Dee Dee Ramone – History On My Arms

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MVD Visual’s DVD & CD set compiles three short films about the self destructive punk rock icon Dee Dee Ramone. Dee Dee was mainly known for playing bass in the Ramones but also had a wide and varied solo career that included a hip hop album and a brief stint alongside musical terrorist GG Allin and his band the Murder Junkies. He also penned two autobiographies and the novel Chelsea Horror Hotel. Dee Dee’s life came to an end on June 5th 2002 from a heroin overdose.

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Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King (1993)

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Half Japanese was formed by brothers Jad and David Fair in their Michigan bedroom in 1975. Neither brother had any knowledge of how to play music and to this day Jad (David left the band and got married) still plays an un-tuned guitar. Jad states in the documentary “the only cord I know is the one that connects the guitar to the amp”. David also has a unique approach to guitar but I don’t want to spoil too much. Their refreshing approach to music has made them one of the most unique acts of the underground low-fi /alternative punk rock/*insert genre here* scene, and their admirers range from Penn Jillette to Kurt Cobain (he reportedly died wearing a Half Japanese t -shirt). To some, Half Japanese is pure genius and to others they are pure novelty *cough…bullshit…cough*.

The Band That Would Be King is a strange film. Its not a complete linear look at the genesis and lifespan of the band, it’s not an expose, it’s just random bits of band information, interviews with a bunch of people and some really killer performances and old footage of the band. Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King would be best described as director, Jeff Feuerzeig’s love-letter to the band. While documentaries about other “outsider artists” like The Devil and Daniel Johnston or You’re Gonna Miss Me : A Film About Roky Erickson may be more accessible to people who don’t like or know of their music, I don’t think this film is inaccessible to those who don’t know anything about Half Japanese as the film is not about mental illness, drug abuse, in-house fighting or anything of that ilk.

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From the Back of the Room

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A great documentary looking at the role women have played in the U.S. punk rock scene, going back to the early 80s with folk like author Cynthia Connolly (Banned In DC) through the days of places like Gillman Street and ABC-No Rio and onward past the Riot Grrrl movement and into the present scene. And though the film might be touted by some as a “riot grrl” doco, Bikini Kill and their ilk don’t actually make an appearance until halfway through the film. Continue reading

Once Upon a Time in Norway

Once_Upon_a_Time_in_NorwayOnce Upon a Time in Norway: The history of Mayhem and the rise of Norwegian Black Metal is a documentary about the early Black Metal movement in Norway. The film is a collaboration by the following directors: Martin Ledang, Pål Aasdal, Olav Martinius Ilje Lien & Oddbjørn Hofseth. After playing at the Bergen film festival the first edition of the DVD sold out within two weeks – which is encouraging as the film offers “Black Metal fans” something new considering the subject has been hammered to death and cashed in on by photographers, writers, filmmakers….

The documentary is broken up into segments titled: Mayhem, Satan & Politics,Underground, Dead, Euronymous, Helvete etc and features interviews with Manheim (ex-Mayhem), Nocturno Culto (Darkthrone), priest Rolf Rasmussen, Tchort (Carpathian Forest), Anders Odden (Cadaver) and more. They discuss subjects from the infamous murders, church burnings, and the underground scene and what became of it.

What separates this documentary from others is the fact that there is no ulterior motive to glamorize or demonize Black Metal. Once Upon a Time in Norway uncovers the true story as told by the people who were directly involved in the early scene and presents their uncensored and historical opinions, perspectives and anecdotes.

The most interesting and insightful interviewee is Kjetil Manheim (ex Mayhem drummer), he recalls stories in an objective and distanced manner. His interpretations of events are not hazed by image and stature – he simply tells things like they were. I really appreciated being able to hear a side of the story that we’ve never heard or really had access to before. Anyone who has read Lords of Chaos or understands the basic concepts of the roles of the media knows that the media and that book were/are extremely biased and sensationalized and twisted the whole Black Metal ethos into a sideshow of extremist acts and reduced Black Metal to a petty power struggle amongst boys. Through Kjetil’s account it is 100% clear that the actions of a handful of people imposed this whole ideology onto something that was originally about grimness and music. I believe that there is no universal message or standard in Black Metal, and so what Black Metal is to me is not what it means to the hundreds of wrist cutting, long haired, male Dimmu Borgir fans. If they think its about burning churches, killing fags, sacrificing animals and shitting on tombstones then more power to them.

