‘Harmontown: The Documentary’ is the best psychodrama of the season
08:45 am


Dan Harmon

Last year I proclaimed Harmontown to be the best comedy podcast, and in the intervening time I have seen nohing to change my mind (although I have grown fond of Greg Proops’ Smartest Man in the World and Pete Holmes’ You Made It Weird. A couple of days ago saw the release of a documentary about Dan Harmon and the nationwide tour his podcast made in January 2013. It’s available to stream on Amazon for $6.99 (to purchase, $12.99/$14.99).

The question arises, how is it? The simple answer is, it’s very good. I’m a little too close to the subject to review it properly, so while recommending the documentary (directed by Neil Berkeley, who also directed Beauty is Embarrassing: The Wayne White Story) I thought I’d also express some thoughts about why Harmontown (the podcast) is such an achievement as well as a few things the documentary inevitably missed (not a diss, it would have been impossible to cover everything).

Spencer Crittenden, Jeff B. Davis, Dan Harmon, and Erin McGathy
Dan Harmon is a TV writer and showrunner who is responsible for Community (NBC) and Rick & Morty (Adult Swim). He’s from Milwaukee and he drinks too much and he’s got some impressive verbal gifts and he has issues with people telling him what to do. Harmontown (the podcast) is taped every Sunday at the NerdMelt Theater, the back room of Meltdown Comics in Hollywood. The governing conceit is that Dan Harmon is the mayor and his buddy Jeff B. Davis is the comptroller. Dan occupies a unique niche, as something like the world’s most dangerous showrunner (i.e. writer who oversees a television show). The advent of high-quality TV that requires attention to long-form narrative issues has made a figure like Harmon nearly inevitable—who knew who ran Kojak?  If America loves Chuck Lorre’s shows, then that leaves an opening for an uncompromising indie showrunner who caters to a coterie—that’s Harmon, who plays Pulp to Lorre’s Oasis, perhaps.

Every show involves a mix of discussion about whatever has been occupying Harmon lately, audience participation, special guest appearances (Robin Williams, Patton Oswalt, Eric Idle, etc.) and a 20-minute chunk of D&D. The shows are entirely unscripted, and somehow they manage to be pretty darn diverting just about every week. As Davis points out in the movie, because it’s constructed from scratch every week, every episode feels completely different. What’s guaranteed is that because everything is filtered through Harmon’s lively, dangerous personality, there’s not much out there like it. What it feels like is unprecedented.

Harmon’s a dork of long standing, and his audience overwhelmingly consists of smart, introverted creative people (this is a euphemism for “on the Spectrum”) who, possibly, were bullied in high school; were far too interested in the Alien movie series and pop culture artifacts of that type; and have found some private fulfillment as adults in some interesting endeavor. What’s key is that the generosity, tolerance, and democracy behind Harmon’s sincere efforts at outreach have struck a massive chord among the people of this sub-sector, who in turn regard Harmon as their own special hero. The documentary is largely about Harmon going out into the country from LA to meet the throngs that make up his adoring audience. As Harmon often jokes, “his people” aren’t great at eye contact, which made the lengthy meet and greets after every session of “HarmonCountry” interesting social events in their own right.

The documentary covers all of this back story—the poster’s touting of the appearances of Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Joel McHale, and John Oliver is a bit of a cheat, they only appear in the movie for a couple of seconds apiece, as talking heads testifying to Harmon as a co-worker in the world of TV (Sarah Silverman and Jason Sudeikis are both in the movie in a fuller way). Implicit in that promotional strategy is that there’s not that much here to sell the movie. Much like Community, Dan Harmon himself is an aquired taste, and people watching the documentary should know that the movie features huge amounts of footage of exactly four people: Harmon, Davis, Harmon’s girlfriend (now fiancée) Erin McGathy, and Spencer Crittenden, the D&D dungeon master who was recruited from the live audience in an early episode and has appeared in the largest number of episodes since, excepting Dan himself of course).

