Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Five Greatest Films Never Seen

Ever heard someone exclaim "You must see that!", "Oh my god I  thought I was the only one to have heard of that" or "I think I remember it, but what happened to it?"
Well this week Retro LadyLand digs up 5 of these amazing movies, lost and forgotten... Time they got a good airing.

The Little girl who lives down the lane 

Directed by Nicholas Gessner, starring a 14 year-old Jodie Foster and Martin Sheen at his very creepiest. This film based on a novel by Laird Gessner centres around Rynn (Foster) who will do anything to protect her house and dark secret that it holds. Sheen plays the characeter Hallet, who has an unwholesome interest in Rynn. 
Jodie and the film Won acclaim with horror aficionados of the time, but, unlike the stars career, disappeared into almost urban legend.
I love this film and think it's not only one of Ms Fosters greatest performances, but after viewing you'll never look at Martin Sheen in the same way again... 

"How old do you have to be before people start treating you like a person" 


The Squeeze 

Directed my Michael Apted and starring Stacey Keach and Edward Fox.
The plot is quite a simple one, ex cop Keach's ex wife is kidnapped and he and the hostages new husband (David Hemmings) decide to take the kidnappers on themselves. 
Considered a forgotten master piece, The Squeeze sadly has been over shadowed by films of the same era and ilk, such as Get Carter.

"Teddy, I'm a Scotch drinker - you know that. I just have the occasional brandy when I'm not drinking" 

Nothing Lasts Forever  

Directed by Tom Schiller, featuring an all star cast of such high profile actors such as Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, John Bellushi and a Gremlins arch nemesis, Zach Galligan and with all the characteristics and stylings of an early Melies 

film. This strangely surreal film centres on a young man, Adam (Galligan) who befriends a tramp after returning to Manhattan - after being exposed as a fraud pianist, and getting a job monitoring traffic for his no-nonsense boss, played by Dan Aykroyd. Adam is informed that the tramps are controlling the cities of the world, and instructs him to journey to the moon to spread peace and search for his true love (Played by Lauren Tom).
Adam boards a Lunar Cruiser heading for the moon - driven by Bill Murray - but does he get there? Well, you're going to have a hard time finding out as this film has never be formally released due to "legal reasons" [although has been hinted at that it was used as a 'tax dodge']. The film is interspersed with many clips from the 1930s that have still to be cleared for use. Warner claimed it was "on the middle burner -- not the front, but not the back." But if it does ever get released, both Aykroyd and Murray are on standby to add some special features to the DVD. 

"You will get everything you want in your lifetime, only you won't get in the way you expect"


Directed by Stanley Donan and starring Richard Burton and Rex Harrison, adapted from a two man stage play by Charles Dyer, this film centres around the two main characters (Burton and Harrison) who play an ageing gay couple, that own a barber shop in the east end of London. The action takes place over one night, while the couple discuss their lives, past and possible separation due to Burton's forthcoming trial for propositioning a policeman.
Film critic Armond White called the film "a rare Hollywood movie to depict gay experience with wisdom, humour and warmth", and "a lost treasure"

"We'll build a staircase up to the sky. We'll not be lonely, flying so high."

The Unknown 

Directed by the cult director Tod Browning, today this film is usually overshadowed by Browning's more famous film "Freaks", but is no less a classic. The story centres around protagonist, 'Alonzo the armless' (Lon Chaney), a knife thrower that uses his feet to toss his weapons. But, unlike his alias, Alonzo does actually have arms, but straps them by his sides, giving the illusion of having a disability, thus creating his character. 
Escaping from a life of crime, Alonzo has a distinguishing characteristic of having an extra thumb on his left hand. So an armless man is a perfect disguise... But, after more twists and turns, murders and discoveries, Alonzo, in love with Nanon, his beautiful assistant, who has a strange aversion to arms, has them amputated so he can be closer to her... And the rest? Well you'll have to see that for yourself.

