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Jonathan James Romley (Dublin, Ireland)

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Offered by jim-exselecky
Price: £5.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars And they heard his tale, of a world that was so far away..., 10 Jan 2008
This review is from: Alice (Audio CD)
The ideas of lust, obsession, innocence and regret are explored throughout in Alice, a lush and surreal fever dream of an album that manages to tie in nicely with that other, similarly minded theatrical outing Blood Money, as well as elements of the earlier opus Frank's Wild Years, by once again attempting the conceptual thing. Here, amidst the lo-fi production techniques and a minimal wash of jazz-tinged instrumentation, Waits and his wife and co-writer Kathleen Brennan ruminate on the story of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and its roots within the obsessive, and possibly even dangerous relationship between the author Lewis Carroll, and his young muse Alice Liddell.

Like Blood Money, Alice opts for a non-linear song-cycle; suggesting stories through snatches of surreal and often beautiful lyrical imagery and through the delicate use of arrangements - which here suggest nods to ambient jazz, cabaret and torch-song minimalism - whilst simultaneously tying into the thematic ideas behind the album as a whole. The music is much more languid and melancholic than the abrasive clatter of Blood Money, taking Waits back to the lullaby territory of classic songs like I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love with You, Martha and that perennial favourite Johnsburg, Illinois. As ever with Waits, the arrangements are sublime throughout; drawing primarily on piano, organ, bass and light percussion, with the whole thing further complemented by those beautifully wilting horn arrangements and a light fluttering of strings. From the opening burst of melancholy of the title track, right the way through to the closing instrumental, Fawn, Waits captures a continual mood of despair, loneliness and absolute heartbreak, as he talks of gravesides, drunks, loners and freaks; all backed by that rich and evocative instrumentation, and the air of archaic period squalor, carnival melancholy and junkyard melodrama, all of which are further referenced in the retrogressive, 20's style recording techniques, and those sepia-tinted portraits of Waits as a dust-bole vagabond.

The mood of the record throughout is tainted with a sense of midnight melancholy, drifting as if sleeping through the opening title track; which has an achingly minimal arrangement that brings to mind the lulled flutter of late-night yearning so central to an album like Closing Time - but with a voice that seems further ravaged by too much booze, too many cigarettes and the continual grind of old age. Here, Waits sings in that trademark growl of "dreamy weather, along an icy pond", before crying out "how does the ocean rock the boat, how did the razor find my throat"; with the bleaker themes behind the song (and the album) slowly becoming clear. The mood and ideas are continued through to the next track, Everything You Can Think - with those gruff, junk-yard-dog-like vocals getting lost in a swirl of sweet and exotic music that wraps itself around the narrator beautifully - as the sound of a distant train takes us from Alice, through to the yearning splendour of Everything You Can Think, and beyond, to the Flower's Grave; one of Waits' most beautiful ballads.

The album breaks away from the sad-song format briefly with the terrific Weimar stomp of Komienezuspadt; a song that takes Waits' seeming obsession with German cabaret to a level that not even the barking Blood Money would dare ascend - as the band offer a bust of 20's style jazz-horn over a clomping piece of percussion - whilst Waits shouts German nonsense in his most shrill and shrieking voice! Along with Table Top Joe, a more traditional jazz/blues number with imagery closer to that of his classic 70's period, and the stomping carnival waltz the Reeperhbahn, Komienezuspadt represents the album's barmier side; with these three songs acting as a sort of schizophrenic interlude between the more lulled and affecting ballads that make up the majority of the album's sound. Other songs, such as Poor Edward, Lost in the Harbour, Watch Her Disappear (one of Waits' most sinister spoken-word moments, alongside What's He Building? and The Ocean Doesn't Want Me) and I'm Still Here all continue the themes of obsessive (self-destructive?) love, despair and melancholy; all notions that are finally made explicit with the heartbreaking song, Fish & Bird.

Here, Waits and Brennan riff on the notion of forbidden desire and the pain of unrequited love, telling a multi-layered story within a story that deals specifically with the 'Romeo and Juliet' style relationship between a seagull and a whale. Here, the strained relationship between the middle-aged Lewis Carroll and the young Alice Liddell becomes absolutely clear. Two people from different worlds - one madly in love with the other - one old enough and wise enough to know better, even though the decision is tearing him apart - forced to go their separate ways, though safe in the knowledge that their feelings for one another will live on in the ashes of time. Obviously, the song, like all of the songs on Alice, can be enjoyed as part of the concept, or as an album in the traditional sense. Waits, as a songwriter and performer, is able to connect the songs and the subject matter to feelings and emotions that are universal; meaning that even songs as lyrically surreal and abstract as Fish & Bird, Flowers Grave and Poor Edward can still resonate with the listener on a completely personal level.

The haunting Barcarolle (where Waits sings "in the wine of my heart there's a stone / in a well made of bone / that you bring to the pond / and I'm here in your pocket / curled up in a dollar / and the chain from your watch around my neck / and I'll stay right here / until it's time") links the end of the album back to the beginning, with references to being "in the blond summer grass..." and the branches spell "Alice"; before bringing us to the perfect close with the short instrumental, Fawn. Along with Closing Time, Swordfishtrombones, Blood Money and Bone Machine, Alice is another contender for the title of the greatest Tom Waits album; a work of unbridled, cohesive, intoxicating genius that wraps it's heartfelt and fascinating words in a shroud of subtle arrangements, and an unparalleled use of atmosphere, character and imagination.

