Thursday, July 29, 2010

Spanish Drac

(Chuck Note: In the Tod Browning version, Mina is played by Helen Chandler, who is very cute. In the Spanish version, the female lead is played by Lupita Tovar, who is fucking hot as fuck. I give her two thumbs-- and one other appendage-- up!)

Dracula (1931-- Spanish language version) **½

From 1000 Misspent Hours

  A very strange thing happened on Universal Studios’ famous back lot over the course of 22 nights late in 1930. On each of those nights, after Tod Browning and his cast and crew went home from a hard day at work making Dracula, two other directors-- George Melford and Enrique Tova Avalos were their names-- would arrive on the set with a cast of Mexican actors to set about piecing together their own Dracula for the Spanish-speaking market. Melford and Avalos didn’t just use the same sets as Browning. They also employed the same basic script (right down to the terrible, out-of-place sight gag involving the big fat bug and the miniature coffin), along with the same props, the same matte paintings, and alternate takes of the same special effects sequences-- hell, even the same widow’s-peak hairpiece that Bela Lugosi wore during the daytime shooting! But in spite of all the elements it has in common with Browning’s more famous version, the Dracula made by Melford and Avalos is a strikingly different and altogether superior film.

  The screenplay, as I said, was a fairly straight translation of that used by Browning. Renfield (Pablo Alvarez Rubio, who also appeared in a Spanish-language version of The Cat Creeps called La Voluntad del Muerto) travels to Transylvania to discuss with Count Dracula (El Diablo del Mar’s Carlos Villarias) his intentions to lease an abandoned abbey in London, and gets himself turned into an insane demi-vampire for his troubles. After sailing to England aboard a chartered ship (whose sailors all end up on the vampire’s menu before the journey’s end), Dracula takes an interest in two young women, Eva Seward (East of Borneo’s Lupita Tovar, playing the character called Mina in Browning’s version) and Lucia Weston (Carmen Guerrero). The undead count first kills Lucia, transforming her into a vampire like himself, and then turns his attention to Eva. However, in so doing, he attracts the notice of Eva’s psychiatrist father (Jose Soriano Viosca, from Cheri-Bibi, the Spanish-speaking counterpart to The Phantom of Paris) and her fiance, Juan Harker (Barry Norton, who played in both El Diablo del Mar and its English-language sister film, Devil Monster), the former of whom summons a colleague of his-- a Dutch scientist named Van Helsing (Eduardo Arozamena)-- to help him get to the bottom of the curious change that has come over the girl since she met the Transylvanian lord. Van Helsing, as always, is a self-made expert on the arcane lore of vampirism, and in short order, he figures out exactly what’s going on, and what must be done to stop it. With a little help from Renfield-- some of it intended, some not-- Van Helsing tracks first Lucia and then Dracula himself to their daytime hiding places and dispatches them with a stake through the heart, saving Eva from the eternal undeath to which the count had very nearly condemned her.

  A quick comparison between the above synopsis (sketchy as it is) and my earlier one for Browning’s Dracula will reveal an intriguing point of divergence. In the familiar, English-language version of the movie, Lucy is scarcely heard from again after she is turned into a vampire; not only do her supposed friends barely seem to notice her death, nobody even bothers to stake her after she briefly returns as a child-killing vampire! Here, on the other hand, the filmmakers understood what an important plot point Lucia’s vampiric resurrection was, and understood equally well what dire consequences there would be for the film’s continuity if the subject were left hanging. This isn’t the only difference between the two versions of the script, but it’s by far the most obvious and the most important. It’s also the one that makes Tod Browning and company look like the biggest fools.

