Saturday, 28 May 2011

18 May 2011 Dr Sketchy Set List

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Jayne Mansfield with a totally impractical surf board

This was my first post-Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender Dr Sketchy. I scored some great CDs in Vegas: a Ruth Brown greatest hits package and two wonderfully seedy compilations of freaky rockabilly and garage punk oddities -- Twisted Tales from the Vinyl Wastelands volume 8: Please Don’t Go Topless Mother and You Better Believe It 1955-1969: White Trash Rockers! Both of these more than live up to the promise of their lurid titles. I also recently acquired volume three of the Las Vegas Grind titty shaker series, which represent the bedrock of my DJ sets. It was about time I’d refreshed my music and I drew heavily on these new CDs at this Dr Sketchy. Music this sleazy and abrasive is like oxygen to me.

The night (which was at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern this time) featured Dusty Limits as emcee and two great performers / models: Trixi Tassels and Chocolat (aka Ruka. Alongside Dr Sketchy promoter Clare Marie, she's one of the proprietors of red-hot new lingerie emporium Sugarlesque). Unfortunately poor Chocolat’s performance occasioned the worst technical glitch of my DJ’ing career thus far! Both Trixi and Chocolat gave me their CDs of music for their acts, I tested them beforehand (as per usual) and both worked just fine. After the break, Dusty was to introduce Chocolat, I'd have her song cued, and she’d go straight into her act. Dusty announced her; I pressed “play” and ... nothing. I frantically yanked the CD out and tried another CD player and – still nothing! And then a message I’d never seen before came up on the little monitor: Disc Error! I was well and truly bugging out (my blood pressure was exploding, sweat beads were popping) and the crowd was murmuring impatiently wondering what the hell was going on. Luckily these people are total pros and swung into action: Dusty brought Trixi back out to pose some more and keep things moving while we sorted out the music crisis. Rising burlesque starlet Slinky Sparkles was in attendance and worked out with Chocolat backstage some potential alternative songs for her performance – except I had none of them! But Slinky herself had one of the songs on her iPod. We were able to hook up her iPod to the decks and use it for Chocolat’s number. Phew! I’m forever in Slinky’s debt! It was a relief to get everything back on track, and Chocolat’s act was great: she came out covered in balloons and gradually popped them one by one with a cigarette.

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Sophia Loren sneaks a peek at Jayne Mansfield

Anyway, in a sense the night was my delayed tribute to Jayne Mansfield. (Although in truth every time I DJ is a bit of a valentine to Jayne Mansfield, anyway – just like it is for other heroes like Esquerita, Little Richard and Eartha Kitt). I’d read the month before that Jayne’s birthday is 19 April -- so if she hadn’t been killed (aged 34) in her 1967 car crash, Mansfield would have turned 78 this year. Because she’s been dead for so long, Mansfield feels like a distant figure from a bygone age but it’s certainly feasible she could still be alive: her contemporary Elizabeth Taylor just died in March aged 79; Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot are both alive and well at 77. It’s fascinating to speculate what Mansfield would be like if she’d lived to see old age -- her personal life and career seemed to be circling the drain when she died. Maybe she'd be like her closest living equivalent Mamie van Doren, who's still posing for softcore nude photoshoots and partying at the Playboy Mansion aged 80. I’m not sure if anyone even noticed, but to honour her I played “I Walk like Jayne Mansfield” by the wondrous all-girl Japanese surf band 5,6,7,8s and then “That Makes It” by La Mansfield herself. RIP, Jayne.

Mamie van Doren, date, Mickey Hargitay, Jayne Mansfield
Two fun couples: Mamie van Doren and date. Mickey Hargitay (Mr Universe 1955) and Jayne Mansfield. Jayne's eyes look like they're clocking Mamie's cleavage




Shame the audio quality is so muffled

Otherwise: when Ruka / Chocolat models at Dr Sketchy I tend to go heavy on the great rhythm & blues divas: Dinah Washington, Little Esther, Eartha purring “Mack the Knife". I ended things on a defiant note with the wounded / wounding “I Hold No Grudge” by the angrily politicised High Priestess of Soul Nina Simone. “I’m the kind of people you can step on for a little while,” she snarls. “But when I call it quits, baby, that’s it! I’m the kind of people you can hurt once in a while. But crawling just ain’t my style!” Sing it, sister! Belt it out! (The 1966 song is by the great Angelo Badalamenti, long before he became David Lynch’s soundtrack composer. You can already discern the signature ominous / brooding 1950s Cool Jazz keyboard sound he’d later bring to the music for the likes of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, an atmospheric sound so essential to Lynch's cinematic vision).

