If you go looking for song lyrics on the internet, you’ll usually find the same version copy-pasted to every lyrics site, and if that version of the lyrics is incorrect, you’re usually just out of luck, and will probably never find out what the lyrics really are.

With that said, here are the correct lyrics for the Slowdive song Celia’s Dream:

Celia’s Dream

She flies –
She’s gone to ride an angel’s breath
Gone to taste a dream
And every time I call her
A shadow calls in vain
But she takes –
She loves it all and leaves
And everything feels free

She gives –
She told me that she loved me
Love just for a day
And all the time I feel her
I feel her fade away
But she takes –
She gives it all and fades
And everything feels good
The clouds like shadows pass
She’s passing like the day

She takes –
She gives it all and leaves
And everything feels good
The clouds like shadows pass
She’s passing like the day

A definition of art

22 August, 2011

A work of art is a beautiful, made object.

I arrived at that definition while trying to clear away the Romantic and Modern dross that has accumulated around the concept. In essence, art (deriving from the Latin, roughly meaning skill, craft or technique) is a thing created by a person (so a sunset may be beautiful, but it is not art). It is created to be beautiful, i.e. its function is aesthetic, not practical (hence Wilde’s assertion that art is useless). And its virtues proceed from its being an actual thing that exists in the world, not a concept or ideal.

What do I mean by ‘beautiful’? Obviously there are artworks which we can enjoy which don’t necessarily fit the conventional idea of beauty. But if they stimulate us in a pleasant way, then I would call them beautiful. (And if we find them genuinely unpleasant, we avoid them.) But still, what is beauty?

Recall Pinker’s description of music as “cheesecake for the mind”. I think that fits with my materialist idea of what art actually does. In the case of music, patterns of vibrating air are received through the senses, and stimulate electrochemical activity in the brain which we find rewarding. Proportions and textures and interrelationships are arranged in patterns which we perceive to be “right”, for whatever psychological or biological reason.

As you can see, I don’t believe in a literally spiritual dimension of art. I don’t think that a great artwork exists somehow beyond time, space and conventional morality. I also regard “profundity” as a product of perception, and not as a special mystical insight. I can reach the end of Bruckner’s 9th with a sensation of intellectual and emotional ecstasy, profundity and insight – but what is this ‘insight’? The world has not changed, and neither have I (except perhaps in becoming more sensitive to aesthetic experience).

I don’t think this way of looking at art diminishes it or my experience of it. Art still affects me; it’s just that I don’t proceed from that effect to the notion that I have received mystical (or sociopolitical) insight.

I posted this in a forum as a response to Alex Ross’s recent column “Why Do We Hate Classical Music?“, in the Guardian:

I’m afraid I find Ross’s argument hackneyed, as well as a bit confused.

First, the problem of new artists versus old masters. This isn’t unique to music at all. In fact the only exception to the rule I can think of is cinema, in which the mass audience generally dismisses anything over 20 years old. But then, in that field, there have been undeniable technical advances which make most earlier films look primitive – there isn’t really comparable technicological drift in other fields.

Second, the comparisons in other fields are in many respects invalid. Architects and painters in particular rely on an extremely small group of patrons for their success (or failure), whereas music really needs a mass audience.

Third, you will actually find people who disagree with the Modernist “icons”, despite the weight of conventional wisdom. For instance, we had a debate on the merits of Picasso in this forum earlier this year. I think a number of these icons remain so because of the strenuous vocalisations of a tiny minority, rather than their inherent values.

At the core of Ross’s piece is the same old controversy about “outdated” tonality suppressing “historically inevitable” atonality. If it is suppressed, it’s because people want it suppressed. And in my listening experience, it’s not even because atonal music is difficult, but because it’s boring. If the notes occur because of some extra-musical schema, their harmonic relationship is essentially random, and thus meaningless. And even outside this consideration, atonalists seem to me generally incapable of constructing a rhetorical or dramatic flow to a piece that makes it engaging. (But this is something even modern tonalists seem to lack.)

Indeed, it’s striking that film-makers have made lavish use of the same dissonances that concertgoers have found so alienating. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, with its hallucinatory György Ligeti soundtrack, mesmerised millions in the late 1960s. … If the human ear were instinctively hostile to dissonance, these and 1,000 other Hollywood productions would have failed.

This is a junk argument, partly because music accompanying a dramatic visual experience is processed differently to “pure” music, and mostly because atonal music in film always represents or evokes an alienating, horrific, or inhuman experience. It does this because it sounds “wrong”, and I would argue this wrongness stems from a cause that is biological, not “merely” cultural. (Inverted commas around “merely”, because I disagree with the Modernist idea that culture, particularly Western culture, must be undermined and overthrown).

