Sunday, June 23, 2013


TERRENCE MALICK112 Have just had my mind blown by watching ‘To The Wonder’ – the latest movie by Terrence Malick – one of the great filmmakers working in cinema today. You can read up on him on IMDB and Wikipedia. Also: a lengthy essay ‘Waiting for Terence Malick’ by Michael Nordine on the Salon site.

I was wondering how to explain what makes this film so special when I cam across this wonderful quote which nails it:

‘Those rambling philosophical voiceovers; the placid images of nature, offering quiet contrast to the evil deeds of men; the stunning cinematography, often achieved with natural light; the striking use of music – here is a filmmaker with a clear sensibility and aesthetic who makes narrative films that are neither literary nor theatrical, in the sense of foregrounding dialogue, event, or character, but are instead principally cinematic, movies that suggest narrative, emotion, and idea through image and sound.’

This quote comes from a great essay by Chris Wisniewski on which discusses ‘Days of Heaven’ and ‘The New World’.Terrence Malick

Malick directed ‘Days of Heaven’ in 1978  - five years after his debut film ‘Badlands’ -  after which he didn’t direct a film for 20 years – though he did produce and write scripts.  ‘The Thin Red LIne’ came out in 1998 and then there was a seven-year gap before ‘The New World’. ‘The Tree of Life’ and ‘To The Wonder’ came out in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

He apparently shot two new films back-to-back in 2012: Lawless starring Ryan Gosling, with a supporting cast including Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Haley Bennett and Knight of Cups which will star Bale, alongside Blanchett and Isabel Lucas.

Chris’ essay says arguably that its the editing that distinguishes Malick’s work on these two films (and others) but the contrast is the first was edited using analog technology, the second used digital.

This most interesting. Sometime back THE GENERALIST flagged up the existence of the documentary ‘Side by Side’ – produced and narrated by Keanu Reeves which skilfully examines all aspects of the film-making process and contrasts the analog and digital production methods. Its an absolute must see for anyone interested in the future of cinema. Saw a cinema screening a month or so back and now await my DVD copy from Lovefilm. Will chew on this bone further in a separate post.

Back to Malick and ‘To The Wonder’. It principally follows a love story – shot in Paris, Mont St Michel and Oklahoma – but has another level featuring Javier Bardem as a priest.

The camera is always on the move and, in this film, the main female character dances her way through it creating another level of movement. A third is movement in nature – rippling  leaves and branches, grasslands, undersea swirls, lakes & waterfalls. Everything flows.

The framing is partial. People half in and half out of the frame. Dialogue is scattered as if blown by the wind which seems to be another character throughout. Ben Affleck is humanised in the process.

The relativity of when you watch a film has an effect on your perception of it. The screen I was watching it on sits in front of a window behind which is an elder tree in flower and other trees behind. They were being whipped by the wind at the same time as I was watching the wind on screen. Had to stop the film so as take a walk before the light disappeared. Slipped over on wet grass and bashed my head. Finished watching the film.

This film touches you in many places and on many levels. For some reason it kept reminding me of Godfrey Reggio’s films which form the second half of this post.

There’s a lot in Mallick’s films that suggests he is a man of belief – if not a Christian per se then perhaps someone who is absorbed by spiritual and philosophical questions.

I’d always thought that Reggio was a Jesuit priest but, according to Wikipedia, ‘Reggio spent fourteen years in fasting, silence and prayer, training to be a monk within the Congregation of Christian Brothers, a Roman Catholic pontifical order, before abandoning that path and making the films.’

To anyone who was around in the 1970s his movies - Koyaanisqatsi and its sequelPowaqqatsi  (later followed by  ‘Naqoyqatsi’  - the weakest of the trilogy) were powerful; experiences.

The titles come from the Hopi language. ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ means ‘Life Out of Balance’ ‘Powaqqatsi’ means "life in transformation," and Naqoyqatsi means "life as war." They are poetic/ symphonic documentaries which, in a powerful way, brings home the extent to which we are damaging the earth and alienating ourselves from the natural environment.