Watching the movie, I found myself wondering what non-devotees will make of Dan Harmon. It’s a little like when you introduce your favorite noise-rock band to a friend, you might not have the best antennae about who will like this band. Same thing here—I love Harmon, but from all external appearances he’s a talkative alcoholic and egomaniac with a mean streak. It would be easy to imagine him wearing on people, which I sincerely hope doesn’t happen because I think Harmon’s worth the trouble. The thing to understand about Harmon is that he’s an idealist of the highest order. For instance, the HarmonCountry tour, even if it was the act of an egomaniac, was essentially an attempt to execute the world’s largest hug. A devotee of the Jungian mythologist Joseph Campbell, Harmon sincerely believes that his own writing accomplishments are merely a reflection of universal wisdoms that could equally well be expressed some other way. Harmon drinks too much and is self-destructive, all of which makes his penchant for unvarnished revelation all the more admirable. The list of his uncomfortable admissions (his purchase of a Real Doll many years ago, for instance) would be long indeed; would that we were all so honest! (Thus we see the idealism at work.)

One of the central issues in Harmontown the documentary is Harmon’s treatment of McGathy, who is clearly Harmon’s #1 supporter as well as his lifetime companion. The legendary Pittsburgh entry of HarmonCountry devolved into a huge onstage argument between Harmon and McGathy; the tour was clearly taking a massive toll on their relationship (they’re still together, obviously). Harmon did a bit about trying to become “visibly” aroused in full view of the audience by fantasizing about an attractive young lady in the audience, a bit that understandably wounded McGathy, who said so onstage some minutes later. The slack-jawed Pittsburghers were treated to a bit that wasn’t a bit, in essence a drawn-out, gut-wrenching conversation about the ways Harmon can wound McGathy and Harmon’s refusal to change. 

Harmontown the documentary faithfully captures the complexity of Harmon and the appeal of the show, almost entirely. Inevitably, a documentary of this type must maintain its focus on Harmon and the rapid rise to nerdy prominence of Spencer, the D&D dungeon master. What a movie of this kind can’t, by definition, capture is one of the central sources of appeal of the podcast, which are the longer-form discussions/banter, and especially the longer set pieces in which Harmon improvs a rant about the injustice of being told to tie his shoes or the faulty logic of Uber or why Captain America is an unsatisfying movie. That’s the stuff I go to Harmontown for, and there’s virtually none of it in the documentary (again, not a diss; Berkeley made the right movie that was there to make). For that, go to (episode 1) and listen to the podcasts. I wish they’d captured the dapper charm of Jeff B. Davis or the comedic genius—yes, genius—of Erin McGathy. In the movie you would get the impression that McGathy is a fairly typical supportive indie chick, but she has a lengthy background in improv and her comedic instincts are every bit as developed as those of Harmon himself. If anything she’s even quicker, and her bits don’t always depend on the filter of her own psychodramas. She has a podcast of her own about relationships called This Feels Terrible, which I highly recommend.

Download Harmontown the documentary—for some interesting insights into the making of the documentary, the Nerdist episode with Harmon and director Neil Berkeley is well worth a listen.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Let Leonard Cohen give you a fascinating primer on Tibetan Buddhism
06:27 am


Leonard Cohen

Cohen in Buddhist regalia
Celebrities and artists discussing religion is always a tricky business. Fame tends to be a of a very worldly nature and often threatens to cheapen the subject, or distract from the gravity of spiritual matters. This can go doubly awry when westerners project their exotic fantasies on Asian religions—the fantastic book, Karma Cola, by Gita Mehta is an insightful look at the phenomenon of American and European “pilgrims” traveling to India, hoping to find enlightenment. (Since people are people, anywhere you go, many of those pilgrims were defrauded by fake yogis—India’s snake oil salesman and televangelist swindler equivalent.)

However, Leonard Cohen’s narration of the 1994 documentary pair, The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Way of Life and The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation, is both understated and dignified (with the first film featuring The Dalai Lama himself). Cohen, who was ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk in 1996, is staid in his narration of Tibetan Buddhist theory and practice, but the films are neither dry nor academic—a scene with a man in a hospice dealing with his own mortality is particularly affecting. I have to say, I initially just checked this out looking for something on Cohen’s Buddhism; what I found was an extremely respectful and compelling documentary, devoid of voyeurism, and mindful of the humanity of its subjects.

The series in its entirety is divided into five segments below, four being about 20 minutes long, with a two-minute clip in the middle.

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Princely Toys’: Creepy toy documentary
11:11 am



I first discovered the amazing 1976 BBC documentary Princely Toys—about the incredible antique automaton collection of a man named Jack Donovan—on an art film tracker with the description “creepy toy documentary.”

