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DeZ Vylenz Log

A captain's log of activities and projects, affiliations and developments involving the Shadowsnake ship and various guerilla film expeditions. Updated in between storms by DeZ Vylenz, Writer - Director - Martial Arts Choreographer

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

All Tomorrow's Parties: curated by Dirty Three

This gonna be a long one folks, for the fellow music lovers.

Last Friday me and photographer-friend-R&R samurai Alex embarked on a 7 hour coach ride from London to Minehead to check out All Tomorrow's Parties music festival, where we had been invited by the organisation. It's a very laid back festival for alternative music that has grown from 3,500 to 5,000 visitors, all accommodated in chalets close to the sea side, or simply put a village with motel like rooms with proper showers and some with cooking facilities. So no tents, no VIP sections, no mud, just indoor halls and a lot of music, more than anybody has time or energy for. The choice and high level of originality and artistry is overwhelming as gigs are froDSC03591.JPGm 13:00 to 02:00 and every event is curated by different artists.

The last two I did filming for in 2005 were curated by Vincent Gallo and The Mars Volta, with a range of artists from Yoko Ono, Ted Curson, Peaches, Sean Lennon, John Frusciante, Gang Gang Dance,PJ Harvey, Suicide, Acid Mothers Temple, Antony and the Johnsons, The Cinematic Orchestra, CocoRosie, Damo Suzuki + Jelly Planet, Dlek, Diamanda Gals, Lydia Lunch, Madlib, Mastodon, Michael Rother, Quintron And Miss Pussycat, Saul Williams, Subtitle, to name a few.

This event was curated by Dirty Three headed by Warren Ellis (not the comics writer, but Bad Seeds member) known for collaborations with Nick Cave.

Diry Three simply blew away the audience on Friday night. Considering they were curating the event, all the respect to Ellis for his energy: the man performed as if possessed, the only thing keeping him somewhat restrained was his violin, with which he produced a beautiful spectrum of sound ranging from the melancholic to pure rage and controlled feedback.

I didn't know their music at all, but as Alex warned me: Its' not like anything you heard before.

Feedback is one of my favourite sounds, but hard to reproduce as it depends on the distance and angle from the amplifiers and many other factors. Carlos Santana was famous for using it to create his signature endless sustain on his guitar. So to hear it melodically used in a great instrumental set with a wall of sound was a clear sign of Warren Ellis' control and artistry, a Jimi Hendrix on violin.

Later in the night we watched Psarandonis, a Greek performer who played the lyra together with a quartet of musicians (3 of which are his children) in a great blend of traditional and modern music, from gentle melodies that gradually whipped up the audience to a frenzy. Another bearded artistic outlaw and with Ellis, and Josh Pearson (wild gig to end the night) walking past with flaming long beards next to thousands of Mindscape of Alan Moore flyers floating around, the whole thing got a bit surreal to us.

Then Saturday Nick Cave (solo) with Warren Ellis and band in a very good show to end that with: "Thank you, and stick around for the next band." Grinderman. Never heard of them before this weekend, but essentially it's Nick Cave with most of the same band, but in a different, more aggressive punk-blues vibe. I had always found Cave's music and poetic storytelling interesting and truly inspired, but had not kept up with the last few albums.

To see him now at 49, back to the roots of his primal rage, but without the angst. It was still dark and haunting, but without the despair. More of a "I'll fuck anything that moves and shoot anybody in my way down" blues on testosterone and moonshine whiskey in an incredible wall of sound. The press and fans seem to speak about "re-inventing" but that doesn't cover the live experience, although I have no idea of the album sounds the same. Cave never really plays the songs the same live and usually changes the orchestra or heaviness.

I don't think I've been blown away like that since Metallica (1993, then in their peak) Rotterdam Feijenoord playing against 50,000 headbanging fans. Grinderman's live debut (and apparently maybe only) live performance had a few thousand people nearly moshing on some songs. Exactly how I liked --and had missed from-- music, full of energy, with a sense of urgency, but paced with variation and ultra heavy. Jim Sclavunos (another bearded guest) on drums was propelling the band forward with great skill and confidence, with Martyn Casey's thundering bass laying the foundation for Ellis on a whole range of instruments from bouzouki to violin and Cave on guitars, hammond (or electric organ) and vocals.

Einsturzende Neubauten's music I had known for at least 10 years, but had never seen them live. The somewhat smaller Centre Stage was packed to the hilt with a long queue, so we snuck past with press passes into the dark and acoustically better hall with the choking fog of cigarette smoke (can't wait till the official ban).The beginning was a bit more "avant garde" and poetic, but the last 30 minutes was an incredible industrial and electronic orchestra that had the crowd calling them back twice.

If all that wasn't enough, Sunday was ripped wide open by Dirty Three again, later followed by Silver Mount Zion Orchestra (another band founded by Godspeed You! Black Emperor guitarist Efrim) in a more cinematic atmosphere. Catpower & Dirty Delta Blues later on, with Nick Cave and Grinderman coming up again

And for the second time I was blown away again. Hopefully these two gigs won't be their last, as it's the biggest musical surprise of this year and with more power than most of the contemporary and much younger bands.