Critics panned it but actors such as Joan Crawford praised the performances she said that she learned more about acting from working with Chaney in this movie than from everything else in her long career put together. A must see.

"You are a riddle, Nanon. You shrink from me... yet you kiss my flowers when I am gone"

Happy Viewing

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Life in Dubly - An Interview with June Chadwick

My heart was pounding as loud as the music as I sidled up to the back doors of the arena. I thought about backing out, but I knew she was in there, I could feel it, and I had to get to meet her... I was a man obsessed.

Then as I got nearer I saw the bouncers, they looked huge and terrifying: like two silverbacks guarding their young. If I was going to get in there, I'd have to use all my cunning and wit. I checked my forged I.D, it was a pretty good copy, but was it good enough? God, I hoped so. You see I was only 17, although I did look older and with my new skinny-fit jeans and highlights I might just get away with it.

I took long last draw on my ciggy and a swig of my cider and approached the goons.

The taller one stared at me, his expressionless face never changing. "I.D." he said in a baritone drawl. Then, just as I was gingerly pulling out my home-made card, a man with a long bleached perm and shiny trousers came careering out of the doors, and I was flung to the floor. Jesus, what was this guy's problem?

"And stay out!" shouted a third bouncer, this one was even bigger and goonier than the others. He terrified me, but for some crazy reason this wiry little man didn’t seem bothered, too hopped up on something to care, was my guess. He screamed back in a comically high-pitched Welsh accent, retorting "Or what then?" The bouncer looked taken a back, he'd probably never had anyone retaliate before and, growling to himself, he turned to go back inside. Suddenly this freakin’ guy sprang to his feet and jumped on the bouncer's back, screaming and kicking. During all this commotion I remained on the floor, it felt unreal and was making my head spin. Then I felt two hands on my arms and I was lifted up. "You look harmless kid," came that same low tone, "Quick get inside before this joker gets crazy." Crazy? How more crazy could it be?

I rushed inside, sweat pouring from me, and snaked my way through the people and props. Two little people came past me, shouting at each other and carrying what looked like a scaled down copy of Stonehenge. There was a man carrying a large pod, mumbling to himself about it not opening properly, there were groupies and roadies and a blond-haired man with a cricket bat smashing things, it was like a circus. But I couldn't see her anywhere.

The music was getting louder, I knew I was nearing the stage. She must be there, watching in the wings. Suddenly I saw them... the band, Spinal Tap! They weren't actually on the stage yet. They stopped and asked me directions, and I said that I wasn't sure but I guessed - from the sound of the intro music - that it was nearby. Then I asked them where she was, they told me to follow them.

After getting lost, asking the way again, getting lost again and a lot of 'Rock and Roll' shouting, we found the stage and the band rushed on, and that's when when I saw her. Like a goddess, she was sitting on an unused speaker, dressed in Spandex and fringed scarves. Her heavy make-up accented her beautiful features, she looked like a heavy metal princess sitting on her Thrown of Rock, this was the one and only June Chadwick, aka Jeanine Pettibone.

I approached her cautiously, I knew better than to jump in too quickly, that's how I'd frightened away Patti Smith. 

I spoke tentatively - "Hi" I said. I must have seemed like a little kid to her, she turned
and stared at me. I clumsily searched for my notepad in my breast pocket. Removing it I muttered "Can I ask you a couple of questions? It’s for Retro LadyLand Magazine..." I flashed her my library card, she wasn't to know that it was really for my school paper.

She looked me up and down and nodded nonchalantly. She was so cool, I prayed that I wasn’t about to make an arse of myself.

I started reading my questions:

So June, some have described Jeanine as the Yoko Ono of Spinal Tap, did you base her on anyone?

"I never thought of Yoko actually.  I based Jeanine on how I  felt about David and his success (of course) with the band .  In fact I was a classical musician, but grew into heavy metal!"

