Frank [2014)

My dear friends, it is so good to be alive ūüôā

But very difficult to be sick.

I must admit, it took me two days to watch this film.

This one hit a little too close to home.

But that’s ok.

Yes, I am finally feeling better on the allergy front.

Now I am struggling with that old nemesis of mine:  nicotine.

Yep, that’s right.

Trying to kick that habit.

Whoa (woozy feeling)…

Maybe did that a little too fast ūüôā

But most of all, you know, every day I struggle with anxiety.

I don’t usually address it in such naked terms.

But it is fair here to talk about this biggest of all struggles for me.

Because Frank is a film about mental illness.

You know, if you apply for a job, you might get a “questionnaire” enquiring about your health.

America is very “democratic” and “fair” in hiring processes, but still these questionnaires persist.

And I suppose the last round of jobs I applied for (merely two) opened my eyes to the reality of my situation a bit.

Looking down the list of “conditions”, I realized I must (to be honest) check two boxes.

[Though the questionnaire was “voluntary”]

So I have “anxiety disorder” (big time!) and asthma (not so bad, but it can pop up).

So wow…I thought…man, these are listed as “disabilities” (if I remember correctly).

While some people might celebrate a disability condition, for me it’s not really cause for cheering.

But then I thought, “Wait…are these really disabilities?”

Well, I’m not going to give a medical/legal ruling on that (because, frankly [no pun intended] I don’t know).

But I know one thing:  anxiety can be totally debilitating.

I’ve had a really hard time readjusting to “life” after two and a half years of intense graduate studies.

I graduated about a month ago.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum…

My body just kinda shut down…gradually…in different ways.

That momentum which had carried me across the finish line evaporated.

And so life hasn’t been a bowl of cherries.

Anxiety is a bitch!

When I have nothing to realistically worry about, I find something.

If there is something from which worry can be derived, I will find it.

And it will drive me nuts.

At a certain point, one has to laugh at the ridiculousness of such an impulse.

[It’s not something I can very well control, you understand.]

And that brings us to our film Frank.

Frank is a fucked up guy.

Imagine the Jack in the Box guy from the commercials with the big fake head.

And then have that guy lead a rock band.

Yeah…

This film really defies all description.

So we have to dig a bit to really delineate what is going on in this masterful film.

First of all, this film has caused me to create a new category in my global survey of cinema for a country which I love (for a multitude of reasons):  Ireland.

Yes, Frank is an Irish film.

Funny enough, no one in the film has an Irish accent.

[Which begs the question, “Is it really an Irish film?”]

But I’m calling it an Irish film because I really admire the balls it took Lenny Abrahamson to make this picture.

Our director, Mr. Abrahamson, was born in Dublin in 1966.

Ok, it’s Irish (at least as far as “auteur theory” goes).

So what?

There’s something about Ireland which I get from the eccentrics.

James Joyce was the master of them all.

I will read¬†Finnegans Wake¬†till my dying day and still glory in the fact that I have no REAL idea what it’s truly about ūüôā

But this film, Frank, takes us to a place I know very well:  rock and roll.

And more specifically:  indie rock.

It is a “genre” which attracts the most far-out individuals in the world.

And I must say, there were several times in this film where I could feel the spirit of one of my favorite bands of all time.

An Irish group.

Rollerskate Skinny.

Our director is 50. ¬†I’m 40.

Maybe our frames of reference are different.

Youngsters might think Animal Collective or even the arduous process which produced Arcade Fire’s tortured¬†Reflektor.

But Frank makes me think of that early-90s noise-pop wave which was spearheaded by bands like (my favorite group ever) Mercury Rev and Rollerskate Skinny.

When I see Frank, I see David Baker.

But I know my history.

I’ve studied weirdos all my life.

So I also see David Thomas of Pere Ubu.

And of course Don van Vliet (a.k.a. Captain Beefheart).

Frank¬†is certainly a film which the “Pitchfork¬†generation” should be able to get behind.

I’ve had dinner with Roky Erickson.

I’ve seen what¬†Frank¬†is groping for.

Yes, it’s that madness which made Syd Barrett great.

But such madness comes with a price.

We can listen to that first Pink Floyd album (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn)…songs like “Lucifer Sam” where Barrett is brilliant.

