Pere Ubu’s Film Jukebox

Pere Ubu
Pere Ubu

Pere Ubu’s new album Carnival of Souls has received much favourable attention on its autumn release, not least with two tracks being chosen as themes in Fox Network’s hit series, American Horror Story. David Thomas, founder and lead singer, includes himself when he describes the band as ‘cogs’, working towards a perfection of the machine that is the Pere Ubu project. Below, he tells us about his choice of favourite films, with additions by Robert Wheeler (electronics and theremin), Keith Moliné (guitar), Gagarin (electronica and keyboard), Darryl Boon (clarinet and musette) and Steve Mehlman (drums). Unsurprisingly, the band members are as diverse as the music they record, as reflected in their film choices. Taking to the road with their new album from November 12, the band will also be appearing in the Brighton Film Festival with a live underscore to X, The Man with the X Ray Eyes. For tour dates and to buy tickets, visit the songkick website. You can listen to the track ‘Road to Utah’ (taken from Carnival of Souls) on soundcloud.

1. Event Horizon (Paul W. S. Anderson, 1997)
This is a movie I always want to watch… in the hope that it’s gotten better by means of some Fortean twist in the fabric of the universe. It is flawed. You might even say ‘deeply flawed’. The premise of a haunted spaceship, suspended in a poisonous, outer planet’s atmosphere at the edge of the solar system is terrific. The film’s dodgy reputation has more to do with failing to live up to the brilliance of the premise than anything actually ‘wrong’ with it as a space adventure. Haunted house movies are dependent on the cast of characters being trapped inside, unable to escape. There’s nothing more ‘trapped’ than being in a spaceship. Less horror/melodrama/CGI FX and more of the psychological terror of House on Haunted Hill would have served this movie better. Now they’ve ‘used up’ the idea. But I will keep watching. Who knows? Maybe someday… David Thomas

2. Un chien andalou (Luis Buñuel and artist Salvador Dalí, 1929)
We were exposed to some really cutting edge and out-there cultural experiences at school in the 60s and 70s, studying the beat poets in English, Stockhausen and tape composition in music, and films like this in ‘general studies’. At 16, surrealism was something we were all drawn to, and this is one of the true early surrealist films. It’s laden with heavy symbolism around religion and sex, much of which we needed explaining, together with some truly shocking and scary moments. The image of ants emerging from stigmata, and the razor cutting open an eyeball have stayed with me as two of the most disturbing things I’ve seen. It’s a dark and unrelenting 20 minutes, and as a teenager that dark world seemed like an exciting flip side. Now it just feels like a place I inhabit quite comfortably. The structural ideas of surrealism have always influenced my music, mostly through the use of found sounds and recontextualised samples. Gagarin

3. Adaptation (Charlie Kaufman, 2002)
I like seeing the creative process foregrounded to the extent that it becomes the actual subject matter of the film. Charlie Kaufman movies are great for this, and Adaptation is his masterpiece. The story of a writer struggling to adapt a book for a screenplay, eventually calling on his novice, hack screenwriter twin brother for help, is told through a hilariously rendered imagining of their completed script. The last 20 minutes tell you exactly why so many Hollywood movies collapse into mindless action set-pieces and ludicrous plot twists – by dissolving into mindless action set-pieces and ludicrous plot twists. Keith Moliné

4. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
Robert Mitchum as ‘Reverend’ Harry Powell, with HATE tattooed on the knuckles of one hand and LOVE tattooed on the knuckles of the other hand, made a big impression on me when I first saw this at the age of 14. He’s one of the scariest characters ever on film – think Hannibal Lecter and Frank Booth. And it has Lillian Gish. It’s the only movie Charles Laughton directed, and in my opinion it’s one of the most frightening movies ever made. ’Leaning on the Everlasting Arms’ will never sound the same again. Robert Wheeler