Heartbreakin' Special - Duke Larson
Leave Married Women Alone - Jimmy Cavallo
Whisper Your Love - The Phantom
Teardrops from My Eyes - Ruth Brown
The Fire of Love - Jody Reynolds
The Flower of My Heart - Sparkle Moore
De Castrow - Jaybee Wasden
Love Letters - Ike and Tina Turner
Khrushchev Twist - Melvin Gayle
The Sneak - Jimmy Oliver
Out of Limits - The Marketts
Stampede - The Scarlets
Snow Surfin' Matador - Jan Davis
Scorpion - The Carnations
Vesuvius - The Revels
Rockin' Bongos - Chaino
Pas C'est Chanson - Johnny Halliday
Because of Love - Billy Fury
Go Calypso - Mamie van Doren
Rum and Coca Cola - Wanda Jackson
Try It No More - Genbe Marcum
I Just Don't Understand - Ann-Margret
Fool I Am - Pat Ferguson
The Chase - Chaino
Hillbilly Surfer - Whitey White
Oh Baby - Esquerita
Nightscene - The Rumblers
Cherry Pink - Bill Black's Combo
Drive In - The Jaguars
Womp Womp - Freddy and The Heartaches
Bad, Bad Girl - Little Esther
I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - The 5,6,7,8s
That Makes It - Jayne Mansfield
Beat Party - Ritchie & The Squires
She's My Witch - The Earls of Suave
The Coo - Wayne Cochran
Rigor Mortis - The Gravestone Four
Devil in Disguise - Elvis Presley
The Bee - The Sentinels
L'il Lil - Mel Dorsey
Mambo Baby - Ruth Brown
She Wants to Mambo - Johnny Thunders and Patti Paladin
Anasthasia - Bill Smith Combo
Go Slow - Julie London
You're Crying - Dinah Washington
Aged and Mellow Blues - Little Esther
Crawlin' - The Untouchables
Mack the Knife - Eartha Kitt
Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby? Ann Richards
My Daddy Rocks Me - Mae West
Happy, Happy Birthday Baby - The Tune Weavers (in honour of Dr Sketchy Clare Marie's birthday)
I Was Born to Cry - Dion
Begin the Beguine - Billy Fury
La Javanaise - Juliette Greco
You Can't Stop Her - Bobby Marchan
The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard
I Hold No Grudge - Nina Simone

When Mansfield’s Hollywood career fizzled out by the late 1950s, she resorted to low-budget European films – like ultra-obscure 1963 German film Heimweh nach St. Pauli (known as Homesick for St Pauli in North America). Mansfield’s speaking voice is dubbed by a German actress, but the singing in the musical numbers is obviously all her! The film looks irresistibly trashy – dig Mansfield’s cotton candy bouffant wig. I love it when she serenades the sailors. I’ve been reassured by German friends her accent and pronunciation are appalling.






Update! It turns out there was a journalist in attendence at this Dr Sketchy, and he wrote a great article online about it. Some great photos of Chocolat in action in her balloon costume.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Reflections on Accattone

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After French actor Pierre Clémenti died, cult author Dennis Cooper lovingly dedicated a blog to the androgynous and perverse poster boy of 1960s European art cinema. One of the motivations Cooper gave for his tribute was simply because the Bardot lipped, doe-eyed Clémenti is “what beauty looks like.” After recently seeing the Pier Paolo Pasolini film Accattone (1961) for the first time, for me the equivalent of “what beauty looks like” is closer to the Italian actor Franco Citti. (OK, Alain Delon figures in there somewhere too). Citti is of a similar vintage to Clémenti (who of course worked with Pasolini himself) but of an entirely different, butch-er and swarthier type.

