Weekend Weirdness: Until the Light Takes Us, Mad Dog Morgan, Aoki, Kooky Quentin Tarantino Ad, and a Date Movie Rap Anthem
Posted on Saturday, December 5th, 2009 by Hunter Stephenson
It’s a crazy, mixed up world and we are thankful for movies, sans New Moon, that offer proof. Weekend Weirdness cocks its disoriented, nappy head to examine such flicks, whether in the form of a new trailer for a provocative indie, a review, or news of an excavated cult classic. The works discussed herein tend to make cinema a little more interesting, and in the best and worst cases do the same for life. In this installment: a doc on Norwegian black metal; a doc on the first Asian member of the Black Panthers; a forgotten Dennis Hopper outlaw flick from Down Under; and a dumb-catchy rap song from the Sudan about movies, birds and popcorn.
With the possible exception of Forever21-styled country music a la Taylor Swift, no other music genre is as stigmatized and sensationalized by acts of church burning and murda as Norwegian black metal. The documentary, Until the Light Takes Us, is a dedicated and almost clinical look at how Norway’s black metal scene was permanently transformed—and magnified—in the early ’90s by what are now infamous acts of violence and rebellion.
In addition to its documentation of a music genre swimming on the hip fringes Stateside, UtLTU is a valuable piece of filmmaking about the effect and complicity of media in fragmenting uncompromised, complex creative movements. We see in the doc how a media flurry of repetitive and commercially-shocking images and headlines spreads on TV and in print until the black metal scene is turned into what it originally/arguably set out to counter. In the U.S., similar cultural and media cycles have largely come to be accepted as inevitable; we watch as scenes, bands, and stars run through media motions like predictable story arcs (Nirvana beget Candlebox and “Grunge style” in high fashion; urban tranny culture beget Fergie); but UtLTU‘s international yet intimate scope—and, what is to most viewers, unfamiliar subject matter—makes for a psychologically resonant experience.
The doc is also testament to the eternal, dangerous power of the image, even in niche pockets of culture, over sound, words, and as we see, the sanctity of human life; for newcomers who believe that horrific violence remains one of the last cultural and artistic taboos, prepare to be taken aback. The culture surrounding black metal years ago exploited this notion only to reach commercialization and art world approval with startling speed. Example: using a photo of a band member’s suicide for an album cover. Here is the film’s trailer. It properly conveys the film’s tone without revealing the candidness of many firsthand interviews…
The militant-like man with the blond mustache and goatee in the trailer is Varg “Count Grishnackh” Vikernes, who founded a one man, proto-black metal outfit called Burzum. Vikernes was also an early member (and just happened to slay the founding member and guitarist) of Mayhem, a band forever sui generis for representing both the vital/DIY and superficial/unjustifiable aspects of the genre. First time directors Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell reportedly moved to Norway for a few years to embed themselves in the scene and make UtLTU.
Their decision works to the doc’s benefit in two ways: at the start, it’s easy to underestimate the dark beliefs of many of the interview subjects. Precedent for grown men wearing black-and-white make-up in America is also part of the reason: Marilyn Manson, Alice Cooper, KISS, Insane Clown Posse, and the Misfits all sing about murder but never tow the line. So, it’s easy to be amused by these black metal artists giving vague-as-to-be-coy answers about the cultural legacy of burning churches. Until you realize that not only arson but the act of murder is entertained by several interview subjects as a defacto rite of passage. To some it’s good for artistic integrity, others seem to imply that it’s good for business.
The other aspect indebted to Aites and Ewell’s documentary-as-immersion technique is the consistent juxtaposition of foggy, Norwegian countrysides and clean air with tireless male anger and disdain, feelings that first appear to originate from nothingness (not even from boredom). In America, many of us are conditioned to theories about deviant behavior and expression as a side effect of badly designed environments, the over-stimulation and ubiquity of violent movies and video games, and a culture that places success and materialism ahead of history and socialized wellbeing. America’s nightly news produces the occasional shocker event, but to many this only proves the freakish law of averages. In contrast, black metal and its ’90s wake of blood and fire feel doubly alien in the film, and even mysterious. Akin to hell bubbling up naturally from a harmless brook.
(On a personal note, I felt this sensation when I visited Northern Ireland recently; my brain could not compute the land’s historic capacity for violence amidst endless dewy green hills, grazing sheep, and immaculately maintained and driven black Audi A4s. There were signs of turmoil in the public space via tags of anarcho graffiti, but these too seemed overtly polite; I was more afraid of violence and confrontation when I visited a State Fair in the U.S. weeks later.)
Listening to and watching Vikernes articulately deny his involvement in church burnings (carried out, he says, by young and ignorant fans of Mayhem under the guidance of the lead singer he later killed) and then admit to coldblooded murder, is fascinating. I found that the doesn’t immediately reveal Vikernes is speaking under lockdown. We are not used to murderers like this in America. Why?