That seemed too good to pass up and I’m glad I didn’t. Princely Toys is an unexpected pleasure and, yes, it’s a little creepy (check out the animated smoking monkey doll dressed as Napoleon in the beginning or the doll hacking a woman’s bloody torso with a butcher knife) but mainly it’s just… really neat. The soundtrack is probably from a music library, but it’s a suitably weird synth-based Muzak-y sort of affair that fits perfectly with the dimly-lit footage of Donovan’s superb 19th century animated doll collection.

There’s next to no information about this doc online. After his death, much of Jack Donovan’s unique collection was apparently acquired by the York Automata Museum, and after that closed down, sold to a Japanese collector.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Happy Earth Day Hippies! Let’s ‘F*ck For Forest’

WOW this film looks AMAZING! And NOT in the way that the creators intended!

Fuck For Forest is a new documentary following the titular eco-activist group FFF, who have a simple modus operandi: convince strangers on the streets of Berlin to film gonzo porn with them, which is then sold with all profits going to help save the Amazon rainforests. The movie makers travel with FFF to the wilds of South America to meet the people they aim to ‘help’, only to discover, unsurprisingly, that the locals are not enamored with their unique brand of spirituality (which seems to entail a lot of nudity.)

It sounds like it came from the mind of Sacha Baron Cohen, but alas, it’s real. Here is the Fuck For Forest group’s Wikipedia page, which states that they are the world’s first ‘eco-porn’ org.

In its first year of existence,[when?] the organisation’s website netted over $100,000 for rain forest protection through the sale of paid memberships. In their first six months of existence the group received seed funding from the government of Norway. They are the world’s first eco-porn organization.However, the organisation’s unorthodox methods have made it difficult to distribute the money it makes. The Norwegian chapter of the Rainforest Foundation Fund as well as the WWF both in the Netherlands and in Norway have refused to accept donations from FFF. As a result, Fuck for Forest is working on a project to work directly with indigenous communities in Costa Rica and the Brazilian Amazon rainforest.

The film has just gotten a very limited cinema release in the UK, and the reviews have not been good. In fact, it was a damning review by the Guardian that seemed to imply unintentional hilarity that really piqued my interest, making me seek out the trailer and to place it immediately on my “to see” list.

Seriously, check out the additional footage in that Guardian video review after you watch the trailer, it has me wondering if Fuck For Forest is the damning, hilarious portait that this “eco-punk” (or neo-hippy, crusty, whatever you want to call it) scene has always needed?

Fuck For Forest [NSFW]


Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Notes from the Niallist #6: Happy Birthday Divine!
05:26 am


I Am Divine

When it comes to alt-culture icons, they don’t come much bigger or more fabulous than Divine, who was born Glenn Harris Milstead 67 years ago today.

I shouldn’t need to explain to the readers of Dangerous Minds how important a figure Divine was, not just to gay people, drag queens or the plus-sized, but to freaks, misfits and outcasts anywhere and everywhere. I mean, you just gotta love Divine. Anyone who flaunts their flaws that proudly and boldly, turns them into cornerstones of their appearance in fact, should be held up as an inspiration to everyone.

Divine’s legacy has gotten stronger since Milstead’s death in 1988, and in a strange way Divine has come to represent a time when society was both more conservative, but oddly more liberal. What film star would gulp down real, live dog shit on screen these days and be called a hero? I think we need Divine now more than ever, so it’s no surprise to me how truly iconic she has become in recent years.

As today is Divine’s birthday, I contacted Lotti Pharriss Knowles, the producer of the upcoming feature documentary I Am Divine, to discuss the incredible performer, and to get the scoop on their film, which promises to be the definitive document of Divine’s life.


THE NIALLIST: How did this project come about in the first place?

LOTTI PHARRISS KNOWLES: Our director, Jeffrey Schwarz, has been kind of obsessed with Divine and John Waters since he was introduced to their films in college. Many years later Jeffrey interviewed Waters for SPINE TINGLER! THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY, and many other Dreamlanders for the doc YOU CAN’T STOP THE BEAT: THE LONG JOURNEY OF HAIRSPRAY, and became inspired to make a definitive documentary about the immortal star that is Divine.

TN: How is the Kickstarter going? And when is the finished film due?

LPK: Kickstarter is going great—we made our goal of $40,000 earlier this week! But that goal was the bare minimum we needed to raise to help finish this film, so we are setting a new, “unofficial” goal of $50K to see how far we can get by Friday at midnight when the campaign ends.

