Weekend links 464

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13 Circles by Julien Picaud.

• The 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing is only two months away so it’s no surprise that Brian Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks is being reissued. The latest release will include an additional disc of new music by Eno with his collaborators from the original sessions, Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno. Related: the Apollo 11 Command Module as an explorable (and printable) 3D model.

• From the real Moon to the presence of the satellite in myth and history, the next book from Strange Attractor will be Selene: The Moon Goddess & The Cave Oracle, a volume which is also the final work by the late Steve Moore. With a foreword by Bob Rickard, and an afterword by Alan Moore.

• Guitar-noise maestro Caspar Brötzmann released a handful of thrilling albums in the 1990s then disappeared from view. Spyros Stasis talked to Brötzmann about his hiatus and his recent resurfacing on the Southern Lord label.

• A year late, but I didn’t know Paul Schrader had written an updated introduction to his 1972 study of Ozu, Bresson and Dreyer, Transcendental Style in Film. I love the idea of “The Tarkovsky Ring” as a directorial event horizon.

• “Nothing written is utterly without value, as I proved to myself by reading two random works.” Theodore Dalrymple on the lasting worth of “worthless” books.

Cinemagician: Conversations with Kenneth Anger, a documentary by Carl Abrahamsson about the director/writer/magus.

• Mirror, Mirror: When Movie Characters Look Back at Themselves by Sheila O’Malley.

• From Susan Sontag to the Met Gala: Jon Savage on the evolution of camp.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 289 by Mondkopf.

• Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer: Anne Billson.

• A video by IMPATV for Religion by Teleplasmiste.

Obscure Sound ~ Cosmic: a list.

Mira Calix‘s favourite records.

Transcendental Overdrive (1980) by Harald Grosskopf | Transcendental Moonshine (1991) by Steroid Maximus | The Transcendent (1999) by Jah Wobble

Weekend links 446

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The Ghost Box label releases a new album by the excellent Pye Corner Audio in February (previews are here). The spectral design, as ever, is by Julian House.

• “In October 1966, Phyllis Willner arrived on motorcycle in San Francisco as a teenage Jewish runaway from Jamaica, Queens. She quickly fell in with the Hell’s Angels, the San Francisco Mime Troupe and, most crucially, the Diggers, who were just getting their street radical thing together in the Haight-Ashbury. The next two years would be eventful: many extraordinary highs, some really terrible lows.” Jay Babcock talks to Phyllis Willner about her involvement with “the executive branch of the hippie movement”, the Diggers.

• At Expanding Mind: Erik Davis talks with religious scholar Diana Pasulka about UFOs, scientific believers, book encounters, elite cabals, studying weirdness, and her new book American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology.

• Kenneth Anger is now 91 but he still appears hale, and looks even more magus-like than ever. This short film by Floria Sigismondi finds him reminiscing in the antiquated confines of the Chateau Marmont hotel on Sunset Boulevard.

David Wojnarowicz did not write dark fantasy. He wrote real life. In The Waterfront Journals he brilliantly captures electric tales from the mouths of strangers, those he described as “junkies, prostitutes, male hustlers, truck drivers, hobos, young outlaws, runaway kids, criminal types”, whose lives echo his own ostracized existence. He was thirteen when he was first paid for sex and sixteen when he started “turning tricks” regularly. His mother kicked him out of the house. By the time Wojnarowicz came out to friends in New York, he was in his early twenties. He was on the cusp of finding his voice as a writer and his confidence as an artist. It was the mid-1970s. AIDS was about to tear through the gay community.

Lara Pawson reviews three books by artist and writer David Wojnarowicz

John Banville reviews Kafka’s Last Trial by Benjamin Balint: “A scrupulous study of the squabble between Germany and Israel over Kafka’s papers, and the two women caught in the middle.”

• A sitting with the diva of the diode: electronic musician Suzanne Ciani in conversation with Christine Kakaire.

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 076 by KK Null, and XLR8R Podcast 574 by SHXCXCHCXSH.

Cassie Packard on the colorful and clairvoyant history of aura photography.

Edward Gorey’s Children’s Books Illustrations, Revisited.

Alison Flood on the fascination of miniature books.

Magic Hollow (1967) by The Beau Brummels | Hollow Stone (1972) by Khan | Through Hollow Lands (For Harold Budd) (1977) by Brian Eno

Weekend links 346

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Red Queen (no date) by Jo Brocklehurst.

• Happy birthday to Kenneth Anger, 90 years old this week. In 2008 Anger was interviewed by Nicolas Winding Refn at the National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen.

• “Fabeness be to the Auntie, and to the Homie Chavvie, and to the Fantabulosa Fairy”. “Church ‘regret’ as trainees hold service in gay slang.”

