Monday 27 February 2023

Exploito All’Italiana:
The Weapon, The Hour, The Motive
(Francesco Mazzei, 1972)

Although you wouldn’t necessarily know it from reading this weblog, I spend a lot of my time watching Italian gialli. Why I’ve so rarely written about them over the years, I’m not quite sure, as there is undoubtedly still a lot to be said about this feverishly creative and endlessly rewarding genre, even beyond the efforts made by the multitude of English language critics and commentators who’ve taken a crack at it over the years.

It feels fittingly perverse therefore that I should break the fast of giallo content in these pages, not by looking at any of the more celebrated or representative examples of the genre, but by instead turning my attention to what is, by anyone’s standards, an extremely marginal entry in the canon. Indeed, it’s probably fair to say that one-shot director Francesco Mazzei’s 1972 magnum opus ‘L’arma, L’ora, Il Movente’ languished in near total obscurity until Arrow saw fit to reissue it as part of a blu-ray box set last year. (1)

Suffice to say, even now that it’s easily obtainable, ‘L’arma..’ is unlikely to make it onto many giallo fanatics’ top ten lists. To be honest, I’m not even sure it would even make my top fifty at this point. But, it is at least incredibly strange, which counts for a lot around these parts - especially when it comes to inspiring me to hit the keyboard and begin trying to figure out what the bloody hell I just watched.

Of course, we all know there are a lot of very strange gialli out there, and seasoned fans of Italian genre cinema will have long since learned delight in these films’ refusal to abide by the dreary rules of narrative logic which American (and indeed British) culture have hammered into most of us from birth. But… ‘L’arma..’ is not really one of those films, if you know what I mean.

In fact, for much of its run time, it’s a perfectly linear murder mystery / police procedural kind of joint, doggedly moving from A to B…. except when it suddenly decides it would rather spend some time hanging around in Q or X instead, which is where the fascination begins. Returning to the jigsaw metaphor I was utilising just last month, it’s a film full of bulbous, misshapen pieces which stubbornly fail to coalesce into any kind of coherent whole, no matter how long you spend trying to force them into place.

So, let’s get down to cases. Basically our setting here seems to be a convent, located somewhere in rural southern Italy. Our characters are the strange gaggle of people who either live at the convent, work there, or just inexplicably hang around, enjoying the suspiciously boozy and indulgent meals which seem to be frequently served in the institution’s bucolic gardens.

Central to this social milieu is Don Giorgio (Maurizio Bonuglia), an attractive, blonde-haired young priest, who is soon revealed to be having affairs with not one, but two, married women. In fact, he is currently in the process of ditching teacher and wife-of-rich-businessman Orchidea (Bedy Moratti) in order to devote more of his time to tarot card reader and alleged ‘witch’ Giulia (Eva Czemerys). In addition, he has also attracted the steadfast devotion of almond-eyed nun Sister Tarquinia (played by the magnificently named Claudia Gravy), who insists with barely-concealed lust that Don Giorgio is “..a saint”. (1)

In a certain sense, perhaps Don Giorgio’s enthusiastic embrace of the ways of the flesh could be seen to reflect a devotion to the same kind of transcendent, non-denominational spirituality practiced by Oliver Reed’s character in Ken Russell’s ‘The Devils’, carrying with it the same implied critique of papal dogma and clerical celibacy… but, as with so many things, Mazzei’s film never really gets its ducks in line sufficiently well to express this idea very clearly.

Meanwhile, much screen time is also devoted to the travails of a small boy named Ferruccio (Arturo Trina), who appears to live at the convent. Late in the film, a throwaway line of dialogue belatedly informs us that he is an orphan whom the nuns have unofficially adopted, but I don’t think we’re ever offered an explanation as to why they keep him confined to his bedroom, or why the aforementioned Orchidea visits him each day to administer some kind of injection.

Anyway, before long, Don Giorgio is found dead - stabbed in the back whilst seated at the organ in the convent’s chapel - and down-at-heel, motorcycle-riding Commissario Bioto (veteran comedy actor Renzo Montagnani) is soon on the scene, determined to crack the case in his best bumbling Maigret / Columbo type manner.