Young Prayer
Young Prayer
Price: £8.86

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Muted, impressionistic second album, from Animal Collective's Noah Lennox., 10 Jan 2008
This review is from: Young Prayer (Audio CD)
Young Prayer was the second solo-effort from Noah Lennox, one of the founding members of the critically acclaimed underground indie/folk/electronica project, Animal Collective. The album follows on nicely from the lo-fi exploration of his 1998 self-titled effort, whilst simultaneously setting the scene for the subsequent burst of vibrant full colour that would permeate the very core of his critically acclaimed third album, Person Pitch. You could also draw parallels with various Animal Collective releases, in particular Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished and Danse Manatee; both of which capture that odd combination of the pastoral and the ambient merging into night.

With this in mind, I can honestly imagine this being an album that many people won't like. A sparse and far out record that fuses elements of folk, psychedelic pop, world music and hints of ambient noise in a manner that seems entirely devoid of all sense of structure, formality and predictability. As a listening experience it's odd and disconcerting; an experimental work about death that is both cold and distant and yet, remains something that never becomes maudlin or self-pitying. It is an album with a recognisable emotional theme, and yet, one in which the lyrics are muffled by the cacophonous clamour of instruments or, instead, replaced completely by a series of abstract and incomprehensible moans, groans, grunts and sneezes. As a result, it is an album that slips unconsciously between the misery of death and the poetry of life; as oddly tuned acoustic guitars are strummed in a manner that draw forth an army of atonal notes, all marching broken-backed from the hollow, rotted reed of the instrument itself, as the guttural moans and animal yelps of Lennox express a sadness that regular words would only struggle and trip in their attempts to convey.

It's bleak and uninviting music, no question; marauding from the core of a decaying apple on the mossy cleft of a dying black forest, as elves and nymphs recoil in horror at the ominous spectre of death that stands, looming long beneath the shadowy tree-branched of a hangmen-menace, with each gargled word or riddled ripple of notes that reverberate only managing to capture the coldly distant and entirely uncomfortable feeling of D.E.A.T.H. Furthermore, the eventually shift in tone that arrives midway through the album could be seen as signifying the moment of grief turning into acceptance and the moment in which the sadness of death gives way to the beauty of life and indeed, creativity; with the tone and timbre of the voice both suggesting so much more in between. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but in truth, the black and hazy nature of the record only invites multiple interpretations, with the album reminding me of the stark minimalism of albums like the 1998 self-titled offering from former Talk Talk front man Mark Hollis, the 2002 "brackets" album by Sigur Rós, and Blemish, the 2003 solo offering from the former Japan vocalist David Sylvian.

Like those albums, Young Prayer is effectively an impressionistic piece; a blank canvas that the listener can project their own personal thought and feelings onto. This is evident from the use of untitled tracks, vague, lyric-less vocals and the overall otherworldliness of the music. This allows the listen to form their own interpretations of the songs, often focusing on the odd piece of production or instrumentation, or even a fluttering vocal line as opposed to anything in the way of hooks. It's also hard to pigeonhole the album into any kind of generic category, although obviously, as with Animal Collective, you can see the influence of various alternative or psychedelic folk acts from the late 60's and early 70's, most prominently The Incredibly String Band, who also drew very heavily on the combined influence of whimsical visions suggested by nature, with a sound that seemed rooted in world music; in particular Spanish flamenco music, Indian music and traditional Anglo-Saxon folk. Young Prayer also has the added influence of minimal, electronic, ambient noise; suggesting an alternate reality in which Eno - if you'll forgive the cliché - produced Wee Tam and The Big Huge (or something like that).

Although the influences are there, and you can group it in with certain other records that were moving in a similar direction, Young Prayer remains one of those albums that sound like nothing else; or indeed, like nothing I can really think of. Even the subsequent Person Pitch sounds as far removed from the minimal moans and acoustics of the album in question as you could possibly get; sounding warm and celebratory, whereas this is cold and dejected (as you would imagine from an album about death). Like I said at the start of the reviews, this isn't easy listening and it's certainly not an album that a lot of people will "enjoy"; but, at the same time, it's never dull, depressing or self-pitying. Instead, it's a shimmering, shining testament to the spirit of creativity, and the notion of music as a pure and transcendent statement, capable of healing all pain and righting all wrongs.

Clouds Taste Metallic
Clouds Taste Metallic
Price: £7.34

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twisted pop masterwork from the always brilliant Flaming Lips., 10 Jan 2008
This review is from: Clouds Taste Metallic (Audio CD)
By this stage in their career, The Lips had progressed from the lo-fi psychedelic slacker rock of early albums like Oh My Gawd! and In a Priest Driven Ambulance, into something of a loose pop band. 1991's major label debut, Hit to Death in the Future Head, and it's follow up, 1993's almost successful Transmissions from the Satellite Heart had seen the arrival of producer Dave Fridmann, as well as the on-going bombardment of revolving-door band members - incorporating early input from both Nathan Roberts and Jonathan Donahue - through to the more stable pairing of founding members Wayne Coyne and Michael Ivins, alongside their soon-to-become long-term collaborator Steven Drozd, and the introverted guitar wiz Ronald Jones. This line up would go on to create Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, and this, the twisted pop masterwork that is, Clouds Taste Metallic.

The most astounding thing about the album, for me at least, is the way in which everything just seems to work towards creating a unified whole; from the song titles and the subject matter (obsessions with space travel, science, superheroes, robots, love and death; which would all continue on the more successful albums to follow) to the overall use of instrumentation. Here, Coyne uses the acoustic guitar to flesh out the melody on a number of songs - which gives the album an individuality within the context of their discography - whilst Drozd and Fridmann add keyboards, distortion and all manner of bizarre little instrumental flourishes (including the sculpting of Jones's angular and distorted guitar riffs into a wave of atonal orchestration) to add atmosphere and counter melodies to really compliment the songs in a structural sense. Placebo Headwound, Kim's Watermelon Gun and Lightening Strikes the Postman do the whole surreal pop thing better than The Pixies ever did - with The Lips firing on all creative cylinders - with a great sense of rhythm and percussion, some wonderful production effects and Coyne's little-boy-lost vocals all adding to the overall pop quality of the songs as a whole.