  Of course, by the time it comes up, Melford and Avalos have been directing rings around the man for more than a hour. Browning’s technique in Dracula seems creaky under the best of circumstances. In comparison to the fluid camera-work of Melford and Avalos, it looks positively arthritic. While Browning seems to have thought he was filming a stage play, the men in charge of this production really understood the possibilities the camera offered, and had the good sense to take full advantage of them. It’s also clear that Melford saw-- and paid attention to-- Murnau’s Nosferatu. A couple of this movie’s classier shots were cribbed directly from the earlier film-- check out the scene where Renfield sees Dracula packing his “bags” for the trip to England. The most outstanding difference in style, though, is the one that best reflects the presumed taste of the special audience at which this version of Dracula was aimed. The one thing about Stoker’s original novel that no commentator ever neglects to mention is its “erotic charge.” (I’ve never noticed any such thing in the book, myself, but maybe I’m just not repressed enough...) The viewer who looks for any hint of sex in Browning’s Dracula looks in vain, however. Not so here. Even the Hammer Dracula films of the 50’s and 60’s-- flicks in which the actresses’ cleavage was a large part of the point-- have nothing on this movie. Lupita Tovar’s nightgowns wouldn’t seem out of place in an Italian giallo from the 70’s. When Mina Seward gets out of bed in the middle of the night to meet Dracula in the asylum garden in Browning’s version, the outfit she’s wearing makes her look like an enormous humanoid ruffle. In the corresponding scene from the Spanish-language version, not only does Tovar’s gown cling to her fantastic figure, her nipples are faintly visible through the translucent fabric of her bodice in the close-ups! (It never ceases to amaze me what people used to get away with in the days before the Hays Code…) Note also that when Renfield is brought under the sway of the vampires in the English-speaking version, it is Dracula himself who drinks his blood, whereas Melford and Avalos have the vampire’s brides do the honors, as the scene was originally written (though, of course, in the novel, Harker is the lucky recipient of their attentions). All told, the “hot-blooded Latin” approach does wonders for the film’s overall watchability.

  The superiority of the direction in this version is matched, for the most part, by the superiority of the acting. Lupita Tovar has a screen presence that puts her counterpart, Helen Chandler, to shame. Not only that, Tovar has real chemistry with Barry Norton, making the relationship between Eva and Juan far more believable than the one between Mina and John. As Renfield, Pablo Alvarez Rubio has some problems with his vocal delivery, but his physical acting is top-notch. Early in the film, when Renfield confronts the strange goings-on in Dracula’s castle, the man really does look scared. But the biggest improvement over the English-speaking version in the acting department is Eduardo Arozamena as Dr. Van Helsing. In Browning’s version, even Bela Lugosi looks good next to Edward Van Sloan (the sap who plays Van Helsing there). Arozamena’s Van Helsing is nearly as good as Anthony Hopkins’s interpretation from 1992’s mostly risible Bram Stoker’s Dracula (though it doesn’t quite bear comparison to Peter Cushing’s take on the role).

  The only thing that stops this Dracula from really shining is Carlos Villarias. Lugosi was a terrible actor (in English, at least), but the man undeniably had charisma. Villarias does not, and he compounds the problem by aping Lugosi’s dreadful performance. His walk, his gestures, his posture, his vocal cadence-- all are lifted from Lugosi. As ridiculous as the model for Villarias’s performance is, just imagine how much sillier the total effect is without the force of Lugosi’s personality to back it all up. And nothing shows how much Lugosi’s natural accent covered up his inadequacies like watching someone try exactly the same shtick without it. In the absence of a viable Count Dracula, the movie runs into serious trouble when it ought to be at its most effective-- in those scenes when the vampire is onscreen. As it is, the only moments Villarias really pulls off are those in which he keeps his mouth shut and lurks in the shadows.

  Still, the Melford-Avalos Dracula is a big step up from the Browning version. Its substantially longer running time (more than 20 minutes in excess of the English version’s) allows for more and better character development, and provides the opportunity to plug up plot holes left gaping in its better-known counterpart. The directors’ firmer grasp of their medium shines through in every scene, resulting in a film that is livelier despite its greater length. The more competent cast rises to the occasion throughout, putting in performances with far greater depth of feeling than the English-speakers who played their roles on the same sets by day. With a more forceful actor in the all-important title role, this Dracula could really have been the classic Browning’s version is generally regarded to be.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Clipping File: Feb. 20, 2008

From expletive undeleted
Hip Replacement: Off The Bone by The Cramps (Illegal Records)
IT WAS a girl who got me into the Cramps, inevitably.