And we can trace that brilliance to his solo album¬†The Madcap Laughs…songs like “No Good Trying”.

But to be SO fucked up…to be SO far out…it ain’t fun.

I’ve heard about Roky Erickson’s time at the Rusk State Hospital for the criminally insane.

It’s not a pretty picture.

But let’s talk about this damn film ūüôā

It had me hooked once I caught faint traces of those first two Mercury Rev albums (Yerself is Steam and Boces) in the sounds I was hearing emanating from Soronprfbs.

Yes, Soronprfbs.

The perfect name to describe the obtuse band at the center of our story.

Here’s a band so weird, they don’t even know how to pronounce their own name (when they show up at SXSW).

[But I’m getting ahead of myself]

First, I was wrong about Irish accents.

Indeed,¬†Frank¬†is such a bizarre film that one soon forgets that Domhnall Gleeson is speaking in one for the entirety ūüôā

Gleeson is in the right place at the right time.

It’s happened to me.

I once got a MySpace message (remember those days?) and spent the next four years in a Cajun punk rock band.

It can happen.

Those were the best years of my life.

But it’s HARD!

Taking a van back and forth (and back and forth) across the country.

Flying (I hate flying) to awesome, bizarre locales.

For someone with bad anxiety, these aren’t easy tasks.

And we see that in the character of Frank.

As I said, Frank has problems.

Somehow, Gleeson joins Frank’s band¬†Soronprfbs.

And the rest is a whipsaw of insanity.

No, Frank is not a relaxing watch, but it is hilarious!

And very meaningful!!

Soronprfbs, as a band, is a shambles.

[not to be confused with Babyshambles]

There were several times when I caught glimpses of the weirdness that is another of my most favorite bands:  The Homosexuals.

But, this film can hardly be reviewed properly without talking about The Residents.

Soronprfbs are mythic (if only in their own minds).

Their fame, however, grows.

And with fame, stage fright.

It happens to even the most grounded individuals (like Robbie Robertson).

But nothing fits the bill quite like Mercury Rev.

Soronprfbs are apt to have fights on stage.

Perhaps one member tries to gouge another’s eye out on a transatlantic flight.

That kind of stuff.

Sure, Oasis have had mid-air spats about blueberry scones.

And maybe The Sex Pistols only played to twelve people (or whatever) at their first show.

But Soronprfbs, for me, is that band which would hang electric guitars from the ceiling and let them feed back for the entirety of a show.

Which is to say, Mercury Rev.

But let me pull in the younger folks.

Think, for example, The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Fights onstage.

Obvious mental problems.

Or is it just a put-on?

And let’s go back…

The Doors.

Jim Morrison being totally whacked out of his gourd onstage.

But no,¬†Soronprfbs is weirder…and far more obscure.

Think, for instance, Alan Vega leading Suicide in a performance at CBGB’s.

The writers of our film (Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan) will probably know everything I’m talking about [were they to ever read this].

Because they (or at least one of them…Ronson?) know the mechanism which attracts so many of us to BANDS.

[“those funny little plans/that never work quite right”]

That mechanism is mystery.

But in this case, it is the mystery of reclusive eccentricity.

Put simply, madness.

[not to be confused with the band Madness]

So Ronson and Straughan even include the perfect musical instrument to act as a talisman for their tale:  the theremin.

And they even get the character’s name right: ¬†Clara.

[after theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore]

The theremin has a long history in eccentric rock and roll.

Indeed, late in¬†Frank¬†when we see our dejected main character sleeping in his bathrobe at the French Quarter Inn (a fleabag motel), his sartorial sense evokes Brian Wilson’s rough years.

Yes, the theremin goes back to at least “Good Vibrations” and the zaniness which was The Beach Boys’ album¬†Smile.

But the theremin has come to embody the obtuse and pretentious in rock and roll.

And so it is no wonder that bands such as Jon Spencer Blues Explosion picked up on this wooziest of all instruments.

Which brings us finally to a salient point.

Frank includes at least one star:

Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal plays stone-cold bitch Clara: ¬†Frank’s girlfriend.

[remember, Frank is the guy with the¬†papier-m√Ęch√© head…and he never takes it off…ever]

Gyllenhaal’s character is unlikable in just about every way imaginable.