Tracks like When You Smile, Kim's Watermelon Gun and Christmas at the Zoo seem more like children's songs run through the art pop blender, with Coyne singing of innocence and love in a world of uncertainty, as the band keep the whole insane pop vibe spinning to infinity, with Jones making some extraordinary noises with his guitar, Ivins keeping the bass work subtle (and even adding the odd stab of piano) and Drozd offering up some astounding drum fills (the ace rhythm section of Ivins and Drozd really gelling on songs like the aforementioned This Here Giraffe, Psychiatric Explorations of the Fetus with Needles and one of my favourites of favourites, They Punctured My Yolk). Here, Coyne sings about rejection and redemption against the context of an ill-fated space mission, the bizarre descriptions coming close to poetry ("good bye, good bye / look as the clouds burst / they're growing taller / as your ship leaves in the distance / my world gets smaller"). Only Coyne could write a track about spacemen and make it sound like a love song... though given the fact that he's spent the last ten years making a film in his garage called 'Christmas on Mars', he probably means it!! Either way, there's no denying the creative scope of the band at this stage in their career... managing to turn in a record that uses strong melodies alongside forward-thinking instrumentation to tell an outrageous story that really, when distilled to its most simplistic formula, is all about finding love and acceptance within a world of apathy and confusion.

From this point on, the whole album is just a veritable pop Mecca, taking on the notion of a Pet Sounds for amateurs and elaborating on it - as the band set about crafting a collection of teenage symphonies to a junkyard dog (preferably one still floating in space) - whilst all around them the notes and bending and distorting, the vocals are fracturing on the high notes and the whole thing seems in danger of falling apart at any given moment. The fact that it doesn't, the fact that the band end up creating a piece of work that somehow seems more pure and heartfelt than anything Brian Wilson could produce, is a testament to The Lips as a creative unit.

For me, Clouds Taste Metallic is the defining moment for The Flaming Lips thus far. The record in which the mad exploration of the limits of a recording studio merged with something approaching proper song craft, giving way to a purity of vision and an intuitive understanding of what makes great pop. It's a lot less clean and professional sounding than their later pop masterwork The Soft Bulletin, but somehow remains the more enduring of the two. The beguiling beauty of the closing songs, Evil Will Prevail and Bad Days, which somehow finds a middle ground between The Beach Boys and country music - as Coyne strums an acoustic guitar while insisting "all your bad days will end" - is really quite beautiful and rather moving; particularly following the over complicated parade of wild imagery that spiralled out of Coyne's mad, kaleidoscopic songbook, during the preceding twelve tracks. For me, this is one of the few recorded masterworks of the 1990's... the one that no one bothered to buy.

"A Divina Comédia Ou Ando Meio Desligado"
"A Divina Comédia Ou Ando Meio Desligado"

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wildly eccentric, deeply erratic and always irreverent psychedelic-beast of an album., 10 Jan 2008
The gloomy black and white cover art, with its gothic overtones and macabre iconography, juxtaposes nicely with the quaint, satirical absurdity of the reverse sleeve (with its vivid colours and bold, Buñuelian composition) in a way that perfectly suggests the sound and style of this album as a concise, cohesive whole. For many critics - myself included - A Divina Comédia, ou Ando Meio Desligado would be an incredibly important creative stepping stone for the band we called Mutantes; featuring a raw and raucous sound that moved even further away from the various Bossa Nova and Tropicália influences that had been incorporated since their initial inception on the celebrated Os Mutantes LP (1967), as well as from the additional integration of 1960's counter-cultural pop-tones found on their second album, the simply titled Mutantes (1969), with the album in question featuring further jaw-dropping nods to garage rock, doo-wop, surf pop, and seriously raw traces of psychedelia. Though I'd still rank the self-titled "Mutantes" as my personal favourite Os Mutantes LP, 'A Divina Comédia, ou' will always remain a fascinating listening experience, as well as being one of those strange and wonderful records that continually surprises you with every subsequent, late-night repeat.

Along with the fascinating cover art - which finds the middle ground between the lurid, low-budget, exploitation cinema of filmmakers like Jean Rollin or Mario Bava, with the higher aspirations of gothic literature, ala Edger Allen Poe - the literal English translation of the title suggests further hints towards the notions behind the album, with A Divina Comédia (ou Ando Meio Desligado) interpreted as The Divine Comedy (or I Walk a bit Disconnected), with the reference to walking disconnected pointing towards 1960's stoner culture and the various preoccupations with the living dead (once again, check out the Gustav Doré referencing cover art for more...). It sums up the spirit of the album perfectly, with continual references to Dante's eponymous collection, religious cults, black mass, Satanism and the teachings of Aleister Crowley. It's all a bit more tongue in cheek than the influences would suggest, with the band famously making loving pastiche and parody of the California rock scene, as well as including a straight as straight can get version of a doo-wop song that ties in nicely with similar tracks that Frank Zappa was creating for the first Mothers of Invention album, Freak Out! (1966), in particular the likes Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder and How Could I Be Such a Fool?

Like Freak Out!, there's probably something here for everyone; from the heavily psychedelic riff-rock of the opening track, with its juxtaposing verse/bridge combination and exaggerated guitar crescendo, to the almost lounge pop styling of the fourth track Desculpe Baby, with its melodic male/female vocal harmonies and lingering remnants of traditional Tropicália. Whether or not the band were going for the same satirical pastiche that Zappa and his Mothers were initially toying with on their earliest albums is unknown; perhaps the Mutants simply wanted to show their range with as many stylistic changes as possible -- but regardless, the continual shifts from drugged-out rock, to pop, to something that sounds like it could have been used as the theme music to some obscure 1970's cop thriller is fascinating stuff, and is certainly integrated into the overall feel of the album extremely well. With the influences in check, 'A Divina Comédia, ou' becomes one of those albums that shouldn't work - seemingly too unfocused and over-flowing with too many ideas to ever fit together comfortably as anything approaching a cohesive event - and yet, somehow, it manages to bring it all together into one amazing, aural assault.

