Friday, 22 March 2013

Lobotomy Room 16 March 2013 Set List


“I’m a thief and a shit kicker and, uh, I’d like to be famous ...” Ultimate freak diva Divine (formerly Harris Glenn Milstead, the three hundred pound drag queen, singer and leading lady of choice for Prince of Puke, John Waters) has been haunting my imagination lately. For one thing, I recently re-visited Pink Flamingos for the first time in ages when I realised a friend in his early 30s had never seen it. Then the 25th anniversary of Divine’s death was earlier this month (she died 7 March 1988 at the tragically young age of 42; I hope everyone marked the occasion by doing something extra filthy in her honor).  And in an exceptionally timely coincidence, I paid homage to this eternal outlaw / queer icon when the documentary I Am Divine made its UK premiere at the 2013 Lesbian and Gay Film Festival at The British Film Institute in London on 14 March. My old friend film journalist Damon Wise was on the guest list. Thanks to him adding me as his “plus one” I managed to hustle my way into the sold-out opening night screening. (For the record, Damon is as straight as an arrow. To paraphrase New York doyenne of performance art Penny Arcade, Damon is “so queer he’s not even gay!” Or at least, I’m queer enough for the both of us). Anyway, I Am Divine is a loving and sweet-natured tribute to the punk Hog Princess and a true must-see for aficionados of the cinema of John Waters (which I hope is most people I know!). I therefore dedicate the 16 March 2013 Lobotomy Room to the memory of Divine.

From the Facebook events page:
Lobotomy Room: 16 March at Paper Dress Vintage in the heart of bohemian Shoreditch! A Mondo Trasho night of rockabilly, frantic Rhythm and Blues, tittyshaking sleazy instrumentals, punk, kitsch and exotica (weird shit, basically! Think John Waters soundtracks, or Songs The Cramps Taught Us).

As an added bonus, there is a live performance from:


Vicious beehived mistresses of surf-punk (comprised of ex-members of The Voodoo Queens, Mambo Taxi, Naked Ruby and Urban Voodoo Machine) stir up a tidal wave of guitar instrumental mayhem. Wipe out!

Admission is FREE, the booze is cheap, and the venue is walking distance from Old Street tube. If you’re working that night – call in sick. If you’re in jail – BREAK OUT.

/ Above: photo I took of Ella Guru at a Deptford Beach Babes gig at Ryan's in Stoke Newington, 2006 /

Lobotomy Room Blank

/ Below: Deptford Beach Babes guitarist and front woman Ella Guru and I /

The Second-Ever Lobotomy Room: 16 March 2013

Strictly speaking this was the second-ever Lobotomy Room. But considering the first one (on 29 December 2012) was sort of a low-key, trial one attended mainly by my friends, this felt like the debut proper.  In the lead-up to the night, I worked myself into a foaming-at-the-mouth frenzy worrying about details. Who would come? Would it be deserted? Would it be an embarrassing fiasco? It didn’t help that Spanking Machine (my friends Christopher and Lauren’s blues-punk duo) were playing a gig on the same night – and that a good 40% of the crowd I would normally rely on would be at that instead. So I was sweating bullets / shitting bricks / having kittens. (Spread some newspaper on the floor!).  By Saturday night I was virtually hugging myself and rocking back and forth, catatonic with stress.

In fact, the second Lobotomy Room was a triumph! Some useful stuff I learned: the Facebook events page is almost meaningless as a gauge for estimating who is actually coming. For one thing, by 2013 everyone is so inundated with events invitations via Facebook they’re immune to them. I certainly ignore 90% of mine. My “attending” numbers on Facebook stayed mortifyingly low right up until the night, which was making me anxious.

