Retro Review: In ERASERHEAD, Everything Is Fine: A Lynch Classic Lurks into Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Feb 26th, 2015 By:

MPW-30819ERASERHEAD (1977); Dir. David Lynch; Starring Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Judith Roberts and Laurel Near; Tuesday, March 3 @ 7:00 p.m.; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Tickets $11; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Landmark Midtown Art Cinema continues its “Midtown Cinema Classics” series with ERASERHEAD, the debut feature from one of this country’s most iconoclastic and distinctive filmmakers, David Lynch. Though made with an almost non-existent budget and shot over the course of five years, it quickly became one of the defining films of the “Midnight Movie” circuit and established Lynch as a singular artist with a visual strength and innovative storytelling style that must be reckoned with.

First, a summary: The Man in the Planet pushes a lever and things go into motion. Grey, desolate cityscapes. Harsh concrète pulses of industrial noise interspersed with the jaunty organ music of Fats Waller. Flickering lights in the hallway. Henry Spencer, a man with a questionable hairstyle. A family dinner with a bleeding, miniature roast chicken. “They’re new!” A revelation. “They’re still not sure it is a baby!” Something that looks like a goat fetus swaddled in bandages. The Lady in the Radiator. “In Heaven, everything is fine.” Crying. Oh, the crying. The Beautiful Girl Across the Hall. Visions. We have a title. Scissors. Confrontation. Explosions. An embrace. And despite the Man in the Planet’s attempts, those levers will not go back. No way to slow down.

There is no effective way to critically assess a movie like ERASERHEAD. It just exists, monolithic. Even discussing the making of the movie is a faulty way to approach the film. It’s too mundane. Too workaday. Is it interesting that Lynch filmed it while on an AFI scholarship and used their campus as filming locations? That it took over five years to complete and that he shot it around his schedule as a newspaper delivery boy? That star Jack Nance’s then-wife, assistant director Catherine “The Log Lady” Coulson helped fund it by donating her entire salary as a waitress? That nobody will speak of the nature or construction of the baby prop? Perhaps. But none of that is nearly as interesting as the movie itself.

eraserhead2You can try to analyze it and its symbols, but as David Lynch has always been such a closed book when it comes to discussing his own work, that approach depends entirely on what you bring to the table. Is it a horror movie about the terror a parent faces when an unwanted child is brought into the world? Sure! Why not? It’s an easy read of the text. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d say if you were to attempt to summarize the plot in a linear fashion. But try to tie that to a theory that this reflected Lynch’s mindset at the time, and that’s all on you. Lynch isn’t talking, and he’s never going to tell you that you’re right. For all you know, he thought the movie was high comedy. From on-set reports, that’s precisely what he thought about the Dennis Hopper/Isabella Rossellini scenes in BLUE VELVET, and those are freaking harrowing. No, the only way to approach the film on any interpretive level is to take the postmodern stance that the “meaning” of any work of art is dependent entirely on the viewer. And for what it’s worth, Lynch is completely on board with that. You come to it with the baggage you bring, and you walk away from it eyeing your baggage suspiciously.

Universally speaking, and without getting into personal interpretation, the only thing I can do is insist that you undertake this experience without hesitation, and try to relate to you the film’s ugly beauty. The production design is incredible, and Lynch establishes early on that he is expert at bringing on board cinematographers who can translate his inner visions to celluloid. ERASERHEAD is photographed beautifully. What it captures is often bleak, horrifying and miserable, but depicted with incredible detail and economy. Though the film presents incredibly unpleasant themes and sets its sights on incredibly unpleasant visuals, it does so with such a striking aesthetic impact that you cannot help but appreciate the care, passion and technical precision and accomplishment behind every frame. Lynch, trained as a painter, knows how to work effectively within a frame and does so with a remarkable style and uniform visual sense.