And it makes me appreciate her acting.

Indeed, God bless Ms. Gyllenhaal for taking this film role.

It’s a lot like Charlotte Gainsbourg’s role in¬†Misunderstood¬†(2014) and makes me appreciate the dramatic tension of Gainsbourg’s role more than I initially did.

Which is to say, Gyllenhaal is very much the villain of Frank.

A bit like a dominatrix version of June Chadwick in This Is Spinal Tap.

Which is to further say, Gyllenhaal is playing off her typecast from Secretary of being one bad bitch.

And she pulls it off.

But Gyllenhaal is the least important element of Frank.

It would ruin things to tell you just how Michael Fassbender figures into this film, but let’s just say he’s indispensable.

[Fassbender, by the way, is half-Irish (his mother being born in County Antrim)]

A lot of our action happens in what could pass for Tarbox Road Studios.

Indeed, there is a lot of Wayne Coyne in the character of Frank as well.

But the sounds are closer to those which Mercury Rev conjured at SUNY-Buffalo for their debut album.

Likewise, the seclusion which goes into making the great¬†Soronprfbs album reminds me of the ramshackle (yet bucolic) process which led to my favorite album of all time: ¬†Mercury Rev’s¬†Deserter’s Songs.

As alluded to earlier, Soronprfbs eventually make their way to my old stomping grounds:  the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.

I was a bit wistful seeing the Ritz Theater (now an Alamo Drafthouse) on 6th Street in one shot.

Indeed, I remember playing an “unplugged”, solo gig there back when it was still a cavernous, multilevel, piece-of-shit music venue (pool hall).

Funny enough, a lot of the tension in¬†Frank¬†revolves around that old chestnut of a band “selling out”.

Perhaps the funniest scene in the movie is when Frank presents his “most likable music ever” in the motel room.

Which is to say, this movie may not appeal to everyone.

But if you’re a rock musician (especially a weirdo like me), you’ve gotta see this.

There are a couple of scenes which make the whole thing worthwhile.

It’s funny that¬†Soronprfbs bassist Fran√ßois Civil bears a striking resemblance to Dave Fridmann circa-1991.

[just another detail which cemented the genius of this film for me]

But there are other seeming references in this film.

A bit of Stereolab (with all the Moogy wonder).

The stilted “artfulness” of Blonde Redhead.

And even the bollocks, pulseless blech of Low.

Yes,¬†Soronprfbs and their “side projects” seem to catch just about every hue in the indie rock kaleidoscope.

Director Abrahamson (and writers Ronson and Straughan) do a nice job of converting Domhnall Gleeson’s internal monologue into a social media thread which runs through this movie.

Gleeson is on Twitter, YouTube, a blog, etc.

But the funniest is the beginning…and it is the hook which reeled me in.

To hear Gleeson’s musical mind attempt to craft quirky pop songs out of mundane details of his Irish town is a real knee-slapper.

Because, as they say, IT’S SO TRUE!

So if you’ve ever written songs, witness in the first five minutes of this film the real torture it is to make lemonade out of a lemon life.

Be forewarned (or enticed):  Frank is WAY OUT THERE!

Some elements of this film are so non sequitur that they were a bit hard for my weakened, nicotine-craving immune system to handle.

In the end, this is a sad story.

But with joy, pain.

There is great joy in Frank.

Sometimes we realize we’re not in Kansas anymore…

and it’s a rough patch.

The Technicolor of life can be too much to handle.

But take courage, dear friends…

Like Gong’s great song “Rational Anthem”…from that hard-to-find¬†Magick Brother…their debut.

[Get on that, Spotify]

Miracles can happen.

And, to quote Albert Ayler, “music is the healing force of the universe”.

-PD

Trainspotting [1996)

There’s something special about Scotland.

Several of my favorite bands are from there.

The Delgados.  Teenage Fanclub.  Primal Scream.

And it is this final band which really sums up this film.

The British really have never learned how to make films.

There are two major exceptions:

Chaplin and Hitchcock.

Why would they be exceptions?

Because they made their best films in America.  Hollywood.

It’s ironic.

Because Chaplin and Hitchcock are perhaps the two best.  Ever.

