Monday, May 31, 2010

#193: Escape From The Island

You can file this under “Movies I’m Glad They Never Made”.

I’ve always been a huge Kiss fan. From the moment that I first heard Destroyer in 1977 through to, well, when Ace left really, I was always a fan, and I remained a big booster of the band throughout the 1980s. I still consider their second three studio albums – Destroyer, Rock ‘N Roll Over and Love Gun - to be masterpieces and I adore Dynasty and Unmasked. Hell, how can one not adore Unmasked, containing, as it does, some of Ace Frehley’s best tunes, in the form of Torpedo Girl, Two Sides Of The Coin and the brilliant Talk To Me. Ace never got better really. I couldn’t care when I discovered, later in life, that the audience noise on Alive and Alive II was overdubbed, or that Peter didn’t play drums on the latter two albums, or that Gene rarely played bass. Hell, only Paul played on Shandi, but it didn't matter.  It just proved to me that the heart of the band was always Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley. Once they split that really was it, as the band lost their original spark and became yet another Bon Jovi clone light-metal band. Sad really.

When the 1980 Kiss Australian tour was announced I stated my intentions on going. However as I was twelve at the time I didn’t fancy my chances and it got worse when my older brother went out to buy tickets but came back empty handed claiming the show had sold out. Bastards! Come my 13th birthday and what did I find in my birthday card? A Kiss ticket! Yes! Life was complete. My oldest brother took me to see it and we had a blast. I’ve always said that it’s the fondest memory that I have of my oldest brother as he was on his best behaviour all night and had me on his shoulders so I could see over the crowd. I suspect that he was kind of happy, in his own way, at my own excitement. The day was a dreary, cold, windy and wet one, but that didn’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. I recall my brother talking to a guy in the line who had three thongs, one on each foot and another in his hand. When asked what the third thong was for the answer was simple, “Darryl Cotton's head mate.” At the time we believed that Cotton, formerly of Zoot, was the support act, a horrid thought indeed. Imagine out surprise when the support band came out and we discovered it was none other than…The Eyes, a band you’ve never heard of before and never heard of since. Four songs in it happened. POW! Right on the forehead, a thong went bouncing. “Fuck yas all ya pack of cunts!” came the cry from the stage and off went The Eyes. Brilliant! I remember seeing dozens of programmes on the floor, all being trampled after being discarded. I should have gathered them up, considering what they sell for today. Kiss in 1980, at Adelaide Oval, remains my first ever concert. I could have done worse. A-Ha popped by a few years later.

The tour here was a massive success, partly fueled by the incredible amount of shit that was made, sold and passed off as 'official' merchandise.  It seemed that you could buy anything with a Kiss logo on it, from iceblocks through to cereal and beyond.  Underwear, shirts, bags - the bands logo was on everything this side of toilet paper and condoms (if only Gene had been given the thought earlier).  Despite the influx of cash the writing was on the wall for Kiss. Original drummer Peter Criss had departed to be replaced by Eric Carr, who I always thought was the better drummer, but something was missing. That didn’t stop the shows from being great though, and thanks to a close pal of mine, who taped the Adelaide show, I have the tapes to relive it through. The show was so good that I can almost forgive Stanley for screaming, in a voice that sounded like Mickey Mouse on speed, “We love you! We’ll be back next year! Goodnight!” Yeah, right. I had to wait until 1995 before they came back.

Kiss nearly toured here in 1989, but, depending on who you speak to, the concerts were either poorly planned or Kiss themselves bailed out leaving the promoters broke. Either way when this show was announced a promoter began to explore the possibility of the band doing a full scale tour but couldn’t get the venues booked. Kiss kept the deposit and the World Rock ’89 concert, headlined by Kiss and Joe Cocker, never went ahead. They did return in 1995 and did a full tour and also a convention. I attended the latter, but not the former, mainly because, as far as I was concerned, Ace made Kiss, no disrespect to Bruce Kulick, who I met in 1995 and who was a damned good guy, but some things can never be replaced. In 1997 they returned, this time the original foursome, in make-up. Naturally I went and also made the trip to catch their last show in Melbourne. It was on that trip that I finally met Bruce Springsteen, of all people. For an icon he was very humble and a bloody decent indeed. Good memories indeed.

