2011 in Review: A Good Year for Great Music for Bad People

“Santa & Krampus” by Thomas Boatwright

The year is drawing to a close–nights are longer and colder, bears are preparing for hibernation in the basements of elderly men and intoxicated brodudes roam the streets disguised as Santa Claus and vomiting on unsuspecting pedestrians.  All this means it’s time to reflect on The Year That Was and try to make some sense out of it.

I’ll admit that I’m pretty bad at finding out about entertainment at the time it’s actually released.  It’s like living in a constant state of nostalgia for stuff I haven’t actually experienced.  This makes it all the more delicious that 2011 saw the release of some truly amazing music that I stumbled onto while still fresh.

Although perhaps “fresh” isn’t the right word, since much of what I really dug falls squarely into the realm of “throwback music.”  Blood Ceremony’s “Living with the Ancients” channeled Coven’s 1969 record “Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls,” Cold Cave’s “Cherish the Light Years” is like listening to Depeche Mode and Joy Division shake hands, and Jeff the Brotherhood’s “We Are the Champions” owes an awful lot to the Ramones.

I pulled together an 8Tracks mix of some of my favorite songs from the past year–chronological, if not stylistic, freshness guaranteed:

Listen to the rest of my 8Tracks offerings here.

Thank you to MusicIsTheArt for naming this mix a Pick of the Week!

Postscript: I’m terrible at recapping stuff, because there is a 100% chance of me forgetting something important.  So here are two songs regrettably missing from that mix above.

“Ritual Knife” by Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats from the album “Blood Lust:”

“Wires” by Red Fang from the album “Murder the Mountains:”

Megaforce [1982]

MegaforceThere are films that only make sense when seen through the eyes of a boy before he gets interested in sex, and “Megaforce” may just be the supreme example of this kind of storytelling.  There’s an undiluted enthusiasm for explosions and macho camaraderie that combines with a reckless disregard for geopolitical niceties to create a story that makes most “G.I. Joe” episodes look like “All Quiet on the Western Front.”  It’s a charmingly naive action film that would make shyest and most introverted ten-year-old rush outside to pop wheelies and participate in ill-advised bicycle jumps.

Megaforce is the anti-U.N.: an international army of motorcycle- and dune-buggy-equipped stereotypes who violently rush to the aid of any country whose freedom is threatened.  The cast of “Megaforce” consists of a virtual who’s-who of early-80s genre veterans: Barry Bostwick plays team leader Ace Hunter, Michael Beck (Swan in “The Warriors”) plays rebel-flag loving yahoo Dallas, Persis Khambatta (the former beauty queen and model who played bald alien Lt. Ilia in “Star Trek: the Motion Picture”) is love interest Major Zara, and Henry (frikkin’) Silva is evil general Duke Guerera. This adventure finds Megaforce intervening in the border war between Sardun and Gamibia, two vaguely Middle Eastern nations who are swiftly sorted into Good Guy and Bad Guy groups through the convenient use of non-Commie-sounding accents and Commie-sounding accents, respectively.  Gamibian troops have been invading Sardunian lands, and it’s up to Megaforce to set things straight by… well… by staging their own explosion-filled, salt-the-earth raid on a Gamibian settlement.  When Megaforce is informed that the Gamibians might view their raid as an act of war (on account of it being exactly that), they have to stage a daring escape.  Seasoning the plot are Hunter’s growing attraction to Megaforce hopeful Major Zara and his simmering rivalry with academy contemporary Guerera (what are the odds of THAT?!).

So… define “Act of War…”

Without the flags, it is difficult to identify the Japanese man.