Soon though, the Commissario also finds himself smitten by Orchidea, instigating a romantic relationship which takes him way beyond the realm of professionalism, given that she is both a prime suspect in the murder case, and, lest we forget, already married.

So far then, a pretty standard issue whodunit, seasoned with a heady mix of religion, rural Southern superstition, sexual intrigue and implied child abuse which will inevitably remind genre fans of Lucio Fulci’s classic ‘Don’t Torture a Duckling’, even as Mazzei immediately steers things in an entirely different direction.

Because, really, it is the extraordinary series of non-sequiturs which accumulate on the fringes of this central plotline which make ‘L’arma, L’ora, Il Movente’ stand out.

We’ve already mentioned the strangeness of poor Ferruccio’s situation, which in most films would surely be treated as an immediate red flag that something nefarious is going on at the convent. But here, everybody - the police included - just seems to take it for granted that the nuns keep a drugged orphan locked in his bedroom.

Meanwhile, we’re also treated to what I can only describe as several one-off outbursts of gratuitous nunsploitation (an addition which is certainly in keeping with director Mazzei’s history as the producer of several mondo and sexploitation titles during the ‘60s).

At one point, the nuns strip off and begin indulging in an extended bout of topless self-flagellation, working themselves up into a state of orgasmic frenzy as a gliding camera tracks them against a black background; a scene which, again, invites comparison to ‘The Devils’, but, beyond its value as pure exploitation, it has no wider significance to anything else which happens in the film in thematic/narrative terms.

Even stranger is a subsequent scene, in which the nuns all take a shower together (still wearing their bloomers and gym slips), and appear entirely unconcerned when the heretofore unmentioned leering, snaggle-toothed ex-con gardener character suddenly wanders in to invade their privacy. The “joke”, I suppose, is that they then all lose their shit in predictably comedic fashion when the Commissario’s bungling sidekick Moriconi (Salvatore Puntilo) inadvertently intrudes on them, but… so many unanswered questions here. Rather than the sexy comic interlude which was presumably intended, it basically all just seems - at the risk of repeating myself - really strange.

The incongruous antics of the nuns pale into insignificance though once we get deeper into the film and find ourselves assaulted with several full strength descents into - albeit potentially unintentional - surrealism.

One of these occurs when young Ferruccio, fleeing from Orchidea as she pursues him wielding a syringe, descends to the cellars beneath the convent, where, incredibly, he enters a chamber full of cobweb-covered skeletons, arranged in some kind of morbid diorama, clad in moth-eaten regal vestments and bearing bejewelled medieval goblets!

Up to this point, I should clarify, the film has featured no hint of overt gothic horror imagery whatsoever, and yet here we are suddenly in the midst of an extraordinary feat of production design, straight out of Mario Bava or Riccardo Freda’s darkest nightmares.

Of course, neither Ferruccio nor Orchidea seem at all perturbed by this. It’s never mentioned in dialogue, never explained, and the set is never returned to. The characters simply run straight through it all as if it weren’t there.

So, what in the absolute hell is going on here?! Has something crucial been lost in translation, perhaps? Do convents in southern Italy routinely keep ancient skeletons posed in elaborate tableaus in their basements? Would domestic audiences have recognised this as an accepted phenomenon and taken it in their stride? I have no idea. (A more likely explanation perhaps is that the film’s crew just stumbled upon the set for a gothic horror movie shooting on a adjacent sound stage and decided, “eh, why not”?)

Either way though, this merely amplifies the confusion for those of us earnestly trying to figure out where in the hell ‘L’Arma..’ is coming from. I mean - murdered horny priests, sexually frenzied nuns with very strange showering arrangements, imprisoned orphans, skeleton dioramas in the basement… not to mention the fact there’s a ‘witch’ hanging around the place, and boozy dinners for sleazy local benefactors regularly going on in the gardens. In any - ahem - ‘normal’ film, a picture would surely be being painted here of a corrupt/decadent institution in which something very, very bad indeed is going on - but, nope.

