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Pete Shelley of the U.K. punk band Buzzcocks has passed away. In my book Buzzcocks remain one of the most engaging of the original crop of punk bands who took the 1970s by storm. That run of recordings from Spiral Scratch to A Different Kind of Tension has aged better than just about any other rock music from that era (or any other) that I’ve managed to hear. It’s still some of the music I reach for most these days, having liked it since high school when I first overheard my older sibling playing Operator’s Manual in his room and then had to get some of their recordings myself. The early Buzzcocks should be lauded for their unstoppable rhythm section — John Maher is one of the grooviest rock drummers ever, and those catchy basslines are a joy to hear. But it’s Pete Shelley’s soaring vocals and the charging dual-guitar attack of him and Steve Diggle that seal the deal, making that spate of early recordings (as well as many beyond them) a treasure trove of hooks and riffs and enticing vibes worth returning to again and again. What more can I say? The band’s music means so much I have trouble conveying its value. Ultimately words fail and one should just put the records on and lose herself in them. Shelley was musically active for several decades, in Buzzcocks as well as a solo artist and collaborator. He’s gone but has left behind quite a legacy and influence. R.I.P., Pete.

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Recently I had the good fortune to see Esther Hoffenberg’s Bernadette Lafont, and God Created the Free Woman and I must say, it was tres fantastique! It should be noted that being a fan of Bernadette Lafont both during and after her lifetime, and having enjoyed many of the films she had roles in, I was predisposed to like this 65-minute documentary. But to be in the target market for a film hasn’t always meant I’ve taken a shine to it—in other words, there’s never been a guarantee that just because the subject matter is of interest a movie is handled well. However Hoffenberg did such a fine job weaving together so many different moments from the late French actor’s life and career that her film grabbed me from the get-go and by time it was over I was left with a sense of peace and was utterly charmed. As one of Lafont’s granddaughters said toward the end of the film, “She’s gone but for us she’s still here.” That’s how Hoffenberg’s documentary made me feel, without it ever coming across as hagiography.

Bernadette Lafont, and God Created the Free Woman traced the actor’s evolution from pin-up girl, to Nouvelle Vague (and post-Nouvelle Vague) model of feminist liberation, to mother and wife (as well as provider), to septuagenarian actor who found a late-period break-out hit as a drug dealing grandmother in the comedy Paulette. Along the way, the constellation of filmmakers she worked with was like a Who’s Who’s of French Cinema, featuring such luminaries as Jean Eustache, François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol, Philippe Garrel, Anne-Marie Miéville, and on and on. An interesting moment for me was seeing Lafont passionately defend Eustache’s masterpiece The Mother and the Whore before an unsympathetic critic at Cannes who foolishly described it as a “non-film” (Mon dieu!). Other stand-outs were the interviews with Moshe Mizrahi and Christiane Rochefort talking about some of the finer anti-patriarchal aspects of Sophie’s Ways, a film I enjoyed just the other day.

Hoffenberg’s documentary featured many snippets of archived interviews with and movie clips and photographs of Lafont dating back to the fifties, as well as a more recent voice-over from Lafont that was occasionally tempered by a voice-over from Hoffenberg herself. Recent interviews with Lafont’s granddaughters and close friend and collaborator Bulle Ogier, among others, helped paint a more nuanced picture of Lafon’t life and career, which truth be told did have its ups and downs. And the documentary’s transitional music by Dario Rudy was first rate and very cool. Ultimately Bernadette Lafont, and God Created the Free Woman was a life affirming film about a figure on the cinematic landscape who traced a singular path. And like Bertrand Tavernier’s excellent My Journey Through French Cinema, it should be considered a must for those interested in francophone films and would likely inspire its viewers to seek out some of the more obscure titles covered within it.

The Breeders rocking out at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa Bay

Last night the classic Last Splash-era line-up of The Breeders played The Ritz Ybor in Tampa Bay, and it was one helluva show! The band were in fine form as they played material old and new in the midst of moody lighting and an alluring visual backdrop that didn’t stay still for long. I’m exhausted at the moment, so suffice it to say, if you have the chance to see The Breeders as they tour the U.S. and elsewhere on the heels of their cool new album All Nerve, run don’t walk to see them. I’m grateful they made a stop down here and the rest of the packed audience last night ate it up too.

Will Vinton

A quick shout out and “requiescat in pace” are due for animator Will Vinton, who passed away yesterday. Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Celebration was a staple of my childhood in the 1980s and I still make a point of watching it on DVD every year during the holidays. Like Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed or the Brothers Quay’s Street of Crocodiles, it is a venerated slice of animation that has achieved “classic” status at this point, and for good reason. Even thirty years on, people take stock of how inviting and visually engrossing it is. Will Vinton was very talented, and duly celebrated during his time, and even if you don’t think you know him, you probably do know him, as you’ve likely at the very least seen his work in commercials and in pop culture at large. He will be missed.

