Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Lobotomy Room DJ Set List at Fontaine's 29 March 2019



Fancy an evening of sex, liquor and degradation? Of course, you do!

Yes! Revel in sleaze, voodoo and rock’n’roll - when incredibly bizarre dance party Lobotomy Room returns to the basement Bamboo Lounge of Dalston’s most unique nite spot Fontaine’s! Friday 29 March!

Lobotomy Room! Where sin lives! A punkabilly booze party! Sensual and depraved! A spectacle of decadence! A Mondo Trasho evening of Beat, Beat Beatsville Beatnik Rock’n’Roll! Bad Music for Bad People! Rockabilly Psychosis! Wailing Rhythm and Blues! Twisted tittyshakers! Punk cretin hops! White Trash Rockers! Kitsch! Exotica! Curiosities and Other Weird Shit! Think John Waters soundtracks, or Songs the Cramps Taught Us, hosted by Graham Russell. Expect desperate stabs from the jukebox jungle! Savage rhythms to make you writhe and rock!

Admission: gratuit - that’s French for FREE!

Lobotomy Room: Faster. Further. Filthier.

It’s sleazy. It’s grubby. It’s trashy - you’ll love it! A tawdry good time guaranteed!


It’s that time again! I fly to Las Vegas for the 22nd Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender tonight (16 April)! (I skipped 2018, so this is my first time since 2017. I've been attending off and on since 2003). And as per usual, I’m packing and un-packing and checking and re-checking everything in jittery OCD-style! One particular source of anxiety: I’m flying with Aeromexico – an airline I’d never even heard of until now! They depart from Heathrow and the agent at Flight Centre assures me they’re 100% legit! The flights in and out will be brutal with long stop-overs in Mexico City airport. (This is probably the closest I'll ever come to experiencing Mexico!). I’ll be glad to get the draining travelling stage over with. But I’m mostly looking forward to reunions with my American and Canadian friends (and drinking Mai Tais at Frankie’s Tiki Room!).


So, this blog post is a bit of a rush job to get the March 2019 Lobotomy Room scene report online before I split! You may have noticed there was no January 2019 scene report. To re-cap: the November and December 2018 club nights were pretty damn triumphant! Then the January 2019 club was absolutely catastrophic and soul-destroying (no one came! My worst fear was realized!). There wasn’t a February Lobotomy Room (the Bamboo Lounge was reserved for another event that night), so it felt like a lot was riding on the March 2019 club! Happily enough, we pulled a decent-sized crowd – and they were stylish, sexy and keen to drink, dance and carouse! Fingers crossed they return in April!


/ Hair hopper role model: the regal Wanda Jackson in the early 1960s /

One of the headliners at this year’s Viva Las Vegas was meant to be the truly great and much-loved 81-year old veteran First Lady of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson. Last time I saw Jackson perform, it was at the 2017 Viva Las Vegas. She was visibly frail and sang sitting down (and relied on a wheelchair offstage) but was still in ferocious raspy voice and radiated earth mother warmth and grit. It had been noted that Jackson – who still tours regularly – had recently begun cancelling engagements. Then in March her official social media page issued a statement confirming that after over sixty years of performing, Jackson is retiring for health reasons. I hope Wanda Jackson enjoys a serene well-earned retirement. I will treasure my memories of seeing her onstage over the years.  (I played her track “Mean, Mean Man” at this Lobotomy Room). Intriguingly, Jackson is currently recording a new album due out later this year - produced by Joan Jett! I wonder what that will sound like! 


/ Wanda Jackson and I in London in 2007 / 



In other news: in a cruel twist, we lost both King of Surf Guitar Dick Dale (4 March 1937 - 16 March 2019) and ineffably raunchy high priest of greasy rhythm and blues Andre Williams (1 November 1936 - 17 March 2019, aka “Mr Rhythm”) on the same weekend. Like most honkies of my generation, my introduction to Andre Williams came via The Cramps. The most famous song Williams ever wrote will always be soul standard “Shake a Tail Feather” (I’d argue Ike and Tina Turner’s version is the definitive!), but I particularly treasure his lewd and flamboyant low-life compositions like “Jail Bait”, “Bacon Fat”, “Sweet Little Pussycat” and “The Greasy Chicken.” He was a poet of the gutter! As The Guardian’s obituary concludes, Williams was “an innovator with a smile on his face and a hard-on in his pants.” Andre Williams was one suave fuck! (Rest assured I dropped Williams’ essential tittyshaker “Sweet Little Pussycat” at the March Lobotomy Room in tribute).


More recently, I was saddened to hear about the death of Angel Walker (18 September 1944 – 11 April 2019), aka fierce doyenne of exotic dance and veteran burlesque royalty Satan's Angel, the Devil's Own Mistress. I got to see Satan’s Angel perform and briefly meet and talk to her at Viva Las Vegas in 2010. She was great – a raspy-voiced, hard-boiled but sweet tough cookie and a true old-school, straight-talking broad. What a life and what a woman! A true ultra vixen! As a defiantly out-and-proud lesbian on the Mafia-ruled striptease circuit in the 1960s she endured her share of prejudice. (Apparently her female lovers included Hedy Lamarr and Janis Joplin!). Satan’s Angel also used to play bass in a topless all-girl rock’n’roll band called The Hummingbirds who did a residency at the nite spot Tipsy’s in San Francisco’s North Beach. (How Beyond the Valley of the Dolls / Russ Meyer-esque! Oh, for a time machine!). I would have loved to corner Walker with a tape recorder and get her to divulge all the juicy details of her life and career! At one point she spoke of writing her memoirs – I wonder if she ever completed them? I know a documentary was made about her in 2013. Satan’s Angel features prominently in Peaches’ 2015 video “I Mean Something” – a nice way to remember her. She will be missed.


