A Devil Under the Skin is the latest of Anya Lipska’s (a pseudonym for a British writer) noir-ish crime thrillers set in East London, featuring Janusz Kiszka, the go-to guy and fixer to London’s Poles – and a man with a Trabant-load of baggage from his youth in Communist-era Poland. Asked about Polish crime fiction Lipska told the Independent that it was marked by ‘a big anti-authoritarian streak, a satirical sense of humour, a romantic enjoyment of melancholy, and a preoccupation with the past’. As her cinematic alter ego she chooses Jake Gittes, in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. Eithne Farry
Like most writers, I don’t have much of a clue where my characters come from, but now and again I recognise someone or something that has left a lasting thumbprint on my writing. One of them is Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Jake Gittes in Chinatown: it burrowed under my skin and ultimately found its way into the DNA of my own fictional detective.
Jake is the kind of hero I can identify with. An ex-cop who drags round a guilty conscience from a case that went wrong, apparently leading to an innocent woman’s death, he’s now a sleazy private eye specialising in ‘matrimonial’ cases. He’s cynical and crude, and doesn’t hesitate to dish out violence to men and women who stand in his way. Yet Jake’s flaws make him as battered and appealing as an old leather suitcase.
Jake never becomes a cardboard cut-out hero. As he’s drawn into investigating a fishy business involving water rights and high-level corruption in Orange County, we sense that he’s in way over his head. Just like real people, he is by turn funny and determined, smart and fallible. For me it was a directorial stroke of genius to have Jake spend several scenes, after he gets slashed by one of the bad guys, wearing a comedy nose bandage – it’s a powerful symbol of wounded yet defiant masculinity.
If Chinatown were the standard-issue blockbuster, Jake would ultimately conquer the forces of evil: he’d nail the bad guy and get the girl. Polanski had to fight for his much darker vision – the tragic denouement that turned Chinatown from a good movie into a masterpiece. Jake fails. He hasn’t dispelled the past – he has only repeated it.
Princess Chelsea, aka New Zealander Chelsea Nikkel, is a classically-trained solo artist who became a YouTube sensation with the ‘The Cigarette Duet’, from her first album Lil Golden Book. Her second album, The Great Cybernetic Depression, is a work of ‘retrofuturistic space pop’, influenced by artists such as Kraftwerk and Tomita, inspired by a desire to recreate the magic of childhood movies like The Never Ending Story. The album, with its ‘wall of synth’ arrangements, is themed around a metaphorical future happening, and depression as an apocalyptic event, with Princess Chelsea weaving her personal, sometimes melancholic, experiences of relationships and the music industry through the songs. The album is out now on Flying Nun/Lil’ Chief. Below, Princess Chelsea picks her top ten films.
1. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Stephen Spielberg, 1982)
This movie encapsulates all the wonder I held as a lil’ kid from New Zealand, when I would think about the big industrious country known as ‘USA’ – where Disneyland and all the movies come from, and how they had way more types of candy bars than we have here in New Zealand (love the M&Ms scene BTW). I am now grown up and realise USA candy is shitty and, like most countries, the USA is fucked up, with a widening gap between rich and poor, while Hollywood is in a dark ages of boring-ass movies about superheroezzz.
Anyways, what’s my point – I’m an escapist and hell yes, I’ll use pop culture to do it. This movie takes me back and makes me think it’s 1985 and I’m a little kid and the whole world is amazing. I mean who doesn’t like ET… It’s Spielberg at his best, and sometimes you just want to see an easily digestible movie the whole family can watch. Well at least I do.
2. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich,1962)
Only saw this recently. It stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford pitted against each other in fiction and maybe in real life (I read somewhere they didn’t like each other that much). Like in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Taylor & Burton) I can sense an almost mean and competitive IRL chemistry between the two leads. An early example of two interesting roles for older female leads who may have been considered ‘past their prime’ by idiots, but ended up delivering career-defining performances. Bette Davis is one of the creepiest villains in cinema as Baby Jane.
3. Pinocchio (1940)
Big fan of pre-90s Disney (although Beauty and The Beast is a triumph). As far as children’s movies go, this one gets dark and the scene (SPOILER ALERT) where Pinocchio’s buddy turns into a donkey is scary for me still as an adult. A lot of early Disney movies resonate with me because I’m a fan of 30s and 40s music, so combine that with hand-drawn animation and I’m pretty much sold. Also like the veering away from ‘princesses in castles being rescued by a prince’ theme Disney took with tackling the fairy-tale Pinocchio.