All the songs are astounding in their own special way; warped by the sardonic black mass references and the caterwauling cartwheel of instrumental flourishes that incorporates the traditional guitar / bass / drums combination alongside keyboards, pump organs, penny whistles, tambourines, Jews harps, woodwinds, string arrangements and a marching band. Some might balk at the track Hey Boy, which begins with Doo Wop influences before eventually embracing 50's pop; and all put together with a straight face and a delivery flat enough to iron your shirt on, but even this track doesn't seem entirely out of place when sandwiched between the stuttering, kaleidoscopic brilliance of the jazz-psyche ballad Meu refrigerador Não Funciona and the heady 60's sampling surf-rock of Preciso Urgentemente Encontrar Um Amigo, with its electrified lead guitar work and elasticated changes in time signature between the interweaving vocal harmonies of the alien-like Arnaldo Baptista and the extraordinary Rita Lee.

The second half of the album moves giddily from the traditional Brazilian ballad Chão De Estrelas - with the serenaded vocals and wonderful instrumental arrangements moving backwards and forwards from heart wrenching, romantic, minor-key melodrama to an absolute rave up with full flamenco rhythms and bristling mariachi horns - to the almost straight rock Jogo De Calçada, which has an incredibly tight rhythm section and storming lead guitar work from the then teenage Sérgio Dias Baptista. From here we move onto the minimal and hymn like Haleluia, which features the title of the song being sung celestially over a lonesome funeral organ; the ultimate antithesis to the dark and hopeless sound of the opening track, Ando Meio Desligado, with its chanted, agitated vocals and aggressive, psychedelic guitar playing. For me, the album is a constant joy; wriggling and mutating quite literally from one drugged out idea to the next as one great track proceeds an even greater track as zombies groove with seventeenth century freedom fighters and the spirits of the living dead. It's evocative, imaginative and intelligent music that plainly displays the influence of Barrett's Pink Floyd, the 13th Floor Elevators, The Beatles and Stones, and the joy of Jefferson Airplane. A Divina Comédia, ou Ando Meio Desligado is a testament to the Mutantes mk. 1 as a creative unit; tethered by the ace production skills of Arnaldo Saccomani, and really taking the intricate and enticing musical textures of debut album Os Mutantes (1967) and their cherished follow up Mutantes (1969) further than we ever thought possible. Clearly, this is rock music at its finest.

Bob Le Flambeur [DVD]
Bob Le Flambeur [DVD]
Dvd ~ Roger Duchesne
Price: £13.86

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revolutionary crime-noir, from the director of Le Samourai., 9 Jan 2008
This review is from: Bob Le Flambeur [DVD] (DVD)
Bob Le Flambeur opens with a glimmering shot of early morning Paris, where we find the rugged, nonchalant hood Bob Montagne, sauntering through the neon lit streets, looking every bit the icon of cinema that he is. To Bob, everything in life is a gamble, an uncertainty, a ten-to-one shot. He inhabits a world of games and chances... as the gravel voice narration points out, "the city can be both heaven and hell, as long as you know how to play it". He is, as the title suggests, a man who lives and loves gambling. A one-time crook now taking it easy, we find him huddled in a smoky apartment - the walls painted black and white like a chessboard - hard at work towards yet another pay off. When he isn't 'working', Bob lives the simple life, hanging out in bars with old pals or relaxing in his penthouse apartment. His only real companion is Paolo, a young tearaway who idolises and emulates Bob's look and lifestyle. The child of a former friend, Bob becomes the surrogate father figure to Paolo, looking out for him and making sure he isn't consumed by the lure of the mean streets.

Bob le Flambeur was one of Melville's earliest entries into the gangster cycle that would later give birth to his better-known film, Le Samourai. Like that film, Flambeur is a technically assured and understated journey into the underworld, employing a raw cinematic intensity, knowing irony and loose plot, which can probably be seen as an influence on contemporary filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Ringo Lam, Paul Thomas Anderson, John Woo, Quentin Tarantino, David Mamet and Wong Kar-Wai. It can also be seen as something of a revolutionary work, with Melville's bold use of real locations, available light and handheld cameras offering an obvious precursor to the style of the later nouvelle vague, and, to great filmmakers like Godard, Chabrol and Truffaut. Like those directors, Melville has a strong understanding of genre conventions and the post-war Gangster ethos, and thus, crafts a film that is both European in style and sensibility, but at the same time, nods to the classic gangster movies of 30's and 40's Hollywood... giving us a cool and slick film, that still has enough edge and grit to make the characters seem like real people.

The plot unfolds at a natural pace, slowly at first, but gradually building momentum once all the major players have been introduced, with Melville creating something of a confrontational three-way struggle between Bob, Paolo and Isabelle Corey's deceptive femme-fetal. As the film progresses, we delve deeper into both the plot and the back story, finding Bob seriously out of pocket after a spot of bad luck at the casino... and, with only one way to go to get the cash back, he decides to pull off the ultimate gamble... by which, allow himself to be pulled back down into the criminal underworld that he'd almost escaped. From this point on the film becomes concerned with the intricacies of crime, the impact of friendship and the fixation and fundamental need to succeed, or else, forfeit the next ten to twenty years of your life... and for the aging Bob, this is not an option. At this point, loyalties are tested and precision filmmaking is pushed to the limits as the plot continues headlong towards its climax. The story takes all manner of twists and turns along the way, with Melville keeping the story rooted in the details of his characters and the intricacy of the crime it's self, so that by the end the film the whole thing has seemingly worked towards chance and blind luck... proving to some extent Melville's grand metaphor that life is the ultimate gamble.

