Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966) [Film Journal 2017 #2]

A film about an abused donkey in small town France, leading a saintly life that parallels that of it’s young owner Marie. An intriguing plot synopsis, one so specific that it could probably only be attempted by a master filmmaker. Bresson’ is a master indeed, expanding upon Eisenstein-esque montage theories to produce a uniquely film language, implying plot events with poetic edit choices and manipulating his untrained actors to be the conveyor of emotions for audiences to place themselves within, rather than forcing emotional performances onto audiences. His is an incredibly refined and deliberate style, one that screams to be studied by students and critics, and it’s probably unsurprising that he’s a favourite of film school courses worldwide. Also being one of the key influences on French New Wave filmmakers and subsequent followers such as Martin Scorsese or Terrance Malick, Bresson’s films deserve to be discovered by a wider audience – outside of just the elitist art house clique.

This is the 3rd Bresson film I’ve seen, and I’ve been lucky enough to have seen each of his on the big screen. The first being the prison break film A Man Escaped (1956), screened in Film Studies 101 in my first year of a Film and Media Studies degree as an example of a filmmaker using diegetic sound and uncommon camera framing devices to tell a narrative. Bresson spent over a year in a prison camp in WWII which gave him an experts knowledge to tell such a story. A Man Escaped is the most accessible and straight-forwardly entertaining I’ve seen of his and would be a good entry point. Diary Of A Country Priest (1951) was screened during a spirituality in film paper as an example of transcendent cinema. Transcendence being something above a normal earthly or physical level. The country priest of the title, known just as the Priest of Ambricourt, is a sickly man who struggles with his parish duties and become increasingly unwell throughout the film. His faith being tested, he receives no respite, and experiences a journey comparable to that of Christ. In his suffering Bresson insinuates he experiences transcendence of a sort.

I don’t know if the experience of watching a film can truly be said to be a transcendent experience – but this is something frequently stated about Bresson’s best films and their effect on the audience, and many critics state Au Hasard Balthazar as his best. Andrew Sarris exaggeratedly said of the film in 1970 – “No film I have ever seen has come so close to convulsing my entire being … It stands by itself as one of the loftiest pinnacles of artistically realized emotional experience.” Perhaps praising a film to that extent help to justify film as a serious art-form at a time when it’s reputation was still being solidified. But for a reknown critic and academic to be that passionate is perhaps a hint as to it’s place in the canon of classic cinema.

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Marie rejecting the affections of the earnest (or perhaps boring) Jacques

All of Bresson’s stylistic signatures are present in this film and perhaps mastered, but does that make the film groundbreaking or entertaining for a modern audience? In some ways yes, although research into the tools Bresson is using and his place in film history significantly increases an appreciation of the film, beyond a surface level. The use of untrained actors and the way in which Bresson directs he cast, filming take after take until the performance is diluted to it’s subconscious essence is in theory genius – rather than treating actors like stars, he uses them like a substance is diluted in homeopathy. During my initial viewing of Balthazar I could enjoy the performances as very naturalistic, documentary-like (neorealist perhaps) and understated. A character might say something dramatic, such as Marie refusing the love of her returning childhood sweetheart Jacques – but the lead actor Anne Wiazemsky talks as if she was hypnotized. As fascinating as this is, I would not have known the craft behind the performances without the research after watching the film.

As mentioned, the core narrative of the film concerns the saintly life of the donkey Balthazar, who suffers a life of servitude at the hands of it’s human masters, sometimes receiving kindness and sometimes abuse. Marie takes a shining to Balthazar and their lives are compared to each other, with the donkey’s life of abuse and mistreatment being paralleled by the somewhat tragic fate of Marie. The key sections of their lives are presented in separate segments almost like an anthology film. Within these segments, montage is used to imply meaning – to provide an example, a town drunk Arnold at one point takes owner ship of Balthazar. In one shot he says how he is going to quit drinking. The next shot is a close up on his hand holding a glass at a bar, the glass being filled with spirits. Such a cut caused laughter to erupt around the theater, showing that Bresson had a deft comic touch that is rarely noted.