As a lot of good gigs overlapped we missed the lesser known but equally impressive bands, Felix Lajko, Yugoslavian-Hungarian zyther and violin player I just managed to see parts of, but not to be missed next time.

Secretary was literally a secretary style dressed saxophonist first typing her music (with Basic instinct reference included) on the last night, so before going back to base camp to sleep we bumped into Warren Ellis, shaking hands for a last thank you to an incredible line up and festival, which this time had a laid back aussie and outlaw kind of feel.

That was mostly it for the last night as we had to catch a ride back at 5.45 am to be back in London by 11 am. But despite immediately getting back to work, the buzz is still there and can't believe I nearly didn't go because of too many other obligations. This particular ATP was to me one of the most coherent ones, as the performing acts were all different, but on a similar wave length and vibe.

As I didn't have to work the camera commando missions from the inside this time, it was actually very good to experience it from the perspective of an audience and understand the whole phenomenon of festivals much better. In the end, it's an immersion into music and creative energy, a step into another world and vibe, with a large number of individuals suddenly forming a community. Something that can't be replicated by listening to recorded music and a very necessary part of our humanity.

And as a filmmaker it all does wake up dormant or slumbering ideas and drive.DSC03509.JPGDSC03561.JPG

Posted by DeZ Vylenz  

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Jerome Charyn: Crime through a magical filter

When it comes to the mystery or crime genre, most people are familiar with the hard boiled detective fiction that for example Raymond Chandler is mostly famous, for or the more contemporary work of James Ellroy. The Black Dahlia is a riveting hard crime thriller in an adrenaline fuelled first person narrative-- reminiscent of Dashiel Hammet's Red Harvest -- and recently made into probably one of the worst cinematic adaptations in film history (picture a friendly and naive family theme park Verina of this dark work of fiction, with talking period costumes).

But when it comes to a more surreal crime atmosphere, Jerome Charyn is an author who has carved out his own unique world in his novels, mostly set in New York. Blue Eyes is one of my favourite books and along with Montezuma's Man, Little Angel Street highly recommended reading.

Charyn is a critically acclaimed, yet a lot of people are not familiar with his writing. The style is very minimal, seemingly simple prose, but with an incredible economy whole worlds of urban crime kings and porno queens are conjured up. He lives and works in New York and Paris most of the time and has also experimented with the graphic fiction medium, notably The Magician's Wife and Billy Bud (illustrated by Francois Boucq) are very original works, layered with symbolism and literary references.

Metropolis: New York as Myth, Marketplace and Magical Land is a fantastic work of non-fiction, after reading it, a simple walk through the Big Apple will never be the same. In the most sordid of conditions Charyn is able to recognise the mythical levels of existence.

I don't see the mystery pockets anymore, they used to publish a lot of his work (including the Isaac Sidel novels, about an old grumpy Jewish inspector) in these beautiful black pockets with a painting on each cover. It's a shame I could never find them in regular main stream book stores, but only in second hand bookshops, mostly in Amsterdam. But I guess that was part of the appeal, to find his work was a detective mission on its own every time. If you can find Paradise Man and Elsinore you're in for a serious trip.

Check it out.

Posted by DeZ Vylenz  

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Jodorowsky at NFT

Spring has started and it's new moon, so new energy is in the air.

As mentioned last week I didn't have a ticket for the Jodorowsky talk at the NFT and fortunately I did find a standby ticket, although there was a considerable queue in front of me. Overall it was a very engaging and amusing talk, and greatly inspiring to see the legendary writer and director still vital at 78. Especially given the fact that a lot of young people in the bloom of their life seem saturated and lethargic in comparison.

The spontaneous flow of his thoughts and expressive articulation were a very good representation of his work. In general I'm always fascinated with people who've lived through various stages of the last century in any case, as they've seen the developments from no TV to black and white to colour broadcasts, computers etc. With artists it's interesting to see how their world view remains fairly consistent, ripening in the process.

His anecdotes ranged from the problems on his film projects to his interest in the spiritual, martial arts and psycho therapy. What's also interesting is that as a pantomime artist he developed the now famous routine of 'The Cage' together with Marcel Marceau. He even demonstrated 'the man who walks without moving' which (if I understood it correctly) was developed years before a more main stream artist called Michael Jackson made this famous as 'the moonwalk'.

Was also good to briefly meet him after the talk as some fans were queueing up to have their books signed, so promised to send him a Mindscape DVD when it comes back from the manufacturer next week. Will be very interesting to see what his next films will be, considering he's finally getting the recognition he deserves from the industry, which he always had from his audiences.

It still remains a great shame that a man with such incredible imagination didn't get the chance to make more films, while directors with not only a percent of his talent had big budgets to mess around with and produce works of forgettable mediocrity. Jodorowsky own phlegmatic attitude is perhaps the best approach: "If I can't make it into a film, I make it a comic. If I can't do a comic, I write a poem."

In the end it's the internal drive and energy we all have inside that we have to learn to channel and express in various media or parts of our life.