Hitchcock was the better director.  Perhaps the most important ever.

But Chaplin was the bigger genius.  His talent was limitless.

So my insult is not meant to imply that the British can’t make timeless films.

They can.

But perhaps not in Britain.

But this whole British blah blah blah.

This film is going in my new category:  Scotland.

Another of my favorite bands (Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci) is Welsh.

I hope to have that category someday.  Wales.

And last but not least:  Ireland.

Which is not to say I don’t have a fond place in my heart for England.

I do.

Manchester.  Liverpool.  Bristol.  Birmingham.  Newcastle.  I could go on.

But we’re here to talk about Scotland.¬† And this film.

Trainspotting is, at once, a great film and not a great film.  Simultaneously.

Let me explain.

7/7

Looks like as much of a false-flag synthetic terror…the state attacking its own people as.

9/11

Heroin addicts don’t know what day it is.¬† Not to mention the “date”.

Heroin addicts don’t know what month it is.¬† Even the year is a bit fuzzy.

They’re fairly sure that a new century has ticked over.

Ewan McGregor is pretty great here.  In his too-small shirt.  Accidentally shagging a minor.

Oops.

Ewen Bremner is good here.  Especially the job interview.

Beautiful to hear English which begs for subtitles.

Jonny Lee Miller has the best hair.  Like Thom Yorke once upon a time.

Bleach-blond chop.

But McGregor has the utilitarian buzz cut.  The sad skinhead.

Spud on the curb.  Talking up at Diane.

And Sick Boy always prattling on about James Bond movies.  [like me]

Kevin McKidd is classic rifling through his VHS collection.  Desperately.

Kelly Macdonald is a revelation.

But Robert Carlyle is really the only indispensable element of this entire film.

He’s not great.¬† And yet he’s better than great.

Danny Boyle’s direction is generally daft.

It’s good.¬† Then it’s great.¬† Then it sucks.

But I’ll say this:¬† this is an essential film.

You can’t know rock and roll without knowing this film.

Boyle lifted the DNA of rock (with the help of Irvine Welsh).

The story’s alright.¬† The direction is passable.

But Robert Carlyle is a goddamned miracle.

He’s not conveying anything sublime.

But he’s conveying Scotland.

To me.

King Tut’s Wah-Wah Hut.

Yeah, I know…Edinburgh.

But it’s just as applicable to Glasgow.

I hear it in the music of Primal Scream.

And it shows up in the music of another of my favorites:  Spiritualized.

And I hear it in the ravaging sounds of Nick Cave circa Grinderman.

The Anglophone world.

We Americans speak the weirdest.

Especially in my neck of the woods.  Texas.  The South.

But even New York.  The Northeast.

There’s one more essential element about this film:¬† Iggy Pop.

From “Lust For Life” to “Nightclubbing”, these tunes are moments of crystalized perfection.

Even Lou Reed is well-represented with “Perfect Day”.

If you wanna understand scumbag rock and roll, see this film.

Because the rockers are alive.

They have shite lives.

They live on nothing.

Unless they get lucky.

But there’s a vitality to their way of life.

See them in their natural habitat ūüôā

 

-PD

Wayne’s World [1992)

When I was a kid, film was something you put in a camera.

Movies were movies.

Cinema didn’t really exist in my vocabulary.

There were no connotations between these three words.

Film, movie, cinema.

And so this was a movie I grew up on.

On which I grew up.

It was many years before I took Churchill’s admonitions about grammar seriously.

Grammar grammar.

Not film grammar.

And so here we have a very fine, enjoyable film.

Probably not coming to the Criterion Collection (unless it’s April Fool’s).

The milieu is rock and roll.

This film taught me a lot.

[Back in the days when I thought “alot” was a word.]

“Where’s von Stroheim?”

“He’s alot.”

Alas…

I just didn’t know.

I didn’t know sparkling wine from Dom Perignon.

Didn’t know Cantonese from Mandarin.

And lots of other subtle shadings which I’ve since come to appreciate.

This was probably Penelope Spheeris’ shining moment.

Unless you’re a fan of punk rock (and I am).

She did a hell of a job directing this unlikely hit.

Wayne’s World grossed nine-times its budget.