Here are my thoughts on the biological necessity of tonally-based music:

1) Humans are wired to be pattern-finders. Presented with any complex, apparently chaotic system, we look for patterns and meanings. So strong is this instinct that we even find patterns and meanings in places where they don’t exist.

Music is complex, particularly classical music, and we derive pleasure from identifying and following its patterns, regardless of whether we identify these patterns as emotions or technical phenomena. There is an element of trust involved. We want to believe that there is some conscious intent behind the meanings we discover (just as we want to believe in God). For this reason, we have limited patience for music derived, or apparently derived, by chance.

2) Perhaps more controversially, I believe humans are programmed to find specific meanings in tonal relationships.

These meanings are both emotional and spatial. Two notes, the second a tone higher than the first, form a relationship which we cannot help but take as implying a change of elevation both physical and emotional. If the order of the notes is reversed, it must represent a decline or a reduction both physical and emotional. These meanings have value and interest to us, in as much as they are analogous to information about the real world.

If we introduce more notes, the meaning becomes more complex, thus more interesting and valuable. The use of several different tonalities/harmonies in close proximity brings a new dimension, which I suggest implies the simultaneous existence of multiple viewpoints, or places, in other words the complexities of community, or geography.

I assume you can see where I’m going with this. Tonality is a grid on which we can plot meaning. If we take away the grid, we are left with parts which are unrelated. Unrelated parts do not have meaning. Things without meaning are not interesting.

All this is not to say that tonal music cannot be incredibly boring, of course! The minimalists abuse tonality in another way, by repetition, but that’s an argument for another time.

Music ordered today 18/02/10

18 February, 2010

Ordered today from HMV.jp :

Requiem, Etc: Norrington / London Classical Players – Y701 / Y1,000

Got into the Requiem lately via the Kertesz recording reissued on Eloquence. A lot more drama and variety from Mozart than usual, which is why I like it. I’d like to hear the fugue that Sussmayr didn’t include in his completion, and from samples this sounds like a great version (much faster than Kertesz, but not stupidly fast).

Dudarova conducts Khachaturian, Kalinnikov, Miaskovsky (3CD) [3 CD] – Y1,279 / Y1,827
Kalinnokov: syms 1 and 2
Myaskovsky: sym 6
Khach: Widow from Valencia; Masquerade; Cello concerto rhapsody

I only know Dudarova from her accompaniments to Khachaturian and Kabalevsky concertos (Kabalevsky cello concertos are excellent, probably the best thing he wrote), but I want more versions of the Kalinnikov symphonies (Kuchar is overrated, Svetlanov sounds crude). This is also a chance to check out the Myaskovsky symphony, supposedly his best (I’ve heard his 24th and 25th, but was not converted).

Faure: Requiem – Y425 / Y500

The only version I have of this is Ansermet, which really sounds poor. Samples of this sound fine, plus I want more good requiems in my collection, plus it’s CHEAP! Easy decision to make.

TOTAL = ¥2405 = AU$30.07 [+ shipping] 4 discs

As a radical change from classical music (an area which I begin to think I have just about mined out), I have been reinvestigating the band Ministry, who I last investigated about 15 years ago. I had Psalm 69 (of course), and then picked up Land of Rape and Honey, and The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste. Neither of these was as good as Psalm 69 – you could see the songwriters getting better and more confident as they approached the tech-metal of their most successful album to date.

The best song on Land… is (1) Stigmata, and a few others are okay too: (2) The Missing, (3) Deity (which Al Jourgensen mispronounces as “dee-ety), (7) the title track, and (8) You Know What You Are. The rest is fairly standard 1980s industrial, with the repetitive beats and bassline, and anaemic synth percussion favoured by that genre. Al’s partner Paul Barker voices the track I Prefer.

The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste is half-good: (1) Thieves, (2) Burning Inside, and (6) So What are good (though I’ve gotten sick of So What, due to overexposure). (5) Breathe has potential, but the constant percussion and Paul Barker’s drony backing vocals are a drawback. The rest of the album features guest vocalists, and is pretty weak post-punk stuff.

Psalm 69 has a good proportion of good tracks. Obvious highlights are (1) NWO, (2) Just One Fix, (4) Hero and (5) Jesus Built my Hotrod (vocal by Gibby Haynes). (3) TV II is also good, but wears less well. (6) Scarecrow and (7) Psalm 69 are more difficult to assess, as they seem like a letdown in comparison to the fast tempo earlier tracks. In fact, they fit very well with the sludgier metal of Filth Pig, the followup album to Psalm 69. You can judge this by listening to the live Sphinctour album.

The final two tracks are apocalyptic soundscapes that don’t need to be listened to more than once.