/ Satan's Angel and I at Viva Las Vegas, 2010 /

Anyway, here's what I played at the March 2019 Lobotomy Room:

Prancing - Ike and Tina Turner
Little Queenie - Bill Black's Combo
Jailhouse Rock - Masaaki Hirao
Love Potion # 9 - Nancy Sit
Road Runner - The 5,6,7,8s
Bombora - The Original Surfaris
Aw! Shucks Baby - Tiny Topsy
The Whip - The Frantics
Boss - The Rumblers
Let's Go Baby - Billy Eldridge
Breathless - Arlie Neaville
Jukebox Babe - Alan Vega
Atomic Bongos - Lydia Lunch
Surf Rat - The Rumblers
Eight Ball - The Hustlers
I'm a Bad, Bad Girl - Little Esther
Sweet Little Pussycat - Andre Williams
Scorpion - The Carnations
Blitzkrieg Bop - The Ramonetures
Woo-Hoo - The Rock-a-Teens
Love Me - The Phantom
Garbageman - The Cramps
I Don't Need You No More - The Rumblers
Riding with a Movie Star - L7
Cha Cha Twist - The Detroit Cobras
Breathless - X
Be Bop a Lula - Alan Vega
Viva Las Vegas - Nina Hagen
Ring of Fire - The Earls of Suave
Mean Mean Man - Wanda Jackson
Wild Wild Party - Charlie Feathers
The Swag - Link Wray
Tornado - Dale Hawkins
One, Two, Let's Rock - Sugar Pie and Pee Wee
Little Girl - John and Jackie
Big Bounce - Shirley Caddell and The Aristocrats
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
Vesuvius - The Revels
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - The 5,6,7,8s
That Makes It - Jayne Mansfield
Year 1 - X
Ultra Twist - The Cramps
96 Tears - Big Maybelle
How Does That Grab You Darlin'? - Nancy Sinatra
Beat Party - Ritchie and The Squires
C'mon Everybody - Sid Vicious
Bossa Nova Baby - Elvis Presley
The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard
A Fool in Love - Ike and Tina Turner
Wipe Out - The Surfaris
Pedro Pistolas Twist - Los Twisters
You're Driving Me Crazy - Dorothy Berry
Fools Rush In - Ricky Nelson
I'm Blue - The Ikettes
That's Life - Big Maybelle
One Night of Sin - Elvis Presley
I Love the Life I Live - Esquerita

You can hear the set list on Spotify here. I feel torn on whether to continue with these Spotify playlists. Spotify is a hideous, soulless corporation who rips-off musicians (although, to be fair, many of the artists I play are dead). I’m not sure how many people actually listen to these playlists and whether they help promote the club night in a meaningful way. And plenty of the songs I play aren’t even featured on Spotify, so the playlists are very approximate! We’ll see.

Remember: the next Lobotomy Room dance party downstairs at Fontaine’s is Friday 26 April 2019! Full squalid details here. 


Further reading: 

In August 2018 I spoke my brains to To Do List magazine about the wild, wild world of Lobotomy Room, the monthly cinema club – and my lonely one-man mission to return a bit of raunch, sleaze and “adult situations” to London’s nightlife! Read it - if you must - here. 


Follow me on twitter!

"Like" and follow the official Lobotomy Room page on Facebook if you dare! 
 


Saturday, 30 March 2019

Reflections on ... Cobra Woman (1944)


/ Pagan witch - no man could resist or subdue! /

From the Facebook event page:

Call it a South seas adventure. A pagan sensation. An epic kitsch extravaganza. A so-bad-it’s-GREAT camp classic! For the March Lobotomy Room film club, we’re presenting Cobra Woman (1944)! Wednesday 20 March 2019!

Thickly-accented Queen of Technicolour Maria Montez stars in a dual role as twin sisters of the tropics vying for love! One is virtuous, one is evil! Venomous in hate, rapturous in love! In a story containing all that you desire in romance and adventure! See the horror of masses terrified by the power of King Cobra! See the thrill of sinuous beauties in the dance of the snakes! All the matchless thrills of fiery adventure! All the forbidden wonders and dangers of the tropics! Witness snake worship! (Including some frankly rubber-looking ones!) Virgin sacrifice! Harem dancers! Erupting volcanoes! Nubile leading man Sabu frolicking in nothing but a skimpy loincloth! And best of all, a monkey threading a needle! Your mind will boggle! Hail King Cobra!

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club downstairs at Fontaine’s bar (Dalston’s most unique nite spot!) devoted to Bad Movies We Love (our motto: Bad Movies for Bad People), specializing in the kitsch, the cult and the camp! Doors to the basement Bamboo Lounge open at 8 pm. Film starts at 8:30 pm prompt!





