Archive | January 2015

A Shock to the System (1990)

A Shock to the System, Jan Egleson. This one slipped off the pop culture radar and little wonder: a British leading man beating the American corporate system at its own game was always going to be a hard sell in the States. It’s not shot as a dark comedy nor is it a thriller in any real sense of the genre. It is, however, a well plotted, well acted, well lensed, well edited middle-age angst movie in which the anti-hero wins. Michael Caine does his thing and does it well (not as somnolent as in Hannah and her Sisters [’86] nor as slapstick as in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels [’88]), giving some sympathy to a character who is, at the end of the day, just a callow shallow materialistic sexist pig who refers to himself in the third person as “he” and thinks he’s heir to Merlin. Oh, and he’s also a murderer. It’s that last bit that allows him to regain the magic that the aging process has taken away. It wouldn’t be until three years later when Michael Douglas would find a bag of machine guns in Falling Down that a middle-age white-guy would rediscover his mojo by turning violent…but at the end of that story, he gets his comeuppance by getting shot to death. What Egleson gives us instead is the anti-hero as success story.

Why watch this one? The pacing. The story unfolds in a modular construction that is articulated by the amazing soundtrack, modern art music performed by the Turtle Island Quartet (http://turtleislandquartet.com/our-story/). The suspense is built in angular lines of disconformity that keeps the story riveting even if the main character is thoroughly dislikable. Plus Caine is in top form and obviously enjoying himself.

Pop culture bonus: blink and you’ll miss him: young Samuel L. Jackson as leader of a three-card monte game.

The Last Seduction (1994)

The Last Seduction, John Dahl. It’s Linda Fiorentino’s world, we only live in it. The hot chick from the first Men in Black flick takes on the role she was born to play (maybe that’s why she hasn’t worked much since). Sexy, mean, with a rangy body that she uses like a weapon, Fiorentino is the embodiment of the femme fatale in Dahl’s update of classic noir. She double-crosses her doctor husband (Bill Pullman, excellent as always) after he sells pharmaceutical cocaine to street thugs—then beats it upstate with the bag of cash. Hiding out in Hicksville proves dull so she takes on a local stud as a boy toy while husband sends a private dick to find her. Eventually all the men become her puppets. The film doesn’t pull many punches: at one point she uses overt racism to take out a human obstacle (“Is it true what they say about black guys?” she asks to get him out of his seat belt); the violence is off-screen but in your head, psychic and cruel. If it were in black and white, it could come straight from the early 1950s: Dahl’s color vision of (fairly recent) modern living updates the hard-bitten soul of noir without sacrificing any style.

A Visit to Lokananta Records

Here’s a quick look inside the legendary Lokananta Records in Solo, Indonesia!

IMG_7316

As a small-time record collector, I own several albums pressed by Lokananta, and I vaguely remembered that they were started in the city of Solo (Surakarta).

IMG_7321

 

As I wrote in a magazine awhile back, “Established either in 1955 or 1956, Lokananta (which is the name of the mythical first gamelan drum created by the god Bathara Guru) was intended as the transcription service for Radio Republik Indonesia, but soon began to sell albums to compete with the private companies then coming into existence in Indonesia, companies that often sold Western-influenced crooner music that eschewed local styles. Lokananta was officially opened as a for-profit business in 1961 with a three-fold mandate to 1) encourage, establish, and disseminate national musical arts; 2) produce income for the state; and 3) cooperate with other government agencies in programs involving sound recording.”

IMG_7327

 

I was surprised and delighted on a recent holiday to Solo to get an impromptu guided tour of the Lokananta building!  When we first arrived at our hotel, I noticed that right across the road was the iconic Lokananta logo. The next day, wife stayed for a late breakfast and I wandered over the road to take pictures. While I was shooting in the lobby, a nice fellow named Bimo showed up and in my bad Bahasa, I managed to explain I was a record collector. Instead of shooing me away, he invited me in for a quick tour.

IMG_7338

 

First up was the store-room, where a jaw-dropping assortment of Lokananta records are housed on dusty shelves.

IMG_7330

“Ini dijual?” For sale? I asked. No, just for storage, he told me.

IMG_7332

IMG_7335

IMG_7340

IMG_7339

 

After this, Bimo took me to the remastering room where a couple of guys sat hunched over some antiquated-looking equipment, remastering old cassettes for re-issue on CD (NB audio geeks: they’re using Wave software).

IMG_7345

IMG_7351

 

Bimo also showed me a recording of a speech by Bung Sukarno! This is the original (“asli”) recording and has never been reissued, he told me.

IMG_7348

After this room, he took me to the “museum” where old recording and duplicating equipment is stored, along with photos and other memorabilia.

IMG_7367

IMG_7357

IMG_7359

IMG_7363

IMG_7370

Next up was the “new” recording studio.

IMG_7375

IMG_7378

 

Built in the 1980s, it is a cavernous room that can easily accommodate a small symphony orchestra.

IMG_7382

IMG_7383

(Note the garuda, the national symbol,  above the clock.)

The last room housed instruments, including this antique gamelan set. If you’ve ever heard any gamelan on Lokananta Records recorded “in studio,” this was probably the set that was used.

IMG_7384

IMG_7385

When the tour ended, Bimo gave me a hearty handshake and a warm Javanese smile before I trudged back over the road for hotel coffee and buffet breakfast. What an amazing morning!

 

New Year, Old Book, More Great Stuff on the Way!

On a recent trip to Singapore I spotted a couple of copies of my novel Singapore Black for sale at Times Books in Changi Airport Terminal Two.

Well, it’s more than a year old now and the publisher, Monsoon Books, has assured me that the sequel Singapore Yellow will be out in spring 2015.

Also keep your eyes peeled for more exciting “Opium Traces” articles on popmatters…

And “Midnight Grindhouse” treated soundtracks at Scat Trax…

Plus there’s short stories and essays on Southeast Asian media in the pipeline for publication at various presses.

And the random, inconsistent, and unqualified film recommendations will continue to be posted here along with links to obscure music and films.

So stay tuned to this exciting, uncompromising, desultory and all together exquisite blog for all these exciting posts…plus more!

MY ODYSSEY

Being Part of Our Great History...

Forgotten Films

A look at the movies forgotten by time

Bunhead

Give her food and she will conquer the world

Wonderful Cinema

Short reviews on high quality films. No spoilers.

pacificREVIEW

An annual review of prose, poetry, and artwork, published in affiliation with San Diego State University

HAJI MAJI

SCRATCHY OLD ASIAN MUSIC

Street Talk

Word on the street is...