Town drunk Arnold with Balthazar

 

Recovery not an option for Arnold is spite of his declarations

Recovery not an option for Arnold is spite of his declarations

Marie lives on a farm with her father and mother, known not by name, but they don’t own the farm. The farm-owners daughter dies in the opening sequence of the film, leading the family of the owner to leave the farm, which ends the brief childhood romance of Marie and Jacques (Jacques who is the son of the farms owner). Marie’s Dad is given responsibility over the farm and entitlement to the profits, yet the town bank enforces taking payments from the father which leaves the family in a state of destitution. A trouble-making gang of youths, led by Gerard (Francois Lafarge) soon enter Marie’s life, torturing Balthazar by tying fireworks to his tale, of which Marie does nothing to deter. Gerard seduces Marie, which is implied through his point of view gaze on her skirt, and a montage cut to blowing on a small horn in triumph, implying a successful conquest. Marie’s life becomes increasingly entangled with Gerard, which her family disapproves of yet is unable to dissuade. Gerard uses Balthazar for sometime, taking him from the family just as Gerard takes Marie.

Many crimes are caused by Gerard, and his at one point accused of a murder, yet this plot thread remains inconclusive. Arnold, the town drunk is also tormented by Gerard, yet later in the film Arnold surprisingly comes upon a fortune due to the death of an uncle. Gerard takes this opportunity to cause destruction to a bar, smashing mirrors and the entire collection of glass bottles, knowing Arnold will use his inheritance to pay for the bill. The scene of Gerard destroying the bar is one of the oddest of the film. The destruction is quite complete, and takes place around dancing townspeople. None of the extras dancing react at all to Gerard’s needless destruction. They have been directed not to show any awareness of it. Touches like this contribute to the dream or fantasy mood that Bresson conjures. Dramatic scenes occur, yet they do not occur as in real life, they take on more of a metaphorical role and therefore are more powerful, yet at the same time from a modern audiences perspective, are somewhat difficult to initially understand.

Balthazar at one point is sold to a local circus. He has a brief and seemingly successful career as an entertainer, and encounters other persecuted and subjegated circus animals – the eyes of an Elephant, Tiger and Chimpanzee staring mournfully back at Balthazar. Bresson apparently cared about the rights and lives of animals, sensibilities which fellow master director Ingmar Bergman apparently didn’t share. He famously said of Balthazar; “this Balthazar, I didn’t understand a word of it, it was so completely boring… A donkey, to me, is completely uninteresting, but a human being is always interesting.”

Brutal words, which serve to split Bresson and Bergman fans. Bresson ends the film with the saintly death of Balthazar, who expires surrounded by sheep, having been stolen by Gerard to steal goods – Balthazar’s demise occuring after being exploited one last time by the human’s who care not for his well-being. Marie’s narrative is left open, she at the very least escapes the village, but we are not if this is due to death or her own choice. The cruel characters of the film, notably Gerard never receive punishment for their deeds.

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Is it a film that will still be regarded as a classic in 50 years time? That remains to be seen. It’s certainly an intriguing and well-executed premise featuring Bresson’s master touches in terms of cinematography, acting, editing and sound design. But it is very much a melodrama and the moments of comedy are overshadowed the main tragic plot of girl and donkey. It is perhaps most entertaining as a snapshot of life in mid-20th century small town France, with traditional village life ontrasted with growing modernity (such as Gerard carrying around his portable radio, playing Rock n Roll in an imitation of an american bad-boy like James Dean). It may be dated, but if you’re willing to invest in the film some time, you’ll find a more rewarding watch than just about everything else currently being produced for celluloid.

9/10

 

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Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008) [Film Journal 2017 #1]

After completing, and being fascinated with Shame (McQueen’s 2nd film from 2011) last night, I decided to not stop there and continued straight on to the first collaboration between director Steve McQueen, actor Michael Fassbender and cinematographer Sean Bobbit – all three would later work together on 12 Years A Slave.

I think it’s safe to say that I hold McQueen very high in my list of currently working directors. These are three of the most demanding and provoking films I know of in recent memory, it’s hard to pick my favourite of the three – but I think it’s Shame, for it resonated the most with me. Addiction, especially to that of pornography and other instant gratification-giving mediums is so common and not discussed enough in cinema. The relationship between Fassbender’s successful-on-a-surface-level corporate character, and his equally broken sister is tragic and I’m still running it through in my head a day later.

But onto Hunger, which I was intending to write about. McQueen is a master of the long-take, just like Kubrick or Welles. He lets the camera linger on fictional moments long enough that they start to feel real. He documents realities that we can’t visit in a way arguably more penetrating than a documentary filmmaker could.

