SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN directed by Malik Bendjelloui (Sweden/UK, 2012)
On the forum of page of the website of Sixto Rodriguez, fans write to tell the world when they discovered this American singer-songwriter. Although his only two albums – Cold Fact and Coming From Reality – were released in 1970 and 1971 respectively, the vast majority of those posting say they first heard his songs after 2012. It is Bendjelloui’s affectionate documentary which has been instrumental in bringing him to the attention of a wider audience.
Until this time his fame was, bizarrely, confined to South Africa. There, his following was so huge that his admirers were not exaggerating to say that he was “bigger than Elvis”.
The albums had made little or no impact on American audiences but by a fluke they came into the hands of South African record buyers who identified with the singer-songwriter’s anti establishment stance and his compassion for life’s underdogs.
Stories circulated that Rodriguez had committed suicide onstage in the 1970s, so when an investigative musicologist found that rumors of his death were exaggerated his fans were incredulous and flocked to hastily arranged concerts.
I first discovered him yesterday after my daughter saw the movie at a one-off screening and came home raving about it. I watched it today on You Tube and understand why she was so enthusiastic. This is an amazing and heartwarming story which is astonishing in this day and age. Continue reading
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE directed by Tobe Hooper (USA, 1974)
The cannibals dining at home.
I am not an afficiando of horror. I never made it past the first level of ‘Saw ‘and only saw ‘The Exorcist’ when I was well into adulthood.
I like psychological thrillers in the Hitchcock mode bit go out of my way to avoid slasher movies or anything linked to Clive Barker. It’s not that I’m particularly squeamish or have a fear of suffering from nightmares. It is simply that I don’t see the point of watching movies where the main aim appears to be push the boundaries of good taste.
All this explains why, at the age of 55, and 40 years after it was made I have finally gotten to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (TCM). This movie, along with Driller Killer (which I still haven’t seen!) achieved notoriety when it was released but looks fairly tame now. Once it was banned and branded as a corrupting influence, now I can rent it from local library in a double-DVD box set complete with a booklet praising the film as a classic, groundbreaking work. Continue reading
THE LEATHER BOYS directed by Sidney J. Furie (UK, 1964)
The sixties might have swung for many but cinema’s representation of sexuality in this era was often anything but liberated.
The notion that sexual intercourse necessitates the removal of clothing is just one of the taboos filmmakers were reluctant to challenge.
An honest visual display of carnal lust and desire is controversial enough in straight relationships and is still more taboo when it comes to homosexuality.
Even in our supposedly more enlightened 21st century, coming to terms with being gay can be unnecessarily traumatic. Ellen Page’s emotionally charged coming out speech is proof that this is still too often the “love that dare not speak its name”.
Mainstream cinema perpetuates negative attitudes by rarely treating same-sex relationships in an open or mature fashion.
The Leather Boys is regarded as an early example of ‘Queer Cinema’ and is unusual in that it tentatively tries to ‘normalise’ homosexuality instead of showing it as a threat to the moral wellbeing of society. Continue reading
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS directed by Ethan & Joel Coen (USA, 2013)
Dave Van Ronk is to Bob Dylan what Antonio Salieri was to Mozart. Salieri was popular during his lifetime but his music is rarely performed now.
Van Ronk was a prominent performer in the Greenwich Village during the 1960s but is not so widely known now. Mozart’s genius is now taken for granted and despite having “a voice like sand and glue” (to borrow David Bowie’s words) Dylan is the most influential singer songwriter of all time.
Van Ronk had a pretty good voice, some decent songs but, until now, has been confined to a footnote in the folk history books; a nearly man popular only among purists. Ironically, his standing may now be reassessed following the Coen Brothers movie even though this is not billed as a bio-pic and the depiction of a struggling artist is far from glamorous. Continue reading
31 SONGS by Nick Hornby (Penguin Books, 2003)
Everyone has their own personal soundtrack but few have the opportunity or desire to share them with the public at large. Why indeed would anybody else be interested in what is essentially a private relationship with the music you have encountered?
Nick Hornby makes no presumption that we will find his own favorite songs innately fascinating but they are just the same. These 26 essays are interesting for what they tell us about Hornby the man and writer. I have no idea why he hit upon 31 as a number but I’m sure he had his reasons.
Having become a little bored with the increasingly contrived plots of Hornby’s novels I appreciated the chatty, unpretentious style he adopts here. In my view he has never topped Fever Pitch, his first published work, and 31 Songs is in the same down to earth spirit.
It is about music in the same way that Fever Pitch was about soccer; in other words, the topic serves as a useful way to contextualize subjective observations about life and popular culture. There are plenty of sharp insights on how our tastes change as we get older and particularly touching are the essays in which he talks about the pain and pleasures of fathering an autistic son. Continue reading