Now, down to the movie. By 1980 Gene Simmons was busily trying to make as much money for himself and Kiss as he possibly could. This meant less focus on the music (how else do you explain You’re All That I Want?) and more focus on the business side of things. By 1978 the band had managed to release nine albums and four individual solo albums, along with a plethora of merchandise including two comic books, published by Marvel and featuring the talents of Steve Gerber, Alan Weiss, Gray Morrow, John Buscema and other talented artists and writers. They also released a movie.

Or so they said. Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park is one of those films that makes Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space look like Citizen Kane. About the only redeeming feature of the movie is the music and even some of that was canned generic elevator music. The best version of the movie was actually released here, in Australia. Unlike America, where the flick was a Movie Of The Week on the idiot box, it was re-edited, more of Kiss’s actual music (some from the solo albums) included and suddenly it made sense to watch. Renamed Kiss In Attack Of The Phantoms, the movie was released in cinemas and played for a fairly decent season, aided by a cross promotion with the frozen Coke drink Icee (remember those?) The movie eventually saw a full blown release on the second volume of the Kissology DVD series. Seek it out and watch it. You’ll regret it, but if you’ve seen the original version then you’ll enjoy it, even if Peter Criss sounds like Barney Rubble and some of Ace Frehley’s scenes feature a black man instead of the Main Man.

By 1980 nothing had been learnt. The Kiss company was still haemorrhaging money at a rapid rate of knots, so in order to rectify this an Australian tour was planned and executed. Along with the tour plans were made for a movie to be shot. The movie was fully realised and ready to be shot, local camera crews were hired and the production was set. The band duly arrived in the country to tour and film but the movie never went ahead. If you want to know then just read the synopsis – it’s crap. Plus the movie called for the band and production company to split the net profits 50/50. Net profits have a name in Hollywood – ‘Monkey Points’. If you get offered net profits then you might as well just walk away. There’s people who invested in movies like Star Wars and Titanic, were promised net profits and have yet to see a cent. With net profits the movie is always in the red, no matter how many times you audit it. Being offered net points is an insult, kind of like being offered an Associate Producer credit.

The budget for the movie was set at just over $650,000 which was pretty cheap for a film at the time. Clearly the idea was that as Kiss were touring a lot of the footage could be shot without having to resort to sets and other little things, like production values. In effect Kiss In Australia was using Abba The Movie as a template. But where Abba The Movie had an amusing plot line, that being the efforts of a reporter trying to get an interview with the band, Kiss In Australia was all over the place. The opening scene would have drained a bit of the budget on it’s own, and it would have been highly doubtful that Ace Frehley, who’s name is conveniently misspelled ‘Ace Freshley’ in the official credits, would have stayed still long enough to be filmed on the top of Uluru, and it’s also doubtful that the band would have gotten permission from the traditional owners to be filmed standing there after being dropped off by a helicopter. For some reason such a desecration is generally frowned upon. The rest of the script is downhill from there and loaded with clichés that only someone who has zero knowledge of Australia would insert. At one point the band meet a ‘Chips Rafferty’ type character, such a character hadn’t existed since the Smiley movies of the 1950s, starring, you guessed it, Chips Rafferty. The movie has deathless scenes such as Scene 14: ‘Sequence: Ancient rights and rituals of the Australian Aboriginals’, whatever that means. Luckily Adelaide got off light, just a billboard. But in Sydney and Brisbane the idea was to film a load of bunnies running on the beach in slow motion, ala the movie ‘10’. Jesus! No wonder this thing was canned.