Hunger tackled issues of Northern Ireland, not something I’ve been that exposed too. Bobby Sands’ tale of self-sacrifice for his nation, bethren and beliefs is evidently an influential one, a modern day myth. I find it hard to believe how a country could be so split down the middle by religious divide, and reading more into Sands’ life after watching Fassbender’s harrowing portrayal of him, I understand the kind of torment the man must have faced to lead him to make such an extreme decision for his own fate.

If a film like Hunger exists to educate the historically and politically naive such as myself, then it is serving a higher purpose than just to entertain, and that therefore makes it not just great cinema, but great art.

[Blog] New Single: Seperations (Produced by Stakker)

A couple of months ago myself and a mate of mine Richard Baldwin, who produces and writes under the aliases Stakker, The Soviet Union and Belville (check out his tunes here), had our first jam, which immediately produced some promising sounds and ideas. We’d previously bonded at a party over a shared interest in old-school audio hardware, and learning that Richard owned not one but two mint condition Roland 808 drum-machines, I knew I had to get together and see what our minds could create.

I was slightly nervous at first to be jamming with such an experience musician, but we kicked straight into it and gelled quickly over some 808 pattern experiments. Quickly laying a beat into Ableton, I scrapped previous verses that I had brought to the jam, and wrote something on the spot to fit the sparse, mid-80s dark electro vibes that Richard was cultivating. Taking some ideas from previous incomplete verses, discussing the refugee crisis, I initially went down the route of the partying-at-the-end-of-the-world theme, that  I had previously explored in End Times. We sat on this rough initial draft for a month or so, having a few jams in between to remix tracks and hang out. Then, after the EU referendum decision, I decided it was appropriate to pick up this jam again and lay something down while the topic and inspiration is fresh. The upcoming US election adds another level of perverse inspiration behind the content of this track.

What we’ve come up with is called Separations, and I’m pretty proud of it. This is the first time I’ve finished a track for my ongoing solo rap project over a beat made not by myself. It felt particularly collaborative due to Richard taking particular interest in how I was delivering the vocals, honing it on specific line delivery as well as the tone of whole verses. We tracked all the vocals in about 3 hours, split up with pizza and cider, and I think the extra production input has taking the track up a notch. It’s still loose, there’s some improv at the end which Richard and I decided to keep in, and there’s a few vocal flubs we’ve kept in there for the hell of it. Stop it sounding too laboured or whatever.

I hope you’ll dig the message of the track – don’t want to be too preachy, but taking influence from political rappers of the past, this is all about unity in the face of the divisions placed upon us by the media, politics and negative rhetoric . Check the track out above, or on bandcamp.

Hamish Gavin and Richard Baldwin Stakker recording Separations

Dicking around at the recording sessions

Journal: Driving around New Zealand listening to The Clean

As the seasons in London shift from summer to autumn, the slight chill in the air juxtaposing the still bright daylight, and a blue sky not yet obscured by grey bleakness, is reminding me of the similar climates of my homeland. Particularly Dunedin, which if memory serves me correctly often finds itself in similarly contradicting conditions. One of the most pleasant things about Dunedin weather, is that even when it is frozen cold, with morning frosts rendering grass crisp like icicles, the sky will nearly always be blue and welcoming. A cold day will always be bright enough to run about outside – which we did plenty of as kids, in the parks, streams and fields of my hometown, Mosgiel.

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A wet Dunedin day

The weather shift also reminded me of some music that seemed to go hand and hand with the chilly warm days of Dunedin. Before I moved over to London, I did a lot of driving around New Zealand – mostly in Auckland, Dunedin and Hamilton, as I strove to obtain my full license before embarking on a mission overseas. I moved to Auckland for several years before London, but I often found myself flying back to Dunedin to visit friends. During these visits, driving around in my Mum’s silver Kea or Grandma’s Mitsubishi, The Clean seemed the perfect soundtrack to to exploring the winding Otago Peninsula and sloped streets of Dunedin. So now that I’m roughly 19,075 km’s from Dunedin, and have been for over 14 months, it is maybe quite comforting to listen to a band such as The Clean, whose music seems to so strongly reflect the landscapes that the Kilgour brothers, and Robert Scott grew up in. Scott was born in Mosgiel, and the Kilgour’s in Dunedin, and I’m not exactly why their music seems to be to be the perfect companion for our vibrant student town and surrounding landscape. Perhaps it’s just that by me choosing to frequently play their Anthology during my cruises ingrained the comparison in my mind. But it seems quite possible that the landscape and energy of the town equally inspired the music – that which was born in student flats and bars of the 1970s, along with other reverb drentched, jangley, guitar based bands such as The Chills, The Verlaines, Sneaky Feelings, The 3D’s etc.. and all the other Flying Nun and Dunedin Sound family.

