Music Video of the Day: Seattle by Public Image Ltd. (1987, directed by Nick Wiling)


“We had a week off in the tour for some reason, due to gig rearrangements and/or whatever, and I flew back to LA, but the band hung out in Seattle and they started jamming about and rehearsing and started putting together a really catchy tune. So I flew up, and the words just flowed out instantly. It’s a great song. The subject is about rioting, really, and when you see them World Trade Organization riots, it’s kind of appropriate. It’s an homage to Seattle, a town that’s never done us any harm. A town we feel quite warm about… great atmosphere, the gigs are always amazing. It feels like home to me.”

— John Lydon, explaining Seattle in an interview with The Stranger

Years before Seattle became, however briefly, the center of American music, John Lydon and Public Image Ltd. celebrated the city with their own song.  Given Lydon’s naturally contrarian nature, it is perhaps not surprising that his song celebrates many of the the things that drive other people crazy about the Emerald City.

The same can be said of the video, which not only highlights the industrial and rainy sides of Seattle but which also suggests that it’s a good place to drop a watermelon out of a window.

This video was directed by Nick Willing.  A year after directing this video, he would direct the music video of Debbie Gibson’s Foolish Beat, which is about as far away from working with John Lydon and Public Image, Ltd. as you can get!

Enjoy!

Music Video of the Day: Public Image by Public Image Ltd. (1978, directed by ????)


‘Public Image’, despite what most of the press seemed to misinterpret it to be, is not about the fans at all, it’s a slagging of the group I used to be in. It’s what I went through from my own group. They never bothered to listen to what I was fucking singing, they don’t even know the words to my songs. They never bothered to listen, it was like, ‘Here’s a tune, write some words to it.’ So I did. They never questioned it. I found that offensive, it meant I was literally wasting my time, ’cause if you ain’t working with people that are on the same level then you ain’t doing anything. The rest of the band and Malcolm never bothered to find out if I could sing, they just took me as an image. It was as basic as that, they really were as dull as that. After a year of it they were going ‘Why don’t you have your hair this colour this year?’ And I was going ‘Oh God, a brick wall, I’m fighting a brick wall!’ They don’t understand even now.

— John Lydon in Melody Maker, 1978

After the spectacular collapse of their 1978 American tour, the members of the Sex Pistols found themselves at loose ends.  Sid Viscous pursued an ill-fated solo career.  Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren took off to Brazil with Paul Cook and Steve Jones and attempted to recruit fugitive Ronnie Briggs to be the band’s new lead singer.  Meanwhile, the band’s former lead singer, Johnny Rotten, returned to the UK and announced to the world that he still had more to say.

Of course, he wouldn’t be saying it as a Sex Pistol nor would he be using the name Johnny Rotten, though whether that was primarily by choice or due to legal issues with McLaren and the Sex Pistols’s management team depends on which source you consult.  Using his real name, John Lydon reemerged as the founder and lead singer of Public Image Ltd.  With PiL, Lydon retained the anger and the wit that made him such an exciting figure with the Sex Pistols but he also took control of his own musical destiny.

PiL’s first single (and hit) was Public Image and, appropriately, it was a song that Lydon had originally written to express his displeasure with the direction of the Sex Pistols.  The song criticized the Pistols (and McLaren, specifically) for being more concerned with maintaining the right image than with actually saying anything.  The video, which came out before MTV, shows that Lydon didn’t need the Sex Pistols to get across his withering message.

Enjoy!

Film Review: Song to Song (dir by Terrence Malick)


You’re watching a movie called Song to Song.  It’s about beautiful people in a beautiful city.

In this case, the city is Austin, Texas.  The people are all involved in the Austin music scene and they’re played by actors like Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, Michael Fassbender, and Cate Blanchett.  A good deal of Song to Song was filmed at the Austin City Limits festival and several real-life musicians appear as themselves, though only Patti Smith is on screen long enough to make much of an impression.  To be honest, both the music and Austin are almost incidental to the film.  Though the movie was sold as an Austin film and it premiered at SXSW, it could have just as easily taken place in Ft. Worth.

