Twin Peaks “Checkmate” [1991)

Project Blue Book.

Of course he was familiar with it.

Just like Sean Connery knew a bit about gold.

And an overdose of bombois.

Superfluous papilla.

Suddenly…everything has changed.

But we’re stuck back in a nightmare with another St. Annie.

If you see her…please tell her thanks a lot.

If you see her…say hello.

For…Virginia!

Kindly tell me why there’s no fire on those hills.

Gettysburg.

You’re standing on J.E.B. Stuart.

A sweet love story.

It’s David Duchovny month here at paulydeathwish.com.

10cc.

Tambourine with heaps of shimmering reverb.

Fort Meade.

Maybe all he needs is a shot in the arm.

Cooper still does the right thing.

Michael Parks as Jean Renault.

Impeccable broken English with a French accent.

Like a diabolical Clouseau.

Spookiest is the woozy Kevin Shields treatment.

Periodically cutting the power as at Incirlik.

This is the genius of Giacinto Scelsi.

On one note.

Or Roland Kirk with a water hose.

Too quiet in America.

Mate on the move.

 

-PD

Berlin: Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse [2008)

Ah…to be with all the pretty people.

Julian Schnabel.

I once had someone correct me on the pronunciation of his name.

Just goes to show how wrong you can be.

This was Lou’s moment.

Lou Reed.  Inventor of modern rock and roll.

The granddaddy.  The godfather.

This was Lou in Brooklyn with a crackerjack band.  Strings, horns, woodwinds, a choir…

This was really the way to do it right.

First time I saw this concert film, I didn’t think much of it.

Just goes to show how wrong you can be.

They nailed it.  Lou.  Julian.  Bob Ezrin.

But what really makes this the best concert film I’ve ever seen?

Lola Schnabel.

Lola Montes Schnabel.

Julian’s daughter shot some priceless footage of Emmanuelle Seigner.  Seigner, for her part, is marvelous as Caroline.

To take Lou Reed’s greatest album and give it this treatment is really an honor to Lou (who’s no longer with us).

We hear those Sturm-und-Drang harmonies on the New Year’s Eve piano played by Rupert Christie.  Motherfucker needs a Wikipedia page.  And what exactly is he playing?  The licks of another bloke who needs a Wikipedia page (apparently):  Allan Macmillan.  But you know who needs a page most of all?  The sensuous ear who transcribed Macmillan’s harmonies.  Was it Christie?  I don’t know, but that’s no easy job.

And such is the quality of this representation all throughout.  Like Brian Wilson’s Smile album brought to the stage through the journeyman efforts of Darian Sahanaja.

Yes, we musicians take note.  [buh-doomp, ching!]

So what happens here?

Lou really starts nailing it around “Oh, Jim”…

Only Lou Reed could write that song.  Only Lou Reed could sing that song.

By the time “Caroline Says II” rolls around, we are immersed in this Greek tragedy.

There was a reason Lou never did this album live for 30 years.

This is some heavy shit.  Heavy syrup.  Heavy cream.

And then Steve Hunter launches into that movable D major chord of “The Kids” and we are in the eye of the storm.

Try bringing THAT Bob Ezrin masterpiece to the stage!  And they did!!

Tony “Thunder” Smith needs a Wikipedia page, but his drumming is spot-on throughout this emotional ride.

For much of the night, Smith was faithfully playing the licks of Aynsley Dunbar.

We’re talking about bringing an album (Berlin, 1973) to the stage that featured Jack Bruce on bass.  Cream’s bass player?  Yeah, no big deal.  Piece of cake…  No pressure.

And from the perfectly-directed, Titanic wreck of “The Kids” we go right into “The Bed”…  Bleak, bleak, black songwriting…

And this is where the choir really shines.  This is where Julian shines as a director.  Not only does it work, it’s goddamned genius.

And “The Bed” ends with a watery ghost choir…and maybe someone patched in an Eventide H3000…and maybe Lou called György Ligeti or Giacinto Scelsi or Mauricio Kagel.  This is the kid (Lou) who made that stuff accessible (even more than Kubrick)…from “Sister Ray” to Metal Machine Music and beyond.

If you don’t shed a tear here, you won’t at all.

And then [voila!] the gloom lifts…with the woodwinds of “Sad Song”…

It ain’t over till you hear Antony Hegarty do Doug Yule.  Perfect match of singer and song (says Candy).