In the end, only a small hardcore group of my own friends came – the rest were strangers. But the location of Paper Dress Vintage (the centre of buzzing Shoreditch) on a Saturday night, and their no cover charge policy, almost guarantees a successful night. It also certainly didn’t hurt that a big group of Spanish people reserved a table for a birthday celebration. While DJ’ing I kept glancing up and thinking, Hmmm – the place is slowly but surely filling up. Then I realised the bar is three-or four-people deep, and when I needed to make a speedy dash for the men’s room (the perennial DJ’s dilemma – especially for one who drinks as much beer as me), I’d have to really push my way through throngs of revellers.  Most importantly, they were rowdy, good-natured and up for a laugh – I couldn’t have hoped for a better crowd.
The Second-Ever Lobotomy Room: 16 March 2013

/ Ella Guru and I, take 2 /

The Second-Ever Lobotomy Room: 16 March 2013

/The Deptford Beach Babes' Jane Ruby and Eric. Note Eric's painful, swollen and oozing pink eye infection -- and yet he still came! /

The Second-Ever Lobotomy Room: 16 March 2013

/Paddy and Sally /

The only downsides were technical. There were some hassles with glitchy / sticky decks- but I can’t complain because the decks are my own! (Paper Dress Vintage has vinyl-only decks, so I brought my own CD decks from home and keep them stashed at the venue to use when I play there). They kept “rejecting” my CDs, and not just the home-burnt ones. While one deck was playing, I’d load in the next CD into the free deck, try to cue the track I wanted – and it would stick on “Reading” and just keep whirring away – so as the currently playing song was counting down to its final seconds I would be frantically pressing “Eject”. Either it would suddenly “read” the CD at the last minute, or I’d have to quickly scramble to eject it and find a replacement song pronto! Obviously I got drunker as the night progressed, but this really kept me on my toes -- it kept things suspenseful! Then plenty of songs “skipped, which was odd because in theory my CDs are immaculately clean. (In an OCD ritual I polish the finger prints off them individually as I unpack them from my DJ bag and replace them in their cases every time). On a few occasions I accidentally played tracks I didn’t intend to, but no one was the wiser and I just shrugged it off. Paper Dress Vintage promoter Stephen and I tried to organise having DVDs projected against the wall to add to the sordid atmosphere (i.e. 1950s burlesque footage of Tempest Storm and Bettie Page bumping-and-grinding from Teaserama and Varietease; The Wild World of Jayne Mansfield) but it turned out my DVD player and his projector were incompatible; hopefully we can resolve that before the next Lobotomy Room.
Paddy and I Lobotomy Room 16 March 13

/ Paddy and I /

Everyone really responded to The Deptford Beach Babes, who rocked the house with a tight ten-song set. I’ve known the band’s two front women guitarist Ella Guru (the Stuckist artist) and chanteuse Jane Ruby (formerly of the band Naked Ruby) since the 1990s. Both are veteran rock chicks extraordinaire and a scream to hang out with. (Earlier in the night I was talking to Ella while she stood in front of a mirror combing-out her vintage auburn beehive wig, fretting about how matted and ratty it is. I explained the split ends just make it look more real. In retrospect I wish I’d taken Ella’s photo while she combed her wig – it was a very John Waters / Female Trouble moment). Afterward pretty much everyone stuck around dancing and drinking right until chucking-out time. I obliged by cranking up my most desperate hillbilly and punk stuff. From my vantage point in the DJ booth, I had a great view of cute, sweaty and tattooed straight guys flailing around – most enjoyable.
The Second-Ever Lobotomy Room: 16 March 2013

/ Ike and Tina Turner in 1964 absolutely tearing through "I Can't Believe What You Say" in a punk-y 1 minute and forty five seconds /

/ Fuzzed-out garage punk stomp "Primitive" by The Groupies set to footage of early 1960s juvenile delinquent gangs: marriage made in heaven /