Those are early-Bond numbers.

The sequel (not directed by Spheeris) barely broke even.

Oops…

Kinda like when The Strokes fired Gordon Raphael.

But I guy dress…

Mike Myers was wonderful here.

29 years old.

Looking fit and really nailing his part.

There’s something very natural about the comedy of Wayne’s World.

It’s far less stilted than even the best of the Austin Powers franchise (that being the first installment…FYI).

The immensely-talented Dana Carvey is good as Wayne’s painfully-awkward sidekick Garth Algar.¬† The role doesn’t really make the best use of Carvey’s talents, but sometimes you gotta suck it up for a payday.

[Like the Suck-Kut, for instance.]

Wayne’s World had its own lexicon…patois…parlance.¬† Schwing!

It’s a little racy.

Wonder how Claudia Schiffer felt to be reified thusly?

Guess she should have thought about that when she started hawking jeans.

There’s really no escaping Lara Flynn Boyle recently (thank God!).

She has the worst role of all.

But I suppose Twin Peaks wasn’t exactly the same pay grade as Seinfeld.

She wasn’t selling out, she was buying in.

Indeed, I don’t doubt Morgan Spurlock pulled the kernel of inspiration for his The Greatest Movie Ever Sold from the sequence in which Wayne gobbles Pizza Hut, Doritos, and Pepsi while Garth is pimped out in Reebok gear.

Somebody’s interminable band name list got put to good use…

Crucial Taunt?!?

I must say, that detail escaped me as a kid.

But that was before I had a brief (burn out, not fade away) career as a rock musician.

We didn’t know Queen.¬† We didn’t know Kierkegaard.¬† We didn’t know Hendrix.

It was an exceptional experience on many levels.

As an impressionable youth.

Rob Lowe (a very strong comedic talent) has to play the yuppie prick in this vehicle.

Chris Farley has a memorable (yet all-too-brief) cameo as a security guard.

Farley and director Spheeris would reunite a few years later for Black Sheep.

Brian Doyle-Murray gets the treatment in his interview.

[“This man has no penis.”¬† Must-watch TV.]

Multiple endings…

Remarkable ingenuity.

Can’t say I’m familiar with such Situationist play in even the most erudite of art films.

But of course the gleeful bathos of the Scooby-Doo ending brings us back down to Earth.

Tia Carrere is really charming as the heroine.

Colleen Camp (remember her from Bruce Lee’s “almost” Game of Death?) has a crap role.

At least she helped Cassandra Wong learn English by way of the Police Academy movies.

Meat Loaf as doorman.

Ed O’Neill as murderous donut shop manager.

Donna Dixon as Garth’s dream woman (remember the babe from Spies Like Us?¬† Yeah, that one.).

And Alice Cooper!!!

Some history of Milwaukee and socialist mayors.

You gotta love rock and roll ūüôā

 

-PD

 

 

Sweet Toronto [1971)

Symptomatic of the times.  Now.  Then.

Read the news and it’s just about enough to depress you.¬† If you’re not already cynical.

But here comes a boy and a little girl…trying to change the whole wide world.

Isolation.

If you find this film, it likely won’t be under its original title Sweet Toronto.

My copy says John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band: Live in Toronto.

Which shows you how much Shout! Factory thought of the director D.A. Pennebaker.

The changed the title of his fuckin’ film!

Sure, they tacked on a poignant interview with Yoko to the front end, but other than that it seems unchanged.

Reminds us of another director who got shafted making a music documentary:  Jean-Luc Godard.

What is most widely available today as Sympathy for the Devil was originally to be called One Plus One.

The producers tacked on the title song to the end of the film (playing over largely inconsequential footage…at least initially) and retitled the sucker.

Godard allegedly punched the producer in the face after the premier…but I digress.

Why should you watch this film under consideration?

There’s a couple good reasons.

The first is Bo Diddley.¬† Sure, it’s only one song, but it sets the stage (literally) for what follows.

Pennebaker uses Diddley’s music to usher in the motorcade of John Lennon and entourage.

And when we really get to watch Bo, he’s dancin’ and jivin’ and (by the way) doing a nice job of not stepping on his guitar cable.