Melville's film is one of the classic post-war noir films, if not one of the most important French films ever made... an evocative depiction of glistening black and white France, replete with shady gangsters, crooked cops, gambling dens, back street cafés and the ultimate heist, made all the more potent by the astounding performance of Roger Duchesne as the laconic and iconic Bob, and with great support from Daniel Cauchy as Paulo, Isabelle Corey as the wide-eyed Anne and Guy Decomble as Inspector Ledru.

Dvd ~ Bruno S.

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So much more than the dancing chicken...., 9 Jan 2008
This review is from: Stroszek (DVD)
Stroszek is a simple story about a simple man, who leaves for America with an abused prostitute and an elderly neighbour, in the hope of starting a new life away from the violent and antagonistic Berlin underbelly, which they'd previously been caught up in. To any other filmmaker, the plot would serve as the backdrop to the spiralling melodrama that envelops the character's lives and the harsh realities of their situation. However, in Herzog's hands, the film becomes a surreal, stylised, darkly-comic piece of bleak absurdity, as his characters set off on a stark and seemingly directionless odyssey across the American mid-west, in the earnest belief that the land of opportunity will reward their hard-work, passion and tenacity, with wealth, happiness and good fortune.

Because of these elements, the film has been interpreted by many critics as a scathing review of the American dream and the treatment of naive foreigners who dare to step foot on U.S. soil. However, as far as I'm concerned, the film has much more depth to it than that limiting interpretation would suggest, with Herzog really showing us the destruction of the human spirit and the ongoing role of the perpetual outsider in society. Obviously, from this, the film has certain parallels with his great masterpiece, The Enigma of Kasper Hauser, right down to the casting of Bruno S. as the titular Bruno Stroszek. The casting of Bruno gives the film a certain solemnity, with many elements of the plot (abuse, alienation, mental disability and institutionalisation) drawing parallels with Bruno's own tragic real life and his unbelievable back story. Herzog heightens the drama further, by setting the opening of the film in the same neighbourhood (and, in fact, the very same apartment) where Bruno lived during the time of the production, and even incorporates many of Bruno's eccentric characteristics and possessions into the direction of the character.

The performance of Bruno throughout is quite remarkable (even though he is, for all intensive purposes, playing himself), as he brings to this film the same haunted naivety that worked so well for The Enigma of Kasper Hauser. As with that film, Herzog is here able to anchor the images of the film to that same sense of sadness and awe that is so central to Bruno's inner character, as he watches each scene unfold with wide, childlike eyes, completely curious and overwhelmed by what is happening, though, simultaneously, wracked with pain. This is most apparent in the scene with Bruno and his doctor; in which the doctor takes us on a tour of the premature babies ward, where a collection of pink, wrinkled, almost-embryonic little babies lay in incubation. As the doctor raises the babies up from their frail littler arms to illustrate to Bruno the strength of reflex that these little creatures possess in spite of such short-comings, Herzog creates the ultimate metaphor for both Bruno and the film.

As with Kasper Hauser, Stroszeck is a fated character from the outset, with Herzog clearly marking him out as a true human, too pure for the world around him. There's a great scene midway through the film, one that is akin to the scene in Kasper, in which the character talks in voice-over about sowing his name with seeds into the ground, only for it to be destroyed by heartless antagonists... here, Bruno sits with Eva, the prostitute who he loves, and shows her a small and completely absurd model of what his insides look like without love. It's a long scene, shot with only a couple of takes, and is a real tour-de-force performance from Bruno, in which he tries his hardest to confess his love to the oblivious Eva with a combination of trite, childlike metaphors, and heartbreaking recollections of a hard and loveless life. The film, though darkly comic, is quite oppressive throughout... there are a couple of very difficult-to-watch scenes in which both Bruno and Eva are beaten and tormented by the pimps in Berlin, whilst the scenes between Bruno, Eva, and the slimy bank-executive, seem like a definite precursor to some unavoidable tragedy.

The film has very little colour to it, seeming almost black-and-white in a lot of scenes, with the colours seemingly muted by Herzog and his cinematographer Tomas Maunch (Berlin has never looked so cold and uninviting... whilst the mid-West looks eerie, lifeless and barren), whilst the use of non-professional actors in the secondary roles (particularly those set in the U.S.) helps to give the film a strange and disconcerting air of the documentary, to help juxtapose some of the more absurd situations at the heart of Herzog's script. Despite the usual Herzog characteristics, Stroszeck is also coloured by the influence of other filmmakers, particularly in this case, Herzog's friend and contemporary Rainer Werner Fassbinder (most apparent in the early scenes in Berlin, with the violent pimps, allusions to American melodrama, and rigid, visual composition) and the U.S. documentarian Errol Morris, who's early films depicting the American mid-west were a key-influence on Herzog's representation of the region here.

Stroszek is, without question, a Herzog masterpiece, easily as vital and enjoyable as the more well-known films he made with Klaus Kinski. The performances are astounding throughout, whether from the professionals or the non-professionals (the beautiful Eva Mattes, a regular character in Fassbinder's films, is as remarkable here as she was in Herzog's later underrated film Woyzeck), whilst the style and tone of the film is spot on... managing to offer up many of those sublime moments synonymous with Herzog's work, but with a story and a character that are both entertaining and affecting. The ending is suitably vague, but ties the story together nicely whilst continuing the central character's plunge into the bleak abyss. That iconic image of the dancing chicken speaks volumes about the futility and prolonged madness of life (or something like that) and simply adds to the overall bizarre (almost comedic, almost nightmarish) charm that Herzog so effectively creates.