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Pulled over by the cops – on the desert road – North Island

I do favour the hilly roads on Dunedin, but the Waikato has it’s share of roadtrip memories as well, as after my Mum moved to Hamilton in 2012, I spent many weekends driving around those much flatter streets, and generally warmer climate, but again found myself often choosing Dunedin sound bands as the soundtrack. The Clean’s Vehicle seemed to suit these roads, their 1990 album recorded in London during a re-union tour. This is an album I’m returning to now, and perhaps finding an interesting existential connection the circumstances that surround that albums creation, seeing as David Kilgour was also lost for several years in this UK metropolis. Vehicle is the sound of The Clean again connecting with their homeland, and for me being all those kilometers away, it serves a nice replacement to actually standing on New Zealand streets.

So before I go off on another Europe adventure, I thought I would flashback to those cold New Zealand driving missions, where in one case we were off to shoot a music video at the abandoned World War II gun emplacements along the Otago Peninsula, just along from the favourite of New Zealand tourism, the Albatross colony. Or another time, heading off with my friend Anthony to explore the West Coast of the South Island, and both the Fox and Franz Joseph Glacier. Being in central London for more than a year, these experiences of freedom out in the Southern most countryside of the world do seem all the more special. There are many things going for London, but space and fresh air are largely not amongst them. That’s something that Dunedin and New Zealand has in abundance.

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Anthony Keenan (Ants) and I on the West Coast of New Zealand

Live Review: Death DTA (Le Divan Du Monde, Paris, 2016)

Steve DiGiorgio played his 3 string fret-less bass like a maniac, beard grey and tied up looking kind of like a metal pirate. Bobby Koeble played every riff, every solo including the classic leads he wrote for Symbolic almost perfectly, lip syncing the lyrics along with an enamored crowd. Gene Hoglan, the atomic clock showed no signs of tiring, as he smashed through the ground breaking poly-rhythmic beats he composed for the two classic Death albums on which he played, lighting up cigarettes between songs, and playing the other drummers beats better than they ever could. Max Phelps at the front, the substitute Chuck Schuldiner now a veteran in his own right having toured for 3 years with these legends, still seems as surprised as anyone that he was picked for the role. But it all comes together as the best metal karaoke show one could ever hope for, a massive release for those who have been listening to Death for their whole lives and had perhaps never thought they’d see these songs played live, by a collection of men who wrote them.

gene hoglan

Chuck Schuldiner was of coursed missed, his onstage presence, technical proficiency and signature vocals of which perhaps invented the Death Metal genre (before outgrowing it) could not be replaced by Phelps, who has a role I do not envy, in spite of how fun it looks. I’m sure it’s an enormous task to have to fill Schuldiner’s shoes night after night, but Phelps to his credit nails nearly every solo, and also attempts various low and high vocal styles that Schuldiner moved between during his career. The crowd was supportive, often yelling Max’s name and giving him support. We were there to celebrate Schuldiner’s legacy, as DiGiorgio made clear to the crowd during in between banter, yet these musicians seem to have grown into their own confident and unique force. It’s shame this formation of Death DTA will not be able to move beyond the limits of an official tribute act, and perhaps compose new material. I would be interested to hear what new compositions the group would create.

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To tell it like it was however; hearing such  classic songs live, played by such iconic musicians of the genre, left me to uncontrollably grin for nearly the entire set. I couldn’t but joyously mosh when hearing something like Overactive Imagination off Death’s 1993 album Individual Thought Patterns played live right in front of me, with the very drummer who I listened to in wonder ten years earlier as I tried to figure out what he was doing. I often found myself with my arms around the fellow French Death fans in the pit, jumping up and down and yelling every lyric to Pull The Plug and Crystal Mountain. Air guitar displays burst out amongst us at the front as we fanatics displayed our obsessive knowledge of the solos and fretwork from throughout Death’s discography. There was all the expected moshing and circle pitting, and rampant crowd surfing also broke out. I managed to pull off one ill-timed but hugely entertaining crowd surf as the acoustic intro to Destiny kicked into distortion. It was a bit of a struggle to get down once I was up in the air, but credit to the French crowd for going along with such antics. Almost all the signature tracks were played, minus a few – it will be interesting to see if any future Death DTA tours will feature Scavenger of Human Sorrow or Flesh And The Power It Holds for example (we might need Richard Christie on drums for those two).