Next came Filth Pig, generally regarded as a real let-down after Psalm 69. I think part of the problem is the sound: it’s much too bright at the top end, and at the same time the low bass is exaggerated, and there is also some random low bass noise during various tracks. The best tracks are (1) Reload, (2) the title track, (3) Lava, (4) Crumbs, and (8) The Fall. Other tracks are less inspired in groove and melody. Barker sings on (5) Useless. Arguably, better versions of the five best tracks are available on the live Sphinctour album.

Dark Side of the Spoon has a reputation as the worst Ministry album. I really wanted to be the guy who says, “Wait, you just have to open your mind – this is really good!” But sadly, it’s not. Opening track (1) Supermanic Soul is an exciting Ministry-style rocker. (2) Whip and Chain is decent, though it sounds like Al is dueting with Jim Morrison. (3) Bad Blood is a dull, generic rocker (from the Matrix soundtrack). (4) Eureka Pile and (5) Step are insultingly bad, tossed-off jokes. (6) Nursing Home has potential, relating to the sludgy groove of Filth Pig, but never gets it together enough to be worthy of repeat listening. Some banjo and awful saxophone provide aural variety here. The rest of the album is a flashback to 80s dark wave synth pop, but without the melodic hooks that occasionally made that genre worth hearing. Paul sings on these songs. I think Al sings on only three or four tracks over the whole album (tracks 2-4 have guest vocalists credited).

The follow-up album was Animositisomina. It doesn’t reach the depths of the worst tracks on Spoon, but on the other hand it never quite reaches the quality or excitement level of Supermanic Soul. I find the sound a little too bright, and the bass also slightly unwieldy, but not as bad as on Filth Pig. Al and Paul split the album fairly evenly, divided by the cover of The Light Shines Out of Me. Al’s half is very much organic metal (even more so than Filth Pig IMO) with a bit of punk thrown in (particularly on (4) Lockbox). Paul’s contributions are in his usual 1980s dark wave style, with sub-Beatnik lyrics and gothic vocals. You can definitely tell which songs they worked on together, and which separately. Animositisomina doesn’t reach the depths of the worst tracks on Spoon, but on the other hand it never quite reaches the quality or excitement level of Supermanic Soul. I’d say you really don’t need this record at all, except for the sake of completing your collection.

Next is Houses of the Molé. I was disappointed first time I heard this, but it’s grown on me. As with Filth Pig, the mix is a problem. The sound is too bright (but not as bright as Filth Pig), and lacks warmth and detail. You’d almost think you were listening to an MP3.

The first four tracks are also on their live CD Adios…Puta Madres. Which is odd, because some of these tracks could’ve been replaced by better songs from later in the album. (1) No W starts with a sample of O Fortuna (which is by now an industrial music cliche) and then goes into a song which rips off the verse from Motorhead’s Ace of Spades (apparently later editions omit the Orff sample, possibly for copyright reasons). (2) Waiting is a decent rocker that seems to rip off their old Thieves song for the chorus. (3) Worthless – I don’t remember how this goes at all, which probably indicates its quality. These first tracks deliberately recall Psalm 69 in chord progressions, samples and political intent (mirroring the second Bush incursion into the Middle East). (4) Wrong has a whining chorus which makes me think they’re trying to do something different with the formula – the result is pretty good in this case. (5) Warp City is an unambitious but pretty enjoyable thrasher. (6) W TV is a continuation of TV II from Psalm 69 – a bunch of weird samples off the TV, interspersed with riffing. It’s not bad. (7) World is proper verse/anthemic chorus type of song, and pretty damn good – this should’ve been on the live CD. (8) WKYJ, like Wrong, is the Ministry formula tweaked for variety (this time with a cool guitar part) – it’s good, and probably should’ve been on the live CD too. (9) Worm is a bit like World in its anthemic nature, but not quite as good – maybe not best choice for a closing track. So no real duds and several standout tracks – I guess that’s why some called it the best Ministry album so far.

Rio Grande Blood is the weakest of the so-called Bush trilogy, as most of the album is generic thrash metal. Tracks 1, 2, 5 and 10 are on the live Adios album. Unfortunately that album omits (3) Gangreen, the most enjoyable track. It features a drill sargent suspiciously similar to the one from the movie Full Metal Jacket. (7) Yellow Cake is also pretty good, but not as memorable. (5) LiesLiesLies unfortunately suggest Al has bought into the “CIA blew up the WTC” conspiracy theory – I’d thought he was smarter than that. (9) Ass Clown features Jello Biafra at his most annoying. Closing track (10) Khyber Pass sounds better on the live album, where the female backing vocal is less up front and has a more processed sound.