A hallmark of these films is some extraordinary cinematography - mainly shot using slow motion and time lapse.  Ron Fricke, the cinematographer who shot these films subsequently made two films of his own - ‘Baraka’ and ‘Samsara’ both of which I watched recently.For these he built his own 65mm equipment.  Back in the day I had lunch with Fricke (and my young son) after a morning press screening of ‘Baraka’ in London.

The trilogy have soundtracks by Philip Glass which makes a major contribution to their success.  My son and I saw Glass and his mini-orchestra play live as the films were screened at the Festival Hall in London.

Its exciting to discover that Reggio and Glass have been working on a new film ‘Visitors’ which will premiere at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival.

Steven Soderbergh, who is one of Reggio’s great supporters says:

Reggio’s “pure cinema” works are hard to sum up in a sentence, and the new film is no different. “It’s connected to the other Qatsi films in the sense it’s Godfrey’s wordless take on a certain subject, but he’s changed his game here,” Soderbergh said. “There’s more directing in it, more things he’s specifically staging for the camera than he’s done before, and there are performers in the film. He’s taken what he does and pushed it into a new area, which was really exciting for me to watch. It’s thirty years ago this year when Koyaanisqatsi came out. I watched it again, and there just isn’t a single, visual idea in that movie that hasn’t been ripped off, assimilated, regurgitated, built upon. Actually I watched all three films again, and it made me laugh how other directors just took his language and just ran with it. Here, he’s moved the goal post as if to challenge others and say, ‘Alright, let’s see what you can do with this.’ It’s so striking, but not necessarily immediately applicable to what everybody else does. They’ll have to work to steal this one.”


See: [not updated since 2005]

"...The crisis that we are approaching today is of yet another order. For it entails the transition, not from one form of society and power to another, but to a new environment...The present a total crisis triggered by transition to a new and previously unknown environment, the technological environment....The present change of environment is much more fundamental than anything that the race has experienced for the last five thousand years."

- Jacques Ellul

Sunday, June 02, 2013




Above is one of my favourite pictures of Mick – sporting one of the great Afros – the cover shot for a piece by Charles Nicholl that asked the question: ‘Was the Underground press a shortlived volcano? Many of its papers have folded and many youthful idealists are now veterans of progress.’ By September 1973 the glory days of the underground press were largely over but many of its writers survived and thrived. Mick, like myself and many others, joined the good ship NME in the 1970s, Time Out  survived and went on to make its proprietor Tony Elliott a millionaire and of course dear Felix founded an empire that continues to thrive to this day. More of which anon.

Headpress have recently published this excellent anthology of Mick Farren’s journalism, comment pieces, fiction, song lyrics and blog posts which provides a welcome addition to his substantial ouevre which includes the excellent autobio ‘Give An Anarchist a Cigarette’.

Mick has much to say about bars and aliens, even more about Elvis. There’s standout encounters with Gore Vidal and Johnny Cash and a great exchange of letters with Pete Townshend. The early underground press stuff makes particularly interesting reading now, capturing as it does the weird headiness and naivete of the time.

Mick has a signature dark style and while holed up in LA and New York during the Bush years, bunkered down in the wee small hours with Jack Daniels for company, he produced a great string of apocalyptic essays post 9/11 which captured well the edgy feel of those times.

A natural contrarian, he remind us that, whilst admiring Bowie he feels it important to point out that this demigod also recorded ‘The Laughing Gnome.’ As time has gone on, his work has got, if anything, pithier – if that’s a word – and his smart gnomic utterances on the bleak blackness of what passes for everyday life in the 21st century continue to provide salutary reading on his Doc40 blog and Facebook.

See Previous Posts: 60s Underground: Mick Farren and The Deviants; Inside Dope: Speed Goes Global (including a review of Mick’s fast history of amphetamine; The Underground Press Gazette (stuff of Mick, Boss Goodman – who unexpectedly turned up on my doorstep yesterday)  - and Edward Barker [who we all still miss].