We don’t have a specific due date, but we are applying to festivals where, if accepted, we’d premiere early next year. So time is definitely of the essence to make sure we polish the edit, get the soundtrack and graphics completed, and legally clear all the photos and footage we’ve included. And none of that comes cheap!

TN: What personally attracts you to the character of Divine?

LPK: I’ve always been an oddball and attracted to others who are, especially people who are fearless about being different. No one embodies that spirit of the in-your-face punk misfit more than Divine. I also love that while Divine was completely subversive, you always felt a tender heart beating underneath the wild persona—I think that combination is ultimately why Divine’s fans love him so fervently.

TN: Divine’s legacy has gotten stronger since her death - why do you think that is?

LPK: Well, we always seem to truly idolized those who leave us too soon: Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Divine. They go out when they’re still young and beautiful, and they’re forever trapped in time… There’s something sentimental about that, because the fans are left to fill in the blanks of what might have happened had they lived longer. I also think there are always those new fans coming along, the next generation of folks seeing the Waters movies for the first time, and responding to those characteristics I mentioned. There are always going to be misfits and outsiders, and so there will always be a need for a role model like Divine.

Divine in Melbourne, Autralia in 1984, pic by Andrew Curtis

TN: Where do you think Glenn Harris Milstead would be today if he hadn’t died?

LPK: I think he’d be an accomplished actor with a wide variety of roles under his belt. He had so much talent, and was just about to enjoy a breakout role out of drag on “Married With Children” when he passed away. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have seen Divine live to play Edna Turnblad again in the Broadway musical??

TN: Indeed it would!! Do you think modern society/culture could produce another Divine? And who do you think is closest to that mantle now?

LPK: I think it’s possible but tough, because since the 1970s we’ve already kind of seen it all and done it all in our culture, and no one could truly have the shock value that Divine and the Waters movies did at the time that they were made. There is no one even close to Divine who exists now, but I see shades of Divine’s legacy in people from Lady Gaga to Sharon Needles [check out The Niallist’s interview with Sharon Needles here], Sacha Baron Cohen to the “Jackass” crew—I think Divine paved the way for them and others like them.

TN: What’s your favorite Divine song?

LPK: Maybe a cliche, but I gotta go with “You Think You’re A Man.” It’s classic, catchy, and totally fuck you. I love it.

TN: I have to admit I am a huge fan of Divine’s music, from “Born To Be Cheap” to the Bobby O-produced classics, all the way up to the Stock, Aitken and Waterman productions. For a complete non-singer, Divine really knew how to belt out a song, and by compensating for the vocal weaknesses with pure attitude made for a very compelling performer. I also like the music because it’s overtly gay but takes no prisoners, it’s very “fuck you” which “gay” music hasn’t been for a long time. My favorite Divine track is probably “I’m So Beautiful”, which actually IS beautiful, as well as cheap, nasty, funny, filthy, and funky as hell. Anyway, what is your favorite of Divine’s many looks?

LPK: God, there are so many… But I have to pick the one-armed green leopard print mini-dress from “Female Trouble,” just ‘cause I love how she STRUTS down the avenue in Baltimore in it, and the (real!) reactions from people on the street. That’s the spirit of DIVINE in her purest form!

TN: Thanks Lotti!

I really cannot wait to see this film, and judging by the people involved it really will be the tribute that Divine deserves. You can see the trailer in this Dangerous Minds I Am Divine post from a while back.

In the meantime, here’s a PSA on body image and self-esteem from the I Am Divine camp, featuring John Waters, Mink Stole, Sharon Needles and Latrice Royale, all set to the wonderful tune of “I’m So Beautiful”.

We miss you and we love you, Divine!


Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Autoluminescent: The Rowland S. Howard Documentary

Rowland S. Howard

The last few years have formed a tiny goldmine of music documentaries for fringe music fans, ranging from the previously covered “Bastard Art” to the harrowing Wild Man Fisher film, “Derailroaded” to the Faces-of-Death-trip of the Johnny Thunders documentary, “Born to Lose.” Somewhere in the middle was the Jeffrey Lee Pierce centered work, “Ghost on the Highway” and more recently, is “Autoluminescent,” about the life and work of guitarist, singer and songwriter extraordinaire, Rowland S. Howard.