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Accattone represents the film debut of both the great uncompromising Italian auteur Pasolini (who wrote and directed it) and neophyte 26-year old leading man Citti. In the Italian Neo-Realist tradition, Pasolini cast his films with non-professional actors. Pasolini certainly struck gold with Citti, who he’d go on to use in several subsequent films. Accattone entirely centres on Citti’s astonishingly natural performance and charismatic physical presence. As writer Judy Bloch has pointed out, his “rough-hewn beauty is like a slap in the face.”

I actually saw Pasolini’s second film, Mamma Roma (1962) before Accattone. (I love Mamma Roma slightly more than Accattone simply because it features a lacerating performance from the volcanic Anna Magnani, the earth mother / she-wolf of Italian cinema. Citti pops up in Mamma Roma too – again playing a pimp as he does in Accattone, this time with a sleazy little moustache). Both Accattone and Mamma Roma firmly share the same sensibility as Luis Bunel’s Los Olvidados (1950): they’re devastating politicised studies of how grinding poverty defines peoples’ lives and their options.

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Anna Magnani, the great tragedienne of Italian cinema, in Pasolini's Mamma Roma (1962)

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Pasolini in conversation with Anna Magnani during the filming of Mamma Roma (1962)

Pasolini was fascinated and inspired by the uncorrupted and marginalised peasant culture of the cafone (the Italian equivalent of hillbillies; in English subtitles, when characters in Accattone and Mamma Roma argue their insult of choice is frequently translated as “hick”, which seems to be a scathing put-down). This is the milieu of Accattone, depicting the underclass of pimps, prostitutes and thieves struggling for survival in the post-war borgate (slum or shanty town) outside of central Rome. (Accattone, like Mamma Roma, was filmed in the Pigneto district – one of my favourite, most atmospheric neighbourhoods of Rome. At the time Pigneto would have been a slum. It’s been gentrified considerably since these films were made, but for me Pigneto is still haunted by Accattone and Mamma Roma and the ghost of Pasolini).

Citti plays the film’s anti-hero, a sullen young pimp. He’s named Vittorio but everyone calls him “Accattone” (Roman slang for beggar or scrounger). Accattone and his gang of lay-about friends reject work for a life of sponging, hustling and pimping -- and who can blame them, when the film implies the only alternative would be back-breaking hard physical labour at starvation wages anyhow? “Work?” Accattone howls, incredulous, at one point. “Animals work!”

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At first you think how brave Pasolini is to base a film around such a callous, amoral and unsympathetic character, especially when you see how abusive Accattone is towards his dim-witted whore Maddalena and realise he has a wife and young child he’s abandoned. So Accattone is a prick, but as portrayed by Franco Citti he's a sexy and compelling prick. And as the film progresses we see chinks of despair, self-loathing and stoical suffering in Accattone -- revealed mostly wordlessly through Citti’s soulful expression and sorrowful hooded eyes. One of Citti’s best moments is after his brother in law kicks the snot out of him, while the entire extended family and neighbours cheer him on. With jeers of, “Pappone!” ("Pimp!") ringing in his ears, the battered Accattone makes his abject walk of shame home; we alone see the dejected expression on his face. It’s a heart-wrenching moment.

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Pappone! Pappone!

Seen today, Accattone is still viciously hard-edged and unsentimental. Men beat whores for the sheer sport of it, and because they can. Cartagine (a rat-faced, feral teenaged psychopath and one of Accattone’s partners in crime) brags in a bar about how the night before he and his friends assaulted a prostitute. “What a beating! You should have seen us,” he laughs. “How she begged us!”

(An aside: one of the prostitutes (Margheritona) is played by actress Adriana Moneta, who's like someone out of Fellini's Le notti di Cabiria (1957). She’s instantly recognisable as Ninni, the prostitute who gets picked up by a slumming Marcello Mastroainni and Anouk Aimee in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960). According to IMDb, these were her only two film credits – if true, her filmography may be modest but she can claim to have played the archetypal earthy, tough but good-natured Roman prostitute for two of Italian cinema’s great maestros).