Andrew Male on Michael Chapman, an exceptional guitarist, and “the man who connects Elton, Bowie, Nick Drake and Sonic Youth”.

• A trailer for A Life In Waves a documentary about synth composer Suzanne Ciani by Brett Whitcomb and Bradford Thomason.

• The website for design company Barnbrook has been relaunched, as has the site for Jonathan Barnbrook‘s personal work.

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 209 by Umwelt, and XLR8R Podcast 475 by Melina Serser.

Ryan Gilbey: “From Sean Connery to Harrison Ford: actors who secretly played roles gay.”

• Writer and editor Russ Kick is selling his huge book collection.

Lucifer Sam (1967) by Pink Floyd | Lucifer (1968) by The Salt | Lucifer Rising (2002) by John Zorn

Weekend links 336

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Visit in Night (1951) by Toshiko Okanoue.

• Rhythms of the World: Bombay and All That Jazz; a 60-minute BBC documentary featuring Trilok Gurtu, L. Shankar, Don Cherry, Alice Coltrane, Zakir Hussain and others. The quality of the full-length copy is a little rough so it’s worth noting the six-part version here.

Adam Scovell talks to Leah Moore and John Reppion about adapting the ghost stories of MR James for the comics medium. Related: The Corner of Some Foreign Field, a short piece of folk horror written by Martin Hayes with art by Alfie Gallagher.

Callum James on the overtly gay nature of Films and Filming magazine (1959–1990). Having seen a few copies over the years I’d always suspected this but didn’t realise it was so persistent. Related: The Boy and the Wolf by Callum James.

• At Dangerous Minds: Lucifer Rising live in concert: Bobby Beausoleil and the Freedom Orchestra perform their Kenneth Anger soundtrack, 1978.

Simon Says: A rare cassette tape of instructions by Peter Levenda for using the Simon Necronomicon (1977) as a grimoire.

• Mixes of the week: Fact Mix 577 by Outer Space, and Incantations and Manifestations by Melmoth_The_Wanderer.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: _Black_Acrylic presents … Art Sex Music: A Cosey Fanni Tutti Day.

• Up from the Abyss: Brenda SG Walter on Rammstein, Lovecraft and Sea Zombies.

• Cinematic Alchemy: Christopher Gibbs on designing sets for Performance (1970).

• Magic carpets: the art of Faig Ahmed‘s melted and pixellated rugs.

• Drips, pop and Dollars: the music that made Ennio Morricone.

• At Bibliothèque Gay: Cocteau et quelques autres.

• “Sleepers Awake!” says Moon Wiring Club.

Can your city change your mind?

The Paul Laffoley Archive

The Ambivalent Abyss (2001) by Lustmord | Byss And Abyss (2004) by Espers | Dark Bullet From The Abyss (2010) by Pleq

Bikers and witches: Psychomania

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Among the film viewing this past week there was Psychomania (1973), another advance Blu-ray courtesy of the BFI. Americans may know this as The Death Wheelers, a more accurate (if clumsily literal) retitling, although Psychomania does a better job of grabbing the attention. In the micro-genres of the horror film the occult biker picture is a niche with few entries; offhand I can only think of Werewolves on Wheels (1971), a low-grade American production. Most biker films are American so Psychomania is unusual for being British (with an Australian director, Don Sharp), and with a pitch that’s memorable if nothing else: biker gang kill themselves then return from the dead so they can cause mayhem with impunity. The script was the work of Arnaud d’Usseau and Julian Zimet whose only other credit is for a curious chiller made the year before, Horror Express. This was a British/Spanish period piece with a good cast (Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Telly Savalas) that’s notable—and often overlooked—for being another film based on John W. Campbell’s SF story “Who Goes There?”.

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The Seven Witches and The Living Dead.

Psychomania also has a decent supporting cast despite its frequent swerves into absurdity. Since the subject is a Home Counties’ bike gang, the leader, Tom Latham (Nicky Henson), has a mother (Beryl Reid) who lives in a country house with a very modish interior: all abstract art, scatter cushions, leather furniture and Trimfones. Mrs Latham is the local table-tapper and may also be a witch, although it’s never clear whether the scene of her offering her son to the Devil is Tom’s hallucination or a replaying of past events. Tom’s father has died after some unspecified supernatural encounter in a mysterious locked room where Tom later has the vision of his being sold to the Devil. Then there’s Shadwell (George Sanders), ostensibly the butler of the household but devilish enough to shrink from a cross when it’s offered by grateful séance attendees. Reid and Sanders lend the proceedings some gravitas, even if Sanders (in his final role, and not well at the time) seems to have stooped far below his usual level. Nicky Henson makes a charismatic leader of bike gang The Living Dead, although his tight leather pants, and the shiny leather gear worn by the others, belong to an earlier decade. This is biker gear as imagined by people remembering The Wild One or The Leather Boys, and a long way from the reeking, never-washed denim “originals” favoured by Hell’s Angels and their ilk.