/ The following is a jumble of my onstage introduction to the film plus a sprinkling of some fun factoids and further reflections on Cobra Woman. /



In her prime, Dominican Republic-born screen diva Maria Montez (1912 - 1952) was hailed as both “the Caribbean Cyclone” and “The Queen of Technicolour.”  She starred in a wildly popular series of lavish and exotic costume adventure films for Universal Studios in the 1940s with titles like Arabian Nights (1942), White Savage (1943), Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944) and Siren of Atlantis (1949) that offered escapism for audiences during World War II. Montez’s stardom was ultimately short-lived, and her movies were subsequently either forgotten or dismissed as trash.



/ Radiant close-up of Montez in Cobra Woman, justifying the title "Queen of Technicolour" /

In the intervening decades, though, Montez became venerated as a pivotal figure in the sensibility we now define as “camp” or “kitsch”. She was revered as one of the original gay icons for the post-war generation of the 50s and 60s, who embraced her films as “so-bad-they’re-good” guilty pleasures. Her admirers also included leading queer artists, filmmakers and writers like Kenneth Anger (who has reportedly cited Cobra Woman as his all-time favourite film), Andy Warhol, Gore Vidal (Montez figures prominently in his 1974 novel Myron) and Jack Smith (whose films like Buzzards over Bagdad, I Was a Male Yvonne De Carlo and Flaming Creatures were directly inspired by Montez’s oeuvre). In fact, long before Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn, the original underground drag queen actor in the art films of Jack Smith and Warhol was René Rivera (1935 – 2013), a Puerto Rican mailman re-christened “Mario Montez” in tribute.


When Montez’s Hollywood career dried-up, she and her husband (suavely handsome French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont) re-located to Paris. Sadly – like a casualty straight out of Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon – she was destined to die young. As Penny Stallings concludes in her 1978 book Flesh and Fantasy, “Maria Montez had a reputation for being for being impossible to handle. After a number of years in Haji-Baba type adventures, she was dropped by Universal and forced to seek work in European cheapies. While in Europe, she attempted to counter her advanced state of avoirdupois with hot saline baths. She died in one of a heart attack at the age of thirty-one.”  (Actually, Montez was 39 – like any self-respecting star, she was creative with her birth year).


In a bizarre coincidence, Montez’s co-star in Cobra Woman, Sabu (1924 – 1963) would also die aged 39 of a heart attack.  Seen today, the doe-eyed and beauteous Sabu is particularly interesting because he was perhaps the sole Asian and Muslim major celebrity of Golden Age Hollywood. (His other notable films include The Thief of Bagdad (1940), The Jungle Book (1942) and Black Narcissus (1947).  As with Chinese-American star Anna May Wong in the 1930s, the frankly racist dictates of the era limited the types of roles Sabu could play (in the Production Code there could be no hint of interracial romances depicted onscreen, for example) and he continued to portray “primitive” child-of-the-Islands stereotypes well into his thirties. (This is not meant as a diss on Sabu – he performed these parts with genuine aplomb and innate dignity).


/ Maria Montez and Jon Hall /



The trio of Montez, Sabu and square-jawed leading man Jon Hall (1915 - 1979) worked together multiple times, but surely Cobra Woman represents their zenith! A truly insane camp-fest that swirls-together phallic snake worship (in some shots, clearly a rubber snake!), pagan ceremonies, human sacrifices, harem girls dancing, erupting volcanoes and a monkey threading a needle, Cobra Woman is truly 67-minutes of bliss.



/ Koko the ape gives perhaps the most dignified performance in Cobra Woman /

Deride it as a trashy mess, call it frequently slapdash – but Cobra Woman is always wildly entertaining. As AllMovie speculates, “Looking at it in the 21st century, one wonders if it was ever seen by Edward D Wood Jr; not only does the production sort of anticipate (albeit on a much higher level and budget) his work in the adventure genre, but the script seems to contain the essence of inept moments that he would elevate to an art of sorts. And one can just imagine Wood, as a young marine recruit, watching Cobra Woman eagerly and "learning" all the wrong lessons from its writing and production. But, like the best of Wood's movies - only more so - Cobra Woman is still great fun of the "guilty pleasure" sort.”


Not that Robert Siodmak (Cobra Woman’s director) was a hack. The German filmmaker would subsequently helm genuinely great, stylish and acclaimed films noir like Phantom Lady (1944), The Killers (1946) and The File on Thelma Jordan (1949). I wonder if he was ever tempted to scrub Cobra Woman from his résumé?



Alongside “What the fuck?”, one of the questions that may occur to you watching this is: when and where are the deranged antics of Cobra Woman meant to be occurring? Obviously, verisimilitude was not a priority, but the inhabitants of the remote Cobra Island are certainly wildly multicultural, encompassing people with Indian (Sabu), Spanish (Montez) and American (Hall) accents – as well as Scottish (!) and those who seem to be declaiming in refined high falutin' Shakespearean English (Mary Nash as the queen of Cobra Island and the grandmother of separated twins Tollea and Naja). Lon Chaney Jr gets off easily – he plays a mute. The costumes – a crazy, all-purpose exotica mélange of turbans, capes, sarongs, harem pants, loincloths and sparkly bathing suits - certainly offer no clue. Some of Montez's headgear is worthy of Carmen Miranda. Some characters look vaguely Aztec or Incan. Some of the male soldiers resemble ancient Roman centurions. Others look like they’re en route to a 1944 cocktail lounge! The criteria seemed to be: raid whatever was vaguely “historical” in the wardrobe department.