She was older, wiser, more glamorous, more fashionable – hell, she had easily the biggest mohawk in Scunthorpe pretty much through the whole of the first half of the 1980s, probably even the rest of the 1980s too.

These things mattered, somehow.

The council put a parquet dancefloor over the municipal Baths Hall swimming pool in winter and hosted brass band competitions, pigeon club dinner-dances and bands like Chumbawamba, Faith No More, the Cardiacs and the Guana Batz – until 1am! In the morning! Imagine!

Desperately unfunny comedian Jasper Carrott even built a routine around a gig at the venue in the Seventies (“Play Scunthorpe Baths for 50 quid? I’d drink Scunthorpe Baths for 50 quid ..”). How we laughed.

Everyone went to Steve Bird‘s alternative discos on Thursdays, when as far as Scunthorpe was concerned, the Baths was the social centre of the universe. I’d seen this girl shuffling around to Garbageman at the Baths ever since I‘d been going there.

I can see her now, mohican silhouetted by flashing disco lights, gliding around the dancefloor as Lux Interior sneers:

“Yeah, it’s just what you need when you’re down in the dumps, one half hillbilly and one half punk, big long legs and one big mouth, the hottest thing from the North to come out of the South. Do you understand? Do you understand? Whooooo! I can’t lose with the stuff I use, and you don’t choose no substitute, so stick out your can, cuz I’m the Garbageman.”

The girl had rhythm – at least, she had rhythm in the context of drunk dancing to some gruesome whacked-out psychobilly homage to bad drugs. Or bad sex. Or both. Whatever. I liked her moves. She was very, very sexy. But she hung around with an intimidating crowd.

They were very all fashionable, sophisticated and older, original ‘Scunny Punx’ and all that, but they were intimidating in a very real sense – one of her mates had actually stabbed a pal of mine when they’d been going out a few years earlier. Really. She turned out to be a lovely girl when you got to know her though. And this friend of mine aroused a violent streak in women on a fairly regular basis, come to think of it.

Anyway, I was content to admire this girl from afar. She was so far out of my league it wasn‘t even funny.

A while later, it’s Saturday afternoon down at Jensens (note lack of superfluous apostrophe), an ugly, dirty boozer down the arse-end of the precinct, jammed in between Debenham’s, the multi-storey car park and the glass-and-brick Dr Who ziggurat that is Scunthorpe Library.

Jensens was as rough as a badger’s arse, but they used to serve you even if you had, I dunno, a bone through your nose, and we’d head there after our preferred boozer the Furnace closed at 3pm (younger readers will no doubt chortle at the privations we endured in the olden days before the binge-drinking vom-bonanza that is 24-hour licensing) and carry on drinking until as late as five or six pm. These were heady times, obviously.

The clientele was made up of punks, bikers and hippies, rockers, skinheads and raincoated indie-kids, piss-heads, pot-heads, faded saloon bar harpies, mad old nicotine-stained and rheumy-eyed random pub geezers – plus the odd foolhardy shopper – all of whom soon dissolved into a blur of denim, leather, fishnet stockings and misspelled tattoos.

Imagine the Cantina scene in Star Wars shot in the working men‘s club in Kes and you‘d be heading in the right direction. The stink of patchouli oil, sour lager and a billion stubbed-out fags hung over the place like a mouldy leather jacket.

While the Eighties are often portrayed as the Loadsamoney decade, it was as grim as fuck up north a lot of the time. Industrial meltdown, longterm unemployment, dirty needles and nasty drugs, all that. It was a time when you were supposed to get on your bike to find work. If someone hadn’t nicked it first.