4. The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984)
I feel like I should be listing art-house rarities, but the reality is I love pop culture and fantasy, and the two intersect brilliantly in this film, with some dystopian violence to boot. Retrofuturism in film is fascinating to watch after the fact – a 60s, 70s or 80s, even 90s (WTF) idea of the future is so interesting to me and in my opinion gives films like Terminator, which were blockbusters in their day, a slightly different angle for the viewer in 2015.
5. The NeverEnding Story (Wolfgang Petersen, 1984)
Childhood favourite – the ivory tower scene at the end is terrifying still IMO – pretty much can’t stand CGI (except TOY STORY), so am always happy to watch films where more effort is put into costuming and models IRL. A mid-80s gem featuring a flying dragon/dog hybrid called FALCOR and a cute ass DX7 soundtrack.
6. Rope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948)
Love slow shots/long takes with lots of shit going on in the background. My favourite movie is E.T. but I enjoy watching period drama for the same reason I like this film – you can re-watch it dozens and dozens of times and still find something interesting you hadn’t noticed. In context – this film was an absolute stunt-and-nuts thing to do that I would suggest influenced another favourite of mine, Robert Altman, considerably.
7. Boy (Taika Waititi, 2010)
New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi made this masterpiece a few years back and I feel he’s really great at capturing the essence of small-town New Zealand in a way that’s charming and not condescending. He approaches some pretty heavy subject material in a humorous but also emotionally affecting way, and the score by NZ band Phoenix Foundation is beautiful too.
8. Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson, 1994)
Another New Zealand film, this is an early one by Peter Jackson that examines an IRL murder. I have always felt pretty connected to the main characters in this film, as I have a habit of developing intense friendships with females in my life. The two lead actresses are a young Kate Winslet and a young Melanie Lynskey (who is in that dumb sitcom with Charlie Sheen) and I’m pretty sure they weren’t at all famous back then, but they were killer in this movie. And an early 90s New Zealand movie set in the 50s is just a great little time capsule via film.
9. The Player (Robert Altman, 1992)
A few years ago I got really into Robert Altman’s movies and it seems like he had a bit of an artistic renaissance in the 90s. The Player combines clever Hollywood satire with his trademark long freeform shots. I love happy accidents in music and in film and I feel his films are full of them.
10. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
I am interested in and would like to explore more silent films of the 1920s, but I’m just gonna be honest here and say I would still probably enjoy Alien more than all of them. Alien is a great film for many reasons – Ripley as much-needed feminist icon + extreme patience with the editing and cinematography make this blockbuster even a bit ‘ARTY’.
Viewers with untrained ears might watch Belgian directing team Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s dazzling neo-gialloThe Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013) and wonder why Ben Power (Blanck Mass, Fuck Buttons) would be so bold as to want to re-score it. The heady mix of slick psychedelia, early synth and ambient grooves are a perfect fit and certain signature pieces are used repeatedly throughout. However, not one of the compositions was originally scored for the Cattet and Forzani film. Instead they lifted their music straight from the 1970s giallo films that inspire them.
The directors have said they like to assemble their soundtracks as they write their script, embedding the fusion of audio and visual into the early stages of the development process. So it was no doubt an unusual experience to watch their film with Power’s retrofitted score laid over it. Thankfully and unsurprisingly, the new music comes with the Belgian duo’s approval. It features contributions from Stockholm’s Roll The Dice, London’s Helm, Moon Gangs, Phil Julian, Glasgow’s Konx-Om-Pax, and New York’s C. Spencer Yeh, as well as Mr Blanck Mass himself. Each artist was assigned a scene and given the freedom to score it how they wished. Furthermore they were doing this without prior knowledge of what was planned by anyone else. Their combined efforts have come together to form a brooding cinematic morass of electronica. In particular, Helm’s ‘Silencer II’ is a hyper-tense 11-minute epic of suppressed emotion and pent up frustration whereas Moon Gangs’ ‘The Apartment’ or a couple of the C. Spencer Yeh tracks are far less brutal – allowing your fast-beating heart and fragile mind a chance to relax. Note that the shrill attack of Phil Julian’s ‘End Credits’ makes sure there’s a shot of adrenalin for anyone flagging when the film fades to black.
The re-score of The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears is put out by Death Waltz Records. It’s a double vinyl release, housed inside a 425gsm reverse board jacket and comes in two versions. There’s the ‘exclusive splatter combo’ as Death Waltz’s Spencer Hickman describes it – limited to 500 only worldwide. Not entirely sure what exact colours that means, but it will not be black – that’s reserved for the regular shop version of it.
The East End Film Festival are showing The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears with the brand new score on 10 July at Red Gallery. After the screening there will be DJ sets from Blanck Mass and friends, including Spencer Hickman spinning some rare giallo records of his own.
For more infos about the event and to buy tickets visit the EEFF website.
A Deviant View of Cinema – Features, Essays & Interviews