These words were like music to my ears: heavy metal music.

Everything seemed so natural, how much of the film was improvisation?

"Everything was improv.  We had story points to cover but no written dialogue."

I couldn’t help but notice her outfit, who couldn't? I just had to ask.

Jeanine was described by Iain as dressing like an 'Australian's nightmare', how much of this was your input?

"Most of the clothes were my own -  I was quite hip in those days!  The wardrobe lady helped me to put everything together that didn't go together!"

I knew that she had been living in the U.S. for a long time now, but her Warwickshire accent still shone through. I knew that some of the others' accents were put on, so I was prepared for my next question.

As a Brit, how did you rate your co-stars accents? Did you ever have to correct their pronunciation? 

"I had to audition for the role with improvising and I was amazed at how accurate their accents were.  Chris's father is a Brit and he taught the others.   They are all brilliant comedy actors and writers, but I didn't know who anyone was at the time."

Now the conversation was flowing, and I was feeling more relaxed.

I bet it was fun filming! Was there much corpsing?

"We couldn't 'corpse' without ruining the scene since it couldn't be repeated.  There were times when the camera kept rolling and it got funnier and funnier - e.g. the intro of the 'black' label and waiting for the 100 fans (not) to appear in the record store.  I often had to think of being somewhere completely different and not really listen (which fortunately quite suited the character!)  Not visibly biting my lip became an art."
So, how did you land the role?

"It came down to a choice between me and another actress who was quite famous. The fact that I didn't expect them to pull off the accents probably helped my attitude!  We had a great time and really clicked in the audition I remember

Did you even realise how iconic the film was going to be? 

"No, I had no idea of the film's future."

I listened intently, but in the back of my mind all I could hear was her saying; You don't do heavy metal in Dubly” and "I’ve told them a hundred times: put ‘Spinal Tap’ first and ‘Puppet Show’ last”. I wondered if she had ever got heckled?

"Nobody ever recognized me without the clothes and accent unless I was at a screening!"

Now, I had obviously watched June on many other films and TV shows, like V, The A-Team and The Evil Below, but always hoped we’d see Jeanine again, so I asked;

Was there any truth in the rumour of a sequel?

"None of us wanted to do a sequel.  The band was on tour anyway and sequels have a tendency to be second best.  Part of the movie's success was that a lot of people thought it was a real band!!  We did however do a "Where are they now?" for a TV movie."

Are you still in touch with any of the guys? 

"Barely.  My passions now are outside of the 'biz' - teaching the Alexander Technique and spending time with my 4 horses, dog and 3 cats (oh -  and husband)."

I suddenly realized that the band was just finishing up 'Big Bottom', ready to come off for a breather and a costume change, so I quickly asked my final question.

If you could put together a perfect Tap-esque band, who would the Jeanine be?

"Hmm...I'd try Jennifer Lawrence or Adele."

Just then the music stopped and the band came running off stage to thunderous applause. David grabbed June's hand and dragged her off, mumbling something about armadillos and trousers and she was gone, my heavy metal princess out of my life.

Then, just as I got up to leave, wondering what to do next there was a huge ‘BOOM!’ I nearly jumped out of my skin. Something nearby had exploded! The crowd gasped, people ran around in panic and I ran onto the stage where the sound had come from, to find myself staring straight at a smoking drum kit. Not again...

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Any Way the Wind Blows - An Interview with Don Preston

It was hot, hotter than the Hotplate Heaven at the Green Hotel, and I needed a ride.

I was a drifter, a loner, and that’s just how I liked it. All I needed for a friend was a full pack of smokes, my precious guitar my daddy have given me and the cold hard road, and today... well, today I was going anywhere the wind led me.

I stuck out my thumb and held on to my crudely painted sign. 'Will play for a lift' it read - I couldn't count the times people had stopped, thinking the sign said 'pay for a lift' and then sped off again. Hell, I wasn't that bad, could string a note or two together, something that wouldn't hurt the ears. I was no pro, but I was a trier, and isn't that what counts?