Somehow, ‘L’arma..’s narrative never draws any connection between these isolated events. Outside of those directly suspected of Don Giorgio’s murder, no one at the convent is ever accused of conspiracy or foul play by the screenplay. Seemingly, day-to-day life in this whacko nunnery is going just fine so far as Mazzei and his co-writers are concerned, give or take perhaps some broad criticism of Catholic dogma and its attendant hypocrisies.

Weirder still though is the segment of the film which I will simply refer to as, “all that business with the restaurant”.

Long story short: in the throes of their new love, Orchidea and Commissario Bioto at one point go motoring off into the countryside, and stop on a whim at a restaurant located within an idyllic country villa. Therein, things take on an almost fantastical / fairy tale quality, as they are seated at a grand table in the centre of an otherwise empty palatial living room, and presented with a ridiculously extravagant bill of fare (bowls piled high with fruit, entire cakes, decanters of wine, etc.).

Suddenly though, it’s ‘David Lynch directs’, as Orchidea disappears, and the restaurant’s proprietors (an older lady and - we presume - her daughter) lurk around in the corners of the room, staring menacingly at their remaining guest.

“I have a son in Haiti,” the older lady announces. 
“Tahiti..?” ventures Bioto, confused. 
“No, Haiti.” 
The conversation ends there.

Bioto then rises, and POV camerawork takes us on a tour through the labyrinthine corridors of the building, until he eventually finds Orchidea reclining in a bedroom, ready to receive him in her arms for a bout of off-screen passion.

Again, I feel there may be a certain element of cross-cultural confusion playing out here. Would this whole set-up have been something contemporary Italian viewers would have recognised? Was this restaurant, say, the kind of place where rich folk in rural areas might have routinely gone to enjoy illicit liaisons of one kind or another? Was there some some element of the food or decor which may have explained the elderly lady’s strange conversation?

Anyway. Back at the convent, Commissario Bioto receives an anonymous note, advising him to investigate the restaurant he just visited in connection with Don Giorgio’s death. Returning, he finds a workman taking down the restaurant’s shingle. This man casually informs him that the joint has closed down because, “the proprietors have been murdered(!)”

Entering the building, Bioto engages in a brief chase and scuffle with an initially unseen intruder, who is soon revealed to be his own colleague Moriconi, who also saw the note and got there before him. After a bit of mutual backslapping and exasperation, the pair leave, and the whole business with the restaurant is never mentioned again.

So, let me get this straight. Our protagonist here is a homicide detective. When visiting a restaurant to follow up a lead on the case he’s investigating, he’s told that the people he wishes to question have been murdered, and, after mooching around for a few minutes, his reaction is basically, “eh, never mind then, none of my business”..?

And from a commercial filmmaking POV meanwhile…. wouldn’t a scene in which a pair of women are stalked and killed within a beautiful old villa have been just this ticket to boost this film’s (otherwise rather scant) giallo / horror credentials..? We know from events elsewhere in the film that Mazzei wasn’t averse to a bit of totally gratuitous exploitation, so why just report this potentially shocking and exciting occurrence second-hand via a throwaway line of dialogue?

I can’t claim any insight into what might have been going on behind the scenes on ‘L’arma, L’ora, Il Movente’, but - to repeat myself once again - some of the decisions taken here seem very strange.

Speaking of giallo / horror credentials meanwhile, based on what I’ve written so far, readers might be forgiven for questioning the extent to which ‘L’arma..’ even qualifies as a giallo at all, at least in the Argento/Bava-derived sense usually employed in the English-speaking world.

Indeed, I was wondering the same thing myself up until the exact halfway point of the film, when somebody seems to have suddenly woken up and remembered the conventions of the then-extremely popular genre the film’s financing and eventual marketing was clearly geared toward [see the poster at the top of this review]. So, without further ado, a female character is murdered by a scissor-wielding POV camera, in a startling and technically well-executed scene as shocking, fetishistic and borderline misogynistic as anything you’d find in a contemporary Sergio Martino or Umberto Lenzi picture.