-PD

Secret Agent [1936)

If this is propaganda, it is among the most artful of all time.  For it seems to emanate from the mind of an individualist and patriot.  Alfred Hitchcock.

We get our subject material from Somerset Maugham.  Ashenden.

“The wrong man!  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.”  Thus laughs “the General” Peter Lorre…a sort of lovable psychopath (if such a thing is possible).  Yes, the wrong man.  It is to Hitchcock’s oeuvre what prostitution is to Jean-Luc Godard’s.  But it is a grotesque moment.  The wrong man.  In this case, it went all the way:  they killed the wrong man.  Just an innocent old man with a wife and a dog.  All in a day’s work for a covert operative…Lorre’s laughter seems to tell us.

No.  Lorre is no typical agent.  He’s a hitman.  He doesn’t mind killing.  In fact, he kind-of enjoys it.  Takes pride in his craft (as it were).  Very clean, he says…strangling, a knife…no guns…too noisy.

But let’s back up to John Gielgud.  To make a spy, you kill the man.  It is quasi-Christian.  The old is gone.  Behold, the new has come.

The perfect spy has no past.  This sort of agent wakes up to read his own obituary.  Before long, he has a new identity.

Though this film predates WWII, its subject matter of WWI is certainly infused with the building tension of a second continent-wide conflagration.

And again we witness James Bond far before Ian Fleming birthed him.  The milieu is the same.  Gielgud reports to “R”…like the “M” we would all come to know and love.  And of course Lorre…himself an M of another type (see Fritz Lang).

Trouble in the Middle East.  Why can’t it be Tahiti?  Where’s Leonard Bernstein when you need him???

“The Hairless Mexican” a.k.a. “The General” Peter Lorre…kinda like the Federal Reserve:  not Federal and no reserves.  Yes, Lorre is quite hirsute.  As for his rank, it is as dubious as his other winning personality traits.

Gielgud’s not very careful…right from the start.  I suppose they should have trained the chap in the dark arts before sending him out into the field.  At least the field is Switzerland (Allen Dulles’ future stomping grounds).

Back to our Bond parallels…the gorgeous Madeleine Carroll, like Eva Green in Casino Royale, stipulates a separate-bed rule as part of her cover (Gielgud’s “wife”).  We wonder whether her character, like Hitchcock and Green’s Vesper Lynd, is of Catholic upbringing.

But for the main course…we get some rather convincing ethics from Hitchcock–a morality which we would scarcely see again in the future of film through to the 21st century.  To wit, espionage is the dirtiest of jobs.  Never mind the old trick of digging though a rubbish bin:  the whole operation is filthy and loused up with sickening concessions.  Hitchcock gets right to the point quite forthright:  murder.  Many of the darkest jobs are just that!  One can spin it anyway one wants, but it is still cold-blooded.

It’s not all fun and games, Gielgud tries to convey to Madeleine.  If you’re here for a thrill, you’d best recalibrate your perspective:  things are about to get real ugly!

It is some scary shit.  Imagine Olivier Messiaen and Giacinto Scelsi collaborating with Morton Feldman for a 45 second piece.  It’s called Sonata for Corpse and Organ.  Their contact has been murdered.  The assassin pulled out all the stops.  Just after the prelude, a fugue of struggle ensued which left a button from the killer’s garments clutched in the dead organist’s hand.  We get a rich, chromatic chord until Gielgud and Lorre realize there’s far too little harmonic rhythm to this chorale.  The bloke’s been whacked (slumped upon the keys).

This button, a single-use MacGuffin, leads them to offing the wrong man.  Poor old Percy Marmont…

At this, Gielgud is ready to quit…sickened by the thought of having innocent blood on his hands.  Credit Madeleine Carroll with a nice performance…especially when she plays the straight (horrified) woman to Lorre’s laughter.

And so, again like Casino Royale, Gielgud and Carroll (madly in love) decide to dispense with the whole mission and pack it in (complete with a resignation letter to “R” from Gielgud).

I won’t give away too much.  Lorre is fantastic:  both ridiculously awkward in his humor and deft in his acting.

Unfortunately, the artfulness of the film which Hitchcock had lovingly built up is marred by a somewhat daft, abrupt ending.

Like this.

-PD