The figure of Rowland was and forever is, unlike any, in music. The slight, ethereal looking figure, with a shock of dark hair and a cigarette permanently attached to his fingers, approached guitar like a musical whirlwind, sounding almost devoid of any proper musical forefathers. He elevated the Boys Next Door and was the needed catalyst to take them from basic pop-rock to the infernal swamp-rock of The Birthday Party. (A fact that is acknowledged in the film by Nick Cave himself.)

“Autoluminescent” not only documents this, starting from Rowland’s first band, The Young Charlatans all the way to his work with Lydia Lunch, Crime & the City Solution, These Immortal Souls and his own solo career. The later produced two albums, 1999’s “Teenage Snuff Film” and “Pop Crimes,” made ten years later as Howard was dying from liver cancer. What his solo career may have lacked in quantity it is epic in its brilliance. Like a true rock & roll alchemist, the man was able to take a schmaltzy song like “She Cried” (made famous by Jay & the Americans) and make it layered and real.

One of my biggest personal pet peeves with music documentaries is often the lack of actual music. Sometimes it is a legal issue, which was the case for both “Ghost on the Highway” and the Runaways film, “Edgeplay.” That is one thing, but then there are films where they just tease you with scraps, despite the fact that the whole reason you are watching is inadvertently tied to the music itself. Thankfully, that is not a huge issue here, as the balance between the music, interviews and atmospherically poetic interludes is well thought out. (Of course, I wouldn’t have minded even more music, but if it was up to me, all good music documentaries would be 8 hours long. With Rowland S. Howard, we’re talking “Berlin Alexanderplatz” lengths.)

Another thing that is obscenely beautiful about “Autoluminscent” is the way that it is weaved together, merging more traditional documentary elements, like interviews and archival footage, along with the pseudo-cinematic interstitial scenes of smoke and swampy filigree, as Rowland off screen reads narrative bits. The brilliance about this, as well as the marked prominence of the music, is that with artists, the only purely honest truths you are going to get is the art. With anyone, artists and laymen alike, you could talk to eighty different people that know you, but each one of them will get something wrong. It’s rarely an intentional dishonesty but everyone, at one point or time, ends up a victim of round robin.

That said, there are some great interviews here, featuring a veritable who’s who of cool, alternative artists, including Greg Perano from Hunters & Collectors, filmmaker Wim Wenders (whose film “Wings of Desire” featured both Crime & the City Solution and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds), longtime collaborator, member of These Immortal Souls and ex-romantic partner Genevieve McGuckin,  Honeymoon in Red collaborator and ex-paramour Lydia Lunch, Birthday Party band mates Cave and Mick Harvey, Barry Adamson and more. There’s also documentary-stalwart Henry Rollins, whom coincidentally appears in about 95% of the documentaries I have seen in my entire lifetime. The most effective out of the great lot, however, is McGuckin and Rowland himself. It is those interviews that reveal Rowland the most as both layered and flawed (as are we all) human and creative force of nature.

“Autoluminscent” will break your heart and though I knew it was an inevitable heartbreak because Rowland S. Howard died only a scant three years ago, the pain and loss are tangible by the end. It doesn’t revel in Rowland’s sickness and keeps an outright respectable distance while still acknowledging the various factors that hindered the man. Anyone dying at 50 is sad but when it is someone as beautiful and brilliant as this man, it just feels like the whole damned world was robbed.

Despite the sadness of it all, at the end of the day what matters is the work and Rowland S. Howard left behind a discography that is timeless, textured and striking. “Autoluminescent” is a fitting film document of a musician that should still be here.

Posted by Heather Drain | Leave a comment
‘The Joy Of Disco’: the music that changed the world

... as in The Joy Of Sex.

A special treat this Sunday for all our disco-fan readers outside the UK, The Joy Of Disco is a BBC documentary about that much derided music genre that seemed to come out of nowhere to change the world in the late 70s.

I’ve seen a lot of documentaries about disco, and this is undoubtedly one of the best. Featuring new interviews with many of the key players (Giorgio Moroder, Nile Rodgers, Nona Hendryx, David Mancuso, Tom Moulton, Kathy Sledge, Nicky Siano and lots more) and some great, rare footage of top nitespots like The Gallery and Studio 54, this is a real treat for the disco fanatic.

But what really makes The Joy Of Disco so good (and well worth a watch, even if you are not a disco fan) is the placing of the music in its proper historical and social context. Disco was black, urban music that became the soundtrack to the gay liberation movement and, according to the program makers:

foregrounded female desire in the age of feminism and led to the birth of modern club culture as we know it today, before taking the world by storm.