It’s a long, jammy, droned-out piece:¬† “Bo Diddley.”¬† That’s right, the song is titled “Bo Diddley” by (who else?) Bo Diddley.

If you close your eyes you just might think you’re listening to The Velvet Underground.¬† That won’t be the last time in the night for which those words are applicable.

Pennebaker keeps the train a’ rollin’ with a complete change of pace:¬† Jerry Lee Lewis.

Again, it’s only one song, but the director builds the excitement of anticipation for the headliner.

Lewis…smoking his cigar…gold rings and jewelry on that pumpin’ right hand…up high on the piano…and occasionally a brown patent-leather ankle book (Beatle boot?) makes it’s way up to the top register to heel a little tone cluster of exclamation.

At this point, Shout! Factory (perhaps at the behest of Chuck Berry?) makes a decision to cut Chuck’s song.

And so we roll into Little Richard.¬† Again, we can imagine…Prince, Michael Jackson…we are seeing the entire history of rock and roll compressed into 70 (?) minutes…from Jerry Lee singing a song made most famous by Elvis all the way to the headliner who will take us to far out, groovy places which may or may not still exist.

Little Richard has the most cracker-jack band.¬† A couple of sax players…really tight.

And so after three fantastic performers in a row–three originators of rock and roll, we get the rag-tag Plastic Ono Band.

John starts ’em off nice and slow…reverent…”Blue Suede Shoes,” “Money (That’s What I Want),” and “Dizzy, Miss Lizzy” before the curve ball of “Yer Blues”…

So lonely…wanna die…ain’t dead already…know reason why.

Klaus Voormann hits a steaming helping of wrong notes throughout the early part of the set as bass player, but that’s why we love him, right?¬† Reminds me of those bum notes which they left in (didn’t edit out) on John’s first solo album titled (what else?) Plastic Ono Band.¬† But we also love Klaus because he drew the cover to The Beatles Revolver album.

But what Klaus lacks in precision is made up for by Eric Clapton on lead guitar.¬† Clapton with his beard…denim jacket…a generally pensive look on his face the whole time which seems to read, “What the fuck am I doing here?¬† Can’t believe I’m doing this.”¬† Clapton never glares at Ono (at least not in the shots we receive through the miracle of montage), but one can’t help thinking that a musician of Eric’s caliber might have been perplexed (to say the least) regarding Yoko’s musical contributions to the night’s proceedings.

[Alan White is, of course, great on drums.]

And so we slink into “Cold Turkey”…premiered this very night in 1969.¬† The rendition is like Booker T. & the MGs…very cool and groovy…laid back.

But most of all…about this film…John Lennon in a white suit…huge beard…long hair…little circular glasses.¬† His presence…

Remember, this concert was about four months after the Montreal bed-in.

And so the band launch into “Give Peace a Chance.”

And it’s still the most revolutionary statement possible.

Musicians are the only ones who have ever done anything worthwhile…

Truth be told, the rendition of “Give Peace a Chance” is a little lackluster.

“And now Yoko’s going to do her thing all over you”

With those words (or something close to that effect), John takes us into the final act of this opera.

And it is powerful.

Yes, these grungy musicians actually succeed in making time stop.

Yoko wails like a woman on the sea lamenting her lost child.

For all the naysayers, Ono actually did have a good sense of pitch.¬† It’s just that pitch (as the Western ear defines it…narrowly) is not her predominant concern (apparently).

It’s like the Damo Suzuki years of the German band Can…including their two Krautrock masterpieces Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi.¬† The same criticism that Ono gets for her far-out howling is rarely leveled at Suzuki.¬† Listeners of Can know that they are getting into an experimental vehicle when they plop a Can album on the turntable.

This, arguably, makes Ono even more revolutionary.¬† To go from “Blue Suede Shoes” to “John, John (Let’s Hope for Peace)” is truly high art.¬† The conceptual mind-fuck is equal to anything John or Alice Coltrane ever pulled-off.

And so it is that the night ends on a most bizarre note…a drone…three instruments perched against amplifiers feeding back…as if one is watching…and you will know us by the Trail of Dead.

You’ve gotta see it.¬† Either it speaks to you or it doesn’t.¬† For me, there are few more poignant ways to remember the radical genius that was John Lennon than watching a document like this.

-PD