Only watched a couple of these lately, but I’d better write ’em up before they get lost and forgotten…


Baby Snakes (1979, Frank Zappa)

Definitely overlong and indulgent… don’t know why Zappa thought we needed to spend so much time backstage with his band goofing around and improvising with props for the camera – not exactly feature film material. And I detest audience participation at rock shows – it’s super fun for the two fans onstage, less so for the rest of us.

Gripes aside, the bulk of the movie is a terrific rock concert, and the highlight is the claymation work by brilliant, possibly crazed animator Bruce Bickford… complex cityscapes, crowd scenes, closeups, Frank and his bandmates and groupies, all constantly morphing into monsters.

Foreground: clay Frank at the clay film editing table
Background: Frank at the film editing table


Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015, Brett Morgen)

I don’t feel a morbid urge to read the diaries of dead rock stars or watch their home videos, but I heard this was good, an immersive montage edited according to emotion more than narrative, not a traditional rock doc. But whoever wrote that had a pretty strict definition of traditional narrative, because this is a straightforward, chronological doc, trying to get inside Kurt’s head at the different stages of his life and fame. There’s some Scanner Darkly rotoscoping of reenactment footage (a good compromise) and halfway-decent flash animation of his teenage drawings to illustrate his confessional audio tape collection. Interviews with Krist and Courtney and Kurt’s parents and ex, lots of good photos and concert footage, and a terrific mocking impression he does of Chris Cornell (edit: RIP, Chris). I hadn’t really listened to Nirvana since the late 90’s and mostly the movie gave me the urge to do that – discovered that the bonus discs of concert stuff on the album reissues are reeeeally good.


PJ Harvey in France on the Hope Six tour


Chumbawamba in 1996

Thanks to TCM for showing this rare cult film written, directed, produced and even distributed by goofball character actor Timothy Carey (of The Killing, Paths of Glory, One-Eyed Jacks and East of Eden – later of Head and two Cassavetes films).

Carey, with all the power he can muster, plays an insurance salesman who tires of the game, has an internal moral/religious/political crisis and decides that anyone can be God. He gets his name changed to God, affixes a fake goatee, hires his Mexican gardener as his number-two man, gets sponsored by a shadowy political figure, and runs for high office. He names his group the Eternal Man’s Party, says his followers can be “super-human-beings”, it sounds like a dangerous cross between naziism, self-help dianetics, and The Holy Mountain. Plenty of people follow God Hilliard’s clearly sacrilegious message until late in the campaign newsmen start asking if he’s maybe an atheist. Atheists don’t get elected, but people calling themselves God do? Clarence has sent his wife and kids away so he can have sex with 16-yr-old groupies and live the decadent life of the rich and powerful, but amongst the atheism allegations he starts defying God to show Himself, wanders into a church and steals those holy biscuits that Catholics are so nuts about, starts stabbing one with a needle. Ha, nothing, he leaves the room, comes back, a trail of blood, miracle, movie busts into crazy color.

Coming out around the time of X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes and Carnival of Souls, and only a year before Shock Corridor, it’s not like it was the only weirdo movie in Hollywood those days, but its weirdness is still pretty damned impressive. Roughly edited with a cheap look but a good eye, clearly a personal movie.

Assisted by Ray Dennis Steckler (Wild Guitar, The Incredibly Strange Creatures…). Music composed by a 21-year-old Frank Zappa, four years before Freak Out. The title song ended up on the Cucamonga comp. Wife is played by Betty Rowland, who has very few credits, but one is a doc called Striptease: The Greatest Exotic Dancers of All Time, so we can guess where Carey found her. His Mexican gardener/assistant Alonzo turned up twenty years later in Scarface. Paul Frees, the professional voiceover guy who did the snake/narrator, was writing/directing The Beatniks around the same time… crazy.

Katy would not have liked it. Not sure that I liked it. But at least I watched it, and now I don’t have to watch it again.

Details so that I won’t have to watch it again:
– Ringo Starr doing a fake interview show dressed as Frank Zappa
– Zappa on drums once, guitar a few times, but mostly absent
– the main guys bouncing delightedly through the movie were Flo & Eddie (?)
– some kind of devil/tempter keeps offering people dumb stuff if they’ll sign in blood
– groupie girls show up from time to time
– ten-minute animated dentist duck segment right in the middle
– Jimmy Carl Black sang “Lonesome Cowboy Burt”
– most of the music/concert scenes were really good
– lots of video (not film: video) effects. Lots. LOTS.
– some kind of druggachusetts episode where the effects were just off the hook

Not a “good” movie by any means, but interesting to see what those guys were up to. Will have to check out the footage from Uncle Meat sometimes, cuz that’s another double album that never made much sense.

Addendum March ’07: after seeing parts of this movie again while working on the DVD project, I like it a lot more. The music, the centerville segment, the endless self-referentiality of it all work together well. Gotta cut it some slack too, after watching the doc and reading about the mess of a production it turned out to be. I even like the soundtrack better now.