Apathy and dwindling finances also took their toll. By the time the band reached Australia their career was all but over in the USA and other parts of the world. Such were the levels of apathy that Gene Simmons was filmed drinking coffee, sans make-up, and the footage broadcast all over the country on various news networks. By that stage nobody really cared what they looked like, either with or without make-up. I remember seeing a magazine from the USA with a headline about a year later, “Kiss: Unmasked – Who Cares?” Also the band weren’t about to invest anything into this project, they just didn’t have the money on hand.

What did come out of the Australian tour of 1980 were two artefacts. The first was the television special Kiss: The Inner Sanctum. This brilliant and long deleted (although it can be easily found on bootleg) television special was a Godsend for Kiss fans. The special followed the band around Australia, offered live footage and behind the scenes material and, in the best move ever, had Norman Gunston doing comedy pieces that included his efforts to convince Bill Aucoin, Kiss’s then manager, to adopt his idea of merchandising, a squashed Chiko Roll that he named ‘Genes Tounge’. If you get a chance to see it then do so. The other film from the tour was the almost complete Sydney show, which finally saw the light of day, officially, on the second volume of the Kissology DVD series. Get it, it’s worth seeing if only to see the band playing better than they had in ages, mainly due to the presence of a non-stoned drummer.

When Kiss toured in 1995 and did the convention circuit I made it a point of asking Gene during the Q&A session in Adelaide about the movie. He denied all knowledge of it and asked to see the document that you can now see on this page. I handed it to him, he read it, chuckled handed it to Paul Stanley who then handed it to Bruce Kulick and then drummer Eric Singer, both of whom began to roar with laughter. Gene didn’t look overly happy and insisted that he knew nothing of the proposed movie and that a lot of such things had been floating around the band at the time. I tend to think he fibbed just a little bit, but then I’d not want to be associated with that lump of crap either.

Ahhhh, Kiss In Australia. What might have been, and thankfully, wasn’t.

One theory that dogged the band at the time was the involvement and harassment of the FBI. However if you ever get the chance to examine the FBI files on Kiss, easily obtainable via the FOI in the USA, you’ll soon discover a fairly boring read. Most of the material revolves around reports of anti-police riots at previous Kiss concerts, all of which is soon debunked as scurrilous rumour. One selection of the FBI files that really interested me was a report stating that a religious group had protested the band for playing on a Sunday and had begun the rumour that the word KISS stood for Knights In Search of Satan, a rumour that soon spread all over the world, although nobody ever knew who actually started it.

Thanks to the FBI we now know where that rumour started. These are the reasons why I love history and popular culture.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

#192: Movie Star

I was overjoyed recently when I stumbled across these lobby cards for Death Of A Gunfighter. Not just because it’s one of those movies that virtually nobody you’ve ever met has seen, nope. Not because it’s a Richard Widmark movie, he, as an actor, doesn’t move me much and frankly the only thing of his I enjoyed was Madigan. Not even the presence of John Saxon, who I adored in Enter The Dragon, nope, what excited me about this movie was the name of the director, and who wasn’t credited.

You see, Death Of A Gunfighter was the first ever Alan Smithee movie. With the working title of ‘Patch’ movie had been offered to director Don Siegel, who was rapidly becoming hot after a long and illustrious career, that had seen him direct possibly the best Elvis movie, along with Steve McQueen, Widmark and, most recently, the first of five collaborations with Clint Eastwood, a collaboration that placed them both on the movie making map as major players. Siegel passed on the movie and recommended a young director that he knew and thought that was the end of it.