Urban Arts Berlin's Ballardian Soundscapes compilation

The German organization Urban Arts Berlin has released another one of its nifty compilations of music by artists from all around the world. This one is called Ballardian Soundscapes and as you would surmise it consists of music inspired by the work of the late novelist and A-level provocateur J.G. Ballard.

Am pleased to report that Leila M. & Tired of Triangles’ “The Drowned World” made the cut! You can stream and download this and other tracks via Bandcamp at: https://urbanartsberlin.bandcamp.com/album/ballardian-soundscapes

This is a cool compilation. A lot of the tracks seem to embody a darker, dystopian, electronic-based sound that fits right in with new brutalism architecture and some of Ballard’s more unnerving storylines. A few of the tracks feel reminiscent of Zoviet France. One of the tracks, Russell Lowe’s “Depopulous Nirvana,” feels like a perfect mix between Sunn O))) and Oneohtrix Point Never. I look forward to listening to this more in the coming days while reading and whatnot.

Leila and I are honored to have been included.

The late Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller

Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller has passed away, at age 78. Müller was of international renown and among the most skilled in his trade. He was the kind of cameraman and technician who elevated every film he worked on, and whose compositions have been seen and adored by millions. Not all of the viewers who’ve seen his cinematography would know Müller by name, but many of them would no doubt recall, for example, the Southwestern American vistas and neon-lit roadside oases of Paris, Texas as if they had experienced them firsthand. Indeed, Muller’s cinematography could be so vivid in conjunction with the storylines of the films he worked on that it made audiences feel as if they were right there.

I was first impressed by Müller’s sharp camera work in my early twenties, when I rented a spate of VHS tapes of Seventies Wim Wenders films from Video Visions in Milwaukee. Even though the format and film-to-video transfers didn’t do the films justice, the films themselves could still be appreciated as consummate works of art. Am talking here about The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (which was recently restored but has yet to be reissued on DVD or blu-ray disc), and the loose “Road Trilogy” of Alice in the Cities, Wrong Move, and Kings of the Road (essential cinema that was restored prior to being reissued by Criterion in a super-cool boxset). If you haven’t seen this work, I implore you to give it a go, regardless of what you might have heard or might think of Wenders’s work in general. These films are worth seeing for Müller’s imagery alone. More than any other director of photography I can think of, Müller was adept at filming actors in cars with a freshness of perspective that could make the viewer feel like being in the passenger or driver’s seat, primed for adventures along the highway.

Müller also did fine cinematography on films by Jim Jarmusch (whose work I usually like), and he shot movies like Repo Man, Saint Jack, and Barfly, which aren’t quite as good but can be approached as interesting curiosity pieces. And of course that only scratches the surface (as a I often say in these short-form eulogies).

One Sunday evening in the Summer of 2017 I happened to wake up rather late. Checking Facebook I noticed a friend of a friend mention that Until the End of the World was going to be shown in the middle of the night on Turner Classic Movies. They were set to screen “the director’s cut.” Yes, the version of the film that clocked in at nearly five hours long. I had never seen it in any form, but had gathered it had its flaws. I didn’t have any obligations the following morning, so it seemed worth staying up and watching. “Why not?” I figured. The full version of Until the End of the World turned out to be frustratingly uneven as it progressed, showing a lack of focus as it began to feel more like an endurance test than a movie. However, it wasn’t without its charms and had some good scenes here and there, especially during its second half. One thing that eased the long sit and kept me from giving up on it, as the plot seemed to spin in different directions, was the cinematography by Robby Müller. Characteristic of his work, the film looked great. Very colorful and pristine, lending the proceedings an inviting tenor they could have easily lacked in less capable hands.

Still from Until the End of the World

It is not everyday that I encounter something on the internet worth passing on to everyone, but today is such a day. A French blog has unleashed a series of photographs by one Stephane Fontana that painstakingly reveal what various locations in Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou look like fifty-three years later. I love this sort of thing. It doesn’t hurt that Pierrot Le Fou has been a favorite for nearly twenty years and was a formative influence on my conception of what a film could be. Some of these images and locales along the Riviera are practically seared into my DNA at this point. The original post, which is very much worth seeing, can be viewed here. Excellent work!