eraserhead-645-75What’s more striking, though, is how this single work has come to define David Lynch as a filmmaker. Even more than his many early short films, this is the lynchpin (and may the Man in the Planet strike me dead for making that pun) for all of his subsequent works. The unnerving sense of “is this supposed to be funny?” bubbling up from the depths of the darkest sequences. Trademark visual motifs (figures emerging from shadows, the unreliability of electric light sources), storytelling elements (the blurring of dream and reality, odd chanteuses appearing at crucial moments to perform for us), visual composition (alternating black-and-white set design, long establishing shots, seemingly random inserts) and sound design (ever-present ambient noise, strangely anachronistic musical score) all find their wellspring here. Even in casting, Lynch’s oeuvre is tied together by this film, in which he first cast his most frequently-used actor, the late Jack Nance as Henry Spencer. Nance’s distinctive presence and oddball style made him a perfect choice for many subsequent cult films, and Lynch continued to use him in nearly all of his subsequent features (save for THE ELEPHANT MAN) until Jack Nance’s death in 1996.

Frank Zappa coined the notions of “conceptual continuity” and the “Project/Object,” in which he posited that all of his work—every album, song, interview, etc.—was all part of the same Big Work of Art that he was eternally designing as he went along. In a way, this is true of Lynch’s work as well. You could spend days going back and forth about the concepts of identity in his films and how MULHOLLAND DR. is the feminine flip side to the male-dominated diabolism of LOST HIGHWAY, and how all of that relates to the shifting and blurring definition of “self” in INLAND EMPIRE. You could follow the threads of adultery and its repercussions that pop up with regularity throughout his work. You could focus on the almost religious reverence he consistently devotes to the physically aberrant. And you could easily use any of those examinations to tie all of his work together as one big Project/Object. But you’d be hard pressed to do so without coming to the conclusion that it all comes together perfectly in one spot and flows out from that source: ERASERHEAD.

Or maybe not. It’s kinda up to you.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Kool Kats of the Week: Pillage & Plunder, the “Musical Mad Scientists” Rock The Earl While Promoting Raucous Reptilian Love With Gamera and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Posted on: May 19th, 2014 By:

by Melanie Crew
Contributing Writer

Pillage & Plunder, “weaned on the teat of comic books, video games, jazz, mathematics, punk and prog” will be rockin’ to the tune of Turtle at The Earl this Friday, May 23! It’ll be a night of mischief and mayhem with a celebration of the release of their debut LP, “The Show Must Go Wrong,” out August 5, along with Atlanta’s Slowriter and Mice in Cars, in conjunction with World Turtle Day! You won’t want to miss Pillage & Plunder’s rockin’ reptilian ruckus at The Earl this Friday!

Pillage & Plunder, Atlanta’s indie-prog/jazz-punk trio is made up of Gokul Parasuram (guitar/bass/vocals), Hsiang-Ming Wen (bass/guitar/vocals) and Noah Kess (drums/vibes). In no way are they newbies to the indie, pop-culture scene, having shared the stage with Tennessee’s indie, “rock n roll fablers” and Mega Man fanatics, The Protomen and Paper Route. They’ve also been rockin’ around town delivering their “rock magic” and “beautiful chaos” at several of Atlanta’s rockin’ venues: The Star Bar, Under the Couch, WonderRoot, Smith’s Olde Bar, 529, the Masquerade, the Inman Park Festival, just to name a few! And they’ve been busy recording since 2009 [2009 – “The Artisan/Blue” single; 2011 – “Look Inside For The Prize” (EP); 2012 – “Summer Days/Hit & Run” single; 2013 – “Goodnight Jack” (acoustic EP)]. Pillage & Plunder is a rockin’ band and chaotic force you won’t want to miss!

ATLRetro caught up with the fellas of Pillage & Plunder, for a quick interview about their rockin’ retro sounds, their love of all things geeky, the importance of the preservation of our 200-million-year-old turtle pals and their August 5 debut of their LP, “The Show Must Go Wrong”.