Herz aus Glas
Herz aus Glas
Dvd ~ Stefan Guttler

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Probably the most difficult of all Herzog's films., 9 Jan 2008
This review is from: Herz aus Glas (DVD)
Heart of Glass begins with a scene of quiet contemplation, as the central protagonist sits alone on a rock overlooking a field of cattle, entranced by the pulsating sounds of the Scandinavian soundtrack and the sight of a thick, impenetrable fog that lingers across the screen. The pace of this scene, and of course, the pace of the proceeding film, is one of slow foreboding and persistent dread, as the filmmaker allows the images to run naturally, refusing to break the trancelike pace that is slowly being created between the subtle symbiosis of sound and vision. At this point, the voice over comes in, and the film cuts to a lengthy shot of a cascading waterfall that we, as an audience, are directed to stare into. Here, Herzog is inviting the audience, albeit, subjectively, to drift off into the same dreamlike state inhabited by his characters and, indeed, enter into a hypnotic realm of woozy reflection and severe stylisation.

It is important for Herzog to establish such a lethargic and entrancing mood at the beginning of the film, with the stylisations here used to convey to the audience the sense of blind obsession, entrancement, possession and greed. Around this central cinematic notion- as well as the basic plot - the film is further fleshed out by Herzog and his cinematographer Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein, who here creates some haunting and hypnotic compositions, which further compliment those bold stylisations and over-exaggerations (or indeed, under-exaggerations, depending on how you look at it) from Herzog and his performers. To some extent, the film is similar to von Trier's masterpiece Europa, with both films beginning with their director's using repetitive imagery and a powerful voice-over to captivate the audience, before leading them into this strange world in which the actors don't necessarily build characters, but rather, perform like rigid marionettes composed onto these lush, beautiful landscapes, all the while being controlled throughout by the director.

The film is also quite similar to the work of Tarkovsky, with Herzog purposely drawing the film out, so that scenes unfold slowly, creating a dense and suffocating atmosphere that seems right for the story; whilst the use of philosophy, mysticism and the idea of dreams and visions isn't that far away from the ideas and ideologies of some of Tarkovsky's key films, for example, Nostalgia and The Sacrifice. Of course, certain images - such as the (seemingly) mentally handicapped woman doing a random striptease on a tabletop, or the lethargic bar-fight that erupts from a moment of quiet contemplation - could have only come from the same man that gave us the treetop riverboat from Aguirre, or Stroszek's dancing chicken. However, there are many aspects of the film I don't quite understand, for example, the ending, with the surreal nature of the film and the mystical aspects of the plot making the whole thing quite impenetrable for the casual viewer. So, if you're looking for an easy way into Herzog's work... then this isn't it, and you'd be better off sticking to something like Aguirre The Wrath of God, The Enigma of Kaper Hauser or the acclaimed Fitzcaraldo.

All we can be sure of with Heart of Glass is the bare bones of the plot, with the central character prophesising the town's downfall in his opening, hypnotising dream, before we move into the actual narrative, in which the town try desperately to figure out the correct method of creating ruby glass (which has been an integral part of the town's financial success for many generations). The only person who knows/knew how to create the glass was the town's elder, who dies at the start of the film, therefore leaving his son and his various cronies to tear the town apart in the hope of finding some hidden instructions that may or may not have been left lying around. As the town descends into slow hysteria, our central protagonist relocates to the mountains and has a vision of surreal potency - not entirely dissimilar to the vision at the end of The Enigma of Kasper Hauser - and the film ends there, with a question mark, as opposed to a full stop. As with most Herzog films, the final shot is absolutely gorgeous, and somehow makes us want to go back and re-watch the film and re-evaluate it further, in the hope of discovering more about its elusive charms and stark ambiguities.

Heart of Glass is, without question, Herzog's most demanding work... asking a great deal of patients and concentration from the audience, most of whom will be alienated by the film's lethargic pace and stark, stylistic diversions. However, despite these factors, the film still remains one of Herzog's defining moments - easily on a par with films like Strozseck, Signs of Life and Fata Morgana and possibly more integral than Nosferatu and the later Cobra Verde - with the director creating another poetic, dreamlike allegory about greed, trust, fate and obsession (making this film an obvious stylistic and theoretical close cousin to his masterworks Aguirre, Woyzeck and The Enigma of Kasper Hauser). Although it perhaps lacks some of the depth and emotional complexity of those works, it is without question, an enchanting film, which, despite its alienating qualities and cinematic short comings, remains a haunting and hypnotic visual experience without equal.

Woyzeck - Werner Herzog - German with English subtitles
Woyzeck - Werner Herzog - German with English subtitles

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A shocking and affecting masterpiece, in need of reappraisal., 9 Jan 2008
Woyzeck was the third collaboration between filmmaker Werner Herzog and actor Klaus Kinski, following their initial brushes with madness on the masterpiece Aguirre, Wrath of God and their later re-imagining of Murnau's Nosferatu. Here, the dual themes of madness and isolation, so prevalent in those abovementioned collaborations, is merged, with Herzog creating a haunting and affecting chronicle of one man being gradually pushed beyond the boundaries of reasonability and far into the realms of obsession, psychosis and eventually, murder. As with the majority of the director's work, Woyzeck has its own cinematic atmosphere that is both challenging and hypnotic. Many of his previous films, for example, The Enigma of Kasper Hauser and Heart of Glass, had employed the use of long, static-takes, evaluating in an almost clinical fashion, these marionette-like actors. However, whereas those films had integrated this stylised, theatrical approach to cinematography alongside the more identifiable Herzog flourishes (evocative landscapes, close-ups, and seemingly improvised hand-held cameras that wander curiously from scene to scene), Woyzeck is almost constantly static.