Sadly it wasn’t. Widmark wasn’t happy with the young director, Bob Totten, and insisted that Siegel replace him. Siegel refused at first but was soon talked, reluctantly, into it. Sigel took over the movie and shot what he estimated as being about 40% of the finished movie, but he refused to take director credit, insisting that as Totten had shot the bulk of the footage then he deserved to take full credit. Totten refused as he wanted nothing to do with the movie, and Widmark, so the Directors Guild stepped in and created ‘Alan Smithee’. So now you know how that came about. Totten went back to television and Disney and Siegel subsequently went on to be a major director with his next three movies, Two Mules For Sister Sara, The Beguiled and Dirty Harry, the latter establishing Eastwood as an icon.

From this movie Smithee went on to direct many more films, some crap and some not so crap. Generally when a movie was taken away from a director by the studios, they took their name off the finished product and attached Smithee both as a protest and as a sign that the movie was plagued by troubles and issues. David Lynch’s Dune became an Alan Smithee film after it was recut and issued as a ‘Directors Cut’. Both The Insider and Heat, directed by Michael Mann, are Alan Smithee films when you see it on television. Other Smithee films include Scent Of A Woman, Meet Joe Black and shit like Morgan Stewart's Coming Home. Even Showgirls became an Alan Smithee film, but as it’s one of the worst movies made it’s understandable.

Alan Smithee retired soon after he released his last movie, An Alan Smithee Film: Burn, Hollywood, Burn, but if I’ve always thought that someone should change their name, officially, to Alan Smithee and claim credit for all of that celluloid. Think of the career you could then boast!

#191: My Chemical Romance, Part I

If you were to ask me right now how do I feel I’d reply, “Better than Gary Coleman.” A bad joke, to be sure, but hey, who gives a fuck? Lately things have been going along at a rapid pace in some ways, but sluggish in others – it’s hard to find that perfect equilibrium, a battle I’ve struggled with for a while now. I honestly thought that I was getting better, but recent events show that, clearly, I’m not. And that upsets me.

I’ve had to cope with a lot lately, but, such is life. The past year has been hellish in parts. I’ve dealt with, and am still dealing with, the deaths of my father and a very close friend, being removed from probably the one job that I was perfectly suited for by a cretin and being punished by questioning it all. And there’s more, much more, that I tend not to share with anyone but keep very close. It’s gotten better in some ways, but worse in others. I’m dealing with being investigated for a number of frivolous allegations which I won’t go into detail here, suffice to say that the bulk of them appear to me, and others, to be just accusations designed to force my resignation – seriously, you should see and/or hear about some of this, but all in good time I guess. But that’s their problem and not mine. My personal issues worry me more than any professional ones.

In the past twelve months I’ve had some incredible highs and some deep lows. Again it becomes hard to reconcile the highs and lows, but I do my best to enjoy the highs and hide the lows. Now I’m told that’s not the best attitude to have, but hey. My mania has reared it’s ugly head and after a lengthy, and emotional, consult with my doctor (one of the best around actually) the decision is to try some medication designed to level me out a bit and get me back to what I enjoy doing. It’s not a permanent move, but it is a new one for me. So, it’s hello to 60mgs of Cymbalta daily.

Frankly I am scared to a fairly large degree, but I am enough of a realist to know that when your significant other writes a heartfelt letter to one’s doctor which makes one get emotional, then something needs to change. I don’t think I’m a bad person, but I’m not coping. I cry a lot, at random. Here’s an example – I’m probably the only person who cries during Deep Impact. What part? When Tea Leoni and the dude who plays her father are on the beach. They embrace as an unrealistically large tsunami approaches, and she snuggles into her father’s arms and simply says, in a pathetic childlike voice, “Daddy.” Gets me everytime. I’m tearing up thinking of it. I tend to see what I first thought were random things that make me cry, but have found the common link – loss of a parent. Damn my drunken father, he impacted more than I thought. At some point I know that I’ll fully deal with those emotions, but I have to wait.

I get irritable at minor things. How minor? Let me give you a hint – don’t chew loudly near me, not even as a joke and, for Christs sake, don’t deliberately annoy me. Those who do, deliberately, tend to receive the full force of my venom, although I think I displayed considerable restraint in the face of deliberate antagonisation recently. I find it near impossible to drive through the city. I am hoping that this current medication will relive that by ensuring that I’m not allowed to drive, but time will tell. I find myself despising people for no apparent reason.