And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with the band, take a listen to Pillage & Plunder’s “Summer Days” here.

ATLRetro: What’s in a name? Pillage & Plunder sounds more swashbuckler than comics, retro video games, jazz, math and punk. Is there an adventurous story of rock behind the name? Does “X” really mark the spot? Come on and fill our readers in on how you earned such a name!

Gokul: When we started, we had trouble thinking up good names. Every week, I’d bring new band names to a buddy of mine who’d always laugh at our ideas. This friend always suggested (jokingly) that we name ourselves Pillage & Plunder. It sounded corny and had no obvious connection to our music at the time, but we honestly couldn’t come up with anything better. Ten years later, nothing has changed.

How did you rockin’ dudes come together as a band? Was it rock love at first sight or was there a little shakin’, rattlin’ and rollin’ along the way?

Gokul: Let’s go with rock and roll love at first sight. Hsiang-Ming and I sat together in our eighth-grade history class. We became buddies. Watching movies led to video games and anime conventions, which led to guitars and ultimately to writing/recording demos in our bedrooms. Early Pillage & Plunder rehearsals comprised of covers and jams, but we picked up some momentum as original material started entering our repertoire. We gigged around with a drummer who was a high school friend until 2011, when Noah joined the band. I would describe Noah as rock and roll love at first phone conversation.

How would you describe your sound? We’ve seen the band described as paying homage to ’50s martini lounge, ’70s psych-prog and ’90s pop punk. What should our readers expect when they come to your show?

Gokul: We pay homage to these sounds and more on a nightly basis! It’s the byproduct of having three genre-hopping musical hoarders in the same band. Generally you can expect a lot of variety at our gigs, but all of our songs tend to have at least one big heavy riff moment. Look out for the big heavy riff moments!

We see that you ‘navigated the dreams of Frank Zappa and King Crimson’.  What about these artists influenced you the most?

Gokul: The most captivating thing about the music of bands from that era is this sense that both anything can happen and that almost everything does happen. It’s fun to see artists explore what they can and can’t get away with, and that mindset is more prevalent in experimental forms of music.

Tell our readers a little about how you navigated the music scene.  What drew you to music? Have you always had a desire to play in front of big crowds or was it something you came to love later in life?

Hsiang-Ming: We each come from different backgrounds of music. Gokul started out learning jazz guitar from an early age, Noah was a marching band geek playing percussion and I was an orchestra nerd playing violin from elementary school onwards, eventually diving into guitar and bass in high school. Music is something we all are extremely passionate about and feel comfortable communicating in. We love playing live and definitely feed off the enthusiasm and energy of the crowd. Shows are like a dialogue, and it’s no fun talking to a wall. Or maybe I’m just not talking to the right ones.

In celebration of ‘World Turtle Day’ we see that you’ll be rockin’ out alongside some classic turtle-lovin’ cinema.  We at ATLRetro love our vintage Kaiju flicks, so of course we’re super giddy you’re including 1969’s GAMERA VS. GUIRON, and it’s totally tubular that THE TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES will be making an appearance as well! We think it’s pretty rad that you’re  not only promoting your rockin’ tunes, but are also promoting the preservation of some rockin’ descendants of prehistoric creatures.  Can you tell our readers about your love for turtles and why you’re interested in promoting and preserving them at this show?

Hsiang-Ming: YES!! This is going to be a great show! I don’t have a really good reason for loving turtles other than the fact thatthey’re AWESOME and have been around since over 200 million years ago! I just learned about World Turtle Day this year by chance and I think any event or organization that promotes the preservation of an endangered species is a cause worth talking about. We decided to do a show about it to have some fun and shed some light on a topic that is largely out of the public’s mind. The TMNT and Kaiju films are an added bonus that we tagged on not only for their pure entertainment value and because they’re amazing, but also to give people something to relate to, because kicking Foot Soldier butt and being an oversized tortoise is clearly something we’ve all dealt with in life. You can learn more about the American Tortoise Rescue and donate to their cause here. 