Never one to miss a trick, Felix Dennis bounces back from his recent treatment for throat cancer with a new British and European poetry tour. You can read Sean O’Hagan’s article here although don’t expect any surprises. He singularly fails to reveal anything new plus the piece has several errors in captioning and spelling.  As a longtime friend of Felix’s from the days of Oz onwards its good to see him roaring forward. The grim reaper will get him eventually but not without a struggle. These two new books have arrived in recent months


Former Senior Editor at US Maxim, Jason Kersten joined the tour bus in 2010 to record the shenanigans on one of Felix’s previous poetry outings. Naturally Felix travels by helicopter. Its a chatty account and brings to life the nutty side of such enterprises. Having attended several of the Brighton gigs on these tours I can attest the wine is good and the audience is appreciative. As the years have progressed the stage show has got tighter and Felix, being a natural showman, wins everybody over. Catch him this time round. Full details here . The book is published by Ebury Press.

FELIX4104 - Copy ‘A Garret In Goodge Street’ by Mark Williams is a limited edition history of the first 40 years of Dennis Publishing. Many of us served time on such classic mags as TV/SCI-FI Monthly, Star Wars Monthly and numerous one-off poster magazines. Needless to say I eagerly scanned the index to find mention of my name. I’m noted as one of ‘a floating retinue of ex-underground freelancers, including Jonathon Green, John May, Chris Rowley and Mick Farren.’ on page 26. In the Index it says page 29. This pic of me is on p89. Check the Dennis publishing website to see whether any copies are still available.




Finally, also receive a name check in Mick Kidd’s delightfully titled autobiography ‘From Earache To Eternity’ in which Mick entertainingly takes us through his helter skelter life story at a brisk pace. Much of it involves squatting or looking after friend’s pads, finding new girlfriends and cycling long distances.


Mick and Chris Garratt are of course best known for Biff cartoons which appeared in The Guardian  for many years and many other publications. Mick has wry turn of wit  and this self-published work through Dory Press really captures the flavour of those long-lost times. You can order a book direct from Mick Kidd by sending him a cheque made out in his name for £10 (inc p&p) to 42 Ferme Park Road, London N4 4ED. E-Book available here on Amazon.

Of courses memories are funny things. Mick records that he applied for the post of Business Manager at Frendz magazine. he says: ‘The Editor John May sent me a friendly letter saying it was obvious that I had no business  experience but that I could write’. An article from Mick on Synchronicity was published but I have no reminiscence of the first incident.

On the following page he writes that an article on dreams was held over ‘but later appeared in Index of Possibilities, envisaged as a three-part-survey-come-UK equivalent of the Whole Earth Catalogue. In the event only the first instalment ‘Energy’ was published.’ So far so good.

‘Frendz and Index were both devised in a room in Blenheim Crescent off Portobello Road with music playing in the background. (Unfortunately the music in question was The Eagles…). Everyone sat round a large round table firing off suggestions and ideas, like a spaced out version of the Alonquin Circle. rejected ideas were dismissed with ‘impossible even on Venus’. At one point I was asked to write the dream piece while in a dream state.’

In fact Frendz was produced from 305/307 Portobello Rd and had closed before the Index started at 2 Blenheim Crescent. Full details about the Index on this Previous Post.

Mick is listed in the index as ‘Interplanetary News’ on the page on dreams entitled ‘Midnight Movies’ but the actual piece is credited to Dr Ulixes Brent, no doubt a pseudonym. In the thanks and credits Mick is listed as ‘the interplanetary explorer, for mutual rip-offs’

The correspondence files of the Index contain many letters and cards from Mick. Typical one reads:

Dear John May and the Hurricanes: I’d like to call round to see you either Tuesday or Thursday this week. I’d like to find out where Clare Hodgson lives and also tell about an idea I have for a new paper called INTERPLANETARY NEWS. The universe in 185,000,000,000,000 wacky instalments starring Frank Sinatra as the Crab Nebula and Rick van Schmidt as a blues guitar player. Some press previews:

‘This is the paper I’ve been waiting for since 1066’ – Irate, Manchester.

‘A breathtaking sweep. The editor obviously has no idea what he’s “on about”


See you in the eyeshade parlour by the street of a thousand joss sticks by the great green greasy Limpopo.




Following on from the previous post, the Archive of Undercurrents – the magazine of radical and alternative technology 1972-1984 is now online