The Last Sucker is a return to form, but not as good as Houses. Adios includes the first five tracks – I wish they had swapped the dull (2) Watch Yourself for (7) Death and Destruction, a fun rocker. Best song is undoubtedly (4) The Dick Song, named for Dick Cheney. I can imagine the refrain being a popular sing-along in concert (“Dick Cheney / Son of Satan / He is the chosen one!”). The cover of The Doors’ Roadhouse Blues (8) actually works well in context, thanks to the opening spoken part. It’s followed by (9) Die in a Crash, which sounds suspiciously like an early 1980s hardcore punk song – I wonder if Al had it lying around in the archives? The final song End of Days, in two parts (10 and 11), is musically slight, most notable for the extended sample from Eisenhower’s famous “military-industrial complex” speech. Overall, this album is not a bad goodbye to Ministry (it’s allegedly their last album), but not as strong musically as I would have liked.


So what do you need to own the best of Ministry? The first live album, In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up, collects the best six tracks from Land of Rape and Honey and The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste, but, while the energy of the live performances is a good thing, the mix and, occasionally, the playing quality, are not up to the standards of the studio records, so you’ll need to buy those – which will gain you additional good tracks Land of Rape and Honey, You Know What You Are, and Breathe.

Psalm 69 is good in its entirety, so you’ll need the whole thing. If you really need to economise, or you don’t like the song Jesus Built My Hotrod, you could just get the live album Sphinctour, which you will need to get anyway. This contains all the good tracks from Filth Pig in better performances and sound than the studio album. It also contains the best tracks from Psalm 69, except the above-mentioned Jesus… .

Dark Side of the Spoon has one essential track, (1) Supermanic Soul. You could buy the album (it’s pretty cheap) and think of it as a single with a lot of B-sides, or else get the one track from alternate sources.

There is no musical reason to buy Animositisomina.

The live album Adios… Puta Madres collects tracks from the last three Ministry albums, in good performance and sound, but includes too many inferior-quality songs at the expense of some essential tracks, so you’ll need one or two of the studio albums.

Houses of the Molé is the best of the last three albums, and up to the standards of the best Ministry albums, so you’ll need the whole thing (with possible exceptions of tracks 2 and 3). Rio Grande Blood is a decent generic thrash album, but the only real standout track is (3) Gangreen, so it’s up to you whether you get that one track or the whole album. The Last Sucker is a good experience as a total album, with the exception of (2) Watch Yourself, the only really weak track. If you don’t want the whole thing, the only track you’ll really need is (4) The Dick Song, but I’d say it’s worth getting the album.

I also picked up Beers, Steers & Queers, by Ministry side project Revolting Cocks. The title track holds some amusement, with its Spaghetti Western sounds undermined by the queer references (the remix with Deliverance samples is even better), but musically there’s not much to it. These tracks are generally characterised by generic, uninflected industrial-dance beats, ranting lyrics, and dropped-in samples without much musicality. Something Wonderful has more semblance to a Ministry song. My impression is that it’s an album of B-sides, the dopiest grab for fan money since Sonic Youth’s Whitey Album. Is Linger Fickin’ Good any better, I wonder?

“Children cannot distinguish between what is allegory and what isn’t, and opinions formed at that age are usually difficult to eradicate or change; it is important that the first stories they hear shall aim at producing the right moral effect.” (Republic, Book Two, 378).

Source: Plato vs. Grand Theft Auto

Monster mash (AKA Monster rally): an entertainment exploiting the appearance of two or more popular horror monsters; especially the films produced by Universal Studios in the 1940s, all of which included an appearance by Frankenstein’s Monster.

The 1930s saw the first talking horror pictures, which came chiefly from Universal Studios. These films were also notable because a scientific explanation, with which silent Hollywood horrors had typically concluded, was now excluded in favour of a supernatural aura previously unknown in mainstream American cinema.

The first of these films was Dracula (1931), which, being hugely successful, was shortly followed by Frankenstein in the same year, and The Mummy in the year after. This initial trilogy saw a burst of low budget successors from other studios, but none had the impact of these three. Universal produced other horrors too, including Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), starring Bela Lugosi, but did not attempt to capitalise on its prime properties until 1935, when James Whale was convinced to direct a sequel to Frankenstein, his Bride of Frankenstein.

Bride showed that a sequel recalling previously known characters could be a commercial success (this had been known in the theatre for years, but apparently the lesson had not transferred to the screen). Bride also showed, importantly, that a horror film could be fun. Fun is perhaps the chief differentiating characteristic of this sequel, as embodied in the arch observations of Dr Thessinger, the Monster’s picaresque adventures through the countryside, and, perhaps most of all, a rollicking tone which could only originate from the director’s shear joy at letting loose, cinematically, thematically and dramatically.