Once Upon a Time in Norway pro-actively moves beyond the heinous exploitation of the music, a nation and the acts of a few self obsessed kids and provides a fair and balanced outlet for the history to be told by those who matter. With two more “Black Metal movies” on the horizon, I doubt either of them will be as informative and as interesting as Once Upon a Time in Norway.

Once Upon a Time in Norway provides a fresh angle on a tired subject. There really is no need to own any other film on the matter, but of course there will be many more exploitative fares, hell probably even a Broadway play at some point. I hope that Once Upon a Time in Norway will set a standard among film makers to stop exploiting the notorious aspects of Norwegian Black Metal. Next to Once Upon a Time in Norway and Nocturno Culto’s The Misanthrope you really don’t need much more. Keep your money and buy some albums for they are what really matters.

The extra features in this set include four extended interviews each with a runtime of about 20 minutes. A 12 page booklet with an article by Roy Kristensen also accompanies this set. Since the first batch sold out incredibly fast I would be making this release a priority purchase.

Extras:
  • Extended Interviews:
  • Ted “Nocturno Culto” Skjellum from Darkthrone
  • Priest Rolf Rasmussen
  • Producer Erik “Pytten” Hundvin
  • Terje Vik “Tchort”Schei ex Emperor
  • 12 page booklet

Once Upon a Time in Norway is available on Region 2 DVD from Another World.

A Band Called Death

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The exact birth of punk rock is an endlessly debated topic. Some say it began in earnest with The Ramones in New York in 1975, others with the punk explosion in the UK in 1976. But what nobody ever thought was that the first salvo of angry young punk rock was actually fired by three brothers in Detroit in 1973.

They were a band called Death.

Proto-punk and Detroit were not strangers at the time – acts like MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges were clattering up a storm, but Death had another thing stacked against them. They were black. And, in Detroit in the 70s, being black meant Motown.

The Hockney brothers – David, Dannis and Bobby – formed a band after their struggling family received an insurance payout. They practiced relentlessly, playing first a brand of funk before guitarist David saw The Who on television and announced they were to be a rock band.

Bobby was the bassist and vocalist, but David was the real force behind the group. He had big dreams and bigger concepts. After their father died, David announced the band was to be called ‘Death’. The others were non-plussed, but went along with it.

Their music was powerful, they seemed bent on success. Even mighty Columbia Records were interested. But there was one problem. That name. That name was impossible to market. If they were to change it, they would be signed and surely success would follow.

They refused to change.

A Band Called Death is a documentary that is less a story of a band and more a story of a family. The brothers Hockney would suffer trials and tribulations, but the bond between them would prove unshakeable.

The movie is primarily a retrospective, with a lot of talking heads and old photographs – although there is an attempt to add life and movement to the archive shots. For example, an image of David with a lit cigarette has a curl of digital smoke rising from it.

But the real story unfolds while the cameras are rolling. The lone single the band recorded starts to circulate as a pair of MP3s, nearly 40 years later, and a new audience finds them. Death were playing 80s US hardcore a good decade before anyone else. Truly a band before their time, they would find time finally caught up with them.

The tale is extraordinary, not least because of the emotions between the brothers. The laconic Dannis, the erudite Bobby and the doomed idealist David demonstrate that one brief flicker of magic can ignite even decades into the future.

Affecting and inspiring, A Band Called Death is a simply terrific doco. The pacing is measured, but deliberate for the emotional payoff in the final section. And it helps that Death is straight up a killer band even if, despite what the interviewees may say, it is not about music. It is about family.

