Archive for Charles Manson

Supernatural Voodoo Woman

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2012 by dcairns

“Why are there so few films about voodoo?” asked Fiona. My theory, which I didn’t hatch until a couple of hours after the question, is that, like Satanism, voodoo is actually a bit scary. You don’t want to mess with it. When the Manson massacre occurred, a lot of people were sure it must have had something to do with Polanski having directed ROSEMARY’S BABY. In fact, apart from the first victim being a dog named Dr Saperstein after Ralph Bellamy’s character in RB, there was no connection whatever.

Voodoo is creepy as hell. But SUGAR HILL, one of only two seventies blaxploitation films so far as I know to exploit it (the other being SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM) is pretty winning. It has zestful performances from Marki (THE LANDLORD) Bey, Robert (COUNT YORGA) Quarry and Don Pedro (THX 1138) Colley, and a simple, episodic plot which, like AIP’s PHIBES movies, basically breaks down into a series of inventive murders.

When Diana “Sugar” Hill’s lover Langston is killed by the mob, she seeks revenge by visiting a centenarian voodoo priestess and raising “very greedy god” Baron Samedi (Colley), who in turn raises an army of zombie hitmen — yellow fever victims of the slave trade buried in a swamp. These marble-eyed, inexplicably cobwebbed undead help her massacre gangster Robert Quarry’s  crew, even the ones who had nothing to do with the original murder. They use machetes, voodoo dolls, hungry pigs (“I hope they like white trash!”) and an animate chicken claw. Yes, an animate chicken claw.

The National Association for the Slow, Shambling Advancement of Colored People.

(The actual raising of the god and the zombies is filmed in broad daylight, with added smoke machine and lightning effects, a questionable approach logically, but one which actually yields rather striking results. Otherwise, director Paul Maslansky, who started by producing Michael Reeves’ SHE BEAST and finished up with the POLICE ACADEMY series, does a proficient job with the wide angle lens and the short tripod legs.)

There’s the matter of payment for the greedy Baron — Sugar offers her soul, but he makes it clear that he’s not interested in that. Which paves the way for a sick pay-off, and Sugar’s ultimate triumph over her last enemy, Quarry’s bigoted girlfriend. “Is this in any way acceptable?” I asked Fiona. Micro-pause, then “Yeeeeah.”

As a burlesque on racial themes, the film is probably more nuanced that Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED is likely to be. Baron Samedi at one point disguises himself as a yellow cab driver to lure one bad guy to his doo, and toms it up shamelessly in the role, even humming “De Camptown Ladies.” I dunno if that can be called witty, but it’s kind of funny and unexpected in an exploitation movie, as are the glimpses of labor corruption.

Marki Bey should have been a star — she acts reasonably well, but she RADIATES exceptionally, and seems to be having a ball. Fiona particularly appreciated the fact that she has a special Vengeance Suit.

For all their undoubted vices (which is what they’re MADE OF), Blaxploitation movies gave opportunities to actors who we might otherwise never have seen on the screen. Don Pedro Colley is still acting, but since the era of afros and jive, he hasn’t had a role as substantial or outlandish as this one. I mean, nobody’s cast him as a GOD…

Advertisements

Anger…and Other Deadly Sins

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2008 by dcairns

Shadowplay guest blogger and part-time benshi film describer David Wingrove, who writes as David Melville, reports on Kenneth Anger’s appearance — or should one say MANIFESTATION? — at Dundee Contemporary Arts. Read it up!

On a grey and rainy August afternoon (in Scotland, that is not a contradiction) two friends and I took a train to Dundee to meet Kenneth Anger. He is a…well, I could say ‘living legend’ but that hardly seems to do him justice.

David Wingrove on his way back from Dundee, photographed by Fiona, who had just managed to get her camera to work.
For 60 years or so, Anger has been the uncrowned king of gay/experimental/avant-garde/underground cinema. (Just watch Fireworks (1947) or Scorpio Rising (1963) and slot in whatever adjectives fit best.) He is the notorious author of Hollywood Babylon and Hollywood Babylon II, still the most scabrous books of movie gossip. His long-promised Hollywood Babylon III lies buried under a heap of threatened lawsuits. An alleged Satanist and avowed disciple of Aleister Crowley, he was unwillingly linked (through his ex-boyfriend Bobby Beausoleil) to the grisly Charles Manson killings.

