Alejandro Jodorowsky’s magical film “The Dance of Reality”.

The Holy Mountain.

Jodor­owsky as the mago in The Holy Moun­tain.

There are two dri­ves that pro­pel peo­ple to pro­duce a work of art, one pri­vate one pub­lic. On the one hand, they have an urge for what­ever rea­son to express them­selves. And on the other, they fall in love with a medium, be it film, the album, the novel or what­so­ever, and despair­ing at what today’s prac­ti­tion­ers are doing with it, they feel com­pelled to cre­ate some­thing interesting.

I was think­ing about this while watch­ing the new Bond film, and good­ness knows I had plenty of time to drift off. Before the delights of see­ing Daniel Graig shuf­fle so grumpily from scene to scene look­ing for all the world like a labourer forced to wear a bor­rowed suit for the day — and by the bye, declaw­ing Bond of his class is like reliev­ing a great white shark of its teeth — we were treated to a brace of trailers.

John and Yoko were big fans and launched El Topo in NY.

John and Yoko were big fans and launched El Topo in NY.

And for six or seven min­utes, var­i­ous cos­tumed per­form­ers, played by actors, stood where they were told to spout­ing por­ten­tous inani­ties, as on the green screens behind them a suc­ces­sion of com­puter gen­er­ated foes and per­ils appeared with impres­sive, dull precision.

And as inter­change­able lines of dia­logue were mechan­i­cally mouthed – they could have been from any of the other films in the fran­chise, or for that mat­ter, from any of the rival fran­chises, but for the record the pair in ques­tion were Bat­man V Super­man and Star Wars – all the seats around me shook, phys­i­cally.

For the entire dura­tion of the trail­ers, our ears were pum­melled by an onslaught of dig­i­tally enhanced sounds, and our eyes were assailed by frame after frame, jam-packed with as much stuff as it was phys­i­cally pos­si­ble to cram into them.

It was the cin­e­matic equiv­a­lent of being trapped in a pound shop on steroids. They clearly think that if they can force as much junk as pos­si­ble into the one space and bom­bard our senses with it, no one will notice how uncon­nected each of the indi­vid­ual bits are, and what lit­tle sub­stance there is behind the packaging.

El Topo.

El Topo.

No won­der Graig is so grumpy. He’s just an inel­e­gant clothes horse around whom are placed as many over­priced prod­ucts as it’s pos­si­ble to pack into each and every frame.

What a fan­tas­tic time to be film maker. There is so much to rail against.

Both those dri­ves, the need to express him­self and the urge to do some­thing inter­est­ing with the medium, are glo­ri­ously in evi­dence in the few films we have from the won­der­ful Chilean film maker Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky. Jodor­owsky is what a hippy would look like, if being a hippy didn’t expressly for­bid you from pur­su­ing any of your activ­i­ties with any sort of actual intent.

He has spent his life expand­ing his con­scious­ness in the pur­suit of spir­i­tual sal­va­tion, by delv­ing into the inner recesses of his sub­con­scious. He first burst onto the inter­na­tional film scene with the acid west­ern El Topo in 1970, which effec­tively invented the idea the cult film and single-handedly launched the mid­night film scene in New York.

Jodorowsky with his son Brontis in El Topo.

Jodor­owsky with his son Bron­tis in El Topo.

John and Yoko were so impressed, Lennon put up $1m for his next film, The Holy Moun­tain, in ’73. Which, inevitably, proved to be some­thing of a damp squib and is, truth be told, hope­lessly self-indulgent.

After an abortive and out­landishly expen­sive attempt to film Frank Herbert’s cult sci-fi novel Dune – which David Lynch would sim­i­larly make a mess of — he moved to Paris and spent the next decade or so read­ing tarot cards. But in ’89 he made a tri­umphant return with the qui­etly bonkers Santa San­gre, and then The Rain­bow Thief in ’90, before dis­ap­pear­ing once more into the artis­tic wilderness.

But in 2013 he re-emerged to much applause when he pre­sented his lat­est film, The Dance of Real­ity, at that year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Osten­si­bly an auto­bi­og­ra­phy chart­ing his lonely child­hood in pre WWII Chile, it is both about the stormy rela­tion­ship he had as a boy with his macho father, and an attempt by the now older artist to rec­on­cile him­self to his father’s memory.