Like me, a lot of my mates were at sixth form, but the social lives of many people I hung around with in town revolved around the arrival of the jolly green Giro every two weeks. I was probably a bit better off, living with my parents, not paying any rent, so I don’t remember feeling particularly downtrodden.

From my perspective, everyone seemed to be, y’know, partying in the face of adversity. It wasn’t exactly the Wag Club but we were happy enough.

We’d hit the Furnace in town on Saturday afternoon, get leathered and then go down to Jensens when it shut. And only then. Like I say, Jensens was a shit-hole and definitely second-division compared to the glittering salon of polite yet thoroughly amusing discourse that was the Furnace. I’m joking of course. The Furnace was a shit-hole too.

But you could smoke dope pretty much openly at either of them so they became popular among a certain element of the town’s youth.

I was probably well away on a couple of pints – no hippy drugs for me, thank you – when I found this woman was sitting next to me. We got talking, one thing led to another and I’m sure you can guess the rest, although we didn’t actually do the dirty deed until I went down to spend the weekend with her in Lincoln, where she lived.

As regular readers have probably guessed by now, I got into the Cramps via a similar musical apres-shag scenario to that described in previous missives. I’ll spare you the details.

I ended up taking the piss at sixth form, spending more time doing stuff for my fanzine than going to classes. In an effort to impress her, I took this girl over to Doncaster – hey, I know how to treat a lady – when I went to interview Marcus Featherby who ran the Pax label and promoted gigs in South Yorkshire.

I think the high point came when I asked him if the riots in Paris in 1968 were “any good”.

We eventually got the train back to mine to find my mum had had a call from college that very day, asking why I wasn’t turning up for my classes – and then I arrive, drunk, with this be-mohawked sex siren who‘d they‘d never met, didn‘t even know existed, expecting her to stay the night. She had to get the last bus home, singularly unimpressed.

Funnily enough, it was soon afterwards that that she chucked me. I think part of the problem was that I really got on her nerves by constantly making a big deal about being a vegetarian while happily munching on any number of gelatine-based confectionary products. Lots of other stuff too, I‘d imagine. I may have been a bit of a twat, to be fair. And probably not a great shag either.

She used to hammer the Cramps’ Off The Bone album, which had just come out, and I bought it soon after we split up. Initially there may have been a little bit of moping about, listening to Lonesome Town and Human Fly (although perhaps without “96 tears in 96 eyes ..”), but I soon got over it. It wasn’t that big a deal.

And it’s a great album on its own merits.

A compilation of previously released singles put out by Miles (brother of Police drummer Stewart) Copeland’s Illegal Records as an ingenious yet despicable way of continuing to make money out of a band who were suing him for unpaid royalties, Off The Bone was a pretty neat package all the same.

Dead Jaw’s cover design was rendered as a stylish and strange green and black anaglyph that made your eyes ache if you looked at it for long enough. There were supposed to be some 3-D glasses included in the album packaging but I never got mine.

The cover image styled the band – guitarists Poison Ivy, Bryan Gregory and Kid Congo, drummer Nick Knox and Interior – as some kind of fucked-up Addams family amid blackened skulls and rats and dancing skeletons, but photographs of them weren’t so very different. If anything, they actually looked even more fucked when you could see them properly.

It wasn’t any wonder they had a slightly cadaverous appearance, given the sentiments of songs like Garbageman, Drug Train and New Kind Of Kick – where Interior sings “If I could only find, some new kind of kick, something I ain’t had, some new kind of buzz, I wanna go hog-mad ..” before proceeding to list an ever-depleting range of new options, including “Energeen .. Barcol .. Draino Hot-Shot .. Wack Attack .. Helium .. Nitrous Oxide .. Formaldehyde …”

Largely produced by Alex Chilton, Off The Bone showcases a sparse, dog-rough kind of punky rockabilly which was heavily influenced by people like Link Wray, the Sonics and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. It was dirty and ugly and a bit old fashioned and weird and it suited me down to the ground. I may even have bought a pair of crepes.