Can you tell our readers a little about your debut LP, ‘The Show Must Go Wrong’ coming out in August?

Hsiang-Ming:The Show Must Go Wrong” is our debut LP that we’ve been working on since 2012 and we cannot be more excited to finally release it in August! The title comes from an episode of the TV show “Parks & Recreation” that we felt reflected the songs and general mood/state of the band during the making of this album. From parting ways with our original drummer, getting all of our equipment stolen at SXSW and coping with failed relationships along the way, we’ve hurdled through a decent share of obstacles to realize that life will always throw obstacles at you, but you just have to keep on chugging and push forward, even if you make a fool of yourself in the process.

Any special plans for your show on the 23rd at The Earl?

Hsiang-Ming: Yes! We will be playing with fellow locals Slowriter and Mice in Cars who are both amazing bands if you’ve never seen them. Aside from the music, as you know, we will be screening the original 1990 TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES film along with GAMERA VS. GUIRON (1969). Local turtle-loving brewers Terrapin Beer Co. have also generously teamed up with us to donate a few cases of free RecreationAle to attending guests [Supplies are limited so come early!]  Also, if you come to the show wearing green we’ll give you a little souvenir to take home with you! A portion of the proceeds from the show will be donated to the American Tortoise Rescue as well. You can RSVP to the event here.

What’s next for Pillage & Plunder?

Hsiang-Ming: After our World Turtle Party on May 23, we will be doing a mini regional tour during the month of June and part of July, prior to our album release in August. Afterwards, we will tour more extensively to promote the new record. On top of that, we are also working on finishing our first music video and have started demoing some new songs for our next album.

Can you tell our readers something you’d like folks to know that they don’t know already?

Hsiang-Ming: Before Noah joined the band in 2011, Pillage & Plunder‘s original lineup competed against his old band Colorblind aka Colourblind in a traditional high school Battle of the Bands.

What question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?

Hsiang-Ming: Q: “Why didn’t Noah Kess answer any questions?” A: “The voice of Noah Kess is too awesome for the universe to handle and has been known to cause black holes. For further inquiries regarding “He who has not spoken,” please e-mail pillageandplunderband@gmail.com”  

 

 

 

 

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Mad, Mad Music Radio: Col. Bruce Hampton Takes His Eclectic Talents to the Airwaves with Radio Free Radio on AM 1690

Posted on: May 13th, 2013 By:

Radio Free Radio; Hosted by Col. Bruce Hampton and Michael Holbrook; 7 p.m.;  first and third Thursdays of each month

By William Ashton
Contributing Writer

For a self-proclaimed “shy accountant,” Col. Bruce Hampton has made a spectacle of himself for more than four decades. He’s acted in an Oscar-winning movie (SLING BLADE [1996]), made 15 records (or so) and helped organize the H.O.R.D.E. concert tours of the ‘90s, but he’s mostly known as a performing musician, playing thousands of shows since the late 1960s.

A big, genial man, Hampton had a heart attack a few years ago, but he still plays 150 shows a year. He says that, at age “66 and above ground,” that’s plenty. “If I could go on at 8 p.m., I’d do more, but a lot of southern clubs start at 11,” he says. “It’s a young man’s game.”

Col. Bruce Hampton’s music is an unpredictable blend of blues, jazz and psychedelic rock, with a dash of funk and what not. Before the term “jam band” was coined, Hampton was jamming; he’s played  guitar and sang with The Hampton Grease Band, Aquarium Rescue Unit and Fiji Mariners (among others). A touchstone for many musicians in the jam-band circuit, Hampton was there for all but one H.O.R.D.E. tour in the ‘90s, he recalls.

“The only time I missed [H.O.R.D.E.] was when I went out with [the late blues musician] Hubert Sumlin one year, which was fine. We were in Louisiana one night when Sumlin offered to take us to the Crossroads [the intersection along Mississippi’s Highway 61 where blues legend Robert Johnson was rumored to have sold his soul to the devil]. We declined very quickly,” Hampton says. “It was a long way away.”