At four years of age, Anger played the Changeling Prince in Max Reinhardt’s 1935 film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, still Hollywood’s most purely intoxicating blend of Art and Kitsch. He is one of several distinguished survivors from that film – others include Mickey Rooney and Olivia de Havilland – and Warner Brothers’ failure to recruit one (if not all three) of them to do a commentary on last year’s DVD must count as a Crime Against Celluloid Memory. More than 70 years on, Rooney and Anger remain pals. Olivia may still be fuming at that snapshot of her in black lace lingerie (!) that Anger slipped into Hollywood Babylon II.

 

Either Dundee Contemporary Arts, or David Cairns Associates.

No wonder we felt a tad nervous, trudging through a downpour towards Dundee Contemporary Arts. (If the Great Beast didn’t come and get us, the wrath of Miss Melanie very well might.) So it’s a pleasure to say that, in person, Kenneth Anger is a joy. Gentle, soft-spoken, immaculately tanned, he looks a good two decades younger than his 78 years. In the bar after the show, he shared his enduring love of Shakespeare, commedia dell’arte and Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du Paradis. “Not long ago, I went to Paris for a showing. My God, have you seen the state of the print? It was so horrible I hid my eyes and ran out of the theatre.”

 

Kenneth Anger, in Dundee.

Judging from that night in Dundee, Anger’s own work has been strikingly well preserved. Lucifer Rising (1981) gave us Marianne Faithfull as Lilith, Mother of All the Demons – looking eerily beautiful with her face painted blue. Invocation of My Demon Brother (1968) had a soundtrack by Lilith’s old flame, Mick Jagger. Cheekily, Anger cuts in a few near-subliminal shots of the Rolling Stones and their court, in between the all-male orgies and the Black Mass. Rabbit’s Moon (1950), with its lovelorn Pierrot lost in a moonlit wood, is an achingly gorgeous evocation of both Shakespeare and Carné. It has the wistful and fragile beauty of a Verlaine poem.

 

Mouse Heaven (1992) is Anger’s celebration of the original Mickey Mouse drawn by Ub Iwerks – a subversive, anarchic little imp – before Walt Disney turned him into an icon of all-American cuteness. One of the most purely joyous pieces of cinema I have seen, Mouse Heaven sparked a ferocious copyright row with Disney. The wounds, for Anger, are still raw. He confided his long-cherished ambition to blow up Disneyland. “If it really is ‘the happiest place on earth’ as the ads say, why do so many children come out looking disappointed? Just look at their faces! Kids know when they’ve been cheated.”

 

Anger’s more recent films, shot on digital video, bear witness to his enduring love of the male form. My Surfing Lucifer (2007) shows a gold-haired beach boy riding the sort of waves that, in Southern California parlance, are called ‘tubular’. Foreplay (2007) spies on a soccer-team as they stretch and limber up before a game. The sight is numbingly normal to the players themselves, yet richly homoerotic to Anger and his camera. Once the official programme was through, Anger invited the whole audience up to the gallery for a ‘private’ showing of I’ll Be Watching You (2007) – a piece of hardcore gay erotica. Two cute French boys make love atop a parked car, while a third cute boy watches on CCTV and…er, enjoys it too. This may be the sexiest film ever made by a man old enough to be your granddad.

 

But the highlight of the late work was the not-yet-officially-premiered Ich Will (2008). A chilling yet weirdly erotic montage of documentary footage of the Hitler Youth. (The title translates from German as “I want!”) Starting with idyllic Sound of Music-style gambolling amid the lakes and mountains of Bavaria, it builds up to a full-scale Nazi rally that evokes the nightmare world of Leni Riefenstahl and Triumph of the Will. Its menace is underlined, brilliantly, by the ominous tones of Anton Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony.

 

Invocation of my Demon Brother?