The film is made up of short, deliberately obscure shots.  The camera never stops moving, floating over images of sunsets, sunrises, and oddly empty streets.  Because the film was shot with a wide-angle lens, you’re never not aware of the expanse around the characters.  At times, all of those beautiful film stars run the risk of become specks on the landscape, as if the film itself is taunting the characters for thinking that they are more important than nature.

Who are the characters?  It’s not always easy to say.  There are plenty of voice overs but it’s rare that anyone directly states what they’re thinking or who they are.  When the characters speak to each other, they mumble.  The dialogue is a mix of the banal and the portentous, a sure sign of a film that was largely shot without a script.  Eventually, you turn on the captioning so that you can at least understand what everyone’s muttering.

Michael Fassbender plays Cook.  Cook appears to be a music producer but he could just as easily be a businessman who enjoys hanging out with and manipulating aspiring stars.  People seem to know him but nobody seems to be particularly impressed by him.  Cook spends a lot of time standing in front of a pool.  Is it his pool?  Is it his house? It’s hard to say.  Cook is obsessed with control or maybe he isn’t.  Halfway through the film, Fassbender appears to turn into his character from Shame.

Ryan Gosling is BV.  BV appears to be a lyricist, though it’s never made clear what type of songs that he writes.  At one point, you think someone said that he had written a country song but you may have misheard.  BV appears to have an estranged relationship with his dying father.  BV may be a romantic or he may not.  He seems to fall in love easily but he spends just as much time staring at the sky soulfully and suggesting that he has a hard time with commitment.  BV appears to be Cook’s best friend but sometimes, he isn’t.  There’s a random scene where BV accuses Cook of cheating him.  It’s never brought up again.

Rooney Mara is Faye.  Faye contributes most of the voice overs and yet, oddly, you’re never sure who exactly she is.  She appears to be BV’s girlfriend and sometimes, she appears to be Cook’s girlfriend.  Sometimes, she’s in love and then, just as abruptly, she’s not.  She may be a singer or she may be a songwriter.  At one point, she appears to be interviewing Patty Smith so maybe she’s a music journalist.  The film is centered around her but it never makes clear who she is.

Natalie Portman is Rhonda.  Rhonda was a teacher but now she’s a waitress.  She might be religious or she might not.  She might be married to Cook or she might not.  Her mother (Holly Hunter) might be dying or she might not.

And there are other beautful people as well.  Cate Blanchett plays a character named Amanda.  Amanda has a relationship with one of the characters and then vanishes after four scenes.  There’s an intriguing sadness to Blanchett’s performance.  Since the first cut of Song to Song was 8 hours long, you can assume her backstory was left on the cutting room floor.  (And yet strangely, it works that we never know much about who Amanda is.)  Lykke Li shows up, presumably playing herself but maybe not.  Berenice Marlohe and Val Kilmer also have small roles, wandering in and out of the character’s lives.

There’s a lot of wandering in this movie.  The characters wander through their life, stopping only to kiss each other, caress each other, and occasionally stare soulfully into the distance.  The camera seems to wander from scene to scene, stopping to occasionally focus on random details.  Even the film’s timeline seems to wander, as you find yourself looking at Rooney Mara’s forever changing hair and using it as a roadmap in your attempt to understand the film’s story.

“I went through a period when I thought sex had to be violent,” Rooney Mara’s voice over breathlessly explains, “We thought we could just roll and tumble, live from song to song, kiss to kiss.”

As you watch Song to Song, you find yourself both intrigued and annoyed.  This is a Terrence Malick film, after all.  You love movies so, of course, you love Malick.  Even if his recent films have been flawed and self-indulgent, he is a true original.  You want to support him because he’s an artist but, as you watch Song to Song, the emphasis really does seem to be on self-indulgence.  The images are beautiful but the characters are so empty and the voice overs are so incredibly pretentious.  Should you be mad or should you be thankful that, in this time of cinematic blandness, there’s a director still willing to follow his own vision?

At times, Song to Song is brilliant.  There are images in Song to Song that are as beautiful as any that Malick has ever captured.  Sometimes, both the images and the characters are almost too beautiful.  The music business is tough and dirty but all of the images in Song to Song are clean and vibrant.