The California sun beat down on my head, beads of sweat snaked their way down my spine making my shirt looked like I'd just been swimming, cars zoomed past. No one seemed to want to stop for a long haired drifter with a wet shirt and a bashed up old Gibson, but I had faith, I had to have.

I had traveled a long way and had gotten into a lot of cars, and a lot of cars meant a lot of conversations. A couple of nuns in an Cadillac convertible picked me up just outside of New York City and got me all the way to Vegas, and boy those girls could talk, about everything and anyone. Hell, I'm not a religious guy, but if I was I'd still be hail-marying now. And from the size and weight of their bags, I'm not sure those 'nuns' were completely on the level. Those slots were going to take a pounding with the church's collection, and that church roof? Well, that'd be waiting a while before it's water tight again.

Then I got two newlyweds in a Desoto. Those guys were free with their happiness and their cash, jeeze, I ate and drank well on that journey, steak dinners, two bottles of French champagne, and I can live with that. But then things got heavy. Turned out that they'd only known each other 2 weeks and it wasn’t too far outside Sin City before the honeymoon was over. Next I got a suicidal banker. I didn't ask why, I didn't want to know why, I just didn't stay in that car long. And then there was this old dude in a Ford pick-up looked like he'd seen a thing or two in his life, told me stories about his pappy and the gold rush. In an hour and a half we had only driven 25 miles, but he made me smile and that doesn't come for free.

So now I was here; sign in hand, thumb out waiting for that next lift to somewhere. The minutes turned into hours, it was a long, lonely road.

Looking ahead in the distance, I saw a car: a cherry red convertible with chrome alloys and my kinda music coming from the stereo. As it slowly appeared over the horizon - the ripple of the heat distorting its image - I wondered for a second whether it was some sort of an mirage, but no it kept coming closer and then, as if I was given a gift from the heavens, the car slowed and stopped at my feet.

I bent down and removed my cowboy hat ready to ask how far they were going, but when I saw who had stopped my heart skipped a beat and my mouth hung open.

"Well, are you getting in or not?" came the voice in an unmistakable Michigan drawl.
"You're... You're...," I stuttered, stumbling over my words "Don Preston... musician... Keyboard.... Mothers of Invention... "

"Grandmothers these days kid," he replied as I opened the door and got in.

The car pulled off. I couldn't believe it, this was the Don Preston, a man whose music had birthed me into the 50s, suckled me through the 60s, and brought me kicking and screaming into life after that. This was a man who'd played with the likes of Johnnie Ray, Connie Francis, Flo and Eddie, Yoko Ono, John Lennon and Frank freakin' Zappa! Man! This dude was a legend, and I was in a car with him...

He asked where I was going, and I replied "Any way the wind blows". He smiled, I knew he'd like that.

I chose my words carefully as we chatted, my nerves were shot but I had to ask him some questions. I noticed a half open tub of pasta salad on the floor at my feet, this guy wasn't stopping. This was my one chance. I knew that he'd just finished a tour.

So, Mr Preston, sir, how are you? Are you on your way home?

"Yeah, Well I’m ok, I’ve just got off a tour."

Good time to relax, touring must be tiring I thought, if only I actually knew.

I resisted the urge to talk about his time with Frank Zappa for all of 10 seconds. Then I just couldn’t help myself, I had to find out how they'd met.

"You mean how did I meet Frank? Well ahh, we were both playing at a festival in different bands, and we were kinda stuck on the same stage in the middle of this venue, there were like about four stages. Anyway we met each other and exchanged cards."

And you all liked each other’s music?

"Yeah, very much, like he had the same records that I did and vice versa so we kinda gravitated toward each other that way and I had a band that was rehearsing, it was an experimental band and I invited Zappa to come over and he came over and really liked it a lot. Bunk was in the band at the time. We were improvising to films of microscopic life and other weird films and Zappa came over a whole bunch of times bringing some film with him as well, but that’s how we kinda got to know each other."