The success of Bride of Frankenstein saw sequels also produced for Dracula and The Mummy, plus a couple of new properties, The Invisible Man (1933)and The Wolf Man (1941). Most of these sequels were not only inferior to their forebears, but mediocre in general cinematic terms. Dracula’s Daughter (1936) had a terrific star in Gloria Holden, but was otherwise a shabby “B” picture, let down most of all by its wooden male lead, Otto Kruger. Son of Dracula (1943) was a relatively lavish successor, which was successful in its Southern Gothic atmosphere, but let down by its cast, especially Lon Chaney Jr. as the eponymous Count “Alucard” – he seemed more sad than sinister, and this weak threat made for a poor protagonist. The best performance here was from male lead Robert Paige, who starts out unpromisingly as a conventional juvenile lead, but becomes more convincing as his circumstances begin to straiten.

Lon Chaney Junior was the weak link in a number of Universal horror films, beginning with the title role of The Wolf Man, and following this with roles including Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Mummy. Resting his career entirely on his famous father’s name, he brought little to his roles except a strangely flabby face and an acting range limited to a constant hangdog expression, which passed for gravitas chiefly in the role of the accursed Wolf Man, which was his best part.

On the other hand, the 1940s Universal horrors show Bela Lugosi in a couple of his best performances preserved on film, as the jovial psychopath Igor. This character appears first in Son of Frankenstein (1939), which may have claim to be called the first of Universal’s “monster mashes”, seeing as it is the first horror film to feature several of the archetypal monsters, or at least grotesque characters brought to life by actors notably associated with horror (trailers from the height of the monster mash frenzy tried to bump up their monster count by enumerating generic types such as “the mad scientist!” and “the hunchback!”).

In this film, Lugosi defies critics who call him a clown with little acting ability. In the few film opportunities he had to demonstrate his range, he impresses as, variously, the aristocratic Count Dracula, the leering, jeering Igor, and the obsequious cabby in The Bodysnatcher. What Lugosi lacked was not so much acting ability as a good agent, since, despite his accent, he could have done well filling roles as diverse as Earthy Peasant, Herr Professor (AKA the explainer), and various types of Foreigner, instead of the badly written villain roles in the series of “poverty row” pictures that doomed his reputation.

Karloff is here too, of course, in his last appearance as the Monster. Sadly, after starting well, this film drags heavily in the second half, chiefly when the Monster is on screen. Karloff complained of having little dramatically to do in this film, which can indeed also be said for later incarnations of the Monster, all though not all those later films drag so much as Son. Basil Rathbone plays the Son, though mostly on one cranky note. Lionel Atwill adds to his cult notoriety as the wooden-handed, darts-playing police chief. The Monster ends up falling into a pit of sulphur beneath Frankenstein’s laboratory.

The first really successful monster mash was Ghost of Frankenstein (1942). Again, the only “official” monster on site is Frankenstein’s monster, now played by Lon Chaney, who seems to find even this shop’s dummy role a stretch. However, the very “sequelitis” of the film gives it that monster mash tone – here are the same characters, again, in another variation of the old, old story, again (the Monster even befriends a little girl, in a deliberate echo of the first film, though this time she doesn’t come to such a sticky end). Bela Lugosi’s Igor appears for the second and final time, and is again the bright spot and anchor of the movie. There are solid performances by Cedric Hardwicke as the other son of Baron Frankenstein, with Lionel Atwill as his thwarted assistant, and an appearance by B-movie lead Ralph Bellamy as the juvenile lead.

The pacing of the narrative has also improved from Son, and, to be blunt, from Bride and the original as well – this new decade seems to have seen the first glimmerings of insight that films do not always have to move at a walking pace, but can rattle along like a fast-going train. At the time this was regarded as poor film-making, and mainstream cinema still tended to the deliberate and respectable. It wasn’t until the 1980s that cinema as “ride” became a mainstream phenomenon.

But the classic monster mashes, at their best, give an early glimpse of this new, effervescent character of story-telling. Ghost of Frankenstein is, along with House of Frankenstein, the most successful in this respect (both were directed by Erle C. Kenton). There may be weak spots, but we are carried over them by the enthusiastic rhythm of the piece as a whole.