I don’t sleep, but then that’s nothing normal, cut lately I wake up earlier and can’t get back to sleep. I’ve not got any great appetite, and I am losing weight, but I attribute that to a sudden exercise programme that I’ve recently started. That bothers me. There’s more, far more. But what really scared me was my most recent DASS test. When I first walked into my doctor I did the DASS test and found out that I was suffering from moderate depression, mild anxiety and mild to moderate stress. That was around twelve months ago. Yesterday I did the DASS again and discovered that my depression levels haven’t moved (good), my anxiety levels have increased from mild to moderate (manageable) but my stress levels are nearly off the chart (no great surprise there). That, combined with the other symptoms, and also the realisation that my current state is affecting my significant other in ways I can't fathom, have led me to this point, the point where I have to now make things change, and to assist that change I need a bit of a boost.

Fingers crossed. I’ll keep you all informed. I am nervous about this, but I’m about to pop the first of what I hope will be the start of a fuller recovery.  And yes, I'm well aware that I'm not the only ship, adrift on this ocean...but understand if I don't instantly reply to calls, messages and emails, and if I begin to pick and choose where I go and who I see for a while.  It's all good, I just need time.

Monday, May 24, 2010

#190: As Time Goes By

I don't know nearly enough about pre-World War II German cinema as I want to, or indeed should know.  In fact my knowledge kind of starts and stops with the silent era and then begins again with the Leni Riefenstahl propaganda films, such as Triumph Of The Will, which still has some of the most amazing visuals ever filmed, if you can get past the subject matter.  Still, Riefenstahl always denied that she knew of any crimes that the Nazis were doing, or any knowledge of any mass slaughter, this despite there being photographic evidence that she was present at a massacre at least once.  Still if there's one thing that old Nazis hate it's being called Nazis - just ask the Pope.

I know most of the classic horror and science fiction films - Fritz Lang, a genuis and visionary, created two of the most stunning films of all time: Metropolis and M, both of which I saw at the Shedley movie club in 1983-1984, along with some of the most amazing movies of the first part of the 20th Century - but in Hollywood his vision was stifled, as Hollywood has a tendency to do.  Idiots.

You can thus imagine my utter delight when I came across a series of pre WWII German movie flyers and, even better, a 1936 Movie Magazine Calendar, packed with images of actors that I've only ever heard of in passing and text - if only I read German, fluent or otherwise.

Some of the flyers are highly amusing and all are interesting to say the least.  Mister Deeds Geht In Die Stadt is a classic example.  Whoever did the translation must have struggled for the right word, and I defy anyone to tell me the German translation of Longfellow. Langer Gefährte perhaps? Großer Hahn? For the record, it's Longfellow here.

Also interesting is the flyer for Dunkle Geschafle (aka Dark Journey).  You could be forgiven for thinking that the movie was a starring vehicle for Vivien Leigh, but you'd be wrong.  Made two years before Leigh became a superstar with Gone With The Wind, in this film she took second billing to none other than Conrad Veidt, something that would have filled Berlin audiences with delight until the Nazis decided to blacklist Veidt because he refused to support their war effort and instead threw his lot in with the Allies. I can both admire and respect that, especially as Veidt had a career that included two of my all time favourite movies, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari and Casablanca.

It doesn't end there.  What made me chuckle for ages were some of the names that the Germans had.  Only in Germany could a man with a name like Rolf Wanka become a romantic lead.  Can you imagine the booming voice announcing the previews today?  "Coming this summer to a cinema near you: Rolf Wanka is Mad Max!"

Yep, I chuckled a lot.