Brontis playing Jodorowsky's father (and his grandfather) in The Dance of Reality.

Bron­tis play­ing Jodorowsky’s father (and his grand­fa­ther) in The Dance of Reality.

It is of course and as ever entirely bonkers but in a com­pletely good way. At one point for instance, his father wakes up to dis­cover the hunch­backed dwarf with whom he’s been sleep­ing has painted tat­toos all over his paral­ysed arm in his sleep. And as he is walk­ing down the road pon­der­ing this, he is met by a Catholic priest who looks at him dis­ap­prov­ingly and places an enor­mous taran­tula on his with­ered arm, before walk­ing off again. Nei­ther he nor the spi­der are referred to again.

Imag­ine a Bunuel film directed by Fellini and peo­pled by amputee dwarves and hunch­backs. But in a good way.

What ele­vates this from all the other Jodor­owsky films is that for once, the intel­lec­tual curios­ity, mytho­log­i­cal arche­types and spir­i­tual yearn­ing are matched here by an emo­tional invest­ment that makes for a sur­pris­ingly mov­ing film.

He’s 86 now, and is busy work­ing on the follow-up. I hope some­one has the good sense to give him the fund­ing he needs. The cin­ema needs peo­ple like him to keep us all sane.

You can see the trailer for The Dream of Real­ity here. And the trailer for El Topo here.

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David Simon’s latest TV series “Show Me A Hero”.

Winona Ryder, Oscar Isaac. photo credit: Paul Schiraldi/courtesy of HBO.

Winona Ryder, Oscar Isaac. photo credit: Paul Schiraldi/courtesy of HBO.

David Simon read Show Me A Hero by New York Times jour­nal­ist Lisa Belkin in 2001, and imme­di­ately approached HBO about adapt­ing it for tele­vi­sion. But he got side­tracked with the phe­nom­e­nally suc­cess­ful and justly lauded The Wire, and then by Gen­er­a­tion Kill and Treme. So it’s only now that Show Me a Hero has finally made it to our screens.

As soon as he heard it was going ahead, Paul Hag­gis signed on as direc­tor with­out hav­ing to see any of the scripts before­hand. And it’s not hard to see what might have drawn him to it, apart of course from the obvi­ous fact that it was Simon’s lat­est venture.

Hag­gis wrote and directed Crash in 2004, which explores the com­plex­i­ties of race and colour bril­liantly, and could have been a mas­ter­piece if only they’d held out against tack­ing happy end­ings on to three of its sto­ries, those of the detective’s mother, the shop keeper and the TV director.



One of the first things that leaps out at you when you start watch­ing Show Me A Hero is its appar­ent art­less­ness. A great deal of time and effort has been invested in ren­der­ing it entirely trans­par­ent. So that instead of using the medium to mir­ror the sub­ject mat­ter, as they did with the amphet­a­mine fuelled fid­get­ing of The Wire, and the laid back lan­guid south­ern rhythms of Treme, what we get here is Strindberg’s dream of being pre­sented with some­thing as if we were the fourth wall.

So the late 80s that the story is set in is seen not as the sort of styl­ized, immac­u­lately dressed era that some­thing like Mad Men would have pre­sented it as. Rather, it looks and feels exactly as it did when you were actu­ally liv­ing in it. Utterly, unfor­giv­ably vile, and cheap in a some­how expen­sive way. That hair, those shoul­der pads, and the way that every­thing, even the archi­tec­ture, all looks thin, insub­stan­tial and devoid of any real depth.

The Wire.

The Wire.

The story cen­tres around Nick Wasic­sko who became the youngest mayor in Amer­ica when tak­ing up the reins at Yonkers, a sub­urb of New York City and a city in its own right within the larger state. For 5 or 6 years in the late 80s, its res­i­dents were up in arms over the social hous­ing devel­op­ment that was being forced upon them against their wishes.

What’s so great about Simon is that he man­ages to keep his lib­eral sym­pa­thies in check with­out ever let­ting you lose sight of them. He focuses instead on show­ing us the mul­ti­fac­eted com­plex­i­ties that lie behind all appar­ently black and white issues.