It’s not often one can go from Disney to Riefenstahl – from the Magic Kingdom to the Third Reich – with barely a hiccup in between. That is perhaps Anger’s unique gift. It was only on the dark, wet train ride back to Edinburgh that I got to pondering how similar these three artists really are. Walt Disney, Leni Riefenstahl, Kenneth Anger. All three create images that bypass our conscious mind and enter, direct and perhaps unbidden, into the depths of the id. We are aware, with other filmmakers, of a voice and a vision beyond our own. Disney, Riefenstahl, Anger…they speak from within.

 

The official premiere of Ich Will is set for the Imperial War Museum in London on 29 October. (All Souls Night, as Anger points out gleefully.) One shudders to think what the invited audience of elderly war veterans will make of it. Still, as Anger freely admits: “I’ve always enjoyed being a bit controversial.” That may or may not go down as the greatest understatement of the 21st century. But it will do very nicely for the first decade.

 

David Melville

 

Thanks to the Amazing Dr. Anger, to Yvonne Baginsky and Fiona Watson – who shared the experience – and to the fabulous staff at Dundee Contemporary Arts.

Special thanks to David for being there and writing it down.

 

Six Degrees of Murder

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2008 by dcairns

This weirded me out a bit, in a number of ways. I have this flaking paperback called The Secret Life of a Satanist, The authorised biography of Anton Lavey, by Blanche Barton. It is by no means terrific. But it’s an interesting thing to have.

First, this creepy photograph.

Bob and Anton

Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, enjoys a drink with Robert Fuest, director of his favourite film, THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES. You will notice that despite styling himself like a Hollywood baddie, with the full “upside-down head” look, old Anton is much less frightening than Fuest, who looks a bit like Hugh Griffith in TOM JONES, i.e. a ruddy-faced maniac. Recent pics of Fuest are much easier on the mind — that kind of appearance is less alarming in an older gent.

The Abominable Mr Fuest

Fuest’s films consitute a unique and remarkable body of work — unlike practically every other British horror film director, Fuest utilised the conventions of the genre to create exercises in pure style, like Bava or Argento in Italy. Never very interested in making points, or even in narrative, Fuest’s films are strings of glorious set-pieces, beautifully designed and stuffed to the gills with scintillating walk-ons.

Back to this book: a page or two later, I was startled by this image:

pre-atkins

Well, not the image, as such. They’re called breasts, and all ladies have them. No, it was the text beneath that flipped what’s left of my lid. I’ve read and heard quite a bit about the Manson murders, but never knew that much about the various “family members”. I had heard the story that LaVey was a technical advisor on ROSEMARY’S BABY and played the role of devil in it. So I was be-goggled to find this other connection between LaVey and Polanski. But of course, as Wikipedia tells me, LaVey was notinvolved in ROSEMARY’S BABY at all, so the story that he was probably came out of media speculation/invention from the time of the Manson trial. LaVey was happy to hype himself up at all times, but appears never to have claimed any role in the production.

Manson

The Manson killings do have a weird network of movie connections, though. Victim Sharon Tate was a movie star and wife of Polanski, of course, and appeared in J. Lee Thompson’s EYE OF THE DEVIL, a somewhat jinxed production, as well as Polanski’s THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS. The first victim of the Mansonites was the Polanski family dog, Dr. Sapperstein, named after Ralph Bellamy’s character in ROSEMARY’S BABY, a satanic gynecologist.

One of Atkins’ fellow killers, Bobby Beausoleil, had appeared in a Kenneth Anger film (Anger was chums with LaVey) and subsequently provided a score for Anger’s LUCIFER RISING — the only movie soundtrack ever recorded inside prison. The soundtrack followed an unsuccessful attempt by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page to provide Anger with a satisfactory score. Intriguingly, an earlier version of the film which STARRED Beausoleil was abandoned after Anger quarrelled with the future killer (always a risky thing to do) and much of the footage was supposedly taken by Beasoleil and buried at one of the Manson’s H.Q.s. One of those hideaways was in fact a ranch containing an old movie backlot complete with fake western town. The ranch was once owned by cowboy star William S. Hart.

Combine all this with LaVey’s connection to Jayne Mansfield, rumours tying Manson to the Monkees, Dennis Wilson, and his obsession with Beatles lyrics, and the Manson affair seems like one of the most filmic murder cases ever. And Manson did show some cinematic acumen by knowing exactly who should play him in the movie of his life:

Hopper

Dennis Hopper.