Wednesday, September 21, 2016

See you in Austin?


First thing Thursday morning, Mrs. 4Dk and I will be jetting off to Austin for this year's Fantastic Fest, where I will be spreading the gospel of Funky Bollywood and mingling with other world genre cinema obsessives. Of course, we'll also be catching some films. Those we most hotly anticipate are Park Chan-Wook's latest, The Handmaiden, the Thai Krasue comedy The Dwarves Must be Crazy, 1971 exploitation oddity The Zodiac Killer, Korean spy thriller Age of Shadows, and Fraud, a meta-mystery cobbled together from random YouTube clips. Oh, and I am just dying to catch the blisteringly insane Telugu action film Magadheera on the big screen.

Between screenings I will probably be wandering the Alamo Drafthouse complex in a dazed stupor. If you see me, please grab me and point me in the direction of the bathroom, the snack bar, or the nurse's station as circumstances dictate. Oh, and also say "howdy". I look like one of these three people:





POP OFFENSIVE returns TONIGHT!

Awaken from your slumbers, pop fans, for Jeff Heyman and I are returning to the airwaves with another episode of Pop Offensive this very evening starting at 7 pm Pacific time. If you live within spitting distance of Oakland's Lake Merritt, you can tune us in on KGPC, 96.9 FM. The rest of you can stream us live from kgpc.org. It's going to be a real smack-a-roonie!

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Quick and the read


Of all the obscure music acts I've written about in my time, The Quick are probably the most undeservedly so. Existing at the historical crossroads of glam and punk, the Los Angeles quintet had a unique sound, great songs, undeniable star quality, and an unforgettable live show. As you may have guessed, I am a fan; it took everything I had to keep my profile of the band--which was just published over at Teleport City--from lapsing into hagiography.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Fantastic Fest goes Funky Bollywood!


As you may know, Fantastic Fest, which is just about a week away, is adopting a Bollywood theme this year. I am thrilled to announce that, in keeping with that theme, they will be holding a contest to give away five copies of my book Funky Bollywood. The lucky winners who are at the festival will also get to have their books signed, most likely by me. Yes, I'll be there, so come and say hi! I look like this:




See the contest details here.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Women of Whirlpool Island, aka Jotai Uzumaki-to (Japan, 1960)


After cutting his teeth on the Super Giant movies (that’s Starman to you, yankee), Teruo Ishii went on to direct a wide variety of genre pictures for Shintoho, including a series of film noirs. All of them, to some extent, bare traces of the perversity that Ishii would later give free reign in his euro guro films of the 70s, 1960’s Women of Whirlpool Island included.

Women begins with Okami (Yoshido Teruo)--a classic hoodlum with a conscience, laconic and steadfast--returning to the island hideout of his gang, a shady nightspot called Club Seaside. Here he attempts to reconnect with his former lover Yuri, who is played by Mihara Yoko, a later Pinky Violence mainstay. Yuri, sadly, has been reduced to a heroin dependent slave of the gang, and is being forced by them to help recruit the young women of the island to act as drug mules, sex slaves, or both.


One of these young women is a fiery dock worker named Shima, who is played by Masayo Banri (Tane in the Zatoichi movies). Through Shima, we see the cruel process by which these girls are inducted—lured with promises of travel and adventure, and then, for those destined for the sex trade, raped by one of the gang higher ups before being forcibly hooked on drugs and shipped out to wealthy clients overseas. Yuri, for her part, is sick over her complicity in this racket, and begs Okami to end her life upon their first meeting. Instead Okami helps her to get clean and, then, after befriending Shima, partners with Yuri in bringing the gang down through a series of violent escapades.

In Ishii’s hands, Women of Whirpool Island is a film noir swathed in a fog of melancholy. The island setting seems primarily intended to represent a place isolated from law, where evil enjoys free reign. There is no literal whirlpool here, only a metaphorical whirlpool of vice and degradation that is impossible to escape once one dives in. The righteous have little hope in a place like this and, for them, the island’s sheer cliffs, towering over a roiling sea, represent an ever-present invitation to suicide.


At the same time, Ishii’s approach to this material explodes with visual invention. Much of the film’s first half involves scenes of two or more characters talking, and the director enlivens these potential longueurs with dramatic, deep focus compositions and inventive lighting schemes involving the use of colored gels (in one shot, Yuri is illuminated by a single, pure white spotlight, while the rest of the gang is bathed in a deep red.) He also employs so many low angle shots of his actors that he at times appears to be paying homage to Ozu.

As for the director who would later make Horrors of Malformed Men, he is evident in a druggy dance sequence reminiscent of the alien dance troupe (or, as I like to call them, the Alvin Aliens) in Invaders From Space and the wave of sadism that sweeps through the film’s final act. The latter occurs after the gang’s uber boss arrives on the island in the wake of repeated failed attempts by his underlings to keep Okami in check. The boss has a glowering teddy-boy enforcer who is quick to dole out consequences. First, he viciously whips the lieutenant in charge and then literally grinds his face into the dirt with his shiny Cuban heel. Then Yuro is hung from a chain and whipped. This being a Japanese film, the preceding is all aestheticized to some extent, but, as it’s also a gritty film noir, it is not aestheticized to the point that it doesn’t provoke a few grimaces.