5. Macbeth (Orson Welles, 1948)
Another deeply flawed movie. There is something fascinating about the flawed. The soundtrack is notoriously painful. Everything about it is under-budget, in the same category as those Lost in Space papier-mâché-rocks episodes. Of course, it’s not the best Welles film, but it’s my favourite. The sense of dread and doom is pervasive in spite of its failings (due solely to finance). The set design and costuming, cheap and otherworldly, are mesmerizing. And Orson is… Orson. David Thomas

6. Amadeus (Miloš Forman, 1984)
Amadeus was released in the year I began studying at music college. Most of us were struggling with the transformation from being the school star, pushed into a highly competitive environment, and this film gave a pertinent lesson in handling the fact that there are always going to be people apparently better than you. The genius of the film is that the dialogue gives classical music the same immense, physical impact that stunned me the first time I played in a full orchestra. Salieri’s ranting gives a foreboding to the Commendatore scene from Don Giovanni, which must have been how the 18th-century audience felt on hearing it for the first time. Darryl Boon

7. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)
I first saw this when I was 19. I went on a road trip to Atlanta to stay with my brother’s housemate who was home on leave (they were naval shore patrol, stationed in Naples, Italy). I spent the whole night trying to keep up with these two older, kind of meat-head dudes (’What are we taking? I’ll have twice as much please.) and I failed miserably. When we finally headed back home, I was completely trashed, so after they both went to sleep I decided to pop in a movie – A Clockwork Orange. Needless to say, considering the night I’d just had, it blew my mind. Visually stunning, blurring the lines between good and evil, institutional corruption, doctors playing God, old ladies with purple and orange hair, and a bit of the old ultra-violence. I loved it, and immediately watched it again… and wallowed in the hallucinations. I’ve probably seen it over a hundred times by now. Steve Mehlman

8. Bullitt (Peter Yates, 1968)
It’s a great ‘style’ movie. Steve McQueen looks amazing, of course, but the other lead characters really are San Francisco, like the eccentric, cool old aunt, and the two muscle cars – the Charger and the Mustang – testosterone-filled grumbling, roaring beasts. Somehow the Mustang comes over like the white-clad hero of a cowboy movie with the Charger more of a Jack Palance baddie. I was a car fanatic at the time and those muscle cars just oozed sex, power and machismo (totally unlike me at 14!) while San Fran felt like the centre of a hip world that I really wanted to be part of. The pacing of the film is beautiful and the car chase still without equal, choreographed to one of the greatest of all soundtracks. Lalo Schifrin combines jazz, pop, classical and ‘world’ music elements with brass, wah-wah guitar and percussion, driving the movie and creating drama in a way as important as the pictures, and more than the dialogue. Importantly for me, it inspired me to play the bongos, with their high-pitched tension and detailed chatter, and within a year I’d bought my first pair. Gagarin

9. Wavelength (Michael Snow, 1967)
Speaking of the foregrounding process, this is the ultimate example – a classic of avant-garde film. It’s one 45-minute shot, a slow zoom in on an apartment as various people come and go – though there are long stretches where nothing happens – or perhaps that should be typed ’Nothing’ happens. I admit I’ve only sat through it once, about 20 years ago at a film club somewhere, but it made an impression. The shape of the film is everything, the few half-seen events that constitute narrative almost irrelevant. That’s like rock music – the riffs, solos, lyrics – everything that we assume we should focus on are in themselves unimportant. They just colour in the design and are usually entirely interchangeable. Keith Moliné

10. The Time Travelers (Ib Melchior, 1964)
I’ve only seen it once, maybe 45 years ago, and I’ll never watch it again, but it contains the single most memorable scene I’ve ever witnessed, and so must be listed as a favourite film. The plot is something about scientists travelling into a future dystopian society. There, the mad scientists of the future manage to break the fabric of time with one of their experiments. The film is unendurably tedious until the last couple of minutes, when time has been broken and becomes a feedback loop. The Time Travelers repeats itself over and over, faster and faster, until it becomes a blur and then pops into blackness. End. And such is the glory of the lost tradition of the B-movie: one cool idea engulfed by nonsense, a single-minded plot and low-budget ephemera. David Thomas