Seen today, Cobra Woman also feels vividly queer. There are certainly striking homoerotic elements. The hunky Jon Hall suggests one of George Quaintance’s idealized beefcake illustration come to life. As nubile South Seas twink Kado, Sabu sports nothing but a skimpy loincloth and a sheen of baby oil throughout and the camera lingers on his sculpted physique. (We also get to see him tied-up in bondage!). Perhaps the most convincing love story in Cobra Woman isn’t between Montez and Hall, but between Hall and Sabu, who genuinely seems to pine for him in the calf-eyed way that Sal Mineo later moons for James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. (I kept hoping they would kiss). And – spoiler alert! – the concluding shot is pretty much a close-up of Sabu’s ass!


In Cobra Woman, the nostril-flaring and tempestuous Montez gets to play one good sister (Tollea) and one evil sister (Naja). Inevitably, the evil sister is a lot more fun. While not a “good” actress by any conventional standard, she is undeniably compelling. Montez approaches the ridiculous scenarios with complete conviction and a genuinely royal poise (no wonder drag queens loved her!).  As  Siodmak would later shrug, Montez "couldn't act from here to there, but she was a great personality and she believed completely in her roles".



By all accounts, the frankly temperamental Montez gleefully relished being a movie star and that pleasure is tangible on the screen. With a commendable lack of self-modesty, when she first viewed herself in the film Arabian Nights, Montez reportedly gasped, “When I look at myself, I am so beautiful I scream with joy!” Maria Montez – you make me scream with joy! It was heartwarming to see the audience enthralled by Cobra Woman at Fontaine’s, and I predict they will be doing imitations of Montez declaring “I have spoken!” and “Give me that cobra jewel!!” for the rest of their lives.



I’ll give the late film historian John Kobal the final word (from his 1981 book Hollywood Colour Portraits):

“After her adoring audience had grown up, they discovered that Maria Africa Vidal de Santos Silas hadn’t done her own singing (she was dubbed), nor her own dancing; her abilities as an actress were also put into question, but her spell was not tarnished. Maria Montez was still the madly glamorous “Queen of Technicolour.” What her roles (all of them variations of Scheherazade in slumberland) required were ingredients she had a surplus of: statuesque bearing, regal demeanor, fiery beauty and best of all, an unassailable confidence in herself. When one weighed all the things she couldn’t do against the things she did so well, the balance came out in her favour.”

Further reading: 

A nice appreciation of Montez as a camp / queer icon and her influence on the underground cinema of Jack Smith,

In August 2018 I spoke my brains to To Do List magazine about the wild, wild world of Lobotomy Room, the monthly cinema club – and my lonely one-man mission to return a bit of raunch, sleaze and “adult situations” to London’s nightlife! Read it - if you must - here. 


Follow me on twitter!

"Like" and follow the official Lobotomy Room page on Facebook if you dare! 
 

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Reflections on ... Secret Ceremony (1968)


/ Italian movie poster for Secret Ceremony via /

Glittering hedonists Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were the foremost show business power couple of the last century. (I’m sorry, but Kanye and Kim who?). As world-famous and tabloid-friendly as the tempestuous, jet-setting and hard-drinking duo were, the actual films they made together and individually during their marriage were mostly notorious mega-bombs. Some, though, were genuinely interesting and deserve reappraisal. Take, For instance, Secret Ceremony (1968).



Pop culture theorist Camille Paglia has rhapsodized about the impact of seeing Secret Ceremony on its original release. “One of the most spectacular moments of my movie-going career occurred in college as I watched Joseph Losey’s bizarre Secret Ceremony,” she would recall in her essay “Elizabeth Taylor: Hollywood’s Pagan Queen” in the March 1992 issue of Penthouse magazine. “Halfway through the film, inexplicably and without warning, Elizabeth Taylor in a violet velvet suit and turban suddenly walks across the screen in front of a wall of sea-green tiles. It is an overcast London day; the steel-grey light makes the violet and green iridescent. This is Elizabeth Taylor at her most vibrant, mysterious and alluring at the peak of her mature fleshy glamour. I happened to be sitting with a male friend, one of the gay aesthetes who had such a profound impact on my imagination. We both cried out at the same time, alarming other theatregoers. This vivid silent tableau is for me one of the classic scenes in the history of cinema.”