Bobby Koeble

This being the last night of the tour, and being a metal show in Paris, there were extra bouts of between song banter – mostly from DiGiorgio , giving shout-outs the the backstage crew and taking time to specially thank the French crowd for coming out and supporting. We were apparently the best crowd of the tour – something DiGiorgio made clear he doesn’t say every night. Whether that was the case or not, it was a great gig and something I’m proud of trekked to have seen. My only regrets are that I don’t speak french well enough to make many friends before or after the show, and that security was tough enough to not allow some of us to wait after the performance to meet the band. Perhaps next time the band tours I’ll have a chance to chat to Hoglan in person. And maybe next time I’ll know French a little better – or maybe that’s asking a little much. For now, this Death fan is satisfied.

Film Review: The Green Inferno (Eli Roth, 2015) – [i watched it so you won’t have to]

I wish I wasn’t reviewing this movie. There are so many better films out there I could be talking about. Why haven’t  I seen The Revenant yet? Or Spotlight? Even The Hateful Eight? None of these I’ve yet had the opportunity to view. I could even make an attempt to be relevant and discuss Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice, the most famous big terrible film out there at the present time. But instead, I’m going to talk about Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno.

Why, you might ask, do I choose to review this film, when I rarely do film reviews? It probably has something to do with my old obsession with horror films (which occurred around the same time as my teenage metal phase, which I wrote about in my last blog). I had been watched horror since the age of 11, and as my tastes expanded to ever more gory and shocking entries, it was only a matter of time before I discovered the cannibal film. A particularly un-politically correct sub-genre kicked off by Italian exploitation directors in the mid-70s, cannibal films are usually set in the jungle, often feature real animal murders, extreme gore (at the hands of westerners and depicted indigenous people) and content influenced by Italian shock-documentaries (mondo films) and neo-realism techniques. I would eventually write by Film Studies honours dissertation on the pinnacle of the genre (and a high/low point of extreme horror), Cannibal Holocaust. Needless to say, with a topic like that, my dissertation was doomed from the very start.

Perhaps mainstream American filmmakers like Eli Roth should start pointing their cameras towards the horrors taking place within their own country, of which there are plenty – rather than regressively projecting xenophobic fears onto invented demons in faraway places

 

You can understand then, my interest when I heard that Eli Roth was re-imagining the cannibal genre for modern audiences with The Green Inferno. The title itself is a reference to a scene within Cannibal Holocaust, so I knew this would be a film I would eventually, if reluctantly have to see. It took me a while but last night I finally gave this modern cannibal retelling a spin. Eli Roth isn’t known for subtlety, the Hostel series being the crown of his filmography so far (or arguably Cabin Fever), and staying true to form, you’ll find nothing subtle here. The start of the film is not completely terrible, framing itself as an American college comedy with a bit of an ecological thriller edge. A college ‘freshmen’, Justine (Lorenza Izzo), daughter of a United Nations attorney becomes interested in a social activism group, who led by a shady but charismatic student named Alejandro (Ariel Levy) take a trip to the amazon rain-forest to film logging operations which are obliterating local tribes. This ecological thriller plot I felt could have actually been an interesting. There are a few good characters here, such as a kindly ecological protester Jonah (Aaron Burns), who has a wee crush on Justine. He is also the first to be dismembered when the cannibals arrive (each limb chopped off one by one, and his head removed – such savage indigenous folk they are). Sky Ferreira is the best known actor in the film, although she stays behind in New York, and thus lives, having been a major character for the first 30 minutes, only to decide the mission to the amazon is a ‘lame idea’. Or perhaps her management had second thoughts on the films content.