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Chopped Meat (Harvey Andrews) sings Riding Free while Tom is being buried.

It’s probably too much to expect of a low-budget horror film, but watching Psychomania again had me thinking that an opportunity was missed to more accurately reflect the real bike gangs of Britain in the 1970s. Biker culture was a country-wide phenomenon at the time; boys I was at school with were too young to own motorbikes but many had brothers who did, and had picked up from them the fetishising of dying British manufacturers such as Triumph, Norton and BSA. (The Living Dead all ride Triumphs.) A few years later I was hanging around with the bikers who were always present among any group of metal-heads, many of whom were too poor to own British bikes but behaved as though they did. The bikerdom of the 70s had little to do with the bike groups of earlier decades even if the bike brands remained the same. The new model, of course, was California’s Hell’s Angels whose first British chapters appeared in London in the late 1960s, and whose legend was popularised by Hunter S. Thompson in Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1967). Every biker seemed to have read to Thompson’s book, and the presence of Hell’s Angels on British soil led to the swift founding of many imitation groups, forbidden from using the name without Californian approval but grouping themselves under similar handles. A measure of the culture’s appeal to the popular British imagination may be found in the many biker exploitation novels published by New English Library through the mid-70s.

Given all this you’d expect biker culture to be more prevalent in British cinema of the period but the examples are so few there’s really only Psychomania and Sidney J. Furie’s The Leather Boys (1964). The latter documents the pre-Hell’s Angels biker scene via a pseudonymous gay novel that makes similar connections to Kenneth Anger’s almost contemporaneous Scorpio Rising. The gay content is diluted in the film but there’s enough there to make it seem surprisingly bold for the time. Furie’s bikers are a tame bunch compared to The Living Dead, they only want to ride their bikes, not play hogs of the road, and the film as a whole is kitchen-sink-on-wheels, with a link to A Taste of Honey (1961) via Rita Tushingham.

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Abby meets dead Tom at the stone circle.

Psychomania is glossier—well, it’s in colour!—and aims for lurid AIP-style mayhem even if such antics seem out-of-place in leafy Surrey. When Tom’s mother inadvertently gives him the secret of bodily resurrection he goes out and kills himself; after his return from the grave (on a motorcycle!) his gang eagerly follow his example. The film runs out of steam when it becomes apparent that The Living Dead’s idea of making the most of their post-death freedom is the same harassing of pedestrians and other motorists as before. The only question is whether Tom’s girlfriend, Abby (Mary Larkin), will kill herself and join them in an eternity of trashing supermarkets. Abby’s equivocation is signalled by her being the only member of the gang who doesn’t wear leather. The film touches on folk horror with the location of “The Seven Witches”, a circle of standing stones which the gang use as their meeting place, and where they bury Tom after he plunges off a bridge. As with The Wicker Man, which was being filmed around the same time, there’s even an acoustic song interlude from one of the more hippyish bikers.

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George Sanders and Beryl Reid indulge in some home Satanism.

Psychomania was always a welcome sight when it used to appear on late-night television. The combination of bikers and occult rites is unusual enough to sustain the attention even if the implications of the premise go unexplored. Unlike The Wicker Man, however, or the excellent Blood on Satan’s Claw (1970), Psychomania‘s disparate threads fail to cohere, and the film is held together largely by its sense of black humour. Don Sharp’s direction manages a couple of clever single-take sleights, and the soundtrack by John Cameron is very good. Cameron wrote a great deal of library music so was adept at capturing the essence of a style. Psychomania‘s soundtrack plays on the rock grooves of the period, and the theme was issued as a single credited to “Frog” (after the possibly supernatural amphibian that Tom finds in a graveyard).

The film looks excellent on Blu-ray albeit grainier in low-light scenes than other BFI transfers. The audio is also more noise-reduced than I’d prefer. The disc includes the usual wealth of BFI extras: interviews with the surviving cast members; a short interview with John Cameron; an amateur film, Roger Wonders Why (1965), about a pair of Christian (!) bikers; and a black-and-white short for Shell narrated by John Betjeman about the Avebury stone circle. George Sanders is absent from the extras since he killed himself shortly after finishing work on the film. As Michael Weldon notes with typical drollery in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, Sanders didn’t return from the dead on a motorcycle. A pity.

Psychomania is released on 19th September.