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Marcello Mastroianni, Adriana Moneta and Anouk Aimée in La Dolce Vita (1960)

Pasolini ennobles the struggles of his characters while never romanticising their poverty. (To his credit, he’s never guilty of poverty chic or poverty porn). These are people who are genuinely at risk of going hungry, who are reduced to stealing and selling their father’s false teeth in order to eat; it’s shown as virtually inevitable that a pretty girl will turn to prostitution. Accattone is simultaneously squalid and lyrically beautiful. What Pasolini does do is elevate the harsh, grinding suffering of the impoverished cafone to the level of operatic high tragedy in beautifully composed shots that evoke Renaissance paintings, with classical music swelling on the soundtrack. When Maddalena is driven to a deserted wasteland and savagely beaten by some vengeful Neapolitan henchmen of her previous pimp, Bach soars on the soundtrack as the camera observes her lying like a broken doll on the ground, swooping down on her abandoned handbag and a solitary shoe.

Maddalena is played by Silvana Corsini, presumably another non-professional actor. Pasolini obviously liked her, as she would later play Bruna, the town tramp with fuzzy arm pits who seduces Anna Magnani’s teenaged son in Mamma Roma. Information about Corsini is scarce: maybe she was simply a pretty local girl and Pasolini liked her face, but Corsini has an interesting screen presence and is exceptional at suggesting credulous, slightly uncomprehending not particularly bright child-women. After Maddalena’s assault, there is a memorable scene in the police station where the local thugs and pimps are brought in for her to try to identify her attackers. A true connoisseur of firm Mediterranean male flesh, Pasolini’s camera lingers over the handsome criminals’ tough insolent faces in loving close-ups. In retrospect, you can’t help but shudder and recall Pasolini was murdered by a psychotic teenaged rent boy in 1972 - if they represent his ideal type, Pasolini certainly paid the consequences.


The subtitles are in French for this clip, unfortunately

From the start, it’s hinted that Accattone painfully recognises the futility of his life and harbours a death wish. We see funeral processions, premonitions of death, and nightmares about impending death. “Either the world kills me, or I’ll kill it!” Accattone wails towards the end of the film. One guess who wins that challenge. Suffice to say, the film ends with a character exhaling, “Ah, now I’m fine ...” with cruel irony, while someone else stands over them making the sign of the cross with handcuffs on their wrists.

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A drunk Accattone with tears running down his face

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Reflections on Boom!

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Together they devour life! Or at least chew the scenery

Baroque. Opulent. Decadent. Berserk! I celebrated my birthday on 12 May by attending a rare screening of the infamous 1968 Joseph Losey film Boom! at The Institute of Contemporary Art with my friend Alison. I’ve long been curious about the film for its reputation as one of the biggest bombs in Hollywood history and because Pope of Trash John Waters (one of my heroes) has championed it so enthusiastically and persuasively as his all-time favourite movie. "I show it to every person I think I'm falling in love with,” Waters claims. “If they hate it, I don't talk to them anymore." And finally, it seemed like a nice way to pay tribute to the film's leading lady, Elizabeth Taylor, who died in March. (When I interviewed Waters for Nude magazine in December 2010, he recalled how in the 90s he finally met Taylor at a party and was able to profess his love for Boom! She was horrified and screamed, “That movie is terrible!”). I can confirm Boom! still hasn't lost its capacity to alienate and annoy: the screening Alison and I attended was sparsely-attended. The couple in front of us walked out early on.


The wonderfully lurid trailer for Boom!

A true “film maudit”, Boom! is mainly remembered as a disastrous star vehicle / vanity project for tempestuous then-married duo Taylor and Richard Burton, at what author Lee Server has called “their jet-setting, conspicuously-consuming, bad-movie making height.” Tennessee Williams himself adapted the screenplay from his flop play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. Taylor plays ageing hedonist Flora “Sissy” Goforth, the much-married, drug addicted richest woman in the world (and it’s been argued, the most irritating woman in the world). From the windswept high solitude of her all-white villa on the edge of a cliff on a private island on the Amalfi Coast, the terminally ill Goforth is in denial about her imminent death, distracting herself by dictating her sensational Proustian memoirs into a tape recorder and directing her diva’s wrath at her long-suffering servants in fractured Italian (“Shit on your mother!” she screams at a maid who displeases her). "I need a lover," she growls to her secretary. Sure enough, she is visited by the enigmatic Christopher Flanders (played by Burton), a failed poet turned gigolo notorious on the international jet set as an ambiguous and parasitic Angel of Death who materialises whenever a wealthy woman is about to die.