I'd heard a lot about Frank Zappa from magazines and documentaries, but here was my chance to really find out, so I asked what he was like when they first started off.

"He was very warm, very nice, very intelligent, later on he became a bit of a tyrant trying to get the best out of the music that he could. But at that time he was more interested in just getting someone to play his music and he was grateful to have someone play his music."

A tyrant eh? I dug deeper, did he change?

"Not really, I mean uhh… I think really when I played with the 74 band I did see a change. Then he was more business-like, he was more demanding of the music, but still having a lot of fun."

Anyway, I said, enough of Frank, what about you?  You've performed with so many amazing people and played at so many amazing places. What has your career highlight been?
"Well I would have to say that probably one of the early highlights would have to be playing in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. That was a place that I know as a child because I had a number of records that were recorded there like the rites of spring for instance. I had a 78 recording of that. So when I get there and I’m sitting on the stage I was kind of overwhelmed, it was such an incredible thing."

Wow, I thought with a hint of jealousy, incredible… So who were you with at that time?

"That was the first band, you know Jimmy Carl Black, I believe Ray Collins and Billy Mundi, Roy Estrada, Bunk Gardner and Ian Underwood I think was in the band by that time actually no, Ian wasn’t in the band at that time I don’t think."

Now you’ve had so many highpoints, there must have been low points?"Uhh… Well one of the problems with that question is that people don’t remember that bad parts of their lives as well as they remember the good parts… I can’t answer that other than one of the low points was when the band split up!"

We laughed for a while at this, the guy had an amazing life and career, who would want to remember the bad times?
He slipped a CD into the deck and we listened without talking for a while. I studied the CD cover, ‘We’re only in it for the money’, it was worth the silence. I studied the cover art, a parody of the Sgt. Pepper album, I spotted Don, in the front and thought to myself 'wow this man has played with so many amazing people', I wondered aloud if there was anyone he would like to have played with?

"Oh ha ha ha! Well, I would say one of the person I would love to have played with was Elvin Jones, 'cos I played with him for two years when I was very young and I only played bass, so I would have loved to have been able to play with him when I was more developed and also play keyboard with him."

The album finished and I searched for my favourite, the tune ‘Anything’ from the album ‘Cruising with Ruben and the Jets’, I couldn’t see it in his collection so I asked him what his favourite song was?

"One of my own songs? One of my favourite songs is called ‘Inner Blues’ that was on a trio album I did. [The Don Preston Trio 2001 – Transformation]"

As we pulled off the highway I guessed that my time would be over soon. I remember the kids in my home town thinking I was crazy to still be drifting like I did, I wondered what Don thought Frank would say if he knew Don was still touring with the Grandmothers? He replied, "Ha ha, he’d probably be amazed as I am."

Don said he was turning off and I knew what that meant, time for me to leave him. We pulled up on the side of the road, I got out and we said our goodbyes. But I had to ask just one more question, and there could only be one to ask…

Do you use a chicken to measure it?

"Actually I did have a number of chickens to measure it and I find that people are always presenting me with these chickens you know when I go on a tour. So I’ve collected about 5 of them so far. So yes, I have used a chicken to measure that I have quite a few chickens!"

I watched as he drove off; my hero. I would never see him again but that lift would stand as the greatest I ever had while I was on the road. I might never have another chance to rub shoulders with greatness, but at least I still had my music. And, as he disappeared into the sunset, I shaded my eyes as the sun glinted off something shiny on the back seat of his car. I thought for a minute that it was a spark of his genius but no, it wasn’t until I went to pick up my belongings that I realised - aww shucks - it was my Gibson.

You can find out more about Don and his fascinating career at:
or look up the 'Grandmothers of Invention' on Facebook.