A mate of mine, John, whose family ran the post office in the village where we lived, has a surname which is similar (well, the first four letters are the same) to Garbageman, so obviously I felt the need to call him John Garbage or Garbageman. Even more hilariously, when she was in the shop one day, my mum was talking to his mum and actually called her Mrs Garbage.

It seemed funny at the time anyway.

Where the album went, I’ve no idea. I bought it again at HMV .. Who am I trying to kid? I got it at Vinyl Exchange, a couple of months back. Without the freaky anaglyph cover, unfortunately, but you can’t have everything.

I’m playing it a lot more than I thought I would.

As for the Cramps themselves, according to their official website, “after a quarter century of mayhem, they’re too far gone to even consider any other course ..”


UPDATE 05/02/09

I always imagined that, post the Skynet-inspired nuclear holocaust, there’d just be the cockroaches, Keef, Iggy and Lux, looking to score. Apparently not.

I suggest you play Garbageman, loud.

Clipping File: Feb. 4, 2009

Lux Interior of the Cramps Passes Away at the Glendale Memorial Hospital

Randall Roberts

L.A. Weekly

For some of us, he was the embodiment of cool. The way he crawled, the way he climbed the speaker cabinets like a panther, the way that Poison Ivy, his wife and collaborator in the Cramps, looked at him with equal parts love and indifference. Lux Interior, born Erick Lee Purkhiser in 1948, was an icon, and his influence on American culture will only rise with his passing.

In 2004, LA Weekly's Jonny Whiteside wrote a great profile of his friends Poison and Lux, and captured the band's essence:

That exhilarating manifestation of deviant intent and skull-denting impact remains Lux and Ivy's exclusive domain. Where punk rock was a barrage of refutation that fomented rabid exultation, the Cramps reclaimed the hillbilly power long since flushed down the Mersey. Through a self-stated "disdain for the myth of musical progress," they melded their mutant propensities to emerge as a guiding voice in the wilderness, a commanding force that redefined the rock n roll spectrum while outgunning almost everyfuckingbody in the game.

The Cramps' New York publicist, Girlie Action, released the following statement:

For Immediate Release:
February 4, 2009

Lux Interior, lead singer of The Cramps, passed away this morning due to an existing heart condition at Glendale Memorial Hospital in Glendale, California at 4:30 AM PST today. Lux has been an inspiration and influence to millions of artists and fans around the world. He and wife Poison Ivy's contributions with The Cramps have had an immeasurable impact on modern music.

The Cramps emerged from the original New York punk scene of CBGB and Max's Kansas City, with a singular sound and iconography. Their distinct take on rockabilly and surf along with their midnight movie imagery reminded us all just how exciting, dangerous, vital and sexy rock and roll should be and has spawned entire subcultures. Lux was a fearless frontman who transformed every stage he stepped on into a place of passion, abandon, and true freedom. He is a rare icon who will be missed dearly.

(via The Daily Swarm)


Here are a few of my artistic (?) tributes to the greater than late Lux Interior and the immortal CRAMPS!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kid Congo Interview 3/10/2010

Earlier this year, Kid Congo was fortunate enough to meet blogger, super Cramps fan, and all-around genius Chuck Miller. The following interview was NOT conducted by Miller, but he put his own picture up here because he's the type that does shit like that. Photo by Susan Wallace.

Posted on Mar 10th 2010 11:58AM by Evan Minsker at

Even if you haven't heard 'Dracula Boots,' the 2009 album by Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds, there's still a very good chance that you've heard Kid Congo Powers' music before. Powers, the former guitarist with the Cramps, the Gun Club and Nick Cave's Bad Seeds, is releasing five 7-inch singles in a subscription series called 'Ten Greasy Pieces' and is currently finishing his memoir. Kid Congo talked to Spinner about the voodoo in his rhythm and dancing the hoochie-coo.

How did the Pink Monkey Birds project start?