In theory Boom! initially may have seemed promising. Taylor and Burton were show business royalty and the public was still entranced by their glitzy soap opera lifestyle. Taylor had triumphed in earlier film adaptations of Tennessee Williams plays like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Suddenly Last Summer (1959). Joseph Losey was a hip, art-y director of the moment, critically acclaimed for films like The Servant (1963). But considering the play Milk Train had failed on Broadway twice already in two different versions (in 1963 and 1964), it seems an odd choice as source material for a lavish big budget film adaptation. Tennessee Williams himself couldn’t be expected to be objective, but surely Losey, Taylor and Burton probably should have considered the play’s failure as an ominous premonition? The doomed 1964 Broadway production (which closed after only five performances) certainly sounds fascinating: it perversely partnered the odd couple of dissipated grand dame of the American stage Tallulah Bankhead as Goforth with wholesome 1950s teen heartthrob Tab Hunter as Flanders.

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Tab Hunter as Christopher Flanders and Tallulah Bankhead as Sissy Goforth in the 1964 Broadway production of The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore

The resulting film is overblown, irresistibly absurd, high camp run amok and unintentionally hilarious. Losey depicts the Goforth mansion as a grotesque freak show deluxe, complete with a sadistic dwarf bodyguard in jodhpurs and riding boots, a pet monkey on a chain, a talking mynah bird in a cage and sitar-playing Indian musicians. A cadaverous-looking Noel Coward pops up in a dinner jacket as a gossipy gay socialite nicknamed the Witch of Capri. When Flanders first trespasses onto Goforth’s island, her savage attack dogs are released – just like Mr Burns does with his hounds on The Simpsons.

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Taylor as Sissy Goforth and Burton as Christopher Flanders

Boom! feels drenched in a boozy / narcotic haze, which apparently extended both on and off screen. “They made this film drunk …” Waters has pointed out. The Burtons were famously hard-drinking, and Losey and the cast reportedly began each day’s filming with a round of Bloody Marys, and it shows. Drunken impaired judgement would certainly explain a lot. In any given shot it’s rare for a character not to have either a drink or a cigarette in their hand -- in Taylor's case, usually both (Taylor wields an outrageously long cigarette holder). The camera lingers over characters availing themselves of huge pitchers of Bloody Marys (which, it has to be said, look pretty tempting). There’s almost as much pill-popping as in The Valley of the Dolls. At one point Taylor washes down a fistful of pain killers with a gigantic snifter of brandy.

Then there’s the eternal problem of film translations of Tennessee Williams plays: his dialogue (heightened, poetic, high-falutin’) doesn’t translate easily to the screen. The atmosphere of decadence and impending tragedy is laid-on thick; everyone seems death-obsessed and is apt to suddenly start philosophising in long, meandering soliloquies about the meaning of life. Waters has shrewdly argued Boom! should be approached as a “failed art movie”: certainly Losey (out of his depth and reportedly intimidated by Liz and Dick) seems to be striving for high European art cinema seriousness, layering on heavy-handed symbolism a-go go, soundtracked by a doom-laden John Barry score and the constant sound of waves crashing onto the rocks. The moments of Taylor suffering panic attacks on her balcony, for example, recall Monica Vitti’s existential nervous breakdown in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1964 Il Deserto Rosso. (Maybe if Boom! was made in a different language, if Taylor and Burton were dubbed in Italian, the film would have felt less risible?).

Considering Boom! was primarily conceived as a showcase for Taylor and Burton, they’re surprisingly miscast. For one thing, their ages are all wrong: Taylor is too young and Burton too old -- the play was about the relationship between an older, dying woman and a much younger man. Sissy Goforth is supposed to be dying: when Tallulah Bankhead played the role onstage she was in her 60s and genuinely wraith-like, prematurely ravaged by emphysema and the consequences of a suicidally debauched lifestyle (it would be her last major theatrical performance and she would die within five years). The 35-year old Taylor, on the other hand, looks sun-kissed, plump and in robust good health even when coughing up blood in a consumptive fit or writhing in agony screaming for an injection.