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Alejandro, turns out to be selfish and evil, happy to let Justine nearly be shot by the tree loggers, after the group of activists chain themselves to the fowled trees 30 minutes in. They survive however, having succeeded in filming on their smartphones the event of the loggers holding them at gunpoint. Their plane sadly crashes back into the jungle, and this is when the film moves from teen comedy/drama hybrid with some ecological themes, into a straight up classic cannibal gore-fest.

I was wondering how the film would tackle indigenous subject matter, and whether it would be respectful to real cultural practices. After all, cannibal films were ethically dodgy enough in the 1970s, let alone nowadays. It turns out not, and Roth’s depiction of the savage natives is as cartoon-ish as could possibly be. This is very much a case of foreign people being envisioned as the terrifying other, proving that racial terror is deep enough an American interest to be mined for cash decades after one would assume it was too offensive to do so.  At least Cannibal Holocaust gave a understandable reason for the indigenous Amazon tribes-people to be cannibalizing the westerners – that the western documentary-makers had been inflicting horrors upon them. So it was revenge cannibalism. I guess the habitat destroying of the tree loggers in The Green Inferno could be one possible reason for the indigenous people’s  violence against their captive Americans – and the American teens are shown to be shallow in their desire to gain shares and views for their smartphone slacktivism, but these are themes that are only weakly address. Instead, the tribes people are like demons, brutally murdering our western protagonists in a variety of gory but not particularly interesting ways. There is some commentary on ancient female circumcision practices, but mostly it’s all schlock violence. Towards the end of the film the loggers even appear, hacking down the tribes people in a torrent of bullet fire, thus saving our final girl Jan. Therefore everyone in this film is bad. The loggers, the arrogant westerners, the cannibalistic prehistoric indigenous people of the Amazon – all evil, all corrupt. It all adds up to one boring, meaningless, stylized mess.

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If this was a smarter film, the indigenous people of the amazon would still be allowed to scare you – perhaps through ancient ritualistic sacrifice practices against our western protagonists, yet they wouldn’t be so completely demonized as they are in Eli Roth’s depiction. Painting them red, overdoing the make-up on the tribal leaders, and giving no reason for their savagery. At one stage, our protagonist’s force a bag of marijuana down the throat of their friends’ corpse. The natives then cook and eat this corpse, and in doing so become high. Queue a joke about the indigenous people having the munchies, which involves them suddenly becoming zombies and eating one of our westerners alive. In some sense, I guess this is an inventive way to combine between a teen-stoner comedy gag and a cannibal horror scene. Mostly, it’s mind-numbingly stupid, and undermines any attempts the filmmakers had made earlier to give any insight and backstory into real amazonian tribal practices. I hate to be a stickler for details, this is a schlocky teen horror after all – but the level of crassness in Roth’s scriptwriting made me miss the golden age of 1970s b-movies of which this film is indebted to even more. At least back then, the influential wave of Italian filmmakers such as Ruggero Deodato and Umberto Lenzi put some effort into realistically depicting the indigenous people in their notorious horror creations.

On the positives, the practical effects are good and the acting was pretty reasonable. Production values were slick, and it was nice to see the jungle back on screen. Roth obviously knows his horror, and the references to Cannibal Holocaust and Ferox were appreciated. I guess I’m just disappointed.  I know that a contemporary cannibal film could be better – more realistic in it’s depiction of indigenous people, more detailed in it’s handling of current ecological issues of the amazon, less campy and less-reliant on American teen movie tropes. Perhaps what I wanted was a Werner Herzog cannibal film, and even though Roth used Herzog’s Aguirre Wrath Of God as a reference, he didn’t make it anywhere near that films daring guerrilla audacity. Perhaps mainstream American filmmakers like Eli Roth should start pointing their cameras towards the horrors taking place within their own country, of which there are plenty – rather than regressively projecting xenophobic fears onto invented demons in faraway places – all for the sake of another cheap, sex and death, teen trash money-maker.

 

 

 

[Journal] Back To Metal or: Looking Back On Being a Teenage Metalhead

Our tastes change depending on who we are at any given time. When we’re kids, we often lean towards pop and friendly or gimmicky dance music, as this is what appeals to us. Or in our younger days, we listen to whatever our parents are into. As we grow up, we become more aware of cultural trends happening around us, and try to keep up with them, for the sake of being one with the crowd, to bond with our peers through shared cultural knowledge. When we hit our teens, some of us want to distance ourselves further from the mainstream, and look for periphery or outsider art that doesn’t so much appeal to those still following the mainstream. For recent generations, perhaps that means diving deeper into movements such as rap or metal, or at least that is what it meant for me, as well as searching for cinema not so accepted by my teachers or parents, horror and art-house for example.