This scene is brief, only loosely motivated by the plot, and - you will probably not be surprised to hear by this point - nothing remotely similar happens at any other point in the film. But, it earns it its “Hi! I’m a giallo” badge, which was presumably the point of the exercise.

Now, dedicated genre fans will be aware of course that there is a distinct sub-set of lower tier Italian movies (often by first-time / one-time directors) which are disjointed to the point of being almost entirely incoherent. (Angelo Pannacciò’s lamentable ‘Sex of the Witch’ (1973) immediately springs to mind as an example.)

The difference though is that those films tend to be cheap, obviously amateurish affairs, whereas ‘L’arma, L’ora, Il Movente’ is actually quite a lavish production by comparison. The staging and camerawork is generally very good, executed with a certain amount of stylistic flair. The locations and production design are excellent, and most of the performances are entirely credible. Somebody clearly spent some money on this thing, and put some thought into it.

And, as I outlined towards the start of this review, neither is this one of those Italian horror movies which seek to evoke a flat-out crazy or disorientating atmosphere, revelling in delirium and oneiric weirdness for its own sake. Outside of the assorted oddities I’ve outlined above, the setting of ‘L’arma..’ is broadly realistic, and the tone is measured, assured and, if not exactly ‘serious’, at least fairly sincere in its intent - a fact which makes all the head-scratching diversions feel even stranger.

In trying to make sense of the succession of non-sequiturs which comprises so much of ‘L’arma..’s run time therefore, I found myself turning to some of the ideas explored by the critic Mikel J. Koven in his 2006 book La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film.

Therein, amongst other things, Koven seeks to draw attention to the context in which these movies were consumed and experienced by domestic audiences at the time of their release, and how this may in turn have fed into the development of subsequent films within the genre - an aspect of their existence which is all too easy to overlook in an era when we are far more likely to view them in an isolated, epicurean manner in our own homes.

In a review of Koven’s book published by Senses of Cinema, Alexia Kannas concisely summarises his arguments on this point as follows:

“..Koven draws on Wagstaff’s analysis of prima, seconda and terza visione (first, second and third run) cinemas. Both writers liken the giallo’s terza visione audience to that of a televisual (rather than cinematic) audience who talk, drink, smoke and are mobile during the screening. This is certainly useful for both indicating to and reminding the reader that, with gialli, we are not necessarily looking at classical narratives of cohesion or linear construction, but to something else of cinematic value.”

It is probably worth noting at this point that, unlike many higher profile Italian exploitation films, ‘L’arma, L’ora, Il Movente’ was clearly not made with foreign distribution in mind. Aside from the cultural specificities discussed above, no English dub ever seems to have been created for the film, suggesting that Mazzei and his collaborators were not under pressure to consider the expectations of an overseas (for which read: American) audience when assembling their final cut.

Reframed through this lens, and via the context of the terza visione screening experience which Koven helpfully reminds us of, a film like ‘L’arma..’ suddenly, miraculous, starts to make sense.

What might our hypothetical terza visione patron - say, a working joe in some provincial town - have taken away from a movie like this, assuming he took it in which one eye on the screen, in between heading out to the lobby for a few smokes, buying a lollypop, chatting to a local shop owner about business, and yelling at so-and-so’s son for trying to feel up such-and-such’s daughter in the back row..?

Well, I reckon our man probably have broadly followed the drift of Commissario Bioto’s murder investigation and been satisfied with its mildly ingenious conclusion, much in the same way we might get the gist of an episode of a TV detective show whilst absent-mindedly flipping between channels.

He might have enjoyed Renzo Montagnani’s eminently likeable performance as the Commissario, and might even have been touched by his ill-fated romance with the leading lady, or his burgeoning paternal relationship with the young orphan.

Beyond that though, he would totally have remembered a few of the way-out images which might have forcibly drawn his attention back to the screen every now and then. Freaky nuns! Skeletons! A chick in a mini-skirt getting slashed across her tits!