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Another bourbon, darling? Tallulah Bankhead towards the end of her life

Similarly, as an elite high society gigolo Flanders surely should be a bronzed Adonis, or something like Terence Stamp in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1968 film Teorema. Clad throughout in a samurai warrior’s robe (complete with ceremonial sword), Burton looks haggard and faded. It's he who looks like he’s dying, instead of Taylor. (We get a few fleeting glimpses of Burton swimming naked – they’re deeply unappealing).

Boom!
Taylor pouts through the pain. Burton as the angelo della morte looks moodily into the distance

In any case, Boom! is overwhelmingly dominated by Taylor in full-throttle imperious, overripe, scenery-chewing diva mode. Camille Paglia has written of Taylor in another Joseph Losey film, Secret Ceremony (also 1968) as being “at the peak of her mature fleshy glamour.” That’s definitely true here, too. Shrouded mainly in floor-skimming caftans, with elaborate bouffant hairstyles augmented with hair pieces, Taylor is glamorous but prematurely matronly and slathered in thick make-up. Still channelling Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and shrieking like a harridan, Taylor’s Sissy Goforth is self-parodic, unhinged and drag queen-y: no wonder John Waters says Taylor’s appearance and abrasive performance in this film were a beloved source of inspiration for Divine. (Waters has said Divine was so influenced by Taylor that he smoked Salem cigarettes purely because they were Taylor's brand of choice).


So demanding ...

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Boom! is recognised today as a camp classic (it ticks all the right boxes as listed in Susan Sontag’s 1964 Notes on Camp essay, especially in terms of “failed seriousness”). It certainly seems to have a queer sensibility, and perhaps the role of Sissy Goforth is best approached as a coded drag queen. Interestingly, Rupert Everett played the role of Sissy in drag in a 1994 British stage production of Milk Train. And famously the role of the Witch of Capri was originally conceived as (and played onstage by) a woman and in Boom! it’s played by Noel Coward. (The part was originally offered to Katherine Hepburn – who was deeply offended). There’s a jaw-droppingly tasteless and misogynistic scene where the Witch of Capri describes a friend who refers to women as “poisson” and sniffs from a vial of ammonia to disguise the scent of any menstruating woman who might pass by him on the street. Seriously – what the hell were they thinking?!

While by no stretch a "good" film, Boom! is incredibly beautiful to look at, weirdly enjoyable and frequently mesmerising in a way only a truly trashy bad movie can be. There's a wonderful tension between the film's high-minded, literary aspirations and its actual lurid vulgarity. Essentially a filmed play, Boom! is extremely talk-y, but Losey’s prowling camera and elegantly composed shots ensure it’s never dull to watch. The production values were obviously high, and they're visible on the screen: the jewels Taylor wears, for example, are all genuine, on loan from Bulgari and worth an estimated $2,000,000. The art direction, sets, exteriors and Taylor’s garish wardrobe (especially her eye-popping Kabuki ensemble with the exploding headdress) are incredible. (Some of Taylor's costumes were apparently designed by Karl Lagerfeld). Captured in glorious Panavision, the sun-drenched Italian Riviera locale is exquisite (Boom! is usually described as having been filmed in Capri, but the closing credits say it was filmed on location in Sardinia). Boom! is immersive, a noble and ambitious failure, a real experience. Like Elizabeth Taylor’s interpretation of Sissy Goforth, it’s simultaneously seductive and repellent. Boom! is finally majestic in its misguided awfulness.

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Taylor in Kabuki costume and Coward as The Witch of Capri


John Waters discussing his love for Boom!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Las Vegas Grind! Viva Las Vegas 2011

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Viva Las Vegas 2011 seemed to go by a blur! Maybe that’s the reason I took less good photos than usual. Less of my American friends went this year, which was a bit of a letdown. I caught brief glimpses of Satan's Angel and Dean Micetich of DiCE Magazine (aka the artist formerly known as Kid Rocker) but then never saw them again for rest of weekend. Missed Sweetpea’s Hootch and Smooch warm-up party on afternoon of Thursday. Didn’t make it into Double Down Saloon or Atomic Liquor and Cocktails (my two favourite Las Vegas dive bars. In fact Jim and I did make a special trek to go to the Double Down Saloon, but I neglected to bring my passport and the bouncer on the door wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t have ID to prove I was over 21! At my age!). Didn’t catch Big Elvis's lounge act this year (a sacrilege!). Didn’t catch either the burlesque showcase or the burlesque contest, even though my friend Sarah (aka Slinky Sparkles) was a contestant in the competition (the long queues to get in to both were extremely off-putting). Where the hell did the time go?!