There’s a rea­son the res­i­dents of Yonkers are so dead set against allow­ing pub­lic hous­ing units allo­cated to black fam­i­lies into their area. Wher­ever that had been done before, the build­ings that resulted all too quickly devel­oped into Sty­gian cen­tres for drugs and pros­ti­tu­tion, and the orga­ni­za­tional ful­crum for a net­work of petty, and not so petty crime.

Pro­po­nents of the scheme, which Wasis­cko inad­ver­tently came to front, said that that was only because of the way that those kinds of things had been han­dled in the past. That this scheme would be dif­fer­ent (which, unusu­ally, it was), and that in any case, they were only talk­ing about a pal­try 200 hous­ing units.



I’ll not say any­thing more, other than that I just about man­aged to avoid look­ing up what the actual out­come was, so drawn in was I with the story, and so should you. But if you rec­og­nize the Fitzger­ald quote, or know the book, you’ll know that the full quote is Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.

The one thing I can say is, and for­give me for sound­ing a lit­tle smug, but the whole sorry story is a dread­ful reflec­tion on that era and, dare I say it, Amer­ica. Hap­pily, the idea that the good peo­ple in the larger com­mu­nity might shun a minor­ity to such a degree that they refuse to let them even live amongst them is, hap­pily, not some­thing that could pos­si­bly hap­pen in this day and age. And cer­tainly not in Ire­land. Obviously.

You can see the trailer to Show Me A Hero here.

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Winter Sleep, the 2014 Cannes Film Festival winner.

Winter Sleep.

Win­ter Sleep.

Turk­ish film maker Nuri Bilge Cey­lan made his inter­na­tional break­through with the pow­er­ful Once Upon A Time in Ana­to­lia in 2011, reviewed ear­lier here. It won the Grand Prix, the run­ner up prize at Cannes that year, and his lat­est went one bet­ter, win­ning the Palme d’Or there last year.

As with Once Upon A Time, Win­ter Sleep was inspired by the short sto­ries of Chekhov, and is in fact loosely based on two of them. But it doesn’t feel as obvi­ously Chekhov­ian as the ear­lier film. Rather, it is the spirit of Ing­mar Bergman that per­me­ates his lat­est outing.

Bergman’s favourite film from his own body of work, not merely the one he was least dis­sat­is­fied with, but one of the few that he actu­ally liked, was Win­ter Light. And it’s not hard to see what appealed to him about it. It’s his most unremit­tingly bleak film. And the only one of his mature films that he doesn’t sad­dle with a brief and uncon­vinc­ing coda that tries to sug­gest some sense of reconciliation.

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

Indeed, the up-beat beat that Wild Straw­ber­ries, Autumn Sonata and most glar­ingly Through A Glass Darkly end with are so fleet­ing and out of char­ac­ter, that you won­der whether you really saw them there.

Cey­lan claims that his film is in no way inspired by Bergman. But given its sub­ject mat­ter mood and title, he clearly doth protesteth too much. You can see why he might. Who wants to be com­pared to Bergman? He needn’t have wor­ried though. Win­ter Sleep com­fort­ably jus­ti­fies such lofty praise.

Winter Sleep.

Win­ter Sleep.

At the core of this intense, inti­mate and unfor­giv­ing char­ac­ter study are two quiet if mon­u­men­tal argu­ments. Aydin, a for­mer actor, is now the owner of the only hotel in an iso­lated vil­lage in rural Turkey, mak­ing him the one fish in a non-existent pond. In the first of these rows he is con­fronted by his sis­ter, who is liv­ing there with him hav­ing sep­a­rated from her husband.

And in the sec­ond, he and his younger wife clash in a mon­u­men­tal show down that has clearly been build­ing for months.

Melisa Sozen in Winter Sleep.

Melisa Sozen as the long suf­fer­ing wife in Win­ter Sleep.

The sti­fling sense of suf­fo­cat­ing claus­tro­pho­bia, and the strong feel­ing that you are wit­ness­ing a fam­ily row that you really shouldn’t have heard any of are quin­tes­sen­tially Bergmanesque. But in con­trast to some of Bergman’s, Ceylan’s images are as metic­u­lously con­structed as his char­ac­ters are com­plex. And as with Once Upon A Time, the film com­fort­ably jus­ti­fies the three hours it unfolds over.

In short, another major film from one of the few serous film mak­ers work­ing today. You can see the trailer to Win­ter Sleep here.

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3 albums from around the world.