I’ve talked about how much I love movies that are distillations of their time and place, and there are elements of this within “Megaforce” that add to the movie’s appeal.  There’s a ham-handed tokenism-cum-political correctness that is so painfully evocative of the early Eighties that it leaves a metallic tang in one’s mouth.  The African-American Megaforce member is Beethoven, a Shakespeare-quoting, classical-music-loving… chauffeur; there’s a very serious Japanese man, and perhaps most cringe-worthily, a wise-cracking Mexican man who yells stuff like “MIRA, JEFE!”  And everyone wears flags on the left sleeve of their special issue metallic spandex Megaforce unitards, in case you missed the carefully multi-ethnic composition of the team (also because it’s impossible to tell the characters apart once they don their full-face crash helmets).

Because seriously: FUCK BALLOONS.

The thinness of the plot and character development can be forgiven, given the needs of the intended audience of youthful sugar-cereal enthusiasts.  This is explosion pornography–not far off from current offerings like the “Transformers” series, but far less expensive and technically flashy.  “Megaforce” is a hammer, and the world is its nail.  It is an explosion delivery device with an unconvincing “keeping the world peace” cloaking device.  Much of the movie involves bikes riding in the desert, popping wheelies, shooting rockets, and jumping over stuff.  I’m honestly shocked that there was never a Megaforce line of toys (Kenner’s 1989 Mega Force tanks are unrelated, in spite of having awesome names like RAM FIST, THORHAMMER and GOLIATH).

So let’s take a minute to circle back to that pre-sexual-awakening thing discussed above. Hunter has a sort-of dalliance with Zara, but there’s very little chemistry going on there.  Just check out this image (forget the fact that it appears that Megaforce lives on a cruise boat):

“So… um… what to YOU do?”
Pretty awkward, right?  If memory serves, I think I read an AskMen article that mentioned something about women wearing stone faces and leaning away from you that indicated they might not be too interested in sex.  The Hunter/Zara scenes are only really remarkable for the fact that Hunter’s silhouette makes him look like Beavis and/or Butthead:
“Huhuhuh … heh… huhuhuh…”
Compare that, it you will, with Hunter’s scenes with Guerera, in which the men embrace, back-slap and light one another’s cigars.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is homoerotic (although Hunter’s ball-enhancing jumpsuits might be), but there’s certainly a brotherly kind of physical comfort going on in these interactions.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
MegaforceIt’s impossible to blame “Megaforce” for doing what it says on the tin.  Right on the poster it screams “DEEDS NOT WORDS.”  Deeds like fighting tanks, skydiving, blowing shit up, and flying around in giant planes are the reason this movie exists.  Unrelentingly loud and stupid, “Megaforce” prefigures the ADD-generation action offerings of today (all blow-up, no blood) while maintaining lovably hokey B-movie production values.  To know “Megaforce” is to love it.

The Competitive Spirit: Beards and Beasts

Every human being is at least a wee bit competitive–it’s in our nature to rank, rate and judge.  Many folks get their competition-related jollies through sporting events (if not through participation then by proxy), but some prefer to leverage other achievements and talents in the quest for recognition.  There’s something thrilling about watching people compete, and as an enthusiast of the strange, I get way–WAY–too into weird contests.  I’ll take World’s Strongest Man over the Super Bowl *any day*, pals.

With Jack Passion, professional beardsman
With pro beardsman Jack Passion

In addition to my passion for oddball sporting events, I really get enthusiastic about events that focus on off-beat aesthetics. Few groups manage to blend sincere devotion with a quirky sense of humor the way the professional beardsman scene does.  I’m a devoted fan of IFC’s “Whisker Wars,” a teevee show that celebrates the personalities behind the impressive facial plumage, so there was no way I was going to miss the New York City Beard Competition that took place in Brooklyn on December 3rd.  There’s a real beauty to people who own their eccentricity, and the men behind the beards let their wonderful strangeness flourish.  Wizard beards, Viking beards, Tyrolean beards, and good old fashioned Hillbilly beards were all present, and it was fascinating to watch the entrants eye up and appreciate one another’s facial hair.  One of the more controversial figures on the bearding scene is Jack Passion, a man whose luxurious red beard and gentlemanly persona have nabbed him a number of product endorsement deals.  His portrayal as the villain on “Whisker Wars” made him a favorite in the Tenebrous Household, and I’m here to report that he’s an absolutely charming individual who’s extremely patient with fans (The Baron and I even overcame our icy Northern European natures and let him initiate a group hug).