This is without a doubt Herzog's most stylised and theatrical work - which is hardly surprising, given that it was adapted from a bleak George Büchner play - with the director utilising the limitations of the camera's frame and the production design - not to mention the use of light and shadow - to really add intensity and depth into a story that could have, quite easily, succumb to monotony. Right from the start we are drawn into the film's world, with a lingering panoramic view of a quiet, provincial town, surrounded by water, giving way to a high-speed shot of Kinski lining up for regiment training. The use of different film-speeds here is important, with Herzog really defining the mental state of the character, whilst simultaneously foreshadowing the amazing use of slow motion towards the end of the film. To merely claim that Herzog and Kinski we're being punk rock is churlish, and really does a great disservice to the way this filmmaker works (after all, most punks were merely talentless posers coasting on attitude and the ability to shock... Herzog means it!!). The use of different film-speeds here is, for me, as important as the use of varying film-speeds in the work of Tarkovsky and Scorsese, and, on a more recognisable level, Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. The almost comic introduction, which sees Woyzeck going through the stages of abusive, military training (shot in a similarly militaristic way and backed by that evocative theme music), really sets up the character's feelings of despair and frustration, which, are perfectly embodied and personified by the ferocious Kinski in perhaps his best performance.

As a vision of mental deterioration, Woyzeck is without equal... going further than a film like Taxi Driver to show the natural and horrific conclusion of lust and paranoia. Throughout the film, Herzog has his camera remain fixed to Kinski's Woyzeck as he stalks around the bars, barbers and town-square, with a look of absolute torture etched into his face. In many scenes, Herzog even has Kinski look directly into the camera, to further illustrate the theatricality of the text and to breakdown the wall between the audience and the protagonist. This is most apparent in the two scenes in which Woyzeck goes to the local bar. In the first scene - which is beautifully lit like a Caravaggio painting - Woyzeck is harassed by a drunken soldier (who incidentally, is having an affair with Woyzeck's wife), and a brief, though humiliating, altercation ensues. Here, Herzog is foreshadowing a later scene in the film, as well as visually illustrating the emotional distance and isolation that Woyzeck has to the other men in the bar. The use of renaissance-style lighting, in which a spot of light illuminates separate characters whilst the rest of the scene remains black, perfectly demonstrates the growing sense of paranoia and loneliness that Woyzeck is slowly being destroyed by. This isn't the only instance in which Herzog and his cinematographer Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein distance the characters from one another by means of exaggerated composition. In the second bar scene, which takes place after the film's most devastating sequence, a bloody and beleaguered Woyzeck goes to the bar in a state of emotional abandon, and is surrounded by a large group of patrons who are suspicious of the red stains on his uniform.

Here, Herzog has the supporting-actors stand like statues, composed as if posing for a painting, whilst Kinski (all pent up emotion and staring eyes... the only actor allowed to move!!) fights his way through the horde, like a trapped animal. It's similar to certain scenes in Heart of Glass and also Nosferatu, with the director's stark and surreal stylisations making the film more mysterious and beguiling than the story probably seems. However, for me, the film really belongs to Kinski, who here gives a subtle and restrained performance that owes nothing to the spirit of Aguirre and the later Fitzcarraldo. Just look at the reaction on his face, the pent up rage, pain and animalistic movements and he falls into the tall grass and cries into the mud... or his pained, rage-filled reaction as he pulls the knife up in slow motion in what must be one of Herzog's most audacious scenes. For me, Woyzeck is one of Herzog's greatest cinematic experiments, as relevant as Aguirre, Kasper Hauser and Stroszeck, and is easily the best performance Kinski has ever delivered. Hopefully this re-mastered DVD will inspire those with a passing interest in Herzog and Kinski to check it out... its well worth it.


5.0 out of 5 stars One of the true masterworks of the new German cinema., 9 Jan 2008
This review is from: . (DVD)
Aguirre, the Wrath of God, is Herzog's ultimate jungle adventure, continuing on from the trancelike and hypnotic Fata Morgana and Signs of Life (which aren't necessarily jungle films, but do have a similar approach to the strange and the exotic), whilst simultaneously prefiguring the more traditional narratives of Fitzcaralldo and Cobra Verde. It also has certain similarities to Chris Marker's excellent film Sans Soliel, with the combination of mystical realism and otherworldly forces, alongside an almost documentary approach to the art of filmmaking. Like Marker's film, Herzog takes the viewer on a journey, not only into the Peruvian jungle, but also back in time, to the days of the Spanish conquistadors, and deep into the heart of darkness. He introduces us to a collection of characters that will be our guide throughout the film, but, despite this, we're never really allowed to learn anything about them. To Herzog, their personalities are unimportant... to him, the film is about something deeper; it's about greed, it's about brutality, it's about obsession, and ultimately, it's about the corruption of the human soul.

Right from the start we are captivated by the haunting and hypnotic mood that the filmmaker creates; with the film beginning on a close-up-detail of an enormous mountain peak, partially shrouded by mist. The evocative music of Popol Vuh then drifts in as our eyes focus on a small band of adventurers and their guides making their way down the side of the gigantic, monolithic rock... disappearing beyond the horizon, only to reappear on the other side. Here, as Herzog establishes the notion of nature as a symbolic obstacle or uncontrollable force, he also sets up a sense of eventual foreshadowing of that climactic image and the theme of man against nature. To reinforce these notions, Herzog makes his film as episodic as can be, with little explanation into events and little to drive the characters besides the wild-eyed obsession and ferocity of Aguirre himself. As with Fitzcaralldo and Cobra Verde, the film is driven by its central character - as opposed to being driven by plot - which works exceptionally well with Herzog's approach of stylised-documentary-drama, and of course, works even greater when personified by the manic Klaus Kinski. Here, Kinski's task is to instil Aguirre with an animal force and psychotic obsession... to push this band of weary soldiers down the river, with the promise of the ultimate reward in the shape of the city of gold.