/ A vision in violet: via /

Seen today, peculiar London-set late 1960s psychodramas Secret Ceremony is the type of film John Waters would describe as a “failed art movie” – but that’s one of my favourite genres, and if you’re going to make a failed art movie, make it this wildly baroque, weird and claustrophobic! Screen diva Taylor (at the zenith of her zaftig double-chinned, caftan-wearing era) stars as Leonara, a blowsy middle-aged prostitute tormented by the memory of the death of her young daughter by drowning. One day profoundly disturbed and deluded poor little rich girl Cenci (post-Rosemary’s Baby Mia Farrow at her most waif-like) latches onto her and decides Leonara represents the return of her recently-deceased mother, dragging her back to her haunted art nouveau mansion in Holland Park. Leonora soon clashes with Robert Mitchum as Albert, Cenci’s sexually predatory stepfather. From there things just get progressively more twisted!



/ Elizabeth Taylor: the caftan years (albeit a caftan by Dior) /


/ Frankly psychotic nymphette Cenci. You may find Farrow's performance begins to grate as the film progresses /

Secret Ceremony keeps threatening to turn into a horror movie and never quite delivers – but it is satisfyingly jarring and gothic, nonetheless. Taylor in shrewish bitch goddess-mode is hypnotically compelling as only she can be. At one point, Leonara hungrily gobbles a big fried breakfast and loudly belches – a moment worthy of Divine! There’s a reason Taylor is revered as a campy queer icon! (Cruelly, the film repeatedly draws attention to Taylor’s matronly weight. “I’m so fat!” Leonara wails to Cenci, surveying herself in a mirror. Later, Albert tells Leonara “You look more like a cow than my late wife. No offense - I'm very fond of cows”).  The fragile and intense Farrow hams it up as a demented child-like pixie. Secret Ceremony is effortlessly stolen from them both, though, by the torpid Mitchum, who breathes complexity and humanity into the perverse role of Albert.  



/ Gruesome twosome: Albert (Robert Mitchum) and Cenci (Mia Farrow) /


/ The bathtub scene was apparently considered the hint of depravity in 1968, hinting at both lesbianism and incest /

No spoilers, but out of this freakily dysfunctional trio, only one will survive and they will mutter to themselves, “There were two mice fell in a bucket of milk. One yelled for help and drowned. The other kept pedaling around until, in the morning, he found himself on top of butter”. Watch for the closing credits, which announce Taylor’s wardrobe is via Dior and her hairstyles by Alexandre de Paris. The film is like a lesbianic, female-centred version of director Joseph Losey’s earlier, more celebrated movie The Servant (1963). Secret Ceremony almost certainly suffered at the box office by the failure of the even-more berserk Boom! (1968), the flop film based on a Tennessee Williams play Losey made with Taylor and Burton that same year - another movie I love!


Further reading:

My analysis of the other Elizabeth Taylor / Joseph Losey "failed art movie"of 1968 - the infamous Boom! - here.

The essential Dreams Are What Le Cinema is For blog goes in-depth on Secret Ceremony here.


Monday, 4 February 2019

Reflections on ... Sudden Fear (1952)



/ “Heartbreak … poised on a trigger of terror!” An agonized Joan Crawford in Sudden Fear (1952) /

From the Facebook event page:

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club downstairs at Fontaine’s bar (Dalston’s most unique nite spot!) devoted to Bad Movies We Love (our motto: Bad Movies for Bad People), specializing in the kitsch, the cult and the camp!

For the first Lobotomy Room film club of the New Year, let’s revel in some old-school pagan diva worship with Sudden Fear (1952) starring cinema’s bitch goddess extraordinaire (and eternal Lobotomy Room favourite) Joan Crawford! Wednesday 16 January 2019!

In the 1950s the perennially-fierce Crawford made a cycle of melodramas in which she played middle-aged women-in-peril tormented by younger lovers, including Autumn Leaves and Female on the Beach. All these films are genuinely great, but the zenith is hard-boiled film noir thriller Sudden Fear in which Crawford is a wealthy San Francisco socialite menaced by the duplicitous Jack Palance and the pouty and perverse Gloria Grahame. (Bad girl Gloria Grahame and Joan Crawford in the same film?! You don't want to miss this!).

Doors to the basement Bamboo Lounge open at 8 pm. Film starts at 8:30 pm prompt!



Seven years prior to Sudden Fear, Joan Crawford had won the Best Actress Oscar for her triumphant comeback role in Mildred Pierce (1945). But Crawford’s lengthy career was characterized by peaks and troughs and by the end of the decade, the juicy roles had dried-up once again. You can’t keep a gritty and resilient veteran diva like Crawford down for long, though, and she bounced back in the early fifties with an impressive string of hit movies. Sudden Fear is perhaps the most notable: the film was both a critical and commercial success in 1952 and earned Crawford her third and final Best Actress Academy Award nomination. (She was defeated by Shirley Booth in Come Back, Little Sheba).


/ "Every Suspenseful Moment... Every Embrace... Every Kiss - A Breathtaking Experience!" /

I’m the first to admit I know nothing about director David Miller (and judging by his filmography, he was something of a journeyman who did everything from war films to Westerns to Marx Brothers comedies) but he confidently and stylishly navigates the twists and turns of Sudden Fear. Set in San Francisco, it begins as an absorbing, soap-y love story between wealthy middle-aged playwright and high-society heiress Myra Hudson (Crawford) and ambitious, enigmatic young actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) and then dramatically shifts tone and becomes a tense, white-knuckle ride thriller when Myra begins to suspect Lester intends to murder her.