Posted by DeZ Vylenz  

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Alejandro Jodorowsky

Been so busy that I didn't even manage to update my weekly blog yesterday. Saw Alejandro Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain at the National Film Theatre last Monday and have to say it is probably the most surreal and trippiest film I've ever seen. Even though I watched it about seven years ago, it seemed completely new and unpredictable and made me realise my mind probably wasn't entirely ready for it at the time. It reminded me why he remains one of the great influences on my work, despite the fact that I haven't read or seen the majority of his whole oeuvre. No point in my analysing it, but to get a good summary:

Jodorowsky is also known as a succesful author of graphic fiction books: The Technopriests, The Metabarons, The Incal of Light (with Moebius), Bouncer and much more. His themes often revolve around his own theory of Psychomagic, analysing ones own position and problems in life from the family tree of ancestors, as described in his autobiographical book La Danza de Realidad (The Dance of Reality).

In terms of fascination with magic, alchemical transformation and imagination, I often compare him to Alan Moore, although Jodorowsky's work is different in feel, much more over the top and less focused on narrative structure. There is an incredibly virile creative energy pervading the body of his work.

I think the greatest movie never made is probably his version of Dune. With a score by Pink Floyd, Salvador Dali as the emperor, Orson Welles as the Baron, and great designs by Giger and Moebius --way before Hollywood took note of these artists--, it would have been an incredible experience. The conceptual designs and storyboards later circulated around Hollywood after the financing fell apart and most likely influenced Star Wars, Alien and many other Sci-Fi classics. Dan O'Bannon, who wrote the screenplay for Alien and some other great Sci-Fi films and comics was intended as script writer.

Santa Sangre is probably one of his most accessible films and more "commercial" films and another great visual experience. Apparently, Marilyn Manson is a great fan.

In short, Jodorowsky was in many ways too ahead of his time, but has always had an underground cult following. It's also another great example of extremely gifted and passionate filmmakers who didn't get the opportunity to actually make the films they wanted to. This Friday he's appearing for a talk at the NFT, which I didn't even manage to get tickets for. Fully sold out.

Will be interesting to see El Topo, his again after almost 8 years. Perfectly described in the NFT program as a "wild quasi-Spaghetti Western head-trip."

Posted by DeZ Vylenz  

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Adaptations: 300

As I'm a filmmaker and not a film critic I don't want to make a habit out of writing about other films here. I know how difficult it is to get a film off the ground, so to criticise a colleague's work is not my intention. However, I also know how much difference just a little bit of attention to script and larger context can make.

Went to see 300 last Sunday at the IMAX London, great visual experience overall and I did enjoy large parts of it, but the dialogue, political context and lack of nuance were not exactly of the mature kind. Constant references to the Asian hordes that had to be stopped and the fact that it was presented as a simplistic battle of evil against good, androgynous freaks pierced up to the ass against bodybuilding hetero (?) sexual squares and East against West didn't help.

Fighting for freedom against invasions is always a good theme to start with and it's good fun sometimes to catch some great battle scenes with popcorn in hand, but just a bit more nuance could have made it a more universal experience instead of a music video with hints of army propaganda. Because whether film is supposed to be pure entertainment or not, an increasingly large segment of the population can't simply switch off the intellect entirely when watching a film for approx 2 hours.

Plenty has been written about it already, the themes of sexuality being off the mark and confused etc. but only thing I'd like to point out: In the last part of the film one of the Spartans has his going to battle speech: "This is where we stop mysticism and tyranny." ?!? Didn't know the two were related at all, on the contrary if you ask me. And without mysticism we would not have the algebra and other foundations of our modern world and sciences, so the non-sense radar flipped into overdrive at the end of it. I hope they release the DVD with the option to switch out the dialogue and keep the music, then it would be a great piece of escapism and the world view wouldn't seem so limited.

Last news is that the same director has been commissioned to direct Watchmen, so hopefully he will take more time to study the socio-political and metaphysical context of the story before the visuals, as those elements are the main strength of Watchmen.

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with Alec, a British film journalist and writer, and he made a good point that the comic fans had been complaining for years that film adaptations were not faithful to the comic. But now with Sin City and 300 it seems they are getting exactly what they want, exact copies of the comic on to screen.

I love both media, but agree with Alan Moore that the two are completely different. The kinetic effects and intensity achieved in comics need to be transferred to the big screen by other means than merely exact frame by frame carbon copies of the comics.

Batman Begins is a good example of how just exploring the psychological side of a character can be much more fascinating than super hero exploits. The first half doesn't even show the suit. But technically, in terms of fight choreography 300 was shot much better and crisper, while the Batman scenes were interestingly gritty, but confusing to watch.

Other than that, rather pissed off with all the bureaucracy you have to wade through nowadays to get any small part of business done. Some of these call centre people speak in a programmed sort of talk without even listening. Makes you wish you can swap the battlefield of bureaucracy for an actual one a few centuries ago and chop some heads instead. Life was probably a lot harder, but also had more clarity and sense of purpose.

Posted by DeZ Vylenz  

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