. The movie ends with Johnny dropping his drums in the street and strolling off in search of the next Bongo. Although I may not have articulated it at the time, that attitude became one of my mantras:
'They always fuck you for the first one'.
Proof then that this film changed the very life of at least one fan and sometimes the tease is as good as the climax. Expresso Bongo is as pure a punk rock moment as any.
See also THE DUKE WORE JEANS (1958) the Tommy Steel vehicle that predated Cliff's cinema debut.
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'.