/ Punkabilly: Sid Vicious does Eddie Cochran /

Moon Mist - The Out-Islanders
Monkey Bird - The Revels
Wimoweh - Yma Sumac
Quiet Village - Les Baxter
I Learn a Merengue, Mama - Robert Mitchum
Don'a Wan'a - Wanda Jackson
Jim Dandy - Sara Lee and The Spades
Handclapping Time - The Fabulous Raiders
Khrushchev Twist - Melvin Gayle
Viens danser le twist - Johnny Hallyday
Bombora - The Original Surfaris
Uptown to Harlem - Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin
Bacon Fat - Andre Williams
Wiped-Out - The Escorts
I Can't Believe What You Say - Ike and Tina Turner
Intoxica - The Centurions
Trash Can - Ken Williams
One Hand Loose - Charlie Feathers
8 Ball - The Hustlers
I Love the Life I Live - Esquerita
Eggman - Edith Massey
Love Potion # 9 - Nancy Sit
I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - The 5,6,7,8's
That Makes It - Jayne Mansfield
Dragon Walk - The Noblemen
Madness - The Rhythm Rockers
Club Delight - Jack Jolly
Safari - The El Capris
Peter Gunn Locomotion - The Delmonas
Drummin' Up a Storm - Sandy Nelson
53rd & 3rd - The Ramones
Harley Davidson - Brigitte Bardot
Boss - The Rumblers
Don't Knock Upon My Door - Billy Fury
The Big Bounce - Shirley Caddell
Saturday Night - Roy Brown
One, Two, Let's Rock - Sugar Pie and Pee Wee
Beat Party - Ritchie and The Squires
Rock'n'Roll Waltz - Ann-Margret
Little Queenie - Bill Black Combo
Her Love Rubbed Off - Carl Perkins
Red Headed Mamma - Sonny Burgess (dedicated to Red Headed Mamma Jane Ruby)
Strollin' After Dark - The Shades
Stranger in My Own Home Town - The Earls of Suave
Batman - Link Wray and His Wraymen
C'mon Everybody - Sid Vicious
Breathless - X
Mean Muthafuckin' Man - Wayne County and The Electric Chairs
Pillowcase - The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black
Pass The Hatchet - Roger and The Gypsies
You Give Me Worms - Turbonegro (for Eric -- although he'd left by then)
Willie Joe - The Mystery Trio
Poor Little Critter on the Road - The Knitters
Muleskinner Blues - The Fendermen
Shortnin' Bread - The Readymen
Surfin' Bird - The Trashmen
Primitive - The Groupies
Rock Around The Clock - The Sex Pistols
Little Girl - John and Jackie
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
The Whip - The Frantics
Devil in Disguise - Elvis Presley
Beat Girl - John Barry
Commanche - The Revels
The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard
Roll with Me Henry - Etta James
Hanky Panky - Rita Chao and The Quests
Forming - The Germs
Johnny Hit and Run Pauline - X

On 27 March 2013 I split for the annual Viva Las Vegas weekender over the long Easter weekend, followed by a few days recuperating and hanging out with friends in San Francisco (so pretty much the exact same trip I did in 2012). I’m yearning for this trip for several reasons: it’s still deep winter in London and am craving some sunshine and warmth. Work is so stressful at the moment I feel permanently drained and angry. And there’s been some romantic disappointment bullshit I’d rather forget. But most importantly, The Queen Mutha of Rock’n’Roll Little Richard is headlining Viva Las Vegas this year, so my attendance feels compulsory. Journeying to Vegas from London to see the Bronze Liberace / Queen of Rock'n'Roll will be like a religious pilgrimage! I’ll give you a full scene report when I get back.

Further reading: Check out the rest of my photos from the 16 March 2013 Lobotomy Room on my flickr page

I have a new tumblr page! It's going to be NSFW and a bit more sexually explicit / homoerotic than I usually go on this blog. Proceed if you dare!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Reflections on Mamma Roma (1962)

/ Tight skirt, tight sweater: the sensational Anna Magnani in Mamma Roma (1962) by Pier Paolo Pasolini /
Volcanic. Tempestuous. Explosive. Volatile. Ok, these are all clichéd adjectives to use in the description of Italy’s greatest actress Anna Magnani – but hell, they’re accurate. The woman (revered as La Lupa by her Italian fans) was a tigress, a seething torrent of raw emotion. Magnani was dead by 1973 (Italy was plunged into mourning) and made relatively few films, but she left behind a gallery of screen-scorching performances. I’ve loved her in Rome: Open City (dir: Roberto Rossellini, 1945), L’Amore (dir: Rossellini, 1948), Bellissima (dir: Luchino Visconti, 1951) and The Golden Coach (Jean Renoir, 1953).