Sarah and Jim Airport
After about a grand total of twelve and a half hours in an airplane, Sarah and Jim were gasping for a cigarette by the time we arrived in Vegas

Sarah and I
Sarah and I at The Orleans. Note her Vivienne Westwood handbag. It's genuine

The highlights: Caught some great bands. Pachuco Josey y Los Diamantes. The Modern Don Juans. Los Straitjackets. Los Tiki Phantoms. (Yes, the future of rockabilly is Latino!). After Chuck Berry’s creaky and underwhelming performance in 2010 (Jim and I left after watching only three or four songs), I was wary of headliner Jerry Lee Lewis but the 75-year old rockabilly legend was in great voice and on stately / majestic form (even if he didn’t sing “Breathless”, my favourite song of his).

Jerry Lee Lewis Close-Up
Closest thing I could get to a close-up of Jerry Lee Lewis performing at the car show

Meeting Mistress of the Dark Elvira at the car show involved queuing in the baking sun for about 35 minutes and then buying wildly over-priced merchandise for the privilege of having my photo taken with her – but was well worth it to meet one of my teenaged idols. Elvira (aka Cassandra Peterson) was gracious and charming, and the woman is an ageless icon, revered by punks, rockabillies and Goths.

Elvia and I
Elvira and I

Elvira Close-Up
Close-up of Elvira: the photo is even better with me cropped-out!

Tempest Storm
Flame-haired veteran burlesque legend (and star of Teaserama) Tempest Storm at the car show

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Tempest Storm in the 1950s

Exploring the Charleston Antique Mall (a treasure trove of mid-century vintage kitsch) was fun. Was great seeing Jorge from Los Angeles (aka DJ Zorch) and his beautiful new girlfriend, albeit briefly. Finally meeting Sean Law! The pool parties with the surf band Aquasonics performing live every afternoon. For their sets they were joined onstage by Seattle burlesque starlet Miss Kitty Baby go-go dancing. Watching Kitty Baby (an escapee from a 1960s Russ Meyer film, with added tattoos) shake it like a Poloroid in the dreamy Vegas sunshine while drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon is a life-affirming experience: if the Viva Las Vegas weekender has a queen, it’s Miss Kitty Baby.


Me, Jim and Jorge
Me, Jim and Jorge (aka DJ Zorch from Los Angeles)

Sean Law and I
Historic Meeting: Two Canadians Meet in Las Vegas! Sean Law and I

Miss Kitty Baby
Go, baby, go! Miss Kitty Baby in action, go-go dancing to the surf sounds of the Aquasonics

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Jim and Miss Kitty Baby: Note how the lurid colours of his Hawaiian shirt and her go-go dancer outfit coordinate beautifully.

Fittingly, one of the film selections on the flight back to London was the classic 1953 Marlon Brando juvenile delinquent / motorcycle gang film The Wild One. I hadn’t seen it since I was a teenager and before popping an Ambien and crashing out for most of the journey I made a point of watching it. By today’s standards some aspects of The Wild One may seem camp-y and dated, but it’s a tightly-constructed, energetically told and really enjoyable B-movie, and as a rockabilly fanatic it obviously holds a timeless fascination for me. For one thing, the film came out before rock’n’roll burst through, so it’s surprising when a smouldering and insolent young Brando swaggers into a cafe and fires up the jukebox, instead of a burst of twang-y rockabilly it emits ... jazz. (Frantic bebop jazz, but even still! No wonder the trailer refers to them as “jazzed-up hoodlums”). And the clothes Brando and his gang The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club wear are so covetable they had me virtually drooling. The black leather engineer boots, the perfect Levis with the perfect turn-ups, the t-shirts, the leather jackets, the caps, the sunglasses, the quiffs, the sideburns ... Brando and his gang remain the absolute visual / sartorial ideal for male rockabillies in the way that, say, Bettie Page or Mamie van Doren do for female rockabillies.

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Anyway, roll on Viva Las Vegas 2012!

See more of my Viva Las Vegas 2011 photos on flickr