For me, this is possibly Kinski's greatest performance (the emotional flip-side to his pained and sensitive turn in Herzog's other great film, Woyzeck), as he stalks the tiny raft - which becomes our main location - like a caged tiger, alternating between screaming, ferocious rants and moments of quiet contemplation that will eventually lead to a implied sense of complete self-destruction. Herzog's camera has an intruding intimacy about it that makes it impossible to imagine a film-crew actually standing around capturing this. It feels so real... like nothing has been staged. It also makes the drama all the more interesting, as characters die or break down, whilst Kinski just continues to scowl and grown through furrowed brow and clenched teeth... descending into madness with his eyes completely vacant. As the film moves towards it's inevitable climax, Herzog's direction becomes more and more surreal... like he's capturing some kind of fevered dream, as boundaries between fantasy and reality, truth and fiction, man and nature, all start breaking down. Throughout these closing sequences, Herzog offers up a number of images that define the style of Aguirre... whilst also lingering in our sub-conscious for months on end.

These images include a boat resting atop an enormous tree, a decapitated head that continues it's count from one to ten, a woman wandering into the jungle never to be seen again, and the butterflies that flutter and perch on the shoulders of the slave Okello, moments before he is shot through the heart with an arrow. Much of the violence of Aguirre is surreal, capturing that same fever dream ideology and happening at a point when the characters are at their most removed from reality. It also shows Herzog's talent in creating scenes of simplistic beauty from the most unexpected sources... tying in with the whole "shot-on-the-run" simplicity of the editing and cinematography, with the camera constantly roving from person to person, finding a composed moment of tranquilly before curiously pushing on. Unlike the work of his contemporaries (Fassbinder, Wenders, etc) Herzog is able to captivate his audience, not simply through narrative, but through the creation of a dense, dreamlike and hypnotic atmosphere and a character of immense, obsessive proportions. Aguirre, along with The Enigma of Kasper Hauser, is probably his ultimate masterpiece, a film that is constantly changing from one extreme to another, drawing you in, then pushing you away, making you want to go back and experience more and more of this landmark adventure.

For me, Aguirre, the Wrath of God is a film of monumental proportions... climaxing with a final shot that stands as one of the most breathtaking final images in European cinema, with that downward spiral managing to embody both the lunacy and obsession of the filmmakers and the fate of the ruined Aguirre. It is as much a testament to Kinski's brilliance, as it is to Herzog's, making this film (and the whole of the Herzog/Kinski box-set) an integral purchase.

Rumble Fish : Special Edition [DVD]
Rumble Fish : Special Edition [DVD]
Dvd ~ Diane Lane

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably the last great Coppola film... a modern classic., 9 Jan 2008
Rumble Fish is a strange and hypnotic film that follows the character of Rusty James, a young punk growing up in a small sleepy mid-western town, shackled to a drunken father, a group of fickle friends, and continually in the shadow of his enigmatic brother, The Motorcycle Boy. The film, although seemingly set in the present day, uses the style of the old 50's melodramas to great effect, referencing the likes of Rebel Without a Cause and The Wild One with it's stark, stylised black and white photography and it's bizarre compositions, whilst director Francis Ford Coppola uses a number of audio and visual effects familiar from his previous films, most notably, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now and One From the Heart, to give the film a strange, hypnotic and dreamlike quality that lingers throughout the film.

As with many of the other films that it references, the plot to Rumble Fish is quite simple, with Coppola building the film around the enigma of The Motorcycle Boy and around the ideas of family ties, small-town ennui and personal redemption. Although Rusty James is the film's central character, he is constantly overshadowed by his mysterious brother, who seems almost shell-shocked by whatever it is that he's witnessed during his years away from home. He is certainly one of the most interesting characters from any of Coppola's greater films, and is perfectly brought to life by Mickey Rourke in what is possibly his greatest performance ever (although, I think he's equally spellbinding in both Angel Heart and Year of the Dragon). Here, Rourke possess all the cool and feckless attitude of Brando and James Dean, but he also brings that damaged, somewhat alienated quality to role, which suggests so much about the characters and his past and also, about the possible future of the younger Rusty James.

The cinematic style of the film is exquisite, with Coppola invoking a real period feel through the use of photography and production design, which jars beautifully against Stuart Copeland's very 80's, very anachronistic score. The percussion suits the staccato editing style that Coppola uses in the first few scenes (which highlights the escalating boredom of the characters), whilst the use of time-lapse photography (inspired by the film Koyaanisqatsi, which Coppola produced) works perfectly in demonstrating the idea of time frittering away. The black and white photography works well, conveying the literally "black and white" view point of Rusty James, whilst the titular rumble fish (glimpsed through the window of the local pet store) are the only objects in the film that appear in colour (a nice metaphor). The sound design is purposely muddy, attempting to convey along with the images that skewed, slightly alienated view of the world that these characters possess, whilst Copeland's music also merges with the sound design to heighten the overall atmosphere of the film.

The acting is strong throughout, with Rourke coming across as the real standout, although the performance of Matt Dillon as the hotheaded and arrogant Rusty James is also impressive. The supporting cast features a wide array of cult performers and (then) unknowns that have now gone on to greater things, notably Dennis Hopper, Diane Lane, William Smith, Laurence Fishburne, Nicolas Cage, Tom Waits and Chris Penn. After Rumble Fish, Coppola would produce the problematic Cotton Club (possibly underrated), before cementing his reputation as something of a has-been with the third Godfather film, and throwaways like Jack, Peggy Sue Got Married and The Rainmaker. Because of this, Rumble Fish stands as something of a relic to the time when he was one of the most interesting American directors of his era... and is probably a film to rival the greatness of The Godfather, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now.

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