/ My favourite portrait of La Magnani, taken in the early 1970s (so towards the end of her life). If you have to age, it may as well be like this! She was clearly a powerful and sensual presence right up until the end /

By the mid-50s, Magnani was so acclaimed in Europe that Hollywood inevitably beckoned. Weirdly, her American films seem well and truly inaccessible these days: I’ve never seen either The Rose Tattoo (1955) – for which she won the Best Actress Oscar -- or Wild is the Wind (1957). They’re seemingly unavailable on DVD in the UK and never crop up on TV.  For me Magnani steals Tennessee Williams adaptation The Fugitive Kind (1959) from under the noses of co-stars Marlon Brando and Joanne Woodward, even with the handicap of unfamiliar English (she apparently never properly learned English and had to painstakingly learn her lines phonetically).

/ Magnani in Mamma Roma (1962). The surrounding urban decay (dotted with ancient ruins) feels desolate, almost lunar /

Magnani’s crowning achievement, though, is Mamma Roma (1962), the film she made after returning to Italy after her stint in Hollywood. (Accounts vary about whether Magnani was born in 1905 or 1908.  Depending who you believe, she was her either 54 or 57 in Mamma Roma). The film is the highly politicised poet/provocateur Pier Paolo Pasolini's follow-up to his sensational debut Accattone (1961). (I’ve already sang the praises of Accattone. I’ve seen Mamma Roma – one of my all-time favourite films -- many times over the years; this time it was on the big screen at The British Film Institute as part of their comprehensive two-month Pasolini retrospective).

/ A light-hearted moment on the set of a mostly tragic film: (left to right) Franco Citti, Ettore Garofolo, Anna Magnani and Pier Paolo Pasolini /

All of the essential components of Magnani’s persona are represented in Mamma Roma: Earth mother. Feral she-wolf. Mother Courage. Mary Magdalene. Noble whore. Fallen woman. Monstre Sacrée. Gritty but kind-hearted ageing prostitute. Vital life force. Every Italian woman who ever wore a black slip and shouted at someone from her tenement balcony. Magnani portrays title character Mamma Roma (sometimes referred to as “Signora Roma; we hear her actual surname -- Garofalo – just once). The name implies she’s meant to personify the earthy, sensual, battered but resilient essence or spirit of Rome itself.

/ Pasolini and Magnani during the filming of Mamma Roma /

(Pasolini reportedly later expressed ambivalence about casting the internationally famous actress in the lead role: in the Italian neo-realist tradition, he preferred using unknowns. His hesitation is impossible to believe watching Mamma Roma today: Magnani’s fierce, vital and magnetic performance anchors the film).

Magnani was a genuinely funny and ribald screen comedienne, but I like her best suffering heavy emotional torment. Her entry into show business in the 1930s was as a night club chanteuse – apparently she was like an Italian Edith Piaf. Onscreen she pitches her performances the way the great French chanson tragediennes Piaf and Juliette Greco sing their most tortured songs. Certainly Magnani’s ravaged, careworn face, with its expressive dark eyes and soulful under-eye bags, was ideal for evoking anguish.

Mamma Roma is a middle-aged prostitute who’s been walking the streets for decades. (Italian neo-realist whores have great fashion sense; Magnani mainly sports a tight pencil skirt and tight sweater-over-bullet bra combo, with a patent leather handbag and killer stiletto heels). Along the way she was forced to abandon her son Ettore (presumably he was raised by relatives; Pasolini never clarifies). Finally liberated from the bondage of her pimp and ex-lover Carmine, Mamma Roma is reunited with Ettore (now a teenager) and strives to eke out a new, more respectable life for them together in dog-eat-dog post-war / economic miracle-era Rome.