The legendary Art Bell just passed away at age 72. As far as radio hosts go, Bell was to paranormal subject matter what someone like Vin Scully was to baseball. If you’ve ever had an interest in aliens or U.F.O.s, the infamous Men in Black, ghosts, cryptids, remote viewing, telekinesis, the Simulation Hypothesis, the Mandela Effect, out-of-body experiences, the Akashic records — not to mention more scientifically legitimized subjects like theoretical physics, “futurism,” or cosmology and astronomy — there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of Bell’s shows Coast to Coast AM and Midnight in the Desert. And you might have tuned in over the years. If you did you probably heard some eyebrow-raising interviews with such people of note as the never-dull Terrence McKenna, authors like Jim Elvidge and Robert Anton Wilson, scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku, remote viewer Ingo Swann, ufologists, and… self-proclaimed time travelers. As a person unfamiliar with the shows might rightly assume, there were, naturally, several charlatans, especially during the call-ins. But that’s part of what made Bell’s forums for fringe subjects so entertaining. They were like all-you-can-eat buffets for all manner of strangeness, ranging from the true, to the plausible, to the hypothetical, to the completely bat-shit insane. If you were in the mood for it you could be alternately puzzled, informed, petrified with terror, intrigued, filled with laughter, and so on.

Though I’d known about them for a while, I only started listening to Bell’s broadcasts in the last several years, via archived files available on the internet. What struck me almost immediately was Bell’s penchant for being a great talker. He instinctively understood how to keep the conversations alive, asking just the right questions, knowing how to draw out the most tantalizing information from his interviewees. Art Bell seemed like a cool guy, a real mensch. And he had a great voice for radio! In an era in which all too many radio hosts have shrill and/or off-putting ways of speaking (I’m looking at you, Alex Jones, and countless “shock-jock” morning DJs), it shouldn’t be taken for granted when a talk show host puts his guests and listeners at ease. I often got the impression that Bell could more than meet his guests halfway, humoring even the least believable of them as a form of courtesy, even if he didn’t completely buy it.

And as a skeptic of sorts, that’s close to my own stance—it’s fun to entertain these things even if I don’t quite believe in most of them. Being a difficult-to-please cinephile, to me it’s more fun to listen to someone talk about how people of the future might theoretically expand human civilization beyond Earth than it is to watch a typically-stylized Hollywood movie about it. Bell created an arena in which people all over the world could communicate about this and many other subjects you weren’t likely to see being covered in the nightly news or on 60 Minutes. He dedicated much of his life to this and in doing so provided a tremendous service, especially in the days before the internet became what it is today. Art Bell will be missed by many, and those interested in a more biographical tribute should be sure not to miss Coast to Coast AM’s own eulogy to him here.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go listen to Giorgio Moroder’s “Chase” on repeat a few times.

Kaji-Pup Records, the independent label I’m associated with, has just put out its second release, and its first recording of 2018! Behold: a split between Leila M. & Tired of Triangles and Tired of Triangles, “The Drowned World” b/w “Z.F.G.”

A scan of the A side of Kaji-Pup Records' second release

In my humble opinion this is, to date, the best recording I’ve had a hand in making. It’s a rather atypical slab of wax in that the A side is a brooding soundscape homage to J.G. Ballard’s second novel of the same name, and the B side is a fuzzed-out rock track with post-punk and psychedelic leanings, not to mention a lot of moving parts and ample “attitude.”

When I have time to catch my breath I might elaborate on this release further, but for now please check it out on Bandcamp at: https://leilamandtiredoftriangles.bandcamp.com/album/the-drowned-world-b-w-z-f-g

And you can hear the tracks on YouTube as well:

Yé-yé girl extraordinare France Gall

A sincere, belated “requiescat in pace” goes out to beloved French chanteuse, and O.G. yé-yé girl extraordinaire, Isabelle “France” Gall. A natural-born singer from a musical family, Gall sold a whopping 200,000 copies of one single at the age of 16. She went on to win the Eurovision contest with a song penned by Serge Gainsbourg and soon her status as an ultra-chic Sixties French pop singer was cemented. Gall was of course known for her beautiful looks and a little “sass” (a bit of it intentional, some of if not). Naturally it didn’t hurt that she managed to work with several worthy songsmiths and musicians over the years, one of whom, Michel Berger, she married. But it was Gall’s golden voice and general goodnatured demure that propelled her career, until her retirement in the mid-1990s.

Though admittedly I haven’t explored all of the France Gall back catalog yet, my personal favorite song of hers is 1968’s “Rue de l’abricot,” which may well be the most “French sounding” post-war composition one is likely to come across. And in the right context who could resist dancing to her 1964 club classic “Laisse tomber les filles,” which reached Number 4 on the Billboard chart and still sounds like sheer seduction? Hell, I’m even fond of Gall’s “Sacré Charlemagne,” which some qualify as children’s music.

Though all of these songs may be attached to an era or series of “moments” in the progression of pop music, they make for very timeless art to me. I hope this music lasts forever.