Ghost concludes with Igor’s brain transplanted into the head of the Monster (following which the building explodes for some reason I don’t recall). The sequel semilogically sees Bela Lugosi now playing the Monster, while former Monster Lon Chaney returns as the lupinely challenged Laurence Talbot, AKA the Wolf Man, in Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man (1942). Reportedly, test audiences laughed when they heard the Monster speak in Lugosi’s voice. He had of course uttered a few words at the end of Ghost, but otherwise the Monster had not articulated verbally since the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein. Plus, of course, Lugosi’s Hungarian accent was by this time irrevocably associated with Dracula. As a result, Lugosi’s speaking scenes were cut entirely, except a few moments where you can see his lips moving silently. Even the Monster’s growls were dubbed by a presumably less accent-impaired actor. This is a shame, firstly because this historically unique performance has disappeared forever, and even more so because the surviving portion of the film is so woeful.

Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man was directed by Roy William Neill, best known today for directing Universal’s classic Sherlock Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone. Sadly, just as Rathbone belied this success by turning out to be one of Son of Frankenstein‘s weak points, so Neill revealed that without a solid cast he could not produce a creditable motion picture. The film is reasonably well made, though lacking the pace of Kenton’s Ghost, but the lead actors (beside the mute Lugosi) are uniformly wooden, making this film resemble nothing so much as a compendium of bad acting. Chaney as the Wolf Man is probably the best thing here, let down by Ilona Massey as his uninviting love interest, plus the tedious Patrick Knowles as Dr. Mannering, and (from the first Wolf Man film) Maria Ouspenskaya’s amateurish turn as the Gypsy Lady. To be fair, the way in which they deliver their lines without any apparent concern for their meaning may be due to (1) lack of diligence on director Neill’s part, used as he was to the stage-bred cast of the Holmes films, who properly prepared for their performances, and could power their way through the story on sheer charisma; and (2) what is the silliest of all the Frankestein movies in terms of plot, leading to dialog which would have been awkward in the mouths of the most capable actors. Holmes veterans Lionel Atwill and Dennis Hoey (who played Lestrade in the Holmes films) are wasted here. There is also a truly woeful song-and-dance number to suffer through. In the end, the cast are done away with by an exploding dam, which presumably also carries away the revolting population of the nearby village of Visaria. Together with the chopped-up nature of the final product, this constitutes the weakest of the monster mash movies, and is best avoided except for the sake of having viewed the complete cinematic cycle.

Luckily, things pick up again with House of Frankenstein (1944), the other high point of the monster mash films. Karloff appears (as “the mad scientist!”), assisted by J. Carroll Naish (as “the hunchback!”), and together they are the best part of the film. The film is notable for its quaint episodic structure: in the first half, our above-named “heroes” escape prison, revive the skeleton of Dracula, and send him to do their bidding, only to see him get a permanent and fatal suntan. In the second half, they recover the frozen bodies of Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man, revive them too, and come to a sticky end. Director Erle C. Kenton directs with rare flare – the brief scene in which Naish falls through a castle wall into an underground cave is remarkable in its assured, dynamic movement, and sophisticated use of special effect-rigged sets.

John Carradine plays Dracula (AKA Baron Latos), not much more effectively than Chaney had done, but the fast action of the story stops us worrying about that too much. The Monster is now played (mutely) by Glenn Strange, who despite the little screen time he got in the role, is possibly my favourite incarnation of this character (his resemblance to Herman Munster probably helps!). The Wolf Man is Chaney again, and he spends his time complaining about his lot, as usual. There is also a plumply attractive gypsy girl, plus cult favourite George Zucco – he shines in the role of house of horrors host Lampini, before immediately being bumped off by Naish. In the end, Karloff’s mad scientist is dragged into a swamp and submerges along with the Monster, a surprisingly powerful scene, while Naish is thrown out a high window, and Chaney is shot with a silver bullet.

Only Chaney and Carradine return for the final monster mash, House of Dracula (1945), also directed by Kenton. Dracula visits scientist Onslow Stevens (“the mad doctor!”) in his seaside castle/laboratory, to ask for a “cure” for his vampirism. The doctor is assisted by a surprising innovation: a female hunchback (Jane Adams). Soon Chaney turns up, also seeking a cure, having somehow survived a silver bullet in the last film, and then the Monster is discovered in the sea caves under the castle. This film is often derided, unfairly, I think. The plot is plainly silly, but it is certainly more enjoyable than Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man, and makes a decent conclusion to the series. The only real problem is the abrupt ending, when the Monster comes to life for the shortest time so far, and perishes in flames only a minute later.

So the core monster mash movies are:
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man (1942)
House of Frankenstein (1944)
House of Dracula (1945)
–of which best are the fourth and the second.

After these films, Universal included their monsters in a series of comedy films starring the team of Abbott and Costello, starting with Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein (1948), starring Lugosi as the Count, Chaney as the Wolf Man, and Strange as the Monster, and devolving through Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949), Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951) and Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (starring Karloff again) (1953), to Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955). Some fans of the 1940s monster mash movies include these comedies within the oeuvre, but I am not a fan of Abbott and Costello, and I don’t consider these overt comedies to fall within the horror category.