The Pink Monkey Birds has gone through many gestations through the past five or six years, maybe longer. But the current version came when I moved out of New York, because my partner got a job in Washington, D.C., where we live now. It was the end of an era sort of thing. But I had just put out a record on a label called New York Night Train, which is run by a friend of mine named Jonathan Toubin. He is from Austin, Texas, and he just kept saying, "Kid, you have to have a Texas rhythm section." So he recommended the bass player, Kiki [Solis]. Ron Miller, who's the drummer, he had just run into. That was probably 2007. The minute I played with the two of them, we all just kind of looked at each other and were like, "Oh, my God, we haven't even learned two songs and it's already incredible!"

How would you describe your sound?

We sound pretty good [laughs]. Just kidding! We get big points on 'American Bandstand' because it has a good beat and you can dance to it. I wanted to make music that was as simple as possible. When I was in The Cramps, what they were trying to get at and what I really understood about them, was they talked about rhythm being like voodoo. Something else takes over when you play it. One prime example is Bo Diddley. That's what all my favorite things are. So we're definitely trying to get some magic out of rhythm, and the idea is to create something simple that creates a new language.

Where did the name "Kid Congo Powers" come from?

That was my Cramps name. I didn't have it before I was in the Cramps. They were like, "You have to have a Cramps name," because it's kind of like a game. I had all these names and I had friends writing lists and Lux [Interior] and I were writing lists, and so we got together with all our lists. Originally, because Bryan Gregory was whose place I was taking, and my actual name is Brian, so I said, "Well maybe my name should be Bryan Gris Gris." But they didn't think that was so funny because they were really mad at him. But Lux had this candle on his mantle, and it was a Congo candle, and on it, it said, "When you light this candle, Congo Powers will be revealed to you." "Congo Powers, that's a great name!" So that was it. And on my list, I had a bunch of "Kids," because I thought it was like a boxer or a pirate.

You're working on a memoir. Could you share a story from the book?

I had my very first punk rock boyfriend in 1978 who lived in San Francisco. I was living in L.A., and I went up to San Francisco because the Sex Pistols were playing. So we went and that was all great and crazy, and then of course I had to stay there for a few days, and my relationship ended. The Sex Pistols broke up, my relationship ended -- it was terrible. I got in this car and there's a huge rainstorm going on. So we decided that we were going to drive back to Los Angeles one evening. The roads were all closed and it was flooded on the highway. So we said, "Oh, we know our way back through the hills." So we're driving the hills and it's raining and getting worse and worse. There was nowhere to stop, but someone said, "I have to piss." So we got out of this van and we just heard this complete rumble of sound, and we realized it was an avalanche. We jumped under the van and just heard the roar of the train going by. And then we heard it stop. We got up, we looked out, and probably 15 feet in front of us was a wall of rocks about 10 feet high. So we turned around and went back to San Francisco.

What are some of your influences?

I've been listening a lot to this radio show online called Intoxica Radio. This DJ, Howie Pyro, who's an old friend of mine, runs a podcast and it's live on Tuesday nights. It's mostly '60s stuff and it's kind of novelty records but also rock 'n' roll records and crazy, obscure garage rock to R&B to pop. He has an incredible collection and he always has weird themes, like "In the Jungle." I've also been collecting so many 45s that I've become a DJ, somehow. Those are more party records -- mostly '50s, '60s stuff.

How about guilty pleasures?

Guilty pleasures? Wow. I don't really have any guilt [laughs]. I just got a single of 'Lady Bump,' by Penny [McLean]. That's a really terrible song, but I really love it. I'm embarrassed to say I like it.

What's your biggest vice?

Hmmm, I don't drink, I don't smoke -- I do dance the hoochie-coo, but I don't know if I consider that a vice. My vice is probably kombucha tea. I'm addicted to it. It's a healthy addiction, though.

What's in your festival survival kit?

Earplugs, aspirin, and a fake ID [laughs].