All up to the (seemingly inevitable) racist and homophobic “Disco Sucks” backlash. That put paid to the faddishness of the genre, but ultimately, by driving it back underground to the gay and black clubs that spawned it, helped make it stronger than ever and actually did very little to kill the sheer joy of the music itself.

The Joy Of Disco explores these issues in the kind of detail they deserve. It aired on BBC4 on Friday night, and some industrious soul has already put it up on YouTube to share the love (yes, it’s another case of get it before it’s gone). This is highly recommended viewing - you won’t see anything this interesting, exciting or fabulously funky on your screens this evening:
The Joy of Disco, part one:

The Joy Of Disco parts 2 to 4 after the jump…

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Hairspray for Steven: The Decline of Western Civilization Part II - The Metal Years

Ah, the delights of hair metal. Marc, you have really opened up a can of glam worms with that post on vintage Poison! Here in its engorged entirety is still the best document of the mid-80s spandex metal years I have seen, though how most of these bands qualify as “metal” is beyond me, as is the fact that most of these men were considered red-blooded, macho heterosexuals! This whole world has been undergoing a re-appraisal in recent years, possibly as being the last time mainstream rock was this fun, stupid and thoroughly enjoyable. To quote Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler “And then that pussy Cobain came along and ruined everything”.

Decline… Pt 2 has lots of recognisable faces (Kiss without their make-up, a surprisingly lucid Ozzy Osbourne, the Toxic Twins from Aerosmith, wisened elder Lemmy) but the real stars of the film are the musicians and fans plucked straight from the Sunset Strip who we have never heard from again. The “where are they now” pathos, especially at the end, is almost heart-breaking. But don’t let that detract from the fun, especially the sight of Paul Stanley on a bed full of groupies, and Chris Holmes from W.A.S.P. pouring fake vodka into his own face while floating in a swimming pool and shouting at his mother: 

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
‘Beats Rhymes & Life’ a film about A Tribe Called Quest

This looks great - a documentary about one of the greatest hip-hop bands of all time, featuring interviews with all the key players and some of the biggest names in the rap game. It also looks like it gets pretty hairy as the animosity between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg spills out onto the screen. The film is directed by the actor Michael Rapaport and has been opening in selected theatres around the US over the last couple of weeks - for more information on exactly when and where it is playing check out the Beats Rhymes & Life website. Here’s the trailer:

After the jump, some classic clips of ATCQ live on TV from the 90s, including “Oh My God” on Late Night, “1nce Again” live on Conan O’Brien, “Can I Kick It?” from MTV Unplugged and “Scenario” live with Busta Rhymes…

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
The rocker, the legend: The Phil Lynott Story

Phil Lynott statue on Dublin’s Grafton St (toy monkey not included)

You’ll have seen the other Thin Lizzy posts that we’ve put up on DM by now, right? Big up to Paul and Marc for the Phil Lynott-loving that has been going on here - Lizzy are an under-appreciated band, who to my knowledge never really broke through in America. Of all the rock act Ireland has ever produced though, Thin Lizzy are by far the best, and most of that legacy rests with the cool, charismatic and incredibly talented Phil Lynott himself.

The Phil Lynott Story goes further than other Thin Lizzy-based docs to explore Lynott’s background, from his teenage mother’s escape from the work houses of wartime Northern England to Phil’s growing up as a black man in the vastly white1960s Dublin, and from his fledgling career as a psychedelic folk-rocker to his post-Lizzy years and his decent into heavy drug use and eventual, untimely death. It’s a fascinating story, packed to the gills with drama, drugs, scandal and lots of great music. It would make an amazing biopic, but who would play Phil?

This BBC-produced documentary is essential listening for anyone with a vague interest in rock’n'roll - you don’t need to be a fan to find this fascinating. But if you are a fan and don’t know the full story, be prepared to be amazed at some of the anecdotes and the background information supplied by Lynott’s incredible mother Philomena. Here’s a little bonus too - a video for the Lynott solo single “Old Town” (co-produced with Midge Ure and one of the greatest synth-pop tracks of all time IMO) with Phil strolling around early 80s Dublin and fooling around on his native Grafton St and Ha’Penny Bridge:

Phil Lynott - “Old Town”

The Phil Lynott Story Part 1

Parts 2-7 after the jump…

Previously on DM
‘Bad Reputation’ excellent Thin Lizzy documentary
Thin Lizzy: Live Rock Palast 1981

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
The Rave Years Pt 2: BBC North’s ‘Rave’ 1992

Skip along four years since “A Trip Around Acid House (which I posted yesterday) and you can see the changes which had occurred within the UK’s dance scene. By 1992 raves had become massive outdoor events attracting thousands of punters, they had been cracked down on heavily by the police, and promoters had begun to put on licensed raves with professional security, a police presence and mandatory drug searches to minimise trouble and maximise profit.

