Sunday, 31 January 2016

Anna Karina at The British Film Institute

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/ The sublime Danish actress Anna Karina in Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre sa vie (1962) /

Anna Karina – the elfin Bambi-eyed star of French New Wave 1960s cinema - graced The British Film Institute in person on Saturday 16 January 2016 last night as part of its Jean-Luc Godard season. (Godard and Karina were married between 1961-1967. She was Godard’s muse and the leading lady of his definitive early films). First was a screening of Godard’s sublime 1962 nouvelle vague masterpiece Vivre sa vie (in which Karina plays a wannabe actress who drifts into prostitution with tragic consequences. She is wrenching in the film). Then Karina was invited onstage for an interview (by film critic Jason Solomons) followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

Pal and I were in the back row, but I can confirm the 75-year old Karina is still svelte and her heart-shaped cheekbones still intact, although her voice is now a raspy croak – Karina has evidently smoked a lot of Gauloises (or Gitaines?) over the decades. She was endearingly dotty and eccentric – clearly still a mischievous free spirit and bohemian. It’s hard to believe Karina isn’t French (she’s Danish, born in 1940 in Copenhagen): her accent sounds impeccably French, her demeanour is so old-school Parisian and she’s the absolute mistress of the dismissive Gallic shrug.

And Karina did a lot of Gallic shrugging! There was definitely a language barrier. Karina’s answers would drift, dither and meander, sometimes missing the point.  After an audience member would ask a question, Karina would turn to the onstage interviewer with a quizzical expression. After a while Solomon exclaimed, “Don’t look at meI didn’t ask the question!” When someone asked what her strangest experience was working on a film, she snapped “Strange? What’s strange?” When people probed too deeply about Godard’s motivations and thought processes, she replied, exasperated, “I didn’t direct the film!” Asked whether it was provocative or scandalous to play a prostitute in 1962, she demurred, “Because I played a prostitute didn’t mean I was a prostitute!” (But Karina added the Parisian “working girls” she encountered on the street afterward would approach her and say they approved of her portrayal and found it truthful).

Anna Karina at The British Film Institute 16 January 2016

Anna Karina at The British Film Institute 16 January 2016

Anna Karina at The British Film Institute 16 January 2016

Anna Karina at The British Film Institute 16 January 2016

/ Above: some pretty grainy and pixellated shots of Karina onstage at The BFI with journalist Jason Solomons (Pal took them on his iPhone from the back row!) /

The questioners seemed fixated on Karina’s hairstyle and wardrobe in Vivre sa vie, which she accepted with good grace. Was the black bob inspired by Louise Brooks?  Karina revealed her hair in the film was actually a wig. It began as a very long wig and the stylist kept cutting it shorter and shorter. She didn’t know – maybe! People compared it to Louise Brooks afterwards. As for the clothes: they look astonishingly cool to modern eyes - that late fifties / early sixties period was the acme of style for both men and women (same era as the early seasons of TV's Mad Men).  The 22-year old Karina certainly looks sensational in her simple pencil skirts, ruffled blouses and cardigans – although she would have looked chic in a potato sack.

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One annoying question actually led to an interesting response. Weirdly, one woman asked Karina what young modern actresses she admired. (Did the questioner honestly think Karina was going to reply, “Jennifer Lawrence!”?) Karina seemed nonplussed, asked her to repeat the question and then confessed she has a hard time keeping track of new actors, there are so many. They don’t usually make an impression on her unless they’ve been around a few years and become established. Then somehow the subject changed to what actresses Karina admired when she was growing up and the answer was more illuminating: Judy Garland, Ava Gardner and Edith Piaf. In terms of warmth, radiance and the capacity for expressing both hurt and happiness, you can clearly see the influence of Garland and Piaf on Karina’s acting.