For better or for worse, these are the kind of things that tend to make an impression on an inattentive audience, then as now. And, whether our man was exhilarated or appalled by such spectacles, maybe, just perhaps, they might have inspired him to start telling his co-workers about the film the next day, prompting them to get down to the cinema in turn to check this shit out for themselves.

As to why all these things happen in the film, how they all fit together, the jarring shifts in tone they create, and all the other things which are liable to torment us 21st century cinephiles as we sit down in our darkened screening rooms paying close attention to ‘L’arma, L’ora, Il Movente’ from beginning to end…. well, that’s just so much water under the bridge, so long as it kind of feels like a proper movie from a distance, and so long as our man’s pals turned out the next night and coughed up a few lira for their tickets.

Francesco Mazzei’s brief filmography as a producer suggests he’d had a hard scrabble through the lower depths of the Italian film industry in the decade or so before he finally stepped up to make ‘L’arma, L’ora, Il Movente’. Contrary to what we self-styled giallo connoisseurs might think as we try to puzzle our way through his oblique intentions today, I’m sure he knew his business well enough to understand exactly what he doing back in 1972 - and there’s a fair chance it paid off for him too. 


(1) Also including Giuseppe Bennati’s excellent gothic giallo ‘The Killer Reserved Nine Seats’ and Silvio Amadio’s enjoyably frivolous, Rosalba Neri-starring trifle ‘Smile Before Death’, safe to say Giallo Essentials: Black gets a big thumbs up from these quarters, even though I’d question the deeply misleading “essentials” tag assigned to these sets.

(2) To save clogging up the main text with an extended round of who-was-in-what, let’s get it all out of the way here instead. Maurizio Bonuglia has prime giallo cred, having appeared as Mimsy Farmer’s arsehole boyfriend in ‘The Perfume of The Lady in Black’, and Franco Nero’s pal in ‘The Fifth Cord’. Eva Czemerys is probably best remembered for meeting with a memorably sadistic end as one half of the ill-fated lesbian couple in the aforementioned ‘The Killer Reserved Nine Seats’. Claudio Gravy became something of a minor sexploitation star during the ‘70s, with appearances in the likes of ‘Byleth: The Demon of Incest’, ‘The Nun and the Devil’ and ‘La Llamada de Sexo’, as well the expected avalanche of largely forgotten sex comedies; she continued to work prolifically in film and TV right through the ‘90s and ‘00s. Despite being effectively second billed, Bedy Moratti is probably the least recognisable face in the central cast here; though she played small roles in a handful of noteworthy films between 1968 and 1975, her career never seems to have really taken off.

Monday 13 February 2023

Book Review:
Wheels of Light:
Designs for British Light Shows 1970-1990
by Kevin Foakes
(Four Corners, 2022)

Ever since I first began to develop an interest in psychedelic rock as a teenager, the elusive presence of those bubbling, multi-layered liquid light shows which we’re led to believe routinely accompanied performances and ‘happenings’ during the 1960s has always fascinated me. Although I’ve only been lucky enough to witness proper, analogue light shows on a few (distant and poorly remembered) occasions, I feel that they represent an underappreciated and under-utilised DIY art form which has never really been given its due over the over the years.

As such, I was immediately on-board when I learned that Kevin Foakes (aka DJ Food) had a new book coming out via the estimable Four Corners Irregulars imprint, cataloguing his researches into the history of light shows in the UK.

The first thing to note here is that, by Foakes’ own admission, visual evidence of the development of light shows during the ‘60s is sketchy in the extreme. Over the course of a few pages, we learn that the ‘bubbling coloured oil’ type lighting effects primarily associated with the psychedelic era were first brought to these shores in 1964, when avant garde practitioners Mark Boyle and Joan Hills (aka The Boyle Family) utilised them in a series of stand-alone environmental art pieces in central London.