And I hope she was, the delightfully looking little kitten that she was.  Personally I'd have asked her to keep that mask on right up until the vinegar strokes.  Thankfully both Wanka and Horney survived World War II intact and were able to continue making movies, mainly in Europe, although Horney did make an appearance in a Disney TV movie - beats me how that got past the Keepers Of The Mouse.

And don't we all?  The lucky bastard!  If I were the cheese in that sandwich I'd be smiling like a combination of The Mask and The Joker as well, but then I know who I'd be throwing out of bed....

Ahhhh German cinema, I need to read more about you and expand my knowledge through study, so once I've finished the books I have on European cinema and French Cinema I might track down some German cinema books and immerse myself.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

#189: Part Time Love

Or, if you work in professional circles, 0.5 Affection, with additional duties as directed (may, or may not, include oral satisfaction).  I kid you not.  I once went out with a female who took her work so seriously that she asked me what value I was going to add to the relationship and what was I willing to bring to the table.  I added no value and brought nothing, which is clearly why we split.

That and she was a nut job of the highest order.

Concert tickets aren’t what they once were, but let’s face it, what is what it once was? And if you can understand that question then you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din, and I bloody well wrote it. Gone are the days when the ticket was almost a work of art, now we get mass produced tickets that generally fade about two months after you’ve bought them. Poor ole Elton would be rolling in his grave if he saw the state of tickets now, that is if he were dead, which he isn’t, or at least wasn’t last time I looked. And Bowie! When we saw Bowie a few years back the ticket was just a lump of yellow paper that said, “Bowie. 3rd Row. Now fuck off”. Gone are the days when your Bowie ticket was placed in a little presentation envelope, courtesy of the radio station that was promoting it.

Why? Clearly for the same reason why all the merchandise is generic. You front up at a show and the shirts say ‘World Tour”, the programmes details a series of countries that the artist is playing in and the rest is gravy. Why personalise things? Still I was impressed at the merchandise at concerts by Tears For Fears and The Church, both of whom were selling signed items in order to minimise the amount of drunks bothering them as they went to the men’s room for a quick slash.

Shows have changed too – concerts are now long about the music, it’s the event. Each idiot has to outdo the other idiot. U2 are bringing a stage so bloody big that they have to construct it in the continents that they tour and leave it all behind. And why? Does a massive great stage mean they play better? Nope. What it does mean is that they can be lazier and make more mistakes as people won’t notice. Frankly once they did ZooTV they should have given the game away and merely played club gigs. Do the Bee Gees approach – play a few shows and offer them up on pay TV. Great.

Still, having said that, I did see Elton a few years back and he just sat his fat arse down and played for around three and a half hours. Nothing exploded on stage, no skyrockets, no screen behind him and no-one spat blood onto the front rows. Just a man, his band and some decent songs. I enjoyed it, as I did Bowie when he played here – I mean, how could you not? But more and more concerts are exercises in aerobics and callisthenics, with some miming thrown in. Gawd!

Bruce Springsteen once said that if he couldn’t see the faces of his audience clearly then he knew he couldn’t connect with them and that it was a waste of time singing anything but the most superficial of songs. I can’t help but agree. Nick Cave in front of 20,000 people isn’t the same as Nick Cave in front of 5,000 people. Don’t believe me? Ask Nick, and once he’s finished calling you a stupid fucking idiot, he might tell you the honest truth. Sorry Coldplay, U2 and co, bigger isn’t better, it’s worse. Same for those who have the intricate dancers and the CD turned up to full blast. It’s shit. If you can’t play the song acoustically then it’s crap.

Remember MTV Unplugged? We loved seeing a band like Aerosmith on there because they could play their songs without the aid of electricity. But crap like Great White? Gawd. We’d sit there and say, “Saw Great White on MTV Unplugged last night.”
“How bad were they?”
“Give me three fucking hours and I’ll tell you.”

Bring back the simpler times. Give me a ticket worth keeping and give me a show worth talking about or I’ll not bother going. Pissants.