Ibeyi is the debut album from the French Cuban twin sis­ters of the same name. Their father was the Cuban drum­mer Anga Diaz, who played with Irakere and then the Buena Vista Social Club, while their mother is the French Venezue­lan singer Maya Dagnino.

Hav­ing spent their lives shut­tling between their home in Paris and Cuba the music they pro­duce is a heady mix of vin­tage Cuban influ­ences and a con­tem­po­rary north Euro­pean indie vibe. And is dom­i­nated by an Afro-Cuban beat that man­ages to be at once extra­or­di­nar­ily com­plex and tech­ni­cal and yet irre­sistibly alluring.

Yet there’s a sub­dued feel to the album, born of the fact that a num­ber of the songs address their father, who died when the pair were 13 – they are in their very early 20s now – and their older sis­ter who died soon after.

The Buena Vista Social Club.

The Buena Vista Social Club.

Not that it is in any way a depress­ing album, merely some­what under­stated. There’s a spir­i­tual force behind the songs, albeit a sub­tle one, and one that’s both pre-modern and non Euro­pean – I’m striv­ing valiantly here to avoid the word “primitive”.

The result is indi­etron­ica fused with hiphop of the RnB vari­ety, under­scored by African rhythms and Cuban swing. You can see the video for the sin­gle River here.

Rhi­an­non Gid­dens won a Grammy as part of the roots Amer­i­cana group Car­olina Choco­late Drops, but she only really came to promi­nence after her show steel­ing per­for­mance in the film Another Day Another Time.

The Coen broth­ers had hoped to repeat the suc­cess of O Brother Where Art Thou with this filmed con­cert of the OST album from Inside Llewyn Davis. The forget-the-film-enjoy-the-soundtrack ploy failed to catch fire this time around, and the result­ing fol­low up film was largely ignored. Which was a shame, as Another Day Another Time was a lot bet­ter than it might have been given the input of the one of the Mum­fords. What it did do was to intro­duce the world to Rhi­an­non Gid­dens, whose per­for­mance of a Scot’s Gaelic reel is jaw-dropping – you can see her per­form it in Glas­gow here.

Rhiannon Giddens Tomorrow Is

Rhi­an­non Gid­dens Tomor­row Is My Turn.

Tomor­row Is My Turn is her debut album out on None­such and is pro­duced inevitably by T-Bone Bur­nett. It moves effort­lessly from cov­ers of The Dublin­ers, Patsy Cline and Dolly Par­ton to Odetta and Nina Simone, going from protest, jazz and gospel to coun­try and pop. The result is a time­less, mod­ern Amer­i­can songbook.

Once in a blue moon, the plan­ets align and the uni­verse con­spires to pro­duce an album that has clearly been recorded just for you. I came across Imam Baildi, named after the stuffed aubergine dish from the east­ern Mediter­ranean, thanks as ever to the uber reli­able All Songs Con­sid­ered pod­cast from NPR (reviewed ear­lier here).

The Imam Baildi Cookbook.

The Imam Baildi Cook­book.

The Falireas broth­ers grew up in Greece lis­ten­ing to the Rebetiko 78s that their father sold in his record shop. Rebetiko is a mix­ture of late 19th cen­tury Ottoman Greek, Turk­ish and Balkan influ­ences that mar­ries the sweep­ing, plan­gent melodies of the coun­try with the urban con­cerns of the ports and cities, invari­ably cen­tred around the sounds of the bouzouki. It re-surfaced in the café music of Greece and Turkey in the 40s 50s and 60s.

All of which the band fuse with thump­ing 21st cen­tury RnB, funk, and hiphop. Intox­i­cat­ing. I’ve started off with the sec­ond of their three albums, the Imam Baildi Cook­book, and am doing my very best to limit myself to but two or three plays a day. Some hope. You can hear Busca Ritmo from the Cook­book here. And a track from the 2014 album Imam Baildi III here.

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BBC’s Arena celebrates one of the great modern film makers.

Mick Jagger in Nic Roeg and Donald Cammell's Performance.

Mick Jag­ger in Nic Roeg and Don­ald Cammell’s Per­for­mance.

Nico­las Roeg has only made 13 films in total, but the first seven of them makes up one of the most impor­tant bod­ies of work in Euro­pean cinema.