BBC North’s Rave follows the set up, running and aftermath of one of these very large (but legal) outdoor raves, and highlights how attitudes had changed between 1992 and 1988. The moral panic surrounding acid house and ecstasy culture had peaked by this point. The police were aware that this new outdoor dancing movement was not something that was going to go away any time soon, so rather than trying to stamp it out they instead focussed on regulating it. It’s interesting to see the individual police officers interviewed in ‘Rave’ and their opinions on the culture - unnerved by the “spaced out” demeanour of the participants, but also very aware that they are not violent and cause very little trouble. There were still the supposedly “moral” campaigners who saw the trend as entirely negative, of course, and campaigned to have any event of this nature shut down due to the supposed dangers of drug “pushers”. The inability to compute that people were taking drugs of their own free will, combined with the relatively harmless effects of those particular drugs, give these campaigners distinct shades Mary Whitehouse. It’s all about looking good rather than engaging with reality.

By 1992 the music had now morphed too - four years on from the happy-go-lucky spirit of acid house (with its sampling of different genres and its embracing of the Balearic scene) the music is more streamlined, and beginning to form more regimented genres like techno and rave itself. DJ Smokey Joe does a pretty good job of describing the difference between the German and Belgian strands of techno in this show:

Parts 2 & 3 after the jump…

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
The Rave Years Pt 1: ‘A Trip Round Acid House’ 1988

Spectrum flyer, 1988, designed by Dave Little.
Acid house - the sound of a Roland TB 303 getting turned up too far that can send the most loved up dancer wild with convulsions of ecstasy . A unique sound accidentally discovered by DJ Pierre and friends in Chicago 25 years ago and that can still wreck dancefloors to this very day. A type of music which for a period of time in the late 80s infested the upper reaches of the UK’s charts and spawned a youth culture all of its own. Let me hear you say ACIEEED!

I was way too young to have any first hand experience of clubbing during the acid house years, but the music and imagery still had a huge effect on my childhood brain . Who couldn’t resist the acid-washed day-glo colours, the oversized clothes, the nods back to hippie culture and the first summer of love, and chart topping tracks from the likes of D-Mob, S’Express, M/A/R/R/S, Yazz, Farley Jackmaster Funk, 808 State, Bomb The Bass and Stakker Humanoid? When I had a chance to buy my own clothes it would be Joe Bloggs, and I had quite the collection of smiley face badges for a kid not yet a teenager. My own pet theory is that disco never had the impact in the UK that it had in the States, but house music and raving had the same effect of democratising the dancefloor ten years later. A large piece of the puzzle was of course the arrival of a new drug called “ecstasy” (actually only made illegal in the UK in 1985), which when combined with the powerful filter sweeps of a TB303 can give the user incredible head rushes. It was this new drug and its implications that seemed to worry the authorities the most.

This great documentary from the BBC’s World in Action strand is like a full blown acid house flashback. Broadcast in 1988 at height of acid house fever, it follows the typical weekend rituals of a group of very young fans, tracks the working life of an illegal party promoter, speaks to some of the producers of the music and charts the the then-growing moral panic which surrounded the scene and its copious drug taking. Raving, and acid house, had a huge (if subtle) effect on British culture, bringing people together in new, democratised contexts free of class and social boundaries, opening people’s ears up to a new world of music and opening their minds to new ideas.

A Trip Round Acid House makes for very interesting viewing at a time when Murdoch Inc and News International stand accused of distorting facts to suit their own means. The program gives a fairly detailed description of how The Sun newspaper did an about face on acid house, going from being supporters of this new youth culture (even selling their own acid house branded t-shirts to decrying it as an outrage that needed to be banned (and as such sold more papers). Some of the other footage here is priceless too, and has popped up on the internet in other forms, such as the classic reaction of two old cockney dears to the description of a typical “rave”. Blimey!