/ Mamma Roma and Ettore attend mass / 

This theme of re-location from rural poverty to urban slum (and the traditions and roots that get lost in the promise of modernity and progress) particularly interested Pasolini. Like Accattone, Mamma Roma is set around the Roman neighbourhoods Pigneto and Trastevere – then decrepit, now hip and gentrified. I did some serious bar-hopping in Pigneto when I was in Rome in October 2010. To channel the ghosts of Pasolini, Magnani, Luchino Visconti, Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini I would have happily licked the cobbled pavement. (In reality I stuck to drinking Campari and Prosecco).
Bar Necci in Pigneto

/ My photo of framed portrait of Pasolini above a vintage jukebox at Bar Necci in Pigneto, taken when I was there in 2010. It was in this neighbourhood Pasolini filmed his early masterpieces Accattone and Mamma Roma. See the rest of my Roman holiday pics on my flickr page /

Pasolini strove to transcend the conventions of Italian neo-realism into his own idiosyncratic Cinema of Poetry. As with Accattone, Pasolini tenderly ennobles the hardscrabble struggles of the impoverished social underclass with a lyrical, painterly eye (framing characters like they’re in a Renaissance painting) and employing classical music (in Accattone Pasolini used Bach as an aural backdrop; in Mamma Roma, Vivaldi soars on the soundtrack). This is a milieu of bare subsistence, in which hunger is a genuine possibility. When people argue, someone inevitably pulls a knife; the confrontation is probably observed by urchin children and a mangy third world stray dog. The war-scarred landscapes are so decimated they look lunar. In the background, a baby always seems to be crying. Mamma Roma and Ettore are cafoni, the Italian equivalent of North American hillbillies. In the subtitles, there are frequent disparaging references to “hicks”. Mamma Roma admonishes Ettore to not speak like a hick (presumably in a rough, rural peasant dialect) but to talk like she has learned to – like an urban Roman.

Almost immediately, there are ominous premonitions things won’t go well. The window to Ettore’s new bedroom offers a view of the local cemetery. Worse, Mamma Roma is tracked down by Carmine, who blackmails her into working the streets again.  Carmine is played by the swarthy, smouldering Franco Citti from Accattone (again playing a pimp). This time around Citti sports a (deliberately?) unflattering sleazy little moustache; it certainly makes him look like a seedy pimp. Magnani and Citti’s confrontations crackle with violence – emotional, with the potential for physical (you wouldn’t want to see Magnani lunging at you with a kitchen knife and wild-eyed expression). I’m a total sucker for Franco Citti; he’s unforgettable reminding Mamma Roma when he first met her, she was “covered in lice” and “didn’t know what panties were.” “You knew it would end badly for one of us ...” he snarls.

/ Franco Citti as Carmine /

For swathes of Mamma Roma, Magnani vanishes and the action centres on Ettore.  As Magnani’s wayward son, non-professional actor Ettore Garofolo (yes, the character is named after the actor who plays him) makes a haunting impression and suggests a complex and troubled inner life. Pasolini’s camera tenderly explores his elfin face (melancholic in repose), button nose and sorrowful dark puppy eyes, captivated. A simultaneously tough and vulnerable man-child, he struts in the perfect sailor roll (or in this context, pimp roll) even in the too-big suit his mother insists he wear. As has already been pointed out, Garofolo can look like the pretty teenaged street thug from a Caravaggio painting come to life. (Pasolini and Caravaggio probably shared similar taste in rough trade).