At some point thereafter, Boyle and Hills hooked up with the legendary UFO Club, presenting their, dangerous and occasionally explosive, lighting techniques as but one element of the full spectrum sensory overload envisioned by UFO founders Joe Boyd and John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, no doubt inspiring the eager young practitioners who in turn went on to create way-out lighting experiences for the likes of Pink Floyd, Soft Machine and Dantalian’s Chariot.

It was from this hallowed scene that the first business centred around hiring/selling liquid light show equipment - Krishna Lights, based at 13 Goodge St - emerged, but, with this important pre-history established, ‘Wheels of Light’ swiftly leaves the psychedelic splendour of the ‘60s far behind, focusing instead on the leaner years of the 1970s, when a more established commercial niche for light show projection equipment began to emerge, its focus necessarily becoming more diffuse, both geographically and aesthetically.

By the early ‘70s, specialist retailers like Optikinetics, Pluto and Orion were operating not out of the trendy West End, but from shop fronts and industrial units in such far-flung locales as Luton, Colchester and Penge. Though there was some crossover of personnel from the UFO/Floyd days, these enterprises were staffed not by acid-guzzling hippie agitators, but by nerdy blokes with backgrounds in electronics or engineering, who saw an opportunity to make a living from lenses, bulbs and moulded plastic gizmos.

And, naturally enough, as the excesses of psychedelic rock fell out of fashion, and as the scene’s surviving practitioners moved on to bigger venues and more professional/purpose-built stage shows, these firms needed to widen their remit, appealing to a broader and potentially more mainstream range of potential customers.

But, who in the hell might they be, exactly?! This is the unanswered question which lies behind much of the more curious material in ‘Patterns of Light’, as the book becomes less a celebration of the psychedelic counter-culture, and more of an exploration of a previously neglected form of suburban folk-art, very much in line with Four Corners’ earlier, excellent, volumes on CB Radio Cards and UFO drawings.

By the point at which most of the material in this book was created, projected light shows had largely abandoned the messy and dangerous business of bubbling inks and oils, and - at least in their commercial capacity - were instead largely centred around the use of customised (or custom built) slide projectors. These could be loaded up with either 3” ‘effects cassettes’, used to generate abstract, kaleidoscopic / op-art patterns such as the one seem on the book’s cover, or larger 6” ‘picture wheels’, which allowed a rolling, circular display of themed artwork to be projected in magnified form - and it is on the latter that most of Foakes’ book naturally concentrates.

Probably the most famous examples of these ‘picture wheels’ are the ones created by ‘space artist’ David A. Hardy for Hawkwind’s ‘Space Ritual’ tour in 1972, and subsequently reproduced as part of the artwork for the resulting live album and sold under license by Optikinetics.

‘Space Ritual’ wheel by David A. Hardy

So far, so psychedelic, and indeed, this kind of traditionally ‘way out’ imagery remained a proponent component of the lighting companies’ product over the years. At the same time though, many of the picture wheels reproduced herein date from 1977, ‘78 or ’79, by which point surely no remotely fashionable rock band or night club would countenance the idea of using a projected light show at all, let alone subject their audiences to the unhinged mixture of kid’s bedroom wallpaper designs, seaside postcard sleaze and new age kitsch being proffered at the time by Pluto or Orion.

I mean, can you even imagine what kind of terminally naff event would make use of Orion’s ‘punk rock’ picture wheel (featuring Beano-esque figures of mohawked thugs stomping around vibrating amplifiers), never mind their ‘wild west’, ‘smurf’ and ‘torture’ lines?

‘Daffy Disco’ wheel by Steve Maher (Orion Lighting, 1974)

Some semblance of an answer can be found in a passage of the text in which Pluto founder Micky Thompson notes that, by the dawn of the 1980s, the customers of his rivals at Optikinetics were largely proprietors of mobile discos, whilst his own company catered instead to what he calls, “the domestic Saturday night party projector”.

Regarding the former, I certainly went to a school disco or two in my time, and I don’t specifically recall any pirates or cowboys being projected across the assembly hall walls, but yes - mobile discos. That makes sense.