Col. Bruce Hampton (his legal name, he says) has recently taken his talents to the airwaves, playing music and sharing stories on AM 1690’s “Radio Free Radio” with former Hampton Grease Band member Michael Holbrook.  The show airs at 7 pm on the first and third Thursdays of each month.

“I’ve done occasional programs on AM 1690. Jon Waterhouse (from the radio station) asked us to do it every other week,” he said. “I do whatever Jon tells me.”

Hampton and Holbrook seem to have thousands of stories about life on the road, touching on encounters with everyone from Frank Zappa and John Lennon to Muddy Waters and Chet Atkins.

Playing with G.E. Smith led to Hampton’s sitting in on-air with the SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE band one night a couple of decades ago, when Smith was “SNL’s” musical director. Longtime friend Billy Bob Thornton cast Hampton in SLING BLADE – and Hampton’s band performs in Thornton’s forthcoming movie JAYNE MANSFIELD’S CAR.

Sometime this year, Atlanta fans may see Col. Bruce playing regularly at the long-shuttered Avondale Towne Cinema. Hampton is among those meeting with Avondale city officials, with a goal of reopening the venue under new management, he says.

“A couple of lawyers from Alabama are planning to reopen the venue, and music will certainly be a part of it,” said Hampton, who saw wrestling matches at the Avondale landmark when he was growing up in the Decatur area. “I’ll try to play there twice a month and have guest artists. We had a similar (residency) at Brandywine in the ‘90s and it was a huge success.”

Another successful outlet for Hampton’s talents are the summertime Jam Cruises, which gather assorted musicians – many from New Orleans – for musical voyages through the Caribbean.

Hampton seems surprised that he likes the cruises. “I dislike Disney World. I hate just about everything with a lot of people involved, but this is the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “There’s food 24 hours a day, music 20 hours a day. The musicians are the cream of the crop. It’s fascinating and great.”

Hampton’s own fascinating story is the subject of a 2012 documentary, BASICALLY FRIGHTENED: THE MUSICAL MADNESS OF COLONEL BRUCE HAMPTON; the DVD (with new bonus live footage) has recently gained distribution through Amazon.com after a couple of years of limited availability.

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Slim’s Jukebox: A Quintet of Essential Prestige/Riverside Jazz Collections by Five Masters

Posted on: Jul 5th, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

Imagine my good fortune when a package arrived at my door with five incredible jazz collections, each one by a true legend in the genre. As much as I love country music, every now and then I have to have a good jazz fix. When I was a wee lad, my Dad used to play some old Dixieland jazz records for me – Acker Bilk, Chris Barber and Ottilie Patterson, and many more, so the seeds were planted early. In the ’60s & ‘70s, I was  influenced by Frank Zappa’s jazz odysseys, and I eventually found a path back to the classics through the notorious Weather ReportMahavishnu “jazz fusion” enchantment of my high school years.  So here is a brief summary of five of the most essential artists in the history of jazz, all of whom have brand new compilations on the amazing Prestige/Riverside labels now under Concord Music Group. Please keep in mind that each of these greats has very deep catalogs, and these are mere samples of a certain time span in their illustrious careers.

Sonny Rollins
THE VERY BEST OF
From 1956 to 1958, tenor sax man Sonny Rollins released a series of tracks that stand as some of the finest cool jazz ever. Joined by a cavalcade of equally talented sidemen including drummer Max Roach (who whips out some stunning solos on this disc) and amazing trumpeter Clifford Brown, Rollins was equally melodic and experimental, combining his own material with classic standards and improvising with other legends such as the Modern Jazz Quartet and John Coltrane, whose duet with Rollins on a 12-minute jam called “Tenor Madness” is jaw-dropping good. Even the funky version of “I’m An Old Cowhand” shines with originality. His rich tone, precision playing and keen ear for great material coalesced into audio beauty, and while he continues to blaze new trails in his 80s, Rollins’ baseline set an incredibly high standard of excellence early on.