I learned afterwards of one fascinating movie factoid from one of Karina’s other onstage interview sessions for a different film at The BFI. (Karina was interviewed about three times at The BFI while she was in London). She was asked about Godard’s Le Mepris (1963), in which Karina herself does not appear. Instead, Brigitte Bardot gives one of her best performances in the role of Camille. Bardot was always Godard’s first choice – but according to Karina, the producers pressured Godard to consider another great European art cinema leading lady of the period – Italy’s tousle-haired blonde lioness and Michelangelo Antonioni's muse, Monica Vitti. I revere the gorgeous Vitti and she would have been great – but very different – as Camille. Godard met with her in Rome to discuss Le Mepris. Vitti arrived an hour late and reportedly stared out the window the whole time, indifferent. So the role went to Bardot instead and the rest is history. Interestingly, for segments of Le Mepris Bardot dons a short jet-black wig that recalls ... Anna Karina in Vivre sa vie!

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/ Brigitte Bardot in Le Mepris (1963) /

My highlights: Karina described how, when she first arrived in Paris as a 17-year old runaway, she was “discovered” in the cafe Les Deux Magots and snapped-up to be a fashion model. One day on a photo shoot she was telling the hair stylist or make-up artist she wanted to be an actress; an older woman with a big hat smoking a cigar overhead and inquired what Karina’s name was. When Karina replied “Hanne Karin Blarke Bayer”, the woman announced, “You should call yourself Anna Karina!” Afterwards Karina learned the mysterious older woman was – Coco Chanel! The final question of the night was: what was Karina’s mindset as a teenager, hitchhiking to Paris on her own, not speaking a word of French? Karina recalled how poor she was on arrival (she owned one pair of high heels and one black dress) and expressed astonishment at how brave and gutsy she’d been. (Karina admitted her motivation was to escape her unhappy home life with her mother and abusive stepfather). How lucky for generations of cinema goers Anna Karina that did flee to Paris when she did!

Further reading:

Anna Karina: Two or Three Things We Know About Her: You can watch videos of Karina's Q&A sessions at The BFI here

A sweet and very revealing interview with Karina in The Guardian

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Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Dr Sketchy at Fontaine's DJ Set List 12 December 2015

/ Stripper, Miss Sata Lyte, in her dressing room, 1962. Photo by Diane Arbus /

After an ultra-lengthy absence, Saturday 12 December 2015 found me back behind the DJ decks for Dr Sketchy. Checking my records, the last time I DJ’d at a Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School (“where life drawing meets cabaret”) was May 2014. Since then, Dr Sketchy has continued at various venues after the residency at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern ended but none of them had DJ’ing facilities so my services weren’t required.  Now it looks like Dr Sketchy has re-located to the bijou Mondo Tiki basement Bamboo Lounge of Fontaine’s in Dalston (hopefully permanently!) so happily I was back on board.

To paraphrase my patron saint Jayne Mansfield, it felt divoon to be DJ’ing at Dr Sketchy’s again. For one thing, I had accumulated a backlog of bump’n’grind tittyshaker stripper music I was dying to play and I finally had a context for it! The plush and intimate Polynesian surroundings of the Bamboo Lounge provided the ideal setting for Dr Sketchy. Intoxicated by Fontaine’s potent cocktails, the enthusiastic sold-out crowd were ripe for an afternoon of adult "blue" humour, anything-goes drawing, cheeky onstage virtual nudity and daytime drinking.

Best of all was the glittering line-up of talent on the bill. Effervescent mistress of the ukulele Tricity Vogue was the tightly-corseted, blue-wigged mistress of ceremonies. A real trooper, Tricity battled-on despite being struck down with a cold and laryngitis. She told me at one point she had two more gigs later that day where she had to sing.  With her hoarse and raspy croak of a voice, I helpfully proposed Tricity change her act into a tribute to Marianne Faithfull.  

The two featured models and performers for this Dr Sketchy were Marianne Cheesecake and Trixie Malicious.  Two equally great burlesque artists with completely different contrasting personas and approaches,  which inspired the music I played for their poses. I’d never had the pleasure of working with Trixie – aka The Blonde Who Really Does Have More Fun – before. She evokes platinum blonde 1950s rock’n’roll bad girls (think bullet bra'd Russ Meyer starlets or the vixens from sordid pulp novel front covers come to life). Tracks by sex bombs like Mamie Van Doren, Jayne Mansfield and Brigitte Bardot, The Cramps and the opening theme tune from Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! therefore felt obligatory.