Unless you are someone completely devoid of imagination—or who has never seen a movie --I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Women of Whirlpool Island ends in a hail of bullets. All I’ll say beyond that is that it is a satisfying conclusion to the competent genre exercise that has preceded it. The film’s main attraction may be its controversial director, but it is nonetheless strong enough to stand on its own—itself an island, distinct from Ishii’s larger body of work. In that metaphor, I guess that body of work would be some kind of larger land mass. A continent, I guess. Anyway, good movie.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Nagina (India, 1986)


It's a sad fact that Western horror cinema has produced no female creature as enduring as India's Nagin. The closest it has come are Jacques Fournier’s The Cat People, which only merited one sequel, and Hammer's The Reptile, which was one of the studio’s rare “one and done” monster films. The Bride of Frankenstein’s debut was also her swan song, although she did get an Aurora model kit out of the deal. By contrast, the Nagin, a poisonous snake given the form of a beautiful human woman, has been a part of Hindi cinema almost since its inception.

As with most iconic beasties, the fixity of the Nagin’s image in the minds of her audience has allowed filmmakers to be fluid with both her meanings and representation. Take for example two of the most well-known versions of the Nagin’s tale in modern Hindi film, Rajkumar Kohli’s star-studded Nagin from 1976 and Harmesh Malhotra’s 1986 Nagina.


Kohli’s Nagin, following the trends of the time, is one part “body count” horror film and one part funky action thriller. His Nagin, played by the bodacious Reena Roy, is an unstoppable killer, driven by vengeance to mow down everyone in her path, be they man, woman or child (Kohli would take this concept several steps further in his blighted 2002 remake of the film, Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani, by giving his Nagin unexplained Robocop powers.) Malhotra’s Nagina, on the other hand, makes of the tale a gothic romance, complete with haunted atmosphere worthy of comparison to Hammer’s classic horrors of the 60s. In this context, the Nagin becomes a sympathetic and ultimately heroic figure.

The story begins with young Rajiv (Rishi Kapoor) returning, after a long absence, to the palatial estate of his birth, where he is enthusiastically welcomed by his mother (Shushma Seth.) There is some talk of Rajiv having been sent to Europe as a child due to some kind of vague mental issue (chances are he was put under the charge of one of those wacky German psychoanalysts). Now he has returned to take control of the sugar plantation to which he is heir.


On a tour of the grounds, Rajiv is shown the ruins of a mansion that was once the family home. There he hears a ghostly female voice singing a haunting melody. He returns later and meets Rajni (Sridevi), a beautiful woman of mysterious origins who claims to have known Rajiv since they were both children. Rajiv is entranced by her and, because this is a Bollywood movie, falls in love with her before the day is through. He later announces to his mother his intention to marry Rajni, which scuttles her plan to marry him off to Vijaya (Roobini), who, if I followed this movie correctly, is Rajiv’s cousin.

You see, Rajiv has an uncle named Ajay Singh, who has acted as overseer of the plantation in his absence. Ajay Singh is also father to the now-heartbroken Vijaya. Unfortunately for Rajiv, Ajay Singh is played by Prem Chopra, which means that, in the unforgiving calculus of Hindi cinema casting, he is a rat bastard. Enraged at Rajiv for rejecting his daughter, Ajay Singh vows to obstruct Rajiv’s happiness in any way he can. When it comes time for him to sign control of the plantation over to Rajiv, he refuses to do so and rips up the agreement.(Ajay Singh’s plan was to swindle the family anyway, so this is really just a case of one plan dovetailing nicely into another.) Later, he learns that Rajiv has a file containing all the documentation he needs to prove his title. He sends wave after wave of grubby henchmen to steal the file, only to have each thwarted by the mysterious intervention of a cobra.


Around this time, an imposing shaman called Bhairon Nath (Amrish Puri) shows up at the family mansion with a retinue of orange-clad disciples. Bhairon Nath and Rajiv’s mother are apparently acquainted, and soon reveal themselves to have some kind of secret history together. Bhairon senses the presence of the Nagin and, upon seeing Rajni, demands that Rajiv and his mom banish her from the house. Rajiv responds by instead showing Bhairon and his entourage the door. Later when Rajiv is shot by Ajay Singh and hospitalized, Bhairon seeks revenge by dispatching a cobra to his bedside.

You have to feel sorry for Rajiv, seeing as he is on the receiving end of both Amrish Puri’s and Prem Chopra’s bad tidings. It is hard to imagine any filmi hero surviving such a villainous one-two punch. Sadly, I am unable to judge Rishi Kapoor’s performance as Rajiv due to my almost pathological inability to be moved by anything he does. All that I can say for him is that he serves as a good model for a number of cozy looking sweaters. I think this is partly due to Kapoor’s misfortune of having his career coincide with those of such exponentially more exciting actors as Amitabh Bachchan, Feroz Khan, and Vinod Khanna. In fact, my saying that makes me ponder just how great Nagina¸ an already good film, would be if Vinod Khanna were its male lead.