The Miles Davis Quintet
THE VERY BEST OF
Everybody loves Miles. He was a chameleon who followed his internal musical muse in whatever direction it took him, and sometimes he seemed a bit possessed. There is no shortage of great Davis compilations, and these tracks from 1954-1956 have been well documented in the past. The 10 cuts provide some insight into the transition Davis was making from a bebop player to a more mature, stylistically focused band leader. His Quintet at this time consisted of John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, basically a jazz supergroup. Garland’s hypnotizing piano solos permeate and complement Davis’ muted and buttery smooth tone, which eventually became his trademark sound. “’Round Midnight,” My Funny Valentine,” we’ve heard these plenty of times, but they never fail to generate a deep visceral feeling of being in a dark smoky club, whiskey on the rocks in hand, and the best band in the world playing just for you.

Wes Montgomery
THE VERY BEST OF
A life cut short too soon, Wes Montgomery’s work has been a standard by which all decent and respectful guitarists must compare themselves. His treatments of rock and pop classics on the CTI albums are legendary, and showcased his amazing improvisational skills. But this compilation is a real treasure, as it covers a lot of his lesser known early work on Riverside Records. Montgomery played with his thumb instead of a pick, which resulted in a very smooth tone that became immediately recognizable as his sound. Like his peers, Montgomery utilized the best of the best sidemen, which enhanced his own visibility. With Hank Jones on piano, Ron Carter on bass, the incredible Milt Jackson on vibes (where is Jackson’s “Best Of…” album?), and multiple drummers, Montgomery’s early work is a perfect example of the late ‘50s early ‘60s jazz groove – subtle but confident, melodic but challenging, and manna for the ears.

John Coltrane
THE VERY BEST OF: THE PRESTIGE ERA
He’s the other giant of modern Jazz, standing equally tall as his occasional bandmate Miles Davis. There is no need to elaborate on the importance and influence of Coltrane’s legacy. It permeates most real jazz that has been written and performed since he passed away. Captured here are 10 tracks from 1956 to 1958; each piece is a blast of confident control, a mini musical dissertation on how to make a perfect Jazz record. His time in the trenches with Davis and pianist Thelonious Monk had given Coltrane an education, and obviously inspired a push toward total excellence. With equal parts skill and soul, he blazed through multiple pieces of music, branding each as his own with a rich and powerful command of the saxophone, one that has not really been matched since then. His unique interplay with trumpeter Donald Byrd on “Lover Come Back To Me” is a schoolboy lesson in collaboration and exploration, and simply unforgettable. Fast, slow, jammy or moody, Coltrane could do it all.

Chet Baker
THE VERY BEST OF
He had it all – the looks, the sound, the charisma, the reputation, and sadly, the taste for dope.  Chet Baker has long been an icon, an incredible trumpet player and vocalist whose life circled down into a tragic tale of wasted talent and untimely death, eloquently reinvigorated in a fawning documentary by Bruce Weber (now almost impossible to find).  But putting aside the drama, Baker was a master, who sang and played like an impressionist painter, delivering the “essence” of a melody in a way that pulls you toward it, and allows you to construct the framework in your own mind. From his early 20s, working with Gerry Mulligan, Baker got noticed immediately by both other players and jazz aficionados, and the 14 tracks on this fine compilation give a fairly comprehensive and profoundly entertaining panorama of Baker’s skills.  His ability to turn standards into his own tunes was remarkable, and each cut is a treat. His tender half tempo version of “How High The Moon” is a prime example. As one of the very few jazzmen who also sang, Baker had a honey smooth voice that oozed sensuality. During these sessions, Baker played with an energy and smoothness that belied his impending battles with the demons of excess and temptation, and while he recorded sporadically in later years, he maintained that magic touch until the end.

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