Dr Sketchy veteran Marianne Cheesecake, meanwhile, conjures a classical 1920s or 30s Folies Bergère / Art Deco vibe (think Josephine Baker-meets-Anna May Wong). One of the advantages of DJ’ing at Dr Sketchy as opposed to, say, Lobotomy Room or Cockabilly is that I can drop the volume and play quiet, eerie, delicate songs and create a whole different ambiance.  For Marianne’s poses, I went for a ghostly spine-tingling David Lynch-ian feel: multiple versions of “Blue Velvet” and ghostly, heartbroken torch ballads by the likes of long-forgotten 1950s cool jazz chanteuse Linda Lawson and the Nico-like strains of San Francisco punk band The Nuns’ icy front-woman Jennifer Miro. When Trixie and Marianne posed ensemble at the end, I cranked-up Little Richard’s “The Girl Can’t Help It” (a Dr Sketchy staple) and Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby” (it was, after all, the lead-up to Christmas and it occurred to me I hadn’t packed any campy festive tunes! Luckily that song was already on one of Eartha’s greatest hits compilations in my bag).

/ Trixie Malicious and Marianne Cheesecake. Photo swiped from Facebook! /

Noteworthy date: 11 January 2016 represents the first anniversary of the death of the truly statuesque and Amazonian Swedish-Italian actress Anita Ekberg (29 September 1931 – 11 January 2015). In truth few of Ekberg’s 1950s Hollywood films are memorable (with the exception maybe of the lurid 1958 exploitation B-movie Screaming Mimi in which Ekberg plays a stripper menaced by a serial killer). Her appearance in Federico Fellini’s decadent masterpiece La Dolce Vita (1960), though – frolicking in Rome’s Trevi fountain - ensured Ekberg immortality.  I wonder if this revealing glamour shot squeaked past the Hollywood censors in the 1950s? (It's got to be said - those are great raspberries!).

Love Song of the Nile - Korla Pandit
Wimoweh - Yma Sumac
Kismiaz - The Cramps
Quiet Village - Martin Denny
Monkey Bird - The Revels
La-bas c'est naturel - Serge Gainsbourg
Mau Mau - The Fabulous Wailers
Lust - Bas Sheva
Coconut Water - Robert Mitchum
Don' Wanna - Wanda Jackson
Go Calypso - Mamie Van Doren
Beatnik - The Champs
Fujiyama Mama - Annisteen Allen
Vesuvius - The Revels
One Monkey Don't Stop No Show - Big Maybelle
Honey Rock - Barney Kessel
Tonight You Belong to Me - Patience and Prudence
Little Things Mean a Lot - Jayne Mansfield
Life is But a Dream - The Harptones
I Want Your Love - The Cruisers
Night Scene - The Rumblers
Bombora - The Original Surf-aris
Drive Daddy Drive - Little Sylvia
Sometimes I Wish I Had A Gun - Mink Stole
Tough Chick - The Rockbusters
Beat Girl - ZZ und der Maskers
What's Inside a Girl? The Cramps
Harley Davidson - Brigitte Bardot
It's a Gas - The Rumblers
Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! The Bossweeds
Ooh! Look-a There Ain't She Pretty? Bill Haley and His Comets
The Girl Who Invented Rock'n'Roll - Mamie Van Doren
I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - The 5,6,7,8s
That Makes It - Jayne Mansfield
Wiped-Out - The Escorts
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
No Good Lover - Mickey and Sylvia
Sheba - Johnny and The Hurricanes
The Flirt - Shirley and Lee
Sittin' in the Balcony - Masaaki Hirao
Love Potion # 9 - Nancy Sit
How Much Love Can One Heart Hold? Joe Perkins and The Rookies
Boss - The Rumblers
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
Night Flight - The Viscounts
Hiasmina - Jean Seberg
Blue Velvet - Isabella Rossellini
Where Flamingos Fly - Linda Lawson
Lazy - The Nuns
Blue Velvet - Lana Del Rey
Perdita - Rubber City
I'm a Woman - Peggy Lee
The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard
Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt
Mack the Knife - Hildegard Knef
La Javanaise - Juliette Greco
Chattanooga Choo-Choo - Denise Darcel

Further reading:

The next Dr Sketchy at Fontaine's is likely to be circa Valentine's Day in February 2016. I'll post the details once they're confirmed.