As we learn, Vikernes carries hatred for America and its exportation of fast food and aggressive advertising. Black metal, he says, was also started in retaliation for Christianity’s importation atop Norway’s Pagan soil. He remains amused and a little stunned at the media storm that surrounded his murder case. In mislabeling black metal as a form of Satanism to sell papers, he says, the media knowingly capitalized on the resulting hysteria. According to Vikernes, he murdered his former peer—who was only wearing underwear at the time—to protect himself from a snuff fantasy/plot meant to refashion and corrupt the music scene he had dedicated his existence to. The doc’s study of a horrible crime(s) manifested within a nascent counter culture has parallels to one of my all-time fave documentaries, Helen Stickler’s Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator from 2002. However, Stoked focused on an all-American subject (an ’80s skateboarder turned murderer). UtLTU was a personal reminder that we often associate the intertwining of pop culture, alienation, and murder as another American export; this can be exported in the form of a movie about the very topic like Natural Born Killers, or actual footage of a sad event like the Columbine massacre.
In watching UtLTU, the notion that entertainment influences and even propagates violence was supplanted by the film’s idea that idealistic art (at least to its makers) can do the same. There is irony in the similarities between how black metal and many religions were co-opted and exploited. Yet, seeing how Vikernes views his crime(s), I couldn’t shake the idea that, unlike how so many crimes play out in America, even current wars, his crime was meaningful and intellectualized within a historic context. No matter how wrong it was, I considered his murder in the film as much as I considered his art. It was as if someone blew the American Cheetos dust off the bodies as they hit the floor.
Sidenote: Depending on whether one chooses to watch this documentary “cold” or informed, I recommend primers like photographer Peter Beste’s book, True Norwegian Black Metal, and the online VBS video series of the same name. For more info on Until the Light Takes Us, here. There is also an unrealted feature film on the festival circuit, entitled Severed Ways, that is steeped in Norse culture and scored to black metal.
Does it keep you up at night knowing a film exists starring Mr. Dennis Hopper that you have not yet seen?! Well, if you nodded yes, let me veer you far, far away from Abel Ferrara’s The Blackout, 1996′s Space Truckers, and last year’s An American Carol. You see, Mr. Hopper has stumbled—nay–slid down his fair share of cinematic lard mountains over the years, but we seasoned Hopper fans also know that there is masterful method to his iconic madness. See Blue Velvet and Speed. On rare instances, this slip-n-slide creates a movie that lives on, though generally unseen, in infamy. One such case is Mad Dog Morgan, an “Ozploitation” film from 1976 just re-released in its uncut entirety on DVD by Lloyd Kaufman‘s incomparable Troma Entertainment. Here’s the trailer…
Awareness and interest in Mad Dog Morgan jumped considerably last year with the release of the documentary Not Quite Hollywood, a perhaps too celebratory retrospective on “Ozploitation” films (low budget exploitation films made in Australia during the ’70s and ’80s). The movies in Not Quite were made to look like one impossibly epic line of low grade cocaine, but anyone schooled in the genre knows there were more lackluster misses, however odd (Razorback), than genuinely amazing, sleazeball hits (Road Games). In the doc, Mad Dog arguably stood out the most because, for one Mr. Hopper was in characteristically wild and shaggy form, and for two he was portraying the titular Australian outlaw and “bush ranger.” The real life Morgan had a rep for drinking, vicing, and brawling that recalled the actor’s, albeit a century before. If that’s not a selling point, then “Vintage wasted Hopper playing a wasted man on another continent as directed by the man who made Christopher Walken’s Communion,” sure as hell is.
When one sees a small man in a beret and sunglasses and contemplates how a hypothetical rumble would ensue, it’s always a welcome surprise. The man above fits that criterion, and his name is Richard Aoki, “a third-generation Japanese American who became one of the founding members of the Black Panther Party.”
The trailer below is for new documentary entitled Aoki that focuses on his life and involvement, including: “Richard’s childhood in a WWII Japanese American concentration camp, growing up in West Oakland, and serving eight years in the U.S. military.” Also: “The film explores previously unknown facts about the formation of the Black Panther Party such as how Richard became intimately involved in its founding and contributed the first two firearms to the Party.” Aoki (no apparent relation to the dreaded hipster owner of Dim Mak Records) has since passed away, so it’s nice to see his life, a curious bit of history, captured on film.
From black power to crack power: this little ditty below by sort-of-rapper and native of Africa, Bangs, is entitled, “Take U to Da Movies.” Bangs informs us all that taking females to the movies is a fantastic way to impress them. “I got the popcorn, I know what else you like.” Let’s start a petition and have this video played before all theatrical showings in place of garbage movie trivia. Even those Pixar shorts are no match for B-A-N-G-S when he does what I believe is called the “steering wheel shuffle.” Catchier than boxes of food dropped from a plane.
Our weirdo pals at Mondo Tees in Austin, Texas have released a new poster by artist Alex Pardee for the cult midnight munchie favorite Basket Case. Like countless, awful human roommates, the movie’s would-be abortion known as Belial is extremely noisy and messy. As the poster illustrates, he belongs outside with Hooch. For more info, here.
Someone in the comments, while this /Filmer makes a run to Big Kahuna Burger, please explain what in the white-boy-day is going on in this new Japanese ad. Quentin Tarantino stars as a samurai with baby mama drama? A telepathic robot dog? It’s circulating on Tumblr and driving me bananas.
For previous installments of Weekend Weirdness, click here.
If you’re a filmmaker and have a weird new film that Hunter might be interested in, you can contact him per a screener, screening, or info at h.attila/gmail or on Twitter.