/ “Her one love shattered - her rival laughing - her life in danger – a new high in suspense melodrama!” /

Crawford was 47-years old at the time and Palance was 33. Crawford was a pioneering onscreen “cougar” in the fifties, routinely partnered with significantly younger leading men. Around this time, Crawford made multiple films where she portrayed middle-aged women-in-peril tormented by younger lovers. Tough guy Steve Cochran had already slapped her around in lurid noir melodrama The Damned Don’t Cry (1950). Female on the Beach (1955) and Autumn Leaves (1956) would follow. While all these films are irresistible must-sees, Sudden Fear is arguably the definitive in the cycle.



Crawford’s contract entitled her to dictate her leading men and her first choice for Sudden Fear was her old friend (and former lover) from the 1930s, Clark Gable – who would have been entirely wrong for the role! (Not to mention too expensive for the film's relatively modest budget). Her second choice was Marlon Brando. She had to be persuaded that the young and then mostly unknown Palance was the right choice to play the sinister and duplicitous husband. Palance - a former boxer with a strikingly battered face and a nose that had been broken multiple times - brings the perfect amount of convincing Brylcreemed menace, charm and sleazy urgency to the part of Lester.



Sudden Fear is a romantic triangle and co-stars the sin-sational Gloria Grahame (below) as Jack’s treacherous secret girlfriend Irene. Luscious Grahame excelled at playing film noir tarts, floozies and bad girls and her sullen, cat-like presence instantly makes any film she appears in more interesting. No one else ever looked or sounded remotely like Grahame (that quivering nasal voice!) and any time she rocks up in a movie, you know there is going to be trouble! (I still haven’t seen the 2017 biopic Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool starring Annette Bening).



It just wouldn’t be a Joan Crawford film without her feuding with someone – and she clashed with both Palance and Grahame during production. Crawford and the younger Grahame were both temperamental, strong-willed women, so the two of them intensely disliking each other was perhaps inevitable.  This story feels apocryphal, but this is what IMDb claims: “According to Jack PalanceJoan Crawford and Gloria Grahame did not get along and got into a physical altercation at one point during the filming. The fight started after Grahame sat on the edge of the set during one of Crawford's close-ups and very loudly sucked a lollipop in an attempt to anger Crawford. It worked, and Palance noted that the all-male crew watched the fight for a few moments rather curiously before stepping in to break it up.With the intense Palance, she was mystified by his aloof moodiness and his commitment to then-revolutionary New York Actors Studio “Method”-school of acting. Watching Sudden Fear, the antipathy between the actors is probably a bonus, adding to the film’s sense of seething tension. Certainly, the trio of Crawford, Palance and Grahame is film noir heaven.  


/ “I was made to live for him … to die for him … but now I could KILL him!” / 

Ultimately, Sudden Fear succeeds as true gold-plated “star vehicle” designed to showcase the mood swings of Crawford to maximum advantage. (Note that Miss Crawford’s wardrobe gets its own separate screen credit, split into gowns, lingerie, furs and hats). Sudden Fear finds her at the height of her powers as a seasoned, authoritative mature actress. Crawford, of course, began her film career as a hungry young starlet in the silent cinema of the 1920 and there are powerful wordless sequences in Sudden Fear where Crawford is essentially drawing on that history of silent acting. Watch how Crawford uses just her eyes and facial expressions to convey her anguish when she listens in horror to the crucial tape recording in which Lester and Irene are heard planning her murder, or the later scene where she’s hiding in a closet (and tormented by that unforgettable mechanical toy dog!). As the perceptive critic Sheila O’Malley has eloquently extolled, “In her half-century career, Joan Crawford was a master of so many elements of her craft: gesture and silhouette (a lost art), using the shape of her body to tell the story (another lost art), stepping into key lights with emotions at full-throttle (lost art, etc.), as well as the eternal arts of great actresses through time: belief in the reality of the story, understanding her role on an intimate level and a fearlessness in showing qualities considered unladylike or unattractive (rage, ambition, envy).” All of these qualities are abundantly demonstrated in Sudden Fear.


It’s gratifying to see how Crawford continues to be rehabilitated in recent years as the memory of the reputation-destroying Mommie Dearest (both book and film) recedes in the popular imagination.  (Credit should also be given to Jessica Lange’s complex and nuanced, ultimately sympathetic depiction of Crawford in Ryan Murphy’s deluxe 2017 TV mini-series Feud: Bette and Joan). At her best, Crawford is utterly mesmerizing to watch. If ever anyone inquired, “What was the big deal about Joan Crawford?”, point them towards Sudden Fear.


The February 2019 film club:



Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club downstairs at Fontaine’s bar (Dalston’s most unique nite spot!) devoted to Bad Movies We Love (our motto: Bad Movies for Bad People), specialising in the kitsch, the cult and the queer!

Considering February is the month of Valentine’s Day, we’re presenting a love story: irresistible tear-jerking melodrama There’s Always Tomorrow (1956) by Hollywood’s undisputed maestro of deluxe “women’s pictures”, Douglas Sirk! Wednesday 20 February! Warning: this film is a masterpiece of romantic agony – you WILL cry! You bring the tissues, Fontaine’s will provide the cocktails!

