RETRO (AND HUMAN/ANIMAL HYBRIDS)
Before bothering with anything here, I recommend reading this ‘Vanity Fair’ profile of agnès b. She had the workwear reappropriation thing going on when the first store opened in 1975 and was crossing over fashion and graffiti with her gallery space in 1984. That’s some early adopting.
Having just spent the last half an hour hunting for a bootleg copy of a remake of a 1973 tv-movie and coveting a reissued pair of shoes from 1985, I’m aware of how much of my pop-cultural diet, and indeed the world around me, is stuck in the past. We don’t fixate on the new. We certainly fixate on the next, but that’s not necessarily progressive, just a movement or artifact that’s reproduced 1:1 to fill a gap before we’re onto the next slice of past that’s superfluous yet very necessary. I’m not too troubled by the absence of space cars. I’m alarmed at things I felt were borderline contemporary being deemed “old school” but that’s part of the ageing process, where we’re two steps from being embarrassing dad despite our best efforts to stay “down.” I’m curious to know why we like to recycle old movements though — this blog is defiantly steeped in ancient and unnecessary things because I still can’t shake off those preoccupations.
Simon Reynolds was evidently troubled enough to study the subject over 430 pages in ‘Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to the Past.’ Reading Reynolds’s earlier ‘Bring the Noise’ anthology, wherein it’s fun to watch his evolution from an overly-verbose — albeit very talented — young writer into a real master of his craft, dropping in the head-scratchers when they just seem like the correct thing to do, without intruding on the prose’s enviable flow.
In those pieces he’s preoccupied with the post-punksters and the fluid robo-funk over a decade later and throughout ‘Rip It Up and Start Again’ he recalls a youth spent trailing that next thing at a time when those rose-tinted spectacles have painted every release an act of sonic evolution.
Reynolds talks as a father in his latest work, finally left behind by the digital movement zip filing what he’s spent years amassing, yet during his study he singles out the original curators and reissuers who were looking back in the archives when a perceived golden era of 1960s music was in effect. He argues that punk’s finest moments were rock n’ roll throwbacks rather than an absolute shock-of-the-new. He bemoans the boxsets that gather dust as they delve too far into what was meant to gather dust.
‘Retromania’ is a remarkable work — part history, part personal account without the infuriating Hornby-isms that can usher in and one of the finest attempts to pin down the reasons for the relentless tractor beam pull of regression. Reynolds argues that some dance music is the last forward movement musically, yet by their own live-for-the-moment hedonism the scenes burn out rapidly in a bass-heavy implosion of internal conflict, fickle audience and closed venues. Then they’re deemed “old school” within 60 months and are just another dewy-eyed part of the nostalgia machine.
I’m inclined to think that the ageing rocabillies with their cans of Tennants around my way are right. The 1950s are the best place to regress to — at least a vision of the 1950s that I’ve been sold back to by Japanese repro masters – with the typography, the hair, the denim, the tattoos, the white tees, the footwear and the rest. I haven’t got the energy to fight the onset of terminal nostalgia for scenes in which I was barely present. It gets us all eventually.
I am a fan of John Frankenheimer’s ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’ from 1996. I love it. It’s totally underrated and a rare moment where the visibly troubled shoot affords the film an appropriate level of derangement. After all, a film where hybrid human-animals dwell, led by an overweight, painted, cross-dressing Marlon Brando, should be a little messed up, right? I love Fairuza Balk too, and her appearance makes it even better. It’s a truly dark little film, and Thewlis’s expression is that of a man keen to get off the set, which sits well in a film where he’s keen to exit an island of monsters. Monsters…a bratty Val Kilmer before he got fat and got that karmic industry payback…Brando recieving store robbery details from Woolworths on his radio headset during rehearsals…it’s all one and the same. Brando’s mini sidekick (played by a pre ‘Austin Powers’ Verne Troyer alone is enough to love this ‘…Dr. Moreau’. I don’t think Richard Stanley’s adaptation could have matched the madness, yet I can concede that it’s not to all tastes.
The Don Taylor adaptation from 1977 is a little less out there, but 1933’s ‘Island of Lost Souls’ is a genuinely eerie little film based on the same book that preempts the censorious film code of the era. If my mind is working correctly it’s sampled on the first House of Pain LP, with the vivisection lab on Moreau’s being the inspiration for the band’s name. Criterion are putting out a special edition with tremendous covert art that includes (among other extras) Devo’s The ‘Complete Truth About Devo-lution’ movie that includes ‘Jocko Homo’ with its “Are we not men?” line taken from ‘Island of Lost Souls’. I recall Oingo Boingo referencing the film too on ‘No Spill Blood’ but it could have been a more general ‘…Dr. Moreau’ reference to H.G. Wells’s novel.