The extras include a plentiful number of deleted scenes that are all quite interesting, but are also not really missed from the main narrative. Also present are a couple of songs played live by the reformed Death, including one at the band’s first gig in 34 years.

A film festival Q&A is the surprise highlight of the extras. Here, audience members share their stories and the impact the film had on them, and, in particular, Bobby Hockney talks about how the finished movie affected him. It is a lovely, softly emotional coda to the film and an excellent choice for inclusion here.

A Band Called Death is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Llik Your Idols

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The Cinema of Transgression “movement” was the result of a loose collective of New York art school drop-outs and musicians reacting against the times. Reagan was in government and punk rock had been co-opted into the mainstream, so it was time for a new kind of kick. Something to push the boundaries to breaking point.

Taking their inspiration from such varied sources as pornography, exploitation films, Dada / Surrealism, and the films of Jack Smith, John Waters and the Kuchar brothers, directors like Richard Kern and Nick Zedd created no-budget (often) B&W shorts shot on super 8 that took mindless sex and violence to a whole ’nother level.

Angélique Bosio’s documentary covers the time period from the early ‘80s – early ‘90s during which these filmmakers were the most active. During the course of the films hour & fifteen minute runtime Ms Bosio interviews some of the main movers and shakers of the scene and shows clips from their various films in an effort to provide a much needed visual document of this little recognized group of artists. Continue reading

Tom Waits Under Review

Tom_Waits_DVD_Bourbon soaked & nicotine stained, here is a voice that will drag you back into the bar so set ‘em up Joe and have one for yourself.

I remember seeing Tom Waits perform live on Aussie TV back in the late 70s (?) doing Silent Night on The Don Lane Show whilst obviously under the influence and I was gob smacked. Who the hell was this guy? He was no Shirley Strachan or Marc Bolan that’s for sure. It was a few years before I really got into his music but its always been the early stuff – Small Change and Blue Valentine that I really enjoyed so this 2006 documentary about those early days was always going to grab my attention.

With interviews and asides from various colleagues including early producers/collaborators Jerry Yester and Dayton “Bones” Howe plus the usual rock critic/ biographer types who seem to spend most of their time being clever just to justify their high falutin’ pontificatin’ (I’m talking to you Andrew Mueller – what a git!) we get to see the early development and rise of the story teller, naïve child fool, character creator that Waits was back in the early 70s. In an era of guitar strumming singer/songwriter troubadours Waits was creating a beatnik styled, Kerouac influenced, bourbon guzzling, street wise character that was totally at odds with everything else that was going on at the time. Interesting to see how LA influenced both Waits and writer Charles Bukowski and how they both chose to cover the low road, the seedy back streets and working class lives around them rather than the whole Hollywood vibe of sunshine and beautiful people. And both made a mark that still resonates today.

Following Tom’s career through the early years as he developed his persona and his song writing skills we learn just how albums like Small Change, Blue Valentine and Heart Attack & Vine developed, how his voice and style changed and adapted and we get to watch the armchair critics with their dueling tongues and big words trying to justify their existence. I know the ‘rock critic’ is the standard rule of thumb in these sorts of docos but hell it woulda been nice to hear what some of Tom’s peers had to say about him or even some of his friends from that era. On the other hand at least Bono didn’t show up to tell us how Tom influenced U2 so that was one saving grace! It was interesting too to see how the alcohol abuse and the depths to which Waits was dragged to were just skimmed over. No deep and philosophical stuff here, just the facts ma’am, just the facts.

But the worse bit? We are constantly teased with snippets of live clips from the mid 70s that leave you wishing they’d left the critics dueling tongues behind and just given us more of the music. But hell that’s just a personal gripe, really they do cover a lot of ground in an hour and a half it’s purely that it woulda been nice to see more of the man himself instead of the talking heads telling us how good he is. We leave Tom just as he enters the freak/outsider/carny spiel of Rain Dogs and Swordfish Trombone – a new era, a new character and dare I get all rock critic on you – a lot more contrived and bled to death style (well, its 2008 and he’s still doing it)

For those who have discovered Waits more recently this is a nice way to find out where he began. For us older farts it’s a nice reminder of why we dug this far out cat in the first place.

