things you might have overlooked because you assumed they’d kinda suck
by christopher brett bailey
my new friends at the almeida marketing department asked me to write this blog post to you, so that we could plug our upcoming gigs without you feeling marketed to.
this coming sunday i will be performing my best show THIS IS HOW WE DIE at the almeida theatre two times: 6pm and again at 8pm. it’d be swell if you came.
two sundays ago we did exactly the same thing. it went swell - even though you weren’t there - and it’d have been even sweller if more people had came.
on the sunday inbetween i watched a 35 mm screening of Lost Highway (1997) by David Lynch - a movie panned some critics when it first came out, simply dismissed by others. i’m a moderate Lynch fan but not obsessive and it’s my favourite of his works. right now it’s 2017 and this year his (probably) most famous thing Twin Peaks made a comeback… maybe you heard about that. maybe you watched it. or tried to. maybe you heard people discussing whether or not he “still had it” or had “lost it”, whether it was "good", whether they "followed" it, whether he was still a “genius” or not.
it’s a harder movie to watch than Blue Velvet, and a harder movie to love than Mullholland Drive. (parts of it rehash the former, and it has the slow pacing of the latter.)
but it’s my favourite and i think it’s worth your time. i love it in spite of and sometimes because of it’s flaws. i love how it’s entirely populated with characters who’ve wandered in from other movies, how shards of familiar narrative are submerged in abstraction, i love it for how tacky and schlocky it is, and how it’s heart if it has a heart at all might not be in the right place. i love it because its disjointed, meandering, salacious and badly behaved. i love it because of the music. i love it because i’m in love with her. and because i love to hate her. and because i hate myself for loving her. and i love it because fred madison is an anti-character, all the best and worst things about being male just sulking and thrashing his way through the movie. i love it most of all for the juxtaposition of the free jazz scene with the premature ejaculation scene. go fred go!
here’s a trailer. pay to watch the whole thing or don’t. that’s your choice.
you should at least watch the first couple minutes, it’s a badass opening credits sequence featuring the haunting croon of a middle aged David Bowie. watch that bit and then let’s consider the regard we had for Bowie in 1997. now that he’s a dead saint it hardly seems possible... i saw him live in the early 2000s opening for Moby. let me just say that again… i saw him live in the early 2000s… opening for Moby. that’s how much regard we had for David Bowie in the late 90s / early 00s.
how did it happen? he released album after album that the critics were lukewarm about and the general public ignored. his mid - late 90s stuff has a particularly bad reputation so unless you were a fan at the time, chances are you’ve avoided it. and is it awful? not really. this one definitely isn’t. i think this one is a beaut. it’s a concept album about a blah-blah-blah, ignore that part. and ignore the fact it was the first in a planned trilogy that got aborted. produced by brian eno who brought you everything from coldplay to teenage jesus and the jerks, it’s a boldly long and winding trip through industrial, ambient, cyberpunk. even metallic soundscapes with Bowie being campy, playful, deranged and heartbroken on top. if you dig Blackstar i think you’ll dig this almost forgotten gem.
CHEECH AND CHONG’S NEXT MOVIE (1980)
the godfather 2 of drug comedies. no need apply unless yer high, right? wrong!
sure as shit it aint shakespeare… it’s a big dumb comedy full of outrageous set pieces and clown logic. and what’s refreshing is it aint burdened down with too much plot or any corny love interest shit. for my $ it can go toe to toe with any big dumb comedy out there: double bill this with airplane or wayne’s world or blues brothers or whatever kevin smith is doing these days and tell me it doesn’t hold it’s own. isn’t the ending perfect? who saw that x files twist coming?
(spoilers… if you haven’t seen THIS IS HOW WE DIE before please skip this paragraph. there’s a scene where Chong plays electric guitar so loud it physically blows people over and cracks the pavement up and down his suburban block. that’s a bit like our soundcheck these days! the longer we do the show the deafer we get, the louder we have to play to achieve the same effect.)
FINGERED (1988) is a micro-budget arthouse porno short movie. doesn’t sound good, exactly, does it? trust me… it is. forget sin city or mel gibson’s payback (seriously… forget mel gibson’s payback)… THIS is the noir parody you need in your dvd drive. a glorious EXAGGERATION of film noir tropes, it boils the hardboiled down to a pocketsized hardon, purifies the genre down to a giddy nihilistic nub, a haunting little theatre of the absurd, just one minute longer than an episode of FRIENDS. it’s about a phone sex operator playing s&m games with a randy client, violently do-ing and out do-ing each other, and flippantly killing innocent passers by, it’s puerile white knuckle stuff throughout, and is a short sharp shock perfectly formed at 23 minutes. if you fucking hate it that’s part of their intention and you were warned so you can’t complain, but hell, it’s only 23 minutes of your life so who cares. and if you love it like i do you can watch it twice. why aren’t all movies this short?
it’s an early work by now world famous photographer Richard Kern and stars / was written by the peerless Lydia Lunch. i like this one so much i wear it on a t shirt. photo below to prove it.