At times, Song to Song is incredibly annoying.  It’s hard not to suspect that the film would have worked better if Natalie Portman and Rooney Mara had switched roles.  Mara can be an outstanding actress with the right director (just check out her performance in Carol) but, in Song to Song, her natural blandness makes it difficult to take her seriously as whoever she’s supposed to be.  Portman has much less screen time and yet creates an unforgettable character.  Mara is in 75% of the film and yet never seems like an active participant.

At times, the film is annoyingly brilliant.  Malick’s self-indulgence can drive you mad while still leaving you impressed by his commitment to his vision.

And then, other times, the film is brilliantly annoying.  Many directors have mixed overly pretty images with pretentious voice overs but few do so with the panache of Terrence Malick.

Even fans of Terrence Malick, of which I certainly am one, will probably find Song to Song to be his weakest film.  Even compared to films like To The Wonder and Knight of Cups, Song to Song is a slow movie and there are moments that come dangerously close to self-parody.  Unlike Tree of Life, where everything eventually came together in enigmatic poignance, Song to Song often feels like less than the sum of its parts.  And yet, I can’t totally dismiss anything made by Terrence Malick.  Song to Song may be empty but it’s oh so pretty.

 

6 Trailers From 1981


Hi and welcome to the latest installment of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers.  I apologize for being a few days late with this installment. 

This week, I’m highlighting trailers from the year 1981.  1981 not only saw the release of Lucio Fulci’s twin classics The Beyond and The House By The Cemetary, it was also the year that my sister Melissa was born.  (Happy birthday, Melissa Anne!) 

You may notice that, despite citing them above, I did not include the trailer for either one of Fulci’s films in this post.  I’m saving them for a future edition.  Instead, let’s start with Alien Contamination and end with Christiane F. and see what waits in the middle.

1) Alien Contamination

Earlier in this series, I featured the trailer for Luigi Cozzi’s Star Wars rip-off, StarcrashThis is the trailer for Cozzi’s attempt to rip-off both Alien and Lucio Fulci’s classic Zombi 2.  The film is pretty dull but I have to give the trailer mad props for actually making this movie look like it might be kinda fun.

2) Scanners

In this trailer, David Cronenberg proves that nothing sells a film like an exploding head.

3) Dead & Buried

I haven’t seen this film but I’ve read several favorable reviews of it.  While the trailer isn’t nearly as graphic as some of the other trailers that I’ve featured in this series, I still like it.  With the ominous narrator and all, it has a nice retro feel to it.

4) The Evil Dead

Speaking of retro, here’s the trailer to the original Evil Dead

5) Copkiller a.k.a. Order of Death

I recently ordered this Italian film off of Amazon but I have yet to sit down and watch it.  The trailer, for me, is memorable just because it’s a chance to see both Harvey Keitel and Johnny Rotten (who were both quite the sexy beast back in 1981) occupying the same space.

6) Christiane F.

Some people, I know, would disagree with me referring to Christiane F. as being an exploitation film.  I’m sure that the film’s award-winning director — Uli Edel — would disagree with me.  However, Europe’s art films were often sold as America’s grindhouse movies and, just from anecdotal evidence, that was often the case with Christiane F.  Besides, I love this trailer if just for the music alone.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Death Disco a.k.a. Swan Lake (by Public Image, Ltd.)


Recently, I’ve been reading Clinton Heylin’s history of punk rock, Babylon’s Burning: From Punk To GrungeNot surprisingly, one of the main characters in this book is John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten).  Along with detailing Lydon’s time as the lead singer for the Sex Pistols, the book also examines Lydon’s subsequent career as the frontman for Public Image, Ltd.  The book also inspired me to track down and listen to one of PIL’s earliest efforts, a song that was originally called Death Disco (though it was also released under the name Swan Lake for reasons that become obvious once you listen to the song).

Death Disco was written after and in response to the death of Lydon’s mother.  Though the song is now over 30 years old, it remains a powerful and cathartic cry of pain and loss.

As an added bonus, here’s two interviews with Lydon, one from the late 70s that was recorded shortly before he formed Public Image, Ltd. (and in which he looks so incredibly young and, dare I say it, rather adorable in his bratty way) and one from 2007 in which he discusses the meaning of life.