Extras:
  • Mini Biographies of the “Expert critics”
  • Bone Machine – Bones Howe on working with Tom Waits
  • The Hardest Interactive Tom Waits Quiz in the World Eve

Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap

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Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap is a documentary directed and presented by Ice-T about the art/craft of rap music.

Over the past year or so I’ve been warming to rap music which I absolutely hated as a teen. I never really thought about it being an art-form or a skill. It just sounded like a bunch of words being spewed out in a confrontational manner to me. This documentary really opened my eyes to the language of rap as an art form and how there’s more to it than money, MTV Cribs and fame. Someone says in the film how their grandmother just can’t comprehend rap at all and how it’s a language you really need to understand and I totally agree with them.

So Ice-T sets out on a journey to focus on the “art of rap” – not the game. There’s nothing here that glamourizes guns, bitches or money which is good because I think it makes the documentary accessible to people who haven’t got an appreciation for rap or are put off by those things. It focuses on the culture of Hip-Hop as well, about the skill it takes to be an MC. He interviews a range of various artists from the 70s up until now which is great as you see a lot of different styles, attitudes and opinions.

There’s some really great interviews, to name drop a few – Melle Mel, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Afrika Bambaataa, Ice Cube, Chuck D., Snoop Dogg, Mos Def and loads more. Another thing that makes this such a great watch is that it’s not just a bunch of talking head shots. These are Ice’s friends and acquaintances and he’s really just shooting-the-shit with them all. He’s a candid interviewer and it’s really relaxed and quite often Ice and/or his subject just break out and freestyle. Some may find this a fault of the documentary but it’s not “The History of Rap”. He’s just talking to a lot of influential people who created and changed the landscape of Hip Hop and at that he nails it. My only (really stretching to find one) criticism is that it’s a very American-centric film. There’s no International acts featured but again, it’s an American Phenomenon and it doesn’t proclaim to be offering an in-depth serious documentary on the subject.

A must own for fans of rap and a must see for anyone who can’t stand it.

In the extras department there’s: a Commentary by Ice-T and another with Prouder Paul Toogood; a 10 minute ‘Making Of’ with Ice-T and Paul Toogood; ‘Historical Perspective on Hip Hop’ with Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson with a runtime of 5 minutes; Interviews with: Q-Tip, Kanye West, Ice Cube, Eminem, Dr. Dre, Freddie Foxx, Trigga Da Gambler, Smoothe Da Hustler, Too Short, Jim Jones, King Tee, CNN, Diabolic, Craig G, Busy Bee and Catastrophe and to round out the extras a trailer for the film. There’s a lot of great content here which makes the purchase even more worthwhile. The film runs for 106 minutes and the case states 266 which is obviously inclusive of the extras.

Available on R4 DVD from Beyond Home Entertainment.

The Story of Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics

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“Rock and Roll is really about two things – it’s about ‘I don’t give a fuck’ and ‘fuck you!’” – Mojo Nixon.

A documentary about comic books might seem a little odd but these weren’t your everyday comic books, these were rock ‘n’ roll comic books, these were unauthorized, these were guaranteed to piss people off and like Mojo said, they didn’t give a fuck!

Todd Loren, the genius behind the comics, didn’t give a fuck either, upsetting musicians, artists, fellow publishers, all while making a buck, exploiting others and creating a niche for himself and his company, Revolutionary Comics. A comic nerd/music nerd who got his start holding comic conventions, Loren soon moved onto to mail order selling “collectables” – t-shirts, badges, programs, bootleg items before combining his two loves, rock and roll and comics and hitting the jackpot straight away with a Guns ‘n’ Roses comic that was given a huge boost when Axl Rose mouthed off about lawsuits, sending all the collector nerds into a frenzy. Continue reading