/ Heartbreaker: Ettore Garofolo /

Ettore is amoral, alienated. He rejects Mamma Roma’s attempts to make him go to school or work, drifting instead towards petty crime with the local juvenile delinquents. (Ettore’s gang are very much Pasolini’s type and his camera caresses them in loving close-ups. In a nicely rakish touch, one of  Ettore’s cutest buddies is missing a front tooth). It’s interesting to speculate Ettore has the makings already of being the next Carmine. In her urgent mission to advance her illiterate provincial son, Mamma Roma never stops to ask him what he actually wants. When someone asks Mamma Roma, "You’d hang on the cross for him, wouldn’t you?” she unhesitatingly replies, “What else is there?” Her maternal love is savage, primeval -- but Pasolini hints she’s also motivated by assuaging her own guilt for having abandoned him and asks if maybe Ettore would have been more content to stay in the countryside and be a labourer. Is what awaits him in Rome an “improvement”?

Pasolini’s most daringly audacious and avant-garde scenes depict Magnani turning tricks at night on a grim stretch of road (recalling the scrubby wasteland on the outskirts where Maddalena is beaten up in Accattone). These are opportunities for Mamma Roma to relate her own history. It starts with her fellow tarts (like loyal friend Biancofiore) and her “johns” asking Mamma Roma to tell them her story, but as Magnani walks and speaks they gradually drift away until it’s mainly Mamma Roma delivering heart-rending monologues about her travails directly to the viewer, effectively breaking the fourth wall. She speaks of brutal, grinding rural poverty and enforced marriage at age 14 to a relatively wealthier, much older man.

/ Mamma Roma's friend and fellow prostitute Biancofiore (Luisa Loiano). With her beehive hairdo and heavy 1960s dark eye make-up, she looks like a J H Lynch painting come to life /

/ Silvana Corsini as the town tramp, young single mother Bruna, who ensnares Ettore with her feminine wiles (and fuzzy arm pits). Corsini played the dim-witted whore Maddalena in Accattone: she was exceptionally good at playing not very bright child-like women /

Pasolini keeps key details of Mamma Roma’s life vague and – confusingly – her accounts often contradict themselves. She married the corrupt older man, but also refers to having “married” Ettore’s criminal father – who was promptly hauled off to prison by waiting police men as soon as the ceremony ended. They’re clearly not the same man. How many husbands has Mamma Roma had? There’s a tantalising possibility that Carmine could be Ettore’s father. (Ettore himself expresses no curiosity about his father’s identity. A more conventional director would have explored this plot angle; Pasolini has different priorities).  Mamma Roma’s stories meld the personal and the political: she rails against hypocrisy, Mussolini’s Fascism, injustice. In one soliloquy she describes the family of Ettore’s father as wretched scum, the lowest of the low (a police snitch, a beggar, a brothel madam) but points out “if they’d had money, they would have been good people” – perhaps the most powerful message of the whole film. In a moment of religious doubt, Mamma Roma looks skyward and angrily implores God, “Explain to me why I’m a nobody, and you’re the king of kings.”
As it progresses, Mamma Roma is increasingly characterised by an overwhelming sense of dread. Outside maybe film noirs, it’s difficult to find films more fatalistic than Mamma Roma or Accattone. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that Mamma Roma (like Accattone) builds toward a tragedy that feels ancient, epic, primal and operatic; Pasolini foreshadows this from almost the beginning. It climaxes in a startling shot of a character filmed from above in a crucifixion position so beautifully-composed, so suffused with Christ-like suffering it makes you gasp.
Earlier there’s a wrenching moment when Mamma Roma abruptly clamps her hand over her face and bursts into tears of sheer relief, believing that things finally seem to be going in her favour -- all the degradation and turmoil she’s suffered is seemingly justified. Of course she is wrong. The odds (or the system) are stacked against her and Ettore before she even began. Mamma Roma’s daring to improve her lot seems to enrage the gods. Fate punishes her. It’s impossible to escape the past. Pasolini persuasively demonstrates that mother and son are foredoomed by their environment and socioeconomic status. In Accattone, Franco Citti seals his fate by defiantly declaring, “Either this world kills me or I’ll kill it!” In Mamma Roma, Anna Magnani similarly swears, “I’ve paid my dues in this life, and the next.” She lives to regret those words.