Upcoming Lobotomy Room-related antics for your social calendar:

Hey! Did you know about Fontaine’s free weekly film club? As winter draws in, how better to break the monotony on a Wednesday night than watch a free film, drink cocktails and eat canapés in the plush and intimate environs of Fontaine’s basement Bamboo Lounge? As host and DJ of the regular monthly Mondo Trasho punkabilly club night Lobotomy Room (last Friday of every month downstairs in the Bamboo Lounge!), I – Graham Russell - will occasionally crash the proceedings and screen a rancid film of my choice!

The featured presentation this (Wednesday 27 January) month will be the ultra-lurid 1964 juvenile delinquent exploitation psychodrama Kitten with a Whip (1964) – starring quintessential atomic-era sex kitten-gone-berserk Ann-Margret. This sleazy little black and white B-movie urgently poses the question: why do the sweetest kittens have the sharpest claws?  Fresh from cavorting with Elvis in Viva Las Vegas, red-headed vixen Ann-Margret plays a vicious teenage sociopath escaped from her high-security juvenile detention centre – who then takes hostage and torments straight-laced local politician John Forsythe in his palatial suburban dream house. (Yes – a cardigan-wearing and still dark-haired John Forsythe as in Dynasty’s silver fox Blake Carrington). From there, Ann-Margret’s gang of thug friends turn up – and things just get wilder!

Don’t miss this rare opportunity to catch this should-be cult classick and genuine curiosity: Kitten with a Whip is not available on DVD in this country and never crops up on TV. It’s got it all: a genuinely feral wild child performance from Ann-Margret at the height of her bad girl beauty, dramatic shadowy film noir photography, a finger- snapping Henry Mancini-style cool jazz score and cringe-worthy faux beatnik hepcat dialogue galore. (Samples: “Ooh! Everything’s so creamy! Kill me quick, I never had it so good!” “How come you think you’re such a smoky something when you’re so nothing painted blue?” “Now cool it, you creep, and co-exist!” “Hands off, buster! Don’t you ever bruise me ... God knows what I might do to you if you ever bruise me.”).

Perhaps the highest compliment of all? Kitten with a Whip is a sentimental favourite of John Waters’. (In 2011 he introduced a screening of it at Anthology Film Archives in New York).  He’s described it as “almost like a Russ Meyer movie, an early one, only without as much tits” and reminisced, “Divine and I saw this movie together, definitely. Several times, actually. And he loved it, too. It was very much a big influence on us. And in 1964, I was a senior in high school, so on LSD, so angry, so insane, and so it came at one of the most insane periods of my life as far as being a disturbed teenager. I mean, we wanted to be Ann-Margret! Divine was my Kitten with a Whip, in a weird way.”

/ Look deep into my eyes ... you will come to the next Lobotomy Room ... /

Revel in sleaze, voodoo and rock’n’roll - when LOBOTOMY ROOM returns to the subterranean Bamboo Lounge of Art Deco vice palace Fontaine’s! Friday 29 January!

LOBOTOMY ROOM! Where sin lives! A punkabilly booze party! A spectacle of decadence! Bad Music for Bad People! A Mondo Trasho evening of Beat, Beat Beatsville Beatnik Rock’n’Roll! Rockabilly Psychosis! Wailing Rhythm and Blues! Twisted Tittyshakers! Punk Cretin Hops! Kitsch! Exotica! Curiosities and other Weird Shit! Think John Waters soundtracks, or Songs The Cramps Taught Us, hosted by Graham Russell (of Dr. Sketchy London and Cockabilly notoriety). Expect desperate stabs from the jukebox jungle! Savage rhythms to make you writhe and rock! Now with vintage erotica projected on the wall 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!

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Read about all the previous antics at Lobotomy Rooms to date hereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehere , hereherehere and here.