FRITZ THE CAT (1972)
this move is far more than just cartoon cats doing bizarre sex acts on each other while cartoon pigs in police uniforms make anti-semitic jokes. okay, it isn’t FAR more than that… but it’s a little more than that.
a bizarre time capsule from the turbulent early 70s that is reaching for philosophical complexity, exploring touchy issues around race, racism, sex, sexism, police brutality, drug prohibition, and the complex relationship between middle-class liberal radicals and the working class…
while also being loaded with tasteless laughs. they do not make em like this anymore. they don’t even try.
and poor Fritz… this movie was wildly popular when it was released but has fallen out of fashion quite spectacularly since. and it has been disowned by Fritz’ original creator cartoonist R. Crumb. and no doubt it aint as good as reading the source comics, and not nearly as good as watching the documentary about Crumb and his messed up family CRUMB (1994)… in fact, fuck it… that is actually a lot better. if you haven’t seen that you should definitely watch that instead.
LAURIE ANDERSON - MISTER HEARTBREAK (1984)
this is the case of something that wasn’t poorly received at all, but is simply overshadowed by the other achievements of its creator. almost everybody knows her album Big Science - and for good reason… it’s life alteringly good. i was reconnected with her work last year when that weird and awesome science / pop culture museum outside Euston Station… what’s it called? oh yeah, the Wellcome Collection… featured the video for O Superman in their exhibition on Voice. (which was killer btw). anyway, what am i saying? this album was released a year or 2 after that and is a lot lesser known but is equally good in a different way. crazy busy production, music that feels both chaotic and contained, tonnes of layers zipping from ear to ear, elements that shouldn’t meld melding just fine… yawn merchant peter gabriel and the elephant guitar squall of adrian belew, lyrical nods to Shakespeare, Thomas Pynchon and a spoken word performance by William Burroughs. who else could bring such a motley crew of the lame and the legendary together? click on this and fall in love.
OLAN - MONK (ep)
my friend olan is a confident and shy guy. confident because he knows he’s talented and onto something good. shy because he’s sold less than 100 copies. do you listen to cassette only releases by guys who record experimental pop music in their bedrooms? if not… click the link below and let olan’s EP convince you that maybe you should.
a lot of people have a prejudice against music they’ve never heard of and it’s not hard to see why: the vast majority of everything created is drab and unappealing, and you can die happy never having heard it. but sprinkled in this swamp like flecks of glitter in a drag queens faeces is the occasional slice of friggin awesome that is better than the radio, and simply waiting to find it’s audience.
i’ve been playing this tape all summer. one friend said it sounded like early hot chip. another said it kicks the shit out of what nine inch nails are doing now. i’m not sure i hear (or need to hear) a connection to either of those big bands… and i’m certain olan would hate for you to sling this onto your earbuds with those comparisons at the front of your mind. so forget i ever said anything. and just listen.
MIKE WARNKE - I'M HERE TO OFFEND YOU (from OUT OF MY MIND)
this hear is a 1991 laugh riot by million-copy selling christian comedian, Mike Warnke.
christian. comedian. why don’t that sit right?
because there is no god. or god is dead. or even if there is a god the people who believe in him most don’t tend to be blessed with huge helpings of the funny. that was my prejudice too, before i heard this. i’m not gonna try and oversell this and say it’s as good as your favourite comedian… it probably isn’t. but it’s remarkably fresh and zingy, considering its age and the weird specificity of his material. interesting to see how many tangible traces of george carlin there are in his rhythms and style, the way he moves between comic exaggeration and paternal lecturing, given what a god-basher carlin was and how adept he was at unpicking religious arguments it seems young mike listened to him enough to cop his style but was immune to his message. and the extreme economy of his wording and the surrealism of his setups surely owe a lot to woody… and woody was ahem, not exactly a christian soldier either.
watching Warnke got me thinking about how his material succeeds because he knows that his audience all share something in common, something very central to their experience of the world, and though they do have their differences (often wrung for humour… see below), they are like an extended family, bound together against the rest of the world’s hostility, misunderstanding etc. i’m sure the average comic today, who is grappling with our touchy, fractured, two-faced world would like a slice of what Mike had… a large audience all singing from the same hymn sheet.
once you see an adequate christian comedian in action you understand the need for one to exist… kinda like those religious metal bands that cropped up in the 80s and 90s. and for my £ Warnke is certainly better than the christian attempts at hard rock music. except for Stryper of course, who kinda rule in their own way. (link)
"Someone says, "Don't you think that Jesus is a crutch?" Well, maybe he is, but when you're crippled, that's not too bad. Some one else say, "Don't you think you're rather closed-minded?" I say, "Yeah, but I can afford to be, I'm right." - Mike Warnke
okay, so what am i saying with all this? maybe i’m saying thanks to the almeida for putting me on. (not only for the paycheck & letting me do my show, which i enjoy doing), but also for inviting you, their audience, to check out something you otherwise might have overlooked. …. maybe i’m thanking them for putting me on, and Dickie Beau and Wardrobe Ensemble before me, for saying to the public that low budget shows by unknown people might not necessarily suck.
i mean, why should you care about a show that isn’t really a play by someone you’ve never heard of, being performed on a day when the theatre would normally be closed?
it isn’t obvious why you should care about that!
and maybe you don’t… and that’s fine too.
but maybe you do… maybe you’re curious now. and if so, it’d be swell to have you there.
Chris’ other show, the “difficult second album” KISSING THE SHOTGUN GOODNIGHT is on tour:
And you can buy books, vinyl records and cassette tapes of his work from www.christopherbrettbailey.com
Follow Chris on Twitter at @ct_bailey