He began in the cam­era depart­ment, and by the 1960s he was the cin­e­matog­ra­pher on some of Britain’s most iconic films, work­ing on Lawrence of Ara­bia, Far From the Madding Crowd and Doc­tor Zhivago, though he remained un-credited on that last one after a falling out with David Lean.

Then in 1970 he made his direc­to­r­ial debut Per­for­mance, which, unusu­ally for a British film, he directed together with Don­ald Cam­mell. Roeg con­cen­trated on the look of the film, and Cam­mell worked with the actors and on the script. The gifted but trou­bled Cam­mell then made Demon Seed in 77, but when the stu­dio man­gled their cut of his Wild Side in 1995, he com­mit­ted suicide.

Julie Christy in Don't Look Now.

Julie Christy in Don’t Look Now.

Although the world of Per­for­mance is very much the one that Cam­mell inhab­ited, with its heady mix of the May­fair set and gang­ster Lon­don, it looks and feels like a Roeg film. And the cast­ing of Mick Jag­ger in one of the leads would be fol­lowed sub­se­quently by Roeg with David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth and Art Gar­funkel in Bad Tim­ing.

Walk­a­bout, his first film proper, was next in ’71. A star­tlingly orig­i­nal take on the clash of civ­i­liza­tions as a white boy and girl are left to fend for them­selves in the Aus­tralian out­back after being aban­doned there. But it was Don’t Look Now in ‘73 that really caught the world’s attention.

Don­ald Suther­land and Julie Christy are in Venice try­ing to come to terms with the death of their child. The film unfolds with an ellip­ti­cal, almost casu­ally poetic mould­ing of time, and it is this more than any­thing that char­ac­ter­izes Roeg’s work.

David Bowie as The Man Who Fell To Earth.

David Bowie as The Man Who Fell To Earth.

This strik­ingly lat­eral, almost anti lin­ear sense of time, and one of the most mem­o­rable and grown up sex scenes in mod­ern cin­ema woke the world up to a seri­ous Euro­pean film maker.

The Man Who Fell To Earth fol­lowed in ‘76, Bad Tim­ing in ‘80, Eureka in ‘83 and then Insignif­i­cance in ‘85. All are crim­i­nally over-looked. They each man­age to be daz­zlingly orig­i­nal in their look and feel as they tackle exis­ten­tial themes with a deft light­ness of touch. Intel­lec­tual depth explored with visual bril­liance, panache and orig­i­nal­ity, so that form and con­tent per­fectly merge.

Teresa Russell in the criminally overlooked Insignificance.

Teresa Rus­sell in the crim­i­nally over­looked Insignif­i­cance.

If you’ve yet to see any of them, lucky you, it’s all ahead of you.

Cast­away was some­thing of a damp squib in 86, but Track 29 in 88, scripted by Denis Pot­ter was a return to form. But his film of Roald Dahl’s The Witches in 90 was another mild dis­ap­point­ment, falling some­where in between a children’s and a grown up’s film.

And that alas is pretty much it. There have been three films since, but they are hardly worth men­tion­ing in the con­text of what had come before. And ever since, Roeg has been talk­ing to var­i­ous pro­duc­ers and financiers about mak­ing a come­back. So the Arena pro­file, aptly titled It’s About Time on BBC4 was some­thing of a mixed blessing.

Gene Hackman in Eureka.

Gene Hack­man in Eureka.

On the one hand, it was finally some sort of recog­ni­tion for, arguably, the most impor­tant, and cer­tainly the most orig­i­nal film maker that Britain has ever pro­duced. On the other, if felt like an admis­sion of defeat as far as any future projects are concerned.

Watch the Arena pro­file. And then treat your­selves to one of those first seven films of his.

Rather like David Bowie’s six albums between Young Amer­i­cans and Scary Mon­sters, those first seven films of Roeg’s man­age to be at once extra­or­di­nar­ily var­ied and yet vis­i­bly, dis­tinctly crafted by the same bril­liant hand.

In the mean­time, here’s the trailer  for Don’t Look Now. And this by the way is how you cut a trailer. Every stu­dio head in Hol­ly­wood should be forced to watch this at least once a week.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you posted every month on All the very best and worst in film, tele­vi­sion and music!

Sub­scribe here for reg­u­lar updates. And get your FREE GIFT of the first 2 chap­ters of my book, A Brief His­tory Of Man.