There’s Always Tomorrow is unusual in the Sirk canon for two reasons: it focuses on the heartbreak of a man rather than a female protagonist. And it’s in black and white instead of Sirk’s trademark vivid Technicolour. Despite his outwardly perfect life, Clifford Groves (Fred MacMurray) is an affluent but unhappy Californian toy company executive in late middle age, taken for granted by his selfish family. Out of the blue, Norma Vail (Barbara Stanwyck), a former employee he hasn’t seen in years (now a chic and successful fashion designer) returns to his life – and represents one last chance at happiness. Will Clifford succumb to temptation? 

Doors to the basement Bamboo Lounge open at 8 pm. Film starts at 8:30 pm prompt. 

Event page.

Further reading:

Read my appreciation of Gloria Grahame in Human Desire (1954) - one of her definitive, masochistic roles - here. 

Read my reflections on Feud: Bette and Joan (2017) here.

Read my analysis of the 1956 Joan Crawford melodrama Autumn Leaves here.

Read Farran Smith Nehme's tribute to Crawford's performance in Sudden Fear here.

In August 2018 I spoke my brains to To Do List magazine about the wild, wild world of Lobotomy Room, the monthly cinema club – and my lonely one-man mission to return a bit of raunch, sleaze and “adult situations” to London’s nightlife! Read it - if you must - here. 
Follow me on twitter!
"Like" and follow the official Lobotomy Room page on Facebook if you dare!  

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Lobotomy Room DJ Set List at Fontaine's 28 December 2018


From the Facebook event page:

Feeling jaded after Christmas? Didn’t get those cha cha heels you wanted? Come head-bang away those post-Christmas blues at Lobotomy Room! Friday 28 December 2018!

Yes! Revel in sleaze, voodoo and rock’n’roll - when incredibly bizarre dance party Lobotomy Room returns to the basement Bamboo Lounge of Dalston’s most unique nite spot Fontaine’s!

Lobotomy Room! Where sin lives! A punkabilly booze party! Sensual and depraved! A spectacle of decadence! A Mondo Trasho evening of Beat, Beat Beatsville Beatnik Rock’n’Roll! Bad Music for Bad People! Rockabilly Psychosis! Wailing Rhythm and Blues! Punk cretin hops! White Trash Rockers! Kitsch! Exotica! Curiosities! Think John Waters soundtracks, or Songs the Cramps Taught Us, hosted by Graham Russell. Expect desperate stabs from the jukebox jungle! Savage rhythms to make you writhe and rock!

Admission: gratuit - that’s French for FREE!

Lobotomy Room: Faster. Further. Filthier.

It’s sleazy. It’s grubby. It’s trashy - you’ll love it!

Let's end the year on a note of sleazy desperation!



/ Doesn't Christmas feel like it was a lifetime ago? /

Yikes! Considering the January 2019 Lobotomy Room dance party is this Friday (25 January), I’d better hurry up and post the December 2018 scene report. This one will probably be a rush job!

Organizing a club night in the social wasteland between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is always dicey. Will anyone even turn up? Huge swathes of people are likely to be out of town (London becomes a ghost town over the holidays), feeling lethargic after so much eating and drinking, or are skint post-Christmas. But Fontaine’s boss lady Ruby and I decided to plunge ahead with the December 2018 Lobotomy Room - and it turned out to be a successful, rowdy night. And we had some great dancers ripping it up on the floor until almost 2 am!


As you can see from the playlist below, I played a few tracks by Tiny Topsy. Discovering obscure mid-century rhythm and blues singers makes my world go round. If they’re an obscure rhythm and blues singer with a tragic and / or colourful backstory, even better! I think I first heard of Topsy via DJ Mark Lamarr’s radio show. Years later I spotted a Tiny Topsy CD displayed at one of the vendors at Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender and was struck by her intriguing appearance on the cover. I only just recently invested in one of her CDs - and she didn’t disappoint! Topsy’s identity has been shrouded in mystery for years: the skimpy AllMusic website biography for her shrugs, “For some years ‘Tiny Topsy’ was believed to be a pseudonym used by singer-songwriter Bernice Williams although this is now largely discounted. Just who Tiny Topsy was remains unknown.” The Wikipedia entry on Topsy is far more thorough: we now know she was born Otha Lee Moore (1930 – 1964) in Chicago and died tragically young aged just 34 of an intracerebral haemorrhage. Topsy didn’t get the opportunity to record much in her abbreviated life (and never scored any major hits), but her output is irresistibly tough, raunchy 1950s rhythm and blues belters. Her soaring, impassioned and soulful wail can favourably be compared to her better-known female R&B contemporaries like Big Maybelle, Big Mama Thornton and LaVern Baker. Adding to her appeal, the ironically-named Tiny Topsy (five feet tall, 250-pounds) looked like an escapee from a John Waters film. Seek her out!