It also has to be said that an actor like Rishi Kapoor stands little chance of standing out when cast alongside a formidable pair of scene stealers like Amrish Puri and Sridevi. Puri is at the top of his game here, bringing all of his natural authority and presence to a portrayal as iconic as the one he would give as Mr. India’s Mogambo a couple of years later (and speaking of authority and presence, it only just occurred to me that Amrish Puri is India’s answer to Christopher Lee, and vice versa.) Sridevi, for her part, was a newly minted superstar at the time and earns the title, delivering a performance of fierce intensity. Her Nagin has both a soul and a conscience and, despite whatever plans she might have started out with, comes to dedicate herself to being the loyal protector of Rajiv and his family. It’s something of a reversal of the Kipling story “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” with the cobra acting as the protector of the family rather than the threat against it.

In Puri and Sridevi’s hands, one gets the sense that the rivalry between Rajni and Bhairon goes back several lifetimes, with all of the accumulated enmity that would entail. As such, every meeting between them sees them matching each other blazing eye for blazing eye, flaring nostril for flaring nostril, and curled lip for curled lip. Bone shuddering oaths are exchanged while thunder roars and lighting flashes, eventually leading us to “Main Teri Dushman” (“I am Your Enemy”) a song and dance number that is, to me, the film’s inarguable highlight.


“Main Teri Dushman” provides a direct counterpoint to an earlier musical number in the film, “Balma Tum Balma Ho Mere Kali”, in which Rajni tries to woo Rajiv away from a dangerous engagement by distracting him with an erotic dance. But where “Balma Tum Balma Ho Mere Kali” is a song of seduction, “Main Teri Dushman” is a song of defiance. In it, Rajni delivers a fiery-eyed challenge to Bhairon’s attempts to control her with every thrust of her hip and insolent jut of her chin. Bhairon, meanwhile, circles her like a beast of prey, trilling away on his flute in a vain attempt to rein her in. Between them, they generate more of an air of combined sex and menace than in all of the love scenes between Sridevi and Rishi Kapoor combined.

I’m not going to spoil any more of the plot developments in Nagina, because I am going to enthusiastically recommend it to you. It has a couple of unforgettable performances, I story that is rewardingly complex without being convoluted, a tight script that is light on trivial digressions (well, there is a bit where Jagdeep tells some sub-Borscht Belt fat jokes about his wife, but we can’t ask for miracles), an appropriately hip-swiveling score by Laxmikant-Pyarelal in full tribal mode, and a lot of moody atmosphere. Bollywood rarely delivers genre cinema as pure as this. Watch it and be enchanted.

Listicles, testicles, wallet, watch.

X

I think the reason people like listicles so much is that they give them something to argue about. I know this may be a shocking opinion, given the Internet's natural tendency toward friendship and harmony, but hear me out:

A couple day's ago I posted an article called "10 Great ABBA Songs that Are Not in Mamma Mia!" on Pop Offensive's Facebook page. It has since been shared dozens of times--most flatteringly by Carl Magnus Palm, the author of the book, ABBA: Bright Lights, Dark Shadows. And with that sharing came a torrent of comments. Most of these were either positive or offered considered disagreement, but there were also a few from people who were angry because they didn't understand how opinions work.

If you are reading this blog, there is a statistical likelihood that you have no opinion about ABBA at all. Still, you might get some delicious schadenfreud from my novice attempt at link bait.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Please give


You may have noticed the Patreon link that recently popped up on top of this blog's sidebar. This is a means by which those of you who choose to can contribute monetarily to the ongoing maintenance of 4DK and all of its adjunct podcasts, radio shows, dog and pony exhibitions, sack races, rainbow parties, etc.

I'll admit I had some reservations about setting up a crowd funding page for 4DK. I worried that some people might find it presumptuous of me to think that people might pay money for what I do. It’s certainly not very punk rock. But the fact is that I don’t need money so much as I need time. And time, as a famous person (Liberace, I think) once said, is money. The reverse, of course, is also true--and, believe me, if there was a way for you to donate your unused hours, minutes, and seconds to me, that’s what I’d be doing instead. Yes, I would be literally sucking the life out of you, so keep that in mind when drawing up your Christmas list

I don’t want to get too dire about this; I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing no matter what. And, don’t get me wrong, giving stuff away on the internet is fun as hell. It’s just that recently I’ve found myself increasingly failing in my duties as a Guy Who Writes About Crazy Movies on the Internet due to scheduling conflicts. One week I even forgot to post Friday’s Best Pop Song Ever. Can you imagine my shame? No, I don’t think you can.

Basically, what I’m saying is this: If you like my work and want me to write more books, to review more movies, to do more podcasts and radio shows, etc., I am as happy as ever to create them for you, although it would certainly be easier for me if I had a little more time in which to do so. This being America, I thought that having a little extra dosh on hand might accomplish that goal. If you don’t agree (and most certainly if you can’t afford to), you are free to continue enjoying it gratis, as most people will.

Of course, I should mention that those who do contribute will receive rewards in the form of music downloads, autographed books, etc. It’s the least I can do. After all, my readers are the best, no matter what side of the paywall they stand on.