So long Chris Marker, director of La Jetee (from whence came Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys, but you probably knew that already) and chronicler of haunted memories for five decades. Marker has died aged 91 on the same date as his birth - a symmetry he'd probably have appreciated. Sans Soleil, his magnificent journey - inwards, outwards and through a strangely liminal Japan - is available in its entirety here...
In advance of the launch of Public Service Broadcasting's WWII-inspired EP at the Bull & Gate, chocks away for the record Biggles might have made, had some strange blip in the space-time continuum allowed him to front The Decemberists. (In order for that to happen, Biggles would also have had to have been real.)
After-the-event addendum: it's not often you come out of the Bull & Gate thinking 'blimey, I have actually never seen that before.' A quite extraordinarily ambitious, brilliantly executed multi-media extravaganza which also rocks like a horse. Proceed directly to their website for a taste of what's going on here. More on this to follow, hopefully...
Thereafter, a track from the fairly limited number of records themed around Germany's Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, Bob Calvert's Ejection. Hawkwind's resident poet Calvert was the closest rock 'n' roll ever got to JG Ballard. Among the many unexecuted projects we dream of round here is a multi-volume biography. We think that's Viv Stanshall doing the intro. "W-w-w-for white..."
As a film critic you respond - well, I did anyway - to movies which reflect your own vague and inarticulated sense of how stuff generally is. That's why I loved writing about Michelangelo Antonioni more than any other director; transforming my responses into actual, sensible sentences gave those mysterious accounts of listless yearning a focus they may not otherwise have had. His masterpiece Red Desert is back in cinemas this week. Here's what I had to say about the 2009 DVD release of his 1964 film starring Monica Vitti as a crisis-stricken mother drifting through the eerie industrial landscape of northern Italy. The whole thing, to give you some background, is an experiment in the blazing new technology associated with colour...
Colour filmmaking in the 1950s and 1960s opened up all sorts of new horizons for directors, but few were as astonishing as Antonioni's bold experiment in tone and design. Colour is Red Desert's subject, and the director employs it to such striking, startling effect that the film frequently borders on pure abstraction.
Giuliana (Vitti) is a young mother recovering from a nervous breakdown, and her emotional instability drives the film's voyage through Antonioni's favourite psychological landscape: the isolation, disengagement and fretful unease associated with life in a society where no one knows their place. With her engineer husband Ugo (Chionetti) frequently absent, Giuliana forms an anguished attachment to businessman Corrado Zeller (Harris). It's a relationship conducted against the extraordinary mechanised landscape of the Ravenna industrial valley, a fog-wreathed, depopulated end-zone over which the cranes, pylons and towers loom like an art installation erected by invading aliens.
It's this impregnable, apocalyptic futurescape, rather than the frail human figures within it, that fascinates Antonioni. His pessimism frequently closed down the trajectories of his characters. On occasion he simply seemed to lose interest. But here he quakes in awe at a manmade landscape in which men no longer figure. As the director himself once said, it was always the people, not the machines, that were broken in his films.
Unique though Red Desert is, is occupies a clear and significant position within Antonioni's development. Its predecessor, L'Ecliss, which also starred Antonioni's then partner Monica Vitti, closed with an eerie drift through empty Rome, Antonioni suggesting the end was nigh for The Eternal City in the form of an imminent nuclear strike. That closing sequence is where Red Desert begins. But whereas L'Eclisse - indeed so many of the director's films, from L'Avventura through to Blow Up and The Passenger - exhibited the same mysterious detachment as their characters, Red Desert worries its way into Giuliana's fractured psyche and conveys her fluctuating state of mind through an exaggeratedly artificial - and often sublimely beautiful - colour scheme.
The industrial landscape in the opening sequence is an indistinct smear of blue and grey. The effluent burning at the top of the towering chimneys is a brilliantly toxic yellow. During a joyless attempt at group sexual game-playing, and again after Giuliana's adulterous encounter with Zeller, her world is cast in the thick rust-red of a deep, old wound. It's a key perhaps to the film's title in which sudden eruptions of sexual and emotional energy prevent Giuliana from sharing the arid existence of those around her. "One travels but ends up the same as before," is Zeller's flat assessment of his own experience. "There's something terrible in reality," says Giuliana later. "And I don't know what it is."
Ironically, the only sequence which isn't subject to Antonioni's strange manipulation of colour and sound is an idyllic fantasy sequence set on a sun-drenched beach which Giuliana describes to her young son who is pretending to his mother that he is paralysed. Is Antonioni suggesting that for Giuliana the landscape of dreams and the subconscious is somehow more real than reality? As was so often the case with a filmmaker whose work was driven by the imperative 'look harder' - literally and metaphorically - we are invited to read into it what we like.
In a sense Red Desert is the purest expression of Antonioni's cinema. This is a film in which the characters' aimless, nameless anomie is reflected back on to them by a landscape which is grimly, beautifully impersonal. It has more in common with the paintings of Turner, De Chirico and Edward Hopper than it does with conventional narrative drama. These images pulse according to an eerie frequency all their own.
While we're on this sort of trip, here's the brilliantly eccentric and literally loopy instrumentalist Bird Radio, aka Mikey Kirkpatrick, who I first saw supporting Sieben (aka Matt Howden) earlier this year. Armed only with a flute, a suitcase and a pedal board, these are songs built out of live loops and samples - much like Sieben and, for those with very long memories, Ed Alleyne Johnson. The result blends pastoral folk, stately classical and DIY techno, only much better than I've just made that sound. Tailor made, one imagines, for a smoky festival at dusk. More here.
A quick round-up of legitimately gratis downloads currently floating our boat round here. The first comes from A Tribe Called Red's free to download album - a release so brain-scramblingly eclectic that
it defies both logic and words. Loosely put, this takes glitchy dubstep, rubs it up against native American Indian chanting and then drops in some huge synthetic thuds to summon up a weirdly authentic sense of tribal delirium. They want you to have it. Get it here. (See also Rainbow Arabia who do a not dissimilar thing but with a strangely kitsch-mid-eastern slant.)
Don't worry. We hadn't forgotten the freebies. Label Trestle Rec are giving away a free sampler album of red-eyed, spooky, here-comes-the-dawn atmospherica, including a new solo track by James Johnston. Have a look right here.
What's going on out there, right now, precisely? Economics editor Mark E Smith has drawn a diagram.