As to the “domestic Saturday night” crowd meanwhile…. well, the mind fairly boggles. At this point, it’s probably worth noting that another thing which stands out about the artwork reproduced in ‘Wheels of Light’ is just how damn smutty (in a distinctly British, 1970s kind of way) much of it is. Drawings of ladies with their boobs out are a frequent presence, as are photo-collages assembled from porno mags, spread across a range of picture wheels which includes such provocative titles as ‘glamour’, ‘stripper’, ‘flesh’, ‘naughty girls’, and the ever-popular ‘roman orgy’.

Clearly these risqué picture wheels must have sold well, as each of the companies featured in the book seems to have offered their own variations on the theme. How many man-caves, private dungeons and swingers’ parties hid behind the pebble-dashed façade of ‘70s suburbia, with lights dimmed and projectors cranked up to create just the right atmosphere for an evening’s indulgences…? Mercifully perhaps, we will probably never know.

As with the aforementioned Four Corners’ books however, the kitsch/cringe factor and analogue-era nostalgia inherent in such material is only a small part of ‘Wheels of Light’s overall appeal. As aesthetically questionable as some of the picture wheels proffered by Optikinetics, Pluto and Orion may have been, many of the other wheels gathered by Foakes are genuinely remarkable, highlighting a wealth of awesome, hyper-detailed and (dare I say it) even somewhat mind-blowing artwork from artists such as Maggie Gould, Roy Wilkinson and Connie Jude (whose 1978 ‘gay’ picture wheel is a particularly fascinating inclusion), as well as impressive later work from Jennie Caldwell (who graduated from designing picture wheels to masterminding Hawkwind’s light show for a period in the 1990s). 

Comprising an exemplary cross-section of the era’s more imaginative popular/pulp illustration, the work of these artists (and numerous others who remain uncredited) is eminently worthy of preservation between hard covers, and it is fair to assume that the opportunity to produce these wheels gave jobbing commercial illustrators a chance to ‘go wild’ in a way which would never have been allowed in more straight-down-the-line magazine/book gigs.

Meanwhile, reproductions of the more more abstract, mandala-like patterns created by the smaller ‘effects cassettes’ are also fascinating and hugely appealing (to me, at least), as is the wealth of technical detail concerning equipment and projection techniques covered in Foakes’ text. In fact, as much as I may have poked fun at the “domestic Saturday night” crowd earlier, I’d dare any reader to get through ‘Wheels of Light’ without at some point feeling an irresistible urge to start tracking down some of this old gear and giving it a whirl.

I mean, who knows? Chances are there’s a music venue down the road from you somewhere with a white sheet, an open mind and a few spare plug sockets. Optikenetics are - miraculously - still in business. So long as we’re all still burning through electricity like irresponsible goons, we might as well channel some of it into light shows, and that pixelated video shit just don’t cut it. So long as we all remember to leave the ‘roman orgy’ wheel at home, a bright future surely awaits.

‘Wheels of Light’ can be purchased direct from Four Corners.  

‘Liquid Lady Wheel’, Light Fantastic Limited (1976)

Thursday 2 February 2023

Random Paperbacks:
Always Say Die
by Elizabeth Ferrars

(Fontana, 1962)

Given that cover artist John L. Baker appears to have never actually seen a cat (or at least, couldn’t remember what they looked like very well), his decision to illustrate this particular incident from Elizabeth Ferrar’s 1956 mystery novel seems nigh-on inexplicable. But, his decision to go with it nonetheless, reference materials be damned, has helped make this strikingly bizarre effort one of my favourite paperback acquisitions of recent years.

(I also like the fact that that blue-tinted illustration on the back cover has clearly been swiped wholesale from a different book cover, complete with a different artist’s signature still visible on the bottom left.)

For the record, the alleged cat attack occurs on page 32, when a stray moggie leaps onto the shoulders of heroine Helen as she stands around in the grounds of the house belonging to her absent Maiden Aunt’s former home, and it comprises about two paragraphs of what otherwise seems to be a pleasantly atmospheric, old fashioned potboiler, set in the depths of darkest, uh, Berkshire, apparently.