Your experiences might be different, as I’m looking at this from a reasonably personal perspective. But metal for me formed a defining part of my teen years, from 14 upwards, I found myself listening to increasingly heavier music, out of enjoyment and also to know about something and be a part of a cultural movement outside what was predominantly taking place within popular groups in my home town. Sport and pop music never really had enduring appeal. I was preoccupied by the mainstream in my tween years, and although I found the Beastie Boys and felt pretty proud discovering such cool artists before the rest of my peers, I would soon turn my back on them, based on one nasty interview they have in New Zealand in 2005. That was before a concert I would want so much to go to but never had a chance, their headlining performance at the Big Day Out. When they acted like bored assholes, in an interview with Clarke Gayford on ex-NZ music channel C4 – my genre loyalties would be prompted to change.

They may have been having a bad day, and I would eventually forgive them (rediscovering them in 2007 upon the release of The Mix Up), but in the interim, metal would fill the gap of my teenage obsessions, and a love of dance and rap would soon be replaced by obsessive support for the heavy – Megadeth, Pantera, Death, Carcass, Mayhem, Slayer, Immortal, Cryptopsy, Metallica, Sepultura, Metallica and Black Sabbath amongst others. The chug, the growl, the double kick, aggressive lyrical delivery and the overly long song structure would become my new musical guide.

Incarnate playing Oamaru's Penguin Club, 2007

Incarnate playing Oamaru’s Penguin Club, 2007

Local New Zealand metal bands would also form a huge part of my metal education and influence. Playing alongside stellar bands such as Christpuncher, El Schlong, 8 Foot Sativa, Tainted, Overlord, Nuns With Guns, Injection Of Death – some from Dunedin, some from around NZ, would only cement my desire to become a better metal musician and be more a part of the community. I was drumming with my high school friends in a band Incarnate (separate schools, but similar friends and ages) and I was prompted to double kick faster and faster, and learn more complex beats and fills, through competition with the peers around me. Gigging together, with friendly competition and rivalry, these high school and university gig days were some of the best times of my life.

After tour photo - Osmium, Sinate, Incarnate, Flesh Gates & Menaesa

After tour photo – Osmium, Sinate, Incarnate, Flesh Gates & Menaesa

Time moved on, I changed cities, and perhaps moved away from metal. Rap re-entered my life, and in a turn of events I still find hilarious even as I delicately pursue it, I’m now an aspiring solo and group rapper writer and producer. Metal is still in my life, as I sporadically meet my friends for gigs and festivals, but mainstream, indie and rock is back to being a more dominant part of my life. I’m no longer trying to prove myself to a community, or gain respect in one genre or subculture. I’m following whatever I like at whatever given time, although still arguably somewhat being under the thumb of trends and phases.

The last month I’ve moved back to a metal phase, interspersed with other genres, but returned to much loved groups such as Baroness, Black Sabbath, and Immortal (whose live DVD is a brilliant lesson in live metal theatrics) as well as diving into bands I’ve previously ignored (as I write this I’m listening and loving Meshuggah’s  “I”) – particularly Gojira, who I find are a brilliant mix of progressive and melodic elements with traditional metal brutality. The whale pick scrapes they’ve pioneered add an addictive element to their death and sometimes even nu-metal influenced chugs. Their lyrical content is on point as well, drawing from philosophical as well as literary influences and also environmental concerns. I love a band that has a heart and cares about topical themes, and Gojira further prove a metal band can be intelligent and as heavy as the heaviest substance on earth, in line with philosophically minded metal bands like Death or Cynic. I will see Gojira live in June at Download Festival, with some friends adventuring over to the UK from New Zealand. I look forward to this greatly.

Drumming at Refuel 2009

Drumming at Refuel 2009

Tastes can change, and I’m lucky to be friends with many different people with tastes ranging from the hardcore dance fanatics, to the indie rock purists. I focus on music because this is what I know, but equally, many of my friends are just as much die-hard about sport or gaming. Our interests and obsessions take many twists and turns, but it’s comforting to know something solid that I loved in a past life, such as metal, as an interest and a community – just will not die.