Twenty Thousand Leagues - The Champs
Katanga - Ike Turner and His Kings of Rhythm
Exotic - The Sentinels
Monkey Bird - The Revels
Mau Mau - The Fabulous Wailers
Kismiaz - The Cramps
Papa Oom Mow Mow - The Rivingtons
Fujiyama Mama - Annisteen Allen
Three Cool Chicks - The 5.6.7.8s
Bullwinkle Part II - The Centurians
Adult Books - X
Train to Nowhere - The Champs
Khrushchev Twist - Melvin Gayle
Tarantula - The Tarantulas
You're the One for Me - Wanda Jackson
Dragon Walk - The Noblemen
I Don't Need You No More - The Rumblers
Vesuvius - The Revels
Killer - Sparkle Moore
Surf Rat - The Rumblers
Dames, Booze, Chains and Boots - The Cramps
No Good Lover - Mickey and Sylvia
Working On Me Baby - Tiny Topsy
The Big Bounce - Shirley Caddell
Underwater - The Frogmen
Save It - Mel Robbins
Oo Ba La Baby - Mamie Van Doren
Bop Pills - Macy "Skip" Skipper
I'm Blue - The Ikettes
Beat Party - Ritchie and The Squires
Strychnine - The Sonics
Little Queenie - The Bill Black Combo
Uptown to Harlem - Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin
Jukebox Babe - Alan Vega
Atomic Bongos - Lydia Lunch
Riding with a Movie Star - L7
Viva Las Vegas - Nina Hagen
Wipe-Out - The Surfaris
I Can't Believe What You Say - Ike and Tina Turner
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Garbage Man - The Cramps
Blitzkreig Bop - The Ramonetures
Deuces Wild - Link Wray
Pedro Pistolas Twist - Los Twisters
Peter Gunn Locomotion - The Delmonas
Peter Gunn Twist - The Jesters
Gunnin' for Peter - The Fabulous Wailers
Hanky Panky - Rita Chao and The Quests
Woo-Hoo - The Rockateens
Bomb the Twist - The 5.6.7.8s
Viens danser le twist - Johnny Hallyday
Ultra Twist - The Cramps
Juvenile Delinquent - Ronnie Allen
Be Bop A Lula - Alan Vega
Let's Go Baby - Billy Eldridge and The Fireballs
Tongue Tied Jill - Charlie Feathers
Tongue Tied - Wanda Jackson
Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad - Tammy Wynette
Breathless - X
Rock Around the Clock - The Sex Pistols
Jailhouse Rock - Masaaki Hirao
Whistle Bait - The Collins Kids
Rockin' Bones - Ronnie Dawson
Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On - Big Maybelle
Rockin' the Joint - Esquerita
Wiped-Out - The Escorts
You Shoulda Treated Me Right - Ike and Tina Turner
You're Driving Me Crazy - Dorothy Berry
Bacon Fat - Andre Williams
What's Wrong with Me? X
Forming - Germs
I Wanna Be Sedated - The Ramonetures
Bombora - The Original Surfaris
Margaya - The Fender Four
You Sure Know How to Hurt Someone - Ann-Margret
Kissin' Cousins - Elvis Presley
Jim Dandy - LaVern Baker
Believe What You Say - Ricky Nelson
The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard
The Wallflower (Roll with Me Henry) - Etta James
C'mon Everybody - Sid Vicious
Sweetie Pie - Eddie Cochran
Jim Dandy - Ann-Margret
Domino - Roy Orbison
Aw! Shucks Baby - Tiny Topsy


/ The glorious Ike and Tina Turner Revue photographed in 1968 - surely one of the cultural high points of 20th century Western civilization? Let’s have a heated debate! /

I've knocked-together a Spotify playlist of all the tracks I played at the December 2018 Lobotomy Room. You can listen to it here. As ever, not all the songs were available on Spotify, so in parts this playlist is an approximation! And for the full "you-were-there" experience, disable the "shuffle" option and listen to in sequence! 

Further reading: 

In August 2018 I spoke my brains to To Do List magazine about the wild, wild world of Lobotomy Room, the monthly cinema club – and my lonely one-man mission to return a bit of raunch, sleaze and “adult situations” to London’s nightlife! Read it - if you must - here. 


Follow me on twitter!

"Like" and follow the official Lobotomy Room page on Facebook if you dare! 
 

The next Lobotomy Room club is Friday 25 January 2019!


Now for the uninhibited broad-minded sin set! Revel in sleaze, voodoo and rock’n’roll - when incredibly strange dance party Lobotomy Room returns to the basement Bamboo Lounge of Dalston’s most unique nite spot Fontaine’s! Friday 25 January!

Lobotomy Room! Where sin lives! A punkabilly booze party! Sensual and depraved! A spectacle of decadence! A Mondo Trasho evening of Beat, Beat Beatsville Beatnik Rock’n’Roll! Bad Music for Bad People! Rockabilly Psychosis! Wailing Rhythm and Blues! Twisted Tittyshakers! Punk cretin hops! White Trash Rockers! Kitsch! Exotica! Curiosities and Other Weird Shit! Think John Waters soundtracks, or Songs the Cramps Taught Us, hosted by Graham Russell. Expect desperate stabs from the jukebox jungle! Savage rhythms to make you writhe and rock! Vintage erotica projected on the big screen all night for your adult viewing pleasure!

Admission: gratuit - that’s French for FREE!

Lobotomy Room: Faster. Further. Filthier.

It’s sleazy. It’s grubby. It’s trashy - you’ll love it!

A tawdry good time guaranteed!