Parts 2 & 3 after the jump…

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‘Murdoch - Breaking the Spell’ - Monday’s informative BBC documentary

Murdochgate continues unabated. After yesterday’s questioning of Rupert and James Murdoch (and the cream pie incident), today has already seen the British Prime Minister David Cameron taking part in a parliamentary debate which has been broadcast live, and is set to continue till 7pm tonight (GMT).

It’s also interesting to see a British political scandal begin to get so much attention in the American media. Of course, there are some serious ramifications for the Murdoch’s American operations (especially now the FBI are to investigate it), but so far the story has been pretty well contained to the UK. However Jon Stewart rags on yesterday’s questioning of Brooks and the Murdochs here, and it’s telling that right wing US commenters on that blog post are still trying to pass the whole Murdochgate affair off as an inconsequential “celebrity” scandal (akin to Paris Hilton’s nails getting done, apparently).

Of course, it is much, much more than that. This excellent documentary by BBC’s investigative Panorama program, broadcast on Monday, recaps all the major points, features interviews with many of the key players (including the now-deceased whistle blower Sean Hoare) and shows how the hacking of murdered schoolgirl’s phone has begun to unravel the fabric on which three of society’s four main pillars are based (the media, the police and the political system). We will see how this plays out in the long run, bearing in mind the interests that are potentially at stake here and the possible onset of scandal fatigue in the public, but judging by the bizarre twists and turns this story has taken already, it’s best not to rule anything out yet.

Parts 2-6 after the jump…

Many thanks to the diligent work of YouTube uploader NOTWPhoneHacking, whose channel contains literally hundreds of clips recorded from the British media about the NI scandal since it broke over a fortnight ago.

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‘All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace’ Episode 1

The first episode in the new series by Adam Curtis, All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace is now available to watch in full on YouTube.

Starting by examining our current era of supposed economic, social and online freedoms, Curtis manages to join the dots between Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan, the IMF’s involvement in East Asia, radical Islam and Silicon Valley’s economic boom. This episode features some very interesting and candid interviews with Rand confidants Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, Nathaniel having had an affair with Rand that lasted many years. Presented in the typical, excellent Adam Curtis style, using lots of obscure stock footage and a great soundtrack, this is essential viewing.

Episode two of All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace (“How The Idea Of The Ecosystem Was Invented”) is available to watch here.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace: Trailer for Adam Curtis Doc
Adam Curtis on the death of Bin Laden


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‘Streetwise’ - excellent 1984 documentary about homeless kids

Last week I posted about a new series of videos by the band In Flagranti, one of which (”On The Fringe”) features some great footage of street kids from the 1980s. Well, thanks to commenters Mister D and Steve Lafreniere I now know what that film is - not only that but I know it’s on YouTube and I have seen it. And so should you. It’s brilliant.

It’s called Streetwise. Directed by Martin Bell and shot by his wife Mary Ellen Mark, it was inspired by an article on homeless youth from Life magazine written by Cheryl McCall. At times it’s harrowing, but it’s really very good, and was even nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1984.

It follows the exploits of a few different children living on the streets of Seattle, at that point apparently the States’ “most livable city”. There’s the tough, smart Rat and his older mentor Jack, who live in an abandoned hotel, sell drugs, scam pizzas and raid dumpsters. There’s teenage prostitutes Kim and Erin, waiting to get picked up off the kerb by older johns and discussing which local pimp is better to work for. Erin is also known as “Tiny” and has a troubled relationship with her alcoholic mother, who knows she is a prostitute but describes it as a “phase”. She thinks she may be pregnant after having unprotected sex with a john - that’s her in the picture above. Like Paris Is Burning this film deals with people society regards as the lowest of the low - and what on paper looks like being a major celluloid bummer is actually funny, insightful, tender and at times uplifting. Surprisingly a lot of these kids are still alive, though not kids anymore.

Mary Ellen Mark was also the photographer for the original Life magazine article, and has built up a large portfolio of stunning photographs of these kids, like the one above. She and her husband still see them occasionally too. From Steve Lafreniere’s excellent interview with Mark for Viceland (well worth reading as she’s a brilliant photographer who’s had an extraordinary career):

I’m still in contact with Tiny. A few years ago, Martin and I went back to Seattle and we updated her life. And I’ve been photographing her—I haven’t been back there in three years—but I have been photographing her. I photographed her after she had her ninth baby but we couldn’t make it out there for her tenth.

Here is part one of Streetwise:

Streetwise parts 2-11 after the jump…

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