In 1944, Bela Lugosi appeared in Return of the Vampire, playing a role which was Dracula in all but name, assisted by a werewolf companion. This film is supposed to be quite good (I haven’t seen it), and was apparently successful enough that Universal asked Columbia to cease making films that could possibly infringe on their intellectual copyright. We might consider this little-known team-up to represent one of the classic monster mash movies.

A note on the music.

While mainstream Hollywood movie music followed Korngold’s lead, in producing scores influenced largely by Richard Strauss, Wagner, and the ballets of Tchaikovsky, composers in shadowy genres like horror and film noir saw the opportunity to write music in a more contemporary style. While Waxman’s Bride of Frankenstein score was still largely beholden to the Late Romantic model, the 1940s saw opportunities in this vein increase, and we hear this in the Universal horror scores by Frank Skinner, Hans Salter, etc. Most of these scores have their requisite Korngoldian romantic moments, but in fact are largely in the same family of tonal modernism as composers Shostakovich and Prokofiev, Hindemith and Vaughan Williams. Career film composers do not have the same opportunities for respectability, but listeners with open minds will find much gratifying music in these scores, particularly as John Morgan and William Stromberg have done so much good work reconstructing and recording these scores for the Marco Polo and Naxos record labels.

I note that the film House of Dracula has no composer credit, only a credit for musical director to one Edgar Fairchild. However, there is at least one interesting piece of “original” music here, a piano performance of Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata that devolves (thanks to Dracula’s evil influence) into a Mephistophelean mood piece in the style of Debussy, before returning to Beethoven and then stopping abruptly. I hope some diligent person will transcribe and record this music separately at some point.

Universal horror’s little-known cousin.

I must take this opportunity to mention the little known RKO horror films of the 1940s. These were produced in response to Universal’s success in the monster genre. Responsibility was given to one Val Lewton, previously an associate of David O. Selznik, but a gifted producer and writer in his own right. In this unique deal, Lewton was given a free hand to produce the films he wanted – provided he use the lurid titles bestowed upon him by the studio publicity department. In response, Lewton produced a series of horror films notable for their intellectual subtlety, and emphasis on atmosphere over sensationalism. The two best films in this series of seven are the first two, Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie, both directed by Jacque Tourneur. Boris Karloff joined Lewton to star in the last three films, and in The Body Snatcher was teamed again with Bela Lugosi, who takes the rare opportunity to shine as the wheedling cabby. Any fan of early horror movies should take the opportunity to become acquainted with these little-known gems of the genre.

Despite the fact that I’m supposed to be saving to buy a flat, I caved in and ordered the following things:

ANIME [prices in US$]
First 5 items should be arriving soon.

Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars [series] $19.99
Moon Phase (Tsukuyomi) [series] $24.99
Hourglass of Summer Interactive DVD $14.99
Mobile Suit Gundam, Movie Pack $25.00
Comic Party [series] $14.00
FLAG [series] $23.99
Gundam 08th MS Team [series] $20.99

From Amazon.co.uk:

Lost In Austen [DVD] £7.98
The Mighty Boosh – series 3 [DVD] £5.20

Classic Frankenstein Triple – Frankenstein/Bride Of Frankenstein/House Of Frankenstein [DVD] £6.58
Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man [DVD] £4.98
Son Of Frankenstein [DVD] £4.33
The Ghost Of Frankenstein [DVD] £5.57

The Ligeti Project [5xCD set] £16.33
Hindemith: Orchestral Works [cond. Blomstedt] [3xCD set] £9.55

These are all bargains – but that doesn’t mean I can afford them!

I think they call it comfort-buying…

Details of What I’ve Bought

Shingu is a series about ordinary goings-on at a high school in a town where interstellar peace negotiations are happening.
Moon Phase is a story about an ordinary boy who gets involved with a super-cute (kawaii!) vampire.
Hourglass of Summer is a computer game/interactive novel adapted to be played on a regular DVD player. A schoolboy has no memory of the previous summer, during which his girlfriend died. If he can remember what happened, he might be able to save her…
Mobile Suit Gundam is the first series of the franchise, shortened into 3 two-hour movies. The series is alleged to be a classic, and supposedly the movie versions are good too. The movie Char’s Counterattack is also included, but this is related to the sequel series Gundam Zeta, which I don’t have and haven’t seen.
Comic Party has received mixed reviews. It’s about a manga fan club, so should be interesting, but probably not nearly as good as Genshiken.
Gundam 08th MS Team is often listed as one of the best of the Gundam shows – even people who disagree about Gundam Seed agree on this (but the opinions of people who loved Gundam Wing don’t count 😀 ). 08th Team is supposed to be more of a Real Robot show, which appeals to me.
FLAG is a gritty, realistic series about a photographer in a war zone. There is also a flag involved, apparently.