Headhunter Baboon and Rottweiler
Photo by elaynam – original here

Followers of this blog will remember the Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest from years past.  Each year, I see something that my brain wants to say is THE COOLEST THING IN THE WORLD, and this year’s entrants were no exception.  It was even more magical to experience the competition with my friend ElaynaM of the food blog Open Mouth, Insert Cookie, who was a first-timer.  The photographs she took do a lot to convey the beauty and grotesquery on display.

The headhunter baboon riding on a rottweiler (complete with a basket of real human bones) was entered by Ryan Matthews of Discovery Channel’s “Oddities.”  All the pieces used to create the tableau are from his extensive and impressive collection, assembled into one jaw-dropping piece.  This thing has been haunting my dreams for a week now.  Another “Oddities” entry–and ultimately winner of the competition–was Mike Zohn’s beer-dispensing coyote with monkey torturer:

Photo by elaynam – original here

Coney Island’s favorite rogue taxidermist, Takeshi Yamada, entered with another mythical creature–this time venturing into New Jersey’s Pine Barrens to nab this rarely-seen specimen of the Jersey Devil:

Jersey Devil
Photo by elaynam – original here

Found fur and ethically-obtained specimens were popular among entrants who created their own mounts.  Blasko was created from fur scraps and mounted on a Halloween dancing animatronic that played Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” from a speaker near his butt:

photo by elaynam – original here

Perhaps the most unusual specimen was this “vegan taxidermy” deer creature, created from grasses and plants harvested around the New York City area:

Vegan Taxidermy
photo by elaynam – original here

Click here to see all of ElaynaM’s photos from the Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest.

The Fifth Cord [1971]

The Fifth Cord

Let me be honest: I didn’t especially care for “The Fifth Cord”as a thriller.  There’s nothing bad about the movie, a 1971 giallo directed by Luigi Bazzoni. The standard elements of a better giallo are there:  the emotionally wounded protagonist, the negative impact of contemporary culture on the psyche and interpersonal relationships, and elaborate murders that link together a twisty plot capped by an out-of-left-field solution.  In spite of boasting Franco Nero in the lead role and an un-terrible script, this film never connected with me.

The Fifth Cord

Andrea Bild (Nero) is an alcoholic reporter involved in tempestuous relationships with his former wife and his current girlfriend. When people in his social circle are killed in a series of murders–connected by the presence of gloves with increasing numbers of fingers lopped off found at the scene of each crime–investigators focus on Andrea as the prime suspect.  In order to clear his name, Andrea delves deeper into the mystery, bringing himself and his family into danger in the process.

The Fifth Cord

There’s little of the fantastique or psychedelic in “The Fifth Cord.” Sure, the murders appear to have a link to astrology, but there are no mediums, cults or other Age of Aquarius trappings.  The characters are far more measured and nuanced than the kind of leering fashion photographers, predatory bisexuals, and dissociative-disordered clerics that populate similar films.  This is an upper middle class melodrama with murders; a well-executed one at that, but neither as insane nor as lurid as the kind of Italo-thriller I prefer.

The Fifth Cord

However, if I view “The Fifth Cord” as ninety-minute fashion spread produced to highlight the clothing, accessories, and hairstyles, it’s got an undeniable appeal. The art direction and cinematography are absolutely beautiful and complement the grounded-in-reality storyline.  Just take a look at the following images–they could have been taken from an eyewear catalog published this Fall:

The Fifth Cord

The Fifth Cord

The Fifth Cord

Maybe what I’m struggling with is the fact that “The Fifth Cord” is a classier beast than what agrees with my taste.  It’s an undeniably grown-up movie, opting for stylish tension over throat-grabbing gruesomeness.  Sophisticates–and fashion photographers looking for inspiration for new campaigns–would be well-served by seeking this one out.