Lost In Austen, the fanfic version of Pride and Prejudice 🙂 , was surprisingly good, and emotionally affecting for reasons I don’t want to go into now. I worry the Australian release will have the problems of the early UK release (cut scenes, grainy picture) – plus it’s probably cheaper to get the import.
The Mighty Boosh – series 3. Got sick of waiting for the local price to drop to something reasonable. From what I’ve seen, this final series is superior to the patchy second series.
Frankenstein movies. I got the US complete set, but found the NTSC video quality really unacceptably poor (plus the disc programming was dodgy, and the flipper discs had some problems). I also wanted a copy of Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, which wasn’t in the complete set. This purchase should mean I have the best of the 1930s/40s horror movies in my collection (inc. the wonderful Val Lewton films) (plus Universal’s Sherlock Holmes series – PAL format, of course).

Ligeti Project. I’ve been wondering about Ligeti’s music for a while now (he wrote the weirder stuff that was used in 2001: A Space Odyssey), and heard a bit of his Requiem on headphones at Fish records – extremely effective and surprisingly emotional. Compared with the 2001 soundtrack, I think these are better, more powerful performances, and certainly better recorded. Looking forward to five CDs of genius weird shit.
Hindemith Orchestral Works.
Hindemith is an acquired taste, and seems to be a mixed bag in terms of quality of work. His pre-1934 stuff, before Mathis der Maler, is clever but ultimately heartless stuff, and just not worth it IMO. I was disappointed by the DG set of music conducted by the composer, in terms of both sound and performance, and wanted better and more recent recordings of his symphonies, which I think are his best works (none of his concertos have worked for me so far).
I’ve been avoiding Blomstedt, after being extremely disappointed by his Dresden Beethoven set, but (a) his Hindemith set is widely recommended, (b) it’s much more cheaply available than Tortelier’s recordings (on always-expensive Chandos), and the Kegel recordings on Berlin Classics (plus, listening to samples of his Pittsburgh Symphony, the soft opening of the finale was mastered much too loudly). Also, I finally found some samples and was pleasantly surprised, particularly by the Swan Turner viola concerto, the Zimmerman version of which I find very unrewarding listening (thin tone; lack of feeling and convincing phrasing).
Seeing it so cheap on Amazon.co.uk, I had to grab it before the price went up again. Now I just need to find a cheap copy of the Symphonic Dances (Tortelier/Chandos).

Interesting interview with composer Gyorgy Ligeti here.

Two notable quotes:

The experience of extreme terror doesn’t lead to the creation of art.

I think this is extremely egocentrical idea, thinking the self-importance and thinking in the future… Wagner began this foolish way of thinking he’s the most important composer. He accepted Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, but now he will create a music of the future. What he created was a contribution to the Nazi Germany, in fact. I’m against it. And also Schonberg . Schonberg who taught with the method of 12 tone rows – “I made sure the domination of German music for the next 100 years”, well this is extremely pretentious and stupid.

I just had a big shipment of anime soundtrack CDs arrive, so I’ll be investigating them this weekend. I planned carefully and think I’ve made a very good selection. I may post some reviews later.

What I bought:

  1. Someday’s Dreamers [58m]
    Category: Quiet/poignant
  2. Haibane Renmei [52m]
    Category: Quiet/poignant
  3. Fruits Basket Four Seasons [40m]
    Category: Quiet/poignant
  4. Strawberry Marshmallow [42m]
    Category: Cute/kooky
  5. Chobits Soundtrack 002 [52m]
    Category: Cute/kooky
  6. Azumanga Daioh [46m]
    Category: Cute/kooky
  7. RahXephon Soundtrack 1 [21tracks]
    Category: Avant jazz/classical
  8. RahXephon Soundtrack 2 [63m]
    Category: Avant jazz/classical
  9. Serial Experiments Lain [50m]
    Category: Sparse electronic
  10. Texhnolyze Soundtrack 1 “Music Only Music But Music” [71m]
    Category: Sparse electronic
  11. Texhnolyze Soundtrack 2 “The Man of Men” [18 tracks]
    Category: Sparse electronic
  12. Lunar Legend Tsukihime Moonlit Archives [48m]
    Category: Sweeping gothic
  13. Lunar Legend Tsukihime Moonlit Memoirs [46m]
    Category: Sweeping gothic
  14. Neon Genesis Evangelion Refrain of Evangelion [74m]
    Category: The NGE CD with the least number of versions of “Fly me to the moon”.